The days were hot, but the nights were cool. So cool!

Siem Reap has, as I’ve noted, a substantial tourism industry, and at the heart of it (for the younguns, at least) lies Pub Street and the compact but energetic bar scene in the city’s core. There are all kinds of venues, for all kinds of people, but the tourist and expat reigns supreme.

Sadly, we didn’t go to a Cambodian bar (technically I suppose they’re all Cambodian, but you get the idea), but the nights we spent hopping between western-style pubs an clubs were relaxing and fun – just like the rest of the city.

Friday night Anya invited me out to dinner with her teacher friends from the Pritzker Academy (recognize that name? Stay tuned!). We went to the Royal Riverside, and it was a fantastic little place that specialized in family-style Cambodian food.

There were various dishes and rice brought to the table over the course of an hour and a half or so, which we all passed and shared as we warmed up with drinks and conversation. I met a number of teachers and their ‘trailing spouses’ and we would continue to run into the same people all weekend (again, the expat scene in Siem Reap is really cozy).

Afterwards, most of us went to Chris and Anya’s adopted bar home, Picasso. I actually thought bars couldn’t get any tinier than I’d seen in HCMC… DEAD WRONG. This place hold 12 -15 comfortably, not counting the chairs in the alley (The Ally? The Lane? One of the walking areas, at least). It’s conveniently right next door to Chris’ workplace, a tattoo shop (also cool). The tapas are a lie, though, it’s mostly cheese and crackers, and expensive at that… but the drinks are cold, reasonable, and served by some great bartenders.

I broke my ‘no beer, ever’ rule for two beers in Cambodia. This was the first type beer I had. It’s worse than Tiger, which means it’s worse than an awful lot of beer in the world. However, it is cold, in a can, and, perhaps most importantly, costs spare change. However, unless your plan is to get schloberknockered on a Lucas-in-Vegas level, pass. It was important to toast with old friends, though, and a local beer was obviously wholly appropriate!

We stopped by the flamboyant, and exceedingly expensive, Ms. Wong’s. The Tet flowers went well with the rich red brocade in evidence everywhere. Somewhat strangely to me, there are two explicitly gay bars (as opposed to gay-friendly) in Siem Reap – I’m not sure there’s such a thing in Saigon. Sadly, expensive, and I had short-sightedly invited a new friend, who turned out to be a ninja-level extrovert, dominating the conversation with inane stories of his high school days at breakneck speed. Bad move, Ben!

And, of course, Pub Street, which is literally named Pub Street in big neon letters. It’s like Bui Vien’s night time people disaster, minus cars and motorbikes, plus more space, plus more sloppy drunk Australians. Be sure to swing through on your trip.

We also visited a rooftop bar that is a hangout for skaters, X-Bar. The previous week, Tony Hawk had been riding here for a charity event – there are a million NGOs (non-governmental organizations) that exist in Siem Reap and throughout Cambodia, and some of them even do some good. The night we visited the bar was pretty dead. However, you really can’t beat a rooftop bar, no matter where you are.

That’s the chaos of Pub Street in the upper left hand corner, and the terrace of the bar below me.

We need more personality like this in Saigon! I’ve been trying to do a post on street art since last August. I haven’t gotten very far.

The one thing you can’t find at 2am is the pancake man. All evening, I had desperately wanted to try the pancake man’s wares – a crepe with mashed banana and nutella, warm and folded up. Come on, Pancake Men! Such a disappointment!

The second and last time I had a beer was my goodbye drink with Chris. It was probably Angkor again (pronounced ‘anchor’) but confusingly, there is a second local beer actually called Anchor, which you must ask for by saying ‘An-chore.’ I honestly don’t remember which this was, but it was ok. A melancholy beer before we headed out again, bound for Ho Chi Minh City.
I’m not much for partying ’til I’m purple, but Siem Reap’s nightlife still has a lot to recommend it, even to me. Like the daytime city vibe, the evenings are built for relaxation. Live and let live seems to be the carefree motto of the expats and Cambodians I met. Navigating it with some of my oldest friends (12 years since we met, Chris! Can you believe it?) was such a treat.
Next up – still more temples! And, for real, pictures of everything I ate and drank. You knew it was coming.