After having spent a slightly exhausting day aboard a boat exploring the Tonle Sap and the floating village it supports, the prospect of spending the second half of the day exploring the exciting night life of Siem Reap seemed a little demanding. But this was our first visit to the city and we couldn’t have missed being a part of the night madness that grips this serene-by-the-day destination.
We’d checked ourselves into the Soria Moria Boutique hotel (thesoriamoria.com) which was an obvious choice being an employee-owned hotel with serious interest in promoting sustainable tourism. This may not have been the most economical choice or the even the best hotel (in terms of comfort) to stay at, but the cheerful staff and the great service added to the satisfaction of knowing that we were doing our bit by giving back to the local community in a small way. The Soria Moria is most definitely a highly recommended place to stay when visiting Siem Reap.
The walk from the hotel to the night market took us about 10 minutes and the weariness was wiped out the moment we passed a compound, the fence of which had the lyrics of the famous John Lennon number ‘Imagine’. We knew we were in the right place and that the evening would not be a disappointment for sure!
The Siem Reap night markets and Pub Street were a massive attack on the senses. A multitude of stalls selling thousands of eclectic souvenirs, foot massage stalls with smiling masseuses promising the best massages in the world, drug peddlers appearing from the shadows trying to identify prospective customers, scantily clad prostitutes gesturing at tourists provocatively, food stalls & restaurants filling the air with mesmerizing smells, theme-based restaurants advertising the Apsara dance performances that are ever-so-popular and people from across the world living in the moment having a great time jumping in and out of the many pubs that come alive with the sounds of loud music and constant chatter. Life, past sun down, in Siem Reap couldn’t have been more contradicting when compared to the serene and at times depressing scenes witnessed during the day.
The experience of an evening spent amidst this exhilarating madness needs to be felt to be believed. The impact probably gets exaggerated by the fact that the other popular attractions of Siem Reap, like the Tonle Sap and the Angkor temple complex, mostly evoke a sense of tranquility.
A piece of advice though for travellers looking to pick up souvenirs here, the prices here are much higher than in Bangkok and a lot of the products that you see here are cheap counterfeits (probably bought from the markets in Bangkok!) . If you are travelling on a budget then the best way to experience the night life here is to browse through the souvenir stalls without buying much and eating food from the street side stalls that sell some great tasting delicacies at affordable prices. Beer is cheap in Siem Reap and one can get a pint of local ‘Angkor’ beer for 50 cents. One of the messages painted on a restaurant wall on Pub Street announced proudly “Promoting irresponsible drinking since 1998”. I guess there is no reason to stay sober in Siem Reap!
Here are a few snapshots from an evening spent exploring the crazy night life of this fantastic city.