Siem Reap: Eat, Drink and Stay

Places to eat and drink

DSCN3398Bugs Cafe (Insects)

When I discovered the Bugs Cafe on TripAdvisor prior to my trip to Siem Reap I thought, well, just think of the photographs I can get from that place when I go to Cambodia! I set my mind on going. I told all my friends about it. I promised them I’d be telling them all the gory details once I’d eaten all those weird creepy crawlies. When I arrived in Cambodia I delayed and delayed, putting off eating my tarantula for as long as I possibly could. Fearing being labelled a total coward by my friends, however, I forced myself to go on the penultimate day of my visit. I entered the restaurant shaking like a leaf, wondering what the hell I’d let myself in for. I sat down, drained a few Cambodia beers and put off ordering until I could build up my Dutch courage. Turns out I had nothing to fear, really; insects actually taste pretty good!

I choose to go for the Discovery Platter ($14) which includes spring rolls with ants, an insect skewer with a scorpion, a small spider and a water bug on it, a Mediterranean Feuilletes with red ants, a tarantula doughnut and a silk worm and cricket wok in a green coconut sauce. Everything on that plate – bar the water bug which was hard as plastic and almost inedible – tasted pretty great. I’d go as far as saying that people put off by the fact they were eating insects would likely compliment the food if they were blindfolded and weren’t aware of what they were actually eating.

The silk worm and cricket work was the best tasting nibble; I even considered asking for a second helping! The tarantula was also really good; I feared the abdomen would burst disgustingly in my mouth as I bit into it but it was actually quite meaty and the legs were a taste sensation, with a texture similar to Chipstick crisps if you live in the UK! The scorpion had a caramelised taste to it, leading me to believe it would actually taste pretty good as part of a dessert. The spring rolls were really tasty too; you wouldn’t even know there was anything unusual inside of them without being told.

Despite my apprehension, I was very pleasantly surprised by my visit to Bugs Cafe. Who would have guessed insects would taste so great? If, as predicted, we are all to be eating sustainable insects in the future, then I can confirm we have nothing to worry about in regards to flavour! If the place wasn’t half way around the world from me, I’d definitely be going back for second helpings. You might go, like I did, for nothing more than a daft photo opportunity, but you will likely leave surprised and shocked for all the right reasons.

Click here to visit the Bugs Cafe website for more information.

DSCN3229Cambodian Soup (Khmer)

On my first day in Siem Reap I was looking for a place that did traditional Cambodian fare. The first place I stumbled on in Pub Street was Cambodia Soup so I called in and ordered Fish Amok, a local Cambodian dish. My order was brought out promptly and the food itself was really good. I washed it down with a few Anchor beers which are available at 50c each during the most ridiculously long Happy Hour of 7am to 5pm! Total price of the visit was just over $6 which, for me, was fine for what I had.

A few days later I returned as I had noticed during my earlier visit the restaurant served crocodile and I fancied eating something a bit unusual. The restaurant was far busier during this visit owing to it being at night-time. It’s common for the majority of places on Pub Street get packed to the rafters once the sun has dipped below the horizon and the Angkor sightseers return en masse. I again had a few beers and ordered my food. It arrived again without any problem or delay and again was really rather good. One thing I did notice on my second visit was how flustered the staff got during this far busier period. Although the staff were friendly enough, I noticed at least two patrons around me had cause to make complaint owing to receiving the wrong order and not receiving their order at all. Still, I encountered no problems personally and again enjoyed my food. My bill again came in at just over $6 and I was happy to pay that.

I found myself in rather an unusual situation during my second visit as I was sat, due to the place being crowded, on a table with an older Australian man who quite openly (and with a great deal of bad language) talked about the fact he was on a sex holiday! Needless to say, I found the whole conversation rather uncomfortable and was thankful to a British family sat at the adjacent table for bailing me out of this awkward situation! Not the restaurant’s fault, of course, but an unfortunate quirk of fate!

Overall, I really enjoyed my two visits to Cambodia Soup. Both the dishes I had were very tasty and reasonably priced and the Happy Hour was lengthy with some good offers. I can, however, see how some other people have been left dissatisfied by their visit as I did, as mention, notice some less than stellar customer service involving fellow diners when the place was busy. If you want to try some good Khmer food then you could definitely do worse than this place; maybe try and go during the day in order to avoid any issues with your order.

HavenHaven (Khmer and Western)

I initially went to try Haven at night but the restaurant was fully booked so I put my name on the list for a visit the following lunchtime. I was aware this might have happened as the restaurant is very highly thought of and came highly recommended to me by a friend. I can safely confirm the place lives up to its reputation.

I arrived a little earlier than my booking dictated but was kindly accommodated by the maitre d’ who was extremely friendly and talkative. I was seated and offered a fan which I took being a northerner from the UK and not at all used to the midday temperatures prevalent in Cambodia! I ordered the fried spring rolls ($4.50) and the Khmer curry ($7).

I was tended to by very friendly and attentive Khmer staff as I waited for my meal. They brought my drinks and orders promptly and were constantly asking if I was enjoying my meal. My handmade juice, starter and main were all absolutely delicious. I was so impressed with the food that I even ordered an Oreo cheesecake dessert ($4.50) despite being absolutely stuffed and having no intention initially of having an afters!

As well as providing fantastic food, Haven also does a lot for the community. They offer opportunities for orphaned and underprivileged young Khmer by teaching them a trade and setting them away on a path towards a better life. Not only can you leave feeling fulfilled by the brilliant food but also by the fact that you are helping the incredibly friendly staff forge a beneficial career for themselves.

If you visit Siem Reap you owe it to yourself to eat at Haven. Everything about my visit was positive and if I ever find myself in Cambodia again I will definitely be revisiting. To not make a booking (remember, evening visits need to be sorted in advance!) for yourself here would be robbing yourself of one of the best food experiences available in Siem Reap. Thoroughly recommended.

Click here to visit the Haven website for more information.

StromboliBelmiro’s (Pizzeria)

On my final day in Siem Reap I fancied trying one of the many pizza shops in the town. After some research I found that Belmiro’s was the mostly highly-rated. After a brief visit to the War Museum I arrived at the restaurant a tad early and the staff were kind enough to let me sit and browse a menu in the restaurant prior to them opening as they finished off their preparations.

When I made my order I went for the Meaty Stromboli ($7) and a BBQ Chicken single slice ($3). The slice arrived first and it was absolutely delicious. I have visited friends in New York and been taken to some well thought of pizzerias there and this was as good as anything I have picked up in the US. After demolishing the single slice I waited very briefly for my Stromboli. It arrived and was similarly delicious – I had never tried one before but if the ones I have following this are half as good then I will be very pleased. I was so impressed with my food that I purchased a cheese slice ($2) for my faithful tuk tuk driver and he seemed to enjoy it too!

I would highly recommend Belmiro’s pizza if you find yourself in Siem Reap. There are a large number of pizza shops in the town but this one is American owned and the others would do very well to even come close to the standard of the pies here. Good stuff.

Click here to visit the Belmiro’s website for more information.

Where I stayed

DSCN3426Pacific Hotel Siem Reap

Usually I stay in hostels when I travel but in this instance I was informed by a fellow traveller before I left of a nice hotel that was luxurious and cost buttons. Going against my skinflint nature I decided to go for the slightly more expensive option of the fancy hotel and I’m so glad I did.

Even before I arrived the staff were extremely helpful. Sinat, the woman who helped me arrange my stay, was very prompt and pleasant in her replies to my emails and answered all of my inquiries effectively. Upon arrival I was picked up at the airport by a very pleasant young man and the positive attitudes of the staff continued all the way throughout my trip from the pool attendant to the barman.

My room was exceptional. I was given an upgrade to a Colonial Deluxe room and it was easily the nicest hotel room I’ve ever stayed in. The room itself was very spacious with plenty of storage room, a complimentary safe and fruit basket, a fridge, large ornate table and chairs and a large and comfortable four poster bed. In the bathroom I was provided with a large shower and a bath as well as freebies like razors, shower caps, soap and shampoo. The room was immaculate and cleaned thoroughly each and every day.

The hotel also offers a number of additional amenities. There is a nice pool to laze around and plenty of comfortable loungers to pick from. Near the pool there is a sizeable spa with massage services, jacuzzis, sauna and a small gym which was ideal for me to burn off all the calories I picked up from all the 50c beers I downed in Siem Reap proper! The services available in the spa are very reasonably priced to start with, but hotel customers get very good discounts upon visiting before certain times, between 30% and 50% if I remember correctly.

The hotel also provided me with a complimentary breakfast. The range of food on offer was really quite astounding, from pancakes and waffles, to cereal, fruit and toast, to fried chicken and kimchi rice. Many of the guests are from China and Korea and that lends itself to much of the food available but, as I like culinary delights from those regions, I was in my element. There are also many drinks options available from teas, coffees, ice cold water and a delicious pineapple offering.

In the cavernous lobby the hotel also offers free PCs in order to allow you to keep in touch with people back home should you, as I did, travel without any means of communication. Although the machines are slow you are not prohibited in what you can do on them so you can easily upload all your temple photographs, have a Skype conversation or even catch up on TV shows back home if you have the knowhow.

The hotel is located about ten minutes outside of Siem Reap town and about 15 to 20 minutes away from the main temple complexes. This, however, is not a problem. There are many tuk tuk drivers out front of the hotel who are more than happy to stick with you for the entire day and transport you from temple to town and back to the hotel. If you would like to travel in more comfort, the hotel has a car that can be rented for a marginally higher price.

Upon leaving the hotel I was warmly waved goodbye by the staff and was again transported to the airport at no additional cost.

Overall, I was very impressed by my visit to Pacific Hotel. The room was more than sufficient for my needs and fantastic value for the price I paid. The staff went out of their way to make my stay an enjoyable one. If I was ever to return to Cambodia I would stay at this hotel again without hesitation.

Click here to visit the Pacific Hotel website for more information.

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