Cambodia has a lively local drinking culture, and the heat and humidity will ensure that you hunt out anything on offer to quench your thirst. Coffee, tea, beer, wine, soft drinks, fresh fruit juices and some of the more exotic ‘fire waters’ are all widely available. Tea is the national drink, but these days it is just as likely to be beer in the glass.
It’s never a challenge to find a beer in Cambodia and even the most remote village usually has a stall selling a few cans. Angkor is the national beer, produced in vast quantities in a big brewery down in Sihanoukville. It costs around US$2 to US$3 for a 660mL bottle in most restaurants and bars. Draught Angkor is available for around US$0.50 to US$1.50 in the main tourist centres. Other popular local brands include Cambodia Beer, aiming to topple Angkor as the beer of choice, and provincial favourite Crown Lager.
A beer brand from neighbouring Laos, Beerlao, is very drinkable and is also one of the cheapest ales available. Tiger Beer is produced locally and is a popular draught in the capital. Some Khmer restaurants have a bevy of ‘beer girls’, each promoting a particular beer brand. They are always friendly and will leave you alone if you prefer not to drink.
A word of caution for beer seekers in Cambodia: while the country is awash with good brews, there’s a shortage of refrigeration in the countryside. Go native and learn how to say, ‘Som teuk koh’ (ice, please).
Wine & Spirits
Local wine in Cambodia generally means rice wine; it is popular with the minority peoples of the northeast. Some rice wines are fermented for months and are super strong, while other brews are fresher and taste more like a demented cocktail. Either way, if you are invited to join a session in a minority village, it’s rude to decline. Other local wines include light sugar-palm wine and ginger wine.
In Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, foreign wines and spirits are sold in supermarkets at bargain prices, given how far they have to travel. Wines from Europe and Australia start at about US$5, while the famous names of the spirit world cost between US$5 and US$15.
Some Cambodian nightclubs allow guests to rent premium bottles of spirits, such as Johnnie Walker Blue Label, to display on the table – a way of maintaining face despite the fact it’s actually Johnnie Walker Red Label in the glass.
The local brew for country folk is sugar-palm wine, distilled daily direct from the trees and fairly potent after it has settled. Sold in bamboo containers off the back of bicycles, it’s tasty and cheap, although only suitable for those with a cast-iron stomach.
Tea & Coffee
Chinese-style tai (tea) is a bit of a national institution, and in most Khmer and Chinese restaurants a pot will automatically appear for no extra charge as soon as you sit down. Kaa fey (coffee) is sold in most restaurants. It is either black or café au lait, served with dollops of condensed milk.
Water & Soft Drinks
Drinking tap water must be avoided, especially in the provinces, as it is rarely purified and may lead to stomach complaints. Locally produced mineral water starts at 1000r per bottle at shops and stalls.
Although tap water should be avoided, it is generally OK to have ice in your drinks. Throughout Cambodia, teuk koh (ice) is produced with treated water at local ice factories, a legacy of the French.
All the well-known soft drinks are available in Cambodia. Bottled drinks are about 1000r, while canned drinks cost about 2000r, more again in restaurants or bars.
Teuk kalohk are popular throughout Cambodia. They are a little like fruit smoothies and are a great way to wash down a meal.