From the moment we landed in Phnom Penh to the last meal in Siem Reap, Cambodia showed us a world of opportunities and paths less travelled. The country hands you endless new smells, tastes, and sights that you turn into your own adventure - sometimes it works out for the better and sometimes it doesn't. But that's the fun of it! You really learn to be spontaneous here.
This means that Cambodia is what you make of it. From the endless tuk tuks that pester you to ride with them, to choosing what to add to your plate of food, the power is in your hands.
Tuk tuk prices can be bartered down to 2-3 USD to get you anywhere in town, but if you don't say anything, the price will be set higher. Our strategy was to figure out a fair price and say "we're going here for $2," rather than saying, "how much does it cost to get here?"
Each time you sit down for a meal, a variety of herbs and sauces are always provided at your table and you can mix and match to your tastes. By the end, you really learn to balance flavours to your liking.
In the Bayon inside of Angkor Thom, we found ourselves spending more time dodging people than taking in the sights, so when the crowd zigged we zagged and suddenly found ourselves in the middle of a perfectly serene jungle with not another soul in sight.
For a country with such incredibly heavy history, Cambodia is unbelievably optimistic. It's got some pretty great things to offer that may or may not be your cup of tea, but you'll be sure to find something that's for you.
Malis - Located in Phnom Penh with a new location in Siem Reap. Malis is delicious upscale Cambodian with unforgettable curry crab. Recommended if you want to splurge a little for an incredible meal - your splurge money won't go as far in other Southeast Asian countries as it does in Cambodia!
Bai Sach Chrouk place - Phnom Penh, at the Northwest corner of St 163 and 454, beside the Denta clinic sign. On the other end of the price spectrum, this modest local shop sells grilled fatty pork served on rice with pickled veg, sweet chili fish sauce and brothy soup. It's served by a really sweet old lady with a beautiful smile. Head here for breakfast if you're heading to S21 or the killing fields.
Muscovy Duck Soup - Siem Reap. This shop sells one thing: an incredibly deep duck hotpot that you know was made with love. In this dish, you choose your own adventure of noodles, herbs and veggies. We liked this soup so much that we begged Sela, the owner, to teach us how to cook! Read about our experience at Sela's house here.
Any fruit shake from one of the Friends' restaurants (Friends, Romdeng, Marum). Located in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Sihanoukville and a few cities in Southeast Asia, the Friends restaurants support at-risk youth by training them in the hospitality industry. They also serve amazing shakes, perfect for a mid-afternoon cooldown! The food there is very good, but the shakes are exceptional.
Angkor Wat is a pretty magical place. If you can ditch the crowds and find a quiet space, it's easy to lose yourself in the ruins of a great civilisation. We hired a tuk tuk driver to show us around, but if you want to really get off the beaten path and have ultimate flexibility, we recommend renting a scooter or a bicycle. In our opinion, the smaller, less famous temples were the most worthwhile because we didn't have to climb over other people to get a good view.
Sela's Homestyle Food Experience - Sela's reluctant to call this a "cooking class" because the idea behind it is bigger than that. Sela wants to teach you about Cambodian culture in a laid back garden setting surrounded by his family and the fresh herbs that he grows for his restaurant. It was one of the biggest highlights of the trip for us and we highly recommend it. There's no better way to get to know Cambodian food and culture than through a day spent with Sela.
Siem Reap Food Tours - We were gifted the morning and evening tour through Siem Reap, and it's a lucky thing! Without this tour, we would never have ended up at Muscovy Duck Soup, and therefore wouldn't have the opportunity to take the class with Sela. Both the evening and morning tours were worthwhile but very different: the morning tour is more of a cultural experience in the outskirts whereas the evening tour is a restaurant and street food crawl through the city.
Battambang Bat Cave - On a friend's recommendation, we hired a tuk tuk driver named DJ while in Battambang to tour us around for an afternoon. We were pretty vague in our requests, but DJ knows what tourists are after and led us around on a really nice countryside tour. The highlight of the tour was also the most unexpected: a bat cave outside of battambang. Every night, more than two million bats flood out of these caves to go hunting for dinner. It's pretty mesmerizing to watch the never-ending stream of bats fly in unison.
Top Resources Used
These resources were the most helpful to us in putting together our map of Cambodia and deciding where to eat. If you're looking to do some extended research, check out the following sites.
Move to Cambodia - This site was created by Steven's partner Lina (Steven leads the Siem Reap Food Tours above). It has really great information on almost every city in Cambodia, though for the lowdown on Siem Reap itself you'll have to take the tour! Their city guides cover Phnom Penh, Kampot, Sihanoukville, Battambang and more, and their recommendations are well thought out.
Phnom Penh Post: Cheap Eats 2016 - The title says it all! Everything on this list can be eaten for 5 USD or less.
Lonely Planet - Classic for a reason, Lonely Planet is a reliable source of good recommendations.