Rhythm and booze
Culture is enlightening, exalting, uplifting, life-enhancing – all of these things. This much we know. What they don’t tell you, though, is what thirsty work it can be. But don’t worry, we got you covered…
Wherever you drink, the country’s favourite beer, Angkor, will be on offer. Brewed with the soft spring water from the mountains of Sihanoukville coupled with the finest ingredients sourced from around the world, this quality lager has earned the brand numerous Gold Awards from Monde Selection, an international quality institute, making Angkor Premium Beer a national pride. If the local stuff doesn’t do it for you then grab a cold, fresh Heineken, now available all over Cambodia.
Pub Street is known as Thirsty Street in French (“Rue de la Soif” in case you’re wondering), which is weird because if you’re thirsty for more than three minutes on Pub Street, you’re doing something wrong.
A world away from that, across 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.
Siem Reap Brew Pub may not have 30 beers, but it is Siem Reap’s first microbrewery with a fine selection ofbespoke ales, from blonde to dark, that you can try on their own or as a tasting set in a gorgeous, modernist setting.
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 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 area, 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.
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.
Night owls with fancy feet have a couple of options in town.
Angkor What? Bar and Temple Club are 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. 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.
Let’s head back to Pub Street, and 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 Old Market. This classy, open-sided bar, with a bit of a hipster feel, offers an excellent spot from which to watch the world and all its delightful peculiarities.
Getting away from the whole Pub Street area, Island Bar at the Angkor Night Market plays great music (sometimes rock, sometimes pop, sometimes dance, all times good), and shakes up some more than decent cocktails. They recently completed a total refurbishment, making it hard to remember you’re in a market in a dusty town in a dusty corner of the world.
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.
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.
L’Explorateur Bar at 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 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, for 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.
On the other side of the river, Chattra Lounge in the new Malis Siem Reap puts a pretty chic start to the evening. They have live music and DJs each Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening and a list of cocktail specials on happy hour prices. We can thoroughly recommend their house cocktails, which are modelled on Cambodian cuisine. These are not merely mojitos with a stick of lemongrass chucked in and $2 added on, they have deconstructed some classic Khmer dishes and reconstructed them in cocktail form. We can only admire that kind of dedication to an art, not least because it makes hipsters look like total amateurs.
More riverside frolics can be had at King’s Road Angkor, a complex with galleries, caf.s, 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. They have live music here every evening too, and an extensive menu of Asian tapas and Khmer grill.
Inside the same complex, Full Frontal is a gorgeous art and photography gallery that also has a bar. We recommend taking dates here if you’re aiming to impress. With wines from $3 and cocktails from $3.50, the excellent value drinks will make those awkward silences just vanish in an ethanol vapour. The gallery owner has worked in photography and with photographers for years – the regular exhibitions are never going to be anything less than amazing.
Finally, there are two brand new joints on the scene to help get your drink on. Georges Rhumerie features the eponymous boss maintaining his Reunion Island-borne rum obsession, infusing the sugarcane spirit with local flavours – fruity, spicy, sweet and sour.
Meanwhile, Balthazar Wine Bar offers a sophisticated setting to indulge in some fine wines from across the globe, along with plates of charcuterie, cheeses and gratinated toasts.
There are so many options in Siem Reap that staying sober here requires too much dedication. So give yourself a break, and enjoy.