Although Phnom Penh's South Korean community may seem impenetrable,
there are measures you can take to learn about this enigmatic culture
Photo by: Sovann Philong
Kim Mart on Sihanouk Boulevard stocks a varied assortment of Korean food.
Although the global recession has put a dent in the number of South Koreans visiting and residing in Cambodia, their presence in Phnom Penh remains evident, and can offer interesting East Asian cultural experiences.
The South Korean embassy in Cambodia estimates that there are currently approximately 4,200 South Koreans living in Phnom Penh, with another 800 residing in Siem Reap.
While most South Korean nationals are involved in managing Phnom Penh's restaurants and construction developments, others arrive in Cambodia as missionaries or to work within the NGO sector.
Wooyun Suh, manager of popular Korean bar and restaurant O Deng on Sothearos Boulevard, says many South Koreans are drawn to Cambodia due to its relative affordability.
"Korea is very expensive, so people come here instead if they don't have a lot of money," he said.
And, as confirmed by the South Korean embassy, many Koreans end up in the restaurant business.
"I think there are probably around 30 or 40 Korean restaurants in Phnom Penh," Wooyun Suh said.
"There's a Korean restaurant called Bee Ryong on Monivong that makes amazing black noodles," said Korean native Yoonjung Garu Kim, who works for an international NGO in Phnom Penh. "Black noodles are for Koreans like pizza for Westerners, the place is always packed".
Another favourite eatery is Blue Cafe on Kampuchea Krom Street.
"They serve great Korean barbecue, it's very cheap and authentic, I go there at least once a week," Yoonjung Garu Kim said.
The NGO worker says that many of her compatriots in Phnom Penh are older men, but notes that some also come together with their families, and an increasing number of young Koreans come to volunteer in Cambodia.
It may seem like we koreans live in a bit of
a closed, unreceptive
"A lot of Koreans here are Christians and organised through various churches, but there are also a lot of construction companies, as a large amount of Korean foreign aid is directed to Cambodia," Yoonjung Garu Kim said.
According to Koon Park, an active member of the Korean Church of Phnom Penh, many men initially come to Cambodia to establish business ties, and once they are settled send for their family. The churches become natural focal points for both worship and social life for new arrivals, as rather surprisingly many Koreans are devout Christians.
"After the church service, we all have lunch together. We also organise classical music recitals, some sports events and Korean language classes," Koon Park said.
"We come from a collective society," Yoonjung Garu Kim remarked. "Koreans generally like to do things together and therefore seek each other's company."
Weak language skills, both Khmer and English, also lead many to turn to their compatriots, while the number of services available in Korean, including two TV channels, make life in this country relatively easy.
A different world
Kim Mart on Sihanouk Boulevard stocks a varied assortment of Korean foodstuffs and other products. Here you can get a tub of freshly prepared kimchi as well as a bottle of traditional alcoholic beverage soju to wash it down with. The frozen foods section even includes Korean ice cream.
Hana Mart, located in Korea Business Centre on Monivong Boulevard, also sells Korean foods including traditional plum wine, while popular Son Ou Kong shop and restaurant, located almost opposite, sells Korean baked sweets as well as kimchi.
If you are interested in delving further into Phnom Penh's Korean culture, head for what at first sight seems like a regular internet cafe on the ground floor of the Korea Business Centre.
The back room is in fact a full-fledged library, stocking a multitude of Korean films and very wide assortment of manga books. With two comfortable sofas, this place is popular with Korean youngsters.
A Korean film festival is also organised annually in Phnom Penh and is generally held towards the end of the calendar year.
"It might seem like we Koreans live in a bit of closed, unreceptive community that's difficult to penetrate," said Yoonjung Garu Kim. "Once you get to know us though we are really warm and welcoming."