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"Short stories and travel reports from my life adventures around the globe".

Travel Report: Miss Wong Cocktail Bar, Siem Reap.

Miss Wong Seam Reap.

Miss Wong Cocktail Bar, Siem Reap.

June 2020. Sladja and I have spoken with countless business owners during the making of our Siem Reap cafes and restaurants series. About their backstories and what makes SR such a special place. And, of course, about the many hardships brought on by COVID-19. Time and time again, the folk we chatted with also had something to say on the subject of Siem Reap’s most beloved cocktail bar.

“It’s just awful what’s happened to Miss Wong”.

“I really feel for Dean… hope he can bounce back”. 

“You guys HAVE to do an article on Miss Wong!”

Miss Wong Cocktails Siem Reap.

Miss Wong Cocktail Bar, Siem Reap.

Sladja and I had already had the pleasure of visiting Miss Wong. Back in January we dropped by for a couple of cocktails after dinner at nearby Dakshin’s Indian Restaurant. We loved the place as soon as we laid eyes on it, its ripe-red walls and crimson Chinese lanterns channeling a distinct 1930s Shanghai vibe. In fact, with its sultry lighting, lilting lounge music and dark wood furnishings, I’d say Miss Wong was the dictionary definition of my kinda place.

Miss Wong Cocktail Bar, Siem Reap.

Best cocktail bar Siem Reap.

Furthermore, the cocktails were fantastic. That evening, I plumped for the Miss Wong Punch, featuring white rum, St James Amber, cranberry, pineapple, mango and lime juices. Sladja meanwhile, went for a zesty Passion Fruit Cosmopolitan. “We’ll definitely be back!” we told ourselves, blissfully unaware that we definitely wouldn’t be back.

Dean Williams Miss Wong Cocktails Siem Reap.

Dean Williams, Miss Wong Cocktail Bar.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have the pleasure of meeting Dean Williams, Miss Wong’s New Zealand born creator. Moreover, by the time we’d been told about him, Miss Wong had already shut up shop. With no tourists, an expat crowd largely self isolating at home and an exceptionally unreasonable landlord, Dean had been forced to close.

Miss Wong Cocktail Bar Siem Reap.

Miss Wong Cocktail Bar, Siem Reap.

Even pinning him down for a Q&A proved challenging. For a while, he was off the radar. Then, we learned, he was all systems go working on reopening Miss Wong in a brand new location. As if he hadn’t enough on his plate, a dose of kidney stones followed. Eventually, and much to our delight, Dean finally got round to answering our questions.

Dean Williams Miss Wong Cocktail Bar.

Dean Williams, Miss Wong Cocktail Bar. 

Dean Williams certainly isn’t a man to blow his own trumpet. Take a look online though and you’ll find plenty of people doing that for him. Even before opening one of South East Asia’s most beloved cocktail bars, he was a man of many achievements.

Having grown up on a farm in Aotearoa, New Zealand, Dean admits to taking “the first bus out” as soon as he finished school. Not because he hadn’t had a wonderful childhood, he’s keen to point out, but because of “the pull of Auckland’s bright city lights”.

Our Changing World Radio New Zealand.

Our Changing World: New Zealand stories about science, nature and the environment.

“I played a merry dance between hospitality, science and media for a very long time”.

While studying for a Bachelor of Science Degree in Biology, Dean got a job at Auckland’s trendy Verona Cafe, where he eventually became a manager. Meanwhile, a volunteer slot on university radio led to a position co-producing and presenting the award-winning show Our Changing World on Radio New Zealand National. 

However, in contrast to acclaim and trophies, Dean admits he was also getting into “all sorts of trouble as part of a few environmental activism groups”. Somehow, in addition to all this, he also found the time to complete a Postgraduate in Journalism. 

Miss Wong Cocktail Bar Siem Reap.

Miss Wong in full swing back in January.

Miss Wong Cocktail Bar, Siem Reap.

Dean first came to Siem Reap to do some radio features for Our Changing World. His Cambodian adventure left such an impression on him, he decided to take a sabbatical so that he could come back and spend a year “maybe doing some environmental NGO work”.

What transpired however was an extended period adjusting to expat life. He learned how to ride a moto, had a brief spell writing for The Phnom Penh Post and got a part time job at Abacus Restaurant. At some point, then-owner Renaud Fichet had to return to France for emergency medical treatment. Thus it was Dean, who spoke not a word of French, whom Renaud left in charge of Siem Reap’s most popular Franco-expat hangout!

Miss Wong Cocktail Bar Siem Reap.

Miss Wong Cocktail Bar, Siem Reap.

According to Dean, his decision to strike out alone and open Miss Wong came “on some insane whim”. The bar’s design was inspired by his love for Shanghai film noir. Movies where the protagonists hang out in speakeasy jazz clubs with dark, smoky interiors. He cites the acclaimed romantic drama In The Mood for Love as a particular favourite.

Dean Williams Miss Wong Cocktail Bar.

Miss Wong Cocktail Bar, Siem Reap.

As luck would have it, Dean found the perfect building, located in a dark alley near Pub Street. The kind of alley, one reviewer wrote, where you might “find a basement store with a Mogwai for sale”. With a budget of just $8000, Dean secured the place, painted the interior red and raided the stores of Phnom Penh for choice Chinese and Khmer antiques.

“My business plan was based on buying a second-hand car with no insurance. If it broke down and didn’t work, I would leave it on the side of the road and head home”.

Miss Wong Vladimir Tretchikoff.

Miss Wong by Vladimir Tretchikoff.

When it came to naming his new bar, Dean turned to the famous painting Miss Wong by the Russian artist Vladimir Tretchikoff. He remembers it hanging in his grandmother’s house as a child. Later, in the 1990s, he began collecting Miss Wong prints from various thrift shops.

Where to eat and drink Siem Reap.

Dean says one of the reasons he loves the painting is that it “walks the fine line of kitsch”. As with much of Tretchikoff’s work, he also likes the fact that prints were mass produced at affordable prices and therefore accessible to working class people in The UK and The Commonwealth.

“I think his work also reminds me that to be unassuming and unpretentious is a good value”.

Chinese Girl painting Vladimir Tretchikoff.

Chinese Girl by Vladimir Tretchikoff.

There are plenty of other paintings and art pieces scattered around Miss Wong. I recall mooching around back in January, cocktail in hand, seeing what I could find. Among the many delights, I came across another Tretchikoff print, Chinese Girl. It’s also known as The Green Lady, a reference to the subject’s unusual blue-green skin tone.

Miss Wong Siem Reap.

Mulling over the cocktail options.

Miss Wong Cocktail Bar, Siem Reap.

It’s been an eventful, challenging and ultimately rewarding twelve years for Dean, since Miss Wong opened its doors in 2008. In that time, he and his business have lived through the global economic crisis, the red and yellow shirt protests, the Preah Vhear Temple escalation, extreme flooding and, of course, COVID-19.

Thankfully, every step of the way, Siem Reap’s tight knit community has been on hand to help him through. From close friends and fellow expat business owners, to his loyal team of Khmer staff, some of whom have been with him since day one.

Miss Wong Cocktail Bar Siem Reap.

Miss Wong Cocktail Bar, Siem Reap.

At the time of writing, Miss Wong is due to reopen during the first week of July. Its new location is on Street 26, between Wat Bo and the river, in a building formerly home to Flow Restaurant.

Miss Wong Cocktail Bar Siem Reap.

The new Miss Wong location in Siem Reap.

Sladja and I aren’t sure if we’ll still be in Siem Reap for July. If we are, a visit to Miss Wong will be a priority. After all, it would be great to finally meet Dean in person. There are also more cocktails to try, or perhaps one of their infused gins.

I’ve also heard great things about their Dim Sum, hot pots and barbecue duck pancakes. Dean admits to lifting many of his recipes straight from the books of BBC chef Ken Hom. Amazingly, Hom ended up stopping by Miss Wong in person. During his visit, he graciously signed a few of Dean’s cookbooks before tweaking a dish or two.

Dim Sum Miss Wong Siem Reap.

Dim Sum, Miss Wong style.

As with so many people here in SR, we wish the Miss Wong family nothing but the very best with the relaunch. To get in touch, head for misswong.net and their Facebook page.

For more on Siem Reap’s excellent cafe, restaurant and bar scene, check out my detailed guide on Where to Eat and Drink Siem Reap.

You can also read my exhaustive overview of What to See and Do in Siem Reap.

Looking for a roof over your head? Check out my articles on Where to Stay in Siem Reap.

I’ve been living, working and traveling all over the world since 2001. So why not check out my huge library of travel reports from over 30 countries.

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3 Comments

  • Memo

    Definitely my kind of place. Thanks for taking me there.

    June 23, 2020 - 9:08 pm Reply
  • Peter

    Big fan of Miss Wong’s, having been there several times, it’s always one of our first stops in SR. So glad to hear there is hope in a new location. We aren’t returning until January (assuming Cambodia has changed their very restrictive and expensive covid policy) and are pretty nervous about which businesses have survived.

    June 28, 2020 - 8:43 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey Peter, thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. While it’s true that many businesses have closed down, plenty have batted on and some are even thriving. You can get the full overview of the cafes and restaurants still open that I’ve also written about here: https://leightontravels.com/where-to-eat-and-drink-siem-reap-2/

      June 28, 2020 - 8:52 pm Reply

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