The boutiques, spas, and cafés of Kandal Village offer a dose of Cambodian cool.
Over the last half-decade, Kandal Village, a laid-back neighborhood just south of Siem Reap’s old French quarter, has expanded from an intimate clutch of businesses into the city’s unchallenged epicenter of boutique hipness. Hup Guan Street, the still-sleepy main road, is lined with shophouses where newer tenants uphold the innovative chic of more established outlets, providing a cool alternative to temple trekking at Angkor. Here are the highlights.
A sparkling treasure trove among Kandal’s clothing boutiques and gift stores, Garden of Desire sells a dazzling range of creative jewelry from its workshop, which combines silverware with precious stones such as lapis lazuli, tourmaline, and tanzanite. The delicate and often whimsical designs are the brainchild of designer Ly Pisith—who fled to France as a child on the run from the Khmer Rouge—and curator Agnes Lim, and the remarkably extensive collection takes in many facets of nature (bloom cluster earrings) as well as historical references such as Angkor (Bayon face cufflinks), though the story Pisith consistently tells through his art is the story of Cambodia’s past, present, and future.
One of Kandal’s original tenants, the much-loved Frangipani Spa has aged gracefully, its welcoming interiors sporting a soft color palette epitomized by floral wall motifs. Hiding modestly behind an abundantly blossoming frangipani tree, the spa’s extravagant range of treatments runs the gamut from a deep-tissue sports massage (ideal for tired temple-trekkers), reflexology, and aromatherapy to nail care, facials, waxes, and scrubs using ingredients such as Kampot pepper and seaweed. Frangipani paved the way for a pampering trend that unspooled in Siem Reap throughout the 2010s, offering training and a livelihood to its local workforce, and predating a profusion of star spas that have made the city Cambodia’s unofficial capital of self-care.
Many cafés have graced Kandal Village over the years, but none wields the cultural cachet of The Little Red Fox Espresso, a bastion of hip halfway down Hup Guan that supports Cambodian art in its many guises. It has hosted art exhibitions, film screenings, music talks, and even vintage fashion sales while maintaining impeccable eco-credentials and fostering community spirit among Cambodians and expats alike. There’s much to admire in its ethos, which is encapsulated in an unmissable portrait of iconic singers Sinn Sisamouth and Ros Serey Sothea, as well as a health-conscious, locally sourced menu that features items like a poppy-seed salmon bagel and mixed grain salad topped with beet humus. Amid all these well-intentioned endeavors, don’t forget the coffee, which even in caffeine-crazed Siem Reap is among the finest.
HER BRIGHT MATERIALS
A riot of color awaits shoppers at Louise Loubatieres’ eponymous store, which doubled in size in 2019 after a half-year makeover to accommodate her burgeoning collection of ceramics, art objects, jewelry, and fashion. The refurb highlights the beauty of the products, many of which are inspired by makers in Vietnam (impossibly elegant lacquered eggshell bowls) or Cambodia (woven scarves, soft toys), while Loubatieres’ own designs take a prominent role. The genial Londoner, of French-Vietnamese descent, has run her lifestyle boutique since 2013 alongside Atlanta-raised partner Sam Chan, and with its marriage of traditional technique and contemporary style, her name has become synonymous with the luxurious chic now engrained into Kandal’s DNA.
HIDE AND SEEK
A former accountant from Seoul, Sangho Jin decided “there was something missing” and with his wife Eunsil Chang, the hobbyist leather artisan headed to Siem Reap in 2017 to impart his skills to Cambodian trainees. His atelier, DSK the Workshop, relocated to Kandal last June and is decorated with artwork by Sangho’s mother and showcases the expansive range of their hand-stitched leather craft, including wallets, pencil cases, hairpins, belts, and bags. (The name is an acronym: Dol is Sangho’s nickname, Sil is Eunsil’s abbreviated name, while K denotes their son, Kun.) A true family business, DSK is quintessential Kandal—a labor of love guided by community spirit, with a distinctive personality and intriguing backstory to boot.
This article originally appeared in the August/November 2020 print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Lighting the Way”).