Our first St Patrick’s Day away from Ireland was in Siem Riep, Cambodia, and it started shockingly early. We were awake before 4am to get ready for our journey to Angkor Wat to see the sunrise. We were tired but really excited as we bundled into the tuk-tuk that was to drive us there. We sped through the darkness and shivered in the cold air.
When we reached Angkor Wat, we were tired and hungry. We spotted a van selling coffee and rushed towards it. After a few sips of the hot bitter brew, and a few bites of the not so fresh pastry, we followed the trickling crowds in the dark.
We wandered around a little closer to where people were gathering at the banks of a lake overlooking the familiar sight of the temples where the sun was said to rise behind. My fingers twitched on the shutter button as I imagined capturing the beautiful sight.
As more people gathered around, the air was thick with anticipation. We stood facing the water and guessed how long it would be before the show started.
We kept on waiting.
It was only when we couldn’t deny the fact that the sky had gone from black to grey with no promised purples, pinks and oranges that we had to face reality. There had been no sunrise. The clouds had ruined the once in a lifetime, unforgettable moment that we had been waiting for. We lingered a little longer, holding on to the possibility that maybe it was somehow still to come, but in the end we had to admit defeat.
Feeling dejected, and wishing we hadn’t gotten up quite so early, we wandered in the direction of the buildings. Our moods quickly improved. We were in awe of the ancient buildings and soon grew giddy and tried to come up with ‘funny’ pictures, which included us popping our heads from behind doorways, sitting cross-legged on rocks and pretending we were falling. After taking breaks to eat and drink, we continued to explore. But the early hour had an effect on our energy levels, and by the afternoon we were ready to head back to our room.
After a quick nap, we started to prepare for our first St Patrick’s Day away from the Emerald Isle. We were all feeling a little glum as we thought about what we were missing at home. Then B started to play every Irish song on her ipod; U2, The Cranberries, traditional music, and unfortunately, Westlife. I tried to think of Ireland as the boys’ harmonies rang in my ears; I was taking one for the team.
The music had the desired effect, and we decided to wear green, white or orange, depending on our limited wardrobe selections. We took the green bands we had been given on the river in Vang Vieng and used them as headbands because, y’know, they’re green.
After taking a tricolour-esque photo, we headed straight for the previously scouted Irish bar. As we walked, we grinned about how lucky we were to be Irish; all around the globe there are Irish bars, and being able to celebrate Paddy’s Day in one was as close to home as we would get.
A Sea of Green
As we got closer to the bar we couldn’t believe our eyes. The place a sea of green. It was jammers, and everyone was euphoric, toasting, shouting and joking. We slowly made our way through the crowd and eventually reached the bar. There were green pints everywhere, and Irish music blasting from the speakers. There were even shamrock decorations and loads of balloons of green, white and orange. We felt touched that there was such a celebration going on.
We decided to throw caution, and our backpacker budgets, to the wind, and go all out. On St Patrick’s Day, we simply had to have a pint of Bulmers. After weeks of sharing stomach-stripping buckets of whiskey, a Bulmers felt very indulgent.
And then we spotted something else on the menu, potato skins! What better way to celebrate our Irishness than with a plate of spuds! We sat squashed at a tiny table, with people carrying pints and conversations over our heads as we tucked in.
Word soon got out that we were Irish. We were greeted time and time again by people from all over the world who wanted to share a drink with us. Apparently, Irish people were in short supply. Throughout the evening, people also rounded up fellow Irish and brought them to us. There were the Cork lads in the Irish jerseys who we ended up seeing later in Sihanoukville, and the lovely girls, and a large man who thought it was only natural to pick me up like a bag of spuds, and walk around until he found a suitable place to drop me.
Then there was a lot of dancing. Our Irish dancing lessons from school came back to us as we spun and jigged around the room, teaching our new friends steps we didn’t even know that we knew.
After we had drawn countless Irish tattoos on as many people as possible, using a green marker that seemed to appear out of nowhere, and stroking and kissing an Irish tea-towel hung on the wall, it was time to move on. Our new gang headed for Angkor What? Bar and danced around, until we succeeded in drinking ourselves into an early hangover. We headed back to our accommodation, laughing at the whole night. And we slept like little leanbhs.