Of course our travel crew was in Siem Reap to explore the nearby temples and soak up some Khmer culture. But that doesn’t mean we couldn’t slip in some cocktail time, too. Cocktail culture has come to Cambodia and you can now find trendy drinking options alongside the more traditional. We took three different approaches to our Siem Reap cocktail crawling:
Bespoke Sip Siem Reap Itinerary
One of best parts of travel is in the planning (for me, at least….). I get into the researching, reading, ruminating with my network about to do, drink and eat. But for this stop on our tour, Lara Dunston suggested we try one of her customized cocktail tour itineraries. She and husband Terence Carter are the travel and food writers behind Grantourismo Travels and currently based in Siem Reap. We thought…why not? It might be nice to roll into town and let someone else lead for a change and maybe even discover something that wasn’t yet on our radar. Lara’s bespoke Sip Siem Reap Itinerary package includes a full programme with information on each bar, cocktail recommendations and other personal tips.
She arranged for her driver, Kong, to take us through the tour during which we sipped martinis at a high-end hotel bar, sampled local cocktail creations in an antique timber house in the Old Town and finished the night with dim sum and nightcaps at a bustling hotspot. Ultimately, even a die-hard DIY travel planner like me can see some advantage to letting a local drive sometimes. This globetrotting duo goes deep in researching locations and have written for dozens of publications (Guardian, National Geographic, AFAR, etc.), create tons of content for their own site, and offer custom itineraries and guided tours beyond just cocktails.
Cocktails in Colonial Setting
If you’re looking for something that recalls a certain element of Cambodia’s colonial past, perhaps a stop into the Foreign Correspondents Club hotel bar and restaurant is in order. Though not technically part of the network of private clubs for world traveling journalists, the FCC does offer members of that network a small discount and the name alone evokes a certain time when, perhaps, there were fewer back-packers and more “Norman Lewis” types observing and recording. The restaurant and bar is in the art deco style main building, a French governor’s villa in bygone times. The FCC is just one of those things you *do* while in Siem Reap, so most tourists will amble through at some time. Plus they get involved with community minded projects like the marathon or exhibitions, which likely keep an expat crowd engaged and around.
The cocktail I tried was decent and the menu caters to Anglo palates with a selection of asian dishes + american faire like burgers and fries. The large terrace is nice and it made a relaxing post-temple treat in the afternoon. While it may feel a little dated, there is a certain tatty elegance that appeals. Though we stopped in during the day, I would guess it looks rather lovely when the pool is lit up at night, hinting at something lost, romantic, exotic….
Speakeasy Siem Reap Style
It seems that no city can escape the Speakeasy phenomenon and Siem Reap now has their own version with the Menaka Lounge. If you find the glowing neon sign ironically proclaiming “Shhhh!” you’ll know you’re heading in the right direction. Pass through the brightly lit coffee shop facade, head upstairs through mirrored doors and arrive in a full blown cocktail bar. Here, rather than the typical suspenders, mustaches and pre-prohibition touches, you’ll find Cambodian architectural elements recalling a 60’s aesthetic and inspired by the country’s temples and landscapes and staff sporting polo shirts.
The menu got some initial buzz due to early collaboration with Annemarie of Phnom Phen based Le Boutier bar and straddles a line between cool and kitsch as it comes on a scroll and categorizes the cocktails into one of three Cambodia eras. Recipes incorporate local ingredients like kampot pepper or jackfruit. The fact that it’s a bit removed from the busy Pub Street and other hectic nightspots, makes it a bit of a quiet bubble in which to spend an hour or two away from the hustle and bustle…with a decent martini in hand.