I have just come back from Siem Reap in Cambodia where I spent last two weeks. I left quite a bit of my life teaching English in this Cambodian town ,the gateaway to the temples of Angkor, and every time I go back it's a sentimental journey. For last six months I had been fantasizing about going back but I couldn't because of the Thai working visa processes and so I had been taken hostage by Thai bureaucrats since I arrived , and I just couldn't wait to break free. Finally, two weeks ago, I got my work permit (I'm a legal alien now). Two days later I got on a mini van and my holiday started.
People go to Siem Reap to see Angkor Wat, to have a cruise on the Tonlesap Lake, to visit Kulen Mountain and usually leave after few days. I didn't do any of these things this time. I was solely interested in catching up with the friends who are still living in the town, eating food, resting at the pool and indulging guiltlessly in the sun with a colourful alcoholic beverage in my hand. And in this I succeeded.
Siem Reap is an interesting place when it comes to the expat population. People from all over the world come and settle down here. Some of them start businesses: restaurants, hotels, guesthouses, many of them work for NGOs and local schools. There is also a small population of those who professionally do nothing but enjoy the sun and the slow paced life. On a small area one can meet people from all over the world though I have a feeling that the place has been traditionally colonized (wink, wink) by the French and the English. I know also some Americans, Italians, Canadians and Russians, Australians but not as many. As for the Polish, I think, though I might be wrong, that I was the only expat from Poland at that time. I'm wondering if there's anybody from Poland living in SR now. I would say that though small, Siem Reap is quite cosmopolitan, as much as a town like this can be anyway.
I thought that being in Siem Reap will be like going back in time. Same places, same people. Same same - old good and known. And yes in a way it is. The town has changed but for me it's still Siem Reap and I know what to expect from it: nagging from tuk-tuk drivers, endless offers of massage, streets full of food and souvenirs - regular stuff. This hasn't changed. But it's not all this that makes Siem Reap such an important place to me. It's people and their lives which have changed in many ways over the years. Businesses have got closed or expanded, friendships have fallen apart, new marriages have been concluded, some have dissolved. Children who I remember in their diapers have grown. Some of our friends have left us forever. Some people have decided to leave Siem Reap and go back home or settle down somewhere else. There's this lovely English couple who have lived in the town for many years now and who literally adopted me when I first came to Cambodia. I consider them my Cambodian family: they never turned their backs on me; they have always been willing to help me when in need. Lovely people, fantastic friends to many expats in the town. Annie and Dennis are also moving away. This is a huge loss for the community and for me - going back to SR will never be the same knowing that they won't be there. A great loss for the SR community but I cross my fingers that they will be ridiculously happy where they are heading.
I left Siem Reap this morning a bit sad. I will miss the mayhem of the town, the quizzes hosted by Curt at the Warehouse and the monthly quiz at the Rosy's. Guest house which regularly gathers friends around a charity quiz table. I'm just now missing a karaoke event which I know is great... I will be missing bumping onto people I know, which in Bangkok is impossible even if I knew much more people than I do because BKK is such a sprawled monster of a city. I’m leaving my SR community happy that I have seen people in good shape and health and with hope that those who struggle with anything will find their ways. I wish you all the best and looking forward to seeing you again.