Being a first time Siem Reap resident I am literally spending every day learning about my new home. Settling into life in a new city is always a bit of a challenge, things like finding your go-to coffee place can be a week-long, caffeine fuelled affair. Let alone the pain & suffering you go through to find your local watering hole! The entire process is a system of trial and error with plenty of lessons learned along the way. So having been a ‘Siem Reaper’ in earnest for just over a month now, here are the top 5 parts of Cambodia’s third largest city that I am loving right now…
1. The People
Whether you are chatting to a Khmer person who only speaks basic English or sharing a cold beer with a fellow expat, the genuine personality of a long term Siem Reaper is refreshing. Siem Reap is a tourism hub for the famous Angkor Temples on the outside, but on the inside it is really just a small town. Simple things like a tuk tuk driver remembering how to get to your house can put a smile on your face and someone remembering your coffee order when you walk in the door is priceless! Tourism hasn’t yet spoiled the people of Siem Reap, the locals are smiley, welcoming people and every expat I have met so far seems sincerely happy to be here.
2. The Deliveries
Being new to the country the only mode of transportation I have is my own 2 feet. Whilst walking is an incredible way to get to know a new city, it is no help at all when you are setting up a life. When you live in a city of just under 150,000 people and have no street name, delivery can become somewhat of a challenge – actually I have no physical address at all. Everything in Siem Reap is navigated by landmarks & you are completely reliant on the person you are directing knowing the landmark you are talking about. Once you have conquered the directions though, the world is your oyster… burgers – delivered, pizza – of course, monthly bill payments – delivered to and payments made at your front door, drinking water, furniture, pot plants, brooms, beer. You name it, they deliver!
3. The Alleyways
Siem Reap has its main city attractions like Pub Street and Old Market but the best of the best in Siem Reap is what you find in the alleys. Gourmet food from all corners of the world, boutiques, galleries, bargain shopping and always the best bars. Siem Reap’s city centre is not actually that big – the main town stretches for 4km along the Siem Reap River and 6km along the national highway. This may lead one to believe that there is not very much to see. It isn’t until you venture into the true heart of the city that you begin to see its true soul all cluttered together and comprehend just how much life can be lived in one small space.
4. The Upstairs
In the larger restaurants and bars, in fact even in some of the smaller ones, you will usually find a staircase tucked away somewhere near the back corner. This staircase will almost certainly lead you to the best part of the place. Away from the street noise and chaos to a funky little roof top that you would never have known was there unless you were looking for it. Typically, the space will be decked out with a retractable roof and filled with locals who are ‘in the know’. These are the places that offer up that cool ambiance that one could be searching for in Siem Reap and never find until they venture up that tiny hidden staircase.
5. The Potential
As you wander through the streets of Siem Reap it is difficult not to notice the construction going on all around you. As a place which was only freed from Pol Pot’s communist rule in 1979, Cambodia is still finding its feet as both a country and a tourism destination. Living in Cambodia right now means that you have the opportunity to experience a new restaurant, hotel, gallery or bar opening almost every week as expats and locals expand their entrepreneurial wings. Siem Reap is a flurry of new activity on the tourism scene and should be considered a city to watch as it comes into itself over the next few years.