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1930s Vibes at Miss Wong Cocktail Bar.

Miss Wong Cocktail Bar in Siem Reap

Miss Wong Cocktail Bar, Siem Reap.

June 2020.

Sladja and I spoke 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.

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

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

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

Evening drinks at Miss Wong Cocktail Bar in Siem Reap

Miss Wong Cocktail Bar, Siem Reap.

Sladja and I had already had the pleasure of visiting Miss Wong. Back in January 2020, prior to the outbreak of the pandemic, we dropped by for 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 Punch and Passion Fruit Cosmopolitan

Miss Wong 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 and pineapple with 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 Cambodia

Even pinning him down for a Q&A proved challenging. For a while, he was completely 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”.

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

Our Changing World Radio New Zealand.

New Zealand stories about science, nature and the environment.

While studying for a Bachelor of Science Degree in Biology, Dean got a job at Auckland’s trendy Verona Cafe, where he eventually became the 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 several environmental activism groups”. Somehow, in addition to all this, he also found the time to complete a Postgraduate in Journalism.

Cocktails at Miss Wong in Siem Reap

Miss Wong in full swing, January 2020.

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”.

Chinese lanterns at Miss Wong Cocktail Bar Siem Reap

Miss Wong Cocktail Bar, Siem Reap.

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.

A cosy evening at Miss Wong Cocktail Bar

A cosy evening in 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”.

Painting of Chinese Girl by 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.

Choices choices at Miss Wong Cocktail Bar in Siem Reap

Mulling over the cocktail options.

It had 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 experienced the global economic crisis, the red and yellow shirt protests, the Preah Vhear Temple escalation and extreme flooding. Now, it was 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.

Chilling out at Miss Wong Cocktail Bar

Miss Wong Cocktail Bar, Siem Reap.

In July 2020, just days before Sladja and I left Siem Reap for the city of Kampot, we managed to briefly poke our heads into the new Miss Wong on Street 26. It stands between Wat Bo and the river, in a building formerly home to Flow Restaurant. At long last we got exchange a few words from Dean, who was clearly a bit frazzled with the many challenges of relaunching his business.

Miss Wong Cocktail Bar, Siem Reap.

Miss Wong Cocktail Bar Siem Reap.

The new Miss Wong location in Siem Reap.

Update November 2022: Nearly two and a half years later, it’s fantastic to read that Miss Wong remains part of the Siem Reap food and drink scene. If one is in town, please do drop by and say hi to Dean and his team. Grab a cocktail and maybe order some of their famous Dim Sum. Alternatively, there’s hotpot and barbecue duck pancakes, among other delights.

Dim Sum Miss Wong Siem Reap.

Dim Sum, Miss Wong style.

Dean isn’t shy in admitting that he lifted some of his recipes straight from the books of BBC chef Ken Hom. Amazingly, Hom even ended up visiting Miss Wong, a real coup for Dean. During his visit, he graciously signed a few cookbooks before tweaking a dish or two. Pretty cool. To get in touch with this legendary Siem Reap institution, head for and their Facebook page.

Leighton Travels travel reports short stories.

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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  • wetanddustyroads

    Verona Cafe in Auckland … I just knew that name sounds familiar. And after I went back to our ‘archives’, I realised why. Back in 2019 we had drinks at that very same cafe with friends! So, although we never ate at Miss Wong in Siem Reap, we did had drinks at the same bar in NZ where Dean used to work 😉. And it’s great to read that Miss Wong is still operating (although in a different location) … those barbecue duck pancakes sounds way too delicious!

    November 16, 2022 - 5:01 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Wow Corna, what a fun coincidence! I’m sure Cafe Verona was thoroughly decent. Thanks for checking out the story of Miss Wong’s. Looking back, we wish we’d had the opportunity to visit a few more times. But alas, the pandemic would not allow it.

      November 16, 2022 - 5:58 pm Reply
  • Putot Tamon

    what a wonderful bar and article. looks like classy place I like the colours and the strange art. most important drinks look yummy🍹 I think Dean must overcome many problems

    November 16, 2022 - 5:45 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Cheers! The drinks were great and yes, the atmosphere definitely lets you just relax and forget about the worries of the world. Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment!

      November 16, 2022 - 5:59 pm Reply
  • Memo

    Love the interior. Very film worthy. This is a place I could hang out in. The kind of place to meet up with an international spy. His internet site is cool too. I started to get the feeling that Miss Wong was a real person. The print used to hang in his grandmother’s house? There’s a story behind that.

    November 16, 2022 - 6:03 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey Memo, yeah the site is really good. Dean does everything ‘properly’ and you really get the feeling that nothing less than a global pandemic and inflexible landlord could have derailed him. Ah, I should have dug deeper on his grandmother’s painting, I bet there is something behind that!

      November 16, 2022 - 8:15 pm Reply
  • kagould17

    So good to hear a “Nice guy, finishes first story.” I am always amazed by the entrepreneurial spirit of the Kiwis. They will take on anything and pour their heart and soul into it. Glad the locals also believed in Dean’s dream. Thanks for sharing Leighton. Allan

    November 16, 2022 - 6:12 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      ‘Nice Guys Finish First’, it’s only the song Green Day should have written! An interesting observation about Kiwis Allan, I haven’t actually met that many over the years. Thanks for diving into the story of Miss Wong Cocktail Bar.

      November 16, 2022 - 8:17 pm Reply
  • Lyssy In The City

    Dean sounds like an epic person! Some people lead such cool lives. Glad to hear he overcame the obstacles and is still in business. Those drinks look delicious!

    November 16, 2022 - 6:40 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Dean certainly feels like a risk-taker. Someone who’s lived a brave life and somehow remains philosophical about how things turn out. Everything was perfect in this place Lyssy, from the drinks and decor, to the music, art, ambience and staff. Thanks for reading about Miss Wong Cocktail Bar in Siem Reap!

      November 16, 2022 - 8:19 pm Reply
  • grandmisadventures

    When I visit this area, I may be spending all of my time eating at all these great places that you’ve featured. I love the vibe of this place- that speakeasy mixed with film noir feel that would almost beg for a slinky dress and a fedora. And I love his view on the artwork and how it corresponds to his ethos of being unassuming and unpretentious 🙂 another gem of the city that I am adding to my ever growing list

    November 16, 2022 - 7:13 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Meg, I knew you’d “get it”. I think perhaps the biggest achievement here is that Miss Wong is all the things you describe without being pretentious, or “wanky” as we would say in The UK ha ha. Thanks for keeping up, as always. Especially as I know what a full plate you have on at the moment. I have just dispatched my daily prayer to the passport gods 😉

      November 16, 2022 - 8:26 pm Reply
      • grandmisadventures

        much appreciated Leighton! also, wanky is my new favorite word 🙂

        November 17, 2022 - 12:59 am
  • Rehoboth

    Excellent post

    November 16, 2022 - 7:30 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Cheers, Reheboth!

      November 16, 2022 - 8:26 pm Reply
  • Mike and Kellye Hefner

    Ah, a place where you can chat without having to yell over loud music. (I checked out their website and I like that they have a garden area too.) I absolutely love the sultry vibe of the place, and I am so glad that Miss Wong has weathered the Covid storm and continues to thrive. Sooomeday…

    November 16, 2022 - 7:34 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey Kellye, yeah the new premises is actually far superior to the old joint, as much as everyone loved it. The garden being a key part of that I think. Thanks for reading about Miss Wong, we are gradually moving towards the business end of this series.

      November 16, 2022 - 8:28 pm Reply
      • Mike and Kellye Hefner

        I am enjoying the series and I look forward to whatever else you have in your back pocket!

        November 16, 2022 - 8:31 pm
      • Leighton

        Aw thanks Kellye. It is a ridiculously oversized back pocket. As much as I love writing this pieces, I sometimes wish my back pocket had a bit of breathing space in it.

        November 16, 2022 - 8:34 pm
      • Mike and Kellye Hefner

        Sometimes I do too, because writing a blog is a lot of work! I also have a novel to finish writing to complete a series of three and figure out how to get them published. Oh, and then there are the holidays which is a busy time for us, but I love it all and wouldn’t trade any of it for the world.

        November 16, 2022 - 8:58 pm
      • Leighton

        Would definitely love to read your novels Kellye. That’s a dream of mine too soooooomeday.

        November 16, 2022 - 8:59 pm
      • Mike and Kellye Hefner

        That sooooomeday sometimes seems to be so far away. Here’s my unsolicited advice: Just sit down and do it! (E.L. James wrote Fifty Shade of Grey on her blackberry.)

        November 16, 2022 - 9:02 pm

    Another good recommendation though possibly slightly less quirky than some of the others in this series!

    November 16, 2022 - 8:04 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey ho, I’m glad this is another one you’d scribble on the list. Less quirky? I think perhaps the only place Miss Wong could be described as less quirky than is Wild Bar? The others, as fascinating as their stories are, weren’t all that quirky I believe. Or maybe that’s just me. Hope you guys are all geared up for your next adventure!

      November 16, 2022 - 8:30 pm Reply

        It’s probably the Wild Bar I was thinking about! Yes we’re ready…..especially when it’s already dark by 4.30pm…..ugh

        November 16, 2022 - 8:32 pm
  • Little Miss Traveller

    So pleased to read that Miss Wong’s cocktail bar has stood the test of time and is still flourishing. It’s somewhere I’d enjoy popping into if I was there.

    November 17, 2022 - 1:20 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for your comment Marion.

      November 17, 2022 - 9:45 am Reply
  • Anna

    I love the interior and decor of this place! Looks so cool!

    November 17, 2022 - 2:59 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Cheers, Anna!

      November 17, 2022 - 10:13 am Reply
  • bronlima

    “Unassuming and unpretentious is good value!” Good advice!

    November 17, 2022 - 3:51 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Certainly is, thanks for stopping by Miss Wong Cocktail Bar, Geoff.

      November 17, 2022 - 9:46 am Reply
  • Rebecca

    Great to see another bar thriving in Siem Reap after lockdown…while the owner’s choice to make the bar Chinese-themed in Cambodia (and given he isn’t Chinese himself), I had qualms about it at first. It might be interpreted as exoticization and fetishization of the Chinese woman, but I can see the appeal of its swanky vibe. Glad to hear you had a good time there; perhaps you can return!

    November 17, 2022 - 3:56 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey Rebecca, we’d love to go back one day. I think with a style like this, Dean certainly opened himself up to some detractors. However, I feel the exoticised-fetish angle would be off the mark given how Tretchikoff’s art was largely interpreted as the opposite of just that. I think critics called it ‘symbolic realism’, in that he depicted things not only just “as they were”, but even with a touch of drabness in terms of colour and tone. Then again, others labelled him “The King of Kitsch” ha ha, so who knows. Thanks for stopping by and hope you continue to enjoy what looks to be an epic trip!

      November 17, 2022 - 9:58 am Reply
  • Stan

    so i knew of the painting and vaguely of the artist but not the background. what a fascinating premise from which to launch a cocktail bar. love it! glad dean has pulled through and that you have added another winning instalment to this excellent series.

    November 17, 2022 - 10:07 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Yo Stan! Yes, even just a glance at Tretchikoff’s life story makes for some intriguing reading. I find his paintings strangely hypnotic, sometimes I’m in love with them, on other days I kinda squint and feel something’s off. Ach, I’m no art critic. Thanks for checking out Miss Wong Cocktail Bar!

      November 17, 2022 - 10:10 am Reply
  • Amélie

    ‘In the Mood for Love’ is one of my favourite films. This is such a cool place. I’ll keep my eyes open for any Miss Wong prints when I go to antique markets or shops. Another great place, Leighton.

    November 17, 2022 - 1:28 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thank you! Yes, it’s a great film with such a distinctive feel and visuals. While I’m not a big fan of all Wong Kar-wai’s films, he’s definitely a unique and curious filmmaker with a singular voice.

      November 17, 2022 - 1:33 pm Reply
  • WanderingCanadians

    It’s always amazing to hear about how someone is able to take their passion and turn it into a business. Dean sounds like one heck of an interesting guy. Glad to hear Miss Wong is still around.

    November 17, 2022 - 2:54 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Definitely, being able to convert one’s passion into a living is a special thing. And a rarity I’d say, for most folk. Thanks for reading about Miss Wong Cocktail Bar!

      November 17, 2022 - 3:00 pm Reply
  • Travels Through My Lens

    I love the sultry, speakeasy feel of this bar. I can see how it could become a regular haunt for locals. Dean has certainly had some ups and downs, but it’s good to know he’s thriving.

    November 17, 2022 - 4:27 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Tricia, it’s a cool place and certainly deserves its status as a pandemic survivor.

      November 17, 2022 - 7:14 pm Reply
  • NortheastAllie

    I am so glad that this place survived the Covid times! This seems like the perfect place to relax and enjoy unique beverages.

    November 18, 2022 - 12:19 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Allie! 🙏

      November 18, 2022 - 10:03 am Reply
  • qprgary

    I imagine for some reason that the cocktails will always taste better in places like this. Crazy

    November 19, 2022 - 1:19 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      I reckon that makes sense, Gary. Environment is a big thing and there is just something classy about a place tastefully decked out in 1930s furniture and art. Makes us sip a bit more elegantly and get into the groove of it. I’m now trying to imagine drinking such cocktails in a greasy spoon in Hackney ha ha. Not quite the same.

      November 19, 2022 - 1:56 pm Reply
      • qprgary

        Hackney !!!! Says it all mate

        November 19, 2022 - 4:15 pm

    a very cool place to hang out for atmospheric late night drinks. this series continues to grow leighton, interested to see where you take us next

    November 19, 2022 - 6:01 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Yo Health Coach! Nice to hear from you again and glad to hear you are still enjoying this series. Cheers! 🙂

      November 19, 2022 - 8:41 pm Reply

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