Photo: Streetside drying chillies near Kompong Cham.

Eat and meet

A hit with Westerners, the riverside location of Mekong Crossing makes it an ideal landmark. Under new management since the former legendary owner, Joe, passed on, the food is generously portioned, although the noodle dishes, made from instant noodles, should be avoided. Mekong Crossing is also a convenient place to secure a moto rental or hire a bicycle, for $5 or $1.50 per day.

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Several steps south of Mekong Crossing, Lazy Mekong Daze often hosts tour groups and volunteers, with a soundtrack of golden oldies and a menu of well-executed Western and Khmer staples. The menu claims the place is known for its pizza baguettes, but the dish is basically sauce and melted cheese on those ubiquitous bread loaves found at most vendor carts. Still, it's satisfying and a respite from more adventurous eating. Within its bright orange walls you'll find a pool table, dartboard and some old games such as chess to pass the time over a beer or two. The bar serves cans of Guinness, which are hard to find in Southeast Asia but don't taste like the real thing anyway.

Stroll further down the river under the Kizuna bridge, past the sugar cane juice stalls and frighteningly dilapidated fairground rides to find Samaki Restaurant. The menu notes that they serve food in the traditional Khmer style, which means your chicken will come with plenty of bones unless you order it otherwise. The prices are as authentic as the food -- the Phlea Sait Kor (raw beef salad) is a taste sensation and the Khmer breakfast of pork and rice (5000 riel) is very filling.

Even cheaper, but not as salubrious, is Prash Chan Penvong Restaurant, diagonally opposite Bophear Guesthouse and the statue of fighting dancers. Wade through the used napkins to find an empty seat sitting with the locals outside, or try to make the most of the pathetically small interior fans. The English-language menu contains no prices, but you can get a breakfast of fried eggs and baguette with coffee for around 6000 riel. While this place will never win any prizes for ambiance, and doesn't suit cautious eaters, it's a noisy, bustling baptism into Khmer fast food.

Reading through the book-size menu at Hao An Restaurant is a feat in itself. Though it offers several pages of raw meat dishes, the restaurant also provides about 100 cooked selections, all conveniently photographed. Portions are large and few meals cost more than $4, although those with prawns jump up to about $6. The Suki soup is fun and good value -- choose your meat (US$1.25 per plate) and vegetables (50c each) and get cooking. There's plenty of staff sporting blue T-shirts, although the service might be described as haphazard. Inside, garish Angkor Wat paint-by-numbers hang on the wall and the enormous wooden tables are suitable only for extended Khmer families and big NGO groups. Instead, sit outside at the small sidewalk tables, surrounded by potted plants. The restaurant is close to the bus stations, so it makes a nice stop before schlepping on.

Around the corner from Mekong Hotel, past the KTV, The Penguins of Angkor satisfies cravings for Western home-cooked food, made with the best ingredients and served up with tales to make your hair curl. Cream sauces, artisan bread and liberal applications of cheese make the higher cost (between $5.50 and $7 a dish) worth paying. The owner is an old hand at cooking up a storm and, if she's feeling chatty, you may be in for the most entertaining conversation you will have in Cambodia.

In the late afternoon a few beer (and, oddly, canned lychee juice) stalls set up opposite the Mekong Hotel under the shade of the massive trees that line the river here, making this a fine place to relax and perhaps plan your next day with any one of the many motodops who will come and chat away -- the standard of spoken English in Kompong Cham is amazing. Beer costs 3,000 riel a can, though some vendors charge Western customers an extra 500 riel. We preferred Kim's stand towards the northern end of the strip. They'll stay open as late as you want to buy beer. This is a great spot to watch the moon rise on a clear night.

Hao An Restaurant Monivong Blvd, Kompong Cham
Lazy Mekong Daze Sihanouk Rd (Riverside), Kompong Cham. T: (099) 569 781.
Mekong Crossing 12 Pasteur St, Kompong Cham. T: (012) 432 427
Penguins of Angkor Javayamen 7 St, Kompong Cham
Prash Chan Penvong Restaurant Preah Ang Eng St, Kompong Cham
Riverside Beers Sihanouk Rd (Riverside), Kompong Cham
Samaki Restaurant Sihanouk Rd (Riverside), Kompong Cham

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Where to next?

Where are you planning on heading to after Kompong Cham? Here are some spots commonly visited from here, or click here to see a full destination list for Cambodia.

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