Siem Reap, Cambodia

Siem Reap reminded me of a far more mellow and pleasant Koh Samui or Phuket. Although noticeably less developed, it was much easier to walk around, and the food and drinks were cheap.

I started my trip to Cambodia in just the right frame of mind: happy with life but excited and ready for a holiday. As I sipped an incredibly priced $1.50 long island iced tea in the sand-covered rooftop bar and restaurant of the Mad Monkey hostel and looked around at various backpackers eating dinner, wondering who I would be soon befriending, I felt decidedly content. It had been about 10 months since my last trip to South-East Asia, and I was in somewhat disbelieving excitement that I was back.

That evening I joined the usual drinks on the roof, sitting down with some characters I had met in the pool earlier that day. In true party backpacker style, they confessed that they had only made it to Angkor Wat for two hungover hours that day. This contrasted with most, who make a point of getting up at 4am to see the sunrise and pretty much only come to Siem Reap for Angkor Wat.

After a fairly long while the bar became busier and I left the table of characters to mingle. I promptly met a range of folk before we all headed at midnight to Yolo Bar in Pub Street – Siem Reap’s answer to Bangla Road in Phuket. More bar hopping and dancing followed – including consumption of a fried cricket from a street vendor – and a good night was had by all.

I had been quite disappointed that I had been too late to book on my intended Angkor Wat tour for the next day. But this serendipitously meant my new good friend, Chris, could join me on a random Tonle Sap River tour: it was his last day, and he had already been to Angkor Wat. We thus spent a very merry afternoon cruising the river on a small boat (the big one was in repair, which suited us just fine), seeing woefully treated crocodiles in a ‘crocodile farm’, having dinner and cocktails and enjoying various sites that would have been somewhat mundane by myself, but which with such good company, were quite brilliant. The weather behaved for us – as it in fact did every day, despite ‘rainy season’; with blue sunny skies only giving way to rain at about 6pm when everyone retired to get ready for the night, anyway. And on the minibus back the other tourists were quite merry, so we all had some laughs as we returned to our hostel.

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The next day I lazily explored the pleasant streets, had a cheap and tasty meal near the hostel, and received a massage before joining the hostel again for a similar round of bar hopping.

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The following day I made what was likely an error, joining an all-day Angkor Wat tour, which resulted in me getting up far too early and spending far too long exploring temples than I personally would have required (I can’t imagine how people spend three days at the temples!). I was also expecting more information from our tour guide than we actually received – although he did provide some interesting historical insights. On the plus side, the company ended up being pleasant enough; and after seeing far more temples than I would have under my own devices I was able to safely conclude that I would not need to return to Angkor Wat.

The previous night I had randomly spotted a flier advertising a pub crawl in the bar to which the hostel always took their guests. The crawl was only on on certain nights, and one of those was that night. Having tired a little of the same scene each night at my hostel – staying in the initially quiet bar until midnight – I liked the prospect of a busy bar crawl that started early. The only trouble was I was extremely exhausted from my early start.

Yet in typical style I rallied and somehow dragged myself to the first bar (Angkor What?) after only a short nap – only to find myself being significantly earlier than necessary. Nonetheless I soon met a friendly Belgian girl, some Dutch guys and quite a few more later, resulting in my conclusion that this was a very good night out indeed. In a random meeting later back at Angkor What? bar I even chanced upon a Canadian I had met in a Sydney hostel many months previously.

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