Friday, July 20, 2012

Sim Reap, Cambodia

Executive summary by darmansjah

The life-support system for the temples of Angkor, Siem Reap is at its heart a little charmer, with old French shop-houses, shady tree-lined boulevards and a slow flowing river. But it is expanding at breakneck speed, with more guesthouses and hotels than temples, as well as world-class wining and dining and sumptuous spas catering to the tourist tide.

The ideal months are December and January, when humidity levels are low and there is little rainfall, but this is also peak tourist season. While the mercury peaks in April, the month is also when the Khmers celebrate their New Year.

Fly direct into Siem Reap International Airport from Kuala Lumpur with AirAsia ( or Malaysia Airlines (, and from Singapore with Jetstar ( or SilkAir ( right outside the terminal, you’ll find taxis (US$7) and motorcycles with carriages, or tuk tuks (US$5), that can bring you into the town centre.

Best For HistoryAngkor National Museum is a state-of-the-art showpiece on the Khmer civilization and the majesty of Angkor. Displays are themed by era, religion and royalty (855 63 966 601;; 968 Charle de Gaulle Blv; adult/child US$12/6; 8.30am-6.30pm).

Best For Market – when it comes to shopping in town, Psar Chaa is well stocked with anything you may want to buy and lots you don’t. silverware, silk, wood carvings, sonte carvings, Buddhas, paintings, rubbings, notes and coins, T-shirt, table mats and more.

Best For Temples – While nothing beats the real Angkor temples some 6km north of town, one of the more quirky places in town is the garden of a local sculpture, which houses miniature replicas of Angkor Wat, the Bayon, Banteay Sreai and other temples. It’s a bluffer’s way to get that aerial short of Angkor without chartering a helicopter (admissionUS$1.50).

Best For Riding – the Happy Ranch offers the chance to explore Siem Reap on horseback, taking in surrounding villages and secluded temples. This is a calm way to experience the countryside. (855 012 920 002;; 1hr-half-day ride US$17-US$80).

Best For Dance – Several restaurant and hotels offer cultural performances during the evening and while they may be aimed at tourist, these offer a chance to see Cambodian classical dance. The most atmospheric show  is at Apsara Theatre at Angkor Village, as the setting is a striking wooden pavilion finished in the style of a wat (; admission US$25).

 catch the nimble Apsara dancers at Apsara Theatre

The award-winning Angkor palm offers an authentic taste of Cambodia. Even Khmers go crazy for the legendary amok (baked fish in banana leaf) here and they offer a great sampling platter for two. Cooking classes are available (855 63 761 436;; Pithnou St; mains US$2-US$5).

 amok is a traditional Khmer dish

One of the best all-rounders in Siem Reap, the popular Le Tigre de Papier serves up authentic Khmer food, great Italian dishes and a selection of favourites from most other corners of the globe. Doubles as a popular bar by night, with frontage on both Pub St and the Alley (855 63 760 930; Pub St; mains US$2-US$9).

Chamkar, which translates to ‘farm’, gets produce from organic vegetable suppliers. This vegetarian restaurant features primarily Asian flavours, such as stuffed pumpkin and vegetable kebabs in black pepper sauce (the Alley, mains US$3-US$5).

Set in a blooming garden that provides a backdrop for hundreds of butterflies, Butterflies Garden Restaurant is dining with a difference. The menu includes Khmer flavours, and indulgent desserts. The restaurant supports good causes like Cambodian Living Arts and communities affected by HIV/AIDS (855 63 761 211; mains US$3-US$8).

Siem Reap’s original bar, Angkor What? Is still serving up serious hangovers every night. The happy hour (to 9pm) lightens the mood for later when everyone’s bouncing along to indie anthems, sometimes on the tables, sometimes under them (Pub St).

Getting Around – Wihtin Siem Reap itself, tuk tuks are widely available and sufficient to get around. Always negotiate prices with the drivers before boarding. Try for US$1-US$2 on trips around town. Some guesthouses as well as a few shops around Psar Chaa hire out bicycles for US$2 a day.

Offering hotel standars at guesthouse prices, My Home Tropical Garden Villa is a fine place to rest your head. The décor includes some subtle silks and the furnishings are tasteful. There’s free Wi-Fi in the rooms; air-con starts at US$17 (855 63 760 035;; US$12-US$26).

A hotel with a heart, Sora Moria Hotel promotes local causes to help the community. Its rooms are attractive and bathrooms features smart fittings. (855 63 964 768;; US$40-US$65).
Part of the Mr and Mrs Smith Hotel collection, Viroth’s Hotel is a small boutique property done up in minimalist and modern style. Its seven rooms are finished in contemporary chi and hotel facilities include a pool, a hot tub and free Wi-Fi (855 63 761 720;; from US$80).

Victoria Angkor Hotel is a popular choice for those craving the French touch in Indochine. The classic lobby is the perfect introduction to one of the most impressive courtyard pools in town. The rooms are well-finished and many include a striking pool view (855 63 760 428;; from US$160).

La Residence d’Angkor’s open-plan all-wooden rooms are among the most inviting in town, complete with huge Jacuzzi-sized tubs. Wander through the subtle reception to a stunning swimming pool. A recent extension has added some contemporary rooms with huge bathrooms and walk-in closets, plus the divine Kong Kea Spa (855 63 963 390;; from US$300).

Beer Garden – There are dozens of beer gardens around town that cater to young locals. These can be a great experience for cheap beer, local snacks and getting to know some Cambodians beyond your driver or guide. All serve up ice-cold beer. The best strip is north of the Airport Road from the first set of traffic lights after Aivatha St. check out Trey Kon with its huge circular bar, regular football on big screens and mighty beer towers.

60 Metres Road – Three kilometers northeast of the city centre is a stretch of road simply called the 60 Metres Road. Lining each side of the road are stalls after stalls selling anything and everything from toys to small appliances, crafts to pillow, fruits to cold noodle soup. Locals like to gather at this bazaar in the evening and picnic around stalls selling grilled food items.

Side Trip – the floating village of Kompong Pluk is an othr-worldly place built on soaring stills. Nearby is a flooded forest, inundated every year when the Tonie Sap lake rises to take the Mekong’s overflow. Exploring this area by wooden dugout in the west season is very atmospheric. Local tour operators like Tara Boat ( offer day trips here.

 The floating village at Kompong Pluk

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