Siem Reap, the place I left 10 months ago, which I called home on and off for 2 years, has changed. I recently return for a short 7 days. Walking across the tarmac after exiting the plane, I breathed in the air and I was reminded once again of the unique smell the town has. Or maybe it was because we’d just missed one of the torrential down pours now the rainy season has started. The air had been cooled and the humidity dropped. By the time I’d got through visa application, where they tried to offload me with change in torn dollar notes, (bills to those of you who are American!) which aren’t legal tender in Cambodia, through customs, collected my luggage, handed in the numerous forms filled out on the plane, it was time to find my tuk tuk driver, the humidity had risen again.
I was staying in my old apartment at Oriental Siem Reap where Van Anh the manager gave me the warmest welcome. Should you ever visit Temple Town check out rooms and reviews. They have the most comfortable beds and pillows with satin cotton linen, toiletries, a rain shower with hot and cold settings, free water, breakfast on request, A.C., TV, though I never switched it on, a safe in each room, and much more. All close enough to markets, shops, restaurants and bars.
I went off walking around to check out my old favourites. There’s always something to see but the biggest shock was the amount of newly built shops, pharmacies, mini marts, office blocks, and new hotels.
Progress has not stopped the little road side shacks and restaurants from continuing their thriving businesses. Where land has been blocked off for construction sites, these entrepreneurial locals have literally lifted their portable kitchens and moved down the road taking their dishwashers with them!
On the surface this is a thriving town. Look a little closer and the tourist figures have slowed down. May is low season, traditionally the time to refurbish, but many of these huge new and old hotels stood empty.
Sivatha Road runs through the middle of the town. It’s full of tourist shops, massage parlours with the girls outside screaming ‘massaaarrrge layyyyyyydeeeee’ to encourage trade and now at least 2 new large supermarkets have opened. Already this short stretch of the road has Lucky Mall and Angkor Supermarket supplying many imports, including French cheeses and large selections of foreign wines. There’s not sufficient demand so either they’ll close or everyone’s business will get diluted.
I wandered over to the Royal Gardens overlooked by the Victoria Angkor Resort and Spa Hotel previously famous for it’s daily cocktail Happy Hour (2 hours actually) and free canapes (no longer available), now infamous for having protests last year after sacking members of staff.
Opposite in the small pagoda I bumped into two sisters, both Khmer, one living in France, the other in Siem Reap coming to offer prayers to Buddha. It was a pleasure to chat with them about their annual get togethers to reunite the family split by the atrocities of the 70s. It was easy to recognise which sister had been living healthy western life and how open and chatty in both French and English with me, verses her sister who only spoke Khmer, was quietly humble and reserved, elegant in her Khmer stiff silk skirt and tradition top.
I continued wandering and to my surprise crossed over a brand new bridge. Previously there was a one way bridge, so to go south, traffic made a detour around busy urban streets. Now with 2 bridges side by side the traffic on National Road 6 could flow freely reducing the cause of previous delays. This road is the main road linking Siem Reap with Phnom Penh, and runs directly through the centre. Finally funds have been procured to be used to improve traffic flow which is much needed as more cars are on the roads now and with almost no road tests, little understanding of road management and etiquette, it’s a good start to help reduce the high number of fatal accidents.
Looking over the bridge at the stagnant brown water full of algae it’s hard to imagine that only last year I was enjoying watching young boys swimming and having fun playing in the waters.
Amongst the enormous amount of construction I wandered into the Old French Quarter down one of my favourite gritty, dusty streets, Hap Guan Street, surrounded by beautiful French colonial architecture in what is now trendy Kandal Village. Around here you’ll find lots of interesting shops selling top quality artisan made local products including the usual scarves and lacquered coconut shells but also natural ethical products such as organic body lotions and hair products together with soy wax candles at Saarti and the best coffee in town at The Little Red Fox Espresso.
If you’d like to read more about my previous adventures in Siem Reap go the Destinations, SE Asia, Cambodia on the Home page.
I’m going to let the photos tell the remainder of the story. I warn you it’s long so now might be the time to make a cup of tea, pour a coffee, enjoy a glass of wine or just an ice cold beer!
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