Honeymoon in CambodiaWords by Susan Moynihan
Cambodia is high on many honeymooners’ wish lists and with good reason. This Southeast Asian country, wedged between Thailand, Laos and Vietnam, offers fascinating culture, amazing food and an incredibly warm, welcoming culture that is even more poignant when you consider the country’s tragic past of war and genocide. Here’s how to honeymoon right.
Culture Hub: Siem Reap
Cambodia’s biggest claim to (tourism) fame is Angkor Wat, a massive temple complex built between the 9th and 15th century by the Khmer Empire. The largest religious monument in the world, the sandstone complex spans 400 acres of carved walls, temples and statuary on multiple levels. But, Angkor Wat is just one of the temples in the area and not even the prettiest. Ta Prohm is shrouded in oversized banyans and rainforest vines, creating a mystical mood. The Bayon is a climbable maze with hundreds of massive faces carved out of stone. You can take a sunrise elephant ride through the jungle past Buddhist temples that ring the outside.
No place showcases modern Cambodia like downtown Siem Reap. This city was once a sleepy outpost, home to NGOs and backpackers. Today, you’ll find luxury hotels and sexy restaurants. The shopping is fantastic, from the lively Night Market – an explosion of people, sound and color – to high-end galleries like Artisans Angkor, selling handmade crafts and goods.
Where to Stay:
Set in a walled compound on the banks of the Siem Reap River, this 62-room luxury hotel is in the heart of everything, but feels like an oasis. The leafy courtyard pool is ideal for dipping after a morning of touring in the Cambodian heat.
City Slicker: Phnom Penh
Cambodia’s capital city is a perfect example of the vast changes sweeping through Southeast Asia. You can’t turn around without seeing construction cranes and yes, it’s hectic – scooters, tuk-tuks and trucks swarm the streets with no rhyme or reason, but everyone somehow gets where they’re going. The centerpiece is the stunning Royal Palace complex and the long, pedestrian promenade that offers great people-watching come sunset, with locals and visitors making-up the scene. The lively Night Market is open from Friday through Sunday and offers live bands and street food alongside vendors bartering for trinkets. One must-stop for drinks or dinner is the Foreign Correspondents Club, which was a favorite hangout for journalists during the Vietnam War and has excellent food and a rooftop bar with great river views.
Phnom Penh is also a sobering place to bear witness to the reign of the Khmer Rouge, which lasted for four years and caused the deaths of nearly a quarter of the population. Today, the solemn ground of Choeung Ek is marked by a Buddhist stupa containing more than 5,000 skulls, in tribute to those whose lives were lost. The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum honors the people who suffered and died there. Both sites are hard to visit, but only in seeing that tragic history can one fully appreciate how far Cambodia has come in the years since, and how we must all work together to make sure the same tragedy is never repeated.
Where to Stay:
Raffles Hotel Le Royal
Royalty, heads of state, leading journalists, even celebrities like Charlie Chaplin and Jackie O have checked into this landmark hotel, which opened its doors in 1929. Of the 175 rooms, the historic Landmark Rooms stand out as most romantic, with period details like original, claw-foot bathtubs. Drinks at the Elephant Bar are a must, as much for the eclectic, old-world vibe as for the expertly poured libations.
Beach Escape: Koh Rong
Cambodia’s coastline isn’t long like neighboring Vietnam or Thailand, but it shares the same beautiful water that makes those countries top the international beach scene. The port city of Sihanoukville draws backpackers looking for nightlife and parties. For a honeymoon, we suggest hopping a ferry from here to the Koh Rong archipelago, a collection of islands 30 minutes offshore. The crowds are fewer and the rates are much less than you would pay in the more frequented countries next door.
Activities here are what you want at the beach: snorkeling, sea kayaking, sailing and just relaxing. But, if you’re feeling more adventurous, you can arrange a tour through untouched rainforest and mangroved estuaries at Ream National Park, an 80-mile protected area that spans the mainland and offshore islands. A visit to the Buddhist temple at Koh Rong to get a blessing on your new marriage is another romantic option.
Where to Stay:
This private-island eco resort was built from scratch by two expats who fell in love with Cambodia’s culture and natural beauty. Whether you opt for a beachside bungalow or an overwater villa, enjoy extras such as a king bed, sunken bathtub, outdoor patio with daybed and your own private pool.
Cambodia TRAVEL TIPS
Dress Code: The country is serious about dress code at temples, monasteries and culturally significant sites like killing fields. You need to cover knees and shoulders – and scarves over tank tops don’t count. Think short sleeves at a minimum. If they deem your dress too scanty, guards have the right to turn you away without refunding your entry ticket.
Cuisine: Khmer cuisine is flavorful and diverse, drawing influences from neighboring Thailand and Vietnam (rice, fish sauce) as well as India (curries and spices). We couldn’t get enough of curry-style fish amok and tangy beef lok lak.
Currency: The official Khmer currency is the Cambodian Riel. But, due to the strong influence of UN and NGO groups helping the country rebound, the US dollar is accepted pretty much everywhere; you’ll even find greenbacks at local ATM machines.
Getting Around: Cambodia is a very poor country; highways (where you find them) are mostly two lanes and potholes are prevalent, as is traffic. It’s easiest to hop by air from spot to spot or cruise along the Mekong River for an easy glimpse into local life.
This article first appeared in Destination I Do's Spring/Summer 2017 issue. You can order a copy here.
Photos Courtesy of: Song Saa (main, 1st-5th), Raffles Hotels & Resorts (6th-9th), Belmond (10th-16th)
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