An American Abroad

Cambodia: Siem Reap

Siem Reap was a pleasant surprise. Since it’s the town closest to Angkor, I expected a ticky-tacky tourist town, just a place for people to stay en route to the ruins. It is a tourist town, but as the genre goes, it’s a nice one. It’s here:

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The first thing I did upon getting to town was to get a haircut at the Fine Day Barber Shop. There is a certain frisson about not being able to communicate well with your barber.

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And as he put the straight razor to my neck, I wondered if the tens of thousands of tons of bombs that America “secretly” dropped on his country 45 years ago killed many of his relatives.

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I also found that the Angkor National Museum does a good job of showcasing and explaining Angkor civilization and putting the area’s ruins in historical context.

The town has a lovely and well-tended park that runs along the Siem Reap River, which cuts through the middle of the town.

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For those whose tastes run more toward the vehicular, Cambodia’s climate does a good job of preserving the classics.

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There are many shops, ranging from the tony to the homespun — and even the latter are neat and tidy.

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After living in Yuxi for ten months, I found myself craving non-Chinese food. Especially enjoyed the beef stew at Molly Malone’s, an Irish pub run by a half-French half-Cameroonian man and his Irish wife. I swapped lies with him while holding down the Bullshit Corner at the bar.

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On another night, as I wandered around town, I caught sight of Boston Red Sox posters hanging above the bar at Belmiro’s Pizza & Subs. Being a former Bostonian, I wandered in for the first pizza I’ve had since Christmas. It’s a great establishment, run by Belmiro Barros, a self-described “kid from Marion, Massachusetts” who got sick of a career in international finance and decided to open a restaurant in Siem Reap. Pizza and conversation were both very good.

There were posters up in the coffee shops and guesthouses advertising jazz concerts, dance recitals, a circus, and art gallery openings. After a few days there, I left thinking that even if Angkor was not just a tuk tuk ride away, Siem Reap would be a fine place to visit or to live.

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