Reviewed April 24, 2016


Sombai, Owner at Sombai, responded to this review, June 25, 2016

你好 蒂芙lulu


First TripAdvisor Review in Chinese about Sombai


”Flavors of Cambodia in a Glass:” A Tasting of Sombai Rice Wines

Sombai is one of the creative and successful business ventures to have come out of Siem Reap this decade. The brain-child of expat couple, Lionel and Joelle Jean Louis, it is a home-grown business centered on the creation of rice wines infused with fruits and herbs abundant in Siem Reap. Sombai, pronounced ‘som bai’ literally translates to ‘rice please’ in Khmer language. Their catalog features eight (8) flavors which match different palates and cultural inclinations, perfect for a tourist destination such as Angkor. Sombai runs its own workshop and laboratory which any interested person might come to visit. This is a short tuk-tuk ride from Navutu Dreams. It is also a ‘tasting station’ both for the avid and the curious. Each infused wine is stored for sale in colorful, artistically decorated bottles. The bottles are hand-painted by Khmer artisans with humble backgrounds.Navutu Dreams is pleased to partner up with Sombai for some delicious cocktails which may be had from the bar of its Niam Niam Restaurant. Sombai products are also available at very affordable retail prices for guests wanting unique souvenirs of their Angkor visit. 

Guests staying at Navutu Dreams will be treated to a special event, “Flavors of Cambodia in a Glass:” A Tasting of Sombai Rice Wines on August 28, 2015, from 6-7 pm.

A decade ago Siem Reap was the place where you stayed, ate and grabbed a beer or two between explorations of Cambodia’s 12th-century temple complex Angkor Wat. Now the city that Angkor made is something of a destination itself, luring visitors with a lively and varied dining scene, stylish hotels, genial residents and a laid-back river town ambience. Add a growing community of Cambodian and international artists, performers and designers reviving traditional arts and experimenting with new means of creative expression (the Angkor Wat International Film Festival celebrated its fourth year in February; the Angkor Photo Festival runs in December) and you’ve got an ideal short-break city, whether or not the temples are on your agenda. (Plan on using dollars in Siem Reap, where most prices are quoted in American currency. Small bills come in handy for incidentals like tuk-tuk rides and bottled water.)


1. Temple Golf | 3 p.m.

For an initial, lighthearted overview of Angkor’s highlights, head just outside town to a crazy golf tribute to Cambodia’s national treasure. Opened two years ago by a former temple guide, Sopheap (Tee) Nheop, Angkor Wat Putt ($7 per adult includes hotel pickup and drop-off) is a 14-hole miniature golf course anchored by nine strikingly accurate scale models of Angkor’s major temples. Shaded by banana trees and serenaded with American rock classics, putt your way under Preah Vihear and the Bayon temple’s iconic stone faces to finish at Angkor Wat itself. Ring the bell at the start of each hole for fairway drinks delivery. A hole in one (no easy task; the course has a 51 par) earns a free beer.

2. Sraa Sipping | 6 p.m.

Variously described as elixir and rocket fuel, Cambodia’s potent rice wine (sraa in Khmer) is an acquired taste. Not so Sombai, a line of infused rice wines inspired by the flavored rums of Mauritius and produced in Siem Reap by two Mauritius-French expatriates. At the Sombai shop (reservations required), you can tour the petite infusion room, filled with glass jars of sraa afloat with ingredients like star anise, coffee beans from Ratanakiri province, ginger and coconut and pineapple (the wine infuses up to eight weeks before being transferred to hand-painted bottles). Then settle in for a tasting ($5 a person) of flavors like green tea-orange (honeyed, smoky) and lemongrass-lemon (reminiscent of a good limoncello). To sample tipples made with the wines (the Sombai Sour, with ginger-red chili sraa and lime juice, packs a tart, zesty punch), accompanied by local chips and other drinking foods, request a cocktail tasting when you reserve ($10 a person).

Cuisine Wat Damnak, which offers two tasting menus. CreditDavid Hagerman for The New York Times.

3. Refined Dining | 8 p.m.

Don’t let the polished plating at the well-regarded Cuisine Wat Damnak fool you: The dishes from the longtime resident French chef Joannès Rivière’s kitchen are firmly rooted in Cambodian flavors. Making use of seasonal ingredients that he gets from vendors at Siem Reap’s Old Market, Mr. Rivière devises two tasting menus ($24 and $28 for five or six courses) each week. On a recent visit, Cambodia’s iconic sour fish soup appeared in the form of a tart curry with freshwater fish and banana trunk, and wild mushrooms gathered from forests around the temples complemented frog meat in an Angkor Stout reduction.


4. Street Eats | 8 a.m.

Street food in Cambodia is every bit as varied and delicious as that of Thailand or Vietnam. Yet whether for lack of familiarity, fear of prahok (Cambodia’s pungent super-fermented fish condiment) or hygiene worries, few visitors to the kingdom indulge. A morning spent navigating the city’s food markets and street food stalls with the Scottish chef Steven Halcrow or the American writer Lina Goldberg, the two behind Siem Reap Food Tours ($75 per person), will vanquish any doubts. Expect treats like grilled fish paste pancakes wrapped around spicy cucumber pickles, steamed rice flour dumplings oozing coconut cream, jujube fruit (red Chinese dates) stewed in smoky palm sugar and pumpkin-soy milk shakes. Pace yourself, or you’ll end up too stuffed to partake of the tour’s pièce de résistance: num banh chok, cool, slippery rice vermicelli doused with coconut-fish or chile-chicken gravy and tossed with farmed and foraged greens and herbs, all the more delicious eaten after a visit to the village where many families still make the noodles by hand.

Num banh chok, sampled at a food stall on a tour given by Siem Reap Food Tours.CreditDavid Hagerman for The New York Times.

5. Shopping Spree | 2 p.m.

Siem Reap’s creative vibe is evident in the city’s growing number of quirky boutiques. Work off a morning of grazing with an afternoon of browsing, starting at Pop-Up Shop, where the Australian owner’s love of Scandinavian design comes through in not-your-usual Angkorian souvenirs (watermelon-half pillows and block-print notecards). Then walk three blocks to Kandal Village, a community of shop, cafe, restaurant and spa owners who have transformed two rows of once-bland storefronts into one of Siem Reap’s coolest mini ’hoods. Silk scarves with modern ikat designs, boldly hued diamond-quilted cotton blankets and delicate silver spoons and miniatures, plus one-off pieces like geometric 19th-century weaving patterns from France, are on display at Louise Loubatieres. A few doors down is funkier Trunkh., packed with treasures produced (or found, on a co-owner’s provincial buying forays) in Cambodia: boldly patterned cotton shirts and pants, primitive animal figurines made of unfired river mud, dragonfly silk-screened sarongs, aging hand-painted shop signs, and carousel animals. The Cambodian designer Sirivan Chak Dumas’s boutique of the same name displays smart, well-priced women’s wear in bright and neutral-toned linen, silk and featherweight cotton, but if tailor-made is more your style, head to Neary Khmer, where you can select from richly hued raw silks (starting at $7 a meter) and have something made to order.

6. To Market, to Market | 4 p.m.

Recharge with an iced Cuban (espresso shot, sugar syrup, milk, $2.50) at Little Red Fox Espresso, then make your way two blocks north to Oum Khun Street for the thrice-weekly Well Made in Cambodia Market, a showcase for Cambodian design and craftsmanship now in its third year. Peruse over 40 stalls selling such wares as silk scarves by the designer Eric Raisina; wallets and document cases made from recycled packing material from Friends-International; and the beautiful vegetal lacquerware made with natural pigments at the workshop of Eric Stocker Laque & Textures.

7. Frozen Treats | 5:30 p.m.

Go for the air-conditioning, stay for the house-made ice cream, Siem Reap’s best, at the Glasshouse Deli.Patisserie, a bright cafe on the ground floor of the Park Hyatt. The rich, dark chocolate ice cream is divine, but don’t let it distract you from locally inspired flavors like cinnamon swirl, lemongrass and pandan ($2 a scoop).

At the Phare Cambodian Circus. CreditDavid Hagerman for The New York Times.

8. Under the Big Top | 7 p.m.

Don’t expect dancing animals at Phare, the Cambodian Circus (from $18 a person), where every evening strands of theater, dance, music, storytelling and circus arts come together in a sophisticated hourlong show staged by students and graduates of Phare Performing Social Enterprise’s Battambang school, which provides free arts education to economically and socially challenged Cambodian youth. Reserve your ticket (best seats, closest to the stage, come with a bottle of ice water, $35) and arrive early to browse Phare’s small crafts shop or grab a juice at the cafe. (Note: latecomers are not admitted after the show starts at 8 p.m.) Shows change monthly.

9. Feasting for a Cause | 9:30 p.m.

Hire a tuk-tuk ($2) for the short ride to Marum, a hospitality training restaurant for disadvantaged Cambodian youth run by Friends-International, with similar restaurants in Phnom Penh and Laos. Occupying a lovely teak mansion whose tables spill into a large garden shaded by trees strung with fairy-lights, Marum’s menu tends to tapas-style fare both authentically (crisp and creamy silkworms with spicy green mango salad, $4.50) and creatively Cambodian (rice paper rolls with grilled peppers, goat cheese and tamarind chile dip, $4). The main-course-size stir-fried beef in a silky sauce soured with red tree ants, over crunchy water spinach leaves ($6), will surprise you, in a good way. Save room for the dense, spicy chocolate and Kampot pepper cake with passion fruit syrup ($5.50).


10. Tranquil Temples | 6 a.m.

The best way to avoid the crowds at Angkor Wat is to rise before the sun and venture beyond the main temples. Situated atop a hill of the same name some 90 minutes by tuk-tuk ($25) or one hour by taxi ($40) from Siem Reap, Phnom Bok temple is reached by a climb up 635 wide steps ($20 day passes are sold from 5 a.m. at the entrance to Angkor Archaeological Park, through which you’ll pass en route). Your reward for the effort is silence, plus sweeping views over Tonle Sap Lake, the Kulen Plateau and swaths of undeveloped rice fields. Built between the ninth and 10th centuries, the temple itself is unrestored but picturesque, especially when the frangipani trees sprouting from its three towers are in bloom. Bring a picnic (most hotels will pack a simple breakfast box) and enjoy the solitude for an hour or so before descending to join late-risers at the more popular temples closer to Siem Reap town. A loop might include stops at diminutive Banteay Samre and Banteay Srei, whose elaborately carved red sandstone temples draw visitors by the busload.

If You Go


With over two million visitors a year Siem Reap boasts a range of hotels to match any budget. One of the city’s most luxurious, and private, boutique lodgings is Maison Polanka (Upper East River Road;, with just five rooms (from $170 ) spread over two traditional teak houses in a walled garden 5 minutes by car or tuk-tuk from Siem Reap’s Central Market area.

Less pricey boutique amenities can be had in a tranquil setting about halfway between Siem Reap town and Angkor Wat, at Soujourn Boutique Villas (Treak Village Road; Just ten rooms (from $60 ) share a swimming pool set in tropical gardens, and there’s an on-site spa. The hotel was opened under the auspices of a non-governmental organization that funnels hotel proceeds into projects within its surrounding community.

Retox (so to speak) by trying Sombai Liqueur, a local spirit of rice wine infused with different flavors. There are 8 kinds, which range from the familiar coconut-pineapple blend to a complex galangal-tamarind flavor. It may look innocent, but it’s potent. While you can find it at bars around town (and at Sala Lodges), it’s worth a stop at Sombai Tasting Room, where you can taste the flavors for free…and maybe take a bottle home with you.

Reviewed January 28, 2015 via mobile

Lugar legal.

Adoramos conhecer e fazer umas compras neste local. Compramos várias lembranças para amigos e para nossos familiares.

LionelMP, Manager at Sombai, responded to this review, April 3, 2015

Caro Marcio,

Obrigadao por os seus comentários sobre em nossa pequinha actividade.
Espero que seus amigos e familiares têm apreciado a bebida também.

Muito atenciosamente,

Joelle & Lionel


recomendação para visitar Sombai quando ficar em Siem Reap

A blog written by Lara Duston in Grantourismo.

A Taste of Siem Reap — Sipping Sombai Infused Rice Spirit

Liquor makes an intoxicating, nostalgia-inducing souvenir. Bring a bottle home, mix that favourite cocktail from your holiday, and you’re drinking in your trip all over again, recounting memories with each glass you share with friends.

An expat couple in Siem Reap hope travellers will remember their time in Cambodia after sipping their Sombai infused rice spirit. which has arguably has become the must-buy Siem Reap souvenir. If we didn’t live here, we’d take some ‘home’.

Many years ago when we went to Cuba, it became something of a ritual to sip a mojito or two at the end of each day’s exploration. A terrace bar in a fort with fantastic sea views became a favourite spot. I remember the mojitos were different then to how they’re now served at bars around the world.

The Cubans didn’t use as much ice (I recall always wanting the drinks to be colder) and they were crammed with leafy stalks of fresh mint, not the handful of leaves you see used these days. They were also sweeter and there were always grains of sugar at the bottom of the glass. And they cost all of $1.

When we returned to Sydney, few people knew what a mojito was at the time (it hadn’t yet spread all over the world, as it has done in the intervening years), so we made it a weekly tradition of having friends over to enjoy the late afternoon light on the harbour from our balcony while sipping mojitos, accompanied by bowls of fresh guacamole. (There wasn’t any food when we first visited Cuba, just plain cheese pizzas and bocadillas con queso y jamonada (bread rolls or sandwiches with cheese and fake ham), and we’d also been to Mexico that same trip.)

Those mojitos were a great excuse to reminisce about our travels. And I guess, as a late 20-something, I secretly hoped it was also read as a sign of our increasing cosmopolitanism. We’d been to Cuba, a country only communists, trade unionists and sex tourists were visiting back then. And we’d drank mojitos in Havana!

We established similar traditions over the years, wherever we lived, with bottles of liquor that we would cart home from travels to other countries. For a while it was margaritas, after we brought mezcal and tequila back from Mexico. I finished the bottle of pisco I bought from a distillery in Chile before I left the country. But I did manage to save the cachaça from Brazil, so when I returned from South America we began a sunset ritual of sipping caipirinhas, years before the global craze.

If you’re starting to think we are cocktail trendsetters, forget it. We’re only just starting to see pisco getting used around the globe and limoncello  is rarely offered outside Italian restaurants – for some reason it doesn’t travel well. Why is that? We hardly touched the bottles we brought home from the Amalfi. Maybe it was just harder to imagine being back in Italy from our apartment in Dubai. We had no trouble with arak or raki.

I can’t imagine Cambodia’s national drink of rice wine, which is really rice ‘spirit’, would travel well either. Get it back home and it will probably taste like nail polish remover and remind you of little else other than the heady ‘scents’ that wafted from the tiny hair salons and beauty shops you squeezed by in Siem Reap’s Old Market, rather than the time you first tried it, wherever that might have been.

Our first taste was at a Laotian village on the Mekong, and our second time, which was much more memorable, was on a trip to Bac Ha markets in northern Vietnam, where we drank several bottles of the potent brew with a group of locals. We bought a bottle to take home, but it sat in our hotel mini-bar in Sapa for days and I think we left it there when we left town.

Taste it at the home distillery of an old Cambodian bloke from Battambang who has been making it for years, dredging the water from the creek behind his bamboo home, and filtering, distilling and infusing the potent brew with local herbs and spices, before packaging it in plastic 1-litre waters bottle and recycled supermarket bags, and it’s a different story. Although that bottle sat in the fridge for a while too.

Rice is the main staple of Cambodia. A rich agricultural region here isn’t known as the country’s ‘fruit bowl’ or ‘bread basket’, it’s known, as Battambang is, for instance, as Cambodia’s ‘rice bowl’. It therefore makes sense that throughout their long history, the Khmer people have used rice as the base of the distillation of alcohol to produce rice spirit. They infused it with spices, herbs, roots, and fruit, to use it for traditional medicine as well as to drink socially.

Visit any village on a Sunday afternoon and you’ll find rosy-cheeked locals – men and women – with a glint in their eyes, playing cards, sharing laughs, lazing around on bamboo or wooden platforms or swinging in a hammock, as they share a bottle (or three) of a very crude rice wine that one of their neighbours has probably distilled. Don’t be surprised if they invite you to join them. Do, but, trust us, there’s no need to take a bottle home.

You will probably want to take home a bottle of Sombai, though…

Sombai (pronounced ‘Som Bai) means “some rice, please” in Khmer, and it’s a brand of infused rice spirit that was developed by Joëlle Jean Louis and Lionel Maitrepierre, an expat couple who live in Siem Reap.

Although its base is Cambodian rice spirit, which the couple sources from a local producer, it’s not as potent or as heady as the pure stuff, as they have infused it after distillation, with Khmer spices, herbs, roots, and fruit, such as lemongrass, lime, tamarind, ginger, galangal, and chilli. It’s Cambodian in taste, yet it should travel well. It’s also something you can serve to friends without fearing that they might drop dead.

Joëlle and Lionel were inspired by traditional Cambodian rice wine, but they knew it was too heady and medicinal for most people and not always safe for foreigners with weak stomachs or sensitive dispositions. Drawing further inspiration from the fruit infused rums of Joëlle’s native Mauritius, they began experimenting with infusions of premium quality rice spirits back in May 2012.

The couple only use local ingredients in the rice spirits. The Anise-Coffee rice spirit, for instance, is made from Cambodian coffee beans from Ratanakiri province.

Back in April 2013, Joëlle and Lionel opened a tasting lounge in their home overlooking lush rice fields two kilometres out of Siem Reap and began spruiking the aromatic liquors to selective restaurants, bars, and boutique hotels in Siem Reap, as well as selling it at their stall at the artisanal Made in Cambodia Market at Shinta Mani resort.

Soon after, the pretty Sombai bottles – hand-painted by local artists and sporting the traditional Cambodian checked krama (scarf) wrapped around their necks – became Siem Reap’s must-buy souvenir, while a sunset tasting at the hospitable couple’s home became the thing to do after a day spent scrambling Angkor Wat and before heading out to dinner.

A few months ago, the couple opened new tasting rooms and an infusion workshop in another beautiful traditional Khmer timber house a little over halfway between their home and Wat Damnak village in Siem Reap.

There they take visitors through tastings of the whole range of Sombai’s rice spirits, which currently come in eight blended flavours, each of which has two flavours – the Ginger-Red Chili is my favourite.

Joëlle and Lionel take the time to describe the flavour profiles (they have detailed tasting notes, along with cocktail recipes, on their website) and explain which flavour is best served as a shot, aperitif, mixed in cocktails, offered as a digestif, used in cooking, or poured over a dessert (the Banana-Cinnamon).

You’ll see small selections of the charming bottles sold in gift stores, souvenir shops, mini-marts, and supermarkets all over town. They also have a stall at the Made in Cambodia market. But it’s much more fun to take a tuk tuk out to the Sombai tasting rooms, meet Lionel and Joëlle, do the tasting, and buy some bottles there from their more comprehensive range. I’ll be including a bottle of Sombai in the Siem Reap edition of Take-Homes when I finally get around to doing one.

A tasting is a fun thing to do late in the afternoon before you head out for cocktails and dinner, but it’s also a great way to escape from the monsoon rains. Especially if you follow it with a cocktail class at Asana in the old town…

Sombai Tasting Rooms 176 Sombai Road (look for a red concrete wall), five minutes by tuk tuk from Old Market area, Siem Reap. It’s best to phone ahead and book a tasting. Also get your tuk tuk driver to call for directions in Khmer if he doesn’t know the place: +855 (0) 95 810 890 (English/French) +855 (0) 77 579 130 (Khmer). Tastings 10am-6pm. and Sombai Facebook page. Prices: $5 (10cl), $7 (16cl, boxed), $10(16cl, hand-painted), $13 (70cl),  $20 (70cl, hand painted).

Fantastisches Getränk — aromatisierter Reiswein

Reviewed March 18, 2014 via mobile

Wir wurden von dem Besitzerehepaar Lionel und Jöelle herzlich zu einer Degustation in ihrem Haus eingeladen.
Überrascht waren wir von der Vielfalt der Geschmacksrichtungen ,die wir alle probieren konnten.
Ein besonderes Higlight sind die Flaschen ,die alle von einheimischen Künstlern mit Kambodschanischen Motiven bemalt werden.
Der aromatisierte Reiswein schmeckt nicht nur ausgezeichnet, er ist auch ein schönes Mitbringsel für daheim gebliebene.
Nochmals einen herzlichen Dank für die nette Gastfreunschaft.
Liebe Grüsse nach Siem Reap
Peter und Heike

Visited March 2014


Thank Heike M

Sombai, Manager at Sombai, responded to this review, March 27, 2014

Ich danke Ihnen für Ihre schöne Post über Sombai und ich danke Ihnen auch mir die Gelegenheit gegeben haben, ein bisschen Deutsch zu sprechen 🙂

in Deutsch Empfehlung , wenn sie in Siem Reap reisen

Capture the Flavours of Cambodia with a Unique Rice Wine Pairing 

SIEM REAP, CAMBODIA (8 January 2014) – Park Hyatt Siem Reap will host its second Masters of Food and Wine event on 18 January 2014. Continuing with the sophisticated interactive “dine and wine” experience, Park Hyatt Siem Reap will invite press and visiting gourmands to join in a day excursion to witness the process of traditional rice wine making, followed by a visit to a local infusion laboratory where experts explain the art of infusing the traditional wine with new and exotic flavours.

Cambodian rice wine or “sra sohl” is the traditional wine of Cambodia, known to have a strong taste and used for medicinal purposes within rural areas. More recently, people have found that infused rice wine paired with delicious tapas or other savory treats can be made into a true fine dining experience. In Siem Reap, notable rice wine experts have created a delicious infused rice wine called Sombai “some rice, please” in Cambodian. Joelle Jean Louis from the island of Mauritius and her French business and life partner Lionel Maitrepierre were able to adapt their previous knowledge of flavouring rums to infusing local rice wine. The sweet taste of their rice wine comes from using fresh and seasonal fruits and spices from the local markets, such as coconut, banana, ginger, mango and sugar cane which is placed in each bottle to give it a piney aroma and taste over time.

For the Masters of Food and Wine event, attendees at Park Hyatt Siem Reap will return from the village and rice wine “lab” to the chic Living Room, where they will enjoy a Chef’s special eight course degustation, matching eight different flavours: Banana Cinnamon, Coconut Pineapple, Ginger Red Chilli, Anise-Coffee, Green Tea Orange, Galangal Tamarind, Lemon Lemongrass and Mango Green Chili. All ingredients are commonly found in Cambodian cuisine.

“We look forward to our second Masters of Food and Wine, as our first was a great success. Press and visitors were thrilled to see how modern cuisine evolves from the traditional farms and markets. We hope our rice wine pairing is also another way for people to engage with the culture and enjoy a truly Park Hyatt culinary experience,” said GM, Sholto Smith.

Park Hyatt Siem Reap will host four Masters of Food and Wine Events throughout 2014.