There are few historic sites in South East Asia that beg to be explored as much as Angkor in Cambodia. Often referred to as Angkor Wat, the actual site encompasses many more temples that adjoin the bustling tourist town of Siem Reap.
Hundreds of ancient temples cover an area of 310km2 with some dating back to the 9th century. These ruins have fascinated scholars for centuries and now intrepid travellers fly directly into Siem Reap to spend a few days exploring just a small fraction of the accessible temples.
The temples of Angkor have fascinated travellers ever since they were ‘rediscovered’ in the 19th century. Khmer civilisation dominated this part of the region from the 9th to the 15th centuries and while hundreds of temples and religious sites are now protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Angkor Wat is the world’s largest religious site, but just one of many temples in the historic zone.
Angkor Wat, Bayon Temple, Ta Prohm and Phnom Bakheng are four must-see temples but also the most crowded. Buy a good guide book and branch to more remote sites like Banteay Srei, Banteay Samre, Pre Rup and the Roluos Group and you might be the only adventurer delving into Cambodia’s history.
Budding archaeologists and keen photographers will need to invest some time into planning each temple to get the light just right and to avoid the crowds. For such visitors a good guide and comfortable means of transportation are important especially in the warmer months. Most hotels and resorts offer guiding services but the local remorque (Cambodia’s tuk tuks) drivers are also very helpful and knowledgeable.
What once just attracted culture vultures is now a tourist destination that appeals to many different types of tourists from golfers to the party crowd. The area around the Old Market has evolved to be known as ‘Pub Street’ with Angelina Jolie’s favourite bar when she was in town to film Lara Croft: Tomb Raider being the Red Piano Bar (she was back in town recently to film her new movie, First They Killed My Father).
As inviting as the Red Piano is, there are many other bars along and around Pub Street and it’s not hard to find a venue for a memorable night on the town. Other smart bars to check out include the The Sun, Miss Wong Cocktail Bar, Asana Bar, Charlie’s Bar, Angkor What and the Foreign Correspondents Club.
While the beer served at the Siem Reap Brewpub is more expensive, it is a much more serious proposition for those who enjoy craft beers. The setting in spacious gardens beneath towering rain trees, plus the delicious food here makes this venue a wise choice for beer lovers.
A night out in Siem Reap need not just involve bar-hopping as there are many excellent restaurants serving Khmer and global comfort food. Appreciate the finest cuisine in restaurants like Cuisine Wat Damnak (Khmer fusion), Chanrey Tree, Haven and Dakshin’s to appreciate the distinction between Cambodian cuisine and others in Asia.
Siem Reap has many great shopping opportunities with the markets being one of the best places for souvenirs such as local pepper from Kampot, coffee from Mondulkiri and handicrafts that incorporate Khmer silk. DFS Gallerie has opened an outlet near the Angkor Museum for those seeking familiar luxury brands.
With three golf courses around the town, golfers are also well catered for with the 18-hole championship Angkor Golf Resort designed by Nick Faldo considered the premium course. The second and the 13th holes on this 7,239-yard, par 72 course are considered the most memorable holes. While the fairways are generous in width, there is a lot of water on the course to make it sufficiently challenging.
With entry fees to the Angkor Archaeological Park set to almost double in February 2017 (soon to be US$37/day to US$62/three days), now is a good time to plan your holiday.
Getting There SilkAir (silkair.com) has several flights per week to Siem Reap International Airport.
Where to Stay Sakmut Boutique Hotel (www.sakmutboutiquehotel.com) has just opened halfway between the airport and downtown. This 56-room property features deluxe, contemporary-styled rooms, a spa, restaurant serving Khmer, Asian and Western favourites, a fourth floor sky bar and a large landscaped pool. The recently re-opened all-suites Belmond La Résidence d’Angkor (www.belmond.com) offers a tranquil retreat in the city and the ultimate heritage accommodation is available in the Raffles Grand d’Angkor (www.raffles.com), Siem Reap’s original deluxe property.