Travellers are always trying to find the inside scoop about the places they pass through, as guidebooks just don’t often cut it. So chatting to the locals and to expats is the best way travellers can get behind the “Lonely Planet” veil to check out how the inhabitants of a destination go about their normal lives.
We were lucky then in Phnom Penh as my mate, Simon, had been living there for a few years, working in a commercial real estate business. So I arranged to meet up with him on a Friday night. I hadn’t seen Simon since a party in London about 5 years before, so it was odd, in a good way, to see him jump out of a tuk tuk outside our guesthouse in a far-flung, exotic land. After the obligatory man hugs and introductions between Simon and Emily, we headed off to his first recommendation of the evening.
Rik Reay Restaurant 18
A cool wee restaurant, known as “18”, was a great shout by Simon. You’ll find it near the river (see the map below) and it does mostly Khmer Food. We had drinks and chatted about our Uni days while we waited for the array of dishes that we ordered. I showed him some photos on my Ipod of our adventures and the staff joined in for a wee nosey at them too! They seemed really interested in where we had been in Cambodia and joked around with us. The restaurant had a really lively atmosphere that night and so when the food arrived we were in good spirits.
The dishes were great quality. A chicken dish with a tangy orange sauce was my favourite – I can’t remember what it’s called though, sorry. But no matter, it was all good and we definitely recommend 18 if you are looking for somewhere to eat in Phnom Penh.
We drunk lots more cheap beers after eating and plied Simon with probably too many questions about Cambodia and Phnom Penh. Simon then generously settled up the very reasonable bill and we set off on the short trip to the next stop on our Phnom Penh beer crawl.
Golden Sorya Mall
Cheap beer was the order of the day when we got to Golden Sorya Mall. It is essentially a large marquee which houses lots of bars with pool tables and scantily clad Cambodian girls trying to entice punters into their drinking dens. I got the impression though that alcohol is not the vice de jour round those parts, as there were lots of older expat types with pretty young locals bouncing on their knees. We saw it in Mikey’s Bar in Siem Reap and other places too, so unfortunately you can become slightly numb to that sordid side to Cambodia – especially when your own night is in full swing.
Simon had work the next day and so after a couple of hours drinking at the Mall, being the sensible guy that he is, he downed another beer and heartily suggested that we should all go to the club next door, Pontoon. He was the Pied Piper for that evening and so we happily danced along behind him.
At US$8 to get in (although with a drink included) and cheesy dance and R&B as the music of choice, Pontoon is not the type of place we would usually suffer for an evening out. But with no rock n’ roll option available and being on the Oliver Reed end of the drunken scale, we entered into the spirit of things and hit the dance floor. Drinks were about twice the usual Cambodian price, so fook knows how much we spent in there, although we weren’t that bothered as it was good craic all the same. Pontoon’s clientele is a mix of travellers, expats and rich guys chasing pretty Cambodian girls, or being chased – it was hard to tell, so it’s a good place to meet people or just people watch.
About 3am, after knackering ourselves out with shit dancing and Simon using up his nth chance to successfully pull a pretty girl, we headed back to the Mall for some final beers of the night. Simon admirably bid us farewell after the agreed “two beers only” condition for a nightcap and we got chatting to some people around us, including a random Scottish guy. I’ve little idea what me and this Scottish guy were talking about, maybe Celtic football club? Whatever it was, we must have seemed pretty familiar though, as when he disappeared apparently without paying his tab, some American guys he had been sat with thought I should pay. Naturally I gave those douchebags a very curt response and we took that as our cue to call it a day and head home incase anything happened to ruin an otherwise good night.
While we did not delve into the underbelly of any Phnom Penh underground scene or sub-cultures otherwise unknown to tourists, I got the feeling that we had experienced a typical Friday night out for an expat, minus the KTV lady bars of course! In any event, the main thing for me was having a good time with an old mate, so it was a resounding success.
Cheers Simon for braving a hungover day at work to show us a good time!