Siem Reap, Cambodia
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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PlanesTouch 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.
BoatsFast 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.
AutomobilesSelf-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.
TaxisYou 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.
A stone’s throw from Siem Reap’s buzzing Wat Bo dining district, dinky Viroth’s Hotel is a stylish sanctuary of just seven rooms, with all the rooftop massages, outdoor dining and tropical pool you’ll need after trekking around the temples.
Escape in eco-luxe style to Song Saa Private Island, an effortless rustic-chic spread of private-pool villas dotting pristine Koh Rong islands. Feast on spanking-fresh seafood, loll in the blissful spa; a cheeky dip in the secluded outdoor bath tub is an absolute must.
Knai Bang Chatt’s modernist villas are set on Kep’s simple but stylish seafront, boasting driftwood day-beds, a gulf-view pool and art deco styling. Lazy lunches and greedy dinners are taken at the Sailing Club, but for a castaway treat staff can organise a beachfront barbecue at nearby Rabbit Island.
You’ll never be far from sustenance in snack-loving Cambodia. Street food is king: on Phnom Penh’s rue Pasteur, try crispy nom pain pâté sandwiches or ansam (grilled sticky rice parcels stuffed with bananas or jackfruit). Kep’s cove-perched market shacks pack a culinary punch; Kimly's coconut-laced green-pepper crab, fresh from the sea, is the stuff of foodie daydreams. In Siem Reap, make like the locals and order plates of sticky lemongrass ribs in Nouveau Pho de Paris, or sample Cuisine Wat Damnak’s delectable Khmer tasting menu – Raymond Blanc is a fan. Whatever you do, don’t leave without getting a taste of The Blue Pumpkin’s salty-sweet caramel cashew nut ice-cream.
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.
You’d be mad, of course, to miss the enigmatic splendour of Angkor, a sprawling complex of pink-tinged granite temples, carving-lined riverbeds and mirror-smooth reservoirs. Laid-back colonial Siem Reap is sleepy by day and heady by night; it pays to spend a day or two sampling its sybaritic pleasures (Heritage Suites’ Bodia Spa is a Smith favourite) before venturing further afield. Phnom Penh beckons with its dizzying mess of bars, daredevil motodops and charming Mekong riverfront; beyond, sugar-palm dotted paddy fields extend to stretches of idyllic beaches, sleepy seaside Kep and Mondulkiri’s unspoilt jungles and waterfalls.