Costumes, Rooftops, and Crocs in Siem Reap
When I arrived in Siem Reap I thought it would be a quick stop in my Cambodian trip. I figured two days of going through the Angkor Wat archaeological site would be the one checklist item before I headed up to Anlong Veng. I could not have been more wrong. Walking into the Mad Monkey hostel in Siem Reap, I came around the corner to catch a blond guy wearing highlighter green board shorts doing a backflip into the pool. Before I had a chance to put my backpack down four other travelers had welcomed me and bought me my first beer, and that was the start of three crazy days of partying in Siem Reap before I ever made it to the Angkor Wat ruins. I should also mention that I’m not a huge party guy while I am traveling, but it was such a great scene and group of people that it was an easy decision to extend my stay in Siem Reap to join in.
Halloween arrived in Siem Reap along with my bus. I had no idea that it was Halloween until I asked a guy in the next bunk why he was putting on zombie make-up. Within 30-minutes I stole a page out of the Jim Halpert’s simple, yet funny costume ideas and wrote “Book” across my face. With sand beneath my feet I stepped into the rooftop beach bar and immediately got pulled into a group consisting of Alan from the Hangover, The Joker, three girls dressed as sushi rolls, and what I think was a Vietnamese-Hitler. Wandering through Pub Street we bounced back and forth between monster-filled clubs blasting dance music to Khmer restaurants filled with inquisitive Cambodians. After I explained the history of Halloween to a few younger Cambodians, they grabbed black markers, drew stitch marks on their faces, and joined the party group. The party poured out onto the street and created a spectacle of bed-sheet ghosts, toilet-paper mummies, and Sharpied zombies. My early morning bus ride finally caught up and mixed together with the late night partying and I disappeared without a word back to the hostel for some much needed rest.
Poolside the next day, all conversations magnetically moved towards the previous night. People shuffled around for most of the day like the zombies they had masqueraded as. My small group stood in the pool trying to survive the headache that often comes with making great memories when a bald guy with a braided beard and cartoon tattoos down both of his arms mentioned “hair of the dog.” Within moments we were standing just shallow enough in the pool so we could hold our “medical” beers above water. As the evening approached, the mood began to quiet back down. Everyone knew they would be going out to relive last night’s party, it was an inevitability we had accepted earlier in the day. The late night found us on top of a bar just outside of pub street, and our feet hung out over the side of a skateboard half-pipe five floors up. 3am arrived and I looked out over the city lights below. Behind me, a large canvas cutout of the moon hung up by metal beams and illuminated by red lights. Across the way, an elderly Cambodian women hung laundry up over her balcony. Why is she hanging laundry at 3am? The sun comes up as we shuffle back down the street. None of us were tired yet.
The next day had us driving through Cambodian marshland towards Tonle Sap Lake. Our caravan of nine Tuk-tuks each held four people each and a box of beers. The large, blue boat sat bobbing up and down on the water as we loaded ourselves onto it. As the boat slowly moved out into the deeper water, small motorized fishing boats attempted to pull up alongside us and hand us Burmese Pythons. No one felt compelled to hold a snake. We disembarked from the boat once we arrived at the crocodile farm. Locals weaved in and out of our crowd offering dancing prawns, snakes, and live catfish. What are the live catfish for? Underneath the planks we stood on hid over a dozen lingering crocodiles. A catfish was lowered into the crocodile pit and the lethargic, scaled once-dinosaur came to life with an incredible speed. The girl holding the feeding pole lurched forward almost being pulled into the pit. “Sir! Sir! Sir!” It takes three times before I realize someone is yelling at me, “You hand is too close.” I look down and realize that my hand holding the video camera is actually lower than the catfish they are jumping for. The Australian standing next to me laughs and points to a crocodile who is clearly eying my hand. A girl makes a joke about Captain Hook and we all laugh. The boat pulls back out further into the green-brown water of the lake and we take turns jumping into the water. Wait, where did the locals get those crocodiles? The sun sets far in the distance and the sky is lit aflame with woven colors. As I Tuk-tuk bumps down the rocky road back to the hostel I think to myself, that’s a good way to end my Siem Reap party. Tomorrow, I head to Angkor Wat.
Stay: Mad Monkey $6/nt (dorm), $12/nt (private)
Eat: Visal Angkor Restaurant $3-$6, Mad Monkey $4-$8
Do: Landmine museum, Tonle Sap Boat Cruise, Countryside mountain biking
Drink: Temple Bar, Angkor What? Bar, X-bar, Mad Monkey Poolside Bar ($0.75-$1 everywhere)
Note: I really was skeptical of a great number of tours I booked and the whole partying scene, but I gave in and had a wonderful time. I would give yourself at least 4 days in Siem Reap because it is a really fun, cool city to be in. Check out my video of the Angkor Ruins and the Booze Cruise.