In recent years, Phnom Penh has seen the emergence of cafes. You can go around a particular street and you will see a café or two – and we’re not even counting the small kiosks on the roadside. Most coffee shops are located at the downtown area, meeting the demands of the growing population of Phnom Penh. But the recently opened Book Café, opted for the peace and quiet on the outskirts of the city, Borey Morha Sensok.
“My target audience is general public; however the specific audience is for people in this area. They cannot go to the cafés at the centre of the city since it is too far for them,” Chhay Sophal, Book Café founder, said.
Rather than just serving people a cup of cappuccino, Book Café offers its customers a wide range of things to enjoy.
True to its name, the shop houses about 10,000 books – politics, business, economics, health, agriculture, environment, science, religion, fictions, law, communication and all other genres available. On top of providing people a great number of reading materials, the books are written in variety of languages as well. Khmer, English, French, Thai, Chinese, Russian, German, and Vietnamese books are all there, already to be grabbed and read. Seeing the diminishing number of book lovers and readers in the country, Book Café aims to also stand as a small library.
“Most of the books here were bought with my own money. But there are some sponsors as well. Even if some of the books were kind of expensive, I still bought them because I believe people who love reading books become critical thinkers. I want to change Cambodian people’s perspective towards reading.”
Book Café also offers a meeting room that can fit up to 30 people, suitable for group discussions and sharing sessions for small organisations. The meeting room also serves as a classroom for the children who cannot afford to go to international schools to learn foreign languages. Students pay USD3 for monthly for the language lessons.
The café also shows some traditional media tools exhibition, as Chhay Sophal is also a media practitioner. “I collected those traditional media tools with hopes that I can show people how we communicate and get information in the past because those items are no longer used in the modern world.”
As for the drinks and light meals, customers can choose from dozens of choices for very reasonable prices. Chhay Sophal said half of the income he will generate from the café will be used to buy bikes and books for kids in rural areas.
“I want to give those kids opportunity to receive education through reading books just like kids in the city. I also donate bikes because I want them to use it when they go to school because some schools are quite far.”