A huge variety of drinking delights and nightlife awaits the thirsty or intrepid traveller in Phnom Penh, with chic al-fresco wine bars and funky hole-in-the-wall joints covering over the less glamorous, sex-orientated go-go lounges. Phnom Penh once had reputation for some of the South East Asia’s seediest nightlife. However, the recent tourist boom and local crackdown on the less wholesome activities has meant the city now offers a number of upmarket, quality destinations in addition to the ever-present ‘hostess bars’.
The riverfront features the main concentration of small but eclectic watering holes in addition to several new, upscale bars aimed squarely at tourists. Streets 104 and 136 feature more traditional pubs, sports bars, karaoke lounges. The historic Foreign Correspondents Club is a ‘must-see’, and Rubies wine bar is a long-running expat favourite, while Pontoon and Riverhouse Lounge, on the water itself, are the best dance venues. Away from Sisowath Quay, clusters of bars are dotted around the city but all generally close to each other, making bar-hopping easy. Walking alone after dark, especially for females, is not recommended. Use tuk-tuks to travel at after dark.
There are few nightclubs as such, with most bars open till the early hours, playing a mix of dance and rock music. After midnight, the late-night and go-go bars are where the action is, notably around Street 51 and Phnom Penh institutions such as Heart of Darkness, Walkabout, Howie Bar and Zeppelin. Street 51 is also the best place for late night food, with the Walkabout kitchen open all hours.
The Memphis Pub has live music, usually rock & roll on most nights, while Riverside Bistro, Velkommen Hotel and 136 bar all feature bands on selected nights. The Intercontinental Hotel has Khmer and Filipino pop covers most evenings. The weekly gig-guide, Bayon Pearnik, has complete listings or check out Cambodia Daily’s Friday edition’s weekend entertainment guide.
Metal detectors and signs forbidding knives and even grenades are not uncommon at most late night bars but don’t let this deter you. The atmosphere inside is likely to be intimate rather than intimidating. See our red light district guide for more on other nocturnal activities.
The following bars are a selection of Phnom Penh’s drinking venues; starting with some of the city’s more atmospheric which are popular for an early evening tipple and becoming progressively later and somewhat sleazier down the list.
Recommended Phnom Penh bars and clubs
The Foreign Correspondents Club: The FCC remains the ‘must see’ bar in Phnom Penh. These days Foreign Correspondents are few on the ground, but their stories live on by adorning the walls. Worth a visit if only to relive history, the FCC is today more like a museum than a bar, but the high prices are negated by the sumptuous surroundings and fabulous sunset views over the Mekong.
Elephant Bar: For dressing-up and mixing with the high society, head to The Elephant Bar at Raffles Le Royal for happy hour, from 16:00-21:00. Champagne cocktails are the drink of choice here for the upmarket tourist and discerning expat.
Rubies: This chic wine bar is a welcome break from the in-your-face girlie bars that dominate the city centre. A solid selection of wines that are reasonably priced for the location, keep an eye open for their monthly tasting nights.
Equinox: Across from Top Banana Guesthouse is the arty Equinox, a cosy open-air affair that is particularly popular among expats, local Khmers, NGO workers and journalists. Voted the country’s top live music venue, the three-level facility is also a restaurant and art gallery and has a games room with foosball and pool table. In addition, live concerts are streamed over the internet.
Walkabout: In the thick of the action on the corner of Streets 174 and 51, the Walkabout is a good old Australian pub with big meals, sports, cheap drinks and usually plenty of western men shopping for companionship. Like Sharkey’s, the pool tables are normally surrounded by freelancers. The bar and kitchen are both open 24hrs, making drunken feasting a common pastime amongst the dedicated regulars.
Zeppelin Bar: Situated amid the many venues on Street 51, this hostess-free venue is more well-known as Phnom Penh’s rock bar. The standout feature is the nightly DJ who plays crates of old vinyl, possibly the one DJ who is more than happy for punters to flick through his collection, he even takes requests.
Rory’s Pub: Another popular, long-running establishment is Rory’s, just back from the riverfront. A traditional Irish bar with hearty pub fare and a fantastic selection of Irish whiskys. Signposted by the customary green shamrock, Rory’s also has reliably cheap rooms.
Green Vespa: Along the riverfront, there are dozens of small, intimate watering holes, though this bar is one of the longest running and most welcoming. A cosy atmosphere is complemented by the pool table, friendly staff, and an excellent selection of spirits.
Pontoon Lounge: Floating into the evening, although it has sunk in the past, Pontoon is directly across Sisowath Quay from Street 108. A pleasant spot for sunset cocktails when the breeze blows the right way, Pontoon is one of the busier late night dance clubs. Techno and House are played at top volume after well into the wee hours.
Heart of Darkness: A Phnom Penh icon that draws inquisitive travellers, free-wheeling backpackers and freelance females. Its legendary reputation, a famous shooting took place in 2005 which still draws tourists, has been tempered in recent years by a thoroughly modern facelift and metal detectors, but it remains a popular favourite for late, late revelry.
Sharky Bar: Close to Central Market, Sharky’s is another institution on the Phnom Penh bar scene. A large balcony for people-watching, this is a noisy party hub that, despite the presence of working girls, is also one of the few ‘hostess’ bars that also is safe, albeit sleazy, for single women as well. A popular pick-up joint.
For more on Phnom Penh’s naughty nightlife.