Angkor National Museum This new museum beckons visitors from the main road to the temples. It houses an impressive collection of artifacts from Angkor, many of which are on loan from the National Museum and the Conservation d’Angkor, a treasure trove that was heretofore closed to the public.
Highlights include a room displaying 1, 000 Buddhas, and an Angkor Wat exhibition with a model of the famed temple. It’s a good place to see carvings and statue details up close and with decent explanations on hand. But visit only if it is pouring rain or you need a respite from walking around in the blistering heat; otherwise, your time and money are better spent at the temples. Historians and conservationists have criticized the lack of history (most of the “1, 000 Buddhas” date back to the 20th c. only), and local Cambodians are smarting at the fact that the private Thai company behind the museum appears to be profiting from national treasures. (To be fair, it has agreed to transfer control to the Cambodian government after 30 years) The museum is unfortunately housed in a sterile retail mall that looks like it was beamed in from the suburbs of America.
No 968 Vithei Charles de Gaulle, Khrum 6. 063/966-601. Daily 8: 30am-6: 30pm.
Shopping in the Angkor temple town has boomed, and new boutiques pop up daily. The old standbys, like the market and smaller boutiques, are also benefiting from increased numbers of tourists and expats.
You can find good reproductions of temple statuary anywhere in town, but it’s a pretty cumbersome buy unless Siem Reap is your last stop before, say, Bangkok and a flight home. Rubbings of temple bas-relief can be found anywhere and are easily trails ported, best in a light poster tube. Original artwork and photography are available at every turn. Silk hangings and clothing are on sale in many boutiques, but “buyer bewares” of price and quality before making a big investment. The vendors below are the best of many, and the Old Market area, where most are concentrated, is within easy walking. Don’t miss the chic FCC compound and its up market shops and galleries.
Beyond This place is indeed “beyond,” and parents should certainly heed the warning at the door that within they will find explicit material. The artwork of owner Jerry Swarfield, an Irishman and longtime expat, is wonderfully bizarre, a piss-take on Asian travel and the state of the world in expressive pen and ink drawings, like refined political cartooning, of the bizarre and sometimes a bit vulgar. Not to be missed, Swaffield also prints his own comic book about the typical visitor in Cambodia (check the website at www.cheapcharliecomics.com). Swaffield also has a collection of bizarre and extreme photographs, set in a chaotic yet stylistic display, in the back room Images of Khmer Rouge cannibalism and atrocities, as well as diseased figures, are a bit much for some. All in all a very unique collection not to be missed (but maybe just stay in the front room). Open daily from 9am to 9pm. MasterCard and Visa accepted.
Carnets d’Asie Bookstore, boutique, gallery, and lea shop all in one, Carnets d’ Asie features some rare finds, including works by local artists, as well as fine temple reproductions and statuary. The large, tinted photographs of Pier Poretti (also see his gallery in Siem Reap; 012/925-684) features large in the collection, with some classic views of the temples, as well as scenes of life in rural Cambodia. The large, open lea area at the back of the gallery is a good place to meet with friends and have a look at your finds. Open daily from 10am to 10pm. No. 333 Sivatha. 063/746-701. www.carnetsdasie-angkor. com.
Colors of Cambodia Here’s a fun one. A project set up to fund Cambodian schools, the shop sells framed artwork of young Khmer kids who visit the temples or depict their daily life in Technicolor crayon. Some of the work is quite expressive, and a purchase here certainly goes a long way to helping out. Open daily from 8am to 7pm. No credit cards. House No. 270, Mudull 1 Village (northwest side of the Old Market). 063/965-021. colorsof [email protected]
John McDermott Photography Just next door to the FCC, American John McDermott displays his stunning silver gelatin prints, some very classic images of the temple, in a cool, tiled contemporary space. The gallery is inspiring for more amateur photographers shutter-bugging at the temples, and these fine prints make great gifts. . The second floor features exhibitions by other artists. Both open daily from 10am to 10pm. MasterCard and Visa accepted. On the north end of the FCC compound on Pokambor Ave., 012/615-695, and on the Passage, near the Old Market. 012/274-274. www. mcdermottgallery.com.
Monument Books An expansion of the popular Phnom Penh outlet, Monument Books carries the best in new volumes about the temples, from coffee-table tomes to guidebooks and histories, as well as international newspapers. Their new Old Market- area location is large and carries an extensive collection. Another location, inside Lucky Mall on Sivatha St., is open daily 8: 30am to 10pm. Open daily 8am to 8: 30pm. Master- Card and Visa accepted. Inside Angkor National Museum.
New Market Recently rebuilt, the New Market is distinct from the old, in that it caters more to local tastes, which makes it good for a wander and for taking some photos. Open daily from dawn to dusk. On the north end of Sivatha St.
Psar Chas, the Old Market The very heart of tourist Siem Reap, this is the best place to find Buddhist trinkets and souvenirs like T-shirts, as well as good books on the temples. The market is a fun wander, and friendly folks here are used to foreign visitors, so you can easily haggle in English (or by passing a calculator back and forth to display your offer on an item). The many food stalls on the north end of the market are a good way to sample local cuisine for next to nothing. Most businesses in town give their address in relation to the Old Market, so it’s a good place to know for orientation purposes. Open daily from dawn to dusk. Riverside in the south end of town.
Senteurs d’Angkor Carrying good contemporary Khmer arts and crafts, statuary copied from Angkor’s greats (a good place to pick up that Jayavarman VII bust), traditional leather shadow puppets, silver jewelry, Khmer silks, Kramas (Khmer scarves), traditional local spices (pepper and lemon grass), potpourri, local teas, rice brandy, and fragrant handmade soaps, Senteurs d’Angkor is a good stop to satiate your shopping appetite before a flight back home. Open daily 7am to 9: 30pm. Great souvenirs at reasonable prices. No. 275 Psaa Chas, cater-cornered to the northeast end of the busy Old Market. 063/964-801 or 012/954-815.
Tara and Kys Art Gallery A stunning collection that ranges from comically stylized caricatures of Khmer and Vietnamese life (they also have a gallery in Ho Chi Minh City) to expressive paintings and prints from the temples, Tara and Kys gallery is a fun visit. Open daily 9am to 9pm. 105 Mondol 1, opposite the Provincial Hospital north of the market. 012/679-011.
Large, mall-style souvenir venues line the road just north of town on the way to the temples and are a good stop for the obligatory collector’s minispoon or plastic replica of the temples, but are mostly set up for bus tours.
You’ll find lots of small convenience stores in and around town. Star Mart is a familiar convenience store open 24 hours (on the airport road), though just one among many. It’s not a bad idea to stock up on a few snacks before a day of temple touring.
Spas & Massage
After a day of scrambling, sweating, and climbing the temples, there’s nothing like a bit of pampering to round things out, and with the tidal-wave rise in tourism in Siem Reap, all kinds of services are popping up. On the high end of the scale, contact the Sofitel Hotel (on the way to the temples on Vithei Charles de Gaulle; 063/964-600), the Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor (at the very town center; 063/963-888), or the Angkor Palace ( 063/760-511).
In town, try Visaya Spa at the plush FCC complex (Pokambor Ave. just north of the post office; 063/760-814), which has three stylish treatment rooms and a roster of high-end services, including body scrubs, wraps, facials, aqua therapy, and massages, all at high prices for this part of the world but worth it. Contact them to make a reservation, or just stop in. Open daily from 10am to 10pm.
Frangipani, a small storefront spa just down a little alley opposite the Blue Pumpkin in the area north of the Old Market, offers a fine roster of treatments, from facials and aromatherapy to oil massage and traditional massage. A good little find with a professional staff offering services. For booking, call 012/982-062.
Body Tune Spa, in the very heart of Bar Street (btw. the Red Piano and the Soup Dragon restaurant; 012/444-066), is in the midmarket range, with good affordable services and some burgeoning style.
On the lower end of the scale, where you can expect to pay as little as $6 for an hour of massage, try any of the small storefronts just north of the Old Market, in the popular tourist area. Services vary at these little storefronts, now numbering five and growing. For good Khmer massage, similar to Thai massage, try Islands Traditional Khmer Massage (north of Psar Chas; 012/757-120). The most affordable massage in town, and a great way to support local enterprise, is at one of the many massage schools for the blind. Trained by international volunteers, blind masseuses who in Khmer society might have little other chance in life than to rattle a cup or string flowers onto leis as temple offerings are able to make a comfortable living. One convenient and very professional location is Seeing Hands IV (012/286-316 or 286-317), on central Sivatha near the Tell Restaurant and the Dead Fish Tower bar. Trained by Japanese and endorsed by Aus Aid and the Blind Care Foundation, masseuses are professional, and for only you can’t go wrong. Most folks tip heavily here and come away with a unique connection.
Siem Reap After Dark
Siem Reap is a town where most visitors are up will the sun and out visiting the temple sites, but there are a few good evening options.
Apsara dance is an ancient art in Cambodia. Dancers in traditional gilded costume practice their slow art: elegant contortions of a dancer’s wrists. Contact the folks at the Angkor Village (063/963-561) to make reservations for the nightly show, combined with a fine set Khmer menu in the traditional indoor banquet-house theater. Dinner begins at 7pm, and the show starts at 7: 30pm.
The Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor has a similar show in an open pavilion on the lawn at the front of the hotel. Times and performances vary, so be sure to call 063/963-888 in advance. Most hotels have a performance space, and many small restaurants have shows of varying quality.
Okay, admittedly, this one is pretty kitschy, but the kids might like it: Cambodia Cultural Center, far west of Siem Reap on the airport road (Svay Dongkum; 063/ 963-836), holds a host of shows and all-day events, including a mock Khmer wedding and Apsara dance. Call for current offerings, as the program varies. If you don’t like the performance, you can walk the grounds, set around a large central pond, spend some time in Cambodia’s only wax museum, walk among all of Cambodia’s sights done in miniature, or visit various exhibits of village life and rural skill. You can even get around in an electric car. This one’s most popular with Asian tour groups.
Dr. Beat (Beatocello) Richner plays the works of Bach and some of his own comic pieces between stories and vignettes about his work as director of the Kantha Bopha Foundation, a humanitarian hospital just north of the town center. Admission is free, but donations are accepted in support of their valiant efforts to serve a steady stream of destitute patients, mostly children, who suffer from treatable diseases such as tuberculosis. Dr. Richner is as passionate about his music as he is about his cause. You’re in for an enjoyable, informative evening. Performances are every Saturday at 7: 15pm just north of the town center on the road to the temples.
Bars & Clubs
There are a few popular bars near the Old Market in Siem Reap. Below are just a few. Most nightlife centers around what has become the de facto “Bar Street” in the center of the Old Market area, where lots of hip little spots hop into the late evening (usually till 2am and sometimes later). It’s a great place to swap tales of temple touring and meet up with other travelers.
Ivy Bar, on the northwest corner of the market (012/800-860), is a popular expat haunt. Works of local photographers line the wall, and it’s the office away from the office for travel writers and correspondents. Dead Fish Tower (063/963-060), on the main road heading toward the temples, is set up like the rigging of a tall ship, with precarious perches, funky nooks, and unique drinks. Laundry (016/962-026) is the funky side of Siem Reap. When the temple town gets psychedelic and stays up really late, this is where it happens. On a side street to the north of the Old Market, it’s open nightly but usually hosts special events that you’ll see promoted all around town.
Linga (North of Old Market; 012/246-912) is a gay bar that attracts a decent mixed crowd to a corner location overlooking the small side street and the traffic on Mundul 1 Village St. The walls have psychedelic paintings of Buddhist monks.
Molly Malone’s (Bar St., across the street and west of Red Piano Bar; 063/965- 576) is the hippest pub in town. They’ve got local expats playing live music, a mix of original songs and covers of crowd-pleasers like old Beatles and Roberta Flack numbers. The bar is fully stocked with a fine selection of Irish whiskey, and they’ve got a good stock of imported beer.