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.
We’ve interviewed local 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 scores of Local Knowledge interviews, there have only been a handful where we’ve interviewed tour guides (in Krakow, Cape Town, Alberobello, and Kotor), hotel employees (in the Masai Mara), and holiday rental staff, including a concierge in Bali and a riad manager-cook in Marrakech. 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 for Hotel de la Paix. One of her tasks is to assist visiting writer-photographer teams 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 to coordinating with chefs to shoot dishes we tried and liked.
Janet did that, but, along with her colleague Christina, who handles guest relations, she went out of her way to help us get to know their Siem Reap. 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 for us to meet up with people like fashion designer Eric Raisina, 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. It was obviously the beautiful hotel that drew her to the town, but something else was keeping her there. After we left Siem Reap, Janet hasn’t emailed me about hotel promotions or packages, as most PRs would, she has 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 recent floods.
When I asked Janet what makes Siem Reap special for her, her answer didn’t surprise me: “The people, definitely!”
Local Knowledge Interview — Janet Chan from Siem Reap
Q. What do you most love about your work?
A. 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.
Q. Why should people come to Siem Reap?
Q. 3 words to describe Siem Reap?
A. Vibrant, everchanging, and safe — which might be a surprise to some people, but it’s one of the safest cities in South East Asia.
Q. 3 ways to describe the people?
A. Genuinely kind, cheerful and honest — if you have put on weight they will tell you to your face (in all honesty)!
Q. Your top recommendations for visitors to Siem Reap?
A. 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.
Q. Best souvenir from Siem Reap?
A. 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.
Q. Must-do eating experiences?
A. 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.
Q. An essential thing to know before coming to Siem Reap?
A. 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 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.
Q. Most important phrase to learn in Cambodian?
A. “Orkun!” — thank you! Even though most Khmer speak great English, it’s best to show your appreciation in the local language.
Q. Any other advice?
A. US dollars are widely accepted here so there’s no need to exchange money for Riels.