Vibrant Siem Reap

The fiasco of the Thailand/Cambodia border is so well-documented and notorious it’s known as Scambodia. After passing through unscathed, paying no more or less than $30, it was a welcome surprise that the tuk tuk to our guesthouse was free.

Siem Reap seemed unpromising at first. It looked like the tourist stopovers in Myanmar such as New Bagan and Nyaung Shwe. As we neared the river, the town came into its own.

 The first thing that caught our eye is the Preah Promeath pagoda. Coming from Myanmar we were a little pagoda’d out, but this one was pristine and intricately decorated. The pagodas of Cambodia seem to really be my favourite in terms of design and style.

We headed from there to the old market. I had sadly managed to lose my flip flops in our short stop in Bangkok. They were £1 from Forever 21 and the best, most solid and comfortable flip flops I had owned. I was gutted, but haggled down a pair of fake Havaianas. Not realising the hypocrisy, as I wore my fake sandals, I pointed to a $5 Gucci bag and proselytised on the pointlessness of buying fake designer. If, like me, you’re a hypocrite or you just like a suspiciously cheap and creatively designed pair of Nikes (think, the tick placed upside down) then the Old Market is great. Some of the maxi dresses and hippie pants are nicer than I’ve seen elsewhere.

We found a Costa, and relishing the chance for coffee without sweetened condensed milk, Alessio took a drink and I checked wifi in anticipation of our visit to Angkor Wat the next day. This is when we learned the price had risen from $20 to $37. We began to question whether we should visit. When we factored in the cost of getting there too, we almost entirely decided against it.

It was also in Costa that I recalled there was a “Pub Street”. I had heard how much of a crazy party city Siem Reap was. Although not much of a partier, and definitely not a key part of my travels, I was interested to check out nice bars and eats in the area.

Pub Street is lit up in neon, and it’s a strip of bars offering Happy Hour cocktail deals, familiar Western and Asian dishes and dotted with street food vendors and tuk tuks at each end. Although this could seem like a nightmare, especially for those familiar with Khao San Road – but actually it seemed quite tame, clean and pleasant at 8pm. There’s a quieter and darker road nearby with a few bars with a nice vibe, including a reggae bar. It seemed to have a nice vibe around dinner time, and there’s a quadrant around it with more bars and restaurants.

On the opposite side of the river, the Kings Road seemed to have some upscale options, echoing the road of a similar name in London. Made in Cambodia Market sells traditional goods made by locals, and there’s also a Hard Rock Cafe. Further down Street 26 is a French patisserie ideal for breakfasts but we found the Croque Monsieur a little stale.

Siem Reap also has a lot of supermarkets with an ideal amount of food for making up picnics for the day jaunt to Angkor Wat. Pharmacies are plentiful, as well as launderettes.

By the end, Siem Reap clearly felt like the relaxed city with the buzzing vibe I wanted from Luang Prabang. I felt like Siem Reap was the resort for younger backpackers who want riverside vibrance, whereas Luang Prabang existed to slow life down for those with the unlimited food budget to really enjoy the cafe culture.

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