Khmer House Restaurant

After a reconnaissance stroll down Pub Street and The Alley, we decided to hunker down and eat our first meal in Cambodia at the Khmer House Restaurant.  With 50 cent draft beers and food prepared and served by a local Khmer family, how could we go wrong?

There was no one else on the 2nd floor of the restaurant but us. (Perhaps everyone else realized that heat rises?)  At any rate, our lonely dinner upstairs was well-punctuated by the live music from the street, and by our overly-attentive waiter who kept asking us questions about America and California (particularly Hollywood films and "stars" like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone!)

Usually when traveling to a foreign country, you get the sense that you are somewhat looked upon as a nuisance.  Here in Cambodia, however, the locals seem genuinely grateful for the tourism, and are obviously quite proud of the beautiful treasure that they behold in Cambodia.  Surprisingly, we were able share so much more interaction in the four days we were in Cambodia then when compared to our 10-day holiday in Thailand.  And while the locals in the neighboring country were certainly warm and friendly, they did not seem to be as hungry for conversation like the people of Siem Reap, all of whom spoke English surprisingly well.

Speaking of hungry... let’s get back to the restaurant!

That first night, we tried the traditional Khmer meal called "amok."  Amok is basically a steamed curry dish which is then wrapped in banana leaves.  There are many varieties of Amok but we ended up selecting a fish version that was cooked with coconut milk and galangal.  You will notice that Khmer food shares many similarities with Thai, but after dining at the Khmer House Restaurant and others like it, we found that Cambodian dishes to be simpler in construction, and yet more "in your face" in terms of spiciness and flavor.  We certainly wish there was a Khmer restaurant in our neighborhood in Los Angeles!

There are a few different “Khmer Kitchens” in town, two of them in the Pub Street area of Siem Reap.  All will feature food prepared and served by a local family.  The Khmer House Restaurant we visited is open daily from 10:00 AM to 10:00 PM.

Set of Drifters tip:  For an opportunity to get further acquainted with this strange new land, we decided to go up to the 2nd floor of the Khmer House Restaurant so we could get a better view of Pub Street from the balcony.  A small gamelan band, comprised of landmine survivors who can find no other work due to their disabilities, played from the street below.  (These small gamelan groups pop up all over Siem Reap and Angkor Wat.)  Their music is nothing short of enchanting, and we now wish that we had purchased more of their CD's while in town.

Of course, Pub Street (aka "Bar Street") and The Alley are also full of vendors trying to sell any number of things from souvenirs, activity tours, “sexy times,” or even live chickens.  Keep in mind that if you are not on the 2nd floor balcony, you may be bombarded even during dinner!  (See “sips” for more information on Pub Street/ The Alley.)

Khmer House Restaurant - Pub Street, Siem Reap, 011 (855) 99 630644

Le Malraux

On our last night in Siem Reap, we decided to dine at a restaurant that we had been eying for a few nights, the french bistro Le Malraux.  The name of the restaurant refers to “archaeologist” Andre Malraux who, in 1923, came to Angkor's Banteay Srei with his wife, and then proceeded to plunder a number of its fascinating carvings.  (The couple was later arrested in Cambodia's capital city of Phnom Penh.)  Le Malraux was decidedly more upscale than the thieves it pays tongue-n-cheek homage to.   Again, even in the middle of a dusty town in northwestern Cambodia, the chic design of modern times filters through!

All dressed up and twirling their hair, a gaggle of young women ponied up to the bar inside.  We opted to eat outside on the enchanting jungle-enclosed patio.  Here, plants invade from all sides to create a cozy, yet intriguing atmosphere that is only further enhanced by the delectable French menu.  True, this may be one of the more expensive meals of your stay in Siem Reap, but the presentation and taste should certainly keep you in very good spirits, even if the service is a bit slow.

Le Malraux is open every day from 7:00 AM for breakfast all the way until midnight!  (We were actually quite thrilled that they had such amenable hours following the night we left our credit card there by accident and had only a few hours left in the country to retrieve it!)

Le Malraux - 155 Sivatha Street (at the corner of Street 7), Siem Reap,
011 (855) 63 966041

nibbles at the Hotel de la Paix

After days and nights of eating traditional local fare, you sometimes need a little break.  On our final day in town, we hit up the kitchen of the Hotel de la Paix (see “digs”) not once, but twice!  First, it being the final morning of our trip, we decided to treat ourselves to room service breakfast, typically a pretty bad bang-for-your-buck option in most hotels. 

At the Hotel de la Paix, however, the gourmet breakfast was free, save for a service charge.  That meant that we received two main dishes, two cappuccinos and orange juice for only a whopping $6 USD!  And the quality was unforgettable.  The crispy waffles doused in vanilla peach syrup were simply the best we had ever had.

Then later in the day, after a few final temple visits, we headed back to the Arts Lounge - and just in time... for as we kicked off our shoes and sandals and ordered gourmet burgers and fries - GASP! - a huge summer deluge began its assault outside.  We updated our Facebook statuses as we waited for the burgers, salivating even at the thought of one bite.

Once the food was delivered, we were not disappointed.  If we had had more time in Siem Reap, we certainly would have checked out either AHA or Meric, the two signature restaurants of the hotel.

Set of Drifters Update:
  Hotel de la Paix is now the Siem Reap Park Hyatt, and from what we here, prices have skyrocketed since our visit.  The quality?  Maybe not.  (We hear the burger is now a whopping $18 USD a pop.)  It might be worth first checking out the spry little coffee next door that features pastries, cappuccino, ice cream and sorbet!  We were quite impressed by the little outfit’s tasty output when it was known as the Cafe de la Paix.  The redubbed Glasshouse Deli is open daily from 6:00 AM to 11:00 PM, which means you should have no difficulty getting your fix prior to or upon returning from Angkor Wat!

Hotel de la Paix (now the Park Hyatt) - Sivatha Boulevard, Siem Reap, 011 (855) 63 966000

Temple Club Balcony

The Temple Club is one of the more popular tourist nightspots along Pub Street, and after our visit we can see why.  With decor that adds a tongue-in-cheek twist to the nearby temples its name references, the two-story establishment is like a tiny microcosm of all that Siem Reap has on offer.  The cleverly-lit downstairs club features alternating live bands and DJ’s, some flown in all the way from Bangkok.  Visitors can let off some steam by playing a round of pool or chatting with the locals over a few bottles of beer.

Upstairs at “The Balcony,” the space plan and decor is opened up a bit more.  Swathed in orange and red hues, the tables of the restaurant are arranged in such a way that it is almost impossible not to meet new friends.  The classic Khmer dishes on the menu are fantastic (and cheap), and if you time it just right, will be served complete with free classical Khmer dance performances set to the music of a live gamelan band (see “sights”).

We stocked up on pitchers of Angkor before the show began.  Good thing since our service was ultimately not that great.  (Perhaps our server was stressed out due to the packed house that slams the restaurant right before each show time.)  Nevertheless, we still recommend this place highly for the overall flavor, value and delightful atmosphere.

Temple Club - Bar Street, Siem Reap, 855 -015 999909

In Touch

One afternoon, while taking a break from the heat and humidity of Angkor, we stopped off for lunch at In Touch, a restaurant that is somewhat hard to miss thanks to its prime location at the main corner of Pub Street.  Like many establishments in Siem Reap, there is no scrimping on interior design here, with lush faux grass walls competing with the tremendous multi-shade conical light fixture dangling from the center of the bar.  In Touch is yet another great example of the new world/ old world paradox that so embodies much of Siem Reap. 

Upon entering, we realized that we were the only ones in the establishment that afternoon, but since it had been incredibly busy the night prior, we were certain that the Khmer/ Thai food coming from the kitchen would suffice.  As soon as we sat down, a bartender from In Touch’s accommodating staff brought over three fans to cool us down from different directions.

We ordered our lunch and, after settling into a few bottles of Angkor beer, were pleasantly surprised by a performance from the quirky house band that was rehearsing renditions of disco standards for their nightly show.  After a short wait (the kitchen was just starting up for the day), lunch turned out to be sublime and exactly what the doctor ordered; the garlic dish on Brady’s side of the table was simply the best ever!

Aside from the food, the menu at In Touch comes with yet another bonus.  Prices here are quite favorable (the most bang for your riel), making it one of the best values in town!  Don’t miss it!  In Touch is open from 11:00 AM - midnight or later, depending on the crowd’s response to "I Will Survive" and "Dancing Queen!"  Oh, just try not to smile!

In Touch - Pub Street, Siem Reap, 011 (855) 63 963240 or 011 (855) 63 965006