Look for the guy who resembles Chip from Napolean Dynamite and there’s the unofficial Kampong Cham tourism ambassador. Pennsylvania Joe and his Cambodian wife run their restaurant Mekong Crossing “as a hobby,” but the carefree attitude doesn’t show in the way they serve both food and information in generous portions with amiable staff. The decor features maps, travel info, and movie posters for Easy Rider and 1930s thrillers. The place is so popular among Westerners that it is sometimes booked with tour groups. Check earlier in the day to see if seating is available at dinnertime. The amok takes extra time to prepare but is worth the wait. The noodle dishes, made from instant noodles, should be avoided. The menu, aside from listing dishes, also contains handy information on the surrounds that guidebooks lack, and Joe and his wife are at the ready to delve into details and gossip. Mekong Crossing is also a convenient place to secure a moto rental. One man, Vannat, speaks fluent English and rents his moto for $6 daily plus gas. His phone number is (012) 995 890. The other moto costs $5. Either way, be sure sure the tires are in good shape beforehand.
Several steps south of Mekong Crossing, Lazy Mekong Daze serves similar clientele in a similar format, with bright orange walls and retro artwork. It also offers a pool table, dartboard, some old board games like “Mastermind,” and a small library. The bar serves cans of Guinness, which are hard to find in Southeast Asia but don’t taste like the real thing anyway. The menu claims the place is known for its pizza baguettes. The dish is basically sauce and melted cheese on those ubiquitous bread loaves found at most vendy carts. Still, it’s satisfying and a respite from more adventurous eating.
Reading through the book-size menu at Hao An Restaurant is a feat in itself. Though it offers several pages of raw meat dishes, the restaurant also provides about 100 cooked selections, all conveniently photographed. Few meals cost more than $3, but those with prawns jump up to about $6. The service is lousy, with waitresses walking away in the midst of attempts to order, but the eel soup with milk is rich and enjoyable. Inside, garish Angkor Wat paint-by-numbers hang on the wall and the enormous wooden tables are suitable only for extended Khmer families and big NGO groups. Instead, sit outside at the small sidewalk tables, surrounded by potted plants and hanging fans. The restaurant is across the street from the bus stations, so it makes a nice stop before schlepping on.
In the late afternoon a few beer (and, oddly, canned lychee juice) stalls set up opposite the Mekong Hotel under the shade of the massive trees that line the river here, making this a fine place to relax and perhaps plan your next day with any one of the many moto-dops who will come and chat away — the standard of spoken English in Kampong Cham is amazing. Beer costs 3,000 riel a can, though some vendors try to charge Western customers an extra 500 riel. We preferred Kim’s stand towards the northern end of the strip. They’ll stay open as late as you want to buy beer. This is a great spot to watch the moon rise on a clear night.
Locals say Two Dragons is on the decline, as the restaurant seems to be in a continuous state of refurbishment. Still, patrons can order from a comprehensive Khmer/English menu. A tattered green tarp extends over the outdoor eating area, which is on a wide slab of concrete. The owner explained that tourists always want to eat closer to the street and surrounded by potted plants, but she doesn’t understand why. While Two Dragons struggles with its atmosphere, it excels in its dishes. An unusual interpretation of fish amok was excellent. The fried long beans with ginger were also delicious.
Malis Rice opened in mid-2008. Potted plants and bamboo walls partition 10 tables covered in bright purple tablecloths. Separate tables for large groups are under individual straw-roof huts. When we visited, the eager young owner and her staff provided attentive service and top-notch presentation. She said BBQ beef is their specialty, which the staff grilled beside our table over a flaming clay pot. Paired with a plate of raw vegetables, the meat was juicy and flavorful, but composed almost exclusively of tendon and fat. It was also bit pricey at about US$6, or 20,000 riel, a plate.
Hao An Restaurant Monivong Blvd, Kompong Cham.
Lazy Mekong Daze Sihanouk Rd (Riverside), Kompong Cham. T: (099) 569 781. firstname.lastname@example.org
Malis Rice 11 National Road 7, Kompong Cham. T: (012) 660 147. email@example.com
Mekong Crossing 12 Pasteur St, Kompong Cham. T: (012) 432 427
Riverside Beers Sihanouk Rd (Riverside), Kompong Cham.
Two Dragons Visible from Nokor traffic circle, Kompong Cham.