After adding Thailand and Singapore to my World Karaoke Tour, I aimed to make Cambodia the 38th country in which I’ve done karaoke. What had motivated me to go to Cambodia — and specifically, to the city of Siem Reap — was the chance to see a bucket list attraction, the Angkor Wat Temple. Things didn’t quite go according to plan. By the time I left Siem Reap, I had failed to sing karaoke; and although I made it to Angkor Wat, that temple has not been crossed off my bucket list, for reasons that I’ll explain.
No singing in Siem Reap
The main nightlife thoroughfare in downtown Siem Reap is Pub Street. As its name implies, that avenue is lined with pubs, as well as restaurants. The area also abounds with vendors hawking street food. And one end of Pub Street intersects with the night market, a strip of stores that offer a wide variety of souvenirs.
Perhaps the most unusual street food peddlers (compared to what I’d encountered in prior travels) operated a cart whose culinary offerings included tarantulas and fried snakes. I passed up the opportunity to consume such extreme victuals. My lack of adventurousness in this context may have been slightly surprising, given that a little over one year earlier I had dined on a scorpion and worms at the Explorers Club (EC) right in my home city of New York. However, in that earlier instance, the creepy-crawlies that I consumed had been prepared under the expert guidance of the EC’s long-time specialist in preparing that class of food items. (The EC has honoured that chef by bestowing upon him the title of its “Exotics Chairman”; but I digress.) I guess that when it comes to gustatory bravery while on the road, I’m no Andrew Zimmern.
One thing that I didn’t find on Pub Street, or anywhere else in Siem Reap, is karaoke. Well, not the kind that I seek out: the type where I would be singing in public (preferably on a stage) in front of an audience. I managed to locate two large establishments in town that offer private rooms for karaoke (private room karaoke, also known as karaoke box, is overwhelmingly the most popular form of karaoke in much of eastern Asia); but as I’ve written many times, I look forward to performing — not just singing — and trying to win over a room full of strangers. That opportunity couldn’t be found in Siem Reap. And since I was travelling independently as usual, I wasn’t going to pay to sing in a private room by myself. End result: I was shut out karaoke-wise in Cambodia. My next attempt at country no. 38 on my World Karaoke Tour would come a few days later in Seoul, South Korea.
I later decided that what I should have done was to pull a Bill Murray and crash someone’s party in a private room at one of the karaoke box establishments in Siem Reap. 🙂 That may yet happen in a future country in which I encounter similar difficulties finding public karaoke venues. (Such a scenario is particularly likely to occur in other Asian locales.) It wouldn’t be as enjoyable for me as trying to entertain a crowd in a pub or restaurant; but it could be fun, and I have to take what I can get. 🙂
Angkor Wat: It looked great on the outside . . .
I suspect it’s not very common for a traveller to venture to an attraction on his bucket list, only for it to remain on his list even after the conclusion of his visit. But such is the case for me with Angkor Wat. My itinerary in Siem Reap provided me with two full days for exploring the archaeological treasures of Angkor. The first of those days I allocated to visiting Angkor Wat, while the second I planned to devote to Ta Prohm — the temple complex that has trees growing through its ruins — as well as a temple called Angkor Thom.
After my tuk-tuk driver dropped me off at Angkor Wat, I snapped numerous photos of the main temple, including the image immediately below, as well as this one.
To generate a suitable profile picture for my personal Facebook page, I also spent an inordinate amount of time asking strangers to photograph me in front of the temple; many such requests had to be made before I ended up with a photo that I was okay with (namely, the one that you see at the top of this post). I’m way overdue to travel with a selfie stick! Anyway, here are a couple of the less successful results of my “Would you mind taking my picture?” requests:
Because I spent so much time in front of the temple, I barely made it inside the building (I stepped inside for maybe about five minutes), and didn’t take a tour. This resulted from the combination of two factors: (1) because of the pain from my bruised rib, I spent a considerable portion of the earlier part of the day in my hotel room applying ice packs to the area of the injury, so I didn’t set out from the hotel until 2:00 or 2:30 in the afternoon; and (2) my driver was pressuring me to meet him at 4:30 so that he could convey me to the start of a trail that leads to a popular vantage point from which to view the sunset — the top of a temple called Phnom Bahkeng. That didn’t leave much time for me to actually explore Angkor Wat. In retrospect, it was unnecessary to rush over to Phnom Bahkeng so early; I ended up doing plenty of waiting around once I ended up at its summit. And the sunset was decent, but I’d been under the misimpression that I would actually get to witness the sun setting over the Angkor Wat temple (which would have been a spectacular thing to see, no doubt). Contrary to what I had expected, Phnom Bahkeng is to the northwest of Angkor Wat, so from Phnom Bakeng you see the sun dipping over the other side of the horizon. (On the other hand, watching the sun rise over Angkor Wat, which can be done directly from the Angkor Wat site, can reportedly be spectacular. However, I was unwilling to awaken early enough to do that.)
The sunset that I experienced wasn’t worth foregoing a tour of Angkor Wat. I would have liked to be taken through the Angkor Wat temple by a guide, to have some of its notable details pointed out to me, and to have immersed myself in its history in a way that isn’t possible just by reading about the place.
The next day, I toured some of the other great archaeological treasures of Angkor:
But as had been the case the day before, I got a late start on my day’s wanderings after nursing my injured rib. That left me with no time to return to Angkor Wat for a tour. And the next morning I had to go to the airport for my prearranged itinerary to fly to Singapore by way of Bangkok. So I was all out of opportunities to see the interior of Angkor Wat.
Maybe it’s enough that I made it to the grounds of the temple, and stood in front of one of the most iconic silhouettes in the world (i.e., the center of the building with the towers looming over it). A suitable analogy might be that many Parisian tourists are content to gaze upon the Eiffel Tower without ascending to its observation deck. And to be sure, Siem Reap would not be the easiest place to get back to from my home base of New York City. But Angkor Wat is the largest temple in the world, constructed way back in the 12th century. Given my passions for architecture and history, I would love to wander its corridors — and really, to see anything of what can be found behind its façade. And so, Angkor Wat hasn’t been taken off my bucket list — although obviously, I would prioritize a return to it well below sites that I haven’t been to at all, such as the Great Wall of China and the cliffs at Petra, Jordan. Perhaps in a return excursion to Cambodia, I could even explore other parts of the country and find my preferred form of karaoke in another city like Phnom Penh — thereby belatedly adding the country to my World Karaoke Tour. Or I could do the Bill Murray thing in Siem Reap. 🙂