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Cambodia

Cambodia

By kimbang
Trip Plan Tags: 
arts + culture
Destinations: 
Asia,
Cambodia,
Siem Reap

Pilgrimage to Angkor Wat, to watch the sun rise over the temple. Elephant ride up to Phnom Bakheng, and then navigating the steep steps down the temple side. Trying to not get dust in eyes on the backs of motorcycles and tuk-tuks. And marveling that without any traffic direction, people are able to drive without any roadrage. Eating mostly at roadside stalls, but one evening at Meric for exceptional food at reasonable prices.

ITEMS

$200-$299
Editor's Pick
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Hotel

Hôtel de la Paix, Cambodia

Sivutha Boulevard
Siem Reap, Cambodia
Tel: 855 63 966 000, Fax: 855 63 965 002
Website: www.hoteldelapaixangkor.com

What's old is new again. La Paix, as it's locally known, originally opened in 1957. In 2005, the landmark hotel reopened after a complete renovation—as in, they tore it down. Rebuilt in Khmer palace style, there's a large enclosed tropical garden and a swimming pool. Even the rooms are princely in size and come with every modern convenience. The modern spa focuses on total well-being and offers meditation and tai chi along with aromatherapy and facials. Meric, the in-house restaurant, serves both Khmer and Western fare.

Eating

Meric, Cambodia

Sivutha Boulevard
Siem Reap, Cambodia
Tel: 855 63 966 000
Website: www.hoteldelapaixangkor.com

A foodie favorite since its 2005 opening, the Hotel de la Paix's fine-dining establishment marries Continental classics and Khmer creations developed by French-born executive chef Joannes Riviere. His open kitchen turns out French-style pepper steak, a tender Australian beef sirloin coated with crushed Cambodian black pepper, and grilled chicken with banana-bud salad. Mull over the menu with a Khmer martini (kaffir lime– and lemongrass-infused vodka with dry vermouth). The highly seasonal Khmer table, with dishes such as dried snake and green mango salad or grilled prahok fish paste and crudités, is available à la carte or, for the more intrepid, as a seven-course prix fixe. Book a day or two ahead during the high season.

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See + Do

Angkor Wat

The apotheosis of Khmer civilization, 12th-century Angkor Wat remains the national symbol of Cambodia. It's well worth spending at least half a day here. Make sure to see the Churning of the Ocean of Milk along the East Gallery, an epic bas-relief describing a tug-of-war between gods and demons to turn the ocean into an elixir of immortality. Like Ta Prohm and Bayon, Angkor Wat is on the heavily traveled tourist circuit. Ask your driver to take you to the eastern gates instead of the busier western gates.

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See + Do

Bayon

The most exquisite carvings cover the Bayon. Like Angkor Wat, this masterpiece was constructed in the 12th century; it's topped by 54 stone towers, each bearing four smiling, enigmatic faces and clad with intricately carved bas-relief panels. The Bayon stands at the exact center of the walled city of Angkor Thom, the final capital of the Khmer Empire. To avoid the crowds, visit Bayon in the early morning or afternoon. For a total Lost City experience, proceed for one mile on the unpaved paths heading due east or west from the Bayon. They both lead through forest to massive, rarely visited gates crowned with the same happy faces. Well worth the brief detour.

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See + Do

Ta Prohm

With its stonework strangled by vaulting silk-cotton trees, jungle-choked Ta Prohm will make any visitor feel like Indiana Jones. Even though it has been looted in recent years, Ta Prohm still looks like it must have when French explorer Henri Mouhot "discovered" it in 1860. (Tomb Raider fans should look out for the tree where Angelina Jolie picked some jasmine, the earth opened up, and she was dropped into a studio thousands of miles away for another ass-kicking scene.) Since most visitors enter from the west, avoid the throngs by having your driver drop you at the rarely visited eastern gates, the ceremonial entrance to most temples, and then walk through. The crowds at this popular attraction are thinnest in the early morning and late afternoon, when flocks of chatty red-breasted parakeets return to roost.

See + Do

Beng Melea

As Cambodia's infrastructure slowly improves, formerly off-limits sites such as Beng Melea, a one-square-kilometer temple 40 miles northeast of Siem Reap, have begun to attract visitors. Completed in the early 11th century by the same king who would later erect Angkor Wat, unrestored and overgrown Beng Melea has an even wilder feel than Ta Prohm. Motos charge about $20 for a round-trip to the ruin, which requires a separate $5 admission.

See + Do

Phnom Bakheng, Srah Srang, and Preah Rup

Hilltop Phnom Bakheng lures thousands for sunset but is much more pleasant for sunrise. Experienced hikers can make a frontal assault on the incline in less than ten minutes, or there's a less-taxing trail to the south that takes about twice as long. Once you're at the temple base, negotiate the cliffs that pass for stairs to check out the views. Stick to the southeast side and you'll see the sun climb above Angkor Wat, the shadow of the sacred stones shifting by the second. Or, head five miles east to the landing terrace of Srah Srang, a large (nearly 2,300 by 1,000 feet) ceremonial pool that catches the dawn's first light. The uppermost terrace of 10th-century Preah Rup, a well-proportioned temple-mountain one mile east of Srah Srang, offers panoramic sunset views of the countryside and Angkor Wat's banana-bud towers without the aggro of Phnom Bakheng.

See + Do

Tonle Sap

Just south of Siem Reap lies the Tonle Sap ("Great Lake" in Khmer), the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia. One of the hydrological wonders of the world, the lake quintuples in size during the summer, when the monsoon-swollen Mekong rises so sharply that part of the torrent veers into the Tonle Sap River at Phnom Penh, actually reversing the current of this 60-mile waterway and raising water levels of the lake more than 25 feet. To handle the annual fluctuation, fishermen live in stilted houses or floating villages, complete with floating schools, police posts, temples, and crocodile pens. Local nonprofit Osmose (12-832-812; www.osmosetonlesap.net; osmose@online.com.kh) offers day trips and overnight stays in Prek Toal, a large floating village, and bird-watching in its nearby UN Biosphere Reserve, a sanctuary for such rare species as the greater adjutant (a bird, not a military officer).

Nightlife

Linga Bar, Cambodia

The Passage, Psar Chas (Old Market)
Siem Reap, Cambodia
Tel: 855 12 246 912
Website: www.lingabar.com

The town's only gay/straight spot is Linga Bar. Its execution is more contemporary and less Zen-like than owner Martin Dishman's other hot property, the One Hotel Angkor, which is just across the lane. The top-shelf drinks are priced right ($3 for anything from a Screwdriver to a martini to a Mojito), the Khmer spiced pork-rib tapas are freshly prepared, and the smattering of rent boys are unobtrusive. The 60/40 straight/gay crowd seems to mix it up quite happily.

Nightlife

Laundry Bar, Cambodia

Old Market Area
Siem Reap, Cambodia
Tel: 855 16 962 026

For nightlife, try the self-consciously "funky" but perfectly decent Laundry Bar, 50 yards north of the Old Market. It attracts a friendly mix of hip locals, hot visitors, and guest DJs, and is sometimes open until dawn.

Nightlife

Dead Fish Tower Inn, Cambodia

Sivatha Boulevard
Siem Reap, Cambodia
Tel: 855 63 630 377

The Thai-owned Dead Fish Tower Inn has a great airy bar with a nice loft seating area that serves dollar beers and delicious Thai food. It's one of the livelier spots in town, with nightly "entertainment" (free pool tables and its own mini crocodile farm).

Nightlife

Red Piano, Cambodia

Pub Street
Siem Reap, Cambodia
Tel: 855 63 964 750
Website: www.redpianocambodia.com

Angelina Jolie's home away from home—or so the staff would like you to believe. The cast and crew of Tomb Raider were here so much during filming, the bartender created a drink—first sampled by Ms. Jolie herself—called, predictably, the Tomb Raider. It's a concoction of Cointreau, lime juice, and tonic water, and it's, well, not good. But the globally eclectic food—from Indian samosas to chicken cordon bleu—is, at least for nibbling on the second-floor veranda as Pub Street comes to life at night.

Shop

Shopping in and around Siem Reap

Cambodia is a poor country, so prices for most things are cheap. If you stick to the tourist-oriented stalls along the east side of Psar Chas, however, there isn't much worth buying among the stacks of T-shirts, pirated CDs, and cheesy artwork by Khmer painters of light. Take a tuk tuk along the Lake Road a half-mile south of town to the Institute of Khmer Traditional Textiles, an internationally acclaimed project that employs 400 people—everyone from mulberry tree farmers to spinners and weavers. The homegrown silk is dyed with natural products such as indigo, lychee, or bougainvillea and then hand-woven into sarongs, kerchiefs, and krama scarves that are only sold at IKTT's on-site showroom (855-63-964-437; www.esprit-libre.org/iktt; iktt@camintel.com). A five-minute walk south of the Old Market, Artisans d'Angkor operates a trade school and workshop that produces tasteful silk clothing, lacquerware, and sculpted sandstone busts for sale at a gift shop on the grounds (855-63-963-330; www.artisansdangkor.com). On the north side of the bazaar, Senteurs d'Angkor sells Cambodian-grown coffee, oils, and spices (855-63-964-860; www.senteursdangkor.com; senteurs_angkor@online.com.kh).

Temples of Cambodia

Information may have changed since the date of publication. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.