Phnom Penh’s hostel owners moving into boutique style

The kitchen and living area at Sla Boutique Hostel in Phnom Penh.
The kitchen and living area at Sla Boutique Hostel in Phnom Penh. Vandy Muong

Phnom Penh’s hostel owners are taking their accommodation upmarket as they seek to stand out from the crowd and attract backpacking tourists in an increasingly competitive market.

While houses, condos, hotels, guesthouses, and hostelshave multiplied in the city, especially in touristand business zones, some hostel owners are trying to leave their low-rent past behind them by refurbishing their properties in eye-catching modern styles.

Hostels, which provide tourists with keenly priced dormitory rooms, are widespread in Phnom Penh’s backpacker areas close to the riverfront and the Russian Market. A bed in a dormitory can cost as little as $3 a night.

The kitchen and living area at Sla Boutique Hostel in Phnom Penh.
Sla Boutique hostel’s bespoke bunk beds. Vandy Muong

Located on Street 174 in Daun Penh district, Sla Boutique Hostel is bright, modern, and surprisingly luxurious for a hostel.

Owner Vatanak Chheng, 33, said the hostel is his first venture in the hospitality industry, inspired by his travels. While travelling abroad he would stay in clean, stylish hostels that could accommodate groups of people at one time.

He said, “Before opening this hostel, I visited places, both domestic and overseas, particularly areas that attract many tourists.”

Sla’s aesthetic is certainly unusual. Dormitory rooms have specially designed bunk beds, some of which are doubles. Vatanak says he loves construction and design, and personally attended to the interior design of the hostel, which has 72 bunk beds. Prices for a bed range from $6 to $9. There’s a common kitchen for guests who like to cook their own dinner.

He said, “We focus on service, cleanliness and engagement, which is different from the other 50-plus hostels in Phnom Penh. We have a common kitchen and living room for guests to use.”

He added that visitors to the hotel are almost all foreign tourists and believes this is partly because Asian or Khmer people are shy about sharing a living room.

Chheng said, “A hostel is a place to discover new cultures, share with each other, and meet new people. It’s different from hotels and guesthouses. The market for hostel accommodation varies depending on each location, and some owners have tried to move from a hotel or guesthouse to hostel. We did not know if it was possible.”

The bar at Sla Boutique hostel.
The bar at Sla Boutique hostel. Vandy Muong

Chhaleaphy and Pidor, both 25 years of age, run the Ampoule Hostel on Street 294. The hotel has a simple design, but it also is spotlessly clean and stylish. Ampoule boasts a mini-mart, a Jacuzzi, and a rooftop bar and restaurant. The eight guest rooms have 52 beds in total, and a night’s stay here costs from $6 to $12.

Through their experience of working for a travel company and traveling to different countries, the pair found that hostelsare not yet as ubiquitous in Cambodia as they are in other tourist destinations around the world.

They stated, “We traveled across the world together and came up with the idea of building a hostel.”Regarding the culture of sharing accommodation, they say the appeal is not yet widespread, but hostels are starting to attract teenagers who want to sleep in a shared room.

Van Chanthorn, CEO of Town City Real Estate, told Post Property that new builds in the sector are rare as land plots generally go to larger-scale developments. “This sector is still difficult as an investment, but I think tourists who travel in groups want to stay together to get a decent price,” Chanthorn said.