Siem Reap: the Cambodian city of hope, trendy enclaves and heritage

Apart from the road works, the city’s drainage system has been improved while a new airport is under construction and is expected to be completed in 2023.

And other projects are underway to diversify tourism and attract visitors to other attractions. “We have over 200 temples in Siem Reap, many of which are worth visiting,” Mr Seiha says.

Where do you go for the kicks, if you’re visiting? While Covid-19 has wiped out the tourist trade, the city itself has seen several closures in 2021.

Today, despite Siem Reap reopening to tourists, the infamous Pub Street, where one would wander in search of drinks in better times, is still a veritable ghost town.

It’s no loss to me, as on my last visit here, few watering holes made a lasting impression.

There was one notable exception: Miss Wong, a Chinoiserie-themed bar known for its creative cocktails. But there has been a change of location: the red lamp that attracts customers now hangs south of the Siem Reap River in a trendy enclave between Streets 26 and 27, in the Wat Bo neighborhood that is fast becoming the place to be. predilection of trendy Cambodian creatives. .

Glad to see that just across from Miss Wong is Banlle, where owner Pola Siv serves up vegan versions of Cambodian classics. He had originally shut down the inventive Mie Cafe at the start of the pandemic and it’s good to see that reappearance.

Mr Stewart Kidd, a resident of Glasgow and Siem Reap since 2013, also took the opportunity to launch a food and drink outlet, Stewart on the 26th, in January 2022. He previously ran the Village Cafe in the Kandal village on Hap Guan street, but was forced to close in December 2020.

Mr. Kidd’s new spot is a bar, restaurant and nightclub with a facade that channels Brooklyn and serves up a robust espresso martini. Like many others I talk to, he feels a duty to get things done.

“After eight years, my dishwasher became a chef, and all my staff bought land and built houses,” he explains, explaining why he didn’t just leave Cambodia in difficult times.

Its Stewart on 26 outlet is resolutely forward-looking: it also houses a gallery, giving aspiring photographers a platform to showcase their work.

I stop at the Phare, The Cambodian Circus where the shows continue. That’s even though senior marketing manager Craig Dodge and his team struggle to fill even 50% of the seats — with capacity cut in half for social distancing — most nights.

The local social enterprise puts on just three weekly performances in the marquee – down from 10 per week pre-pandemic – but remains a must-see for any out-of-town visitor.

There’s another reason to frequent the ever-entertaining Phare: it’s the main source of funding for 1,200 students at Phare Ponleu Selpak, an art school in Battambang.

Inside a half-full marquee, performers spin in the air, juggle and dance to live music played on a mix of Cambodian classical and electric instruments. They give their all and their exuberance fills my heart. Judging by the enthusiastic applause around me, many others feel the same way.

A stay by the lake, mindfulness lessons with monks