Siem Reap, Cambodia

Going back to a more industrialized, urban country was a bit jarring coming from the serenity of Laos.  After our exhausting delay, and relatively frightening flight, we landed in Cambodia for the final leg of our trip.  Again, when you get to Cambodia, you’ll need to have cash on hand for the $35 visa.

Our hotel was The Golden Temple Hotel, which arranged for a tuk tuk to pick us up and bring us there.  The Golden Temple Hotel’s staff welcomed us with tea and a snack when we arrived. The folks there are incredibly helpful and accommodating.  The place itself is brand new, and only has 30 rooms so the staff does their best to get to know their individual guests.  The rooms are equipped with all the amenities to make a comfortable stay (HD TV, free WiFi, A/C, nice clean and new furniture).  The hotel also provides a cell phone for you to use (which is HUGE for those of you without an international plan), a free wine happy hour, a very generous complimentary breakfast every morning with a box breakfast for those who leave early for Angkor Wat, and when you leave they give their departing guests a free T-shirt and scarf as a thank you gift.  The deal we got through Expedia also included for each of us a free massage at the hotel spa and a free Khmer dinner cooked and delivered to your room.  What did we pay?  $80 a night.

So, yeah, that hotel might be the best value I’ve ever gotten at a place I’ve stayed traveling.  There’s only two things that they could improve on.  One, they need a few more lounge chairs by the pool.  And two, while the staff was great (and I really want to make sure that’s clear, they were GREAT), they were a bit overbearing in their attempts to accommodate every need.   While I do feel kind of like a dick for saying that a negative is that people were too nice, I do wish they scaled it back just a notch.

The location of the Golden Temple Hotel is also a huge plus.  It’s within walking distance of the Siem Reap Night Market as well as Pub Alley.  My first impression of these places was this: I hope that Luang Prabang doesn’t turn into it.  The Night Market in Siem Reap is the exact opposite of what was in Luang Prabang.  It was loud and seedy, with tuk tuk drivers and whores coming up to you constantly.  I almost punched a guy in the face because he grabbed by arm and spun me around so that he could get my attention.  Despite that, knowing that it is what it is, it is a rather fun place to go out if you’re looking to have drinks and a crowd.  Pub Alley is essentially trying to be the Bourbon Street of SE Asia, so there are plenty of different types of bars with large quantities of cheap drinks to be had.  Most of the bars have outdoor seating for people watching.  Our experience was even cooler because there was a power outage (not uncommon for SE Asia apparently), so half the street had no electricity and people were using candles for lighting giving the street a really cool, rustic, exotic look.

One place in particular that I’d recommend for drinks is Beer Battle, which has a bit of a calmer vibe surrounded by all the madness.   I would also recommend walking to the Night Market from there and grabbing dinner at Genevieve’s Restaurant.   This restaurant was the closest thing to a Mom & Pop place we went to all trip.  We honestly weren’t expecting much, but it ended up being a surprisingly good meal.  The owner is an Australian who opened up the place, named after his wife, and sends a portion of his proceeds to charity.  The staff he hires are all local Cambodians whom he hopes will one day take over the restaurant and make it their own.   He came by our table at one point, and it was had not to feel good about eating there after speaking with the kind, grandfatherly figure.  One thing to note – if you ask for spicy, they will give you spicy.  My buddy on the trip is Indian, and he had been noticing that there wasn’t any really spicy food so far on the trip, so he specifically asked our waitress to make our beef salad spicy, spicy.  I lasted one bite; literally one bite.  He on the other hand impressively finished the dish, but at the cost of practically not being able to eat the next day!

Coming up: The signature attraction of Cambodia — Angkor Wat.

Little Serow

1511 17th Street NW
Washington DC 20036

Hours
Tuesday-Thursday: 5:30-10:00 PM
Friday-Saturday: 5:30-10:30 PM
Sunday-Monday: Closed

I’m going to say this right off the bat: Little Serow is my favorite meal experience in Washington, D.C. up to this point.  More than living up to the hype, Johnny Monis, the head chef of the famous Komi restaurant (which is regarded by many as the best restaurant in D.C.) has created a cheaper, Asian restaurant right next door.  For $45, you get a pre-fixed menu consisting of mainly Thai flavored cuisine.  And you’ll be hard pressed to find a better $45 meal anywhere else in the city.

In order to find the restaurant you’ll want to find and face Komi first; Little Serow’s door is the unmarked basement door to the lower left.  Keep this in mind: there will most likely be a very long wait.  They don’t take reservations, so you have to put your name on the list with the hostess.  In most cases, there will be a line JUST to put your name on what usually is a 2-hour wait list.  From what we heard, on the weekends that line can even be as long as 20 minutes.  It is a ridiculously long wait time to be sure, but it’s worth it.  Just plan accordingly, and plan on having a drink at one of the nearby bars while you wait.  They will text you when your table is ready, so you can go as far away as you want.

The restaurant itself has very limited seating; there’s only about five tables that seat 4, three tables that seat 2, and one communal large table that seats about 12.  The atmosphere is like being in a minimalist kitchen with dim intimate lighting.  The music is not too loud and all the waitresses are dressed like mothers or Laura Ingalls’ look alikes.  And they were great; perfectly attentive without being too intrusive.

I would typically give a review of each individual food item, but because the menu routinely changes up, there’s no real guarantee that what I’ve tried will be on the menu for you.  The menu apparently changes up on a weekly basis.  After doing a little research though, it does appear that there are a few staples that are on often regularly on the menu, including the pork ribs on ours.

So even though there’s no point giving individual critiques, as a whole the food was DELICIOUS.  There were so many flavors that felt totally new, yet familiar at the same time.  The food was very, very spicy too – I cannot stress this enough.  The side of vegetables and sticky rice will be your best friend throughout the meal.  Our dinner ended up being 7 plates with a small dessert.  The standouts on our menu were the mushrooms, which were a unique flavoring of sweet as you first eat it and then spicy as you finish it, and the pork ribs.

To sum it up – try this place.  It’s not going to kill your wallet at $45 and you’re guaranteed to experience flavors that you’ve never tasted before.  I plan on going back to try some different plates and it only takes a quick look at its critics, Yelp, and TripAdvisor reviews to see a communal appreciation for the place even though several different meals were sampled.  For me personally, if Little Serow was this good, I’m more than curious to know what his even more prestigious Komi restaurant is like.  It looks like I’ve got something new to save up for.   Grade: A

UPDATE: I emailed the restaurant to get a better idea of how much the menu changes.  They responded very, very quickly and told me that one item usually changes a week.  So if you want to make sure you go back and have a totally different menu, I’d give it a couple months in between visits.

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