The Best Bars in Siem Reap
After a sweaty day scrambling the Angkor Archaeological Park temples, cycling Siem Reap’s villages or spending too much time at the swimming pool, come sundown the best spot to be is downing icy cold Beer Laos or sipping killer cocktails. Leave Pub Street to the backpackers and hit the best bars in Siem Reap instead.
If you only go to one bar in Siem Reap…
Hands-down Miss Wong is one of the best bars in Siem Reap if not the best bar and it’s our favourite martini-sipping spot. It’s certainly Temple Town’s most stylish watering hole and is home to the city’s finest cocktails. Hidden down a lively lane parallel to Pub Street called, um, The Lane, Miss Wong is also the most atmospheric drinking spot in town with red Chinese lanterns, scarlet walls, paintings of Miss Wong, Oriental bric-a-brac, and black lacquer screens that all work together to evoke old Shanghai. Head here around 6pm for pre-dinner drinks or after your meal for a nightcap to mingle with the expats, mostly hotel GMs and restaurant owners here to relax after long hectic days greeting guests. The waiters (easily Siem Reap’s best) are warm, friendly and welcoming and the Kiwi owner Dean Williams is a wealth of knowledge (and is happy to share) if you’re after insider tips. A warning: the cocktails are heady. Don’t leave without trying my favourite: the Rose and Lemongrass Martini. We also recommend the China White with jasmine tea syrup, lychees, gin and Cinzano. The dim sum and steamed buns make a tasty appetiser or late night snack.
The Lane, Old Market quarter, enter lane opposite Siem Reap Referral Hospital, 5pm-1am www.misswong.net
This airy, light-filled colonial-style cafe with lofty ceilings and enormous picture windows is a lovely place for a late afternoon glass of wine or cold beer and a spot of people-watching. While the rattan chairs outside are alluring, sit there and you can expect to get hassled by book-sellers and baby milk powder-scammers. It’s much more relaxing to slide into a booth inside where you can enjoy the cool breezes, casual vibe, and superb vantage point from the corner location. While there’s a typical cafe menu of salads, burgers, sandwiches, pastas, and some pan-Asian dishes, the food here is unfortunately very hit and miss. Come for the atmosphere and drinks, which are a bargain during happy hour, and you won’t leave disappointed. Late afternoon when the sun is shining, it’s a little too easy to find yourself knocking back a few mango daiquiris. Cafe Central on the corner of the same block, opposite Old Market, is also a very pleasant spot for a beer or vino.
Corner Street 11 and Pub Street, Old Market quarter. Hours appear to vary according to the season, but it’s generally open from 8am until mid-evening.
Boasting a sleek, contemporary, almost-Scandinavian sense of style with its clean lines, sculptured wooden feature wall, and striking light fixtures, courtesy of local architect and interior design firm ASMA, this chic wine bar and casual restaurant could be at home in any cosmopolitan city – if it weren’t for its location onto busy Old Market on one side and views from the other of The Passage, a bustling little alley that’s home to bars, restaurants, and shops. While you can dine on contemporary Cambodian tapas, for us the main draw is the long list of good wines by the glass, as well as bottles, and the high tables and chairs made for sipping and snacking. The air-conditioning is bliss on a sweltering day while the laneway seats make for fascinating people-watching during cool weather.
Off The Passage, Old Market quarter, 11am-10pm AHA Website
Tucked away in an alleyway around the corner from Miss Wong, laidback Asana bar remains something of a secret. Set in the last standing antique Khmer timber house in the old town, it oozes charm. Owned by an equally charming young Cambodian woman called Pari, who invented the Khmer cocktail – a mixed drink that must contain at least two or three Khmer herbs, spices or roots – Asana is the spot for some cocktail making lessons. Even if you don’t sign up for a class you can still sink back in the comfy seats and listen to smooth jazz sounds as you sip a Little Sweet, Pari’s favourite cocktail, made from Bombay Sapphire, wild ginger, turmeric, lime, and sugar cane juice. The vibe is very low key, so it’s ideal for those looking to escape the craziness of Pub Street. The busiest Asana gets is the first Friday of every month on the ‘Jazz, Blues and BBQ’ nights (7-10pm) when $15 gets you a glass of wine and all you can eat barbecue.
Off The Lane, main entrance on Street 7, Old Market quarter, 11am-2am www.asana-cambodia.com
Foreign Correspondents Club Angkor
Located on the riverside in the leafy French Quarter, where the shady streets are sprinkled with the remnants of the grand administrative buildings of the colonial protectorate, the handsome modernist building that is home to the FCC Angkor was once the former French governor’s mansion. The interior lounge bar and restaurant upstairs are in a colonial style with comfy low-slung leather armchairs and ceiling fans. The balcony is the spot to be for lunch or dinner (although the food is inconsistent), however, there are few more sublime spots in Siem Reap than the FCC courtyard for a sunset drink. Unfortunately, the cocktails are unimaginative but the cold beers hit the spot on a sticky evening and there are decent wines by the glass. If you’re peckish, give the rather average salads and mains a miss, and opt for the delicious pan-Asian appetizers, such as fresh spring rolls, satay sticks, and fried calamari. Happy hour: 5-7pm
Pokamber Avenue, French Quarter, 7am-midnight http://fcccambodia.com/
A cocktail in the elegant old bar in the historic Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor, which opened in 1920s, is a must-do simply to soak up some history. As Siem Reap’s most luxurious accommodations for decades, this splendid hotel, along with its equally majestic sister-property in Phnom Penh, the Hotel Le Royal, has had countless famous guests check in over the year. One of those was former American First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy in 1967, after whom the hotel in the capital named a cocktail, the Femme Fatale (Champagne, Crème de Fraise, Cognac). You can try it at the Siem Reap property, along with their signature drink, the tropical Airavata (rum, Crème de Banana, fresh coconut juice, sugar cane, lime juice). Drinks are expensive by Cambodian standards, however, they come with delicious nibbles, and during happy hour ‘tapas’ (more like pinchos) are offered. Note that there’s a dress code of collared shirts and shoes so leave the t-shirts and flip-flops at the hotel.
Raffles Hotel, opposite Royal Gardens, 6pm-midnight www.raffles.com/siem-reap/dining/elephant-bar/
Heritage Cocktail Bar
The lofty lobby bar of luxury hotel Heritage Suites, hidden down a dirt lane off Wat Bo Road (turn right opposite Marum), is within earshot of the monks chanting at nearby Wat Polanka. Drop in on a Thursday night, when it’s the place to be in Siem Reap, and what you’ll hear are the grooves and beats of a live jazz band (from 6.30-9.30pm), as you sip Asian-inspired happy hour cocktails (5-7pm). Sink into a comfy chair if you’re here for the music, otherwise, snag a spot at the bar if you’re up for making new friends. And this is the place to do it – jazz nights see Siem Reap’s friendly expat crowd catching up on local news and gossip in between songs.
Heritage Suites Hotel, Wat Polanka area, off Wat Bo Road, 8am-11pm www.heritagesuiteshotel.com
As martini-lovers, a long martini list is very alluring, but so is the romantic dimly lit atmosphere of this sophisticated lounge bar upstairs in the main building of one of Siem Reap’s most beautiful hotels. The traditional Khmer timber architecture is the big appeal of La Residence, but so is the pool and tropical garden, and you get to experience that from this pleasant bar, along with breezes that waft through on a balmy evening. Unfortunately, unlike the Elephant Bar, which can attract expats bringing visiting friends or business associates for a drink during happy hour, the Martini Bar pretty much sees in-house guests sinking into a lounge for a drink. Still, it’s a nice spot for a quiet pre-dinner or pre-show drink – the hotel also hosts one of the city’s best Apsara dance performances – or nightcap. There’s a happy hour from 6-7.30pm.
Belmond La Residence d’Angkor, East River Road, 8am-midnight Martini Lounge Webpage
Late Night Bars
A night at this laidback, slightly Bohemian, French-owned bar is all about the music, relaxed vibe and conversation. One block from Old Market, Laundry Bar is a favourite expat hang-out, particularly amongst the European community, however, it also attracts arty Cambodians, local guides, multinational archaeological teams, and savvy tourists who love its dirt-cheap drinks, pool tables, dart boards, and the funkiest soundtrack in the city. While it is often low-key early in the early evening and on weeknights, late at night and on weekends it can get boisterous. When there’s a DJ or band on, such as the massively popular Cambodian Space Project, the small dance floor heaves and punters spill out onto the footpath and street. The bartenders and waiters are very sweet and although the drinks are nothing to write home about they’re budget-priced. It’s a good spot for making new friends or catching up with old ones.
Street 9, Old Market quarter, 5pm-late Laundry Bar on Facebook
Picasso is Siem Reap’s Cheers. A favourite with expats and intrepid travellers, everyone knows someone or if they don’t they’ll get to know them soon. The compact space and U-shaped bar is conducive to communal conversation and owner Phil is happy to keep things lively with rounds of Jagermeister or shots of his latest cocktail experiment. If the bar is empty it may not be all that appealing but pop yourself on a stool because the buzz of your conversation, amplified by the acoustics, will quickly draw others in. Those who don’t take the risk and move on find they’re often disappointed when they return later in the night to a crowded bar and not even any standing space. Drinks are good but better when Phil is there and doing the mixing. Be warned: Picasso is the kind of bar you stagger into in the evening and stumble the next morning. Or fall asleep at the bar as a certain someone we won’t name has done.
Alley West (Sivutha Boulevard end), Old Market quarter, 5pm-late Picasso Bar on Facebook
Following the success of his Tuk Tuk Bar (below), Hong opened this laidback bar with a hippy vibe that would be at home on a Cambodian beach. Think: Bobby Marley portraits on the walls, comfy seating with plenty of cushions, a grass-hut ceiling, tables built around bikes, and bartenders who barely move from their stools except to pass around a, ahem, smoke. On any given night, there might be a DJ, didgeridoo player, or fire-thrower to entertain, and it could be virtually empty or crowded so much punters take over the dusty street. Drinks are dirt-cheap (around US$1) and the clientele includes everyone from young NGO volunteers and backpackers to those dreaded Contiki tourists who have been known to have cartwheel competitions in the lane. Next door, Yolo has a similar vibe, and if it’s a weekend when street parties have been known to last late into the night, it can be hard for first-timers to tell which is which. Don’t worry, just order a drink and join in on the fun. Lane opposite Pub St, between U-Care Pharmacy and Siem Reap Provincial Hospital Soul Train on Facebook
Tuk Tuk Bar
The original quirky little bar owned by Cambodian local Hong was built around a tuk tuk at the far end of Sok San Road. Following its success he opened a slightly upmarket version in a proper building (the tuk tuk remains) a bit closer to Sivutha Boulevard. While it’s the novelty factor that first drew drinkers here, now they come for the laidback vibe, late opening hours (it’s open 24 hours, meaning it’s open when everywhere else has closed), dirt-cheap drinks (US$1.50 promotions from 6pm-3am), and mix of punters, from hard-drinking expats and locals to well, um, hard-drinking travellers. People tend to settle in for a while, so don’t plan anything else after if you’re heading here – except sunrise at Angkor Wat, because at least you won’t sleep through the alarm clock.
Sok San Road (midway down the road; easy walking distance from Pub St), 24hrs tuktukcocktailbar.com
A few drinks at Linga Bar watching the drag show was a quintessential Siem Reap experience for many, whether gay or straight. Tucked down the buzzy little lane known as The Passage, which is dotted with shops and eateries, this laidback gay bar was legendary. Located in a colonial building with shuttered windows it was low-key when it opened at 4pm when it wasn’t unusual to see a handful of people, gay and straight, quietly sipping cold beers and cocktails on the sofas outside. Come 10.30pm on a Friday and Saturday night, when the spotlights went on and the sound was turned up, the outrageous drag shows had patrons spilling onto the alleyway and passers-by of all ages stopping to watch the flamboyant acts. Unfortunately after the lease ended, the old Linga Bar shut down and owner Martin Dishman opened a tinier and considerably more sedate Linga in the lobby of his stylish Hotel Be. The landlord reopened a similar looking bar in the old space which seems to attract visitors who haven’t heard the news, but they never stay for more than one drink.
The Passage, Old Market quarter, 4pm-late lingabar.com
With its half-pipe (seriously), pool tables, tattoo shop, regular live bands and DJs, and late opening hours, this rooftop spot is Siem Reap’s hard party bar and doesn’t really get busy until very late at night, or rather, early in the morning. You can expect anything from reggae to hip hop, acoustic to hard rock, including resident band The X-Rays, which usually performs on Tuesdays and Fridays. Check their Facebook page for details. There’s food if you get peckish, however, most people aren’t here to eat. Not sure where it is? Walk to the end of Pub Street where it meets Sivutha Boulevard and look up to where all the noise is coming from. Yep, that’s it. If you’re thinking about heading up, it’s probably time to head home.
Corner Sivutha Boulevard & Sok San Road, upstairs, 3pm-sunrise X Bar on Facebook