May 27, 2011

There's more to Siem Reap than the Angkor temples


By Christine Iyer

We're thinking of a long weekend in Siem Reap, Cambodia. I know it's a good base from where to plan trips to the Angkor temples, but we also want to spend a couple of days exploring the town without getting mired in the usual tourist draws. What's the best way to get around? Can you recommend a good hotel in the town centre?

Nearly everyone who visits Siem Reap is there for the vast Angkor temple complex just a few kilometres away, but the town is great for a mini-break, with enough to do, see and enjoy.

Siem Reap is much quieter than Phnom Penh, and in this lies the town's beauty - the streets are relatively traffic-free, the air is fresh and the people unhurried: the perfect destination if you're looking to do some quiet exploring.

Tour Siem Reap by tuk tuk - it's the cheapest and easiest way to get around, and pretty comfortable, too. Rates usually start at around US$1 to $2 (Dh3.6 to Dh7.3).

Besides the usual attractions - the elephant rides and trips to the floating villages on the Tonle Sap, south-east Asia's largest freshwater lake - Siem Reap has a lot of interesting, lesser-known activities, from walks through the small villages on the outskirts of the town to helicopter rides over the temples.

Cort Adventure (; 00 855 12 520 071) takes visitors on tours of Tonle Oum in a traditional gondola. The half-day trips include lunch or dinner on the boat and beverages for $15 (Dh55) per person, per trip.

Helicopters Cambodia (; 00 855 63 963 316) organises private "scenic" flights offering wonderful photo ops. A 20-minute flight over Siem Reap, the Angkor temples, Phnom Krom and the Tonle Sap costs $200 (Dh734) per person (minimum of three persons).

If you're after a restful sort of holiday, head to Villa Shanti (; 00 855 63 969 060), where you can practise kundalini yoga ($10 [Dh36.7] per hour) or t'ai chi ($10 [Dh36.7] for two hours) under the guidance of the resident yoga instructor. Meditation lessons are available for $5 (Dh18.3) per hour.

Or try your hand at Khmer cookery. Alliance Cafe, a boutique hotel with an excellent restaurant, offers half-day classes that start with a visit to the local market to procure fresh produce and end with the students enjoying a lavish dinner (; 00 855 63 964 940; rates vary according to season).

Don't forget to make a trip to the newly opened Angkor National Museum (; 00 855 63 966 601). The vast galleries are laid out chronologically and are full of treasures, including a display of more than 1,000 Buddha figurines. Entrance is $12 (Dh44).

Hotel de la Paix (; 00 855 63 966 000) is a chic five-star property in the town centre combining modern design with traditional Khmer motifs. The rooms are spacious and beautifully appointed, and the restaurants offer Cambodian cuisine as well as an international menu. Double rooms cost from $213 (Dh782) per night, including taxes.

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