We had flown to Phnom Penh from Bangkok to do a story for Asian travel magazine Lifestyle+Travel for a section called The Buzz, which meant we had to cover places that hummed – the best, busiest, most talked-about spots in the city, whether they be hotels, restaurants, cafés, bars, or boutiques. Shopping the chicest boutiques in Phnom Penh was therefore for work – these are the fun bits of my job!
Being a fan of homegrown fashion, many of Phnom Penh’s boutiques impressed me. Some are Cambodian owned, like Ambre (my favourite), ran by French-Cambodian designer Romyda Keth and her French designer-partner Thomas Jaffre. Others are owned by expats who are doing amazing things, many following sustainable business practices and supporting skills training and the flourishing of Cambodian traditional crafts and artisans, and development of new techniques.
These are my picks of Phnom Penh’s chicest boutiques, incorporated into a logical itinerary you can follow on foot. Just don’t wear heels!
YOUR SHOPPING ITINERARY
START on boutique-lined 240 Street, an increasingly cool address that’s fun to explore. You can easily spend a few hours making your way from one end to the other if you stop to browse the boutiques, refuel, and even have a nibble or glass of wine on the way.
At the top of the street, diagonally opposite The 240 café and boutique accommodation, is Elsewhere, a boutique selling colourful resort wear made for the Tropics – mint sun dresses, turquoise blouses, bright bikinis, and bags and hats for the beach and pool. Incidentally, it has a sister-branch called Elsewhere 2, on 278 Street, which has a pool and lounge bar; the boutique is upstairs.
Stroll down the street a bit to Australian Cassandra McMillan’s shop Bliss, which has beautiful cool cotton and linen kaftans, shirts and skirts, handmade quilts and cushions, as well as a spa on site.
Next, visit McMillan and New Zealander Kellianne Karatau’s boutique Jasmine, which boasts elegant and very feminine silk and satin frocks, in bold shades of fuschia, turquoise, spearmint, orange, and apricot.
After, take a wander around French-owned Waterlily, where Christine Gauthier sells her handmade jewellery created from buttons, electrical cables, resin, and rice bags, and New Yorker Elizabeth Kiester’s Wanderlust, which has vibrant smock-dresses, pastel-coloured shirt dresses and cute clutch purses.
(Handily, next door to Wanderlust is Cambodian-New Zealander Kethana Dunnet’s popular restaurant Sugar Palm, where you can refuel. We’ll be reviewing this in our Eating Out guide).
Street 240 is also home to The Shop, which produces delectable Belgian-style chocolates on site made with Cambodian ingredients, and The Red Apron, arguably the best wine store in town, which also holds themed wine tasting nights.
Now, make your way to nearby Street 178, known as ‘Art Street’. Although note that aside from the well-regarded Reyum Gallery, there is little in the way of quality art here, however, there’s a lot of kitsch stuff: shop after shop sells paintings of garish sunsets over rice fields and portraits of Apsara dancers. There are, however, more gorgeous shops to browse here.
Spicy Green Mango oozes bohemian-style with hippy-style cotton tops and flirty skirts with interesting detailing like hand-sewn decorative buttons and patchwork appliqués.
At the opposite end of the fashion spectrum and the far end of the street is the city’s most beautiful boutique of all, Ambre. Here, designers Romyda Keth and Thomas Jaffre have filled the two-storey fairy-tale emporium with heavenly 1940s-Hollywood-inspired dresses and gowns.
You’ve probably worked up a sweat by now, so jump into a tuk-tuk or head directly back to Sisowath Quay, where just beneath the Foreign Correspondent’s Club (FCC), Kellianne Karatau, who co-owns Jasmine, has opened a delightful little shop on her own called Orange River, crammed with exquisite silk dresses, shirts, blouses, and scarfs, and beautiful screen-printed silk bags, purses and cushions.
FINISH upstairs, at the FCC for a well-deserved drink.