As it’s Halloween tomorrow night we thought we’d share some images from Halloween in Siem Reap last year. Whether you like Halloween or not, participating in festivals and events or celebrating holidays when you travel is a fantastic way to meet locals.
First, a confession: we’ve never been into Halloween and never really participated until last year. We’re Australian and Halloween was never part of our culture or tradition growing up down under. When people started to throw Halloween parties in Australia and kids started trick or treating our inclination was to go out to dinner or stay in and refuse to answer the door. The idea was so foreign and we’d had enough of American cultural imperialism.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved to dress up and we had a reputation for throwing memorable costume parties when we lived in Sydney in the late 1980s and ’90s, from our Period Party (not what you’re thinking – people came in an outfit from their favourite historical period) to a (surprise) super-hero themed party I threw Terence for a birthday.
Our tradition, upbringing and beliefs aside, Halloween just never appealed. We were filmmakers when we were younger and I taught film for many years, but horror films, scary movies, and B-grade monster flicks were my least favourite genres.
After we moved overseas in 1998, however, we started to see holidays, festivals and celebrations that weren’t necessarily part of our culture, very differently. We started seeing them as a way into other cultures.
As expats living in the United Arab Emirates for many years, we used to get excited when it was Diwali and our Indian neighbours in our Dubai apartment building hung fairy lights in their windows and placed illuminated candles around their welcome mats. In Abu Dhabi, we delighted in the different traditions of the various Eids. Although we also got a bit teary when we saw goats and sheep tethered to light poles and a few days later saw our Muslim neighbours washing away the pools of blood.
Songkran in Thailand can be fun, providing you’re prepared. Pchum Ben ancestors festival in Cambodia is fascinating to observe, as are the New Year rituals at the pagodas and around Angkor. When we lived in Hoi An we always looked forward to the monthly full moon rituals.
If we arrive serendipitously in a place when a festival or holiday celebration is underway, as we have everywhere from Rio de Janeiro to Perpignan, Sardinia to San Miguel de Allende, we’ll join in as participants or observers as they provide a fantastic way to not only get an insight into a culture but also to connect with locals.
On Halloween in Siem Reap last year, we headed out to see what was happening and were surprised to see that there were Halloween parties everywhere. Pub Street and the surrounding alleys were full of revelers in fancy dress, masquerading as everything from the Egyptian King Tut (Charlie, owner of local bar, Charlie’s) to countless zombies, witches, ghouls, and gremlins. And somewhat bewildering, nurses and maids. Right.
It wasn’t only locals and expats who dressed up either – surprisingly there were also a lot of backpackers in costume. Had they brought something with them or improvised I wondered. They seemed to be the ones who went as nurses and maids.
The best party was at Linga Bar, where the usual drag show was Halloween themed and, as you can see from the gallery of images above, was indeed, very very scary. We made friends with locals we hadn’t known that night, and we also befriended some tourists watching the show.
There’s something about the positive spirit and joyous mood of a festival or celebration such as Halloween that brings people together and makes people more open to conversation and camaraderie in a way that an ordinary night out on the town wouldn’t.
Sadly, the old Linga Bar, which had a reputation for throwing the best parties for Halloween in Siem Reap has gone. It’s moved across the lane to Hotel Be and its new incarnation is an understated little lobby bar.
Where to experience Halloween in Siem Reap
- Heritage Suites is having a pre-Halloween Masquerade party (7-10pm) as part of their Thursday Jazz nights.
- On Friday night, head to Siem Reap’s bars, restaurants and pubs in the Old Market area and Pub Street.
- Backpackers, younger travellers and big drinkers will join the Zombie Apocalypse Pub Crawl, which begins at 7pm at X Bar.
- If you’re missing Linga Bar get along to The Station Wine Bar, which is holding a Halloween themed ladyboy show.
- The more laidback vibe of lovely Asana bar, which is having a party, appeals more to me.