The last thing I ever thought I’d discover on coming to Asia was an amazing hairdresser. I’d hoped to find new people, tastes and experiences for sure. And to develop a totally new relationship between myself and the world around me, well that would be nice too. But to find a hairdresser able to bid me farewell without wondering where that faint sobbing sound is coming from, not a hope. I’m a fuzzy-haired gingernut, and bitter experience from living in Ireland, England and France had taught me to abandon any dreams of ever having a head that didn’t resemble an orangutan’s pubic area gone mad.
It seems that, rather than trying to help me in my hour/life of need, most hairdressers saw me as an opportunity to cheerfully conduct their weirdest experiments. After all, I suppose they imagined, it could hardly look worse than when I walked in their door, though frequently, amazingly, it actually did.
So, coming to Asia where almost everyone has gorgeous, glossy, straight black hair, I didn’t really hope for much. An experience in India, where the entire salon burst out laughing when I explained that I didn’t need the shampoo for coloured hair, that it really was that colour, didn’t help either. And then I came to Siem Reap.
Whereupon my hair started falling out in great clumps that I could pull out from between the cheeks of my bottom while showering. I do hope you’re not eating your breakfast while reading this? It’s the iron in the water apparently, but if you’re only here for a short while, there’s no problem. That’s why your shampoo isn’t foaming up like it used to though.
And the other thing about Siem Reap of course is tuk tuks, and temples, and dust. After a day out temple hopping, some of us can fold our hair into the most amazing shapes, it’s so stiff (hairigami).
But, for a small, dusty town in the middle of not a lot, Siem Reap now has a remarkable range of options if you’re looking for a haircut, colour or style. To begin with, the numerous, and busy, little salons in Psas Chas (Old Market), offer a wash, cut and blow-dry for two dollars in an atmosphere that shouldn’t be missed. In fact, it’s worth going for a wash and blow-dry alone, just to listen to the gossip and giggles that you’ll never understand, but you’ll still sense the meaning of.
If you’re looking for something a little more hi-tech, or at least featuring more than one wall, then Samras Reachiny Hairdresser may be the place. A straighten and blow-dry is a shocking $3 (how much did you pay the last time you had that done at home?). A wash and blow-dry is $5. They do colouring starting at $20, at which point I can’t say whether they’re good, bad or indifferent as I haven’t tried it (though some people clearly think I should). And since you’re there, and every night is a Saturday night when you’re travelling, then false eyelashes are obligatory, for $5, including a wash and blow-dry.
For two years now, the gorgeous Australian over-achiever Deborah Knight has been cutting hair at Soul Hair Design, above Wild Poppy Boutique opposite Hotel de la Paix. Deborah is the one who’s cracked my hair, and if she can crack mine she can crack anyone’s. She does cuts for women from $18, and also does styling and colouring. Deborah is a very experienced hairdresser, and if your timing’s good she’ll also be able to tell you where she’s singing next – something you absolutely do not want to miss.
Beside the Prince d’Angkor, l’Atelier Coiffure is a new salon that has just opened. Though I haven’t had a chance to visit yet, the reviews coming back from friends have all been on the ecstatic side of rave. Melanie is a French-trained stylist, and has worked in France, England, Spain and Cambodia. Haircuts start at $20, and she also offers a range of luxury treatments featuring Rene Furterer products from France.
No. 83, 84 Tep Vong St, Central Market
Sivatha Blvd, opposite HdlP
T: (017) 974 750
Soul Hair Design
26 Sivatha Blvd
T: (097) 550 1993
Oum Khun St
T: (092) 592 701
The Travelfish newsletter is sent out every Monday and is jammed full of free advice for travel in Southeast Asia. You can see past issues here.