In Phnom Penh there’s 3 main areas to plant your luggage: Lakeside (Boeng Kak), Riverside (along the Tonlé Sap) and just South of the O’Russei market.
Lakeside, the backpacker mecca-or black hole-is super cheap but also isolated, so you have to factor in tuk-tuk/mototaxi costs into the equation. (Mototaxis will let you hop on for about $1, while tuk-tuks run anywhere from $2-$4.) I was able to find a room as cheap as $3 but I’ve heard you can find cheaper. Just remember that you get what you pay for, so bring a towel, toilet paper, a lock and maybe a spray for bed bugs. Or you could just upgrade to a $6 joint.
The vibe at the guest houses at Lakeside is predictably laid back. There’s nothing like spending your whole day watching movies, drinking cheap beer and smoking weed next to an oversized sewage-filled pond to forget the reasons for which you flew thousands miles to the other side of the world. That said, it’s an easy place to meet fellow travelers. And fellow travelers with prostitutes. And find any kind of drug you need to party like a rock star. Or at least that’s what the tuk-tuk drivers will tell you.
Accommodation is not the only thing that’s cheap at Lakeside, there’s also good food.
My first time around I had a tasty dinner at the Lazy Gecko Café. Their staff is very attentive and prompt. They have all sorts of activities throughout the week (as do most restaurants in the area) and they work in conjunction with Jeannine’s Children Association Orphanage. On Saturdays, they have a minibus take guests and donated goods to the orphanage for dinner and a performance. Having experienced something very similar in Siem Reap, I can tell you that it’s incredibly worthwhile.
The second time around, I made the trip out to Boeng Kak with the specific purpose of checking out the Flying Elephant. I was lucky to meet the owner, Andrea, at the Bodhi Villa in Kampot and knew a few people who were quite satisfied with their experience there. You’ll find both local and Western food. The chicken Amok was one of the best I had in Cambodia. Their staff is beyond attentive. (My friend and I had a long and very interesting conversation with Ting, who lives and works at the restaurant and side hustles as a tuk-tuk driver by day.)
Despite its offerings, Lakeside is not the only place to find cheap options in Phnom Penh but if you’re looking to cocoon yourself from a legit Cambodian experience you better get there fast because it’s scheduled to be demolished and replaced by a bunch of fancy resorts.