Every year I try to take a vacation in August, it sounds a little European but it is actually a great way to warm up from the chilly winter months and recharge for that last dash into Christmas.
This year I took a trip to Cambodia, a beautiful and fascinating country steeped in history from the reign of the khmer Empire in the 11th century to the devastating rule of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge during the 1970’s. This is a country that acknowledges its past and is trying to redefine itself to build a future. In many ways its charm is its tradition and simplicity.
So if you decide to visit this beautiful country here are a few suggestions.
Accommodation in Phnom Penh
Raffles Hotel Le Royal – The grandeur of Colonial architecture with the luxury synonymous with the Raffles name create the ultimate stay, it’s so easy to be swept up in its charm.Patio Urban Hotel – A great little contemporary hotel in a central location. Simple in its offering (and not in a bad way) and aesthetically well designed plus a fantastic roof top pool to enjoy a few cocktails at the end of a long hot day sightseeing.
Dining Out in Phnom Penh
Bahn Mi & Bros – My partner’s favourite place in all of Cambodia, he could have gone back every day. The café is a modern and has its own delicious interpretation of Bahn Mi. A great lunch spot when exploring the local shops.
Foreign Correspondents Club – Although a little touristy in its offering, its location and colonial charm make a great spot to spend an evening on the balcony overlooking the busy Mekong river esplanade.
What to See in Phnom Penh
With so much History there is a lot to see, of course there are the usual Museums, temples and Royal Palaces all interesting and worth a visit. If you have time when you are in Phnom Penh it’s important to understand Cambodia’s recent history and the atrocities that occurred under Pol Pot and Khmer Rouge. To do this you need to spend the morning visiting the S21 Genocide Museum and the Killing fields. Although a chilling, heart breaking and sometimes unfathomable experience it allows you to understand the nation, what it has been through and how it is rebuilding itself.
Shopping in Phnom Penh
Central Market – For the ultimate in Cambodian market shopping you can’t go past the Central Market. Situated inside a grand art deco building its sprawling corridors stretching out from the central dome can be disorientating but worth the experience.
Pidan Khmer – A small local handicraft store with beautiful fabrics and craft. It supports a program Caring for Young Khmer and teaches village women traditional weaving and dyeing techniques in order to make a living and preserve the traditional weaving and dyeing techniques.
Accommodation in Siem Reap
Viroths Hotel – I love this little hotel with only 35 rooms it’s quiet, very central and has great service. Plus it’s just cool. The combination of contemporary tropical Cambodian architecture and sexy 60’s Scandinavian lines are perfect. You instantly feel chilled and relaxed here.
Phum Biatang – This is one of those bucket list hotels, set in a picturesque setting and resembling a collection of traditional timber village houses, this is the ultimate in relaxed luxury and also one of the hottest hotels in Asia at the moment.
Dining Out in Siem Reap
Central Siem Reap is a little dominated by tourist orientated dining offering 2 for 1 cocktails and 50c beer, so make sure you hunt around because in-between these are some great local haunts offering Khmer bbq and cuisine and of course if you want to be adventurous you’ll find street vendors selling fired tarantula and crickets.
For contemporary culinary Khmer dining try Malis restaurant, the food is amazing and the service and setting are on point. Master Chef Luu Meng showcases local flavours and ingredients putting Cambodian cuisine back on the map.
What to see in Siem Reap
Angkor – You don’t go to Siem Reap without visiting the fascinating city of Angkor once the capital of the Khmer Empire. Make sure you get up early and get there by sunrise it is defiantly worth it to see the sun rise over Angkor Watt the largest of the temples, take a guided tour as there is so much to see and they’ll make sure you get the best out of the tour and educate you on the history of the various areas, structures and temples.
Jimmy’s School – This is one you won’t find in the guide books. Centrally located Jimmy voluntarily runs an afternoon English school, his mission to educate and create opportunity for young Cambodians. Anyone can drop in on the school which runs from 5-7pm, you can sit with the students and help them translate and decipher words. Their energy, eagerness and English skills are amazing. A very humbling and fun experience.
Ask Jimmy about village tours. He is also an amazing guide and will take you on a day trip to the remote jungle countryside outside Siem Reap. Starting the day at a local market to by need suppliers for the village you then make the trek on the back of a cart through the waterways and past some amazing untouched temples to visit villages where you can witness their day to day life and enjoy a true Cambodian lunch together. This was one experience I’ll never forget.
Shopping in Siem Reap
Old Market – The market place is central to Siem Reap and you can by everything from meat to eggs and a fake Rolex. Although you may not spend much money here it’s worth a stroll around and if something does take your eye, remember to barter for the best price especially early in the day as the first sale is good luck.
Kandal Village – Nestled in the leafy central neighbourhood north of Pub Street and south of the Old French Quarter you’ll discover Siem Reap’s rising arts culture precinct. Home to a vibrant and eclectic new mix cafes, galleries and homewares shops unique to Cambodia.
Asia, Cambodia, Designer's Travel Guide, Hotel Guide