Things to do in Siem Reap, Cambodia: A three-minute guide

WHY

While the resort town is best known for its much older neighbour Angkor Archaeological Park just 8 kilometres away, Siem Reap stands on its own two feet as a charming and walkable place to recuperate after steamy days exploring the remains of the great Khmer Empire of the 9th to 15th centuries. Get your bearings and take a promenade alongside the Siem Reap River past the Royal Residence and leafy Old French Quarter to the Old Market area.

VISIT

Setting the alarm clock for a dawn visit to Angkor will alleviate somewhat the fact that you are just one of 2 million-plus visitors a year to Cambodia's most popular tourist attraction that stretches to an overwhelming 400 square kilometres. Hire a remorque (or tuk-tuk as they are also known) and driver for the day who will whisk you from the crowds at Angkor Wat to the quieter (for the next hour or so) but no less stunning sites. This includes the three-tiered Bayon Temple within Angkor Thom with giant smiling stone faces and bas-reliefs depicting scenes from religious mythology to daily life. Young Tomb Raider fans may go the extra mile to see Ta Prohm where scenes from the movie were shot.

EAT

Of the hundreds of Western and Khmer style options around town the upcoming Kandal (middle) Village on Hup Guan Street is a good place to start. North of Pub Street, a busy food and drink haunt for backpackers, and south of the Old French Quarter, The Little Red Fox Espresso serves excellent coffee and iced chocolate (www.littleredfoxespresso.com). Try Hive Cafe for signature dishes such as Breakfast Pavlova (baguette with whipped passion fruit cream cheese topped with mango and mint). Meanwhile Heritage Suites Hotel offers a Khmer barbecue - expect pork, chicken and fish and flavours of coconut, lemongrass and palm sugar - with Apsara performance of the Khmer classical dance (mrandmrssmith.com/heritage-suites-hotel). Shinta Mani Hotel restaurant Kroya has a chef's tasting menu with crispy sour pork rib with roasted eggplant and wild pomelo salad with prawns and toasted coconut (mrandmrssmith.com/shinta-mani-club).

LOOK

Watch the finest of Khmer arts and crafts including silk painting, stone and wood carving and lacquerware being created at Artisans d'Angkor, a Cambodian business originally started to help rural youth work close to their villages. There's smart clothing, silver jewellery and homewares to be found here on Stung Thmey Street and at Siem Reap airport  (www.artisansdangkor.com).

MUST

A high-energy performance by the Phare Cambodian Circus of modern circus arts, music and dance tell stories about the kingdom's strife-torn history. Formed two decades ago by an art teacher and nine students who returned home from a refugee camp after the fall of the Khmer Rouge, the outfit has grown into an arts education school in Battambang in the west. The circus performs nightly, most often to sell-out audiences. You can also join a circus skills workshop (www.pharecambodiancircus.org). For eclectic shopping, Trunkh is the place to buy screen-printed lotus cushion covers and old street signs (trunkh.com).

SLEEP

The 39-room Shinta Mani Club in the Old French Quarter is a chic, friendly hotel with internal courtyard and pool, vases of fresh lotus and a day spa on site. Across the street, its big sister, the Shinta Mani Resort, is ideal for families with 62 rooms surrounding the pool, lawns and garden. For a stay with wellness, the Navutu Dreams Resort and Spa is a 15 minute drive from town and has raw food, fresh juices and yoga on the menu (mrandmrssmith.com/navutu-dreams-resort-and-spa).

TIP

Buck the tourist trend and spend more time than the average three-night stay and skip the peak season of November to March.

Jane Reddy stayed as a guest of Mr and Mrs Smith.

Comments