Long the gateway to Angkor’s 12th-century Khmer ruins, Siem Reap has evolved from a cluster of riverfront villages in northwestern Cambodia into a full-fledged destination. The Sofitel Angkor Phokeethra Golf & Spa Resort, for instance, offers proximity to the historic sites as well as 238 French-colonial rooms, five restaurants, two bars, and a golf course. To beat the crowds and the heat (up to 90 degrees from November to February), begin at 6 a.m. with a face-to-face look at the sculpted features of the Bayon Temple, in the center of the Angkor Thom (or “Great City”). About 2.5 miles south is the incomparable Angkor Wat, a temple encircled by galleries of bas-reliefs. And a third stop, Ta Prohm, remains as archaeologists found it in 1860, with banyan and kapok trees slowly reclaiming its sandstone carvings. Visit Artisans d’Angkor, a collective and boutique focused on teaching Cambodian villagers the region’s handicraft techniques, to help revitalize the Khmer traditions. Or sample the local cuisine (similar to Thai but not as fiery) at the FCC Angkor, a 31-room Art Deco hotel and restaurant where you can order amok trey, steamed white fish soaked in coconut curry. While you’re there, drop by McDermott Gallery for modern black-and-white photographs of Angkor Wat—they make for stirring souvenirs.
Siem Reap Affordable Tip: Angkor Wat passes, available at the temple complex entrance, give you access to all the ruins. If you have the time, the seven-day pass allows you to return during different light and weather—and means you’ll have better luck beating the crowds. $20 for one day, $40 for three days, $60 for one week.
Siem Reap, Cambodia: World’s Best Scorecard
No. 7 city overall
No. 2 city in Asia
Crystal Cruises 92.45
Regent Seven Seas Cruises 90.14
Lindblad Expeditions 89.25
Viking River Cruises 86.76
Oceania Cruises 86.42
Avalon Waterways 84.27
Holland America Line 81.29
Princess Cruises 79.81
Angkor Archaeological Park Angkor Wat Ave.; no phone; autoriteapsara.org.
Artisans d’Angkor Chantiers-Ecoles, Steung Thmey St.; 855-63/963-330; artisansdangkor.com.
Great Value FCC Angkor Foreign Correspondents Club, Pokambor Ave.; 855-63/760-280; fcccambodia.com; doubles from $115; dinner for two $30.
McDermott Gallery FCC Complex, Pokambor Ave.; 855-12/274-274; asiaphotos.net.
Great Value Sofitel Angkor Phokeethra Golf & Spa Resort Vithei Charles de Gaulle, Khum Svay Dang Kum; 855-63/964-600; sofitel.com; doubles from $183.