We didn't expect the one-hour flight from Bangkok to Siem Reap to be packed. But hotel construction is nonstop in the fast-developing Cambodian city famous for the astounding 12th-century temple Angkor Wat, and the place is bustling after decades of horrific civil war. More tourists will surely arrive in Siem Reap, which has only two major roads, to see the Angkor temples, with their amazing towers, enormous Buddhas and intricate wall carvings depicting scenes from both Hindu theology and ordinary civic lifefrom battles between gods and demons to chess matches.
When we landed in Siem Reap, a driver brought us to Amansara (doubles from $725; 011-855-63-760-333). The 1 1/2-year-old hotel, a former royal guest house that became a Khmer Rouge base, is one of the smallest and newest of the deluxe Aman resorts. There are only 12 suites, all modern and minimalist; each has a private patio with a lotus pond. Rates include a temple guide and lunch or dinner with a choice of Cambodian cuisine (as with Thai food, there are lots of salads and curries; Cambodian ones are tangier and not as spicy) or a Western menu; we opted for local dishes like hot-and-sour seafood soup and lemongrass-beef salad. We had a fancier dinner at the 75-year-old Raffles Grand Hotel d'Angkor (doubles from $260; 800-637-9477), whose white-tablecloth Restaurant Le Grand has terrific dishes, like caramelized duck with star anise, and an extensive wine list.
We spent most of our mornings at the templesthese days, no matter how early you wake up to watch the sun rise over Angkor Wat, a tour group is already there, setting up tripods. One morning we went instead to the market, Psar Chaa, and walked around dozens of stalls selling a variety of rices, pungent fermented fish pastes, frog's legs and astoundingly good baguettes (a vestige of French colonialism). Then we took a remorque, one of the motorized carts that were our favorite mode of transportation, over to the nearby Blue Pumpkin (011-855-63-963-574), a little café with outstanding croissants and juicy burgers. In the afternoon, we went shopping: Artisans d'Angkor (011-855-63-964-097), attached to a school that teaches young people from surrounding rural areas stone- and wood-carving, offers everything from colorful silk pillows and jackets to reproductions of ancient statues. If you miss it, there's a branch at the airport so you can pick up souvenirs on the way home.