Farewell Cambodia, and hello Laos. We made it into Pakse on a tiny plane and it’s just about time I told you what we got up to in Siem Reap. I finished the last post with the three of us sitting in the Red Piano (the famous haunt of Lara Croft in human form), sipping margaritas. I apologise for the delay in getting this post out. My tablet has been an unreliable machine lately, and taking photos in RAW has added another step onto my unwieldy workflow. I’m currently sitting in a bungalow on a tiny island, Don Khon in Si Phan Don (the Four Thousand Islands), but I’ll have more on that later.
Travelling had taken it out of me, so I slept like a log and was in no hurry to get up. Unfortunately it couldn’t last forever, and we had to entertain the possibility of breakfast. There was no breakfast included in our hotel rate, so after exploring the Old Market and the origins of the food court (with added cockroaches), we settled for a little restaurant called Happy Herb Pizza. Like most restaurants in Siem Reap, Happy Herb also offered Khmer cuisine, so I had a bowl of noodle soup with pork and vegetables, and a strawberry Italian soda. Weird combo, yes, but it wasn’t the weirdest thing I would try this trip. Our brunch lasted a good while, then we ambled back to the hotel to plan the rest of the day.
The weather was threatening to turn, with storms forecast later in the day, and we had an afternoon to kill. What do you do when you can’t go out? Stay in, of course, and lock yourself in a room for an hour. I booked us in for the Great Escape, an escape the room game based at Siem Reap shopping centre. The price included pick-up and drop-off at our hotel, so all we had to do was kill time until then. Ice cream time! Blue Pumpkin is an ice cream chain based in Cambodia with several branches in Siem Reap, most notably a store in Angkor Wat. We visited the Old Market store and ordered chocolate sundaes. The ice cream was great, and the setting was even better. A haven of calm in the madness that is Siem Reap.
The Great Escape
Ever since the fantastic escape the room games I played with Sarah in Budapest, I’ve been on the look out for similar experiences. While trying to find things to do for the afternoon, a thought suddenly came to me. There may be a slim chance, but could there be an escape the room game in Siem Reap? A quick search brought up the rather slick-looking website of the Great Escape, only a short tuk tuk ride away. The venue looked very professional, and we were greeted and given bottles of water on arrival, and told to relax until the room was ready. “Seize every sales opportunity with both hands” seems to be the motto of Cambodia, Siem Reap in particular, and we were offered a deal for two games instead of one. I knew how fun they could be, and we had plenty of time to kill during the downpour outside, so we went for it. To the first room, “the Lost Room”. You are an intrepid treasure hunter, looking for treasures stolen from the temples of Angkor by a rival adventurer. We were given our brief, then the staff member left the room and the clock started. Sixty minutes to get out of the room, or else. I had given Alan and Steven a few helpful tips from the last game I played, but as soon as the clock started I seemed to forget everything I knew. We immediately set to work dismantling the room and trying to figure out the clues. It was frustrating at times, but great fun all the same, and we made it out! Well, we may have needed a few hints along the way. Staff were available via walkie-talkie, and though their hints may have been cryptic at times, they were helpful and even gave us more time to escape. It was brilliant fun, and well worth trying if you ever get the chance in Siem Reap or anywhere else – escape the room games are all over the world. A great alternative if you’re suffering from temple fatigue or burn-out.
Escaping locked rooms is tiring work, but the evening was far from over. I reserved a table at HAVEN, a training restaurant, for 6 o’clock on Monday. I had a fantastic meal there last year, and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to go and eat at their new location. The rain was still heavy, and we would’ve been completely soaked walking even with umbrellas, so we opted for a tuk tuk. Trying to get a tuk tuk driver to take us was another story. No-one seemed keen to go out in the downpour, and even fewer had even heard of HAVEN. We managed to find a willing driver and made our way across the river to the new premises for the grand total of three dollars. Two to three dollars will get you most places in town, but I prefer walking as you can take in the surroundings at your own pace. One major advantage of being in a tuk tuk is that other tuk tuk drivers don’t hassle you. “Hallo sir, you need tuk tuk?” “Tuk tuk!” “Where you going?” “Tuk tuk yes please” “Maybe later?” “You going to temples” etcetera. They seem convinced that Westerners are unable to walk the length of themselves, and need a ride everywhere. If I took taxis that often at home, I’d be bankrupt in about a week. It does mean they are there and willing if you need them, unlike the 15-forever minute wait of some taxi companies back home.
The new HAVEN was quite stunning. A beautiful garden with a covered seating area curling round the perimeter – paradise. The menu looked even better than before, and we started with fried salt and pepper calamari, fresh spring rolls, and satay skewers. The calamari was the winning starter, perfectly cooked and seasoned, and not at all rubbery like some squid dishes. I chose prawns on a bed of green curry with a spicy salad and potato and bacon croquettes for my main. No regrets at all. The food was fresh with incredible flavours, not at all bland like some Khmer cuisine can be. The fusion of Western and Eastern worked well most of the time, but the croquettes felt a little out of place, even if they were delicious. For dessert, I had banana cake with cookie ice cream. This was the only slight downer, as the cake was dense and didn’t have an overly strong flavour. The choice of desserts was limited, and I got the feeling that dessert wasn’t a big feature in Khmer cuisine like it would be at home. In summary, a fantastic meal, and three courses with drinks (draft Angkor beer, which quickly became our standard choice) for three people came to the grand total of $60. Perhaps a little pricey for Cambodia, but an absolute bargain compared to home. We finished off the evening with a stroll around the night markets and a beer in the Mexican restaurant near the Old Market.