With complicated homesickness emotions, a lack of duties from the NGO, and rising temperatures, I spend most of my days hanging out in cafes in Phnom Penh. While the city boasts many cute and interesting looking spots, many that I have tried and failed to convince myself to pop into, I tend to return to the same few over and over again. I am a creature of habit and tend to be indecisive. As such, I have limited myself to only a few options for where to spend my afternoon hours; otherwise I will simply go from place to place, overwhelmed with choices, and go home feeling defeated. Time and time again, I ride my bike through the sweltering heat and arrive sweaty and red faced to my favorite locations, desperate for a cool beverage and a sweet treat. Since these places have brought me so much joy during my time in Cambodia, and especially in the last month, I thought I would share them with you.
Joma Bakery Café
My absolute favorite and most frequented of all the cafes, Joma Bakery Café is a haven. Located near the Russian Market, it is not only the closet to both my accommodation and work, but it has the best assortment of treats as well. Anything the heart desires is possible. Cakes, brownies, muffins, croissants, donuts, sandwiches, salads, smoothies and more! Everything sweet, savory, and a combination of the two are possible. And being a café, naturally a wide variety of coffee, both hot and iced is available. I myself sampled a few of their beverages, and I can affirm it is both caffeinated and delicious.
But what makes Joma especially dear to my heart? While the modern décor, air conditioning, and free wifi with purchase are all wonderful, it would have to be the attentiveness and friendliness of the staff. Every time I enter I am greeted with a “Hello sister!” and every time I leave a chorus of “Goodbye sister, thank you!” follows me out the door. Every one is always smiling, always kind, and after being harassed by aggressive tuk tuk drivers all day, the friendliness is much appreciated.
A perfect spot to eat lunch after exploring the Royal Palace and walking around the riverside area, Backyard Café also holds a special place in my heart. I first visited Backyard Café my first weekend in Phnom Penh with my friend Laura, where we arrived famished and exhausted after walking around the city for hours. The café is not only adorable inside, but has an extensive menu that is extremely friendly to vegetarians and vegans. It is a perfect place to indulge and nourish the body with healthy super foods. With an option of salads, bowls, sandwiches and more, there is something for everyone. I personally recommend the Roasted Pumpkin and Red Pepper Hummus Sandwich, which is delicious and satisfying. However, while Backyard Café is very healthy indeed, it also boasts a selection of equally healthy deserts. Having myself fallen in love with the Raw Mango and Vanilla Bean Cheesecake, I am convinced that anyone with a sweet tooth can find something to their fancy here.
Tucked away on Street 63, about a mile from the riverside, I discovered this place just a few weeks ago. Lured in by the promise of waffles, this place did not disappoint. The moment I stepped inside, I felt like I had been transported into some hipster café in San Francisco or even Europe. The architecture, Game of Thrones references, and supply of complimentary books and board games screamed everything Western and provided a stark contrast and refuge from the traditional atmosphere of Phnom Penh. With a large menu selection, Kenneth’s Asylum has something for everyone. What’s even better? It’s open late and has a selection of drinks, perfect for those who wish to add an alcoholic beverage to their evening of pretending to be back home.
Though kicking back with an Angkor Draft beer does not particularly interest me, the ability to sit in a comfortable chair and eat a waffle with a scoop of ice cream on top is worth the four-mile bike ride it takes me to get there from the volunteer house.
Daughters of Cambodia Café
Located right on the riverside, the Daughters of Cambodia Café should certainly not be missed for lunch while traveling through Phnom Penh. The food is delicious, the atmosphere is great, but the story behind the café is what truly makes it special. All the staff are former victims of human trafficking who have found a way out and are creating a new life for themselves. The café is part of a larger foundation, which gives support through job training, counseling, medical treatment, life skills, and education. All proceeds from the café and its gift shop go towards the effort of helping those who are victims of human trafficking, turning a simple meal into so much more. I would recommend this spot to anyone and everyone who wants delicious food, to find unique souvenirs, and wants to contribute to something bigger than themself while traveling through Cambodia.
There are undoubtedly many more incredible places to spend a free afternoon in Phnom Penh. While on my bike, I have passed by Cyclo Café just a few buildings before Joma, Eric Kayser along the riverside, and seen countless posters for Tour les Jours all around. I’m sure these places are just as lovely and with equally delicious treats. I encourage you, dear reader, to be more adventurous than me if you ever find yourself in Phnom Penh. But being slightly stubborn, biased, and prone towards favoritism, I find it hard to branch out. Besides, why bike all the way to the riverside to find new cafes, when a chocolate donut from Joma rocks my world.
Ever been to Phnom Penh? Let me know of your favorite café and treat in the comments below! Who knows, if it’s really enticing, I might just try it.