In Phnom Penh Thmey, a commercial area on the outskirts of the capital, lies a glimpse of what the area may have looked like before city sprawl caught up to it.
Built on a large plot of land with a pond in the centre, Beng Baithong restaurant was founded a few years ago by a businessman, who asked to remain anonymous, after he noticed the dramatic urban growth in the area and the subsequent loss of green space.
“Our employer is an enthusiastic nature lover,” says KeoSarin, the restaurant’s general manager. When the owner bought the land years ago it was a remote site surrounded by paddy fields and a small number of houses.
While the surroundings have gone through rapid development, the restaurant has moved in the opposite direction – adding tropical plants and trees to create a rare natural resort in the middle of the city.
Perhaps the biggest draw at Beng Baithong, which means “green lake”, is that its customers can catch their own fish. For people without equipment, the restaurant provides bamboo rods and bait for free.
If a fish bites, customers can either keep it or have one of the chefs grill it up, at $3 per kilogram. Unlike at many trash-strewn waterfront hang out spots near the city – like Kien Svay – the restaurant staff go to great lengths to keep the water clean, monitoring it closely for any trash or other waste once per hour.
Visitors can sit in the shade underneath tropical trees or can hang out, eat and fish in the stilt huts built above the water.
“The customers can order anything and relax in the shack for the whole day while they do not have to pay anything apart from the cost of the food,” Sarin says.
The restaurant’s specialties include the unique Moan Beng Baithong ($12), which is a grilled chicken with mixed salt and chili, as well as Koh Kong sauce and pepper sauce, and the Glass Noodle Salad with Seafood ($5).
The menu also has provincial dishes, appropriate for the rural ambience, such as Machou Prei ($7), the herbal sour soup with a choice of meat and Kdam Brai ($2), the salted crab with lime juice.
For those on a budget, Beng Baithong also offers a $2 lunch set, which consists of steamed rice and a main dish, like Samlor Machu Kreung (Lemon Grass Sour Soup) and Prahok Ktiss (Spicy Pork dip).
But mostly it’s about enjoying the atmosphere on the 4-hectare site.
“We have everything here for outdoor enthusiasts,” says Sarin. “People in Phnom Penh who want to escape their stressful, busy life could come here and enjoy themselves often without spending time and money on going to remote provinces just to enjoy nature.”
Beng Baithong Restaurant & Resort is located at St Samdach Chea Sim, Plot 189, SangkatPhnum Penh Tmeiy. It is open every day from 9am to 6pm. Tel:089777481/078777683