Top 5 Feel-Good Restaurants In Siem Reap, Cambodia
Siem Reap, home to the majestic temples of Angkor, has long been on the map as a must-visit destination for any traveler to Southeast Asia. The grandiosity of ancient Khmer civilization overwhelms visitors as they walk through the unfathomable complexity of Angkor Wat, stare into the faces of Bayon and witness mother nature’s might in the tree-engulfed corridors of Ta Prohm.
In recent years the city has also become a beacon for socially responsible tourism with numerous restaurants, organizations and non-profits opening their doors and hearts to the world. Here are five amazing feel-good restaurants in Siem Reap that will not only fill you up after a long day exploring temples, but will also warm your soul with the impact they are making on the community.
Opened in 2011 and located in the Wat Damnak area, away from the chaos of pub street and the city’s bustling tourist hub, Haven serves up an authentic selection of Khmer specialties including Amok and Lak Lok. Feeling homesick? Not to worry, Haven offers up Western treats not often found in this area including classic schnitzel (Haven’s founders are Swiss) and creamy mushroom stroganoff. The restaurant also offers a large selection of vegetarian and vegan options, including the Haven pumpkin burger and eggplant and beet sandwich.
Haven was established as a training restaurants for vulnerable young adults, including those from orphanages and very poor rural areas. During the last year, the restaurant has taken in 15 trainees who are taught skills needed to build quality careers in hospitality and break the poverty cycle. The organization also takes financial responsibility for all trainees, providing them with shared housing, meals, medical care, English lessons and a monthly training allowance.
Fresh spring rolls with Khmer red chili sauce to start, anyone? What about coconut chicken or tiger prawn curry as a main? No matter what you’re dining on at Spoons, be sure to indulge in one of their signature cocktails, especially the Passion Mojito or their signature drink, EGBOK (Campari, basil, lime, palm sugar, sparkling water).
Situated in a beautiful new building decorated with ornate bamboo details, polished stone flooring and turquoise accents, Spoons is a new entrant to the training restaurant scene in Siem Reap. An extension of EGBOK (Everything’s Gonna Be OK, different from the drink above), Spoons supports the culinary curriculum of the program and allows for hands-on training for students.
All proceeds earned by the restaurant are directed back to EGBOK that provides a 3-step approach to trainees: Introduction to Hospitality; Vocational Training, Life Skills and Social Support; and Job Placement and Professional Development. Since inception in 2009, EGBOK has helped 595 students through its Introduction to Hospitality program.
Traveling is all about stepping out of your comfort zone. If this describes you, be sure to check out Marum where you can feast on exotic delicacies such as beef prepared with red tree ants, mini crocodile burgers or BBQ frog legs on sugarcane skewers. Not feeling so adventurous? That’s okay, other staples include the vegetarian-friendly pumpkin, spinach and black bean curry or the penne with roasted chili and cashew nuts.
On the soul nourishment side, Marum doesn’t disappoint either. As part of the TREE (Training Restaurants for Employment and Entrepreneurship) program, Marum is one of 8 training restaurants located in Cambodia, Laos, Ethiopia and Thailand. This training restaurant contributes to the 1,400 disadvantaged youth who are part of the program.
4) The Little Red Fox Espresso (LRF)
There is no better way to fuel a day of temple touring than gulping down some of The Little Red Fox’s delicious espresso. Start your day off feeling good knowing that LRF built the first community recycling point in Siem Reap, provides only filtered water (none of those dreaded plastic bottles here), and while not a training restaurant, the company provides hospitality skills, savings plans, English skills and personal development to all employees.
When you order a drink you’ll notice that LFR takes their anti-plastic stance seriously. You’ll notice as you slurp down your cool drink that’s it’s served with a bamboo straw!
5) Sala Bai Hotel School
Whipping up tasty dishes such as stuffed grilled chicken tikka and pan-fried mackerel, Sala Bai’s options will make you want to try the whole menu. One can’t go wrong in one of Siem Reap’s oldest training restaurants open exclusively for breakfast and lunch.
Sala Bai was created by the NGO Agir pour le Cambodge to fight poverty and human trafficking through social and professional training of underprivileged young adults (primarily young girls). The training complex, which includes a hotel, spa and restaurant, has helped over 1,500 students find sustainable employment over the last 15 years.
All of these restaurants are evident of Siem Reap’s position at the forefront of the positive changes occurring in Cambodia — changes that are being spearheaded by the concerted effort of Khmer people, outside volunteers and NGOs working to support the future of the country.
Michael Funk is the co-founder of Banana Backpacks, a travel community and travel gear company dedicated to creating meaningful change in the world. Michael’s love of traveling began as child in Bali, blossomed with a 5-month solo trip around Southeast Asia and has continued ever since with trips across Asia, the Americas and Europe.