Photo: Streetside drying chillies near Kompong Cham.

Eat and meet

Suffice to say that the last thing we expected to be doing within minutes of arriving in Kompong Cham was ordering a walnut and feta salad, but that’s exactly what happened. In fact, we were taken aback in general with the quality of the food available here.

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Your first destination, and not just because it has air-con, is likely to be Destiny Coffee, the smartest option in town, with a short, carefully selected and reasonably-priced menu of Western favourites, with salads, burgers, burritos and more — including that generous walnut and feta salad ($4) — and popular Khmer traditional dishes. They also have a divine-looking selection of cakes and pastries. The thirsty are well-catered for here too, with a surprising — we really were — selection of smoothies, frappes, excellent coffee, and teas. Definitely worth checking out.

The delights of Destiny.

The delights of Destiny.

Destiny Coffee is attached to an NGO, as is the popular Smile Restaurant, which is a vocational training restaurant overlooking the river a little north of Mekong Hotel and Monorom VIP Hotel. A wide-open, airy space with plenty of comfortable seating, Smile offers an extensive menu of Khmer dishes, and Western dishes, ranging from salads to fish and chips ($4). We tried the Bai Sach Chrouk (“pork and rice”, $2.95), and found it a little greasy and missing the pickled vegetables that make this dish so special, but the fresh spring rolls ($2.50) were delicious. There is a small selection of gifts that you can also pick up here.

Next door, Srey Chen is a Taiwanese/Asian restaurant with a short menu, and a very sweet atmosphere. We tried the chicken popcorn, which at $1.50 was a delicious steal. They also serve tasty snacks like deep-fried chicken balls ($1), French fries ($1), ice cream and shabu shabu — a Japanese hotpot specialty. Tea fans will want to make a beeline for here, to try out their range of flavoured fruit teas, and if that seems a little too healthy, then there’s always the Oreo milk shake ($2) to balance things out. They hold yoga classes here every Wednesday at 19:00, so feel free to drop by for a stretch.

A couple of the guesthouses along the riverside run restaurants that are worth a visit in their own right. Mekong Crossing has been drawing the crowds for a long time, with their solid selection of Khmer curries —very tasty — and Western dishes. They also serve house-made crumpets, which delighted us no end. The staff are a genuine delight.

Moon River, a little south of Mekong Crossing, served up one of the best Thai beef salads we’ve had in a long time, and it was huge too. The daytime staff here were on the ball, but the evening team seemed to be a little confused as to what might be involved in waiting tables. Pouncing on a guest to know what they’d like to order within a split second of them sitting down, then spending the rest of the evening being impossible to catch, seemed a little strange (irritating).

Thai beef salad at Moon.

Thai beef salad at Moon.

Further in town, Hao An restaurant is a locally popular place in the centre of Monivong Road, and right near the bus stations, which makes it a convenient stop-off. 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 ($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. They have an interesting selection of French wines.

You could take things down a notch by settling into a roadside plastic chair with a view on the Mekong. The beer and barbecue stalls that used to be on the river side of Sihanouk Road seem to have moved to the street just north of Mekong Crossing restaurant, while the renovations are being made along the promenade. Tuck into a beer, and maybe some grilled meat, and let the evening slide by.

Destiny Coffee House: #12 Rue Pasteur; T: (092) 998 937; open Mon-Sat 07:00-17:00.
Hao An: #70 Preah Monivong; T: (042) 941 234;; open daily 05:00-21:00.
Mekong Crossing: Junction Rue Pasteur and Sihanouk Rd; T: (017) 801 788; open daily 06:15-22:00.
Moon River: Sihanouk Rd (river road); T: (016) 788 973;;
Riverside beers: Sihanouk Rd (river road).
Smile Restaurant: #6 Sihanouk Rd (river road); T: (042) 941 333;; open daily 06:30-22:00.
Srey Chen: Sihanouk Rd (river road); T: (092) 505 996; open Mon-Sat 08:00-21:00, Sun 12:00-21:00.

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