Phnom Penh’s Beoung Kak neighbourhood is as colourful as its history. Once a popular backpacker’s oasis, the area around Beoung Kak Lake, or Lakeside, heaved with party-hard gypsies and drifters—it was a psychedelic (and drug-fuelled) haven for misfits and deviants. The lake is now a distant memory, completely filled in as a result of development and shady government deals. Families have been evicted, homes have been cleared out and the hordes of wandering travellers are no longer.
I first found out about this area because I was looking into whether Phnom Penh had a street art scene. Beoung Kak emerged as Phnom Penh’s unofficial street art district after artists were invited to come and paint murals to bring life back into the area. There were grands plans to turn this area into an art village and thriving creative space, but it seems that this hasn’t eventuated, and the drive behind the initiative has largely been abandoned.
The core of the street art runs along Street 93, a relatively quiet street devoid of tourists (at least while we were there). The area could almost pass as a borderline ghetto with its deserted spaces, derelict buildings and crumbling facades—and, admittedly, when we were dropped off by our tuk tuk driver, we weren’t quite sure if was okay to walk around by ourselves flashing our cameras and phones. However, we didn’t encounter any problems, nor did we get the sense of feeling unwelcome.
The street art on the walls injects colour and vibrancy into its surroundings, blending seamlessly into the community around it, more often than not hiding behind a parked tuk tuk or a clothesline. There is a lingering sense of bohemia, no doubt a remnant of the ghosts of travellers’ past. I was particularly excited to see the works of Thai street artist Alex Face, a prevalent street artist whose work I got to know in Perth—his distinct character of a child wearing animal costumes instantly recognisable. There are also works by local Cambodian street artists and other international artists.
I only spent a short amount of time in Beoung Kak’s Street 93 but loved the atmosphere of the street—it really is distinct from the rest of the city and I could imagine how this was once a communal meeting place for travellers. I definitely plan on returning and taking the Phnom Penh art tour that was recently started by architecture students and budding street artists, David Myers and Kimchean Koy, to learn more about the creative scene and street art in Phnom Penh.
WHERE TO FIND STREET ART IN PHNOM PENH
The bulk of the street art in Phnom Penh is on Street 93. Use the #10 Lakeside Guesthouse as a point of reference, which will get you to the street. It can be a bit of a walk from Riverside, particularly in the relentless heat, so it might be best to take a tuk tuk. Within the city limits, it shouldn’t cost more than US$3 to get around, although it may cost more if there are a few people catching a ride. Negotiate prices with the driver beforehand so that there won’t be any surprises later on.
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