September 20, 2018
Siem Reap might at first seem little more than a dusty appendage to the Angkor Complex, but beyond the faded facades and teeming tourist traps is a hotbed of creativity and culinary prowess, not to mention laid-back charm aplenty. Whether you’re a first-time visitor or a repeat offender, here’s the LUXE guide to 48 hours in Siem Reap.
Siem Reap's grande dame is known by all and sundry, but step through her hallowed doors and you can leave them behind. A sanctuary of refined yet relaxed colonial-riffing style and superb service, once ensconced at Raffles your biggest issue is finding the inclination to leave. Rooms veer classic, with elegant dark woods, four posters, silks and damasks – book the garden situ’d Cabana Suite which is a mere tiptoe from the pool.
You’re here for the Angkor Temple Complex, right? While the Buddhist calm and spiritual reawakening of yore might have got trampled in the tourist delugue, Angkor still delivers top scores on the awe-ometer – and if you work it right you can enjoy a degree of peace and reflection in this architectural masterpiece.
Thankfully, most of the sites are an easy car ride from each other and tend to follow a ‘Small’ or ‘Grand Tour Circuit’. Don’t think about trying to see everything, there’s far too much, and besides, there are other life-enhancing things to attend to, like retail, spa and copious amounts of gin-based beverages.
For most people, Angkor Wat is the first port of call – for the insider take on how best to navigate this 900-year-old monument, nab a copy of the LUXE Cambodia guide. Afterwards, breakfast at Angkor Cafe (open from 8am) and pootle round to the other big guns: the bold-faced Bayon and constantly swarmed Ta Prohm, or hotfoot it back to Raffles for a Champagne brunch.
The Raffles pool might no longer be the largest in Cambodia, but the aquamarine dipper riffing on the barays at Angkor is still the most iconic – and the perfect flop-spot post temple runaround. Add in a pamper sesh at the spa and you’ll be revived and cocktail ready in no time.
Frenchman Joannès Rivière’s elevated heritage Khmer cuisine has won many accolades, as well as a mention on Asia’s 50 Best – the only Cambodian restaurant ever to appear – and if you are able to snag a table, it’s a culinary experience at the fraction of the price you’d pay back home. Marrying locally sourced produce with fine-dine Euro techniques, food is beautifully presented sans pretension at his utterly charmant, teaky, in/out villa and garden. Set menus are refreshed every two weeks, with veggie options, though you’ll need to book waaaay ahead.
Located an apsara’s twirl from Pub Street, but removed from the feral throngs, Miss Wong is a petite, louche, 30s-Shanghai dolly helmed by the affable Dean. Pull up a pew for sensual cocktail pleasures; the languid vibe, and top soundtrack draws a sophisty crowd.
Should your inner Indiana be a calling, book a car and make the scenic 2-hour drive to Beng Mealea, Angkor’s most atmospheric temple, where nature has run wild and ample shade makes for a leisurely gander. You can easily tack on a visit to pink-hued sandstone delight Banteay Srey on the return.
Alternatively, dive head first into Siem Reap’s contemporary attractions instead. For such a small town, it has a remarkably vibrant art scene, with galleries and studios repping local and global talents both established and emerging. Co-owner of One Eleven Art Gallery, longtime expat Robina Hanley leverages her personal connections to give unique access and insights via her Siem Reap Art Tours – she’ll lead you by the hand to meet the artists, designers and artisans worth knowing. Tours are totally bespoke and tailored your interest, last 4-5 hours and include refreshments and transportation. Be sure to book ahead.
Chances are, by now you’ll be hungrier than a fasting monk so beeline to this sweet tropical-timber honeypot for delicately spiced, and surprisingly flavoursome home-style Cambodian cooking. The fish amok is divine, though it takes at least 40mins to make, so order it in advance.
Located south of the town’s French Quarter, Kandal Village constantly reinvents itself one hip spot at a time, and is a veritable one-stop lane of shopportunity. Prettykin Louise Loubatieres shelves a handpicked edit of lacquer, ceramics and textiles at #632, while at #642 concept store Trunkh packs an eclectic range of homeware, bric-a-brac, kooky hand-painted street signs plus arty bits and bobs. At the end of the street you’ll find fragrant haven Frangipani Spa. For a pick-me-up, skip back to java master #593 The Little Red Fox Espresso for an Aussie-grade caffeine, or something stronger.
When cocktail hour strikes, sink into a planter chair with a well-deserved G+T at the Raffles’ dim-lit and clubby The Elephant Bar – previous tipplers include Noel Coward and Jackie Kennedy, and a demure, bygone vibe still prevails. Next door, Restaurant Le Grand beckons with its hushed, candlelit atmos and regal Khmer fare served with signature aplomb – order the set menu for a tongue-titillating journey through the history books. Siem Reap rarely rocks on late, so digestive imbibed, there’s little else to do but roll back to your four-poster bed.
Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor, 1 Vithei Charles de Gaulle, +855 63 963 888, raffles.com/siemreap/
Cuisine Wat Damnak, Wat Damnak Village, +855 77 347 762, cuisinewatdamnak.com
Miss Wong, The Lane (behind Pub St), +855 92 428 332, misswong.net
Siem Reap Art Tours, +855 92 219 647, siemreaparttours.com
The Sugar Palm, Street 27, Wat Bo, +855 63 636 2060, thesugarpalm.com
Kandal Village, Hap Guan Street
Liz was hosted by Raffles Grand Hotel d'Angkor. Read LUXE’s editorial policy here.
Planning an Angkor adventure? Don’t forget to pack your Cambodia guide...
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