In Phnom Penh’s former French quarter elegant eateries and stylish bars abound
By Claire Knox
Find the sleek Cambodian sangkat or suburb of Wat Phnom surrounding its namesake ash-white spired temple. Perched atop the only hill in the city, fringed with palms and gilded spirit houses, the temple rises gloriously above faded French colonial mansions, historic embassies, Chinese villas, and the milky Tonle Sap river. Escape the sweltering midday heat of heady Phnom Penh in a shady picnic spot amid Wat Phnom’s resident gaggle of monkeys, or arrive in the dewy mornings with a warm baguette to watch locals make ancestral offerings with piles of fruit and wands of incense. Along Wat Phnom’s wide tree-lined boulevards and smaller streets, the French-colonial architecture sets the area apart—it is also perhaps what has inspired some of the city’s most innovative entrepreneurs to create a growing clutch of art-infused cafés, French bistros, luxurious heritage hotels, and wine bars in the stylish district. This pocket of the city is steeped in history, renowned for its lavish colonial structures and Art Deco buildings, but now blooms with the contemporary passion projects of transplants and locals alike.