Siem Reap is not a town you’ll struggle to find a drink in — just ask the expats — and Pub Street, as the name suggests, is full of restaurants and bars catering to the tourist masses, which is part of its problem. Trying to have a drink with friends in anything resembling an atmosphere is just not going to happen here unless “heaving cattle car” is the kind of atmosphere that thrills you. You need to get away from Pub Street for the real fun in Siem Reap, so here’s our guide on the best watering holes in the centre of town.
For cheap beers, great daily drinks deals, unpretentious but well-prepared food and the distinct possibility that any night could be a party night, Charlie’s is the place to go. This two-storey, America-styled bar is like a fun version of Russian roulette; you just never know when things might kick off. While its main target is a young crowd, Charlie’s appeal also extends to sports fans thanks to two large flat-screen TVs, and to anyone who wouldn’t mind tucking in to a couple of their bargain mini-burgers.
A staple on the Siem Reap social scene, Miss Wong’s decor harks back to a vintage Shanghai, with red walls, dark wooden screens and soft leather combining to create a sense of promise that is utterly seductive. The drinks list remembers or re-imagines all the classics, together with some more creative house-made infusions (imagine a vodka that tastes of cinnamon cheesecake). This is an intimate bar, perfect for couples or lingering over long drinks with friends, and a small menu of dim sum, hot pots and noodles is there to sustain you while you’re at it. On Saturday nights, resident DJ Sakura Boom aids and abets the fun with her selection of smooth, funky tunes
Asana Old Wooden House
Asana means ‘old wooden house’ in Khmer, which is exactly what it is, and one of the very last ones that you’ll find in central Siem Reap. Tucked down one of the little alleys off The Lane, Asana is a delightful refuge with rice sacks packed with feathers to make comfortable cushions, hammocks and divans coming together to create an intimate, quirky space underneath the house. Upstairs and inside, you’ll find a wooden bar stocked with everything you might expect. Keep an eye on their Facebook page, as they occasionally hold music gigs here, and on the first Friday of each month they host a $15 all-you-can-eat barbecue buffet, with live music, a wonderfully warm welcome and great atmosphere. On other nights, they offer a menu with Khmer and Asian tapas, full meals and cold meat and cheese platters in case you’re feeling hungry. Asana also runs Khmer-inspired cocktail classes daily, featuring Sombai, a locally-made range of infused rice wines, and a much more interesting take on the plethora of cooking classes available in town.
The Yellow Submarine
If it’s been a hard day’s night, fun and funky The Yellow Submarine can help you out. This three-storey bar — only a few doors down from Miss Wong — is hard to miss, with its bright yellow paint and Beatles-inspired road signs stuck outside. It might be a little pricier than Pub Street, but it amply makes up for this with character. There’s the chatty downstairs narrow bar, which gives in to a room with tables and chairs if you want to keep things strictly entre amis. On the next floor up, there’s a private pool room and up again, a rooftop veranda with views over the city. The burgers are tasty and they have an interesting selection of whiskeys and cigars. Oh, and it has air-con inside, which is a bit of a rarity in the bars in Siem Reap.
The Laundry Bar swiftly becomes the favourite haunt of everyone who crosses its threshold. Its laidback vibe, very cool music, lively pool tables and a bar that only closes when the last person leaves make this a very popular spot with visitors and expats alike. They've started holding reasonably regular live music gigs here too, so keep an eye on their Facebook page for details of any upcoming events.
Another late-night venue, Picasso’s super-chatty, long, round bar is host to many a conversation between friends and strangers alike. While you probably couldn’t fit more than 20 people inside the air-conditioned room, it somehow always feels like more, albeit without the crush. A full bar is complemented by a small tapas selection, which you can wash down with sangria too if you like.
Formerly a Lebanese restaurant, Mezze has just been recast as a late night lounge club which aims to bring the best tunes in infinitely more sophisticated surrounds than you’ll find on Pub Street. Here there are no buckets of vodka and Red Bull, or deranged backpackers. Drinks are pricier than Pub Street, but it’s absolutely worth it to be able go dancing to great tunes without being tripped up, felt up or thrown up on. They’ve retained a shortened version of the menu, with some Middle Eastern favourites and Asian tapas too. Live DJs on Friday and Saturday nights keep things lively, with DJ Sakura Boom on Fridays bringing her smooth blend of funk, Latin and more.
A recent addition to the Siem Reap scene, Long’s is a beautifully designed space with soft grey walls and furniture made from wooden pallets somehow coming together to create the kind of place that just begs for long conversations and laughter among friends. The non-smoking, air-conditioned bar serves a full range of drinks and while it might be a little difficult to find (it’s just down a tiny lane behind Charlie’s), we think it’s worth the effort.
Station Wine Bar
Whether you’re a confirmed party animal or raving oenophile, The Station has you covered. Open from early evening until late, this bar has one of the most extensive, well-researched and excellent value wine lists that you’ll find in central Siem Reap (complete with tasting notes for many of the wines if you’d like some guidance) as well as Siem Reap’s most raucous revue show four nights a week (Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays). The shows start at 22:00 on performance nights, though getting there early is recommended as the place fills up quickly. Earlier in the evening, or on the other nights, you can take check out the wine list, which features 100 different wines sold by the bottle, or a very generous number that are sold by the glass. Olive and cheese nibbles help to complete the satisfaction. The setting is kind of urban, with black leather seating and geometric shapes on the walls, but is not at all cold or uncomfortable.
#98 Hospital Street, Siem Reap
T: (012) 814 001
The Lane, Siem Reap
T: (092) 428 332
Asana Old Wooden House
The Lane, Siem Reap
T: (092) 987 801
#9A The Lane, Siem Reap
T: (088) 665 5335
Street 9, Old Market, Siem Reap
T: (012) 301 743
Alley West, Siem Reap
Street 11, Siem Reap
T: (077) 226 011
Off The Lane, Siem Reap
(012) 447 363
Station Wine Bar
Street 7, Siem Reap
T: (095) 940 523
Nicky Sullivan is an Irish freelance writer (and aspiring photographer). She has lived in England, Ireland, France, Spain and India, but decided that her tribe and heart are in Cambodia, where she has lived since 2007 despite repeated attempts to leave. She dreams of being as tough as Dervla Murphy, but fears there may be a long way to go. She can’t stand whisky for starters. She was a researcher, writer and coordinator for The Angkor Guidebook: Your Essential Companion to the Temples, now one of the best-selling guidebooks to the temples.
Our top 10 places to eat and drink around Siem Reap