Eats and treats in Siem Reap
Beyond Angkor Wat in Cambodia’s gateway city
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