Best Cafes in Siem Reap — Where to Drink Coffee in Temple Town
From arty cafes in retro spaces serving all day breakfasts and heady espressos to minimalist cafés spinning vinyl and offering cold drip coffee, these are our picks of the best cafes in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
Best Cafes in Siem Reap
Whether you’re a traveller spending a few days in a place or a local living in a city, you’re bound to spend some time in cafés. Whether it’s to down a quick cup of something or linger for a while as you rest your weary feet, nobody wants to waste a coffee or a meal, so we thought it was about time we provide our guide to the best cafés in Siem Reap.
We were discussing Siem Reap’s best cafés and what makes a great coffee shop — over a great Sichuan dinner that Terence made — with a foodie friend the other night and it was clear that we all expect different things from cafés.
For some, cafés are places to grab a good coffee to kick-start the day or linger over a long weekend brunch. In Siem Reap, cafés are where volunteers living in share houses without proper kitchens get proper breakfasts, where tourists tuck burgers and Cokes in between temples, where expats catch up with friends and catch up on gossip, and where good people give back to their community.
For me, cafés serve different purposes at different times of the day. If I’m at a café in the morning, I’m there for the strong coffee, a hearty breakfast, and I’ll want snappy service. If it’s lunch, I’m focused on good food, a decent glass of wine will be welcome, some atmosphere is appreciated, and I’ll be more forgiving if the bill is slow to arrive.
Come late afternoon or early evening, in Siem Reap a café for me is a place to take visitors to linger over glasses of vino and nibbles and watch the world go by — when it’s too early for a cocktail bar! Good music is important. Staff should smile. The wines by the glass should be good. And a breeze or fans are crucial, and preferable to air-conditioning.
Here’s our guide to the best cafés in Siem Reap — and it’s no coincidence that many of these cafés are businesses that are also doing good things for the community.
Our Guide to the Best Cafés in Siem Reap
LITTLE RED FOX ESPRESSO
Serving what is hands-down the finest coffee in Siem Reap, Little Red Fox Espresso is easily the best café in Siem Reap and has quickly become the favourite of the city’s expats and an increasing number of visitors finding their way to hip Hup Guan Street.
We’ve watched this emerging shopping, eating and drinking neighbourhood, which business-owners have branded Kandal Village (‘Middle Village’, named after teensy Kandal Market nearby), evolve from a dusty street of a few mildly interesting spots five years ago to a compelling little district where you can while away a day sipping coffee and tucking into handmade pasta in between browsing beautiful concept shops.
Little Red Fox Espresso is the spot to sip that coffee. Owned by Aussies Adam Rodwell and David Stirling, the café has a very Australian vibe, with a minimalist design, short menu, fantastic music (on vinyl), and, above all, great coffee — from heady espressos to refreshing cold drips. The menu may be short, but it’s quality stuff — bircher muesli with dried fruit and yoghurt, filling potato and veg omelettes, and moist homemade cakes.
While barista Adam supervises the cheery Khmer staff on the espresso machine (the guys are committed to educating and training young Cambodians in the art of coffee), upstairs partner David runs a hair salon. Book ahead for a cut/colour; he’s in demand.
In late 2016, they added The Den, a more relaxed lounge area to sip coffee, dig into some carrot cake or get some work done to the middle level. There are stools on the balcony and art and photography curated by Sasha Constable on the walls. They occasionally hold artsy events, performances and talks in the space.
This Siem Reap outpost of two beloved Phnom Penh cafés quickly became a hit soon after opening in mid 2015. Set in a lovely, light-filled retro space, with seating inside and in the courtyard, it’s a fab spot to chill out for a while and read and write.
The eco-conscious cafés pride themselves on using organic, chemical-free and fair trade produce and ingredients whenever practicably possible and only offer purified water. No plastic bottles! Their speciality is freshly squeezed and cold pressed juices and fruit smoothies ($2.50-3) made with local fruit and vegetables and healthy stuff like Spirulina and chia seeds.
The food is also fresh and healthy, with a range of raw foods, vegetarian, and vegan dishes. While their breakfasts, salads and sandwiches are popular, I love their sharing plates. Try the Falafel Plate comes with falafel, hummus, baba ganoush, salad and pita bread.
Their Macro Bowl is also a favourite, with french lentils, roasted root veggies, Wakame seaweed, pickled apple cabbage slaw, black sesame, and garlic tahini dressing on local Ibis brown rice.
If you’ve been travelling for a while (or living in Cambodia for a while, for that matter), they also sell immunity-boosting ginger tonics by Jiva Probiotics (try the turmeric flavour), along with coconut water, home-made sodas, and tea and coffee, including French press, and recently had a sparkling new espresso machine installed.
Do take a peek at their small selection of gifts and products for sale, too, on the shelves on the walls on the left of the space.
Good coffee, a smooth soundtrack, cool space, fine food to sate you from breakfast through night, and well-selected wines by the glass, Pages is my pick of the best cafés in Siem Reap. Located in a refurbished, retro 1960s building with low-slung chairs, vintage floor tiles and big windows that let the breeze waft in, Pages has a relaxed arty vibe that inspires you to stay.
Owned by ASMA architects, whose offices are upstairs, the Pages complex (there’s another building with chic rooms, apartments and pool out back) has a small design ‘boutique’, study area and design library, and multi-purpose community space. The idea was to create a gathering place for students, creative types and travellers, so as you’d expect Pages attracts a combination of arty locals and expats and visitors settling into Siem Reap for a while.
There’s a blackboard menu with market-driven daily specials, all day breakfasts (European, American and Asian, including $4.50 sets), and, best of all, a long list of tasty tapas and finger food that are ideal for solo diners eating light or can be shared amongst friends — everything from tapenades, rillettes and hummus with toast to plates of falafel and yoghurt, Asian dumplings, and roasted quails with lime and pepper dipping sauce (all $3-75-$4.25 a dish; $10 for a mezze plate).
Located on a leafy cul de sac off Wat Bo Road, opposite the stylish new Viroth’s Hotel, it’s blissfully quiet too – a rarity in increasingly bustling Siem Reap.
NEW LEAF BOOK CAFÉ
Good coffee, refreshing juices, a laidback vibe, breezy space, and loads of books to buy or swap – what’s not to like? This is up there with Pages and Little Red Fox as one of the best cafés in Siem Reap.
Set in a renovated Chinese shophouse one block from Old Market and the riverside, socially conscious New Leaf dishes up everything from all-day breakfasts to authentic Cambodian specialties and international dishes – along with a healthy serving of altruism and culture. The café donates 100% of profits to educational projects in Siem Reap.
On the food side, expect anything from Eggs Benedict ($5) to Khmer noodle soup ($3.50) for breakfast, ‘light bites’ such as Salt and Chilli Calamari ($4.50), and main dishes ranging from pastas ($6) to a Cambodian Fish Amok ($6.50) made to the chef’s grandma’s recipe.
All produce is local, organic rice is used, and the coffee is Cambodian, from Ratanakiri and Mondulkiri, sourced from Three Corner Coffee Roasters in Phnom Penh. I love the Post Temple Cooler ($3), above, made with cucumber, celery, green apple, lime, and mint. There’s a good range of beers, ciders and cocktails too.
On Sundays there is a Lazy Sunday Brunch (11.30am-3pm) with live acoustic music while Movie Monday ($2, includes popcorn and a beer/drink) kick-starts the week with screenings of documentaries and dramas, including hard-to-find Cambodian films. Expect anything from Cambodian director Rithy Pan’s film The Sea Wall to Angkor’s Children, a documentary on young Cambodian female artists, and Beautiful Boxer, about a transgender Muay Thai boxer.
Note: New Leaf Book Cafe changed its name to New Leaf Eatery in 2016.
BAYON PASTRY SCHOOL COFFEE SHOP
Still something of a delicious secret, hidden halfway down a dirt lane off Taphul Road, this airy alfresco café is one of the best cafés in Siem Reap with European style coffee and French baked goods made by the students of Ecole du Bayon pastry school. It’s a great spot for a sweet start to the day, post-lunch dessert or afternoon tea, with the specialties being lemon meringue pies, chocolate fondant, raspberry mousse, and French madeleines and financiers.
For foodies, there is also some fascinating viewing: the café is located on the site of the live-in school so from the comfort of your seat you can watch the young female cooks work through the enormous picture window that looks onto the sparkling stainless steel kitchen. When they’re busy meeting the demands of a big five-star hotel order, rolling out dough and decorating cakes, it can be as compelling as a Michelin-star restaurant kitchen.
This excellent pastry school and café was built by the NGO-ran Bayon L’Ecole School, located near Bayon temple in Angkor Archaeological Park, to provide further training for their disadvantaged young graduates and other girls from poor villages and even poorer rural areas whose options are limited. Daughters of farmers who barely grow enough to sell, before joining the school, one student was a construction worker, another a cleaner, while some stayed home to do domestic chores.
Income from the café supports the school so the coffee and cake you buy is helping change lives. One day, some of these young women might find themselves in the pastry kitchens of Asia’s best restaurants.
From National Highway 6, turn into Taphul Road (beside Caltex), take first lane on right. From Sivutha Boulevard, take street beside Angkor Market, right into Taphul Road, then last lane on left before highway. 06 965 6203, Tues-Sun 7.30am-5pm, www.ecoledubayon.org, Facebook page
So there’s no confusion, let me say from the outset that until late 2016, Bloom Cafe was called Blossom Cafe. A sister to Bloom Cafe in Phnom Penh and part of a growing (sic) organisation called Bloom Asia, the only reason the cafe had to trade under Blossom Cafe in Siem Reap was because another business used the name Bloom.
I should also add that the correct title is Bloom Cafe and Training Centre as they operate along a similar concept to Bayon, above. Here, the young women learn the art of baking, as well as business and life skills, among other courses. They complete the programme with an accredited hospitality qualification and either continue working as employees, receiving ongoing training and support, or leave to pursue their own interests.
As a social enterprise, all profits go back into the business and students and staff. So once again, you’re giving back to the community and local economy while you’re munching on something yummy, relaxing in this fun space, furnished with bold red sofas covered in turquoise and chocolate cushions, and resting your weary feet upon polka-dot ottomans.
The feel good factor aside, the reason to come here is for the most scrumptious cupcakes in Siem Reap. They also do good coffee, but that’s a bonus. The cupcakes! Ah, the cupcakes… And I have a confession: I was never a fan of cupcakes until I sampled these. Incredibly pretty to look at, they come in a range of fantastic flavours, are unbelievably moist, and are amazingly moreish. I love the lemon curd cupcake with cream cheese, topped with a sugar ‘frangipani’, but they also do some decadent chocolate cupcakes.
Bloom also sells some very covetable cookies, adorable elephants with mehndi patterns, which are fast-becoming the quintessential edible Siem Reap souvenir, and they have lovely aprons if you can’t take food back to your country. If you’re coming to Siem Reap for a special occasion, birthday or anniversary, note that they create incredibly creative celebration cakes and and email them before you arrive. See the Bloom cafe Instagram feed to see how special these things are.
Bloom Cafe, 6 Mondul, 1 Svay Dangkum, Central Market area, which is now called Kandal Village (Bloom is very close to Little Red Fox Espresso), o17 800 301. 10am-5pm daily. www.blossomcakes.org Facebook page.
One of Siem Reap’s newest coffee sipping spots, vegan café Vibe opened in late 2016 in Kandal Village and has been a good addition to the café scene. If I was one of those writers who can actually work in a café (I have no idea how those people get anything done, especially when balancing a MacBook on a swinging cane seat), then this is the café I’d take my laptop to.
The most contemporary looking of Siem Reap’s cafés, Vibe has a very ‘now’ style which residents of Sydney, Singapore, Bangkok, or New York would be familiar with – loads of white space, plenty of dark wood, white tiles, potted plants, and ethical messages stencilled on the walls. A mid-century coffee table, locally made bamboo furniture, and lampshades made from fishing baskets lend a Cambodian touch to the design.
Like most contemporary cafés, expect lots of things to be served in jars and bowls that really should be offered in glasses and on plates. When on earth is that trend going to end? It’s what I call style over function. It may be very photogenic and everyone wants their drinks and dishes to be Instagrammable these days, but it doesn’t make for a pleasant eating and drinking experience.
Fortunately, the drinks are wonderful – expect anything from “hydraulic cold press juices” and “botanical teas” to smoothies with super foods. Although we now know that turmeric is not as beneficial as it was thought to be, we love it in our curries and I swear I felt a little healthier after Vibe’s Turmeric Tonic Shot made from turmeric root and “pressed orange”.
And the healthy whole food is delicious – despite being 100% vegan. I enjoyed my Arabian Bowl with “green superfood falafel, red pepper hummus, za’atar sprinkles, pomegranate jewels, shredded raw salad, tahini and lemon dressing”. The pretension of “sprinkles” and “jewels” aside (see the menu), the dish was super scrummy.
Vibe has an “earth to table approach” and all their food is “plant-based, organically sourced, nutritious and health focused” with plenty of gluten-free, raw and sugar-free options. Aside from their bread, everything is made in house. Founded by two expats – Emma of Backyard Café in Phnom Penh, and Ghanim, who founded Qatar’s first vegan café – like many of the businesses here, Vibe is ethical and community minded, investing 10% of their profits to their Good Vibe Foundation, which supports “healthy projects for people who need it most”.
I have to say that our coffee has been disappointing (bitter and burnt), so have your healthy juices and wholesome food then head up the street to Little Red Fox Espresso for coffee and then around the corner to Bloom for dessert (reviews above).
Vibe, 715 Hup Guan Street, Kandal Village, 7.30am-4.30pm Mon, 7.30am-8pm Tue-Sun, 069 937 900, www.vibecafeasia.com
THE SUN & CAFÉ CENTRAL
These two sister-cafés in big corner colonial-era shophouses on a block between Pub Street, Sivutha Boulevard and Old Market, are in the heart of the action and have to be Siem Reap’s best cafes for people watching.
Both spaces are lovely and breezy, with enormous picture windows, lofty ceilings, and whirring fans. When the rooms are busy and buzzing and the music is good (it varies), they have a great vibe. Unfortunately, both cafes ‘revamped’ their decor last year and lost a lot of their character and appeal in the process, turning what were interiors with distinctive personalities into the ubiquitous shabby chic style found all over the world.
While once upon a time they were two of the best cafés in Siem Reap, these days they are often disappointing. And, let’s face it, it’s an increasingly competitive market. The coffee is okay, the juices are good, and the cocktails (while on the weak side) are fine — especially during their 2-for-1 happy hour. Unfortunately, the food is inconsistent. A burger can be terrific one week but so-so the next; the pizzas are safer, the salads are dull.
The cafés used to share the same menu, however, after Café Central re-opened following a re-vamp it has a shorter menu more focused on Western-style breakfasts and lunch, while The Sun retained its long menu of everything from sandwiches and pastas to pan-Asian appetisers and mains.
So why am I including these two amongst such fantastic sipping spots? They are the only two decent cafes near Pub Street and if it’s your first time in Siem Reap you will want to to hang out here at some stage for some people-watching. If you don’t have high expectations when it comes to food and are happy to take a risk, you’ll probably be satisfied. If you want good food and drinks, then walk two blocks to New Leaf, above. If you must, I recommend Café Central in the morning, The Sun in the afternoon.
COUR DE MAISON***
One of the loveliest cafés in Siem Reap, Cour de Maison, owned by a young Cambodian, is also one of the least known and most understated. Secreted away on a side street between the river and Wat Bo Road, this casual Indochine-chic café is set in an airy, white-washed, 1960s courtyard building with pretty grey Chinese doors and frangipani trees in the front garden.
Plants drip from hanging pots and goldfish swim in water-filled ponds floating with lotus flowers. There are low-slung Cambodian Art Deco-style wooden seats and coffee tables strewn about for those here for a sip and nibble, and rustic timber table and chairs if you want a full meal. Cour de Maison is fantastic for both.
The coffee is good, the fresh juices are fantastic, and the croissants and pastries are wonderful, made in the bakery out back. The breakfast eggs, sandwiches, and salads all hit the spot. But what I really love here is the Khmer food, from the classic pork noodle soups to quintessential Cambodian dishes like beef lok lak with fried egg and green tomatoes, and turmeric-tinted chicken coconut curry. It’s all delicious and super-affordable (from $2.50).
The shy waiting staff are all sweet; it’s the only café in Siem Reap where they walk you to do the door to say goodbye. Things can be a little slow sometimes, so don’t come here if you’re in a hurry, but it’s worth the wait.
Street 21, off Wat Bo Road, 095 214 218, 7.30am-9pm, Facebook page
*** The charming Cour de Maison has completely gone. The block of land is being redeveloped. The owner is opening in a new location so watch this space!
UPDATED: May 2017