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Hello Gorgeous: Cambodian Round Table at FCC Angkor

On any sojourn through Siem Reap, the charming springboard into the world of the Angkor temples, we always pop by the nostalgic FCC Angkor, stalwart of the city’s art and fashion scene.

This time we join celebrated local photographer John McDermott and his wife Narisara, fabulous fashion designer Eric Raisina, and globe-trotting Tiger Lily boutique owner Judie Wong, who have been firm friends since they arrived in the noughties. Pull up a pew and pry into their little black books with us…

Cheers! How did you each come to be in Siem Reap? 

Narisara: John came in 1995 to photograph the temples during the total eclipse, and it changed him. He then travelled back frequently to photograph his temple series. In 2004, three days before he got on the plane to come home, he called to tell me the FCC had a space and how about starting a gallery here. It felt so right from the very beginning, and six months later we were here. 

Eric: I was in Paris and heard about Cambodia and its beautiful silk, the war and temples, so I came for a holiday in 1996. I first landed in Phnom Penh and it reminded me of my home country, Madagascar. I fell in love: it’s quite magical and even today I don’t know how to describe the feeling. In 1998 I came for another holiday and had the chance to go to the villages surrounding Phnom Penh and fell even more in love. In 2001 I came over, found a house and stayed. 

Judie: I came to Cambodia in 2004 because of Donald my husband, who got a job at Raffles Phnom Penh, and two years later we moved to Siem Reap with the Aman Group. I originally had a shop in Phnom Penh and moved it to the FCC in 2006 – it’s the only place I would put a shop.

How did you meet each other? 

Judie: I met Narisara and John through the ex-GM of Amansara. And I met Eric at an event being held in the hotel. We sat next to each other. 

Eric: Yes, I sat next to Judie and thought, how fabulous! We talked about many things and relate to each other as we’re both islanders – I’m from Madagascar and Judie’s from Vanuatu.

How does the environment influence your work? 

Narisara: John’s work is all about the temples; a tribute to Angkor and the people of Cambodia. He arrived before tourism took off – he was lucky to be here at a certain moment. The ‘place’ is the cornerstone of his work as his photographs capture the sense of the place – emotional, spiritual, physical. 

Eric: It’s interesting that even today we all look to the temples. Today I visit and I still try and figure out how they were a long time ago. Maybe flamboyant and colourful; I do believe this was how it was – I imagine the colours and culture and even the smells they had then. 

Judie: It has such a rich, rich culture – it was a country before Thailand even existed. It’s so rich in cultural history and we live in the middle of it. The bas reliefs in the temples inspired me to produce a tiny collection of lino prints. All I need to do is go to a temple and get inspired.

How would you describe each other’s work? 

Eric on John: Every time I see John’s work it gives me a feeling of wanting to go back to Angkor. His work is elegant and dramatic; the skies give a sense of drama. 

Narisara on Judie: Fabulous is the first word that comes to mind. Eclectic. It’s idiosyncratic and quirky but with a distinct vision. Her art works and antiques pieces have a truthfulness and authenticity. 

Judie on Eric: Flamboyant. Creative and feminine, and his collections are always about ‘the woman’. His clothes are soft and flow because of the materials he uses. It’s all about movement.

24 hours in Siem Reap, what are the must-dos? 

Eric: Eating and more eating – the food is so good. Also one of the best experiences is to wake up early and run through the temples – you don’t have to get a pass – I always run then go for a dip in the Raffles pool afterwards. 

Judie: Have lunch at Abacus because it has air con and fab French food. Go shopping at FCC, have a spa treatment then drinks. For dinner I’d recommend Sugar Palm for fusion food with no MSG, or Olive, an amazing new French restaurant. Then for a night out, go to Miss Wong or Linga Bar; it’s relocated to underneath the One Hotel and is now intimate, adult and grown up. 

Narisara: I would add in a massage – Bodia Spa at Heritage Suites is great – and Phare Cambodian Circus, which is a performance by Cambodian acrobats who have amazing energy. Cuisine Wat Damnak is also one of my faves – they have a tasting menu of cutting-edge Cambodian food.

Where do you always take guests? 

Judie: The Little Red Fox. It’s charming, Australian-owned with great coffee and a hairdresser upstairs. 

Eric: Guardians of Desire for beautifully designed jewellery pieces with natural materials, designed by Pisith Ly who trained with Philippe Starck. They’re all organic. 

Narisara: It’s not for every guest, but the Bayon Elephant Temple is a wonderful experience, especially for children.

Your tips for avoiding the leisure suit-wearing temple hordes? 

Judie: Go at lunchtime. It’s super hot but fantastic as you won’t see a soul! It’s the only way to avoid the crowds. 

Narisara: Don’t follow a set itinerary. Just ride around in a tuk tuk and use your eyes and when you see a spot you like, stop. Some people plan too much and miss the real joys – just drive around. 

Judie: A lot of people think it’s Angkor Wat and that’s it. There are over 100 temples to explore altogether – my goodness, there are some fabulous smaller ones. 

Eric: Take a helicopter tour and you’ll see all the temples; it’s amazing to see them from the sky.

And finally, what do you love and loathe about Siem Reap? 

Narisara: I love the unpredictability of life here, and I loathe it too. I also loathe April – the hot season – don’t come here then! I love the rainy season. 

Eric: I love the energy but appreciate the calm; the city is so calm at nighttime and I love getting up at sunrise when everyone is still sleeping. I loathe the dust! But I can’t really change it. Oh and the coach drivers… 

Judie: I love the size of this town, love being able to ride and walk everywhere. I also love the way life is simple here; it’s good to have. I loathe the busloads.

For more fabulous finds in Siem Reap, check out the LUXE Cambodia & Laos guide!

FCC Angkor, Pokambor St, Siem Reap, +855 63 760 283,

McDermott Gallery, The Passage, Old Market, Siem Reap, +855 92 668 181,

Eric Raisina Maison de Couture, 75/81 Charles de Gaulle Blvd, Siem Reap, +855 12 580 283,

Tiger Lily, FCC Angkor, +855 63 761 446,

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