The quirky town of Siem Reap, Cambodia

Siem Reap has gone from a sleepy, dusty town to become Cambodia’s fastest growing tourist destination as a result of its close proximity to the magnificent Angkor archaeological complex.

It has much the feeling of a frontier town that has struggled to manage the pace of extraordinary growth as a result of the boom in international tourism.

Today, it is a combination sleepy, dusty town and a part of the city that is something like a Cambodian version of Las Vegas! Very bizarre to come upon Pub Street, with throngs of tourists, bright neon lights, loud music and one restaurant after another beckoning customers in.

One notable downside to this town, is that the disproportionate number of visitors to this town, has skewed the rates of everything and oddly, our time in Siem Reap was significantly more expensive for basic things, compared to Vietnam.

Motorized tuk tuks are abundant and the best way to get around Siem Reap as well as the surrounding countryside.

“Gas station”. Gas in bottles, gets poured with a funnel into tuk tuks and motorbikes.

Short video showing the Las Vegas style tourist center known as Pub street.


Our first impression, was somewhere between dismay and surprise at the Disneyland dimension to the city. That said, our guesthouse was luckily in a much more toned down, laid back, dusty part of town. We easily escaped the madness and discovered the “other” Siem Reap.

There are about 300 foreigners who have settled here to live. We met a few at a late night hang out spot, and got confirmation that there is “another” Siem Reap, which they all love as their home.

Discussions about the role of NGOs, the kinds of foreigners who settle in Siem Reap and the turbulence of Cambodian politics – all resonate with us as being very similar to what we experienced in Nicaragua.

Cambodia to us, so far, also has the feel of Nicaragua. Gritty, developing country with a ton of heart and passion. It is however heartbreaking to read of and hear stories and see people with missing limbs due to the ongoing tragedy of landmines which continue to maim and kill people daily, weekly, monthly.

For those who may want to help contribute to Cambodia’s demining activities, one village at a time, please go to this link:

So…. lets close out on our first visit to Cambodia by noting some of the quirkier aspects.

Wat Bo street where edgy artistic restaurants, bars have sprung which would not be out of place in Soho or Berlin.

Outside a hip little cafe – My pants are Cambodian made, found at the old market which has a lot of fun things to see and buy.
How’s this for a snuggly couch? this hotel features the work of local and international artists.
This set up is right next to the stuffed animal couch. Liberace would feel at home here!

In terms of food, stapes are fish and rice. Khmer food borrows heavily from India, Thailand, China, Vietnam and France.  From India, the curries.  From Thailand, the noodles.  From China, dim sum like bites.  From France, the omnipresent baguette and from Vietnam, the Ice coffee.  As a result, Khmer food has a subtlety of flavor, and is not as spicy as it’s Thai neighbor.

Cambodia’s national dish: AMOK fish cooked in coconut milk with spices. YUM!
Lots of street food skewers at markets on the side of the road.
Peta’s market choice.  Coconut soup with wide noodles and fresh herbs. Pretty tasty.
My dinner companion is enjoying the coconut soup too.
Winkles (little sea shells) with curry and chili flavorings, eaten as snacks.
An abundance of fish, shrimp and other water creatures from Lake Tonle Sap.  Vendors sit on platforms at the same level as the food they are selling, cleaning and chopping.. preparing for customers.
Squid is a big favorite in Cambodian food, as are crabs (behind).
And most notably, Cambodia has evolved an interesting offering:  “Happy Pizza”.   Happy pizza comes with a generous herb topping, of marijuana.  Farmers typically set aside some of their rice to make home brewed rice wine, and they grow marijuana for medicinal purposes (as part of normal Chinese herb medicine), reportedly used by older farmers when they feel arthritis or other aches and pains.  According to local expats, “marijuana is technically illegal, but widely available and tolerated as part of the culture.”
Happy pizza!
Happy pizza consumer!

6 thoughts on “The quirky town of Siem Reap, Cambodia

  1. Gili

    “Happy Pizza”! I see an opening for a Vancouver entrepreneur… Given the existence of “vapour rooms” in the city, maybe it would have to be a “Make Your Own Happy Pizza”.

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