Cambodia: the comeback kid

By | Category: Travel Advice & Contacts, Travel destinations, Travel tips & opinions

The years of fear and loathing are over: Cambodia has been catapulted onto the world stage as a tourist destination and is slowly rebuilding for the future. Andy Booth, owner of travel company ABOUTAsia whose profits support the education of children in rural Cambodia, gives us the local low-down on the country’s capital: Siem Reap

Name: Andy Booth
Age:
46
Occupation: Owner of ABOUTAsia Travel – specialist help for discerning visitors to Cambodia. Founder of ABOUTAsia Schools – converting tourist dollars into rural education.

Are you a local?
No I am a Brit, but I have been living in Cambodia since 2007.

What’s it like to live in Siem Reap?
Siem Reap (the gateway to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Angkor Wat) is a pretty relaxed and safe town to live in. Tropical monsoons provide wet (May-September) and dry (October-April) seasons but it is typically hot and humid here, only 13 degrees from the equator. Tourism dominates the town with a collection of good hotels, restaurants and spas, a young and vibrant population and a fascinating surrounding province of temples, countryside, lake and mountains.

What is your favourite thing about Siem Reap?
The warmth of the locals; you’ll be greeted with a genuine smile wherever you go. I also like exploring Siem Reap and finding new temples and rural sites for our guests, especially demanding customers like professional photographers who give us a challenge.

Why should we visit Siem Reap?
Cambodia, as a country, had a troubled past and only achieved stability in the late 1990s meaning tourism is still relatively young. The scale and majesty of the temples is a unique visitor draw and we now see almost one million visitors a year to Angkor Wat. Crowds can be heavy at the key sights and you should visit before the rules change and

How long do we need?
It depends on what you want to do. I would suggest setting aside two to five days to explore the temples, the town of Siem Reap town, subsistence fishing communities on the margins of the great lake of Tonle Sap and the waterfalls of the Kulen Mountains. If you have a week, you can cover the capital, Phnom Penh, as well. To explore the best of Cambodia’s cultural and natural features allow 10 to 14 days.

Best sites?
For me, it’s magical and romantic rural spots at sunrise and sunset as well as hidden temple gems that are just yards from the beaten track.

Best bites?
When hunger pangs kick in, check out Sugar Palm Restaurant on the back streets of Siem Reap. Run by a New Zealand and Khmer couple, Sugar Palm serves up sensational Khmer food at a good price with a smile thrown in for free.

Top shops?
There are three stand out shops in Siem Reap. Jasmine @ FCC is great for clothing while Garden of desire @ The passage in the Old Market area stocks some unusual pieces of jewellery. For something a bit different, Smateria@ The passage in the Old Market area sells recycled bags.

Where should we stay?
Hotel de la Paix is arguably the hippest hotel in town while Samar is a smart bolt hole that has an intimate boutique feel. And of course if you’re feeling flush, there’s always Amansara – a favourite of the rich and famous.

Any insider tips for our readers?
Rise early and explore and enjoy the temples before the heat of the day. Consider employing a specialist local guide who can help you avoid the tourist crowds. Finally find a great spot for a G&T at the end of the day.

Anything else you want to add?
I’d urge CD Traveller readers and anyone intending to visit Cambodia to consider volunteering or giving a little back in other ways through ABOUTAsia Schools. Remember also that all ABOUTAsia’s profits are converted to rural education so why not help others while helping yourself to a specialist guide?

Thanks Andy! For more information on ABOUTAsia, please visit www.aboutasiatravel.com. For more on ABOUTAsia Schools, check out www.aboutasiaschools.org.

 

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