The Kingdom of Cambodia in Southeast Asia is rich in culture, art, natural beauty, and also dark history. In fact, a couple million tourists now visit Cambodia every year, many of them attracted by the ancient temple complex of Angkor Wat in the northern city of Siem Reap. But the capital, Phnom Penh, is also a surprisingly charming and livable city; remarkably safe and easy to walk around for a major city.
The Connecting Hands Cafe Review and Report
If you’re in Phnom Penh, you’ll be plenty busy seeing the Royal Palace, the Killing Fields, museums, and other sites, but I encourage you to take a time out and pay a visit to the Connecting Hands Training Café.
The story behind Connecting Hands is heartwarming and will make you want to come back to patronize the café again and again.
Coming out of genocide under the Khmer Rouge regime and decades of instability and dire poverty until the 1990s, Cambodia has a big issue with the exploitation of women and girls. So when an Australian woman, Kate Hutchinson, came to Cambodia years ago and saw the poverty and learned about the sex trafficking there, she vowed to do something to help. So she single-handedly started a non-profit, Connecting Hands.org to help.
The organization connects with organizations that have rescued women and girls from abuse and sex trafficking, and Kate helps give them a safe place to stay, medical care, and the rehabilitation they need to reenter society.A big part of this difficult transition is giving them job skills so they can earn a living once they are on their own again, so they won’t fall victim to the circumstances of poverty that might lead to their exploitation again.
So Kate opened the Connecting Hands Training Café, a place where the girls (I call them that because most of them are under 18, or were when she found them) can earn valuable skills as cooks, waitresses, and gain experience managing a business.
But you wouldn’t know about the altruistic roots of the café if you just walked by it and decided to go in, as I did on my first day in Phnom Penh. (It’s located on 178 Street a short walk from the Royal Palace, among sculptors making Buddha statues.)
The café is small but still feels open, airy, and well-designed. Vibrant art work from local Cambodian artists hangs on the walls, and the place is awash with soothing colors and good energy.
The menu doesn’t disappoint, either, and my favorite is the oversized chicken burger with grilled pineapple along with a refreshing fresh fruit smoothie. Aside from big breakfasts, they also have a fantastic selection of authentic Khmer (Cambodian) traditional dishes with a modern flare, and even some great comfort food like soups and grilled sandwiches for the rainy season.
The café gets full around lunch time (it’s not open for dinner) but other than that, you’re welcome to come in and hang out. I often would get comfortable at the café mid-morning with a latte, working on my computer (yes, they do have wi-fi!) and end up staying for lunch.
If you spend any time there, you’ll also notice how amazing the women are who work there. Not only are they professional, friendly, and helpful, but they all have huge smiles on their faces, and genuinely appreciate being there and interacting with nice people. It’s heartwarming to know where they came from and witness the positive healing that’s happening in their lives, and you’ll leave feeling like the lucky one.
Not only does the Connecting Hands Training Café have great food in a chilled-out, good-vibe environment, but it will be an experience good for the soul. Give them a try!