Eats and treats in Siem Reap

Be­yond Angkor Wat in Cam­bo­dia’s gate­way city

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1 THE DRILL

To visit Siem Reap and not ex­plore the 16th­cen­tury tem­ples of Angkor Wat would be like fail­ing to look up at the ceil­ing of the Sis­tine Chapel. But this is my third stay in the city and my fo­cus is on the gal­leries, eats and re­tail treats most trav­ellers see only by night, well af­ter a day’s clam­ber­ing around the tem­ples and an oblig­a­tory foot mas­sage at par­lours with names of the ilk of Dr Feet. I am guided by my Hong Kong-based friend Judie Wong, who runs Tiger Lily bou­tique in Siem Reap (see Sip, Sup and Shop). We hire a tuk­tuk and driver for the day, which costs $US20 ($28), and there’s room for the mount­ing heap of shop­ping bags and time to pause for a restora­tive co­conut-flavoured ice at the city’s best ice cream bar, Gelato Lab. More: tourism­cam­bo­dia.com.

2 THE HIP ’HOOD

Since its open­ing last year, The Lit­tle Red Fox Espresso, run by Queens­lan­ders Adam Rod­well and David Stir­ling, has be­come a mecca for Aussie cof­fee ad­dicts. Its black­board list of brews is as com­pre­hen­sive as any ur­ban cafe; there’s soy milk, ex­tra shots and all the finicky ex­tras that are some­times hard to find in Asia, plus do try the de­li­cious iced lemon­grass tea or the Cuban, a cold, strong shot with sugar syrup and a dash of milk. This hole-in-the-wall joint (with Stir­ling’s hair sa­lon up­stairs) is in newly hip Ken­dal Vil­lage, north of so-called Pub Street and south of the Old French Quar­ter; the neigh­bour­hood is cen­tred around the one-block Hup Guan Street and in­cludes Frangi­pani Spa, a store selling masks used in Cam­bo­dian dance-dra­mas, and an ar­ray of home­wares stores. In the home cat­e­gory, Trunkh (also with a branch in Ph­nom Penh, the cap­i­tal) is great fun, with a fo­cus on “up­cy­cled and re­pur­posed” items that make great gifts; hand­printed linen cush­ion cov­ers with a dec­o­ra­tive lo­tus de­sign in six pale-colour com­bos are $US30. Also on Hup Guan Street is the Louise Loubatieres bou­tique, where the el­e­gant French-Viet­namese owner stocks gor­geous scarves, cush­ions, silk wraps with tasselled trim, lac­quered bowls and trays and jew­ellery made from tightly wo­ven fab­ric. More: the­lit­tlered­fox­e­spresso.com; trunkh.com; louiseloubatieres.com.

3 THE SILK MASTER

The supremely stylish Eric Raisina, born in Mada­gas­car and trained in cou­ture and tex­tiles in Paris, has his epony­mous flag­ship store on a big cor­ner site at 75-81 Charles de Gaulle Av­enue, with work­shop filled with weavers and hard-work­ing looms up­stairs. Raisina’s cre­ations are wo­ven works of art in jew­elled colours, many with lay­ers of or­ganza and raf­fia (“the nat­u­ral fi­bre of Mada­gas­car”) tuft­ing to cre­ate “silk fur”. He dubs his work “haute tex­ture” and I’ve seen noth­ing else as finely made; there are racks of ready-to-wear gar­ments, shawls with fluffy de­tails and gor­geous bags. Raisina has just opened a branch in Raf­fles Le Royal Ho­tel in Ph­nom Penh and also has a bou­tique in Paris, although he says his colours “chal­lenge” the lo­cal ladies, with their cus­tom­ary Parisian pal­ette of navy, grey and white. More: er­i­craisina.com.

4 CRAFTED WITH CARE

Ar­ti­sans d’Angkor com­prises a se­ries of work­shops ranged around a leafy square where about 100 work­ers, many with dis­abil­i­ties, but skilled in lac­quer­ing, paint­ing, carv­ing, sil­ver-plat­ing and gild­ing, cre­ate items in ma­te­ri­als such as sand­stone, soapstone and teak. It’s a suc­cess­ful op­er­a­tion based on pro­vid­ing wel­fare, ed­u­ca­tion and work for dis­ad­van­taged youth. English-speak­ing guides lead tours ex­plain­ing the craft pro­cesses and there’s a store that’s per­fect for one-stop gift buy­ing. Most of the prod­ucts (cloth­ing, fash­ion ac­ces­sories, table­ware) sold are made from silk and cre­ated at an as­so­ci­ated mul­berry farm out­side Siem Reap, for which trans­fers and tours are avail­able. There are also Ar­ti­sans d’Angkor stores at Siem Reap and Ph­nom Penh air­ports. More: ar­ti­sans­dan­gkor.com.

5 THE REAL MEAL

I highly rec­om­mend The Sugar Palm, where Kethana and Bruce Dun­net serve au­then­tic MSG-free Kh­mer food on the up­stairs level of a gal­leried wooden house sur­rounded by tall green­ery. Kethana’s mis­sion has been to re­vive many of the tra­di­tional fam­ily and vil­lage recipes lost dur­ing the rule of the Kh­mer Rouge, and she’s been filmed with the likes of Gor­don Ram­say and Luke Nguyen. Don’t miss the re­fresh­ing pomelo salad topped with hand­fuls of mint or stir-fries heady with the scents of pep­per, ginger and basil. The Dun­nets also run a Sugar Palm off­shoot in Ph­nom Penh, plus the new toast of Siem Reap, the con­vivial wine bar and bistro Flow, on Street 26. More: the­sug­arpalm.com.

6 POP-UP PIC­NIC

Travel with Aber­crom­bie & Kent and an itin­er­ary in­clu­sion could be a pop-up cook­ing class, with lunch to fol­low, in a ru­ral set­ting. In my case, the event is at Thum­cheat by Srah Srang reser­voir, about 20 min­utes north­east of the city. Un­der a makeshift canopy, two cooks who have joined us from Siem Reap’s Asian Square res­tau­rant ex­plain the in­gre­di­ents of sev­eral spice-laden dishes and then we don aprons and get busy chop­ping herbs and veg­eta­bles and gingerly han­dling raw and scrawny chicken’s feet. When lunch is served, it’s on a wooden plat­form set with a rug and bol­sters; we stretch out our legs un­der the low ta­ble and get stuck in as the af­ter­noon length­ens and farm­ers herd home their cows. More: aber­crom­biekent.com.au; asian­square-res­tau­rant.com.

7 CHIC OA­SIS

Viroth’s Ho­tel (an off­shoot of the pop­u­lar Viroth’s Villa) fea­tures 31 gue­strooms and four

suites and opened in March on Street 24 in the Wat Bo neigh­bour­hood. The 1950s-inspired prop­erty is set around a pool court­yard lined with ver­ti­cal gar­dens, and with its mid-cen­tury fur­ni­ture, ter­razzo floors, sput­niklike lights and ul­tra-cool vibe it’s a fun place to ei­ther stay or stop by for a meal or drink on the see-and-be-seen ground level. More: viroth-ho­tel.com.

8 SIP, SUP AND SHOP

Best venues for cock­tails start with Miss Wong, which would look equally at home in old Shang­hai, all fringed lanterns and cherry-red walls. Li­ba­tions in­clude in­gre­di­ents such as ly­chees and jas­mine tea liqueur or lounge on a leather banquette with a kaf­fir lime and apri­cot mar­tini. At Park Hy­att Siem Reap (see Best beds), the court­yard over­looks a ven­er­a­ble banyan tree and creamy frangi­pa­nis and has cush­ioned swing seats along one of its colon­nades. The ho­tel has a quiet ter­race for drinks and snacks or drop by its pink-ac­cented Liv­ing Room, where clever con­coc­tions come in heavy coloured tum­blers and, if you ask nicely, an ice cream-filled mac­aron “sand­wich” could be sum­moned for you from the Glasshouse Deli. The For­eign Cor­re­spon­dents Club (known lo­cally as the FCC; it also of­fers ac­com­mo­da­tion) is housed in the for­mer French gover­nor’s river­front man­sion and serves drinks and snacks on its fairy-lit lawns, and then it’s up­stairs for East-meets-West pasta or spicy fish curry. Leave time to pot­ter about the FCC’s colon­naded ar­cades, where late-open­ing shops in­clude an Eric Raisina out­let and Judie Wong’s Tiger Lily, stacked with bronze wa­ter bowls, an­tique bird­cages, Buddha heads and be­tel-nut boxes. More: miss­wong.net; fc­c­cam­bo­dia.com; tigerlilypnh.com.

9 HOUSE AND GAR­DEN

Theam’s House is the home and ate­lier of Paris­trained Cam­bo­dian artist Lim Muy Theam; set in me­an­der­ing trop­i­cal gar­dens, there are works in progress, a maze of gallery dis­plays and a gift store, where lac­quered ele­phants and Buddha heads in vivid colours make ter­rific sou­venirs. Theam’s mis­sion is to re­vive the old artis­tic dis­ci­plines wiped away by the Kh­mer Rouge and he has been train­ing young Cam­bo­di­ans in long-for­got­ten crafts. More: theamshouse.com. For­merly known as Ho­tel de la Paix, and con­ceived by Thai-based ar­chi­tect Bill Bens­ley in mon­u­men­tal art deco style, the 104-room Park Hy­att Siem Reap has re­tained his orig­i­nal sen­si­bil­ity and de­sign. It is cen­trally lo­cated, with help­ful ser­vice and a serene aura that starts with an ar­rival cer­e­mony of iced ginger, mint and lemon­grass tea and con­tin­ues through flow­ing public spa­ces and cosy cham­bers. Mine, No 103, is small but well laid-out and thought­fully de­tailed — highly pol­ished par­quet floor­ing, a ce­ramic jar of cook­ies that’s re­filled daily, Ne­spresso ma­chine, cush­ioned cor­ner couch and com­pact bath­room. There are pool suites in the flow­er­ing gar­dens, buf­fet break­fast in The Res­tau­rant is de­light­fully abun­dant and Wi-Fi is free and fast. Head to level one and plant your­self in a ca­bana or dip in the im­mense free-form pool that winds like a la­goon to­wards The Spa, where herbal com­presses and re­flex­ol­ogy await those tired “tem­ple feet”. More: siem­reap.park.hy­att.com.

Su­san Kuro­sawa was a guest of Viet­nam Air­lines and Aber­crom­bie & Kent.

A barista at The Lit­tle Red Fox Espresso, Siem Reap, above; artists at work in Theam’s House, main

Pop-up pic­nic at Srah Srang

Eric Raisina at his flag­ship store in Siem Reap

Park Hy­att Siem Reap

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