One of the great benefits of working in South East Asia as opposed to, say Europe or the USA is the HUGE amount of public holidays that living here entitles you to. For many in SEA, Public Holidays = Weekend Minibreak and with that in mind I have put together a 48 hour itinerary for Siem Reap so you don’t need to waste a single second of your well earned break when visiting.
With flights from Bangkok and Singapore arriving mostly in the mid afternoon you have the option of heading straight out to the temples, in time for sunset or taking it easy and easing into the weekend slowly. I would personally leave the temple exploring to the next day and instead make my way to Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor in time for Happy Hour (4-6pm daily) at their famous Elephant Bar. This historic, colonial hotel dates to 1932 and many original design features such as the beautiful 1920’s elevator (complete with full time elevator boy) remain. There are some stunning old rare photos on display throughout the hotel which are fun to see, and what is more, the cocktails are the best in town!
From here it is a gentle stroll along the river to Chanrey Tree http://chanreytree.com/ one of Siem Reaps best Khmer restaurants. Be sure to reserve a table in their pretty gardens and enjoy their varied menu with everything from grilled frog stuffed with vermicelli noodles and pork to Khmer sour soups and the local specialty Fish Amok.
Hop in a tuk tuk (journeys within central Siem Reap should cost no more than $2) and make your way to the Phare Circus http://www.pharecambodiancircus.org/circus/ where you will undoubtedly be thrilled by the energetic, acrobatic performances from their talented young troupe. Founded in the late 1990’s by a group of young men who had seen the benefits of art therapy during their time in refugee camps after fleeing the monstrous violence of the Khmer Rouge, the circus uses mixed media art performances to pass on Cambodian folk stories, histories and legends to the enthralled crowds at their Big Top. You are guaranteed to be left wide eyed, on the edge of your seat throughout their incredible high energy show.
It is safe to say that Siem Reap is not short of a bar or two and if you are in the mood, then head to Pub Street (my favourite bars include Charlies and nearby Miss Wongs) however with an early sunrise start planned for tomorrow I would make your way home to your hotel for a quick nightcap and then bed!
Yes it is early but a temple sunrise is truly a memory that will stay with you for ever. Don’t think you will be the only person there though – hundreds, if not thousands of people descend on Angkor Watt to witness this spectacle however with a good guide you should be able to find the perfect spot to take it all in. Don’t make the mistake most people do by heading back for breakfast straight after sunrise, the temples are often at their quietest at this time and you should be able to visit the three main sites of Angkor Watt, Bayon and Ta Prohm before the heat gets too much and you can head back into town for a well earned rest
Fight the urge to go back to sleep by having a reviving Spa Treatment at either Sokkhak Spa http://sokkhakspa.com/ or Frangipani https://www.facebook.com/pages/Frangipani-Spa-SIEM-REAP/120737421360218.
Khmer massage is somewhat similar to Thai massage (many Khmers believe that Thai massage actually originated from Khmer massage in fact) in that it involves stretching the body and relaxing the muscles through applying pressure to certain points on your body. It is – in my experience – more gentle than Thai massage and a great way to ease yourself into trying something different. These massages are generally done fully clothed (although I have tried one where you undress as herbal compresses are applied to the body afterwards)
Time for a well earned brunch! Sister Srey https://www.facebook.com/sistersreycafe serves some of the best coffee in town (along with The Hive and The Little Red Fox) and their eclectic menu offers something for everyone -Vegans, Vegetarians, Gluten Free – from Eggs Benedict and the Full English to a light and refreshing Watermelon and Feta salad, Grilled Mackerel or Kampot Pepper Grilled Steak Sandwich. Be sure to squeeze in one of their freshly squeezed juices too (my favourite is the Apple, Orange and Ginger)
If you feel like hitting the shops you could explore the area around pub street or take a tuk tuk to Theams House http://theamshouse.com/ the gallery/atelier of local artist Lim Muy Theam but I would leave that until later and get some well earned R&R by the pool swimming pool until its time to head back into town for Happy Hour!
Suitably revived after some much needed pool time now is as good a time as any to explore the bars of pub street. Like I mentioned earlier, my favourite bars are Miss Wongs,https://www.facebook.com/pages/Miss-Wong-Cocktail-Bar-in-Siem-Reap/575271792526920?ref=ts&fref=ts a 1930’s Shanghai style speakeasy in the alley just behind pub street serving great cocktails or Charlie’s https://www.facebook.com/charlies.siemreap?fref=ts a fun and lively bar just off the main pub street stretch with daily promotions including Tequila Tuesday, Wine and Whisky Wednesday and Sangria Sunday. Staff are friendly, the drinks are cheap and there is almost always someone interesting to chat to at the bar, including owners Charlie and Zoe who make you feel instantly at home.
Be careful not to over indulge as dinner at Cuisine Wat Damnak http://www.cuisinewatdamnak.com/ is a meal you will absolutely want to remember. Named the 50th best restaurant in South East Asia in the 2015 San Pellegrino Asia’s Top 50 Restaurant list – the only Cambodian entry – Chef Joannès Rivière offers a refined and creative take on classic Khmer dishes quite unlike anything you will experience elsewhere. Choose from 2 weekly changing set menus priced at $24 for 5 courses, $28 for 6 and be taken on a culinary countrywide tour from the comfort of the dining room. Recent highlights have included Caramelised palm sugar and star anise braised pork, crispy shank, lotus root, seeds and stem, Sanday fish clear curry with bilimbi and water lily stem and Frogs legs with dry “Vietnamese style soup”
If you bought a two day temple pass you may want to get up early again and head out to some of the smaller temples but for me, no mini break for me would be complete without a market trip. Phsar Leu is located about a 10 minute tuk tuk ride out of town and a 30 minute wander around this bustling local market is truly a feast for all the senses. Stalls selling all manner of fresh fruits, meat, fish and more all clamour for attention and offer an interesting look into local Cambodian life.
The Artisans d’Angkor silk farm http://www.artisansdangkor.com/workshops-19-angkor-silk-farm.php is another interesting activity and after a quick introduction into the silk making process you will be treated to a complimentary guided tour of the workshop before having the opportunity to purchase some incredibly good value silks in their gift shop. Since opening in 1998, Artisans d’Angkor has opened 42 workshops in Siem Reap province and now hires 1300 people, including 900 trainees. In addition to this, the craftsmen formed an association which holds a 20% share on the company meaning they are a “Fair Trade” development company too which makes their silks that little bit more beautiful in my eyes…
Time to squeeze in a last lunch at Marum a charity run training school and restaurant set up by Friends International http://www.friends-international.org/shop/shop.asp?mm=sh. Their menu is described as “Asian Tapas” and they offer several classic Khmer dishes as well as a varied selection of pan-Asian dishes as well. Be sure to save some room for the delicious coconut tart with chilli ice cream for dessert!
If you are lucky enough to be on an evening flight then you will have time to visit the weekend “Made in Cambodia Market” which runs every Saturday and Sunday from 4-9pm next to the Shintamani hotel. Local designers and artists set up stalls for you to purchase direct from the source as well as being able to sample locally made products like Sombai Rice spirit and other similar treats. With jewelry from Graines de Cambodge and Ammo amongst others, this is also a great place to pick up a unique statement piece of jewelry without breaking the bank!
Of course all travel itineraries are subjective but I have tried to squeeze in as much as possible so that even the time pressed can make the most of their stay in Temple Town. Please do not hesitate to email me for more details or recommendations firstname.lastname@example.org and enjoy your time in Siem Reap!