I did not want to leave the club yet. I was at the bar, alone, having my fifth mug of beer, just waiting for all the alcohol to sink in. Then I could join the mob, start dancing, vanish in between the phosphorescent lights, and lose myself in the beat of the pumping music that almost made the building explode. It was close to midnight, and I had not spoken to anyone at the club except one waitress who had been serving me my pints of beer. The night did not start out this way and would not end like this, either.
Angkor Night Market
Earlier that evening, I was with my friend Bebs, a Filipino now based in Bangkok but joined me on this trip to Siem Reap. We just finished dinner and decided to walk around Angkor Night Market to check out anything that we might be interested in buying.
Angkor Night Market in Siem Reap opened just five years ago, in 2007. It is said to be the first night market in Cambodia. What sets it apart from the other night markets I have seen in other Asian cities like Hong Kong, Malacca, and Bangkok, the Angkor Night Market features and highlights not just the goods being sold but also the place itself — a series of stylish traditional huts built Khmer style. This fosters a very Cambodian atmosphere, adding to a genuinely delightful experience walking around the labyrinth of over 240 shops. Most of the items available are paintings, wood carvings, silk, and local delicacies. There are also a few massage and spa bars for those who need a little more pampering after a day of exploring the city.
After fifteen minutes of squeezing our way through the narrow alleys sandwiched by traditional souvenir shops and massage corners, we emerged from the night market empty-handed. It’s not that we could not find anything great — there was a lot actually — but I just thought it was too early to buy souvenirs from this trip. It was only Day 3 of my month-long Southeast Asian trip and I wouldn’t want to worry about overspending in the future.
Just a couple of blocks from Angkor Night Market lies Pub Street. The name alone excites tourists, myself included. As the name suggests, Pub Street is a short alley flanked by clubs, bars, and restaurants, offering a wide variety of culinary treats from Khmer specialties to Western favorites. All these under the glowing neon signs of the establishments that have redefined the tourism culture in the city while providing what travelers look for — a happy hour after an exhausting day of touring.
Most of the customers here are backpackers ready for a drink or two (or twenty). Two of the most popular are Angkor What? and Temple Club, both seem to be on a neck-and-neck race for the award for who’s got the louder speakers. But the amped up music filling the air sets the party mood, with some tourists even dancing in the street. I had a pleasure of watching one female traveler showcase her best Gangnam Style moves.
Tucked in one adjacent alleyway is a bar called Linga. One night, on the way to the Pub Street, we passed by this establishment and we were drawn by the growing crowd. Apparently, the bar stages shows featuring their best gay performers. I also noticed that most of the patrons were gay men. Seeing cities embrace diversity always paints a smile on my face.
The clock was about to strike midnight when I decided I wanted to dance. I asked my friend Bebs to move to a club nearby, but he decided to stay at Linga to finish the show so I went alone. While the club was crowded, I was alone in the first thirty minutes, ordering beer one pint after another. It wasn’t long until I was able to start conversations with other tourists.
A British man, traveling alone, seated beside me at the bar shared how he came to just get lost in the music while drinking. I also met a Cambodian guy my age who kept on dancing with female tourists all night long. I met and danced with a gay couple, a number of straight couples, and a lot of groups of friends who were all dancing together, sometimes pulling me to join their circle as they moved to the beat of the latest international clubbangers under the black light. They moved at a dizzying pace as their clothes glowed, a burst of hypnotic bluish white radiance in the deep dark.
My friend Bebs found me in the middle of the crowd and forced me to buy him a drink, which I did. He danced with other tourists for a short while and then, all of a sudden, decided to call it a night. I would have gone with him because I was scared to walk to the hostel alone, but I did not want to leave the club yet. I was having so much fun here.
Just before he left, I met an Australian backpacker, who then introduced me to another friend. We had a great conversation despite the super loud music, which pushed us to scream each word we threw at one another. The conversation went too far and I thought it was time to go.
While that night ended quite abruptly for me, it was liberating to let loose in a place where no one knew who I was and no one would care about what I do. The neon lights overhead glimmered as I passed underneath as if they were beckoning, convincing me to return at once. ‘Til we meet again, Pub Street.