When most people visit Siem Reap, they go to Angkor Wat, check out Pub Street, and…that’s about it. But this resort town of about 200,000 residents has much more to offer than that.
While in-the-know locals and expats don’t totally turn their noses up at the thought of a night out on Pub Street, it isn’t where they hang out on their regular weekends. Here, we’ve compiled a list of five places that Siem Reap locals love to go and let their hair down.
Easy to find, this is among the most well-known of the city’s galleries, and the only one showing international artists. Locals say it’s beloved as much for raucous parties as art openings. Often teeming with locals inside and out on the front porch, they can be seen drinking cheap beers and less cheap cocktails and watching tourists walk toward the Pub Street, which is just across the junction from where the gallery sits.
Hanging out inside, soaking up some aircon and chatting with the owner, she revealed a detail that we loved: As a huge fan of the movie The Shining, she had the bar in her gallery built as a mini replica of the hotel bar in the movie’s Overlook Hotel. It’s where the character Jack Torrance drinks and talks to a bartender who has been dead for years. Redrum!
Street 7 Makara
Old Market Bridge Intersection
This artsy alley in the Old French Quarter acts as an informal gathering place for the city’s artists, hipsters, and designers. It’s been called a “design destination” by Conde Nast Traveller and one the city’s “coolest mini ‘hoods” by The New York Times.
You can walk from end to end in ten minutes but, on both sides (and in most cases) — go behind the colorful, colonial facades, and you’ll find two levels of restaurants, shops, spas, and bars that locals love.
Among the anchors of the district is the city’s favorite coffee shop: The Little Red Fox Espresso. Check out photos and our full review here.
Hap Guan Street
The more you wander in Siem Reap, the more you realize that the true treasures are down the little alleyway mazes off the main streets, barely wide enough for a motorbike. In these, you can find the most incredible shops, high-end restaurants, and, yes, hip bars. We were strangers in the city and wandering around when we saw Picasso Bar. With a shopfront not more than ten feet across, and a few leather couches and tables in the alley — we knew immediately: This place is cool.
Inside, the space defies its size by featuring a large, retro horseshoe-shaped bar. This place — beloved by locals and hidden from tourists seemingly by design — uses every inch of its space to pack the crowds in. Happy Hour is 5-9pm daily. We first arrived at Picasso Bar at 4pm, which left us some time to examine and fully appreciate the space. Within an hour, though, we were surrounded. Within 2 hours, we had met some cool locals who took us to a party. It’s that kind of place.
We’re not sure if this place does it legally, but this large alleyway bar — decked out like vintage Shanghai or the movie The World of Suzie Wong in glorious red Chinoiserie and gold lanterns with menus on paper fans — stays open until morning and, towards the end, the customers are all the locals and expats who work at the various bars, clubs, and restaurants on Pub Street.
Considered the de facto standard late night, casual meet-up spot for locals, and always called Miss Wong’s (never “Miss Wong”), even those that lived in Siem Reap years ago recall it ever-so-fondly.
There’s nothing not good about this place. The dim sum (best eaten while drunk) and the entire martini menu are great places to start.
The happy pizza scene in Siem Reap is alive and thriving, thanks mainly to one small street called Sok San. On that street, there are half a dozen joints serving happy food of all kinds, mostly pizza — but we saw cakes and Indian food as well. They’re called “happy” because they’re topped with a very special green herb that makes those who consume it feel a very special feeling. Wink.
Of these places, Ecstatic is the one that locals go to, both because their product is reliable and their food is actually pretty good — with or without the happy.
The place is chill, with a hippie-vibe, orange walls and wicker lampshades. When we were eating here, we saw the owner of the bar we’d been at the night before come in for takeout — a pretty solid sign that it’s not just for tourists.
Sok San Road