Phnom Penh Trip Part 5: Coffee and Coffins

Phnom Penh Trip Part 5: Coffee and Coffins

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Again I found myself strolling along Sisowath Quay. There is plenty of interesting places other than here, but I find myself drawn to the Riverfront. It’s like any European trendy riverfront or Mediterranean seafront town, except that many of the buildings are in terrible condition and the Tonle Sap is bright brown instead of blue. However, with the modern cafés and wine bars that are springing up all the time, it does retain the same ambience. I made my way into the same travel agent that I use each time I come here and booked the bus back to Saigon for tomorrow morning. Ticket purchased and pleasantries exchanged I went in search of lunch. I found myself looking into the local coffin makers shop, these are imaginatively named Coffin Shops. A solitary girl sat waiting for someone to die, it must have been a healthy week here, she looked bored to tears.

Tai Hok Huot Coffin Shop, it’s a Dying Trade.

One French Colonial Building Leaves an Huge Impression
Just over the street I found an amazing little café called The Riverside Bistro, I decided to sit inside for a change. This avoids not only the roar of the traffic and the heat, but also the constant hassle from the street vendors. The café was an old French Colonial building that has been pretty much left as it were, on the inside. Huge archways and imaginative decor, made this a most delightful place to sit and write. In fact this very paragraph was written whilst seated by the window, River views to my right and the amazing interior of the café to my left. These places really have a uniquely Cambodia vibe about them. I feel an overwhelming urge to don a white linen suit, a panama hat and tuck a pencil behind my ear. Our man in Phnom Penh!

The rather plain exterior gives no hint of the French Colonial beauty that lies within
French Colonial Splendour, good coffee and a delightful beef stew.
The interior of this bistro really is magnificent and would not look out of place in the French Riviera town of Nice

As I write a message pops up on Facebook from an old friend from Bangkok, he is living here in Phnom Penh now and wants to hook up this evening. Delightful! The world of an expat can be small at times. As I write one of the passenger speed boats goes zipping by on the river, too quick for me to react and photograph it, it disappears as quickly as it appeared. Time to fold away the laptop and pay the bill. I took a stroll along the front again and watched the young boys playing football. Just a wicker ball, two flip-flops for goal posts and a love of the game that captures the imaginations of similar boys in just about every country in the world, is all these lads need. They have on the obligatory premier League or La Liga shirt of their favourite team, or more likely just any old team. Football shirts are not exactly de Rigueur for Cambodian street children. The irony of the little boy wearing a Barcelona shirt emblazoned with the legend UNICEF is certainly lost on him and his friends. To see the goalkeeping with these guys flinging themselves across the goal to land on a concrete floor is humbling.

Quite a touching sight to see a young boy playing barefoot football whilst displaying the UNICEF logo on his Barcelona shirt.

Market Stalls as Wine Bar Calls
Some of the streets are closed off today for the market. This is little more than hundreds of traders sitting on the floor selling food or other goods. A few have proper stalls, but many do not. As I walk along towards street 136 I notice that Candy Bar is closed and in a state of disrepair. This was one of the landmark girlie bars for decades here. It is possibly a victim of Phnom Penh’s success. The newer, trendier bars are taking custom away from the old dilapidated haunts of the old Vets and the long term expats. Upon further inspection I realise that Candy Bar has indeed located and is now further up on 136. The new bar was called something else last time I was here and is a fraction of the size of the old one.

Sign of Better Days, the crumbling facade of Candy Bar

As the dark clouds rolled in bringing the promise of one of Cambodia’s biblical downpours, I moved back to the Riverside Bistro and this time, opting for a table outside under the canopy, I ordered a well deserved glass of Merlot and relaxed. The rain duly arrived though not in the biblical proportions I was expecting, this was just a light shower. It is though, really pleasant to sit outdoors when it’s raining. The air freshens up and is cooler. Just people watching around the terrace, informed me that I was among many different nationalities. I was joined at my table be a pleasant German gentleman, there were a couple of Spaniards on the next table and I could hear, Eastern European accents as well as those of Australia and America. For me, this is even more reason to enjoy what I do.

Following a highly successful 25-year career as a singer/songwriter and musician, Keith pulled out of the rat race and moved to Southeast Asia in 2008. First living in Thailand, he moved to Cambodia and then relocated to Ho Chi Minh City in early 2013. He started the Saigon Districts website, turning it into the fastest growing site in Vietnam. After careful consideration, he decided to cover not just Vietnam but the whole region that he loves so dearly. Keith has had work published in magazines and websites in the UK, Europe, USA, Australia and Asia. He has written for the BBC and has appeared on TV and radio in many different countries. His great loves are music and travel, but he writes on a whole range of subjects. is a labour of love as Keith travels round the region garnering subject matter. Read more about the website here.