THE BEST BARS, PUBS and CLUBS in SIEM REAP
The title above does not have to be in that order. SIEM REAP is all about doing whatever the hell you want, as long as it’s all in good fun. In this first part, I’m going to attempt to give you a run-down of the best bars that Siem Reap has to offer. And no, I haven’t been to them all, because then I wouldn’t be writing this. I’d be in a hospital awaiting a liver transplant. But I have explored quite a bit, and this post will help you discover the best of what the Siem Reap bar scene has to offer. Whether you want to have a nice glass of wine in a loungy setting, a cocktail in a floating bed (yup, you’re reading that right) or go ballistic on buckets, Siem Reap has something for everyone. So grab yourself a drink and follow me into the wonderful chaos that is the Siem Reap bar scene!
The first thing to understand about Siem Reap is that there REALLY is something for everyone, and it also means that if you don’t want to get sucked into a bottomless bucket drinking contest, that is also fine. There is no judgement or an age barrier in buzzing SR. Siem Reap is more than rampant youth running amuck in Pub Street. It is also the home of fine wine bars and cool expat lounges. What is also very convenient is that in little downtown Siem Reap, your next drinking or eating destination is at the most a 3 minute walk (or 5 minute crawl) away. I’ll start with the more ‘quiet’ establishments and make my way up onto the aforementioned ‘party’ venues.
WINE & TAPAS TIME – PICASSO
If you are looking for a nice glass of wine (or beer or cocktails as well), then PICASSO, nestled in ‘the Alley’ is a good place to start off. The Alley sounds a bit dodgier than it really is: it actually is a very arty and beautiful little street with wall-to-wall bars and restaurants (the lauded restaurant Le Papier de Tigre is also located here). When I was visiting, it had a whole lane of umbrellas propped up to form a kind of ceiling, giving the Alley a very artsy and ‘ooh look at that!’ vibe. PICASSO has a horseshoe shaped bar smack in the middle of the establishment, and oozes a friendly and chatty atmosphere. The bartender, hailing from Dresden (Germany), was especially talkative, adding to the homely feel of this brick-walled hole in the wall. They have a solid wine list, and good value tapas to boot. Don’t expect calamar, albondigas or chorizo, but more along the lines of feta cheese and olives. If you are looking for something a bit different, then the ginger-based cocktail called ‘the Legspreader’ might be right up your ‘alley’ (pun intended). Like almost any other place in SR, they have happy hour on wine and cocktails til about 7PM.
FLOATING IN A BED, SIPPING ON GIN & JUICE – ASANA aka THE OLD WOODEN HOUSE
My absolute favorite place in Siem Reap. Or in Cambodia. Or possibly anywhere I’ve been in my life. This is jungle cocktail fever done right, in the heart of the city, but still you feel miles away from the bustle of nearby Pub Street. ASANA is more commonly known as THE OLD WOODEN HOUSE, which basically really is what it is. And that’s also the beauty of this place. One street away from Pub Street, on Street 7, there is a small alleyway leading into a courtyard that opens up with a stilted wooden house in the middle, covered in trees and leaves. You’ll find cushy chairs, hammocks, and yes sir-ry: floating. Suspended. Beds. Needless to say I rushed the bed and claimed it as my own.
The staff is wonderful, and so is the food. Oh my, the food…I would suggest you opt for the ASANA platter which is a mix of skewers, richly filled dim sum, fresh and fried spring rolls and dipping sauces that still makes my mouth water when I think about it. They also offer filling mains or other appetizers (such as BBQ beef skewers). And by the way, all their cocktails are made with fresh tamarind, ginger, coriander or mint and made on the spot. If that doesn’t convince you, I honestly don’t know what will.
(ASANA also offers a cocktail class (private or in group), but more on that in a later post.)
THAT LOUNGY EXPAT FEELING – LAUNDRY
This place has a more sophisticated and ‘expatriate’ feel to it. Prices, of course, match the vibe (since this is Cambodia, it’s still quite cheap for Western standards, but still). This establishment has a pool table, but on the night I visited the place was quite calm and even the natural Cambodian exuberance of the staff felt sterile. Not a must if I’m honest, but if you want to chill out, shoot some pool and take a break from Angkor beer and switch to the lesser known ‘Cambodia Kingdown’ brew, LAUNDRY is a sure bet. And since they deal with a more sophisticated crowd, they also have a very smooth red house wine. It’s located on the far end of Street 9 where Viva! Mexican restaurant and hotel is located.
IS THAT A GIANT TIKI BAR? – THE ISLAND BAR
No, your eyes are not under some kind of Elvish spell: that indeed IS a giant tiki bar. You’ll find it across from Rithy Rine hotel (one I highly recommend) on Sok San Road. THE ISLAND BAR has a mellow atmosphere and often has live one-man band cover music. However, once the final chord rings, it’s LMFAO’s ‘Everyday I’m Shuffling’ on repeat on a giant display. I noticed that once you’ve seen too many dudes in leopard-print speedos, the night tends to go south from there. Visit THE ISLAND BAR when you’re passing by and want to get the night started because the construction itself is cool, the staff is funny, the beers are cold and they make one mean Blowjob. Made you read that twice, didn’t I?
ONE TUKTUK, TWO TUKTUK, THREE TUKTUK, FLOOR – TUK TUK BARS
Just your typical, everyday, run-of-the-mill Siem Reap madness. But trust me, it’s the good kind of mad and something one shouldn’t miss out on. This is not really a bar, but a group of TUK TUK COCKTAIL BARS lined up on both sides of Street 11, ranging from the intersection with Pub Street (Street 8) to Street 9. They wont’t be hard to find: they are blaring mobile war stations of ridiculously cheap drinks with the owners waving you to their brightly lit ‘establishments’ (but they’re not annoying, mind you; rather entertaining). Once you’ve decided on your tuktuk of choice, just pull up one of the stools placed at the ‘bar’, order your drink and watch the crowds roll by. Cocktails cost very little…like almost nothing. I paid 2$ (!!) for a really good (and feisty) Long Island Ice Tea or a Cheery Margarita (it probably needed to say ‘cherry’ but it made me cheery nonetheless). A little advice: some of the tuktuk bars on the street are extremely loud. If you want to have a chance at having a conversation without screaming your lungs out, choose one a bit further away from the loud ones. Fun fact: some tuktuk bars let you pick the next song on their playlist when you get a drink there.
Also, if you want to try some snake, tarantula, grashoppers or miscellaneous critters on a stick, this part of SR is the place to be as well. FYI – the vendors of these ‘typical’ foods ask 0.50$ (something like 20,000 riel) to take pictures if you don’t order.
THE MOTHER OF ALL WATERING HOLES – PUB STREET
Put on your big girl pants: it’s about to get rowdy. Things kick off pretty hard pretty early (around 9PM) at the epicenter of the party scene in Siem Reap. Once again, it’s all in good fun: travelers are friendly, sharing drinks, striking up conversations and I even saw someone getting straddled like it was Kissimmee rodeo at ANGKOR WHAT?. Basically, something for everyone, wouldn’t you say?
The two big hitters in Pub Street (or Street 8) are TEMPLE and ANGKOR WHAT? (get it?), and conveniently located across from each other. The latter’s slogan is ‘Promoting irresponsible drinking since 1992’ and is THE party institute in SR. Both offer in- and outside room, although TEMPLE has a deck terrace upstairs as well. Drinks are cheap, the music is EDM or poppy dance (just anything you can shake your backside to) and the atmosphere is in-cre-di-ble. This is probably also thanks to the fact that the party is 90% on the street between the two. Crowds from both venues flood out onto the street or watch the mayhem unfold from the outside terraces.
Locals join in on the fun as well. I myself was being danced on by what seemed like a very happy and gay (and I don’t mean ‘gay’ as in ‘merry’) dude, so I considered myself flattered, snapped some pictures, continued along the impromptu limbo line and grabbed another (meaning 7th Angkor draught). I also met a couple from Ireland with the sickest dance moves ever (one including something with a straw used as a microphone) and a US couple that shared a bucket with us that tasted of nothing but pure alcohol.
So, in short: if you want to dance, have a good effin’ time and meet some new people, come join us on the dark side.
Note to self: do NOT go all out on your first day on location ‘til three in the morning, dancing your ass off like you’re in a dance off contest with the entire Siem Reap Pub Street. Also, do NOT drink one tuk-tuk cocktail, fifteen Angkor draught beers and sip from a dude’s bucket cocktail you’ve never seen before (the dude nor the bucket). And third: do NOT sleep in ‘til 2PM on the second day because your body has no idea in what time zone or hemisphere it is when you do, and the hangover last three times as long. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.