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Local Secrets: Inside Siem Reap, Cambodia

Award-winning radio journalist and the owner of Siem Reap’s Miss Wong Cocktail Bar, Dean Williams tells us what to see and do in the town he calls home.

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Street food

“For the traveller who wants a truly local experience, head to the West Baray for charcoal grilled chicken, which is local and free range with an amazing flavour. The Baray itself is an 11th century reservoir, considered to be an engineering marvel for its time. It also features the West Mebon, a Hindu temple built on an artificial island and the Baray is a favorite hang for young Cambodians on their day off. You can cycle to the Baray through the countryside.”

Music

“With rebuilt traditional Cambodian instruments, Cambodian Living Arts has recruited 14 musicians to create the Sounds of Angkor troupe. Since March 2013, the troupe has been experimenting and rehearsing weekly in Khna Village, Siem Reap province. Jazz in the City takes place every Thursday; Don’t miss the only live jazz music venue in Siem Reap, which features independent musicians showcasing famous jazz selections.”

Phare Circus is an edgy, all-singing-and-dancing circus with a cast of talented young Cambodian performers, in the tradition of Cirque du Soleil. The cast come from a Battambang art center for under-privileged youth and are accomplished in acrobatics, music, dance, drama, contortion, aerial ballet, fire dancing, and juggling.”

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Dining

“Cuisine Wat Damnak at Amansara is one of the most unique restaurants in Siem Reap, offering a real journey for the tastebuds. The concept here is Cambodian food remodeled into creative modern dishes. The restaurant serves only two set menus of seven dishes each. Dishes are created by French chef Joannes Riviere, whose knowledge of the area allows him to source ingredients that are otherwise not easy to come by, such as shellfish unique to the Mekong and Tonle Sap lake, mushrooms sourced from the Angkor Temple park, wild lily stems and jungle fruits.”

Festivals

“Khmer New Year and Angkor Sangkran Festival are two to head to. Lasting three full days in mid-April, Khmer New Year is the most popular festival and a national holiday in Cambodia. The festival coincides with the end of the harvesting season so farmers celebrate the new year with their families and enjoy some relaxation before the rainy season starts again.”

“In Siem Reap, Angkor Sangkran festival is a Khmer New Year celebration held in front of Angkor Wat temple, Bayon Temple and Elephant Terrace, along the Siem Reap River and in Pub Street. Visitors are able to participate in traditional Khmer games, such as the bas angkunh (seed throwing), chaol chhoung (twisted-scarf throwing), and leak kanséng (twisted-scarf hiding). Participants are also able to dance together to traditional Khmer songs and party the night away in Pub Street.”

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New Zealand-born Dean Williams can be found at his Siem Reap cocktail bar, chatting to guests and shaking cocktails late into the night.