Veal Vong Commune, Kampong Cham, Cambodia
Good for: Solo
The title of this tip may be misconstrued as being slightly dismissive, believe me it is not. In Lao and Cambodia, it is quite possible to eat almost exclusively in restaurants associated with various charities, and I am all in favour of that, although I do sometimes wonder as to the effect it may have on hard-working private entreprenenurs trying to attract the tourist $ as well. It seems like a bit of an unfair contest, but that is a discussion for another place.
Smile restaurant is the "commercial" arm of a charity called BDSA, a Buddhist charity trying to teach deprived Khmer youngsters traditional Khmer culture, specifically dance. It is pleasantly situated on the river, Sitting down, I was greeted by a long-haired and bearded young German guy, which surprised me a little. He was doing a year's community work as an alternative to national service. Seems like a good deal to me.
The menu features Khmer food and a reasonable selection of Western food. I opted for the Lok Lac, a Khmer speciality. It is basically a beef "stew" served with a very pungent although pleasant sauce comprising fine ground black pepper and lime juice. In this instance it was served with the traditional rice and fried egg, although there is a popular version known as Lok Lac Anglais, served with chips (French fries) instead. I have to say it was absolutely gorgeous.
Definitely recommended for your stomach and your conscience.
Favorite Dish: The lok lak as described.
I'm currently working as a volunteer for a nice small NGO in Kampong Cham, Cambodia. They've opened up a restaurant for vocational training and I thought you might want to have a look...
Smile is run by the local NGO ‘BSDA’ as a training restaurant for former street children, orphans and vulnerable youth, serving tasty Khmer and western dishes. Food’s really nice and healthy - and don’t forget to try the delicious and refreshing fruit shakes...
There is a relaxed atmosphere in the restaurant, with a few sofas having direct few on the Mekong in front of it. If you’re around with your laptop, it’s also the only place in town offering free wireless.
Looking for a nice place to eat and enjoy your time, this might just be it. Prices are reasonable with food between 2 ½ -5 dollars – and you’re helping a good cause.
There is another project in an ancient temple called Wat Nokor, 2km out of the city. The Buddhist NGO organized a traditional dancing training (Apsara dance) there for the same target group as mentioned above. There are daily open air rehearsals from 5 to 6pm, where you are always welcome to join in. (Don’t miss the beautiful sunset through the ruins of the temple.)
Favorite Dish: Char Mnoah - Fried pineapples, for me one of the best Khmer Dishes, I love Pineapples anyway!
For some western food you can also get some great Penne Basilica (!) or a beautiful chicken salad. They've also got quite good wine to go with the food...
We had food at our Guide's Home. What an experience! His home is a typical house on stilts with Bamboo Floor and natural air con. TV is run via a car battery and of course you eat on the floor.
Favorite Dish: We had frog legs, fish, chicken curry, vegetables and pork.
This place typifies for me the problem with guidebooks and the "cult" asociated with them. Basically, if a place gets into a guidebook, it seems to lose effort and live on it's rep. Now, there is nothing wrong with performing well enough to get into a guidebook and mine spoke in glowing terms of Mekong Daze, which is obviously well-established in town. Personally, I found the place totally soulless.
I have no specific complaint at all. I did not eat here although the food looked perfectly OK, I just dropped in for a drink in the evenng. The service was OK, but only OK and completely lacking in the usual Khmer hospitality. My over-riding impression was that the mindset was "we've made it now, we can take it easy".
There is a pool table, book exchange, some extremely old English and French language magazines, a good river view and comfy chairs. They play some decent music of a wide range of genres but there is jsut something about the place that makes me not want to spend much time there. Tehre are enough options along the Riverside Road that you don't have to.
Dress Code: None.
You can reach Kampong Cham via bus from Phnom Penh. Buses run every hour, the ride takes about 2 hours and cost around USD 2.50. The roads are in good condition.
Alternatively, you can also take a bus from Siem Reap. however this takes about 5.5 hrs.
Rent a bike and take either the Bamboo Bridge (Dry Season) or the "ferry" to Koh Paen. Spend a few hours on this little island, visit a local school, get in touch with the locals and high-five the kids along the road.