Phnom Penh

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 14 October, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 14 October, 2007, 12:00am

Spend a few days in Phnom Penh and you'll probably see motorcyclists performing astonishing balancing acts with human and other cargo. That includes strapping a double bed to the back of a bike and compressing five bottoms into seats sized for two. Tuk-tuks make better sense for homeware shoppers keen to strip the shops on the Cambodian capital's 240 and 178 streets - the two main arteries for design-conscious stores.

For shoppers, 240, beside the Royal Palace, starts near the British ambassador's residence. Head up the street and you'll encounter Bliss (29 Street 240, tel: 855 23 215 754), a colour-addict's quick fix. Well-made cushions (right; US$20 to US$42) and Indian-style cotton quilts (US$68 to US$250) come in rainbow hues and dizzying patterns, although there are also more subdued shades reminiscent of Laura Ashley.

Close by is Couleurs d'Asie (33 Street 240, tel: 855 23 221 075), which has a scarlet circular interior doorway (above right). Cambodian silk items, including table runners (US$20 to US$45) and lap cushions (US$30), are the shop's main draws, although more appealing are its linen table cloths (US$45 to US$60) featuring chilli and dragonfly motifs.

Third on the list of shops to visit is Le Lezard Bleu (61 Street 240, tel: 855 23 986 978), which sells curvy art-deco furniture and traditional and contemporary art.

Street 178 is within walking distance of Street 240, although a big distraction in between is the traditional Khmer-style National Museum. Known primarily for the studios (many of which offer tacky paint-by-number jobs) that run parallel to that establishment, the street also accommodates a handful of homeware boutiques, including Sentosa Silk, on the corner of 178 and Sothearos streets (tel: 855 23 215 074). Come here if you're looking for silk pillowcases (US$19) and wooden fabric holders to show off heirloom-worthy textiles (US$12). Also worth checking out are its giant hanging silk lampshades (US$90) and bamboo lamps inspired by bird cages (US$43).

Several rubbish mounds away is Silk & Pepper (33 Street 178, tel: 855 12 680 060), which carries old bronze fans, pretty bedlinen and wooden slatted fold-up chairs. At US$25 each, they seem a steal - until you hit the labyrinthine Russian Market, 20 minutes away by tuk-tuk. Here the pre-bargaining price is US$11.