July 25, 2011

Temple adventures in Siem Reap


The Cambodian city offers a wealth of activities for incentive groups

A decade makes a world of difference. While Laos, its neighbour to the north, remains a well-kept secret for intrepid travellers, Cambodia has grown by leaps and bounds over the past 10 years to become a good MICE destination. More direct flights, the convenience of obtaining a visa upon arrival at Siem Reap or Phnom Penh international airports, plus Cambodia’s inherent laid-back and friendly attitude, have all contributed to its reputation as a good choice for mid-size groups.
Games arena
“Siem Reap is really looking towards the future,” says Chloe Chomienne, MICE manager with Exotissimo Travel. “There is finally peace and stable economic development. People see it as a good value for money destination. It has a lot of authenticity. And it is like a giant games arena – if you have an idea, you can do it here.” Gregory Anderson, general manager at Le Meridien Angkor, says: “It’s all on the upside. You can’t do anything on the scale of Las Vegas, but people coming here don’t have those expectations.” Topping the list of incentive outings is a temple dinner at one of the ancient complexes. “It is a very emotional experience,” says Anderson. “I’ve seen delegates cry or at the very least get goose bumps.”
Sofitel Angkor Phokeethra has organized cocktails and dinner for a 450-person Johnny Walker event at Bayon Temple. “Five per cent of all temples can be used for events,” says Peter Lucas, executive assistant manager at Sofitel. Often, cocktails are held on one side and guests are led either around or through the temple to the banquet part, where they dine watching traditional Khmer performances.
Dining choices
Two other solid restaurant options include Amok and Nest. Both situated conveniently in the Market district, Amok and its adjacent property Champey can accommodate 320 people combined. The house specialty is amok fish, a dish that every Cambodian household prepares slightly differently. “This area consists mostly of former private houses,” says Sreyroth Chan, general manager at Amok. “We are one of the few restaurants in the city with an open kitchen.” By contrast, Nest is an open-air, white-canopied restaurant featuring 12 daybeds for lounging under the stars with a cocktail or two. It offers a contemporary menu with grills, Khmer and other Asian favourites to accompany its chilled vibe.
Residential ambiance
For sophisticated private receptions and poolside events, Athakorn House is available through Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor. The wooden house consists of six bedrooms off a central octagon and can accommodate up to 120 guests. “It can cater to intimate dinner groups and offers an alternative to temple dinners,” says Sirima Rojprasitporn, Raffles’s assistant director of sales.
City tours can include a visit to Pub Street for cocktails, with Red Piano a long-serving favourite establishment on the strip, or Dean Williams’s Miss Wong Cocktail Bar for some swank lounging. A visit to Artisans Angkor to check out some indigenous arts and crafts in the making is popular with groups, while a round of golf at the Nick Faldo-designed Angkor Golf Resort is a good fair-weather option. Further afield, day trips can include hot-air balloon rides, horseback riding at Happy Ranch Horse Farm and visits to water villages on Tonle Sap Lake.

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