I arrived in Siem Reap at about 6pm by taxi from the horrible, scruffy town of Poipet at the border with Thailand. After the culture shock of Poipet’s filthy, muddy streets full of dirty children, poverty and casinos, it was such a welcome breath of fresh air to see this wonderful low rise city. No building is allowed to look down on the nearby ancient religious temple of Angkor Wat, thus no building is allowed to be higher than 5 storeys. This makes for some great architecture and a feeling of openness with plenty of sky always on view. I met an old friend at Rosy Guesthouse by the river and we enjoyed a cold beer whilst catching up. The prices in Siem Reap are extremely cheap. It is easy to eat and drink out for just a few dollars, which is the accepted local currency. This city might have been build with French Francs but in Sieam Reap the dollar is king.
After showering and changing we made our way down to Pub Street and I was extremely surprised to find that it was not the tacky place I had imagined but a rich, vibrant scene of eclectic restaurants, pubs, Rooftop Bar, and cafes. I loved it! We found a seat at The Red Piano restaurant, famous for having Angelina Jolie amongst its clientele, they even have a cocktail named after her. I ordered Fish Amok a local favourite and my companion ordered stir fried rice with pork. Both meals were excellent and went down well with a glass of the local Angkor beer. From here we moved on to Picasso’s, a really nice, small winebar in the passage running parallel to Pub Street. Picasso has been made to look like an old railway arch and as the barman, Liam, served drinks the conversation with the local expats was vibrant and interesting.
The following day I went to visit the Angkor National Museum in the afternoon in order to orient myself, ready for the next day’s trip to Angkor Wat. I would recommend this to any traveller, and it will be covered in detail in a further post. In the evening we went to eat at Viva, an excellent Mexican restaurant opposite the Old Market, again just round the corner from Pub Street. The Fajitas were wonderful and the portions generous. So generous in fact that I had to ask for two extra burritos in order to complete my meal. Served with sour cream and salsa and washed down by endless frozen Margaritas this was a meal to remember. The total bill came to about $10 per person and I cannot remember better value anywhere.
We went over the road to The Laundry and played pool whilst trying to chat to the locals, all of whom appeared stoned. Weed is pretty much accepted in Siem Reap and at The Laundry everyone appears to smoke. Conversation was thus, not quite as exciting as it had been the night before, but the pool was surprisingly to a decent standard, despite the poor quality of the pool table. Cambodia is not like Thailand when it comes to pool. In Bangkok top quality tables are everywhere but here in Siem Reap they all tend to be old worn-out snooker tables.
On the third day we went to Roll Up Restaurant (another reference to the locals’ favourite hobby) and enjoyed superb bananas fried in honey with a sorbet of mango and malibu. Together with a 1 litre pitcher of beer it cost $4.75, truly amazing value for money. Later that night we returned to Picasso for what was becoming a much enjoyed part of my temperary social scene. I enjoyed a glass or two of very decent South African Pinotage and again the conversation was lively.
On my last day, after visiting Angkor Wat, I was tired and did not want a late night in order to make the morning bus back home to Bangkok. So we just had a few drinks at Temple bar on Pub Street before returning to Picasso for the last time to bid farewell to the friends I had made.
I love Siem Reap, it is a warm friendly place and although it spreads out quite a bit, the main social scene, centres around a few small blocks in the middle of town. It is so cheap in comparison to Bangkok and the expats are a friendly bunch.