48 Hours: Khmer Cuisine And Temple Hopping In Siem Reap

Travel

March 27, 2017 | BY Rebecca Cairns

Angkor Wat, scorpion salads and coffee culture

Welcome to  The Weekender, a recurring travel series focused on destinations ideal for a quick getaway. With less than 48 hours at your disposal, escaping from the clamour of Hong Kong becomes a lot more feasible when you can just grab your bags and come back recharged on Monday. This week’s tried-and-true agenda (yes, we actually went there):  Siem Reap.

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Photo: Thinkstock

Home to UNESCO World Heritage site Angkor Wat, Siem Reap is a pint-sized city perfect for a weekend getaway. The rise of tourism in Cambodia over the last decade has spawned a vibrant cultural and nightlife scene, and the city now sees over 2 million visitors every year.

Read more: 48 Hours in Hanoi

12pm: Check in

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Heritage Suite Hotels have two vintage Mercedes for transfers (Photo: Courtesy of Heritage Suites)

Touch down in Siem Reap, and head to your hotel. For a boutique experience, Heritage Suites Hotels provides an oasis of calm in the city centre. They’ll pick you up from the airport in their vintage 1960s Mercedes-Benz, complete with refreshments.

Home to 26 private suites, the hotel focuses on old-fashioned hospitality. Each suite is open plan with floor-to-ceiling windows, a private garden, steam room and hot tub. There’s a good chance you might want to spend the weekend just chilling in your room.

Heritage Suite Hotels, Slokram Village, Khum Slok Kram, Siem Reap,  +855 63 969 100, heritagesuiteshotel.com

2pm: Explore Kandal Village and Artisans d’Angkor

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Kandal Village is home to quaint cafes like The Little Red Fox (Photo: Courtesy of The Little Red Fox)

A 20-minute stroll along the river or a quick tuk-tuk ride will take you to this newly developed part of town, a quaint neighborhood of boutiques and cafes between Pub Street and the French Quarter. Try rich Cambodian coffee at The Little Red Fox or The Hive, or Vibe for pressed juices and vegan food.

If you’re looking for souvenirs, skip the night markets and go to Artisans d’Angkor instead: the market sells hand-crafted items and local art pieces that have more personality than the standard tourist tack.

Kandal Village, Hup Guan Street, Siem Reap

Artisans d’Angkor Chantiers-Ecoles, Stung Thmey Street, Siem Reap, +855 63 963 330, artisansdangkor.com

6pm: Enjoy a traditional Khmer dinner

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Khmer beef rolls (Photo: Courtesy of Heritage Suites)

With similarities to Thai and Vietnamese food, Khmer cuisine has a fresh and fragrant taste that can’t be missed. The 5-course Khmer menu at Heritage restaurant offers a sample of traditional dishes, including peppery beef lok lak and an incredible rendition of local favourite sweet and sour sea bass.

Alternatively, Spoons restaurant is a sustainable community project that trains young people in the hospitality industry. It promises and delivers authentic Cambodian hospitality and delicious local dishes, including whole grilled mackerel and coconut chicken.

Spoons Cafe, Pave Road, Wat Damnak Village Salakomreouk Commune, Siem Reap, +855 76 277 6667, egbokmission.org

Heritage Restaurant, Slokram Village, Khum Slok Kram, Siem Reap, +855 63 969 100, heritagesuiteshotel.com

8pm: Catch a cultural show

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A night at Phare Circus (Photo: Courtesy of Phare Circus)

If you’re looking for something traditional, the Phare Circus is excellent for a contemporary performance which incorporates cultural tatler_stories and elements of Aspara dancing. Book in advance to avoid disappointment, as this is one of the most popular activities in Siem Reap.

It’ll have to be an early night if you want to catch the sunrise the next morning.  But before you head back to your suite for some beauty sleep, enjoy a cocktail by the pool or relax with some live music at the Heritage Lobby Bar.

Phare Circus, Phare Circus Ring Road, Sok San Road, Siem Reap, +855 92 225 320, pharecircus.org

5am: See the sunrise at Angkor Wat

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Angkor Wat main temple at sunrise (Photo: Thinkstock)

We weren’t joking about that early rise. The thousand-year-old temple complex of Angkor Wat symbolises the Kingdom of Cambodia for many, and showcases a rich religious history of Hinduism and Buddhism.

Tours of the complex are usually done by tuk-tuk. Must sees include the main Angkor Wat temple, Ta Prohm (of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider fame), and Bayon. These temples are among the best preserved, and provide an excellent entry point to the many temples.

Most tour groups leave for breakfast after sunrise and will return later—this is your chance to explore the temple complex at its quietest.

12pm: Relax in the spa

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A relaxing ambience in Bodia Spa's massage suites (Photo: Courtesy of Bodia Spa)

After a morning of temple exploration, you’ll be pretty exhausted—and what holiday is complete without a massage? With two locations in Siem Reap, Bodia Spa is a welcome retreat offering an extensive menu of indulgent packages, from massages to facials to body scrubs.

If you’re looking for something more traditional, try the sugar palm ball massage at Spa Khmer.

Spa Khmer, Salakam Reuk Commune, Siem Reap, +855 11 345 039, spakhmer.com

Bodia Spa, Various Locations, Siem Reap, +855 63 761 593, bodia-spa.com

3pm: Learn some history and hit the shops

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The new T Galleria opened in 2016 (Photo: Courtesy of DFS)

History buffs should head to the Angkor National Museum, which gives context to the temple complex and provides an interactive exhibition of ancient Khmer art and sculpture.

If you’re feeling fatigued by all that history though, it might be time for a little shopping. Opened just last year, T Galleria by DFS is right next door, and provides an excellent opportunity for luxury shopping in Siem Reap.

Angkor National Museum, Charles De Gaulle, Siem Reap, +855 63 966 601, angkornationalmuseum.com

T Galleria by DFS, 968 Vithei Charles De Gaulle, Siem Reap, +855 63 962 511, dfs.com

7pm: Go beyond Pub Street

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Papaya salad with Scorpions, anyone? (Photo: Courtesy of Bugs Cafe)

Popular with backpackers and tourists, the lively ‘Pub Street’ is worth a stroll for the atmosphere. To actually enjoy a drink, however, check out bars like Miss Wong on ‘The Lane’, a quieter pedestrian alley wedged between the two main roads.

Feeling tempted by the local vendors touting fried tarantulas and scorpion skewers? Adventurous eaters desperate for a deep-fried bug fix should skip the roadside carts and head to Bugs Cafe. They serve up an eclectic menu featuring ants, silkworms, spiders and more, passing up on shock-factor in favour of legitimately delicious dishes.

Miss Wong, The Lane, Siem Reap, +855 92 428 332, misswong.net

Bugs Cafe, 351 Angkor Night Market St, Siem Reap, Cambodia, +855 17 764 560, bugs-cafe.e-monsite.com

9am: Chill by the pool

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Enjoy your morning coffee by the pool (Photo: Courtesy of Heritage Suites)

The next morning is the perfect time to soak up some final rays by the pool. Have breakfast served poolside, and enjoy the selection of Cambodian and Western dishes. Do nothing and relax before you check out at midday—it’s important to find time to chill, even on a whirlwind weekend escape.

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See also: 48 Hours In Macau