As one of the city’s most prominent thoroughfares, Sothearos Boulevard, also called Street 3 by some, passes by some of the city’s most historic attractions, such as the Royal Palace and Wat Ounalom, as well as a number of fine restaurants, the city’s biggest shopping experience, Aeon Mall, and local rattan crafts. Words by Steve Noble; photography by Lim Sokchanlina.
With Street 154
As the headquarters of Cambodian Buddhism, the site was founded in 1443 and comprises of 44 structures, which have been mostly restored, and continues to see ongoing renovation after the destruction under the Pol Pot regime. A number of monks live in this large complex, which has a peaceful charm and can be explored for free through narrow streets. The main stupa charges $1 to enter and houses statues of former patriarchs of Cambodian Buddhism and artefacts damaged by the Khmer Rouge, as well as is what is said to be one of Buddha’s eyelashes. On religious holidays the wat comes to life with an increased number of guests, monks and dignitaries.
Rattan Furniture Stores
South end of Sothearos Blvd
As the street curves to merge with Mao Tse Toung Boulevard, a row of furniture stores selling Cambodian rattan offer a huge selection of sofa sets, baskets, shoe racks and bookshelves. Rattan refers to the vine the furniture is made of and can be found in mountainous areas, forests and low lying flooding areas in Cambodia. The raw material is skilfully manipulated to make an endless list of household items and handicrafts that have a good life span in the severe Cambodian weather. Good bargaining skills can be used along these shops to strike a deal, which is perfect to furnish on a budget an apartment or business.
6F Sothearos Blvd
After seeing a change of decor, name and menu, La Baguette is now a cosy cafe situated on a quiet section of Sothearos near Wat Ounalom. However, there is a slow transformation in the area from selling traditional trophies, trinkets and souvenirs, to offering more eating options and renovated apartments. The cafe-restaurant has a wide selection of European and Asian cuisine, pizza slices baked onsite, croissants, desserts and pies, as well as daily specials, breakfast, lunch and dinner options. There are comfortable indoor and outdoor seating options, and a well-designed interior with friendly staff on hand.
132 Sothearos Blvd
Aeon Mall is the country’s first mall and boasts an array of retail stores, from high-end fashion to electronics, toys, groceries, bakeries and food choice a plenty, as well as a number of international brands and franchises. The largest cinema complex (Major Cinema) is on the third floor, as well an ice skating rink, bowling alley and food courts. There are areas of the mall that host events and exhibitions, often tied in to holiday themes or brand promotions. For a shopping, dining and entertainment experience it’s difficult to surpass in the city.
Wat Botum Park
One of the largest parks in the capital, Wat Botum’s centrepiece hosts the Cambodia-Vietnam Friendship Monument, a large concrete structure built to commemorate the relationship between Cambodia and Vietnam after the Khmer Rouge were toppled. Water fountains, benches and food and drink sellers are also dotted throughout the park, which is home to a children’s play area. Nocturnally, the park really comes to life with friends, families and couples taking relaxing walks or energetic runs around the park, while large speakers blare loud music to group workouts, which costs 1,000 riel to join. Skateboarding and games of badminton are also common. A golden stupa in the park is in memory of 16 people killed outside the old National Assembly in 1997.
37 Sothearos Blvd
Meta House is a German-Cambodian cultural centre that runs daily cinematic screenings, often art house movies, short films, documentaries and education films. Screenings and festivals are sometimes followed by Q&A sessions with those involved. The upstairs bar and restaurant serves a good selection of drinks and items, such as German sausages and snacks are available. The ground floor gallery and art exhibition space actively supports Cambodian artists and promotes the development of contemporary art in the country. There are regular workshops, community-based projects, artist exchange programs. There is onsite a full high end film & interactive media solutions service and event management agency.
Between Street 178 and 240
The Royal Palace is arguably Sothearos’ focal point. Built in 1866, the site has seen many renovations and extensions, which include the Silver Pagoda and Napoleon building. Entry costs $6.25 and opening hours are from 7am to 11am and 2.30pm to 5pm, so don’t get caught out by the lunch break and remember it’s closed for some holidays. Some parts of the grounds are off limits as it is still the home of the monarchy. Other attractions take in Throne Hall and Chan Chhaya Pavilion. Facing the Tonle Sap and Mekong rivers, the green space in front of the palace, now with a massive steel frame structure in honour of the King, is filled with food, drink and balloon sellers, and photographers who will charge to take a photo and print them. The area comes alive at night time and over holidays, often causing traffic problems.
Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeethra
26 Sothearos Blvd
This hotel is one of many luxury hotels in the city and boasts large gardens and a magnificent view of the Mekong and Bassac rivers. With 201 luxurious rooms and well-designed suites offering a range of amenities and modern facilities, the restaurants serve a variety of quality international cuisine. Onsite services, such as the spa, gym, Jacuzzi, sauna and outdoor pool are available, as well as tennis courts. As part of an international chain, the hotel prides itself on quality of design, care, and service. The hotel serves a buffet breakfast from 6am to noon, which has a great reputation, as well as a fantastic chocolate shop.