Siem Reap Scene: 16 Jul 2009

Siem Reap Scene: 16 Jul 2009

Loven Ramos, considered one of Siem Reap’s hot young 'creatives'.


Siem Reap's elevation to the new capital of cool continues in the current issue of Bangkok Airways Fah Thai magazine with a cover line about "Why young creatives are being drawn to Siem Reap." An article titled "The New Siem Reapers", written by Charlie Lancaster with cool photos by photographer Vinh Dao, explores why "more and more artists are moving to Cambodia's second city". The three artists profiled in the article are graphic designer Loven Ramos, couturier and curator of Hotel de la Paix's The Arts Lounge; Don Protasio and fashion designer Elizabeth Kiester. In the article, Loven Ramos posits: "Siem Reap has the spice of cosmopolitan life, but the casualness of the beach without the sand. The vibe is very much now." Don Protasio added: "We want to change people's perspective of art and fashion in Siem Reap; it isn't all 2D depictions of Angkor Wat, it is charming, edgy, young." Siem Reap also scored high in the creative stakes in Fah Thai's May-June 2009 issue, with some of its architecture feted in a feature about Asia's five foremost creative architects. One of the listed architects was Siem Reap's Lisa Ros, known for her distinctive work in town. She cut her career teeth helping her father Ros Barath redesign the Kantha Bopha children's hospital. Also highlighted in the article is Kerry Hill of Singapore, whose legacy in Siem Reap is the unusual upmarket bunker-like design of Amansara hotel.

Big changes are under way in Siem Reap's hospitality sector as the low season and recessed global economy bite in. Reports from many large hotels suggest that staff have been asked to take unpaid leave, and some smaller cafes and bars are shutting down. One of the victims is Angelina's Art Cafe and Night Bar, which has thrown in the towel and sold off most of its fittings and equipment. This joins about half a dozen SMEs that have closed their doors in recent weeks, with perhaps The Grill setting a record for the quickest shutdown of a new venture. Alex Sutherland transformed his Burgers Without Borders diner into a dinner restaurant called The Grill but shut it down just over a week after opening due to lack of clientele. There was also an ownership change last week with Bruno Luciani quitting Le Bistrot de Paris, which opened in 2006. The new owner is Victor Remigi, who operates a resort business on the outskirts of Phnom Penh. Remigi has installed Patrick Lesecq as manager. Lesecq says he has lived in Siem Reap for about two years, but becomes quite agitated when asked what he did during that period. An expat icon, the Angkor Market, is now certain to quit its present location towards the end of this year, moving across the road to a new building under construction on what was the former site of Abacus restaurant.

Siem Reap made a surprise appearance in Travel + Leisure magazine's 14th annual World's Best City Awards readers' survey announced last Friday. Siem Reap was ranked as the 18th best city in the world in the American Express-owned magazine's survey. Other cities in the Southeast Asian region that scored rankings above Siem Reap were Bangkok, rated 3rd; Chiang Mai, rated 5th; and Luang Prabang, rated 7th. For the first time, Udaipur, India, was named World's Best City, displacing last year's winner Bangkok. The magazine stated that criteria for ranking the cities included sights, culture/arts, restaurants/food, people, shopping and value. Siem Reap's high Travel + Leisure ranking follows a drubbing by the very same magazine in its May issue in a special report about "Shangri La destinations" that have lost their shine due to popularity. World-weary veteran travel writer Anthony Mecir was particularly harsh on Siem Reap, describing it as a "frenzied, dust-blown work site", the home of "multi-storey hotels with plate-glass windows ... springing up on the banks of the river, into which raw sewage oozed from legions of guesthouses". Mecir also ridiculed rich tourists who are attracted to Siem Reap. "The world's rich and coddled had also discovered Angkor, so the spiritually traumatised can now book healing sessions with 'life coaches' flown from the US, or 'Angkorean' stomach wraps of lotus leaf and warm rice at luxury spas."

Young up-and-coming Siem Reap chefs can now apply for the Miele Guide Culinary Scholarship Program 2009-10, with the deadline for applications set for August 31. Consultant Cheryl Chia told the Post that young Cambodian chefs aged 18 to 29 years old are eligible to apply for the scholarships. "Aspiring chefs from Cambodia will have their shot at receiving the training they need since Cambodia is one of the countries evaluated in the guide," she said. This could be a career boost for one of the legion of young chefs in Siem Reap, as the scholarship provides training at the At-Sunrice GlobalChef Academy in Singapore. The scholarship program is jointly sponsored by Miele and At-Sunrice, and supported by Singapore Workforce Development Agency under the Singapore Workforce Skills Qualifications framework this year. For more details, go to The results will be revealed at the launch of The Miele Guide 2009-10 on September 30, 2009, and voting for restaurant placements in this edition has now closed.


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