It’s 3:00 in the morning. You are sitting on a stool next to a drinks cart somewhere near “Pub Street” in Siem Reap. Beyond the reptilian core of your brainstem – the part devoted to maintaining respiration and sphincter function – you have a dim recollection of an appointment in three hours with Angkor Wat, the 12th-century temple complex that was the reason why you chose Siem Reap over Phuket for your long weekend escape.
Dreams of Angkor Wat have been washed away by the cheap drinks and table dancing at Angkor What?, the boisterous “Holiday in Cambodia” shot bar you stumbled out of an hour earlier. Now you are reduced to street drinking and trying to convince the proprietor of the cart that what he really wants to do is play AC/DC at a high volume. He disagrees. He wants to go home. You stumble back to your hotel.
It is now 6:00 in the morning. You are without REM sleep. You have instead slept the sleep of the damned for only 90 minutes as your alarm goes off. You ignore the alarm. The phone rings. You ignore that too. Now there is a pounding on the door. It is your guide sent to fetch you. You are late for your date with Angkor Wat.
Dawn at Angkor Wat is a magical moment. The sun rises slowly over the spires of the ancient temple and the gloaming of the jungle gives way to first light. You raise your camera. A small urchin appears at your side with a menu of coffee options. What? He looks at you appraisingly. “Perhaps a beer, Mister?”
You realize that you are not alone in this tranquil moment. You are, in fact, surrounded by 800 other people, all jostling along a muddy lake shore for that perfect shot of the tranquil temple at dawn. Minor skirmishes break out for high ground. Selfie sticks wielded like light sabers. You understand that we travel the world looking for the perfect unique authentic moment and we do so as a herd.
Dawn breaks. You dutifully walk with your guide among the ruins of Ankor Wat and the serenity now rock visages of Bayon and Angkor Thom. You follow your guide -- following the footsteps of Angela Jolie --- through Ta Phrom.
“Did you know that Angela Jolie filmed Tomb Raider here?” the guide asks. “Yes,” you answer. The ruins are magnificent. You are trying very, very hard not to vomit on them.
Back to Siem Reap by tuk-tuk. “Do you want to play Angkor golf?” asks the guide. “What is that?” The tuk-tuk pulls up next to the Angkor Putt mini golf course. There are, apparently, no end to Angkor puns in Siem Reap. You are not sure if Angkor Wat mini golf is a sacrilege or the coolest thing you have ever seen. They offer beer so you decide the latter and play a round. You are slowly feeling human.
You return to town. You are hungry. You need good hangover food. You smell tomato sauce, beer, and meatballs. As if you have willed it from primitive forces, you are standing in front of Belmiro’s Pizza and Subs. The owner, Tyler, is from Boston. The gods have spoken. It is the best sandwich you have had in…you have lost time and space. It is an excellent sandwich. The bar is crowded with the kind of expats one usually finds in Southeast Asia: The traveler, the guy who drinks too much, the guy who really should drink more, the teacher, the filmmaker, the guy who goes into a little too much detail about the local girls.
You also order a slice of pizza. It has just the right ratio of sauce, cheese, and topping. You are relieved. This is the second time you have had pizza in Siem Reap. The first time – in another restaurant, not Belmiro’s – that pizza had been merely a soggy delivery device for herbal relief. This is real pizza. You are feeling much better.
After an afternoon recuperating by your hotel’s pool and checking out the local handicrafts at the Old Market, you are ready for dinner. You are feeling almost human. In the past 24 hours food consumption has been pizza, multiple shots, and a THC milkshake. Plus a sandwich made by a guy from Massachusetts. You really should try the local food. You end up at Genevieve’s. You are early. Even your grandmother doesn’t eat dinner this early and she lives in a nursing home where the staff try to feed the inmates three meals in one eight-hour shift. It’s actually a good thing you’re early. Genevieve’s often requires reservations a day or more in advance. You are early enough to get a table. The Beef Lok Lak is tender, well-spiced, and filling. The restaurant is also one of those feel-good do-good in Asia give-back-to-the-people stories. You have not always spent your money well in Siem Reap. Genevieve’s makes you feel better about yourself.
The night ends at Picasso Bar & Tapas. You wish you could remember more about this visit but you stopped back at Belmiro’s on the way. You remember that Picasso’s has a horseshoe bar and it is conducive to conversation. They also make the best cocktails in Siem Reap. You remember ordering two Old Fashioned’s at least.
It’s 3:00 in the morning. You are sitting on a stool next to a drinks cart somewhere near “Pub Street” in Siem Reap. Beyond the reptilian core of your brainstem – the part devoted to maintaining respiration and sphincter function – you have a dim recollection of once having visited Angkor Wat.
Street 8, Krong Siem Reap, Cambodia
Angkor Archaeological Park
One-day pass USD 37
Three-day pass USD 62
Angkor Wat Putt
Krong Siem Reap, Cambodia
Phone: +855 12 302 330
Belmiro’s Pizza and Subs
Street 07, Krong Siem Reap, Cambodia
Sok San St | Siem Reap, Siem Reap 3058, Cambodia
Picasso Bar & Tapas
Alley West, Pub Street Alley, Krong Siem Reap, Cambodia
A version of this story was originally published in the May 2017 issue of Here! Dongguan