Abandoned in the 15th century the temples of Angkor Wat were destroyed by hundreds of years of neglect. The image of gnarled and enormous trees exploding out of the earth into the masses of magnificent structures at Angkor Wat were the ones that inspired my trip to the city of Siem Reap just minutes from these infamous temples and palaces. I was not disappointed.
Preparing for this trip was essential. Vaccines, pharmaceuticals, visa and the proper clothing for a climate of wet, hot and humid weather were crucial. Don’t ever let a few mosquitoes deter you from taking a trip so memorable!
There are a plethora of fabulous hotels, inexpensive, palatial, large and small from which to choose. We booked our weeklong stay at the J7 in Siem Reap. Only two years old the J7 was perfectly situated. The spacious rooms all have terraces. Some looked out onto the perfectly manicured lawn, pool and fountains which was nice for visitors who were looking to take a break from the hectic scene of the city. But other terraces overlook the heavy traffic of tuk tuks, motorcycles and pedestrians.
That was our terrace and it was exactly the view we were looking for! The staff was exceptional and arranged tuk tuk drivers and guides for 3 days to the silk factory and temples.
In addition the J7 offers an delicious breakfast which we took advantage of because we knew our days touring were going to be long.
When we arrived our concierge arranged a 15 minute tuk tuk ride to the Angkor Silk Farm. This factory produces artisan silk textiles which harvest the silk from the worms to the extrapolation of collecting the fibers from the cocoons to the dying, processing and milling. It is quite an education. Our guide informed us the it can take 2 to3 days to produce 3 meters of an intricate silk pattern. Think about that the next time you shop for a silk scarf.
This is where you might want to consider scheduling a tuk yuk to take you to watch the sunrise. I understand it’s quite the experience. However, we would have had to rise at 4:00 am for the 5:00 breaking of the sun along with hundreds of other tourists. Instead we chose to sleep in—we were on vacation after all. And speaking of tourists there are plenty! Avoiding large groups is almost impossible but there are areas that are less traveled during certain times of the day. Having a good guide who understands the flow of tourism into the temples is essential in minimizing the inevitable crowds.Hordes of tourists or not the experience of walking through these other-wordly ancient ruins will have you in awe!
We arrived back out at our hotel hot and sticky—a quick shower, a swim in the salt water pool and a change of clothes and then off to dinner. Dining in Cambodia is heavenly. Since It sits between Thailand and Vietnam it’s not surprising that traditional Khmer cuisine is similar to its bounder countries. But lets not forget that the French influenced both Vietnam and Cambodia with its famously decadent
style. The outcome of which is sublime!
You will taste the influences of French cuisine when you bite into your morning croissant, inhale the fragrances of Thai cuisine without the over-the-top heat and devour something as simple as a whole roasted fish gently touched by ginger, coconut, wildflowers and stalks of green pepper.
Our first dinner was a five-course price fixed meal at The Embassy. You can definitely taste the influences of Khmer cuisine but the white farmhouse decor and eclectic menu will have you forgetting you are in Cambodia. With each course a wine pairing was suggested. Astonishingly this gastronomical meal was only $28 and the wine pairing was an additional $22.50. Everything from superb cuisine to attention to detail to service was on par with any of my favorite restaurant. In addition to this superb meal the chef greeted us and sent us off with a beautifully wrapped box of fresh macaron.
The next day we took in the temples at Bayon, Banteay Srei, Ta Prohm. They were all magnificent—and each giving context to the history of the Khmer!
The Sugar Palm was our destination for dinner afterwards. There was no AC but the numerous fans were a welcomed sight. We ordered
a la carte and were not disappointed! The calamari in green pepper corns and whole roasted fish were beautifully seasoned with local spices. But it was their Fish Amok (traditional dish steam cooked in curry and banana leaves) that was exceptional!
The archeological Angkor National Museum was an easy walk from our hotel. Its vast collection supplemented with videos gave context to our visits to the palaces and temples of the Khmer.
There is so much more to say about Cambodia but my suggestion is to see it yourself.