I wander down an alley in Siem Reap, Cambodia, and a shopfront catches my eye; it’s a vintage, French-run souvenir shop containing everything from old hand grenades to sew-on patches to photographs from the early 1900s. It’s my favourite kind of shop. I buy more old photographs, snippets from someone else’s life.
I sit in a restaurant just behind Pub Street. It seems a world away from the party area, or it would do if I couldn’t hear and feel the bass from a notorious bar named “Angkor What?” pounding underneath my feet. My room-mates left today and although it was nice to travel with others for a couple of days whilst here, I’m relieved to be solo again. I’m more myself when I’m alone. I’m less concerned about things which don’t matter.
I’ve moved to another hostel which isn’t as comfortable as our hotel, but the sheer number of people in my fairly open 16 bed dorm means that if I don’t want to be social, nobody will even notice me. I’m on my own but it’s given me the freedom to turn into any street I want, to go somewhere away from the main hub and discover the hidden gems. This is my way. If I’d left today, I would have left disappointed, dismissing Siem Reap as a shitty backpacker hole with nothing to see but the Angkor temples. In every small cafe or boutique shop, travelers of every nationality chat in their own languages, oblivious of my passing by. I like it that way.
I walk through another alley into Pub Street on my way back to my hostel. The area between Temple Bar and Angkor What? is teeming with people, dancing in the street. I pause to take a photo, and one of my favourite songs starts playing in one of the clubs. It’s loud and I smile, the atmosphere infecting me even though I’ve not had a drop of alcohol. A girl next to me grins back, slightly bemused.
I turn, laughing at a tuk-tuk driver’s earnest offer of help, and wander back to my hostel. You wouldn’t know to look at me, but my step is a little lighter than it has been for the last few days.