Our Local Knowledge interviews – and the other expert interviews we do for our local guides and Playlist series – are with locals we’ve befriended who have helped us get beneath the skin of a place, by sharing insider advice, hidden gems, local secrets, and their most favourite things to do.
They’re generally people unconnected to tourism. We’ve interviewed artists, chefs, singers, a filmmaker, musicians, a surfing instructor, an oceanographer, a photographer, an author, an art director, a cultural historian, a pro horserider, restaurant critics, a sports project manager, an event manager, graphic designers, food bloggers, fashion designers, shop owners, publishers, and sometimes simply old friends. Phew! We’ve been busy.
Out of 46 Local Knowledge interviews, there have only been a handful of exceptions where we’ve interviewed tour guides (in Krakow, Cape Town, Alberobello, and Kotor), hotel staff (in the Masai Mara), a concierge (in Bali), and a riad manager-cook (in Marrakech), and that’s because those people were special. They touched us in some way – generally with their warmth, their passion for the place, and their generosity when it came to sharing their local knowledge.
Janet Chan is one of those people. A Sydney girl, born in Hong Kong, Janet lives in Siem Reap, where she manages the PR, sales and marketing for Hotel de la Paix. One of her tasks is to assist a visiting writer-photographer team like us to get what we need to produce the best possible stories we can. Normally, this involves things like making sure rooms are available to photograph, enabling us to shoot public spaces, bars and restaurants, coordinating with chefs to shoot photographs of dishes we tried and liked, liaising with staff to shoot portraits, and answering all my questions.
Janet did all that and did it well, and – along with her colleague Christina, who handles guest relations – went out of her way to assist in other ways as well. As our magazine story was focused on the chic side of Siem Reap, I had a long list of shops, restaurants, cafés and bars I’d uncovered during research that I wanted to check out. Janet and Christina not only went through my list and gave advice, they arranged appointments for us with people like fashion designer Eric Raisina, hired a tuk-tuk, showed us around, and introduced us to locals, from artisans to chefs. We got twice as much done in half the time it would normally take us.
What really struck us about Janet was her passion for Siem Reap. With ten years experience in tourism, it was obviously the chance to work for such a beautiful hotel that drew her to Siem Reap, but something else is keeping her there. Since we left Siem Reap, Janet hasn’t emailed me about hotel promotions or packages, she’s got in touch about projects she’s promoting for the community – from helping clothe and feed disadvantaged families to raising funds to rebuild houses damaged in the recent floods. I not only want to know about what they’re doing there, I want to help.
When I asked Janet what makes Siem Reap special for her, her answer didn’t surprise me: “The people, definitely!”
What do you most love about your work?
The fact that it is much more than an ordinary ‘sales and marketing’ role, and a lot of the things we do at the hotel changes the lives of our fellow staff and the beautiful Khmer (Cambodian people). I’m particularly proud of our commitment to local community projects, such as Share Your Shirt, Bikes and Bags, the Sewing School, etc, that help make Siem Reap and Cambodia a better place for its people.
Why should people come to Siem Reap?
To experience the culture and appreciate the historical architecture of the Angkor ruins. But it’s also a perfect place for R&R with variety of great restaurants and day spas in town.
3 words to describe Siem Reap?
Vibrant, everchanging, and safe – which might be a surprise to some people, but it’s one of the safest cities in South East Asia.
3 ways to describe the people?
Genuinely kind, cheerful and honest – if you have put on weight they will tell you to your face (in all honesty)!
Your top recommendations for visitors to Siem Reap?
For art lovers, a visit to the Arts Lounge at our hotel is a must. It features up and coming Khmer artists with a different arts collection every two months. Phnom Kulen (Kulen Mountain) is a hidden gem. Also explore the less popular Angkor temples, which are tranquil.
Best souvenir from Siem Reap?
Accessories, jewellery, and even carpets, made by disadvantage Khmer who have been especially trained by NGOs. The products are good quality and your purchase helps to keep the cycle and build a better future for the locals.
Must-do eating experiences?
If time and weather permits, I would recommend a Khmer dinner in the countryside, overlooking the rice fields during sunset – it’s very scenic even though you are only 15 minutes from town. Otherwise, don’t miss the delicious tasting plates and desserts at AHA.
An essential thing to know before coming to Siem Reap?
There is more to Siem Reap than just the temples! Make sure you plan enough days to spend here or you’ll regret it. I would recommend at least three extra nights so you can fully enjoy the town, pamper yourself at a day spa, try a few nice restaurants, shop around town, and visit some galleries and workshops. I love Frangipani Spa and Spa Indochine for some pampering; Il Forno, AHA, and Abacus for food; and Wild Poppy, Artisan d’Angkor, Senteurs d’Angkor, and Theam’s House for shopping.
Most important phrase to learn in Cambodian?
“Orkun!” – thank you! Even though most Khmer speak great English, it’s best to show your appreciation in the local language.
Any other advice?
US dollars are widely accepted here so there’s no need to exchange money for Riels.