Siem Reap is a poetic town – powerful under its simplicity. Perhaps it derives power from holding the gates to those ruins which resound with countless prayers.
After hours of traveling on a straight, unmarked, almost frightening road from Poipet, the glitters of of Siem Reap hotels held a promise. A beautiful tuk-tuk ride from the stand to our hotel showed glimpses of the colorful evenings in store: Angkor night market, Siem Reap night market, the melodious Pub Street. If I had not been traveling for 22 hours, I would have loved to stop on the way for the gentle breeze, near the river. But, instead, our tuk-tuk drove over a small bridge, and delivered us to a place which was home for next 3 nights – Golden Temple. The stops on the way seemed well worth missing for the lovely welcome at the place – I had not seen so much smiling in a long long time. How a smile affects, when it seems to be coming from within.
The faces of Bayon which I was yet to see and fall in love with, were recreated in this place next to the pool – and reflected with the shining, gently swinging water (a quiet swimmer was using the pool), they seemed enchanting.
Of course I spent a lot of my Siem Reap time in the archaeological park of Angkor, which is around 6km away from the main town, but even outside, the city seemed perfect for a blessed stay. After a hectic day in Angkor, being driven in a tuk-tuk by ‘Moon’, coming to Pub street is most satisfying. Lines of cafes spilling on the street. Music, sometime loud, but mostly quiet, gives a sweet backdrop to the Happy Hour drinking which continues in the place seemingly forever. Tanks of fish sporadically dot the place, with feets dipped into them for the delight of the fish.
Over drinks, people are scanning through their photographs of the day, or pouring over maps to make plans for the morrow. A lovely dinner at Le Tigre De Papier satisfies hunger; more drinks can follow at Angkorwhat? or the Red Piano. And there is the Apsara dance in one of the restaurants upstairs – exotic, enjoyable.
On one of the days, we took cycles from our hotel and cycled around town. We first went to the Angkor area, through highways and tiny streets difficult to navigate. Cycled back to a park where lovely photos of African tribes were exhibited on bamboo stilts, with no one to look after them. Cycled around the river several times, then to the fruit market – bought many exotic fruits and ate them around the riverside. Everything was so Sunday like on that half-sunny, half clouded day which was not marred by the heat.
There is an excitement in heavy bargaining at the night markets, negotiating over knick-knacks. There’s joy in watching a full-moon in a clear sky, un-doted with tall, ugly buildings. But most of all, there is a lot of fun in walking to the city at midnight in search of food after a live band party at the youth hostel next door.