The busy streets of Siem Reap are in a constant state of flux as bars, shops and restaurants open, close, move or refurbish at an astonishing rate. Eventually, some establishments settle down and start to become part of the scenery. A sort of settling has now taken place on Alley West, Siem Reap’s freshest, funnest, chicest and most eccentric little street.
It wasn’t that long ago that Alley West was just a shabby short-cut, offering no more than a grungy looking guesthouse, and a DVD outlet. The guesthouse was cleaned up, but is sadly now boarded up after the owner died suddenly last year, but the DVD shop is still there and is still the friendliest shop in town. The rest of this little street has been totally transformed however, with pretty red paving, hanging lights, plants and colourful displays of clothing, accessories, and furniture from the different shops that line it.
The principal activity here is shopping, though there are some worthy drinking and dining spots that should be checked out too. But even on such a small lane, fans of sexy, colourful clothes and accessories are extremely well catered to.
The first shop to set up here was Wanderlust, in one of the oldest colonial buildings in the heart of Siem Reap. Wanderlust is a jewel of a shop with feminine, practical but so so pretty designs and incredible attention to detail, fun jewellery and shoes. The original designer, the fabulously fashionable New Yorker Elizabeth Kiester, left an indelible print on this boutique which has been taken up and built on by the young and talented Italian designer Stella Romoli.
Spicy Green Mango next door is a well established brand in Phnom Penh, and their silk shoes are virtually a trade mark of NGO workers there. Their designs are definitely more esoteric, with beautifully contrasting fabrics and patterns on incredibly soft materials. From another established brand in Phnom Penh, Smateria offers a range of ethical, funky bags and accessories made from old mosquito nets, moto seats and other recycled materials.
Further down the lane, Bambou Indochine, with its wide selection of soft, comfortable and pretty resort wear and jewellery, is not to be missed if your next stop is the beach and, across the road from there, Circle is a small social enterprise featuring the designs of two young American women. The latest shop to open on the street is Wild Poppy, a sister to the larger shop opposite the Hotel de la Paix. Feminine but structured pieces define the look they strive to create and it’s definitely worth a drop in.
Poetry really needs an article all to itself. This is the madcap creation of an artist, Loven Ramos, and a designer, Don Prosatio, both from the Philippines, and is an homage to creativity. Clothes, jewellery, accessories art, and crazy mad random stuff. Their aspirational handbags are a real hit.
If dressing up your home is more your thing, then Tendance Khmere is one of the newest kids on the block, and their exquisite bed throws, bags and home furnishings are frankly to die for. Art Deli can help you here too. Loven Ramos, of Poetry, is behind this one too. Art Deli is an avant-garde art gallery, reading room, performance art space, music venue, bar, and all around really interesting place. The owners are behind many of the events that contribute to making Alley West so different from everywhere else in town, or anywhere at all really, including the first Friday of the month shopping market, and an ongoing project to create the longest art work in Siem Reap.
As we all know, shopping is thirst and hungry work, so it’s just as well that Alley West also boasts one of the best value Khmer restaurants in town at Khmer Kitchen, while Trattoria Italia serves up delicious wood-fired pizzas and mesmerising pastas. The Peace Café is a bright and breezy outdoor café that serves healthy vegetarian food, smoothies, and drinks. There’s an indoor upstairs seating area too, if you don’t feel like taking advantage of this excellent people-watching spot. At the other end of the street, Picasso is a smart little Spanish wine bar, serving very reasonably priced wines, sangria, beers and genuine tapas.
And just in case the guys are thinking there’s nothing here for them (except for buying presents for your mum!) well, the Sports Bar has four screens showing all the major live sporting events from all over the world. Such a small street, so much to offer.
T: (012) 529 924
Spicy Green Mango
T: (092) 569 643
T: (063) 964 343
T: (063) 964 154
The Travelfish newsletter is sent out every Monday and is jammed full of free advice for travel in Southeast Asia. You can see past issues here.