SUA S’DEI, SIEM REAP

There’s more to this re­sort town than ex­quis­ite tem­ple ru­ins

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - Escape - - FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS CAMBODIA - SARAH NICHOLSON

Angkor Wat is world fa­mous but the an­cient ru­ins wouldn’t be half as easy to see if it wasn’t for Siem Reap. The Cam­bo­dian set­tle­ment 5km from Angkor’s front door is home to 140,000 peo­ple with the ma­jor­ity work­ing to sup­port the hordes of tourists de­scend­ing daily to sleep, scoff, shop and so­cialise when not out sur­vey­ing the sites that made the Kh­mer Em­pire’s cap­i­tal city.

And while lo­ca­tions such as Angkor Thom, Ban­teay Srei, Ta Keo, Preah Khan and Ta Prohm are the stars of the show, there’s am­ple to do in Siem Reap for trav­ellers who find them­selves tem­pled out.

HOW DO I GET THERE?

There are no di­rect ser­vices from Aus­tralian air­ports to Siem Reap but a sta­ble of Asian-based air­lines prom­ises con­ve­nient two-flight op­tions with those sched­ul­ing short tran­sit times let­ting fly­ers com­plete the jour­ney in less than 15 hours.

Those keen on quick tran­sit should con­sider Viet­nam Air­lines via Saigon, the Cathay Pa­cific and Cathay Dragon com­bi­na­tion through Hong Kong, or a swift stop in Sin­ga­pore by trav­el­ling the Sin­ga­pore Air­lines and Silk Air part­ner­ship.

HOW DO I GET AROUND?

Siem Reap is a com­pact com­mu­nity so tuk­tuks, bi­cy­cles and walk­ing are best for ex­plor­ing the busy streets mark­ing the heart of the set­tle­ment while a car booked through a ho­tel or travel agent is con­ve­nient for reach­ing Angkor Wat or the other his­tor­i­cal lo­ca­tions a stone’s throw from town.

Tuk­tuks – three-wheeled ve­hi­cles with mo­tor­bike up front and a buggy big enough for three or four peo­ple be­hind – are fun for mak­ing short jour­neys and, while it’s im­por­tant to ne­go­ti­ate a price be­fore start­ing, ex­pect to pay about $US1 or $US2 for each per­son to make a brief run.

Those fly­ing into Siem Reap should email their ho­tel in ad­vance and ar­range for a car to col­lect them from the ter­mi­nal door and com­plete the jour­ney to their ac­com­mo­da­tion, about 10km away, with the cost added to their bill and paid on de­par­ture.

SHOULD I HIRE A GUIDE?

Those ex­plor­ing solo should en­gage the ser­vices of an of­fi­cial guide with the lemon-shirt-wear­ing lo­cals not only shar­ing facts on the Angkor sites sur­round­ing the set­tle­ment but also they know out-of-the-way lo­ca­tions sight­seers can ex­plore them­selves.

But the very best thing about ex­plor­ing with a host are the sto­ries they share and, with most Cam­bo­di­ans touched by the hor­rors of the Kh­mer Rouge regime, it’s the guides that re­mem­ber life dur­ing these years and who put a very per­sonal touch on his­tory.

HOW CAN I AVOID THE CROWDS AT ANGKOR WAT?

The an­swer is to start early by ar­rang­ing a 4am wake-up call and ven­ture out to the world-fa­mous land­mark while it’s still dark to watch the light of a new day creep across the land­scape.

Then, when the tourists head back to ho­tels for buf­fet break­fasts, con­tinue in­side to ex­plore the court­yards and clois­tered pas­sage­ways when there’s al­most no one around and the low sun sends golden light into dark cor­ners and shad­ows dance on the stone carv­ings.

When hun­gry tum­mies be­gin rum­bling head out the front gate, across the lake and into one of the rus­tic restau­rants be­hind the dusty carpark to or­der break­fast served with freshly squeezed OJ and rich Cam­bo­dian cof­fee.

WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW ABOUT MONEY?

While Cam­bo­dia does have its cur­rency, all trans­ac­tions are done in US dol­lars so make sure you have a stash of new notes – the lo­cals won’t take any­thing torn or tat­tered – be­fore ar­riv­ing with a stack of sin­gles for tip­ping and pay­ing tuk­tuk driv­ers.

There are ATMs around town dis­pers­ing US dol­lars and my favourite place to with­draw cash is the phar­macy op­po­site Ba­nana Leaf bar on the cor­ner of New and 2 Th­nou streets, which has an ANZ ma­chine.

Tip­ping is be­com­ing part of ev­ery­day life with in­ter­na­tional vis­i­tors ex­pected to drop a few ex­tra dol­lars on the ta­ble af­ter din­ing and give ho­tel porters, driv­ers and guides a bonus when jobs are done.

WHERE SHOULD I GO FOR A DRINK?

My favourite ad­dress is the For­eign Cor­re­spon­dents Club where art-deco pav­il­ions built for France’s colo­nialera diplo­mats are home to a bar and restau­rant with com­fort­able arm­chairs dot­ted around the river­side gar­dens.

Other chic op­tions are Miss Wong, which cel­e­brates 1930s Shang­hai style, Yel­low Sub­ma­rine hon­our­ing The Bea­tles, Asana oc­cu­py­ing a tra­di­tional wooden Kh­mer house, and The Liv­ing Room, which is an el­e­gant space at the Park Hy­att Siem Reap.

WHAT CUS­TOMS DO I NEED TO CON­SIDER?

Cam­bo­dia is a pre­dom­i­nantly Bud­dhist coun­try, which means the lo­cals for­give vis­i­tors who break the rules when vis­it­ing a tem­ple, but Aussies sur­vey­ing Siem Reap should make an ef­fort to do the right thing when ex­plor­ing re­li­gious and his­toric lo­ca­tions.

Al­ways re­move shoes be­fore ven­tur­ing in­side a tem­ple or pagoda, if sit­ting with monks point toes away from the hosts, men and women should both cover legs and arms below knees and el­bows with sarong or scarf, and never touch a child on the top of the head.

HOW LONG SHOULD I SPEND THERE?

While it’s pos­si­ble to do Siem Reap in a day – that’s just enough time to view big-ticket items such as Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom as well as strolling through the Night Mar­ket and en­joy­ing a meal on manic Pub Street – it’s bet­ter to al­lo­cate three days to the des­ti­na­tion.

That’s enough time to es­cape the tourist trail by ex­plor­ing lo­ca­tions fur­ther from town as well as en­joy a break by the pool at one of the re­sort­like ho­tels hid­den in­side lush gar­dens with the Park Hy­att Siem Reap, Anantara Angkor Re­sort, Vic­to­ria Angkor Re­sort and Prince D’Angkor Re­sort ex­cel­lent op­tions for stop-and­flop devo­tees.

WHILE IT’S POS­SI­BLE TO DO SIEM REAP IN A DAY, IT’S BET­TER TO AL­LO­CATE THREE DAYS TO THE DES­TI­NA­TION

PIC­TURES: ISTOCK, HY­ATT HO­TELS

From an­cient Ta Prohm at Angkor Wat to buzzing Pub St, Siem Reap needs time to ex­plore; re­lax af­ter­wards at the cool Park Hy­att.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.