A Day (and Night) in Siem ReapMay 14, 2014
First check this amazing new time lapse Siem Reap-based movie from the film maker Max Palmer, then read Naomi Collett Ritz’s guide to the perfect night on the town.
With Siem Reap being a tourist town and all, you never need an excuse go to out. Any night of the week you can find friends abounding, live music, dancing, pub quizzes and very entertaining people-watching.
I sometimes wonder if the six-month deadline for expats living in Siem Reap isn’t largely due to the regular and vigorous drinking sessions that are very much an activity and very much the norm. In my first six months here, I found myself out and about every night for dinner and inevitably drinks with colleagues and future friends. I worked with 30 children during the day and it is always beyond hot and I was exhausted, but I was more afraid of missing out than passing out.
A typical night out in Siem Reap for this 24-year old American will begin – without fail – at Ecstatic Pizza. Sarom and Yarin, the couple who run the restaurant, are my emergency contacts. My home away from home has cheap, strong drinks and they let me play whatever music I want on their sound system. If a guy with long eyelashes and a red beard asks you to play Ring of Fire you should say yes, You will regret it, but you should still say yes.
Bring or find as many teammates as you can for The Pub Quiz at Warehouse. It is never easy. The last time we played, the entire hour was dedicated to second-largest cities. Skip to the end for my favorite part: the team in last place gets a round of garlic infused vodka shots. For a fun time with new friends, buy a round of shots for a rival table or a cute guy across the bar and be sure to make suggestive eye contact before they down it.
At this point it is acceptable to get a table at Temple Bar. I like to go with the Khmer girls I live with. Temple Bar is on Pub Street directly across from Angkor What Bar. These watering holes blast music at each other from sunset until about 1am. Top 40 music and a dance floor that gets increasingly slippery as backpackers and Khmers come together to drink out of buckets and get sweaty. Once the rest of Pub Street shuts down at 10 or 11 the revelers tend to spill into the street between Temple and Angkor What and you can get pizza 24 hours at Le Tigre de Papier next door.
A safe haven, Picasso’s has a cozy round bar and a B-53 shot with absinthe. Usually full of locals that are sometimes playing poker, you can be as friendly or imposing as you’d like at Picasso’s, but be prepared to drink. Phil and the other bartenders have a well-meaning and underhanded way of making sure everyone leaves the bar sauced and sassy. So much so that at this point you’ll probably forget where you parked your bike for a few days and decide it’s a good idea to walk to Hip Hop Classic.
A more “Cambodian” experience, Hip Hop Club and adjacent Hip Hop Classic are all strobe lights and bottle service. Beer towers and fried bugs are the norm, but they will mix the beer with cherry flavored Samurai energy drink if you ask nicely. Primarily Cambodian crowd, DJ and dark dance floor, I can genuinely say I have never had a bad time at Hip Hop. I can also say I have never been anywhere close to sober at Hip Hop and also I am partial to dry ice and lasers. They also make a mean plate of fried corn.
Once Picasso’s and Pub Street have kicked everyone out, the one’s who don’t have to wake up early the next morning head for X-Bar, an open airy rooftop bar with a projector, pool table and skate spot upstairs. They have more live music than almost any other venue in town, but I never go early enough to see it because the space is so vast it reminds me of middle school dances and I would rather pinch myself ‘til I bleed.
The final stop of any evening would have to be TukTuk Bar. Open 24 hours, this is where you find the kind of new friends who will run with you to sunrise at Angkor Wat – or conversely the kind of people who will try to sell you meth.
If you’re not up for hard drugs or a brisk jog to the temples you could always head back to Ecstatic Pizza. They have a chessboard and are open at 7am. If you’re lucky, Sarom and Yarin will drive you home with your free pizza delivery.
Naomi Collett Ritz