Coun­try Snap­shots

Look­ing for ideas for your next trip to Cam­bo­dia? Here are some in­sights from EL staff and read­ers.

Expat Living (Singapore) - - Travel - – Mon­ica Pitrelli, Amer­i­can

We vis­ited Angkor Wat two years ago with our three lit­tle ones in tow. We chose to stay at Sof­i­tel Angkor Pho­keethra Golf & Spa Re­sort. We ar­rived to a sold-out ho­tel and a missed re­quest for con­nect­ing rooms so we were up­graded to the two-bed­room Pres­i­den­tial Suite – a fab­u­lous mis­take! The cast of Tomb Raider even stayed in this ho­tel dur­ing film­ing in 2000; since this is the best room in the ho­tel, I went to bed ev­ery night know­ing that An­gelina Jolie and I shared the very same pil­low. Ob­vi­ously, the tem­ple com­plex is the main draw for tourists – Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm and Bayon are pop­u­lar for good rea­sons. To es­cape the crowds, take a 50-minute drive to see the in­tri­cate stone carv­ings of Ban­teay Srei ( pic­tured). Siem Reap’s food scene has un­der­gone a bit of a re­nais­sance as of late; try Chan­rey Tree for ex­cel­lent Kh­mer food, Raf­fles Grand Ho­tel d’angkor for af­ter­noon tea, Malis for a spe­cial night out and Haven to sup­port a wor­thy cause. The lat­ter is owned by a Swiss cou­ple who house and help teens tran­sit from or­phan­ages to adult life. And while we’re on the sub­ject, don’t visit an or­phan­age in Cam­bo­dia; google it if you don’t know why. We also en­joyed serv­ing break­fast to stu­dents at a school opened by Car­ing for Cam­bo­dia. We have been to Cam­bo­dia a few times be­fore, but this was the first time with our kids – ages four, two and one at the time. The kids loved the tuk-tuks! We took turns ex­plor­ing the steeper tem­ples while the kids played in the grass. Cau­tion, how­ever, should be taken when trav­el­ling on ma­jor hol­i­days; you’d want to avoid New Year in Siem Reap.

I’ve been to Siem Reap five times and would love to go back – there’s al­ways some­thing dif­fer­ent to see and do. I’ve stayed in Us$20-a-night rooms at The Villa Siem Reap that is close to town; sim­ple but fine. I’ve also stayed in top-end ho­tels in­clud­ing Raf­fles Grand Ho­tel d’angkor. Jaya House River­park is prob­a­bly my favourite!

While there, I have done ATV trips, spa ses­sions, shop­ping and, of course, a cou­ple of dif­fer­ent tem­ple tours. The ATVS would be okay with smaller kids, although you’ll drive through some city traf­fic which can be a lit­tle scary. I also vis­ited the Angkor Na­tional Mu­seum which was in­ter­est­ing, as well as Phare, The Cam­bo­dian Cir­cus – amaz­ing! The Angkor Wat runs and cy­cles (Angkor Wat In­ter­na­tional Half Marathon and Angkor Wat Bike4kids) are def­i­nitely worth do­ing once, even if it’s just a short one.

A round trip of Ph­nom Penh and Siem Reap is usu­ally good value if you have time to do both at once, but I’d rec­om­mend at least three full days in Siem Reap. The food and drinks are good and cheap – who doesn’t like $2 beers!

We nor­mally stay at The Quay Bou­tique Ho­tel on Sisowath Quay along the Tonle Sap river where it meets and flows into the Mekong. The ho­tel has a nice rooftop bar to watch the river traf­fic while sip­ping a cock­tail. Al­ter­na­tively, we walk to the For­eign Cor­re­spon­dents Club down the road for sun­down­ers. On the way back, there are a host of Asian restau­rants to choose from for din­ner. We also like the River­side Bistro for after-din­ner night­caps to ex­pe­ri­ence the feel and buzz of the for­eign com­mu­nity liv­ing there.

The Quay Bou­tique Ho­tel pro­vides an ex­cel­lent break­fast and se­lec­tion of cof­fees. An early morn­ing walk down­river pro­vides a true pic­ture of Ph­nom Penh. After break­fast, we also like to walk in­land to­wards the Cen­tral Mar­ket through the small back streets, stop­ping at all the var­i­ous bou­tiques, cafés and art gal­leries as we go by. This nor­mally takes a full morn­ing, with re­fresh­ments. After ex­haust­ing our cheap shop­ping at the Cen­tral Mar­ket, we head back to The Quay, par­tak­ing in street food along the way.

My (Deb­o­rah’s) favourite thing to do is head to­wards 240 Street, which is full of bou­tiques, cafés and bak­eries, and wan­der up one side and back the other. My favourite bou­tiques are Jas­mine and Bliss (search them on­line!). Bliss also has an amaz­ing spa up­stairs, set in an old wooden con­ser­va­tion-style house. I get the best mas­sage there ev­ery time.

After a few days in Siem Reap, where I com­peted in the Angkor Wat run, I took a five-hour bus south to Ph­nom Penh to catch a con­nect­ing flight. With only a few hours in the cap­i­tal, I got straight in a tuk-tuk and headed across town to the Tuol Sleng Geno­cide Mu­seum.

I know that “dark tourism” – trav­el­ling to places associated with death and suf­fer­ing – is in­creas­ingly be­com­ing a “thing”, but I’m not nat­u­rally drawn to it. In this in­stance, though, I felt com­pelled to learn more about Cam­bo­dia’s bleak past. And I put it down to the race I’d just en­tered at Angkor Wat. For the fi­nal few kilo­me­tres, I had found my­self run­ning step for step with a lo­cal com­peti­tor; our rhythms were so sim­i­lar that we de­vel­oped a kind of silent con­tract: we would run to­gether, help­ing each other to the fin­ish line in the best time pos­si­ble. Cross­ing the tape, he grabbed my fist and raised it in the air; a nice mo­ment. Only then did I no­tice that his other arm was miss­ing. He was one of many lo­cal am­putees who com­pete in the event to raise aware­ness of the coun­try’s is­sue with land­mines and other UXO (un­ex­ploded or­di­nance).

So, my visit to Tuol Sleng, the no­to­ri­ous Kh­mer Rouge prison, was to get a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of this mod­ern-day prob­lem and its his­tor­i­cal ori­gins. It’s an as­ton­ish­ing place: a small high school con­verted to an ex­e­cu­tion cen­tre from 1975 to 1979. It was al­most empty on the day of my visit – you could hear a pin drop – and it was en­tirely raw and shock­ing. I didn’t feel bet­ter for go­ing, but I’m glad I went.

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