The first time I went to Siem Reap, nearly 20 years ago, the Cambodian city was a mere dusty town. Arriving in Siem Reap’s centre on the back of a tuk tuk, I walked the quiet streets like the backpacker I was, trying to find somewhere to stay. There weren’t many options back then, but I did find a budget hotel near a bar called The Red Piano that was trading off its newfound fame as Angelina Jolie’s hangout during the filming of the Tomb Raider movie.
Over subsequent trips, I’ve noticed the changes in Cambodia, most recently in February 2020, my final overseas journey before the pandemic slammed shut most international borders. In Siem Reap, it was incredible to see what had happened to that modest neighbourhood of yesteryear. Backpacker Michael would not have recognised the city and, in fact, when I went looking for The Red Piano bar, I was shocked to find its rat-infested dirt alley had transformed into a crowded boulevard of restaurants, nightclubs, and neon signs called Pub Street.