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The Next Hot Spot: Cambodia

THE FACTS

GETTING THERE

A number of airlines run scheduled flights from the United States to Phnom Penh, though not directly; most route through Tokyo, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, or Hong Kong. Travelers wanting to see Angkor may choose to bypass the capital and fly directly to Siem Reap; Bangkok Airways operates flights from Bangkok, and Silk Air has nonstop service from Singapore.

PHNOM PENH

Hotel Le Royal 92 Rukhak Vithei Daun Penh, off Monivong Blvd.; 855-23/981-888; www.raffles.com; doubles from $290. A tree-shaded courtyard pool, commodious baths, and a palpable feeling of colonial Indochina. The 1929 building was recently renovated by the Raffles Group; serene as it now appears, one would never guess at its tumultuous past during the Khmer Rouge invasion.

National Museum 13th St., between 178th and 184th Sts. Great Khmer sculpture from the pre-Angkor period forward. The haunting, many-gabled structure was designed in 1917 by French architect George Groslier in Khmer style.

Wat Phnom Norodom Blvd. at 96th St. Built by a wealthy Khmer woman in 1373, the pagoda pales in comparison to its evocative setting; most people come for the vendors who release pairs of small, finchlike birds to ensure good fortune.

Royal Palace Samdech Sothearos Blvd. The main attraction of this complex is the famed Silver Pagoda, whose atmosphere is part sanctuary, part cabinet of curiosity. The floors are silver- tiled, the walls gilded, the Buddhas abundant. Seated serenely above the other statues is the Emerald Buddha, actually made of crystal cast by Baccarat.

Tuol Sleng Museum 113th St., close to 350th St. On April 17, 1975, the classrooms of this former suburban high school became the Khmer Rouge's main torture and interrogation center, known as Security Prison 21. Like the Nazis, the Khmer Rouge were fastidious record keepers: more than 20,000 victims were numbered and photographed. The pictures now cover the walls.

Psar Tuol Tom Pong Corner of 163rd and 440th Sts., south of Mao Tse Tung Blvd. This market sells all kinds of silver objects—fruits, boxes, shells—as sculptural as they are simple, and they're among the best in Southeast Asia. Other souvenirs include good fake antiques.

Psar Thmei At the corner of Charles de Gaulle Blvd. and 67th St. The city's domed central market also sells jewelry and antiques but is noted for its great selection of food stalls.

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SIEM REAP

Grand Hotel d'Angkor 1 Charles de Gaulle Blvd., Khum Svay Dang Kum; 855-63/963-888, fax 855-63/963-168; www.raffles.com.; doubles from $360. Has a small gym, a large pool, and the Amrita spa, where treatments run to hydrotherapy, aromatherapy, and facials but not, alas, the locally available and ultravigorous Thai massage.

Sofitel Royal Angkor Charles de Gaulle Blvd., Khum Svay Dang Kum; 800/763-6585 or 855-63/964-600, fax 855-63/964-610; doubles from $280. Immaculate if hotel-generic rooms; the closest to the temple complex.

Dining prospects are somewhat dim in Siem Reap. While the food at the posh Restaurant Le Grand at the Grand Hotel d'Angkor (dinner for two $44, closed on Saturdays) is a delicious blend of Continental and Khmer cuisine, the room is a bit sepulchral. It's better to try the small local restaurants a short walk from the hotel. These have fine Khmer cuisine, as well as adequate selections of French wine and, of course, icy Cambodian beer. In a lapse of imagination, most of these places have names that are some variation of "Bayon"—there's Bayon 1, Bayon 2, and Bayon 3. Then there is the New Bayon, the only one that lacks a traditional Cambodian song-and-dance floor show. That alone makes it the obvious choice.

The Central Market should satisfy anyone's souvenir requirements. Look for Cambodian silver, in the form of animal-shaped boxes or shells. Ask if the silver you're buying is sterling—or, in local parlance, 95 percent—and not plate. Avoid buying antiquities: if they're fake, you've been ripped off; if they're real, you're supporting a thriving illegal trade in Cambodia's looted heritage.

ANGKOR

Taxis to Angkor can be hired at the airport for $20 a day, or through most hotels (the Grand Hotel d'Angkor charges $25). A surcharge of $10 a day is applied for travel to the farthest temple, Banteay Srei. Official guides can be hired through hotels at a daily fee of $25. They are particularly useful if time is short and you have ambitions to see the entire complex—a completely plausible plan—in three days.

Entrance fees for the Angkor complex are $20 per person for one day, $60 for four to seven days. Photo ID's are issued; it helps to bring two passport-sized photos from home, as they're not easily obtained in Siem Reap.

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