It is official. I am old and arthritic. Possibly also hunchbacked. Today I woke up stiff, achey, and perplexed. Had I run a marathon? Been in a boxing match? No, I’d done a little bit of housework. This, apparently, is enough to send my muscles into spasms.

Thankfully I live in a city where every other building seems to be a spa. I wandered a while downtown before settling on Luck Nuvo, a newly opened and bizarrely named spa on Street 06. I was a little bit surprised at first because it’s very obviously aimed at Japanese tourists, and I hadn’t come across a Japanese spa in Siem Reap before. The brochure is full of charming engrish:

 “This traditional Swedish style massage will lubricate the skin with the special massage oil that warm up and work the muscle tissue.”

I chose the Japanese Hogushi massage, designed to “ease away the days’s stresses and strains”, with a slightly cynical snigger. I love massages, but I’m the sort of restless idiot who starts thinking about spreadsheets, to-do lists and other irritations the minute my head hits that massage table.

The prologue was pleasant enough: a choice of herbal teas, a cold compress, a very thorough foot wash, and then I was asked to change into some very soft cotton garments. This is when the magic started. I have no idea what the massage therapist did, but within minutes I could feel the tension leaving my body and brain. This was unlike any massage I’ve ever had. There was no kneading or long strokes, but a lot of precise pressure, expertly applied, that released warmth along my limbs. There was a lot of stretching too, of the legs, back and arms, using her knees and arms as counterbalance to my movements. Unlike many local massage ladies, she was very attentive, paying close attention to my reactions, adjusting her technique as we went along, expressing concern at my relieved sighing. About half way through I was so comfortable and relaxed I started hoping she would just wrap me up in a goose down duvet and leave me to nap for an hour or so. She could have slipped an apple in my mouth, roast hog style, I didn’t care.

You must excuse the slightly crappy images, because I was too busy feeling like a giant marshmallow, all soft and light, to take decent snaps:

The charming receptionist told me they only opened a month ago, but that their therapists had previously been working in a hotel. It’s a bit dear (by local standards) at $35 for 60 minutes, but they’re currently offering a $10 discount, as well as a 10% voucher off Senteurs d’Angkor and a Blue Pumpkin ice cream voucher. FREE ICE CREAM. AFTER THE MASSAGE OF DREAMS. I die.

This may all sound a little bit hyperbolical, but I want others – YOU – to partake in this heavenly experience. When I left the spa, I headed for lunch at a Mexican restaurant. Within minutes I felt my eyes closing, and then I was fighting the urge to fall asleep face down in my chimichanga. In your face, overactive brain.

Where: Number 693/695, Street 06, Siem Reap (round the corner from Canadia Bank)

Website: There’s a Japanese website of sorts, or try their facebook page

Opening hours: 10 am to 11 pm

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There’s an ongoing joke in this household that no visit to Siem Reap is complete without a visit to Psar Krom. World renowned temples? Been there, done that. Floating villages? The Tonlé Sap is just a glorified pond. Happy Ranching, quad biking, microlighting? Pshhh. Adventure is for losers. Psar Krom is where it’s at.

Of course, you’re unlikely to ever see a tourist near Psar Krom, because Psar Krom looks like this:

It’s a dusty, scrappy, thronging labyrinth of a market. In my opinion it’s the best place in town to see the fantastic produce Cambodia has to offer, and to experience food shopping the way locals do. Much more airy than Psar Chas or Psar Leu, Psar Krom has whole sections in the semi-open. Admittedly, my standards are lax to say the least, but it’s also relatively clean, and if you go early enough you may not even notice the smell of the lively fish section: baskets of fresh fish, most still wriggling and alive, deftly dispatched and cleaned by the vendors before they can make a jump for it.

It’s also an excellent place to observe the very best of Cambodian pyjama fashion:

Although you should be prepared to be pushed and shoved around by the crowd, it’s a pretty friendly market, with no hard sell. Look out for fresh spice mixes for soups and curries, chunks of orange pumpkin, sticky doughnuts coated in caramel, large vats of fresh palm sugar, and delicious smoked sausages hanging from the rafters. There’s a dried fish vendor for all your breakfast needs. The waffle stand, if it’s open, is particularly worth the detour, because there is nothing more satisfying than a Cambodian waffle straight from the wood-fired iron. To find it, just follow the delicious smell.

Before you go, take a minute to look up a the old metal structure, with holes like stars shining through the cobwebs. It’s really quite beautiful. In your face, Ta Prohm.

Where: Psar Krom Road, Siem Reap.

Tip: Go early, most of the action will be done by 11 am.

It has just occurred to me, sitting here in the sweltering sweaty heat, that I am homesick. It’s not that I miss the neverending rain and dark, ominous skies, nor the steady stream of dreadful recession news and depressing statistics on unemployment. But after a year and a half of gallivanting around South East Asia, I sometimes yearn for a few moments of peace and normality.

I would like to blot out the calls of “Lady! Lady!” as I’m walking down the street, to enjoy some guilt-free shopping without wondering whether I’m supporting the right social enterprise, and a bite to eat that is not themed, “traditional”, or mock authentic.

I want, in short, to indulge in a bit of familiarity, and this is exactly what I found at Upstairs Café.

Recently opened on Wat Bo Road by a French lady, the café is a welcoming and breezy space. It’s wonderfully quiet up there, the perfect place to enjoy a coffee and the piles of Elle Deco magazines.

It’s a real shame the lunch menu was limited to only a couple of options, because my creamy carrot soup and slice of lemon cake were delicious. This is just the sort of food my Mamie would have made, if my Mamie hadn’t been a chain smoking grump holed up in the dark depths of the Ardèche.

So hey! Lady! Lady! If you’re reading this, can we have some more please?

Where: Upstairs Café, above Madame Beergarden, Wat Bo Road, Siem Reap

Website: try the Café’s Facebook page

Opening times:

Tuesday – Friday 9am-6pm

Saturday – Sunday 8am – 6pm

Closed on Monday

Tip: If the friendly waitresses tell you there’s an Apple Farm Cake in the oven, wait. It looked delicious.


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Those who know me know the fraught relationship I have with my hair. It is thick, curly, unruly, and regularly threatens to throttle me in sleep. It has been particularly badly behaved since I moved to South East Asia, developing a surly, frizzy personality and the appearance of an angry nest of spiders. In the past year I’ve approached hair salons with a  mixture of healthy fear and rampant optimism, with varying results.

In Siem Reap the choices are varied. Fancy getting your bicycle serviced or shirt tailored while you’re getting a trim? Head for the little streets behind L’Hôtel de la Paix. Don’t mind the smell of raw meat, or catfish making a desperate flop for their lives at your feet? At Psar Chas you’ll find tiny salons in the market’s dark alleys, inches away from the fresh  produce and fly ridden butcher stalls. Or if you’re feeling flush, you could try Soul Hair Design, the Western owned hair salon above the Wild Poppy Boutique.

My recommendation? The (ahem) originally named Angkor Salon & Spa, a cheap and sanitary alternative to the above. It sits on the little no name street by the side of the Angkor Trade Centre, near Psar Chas, in a little shophouse that’s just been renovated.

The genius of Angkor Salon & Spa is in the washing of the hair. It’s a prolonged, relaxing affair that takes place in the back of the salon, at washing stations that are like little beds. The hair gets washed twice, thoroughly, and they give you a very pleasant head, ear, and neck massage too. Is there anything more relaxing than thick soapy foam on the back of your  neck when you’ve been battling the sweat and red dust of the roads?

I like the retro charm of this place. There’s a lot of plastic and leatherette but the girls are handy with a blowdrier. It feels like a neighbourhood salon, the sort of place where women go to pamper themselves and gossip while getting their hair done. They also offer spa services – there’s a mysterious large jacuzzi in the back – as well as manicures, pedicures, and something called “spa hair”, which seems a bit dear at $15.

The hairdressers don’t speak any English, so make sure you bring a picture of exactly what you want, or a Khmer speaking friend. During my last visit a miscommunication resulted in the boss lady attacking my bangs with thinning shears, so beware. But for $5 a haircut, who can complain?

Where: Opposite Angkor Trade Centre

Opening times: 7.30 am to 9.30 pm

Do you know any good hairdressers in Siem Reap?


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FRESH NEW YORK BAGELS! shouts the little cart at the corner of Pub Street, adding, slightly more confusingly, “wink! wink!”.

The bagels are large and plump, and I spotted my favourites sesame and onion flavoured behind the glass window. I’m on a self-imposed dairy ban and a bagel is nothing without the cream cheese, so I haven’t tasted them yet. But I love the idea of a freshly toasted bagel on the dusty Siem Reap road.

$1 for a bagel and cream cheese

Where: At the corner of Pub Street, near Red Piano, Siem Reap.