Review: Happy Ranch Horse Farm, Siem Reap

I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m afraid of horses. So it was with some trepidation that I booked a horse ride with the Happy Ranch Horse Farm in Siem Reap. The Happy Ranch is home to 44 horses, and offers horse-cart rides and trail rides for all skill levels, as well as being a popular Siem Reap activity for kids.

horse riding siem reap

Getting ready to set out on a Siem Reap countryside trail ride at Happy Ranch.

We showed up, with no prior horse experience and were given helmets and introduced to our horses and our guide. Horse assignment seems to be based on experience and the weight of the rider — these are not big horses so riders cannot weigh more than 90kg (about 200lbs). You can choose ahead of time if you prefer to just walk, or to trot and canter. Trail rides go out into the neighboring countryside, and take you through local villages and lush green rice paddies. The best time of day for rides are in the morning or late afternoon when it’s not too hot. If you schedule your tour for later in the day, you’ll catch a stunning countryside sunset.

horse riding Siem Reap

A late afternoon Siem Reap horse ride through the rice paddies.

Happy Ranch is owned by Sary Pann, a Cambodian who has lived in the US for 30 years and developed a keen interest in the wild west. He’s imported all of the saddles and equipment from abroad, and the horses, which are Cambodian horses crossbred with Arabians, are well cared for. My only complaint is that despite filling out a long form about our experience with horses (none) we only got a short explanation before setting off, probably because we exuded an air of (mistaken) confidence. I would highly recommend spending some time asking questions before you hit the trail, because by the time you know to ask them, you may be in the middle of a panicky situation. My horse got frightened by a moto when we first set off — we had to cross a few roads to get out into the countryside — and reared up, and I had no idea what to do other than scream.

So make sure you understand how to handle a horse (it’s actually very easy) before you leave the stable. I would also highly recommend wearing long pants, and for ladies to wear a sports bra. Water is provided, as is a fanny pack to keep your phone and camera in, but if you have a larger camera be prepared to wear it around your neck on a shorter-than-usual lead so it doesn’t bang against the saddle when you are trotting.

riding horses siem reap

Rider and guide take a break for a photo opp.

Overall, though, it was an enjoyable activity, and a great way to see the Siem Reap countryside in a different way than usual. Even though we were scared of them, our horses were friendly and our guide was outgoing and fun.

Happy Ranch Horse Farm offer guided trail rides from one to four hours, for all skill levels. The cost is $28 per hour, $46 for two hours, $59 for three hours or $69 for four hours. Children from three can ride for 30 minutes on one of the smaller horses (on a lead if kids are very young). One-hour horse-cart rides cost $17 per adult, $8 per child up to age ten, and free for kids under five.

They do offer a slightly reduced expat and local rate ($3 off per hour) if you ask. However, be prepared to prove that you actually live locally. If you’re an experienced rider who wants to practice, Happy Ranch also offer a book of 10 one-hour rides for $200. Rides must be booked in advance and paid for in cash on the day of. Happy riding!

Happy Ranch Horse Farm

Group 4, Svay Dangkum, Siem Reap [map]
T: 012 920 002
thehappyranch.com

Review: Five Men Fresh Beer, Sihanoukville

Since a recent trip to Sihanoukville I’ve been meaning to review Five Men Fresh Beer, but was recently reminded now that they’ve started importing their beer to Phnom Penh. But it’s the Sihanoukville brewery itself that I’m concerning myself with, because it’s a gigantic beer hall that serves flavorful Cambodian dishes meant to compliment the glasses and glasses (and glasses and glasses) of ice-cold, ridiculously cheap beer.

Five men Fresh Beer Sihanoukville stout

Savory Cambodian dishes only help to make the ice-cold freshly brewed beer go down that much faster.

The cavernous brewery doubles as a beer hall and restaurant, with room to seat more than a hundred and several giant copper brew tanks off to the side. Despite the fact that it’s got an airport hanger vibe, it’s popular with all manner of locals, expats, and tourists. The menu offers a wide range of typical Cambodian BBQ-style dishes, like salty and delicious fried corn kernels cooked with dried shrimp, sweet char-grilled pork ribs, spicy mango salad, braised river fish and staples like fried rice. Servings are large and the prices are low — most mains cost $3.75, making it easily possible to have a meal and a dozen beers for less than $10 dollars.

Five Men Fresh Beer Sihanoukville Cambodian food

At Five Men Fresh Beer the food is as important as the beer, and relatively inexpensive.

The Cambodian owner of the place previously worked for Angkor and Cambodia Beer, and was trained in Germany as a brewmaster before starting Five Men Fresh Beer. He seems to have ignored some of his training, though. His offerings have been billed by some as craft beer, but it’s certainly no IPA. Similar to Vietnamese bia hoi, it’s named “fresh beer” for a reason. It’s not aged, and is served directly out of the tank without a secondary fermentation. This has some expat beer lovers in a lather, but if you’re satisfied with the other local offerings, including Cambodia, Anchor, or Angkor, you won’t have any problems with what they’re serving at Five Men Fresh Beer.

Five Men Fresh Beer Brewery Sihanoukville

The Five Men Fresh Beer Brewery in Sihanoukville is big, but never empty.

You can order two types of beer, a German-style lager or stout (ordered as white or black). The beer is served in iced glasses, so you can hardly taste them on a hot day, or notice how quickly they disappear. You don’t need to concern yourself with that, though, as the staff keep track of how many you’ve ordered by stacking an ever-growing pile of plastic coasters on your table, a grim reminder of the headache ahead. Or perhaps not! While they claim the lager ($0.50) is 4.5% and the stout ($0.75) is 6%, all evidence suggests that both are in the 3-4% range. True beer aficionados may turn their noses up at the stuff, but your faithful servant thought it was just fine. Paired with the savory, inexpensive food, Five Men Fresh Beer makes for a fun night out in Sihanoukville.

Five Men Fresh Beer

Open daily, 7 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.
19 Mithona Street, Krom 16, Phnom 2, Sangkat 3, Sihanoukville [map]
T: 012 913 346; 015 998 896

Quiz! Russian Market or Orussey Market?

Real Phnom Penh expats know their way around the markets. And we’re not talking about Lucky Supermarket and Thai Huot. The panoply of local markets and specialty “areas” within each market requires both finesse and organization to ensure that you don’t waste time going from Kandal Market down to Russian Market and then back up to Central Market just to tick everything off your shopping list.

If you stay in Cambodia long enough, you will have your favorite vendors and suppliers at each market, and know what time of day to get the freshest fish from Psar Chas and where to buy fabric for button-down “work” shirts just outside of Olympic Market. But for the newbies, keeping the specialties of each market straight can be a challenge. Personally, we would never confuse Russian Market (Psar Toul Tom Pong) with Orussey Market, but we’ve heard that it happens (you know who you are). Take this quiz and see how well you know the difference…

What’s the signature scent of Orussey Market?

Orussey Market Phnom Penh

When you see this sign, what’s the first smell that springs to mind?

Roasting coffee!

What’s the overwhelming smell of Russian Market?

cambodia wet market

Ah…I love the smell of a wet market in the morning!

Wet market! Mmm!

Where should you go to buy a traditional outfit for a Khmer wedding?

Psar Orussey

Head up these stairs to get fitted out for a Cambodian wedding.

Psar Orussey, second floor!

Where can you find cool silk lamps and shades?

silk lamps Cambodia

Find lighting on the cheap at this market…

Russian Market!

Which of the markets has one of the facing streets with a KFC and a bunch of export shops?

Cambodia export stores

Export stores offer some of the best shopping in town…but where are they?

Russian Market!

Which market has a facing street where you can buy a bicycle?

Cambodia bicycles

Where to find your chariot?

Orussey Market!

Which market has t-shirts with hand-drawn designs?

cambodia t-shirts

Original designs, or at last, hand-drawn.

Russian Market!

Where to buy seeds to grow a garden?

cambodia gardening

Get all of your gardening supplies here!

Orussey Market!

Where should you go to get your fortune told?

cambodia fortune teller

How long will I live in Cambodia? Only the fortune teller knows!

Orussey Market!

Where should you go to a buy a fake Northface backpack?

Cambodia backpack

Is it real or is it fake? Probably fake, but where can I get one?

Russian Market!

Which market has the best Khmer Iced Coffee guy?

Cambodian iced coffee

Where can you find the best Cambodia iced coffee? Or at least, the guy that says he sells the best iced coffee?

Russian Market!

Which one can you finish your errands by paying your bills by Wing right inside the market?

wing cambodia

Gotta pay your bills? There’s a Wing stand conveniently inside this market.

Orussey Market!

Thanks for taking our market quiz? How did you do? Stay tuned for our next installment: Who’s more annoying, American or French expats?

Phnom Penh’s new hop-on, hop-off bus

Perhaps you have seen this new red bus around Phnom Penh. I spotted it on Street 278 across from Artillery.  Is it true? Does The Charming City have its own hop-on, hop-off tourist bus?

hop on hop off bus Phnom Penh

Is it true? A sightseeing bus in Phnom Penh?

Well, yes and no.

The service started just two months ago, so is getting it’s sea legs during low season. Currently, the bus is running like a typical city tour every other day — pick up from hotels, ten stops comprising major Phnom Penh points of interest, with time at each to explore (and then some), a bottle of water, and drop off back at your hotel. On non-City Tour days, the bus runs to the Killing Fields and Genocide Museum. It is expected that during high season (November through March) that it will do a more typical hop-on, hop-off service with buses on the route every hour between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. starting and ending at the Night Market.

sightseeing bus phnom penh

See the sights in Phnom Penh without foregoing air-conditioning.

For now, for $15 you get picked up, given a bottle of water and taken by air-conditioned bus to the following sites:

  • Night Market (if you catch the bus from the office there)
  • Wat Ounalom and Kandal Market
  • National Museum* / Art Street
  • Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda*
  • Independence Monument / King Norodom Sihanouk Monument
  • Toul Sleng Genocide Museum* ( S21)
  • Central Market
  • Wat Phnom*
  • Russian Market

* Entrance fees for the sites is not included. This will add another $11 or 12 to your trip.

The journey is accompanied by a driver and an English-speaking attendant, who can tell you a bit about the main sites, but is not a licensed tour guide. For the City Tour, Hop-On, Hop-Off recommends you hire a guide for the Silver Pagoda and Royal Palace. There are also tour guides available at Toul Sleng and an audio guide available at the Killing Fields.

tourist bus Phnom Penh

Heading straight for the Royal Palace.

The off-season city tour is good value — $15 is about the price of a tuk tuk for the day, and although the city commentary is nothing extraordinary, tourists and first-time visitors may find it interesting and useful to be able to ask the attendant questions. I plan on recommending the service to our visiting friends and family when I need to get rid of them for the day.

The brochure boasts “28 Attractions,” including the “Cruise Terminal” and “BKK,” which are not really attractions, nor are they stops on the tour, although you do drive by. The brochure also says that there is an English audio recording providing commentary on the drive. I didn’t get to hear this, but our attendant added some points of interest and brief history of Independence Monument, Russian Market, and Wat Phnom.

Phnom Penh bus

And a quick stop at Wat Phnom.

There was only one other passenger when we took our city tour, so the trip was tailored to what we wanted to see and how long we wanted to spend at each site. If there are any sites you’ve already seen, the driver and attendant are happy to take this into account. Our bus tour did not stop at the French Quarter and Old Post Office, even though that is listed as one of the stops, but we made all of the other scheduled stops which allowed more than ample time for shopping (markets) and taking photos and exploring.

I imagine this service will get pretty popular during high season, and am interested to see how the tour-style bus route transitions into a traditional hop-on, hop-off bus. Let us know in the comments about your experiences!

You can book the Hop-On, Hop-Off City Tour and/or Killing Fields Tour through most hotels in Phnom Penh, or by calling their phone number: 016 745 880.

Flying from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap (and vice-versa)

A year or two ago the cost of flying from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap was ridiculously high, with a round-trip flight costing upwards of $200. Now, though, Cambodia has licensed several new airlines and flights from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap (and vice-versa) have gotten surprisingly cheap. In this post we’ve got some background on the Cambodian aviation industry and review the best flights from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap.

Cambodia Angkor Air

Finally! It’s affordable to fly between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.

A year ago, only one airline was licensed to fly between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, Cambodia Angkor Air, who have used their monopoly on the Phnom Penh to Siem Reap route to keep prices high. Starting at the end of 2014, though, Cambodia started licensing other airlines to fly domestically in Cambodia.

Cambodia may be a bit too free-wheeling when it comes to the licensing. The UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization have expressed concerns that airlines are using the country’s lax regulatory standards as a backdoor route to obtaining their Airline Operating Certificate (AOC). Airlines that would not be able to obtain their AOC in their home country (specifically, China) set up flights in Cambodia to obtain their AOC. In some cases — such as with Apsara Air — soon after being granted an AOC the airline then ceases flying their domestic Cambodia flights. The UN’S ICAO is planning another audit of Cambodia’s aviation authority at the end of the year, but the last one in 2007 ranked the country well below international standards.

To compound the problem, there are rumors swirling that several of the domestic airlines are offering “pay to fly” programs that allow trainee pilots to earn flight hours by paying large sums of money to airlines to let them fly. The fact of the matter is that domestic flights in Cambodia are certainly not as safe as those back home, but neither are the roads!

Below, we cover who is offering Phnom Penh to Siem Reap flights:

Cambodia Angkor Air

Cambodia Angkor Air is the longest running-airline offering domestic flights in Cambodia. Cambodia Angkor Air is owned by the Cambodian government and Vietnam Airlines, and their pilots are all from Vietnam Airlines. As far as safety goes, Cambodia Angkor Air is the airline favored by government and embassy personnel for having the best safety standards (but it’s all relative, of course). They fly ATR72 turboprop planes on the Siem Reap-Phnom Penh route. They’re French-Italian planes and considered much safer than the Chinese MA60 turboprop planes flown by Bayon Airlines. The flight takes about 50 minutes and economy bookings include 20 kg baggage. They suggest arriving an hour before boarding.

Cambodia Angkor Air ATR72

Cambodia Angkor Air flies ATR72s prop planes for domestic flights.

Cambodia Angkor Air has recently lowered their (previously exorbitant) prices in response to the influx of new airlines. Flights can currently be purchased for $70 one-way and $140 return. Their schedule changes regularly, but usually have four or five flights a day. Check their website for more info, and read our review of Cambodia Angkor Air for more about the airline.

Bassaka Air

Bassaka Air is a relative newcomer in Cambodian airspace and has quickly driven the prices for Phnom Penh to Siem Reap flights. Flights on Bassaka Air start at just $19, and even the high-priced ones are less than $50.

Cambodia Bassaka Air A320

Bassaka Air flies a big A320 Airbus.

The airline is a joint venture between the Naga casino company and the Chinese government. The airline have two planes, A320-200 Airbuses, that were formerly owned by Vietnam Airlines. The A320-200s are big planes that seat 168 passengers, making the trip shorter on than Cambodia Angkor Air and Bayon Air, who both fly this route in smaller, slower propeller planes.

The flight takes about 45 minutes and economy bookings include 20 kg baggage. Bassaka Air offers one flight per day in either direction, and they suggest arriving 45 minutes before boarding. The caveat is that because small airlines in Cambodia disappear so regularly, we wouldn’t hold our breath that Bassaka Air will stay in business. Meaning, don’t book too far in advance and I wouldn’t recommend using them as a connecting flight for an international flight, unless you give yourself a day’s padding in case something goes wrong. For more information, read our full review of Bassaka Air from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap.

Cambodia Bayon Airlines

Cambodia Bayon Airlines is another new airline flying in Cambodia that is offering a daily Phnom Penh to Siem Reap flight, and one from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh. Prices are cheap, starting at $32 each way. However, Cambodia Bayon Airlines is flying the infamous Chinese MA60 (“Modern Ark 60″) propeller plane, that has been banned from flying in the US, Europe, UK, New Zealand, and Australia. Recently, countries like Tonga, Nepal, and Indonesia have either gotten rid of or banned the MA60 due to safety issues. Cambodia Bayon Airlines, on the other hand, has 19 more on order, presumably because no one else would take them.

Cambodia Bayon Airlines

Cambodia Bayon Airlines flies Chinese MA60 turboprop planes.

For this reason, we’re not so keen on flying with Cambodia Bayon Airlines. If you are feeling adventurous, though, the flight takes about 50 minutes and economy bookings include 20 kg baggage. Bassaka Air offers one flight per day in either direction, and they suggest checking-in a minimum of 30 minutes before boarding. As with all new airlines, we are not counting on them being around for very long. To learn more, we have a much more detailed review of Cambodia Bayon Airlines from a recent flight.

The best burger in Phnom Penh?

Today’s question: Where is the best burger in Phnom Penh? In my previous post on the best pizza Phnom Penh, I demonstrated why such questions are ridiculous. Different styles, different ingredients, and personal preferences makes the word “best” subjective. In this post, you’ll see my reviews of four burgers by some of the top burger joints in Phnom Penh (according to online research and food fanatic friends).

phnom penh burgers

The 225 gram sous-vide Deco burger.

Unlike most food critics, I won’t bother rating each burger on a scale of 1 to 10, a thumbs up, or even a “highly recommended.” Let’s chill, take it easy, and I’ll describe my dining experience as is. However, for the sake of improving your dining experience, I may throw in a few fast facts and suggestions.

As the head baker of Siem Reap Bäckerei, a microbakery specializing in artisanal sourdough breads, my senses naturally steers itself towards food that’s made with thought, heart, and soul. You know, food that has finesse, character, a personality, a unique profile on its own. So anything resembling fast food burgers (processed cheddar cheese, mass produced patties, etc.) I’ve eliminated from my reviews. That’s not to say I dislike fast food burgers. Sometimes when you’re lazy or hungover, you think to yourself, “I feel like crap. I deserve to eat crap and, gosh darnit, I’ll enjoy it!” Let’s get to it, shall we?

Brooklyn Pizza + Bistro

Oh man, what was I thinking? An Aussie burger at an American restaurant? Wait, what’s an Aussie burger, you ask? Well, you might think it has something to do with kangaroos or crocodiles, and it could, my understanding is that it’s a burger that contains the following ingredients: fried eggs, (grilled) pineapple rings, and pickled beets (beetroot), and possibly a few other things. Of course, this is debatable, but most Aussies agree that pickled beets are essential.

best burger phnom penh?

The Aussie Royale at Brooklyn Pizza: beetroot is not optional.

Back to Brooklyn Pizza + Bistro: I had the Aussie Royale, an Australian beef burger, bacon, grilled onions, pineapple, fried egg, pickled beets, and Sriracha mayo. You know when you have a long, intense craving for something — a dry spell, if you will — and then you finally have it and it feels like heaven or bliss? Yeah, that’s what I felt while chowing down on the Aussie Royale. Nearly seven years ago since I last visited the land down under and had a decent burger with beetroot.

Now here’s a gesture that I rarely encounter: the lettuce, pickles, and tomatoes were separated from the rest of the burger. Neat! Further, two other features caught my eye at a glimpse: there were no “chips” (for the Americans, fries). Instead, they were replaced with hand-cut “chips” (for the British, crisps). The other eye-catcher was their house-made burger buns. The sesame seeds were sparse and evenly distributed on the surface area of the bun. As a bread baker, I know this takes time and a few extra steps, purely for visual aesthetics. So I applaud you, Brooklyn, for putting that extra effort. Other available burgers at Brooklyn include the Royale Double Bacon Cheese, Mushroom Cheese, and Jalapeno Blue.

The damage: $7.95 (Aussie Royale, includes “chips” and condiments)

The Exchange

Who eats burgers at high-end restaurants at ten in the morning? Me, that’s who. I’ve got places to go and business to do. Luckily, you can do just that at The Exchange. Around noon, flocks of businessmen enter the restaurant, wearing leather shoes, sleek trousers, ties pinned to the collars of their buttoned-up dress shirts. What was I wearing? An oversized t-shirt, worn-out jeans, and floppy sandals. Gotta tell ya’, I liked the dirty looks I got from a few them.

burger phnom penh

The Exchange burger: for suits and schlubs alike.

On their menu, they have a small “sandwich” section, featuring one, single burger: the flame-grilled Black Angus Beef Burger. For those of you who don’t know, Black Angus is a common breed of cattle raised in several parts of the world, known for its finely marbled meat. This means that the fat is dispersed more evenly, which creates a more tender, juicy, and flavorful cut of meat. However, not all Angus beef is created equal.

Besides the beef, the Black Angus Beef Burger contained onion confit (onions cooked at a lower temp than deep frying, in fats or sugar syrup), Swiss cheese, tomatoes, and lettuce.
The burger also included chips—crispy exterior, soft interior, and well seasoned. Strange as it sounds, I really enjoyed the ketchup and mayo, served on a separate condiment plate. You know those cheap, Asian brands, where the ketchup is super sweet and the mayo funky? That’s not offered at The Exchange, thank goodness.

The Exchange Phnom Penh

The Exchange is a members-only club, but the downstairs restaurant is open to all.

The servers here will ask how you want your burger cooked (medium, rare, etc). You may think that’s no big deal, but for a few reasons many restaurants in Cambodia don’t offer such choice. One reason; they’re tired of cringing or curling into a fetal position when a customer orders “well done.” Caution: there’s no air con at The Exchange, just opened windows, fresh breezes, and pedestal (stand) fans. During hot days, expect to get a lil’ sweaty, especially if you’re wearing a suit.

The Damage: $8.50 (Black Angus Beef Burger, includes chips and condiments)

Deco

In terms of elegance, Deco (also refers to an art style from the 1920s to early 1940s) is my favourite restaurant that serves burgers, amongst other things. I love the posters, I love the menu design, I love the liquor display, I love the furnishings. Each component contributes to the restaurant’s refined ambiance. More than that, I love the stark contrast of the manager with a baby strapped to his chest, overlooking the restaurant from the bar, and the servers with untucked dress shirts and baggy blue jeans. Hey, only in Cambodia!

Deco burger Phnom Penh

The Deco lamb burger, served with feta, arugula, and harissa-ketchup.

Judging by how often the servers hustled back and forth from the kitchen and dining area, I’d say Deco is a popular lunch destination for Phnom Penh expats. Glancing around, I saw a mix of people adhering to a semi-formal dress code, apart from the manager, servers, and myself. The classy French folks, a group of gossiping women, men in suits, and a lone woman in a black dress, eyes glued to her iPhone.

Deco restaurant Phnom Penh

Deco’s decor

With only seven items listed on their mains, my eyes locked on the lamb burger: crispy, pan-seared lamb, chorizo (Spanish pork sausage), feta cheese, raw onions, and arugula (rocket), between a sesame seed bun. Additionally, served with harissa-ketchup (hot chili pepper paste, with ketchup), remoulade (French mayo-based sauce), and cumin dusted triple-cooked chips. The fresh, herbaceous toppings counterbalanced the distinct taste of savoury lamb, spicy chorizo, and salty feta. In a few words, that’s how I’d describe the overall flavour of the burger.

Despite the fact that the restaurant was understaffed and exceeded its capacity (some walk-ins were forced to wait and sit in the lounge area), the servers did a top job tending to each customer. Friendly, too. So my suggestion: book in advance, indoors if you enjoy “Art Deco” and air con.

The damage: $13 (Deco Lamb Burger, includes chips and condiments)

Lone Pine Cafe

Opposite to my experience at Deco, dining at the Lone Pine Cafe was a fun, casual, American affair. Upon entry, I was greeted by Mr. Will, the owner and manager of the Lone Pine. We talked about the origins of his cafe, his clientele (mostly American expats, with a mix of Europeans, Aussies, and locals), his former burger cafe in New York, and southern American food ranging from gumbo to ribs, steaks, and burgers.

Lone Pine burger Phnom Penh

Lone Pine burger

Browsing through the menu, with an extensive list of burgers, I spent several minutes contemplating until I settled on the Babe’s Burger. Whoa, look at that! 200g/7oz beef, bacon, cheddar cheese, black beans, chili, ranch dressing, and onion rings. Never have I encountered such a wild and bizarre burger. I mean, how was I supposed to eat this… manifestation? Well, I succeeded. I picked it apart, happily gulfed it down, while working a sweat. (I can’t handle chili too well, but curiosity got the best of me.)

Lone Pine Cafe Phnom Penh

Lone Pine Cafe Phnom Penh

My pet peeves of the meal, however, were the fries and ketchup. The quality just wasn’t on par with the burger. On the upside, the servers, including Mr. Will, were attentive and cheery. Without asking, they filled my glass with water to the brim, time after time, seeing how I needed it.

The damage: $9 (The Babe’s Burger, includes fries and ketchup)

Conclusion

Whoever says burgers can’t be classy or playful are partypoopers. As seen in this post, burgers can be well executed, with solemnity and creativity. People with negative perceptions of burgers are entitled to their opinions, but we must remember: lobsters, salami, goulash, and brown bread were once considered food for the poor. They’ve evolved, making their way into higher class restaurants. So why can’t burgers?

My philosophy: welcome all (ethical) foods, whether you hate it or love it, and let cooks, chefs, and bakers push it over their limits, thus enriching the world with newer, possibly greater gastronomic experiences. Strictly keeping to traditions has its merits, but, think about it…where would we be today if we couldn’t adapt and create?

P.S. Feel free to post or message recommendations on the “best” burgers in PP. I know I missed out on several.

Brooklyn Pizza + Bistro

Open Tuesday to Sunday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
20 Street 123, Toul Tom Pong, Phnom Penh
T: 089 925 926
facebook.com/brooklynbistro

The Exchange

Open daily, 10 a.m. to midnight
28 France Street (Street 47), Wat Phnom, Phnom Penh
T: 023 992 865
theexchange-cambodia.com

Deco

Open for lunch Tuesday through Saturday, 12 p.m. til 2 p.m., and for dinner Monday through Saturday, 5:30 p.m. til 10 p.m.
46 Street 352
T: 017 577 327
decophnompenh.com

Lone Pine Cafe

Open Monday through Saturday for lunch, 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and daily for dinner, 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.
14 Street 282, BKK1, Phnom Penh
T: 078 949 398; 095 949 398
lonepinecafe.com

Review: Dakida Korean Bar & Restaurant, Siem Reap

One of my favorite things about Siem Reap is the plethora of really good Korean food. So it was a sad moment for me when one of my previous favorite restaurants closed; always empty, the place served a few things, of which the highlight was jokbal, or braised pig’s trotters. There are no trotters on the menu at Dakida, but the owner has turned the place into a jumping Korean bar and restaurant that has quickly become one of my favorite places in town.

Dakida Korean Restaurant Siem Reap

Dakida: a truly delicious Korean restaurant that thinks it’s a bar.

My love affair with Dakida started a few days after they opened, when they were still testing the menu. The owner explained that it’s not a traditional Korean restaurant, but rather, is a restaurant that is meant for drinking, so all of the food goes well with booze. What this means, in practice, is that everything on the menu is calorically rich, in a good way. I describe the place as a restaurant that thinks it’s a bar, and indeed, it’s only open for dinner, the lights are dimmed around 9:30 p.m. and the place stays open until 1 a.m.

Siem Reap Korean restaurant

Available for all of your late night barbecue needs.

The menu is small, but offers an array of delicious Korean dishes, of which the best value is easily the pork BBQ set, called samgyeopsal. The set costs $7 per person and is an all-you-can-eat porkfest, with and endless stream of fatty pork belly grilled at the table next to you, served with saamjang, a salty, delicious soybean paste, and lettuce and perilla leaves to wrap it all up in. The meal includes soup, a steamed egg casserole, spicy vegetable salad, several banchan, or small vegetable side dishes, fresh pickles, vegetable crudites to dip in the saamjang, and of course rice and kimchi.

The quality of every component of this meal is excellent, and outshines all of the other Korean restaurants in town who offer a similar but inferior samgyeopsal set. The most outrageous thing about this is that every plate on the table will be refilled until you ask, no, beg, them to stop. Quite frankly it feels criminal to only pay $7 for this much food, so I would highly recommend drinking a lot to help the poor guy turn a profit. If he doubled the price it would still be good value.

Korean restaurant Siem Reap

Did someone say all you can eat pork belly?

The rest of the menu is more typical bar food. One of my favorites is the giant bowl of fish cake soup, a savory broth filled with various types of fish cakes that are usually sold by street vendors in Korea. Apart from the samgyeopsal, the menu is of this ilk, fast food or snack food, including fried chicken, deep-fried shrimp, a Korean take on ramen, French fries and chicken and pork satay.

In the drinks department, Dakida carries local beer (Angkor) and imported Korean beer (Hite and Max, at the moment), and Korean soju, of which several empty bottles will be found on all of the raucous nearby tables packed with half-drunk Koreans. My favorite of the drinks is the makgeolli, a mysterious looking milky white potion that turns out to be a fermented beer-like drink made from rice. The best part about the makgeolli is that it is served not in glasses but in golden bowls. If that’s not a reason to try it, I don’t know what is.

Dakida Siem Reap

No Korean meal is complete without a healthy dose of kimchi.

Dakida has quickly become my favorite Korean restaurant in town, but it’s also a great late-night stop if you’re looking for a snack or trying to avoid seeing anyone you know. The place is popular with the local Korean community, and on weekends, there are always a few tables filled with merrymakers until well after midnight. So head down to Dakida and let me know what you think in the comments section. Do you have any favorite Korean restaurants in town that I should try? (I’m obsessed, obviously).

Dakida

Open daily, 5 p.m. to 1 a.m.
Oum Khun Street, Siem Reap [map]
T: 017 640 411