Eco-living in Phnom Penh!
The Cambodian capital might seem like an off-grid travel destination. Nevertheless, wherever WOMB goes, we try to snoop out for vegan spots, places to buy your zero-waste-travel equipment or boutiques that promote local designers. Here are some tips to be a more mindful and eco-friendly traveller while exploring Phnom Penh!
Getting around Phnom Penh (WOMB’s green score: 3/5)
Phnom Penh is not a large city; sadly it is not stroll-friendly. You can walk around, which we did as much as we could, but the walk are not pleasant. The abundant numbers of tuk-tuks and scooter-taxis make it easy (and tempting) to simply cruise around town in a little vehicle - not as heavy for the environment as cars, but definitely not an eco-option!
We have seen people biking, but the streets of Phnom Penh are not bicycle friendly, and public transportation is basically non-existent. There is no metro, no trams either, and the bus connections seem very limited.
Green Eating in Phnom Penh (WOMB’s Green Score: 4/5)
It is almost a disservice to the Khmer cuisine and its many (naturally) vegan dishes to dedicate just one paragraph to it. Nevertheless, this is all we have in this piece, so let us get right to it. In Phnom Penh, we stayed at Sacred Lotus: Vegan café and Homestay operated by lovely Neth & Krishan. They are both vegan, and the café menu offers both Western and Khmer plant based dishes. The homestay was situated near The Russian market where thousands of food stalls offer traditional food and snacks, most of which are naturally free from animal products. (Aaaand… every Tuesday, the coffee is only 1$ US!)
Sticky-rice pockets with banana and red bean, small servings a mung bean “porridge” topped with coconut cream or the equivalent of a European “flapjack” made with rice instead of oats, topped with shredded coconut. One of our favorites was a snack made of boiled lotus seeds, served with roasted sesame seeds, sugar and shredded coconut. The only downside of street food is the amount of plastic. We carried our reusable Grab-Bag, but not all the sellers understood that we hated them to use our bag, instead of virgin plastic packaging. That’s where the minus in our green score comes from!
Around the Russian Market, there is an abundance of cafés and restaurants offering vegan options. The first worthy mention is Vibe Café, vegan café known in both Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, also for its philanthropic profile. Lot369 is one of our favorite coffee spots (with clearly stater fair & safe employment rules, YES!! Their food menu is, in our humble opinion, a bit meat heavy, but their cashew milk and the lovely lattes (yum, turmeric latte!) that they create with it, is worth writing home about! Lot369 serves 1$-coffee every Wednesday! With its two locations, near the Russian Market and in BKK, ElevenOne Kitchen is Cambodia’s first 99% plastic-free restaurant. We liked the BKK branch more, as it served a full vegetarian Khmer lunch-set menus, whereas in the Russian Market-café one has to order a la carte which does not allow you to taste as much different food and ends up slightly more expensive.
Last, but not least, a place to be om WOMB’s pedestal is “Maitreya Vegetarian Chay”. It is a low-key eatery that serves only vegetarian foods. The dishes are inspired by Chinese cuisine with a few Khmer options on the menu. The dishes usually include “mock meats”, so it might be a good place to take your omnivore friends! It is by far the cheapest vegetarian restaurant food we found in Phnom Penh with dishes for less than 1,5 $ US.
Conscious Shopping in Phnom Penh (WOMB’s Green Score: 4/5)
Phnom Penh is a Mecca for the conscious, design-oriented shopper. But you have to know where to look. The first mention on our list is Ginger&Grace, a beautifully-curated boutique with nicknacks, accessories, jewelry and stationery. Ginger&Grace represents local brads form Cambodia and has their own line of notebooks. Grace herself is super chatty and introduced us to brands like: BYTAVI (vegan bags made by local Khmer women; the brand makes sure that the workers are paid and treated fairly - every bag-tag includes a little manifesto about fair-trade shopping!), HUSH Candle (vegan, hand-poured scent candles), Penh Lenh (jewelry hand-crafted in Cambodia with their own showroom near the Russian market), Butter Magic Soap Studio (vegan soaps) and SuckOnThat (locally manufactured reusable bamboo straws.
If you are looking for more accessories to make your travels zero-waste, head to Farm to Table Phnom Penh. It is a café and a little store where you can get all the gadgets you may need while traveling around South East Asia - reusable straws, reusable cotton pads, tote- and grocery bags, etc. (Similar assortment can be found in ElevenOne Kitchen.)
To shop groceries in bulk, you can either head to the wet markets, and for chemical-free and healthy products check out the Natural Garden chain. Package-free dried fruits and nuts can also be purchased in Lucky Supermarket in BKK!
Waste (WOMB’s Green Score: 3/5)
This chapter we are by no means proud of.
As mentioned, due to miscommunication, we did not always get our street food in our GrabBag, and we have not really seen any recycling facilities in Phnom Penh. There is a lot of trash floating around, and we are positive that loads of it is being burnt. Even with local initiatives like ZeroWasteCambodia, minimizing waste does not seem to be on the general agenda, and average consumers, shoppers, sellers seem unaware. We did get a few “Thumbs Up” for bringing our own straw or refusing plastic, so there must be some eco-talk going around. But as we know, eco-awareness and “green” education is still… a privilege. Many places on this planet people struggle to bring home 150$ US per month, which does not leave much headspace for eco-reflections.
Every time we go to Cambodia, we are faced with the turbulent history of this place and its people. Cambodia is still struggling; socially, financially, on a base human level. What we would encourage you to do is to be mindful of whom you support, what enterprises you strengthen… with your dollar. Check out Tree Alliance and their many cafés (and beauty bars!) around Cambodia. Dine for a good cause, get your nails done for a good cause, support local enterprises and designers (Friends ‘n’ Stuff).
Two of Phnom Penh’s main yoga studios (Nataraj [Krama Yoga] & Yoga Phnom Penh [Azahar Foundation]) are also charities supporting local Khmer people with direct financial aid or simply with employment opportunities. Consciousness, connectivity, ethics go beyond your (much needed in South East Asia) reusable plastic straw!
Phnom Penh Travel Conclusion
We opened up with saying that Phnom Penh might be an edgy travel destination, and we see that as a tourist, your conscious game may be… at least challenged. We only got 14/20 points this time!
At the same time we see how many expats live in Phnom Penh and how many places offer eco-friendly shopping-, grocery- or eating options. The thing you need in Phom Penh is time. Time to walk “from A to B” if you do not want to take a tuk-tuk. You need time to figure out where to shop for zero-waste living accessories, etc. Before we discovered all of Phnom Penh’s green spots, we were very overwhelmed by the sights of trash, mainstream eateries and lack of awareness around conscious living. But the longer we stayed, the more accessible the eco-conscious side of Phnom Penh became to us.