As I leaving Lucky Mall, I took my right turn on the traffic lights where Siem Reap’s Sivatha Bulevard is crossed with National Road #6. According to the map this was near direct way back to Two Dragons Guesthouse and I was really looking forward to munching on my fresh watermelon. As I started riding down National Road #6 and started getting closer towards Siem Reap’s Royal Residence, I noticed quite prominent shriek coming from the opposite side. According to the map, that’s the location of Royal Independence Gardens. Since it was already dark (it basically gets dark at 6pm every day in Cambodia), I didn’t feel like strolling Royal Independence Gardens, but the shriek was so paramount, I felt attracted to it and wanted to find out what was making it.
At first I thought there must have been some ponds within the Royal Independence Gardens with millions of some viciously exotic frogs who spend their nights trying to out-shriek one another and I wasn’t far from the truth. There truly are small water reservoirs at Royal Independence Gardens, but these were no frogs.
Another thing that instantly caught my attention as I started passing by the Royal Independence Gardens was tiny Ya-Tep Shrine in the middle of the road breaking traffic in half and another, bigger shrine called Preah Ang Chek Preah Ang Chorm Shrine on the left hand side, opposite Royal Residence palace, basically directly within Royal Independence Gardens. Because this was the beginning of the Pchum Ben Festival there were many people around and with all that shriek and major commotion I felt compelled to pull over, park my bike and hang around for a bit. I was truly looking forward to munching on my watermelon, but this could wait.
I’ve parked my bicycle by the small gate that was used as a barricade to prevent motor vehicle access to the Royal Independence Gardens. There was about 100 people around. Few street vendors were selling decorated flowers, incense sticks and live birds. The smell of burning incense stick was so prevalent, the haze from the burn was so thick you could touch it. I didn’t mind it as Cambodian incense sticks have really pleasant, oriental smell that’s not offensive in any way. This whole place seemed so alive now that the sun was down and Siem Reap was engulfed in the darkness of the night, I really wanted to stay and see what exactly is happening. Plus there was that continuous loud shriek that was raising so many questions and even though it added indescribable creepiness to the night, I was attracted to it and perceived it as music to my ears. Then at one point I looked up against dark blue sky of the night and my breath was taken away. There were thousands upon thousands of bats size of an eagle filling the sky. They were the creatures making that shriek, not frogs and none of the people seemed to mind. I was in awe.
Excited that I had a bicycle which made moving around Siem Reap much easier and saved me from hassles of being bothered by Tuk Tuk drivers and other touts, I decided to take a detour on the way back to the Two Dragons guesthouse from Wat Preah Prom Rath where I was teaching English after the class was over. I wanted to have a ride by more remote areas of Siem Reap which I have not got a chance to visit yet. According to Angkor Siem Reap Visitors Guide, there was a mall called Lucky Mall further north up Sivatha Boulevard so I drove that way to check out what it was all about.
Lucky Mall is a three story shopping centre owned and operated by Lucky Market Group from Phnom Penh. It sports decent grocery store on the ground floor, clothes store and fast food restaurant on the second floor and an electronic store on the top floor. If you are coming with the bag, you must leave it at Lucky Mall’s front desk or you will be yelled at.
The grocery store at the bottom of Lucky Mall is the largest one in Siem Reap and works the same way western grocery stores do – prices are visibly marked and apply equally to everyone, regardless of color of skin (one of few places in Cambodia without open segregation). While it’s mostly foreigners who shop at Lucky Mall, you will also encounter many Cambodians there who come there to try their first ride up and down the escalators. You just see them riding it with excitement for they’ve never seen such thing before and Lucky Mall is the only place where they can actually try to take a ride for real.
Since my previous attempts to purchase fruit at Phsar Kandal (Center Market) and Phsar Chas (Old Market) failed due to open racism (Cambodians believe that because your skin color is different from that of Cambodians, you get shittier treatment and pay more for everything than Cambodians), I was glad to come to a shop where racism was not tolerated. I went to Lucky Mall often and made it one of my primary stops for fruit purchases.
This was my first visit to Lucky Mall so I just got my feet wet by seeing what it’s about and what they had and since I was heading home after a long day out plus an hour long English class, all I bought was one watermelon I was intending to eat in whole once I was back at the guesthouse. The watermelon cost $1.05 for one whole head which was an excellent price I could not complain about. I paid for it, picked up my bag that was in storage at the front desk, threw the watermelon inside and mounted my bike to ride east down National Road #6 which runs not far from Two Dragons. And on the way I ran across what was going to become my absolutely most favourite place in all of Cambodia.