Culture is enlightening, exalting, uplifting, life-enhancing. But what they don’t tell you is what thirsty work it can be. Don’t worry, though. When it comes to where to refresh yourself, we’ve got you covered…
Why not start with one of the Kingdom’s favourite beers, Angkor. Brewed with soft spring water from the mountains of Sihanoukville coupled with the finest ingredients procured from around the world, this quality lager has earned the brand numerous Gold Awards from Monde Selection, an international quality institute, making Angkor a source of national pride.
Another premium local brew is Cambodia beer, made with only the finest European ingredients at a huge modern brewing facility on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.
If the home ales don’t do it for you then grab a cold, fresh Heineken, now available all over Cambodia.
An epicentre of Siem Reap’s nightlife scene is Pub Street, known as Rue de la Soif (meaning “Thirsty Street”) in French, which is weird because if you’re thirsty for more than three minutes on this strip, you’re doing something wrong.
Night owls with fancy feet have options here. Angkor What? Bar and Temple Club are seemingly engaged in a permanent dance off facing each other on Pub Street. They both have the latest tunes thumping, and beer and buckets pumping, till the early hours every night of the week. X Bar is an open-air venue at the end of Pub Street that also turns up the dance tracks on a nightly basis, as well as hosting live bands. This is the place where dawn seems to arrive earlier than anywhere else in Siem Reap. At least, that’s the only explanation we can think of for why it keeps happening to us.
Those of a more genteel disposition should head to Mezze, an upstairs lounge club with live DJs, delicious Middle Eastern food, and a more sophisticated feel. The music is a little more eclectic and wide-ranging than the chart hits of Pub Street as well.
Heading back to the strip, let’s drop in to The Sun for one of their excellent burgers and salads and a chance to stalk, or rather people watch, at the crossroads. On the other side of the junction, The Red Piano is one of Siem Reap’s longest-running restaurants, where you’ll find a small selection of Belgian beers and the famous Angelina Jolie cocktail. Both of these places have upstairs seating as well, which means you can stalk, err people watch, in breezier comfort.
If you want a similar feel to The Sun without the hustle of the crowds, you could head to Fifty5 just beside the Old Market. This classy, open-sided bar, with a bit of a hipster feel, offers an excellent spot from which to spectate on the world and all its delightful peculiarities.
Menaka Speakeasy Lounge is undoubtedly Siem Reap’s most secretive drinking spot, requiring you to sneak in either via an entrance hidden inside a coffeeshop on 2 Thnou Street, or through a secret door off a side alley. A sumptuous, refined atmosphere awaits you, with some incredible cocktails, like the Samboh Sneah or the Double Rye Old Fashioned, crafted by famous American mixologist Annemarie Sagoi. House infusions are made with fresh local products such as Kampot pepper, chili, basil and jackfruit.
A short hop across town to the hip, upcoming Kandal Village area will find you at Charms, a brand new Belgian-owned apero lounge bar. Grab some beers, wines, cocktails or spirits, and relax for a chat, or perhaps a battle of wits against your co-drinkers in a game of chess, monopoly, cards and other classics. Bar music is purely 90’s and earlier, and played at a social level, while food can be ordered in from neighbouring restaurants if hunger takes hold.
Over the river, on the other side of town, Heritage Suites Hotel hosts live jazz nights every Thursday evening, with happy hour on their cocktails and a chance to dress up a little and observe expats trying to behave. Amazingly, some of them even manage it.
While there’s no live jazz, a classy atmosphere prevails at Le Bel Air, Siem Reap’s first Belgian restaurant – now we know we’re on the map – where 30 different Belgian beers are served in their aircon restaurant or outside in a beautiful, contemporary garden. We can wholeheartedly recommend the snail and truffle ravioli if you’re looking for a noble dish to accompany all those delicious Belgian brews. It’s simply stunning.
Keeping with the classy vibe, because disintegration should be approached with caution, Miss Wong is modelled on the drinking and opium dens of Old Shanghai – the kind of luscious, red-walled time-sink that is almost impossible to leave. Especially once you’ve got your hands on one of their expertly-mixed cocktails. We don’t know you, but while you may enter with elegance, we can’t promise that’s exactly how you’ll leave.
Like Miss Wong, Linga Bar is also LGBT-friendly, holding the distinction of being Siem Reap’s very first gay bar. Lingas are the Hindu symbols of energy, strength and vitality, so expect this central theme to manifest itself in some fabulously potent cocktails, guaranteed to get the party started amongst the young and friendly crowd of locals and foreigners. Happy Hour discounts run daily from 4pm to 8pm.
Asana Old Wooden House is one of the last traditional Khmer wooden homes left in central Siem Reap and is frankly one of the sweetest spots in town. Hang out underneath the building, Khmer style, or sit upstairs sipping on one of their special cocktails mixed with Sombai fruit and spice-infused rice wine. They hold cocktail making classes here too which provide you with an entertaining excuse to drink more whilst pretending it’s educational. We like things like that a lot.
In the same vicinity, you’ll find Yellow Sub, a Beatles-themed bar and favoured hang-out among expats looking to cool off and catch up in the long, chatty drinking hall downstairs, or shoot some pool upstairs. Happy Hour starts at 6pm.
Sok San Road has exploded in the last few years, transforming itself from a forgotten thoroughfare where bandits roamed to a buzzing strip of bars and restaurants. Kuriosity Kafé is one of the more unusual of them, with a huge open front, replicas of the the Predator to be found, and a long drinks list. This is also a great place to peer at foot traffic from their assembly of bars, each of which has a slightly different vibe. We’re not going to suggest the owner has multiple personalities, though. He’s bigger than us. One corner is decked out like an old sailing club, another like a gentleman’s club, and another like an open-air bar. This is a relaxed, easy space from which to kick off your evening, and grab a bite to eat while you’re at it.
Siem Reap Brew Pub may not have 30 beers, but it is Siem Reap’s first microbrewery with a fine selection of bespoke ales, from blonde to dark, that you can try on their own or as a tasting set in a gorgeous, modernist setting.
The Ten Bells has a live DJ every night, as well as a delicious menu of oysters and scallops tapas, sparkling wine by the glass, and glorious cocktails. This venue, which has all the feeling of an underground club despite the open front, also hosts live recording sessions; another one to keep an eye out for events at.
The air-conditioned Picasso is one of those places where you end up joining 14 different conversations, sometimes at once, around its long horseshoe bar. This is not the place for a discreet Tinder date; the whole bar will know what you’re up to in a heartbeat, and you will not be allowed off the hook. They tend to hire their staff with a strict policy of maximum mischief. Picasso opens late and it’s an awful lot of fun, just don’t expect too much mercy on your livers.
Of course, there are some things that shouldn’t be left out of any Siem Reap itinerary, and a Happy Hour cocktail at the FCC Angkor is still one of them. With a view straight out on to the river, this iconic building – the old Governor’s house in the French Quarter – is ideal for enjoying two-for-one sundowners either in the fan-cooled open-sided lounge bar, which makes you feel more stylish just by being there, or in the garden downstairs. If your parents are paying, then you can make sure to get there early.
Another exquisite hotel, the Victoria Angkor Resort & Spa, is a colonial-style building that looks back on to a glorious, jungle-backed swimming pool. The terrace is a perfect perch from which to languidly observe the misguided souls who would actually be in that pool while happy hour is happening.
Further down the Siem Reap river, Temple Coffee Bakery n Pool Sky Lounge is a super-funky bakery by day – all glass and metal with thoughts of running away to New York to make it as a dancer – and a cool open-air, rooftop live music venue by night, with a direct view of the river.
More riverside fun is to be found at Rockabilly’s Rock ’n’ Brews, one of our fave hangouts thanks to their monster burgers and the owners’ eclectic sense of humour. Fashioned on American old school diners (we think that was the plan until a contractor absconded with the furniture), they have karaoke every second Saturday, pool nights and more going on. Another long, chatty bar makes this a superb social spot if you’re in the mood. It’s also one of only two places to have the right to put seating actually on the riverbank, if you want to enjoy a nice, relaxing bit of river gazing.
Further riverine frolics can be had at King’s Road Angkor, a complex with galleries, cafés, restaurants, bars and Siem Reap’s super-cool Made in Cambodia Market. This is also home to The Grey, a trendy, open-sided hangout with a bit of a 70s twist, and a Kampot pepper mojito that will make you reevaluate all of your life goals. Live music plays every evening, with Asian tapas and Khmer grill on the menu.
Balthazar Wine Bar next door offers a sophisticated setting to indulge in fine wines sourced from all across the globe, along with plates of charcuterie, cheeses and gratinated toasts.
Finally, Georges Rhumerie out near Wat Damnak features the eponymous boss maintaining his Reunion Island-borne rum obsession, infusing the sugarcane spirit with local flavours – fruity, spicy, sweet and sour.
There are so many options in Siem Reap that staying sober here requires too much dedication. Give yourself a break, and just enjoy.