What a difference a dozen years can make. Mark and I were in Cambodia 12 years ago and came up to Siem Reap to see Angkor Wat, the 12th century Buddhist temple (originally built as a Hindu temple, but later converted to Buddhism) that to this day is the largest religious monument in the world. At the time Cambodia was still emerging from decades of war, both civil and with Vietnam. At the time it was a dusty backpacker haven and while we had heard about the growth over these years, we’ve been blown away by the change. Quite honestly, even looking at pictures of the town back then, we don’t see anything recognizable.
And quite unlike what we experienced back then, there are a number of very classy hotels – a Park Hyatt just opened, while the Aman resort goes for just over $1,000 a night – and nice looking bars. We stopped in one the first night and discovered two important items: the bartender made a very respectable Perfect Manhattan, and it was a gay bar. Who’d have expected either in Cambodia?
One other change that surprised us: the 900-year old temples have changed. In the years since we were last here a number of countries have undertaken projects to restore various sites – in our brief visit we saw projects currently underway sponsored by Japan and India – and we saw noticeable changes. As you walk by these mounds of old stones waiting to get put back up you just wonder, “How do they even know where to start?”
And then it was off to dinner and a drag show. In Siem Reap.