Finally ready to tackle northwestern Cambodia? Tour the ancient sites and the massive Hindu temples. Hike through dense jungles. Explore the mixture of colonial and Chinese architecture in the Old French Quarter. Only a few decades ago, this trip wouldn’t have been possible under the brutal regime of the Khmer Rouge. But the country is healing. Tourists are flocking. And the Angkor region has become a Southeast Asian jewel.
Your day starts early–before the sun rises–in Siem Reap. Grab a croissant and a cup of coffee, and head north just a few miles to Angkor, the capital of the ancient Khmer Empire. You’ll want to beat the heat. And the crowds. There are hundreds of temples here, though Angkor Wat, the largest religious monument in the world, is the most popular. But start at Phnom Bakheng, a temple mountain with spectacular views of Angkor Wat and the surrounding jungle. Seeing the sandstone formations as the sun starts to rise, the sky changes color, and the mist starts to dissipate is a magical experience.
Once you’ve taken in the beauty and the scope of Angkor, head down to Angkor Wat. Cross the moat toward the temple, which is dominated by five towers. The central one symbolizes sacred Mount Meru, the home of the Hindu gods. There are mythological Hindu carvings and statues everywhere. It’s hard to take it all in. Hours disappear quickly. And you haven’t even made it to Angkor Thom, the fortified city, or the Bayon temple yet.
Whether it’s the throngs of people or the humidity that end your temple exploration–at least for the day–make your way back to Siem Reap to cool down in the afternoon. Take a dip in your hotel’s pool. Stroll along the tree-lined streets near the Siem Reap River. Learn how silk is made at a silk farm. Get a really deep massage–there’s no way you’ll fall asleep during this one. Drink green tea-orange Sombai. Bargain for souvenirs and eat crispy fried tarantulas at the Old Market. Have a drink or an early dinner of fish amok on Pub Street. Watch a ballet-like Apsara dance.
And turn in early. You’ll have another predawn wake-up call in the morning. This time to visit Beng Mealea, a temple deep in the overgrown jungle. As you start to fall under Siem Reap’s spell, you’ll look forward to these early peaceful mornings.