Phnom Penh’s Booming Street Art Scene

Let’s face it, Phnom Penh tends to get a bad rap among travelers, but I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again I love this city.  Yes, I’ve had my ups and downs since moving here, but I’m still an avid booster of Phnom Penh.

There are a lot of reasons why travelers should consider allotting at least a day or two (if not much longer) to visiting Cambodia’s capital – and street art is one of them.

If you’ve been following me on Instagram you’re probably well aware that Phnom Penh is home to a pretty awesome street art scene.  And if not, well it is!

Phnom Penh's Booming Street Art Scene - Travel Lush

Street Art in Phnom Penh, Cambodia - Travel Lush

I’m no artist but I am a huge fan of street art.  My obsession really began after I took an unforgettable tour of Bogotá’s street art last year.  Ever since then I always try to seek out street art during my travels.

Before moving to Phnom Penh I was completely unaware that the city is home to a burgeoning street art scene.  And, like me, not a lot of travelers know about it.

Street Art in Phnom Penh, Cambodia - Travel Lush

Phnom Penh’s street art district is actually located on and around Street 93, which is part of the Boeung Kak Lake area.  While Street 93 is still relatively unknown among travelers it is actually located right in the heart of the city.  It’s fully possible to walk there from the riverside, that is if you’re willing to brave Phnom Penh’s brutal heat.  If not, just hop in a tuk tuk – rides from the riverside shouldn’t cost more than $1-2 – and tell the driver to take you to Boeung Kak.  They should know exactly where it is.  (Tip:  Once you see the large mosque veer left.  When you start seeing art on the walls you’ll know you’re in the right place.)

Street Art in Phnom Penh, Cambodia - Travel Lush

The History of Boeung Kak’s Street 93

Boeung Kak Lake is a bit of a misnomer.  There actually isn’t a lake there…at least not anymore.

The story of Boeung Kak Lake is a sad one.  But it’s one that I really want to share here because most travelers don’t know about it.  And I promise that street art really does play a role in this story!

Street Art in Phnom Penh, Cambodia - Travel Lush

Street Art in Phnom Penh, Cambodia - Travel Lush

From what I’ve heard the lake was once one of the prettier parts of Phnom Penh.  Street 93, which used to be located on the lakeside, was actually the main backpacker hangout in Phnom Penh in the ‘90s and early 2000s.

Back in the day Street 93 was a popular spot for travelers, hippies and creative types who would go there to hang out, smoke pot and drink sunset beers.  It definitely sounds like it had its shady aspects (as many areas of Phnom Penh do) but once upon a time this was the backpacker spot in the city.  Back then business was booming and Boeung Kak’s Street 93 was full of bars, hostels and restaurants.

The lake itself was surrounded by numerous villages and thousands of residents, many of whom made their living by fishing and harvesting seaweed.  The lake, which was actually fairly large, was also a major source of water for the city.

But everything changed in 2010 when the lake was filled in by land developers who wanted to create more room in Central Phnom Penh for luxury housing.   According to this site, thousands were forced to evacuate and were compensated next to nothing for their land.  As the lake dried up so did business.  The owners of all those once-popular hostels, bars and restaurants had no choice but to permanently close their doors.  Between the business owners and fishermen, thousands of residents no longer had a source of income.

This highly controversial ordeal lasted years and resulted in protests, arrests and, eventually, forced evictions.  Starting in 2010, the lakeside was reduced to a wasteland.  Like many former lakeside areas, Street 93 became notorious for drugs, poverty and crime.  Nowadays, the former lake is nothing but a large swath of sand and it’s still devoid of any development.

The story of Boeung Kak Lake is just another tragic aspect of this city’s troubling history and its controversial construction boom.

But there is a bright spot to this story, I swear!

Street Art in Phnom Penh

A couple years ago two French women – Marj Arnaud and Ludi Labille – set up shop in Boeung Kak’s Street 93.  They had the (some would say) crazy idea to clean things up and turn Street 93 into an art-filled village.  And, against all odds, they’re succeeding!

Street Art in Phnom Penh, Cambodia - Travel Lush
This piece was done by Anthea Missy.

In Boeung Kak’s Street 93, things are changing fast.  These two women kick started a whole movement to not only clean up the neighborhood but to give it an artistic makeover.  They opened the doors to their French bistro and art center called Simone in August 2014.  Since then they have worked feverishly to promote art and culture in the area by inviting both local and international artists to adorn walls and buildings with some pretty amazing art.

Street Art in Phnom Penh, Cambodia - Travel Lush
A great piece just outside of Simone.

In one year’s time, the streets have become filled with art installations and colorful murals  Businesses including bars, restaurants, hotels and clothing shops are now (slowly) starting to pop up.  And events promoting art and Cambodian culture are regularly held in the area.  There is new life on Street 93 and it is a sight to be seen.

I first learned about Street 93 through Instagram of all places.  One of my favorite Colombian artists who goes by the moniker Stinkfish actually visited Phnom Penh in the spring of 2015 and graced the side of one of Street 93’s many dilapidated buildings with his colorful and unique work.  He posted a photo on Instagram and I was instantly obsessed with the idea of visiting the area.

street art phnom penh stinkfish
The last I heard this piece by Stinkfish had been painted over. Too bad because it was one of my faves!

At the time I had no idea I’d actually be moving to Phnom Penh, but move here I did.  And one of the first things I did when I got here was go to Street 93.  If you ask me, it’s definitely one of the cooler places to visit in the city.  And while it’s still small and still in its nascent stages Street 93 is well worth a visit.

PIN ME FOR LATER!

Phnom Penh's Booming Street Art Scene - Travel Lush

Have you heard of Street 93?  Do you seek out street art when you travel?

About Justine

Justine Lopez is a California native who always seems to take the unconventional route in life. She also suffers from a serious case of wanderlust. In 2013, she set out on a yearlong round-the-world journey and never looked back. Since then she's lived the expat life in both Jakarta and Phnom Penh. She's now living and working as a freelance writer in Beijing. As she meanders her way through Asia she's always seeking out great vegetarian food, budget travel deals and amazing new travel destinations.

32 thoughts on “Phnom Penh’s Booming Street Art Scene

  1. Hi Justine, I am just back from Cambodia where we spent three brilliant days in PP. I didn’t notice the awesome street art (reminds me of Lisbon), but we had a superb if at times thought-provoking time. I have posted a few times on my blog about the place, but the thing that we loved the most was the genuine friendliness of the people. Singapore Slings at the Raffles Elephant Bar were not bad either! I would definitely recommend anybody that visits Cambodia to linger in the capital for a few days. Wilbur.
    Wilbur recently posted…I Will Never Forget My Elephant…..

    1. The street art area is isolated to one tiny part of the city where tourists don’t tend to go, so it’s no wonder why travelers don’t know about it! I’m glad you had such a good time in the city. It’s a place that gets such mixed reviews so I’m always happy when people have a positive takeaway 🙂

  2. Hi Justine,

    Great post! I love street art, and didn’t know the story of Street 93. Inspiring to know that Marj Arnaud and Ludi Labille are making a real difference, and I’ve now added Street 93 to my list of future PP things to see. Thanks for sharing!
    Paul recently posted…On Top of the World in Taipei

    1. It really is such a cool story Paul. I actually met both of these ladies and what they are doing is really inspiring. I highly recommend visiting next time you’re in town 🙂

  3. Beautiful photos. I love street art as well!! I definitely wouldn’t have pegged Phnom Penh as having an art scene. I’ll be keeping this in mind if I ever make it to Cambodia!

    — Melody

    1. The art scene is a very new thing here…well at least in terms of street art. There are still very few Cambodian street artists but the trend is growing very quickly. Definitely check it out if you ever come to this corner of the world 🙂

    1. This whole scene didn’t even exist a year ago, so it probably wasn’t even going on when you visited. It’s definitely a brand new trend in the city but it’s growing pretty rapidly. Definitely check it out when you come back 😉 The street art in Melbourne looks amazing. I would love to go there!

    1. It’s such a crazy story! I think the artists have been really great for the community, but because street art is so foreign to the locals there has definitely been some controversy as to whether it’s a good thing or not. Some Cambodians don’t like the art or the foreign influence but the fact that these women and artists are really working to better the community socially and economically is wonderful, but that’s just my opinion!

    1. Thanks Drew! Oh, I imagine the street art in London is absolutely amazing. I hope to get back there someday soon. And when I do I’ll definitely be exploring the street art!!

    1. Me too Elen!! The street art scene is so new in Phnom Penh that it likely wasn’t around when you visited. But if you ever go back you should DEFINITELY seek it out. There are some seriously amazing pieces in Phnom Penh 🙂

  4. In the last several months, I have become a huge fan of taking pictures of street art. Probably because awesome street art provide great Instagram opportunities. Actually, I really didn’t start noticing street art until I started Instagramming. Most big cities seem to have plenty of cool street art.
    Rashaad recently posted…On a Bicycleabout…

    1. I am obsessed with street art 🙂 And I always seem to take tons of photos of it whenever I comes across it!! And they do tend to make cool Instagrams 😉

  5. Great article!

    Are there any street art tours in PP? I have been to a few street art tours in London and find them fascinating learning about the artists behind each mural and a bit more explanation to the meaning behind the pieces.

    1. Hi Elsie. I’m not sure if there are any tours. It’s a very small scene and I’m not really sure if it’s still the same as when I left. My best advice is try to track down some of the artists or just head down to the area. Good luck!

  6. Oh wow!! Sadly I was sick during my stay in Phnom Penh so I have not got a chance to walke around.
    I did see some graffiti in Thailand and Indonesia though, but not as huge as this.
    x

    1. Oh no. I hate when I get sick when I’m traveling. I’m sorry that you missed it. I have seen some great graffiti in Bali, but I’ve never had the chance to check any out in Thailand. Hopefully someday!

    1. That’s so exciting Mathieu! I do know that some of the pieces have been replaced by new ones. I’m so curious to know if the area has changed at all. Enjoy PP for me 🙂

    1. That’s so cool to hear! The main reason I wrote this post was because no one seems to know about this area, including a lot of people are are living in PP. I wanted to spread the word because I really think the artists are doing some great work out there 🙂

  7. Thanks for this post Justine. I too am obsessed with street art and seek it out where ever I go. I will be heading to PP in 12 days. This will be my second trip to visit my expat son. I WILL be visiting the street art area! Do you have anyone other unique suggestions as we will spend about 5 days in the city.

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