Siem Reap
Overview

In Siem Reap, Lara Croft goes luxe. Where else can you find an Aman simply a stone’s throw from 900 AD city ruins, which you can tour by helicopter if you prefer? While the country of Cambodia is currently climbing the travel hot list thanks to five star retreats such as Song Saa and avid admirers like Angelina Jolie, there’s nowhere more peaceful or picturesque than the laid-back river town of Siem Reap. Destined to lure fellow global nomads in with its stylish hotels (we love the Park Hyatt, Raffles and Belmond La Résidence d’Angkor) and lively, fusion-filled dining scene, it is the place to channel your inner tomb raider. A journey here feeds both your need for adventure and reflection, all while ticking the magical Angkor Wat off your bucket list.

Although there are many markers of what the next top travel ticket will be, one rule will have you discovering debuting destinations long before your friends: follow the food. Siem Reap’s scene has been charming aficionados of late, and has even convinced Scott Khun, the former head chef of the Big Apple’s most iconic resto, Le Cirque, to return to his homeland. Cambodia’s drool-worthy Khmer cuisine runs from the classic (flavorful yet not too spicy curries like fish amok) to the double daring (stir-fried red tree ants with beef and holy basil, anyone?). The cool factor extends beyond meals in this countryside oasis. Surrounded by verdant rice paddies, silk farms and fishing villages, it is a pocket of colorful, buzzy culture famed for its French Colonial influence and architecture. During your afternoon sightseeing siesta, tour the town by tuk-tuk, taking in the sights as you glide from shop to shop (Eric Raisina is not to be missed), at last stopping for a cool cocktail in the jasmine scented dusk.

Sold yet? Then it is time to pack your bags and flood your feed with Siem snaps, a la Beyonce. Mid-day is as hot as a shirtless Channing Tatum, so you’ll want to keep your temple visits to sunrise and sunset to avoid dehydration (not cute). Be sure to dress modestly as you bounce around Bayon, perhaps in a lightweight and light-colored cotton jumpsuit or dress from Loup Charmant, while keeping the sun off your SPF-ed face with a coordinating Benoît Missolin hat. In the evening, slip into an Anna October off-the-shoulder top paired with shorts from Zimmermann for dinner at Viroth’s. The most necessary day-to-night accessory is surely your camera. Grab your best friend or boyfriend (in 2015, Queen Bey brought both Jay Z and Blue Ivy!) and head to this land of saffron swathed monks, dancing dragonflies and hauntingly beautiful UNESCO monuments, where in moments, you’ll forget what day, year, or even century it is...

Stay

Where to stay

Indulge

Indulge

With a vibrant dining culture that celebrates Cambodia’s heritage, it’s no wonder foodies flock to Siem Reap. Expect an unusual Khmer-French-Asian fusion with modern takes to create distinctive dishes that are balanced, leaving you to lick every last bit off your plate. Even the most upscale restaurants in Siem Reap are fine in the food, more casual on the clothes so opt for you’re chicest, most comfortable cottons and linens – some Dodo Bar Or, Vita Kin, Figue or TEIJA will do the trick – play up the prints and dare to mix unusual colors as this is the time to do it. Housed in a two-story Khmer bungalow adjacent to a Buddhist wat on the east river, Cuisine Wat Damnak has made its name as a top table in town with a light, sophisticated French-inflected menu.  The menu changes nightly, but if the grilled river fish is on it – you best be getting it – as it’s the best thing on the menu.  Book ahead for Chanrey Tree, a fairly new kid on the block that has gained a following in recent years and will undoubtedly be packed. Staying true to the concept of a modern Khmer dining experience, the menu puts a tasteful spin on traditional Khmer-style as you dine in a lush contemporary setting. Another must is Mie Café, where you’ll dine on Khmer and western gourmet dishes in a serene garden setting. For a romantic resto away from it all, Marum is the spot. Serving tapas-style small plates (the palm sugar-braised pork belly!), come ready to order plenty and wash it all down with some refreshing chilies and pineapple margaritas. At Shinta Mani Club’s Kroya, post up on a swinging daybed as you dine on a palette-pleasing menu that blends local flavors with international cuisine.

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You’ll find an unmarked gate behind Wat Polanka, where sliding doors open to a a profusion of tropical gardens hiding the gem Maison Polanka, who serves some of the best Khmer food in Siem Reap.

For an interactive culinary experience similar to that of a typical Asian market, head to Phum Baitang’s Bay Phsar, where you’ll get a crash course on Khmer cuisine as you look out to the gorgeous rice paddy fields. If you’re feeling adventurous, look to La Residence d’Angkor’s Mystery Dine Around as this edible treasure hunt takes you on a multi-stop dining tour. Beginning with cocktails in their popular Martini Bar before, the surprise tour continues via tuk-tuk through the town’s vibrant nightlife to four locations to savor Khmer specialties. The Living Room at the Park Hyatt is stylish standout for cocktails in Siem Reap, with a retro-chic ambiance where you’ll sip as you sink into Deco pink velvet love seats. 

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Explore

Explore

You wouldn't go to China and not see the Great Wall, so you wouldn't go to Siem Reap and not see the Angkor Temples. Let's just say this culture trip is good for the 'gram and your likes are guaranteed to hit 200 (100+ for those above the age of 30). On top of that must-list are Baphoun & Angkor Wat, two massive Buddhist temples built in 11th and 12th centuries. Spare yourself from sweating through your Apiece Apart co-ords, avoid the tourists, and wake up at sunrise to see the Eighth Wonder of the World, Angkor Wat. Tour the ruins of Angkor Thom (translation: 'Great City'), the former capital of the Khmer empire, and explore the ancient city's many structures.  Head to the Floating Villages on Tonlé Sap, where you'll take a private boat cruise on the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia with entire villages built on bamboo stilts–yes, the houses, the churches, and even the gardens float on bamboo rafts. If that's not impressive, we don't know what is... 

SHOP

Where to Shop

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Do yourself a favor and skip the many night markets and forgo the tacky souvenirs that you’ll end up not taking back with you as you’ll need the room in that suitcase for all the vibrant silk and cotton-weaved finds you’ll treasure forever.  To no surprise, the best shops in Siem Reap happen to be the small, independently owned ones that have been started by Cambodians, returning Cambodian emigrants, or expats with a strong affinity to this special place. Start your shopping on a vibrant little lane called Alley West, at the Sivutha Boulevard end, in the center of Siem Reap. (Note to self: Alley West runs parallel to the backpacker haven Pub Street, which must be avoided at all costs…). Alley West is lined with chic boutiques, jewelry and accessories stores, interior décor shops, art and photography galleries, etc. (you get the point). Australian owned Wild Poppy Boutique has feminine frocks in vintage-inspired patterns and florals, all of which are made from the Cambodian cotton – a.k.a. a blessing in Siem Reap’s sticky heat. You’ll also find gorgeous beaded jewelry, so pick up yourself a pair of statement earrings and they’ll become the next Mercedes Salazar. The edgier, more avant-garde curation at POETRY is the great place to pick up some raw-hem tops, and the place to pick up patches and bold badges to customize an oversized GRLFRND denim jacket once you get home (talk about no one else having this!). Pass the restaurants at the end of the alley and cross the street to a continuation of Alley West, also known as The Passage. Here’ you’ll find more art galleries and stores to peruse.  Grab a tuk-tuk and head to Theam’s House, a stunning gallery of quality Khmer art from brightly colored lacquered ceramic elephants, bunnies and water buffalos to carved sandstone Buddha heads. Around the corner is the atelier of Madagascar-born Eric Raisina, a handsome Paris-trained designer who’s pretty much a celeb here. Get lost in his silk designs that are made with the attention of detail you’d expect of a designer who has worked for Oscar de la Renta and Giambattista Valli.  The only thing better than his collection is the price they’re tagged at (#winning!).

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Make a trip to the Made in Cambodia Market, held on the first Saturday afternoon of the month and transforms into a boho-chic festive fair. And last but most certainly not least, if you have the time, it’s worth it to drive three hours to Weaves of Cambodia, a stunning non-profit boutique where land mine victims-turned-artisans spin silk thread into coveted Khmer-inspired textile.

 

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