Siem Reap city is coming alive to the sounds of destruction, as hundreds of buildings and parts of buildings in many streets and roads have been pulverised to powdered rubble in scenes similar to CNN footage of the havoc wreaked by Hurricane Delta in Louisiana or by missile attacks in Armenia.
It looks bad, but it’s good, according to the Ministry of Public Works and Transports’ road infrastructure master plan, which has allocated $150 million to rebuild and widen 38 roads. The theory is that once the dust has settled, Siem Reap will be an even more beautiful city and more welcoming for tourists.
But when will the tourists return to Siem Reap? That’s the multi-million-dollar question. In the last few months, the lack of tourist trade has seen many businesses fold. However, some have prevailed, including the trend-setting Little Red Fox Espresso, co-owned by the entrepreneur Adam Rodwell.
“This year has certainly highlighted my strengths and weaknesses, both personally and as a business owner,” Rodwell said. “Many events and projects fell through and, for a time, it was difficult to look up and ahead. It is only because of our team and the Siem Reap community that the business has been able to survive. It really is that simple.”
“The plan moving forward is to work alongside the community and adapt to the new world we have in front of us. Both for the Little Red Fox, and also Kandal village – it is the community ties that allow us to thrive,” said Rodwell.
Rodwell said his business has already started rebounding, and he has begun to hold functions again.
“We were overjoyed to feature Antal Gabelics and his photo exhibition ‘New Khmer Architecture’ last month. Working with Antal and the guys behind One Eleven Gallery was a lot of fun and also very refreshing as it was our first event since the beginning of the year,” he said. “The turnout from the community was excellent and all of us were very happy with the outcome.”
Rodwell has also adapted to the lack of tourism by turning the café’s upstairs area into a community workspace, and on Sunday mornings this area is home to Nathalie Reubens’ Chair Yoga.
Reubens, a Belgian cultural-awareness and Dutch language teacher decided to take a career break and relocated to Siem Reap in March.
“I planned to stay here for one month in a yoga retreat. I have ended up staying for almost eight months now and I earned two yoga teacher training certificates during this time,” she said.
While there are many places providing regular yoga lessons in Siem Reap, Nathalie thought there might be room in town for Chair Yoga.
“I noticed that there are a lot of expats here who might not be into yoga on a mat but are interested in learning some exercises to stay in shape and healthy. I know about Chair Yoga because it is done in some companies in Brussels during lunch breaks, and I thought it would be perfect to teach this here in Siem Reap,” she said. “It is basically yoga for people who might not be that flexible or mobile enough to be down on a yoga mat, or have weak ankles or lower back problems.”
“It is a great way to improve your flexibility and core strength. It has a gentle flow and the chair helps you to keep more balanced and have extra support,” Reubens said. “It has the same benefits as normal yoga, increasing awareness of your body and paying attention to your breathing while performing some adapted yoga sequences.”
Nathalie’s Chair Yoga sessions are held at 9am on Sundays, and the cost is $5 per person for yoga, breakfast and juice.
Circus is in town
The Phare Circus, Siem Reap’s cultural standard-bearer and must-do tourist attraction, is also rebounding after ceasing performances on March 17 by order of the government due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Craig Dodge, Phare’s director of sales and marketing said: “The circus came back to life in mid-June when the
US Embassy held their Independence Day event at our venue with our artists providing entertainment.”
“As restrictions relaxed and we were able to resume operations with the required precautions, we started a weekend schedule on July 31 that we call ‘Phare Circus Rising,’ which was recently extended through to March 2021,” Dodge said.
“Before the main performance, we’ve incorporated a Cambodian Street Food festival in collaboration with chefs from Asian Street Food – Cambodia,” he said. “There is also pre-show entertainment and other activities, like costume and make-up for guests. The entire café area has been decorated and landscaped, and to encourage repeat visits, four different shows rotate each month.”
Event of the week
Authentic Italian cuisine meets traditional Khmer cuisine at Fellini Italian Restaurant, with an eight-course tasting menu prepared by chefs Po Lo from Fellini, and Mengly from Pou Kitchen.
The cost is $22 per person, which includes a free welcome drink and live acoustic music by Giuliano Turello. The feasting starts at 7pm on October 22 at Fellini, Siem Reap.