Food and Drink in Siem Reap
Not quite as distinct or world renowned as Vietnamese cuisine, Cambodian fare does have a certain flair of its own. A blend of influences from Vietnam, Thailand, China and India, the food is both exotic and plain, boasting simple flavors in unique packages. The most famous bites -- which include super pungent fermented fish paste, fried tarantulas and crispy crickets -- are probably the least appealing, but a venture into the downtown markets will quickly disrupt any notions that bugs and foul fish are all the kingdom has to offer.
Due to Cambodia's location on one of Asia's largest rivers, seafood is prevalent, and you'll find it in everything from pho (breakfast soup) to crispy, deep-fried cakes that slightly resemble hashbrowns.
Cambodian fare is moderate when it comes to seasoning, with just a small hint of spice in the creamy coconut fish entrees or the fried vermicelli dishes tossed with chicken or tofu. If you prefer a little heat, ask for a side of chilies to give your dish an added kick. Sweet treats are made entirely of local ingredients like sweet palm sugar and pumpkin candies, red dates, creamy coconut milk milkshakes or lemongrass-infused ice creams.
Cambodia has some of the region's best -- and strongest -- coffee, so you'd be remiss not to order a few espressos from the market to fuel the rest of your temple hunting. The country is also known for its locally brewed beer and spirits, so if you can, grab a libation at lunch. (We love the Angkor Beer.)
For a quick buzz, sample Cambodia's famed rice wine, known as sraa in Khmer, which is often described as rocket fuel due to its overwhelming potency. To sample different flavors of the strong wine, head to a Sombai shop to taste the libation infused with coffee beans, ginger, coconut and pineapple.
Marum: For an authentic dinner that serves a purpose, head to Marum, a hospitality training restaurant that trains underprivileged Cambodian youth. (The parent company, Tree of Life, also has sister restaurants in Luang Prabang, Addis Ababa, Bagan and Phnom Penh.) The restaurant, which is run by Friends-International and partnered with local NGO Kaliyan Mith, sits in a stunning wood-paneled mansion flanked by lush trees decorated with string lights that elegantly hang over the outdoor dining room tables.
The menu is served tapas-style, so be sure to order plenty to share. The fresh rice paper rolls with goat cheese, grilled peppers and tamarind chili dip are a great starter for spice lovers, while the prawn, mango and cashew nut stir fry and the slow-cooked Khmer-style pork ribs with apple and radish salad are some of the students' favorites. For a more unique bite (that also comes with a high stamp of approval from the students in training), opt for the spicy red tree ants with beef, kaffir lime and chili stir fry. (Trust us: they're mouthwatering.) (#8A, B Phum Slokram between Wat Polanka and Catholic Church, Krong Siem Reap; +855-17-363-284; open 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.)
Siem Reap Brewpub: In the heart of Siem Reap, the aptly named Siem Reap Brewpub was started by a hobbyist brewer turned passionate brewmaster, and it serves some of Southeast Asia's most desirable taps. Set in an open-plan villa boasting seating both indoors and out, the pub also features an internationally inspired menu that's a blend of local ingredients and Western-meets-Asian fusion.
The highlight of the menu is the beer, with the Blonde tapping the local's favorites and the Golden, Amber and Dark delighting traveling beer connoisseurs. If you can't decide between the many options, try a sampling platter that gives you a try of each. For food, try the beef jerky appetizer, the sour soup with red ants and the curried chicken with noodles. (Corner of Street 05 & Shinta Mani, Phum Mondul II, Sangkat Svay Dong Kom; +855-80-888-555; open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.)
Street Food: Like most Southeast Asian cities, the street food of Cambodia is eclectic, varied and incredibly dynamic. Dishes range in spice from some curries nearly burning your tongue to others offering a more mild and unassuming taste. The thing to note with street vendors: You want to ensure you order something cooked. (Salads and fruits that can't be peeled can cause serious stomach upsets, as Western bodies aren't used to the types of bacteria found in the water.)
If you're not sure how to navigate the sometimes-complicated street food scene buzzing around Siem Reap, opt for a Food Tour (try Siem Reap Food Tours), and follow a local guide who will take you to the best (and most hygienic) spots in the city.
Expect to nosh on dishes like steam-rice dumplings with hearty potato filling and an assortment of meat, pumpkin milkshakes made with rich coconut milk, slurpable vermicelli soup spiced with Cambodian chilies or even more delicious fried noodles tossed with spicy crickets right in front of you.
If you're on your own, make sure to scout out Taco Tuk Tuk or head to the Phsar Polanka market, which is home to a few vendors inside and some great mobile carts outside. One of the best stalls is num pang, which offers a Cambodian version of Vietnam's famed banh mi sandwich, stuffed with pork, pickles, mayo, fermented fish paste and some pate. (Psar Polanka, National Route 6; open 7 a.m. to 1 a.m.; Taco Tuk Tuk: Siemreab-Otdar Meanchey, Cambodia; +855-96-501-5238; Open daily.)
Miss Wong's: Decorated with Chinese lanterns, scarlet-painted walls and an ambiance that almost feels like it belongs in Shanghai, Miss Wong's is truly a Siem Reap institution. The bar and nightclub, which opens at 6 p.m., is worth a quick stop, even if you're running to catch your transfer back to the ship or to dinner.
The drinks evoke an Old World charm, with innovative sips like Oriental martinis (made with rose water and lemongrass) or the infamous China White and jasmine tea syrup mixed with fresh lychees and gin. For a snack, don't miss the homemade dim sum or steamed buns that are filled with an assortment of Cambodian favorites, like fish paste or mouthwatering coconut steamed fish or chicken. (The-Lane, Krong Siem Reap; +855-92-428-332; open from 6 p.m. to 1 a.m.)
The Little Red Fox Espresso: If you find yourself craving a cuppa, head to Kandal Village for a visit to The Little Red Fox Espresso, which sells organic, fair trade coffee and tea, as well as locally sourced breakfast foods, salads and light bites. (Hup Guan Street, Mondul 1 Village, Siem Reap, 17252)
Don't Miss in Siem Reap
Angkor Wat: Arguably the most famous sight in all of Cambodia (and Siem Reap's crown jewel), the impressive 12th-century Angkor Wat complex is well worth battling crowds to visit. If you want to avoid the hordes that storm the temple during midday during high season, consider a (very) early wakeup call (around 4 a.m.) to catch the sunrise, which will also allow you to capture that iconic, world famous photo.
The complex is big, so expect to spend at least four to five hours wandering past the intricately carved walls, the historic carvings of Buddha and the labyrinth of tunnels and weaving temples that make up the UNESCO Word Heritage Site. If you're going without a guide, make sure you visit the Central Sanctuary, which boasts the sweeping views of the temple complex and the neighboring countryside.
Angkor Tom and Bayon Temple: While you're out and about visiting temples, don't miss the fortified city of Angkor Thom, which houses the incredible Terrace of Elephants, the Terrace of Leper Kings and the mysterious Bayon temple, which is home to the smiling Buddha faces.
Banteay Srei and Ta Prohm: Not quite as well-known as Angkor Wat but equally incredible, are the temples of Banteay Srei and Ta Prohm. Because they're far more intimate than the sprawling Angkor Wat complex, these two sights are often clumped together into a single four- to five-hour visit. The spectacular Hindu Banteay Srei temple, which dates back to the 10th century, was built and dedicated to the deity Shiva and is ornately decorated with carvings of Vishnu and Shiva.
The red sandstone of the temple is riddled with intricate carvings, so make sure to wander around the ruins and take ample photos of the breathtaking artwork. Built as a 12th- and 13th-century monastery, Ta Prohm gained fame and notoriety due to its feature in the "Tomb Raider" movies. The site, which is truly as intertwined with nature as you can get, is one of the area's most photographed, thanks to the giant trees which have grown in (and out) of the ancient site and now hold the crumbling ruins together.
Cambodian Circus (Phare): One of the most iconic experiences in Siem Reap, the Cambodian Circus uniquely blends theater performances, music, dance, acrobatics, juggling and aerial acts. Shows take place later in the evening; be sure to purchase tickets in advance. Note that the venue is intimate (so there are no bad seats) but lacks air-conditioning. (Phare Circus Ring Road, south of the intersection with Sok San Road; +855-92-225 320; open 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.)
Apsara Dances: Siem Reap offers several options for dinner accompanied by traditional Apsara dances. The performances, marked by elegant hand movements, are a staple for first-time visitors to the city.
Angkor Wat Putt: It might not seem like a logical place to play mini-golf, but as you're putting with a view of Angkor Wat's iconic temple steeples in the background, you'll quickly see why so many flock to the lush, green 14-hole course. Bonus: A simple ring of a bell will get a cold beer delivered to your hand as you try to putt for a hole-in-one. (Krong Siem Reap; +855-12-302-330; open 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.)
Night Market: The lively and head-spinning night market is worth a visit, even for those who aren't usually excited by nightlife. There, you'll find restaurants, food carts and bars; lively, pulsating nightclubs; and brightly lit shops offering everything from scarves to fish pedicures -- all for extremely low prices.