Leng Pleng — khmer for ‘play music’ — the go-to guide to live music in the Kingdom, is celebrating 10 years online. It says a lot for the local music scene that in a decade of keeping expat and Cambodian music lovers in the loop, the weekly listing has rarely been short of content. While gigs by major international artists are few and far between — Cambodian cities aren’t exactly on the average tour schedule — we do our best with what we have, and what we have is pretty damn good. Whatever kind of music you’re into, there’s a good chance you’ll find it in the capital.
Check out Phnom Penh’s best-loved troubadour, the prolific poet and singer songwriter Scott Bywater; the exhilarating funk/soul/rap bombast of Hypnotic Fist Technique; Miss Sarawan a.k.a. Lay Mealeah, whose enchanting performances combine original songs and Khmer vintage pop classics; young Khmer thrash metal merchants Doch Chkae (‘like dog’) whose fiercely energetic performances live up to their name; and the rousing wall of sound from masters of Khmer fusion (and one of the most most exciting bands live around) the Kampot Playboys.
Then there’s the slick showmanship of rockabilly boys the Jumping Jacks; big, brassy ska ensemble Checkered Past; assorted, adroit jazz collaborations; and newcomers Geography of the Moon, an indie two-piece whose intense vocals and complex guitar loops are better experienced than described. I could go on…
The well-established community of music makers in Phnom Penh and the availability of gigs and venues is clearly a draw for the above average number of musicians and singers who rock up in Wonderland from around the world. Thanks to whom, on pretty much any night of the week in Phnom Penh you can find live music, and in a mixed bag of milieu, from lush gardens to intimate bars. And, for goodness sake, nearly all of it’s free!
Music lovers can enjoy a chilled start to the weekend in the leafy oasis that is Botanico’s craft beer garden (live music Friday and Saturday from 7 p.m.); or in the green — in every sense of the word — and pleasantly bucolic surroundings of Farm to Table (Fridays 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.). Then end it late and loud upstairs at Oscar’s on the Corner. ‘The best damn bar’, to use the strap line coined by its eponymous Khmer owner, has gigs every night of the week starting about 10 p.m., including by Oscar’s own accomplished house band. (Note, Oscar’s downstairs is of the hostess bar variety but don’t be put off by that detail — upstairs is about the music).
For a midweek treat for the ears — and palate — head to French wine bar and restaurant Bouchon, where live music is featured in the elegant courtyard from 8 p.m. on Wednesdays. Some of the city’s most idiosyncratic shows take place on weekends in the quirky confines of Bassac Lane, where local kids join in the dancing (Phnom Penh gigs are refreshingly inclusive) and locals patiently squeeze their motorbikes through the audience.
Just around the corner, convivial bar, venue, and arts space Cloud will likely be hosting a music event of its own. Nearby, LF Social Club has recently relaunched in the former LF Garden with a stylish new look and regular music back on the agenda, so far on Fridays from 8 p.m. Over in Toul Tom Pong, the live action is centered on Alchemy’s outdoor stage every Friday and Saturday from 7.30 p.m.
Although Cambodia may be a long way off the major festival circuit, multi-artist events like Street 308’s buzzing block parties and assorted, one-off happenings make up for in quality what they lack in scale. A shout out for Above and Beyond Events’ Original Sessions, must-see pop-ups that materialize in diverse settings, including unplugged blues in a CrossFit gym and a hip hop riverboat cruise.
There’s live music on the city’s ‘pub streets’ too, notably at Sundance Inn and Sharky’s. Since alt-country artist and sometime crooner Clay George took over Garage Bar, the compact watering-hole has been hosting select gigs (with a support set from the owner that is alone worth the tuk tuk fare!) Open mic nights abound, including at Riverside’s Stage bar on Tuesdays and Good Times bar every Thursday. The best of the bunch are the Sundowner Sessions at Tacos Kokopelli near the Royal Palace, an end-of-weekend institution that attracts contributions from some of the city’s finest musicians.
Other locales to keep an eye on include brew pub Hops; Belgian bar Duplex; LAB (formerly The Bodleian), and the Hard Rock Cafe for gigs by predominantly Khmer artists. I apologize for omissions; Phnom Penh’s live scene is dynamic in every respect and as some old favorites close, new venues continue to come on board.
So, as we relax in a balmy, tropical courtyard, cocktail or locally-brewed craft beer in hand, savoring some tasty sounds along with our high quality, low-priced refreshments, let’s spare a thought for gig-going friends back in our homelands, who have to suffer packed pubs, impersonal stadiums, and theaters where you can’t even have a drink — and hand over wads of cash for the privilege. Long may you keep on rocking, rapping and raising the roof, Phnom Penh: live music capital of Southeast Asia.
Note: Days and times may change so it’s advisable to check individual venues’ Facebook sites or visit lengpleng.com for the latest listings.
Botanico Wine and Beer Garden
Open Monday to Thursday, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 9 a.m. to midnight; Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
9B Street 29, Phnom Penh
Tel : +855 (0)77 943 135
Farm To Table
Open daily, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
16 Street 360, BKK1, Phnom Penh
Tel: +855 (0)78 899 722
Oscar’s on the Corner
Open daily, 6 p.m to 3 a.m.
31 Street 104, Phnom Penh
Tel: +855 (0)15 643 053
Various bars located off Street 308, Phnom Penh
Open Monday to Saturday, 2 p.m. to midnight
32 Street 9, Phnom Penh
Tel: +855 (0)89 467 345
LF Social Club
Open Tuesday to Sunday, 6 p.m. to 2 a.m.
12b Street 308
Open daily, 10 a.m to 2 p.m., 5 p.m to 2 a.m.
36 Street 123, Toul Tum Poung, Phnom Penh
Tel: +855 (0)15 643 053
Open Monday to Friday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., 4 p.m. to midnight, Saturday 4 p.m to 1 a.m.
82 Street 174, Phnom Penh
Tel: +855 (0)77 881 103
Tel: +855 (0)89 798 074
Sundance Inn and Saloon
61 Street 172, Phnom Penh
Tel: +855 (0)16 802 090
Sharky Bar and Restaurant
Open daily, 5 p.m. to 2 a.m.
126 Street 130, Phnom Penh
Tel: +855 (0)93 848 318
Stage Music Lounge
Open daily, 3 p.m to midnight
375 Preah Sisowath Quay, Phnom Penh
Tel: +855 (0)17 991 303
Good Times Bar
Open daily, 9 p.m. to 6 a.m.
128AEO Street 19, Phnom Penh
Tel: +855 (0)96 721 2528
Open Tuesday to Friday, 10.30 a.m. to 3 p.m., 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 10.30 a.m. to 10 p.m.
42 Street 19z, Phnom Penh
Tel: +855 (0)12 306 845
Open daily, 4 p.m. to 2 a.m.
9 Street 110, Phnom Penh
Tel: +855 (0)86 321 574
Hops Craft Beer Garden and Restaurant
Open daily, 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.
17 Street 228, Phnom Penh
Tel: +855 (0)23 217 039
Open daily, 11 a.m. to 3 a.m.
3 Street 278, Phnom Penh
Tel: +855 (0)88 484 8555
Open daily, 5 p.m. to midnight
23 Street 288, BKK1, Phnom Penh
Tel: +855 (0)23 997 255
Hard Rock Cafe
Open daily, 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.
Street 102 (corner 51), Exchange Square, Phnom Penh
Tel: +855 (0)81 641 111