June 15, 2016
Need a cultural fix? Then catch a flight to Cambodia
Cambodia is shaking off the shackles of its tragic past and becoming a dynamic, vibrant country. The only hitch is that you need to go now before the rest of the world discovers it. Rich in Khmer culture, this country really is a feast for the eyes.
Start your trip with a stay at the Amansara hotel at Siem Reap. Only a 10-minute tuk-tuk ride from the famed Angkor Wat, the former guest house of King Sihanouk has had none other than Charles De Gaulle and Jackie Kennedy walk through its stylish doors. Now a chic boutique hotel, it still sports a sleek 60s appeal.
You can take a dip in the hotel’s pool or start your cultural tour with a short trip along the river to The 1961 Coworking and Art Space; here you’ll find a gallery displaying the works of local artists. Otherwise, if you’re feeling a little jetlagged, you can take a peek at the FCC Angkor’s eclectic boutiques, which are just a hop, skip and flash of the credit card away across the road. Nothing like a cute souvenir to revitalize the mind, body and soul! Not too far away is one of Asia’s 50 best restaurants, the Cuisine Wat Damnak. Here, Chef Joannes Riviere whips up dishes using locally grown produce inspired by Cambodia’s golden age. Once you’ve sorted your seafood and edible flower fix, you can take a trip to another one of the city’s highlights – the Phare Circus. Under its Big Top, you’ll find a host of innovative young acts that will leave your mouth agape from their displays of acrobatics, music and theatre.
Spend the next morning strolling around the sprawling Angkor Wat, the ancient city of Angkor Thom and the Ta Prohm temple (made famous by ‘Lara Croft: Tomb Raider’). Then once you’ve finished temple hopping, take a ride in the hotel’s vintage Mercedes to the airport to catch a flight to Phnom Penh.
After resting your head at the chic Raffles Hotel Le Royal, take the chance to seek out some more astounding Cambodian architecture with a trip to the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda. Climb the Italian marble steps of the Pagoda to spy a few of the silver tiles from which it gets its name; gaze at the Emerald Buddha as well as a life-sized gold Buddha decorated in diamonds.
Then you need to make sure that you visit Choeung Ek, the former orchard made famous by Roland Joffé’s The Killing Fields. Now a large memorial, it was created to commemorate the tens of thousands of victims who died under the regime of Khmer Rouge leader, Pol Pot. A reminder to appreciate the courage it has taken for the people of Cambodia to rebuild their nation.
However, one example of the positive revitalization of this country is the innovation of the restaurant Romdeng. Set in a beautiful colonial building in Phnom Penh, this restaurant serves up a blend of traditional and contemporary creative cuisine. But what’s even more special about this restaurant is that it is decorated in crafts made by locals, and is staffed by former street children.
After you have been wowed by dishes such as Makphet’s Spicy Pork and Pumpkin Laap, you can stop for a night cap, at the Foreign Correspondent’s Bar, which we’re sure you’ve gathered, is where the hacks used to hang out during the wartime years. The view of Tonle Sap Lake and the National Museum is hard to beat.
But there is more to Cambodia than its cities, so onwards with a flight to Sihanoukville on the coast. Just a 30-minute boat ride away from the airport, you will be able to discover the resort of Song Saa, which shows the real beauty of Cambodia. Perched on two picturesque islands, the land here is practically untouched. At this eco-retreat you will be able to wander through virgin rainforest and mangroves; embark upon an aquatic tour of the resort’s reefs or discover up to 20 deserted islands nearby. Then, while dining at Song Saa’s overwater restaurant, you can look up at the blanket of stars and celebrate the fact that this is truly a magical country.
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