Phnom Penh is like an ex-pat, do-gooder, NGO flavored, 'let's help these people,' explosion. Wow. Combine that with the remnants of French colonialism and you get kick ass pan au chocolate made by a street kid, who has been newly trained in the secrets of french gastronomy. After breakfast you can head out and buy yourself a wallet made out of brightly colored recycled mosquito netting. End the day having a drink at the FCC with the other ex-pats wearing their, "I voted for Obama in Cambodia" t-shirts which retail for a staggering $15. For that price, as I said to Mikee, those t-shirts better be made in the USA by well paid union workers.
Sarcasm set aside, I really do heart P squared. It has all the makings for a refreshing stint back in the city, wifi, cappuccinos, thai food, americans, western supermarkets, and rock bottom priced dvds. Michael and I headed back to P2 after two nights in Siem Reap. She had some official Peace Corps scavenger hunt planning to do, and I had to be there as moral support, or something like that. Mostly I ended up enjoying the gastronomic offerings of a ex-pat developed city and tried to not get in the way of official PCV business.
Inspired by all the delightful discoveries that Meesh shared with me, I thought I would pass along the tips. First off we stayed in Golden Gate Guest House on 278, along the same street are a number of delightful discoveries, the boom boom room where you can get your ipod loaded with the latest tunes, top banana (Mikee's favorite guest house), and a delicious Thai place (the name escapes me). Another feature of 278 is Maharaja, where all the PCV like to indulge in the gut bomb of Indian breakfast. Right around the corner is, semi-famous Garden Cafe in it's second incarnation, Garden Cafe 2. Besides GC2, is a very very cool recycled product boutique, Smateria. Their products are made from plastic bags, old mosquito nets, and tetra-pack. It was started by two Italianos, and now is a cute little place filled with friendly Khmer, happy to let you snoop around and decide if a wallet will fit your passport and five currencies.
If you are feeling like a traveler with especially full pockets, or just feeling the need to have a shwanky afternoon head over to the devastatingly cute and gastronomic blocks of 240. There you can stock up on killer baguettes and french cheese at VeGGy's, wander down the street for croissant and dragon fruit smoothies at the shop, where all the IT people feed, and buy chocolate for your Khmer sweet heart at Chocolate (the shop's chocolatiere off-shoot). The Shop is that kind of place that makes you feel cooler and more with it than normally your hairy legs and dirty sandaled feet would allow. My first time in there 3 french business men were 'doing ' breakfast in pale suits and crisp blue shirts, meaning I stuck out like a sore thumb, but they do a mean cappuccino, so who cares?
Another ex-pat hot spot is Java, which besides serving Illy coffee, also displays local art and organizes cool events, like Architecture and Urban Design month. Finally another cool food meets art place is Friends they have a little boutique and a restaurant near the National Musuem. I fell in love with their cookbook, From Spiders to Water Lilies. The restaurant is a sort of Jamie Oliver deal, teaching kids about the biz and arming them with a set of marketable skills.
Most of the things that the sell in the little shop are recycled items, in the same vein as Smateria. It has been very inspiring to witness so much positive grass roots community stuff that Phnom Penh has to offer. Almost every cafe you go into talks about how it uses local produce, fair trade coffee or helps disadvantaged youth. The cynic in me wonders how many of them are doing as well as their mission statements, carefully constructed in english, might imply, but the optimist in me hopes that it is an indication of the direction the world might be headed, that finally we might be learning from our mistakes.