The first time I visited Siem Reap, in 2005, I arrived overland, taking the train from Bangkok to the Cambodian border, before flagging down a taxi for the drive to the town made famous by Angkor Wat. I remember grinding into its centre in a car with a smashed windscreen, its semi-flat tyres kicking up plumes of dust from the dusty mess of loose gravel.
Fifteen years later, just before the pandemic would put the country on lockdown, I flew in, and within minutes of leaving the airport – on a glass-smooth ribbon of tarmac, in my minty-smelling Uber – it was clear Siem Reap had changed beyond all recognition. In 2005, there were two five-star hotels – the Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor and the Hotel de la Paix (now a Hyatt). A friend knew someone at the latter and I was given spa access for the day. I remember traipsing there from my hostel, feeling self-conscious as I crept past guests sprawled on poolside sun-loungers, no doubt frowning in disgust at the yellow dust billowing from my elephant pants.
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