I’m not sure I can remember a single thing I ate or drank on my first two trips to Siem Reap — aside, of course, from several gallons of cheap cocktails at Angkor Wat? nightclub. Those trips just had a different focus. But for my most recent return to the city, I couldn’t have been more excited to really check out the local bar and restaurant scene. For us this was less rough-and-tumble travel, more chill-and-indulge vacation.
I’ll be honest. I couldn’t have made this list without the amazing advice of — and bespoke cocktail crawl designed by! — Lara Dunston. Lara is one half of the pair behind Gran Tourismo Travels, one of my absolute favorite sites for Southeast Asia advice. As she and her husband Terrance are veteran travel writers based in Siem Reap, you won’t find a better guru for your next trip there than they! For the “Where to Drink” portion of this post, we joined Lara for one of her custom Sip Siem Reap experiences. Here’s how a handful of their suggestions turned out for me.
Where to Eat
I find it’s rare for a hotel restaurant to be a destination in and of itself. But Niam Niam, the onsite eatery at our beloved Navutu Dreams Resort, is impressive not only for the diversity of their menu — they have macrobiotic health food, green smoothies, and an impressive array of both Khmer and Italian favorites — but also for the fact that you can combine a meal there with a yoga class, aqua zumba session or a plain ‘ol splash in any one of their three onsite pools. Talk about a healthy lunch!
No point in sugar coating it — I wanted to come here for the swinging tables. But Kroya, another onsite restaurant, this time at Shinta Mani, has a lot more going for it than unique seating selections. A creative menu of Khmer inspired dishes and craft cocktails made this the perfect place to unwind after a day at Angkor Wat. Kroya serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and has both an air-conditioned dining room and open air swings.
If you can, time your meal to match up with the onsite Made in Cambodia market, which runs every Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday from 4-9pm. There’s free entertainment, fair trade artisanal crafts, and good vibes all around. None of the vendors are charged to be there and the hotel doesn’t take a percentage of profits — it’s simply an event they throw to the benefit of the local artisan community and tourists alike.
My favorite find of the trip, Marum is truly a unique dining experience. Marum is a training restaurant for Kaliyan Mith, an NGO that has been working with street children and other at-risk youth in Siem Reap since 2005. We were moved by the earnestness with which the trainees carried out their work, and the kindness that their mentors demonstrated in showing them the ropes. If you want to leave your meal feeling warm and fuzzy, this is the spot.
In addition, there’s a gorgeous garden to dine in, and one of the most creative and fun menus of our trip. Our favorite dishes included taro and chive dumplings with citrus ginger soy for an appetizer, and mango and coconut sushi wrapped in pandan sesame crepes for dessert. I regret we didn’t go for the stir-fried red tree ants with beef and lemongrass as an entree, but oh well — now I have a reason to go back.
Looking for a quick snack or a sweet treat? Swoop by Kaya Cafe and pick up one of their Khmer-inspired desserts — we tried the coconut tart, the leaf-wrapped banana cake with mango coulis, and the coconut waffles with wild honey. If you find yourself in a carb coma after, there’s an onsite spa to indulge in!
Where to Drink
The starting point of our Sip Siem Reap tour, Pages is owned by a pair of Cambodian French architects with a passion for 1950s, 1960s, and early 1970s style. This laidback bar and café also has a sister hotel by the same name, if you find yourself crushing on their style.
Elephant Bar, nestled within the halls of the Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor, is Siem Reap’s oldest bar. We loved how the modern and creative menu contrasted with the historical elegance of the setting, and we also loved having an excuse to gussy up — this is the rare Cambodian bar where flip flops are not welcome!
Our favorite stop on the Sip Siem Reap tour was undoubtedly our Cocktail Making Class at Asana Bar. Asana Bar is the Old Market Quarter’s last standing old wooden house, run by the charismatic Cambodian woman Pari. Regular jazz nights, a tucked away location, cocktails created with Khmer ingrediants and an atmosphere unlike any other you’ll find in the city make this one of the coolest bars I’ve ever been to.
And taking a cocktail class just made the experience all the more memorable! Our instructor, Pari’s sassy little sister, led us through a tasting of local Sombai-infused rice liquor, taught us an array of cocktails from ginger mojitos to asana slings, and finally letting us loose to invent our own creations (pressure on Ian was high when the group learned he’s a bartender by trade!).
I drooled over ingredients like fresh lemongrass, tamarind, turmeric and galangal and swooned over the creative Sombai infusions like coconut pineapple. At just $15, you won’t find a more fun way to spend 90 minutes in Siem Reap. Classes start every night at 5:30 — book ahead.
Our expectations for Miss Wong were high — Lara ranks it as her favorite cocktail bar in the city — and they were met, if not exceeded. This chic, Shanghai-inspired bar serves up not just craft cocktails but an authentic menu of dumplings, noodles, and other drinking night indulgences.
AHA Wine Bar
Pub Street’s AHA wine bar has a lot going for it — its menu of Khmer inspired tapas is fun and inviting, the selection of wines by the glass is impressive, and its chic design stands out among a sea of mediocre options in the area.
And did I mention it has air conditioning? If you’re looking for a drink in the height of mid-day heat, this is your spot. Designed by the architects who own Pages, I couldn’t get enough of this stylish space.
This French-Lebanese owned bar is one of the few in Siem Reap that has a real nightclub vibe, with popular parties on Friday and Saturday nights in the second floor space. During the week when we visited, the vibe at Mezze was more lounge-y than dance-y, and we loved the sophisticated atmosphere.
Laundry Bar is a favorite hang out of French expats, and we could see how anyone would be drawn by the low prices, amazing playlist and presence of a pool table. Lara told us live music is a big draw some nights, though we loved what they were playing on the low key Sunday we stopped by. No wash and fold service on the menu, however.
Prior to arriving, I’d read many reviews hailing Bar Picasso as the “Cheers of Siem Reap,” and couldn’t wait to experience this beloved expat bar for myself. Unfortunately, we didn’t last long — it’s one of Siem Reap’s fully indoor, sealed-off bars, which is great if you’re looking for air conditioning, awful if you’re trying to avoid second-hand smoke. While my allergies wouldn’t stand for me to stand inside, it sure did look fun through the window.
Soul Train, a beach-ready reggae bar tucked away in a small city, was my second favorite stops of the trip after Asana. Popular with backpackers, young expats, and laid back locals, we had way too much fun drinking with Hong, one of the lovely owners (things, including my photos, got a little blurry toward the end). I love this local interview with Hong, who’s life story I listened to intently over passionfruit shots.
We lingered here longer than anywhere else on this list, and I’m certain I’d find myself a regular there if I ever stayed in Siem Reap long term.
Again, I can’t thank Lara enough for our amazing, custom designed cocktail crawl (and her many restaurant recommendations!) If you’re looking for a unique experience with food, drinks, or shopping, or looking for guidance in putting together a dream trip to Cambodia, look no further than Gran Tourismo. Our night was the perfect note to end our short and sweet trip to Cambodia on.
Have you been to Siem Reap? Is there anywhere I need to add to my list for next time?