Angkor beer in Cambodia
As I dodged vendors outside Siem Reap’s old market, one tuk-tuk driver called out with an enticing proposition. His vehicle, he joked, had free Wi-Fi and free air conditioning. In the muggy early evening heat, beads of perspiration pooling at my neck, I imagined for a heady second that it might be true.
Hours earlier, my friend and I had crossed from Thailand into Cambodia, through bleak border towns notable only for how forgettable they were. Fresh from a minivan that hurtled down the two-lane highway in semi-darkness, horn blaring at competing traffic, we were won over by the tuk-tuk driver’s enthusiastic sales pitch. We arranged to go with him to the temples of Angkor the next day.
Little did I know I was about to embark on my longest love affair. At this grand site, desperation soon drove me into the arms of the country’s watery national brew, Angkor. It was an unlikely coupling: a snobbish wine drinker with a much-maligned local beer. But I like to think it was fate.
Sapped of energy after a day spent traipsing around Angkor Wat under a baking sun, we asked the driver to make one last stop—for sundown—at a temple named in the guidebooks as Pre Rup. There, we bought some cans of Angkor, named for this architectural feat of the Khmer civilization, and drank them as we perched on the ancient stonework. There is something magical about sitting on a 10th-century archeological wonder built by a king to honor the gods, watching a giant red orb sink beneath the tree tops and knocking back a beer.
The drinks seller was canny and seized an opportunity. A second round, served from his orange cooler for less than a dollar, had me on my way to infatuation. A third, at a grungy club back in Siem Reap’s tourist trap district, sealed my new love of hops and barley.
It did not take long to move on to better brews, in different places. But moving on from this enigmatic country would take much longer. Sometimes, a sip of beer in a crowded, overheated British pub would transport me to those humid Cambodian nights.
Four years later, I was drawn back. An equally bewildering ride from Phnom Penh’s airport dumped me in the capital, where during my last visit an aging elephant had walked the riverfront with advertisements draped over its great hide. Motorbikes were being replaced by four-wheel drives in a newly moneyed city, but the drivers still had to dodge each other and the potholes that spring up overnight after heavy rains. Some tuk-tuks really do offer Wi-Fi now; air conditioning is yet to come. Angkor can be found on every street corner. I still haven’t left.