The Design Lover’s Guide to Siem Reap

Cambodia — By on January 13, 2012 at 12:00 pm

By Alexandra Baackes

Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, CambodiaSiem Reap, and perhaps Cambodia in general, is known primarily for one thing: Angkor Wat. The famous archeological site and world wonder brings travelers from around the globe to stay at the nearby town of Siem Reap. Unfortunately, many make the mistake of breezing in to see the ancient city and leaving no time to explore the modern town they are staying in.

Those that do are missing out though, as Siem Reap has not only museums, shows, and spas to explore, but also a vibrant and growing international art and design scene. And best of all, much of it can be enjoyed at South East Asia prices (read: cheap!) If you can’t leave New York without checking out the MOMA, or swing through London without a visit to Shortage, then you shouldn’t come to Siem Reap without patronizing one of these trendy establishments. So when you’re planning your trip to explore Angkor, schedule in at least one more night and spend a day following the Design Lover’s Guide to Siem Reap.


Siem Reap is bursting at the seams with thoughtfully designed boutique accomodation. Two standouts include the trendy and affordable Villa Médamrei or the upscale darling of the luxury travel world, Viroth’s.  Villa Médamrei features 19 rooms just a 5 minute walk from Pub Street, the heart of Siem Reap. The hotel boasts a rooftop garden, a restaurant and bar, and customized tours to Angkor Wat and through Siem Reap. Viroth’s features seven sumptuous rooms, a salt water pool, a rooftop jacuzzi, an in-house spa, and a restaurant. Look here for more suggestions on where to stay in Siem Reap.

Villa MedamreiCourtesy of Villa Médamrei


For a quick snack or dessert in a minimalistic and trendy setting, hop into one of the city’s ubiquitous Blue Pumpkin cafés. The upper levels feature shoeless bed-style seating and air conditioning that is almost as delicious as the creative ice cream flavors. Proceed with caution: many a traveler has fallen victim to Blue Pumpkin’s spell and made it a part of their daily routine in Cambodia.

Blue Pumpkin Siem Reap

For a truly cultured night out, head to newcomer 1961 for dinner, drinks, and modern art. The gallery features rotating exhibits by talented local artists while the bar serves creative and contemporary cocktails. The menu is a combination of small tapas style dishes and creative twists on traditional Khmer cuisine. This is a gathering place for trendy local expats, making it a fun place to sit and people watch.

1961 Gallery Siem Reap


Siem Reap is a discerning shopper’s paradise. The streets and alleys downtown are lined with charming boutiques, lovely galleries, and artfully designed shops. John McDermott Photography was the first and is still the most popular place to pick up an iconic print of the infamous Angkor Temples. If you can’t spring for a McDermott original canvas wrap, there are more affordable offerings from other local artists as well. For jewelery, head to the creatively curated Gardens of Desire. Run by a local Khmer artist, you will find finely crafted metal work, delicate beads, and talent oozing from every clasp.

Jim McDermott Gallery Siem Reap


If your love of design extends from appreciation to creation, head to the Khmer Ceramics Center where, with the help of a skilled artisan, you will create three clay pieces using the traditional Khmer technique. You can work by hand or with a wheel. The cost is $15 to make three pieces and then fire and glaze the best one, though other pieces can be fired and glazed for an additional cost.

Khmer Ceramics Center, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Alexandra Baackes lives in Thailand working as a freelance designer and underwater videographer and blogs at Alex in Wanderland about travel, diving, and fast food cravings. She has a passionate love for Cambodia and passing on the message that there is more to do in Siem Reap than visit temples!

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  • Tash says:

    Wow, Siem Reap looks like it has changed a lot since I was last there! Looking forward to swinging through that way again – a place that draws you, time and time again!

  • Alex says:

    You’re right, Siem Reap has changed a lot, at least since my first visit in 2009. But one thing remains strong- it’s charm! I can’t wait to visit again for a third time.

  • Randy Cox says:

    Wow! What a great place to enrich our mind, rest our body, and explore opportunity. Retirement is less than a year away for me now, I can’t wait to visit.

  • Alex says:

    Siem Reap, and all of Cambodia by extension, is a place that should definitely be on the bucket list! I’ve been to 15 countries and it is still my favorite.

  • Ava Apollo says:

    I had no idea Siem Reap was like this. Now I’m even more excited to go!

  • Alex says:

    Cambodia in general is SO full of surprises! You are going to absolutely love it.

  • And you forget to talk about the Khmer kids ! They are awesome. I made a lipdub (video) with 300 kids dancing in an Angkor Temple in Siem Reap. You should check it out on my blog: . Feel free to share !