Street 278 in Boeung Keng Kang 1, Phnom Penh
Written by Claire Knox Illustration by Marion Vitus
Cambodian sculptor Sopheap Pich leads us through his favourite Phnom Penh neighbourhood – the leafy, café- and gallery-lined Boeung Keng Kang 1 (BKK1) and surrounds.
Begin the day at café and contemporary art gallery Java overlooking Sihanouk Boulevard, and the impressive lotus-shaped Independence Monument, designed in the 1950s by revered modernist architect Vann Molyvann. “What Java has done is great – showcasing young, up-and-coming artists. The coffee is the best in the city. It’s in a lovely French colonial building. My tip is to sit in one of the wicker chairs upstairs with all of the orchids and lovely tiles and watch over the city,” Sopheap says. “Also worth checking out is the edgy, modern Sa Sa Bassac gallery near the Royal Palace,” he adds.
Mornings are also a great time to explore Phnom Penh’s illustrious Buddhist pagodas. He says the gilded Wat Lanka, flanking the Independence Monument, is one of the city’s most beautiful. “Just across from Wat Lanka is Street 278, my favourite street in the city. I love the liveliness of it. One of the best lunch spots is Sonoma. The oysters here are amazing – decadent but affordable. A couple of blocks south-east is Sushi Bar. The sashimi here is top-grade; they fly it in fresh from Vietnam every day,” he says. Another block over is La P’tite France. “The hearty steaks are excellent, as is the duck confit – as good as you get in France – and there’s a great wine selection,” he says.
“Everyone becomes addicted to massages here. One of the best you’ll get is at Om Massage. I usually go for two hours and have a traditional Khmer massage and foot massage – what luxury!
“Jump in a tuk-tuk and head north. Street 240 is lined with popular fashion boutiques and artisan craft shops,” Sopheap says. His choice is the quirky Japanese Thrift Store – he has a penchant for ceramics. “It’s on a laneway called Street 240-and-a-half: watch out for the very good wine cellar on the corner, The Warehouse. You can pick up wonderful little porcelain vessels for less than US$3.”
Sopheap frequents Khmer barbecue restaurant Sovana on Street 21. “I always take visitors here and they’re always impressed. I love the grilled beef, and sublime pepper-and-lime dipping sauce. The fried corn is delicious.
“I love rock music and Khmer kitsch covers from the 1960s. My favourite bar is Equinox back on 278. I hate pretentious bars and this isn’t at all. Check out an art or photography exhibition or listen to a band; they have great Khmer fusion bands playing there like Durian or the Cambodian Space Project.”
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Artist Sopheap Pich has garnered international acclaim for his striking rattan and bamboo sculptures, exhibiting around the globe. The 41 year old was born in Battambang in Cambodia’s north-east, surrounded by emerald rippling rice fields. He endured the brutal Khmer Rouge dictatorship before fleeing with his family to Massachusetts, USA, in 1984. Sopheap returned to the capital, Phnom Penh, in 2002. For Sopheap, the heaving streets and French colonial villas of Phnom Penh have an intangible charm. “I don’t know what it is, but most people come here and completely fall in love.”