GETTING THERE: The quickest way to Siem Reap is the 22-hour fight from Dulles on Korean Air (connecting via Seoul); the round-trip fare is about $1,500, with restrictions. An alternate route is to fly to the capital of Phnom Penh (various airlines, from about $2,250), spend a day or two exploring the city, then catch a short domestic flight (about $80 one way) to Siem Reap on Phnom Penh Airways.[an error occurred while processing this directive]
Or to see a bit of the countryside, hire a taxi for the four-hour drive from Phnom Penh; the road is good, the views are interesting and the price (about $70) is hard to beat. There are also daily flights from Bangkok to Siem Reap (about $195 each way) on Bangkok Airways.
Cambodia requires visas, which can be obtained on arrival or online at http:/
WHEN TO GO: Most tourists visit during the peak season of November to February, when skies are clear; avoid the brutally hot and dusty months of March and April. Start planning now if you want to visit in the rainy season (May-October), which is an excellent option to consider, especially if you don't plan to visit remote parts of the country.
WHERE TO STAY: All the hotels serving Angkor are in Siem Reap, just a few miles from the temples. It's easy to get a clean, comfortable room in a friendly guesthouse for less than $25 -- try the Villa Siem Reap (153 Taphul Rd., 011-855-63-761-036, http:/
At the very top end is the Amansara (Road to Angkor, 011-855-63-760-333, http:/
Five-stars geared toward mere mortals include the historic Raffles Grand Hotel d'Angkor (Vithei Charles de Gaulle, 800-768-9009, http:/
But the best deals in town may be the airy, Asian-styled La Residence d'Angkor (River Road, 011-855-63-963-390, http:/
Note: Prices at most hotels will be at least twice as high in the dry season.
WHERE TO EAT: Khmer cuisine, which is similar to Thai but not as spicy, is coming back to life after decades of neglect. The best place to try it may be Meric, in the Hotel de la Paix, where chef Joannes Riviere is leading the revival. Try his theatrical seven-course Khmer sampler, served on pieces of slate, antique serving spoons, artfully broken pots -- everything except plates. At $30, it's pricey by Cambodian standards, but it was one of the most memorable meals we've ever had.
Dozens of great restaurants and open-air bistros are in the French Quarter; start at the main thoroughfare, nicknamed Pub Street, and explore the surrounding streets. Good bets include Khmer House (traditional Cambodian dishes for less than $5, in the alley behind Pub Street), kamasutra for Indian food and the charming Le Tigre du Papier (on Pub Street), with its free book exchange, (slow) Internet access, cooking classes in the upstairs kitchen and a grill offering everything from alligator to kangaroo ($4-$12).
If you're in the mood for "2001"-style futurism, head around the corner from Pub Street to the Blue Pumpkin, where you can lounge on bulbous white furniture and cool off with snacks and organic teas ($2-$12). And definitely try the Dead Fish Tower on Sivutha Boulevard, which has delicious Khmer and Chinese food ($2-$8), an eclectic art collection and six alligators in a tank.
WHAT TO DO: Well, temples, obviously. But skip the trip out to the "floating village" at the huge lake called Tonle Sap; it's cheesy, touristy and depressing. There are several museums; one of the most unusual is the Land Mine Museum ( http:/
It's impossible to get out of Siem Reap without seeing some traditional Apsara dancing. This is exotic and beautiful stuff, as is the Khmer music that accompanies it. Many of the hotels host dinnertime performances, so call around to see what's available. And if you have a chance to see a traditional shadow puppet show, grab it.
For shopping, most people head to the tourist-oriented Artisans d'Angkor (Stung Thmey Street) or the huge Old Market in the heart of the French Quarter. Unless you're really into vegetables or cheap Cambodian underwear, though, skip the market and head into the warren of nameless streets and alleys that surround it. You'll find an amazing range of boutiques and art galleries; some of the best include Kokoon for silks and Hagar Design for hip, fashionable stuff made of recycled rice bags. Siem Reap has started to attract a small international artist community, and there are sophisticated, affordable works at the McDermott Gallery (on the passageway behind Pub Street) and hand-tinted photographs at the Klick Gallery next door.
And when you're worn out from climbing temples all day, check into one of Siem Reap's ubiquitous spas. There are dozens of them, from Seeing Hands, whose masseurs are all blind (about $10), to our favorite, Bodia (in the French Quarter), where the organically Space Age architecture will unwind you even before the massage (about $26) begins.