Cambodia has become one of my very favorite destinations in the world. I love the landscape, from the gentle countryside to the white-sand beaches, the people are so gentle and open despite their recent history, and I have found some beautiful small hotels and getaways there. I still find it a very complicated place to visit, the underage sex tourism and proliferation of unsustainable development in certain areas is quite disturbing (see my recent piece on Ethical Travel for the New York Times). BUT I feel that there are so many ways to support the country in the right ways too.
On my last visit we went to the South of the country. Kep and the islands nearby were such an exciting discovery (see my article for the New York Times) but this time we went to Siem Reap to see Angkor Wat. I won’t go into too much detail as lots of travelers have talked about the incredible complex of temples but I have to say I was even more blown away than I expected—the artistic detail, the remarkable architecture, and the setting of the rainforest. I particularly fell in love with Ta Prohm.
We set up base at the Sala Lodges, a very appreciated recommendation by Jason Friedman, the GM at Bangkok’s Siam hotel, and it turned out to be one of my favorite finds in Southeast Asia—so much so that I wrote about it for Conde Nast Traveller’s Hot List. The 11 restored Khmer villas were in and of themselves a work of art, perfectly renovated to preserve their original bones, but with luxe adds like huge rainshowers and delicious bedding.
I also appreciated that the property was on the edge of Siem Reap, close to the fluorescent rice paddies and small villages of the countryside, and Siem Reap itself, a burgeoning atmospheric town. Biking around the countryside and along the banks of the river made me realize that spending time just enjoying local life was as much a draw for me as the temples. My son and I also really enjoyed a tuk tuk ride and river excursion to one of the floating villages; most visitors go to place like Chong Kneas (with its Disneyfied crocodile farms and kids with huge snakes) but Sala sent us further afield and it was a highlight of the trip. Everything was floating on the water: shops, homes, even a small church.
Sala isn’t the only new Siem Reap hotel to open its doors: the former Hotel de la Paix has reemerged as the Park Hyatt (read Conde Nast Traveler Hot List review) and they have done a great job of updating the property without destroying the colonial underpinnings like the atmospheric courtyard. And the new Anantara is a little out of main drag but I loved the rooms with little terraces leading into a long beautiful pool. And the food was wonderful: In addition to Sala’s modern style restaurant (with an excellent cross section of both western and Cambodian dishes) we had great meals at Cheney Tree and Cuisine Wat Damnak.
I am counting down the months until our next trip.