Meet the coolest Siem Reap neighbourhood, Wat Bo Village on the east bank of Siem Reap River. Home to stylish boutique hotels, superb restaurants, convivial cafés and bars, food trucks, street food, and fab shopping, Wat Bo Village is also the new address of Miss Wong, Siem Reap’s best cocktail bar. Reason enough to make it your address on your next stay.
Siem Reap is a city of villages, and like the chic shopping quarter of Kandal Village before it, Wat Bo Village has quietly evolved into one of Siem Reap’s coolest neighbourhoods. Shaded by lofty trees, the leafy riverside is dotted with relaxed alfresco cafés, tucked down narrow side streets are some outstanding restaurants, casual local eateries, and buzzy café-bars, while Wat Bo Road is peppered with noodle joints and an emerging food truck scene.
It’s been a slow transformation, as it was back in early 2015 that I reported on ‘the birth of Cambodian cool’ at Kandal Village and Siem Reap’s East Bank Evolution for Cambodia’s national newspaper. Until recently, the neighbourhood was best known for the 18th century Buddhist pagoda, Wat Bo, and its walls clad with wonderful 19th century murals.
In 2015 Kandal Village – centred on and around hip Hup Guan Street – had already established itself as Siem Reap’s most stylish neighbourhood, boasting a dozen or so modish businesses, including Louise Loubatiere’s beautiful interior décor shop, quirky concept store Trunkh, the excellent Little Red Fox Espresso café, lovely Sirivan boutique, petite Frangipani Spa, laidback Italian trattoria Mamma Shop, and Parisian-style bistro Armands, now The Village Café.
In the years since, Kandal Village has been on every savvy travellers Siem Reap to-do list – not to mention the itineraries I crafted for clients, friends and visiting writer colleagues. Although Trunkh sadly moved back to Phnom Penh recently, and a few businesses that closed in March haven’t reopened yet, Kandal Village remains Siem Reap’s hippest shopping and sipping destination – on the west bank.
Over here on the east bank, Wat Bo Village was once somewhere you passed through or headed to for a particular restaurant or café. Unlike Kandal Village, it wasn’t a destination in itself – until Siem Reap’s most atmospheric sipping spot, Miss Wong, hung up its red Chinese lanterns a few months ago, confirming Wat Bo Village’s status as Siem Reap’s coolest neighbourhood.
Here’s where to stay, eat, shop, and drink in Wat Bo Village, the coolest Siem Reap neighbourhood…
Coolest Siem Reap Neighbourhood – Where to Stay, Shop, Eat and Drink in Wat Bo Village
Bordered by Siem Reap River to the west, National Highway 6 to the north, 7 Makara Street at the southern end, and Lok Taneuy Road to the east, Wat Bo Village was the accommodation district during the early days of Siem Reap’s development as a tourist destination in the 20th century.
The traditional wooden homes on the main thoroughfare of Wat Bo Road that served as Siem Reap’s first guesthouses have mostly been demolished in recent years, replaced by concrete hotels and apartment blocks, however, Wat Bo Village is still home to some architectural treasures, old and new, and new evoking old.
Viroth’s Villa dates to the 1960s while Viroth’s Hotel tips a hat to that period; cute Pages Rooms and Café is located in a renovated old school; Banlle restaurant is set in a refashioned traditional wooden house; while Dialogue, Footprints and Miss Wong are located in remodelled shophouses. Khema is located in a new-ish building that’s in the French-Colonial style while contemporary Treeline is Siem Reap’s first proper design hotel.
Where to Stay in Wat Bo Village
If you can only stay in one hotel in the coolest Siem Reap neighbourhood, make it the coolest Wat Bo Village lodgings, the award-winning Viroth’s Hotel, voted the World’s Best Hotel several times. (If you’re a boutique hotel addict and have time, split your stay between all properties.) Owners Viroth Kol and Fabien Martial can be thanked for bringing travellers back to the ‘other’ side of the river when they opened Viroth’s on a quiet cul-de-sac off bustling Wat Bo Road in 2015. Designed by Asma Architects, who established their headquarters across the road at Pages (which they remodelled into rooms, a café and design library), Viroth’s sleek vintage style was inspired by the clean lines and retro-cool interiors of the mid-century modernism of Cambodia’s Golden Age, when Phnom Penh was ‘the Pearl of the East’. The work of iconic Cambodian architect Vann Molyvann was a key influence. There’s a breezy bar and lounge off the lobby overlooking a palm-lined 20-metre swimming pool, spacious suites decorated with idiosyncratic art and design objects, bathrooms with big terrazzo tubs, and balconies dripping with greenery. Bonus: complimentary airport pick-up in vintage vehicles and staff who welcome guests back with icy-cold towels and tall glasses of chilled lemongrass tea. Street 24, Wat Bo Village.
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While Viroth’s Villa is often referred to as the ‘little sister’ to Viroth’s Hotel, the Villa is actually the casually-elegant ‘older aunty’ who has had a magnificent facelift. An original modernist building that originally opened as stylish 7-room lodgings back in 2007, Viroth’s Villa was closed in 2018 and given a marvellous makeover. More low-key, a little less glam but still gorgeous, and even more retro than the Hotel, Viroth’s Villa is best suited to lovers of vintage style looking for a chilled stay. (The Hotel could get busy in pre-pandemic high seasons with one hundred percent occupancy, whereas even when the Villa is full it doesn’t feel it). The light-filled rooms have more of a Mad Men vibe about them with their geometric-patterned velvet bedheads and voguish modernist furniture – book a Junior Suite with pool view – while the lobby, bar and restaurant feel even breezier. As with the Hotel, the Villa menu features Cambodian and European favourites, from noodle soups and French croissants for breakfast to Asian-inspired cocktails and Champagne at the bar, which has a three-hour Happy ‘Hour’. Street 23, Wat Bo Village.
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Located smack-bang on the riverside, Treeline was Siem Reap’s first contemporary design hotel with a sleek look and feel that feels all at once Cambodian and European, where the design hotel was born. It’s no surprise as the architect owner Hok Kang is also a founding partner in Brown Coffee and Bakery, Cambodia’s own home-grown Starbucks-style chain, only better – which explains why there’s a Brown café within the hotel. Nature and art are the themes of Treeline, which features fifty pieces by local artists, including Sothea Thang, Sopheap Pich and Nov Cheanick. Crafted from palm leaves, seeds, pods, and stones, they hang in the public spaces and 48 rooms, which are decorated with handmade local furniture and ceramics by Siem Reap atelier Loyuyu. Bedside reading is a copy of The Hidden Life of Trees. Most rooms have views of the stunning second-floor swimming pool from the window seat or balcony – along with the canopy of trees lining the river, best appreciated from a sun lounger or poolside Canopy Bar with a Cambodian-made Seekers Mekong Dry Gin with kaffir lime and delicious bar snacks. Breakfast is memorable and room service very good. Rooms also have complimentary mini bars, a coffee machine, and plenty of snacks to nibble on from that window seat. Achasva Street (the riverside road), Wat Bo Village.
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Recently reopened after a loving three-month makeover by new owners, the welcoming Joan Lejamble and Gauthier Andriantsitohaina (and pug Austin), Maison 557 remains the chic little hideaway that’s been an anomaly in a city of larger boutique resorts, big luxury hotels and boisterous backpacker hostels. (Maison Polanka is another exquisite anomaly). Hidden behind whitewashed walls on busy Wat Bo Road, Maison 557 had long been regarded as something of a secret since former owner Jeff Strachan bought the property in October 2013. Now, under its new ownership, you don’t have to hope for a sneaky glimpse through the open gate, framed by crimson bougainvillea, as you pass by – nor check in to check out the lush gardens of the delightful 8-room bolthole. Because Joan and Gauthier are sharing their ongoing renovations on Instagram. Take a peek at the pretty rooms with four-poster beds, French-colonial touches such as grey shutters, and thoughtful extras like big floppy sun hats and woven bags to carry your book and suntan lotion to the poolside – and there are two swimming pools to choose from. Maison 557 is dog-friendly (just bring your pup’s bedding), making it perfect for a Siem Reap staycation. 557 Wat Bo Road, Wat Bo Village.
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Where to Shop in Wat Bo Village
Made in Cambodia Market
The Made in Cambodia Market is a one-stop-shop for locally-made gifts, art, crafts, textiles, clothes, jewellery, and accessories. Many of the stalls are operated by locally-based NGOs and social enterprises that support disadvantage communities or ethical independent designers and artists, so you know your money is going to a good cause or you’re supporting a local artist, craftsperson or designer. Great buys include handwoven shawls, throws and blankets made in a weaving village near Siem Reap, cool clutch purses, laptop covers and wallets made from recycled rice bags and cement bags; and jewellery and accessories made from soft-drink can ring pulls. There’s often entertainment in the evenings and other fine shops to browse in the Kings Road Angkor complex where the market – and Embassy restaurant – are located. Allow at least an hour to browse and please don’t leave empty handed. Your support is greatly needed at this challenging time. The market is currently only open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 11am-7pm. Made in Cambodia Market, corner of Street 27 and Achasva Street (the riverside road), Wat Bo Village.
It’s hidden gems such as Oko Gallery, tucked down Street 24, diagonally opposite Viroth’s Hotel that make Wat Bo the coolest Siem Reap neighbourhood for me. Sadly, this gorgeous gift store is currently closed, but I’m including it here in the hope that will open soon. Started by the Viroth’s owners because guests kept asking where they procured some of the treasures that decorate the rooms and public spaces, Oko boasts a carefully curated collection of exquisite handicrafts (the baskets are some of the most beautifully made I’ve seen during my years in Cambodia), ceramics and pottery, handwoven textiles, interior décor and design objects, chic accessories, and striking art sourced in Cambodia and beyond. As soon as they open, I’ll let you know here, so watch this space! Oko Gallery, Street 24, Wat Bo Village.
Where to Eat in Wat Bo Village
The Sugar Palm
Cambodian-born chef Kethana Dunnett and her New Zealand-born restaurateur husband Bruce Dunnett reopened The Sugar Palm, pictured above, in a striking new space on Street 27 just over three years ago, after establishing it as one of the best Siem Reap restaurants for traditional home-style Cambodian cooking in its former Taphul Road location. Over the years, Kethana has been the go-to chef for the likes of Gordon Ramsay and Luke Nguyen when they’ve been in Cambodia filming culinary travel series. Once you dine at the Sugar Palm, you’ll understand why. Kethana grew up in a well-to-do home in Phnom Penh in the Golden Age of the 1950s and 1960s before moving to New Zealand to study in the late Sixties and her rich cuisine, based on the recipes of her mother and grandmother, reflects the food of urbane Cambodians at the time. Sugar Palm’s takes on prahok k’tis, a moreish minced pork and fermented fish dip, and amok trei, a sublime steamed fish curry with a mousse-like texture, are the richest and most delicious renditions of these beloved Cambodian favourites you’ll try. This is food meant to be shared so order the shrimp and pomelo salad, smoked eggplant with minced pork, and the Cambodian chicken curry. The Sugar Palm is currently open for dinner only Tuesday to Saturday. Street 27, Wat Bo Village.
While Sugar Palm gives you a taste of the past, Embassy offers a sample of the kind of imaginative contemporary Cambodian cuisine being created by a younger generation of chefs. Leading an all-women team in the kitchen and front-of-house are executive chefs Kimsan Pol and Kimsan Sok, who staged at Michelin-starred restaurants in France, including that of Régis Marcon’s Le Clos des Cimes, which has held three stars since 2005. At Embassy, the two women collaborate on monthly 7-course gastronomic menus (for an incredible US$36) which change according to the seasons and availability of produce. While French-influenced in terms of technique and plating, the chefs’ cuisine is distinctly Cambodian, each dish inspired by local specialties and seasonal ingredients. Expect elegant plating, inventive takes on traditional favourites, a decent wine list, easily the best service of any fine dining restaurant in Siem Reap, and an overall delightful evening. Embassy is open for dinner only Wednesday to Sunday. Street 27, Kings Road Angkor, Wat Bo Village.
Banlle means ‘vegetable’ in Khmer and this relaxed farm-to-table restaurant in a renovated wooden house offers affordable European and Cambodian vegetarian and vegan food. While dining for breakfast or lunch in the minimalist light-filled dining room is a delight for the opportunity to enjoy garden views and tour the compact organic urban farm, the menu is focused on casual café-style food, with everything from noodle soups and sandwiches to French-style quiches and salads, along with vegetarian takes on Cambodian classics, such as vegetable amok (the steamed curry usually made with fish) and a vegetarian kor ko, a hearty vegetable-driven soup that normally includes river fish and pork. In the kitchen is the Cambodian owner, chef Pola Siv of Mie Café fame – a fine dining restaurant offering degustation menus of inventive modern Cambodian food – which is why I prefer dining in the evening when the chef also offers are more interesting set menu. Call ahead to book and ask for the set menu and let the chef do his thing – when you do, ask if the lime pie is on. Banlle is open Wednesday to Monday for breakfast, lunch, and dinner from 5-9.15pm (last sitting). Street 26, Wat Bo Village.
If you need a change from Cambodian food, the next most obvious cuisine to sample in Siem Reap is French. The city has fine French bakeries, cafes, restaurants, and bars thanks to Siem Reap’s population of French-Cambodians, French expatriates and Cambodians who emigrated, studied or worked in France. If you only try one French restaurant, make it Khéma Angkor, a sophisticated brasserie, deli, bakery, and wine shop on the riverside that’s a delight for lunch or dinner. The menu features French bistro standards and European classics and they’re all superb. We love starting with the charcuterie plate with rustic house-made terrines, pâtés and cold cuts, and the fantastic beef carpaccio or salmon gravalax followed by the steak-frites café de Paris (for me). Terence will opt for a pan-fried entrecôte in a béarnaise sauce or Toulouse sausage with potato purée, or perhaps one of the European specialties, such as the beef Wellington or Milanese. If you’re dining solo or only ordering a dish or two, order the steak-frites café de Paris, a perfectly-cooked sliced steak doused in a buttery Café de Paris sauce made with garlic, mustard, anchovies, and herbs, served over a flame. Heaven. Whatever you order, don’t miss dessert: the lemon tart is sublime but the classic profiteroles and cheesecake are also special. They also have themed nights; expect anything from tapas to raclette. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Khéma Angkor, Riverside, Wat Bo Village.
Hok Noodle Bar + Grill
This casual Southeast Asian restaurant is located on the ground floor of Treeline hotel in a light-filled space with floor to ceiling windows, vibrant mural-clad walls, and a stunning hanging installation crafted from copper and palm leaves by Cambodian artist Sothea Thang. As you might conclude from the name, Hok Noodle Bar + Grill specialises in noodles and grills from across Southeast Asia. Expect to find dishes such as spicy sambal noodles with local beef tenderloin, rolled egg omelette and sprouts; wok-seared kway teow with shrimp, calamari, egg, and bok choy; and duck noodle soup with rice noodles and duck liver wontons in a duck broth with ginger, leeks and coriander. There are also starters, salads and dumplings – try the chicken and green onion gyoza with soy ginger sauce or the pork and shrimp swallowing cloud dumplings with black bean chili oil – a handful of vegan and plant-based dishes, as well as desserts. Along with the fixed menu there are regular specials of three new dishes every two weeks to keep the regulars coming back and they start from as little as US$2.50, as well as two-for-three Cambodian craft beer deals. Bonus: an alluring cocktail list and good wines by the glass. Hok Noodle Bar + Grill, Achasva Street (the riverside road), Wat Bo Village.
You would not know that Siem Reap’s street food queen Tevy lost much of her family during the tragic Khmer Rouge genocide in the late 1970s as she is always smiling. Tevy’s modest Cambodian restaurant began life as a humble street food stall behind Wat Damnak, which was a popular street food destination for locals before authorities cleared the stalls. Motivated by a loyal customer and friend Cecil (who perhaps secretly didn’t want to lose his favourite street food spot!), Tevy took her delicious Cambodian food from the street to this welcoming all-women ran restaurant on Street 26, but maintained street food prices. It’s been a favourite with locals, expats and tourists ever since. Expect the usual Cambodian street food classics, such as lok lak (stir fried pepper beef with rice), grilled pork ribs, stir-fried squid, fried noodles, fried rice, and spring rolls, along with European dishes, such as steak and chips, lasagne, salads, and toasted sandwiches. Tevy also does generous breakfasts – everything from smashed avocado on toast, all kinds of eggs, and even baked beans with toast – along with healthy juices. Prices start from as little as $1! Open 7am-9pm daily. Tevy’s Place, Street 26, Wat Bo Village.
Arguably Siem Reap’s best bakery – as you’d expect with a French baker in the kitchen – Paris Bakery is a boulangerie, patisserie, café, and deli in one. There are traditional French baguettes that make you want to buy a dozen, don a beret, hop on a bicycle, and munch right into one on the way home, country bread loaves, soft sweet brioche, buttery croissants, perfect macarons in tropical flavours such as lime, passionfruit and coconut, decadent cakes, homemade quiches, and imaginative desserts of the like you’d find in Michelin-starred restaurants in Paris. Café specials include classics, such as a couscous royale, roast chicken, and a wonderful beef Bourguignon with a rich sauce and melt-in-your-mouth beef, there’s a decent wine list, and there are occasional Saturday-night 4-course degustation dinners that might include anything from a starter of a savoury beetroot macaron, handmade shrimp ravioli, succulent beef ribeye, and a deconstructed cheesecake with tropical fruit for dessert, for US$25 per person. Check their Facebook page for upcoming dates. Wat Bo Road, corner of Street 26, Wat Bo Village.
Por Noodle Soup
For a quintessential Cambodian breakfast, head to Chep Por family’s noodle soup restaurant for a big bowl of piping-hot kuy teav with cha kway (Khmer for Chinese doughnuts or youtiao) and a Cambodian iced coffee, which is arguably one of Siem Reap’s best breakfasts. Kuy teav is a clear flavourful soup that’s generally made with pork and beef bone broth, dried rice noodles (not the fresh rice noodles that you find in nom banh chok), and your choice of pork, chicken, cooked and rare beef, offal, and/or blood cake, to which you add condiments. Old-timers typically add little else but chopped chillies, but you can squeeze in some fresh lime juice, add a dollop of chilli paste, or a squirt of fish sauce, soy sauce or chilli sauce. So good! While you’ll find kuy teav sold all over the city, this is where you’ll find the best kuy teav in Siem Reap as far as we’re concerned. Not only is it the best, it’s also the oldest kuy teav joint. The late Chep Por opened the first noodle soup stall after the Khmer Rouge period, before moving to a modest eatery (now gone) across the road from the current smarter location at the Kings Road Angkor complex. It is still ran by old Chep Por’s lovely family. Open daily, early mornings are best, when locals fill the place. 7 Makara Road, Wat Bo Village.
Thai Street Food Truck
One of the things that makes Wat Bo Village the coolest Siem Reap neighbourhood is the street food truck scene that’s slowly emerging. After dark the block between Streets 25 and 26 on Wat Bo Road comes alive with a handful of portable cabins, stalls and food vans selling everything from coffee and tacos, but the first was the tangerine-painted Thai Street Food Truck. Tremendously popular, the street food van pulls up, opens its awnings, and sets up tables and stools outside the Smile supermarket from 4pm and the two cheery cooks get to work on their noodles in the petite kitchen. While the pad Thai is their specialty and enormously popular, we’d be remiss not to mention that it’s not cooked in the traditional Thai style. You won’t hear the clanking of metal against metal of the wok, hear the whoosh of the gas burner, feel the heat of the flames, or smell the smoky aromas that pad Thai addicts love so much. The noodles here are fried in a large round paella-style pan, in the way that Cambodians make lort cha (fried ‘worm’ noodles). You can order your pad Thai with chicken, shrimp, vegan, or vegetarian ($2-4), and add extra noodles, eggs, chicken, or shrimp for a small price. There’s also a delicious pad see ew with chicken and an excellent mango sticky rice for dessert, along with Angkor beers. Open 4-9 pm, Monday-Saturday, in front of the Smile Shop Mart, Wat Bo Road, Corner Street 25, Wat Bo Village.
Where to Drink in Wat Bo Village
While Siem Reap lost a few of its fine cafés this year, including Wat Bo Village favourite, Artillery, fortunately social enterprise café Footprints reopened and its Cambodian team is still serving up fab food, coffee and literature in a lovely inviting book-lined space that inspires you to linger. One of a couple of book cafés in town that are all the more appreciated since Monument Books closed at the start of the pandemic (the other is New Leaf across the river), you can happily spend an hour or two here sipping, nibbling and browsing, all the while knowing that money spent is going to a fund managed by the on-site staff that provides education scholarships to disadvantaged young Cambodians and supports the work of reputable local NGOs. You can also be confident that the coffee is good. Footprints has produced a National Cambodian Barista competition finalist in manager Pheakdey Yon. Alongside the coffee, juices, smoothies, teas, and coffees, there are generous all day breakfasts, snacks and lunch favourites, from eggs Florentine and three eggs omelettes to cheese toasties and salads, including a fantastic Cambodian green mango and smoked fish salad. Footprints Cafe, Street 26, Wat Bo Village.
Retro-cool Dialogue is one of those rare café-bars that manage to straddle both coffee shop and cocktail-sipping spot, as well as (perhaps even rarer) equally appeal to Cambodians and expats (and pre-coronavirus, tourists). That’s perhaps because the owners are Cambodian barista champion Seng Piseth – who is equally adept at making an espresso as he is a negroni – and Australian Jake Stalker, former manager of Footprints café, above, and Southeast Asian tour company, Grasshopper Adventures. And like another of Siem Reap’s best cafés, Little Red Fox Espresso over in Kandal Village, Dialogue does great coffee, good bites, cool music, and is community-minded, which are the keys to success in a small city such as Siem Reap. While you could kickstart your morning in the coolest Siem Reap neighbourhood with a coffee at Footprint, you could have a late afternoon caffeine hit cum pick-me-up here before a pre-dinner cocktail. And whether you’re strolling down the street to Sugar Palm or wandering over to Banlle or Embassy, you don’t have far to go, and – bonus – Miss Wong is on the way! Dialogue Cafe, Street 27, Wat Bo Village.
One of the most heartbreaking Siem Reap business closures at the beginning of the pandemic was that of the original Miss Wong bar, hidden down a narrow lane parallel to touristy Pub Street – which is why we all did a dance when owner Dean Williams and manager Yi Saro (‘Rosso’) and their team of Cambodia’s finest bartenders hung up their lanterns on Street 26 and re-opened in Wat Bo Village. While there have been a few changes – the scarlet walls have been replaced by teal blue (matching Miss Wong’s sister-bar in Battambang), there’s more outdoor seating on the front and back terraces, and on Sunday there’s a pianist and cocktail specials – some of the things we’ve long loved haven’t changed. Expect Miss Wong’s famously heady cocktails (my rose and lemongrass martinis are still on the menu), craft beers, and dim sum, including Dean’s pillowy steamed bao with barbecue pork, along with the same warm welcoming service. All of which earned Miss Wong a spot on the inaugural World’s 50 Best Discovery list. Now located in what was Kethana and Bruce Dunnet’s FLOW bar, adjacent to Footprints café and opposite Banlle, Miss Wong can be credited with making a destination out of Wat Bo Village and making it the coolest Siem Reap neighbourhood. Let’s toast to that. Miss Wong cocktail bar, Street 26, Wat Bo Village, 5pm-late.
Do let us know if you stay, eat or sip in the coolest Siem Reap neighbourhood. We’d love to know what you think of Wat Bo Village.
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