The small but fast-growing Cambodian provincial capital of Siem Reap is one of the world's major tourist destinations due to its location as gateway to the unique Khmer temple complex of Angkor Wat, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Dining in Phnom Penh is a pleasure due to the variety of high-quality cuisine on local menus. The city's not-so-distant colonial past has paved the way for a few outstanding French restaurants, but there's much more for hungry tourists to enjoy. The ideal dining itinerary involves an even mix of Khmer and European cuisine, with an occasional visit to a Chinese restaurant.
The town of Siem Reap is a shopaholics' dream, particularly for Cambodian silks and other textiles. Handicrafts, contemporary art, carvings, decorative items for the home, silver items, traditional stone carvings and lacquerware, incense, candles, souvenirs and clothes are also a great deal.
It may not be a shopper's paradise, but Phnom Penh has a couple of lively marketplaces that are worth visiting for the culture and people-watching, if not for the chance to pick up a few souvenirs.
The Khmer people are traditionally friendly to Westerners, perhaps because of the country's 90 years as a French protectorate. The recent explosion in the number of tourists visiting the area has also had an effect, with more local people working in the hospitality sector making the effort to learn English.
Phnom Penh has embraced its newfound tourist appeal, and things have picked up considerably. Plans for newer and better transportation infrastructure are still in the early planning stages, and the current system feels a little improvised. Regardless, tourists enjoy Phnom Penh for what it is, as the charms of this still developing city greatly outweigh any drawbacks.
As the town has expanded, so has the eating out experience in Siem Reap. Nowadays restaurants cover everything from local Khmer dishes through Southeast Asian cuisines to upscale and high quality fusion and international food. A few restaurants, mainly expensive, serve interesting food which mixes French gastronomic traditions with Khmer cuisine.
Even excluding the over 100 temples in the Angkor Wat complex, there is a great deal to see and do in and around the town. Visits to other religious monuments, markets, Tonle Sap Lake with its floating villages, the Angkor National Museum, the Cultural Village, bird-watching, yoga and cooking classes, environmental tours, countryside tours and much more make Siem Reap a tourist paradise.
Visitors to Siem Reap are spoiled for choice as regards entertainment. Whether it's the lively nightlife in Siem Reap's numerous bars and clubs, cultural performances, art galleries, sport, educational sites, spas, massages, eco-tourism or traditional events, there's something for everyone somewhere in the town and its surroundings.
As a latecomer to the Southeast Asian tourism scene, Phnom Penh has a lot of catching up to do. But while it lacks the polished infrastructure of a city like Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur, it more than makes up for with its authentically Southeast Asian atmosphere.
The activities scene in Phnom Penh is still developing, and for the time being tourists are content to get involved with the local culture, visit museums and see the major sites. There are a few expatriate bars and clubs along the river that stay busy at night.
Phnom Penh's sites fall into two categories: historic and contemporary. The historic sites are few and far between, but a few of them are exceptional. The contemporary sites are somber and compelling, and visitors are likely to leave with a heavy heart. This is part of the experience, and most would say they're better for it.
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