Siem Reap, Cambodia

Dark years under Pol Pot may have taken Cambodia to the brink of collapse, but the green shoots of recovery are nowhere stronger than in Siem Reap, where a fresh crop of boutique hotels, trendy French bistros and lavish spas breathe new life into the town. Siem Reap has never needed fancy trimmings to draw visitors: its star attraction is the architectural marvel Angkor Wat. Rescued from their jungle embrace, the Angkor temples have the grand scale of the Great Wall, the iconic beauty of the Taj Mahal and the powerful symbolism of the pyramids. With its laid-back pace and good-time vibe, Siem Reap feels like a happy grin barely hidden by a shy hand.

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Areas in Siem Reap

When to go

The cooler, drier months from November to February make rambles in the jungle more enjoyable, but the world and his wife will be there, too. The wet season, which peaks from June to October, need not put a dampener on your trip, as the landscape is lush and the showers short.

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Getting there

  • Planes

    Touch down at Siem Reap International Airport (www.cambodia-airports.com) from regional gateways including Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur or Singapore. For connections, try Singapore Airlines (www.singaporeairlines.com) or Thai Air (www.thaiairways.com). It’s about a 40-minute flight from Cambodian capital Phnom Penh.
  • Boats

    Fast boats connect Phnom Penh and Siem Reap via the undulating Tonlé Sap river and lake (it’s still a five- to six-hour ride). Luxury cruise operators also run between Ho Chi Minh City, Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, if aquatic action floats your boat.
  • Automobiles

    Self-drive is not permitted – thank goodness – because a lack of road rules makes the traffic chaotic at best. Buses ply the streets to Phnom Penh from US$6 and take six hours. If you want to explore, ask your hotel to hook you up with a reliable driver. Incurable romantics might prefer the local remorques (tuk tuks) which start at just US$15 a day.
  • Taxis

    You can take a taxi from the airport for a flat rate of US$7 to any destination in Siem Reap. There are no metered taxis as such, but the tuk tuk drivers more than make up for it by offering their services every 10 seconds or so. Motorbikes are a cheap way to get around the temples, starting at just US$8 a day. Short hops around town are US$1 or less.

Siem Reap, Cambodia

Siem Reap, Cambodia

Leave your languid lifestyle for Siem Reap, a once-sleepy Khmer village whose neighbouring ruins have made it a bustling destination for adventurous travellers for over a century. Settle in behind your own colonial era façade at the Heritage Suites Hotel, a collection of chic and intimate bungalows set amid a lush tropical garden, before heading out for a cocktail at the legendary, art deco Foreign Correspondents Club bar and dinner of nouveau Khmer cuisine at AHA. Don’t stay out too late, though, because you’ll need to be up bright and early to hop into the hotel’s vintage car for your ride over to Angkor Wat and the surrounding temple complexes. After a Khmer historian takes you around and you’ve had enough of the dust and the heat, return home to indulge in body- and mind-restoring treatments at the hotel’s superlative spa. If you can tear yourself away from the pool, explore some of the town’s local restaurants, take a cooking class and, of course, load up on Khmer art with private gallery visits.

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