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10 Cambodian dishes you’ve got to try


Khmer cuisine has long been overshadowed by its Thai and Vietnamese cousins: But times (and menus) change

Squished between culinary heavyweights Thailand and Vietnam, Cambodia is often overlooked when it comes to food. But once you’ve sampled Khmer cuisine, you won’t turn back.

Here are 10 dishes to start you off.

Bai sach chrouk, pork and rice

No two bai sach chrouks are ever exactly the same.

1. Bai sach chrouk — pork and rice

Served on street corners all over Cambodia early every morning, bai sach chrouk, or pork and rice, is one of the simplest and most delicious dishes that the country has to offer.

Thinly sliced pork is slowly grilled over warm coals to bring out its natural sweetness. Sometimes the pork will be marinated in coconut milk or garlic — no two bai sach chrouks are ever exactly the same.

The grilled pork is served over a hearty portion of broken rice, with a helping of freshly pickled cucumbers and daikon radish with plenty of ginger. On the side, you’ll often be given a bowl of chicken broth topped with scallions and fried onions.

Try it at: 786 St. 474, Phnom Penh

Also on CNNGo: 12 stylish boutique hotels in Cambodia


Fish amok

Where else can you get fish whipped into a mousse?

2. Fish amok

Fish amok is one of the most well-known Cambodian dishes, but you’ll find similar meals in neighboring countries.

You won’t find the same enthusiasm for the dish outside of Cambodia, though, or the addition of slok ngor, a local herb that imparts a subtly bitter flavor.

Fish amok is a fish mousse with fresh coconut milk and kroeung, a type of Khmer curry paste made from lemongrass, turmeric root, garlic, shallots, galangal and fingerroot, or Chinese ginger.

At upscale restaurants fish amok is steamed in a banana leaf, while more local places serve a boiled version that is more like a soupy fish curry than a mousse.

Try it at: K’nyay, Suramarit Boulevard between Sothearos Blvd. and St. 19, Phnom Penh; +855 23 225 225

Khmer Red Curry

A red curry that doesn’t result in flames bursting from your mouth.

3. Khmer red curry

Less spicy than the curries of neighboring Thailand, Khmer red curry is similarly coconut-milk-based, but without the overpowering chili. It’s much easier to enjoy.

The dish features beef, chicken or fish, eggplant, green beans, potatoes, fresh coconut milk, lemongrass and kroeung.

  1. This delicious dish is usually served at special occasions in Cambodia such as weddings, family gatherings and religious holidays like Pchum Ben, or Ancestor’s Day, where Cambodians make the dish to share with monks in honor of their ancestors. Khmer red curry is usually served with bread — a remnant of the French influence on Cambodia.

Try it at: The Empire, 34 St. 130, Phnom Penh; +855 89 383 817

 Also on CNNGo: 10-step guide to Siem Reap

Lap Khmer, lime-marinated Khmer beef salad

Finally, a salad that puts hair on your chest.

4. Lap Khmer — lime-marinated Khmer beef salad

A refreshing dish that is more beef than salad, lap Khmer is popular with Cambodian men, who prefer the beef be nearly raw — but at restaurants it’s generally served grilled.

Khmer beef salad features thinly sliced beef that is either quickly seared or “cooked” ceviche-style by marinating with lime juice.

Dressed with lemongrass, shallots, garlic, fish sauce, Asian basil, mint, green beans and green pepper, the sweet and salty dish also packs a punch in the heul (spicy) department with copious amounts of fresh red chilis.

Try it at: Romdeng, 74 St. 174, Phnom Penh; +855 92 219 565

Nom banh chok

Enjoy, just don’t call it pho.

5. Nom banh chok — Khmer noodles

Nom banh chok is a beloved Cambodian dish, so much so that in English it’s called simply “Khmer noodles.”

Nom banh chok is a typical breakfast food, and you’ll find it being sold in the mornings by women carrying it on baskets hanging from a pole balanced on their shoulders.

The dish consists of noodles laboriously pounded out of rice, topped with a fish-based green curry gravy made from lemongrass, turmeric root and kaffir lime.

Fresh mint leaves, bean sprouts, green beans, banana flower, cucumbers and other greens are heaped on top. There is also a red curry version that is usually reserved for ceremonial occasions and wedding festivities.

Try it at: Russian Market, Phnom Penh

Also on CNNGo: 5 best Cambodian beaches


Kdam chaa, Fried crab

Kampot, the saffron of peppers.

6. Kdam chaa — fried crab

Fried crab is a specialty of the Cambodian seaside town of Kep and its lively crab market, which is known for fried crab prepared with green, locally grown Kampot pepper.

Aromatic Kampot pepper is famous among gourmands worldwide, and although it is available in its dried form internationally, you’ll only be able to sample the distinctively flavored immature green peppercorns in Cambodia.

It’s worth a visit to Kep and Kampot for that alone, but Phnom Penh restaurants bring live crabs in from the coast to make their own version of this delicious dish, which includes both Kampot pepper and flavorful garlic chives.

Try it at: 54 Langeach Sros, 15A St. 178, Phnom Penh; +855 17 455 454

Red tree ants with beef and holy basil

Lose your insect virginity to this before moving on to skewered bugs.

7. Red tree ants with beef and holy basil

You’ll find all sorts of insects on the menu in Cambodia, but the dish that is most appealing to foreign palates is stir-fried red tree ants with beef and holy basil.

Ants of various sizes, some barely visible and others almost an inch long are stir-fried with ginger, lemongrass, garlic, shallots and thinly sliced beef.

Lots of chilies complete the aromatic dish, without overpowering the delicate sour flavor that the ants impart to the beef. This meal is served with rice, and if you’re lucky you’ll also get a portion of ant larvae in your bowl.

Try it at: Romdeng, 74 St. 174, Phnom Penh; +855 92 219 565

Ang dtray-meuk, grilled squid

You can’t go wrong with anything served on a stick with dip.

8. Ang dtray-meuk — grilled squid

In Cambodian seaside towns like Sihanoukville and Kep, you’ll find seafood sellers carrying small charcoal-burning ovens on their shoulders, cooking the squid as they walk along the shore.

The squid are brushed with either lime juice or fish sauce and then barbecued on wooden skewers and served with a popular Cambodian sauce, originally from Kampot, made from garlic, fresh chilies, fish sauce, lime juice and sugar.

The summer flavor of the shore can be had even in Phnom Penh, where many restaurants bring seafood from the coast to make similar versions of this dish.

Try it at: Villa Khmer, 21B St. 294, Phnom Penh; +855 97 8985 539

 Cha houy teuk, jelly dessert

Hot sticky summers call for sweet sticky snacks.

9. Cha houy teuk — jelly dessert

After school in Phnom Penh, young people crowd around street stands serving Khmer desserts for 1,000 riel, about US$0.25.

Some have sticky rice or sago drenched in coconut milk and topped with taro, red beans, pumpkin and jackfruit. One of the most refreshing is cha houy teuk, a sweet jelly dessert made with agar agar, a gelatin that is derived from seaweed.

The jelly can be brightly colored in pinks and greens, making it especially popular with children. Combined with sago, bleached mung beans and coconut cream, cha houy teuk is usually served in a bowl with a scoop of shaved ice.

Try it at: 45E Mao Tse Tung Blvd., Phnom Penh; +855 16 384 188

 Also on CNNGo: Cambodia: No longer a one-temple pony

"Fried Fish on the Fire Lake"

Sounds like an interpretive dance performance.

10. Fried fish on the fire lake

Fresh coconut milk isn’t used in every day Khmer cooking. Instead it is saved for dishes that are served at special occasions.

Fried Fish on the Fire Lake is one such dish — it’s traditionally made for parties or eaten at restaurants in a special, fish-shaped dish. A whole fish is deep-fried and then finished on a hotplate at the table in a coconut curry made from yellow kroeung and chilies.

Vegetables such as cauliflower and cabbage are cooked in the curry, and served with rice or rice noodles. The literal translation of this dish is trei bung kanh chhet, fish from the lake of kanh chhet, a green Cambodian water vegetable served with this dish.

Try it at: 54 Langeach Sros, 15A St. 178, Phnom Penh; +855 17 455 454

Categories: Cambodia, Top 10 | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

10-step guide to Siem Reap


You can’t visit Siem Reap and not see Angkor Wat. But nor should you neglect the other parts of town, which do so much to add to the charm and allure of this historical area.

From jungle adventures to vibrant culture to legendary nightlife, here are 10 of Siem Reap‘s essential experiences, besides the famous temple.

1. Visit the Angkor temples

Angkor Wat reflection

Doubtless, one of the world’s greatest monuments.

The templesare what everyone’s here for, and Angkor doesn’t disappoint. Whether you’re a hardcore shutterbug or just want to see the temples at their best, a photography tour will make sure you don’t miss the hidden highlights.

The best time for photos is sunrise — go in April to see the sun crest the horizon immediately behind the main shrine’s dome and to maximize your chances of a haze-free day.

Or, if you don’t mind sweating, rent a White Bicycle at any of the stands in town (your US$2 daily rental fee helps support local NGOs) and spend the day seeing the main temple circuit — Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and Ta Prohm — at your own pace.

Either option gives you plenty of time to see the big three, any smaller temples that catch your eye, and still make it to Phnom Bakeng for the best sunset views.

Go early to snag a spot, and be sure to make it up before access to the temple-top viewing area closes at 5:30 p.m. Grab a pâté sandwich from any of the roadside vendors and picnic while you wait for the evening show.

Peace of Angkor Tours; +855 63 760 475;;

White Bicycles; +855 92 332 730;

Also on CNNGo: 12 stylish boutique hotels in Cambodia

2. Visit the other temples

Alternative Angkor temples

Angkor — perfect to find your inner Indiana.

Siem Reap has more than just Angkor Wat when it comes to temples. If you fancy yourself as a Cambodian Indiana Jones, visit Beng Mealea, where you can see what the temples would look like if left to nature.

Full-day tours typically combine with a trip to Koh Ker, an ancient capital city, or stop at Banteay Srey 2, a rarely visited temple and working monastery where you can hear monks chanting.

If you’re after a taste of the “real” Cambodia, sign up for a tour of the Tonle Sap fishing villages, where you can see traditional stilt architecture, floating rice paddies and talk to local fishermen who might invite you home for a very freshly caught lunch.

It’s worth the extra time to venture farther afield — the nearest village, Chong Khneas, is swamped with tourists and feels like a human zoo. To make it a full day, choose a tour that also visits the bird sanctuary or any of several nearby NGO projects.

Beyond Unique Escapes (+855 77 562 565;; offers tours of the main temples, remote temples, Tonle Sap Lake and more.

Osmose Tours (+855 12 832 812;; organizes tours of Tonle Sap Lake villages, the Prek Toal bird sanctuary and local NGO projects.

Also on CNNGo: 10 Cambodian dishes you’ve got to try

3. Hire a tuk-tuk tour guide

Tuk-tuk tour guide

Smash! Bash! Kapow! Hopefully not the sounds of your maiden trip.

Even tuk-tuk fans will quickly understand why every market stall offers T-shirts emblazoned with: “No tuk-tuk. Not today. Not tomorrow,” but don’t let the aggressive hawkers intimidate you into missing out on a quintessentially Cambodian ride.

Tuk-tuks are the local taxis, and the easiest way to get around Siem Reap. You can get anywhere in the main city for US$2, while good negotiators should be able to talk drivers down to a dollar. Tip the driver well and you’ll have a friend for life, plus an eager tour guide who will show you the best of Siem Reap. Bonus points if you can find the “VIP Batman” tuk-tuk.

Tuk-tuk tour guides:

Angkor Wat Tuk Tuk Tours: 855 92 465-282,,

Siem Reap Tuk Tuk Driver: 855 17 839-140,,

Both offer tours of Angkor’s small circuit temples for US$15 but can arrange tours anywhere in the area.

Within the city:

You can find a tuk-tuk for quick trips in Siem Reap anywhere. Be sure to negotiate a price up front, most trips within the city are US$1-3.

4. Eat bugs at the Old Market

Siem Reap old market

You get fed, the streets get de-bugged.

At Phsar Chas, the Old Market, you can get a feel for a real Cambodian market.

Baskets of spices, multicolored arrays of fresh produce, crispy fried tarantulas and meats from octopus to chicken feet create a bizarre foodie circus.

If you’re looking for something a little tamer, there are hawkers selling fried banana kebabs, roasted corn on the cob, or banana-chocolate pancakes (the vendor at the corner closest to Warehouse has a loyal following).

If you’re too busy temple-touring during the day, you can still get the market experience at the Angkor Night Market.

Old Market Area; 5 a.m.–6 p.m. for most vendors, between Street 9, Street 11, 2 Thmou St. and Pokombor Avenue

Angkor Night Market; 4 p.m.–12 a.m.; Old Market Area; 855 92 654 315;

Also on CNNGo:  Last of the elephant riders

5. Get a fishy foot massage

fishy foot clean

The only time sticking your feet into a bunch of fish makes them cleaner.

After a long day of temple-trekking, give your worn-out feet a little TLC to prepare for the next day’s adventures.

Spas offering reflexology, massages and more can be found at any hotel,but the independent Frangipani also gets consistently high marks and Spa Indochine’s traditional treatments are freshly prepared with local ingredients each day.

If you’re not looking to splurge, the area around Pub Street is lined with dozens of shops. A half-hour reflexology treatment runs about US$5, or try a “fish massage” — tiny fish will nibble dead skin from your toes. The going rate is US$1 for 15 minutes or US$3 for 20 minutes and a can of Angkor.

Frangipani Spa; +855 12 9820 062;

Spa Indochine (Hotel de la Paix); +855 63 966 000;

Also on CNNGo: Cambodia: No longer a one-temple pony

6. People-watch on Pub Street

pub street siem reap

Want a pub? This is where to go.

Pub Street is Siem Reap’s party hub, so grab a drink (or a scoop of Siem Reap’s best ice cream at Blue Pumpkin) and soak it all up.

Start your evening at Red Piano, on the corner. The French cuisine is good, but it’s best known as Angelina Jolie’s haunt while filming “Tomb Raider.”

Try her favorite cocktail — Cointreau, lime and tonic — now named for the movie, and if you’re the lucky 10th buyer, it’s on the house.

Continue down the road to find a spot for dinner. All the restaurants offer reasonably priced Western and local food, but Soup Dragon’s eponymous fare always brings a crowd, and just two doors down is “Angkor What?” bar.

Inscriptions on the walls and tables attest to this old favorite’s popularity, and it’s always one of the last to close.

If you’re not quite digging the backpacker vibe, duck down a small side street in search of Miss Wong, a classy cocktail bar that will transport you back to 1930s Shanghai and a good refuge from the madness one street over.

Angkor What?: Pub Street, Siem Reap; +855 12 490 755

Blue Pumpkin: 563 Mondol 1, Siem Reap; +855 63 963 574;

Miss Wong: The Lane, Siem Reap; +855 92 428 332

Red Piano: 341 Mondol 1, Siem Reap; +855 63 963 240;,

Soup Dragon 2 Thnou St.; +855 63 964 933

7. Watch a traditional Apsara dance

Apsara performance

The elegance of history, today.

If your taste in nightlife is a little more highbrow than Pub Street’s manic antics, get a look at more traditional Cambodian culture with a Khmer dance show named for the “heavenly dancers” adorning the Angkor temples.

Most tourists opt for a dinner and performance combo offered at any of a number of local hotels and restaurants, but get a recommendation as cost and quality vary widely.

Apsara Terrace at the Raffles Grand Hotel D’Angkor is known for its impressive classical dance and martial arts performances and delectable barbecue buffet on Monday/Wednesday/Friday , but be prepared for fine dining prices.

Angkor Village Hotel’s Apsara Theater offers a more reasonable dinner show every day at 8 p.m., but it’s relatively pricey with average sights and tastes.

If you want the culture without blowing your budget, Temple Balcony offers a free Apsara performance. You’ll have to buy a mediocre dinner, but sometimes you get what you pay for.

Apsara Terrace, Raffles Grand Hotel D’Angkor; 1 Vithei Charles De Gaulle Khum Svay Dang Kum, Siem Reap; +855 63 963 888;

Apsara Theater, Angkor Village Hotel; Wat Bo Road, Siem Reap; +855 63 963 531;

Temple Balcony; On Pub Street, Siem Reap; +855 12 234 565 / 730 930

Also on CNNGo: 10 Cambodian dishes you’ve got to try

8. Give back

Green Star Restaurant

The tastiest way to help local kids.

Responsible tourism is a Siem Reap buzzword, and the many NGOs who have set up shop make getting involved easy.

Get in touch with the folks at ConCERT Cambodia, who can connect you with any of Siem Reap’s organizations and help you choose an activity that fits with your interests and schedule.

Even if you don’t volunteer, don’t miss out on the easiest (and tastiest) way to support local kids: dinner at one of Siem Reap’s teaching restaurants. Your taste buds will thank you, too — the food is some of the best authentic Khmer you’ll find.

Green Star’s fried corn is legendary, and Sala Bai and Jardin des Delices get standout reviews as well.

ConCERT Cambodia; +855 63 963-511;;

Green Star; South end of Wat Bo Road, Siem Reap; +855 92 255 241;

Le Jardin des Délices; Ecole Paul Dubrule, Airport Road, Siem Reap; +855 63 963-673;; Reservations recommended

Sala Bai; 155 Phum Tapoul, Siem Reap; +855 63 963 329;

9. Take on a Khmer cooking class

Khmer cuisine

It’s always shame to devour food that looks this good.

If you’re hooked on Cambodia’s delicious curries, take in a traditional cooking class and you’ll be able to satisfy your cravings after leaving Siem Reap.

Khmer chef instructors will guide you through local markets and identify all the mysterious ingredients you’ll need to create your culinary masterpiece. Then don your apron and chef’s hat and prepare two dishes of your choice at Le Tigre de Papier.

The fish amok, Cambodia’s national dish, is a must try, as are the green mango salad and fresh spring rolls — plus a sticky rice dessert.

You can buy a cookbook whose proceeds support a local NGO.

Cooks ‘N Tuk Tuks; 113 Mondul 111 Phoum Treang, Siem Reap; +855 63 963 400;;

Le Tigre de Papier; On Pub Street, Siem Reap; +855 12 265 811;;

10. Find the perfect souvenir

Artisans d

Bespoke shoes for US$12? We’ll take six.

Clearly, some of the souvenirs on sale are tacky and irrelevant. But in a country admired for its traditional handicrafts it’s definitely worth a splurge (by Cambodian standards, anyway) on a one-of-a-kind souvenir.

Angkor Making Shoes will craft bespoke kicks for just US$12, with a swift turnaround time to suit travelers’ schedules. Looking for silks? Try Samatoa, offering customized silk clothes in under 24 hours with free delivery to your hotel.

If you’re short on time, head to Artisans d’Angkor. Prices are higher than you’d find elsewhere, but so is the quality, whether you’re after classic Cambodian checkered scarves, luxurious silk and sculptures, or premixed spice packets to help you bring the flavors of Cambodia black home.

Categories: Cambodia, Top 10 | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

5 best Cambodian beaches


Cambodia’s beaches are often neglected in favor of Thailand’s. But slowly, surely, the country’s idyllic islands and shining white sands are becoming known to the world’s beach lovers.

There are five beaches that really stand out, and match up to anything its more popular neighbors have to offer.

1. Southwestern Beach, Koh Rong

Southwestern beach, Koh Rong

Alone, but never lonely.

Koh Rong is easily one of the Gulf of Thailand’s most gorgeous islands, with 43 kilometers of beach. On the southwestern side of Koh Rong the beach stretches for nearly five kilometers — 5,000 meters of untouched white sand fringed with palm trees and dazzling turquoise waters.

At the southernmost end of this beach are rocks where snorkelers can watch schools of colorful rabbitfish, sergeant fish and parrot fish.

Getting there: From Sihanoukville, catch a boat to Koh Rong with any of the guesthouses on the island. The trip takes between two to three hours.

Monkey Island (southeast side Koh Rong; +855 81 830 991; Paradise Bungalows (southeast side Koh Rong; +855 34 933 664) are based on the other side of the island but can organize your boat tickets and help you hire a fishing boat (or hike) to the western side of the island.

Also on CNNGo: 12 stylish boutique hotels in Cambodia

2. Long Set Beach, Koh Rong

Lazy Beach, Koh Rong Saloem

Sun-lit by day, plankton-lit by night.

The southernmost cove of Koh Rong hosts a beach that the locals call Long Set, after the farmer who lives there growing coconuts, mangoes and cashews.

With nearly empty white sand beaches and placid aquamarine waters, Long Set Beach is just a short walk away from the accommodations on the main part of southeast Koh Rong and is an ideal place for sunning, collecting shells and crabbing.

On nights where the moon is waning, night swimming can reveal bio-luminescent plankton that cause a ethereal phosphorescence in the water.

Getting there: From Sihanoukville, the boat ride to Koh Rong takes two to three hours. The guesthouse closest to Longset Beach is Treehouse Bungalows (southeast side Koh Rong; +855 16 594 177).

Also on CNNGo: Cambodia: No longer a one-temple pony

3. Lazy Beach, Koh Rong Saloem

Lazy Beach, Koh Rong Saloem

Some of the world’s best alone time.

All of the beaches on Koh Rong Saloem, an island two hours off the coast of Sihanoukville, will have you gaping in awe, but Lazy Beach is particularly beautiful.

Shaded by pine trees and benefiting from a daily sweep to keep it spotless, the golden sands of Lazy Beach make for excellent daytime sunning.

The waters around the beach have many snorkeling options and other parts of Koh Rong Saloem are a favorite of divers and fishing enthusiasts from the mainland. Evenings, you can watch the deep pink sunsets from the beach with a tropical cocktail in hand.

Getting there: Book accommodation in advance with Lazy Beach (western side, Koh Rong Saloem; +855 16 214 211; From Sihanoukville, catch the Lazy Beach boat to Koh Rong Saloem from the Serendipity Road pier.

Also on CNNGo: 10 Cambodian dishes you’ve got to try

4. Koh Thmei beach, Ream National Park

Koh Thmei beach, Ream National Park

No need to sell seashells on this beach. They’re free.

Ream National Park is home to some of Cambodia’s most exquisite beaches, including those on Koh Thmei, a small island flanked by mangrove forests.

Koh Thmei is uninhabited, except for one set of bungalows and dozens of different species of birds. The beach next to the boat dock is a sea of thousands of glittering shells. The beach to the east of the dock is lovely pine-shaded yellow sand and if you get there early enough, you can catch a gorgeous sunrise.

Getting there: If you’d like to stay overnight, contact Koh Thmei Resort (Koh Thmei; T: +855 97 737 0400; to organize a taxi and boat from Sihanoukville. For a day trip, head to the Prek Toeuk ranger station in Ream National Park, where you can hire a longtail boat to the island.

Also on CNNGo:  Last of the elephant riders

5. Sokha Beach, Sihanoukville

Sokha Beach, Sihanoukville

One of the few beaches forbidden to hawkers.

Privately owned Sokha Beach is the best of Sihanoukville’s beaches, with wide white sands stretching for over a kilometer and shallow, placid waters perfect for swimming.

A small portion of the beach is still open to the public, but the rest is only available to hotel guests or those who pay for a day pass, which also includes access to the resort’s pool.

Although the privatization of Sokha Beach is a loss for the locals, tourists can enjoy the immaculate sand and hawker-free relaxation at this relatively quiet and sedate beach.

Categories: Cambodia | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

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