Siem Reap is a town where most visitors are up with the sun and out visiting the temple sites, but there are an increasing number of good evening options.
Bars & Clubs
Pub Street is now beginning to resemble the party towns of Thailand with throbbing music, wandering crowds, boisterous backpackers, hawkers, prostitutes, and touts. It is amazing how quickly these developments have taken place. There are now quite a number of bars open into the small hours.
The Angkor What? (Pub St., 1 block west of the Old Market; tel. 012/490-755) was the first -- and still the most popular -- one here, more or less where it's at in Siem Reap. Sign your name on the wall and say hi to all those you met that day at the temples or on highways elsewhere. Easy Speaking Café and Pub, just next to the busy Angkor What? (above), handles the spillover. A similar crowd stays late. World Lounge (tel. 012/865-332), in the same area, also rocks late and has a free pool table.
At Miss Wong (The Lane behind Pub St.; 855/92-428-332) you'll leave Cambodia behind and time-travel to Old Shanghai. This bar, with deep red walls, leather booths, and excellent cocktails, adds some welcome class to Siem Reap's after-dark scene.
Dead Fish Tower (tel. 063/963-060), on the main road heading toward the temples, is set up like the rigging of a tall ship, with precarious perches, funky nooks, and unique drinks.
Laundry (tel. 016/962-026) is the funky side of Siem Reap. When the temple town gets psychedelic and stays up really late, this is where it happens. On a side street to the north of the Old Market, it's open nightly, but usually hosts special events that you'll see promoted all around town.
Linga (North of Old Market; tel. 012/246-912) is a gay bar that attracts a decent mixed crowd to its two-story corner location overlooking the small side street and the traffic on Mundul 1 Village St. The walls have psychedelic paintings of Buddhist monks.
Molly Malone's (Pub St., across the street and west of Red Piano Bar; tel. 063/965-576) is the hippest pub in town. They've got local expats playing live music, a mix of original songs and covers of crowd pleasers like old Beatles and Roberta Flack numbers. The bar is fully stocked with a fine selection of Irish whiskey and they've got a good stock of imported beer.
Temple Club (Central Pub St.; tel. 063/965-570) is many things to many people. During the day it is an open-air bar and restaurant. They have traditional Apsara dance performances between 7:30 and 9:30pm. Then, at around 10pm the sound system kicks in, blasting out techno pop at maximum volume. If you want to boogie until 4am, you can do it here. They also have live sports on TV and three pool tables.
Funky Munky (corner of Pub St. near the Old Market; tel. 092/276-751). It's open from noon until the wee hours of the morning, there are over 50 cocktails to choose from here, and during high season the place is packed.
Having spent the day looking at the stone variety of Apsaras, why not spend an evening checking out the living ones? A number of places around town hold shows of Apsara Dance.
Angkor Village. Dancers in traditional gilded costume practice their slow elegant art. This comes combined with a fine set Khmer menu in the traditional indoor banquet-house theater. To make reservations for the nightly show call tel. 063/963-561. Dinner begins at 7pm, and the show starts at 7:30pm (tickets cost $22).
The Raffles Grand Hotel D'Angkor has a similar show in an open pavilion on the lawn at the front of the hotel ($32 including dinner). Times and performances vary so be sure to call tel. 063/963-888 in advance. Most hotels have a performance space, and many small restaurants have shows of varying quality.
Okay, admittedly this one is pretty kitschy, but the kids might like it: Cambodia Cultural Center, far west of Siem Reap on the airport road (Svay Dongkum; tel. 063/963-836) holds a host of shows and all-day events, including a mock Khmer wedding and Apsara dance. Call for current offerings, as the program varies. If you don't like the performance, take heart that you can walk the grounds, set around a large central pond, spend some time in Cambodia's only wax museum, walk among all of Cambodia's sights done in miniature, or visit various exhibits of village life and rural skill. You can even get around in an electric car. This one's most popular with Asian tour groups.
Dr. Beat (Beatocello) Richner plays the works of Bach and some of his own comic pieces between stories and vignettes about his work as director of the Kantha Bopha Foundation, a humanitarian hospital just north of the town center. Admission is free, but donations are accepted in support of their valiant efforts to serve a steady stream of destitute patients, mostly children, who suffer from treatable diseases such as tuberculosis. Dr. Richner is as passionate about his music as he is about his cause. You're in for an enjoyable, informative evening. Performances are every Saturday at 7:15pm just north of the town center on the road to the temples.
A Dance for the Divine -- The royal classical dancing of the Khmers was the moving spirit of Angkor and many cite it as the purest form of classical dance in Asia, although the reality is that the French had a hand in adapting it to their needs. The dance forms originated in India and came to Cambodia over 1,000 years ago as re-creations of Hindu epics. Thailand's form is a copy dating from the days when the empire of Ayutthaya sacked Angkor, when the Khmers were seen as the guardians of the purest forms of culture by the Siamese. The reality today is that experts say that the Thai version is purer "Khmer" than the Khmer version, since it didn't suffer from the meddling of the French in their attempts to reconstruct a Khmer identity in the 19th and early 20th centuries. In ancient Angkor the ballet dancers were considered heavenly apsaras come to earth. Only the deva-raj or god-king could touch them. When the Khmer Rouge took over, most of the dancers and musicians were murdered, and with them died centuries of accumulated poise and grace.
After the Khmer Rouge was evicted, there were attempts to reconstruct these nearly lost arts from the minds of the few survivors. The Royal Ballet is now, once again, world famous. To watch one of these performances is to see something so exquisitely graceful it is enough to stop your breath. Slow, contorted movements of immense refinement and exquisite beauty are performed by dancers in elegant silks and gold (they actually have to be sewed into these elaborate costumes). It reaches a point of tension and crescendo all in incredible slow motion. When visiting Angkor, taking in a classical dance performance is an unmissable experience and will help bring history alive.