SIEM REAP’S 10 BEST BARS: CLASSY, HIDDEN DIVES JUST OUTSIDE OF ANGKOR
Every year I find myself in Siem Reap, Cambodia for a week. It’s inevitable, and always enjoyable.
Angkor Wat is, along with Bagan in Myanmar, one of the two most spectacular temple sites in Asia, if not the world. I’ve come back again and again with friends, or by myself. Although lately I barely spend time in the temples of Angkor Wat, I love the cafe and bar scene of nearby Siem Reap, a charming little French colonial town adjacent to Angkor that now serves as the tourist-amenity center of the region. Though a tourist town, it’s far from a tourist trap. There is something about the clear blue sky, slow clouds and that long twilight that I love here. And, there’s the drinks.
Pub Street is famous here. It is the center of Siem Reap and the fulcrum of activity in town. However, the bars of Pub Street are generally forgettable. Many of them run scams and no one there will remember your name. It’s not the worst place in the world (it can be a good time at the right moment), but we can do better. Lets try to get away from there, for the most part.
10. ANGKOR WHAT?
located in the middle of Pub Street- you can’t miss it.
The most infamous bar in Siem Reap, Angkor What? is certainly not the best. It’s a bit obnoxious, has little atmosphere and blasts generally bland club jams. Is there anything wrong with that when everything else is closed? Not really. Stop by for a cheap Angkor draft or a sweet bucket cocktail, but make sure you’re buzzed enough to withstand the sticky onslaught of sights, sounds and smells. If you go in knowing what to expect, it’s not so bad- you probably won’t remember dancing to 50 Cent, so just go for it once while you’re here. Try these places below first, though…
9. ISLAND BAR
Island Bar: I had to search to find the name of this place because I’d always just called it “the Tiki Bar.” The cocktails could be better and the music is so/so, but the lights and the structure are amazing and the seating very relaxing. Its hard-to-find location makes it a bit of an oasis that’s worth a drink or two. The pastis at $1.50 is my go-to here.
7. TUK TUK BAR
Soksan Road, two blocks off the west end of Pub Street
Oh, Tuk Tuk Bar. I have had some great times here. This very handmade, improvisational drink shack located near a broken-down tuk tuk actually has some great drinks at rock bottom prices. The crowd, decor, music and bartenders seem to be ever-changing. It’s hard to know what to expect here. Open til the sun comes up.
Street 11, just adjacent to Pub Street
Mezze is close to the heart of Pub Street, but has a more upscale, adult atmosphere. Late at night it can get a kind of nightclub feel, so I’d recommend it just after sundown if you’re looking for something quiet. Try a flaming Sambuca.
5. MISS WONG’S
located in “The Lane” alley just one block from Pub Street
If you can’t make it to 1920s Shanghai, stop by here for one of their refreshing cocktails and relaxing atmosphere. This tiny place makes the most of its space through great design and decor. Although its theme seems a bit like a parody of a China that maybe never was, they get every part of this parody just right. Good for any crowd, any time.
4. PICASSO BAR
Don’t look for an overachieving bar on Champs Elysses in Paris or Broadway in New York. Great bars are frequently located down the alleys. Picasso Bar is no different. Just one block away from the thumping ‘Bar Street’, this place would be easily missed by the casual tourist. The horseshoe bar is perfect for meeting other travelers and expats. The drinks are good and the happy hour from 5-9pm is a great value. Don’t be surprised if you stay far after.
3. FCC ANGKOR
A sister of it’s original location in Phnom Penh, FCC in Siem Reap has more of a rural plantation design than the bar in Phnom Penh. After a long, hot day at the temples, having a cocktail by the pool while watching locals and travelers go by the riverfront is a great thing to remember. Drinks are not cheap, but the 5-7pm happy hour is one of the best in Asia. All drinks are 50% off: Angkor drafts for $1 and very nice cocktails at $3-4; can’t pass up a bit of luxury at that price. If you want to splurge on dinner, it’s fabulous here.
3. LITTLE PARI
One block off Pub Street, near Il Forno and Asana
As a lover of all things obnoxiously spicy, I have a bit of an addiction to the Kampot Pepper-infused vodka here. The music and atmosphere is great. It’s a quiet, relaxing place to take a load off alone or talk quietly with friends. If you’re trying to woo someone you met at 5am the night before at Angkor What? you could do much worse than Little Pari.
Asana is located in a stilted old wooden house that seems to be plucked right from the Cambodian countryside, yet it is just two blocks away from the concrete and neon of Pub Street. The cocktails are all good, as are the drip coffees. The seating is cozy and it’s a good place to wrap up around a book if you’ve got one of the super-comfy hanging chairs.
My favorite bar in Cambodia and one of my favorite bars in Asia, sleek/upscale (yet still divey) Laundry is the kind of place you wish you could take with you wherever you go. Reasonably-priced drinks, unpredictable soul/funk music, a friendly staff and a mix of relaxed regulars, expats and first-time backpackers. Laundry is a bit more grown-up than other bars in Siem Reap. Hearing James Brown while sipping a cool pastis on a hot night is something I miss dearly. Can’t wait to get back.
A lot of the older tourists and families on the fly arrive via plane. Cheap flights from Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok can be had on AirAsia.
Most backpackers are coming from either Bangkok or Phnom Penh. Over land, Siem Reap is not easy to get to. From Bangkok, you can take a train or bus to Cambodia, but either way you will have to go through the border town of Poipet, which sounds a lot like “toilet” for a reason. It’s not a pleasant gateway. The bus ride from Phnom Penh ($6) can be just as grueling. It takes about seven hours and buses frequently break down. Once you’ve made it, you can relax over a cool drink.
The Jasmine Lodge has single rooms for $12 (try negotiating) in a nice, clean environment with a pool. They also let me use their kitchen. International liquors can be purchased for cheap in Siem Reap, along with fresh mint and limes.
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