Rarely referred to by its real name, Boeung Keng Kang, BKK1 has built up a reputation as the expat quarter in the last couple of decades. As the original home to many of the country’s NGO headquarters, the capital’s rapid development has led to fast changes in this area of Phnom Penh.
Once home to roads lined with spacious leafy villas, the majority have now been torn down and replaced with modern condo blocks, flashy hotels, chain coffee shops, fast food joints, restaurants and bars. In fact, BKK1 has become Phnom Penh’s first victim of gentrification, and many expats argue it has lost much of its charm. Despite this, it remains popular with expats who tend to have a bit more cash to splash, or those seeking the comforts of the West, which can be found in pretty much all of the new condos. However, spiralling rent prices have pushed many out into other, cheaper areas of Phnom Penh.
BKK1’s loss is the rest of Phnom Penh’s gain – although some would disagree – and Tonle Bassac is one area that has welcomed the overspill from its neighbour. Bassac Lane – the vibrant alley with an intimate collection of boutique bars, diners and stores, Aeon Mall, Sofitel hotel and the constantly-developing Koh Pich [Diamond Island] call the area home. While development is ongoing in Tonle Bassac – it’s difficult to escape in Phnom Penh – it is nowhere near the extent of BKK1, with most condos and apartment blocks remaining low level. Also, unlike BKK1, Tonle Bassac is still home to several small villas – although these are becoming increasingly hard, and expensive, to find.
Toul Tom Poung is the emerging expat area, with an ever-increasing number migrating there from BKK1 and other parts of the city. Despite being home to Russian Market, the area, in Phnom Penh terms – remember it’s a pocket-sized city – was traditionally seen as too far to trek to. Throw into the mix the fact that a few years ago there was only a handful of coffee shops and nothing after dark catering to the expat crowd, and it was only the brave who moved there. Fast-forward to today and it’s the hip place to be. Cheaper rents have attracted a wave of new businesses, coffee shops, restaurants and bars, with new venues seemingly opening weekly. And lower housing rents have also drawn the young expat crowd. Developers have also caught onto this trend, and apartment blocks are mushrooming at a rapid pace, with property experts already predicting where the next upcoming area will be.
A number of expats call Riverside, or Sisowath Quay, home, with the riverfront housing a number of stunning apartments nestled among the hotels, restaurants and bars catering to tourists. As with anywhere across the globe, views come with a price and these tend to be more expensive, however, the majority are well decorated and spacious affairs. The growing crowd of tourists that flock there are increasingly putting expats off, with tuk-tuks generally over-priced and difficult to barter down and the pavements overflowing with people.
Daun Penh – to the north of the city centre – is home to Central Market, Wat Phnom and Sorya shopping mall. Unlike the other areas, it still caters mainly to the local crowd, with it harder to find those corner marts selling the luxuries from back home or the tastes of the world found at restaurants in the areas discussed above. However, the capital’s compact size means BKK1 or Tonle Bassac are only a five- or 10-minute drive away. Rents here are much cheaper, and many landlords have upgraded apartments to meet Western standards.