Siem Reap – 3 days in Cambodia

Siem Reap is an ancient place. It is well-worn with character written like wise creases on an old face. At its apogee, the Khmer empire built some of the most extraordinary temples in the world, ruling a kingdom covering parts of current day Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Myanmar. This was the Rome of Southeast Asia. Angkor Wat, the crown jewel in the Cambodian crown, is laid out to mirror the universe – this ambition rivaled only by its beauty. When I stood before the pyramids of Giza, I was impressed. When I came upon Angkor Wat, I was in love.

Flying to Cambodia is easy, as routes fly nonstop from many Southeast Asian hubs. The cheapest flight into Siem Reap is on Air Asia from Kuala Lumpur for roughly $120 round-trip. Flights from Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh are closer to $300 round-trip. If you are just aching to part with your dough, Silk Air offers a flight from Singapore that hovers around a grand. You can also take a bus into Siem Reap from Bangkok or Phnom Penh. Cambodia issues a visa on arrival so there is no need to obtain one beforehand. The process is quick and easy.


Day 1 – ATVs and Ta Prohm
Start the day with a tour of rural Cambodia on an all-terrain vehicle. Quad Adventures Cambodia provides an exhilarating trip through rice paddies and simple villages on red dirt roads. The expedition affords a glimpse into rural Cambodian life and stops by Chres Village School and Orphanage. The school is filled with Cambodian orphans, and they will give you a heartwarming tour of the premises. If you plan on being in Siem Reap for two weeks or longer, then you can volunteer at the school as a teacher.

After your cruise through the countryside of Siem Reap, head to the Angkor complex to buy a 3 day temple pass. The pass is required for visiting the ancient temples and costs $40. Check out the jungle temple of Ta Prohm in the late afternoon. Ta Prohm has a “taken back by nature” aesthetic with gnarly tree roots covering the temple walls like silly string. Visiting this temple is a fantastic way to get in the Angkor spirit. Follow it with sunset at Phnom Bakheng – a high temple on a hill overlooking the Angkor complex and dense jungle.

For the evening, head over to pub street. Pub Street has many bars and restaurants with food offerings ranging from local food such as Amok (fish wrapped in banana leaf) to pizza. The restaurant Le Tigre de Papier is a great spot and has a local cooking class. After dinner, check out the Angkor night market and “splurge” for a $3 foot massage.

For accommodation, a wide range of options exist. Le Meridien Angkor possesses an unbelievable pool and looks like a Bondian bad guy lair, but it is slightly on the expensive side. Kool Hotel is a great hotel at a great price. They provide complimentary breakfast, wifi, and have a pleasant pool.

Day 2 – Angkor Wat Sunrise and Tone Sap

Awake at 4:30am and begin your journey to the temple of Angkor Wat. Stumbling into the temple complex under moonlight and watching the sun slowly light up this otherworldly place is one of the world’s most memorable travel experiences.

After sunrise, tour the storied halls inside massive Angkor Wat and visit nearby Angkor Thom. Angkor Thom houses the photogenic Bayon temple, famous for its bas reliefs and gigantic stone faces. In the late morning, arrange a car or tuk tuk to Tonle Sap Lake – the largest lake in Southeast Asia. Many Cambodians call this lake home. They live in simple stilt houses, and it is not uncommon to see a child paddle by in what appears to be a salad bowl, perhaps on his way to a floating market. The most authentic lake experience is at the village of Kompong Phluk, but visiting the more touristy location near Siem Reap is still mind-blowing.

After your day at the lake, treat yourself to a fantastic Khmer-French fusion dinner at either Meric, Abacus, or AHA Wine Bar.

Day 3 – Banteay Srei, Land Mine Museum, and a Cambodian Carnival

Start your day with some fresh fruit juice and breakfast at your guesthouse and head out by tuk tuk through the countryside to Banteay Srei. The red sandstone carvings at Banteay Srei are the most meticulously detailed in Cambodia. Built in the 10th century, Banteay Srei served as an elaborate temple and library. Due to its slight remoteness, many visitors pass on this temple, but those that visit are rewarded with one of Angkor’s top sights.

The land-mining of Cambodia was a great tragedy. Many Cambodians have been disfigured and even killed in mining accidents. A stop by the Landmine Museum is necessary to put the damage into perspective. Learning about the founder’s life story is especially interesting. Museum founder Aki Ra fought as a child soldier, and some of his childhood narratives will leave a deep impression. Today he defuses land-mines and educates the public about their destructiveness. A movie was made about his life titled A Perfect Soldier, and he was named a CNN hero of 2010.

Late in the afternoon, visit the local carnival grounds on the outskirts of Siem Reap. Many games and local foods are there to sample. If you are feeling adventurous, try the delectable fried cricket. Several of the games, like “pop a balloon with a dart,” have prizes. You can win ice-cold Coca Cola and other beverages. The sodas are a welcome respite from the Cambodian heat.

The more local you get, the less people harass you. Walking through this foreign fairground, I felt like an American ghost. Watching Cambodian society undisturbed was an extraordinary experience.

Spend your last night at a traditional Cambodian barbecue spot. Touich Restaurant provides a tasty tour of this fiery cuisine style known as phnom pleung or “hill of fire.” Be sure to arrange reservations to guarantee a seat.

Extras – Bang Melea is a temple that has been left to the elements and is about an hour or two from Siem Reap. Roughly the size of Angkor Wat, you will feel like Indiana Jones exploring the unkempt ruins. On my visit, it was completely devoid of tourists. Some local kids gave me an impromptu tour of the dilapidated temple, and we climbed trees and explored dark hallways.

All photography by Justin Delaney

15 more great cities for drinking beer

Last month, the writers at Gadling spent a lot of time at the pub, creating this list of The 24 greatest cities in the world for drinking beer. We had so much fun and got so many great comments, we decided we couldn’t stop: we headed back to the bar and asked for another round. Here’s 15 more of our favorite cities in the world for drinking great beer. Did we include your favorite? Take a look.

Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Edinburgh locals proudly boast to have the highest concentration of pubs of any city in Europe. Nightly pub crawls of all varieties and themes weave an intoxicated web through both the New and Old towns, dutifully infiltrating once-sleepy pubs and leaving empty pint glasses littered in their wake. If you want to get closer to the source, head over to the Caledonian Brewery, a place where beer is proudly “brewed by men, not machines.”

Wellington, New Zealand
This funky little capital city at the base of New Zealand’s North Island is teeming with Kiwis who are keen for their beer. While nationally popular Monteith’s is brewed on the South Island in the sleepy town of Greymouth, Wellington Brewery still has beers ending up in the hopping bars and nightclubs lining the infamous Cuba Street. No stranger to hosting events, Wellington will open its doors in 2010 to the New Zealand Beer Festival, only serving to further the raucous bar scene this city churns out nightly.Prague, Czech Republic
Beer drinking visitors agree: there’s nothing quite like a tall stein of pivo in Praha, the traditional home of Pilsner and arguably the world’s best beer. Allegedly consuming 156 liters of beer per capita each year–the most of any nation–beer is a simple life necessity for the Czechs. Long a staple city on the European beer circuit, the glory of Czech beer is highlighted nowhere more than at the annual Czech Beer Festival, held in Prague each May.

Homer, Alaska
While not exactly what many would consider a city, Homer is one of those “drinking villages with a fishing problem” that exudes nothing but good-natured charm. All of the action in town is centered around the Homer Spit, a flat outcropping of land that holds all of the town’s bars, most notably the world-famous Salty Dawg Saloon. After hauling in a 300-pound halibut, most fishermen head out to the Spit to celebrate with one of the many flavors of the Homer Brewing Company, or perhaps even an “import” from the Alaskan Brewing Company in the far away capital of Juneau.

Austin, Texas
If good beer has partners in crime, it would be good music and eager twenty-somethings ready to let it all hang out. Fortunately for anyone visiting Austin, there is absolutely no shortage of either. Host to two of the largest music festivals in the nation, Austin City Limits and South by Southwest, Austin frequently swells from the University of Texas all the way down to 6th Street with beer-battered locals and music lovers alike. A number of microbreweries are scattered around town, and with top acts and loads of talent moving through the city, the opportunity to imbibe is never far away.

Phnomh Penh, Cambodia

Phnomh Penh comes in on this list for one reason alone: $.25 beers on tap. Not only is a draft beer only a quarter, but the Cambodian national brew, Angkor Beer, is one of the finest lagers in all of Asia. Aside from the cheap price and the smooth taste, modern-day Phnomh Penh is lined with French cafes overlooking the mighty Mekong River, all serving obscenely cheap Angkor on draft. For those wanting to take the Angkor deep into the night, the city boasts an impressive nightclub scene, and for anyone really wanting to get creative with their drinking, every evening there are mass public aerobic sessions in the many parks across the city.

Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada

You know any beer served this close to the Arctic is going to be cold. A rugged outpost town that is known for its rough mining history and plentiful outdoor adventure opportunities, hardy souls have been putting back the beers in Whitehorse since the gold miners and prospectors first came to town. These days, the Yukon Brewing Company keeps everyone in town from going thirsty, and their Yukon Red was just recently awarded the Canadian Brewing Awards 2009 Canadian Beer of the Year.

Sydney, Australia
Few cultures are as receptive to a good time as are the Aussies, and the wide beaches and deep discos of Sydney provide the perfect venue for such carefree merriment. Frowning upon their Melbourne neighbors who would rather swill Victoria Bitter, Sydney locals will proudly partake in the locally-brewed Toohey’s, most likely beach-side at Bondi between the bikinis and the BBQ.

— The above was written by Kyle Ellison, Seed contributor

Lewes, Delaware
Don’t tell anyone, but this sleepy former whaling village may or may not be the oldest town in America – the Lewes town sign proclaims it “the first town in the first state”. Lewes is home to the stellar Dogfish Head brewery, which makes a particularly good early summer beer called Aprihop. For those who typically ignore fruit-tinged beer, this brew carries enough dried-hop bite and pleasant fragrance to remind us of that time of year when the air is warm but the ground is still cold. Look west and the bay bends in a way that the sun actually sets into a watery horizon. That alone is worth the trip.

Ensenada, Mexico
Ensenada’s colonial past creeps just below the city’s surface: Spanish architecture and design are evident everywhere, and the town is sprinkled with old missions glowing under shiny terracotta tile roofs. There’s a bar in town called Hussong’s which seems to creak and moan like an ancient sailing vessel, and whose bar is packed with taps for German beers. The place was founded by a German prospector who followed rumors of gold to Mexico in the late 1800’s and never left. This is also the place to savor a Schloss Eggenberg Urbock 23 – if you don’t know what that is, maybe it’s time to strap that old waxy shortboard to the roof and drive south for a couple hours.

Toronto, Canada
Toronto is a city best viewed from on high, the ideal spot being the CN Tower, which attracts 2 million visitors annually. It’s the kind of view that can make the bottom of your feet tingle, and by the time you return to solid ground, you’ll be ready for a cold one. If you’ve only had Canadian beers in green bottles, you’ve missed the rich variety our northern neighbors have to offer: Unibroue Brewing makes beer called Maudite which has a deep copper color and a pert aroma of wild spices and floral hop notes. It’s a complex brew, deep and intoxicating in taste and smell. They also make a white ale, Blanche de Chambly, which sounds like something Austin Powers would say, but satiates thirsty travelers in a way that no beer with a “moose on the label” ever could.

Santa Fe, New Mexico
This desert town that has become synonymous with Pale Ale is a beer drinker’s delight. Hot, dry, and handsome, the town teems with artistry, old hippie money and raw desert beauty. Few experiences stimulate the senses like watching the sun rise across the desert floor while the light paints a mural of reds blues and oranges. Best to see it after staying up all night drinking Santa Fe State Pen Porter, a smoky and mysterious experience that compliments the desert night air.

Boulder, Colorado
Boulder, Colorado has a reputation as the “church of the outdoors” – when people aren’t hiking, they’re skiiing. And they’re young: the median age is 29, a time when your body is best suited to burning off those extra beer carbs. Boulder is home to the state’s first microbrewery, Boulder Beer Company, whose products include a dry-hopped ale called Hazed and infused for it’s multiple hop aromas that result from introducing the hops late in the brewing process. The bar also sports a “Magical Mystery Tap” which seems to exist solely to tempt the thrill-seeker within each of us.

Portsmouth New Hampshire
If you like seafood, but have never eaten at a northeastern lobster shack, you haven’t had the full experience. Along the coasts of Maine and new Hampshire, there are smallish, greying buildings that serve pots of steamed seafood right from on the dock. Portsmouth in particular has a number which carry the local brewer Smuttynose. Known for their Big Beer Series, few epicurean experiences compare with the steamy smell of lobster and clams alongside a big mug of Farmhouse Ale.

North Hollywood, California
A place where weird is normal and the absurd is commonplace, you’re as likely to see Flea bouncing a basketball down Otsega toward the park as you are to see a homeless guy wearing a red dress. It’s happy hour all day long here, and the neighborhood moniker “NoHo Arts district” seems to have multiple levels of meanings. As in Europe, a cold beer isn’t usually frowned on at lunch, and it’s easy to slip into that hazy way of thinking, maybe after three of Mendocino Brewing Company’s Red Seal Ales, continuing the charade that is North Hollywood is still a good idea.

— The above was written by Eric Hunsaker, Seed contributor

* The 24 greatest cities in the world for drinking beer
* The 25 greatest cities in the world for drinking wine
* The 20 greatest cities in the world for foodies

Before you go, be sure to check out Travel Talk, in which the guys visit the spiciest restaurant in NYC — try to slake their thirst with beer.

South by Southeast: 5 tips for Angkor Wat

I was alone, deep in the Cambodian jungle, flanked by the scattered ruins of ancient Khmer temples. My ears tickled with the cackle distant bird calls and buzzing cicadas. My shirt clung to my skin with a thick layer of sweat and ocher-hued dust. Suddenly, I heard movement to my right behind a wall. What was it? An ancient spirit of temples? A fearsome jungle cat waiting to pounce? My muscles tensed and I stood waiting for the apparition to appear – until a flag-waving tour group emerged from around the corner. It turns out I wasn’t as alone in the jungle as I previously thought.

Angkor Wat is less a place than an idea burned in our subconscious. These famous ruins float in our dreams like Indiana Jones fantasy, cloaked in thick layers of vines and overgrown jungle trees. Yet the reality of this ancient wonder of the world doesn’t always align with our visions. Angkor Wat today is among the most popular tourist destinations in Southeast Asia, with nearly two million visitors annually. The abandoned ruins of your dreams are positively overrun with tour groups, brandishing their gigantic SLR’s like a camera-toting guerilla army. Yet despite its enduring popularity, a visit through Angkor can still be thoroughly enjoyable – you just need to know the right way to do it.

To truly enjoy the wonders of Angkor, you need to come armed with a few simple strategies. Ready to make your own adventure through Angkor Wat? Keep reading below for our five tips.Tip #1 – Do Your Research
Before arriving in Angkor, I had assumed the site was just one big temple – it’s not. In reality it’s a series of massive complexes including Angkor Thom and the Roluos Temples, covering more than 3000 square kilometers and 72 major temples, many of which were built during different eras of the Khmer Empire. It pays to come to Angkor with at least some idea of what you want to see. Otherwise it’s easy to get lost and overwhelmed.

There’s some easy ways to arm yourself with the right information. Consider grabbing an Angkor-specific guide like this book by Dawn Rooney, which will provide historical background, itinerary plans and descriptions of key architectural features. The tech-savvy should also check out the Angkor iPhone app by the Asia travel experts at Travelfish. Need even more? Consider hiring a guide.

Tip #2 – Leave Enough Time
Tip two falls right in line with tip one. Considering the immense size of Angkor, you want to leave enough time to explore the site’s many ruins. Though individual interest in the ruins varies, many travelers recommend at least three days for a proper visit. This ensures you can check out all the main sights while also leaving time for some of the lesser-known gems, many of which are far less crowded than the “biggies” like Angkor Wat. Any less than this and you’re likely to spend a lot of time queuing behind other tourists at the big ruins. And if you’re really into archeology, consider grabbing a week-long pass.

Tip #3 – Beat the Heat
Even during the cooler winter months, Cambodia is positively sweltering. Daytime temperatures hover anywhere from the 80’s to over 100 degrees. Spending all day walking around in the baking heat is a bad idea. Plan a mid-day break for lunch into your itinerary if you’re doing it on your own.

Another great way to escape the crazy temperatures is a side trip out to Kbal Spean, a series of riverbed carvings with a refreshing waterfall pool at the end. And wherever you go, make sure to bring lots of water. Enterprising kids sell bottles outside most temples for next to nothing.

Tip #4 – Explore the Lesser-Known
No matter when you visit, expect Angkor Wat to be busy. But despite all the moaning about the crowds, there are still plenty of places you can find yourself all alone. Temples like Preah Kahn, the Banteay Srei/Kbal Spean combo and the Roluos Group, especially when visited early/late in the day, can make for delightfully deserted experiences. For the ultimate do-it-yourself experience, consider renting a bike to explore. You’ll find you can linger more easily at sites once the tour buses have departed.

Tip #5 – Choose Your Sun Carefully
Before my trip to Angkor, people kept raving about the sunsets. With considerable anticipation, I climbed to the top of Phnom Bakheng on my first day, ready to be wowed by the awesome sight of the sun setting over the temple complexes. Except it wasn’t that great. It was wildly crowded and gave very little view of the surrounding temples. Every “sunset spot” I visited during my three day tour was similarly poor. I’m sure there are good sunsets/sunrise to be had in Angkor, but they don’t come easy. If you’re dead-set on seeing the sunset or sunrise, don’t expect to be alone and make sure to get there early.

Yes, there are lots of visitors at Angkor. But with a little preparation and planning, there’s still plenty of adventure to be had. You just have to look a little harder to find it.

Gadling writer Jeremy Kressmann is spending the next few months in Southeast Asia. You can read other posts on his adventures “South by Southeast” HERE.

Travelfish sets a new benchmark in iPhone travel guides with their guide to Angkor

Travelfish has long been one of the most respected resources for travel in Asia. Their site covers Backpacker information for Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Of course, information provided on a web site is great for preparing a trip, but once you are actually on the road, you’ll need to find Internet access to get to it.

This is where the new Travelfish iPhone app can help. Their first app covers Angkor in Cambodia, and my oh my what an impressive app it is. In fact, as the title describes, I’m so impressed, that I’m calling it “a new benchmark in iPhone travel content”.

The application only runs in landscape mode, but it takes perfect advantage of this by presenting plenty of wide screen content. The app covers everything (and I really do mean everything) you need to know about the region For beginners, there is a huge background section, with history of the country and the region itself. It also offers 8 entire sections on how to plan your trip, with everything from visa information to the local weather and what to pack.

The sleep section shows all local hotels on a map, describing the different areas in the city. The application lists the 40 best hotels, hostels and guesthouses, along with a full review, online booking link, phone number and of course, its location on the map. Similar comprehensive guides are offered for restaurants, sightseeing attractions, local transportation.

The walking tours portion takes you on an iPhone guided tour, complete with when to start and exactly how to reach each highlight of the self-guided tour.

The maps support your location, and can be customized to show more (or less) locations.

Final thoughts

Of all the iPhone tour guides I’ve seen, this one really is the most comprehensive. I love the design and ease of use. Best of all, the application stores all its data on your phone, so there is no need for an (expensive) data plan when roaming abroad.

The program is perfect for pre-planning, as well as acting as a live guide when you are actually in Angkor. Each portion of the application offers handy features like bookmarks and “show on map”, and the designers make fantastic use of the touch friendliness of the iPhone and iPod Touch letting you swipe to browse articles.

You’ll find the Travelfish Angkor app in the iTunes store, where it sells for just $7.99.


The Five Most Overrated Tourist Attractions

Want to know what the world’s most overrated tourist attractions are? You’re in luck, as the Times Online has compiled their selection of the Five Most Overrated Tourist Sites, naming some very famous places, while suggesting alternatives that they feel are more worth our time.

The U.K. newspaper isn’t afraid to criticize one of the motherland’s top tourist attractions either, putting Stonehenge at the top of the list. They note that you can’t touch the monument, or even walk around it, and it isn’t exactly located in one of the most scenic locations either. As an alternative, the Times suggests that you skip “the Henge” and visit nearby Avebury, which has a larger stone monolith that allows for more access to the public.

The other four sites on the list that they recommend that you avoid include Petra, Jordan, the Colosseum in Rome, Machu Picchu in Peru, and Angkor, Cambodia. Generally, the Times is put off by the large crowds they attract, as well as the inconvenience of coming and going from these famous spots, several of which are fairly remote.

Personally, I think this list is best used as a way of keeping your expectations within reason when traveling to these sites that have become overrun with tourists. For instance, who in their right mind wouldn’t want to visit Machu Picchu when traveling to Peru? Just be aware that it is a crowded monument and getting there isn’t always easy. Patience will go a long way towards providing an enjoyable experience.

Those looking for new places to visit, off the beaten path a bit, will enjoy the alternatives suggested in the article however, as they are generally less crowded and are not on the radar for most travelers. Their alternative suggest for Machu Picchu for instance is the Isla del Sol in Bolivia, which is a much quieter location when compared to the Peruvian landmark.

So, what do you think of the list? What would you add to it? Any experiences with the ones they’ve selected?