Getting to know The Lane, Siem Reap
What we say:
A couple of years ago the once dark and dingy Lane in Siem Reap looked like not much more than a decent prospect for a drugs score. Today it’s developing into a trendy little enclave, home to many an expat’s favourite hangout, with an atmosphere a world apart from tawdry Pub Street only a few metres away. The changes came gradually at first, but they’re coming on so fast in the last few months that it’s giving me head spins, and that’s before I even get to Miss Wong. Notwithstanding this flurry of activity, I get the feeling that many visitors never make the extra few steps it takes to go and explore it. So, to give you an idea of what’s there, here’s a rundown of what you can expect to find along The Lane.
Establishments on The Lane include the Silk Garden, a smooth and intimate garden hangout with reasonably regular live gigs, and four-years-young Miss Wong, a Shanghai opium den-styled cocktail bar and one of the few venues on the ‘You really, really mustn’t miss’ list. Further down The Lane, tiny boho wine/cocktail bar Little Pari now qualifies as positively old by comparison to her neighbours, though sets a standard for the maxim that class never ages.
All the others by comparison are absolute Johnny-come-latelies, with most of them only opening their doors in the last year or so. In that brief, dizzying, period of time everyone’s instantly favourite Italian, Il Forno, has expanded to occupy three buildings. The Giddy Gecko became the Nomad Shisha Bar, with an extensive range of flavoured shisha pipes, soft cushions and an ambient vibe. Blush Boutique next door is where you’ll find a selection of clothes, shoes, cosmetics and smellies. Meanwhile, La Boulangerie on The Lane is not strictly new, but an extension of the immensely popular bakery/café on Street 7 that is besieged every morning with homesick Frenchmen. Next door to Miss Wong, you’ll also find Yokohama, a Japanese restaurant and hang-out that is continuing to grow.
I’m not going to talk about the ghastliness at the end of The Lane. Except to say that the market there is ugly, unimaginative and unnecessary and while I wouldn’t consider myself an overwrought aesthete by any stretch, it still makes me want to delicately put pained palm to pained brow and sigh “l’horreur, oh l’horreur!” I don’t though, just in case you’re wondering. There are plenty of other, better markets in Siem Reap, especially the Angkor Night Market, the oldest and still the best of the lot.
One of the latest additions to The Lane is Three Seasons, which opened a little over three months ago. It’s sort of a three-for-the-price-of-one clothes shop that stitches together the talents of young American designer Rachel Faller under her label KeoK’jay; the established Phnom Penh fashion label, Elsewhere; and, with Zoco, the eye of Spanish entrepreneur Nuria Lopez Conesa who brings in designs from around the region. The fashion sensibilities of each are different, but complementary. Faller’s look tends towards the young and urban, Elsewhere is a more mature label with classic design ethics, and Zoco clearly has an eye for colour and offbeat styles. They are all however strong, modern and feminine, and very well priced. There is also a small selection of men’s clothing too.
I’m a little bit of a control freak so, even under Miss Wong’s charm, it’s hard for me to imagine ever getting drunk enough to consider karaoke a good idea. I find the enduring appeal of this peculiar form of entertainment a greater mystery than my pre-pubescent penchant for Shakin’ Stevens, and crueller on my senses than a Roman’s long weekend. But, human beings being what they are, i.e. largely deranged, karaoke’s reach is now global and my only hope is a set of earplugs and/or wire-cutters.
On the upside in Siem Reap, most karaoke bars are local so the chances of finding one’s evening besmirched by a half-naked Australian screeching “I will survive hey eyyyyyy” are mercifully limited. You can imagine my dismay then when I spotted the sign for a new bar called Marcello, which brazenly sports the words “European Karaoke”. Here in the air-conditioned and smoke-free bar, 5,000 songs we all know and love have been listed for massacre in English, French, Italian and Spanish. I’ll try to be charitable and not consider you to be in need of profound psychological help if you go, but don’t even think about asking for back-up. (And if you are a karaoke fan, Travelfish.org does cover it in Bangkok, Hanoi and Saigon.)
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