Siem Reap, the gateway to Angkor Wat, is a busy city trying to attract and entertain the ever increasing number of international tourists that come to visit its famous temples. We spent 4 nights with 3 full days to focus on the temples. You could easily spend more time with shopping, massages and relaxing by the pool.
The city boasts a wide range of international as well as Cambodian fare in all price ranges. Basing yourself within easy access to Pub Street is a plus if you want to be close to restaurants and shopping. We found the quality of the food to be surprisingly and consistently good with prices lower than those of many other international cities.
The Golden Temple Residence gets extremely high marks on Tripadvisor, especially for their service. After the mostly nonexistent service in Laos, being able to easily arrange cars or tuk tuks through the front desk felt like a return to the civilized world. On the other hand being constantly asked how your food is, how the driver is, how the room is started to wear on me after 3 days. Service is best when you can get what you need when you need it but doesn’t otherwise intrude on your day. They haven’t quite got that second part down yet, but I’m sure they’ll get there.
The hotel is beautiful, truly an oasis in the heart of busy Siem Reap with Pub Street just a 3 minute walk. The pool out front serves both as a relaxing place to cool off and a lovely backdrop to their open air dining terrace.
We upgraded to a Luxury King Suite, a spacious and quiet room with all the amenities and a firm but comfortable bed. A note on the bed offers softer pillows or mattress if you so choose. The large bathroom has an open rain shower at one end with more water pressure than I’ve experienced anywhere in many years.
The breakfast buffet has a selection of the usual hot and cold items from the East and West including an egg station and noodle bar. Quality and range of selection are middle of the road for a hotel at this price range. The bread selection is limited but they do have pretty good croissants and pain au chocolat. The Eastern selections include shu mai and boazi. Coffee is prepared to order and served to you at your table.
While they offer a number of high end tours they will also arrange tuk tuk drivers for $18USD and a car and driver for $40USD a day including a lunch stop back at the hotel if you wish.
Special Friday Dinner and Dance Show at the Golden Temple Residence
I will preface this review by admitting that I’m not a fan of tourist set dinners or traditional dance shows. Why I keep trying them I don’t know.
The hotel’s dining room has a lovely open terrace overlooking the pool. The stage for the dance show is set up on the opposite side of the pool.
The show started at 7:30 and was colorful and professionally done. One of the classiest performances I’ve seen. The music and most of the dances are quite subdued reminding me more of tai chi than traditional dance and involving a lot of standing on one foot and hand movements. A pleasant show to watch while you’re dining.
The dinner was advertised as a 10 course affair but is really combined into 5 courses. While a couple of the dishes were quite good, the oxtail soup had great Asian flavors, many were too ambitious and fell flat or weren’t made with high quality ingredients, small flavorless shrimp for example.
The main course, a whole crab cooked in curry sauce, was an interesting choice for foreigners. The crab was pre cracked but otherwise you had to get in with your hands and a knife and pry the meat out. The task made extra gooey by the addition of a curry sauce coating. Unfortunately for all that effort the crab itself was rather tasteless, not the sweet meat you experience with good quality crabs.
Other guests seemed to really enjoy the dinner so it may just be me, but I much preferred our dinner the previous evening at Khmer Touch Cuisine (see below).
Dinner at Khmer Touch Cuisine
Located on the main drag across from the night market, we were first skeptical because of the empty downstairs dining room. It turns out they also have an upstairs dining room, and though I don’t know how busy they actually were we did see a number of patrons go up and down the stairs.
The restaurant was written up in the New York Times and the review is proudly display on the front page of their menu which focuses on upscale Cambodian street food. They do have Western options available as well.
We started with their signature dish, the lotus salad. A great start with good quality fresh ingredients and a lovely balance of flavors.
For mains we tried the roasted chicken on a bed of baby bok choy and the pork spareribs with eggplant. The meats were well done if a tad dry, but the divine eggplant stole the show, smoky and luscious.
We also tried a side of the stir fried morning glory. A common green vegetable in the region, it was a nicely done huge portion.
The downstairs open air terrace was nearly empty during our dinner with just one other woman sitting in a far corner. At 8pm it was still rather warm even with the fans going but not unpleasant.
Dinner at Mango Cuisine
Mango Cuisine is a “boutique” restaurant offering a limited set menu. We walked in at 7PM off the dark street, lit only by the headlights of the tuk tuks passing by. The electricity across the city had gone out. A common occurrence judging by the fact that the better establishments all have generators. This small friendly boutique restaurant was no exception.
The server greeted us in a strikingly accented English that I have a hard time placing. I’ve never heard the letter “b” spoken with such deliberation.
After apologizing for the warm room, they had just turned on the generator and were getting the air conditioning going, he asked our names and duly committed them to memory to be used throughout our meal. An odd feeling to be directed by name numerous times during what is usually a more anonymous experience.
The small dining room was set up for two couples and a table of 8. Since they had a larger party coming they were limiting the menu choice to just set menu A and set menu B, again the “B” resonates. Normally they have a few a la carte options.
Before the set menu they bring you an individual serving of toasted bread and their house made smoked truffle oil butter. Somewhat salty the delicious butter does have a distinct truffle oil flavor.
Both the A and B options were 5 course menus starting with an avocado and tuna tartar sweetened with mango. A very small portion of tuna but an elegant beginning. The second course was a choice of tomato or asparagus soup, both simple and flavorful.
The scallop course was served on a bed of small hot white stone. Each scallop placed on a dollop of cauliflower puree. For mains option A was small sea bass filet on mashed potato in a white wine cream sauce.
Option B was an Australian tenderloin served with mashed potatoes and an excellent peppercorn sauce. The steak, which they emphasize is fresh not frozen, was tender and beautifully cooked. The most dramatic dish of the evening, it was presented in a smoke filled glass dome lifted table side for the spectacular effect of the fragrant smoke lofting from your dish revealing your perfectly cooked steak.
For dessert a choice of mango puree with panna cotta served in a jar or a chocolate sorbet with a hint of chili.
All the portions are on the small size, but with so many courses we did not leave hungry.
Topping out at just over $100 with a bottle of wine this was our most expensive dinner in Siem Reap, a bargain compared to many western countries. This was a fun, elegant tasty experience. It’s best to make reservations as the restaurant is so small. They promptly answered our email requesting a reservation for the same evening. They do have additional seating outside.
Dinner at Olive Cuisine de Saison
The upscale French restaurant on quiet Olive Street, not far from the action on Pub Street, offers a refined dining experience and is a great place if you are missing home and want a calm and relaxing dining experience.
We arrived at just before 7 on a Saturday evening without a reservation and were promptly seated.
The comfortable yet elegant dining room is decorated with sophistication even if the art is a little weird, such as painting of raw steak. Service is friendly and efficient.
Before the meal they brought out a small dish of delicious mixed olives. Their rolls, served warm, were also of good quality.
We started with the Niçoise salad with seared tuna. The tuna although seared and raw in the middle was not as fresh as it should have been. The rest of the salad included the traditional Niçoise ingredients – green beans, eggs, potatoes, etc. – all well-seasoned and nicely cooked.
For mains Don ordered the seafood pasta made with shrimp, scallops and squid in a bisque sauce. It was good but didn’t hold a candle to my luscious lamb shank with eggplant tagine. Although very light on the eggplant the dish contained apricots, olives, chickpeas and other Mediterranean ingredients. Flavors, although intense, were balanced and well-melded. The smallish lamb shank was fall off the bone tender and a delight.
For dessert we tried the Paris-Brest, a puff pastry filled with a nougat cream. It was just what it said it was, but for my tastes it could have used some embellishment to make it a more interesting dessert.
Flights to and from Siem Reap
Arrival Siem Reap from Pakse, Laos
Compared to the tiny Pakse airport, the Siem Reap airport with its snazzy large arrival hall feels likes you’ve returned to the modern world. The only flight between the two airports leaves Pakse at 1PM, takes an hour and was very easy.
In Pakse check in doesn’t open until 2 hours before the flight so there is no reason to arrive earlier than that. There were no crowds at the airport. The airport does have a modest restaurant upstairs where you can grab lunch.
The full flight boarded and left early at 10 minutes before 1PM. I had booked this flight in August for a mid-November departure and many of the flights around our dates were already full.
Arrival in Siem Reap was equally easy. If you need a visa, fill out the application and take it to the appropriate counter along with a passport photo and $30USD. They were not picky about the quality of the bills.
Immigration went quickly as did baggage claim.
It’s a 20-25 minute drive into town, mostly because of traffic.
Departure from Siem Reap to Bangkok, Thailand
Siem Reap to Bangkok is also an easy one hour flight. If you have a one way flight, however, Thai Smile airways will want to see a copy of your onward journey out of their beautiful country. The only hitch was a longer than expected line at security, but otherwise we were at the gate within an hour of leaving the hotel. The flight boarded, took off and landed ahead of schedule.
For links to all the posts in this series see the Laos/Cambodia page.