No trip to Phnom Penh’s bustling Riverside district would be complete without stopping for a drink at the iconic Foreign Correspondents Club (FCC). First time visitors would easily be forgiven for imagining the club sprang from Cambodia’s colonial era, but the FCC is barely 20 years old, and that is perhaps the most striking testament to how much this city has changed in such a short time says Kim O’Grady.
It was here in those early days of the FCC that journalists and aid workers would seek out companionship and cold beer when the war weary streets of Phnom Penh fell dark and silent at night. With armed soldiers policing curfews, and the balmy humid evenings punctuated by sporadic bursts of gunfire, correspondents filed stories here to a world watching to see if this once broken country would ever stand as an independent nation once again. While Pol Pot made his final stand in the jungle only a few hours away, weary reporters drank here in celebration of filing their exclusive stories and meeting tight deadlines in a pre-internet world. And from the balconies of the FCC in those early days it was not unknown for a few of those alcohol fuelled patrons to unleash a little celebratory gunfire into the Phnom Penh night air themselves!
Today the FCC is still a welcoming and friendly place to seek respite and a cold beer, though the respite these days is from the bustling streets, market vendors and the plethora of nightlife choice that is today’s Phnom Penh Riverside district. Once a no-go zone of thieves, black-marketeers and cutthroats, the Riverside district is now a haven for locals, expats and tourists alike. Whether it’s a stroll along the riverside boulevard, gin and tonics under open air fans, or an a la carte meal in a trendy air-conditioned wine bar, the streets around the FCC have it all. From here it’s only a short walk to the luxurious and somewhat quirky exhibits of the Royal Palace grounds, or you can venture into the street back from the river to check out the city’s budding arts district.
Development has set a rapid pace in this part of Phnom Penh, and the FCC was here when it all started. I’m not sure the original clientele could have ever imagined how their panoramic view would change so much in 20 years. But nestling into comfortable chairs in its breezy open spaces, with the bustle of tuk-tuks, cars and motos just that little bit further away, it’s not hard to imagine those early patrons appreciating their time spent in this first little foothold of civilisation.
Explore Phnom Penh and stop in for a drink at the Foreign Correspondents Club on a trip to Cambodia on a group tour or tailor-made holiday.