Just south of the leafy Old French Quarter in Siem Reap, the gateway to Cambodia's Angkor ruins, sits a tiny arts and culture precinct that's bringing a fresh burst of energy to the city. For the past three years Kandal Village (as one savvy shop owner dubbed the colonial-style, tree-lined Hup Guan Street to give it a more solid identity three years ago) has been quietly making a name for itself. The charming backstreet is not one you'll likely stumble across; in fact, many tuk-tuk drivers and hotel concierges still seem unaware of its existence. But a lazy afternoon spent wandering around this stylish mini-hood, lined with around 25 small businesses including unique boutiques, eateries and spas, might just transform your experience of Temple Town.
1pm: After an early morning exploring the 12th-century Angkor Wat temples (tours often start at sunrise so you can catch them in their most flattering light), you'll need refuelling. Indulge in fresh handmade pasta or pizzas made with organic ingredients at Mamma Shop Italian restaurant (No. 664 Hup Guan Street, Mon to Sat, 10am-7pm). Or, if the sound of Middle Eastern savoury dishes and French desserts followed by specialty teas makes your mouth water, try Atmosphere (675 Central Market Street, Tue to Sun, 11am-10pm).
2pm: Shopping requires caffeine, and Little Red Fox Espresso (No. 593 Hup Guan Street, Thu to Tue, 7am-5pm; littleredfoxespresso.com) is renowned for having Siem Reap's best. And no wonder; one of the owners and barista/bartenders is Australian. Try a cold drip coffee using beans from Cambodia, Thailand and Laos, something creative like their lemongrass and ginger latte, or an espresso martini or affogato to kick your shopping spree into the next gear.
2.30pm: The boutiques dotted along Kandal Village's Hup Guan Street all have a strong identity, so if you're sniffing out unique gifts and mementos from your time in Cambodia, here's where to find them.
Start at Niko's Studio (No. 664, Mon to Sat, 10am-7pm) where French expat Nicolette Maltat creates Buddhist art including vibrantly hand-painted wooden Buddhas and handmade prayer beads. The racks next door at Shop 676 (No. 660, open every day, 10am-7pm) are filled with elegant clothes for both sexes crafted from natural fibres like linen, cotton and cashmere. Their wide-legged pants, short-sleeved shirts and chic lightweight scarves are great travel wear for the rest of your Cambodian journey.
If you're into all things eclectic, upcycled and repurposed, visit concept store Trunkh (No. 642, open every day, 10am-7pm; trunkh.com) a few doors down. Owned by an American expat, here's where you'll find retro hand-painted Cambodian signs, kitsch cushions and tea-towels, boldly patterned cotton shirts and pants, one-off objects that the owner sources on road trips around the country and more. If you're lucky, you might even get a cuddle with their rescue cat Pepper.
Prefer your homewares more chic than eccentric? Check out Louise Loubatieres (No. 7, Mon to Sat, 10am-7pm; www.louiseloubatieres.com). Louise, a young French-Vietnamese ex-Londoner, works with local artisans and craftspeople to produce collections including high-quality Cambodian diamond-woven cotton blankets, French silk pillowcases, handmade ceramics and antique silverware.
If you've been in Siem Reap for a few days already, you might find that the best part of shopping this strip is that you can stroll without being hassled by hawkers.
4.30pm: By now you'll be ready for a little pick-me-up. Head to VIBE (No. 715, open every day, 7.30am-8pm), an uber-healthy, chic vegan cafe where you'll find everything from organic cold-pressed juices and kombucha (fermented tea drink), to house-made nut butters and goji berries. Stay for a bite (they do yummy salads) or stock up on snacks and juices to go.
5pm: Bliss out with a great quality aromatherapy, sports or hot stone massage at Frangipani Spa (No. 24, Tue to Sun, 10am-8pm; frangipanisiemreap.com). You can also choose between foot reflexology, a variety of facials or a mani-pedi, all using high quality natural products and capped off with a hot ginger tea.
7pm: Martinis, pepper steak and soothing jazz. Sound like a plan? Head to Armand's Bistro (586 Tep Vong St, open every day, 5pm-late) for a Parisian-themed dinner, which could include a ripping salad nicoise and Burgundian chardonnay among Siem Reap's 'it' crowd.
Malaysia Airlines flies to Siem Reap via Kuala Lumpur from every capital city for about $1100 return. See www.malaysiaairlines.com
Victoria Angkor Resort & Spa takes its design cues from 1930s French colonial architecture, and is in the city centre. There are 120 rooms and 10 suites, a luxurious pool, and a Healthysens spa for traditional essential oil massages. Rooms from about $190; see www.victoriaangkorhotel.com
Wendy Wu Tours offers a range of Pandaw River Cruise itineraries, and a selection of private pre and post-cruise itineraries for independent travellers. The Classic Mekong cruise itinerary aboard the RV Mekong Pandaw travels from Siem Reap to Saigon (and the reverse) over eight days, from $3755 per person twin share. See www.wendywutours.com.au
Nina Karnikowski travelled courtesy of Wendy Wu Tours and Malaysian Airlines