Watching the sun rise at Angkor makes us forget about food. But cycling back
into Siem Reap, we passed the Grand Hotel and swept in for breakfast. Dating
back to the1920s, this faded colonial building has seen grander days. But its
cool interior, elegant proportions, wrought iron lift and romantic atmosphere
are still irresistible.
Raffles International is poised to restore it.
During the interim, it is being run by Thong Koum Thol, 55, from the Ministry of
Tourism. But tourists have defected to other hotels offering more modern
amenities, which is a pity because the Grand is still a charming place to stay.
So peace reigned in the spacious old dining room and four waiters in black
jackets rushed to serve us the best breakfast in Siem Reap, ($4). We drank real
expresso coffee with a foamy top and ate hot croissants, baked in the vast
kitchens below. They were accompanied by the lightest toast and warm rolls,
served with the hotel's own home-made pineapple jam, full of chunks of fruit and
the best we have ever tasted. A perfect omelet appeared next, rolled neatly,
with a firm exterior, yet with a soft, frothy interior, just the way they make
them in France. A plate of fresh fruit and orange juice completed the meal.
Breakfast starts at 6:30am.
The morning sun filtered into the dining room
and we talked to Madame Ek Somali, 50, who has worked in the bar of the Grand
Hotel since 1964. She recalled serving celebrities such Haille Selaisse,
Jacqueline Kennedy, and General De Gaulle when he came in 1966. The great
general shook her hand after the meal. "I only came up to his waist," she
remembered. She was among the first of four staff to return after the Khmer
Rouge period, during which time Pol Pot's army had occupied the hotel. During
the 1980s, she served the Soviet delegations that came to Angkor.
spent the morning visiting two more temples, and with only another 98 to go,
stopped for lunch at the Samaki. Next to the river in Siem Reap, this
unpretentious wooden restaurant serves French and Cambodian food for unbeatable
prices. Pot Heng, 70, was a waiter in Phnom Penh and opened the Samaki three
years ago. He said he couldn't retire because he has lots of children and
grandchildren to look after. They all work in the restaurant. Souen Bunrith, 22,
said: "I love helping my grandfather." They open at 6am to serve noodle soup.
Pot Heng puts real white cotton cloths and napkins on the table, and serves a
big selection of salads, fish and meat dishes, ranging from 2,500 to 3,500 riel.
We had a refreshing salad with fragrant French dressing, containing boiled eggs,
tomatoes and potatoes, followed by grilled fish. Our companion raved about Loc
Lac Anglais, a huge grilled steak, with a fried egg on top, crispy French fries
and garnishing, for 5,000 riel. He started with fish soup with pineapple at
4,000 riel. Pot Heng is moving to bigger premises on the road to Angkor in about
a month. So those who love the rural, riverside view, should hurry
A ritzier place to dine is the Banteay Srei Hotel. It is run by
Cambodian Sam Sophy and owned by Mach Houen. This rather gaudy hotel, which
opened in February 1994, is determined to please all tastes, and has filled the
garden with a profusion of statues in the same way that some English people fill
theirs with plaster gnomes. Vishnus, apsaras, and singhas vye for space with
topiary in the shape of deer and cocks, and to make sure everyone is happy,
there is a circle of kitsch mannikin statues, each wearing a krama, doing what
they were destined to do into a miniature fountain. The whole lot is floodlit at
The menu is similar, with every Chinese, Cambodian and European
dish in existence, and the food is tasty. We enjoyed succulent chicken with
ginger and spring onion, (small $3, large $6) delicious sweet and sour pork,
($3) and lots of crisp vegetables like baby corn and carrots, tossed in a light
sauce ($3). House white wine $11, Muscadet $17, Pouilly Fume, $30.
wide-ranging menu is available at the Bayon, off the main road. This is the most
popular place in town. Tables are set in the delightful garden, filled with
flowers, where the owner has thoughtfully provided lots of fans. The delicious
Japanese style fish ($8 for two) comes sizzling on a hot dish, covered in soy
sauce. Service is friendly. After drinking lots of chilled white wine, we looked
up at the stars and wondered if we would be able to galvanise ourselves before
dawn next day to watch another sunrise at Angkor.