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Separating wheat from chaff: a few of Phnom Penh's best guesthouses

Separating wheat from chaff: a few of Phnom Penh's best guesthouses

Gated old mansions-turned-hotels with saltwater pools dot the city.

Phnom Penh's French colonial roots coupled with today's plethora of aid agencies based here have conspired to create a glut of accommodation for such a small capital city.

Gated old mansions-turned-hotels with saltwater swimming pools and lush vegetation dot the city, while three backpacker hubs lure the budget-conscious: The riverside has rooms ranging from opulent to gritty, with a multitude of mid-range places between. Shoestring travellers head lakeside to snare US$3 rooms and the Boeung Keng Kang 1 (BKK1) area, commonly called "NGO-ville", offers slightly more subdued low- to mid-range accommodation within walking distance of plenty of bars and restaurants.

The Boddhi Tree-Del Gusto
Of the three Boddhi Tree hotels in Phnom Penh, The Boddhi Tree-Del Gusto is the best. It's much cheaper than Boddhi Tree Aram and bigger than Boddhi Tree Umma, which also deals with touts hanging around due to the genocide museum across the street. Del Gusto, tucked inside a lovely 1930s villa shrouded in greenery, is our ideal place to while away an afternoon in Phnom Penh. A restaurant on the patio serves tasty Khmer and Western fare made from fresh, local produce. Its vaulted ceilings, teak floors and ceiling fans make the place cool even on the hottest days. Eight varied rooms are offered, only one of which has air-conditioning and a private bathroom - the others are fan-cooled with shared facilities. Clean, quiet, tasteful and lovely.
43 Street 95. T: 023 211 396, or 012 565 509. www.boddhitree.com

Top Banana Guesthouse
If you don't want to stay on the lake or the river but still want to meet people and feel centrally located, Top Banana Guesthouse is a great alternative. Former guests rave about Top Banana Guesthouse as a "home away from home". It sounds to us more like the house you lived in with a bunch of college buddies than the one you grew up in with your family.

For friendly backpackers looking for a lively yet laidback social scene, look no further. It's set on a third-floor terrace, placing it above the city's dusty streets and distancing it from the noise. The street it's located on, however, is one of the prime backpacker strips in town, with an array of restaurants as well as several popular bars. Rooms are clean but basic.
Corner of streets 51 and 278. T: 012 885 572. www.topbanana.biz

Villa Langka
Villa Langka is the best flashpacker option in BKK1, the neighbourhood that boasts close proximity to Independence Monument and its park as well as a multitude of foreign-oriented cafes, bars and restaurants. The hotel itself, located on a quiet side street, might be in the running for one of the greenest spaces in central Phnom Penh. Dense palms surround a 1960s-style French mansion with spacious rooms and a lovely pool. We hear the poolside continental breakfast of pastries, coffee and fresh juices is to die for.
14 Street 282. T: 012 449 857 or 023 776 771. www.villalangka.com

Bright Lotus 1 Guest House
The Bright Lotus Guesthouse is a great choice for those who want to stay in the popular riverside district. Located away from the road lining the river, you can still catch views of the water from the roof while avoiding the inflated prices and some of the noise of being right on the strip. It has spotless rooms with air-conditioning, TV, private bathrooms with hot water, and shared verandas that overlook an open park and the very picturesque National Museum. Staff are helpful and speak English quite well.
22 Street 178. T: 023 990 446. [email protected]

Kambuja Inn
For its location and ambiance, Kambuja Inn is perhaps the best bargain in town. For a $20 single, you get all the amenities - air-con, hot water, large TVs with cable, and a fridge - and the atmosphere of a room triple the price. The decor mimics French colonial style, with yellow stucco walls and furniture stained deep brown. Tucked away on a sleepy road off Norodom Blvd, it avoids the noise of the tourist centres while still being central: a 10-minute walk or short tuk tuk ride to the river and a three-minute walk to the (somewhat seedy) strip of bars along Street 51.
8-10 Street 174. T: 023 223 377 or 023 214 218. [email protected]

Lazyfish Guesthouse & Restaurant
Lazyfish Guesthouse & Restaurant is the best lakefront option in the ghetto-like Boeung Kak lake backpacker district. It's Khmer-owned - which is sadly rare - and of all the guesthouses lining the disappearing lake, this is the cleanest and quietest. An extra $3 gets you one of the best rooms, which are wooden, spacious, overlook the water and have private bathroom and fan. The aesthetics of these rooms sets them apart from the other extremely basic digs lining the lake. The guesthouse's veranda is well-situated with a pleasant view and the standard bunch of hammocks.
15-16 Street 93. T: 012 703 368, 099 370 478, or 016 533 913. [email protected]

The Quay Hotel
The Quay Hotel stands out among the facades of the many historic, slightly crumbling hotels and restaurants lining the riverside's streets, with its stark white facade giving it an art gallery feel. The rooms are beautiful, with low-slung, modern furniture and big, white beds, and look directly out onto the river. The balconies are cordoned off only by panes of spotless glass, so this is the most uninterrupted riverside view in Cambodia. It's only worth staying here if you opt for the pricier river-view rooms - the others are way overpriced.
277 Sisowath Quay. T: 023 992 284 or 023 224 894. www.thequayhotel.com

TAT Guest House
TAT, while away from most of the action, offers a home stay feel at a rock-bottom price. It's the perfect choice for those who want to settle into Phnom Penh for a while and spend some time exploring the city with a "home" to return to in the evening. Its rooftop lounge and the kindness of the family running the place are major selling points. Though the riverside, lakeside and other business districts are a moto drive away, it's just around the corner from O'Russei Market, the biggest and most popular market for Cambodians. Also nearby is Olympic Stadium, where you can catch the occasional football game or pop concert.
52 Street 125. T: 012 921 211 or 099 977 999. www.geocities.com/tatcambodia

The Pavilion
This estate used to belong to the king's grandmother, and it retains its regal elegance. A solid, white plaster wall surrounds a mansion and a courtyard cooled by lush vegetation. The Pavilion, more midrange lodge than flashpacker guesthouse, is walking distance from the Independence Monument and Palace, and around the corner from upscale Street 240. There's a bar/restaurant, tables and a large swimming pool in the courtyard. Spacious rooms are lovingly decorated and designed with a flourish, some have balconies, and several new bungalows have small Jacuzzis.
227 Street 19. T: 023 222 280. www.thepavilion.asia

The Billabong Hotel
The Billabong Hotel's location isn't as quiet as that of Villa Langka, but its pool is nicer, and some of the rooms have more recently updated decor. The deluxe rooms are a better deal than the pool-view standards. Each is decorated in a warm, modern style, with wide memory-foam mattresses and black and burgundy bedding. The ground floor has a pleasant little restaurant, with iron chairs and tables protected by the midday sun by canvas awnings on a patio next to the pool. WiFi is available for a fee. As of early 2009, noisy construction was underway next door; it might be worth passing by to see if that's still going on.
Street 158. T: 023 223 703 or 092 229 306. www.thebillabonghotel.com

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