Spending all day in a tuktuk with someone really accelerates the getting-to-know-you process. I only spent 3 days with Ben and Alex but the amount of inside jokes, depth of conversation, and feeling of comfort I had with them made it feel like much longer.
I met Ben (from England) as soon as I got to European Guesthouse and we spent the next day exploring all the major temples together. It was great to have a companion for the day to discuss our impressions of each place, and a bonus that we happened to get along really well. That night we met Alex (from Canada) who had the same goal as me: “I just want to go to Angkor What?” More on that in a bit. The next day Alex and I explored the outer ring of temples, including the far away Banteay Srei. Like the day before with Ben, we covered a range of topics in our day, and fulfilling the stereotype of our North Americanness devoted a solid half an hour to pizza and wings, which led to a disappointing but necessary pizza and “wings” dinner at the hostel; the wings were actually two entire chicken wings, plain roasted, but when doused in chili sauce they did the trick. The third day all three of us spent together, exploring town with lunch at the market and ice creams at Swensens – the San Francisco Swensens! – and chilling at a temple for the afternoon. The day I left Alex and Ben had their alone time, which I hear was mainly spent in a movie theater.
This mixture of time with each other in pairs and then all together, in a different combination of places, did something special for my relationship with them, and I’d venture to say they feel the same way. The one thing that we always did all together: explore the nightlife of Siem Reap.
Siem Reap is a small town that knows how to have a good time. Our first night we did a little bar crawl – nice cocktails at Miss Wong, beers at Beatles-themed Yellow Submarine (the Brit’s choice) – before reaching the bar we wanted to see most and site of the next few nights of debauchery: Angkor What? Angkor What? has a deal that if you order 2 buckets you get a t-shirt for free. Naturally we all wanted these shirts. The first night we decided it wasn’t time yet, since we had already hopped around we would just stick to beers, and we had 2 more nights to get the buckets. Already, just a few hours after all meeting, we were talking about spending our Siem Reap time together like it was a long-acknowledged fact, even if we hadn’t exactly had that conversation.
Angkor What? was playing some good tunes but we did not see what was coming… Directly across the street is Temple Club. Both bars offer buckets, tshirts, and very loud music, so what happens is that people get stuck in between them not knowing which one to choose. Instead of going inside, the party simply happens on the street. It reminded me of Rio during the World Cup or Buenos Aires after La Bamba – the street was filled with happy people dancing without a care. We felt compelled to join but still had our beers, so the helpful employees of Angkor What? gave us plastic cups to take with us into the street. And thanks to our enthusiastic friend Malaysian guy, these cups never went empty. It was a long joyful night, and despite the fact that it was a Tuesday we never saw the street party get to such a huge number of people again.
The following night we made a crucial decision: straight to Angkor What? We walked to town with an overshadowing feeling of doom thinking about the buckets in our future. We had a plan: do a few tonight and a few the next night. A few hours later all three of us had t-shirts. It turns out that when you just order rum and coke buckets it’s not so hard to get all six in one night. And it’s even easier when you find some new Belgian friends to play 21 with. Success! Now that we knew the drill, we were one of the first tables up and dancing, ready and waiting for the street party to begin so we could join. And we did.
Night three was our last night so we couldn’t give in to the lingering hangover feelings from the bucket night before. We started with trivia at a new bar, surprisingly finishing second despite some seriously tough questions (thanks man from Florida who ran trivia). We told ourselves there were other places to go, the night was still young, and then we walked up to Angkor What? Our Belgian friends were there waiting for us. Round two of 21, round three of the street party, and then a first: we went into Temple Club! And we discovered the magic of the music inside. The Macarena, YMCA, Venga Boys – we flashed back to Bat Mitsvah’s and loved every minute of it. I had a 7 am boat departure the next morning, so at 4 am I called it quits.
It was almost a perfect three days and nights in our new best friendship and love of Siem Reap, but then the walk back happened. After a run-walk down the main street to get away from the tuktuk driver who was poking Ben and the women who had almost robbed Alex the night before, we were relieved to get to our street. Too soon. A few doors down from our guesthouse a man quietly mounted his motorbike and quickly turned it on once we reached him, simultaneously grabbing my bag. Generally the advice given when someone on a motorbike tries to steal your bag is to let them have it. I did not listen to this advice. I held on, planted my feet and didn’t let him get away, delaying his bike from moving just long enough for Alex to tackle him and his bike to the ground. We were all in shock. Ben and Alex made sure I was ok while the almost-theif tried to run his bike down the street; it wasn’t starting. I had all my stuff and we were all fine, so Ben grabbed the taillight that had fallen off his bike and chased him down the street, throwing it at him when his bike finally let him get away. The other tuktuk drivers heard the commotion and came running. They were surprised, but also too late.
I was thankful I had Alex and Ben there with me. Alex played doctor to my pinky finger, which had been pretty badly ripped up by the strap of my bag. It’s still healing but at least the layers of skin that had been removed are starting to grow back. It was an unfortunate way to have to say bye after a fantastic three days together, but I know for sure that when we reunite in Bangkok I don’t have to worry about anything, the three of us have already proven we can fight off grabby prostitutes and motorcycle thieves.
Regardless of the ending, Siem Reap showed us all that it has more to offer than just Angkor Wat, even if most of it revolves around a bar jokingly named after this attraction. It also led to a friendship that I hope never dies, and judging by our constant group message updates and already confirmed plans to meet up in Bangkok at the end of the month I don’t think it will. Plus there’s still Burning Man 2016. The camp is growing.