Art and artisans, Dufry & destination delights, add Cambodian class in Phnom Penh

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Martin Moodie
Martin Moodie is the Founder & Chairman of The Moodie Report.

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My post-MEADFA sojourns have taken me to the Cambodia capital of Phnom Penh, a city of relentless sometimes oppressive noise and pace. But it’s also a fascinating place, with a vibrant arts scene and cafe culture; sprawling marketplaces; motorbikes roaring all around you (often carrying four or even five family members); and the pungent smell of streetfood everywhere.

The city also features some magnificent Khmer and French colonial architecture and, critically, memories of the barbaric Khmer Rouge regime and the associated Cambodian genocide (the photos below are on show at the iconic Foreign Correspondents’ Club).

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Such is the bustle of the city that it’s something of a surprise to arrive at Phnom Penh International Airport and encounter an oasis of calm, an efficient, quiet airport featuring some fine artwork and an excellent, diverse shopping, dining and lounge offer.

I include some of the highlights below.

AIRPORTS AS ‘ARTPORTS’

Airports are increasingly reflecting their status as national gateways by showcasing great local or national art. Look out for our 2017 e-Zine series ‘Airports as artports’, dedicated to the subject. Phnom Penh International offers some beautiful Cambodian pieces.

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WALK-THROUGH DUTY FREE

The small, crammed, crowded shops of yesteryear are a distant memory. International retail giant Dufry has done a good job here in creating a wide, accessible walk-through formula that doesn’t trap the traveller but offers ease of shopping as well as an unrestricted flow through to the gates. The beauty offer is particularly impressive (note the emphasis on Korean brands, a sure sign of significant Chinese business here) and the focus on local items that is much more than token.

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A COMMENDABLE EMPHASIS ON LOCAL PRODUCTS IN THE MAIN DUFRY STORE

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SOLID INTERNATIONAL LIQUOR, TOBACCO & FASHION/ACCESSORIES OFFER

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I’m not sure about some of the wine pricing though. US$59 for Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc? It’s US$30 at Dubai Duty Free and just under that at Heathrow Airport.
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Baron Edmond de Rothschild’s Rimapere Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand is a lovely wine. But US$74? Really?

ARTISANS ANGKOR:  A TOP-CLASS STAND-ALONE DESTINATION MERCHANDISE STORE

Artisans Angkor is a Cambodian enterprise created to revive Khmer cultural heritage while helping young rural people finding work near their home villages. It delivers marvellous expression of that heritage here.

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TONLÉ – WHY EVERY THREAD MATTERS

What a great store. And what a great story. Tonlé sees fashion differently – from its production to the way it’s worn. The independent company works with scrap waste from mass clothing manufacturers. “Using every last thread, we create handmade clothing and accessories signed by their Cambodian makers,” it says.

“We believe style is more than what you wear – it’s what you choose to be a part of. When you buy Tonlé, you’re buying one-of-a-kind clothes that carry meaning across cultures and continents.”

In a crowded, often crass retail world, it’s nice to see such views, and wares, getting such a proud airing at Phnom Penh International Airport. The items are lovely, the merchandising elegant and understated. I bought a blouse as a Christmas gift for my daughter (I hope she doesn’t read this Blog). It will be nice to give her something with such a story behind it.

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FOOD & BEVERAGE FLAIR

The airport’s food & beverage offer has been developed by EMCAT’s affiliated company, Sajibumi
Cambodia, and is anchored by Phnom Penh Dining Avenue. It’s an eclectic and attractive mix of local and international, of formal and informal. Flavoursome evidence that small airports can offer high-quality dining.

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AN OASIS OF CALM – PLAZA PREMIUM LOUNGE

Song Hoi-se’s vast network of Plaza Premium Lounges always offers respite from the hustle and bustle of a modern airport. But at Phnom Penh International the company has done a particularly outstanding job.  There’s a lovely laid-back atmosphere here and lots of deft touches, included the walled photography exhibition, a wellness spa, multiple charging points and an excellent culinary offer.

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