Before heading back to the guest house, we visited the other grim place in Phnom Penh – the shores of Boeng Kak lake, which used to be a pleasant area of lakeside backpacker guest houses in the north of the city. Now though, the buildings have encroached over much of the lake, and sewerage from them flows straight into the lake untreated. We wanted to see it, to know what we were missing by staying in the city, but now we know we missed staying on the shores of a malarial cesspit which makes Bangkok’s Khao San Road look like a row of 5-star hotels, we feel much better about our guest house!
For dinner, we went to ‘Friends the Restaurant’, run by the Mith Samlanh charity which works with street children – running anti-drug campaigns, and helping to build their skills and education to rescue them from life on the streets. The restaurant is staffed by children learning restaurant skills – cooking, waiting, managing – and had the best service we’ve experienced in Asia, as well as the best food! Even the décor was fantastic, with brightly painted walls, and subtle music and flowers. Both Charlotte and Emily, who is sometimes fussy over her food, tucked in and ate enormous amounts of food that had us ordering extra dishes. In the end, it turned out to be one of most expensive meals we’ve eaten – at £12 for 4 of us – but it was worth it, and besides, we wrote it off as ‘all for a good cause’. Phnom Penh isn’t an attractive city, and doesn’t seem to be blessed with lots of cafes or restaurants which are nice and within a backpacker budget, but Friends turned out to buck the trend. Emily spent the evening drawing pictures of our waiter, and then playing shy every time he wanted to look at one her art!