Every traveller needs a bed and wants to eat well – I give my top 3 picks for a hotel, restaurant and food tour in Siem Reap.
Siem Reap’s proximity to the magnificent Angkor temples of the old Khmer kingdom make it one of Cambodia’s most popular tourist spots. It’s a steamy, tropical town, not without infrastructure problems, but bursting at the seams with a vibrant, dynamic, entrepreneurial and extraordinarily friendly populace. The city heaves with hotels, resorts, restaurants and bars, with more popping up every month. I’ll leave hunting out the joys of Pub Street and rowdy bars to someone who actually has the energy for them. I want to tell you about three things that will appeal to anyone of any age – a great hotel, a wonderful restaurant and an excellent food tour.
For the last word in style, comfort, service and total value for money you simply can’t beat Viroth’s Hotel. Located in the heart of the city in the vibrant Wat Bo area of Siem Reap, this 35-roomed boutique hotel offers everything you’ll find in any big, costly resort or chain hotel – 24 hour reception service, spacious air-conditioned and spotlessly clean rooms, quality linen, 20 metre pool, soothing spa, gym, restaurant, bar – but all served up with authentically warm, personal service in new 1950’s-inspired premises and at an unbelievably low price.
The attention to detail at Viroth’s is exceptional – from the lush vertical gardens, the stylish 1950’s-60’s vintage Rolls Royce and Mercedes parked out the front and available (with a driver) for guests use, right down to being met at the door after a sweaty day at the temples with a huge smile and a refrigerated damp cloth to cool down with.
I don’t often gush about much, and I’ve lost count of how many dozens of hotels I’ve stayed in over the years, but I can honestly state that I’ve stayed in none better.
There’s no end of restaurants in Siem Reap and culinary choices range from burgers and pizza, through classic French cuisine to traditional or modern Cambodian food – and I tried all of it. But the one I kept going back to is the delightful Mie Café, tucked into a quiet street off the road to Angkor Wat.
The restaurant (which started life as a café, hence the name) is owned and run by the talented Pola Siv. It is located in a refurbished traditional Khmer house, behind lush gardens planted with many of the fresh herbs used on the menu, and which reverberates with the sound of multiple frog species. Pola is an exceedingly modest, well-travelled Cambodian local who overcame some significant hurdles to realise his dream to study as a chef in Switzerland.
His delicious cuisine is a sophisticated combination of traditional Khmer ingredients and dishes, prepared using classical European techniques and vice-versa. Pola is clearly passionate about food and genuinely keen to ensure that his guests are happy while dining there – and given his dedication and creative skills, I can’t imagine anyone being otherwise. In the space of one week, I ate there three different times – nuff said.
Siem Reap Food Tours
Finally, and still on the subject of food, as far as I’m concerned no visit to a new city is complete without a trip to the local markets, restaurants and food stalls in the company of knowledgeable, local foodies. Featured in the New York Times, Siem Reap Food Tours provides personal guided tours for very small groups on either morning or evening trips around the local food hotspots.
Cambodian food is not really well known in the rest of the world, but is fragrant, fresh and (happily for me) less spicy than it’s near Thai neighbours. These tours take visitors into city markets, out of town to meet producers and try classic local dishes, and visits street stalls and restaurants giving participants an authentic window into the culinary culture of Siem Reap.
They are run by Scottish chef Steve Halcrow and author of Move To Cambodia blog Lina Goldberg, two expat food-tragics who have lived in Siem Reap for years, speak the language and share a passion and great curiosity for Cambodian culinary traditions. I was lucky enough to spend time with both of them and was struck by the extent of their knowledge and the genuine respect and concern they have for local producers.
Food is a great introduction into a culture and, with Steven and Lina, visitors can be confident that they will learn to eat like a local safely – whether they dine at a restaurant or a street stall.