RASHMI OBEROI | 19 OCTOBER, 2016
The Nightlife of Siem Reap
It is a bewitching place… It instantly attracts you and draws you back again and again as there is always something new to discover in the tiny lanes and bi-lanes with its treasure trove of delights. Angkor Night Market is Siem Reap’s most renowned shopping venue, housing over 200 bamboo huts selling a wide range of clothing and handicrafts by local communities and non-governmental organizations. Located in downtown Siem Reap, this outdoor market was established in 2007 in an effort to help preserve traditional Khmer handicrafts and improve the lives of Khmer people.
Expect plenty of one-of-a-kind goods available such as silk paintings, shadow puppets, and intricate stone carvings embellished in silver or brass. A good option for eco-friendly items is the ‘Angkor Recycled’ stall, which offers an extensive range of bags, wallets, purses, and pouches that are made from recycled materials. Of course, you will also find a smattering of mass-produced Chinese products that is a requisite of all markets in Southeast Asia. In fact just browsing through these stalls without buying anything is quite enjoyable and you end whiling away half a day.
You can see quite a few of the tourists enjoying the traditional Khmer massage treatment which helps soothe fatigued muscles using a combination of local herbs and white wine compress. You also see the ‘fish spas and pedicures’ that entail fish nibbling on your dead skin.
A fish pedicure is, like a traditional pedicure, intended to make your feet look and feel smoother. However, a fish pedicure utilizes the unusual practice of placing the client’s feet into a tank filled with small fish. These fish are typically the tiny, toothless Garra rufa fish, which are native to the Middle East. Once dunking your feet into the fish tank or pool, the fish feast on the dead skin of your feet to make them extra smooth. Enjoyable for some but quite creepy for others as I learnt from their expressions!
The smells and aromas wafting through from the restaurants and bistros make you feel hungry all the time - there are also several dining venues within the market, where you can enjoy live music performances, local and western delicacies, local and foreign beers, cocktails, smoothies, and desserts at attractive prices. Set within a landscaped garden off Sivatha Boulevard, Angkor Night Market is a five-minute walk from Pub Street.
It makes sense to book a hotel close to the Night Market located in the Old Market area, Pub Street or Sivatha Road as you can wander in and out at your own convenience and catch some street food instead of the usual fine-dining options.
There are a wide range of hotels, ranging from several 5-star hotels and chic resorts to hundreds of budget guesthouses. A large selection of restaurants offer many kinds of food, including Italian, Indian, French, German, Russian, Thai, Korea, Japanese and Burmese. Plenty of shopping opportunities exist in the Angkor Night Market and around the Phar Chas area. You can have a wonderful dining experience and Apsara Dance performance at Island Bar located in the botanical jungle garden in the Angkor Night Market.
A trip to the fishing villages and the bird sanctuary is truly a recommended activity along with the visit to a craft workshop and silk farm including bicycle tour around the rice paddies in the Siem Reap rural areas.
The best part of this market is that the original founders were careful not to create a tourist park. The smoothly laid out huts built from natural materials and designed beautifully in Khmer style are appealing and attractive. Over the years, there are about 240 souvenirs shops which sell traditional Cambodian made handicrafts from silk, paintings by local artists, all types of chunky jewellery including silver ornaments, wood and stone carving artefacts and local food. The place is always busy and chaotic with its clubs, restaurants, boutiques, galleries, souvenir shops and of course hordes of foreign tourists.
Siem Reap Night Market offer a wide range on the variety of the quality and prices of products and items sold are about as real and trustworthy as you can find here in Siem Reap. The markets seem to complement each other well, but remember not to be fooled by first impressions and bargain harder. Check and recheck everything before striking a bargain.
Tuk Tuks are a great way to move around. They are comfortable and available dime a dozen. I would recommend these more than the taxis. Another option is to hire a bike and cycle your way around. I found the Tuk Tuk to be the perfect combination. You can sit and stretch out, get protected from the sun and rain with the flaps down and you get a great breeze as you zip along. With a good driver you feel safe (although there are inevitably a few mildly 'harrowing' moments regardless of how you get about) and the ride is comfortable enough. The maximum speed they can go - given the small engine and road conditions - is slow enough that you can take in the cool stuff and click photographs as you drive along but fast enough to cover a surprising amount of ground in a day. Due to the proximity of the Angkor Wat ruins, Siem Reap has turned into a boomtown in less than half a decade. Huge, expensive hotels have sprung up everywhere and budget hotels have mushroomed. Property values have soared to European levels and tourism has become a vast, lucrative industry. The Siem Reap of today is barely recognizable from the Siem Reap of the year 2000.
Though some of the town's previous ramshackle charm may have been lost, the developments of the last few years have brought livelihoods, if not significant wealth, to a good number of its citizens. This has been at a cost to the underprivileged people living within and beyond the town's limits that now pay inflated prices at the central markets and continue to survive on poorly paid subsistence farming and fishing. If Cambodia is a country of contrasts Siem Reap is the embodiment of those contrasts. Despite the massive shift in its economic fortunes, Siem Reap remains a safe, friendly and pleasant town.