Romantic Siem Reap

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Romantic Siem Reap
Sunrise at Angkor Wat and sunset at Pre Rup are as romantic as it comes, but in Siem Reap you can also sip champagne on the serene Tonle Sap lake or cocktails in the elegant colonial Elephant Bar, and see the sights from horseback or hot-air balloon.
By Duncan Forgan, AFAR Local Expert
Photo by Jochem Wijnands/age fotostock
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    Sunset from Pre Rup
    With most visitors to Angkor opting for a sunrise visit, many miss out on another magnificent sight: the last few magic moments of the day over the temples. Those who do choose to take in a sunset should head for Pre Rup temple. One of the lesser-known Angkor relics, Pre Rup—located approximately five miles to the north of Siem Reap—is surrounded by rice fields that, during the rainy season, reflect the golden light.
    Photo by Jochem Wijnands/age fotostock
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    See Angkor from Above
    The visual impact of the temples at Angkor is hardly insignificant from ground level, so imagine the view from above. From December through March, Angkor Ballooning offers two flights per day; one goes at sunrise, the other at sunset. Additionally, there are a few helicopter companies in the area that will inject your romantic tour with a little adrenaline. Choose a flight path over the Angkor Archaeological Park for stunning temple views.
    Photo by José Fuste Raga/age fotostock
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    Cycle around Angkor
    Angkor Archaeological Park is extensive, but that doesn't mean you should rush around. Forget the tuk-tuk; one of the best, and most evocative, ways to experience the Angkor temples is on two wheels. Some local hotels have bikes to borrow or rent which can be used on your explorations, or you can enlist the help and expertise of one of the area's many bike-tour companies, which offer excursions lasting a few hours or a few days. If you go with a tour, you'll have the benefit of a guide to navigate and to explain the sites—but there will be fewer opportunities to get lost with your lover.
    Photo by Gary Steele/age fotostock
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    Sip Champagne on Tonle Sap
    Just a 30-minute drive from Siem Reap, the Tonle Sap lake is almost as central to the Khmer psyche as the temples at Angkor. The unique ecological balance of this lake-and-river system means its flow changes direction twice a year, and the lake itself expands or shrinks depending on the time of year (at the height of the rainy season, it's around four times larger than it is during the dry season). It is also rich in fish, a valuable source of protein for Cambodians. This beautiful body of water makes for an ideal sunset excursion for couples; numerous companies offer trips out onto the lake, with the higher-end operators supplying canapés and champagne to accompany the view.
    Photo by Francesca Baker
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    Soothe Your Aches Away
    Cambodia’s massage options may not be as renowned as those of Thailand, but Siem Reap is not short on places for pampering. These range from basic spots where an hour-long treatment will set you back just a few dollars to more-opulent venues where the environment is part of the experience. For the former, visit the Old Market area and choose based on whim. For the latter, both Frangipani Spa and the spa at the Lotus Blanc Resort have dedicated rooms for couples, and guests are also free to use the other facilities like soaking tubs, saunas, and steam rooms.
    Photo courtesy of Frangipani Spa
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    Drink in the Grand Hotel d’Angkor
    With all the swanky boutique accommodations in modern-day Siem Reap, it's hard to believe there used to be just one luxury show in town. Opened in 1929, the Grand Hotel d’Angkor was once an obligatory stopover for any visitor to Southeast Asia; currently run by Raffles Hotels & Resorts, the property retains an air of colonial refinement. Even if you are staying elsewhere, be sure to stop by its Elephant Bar for the signature Airavata cocktail. Named for a white elephant in Hindu mythology, this rum-based creation includes crème de banane and pineapple, lime, and coconut juices and is famous around the world.
    Photo courtesy of Raffles Hotel
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    Sunrise at Angkor Wat
    Five o'clock in the morning is rush hour out of Siem Reap, as tuk-tuks, minivans, and cars pack the road to Angkor Archaeological Park. But this sunrise pilgrimage to Angkor Wat is popular for a reason, and justifiably so. Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world, and the deserved centerpiece of the Angkor experience. The best spot to watch the first rays of the morning sun is by the wide moat that fronts the temple, and while you won’t be alone with your camera, the emergence of those corncob towers from the night sky is a sight worth jostling for.
    Photo by Jose Fuste Raga/age fotostock
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    See Siem Reap from Horseback
    Cambodia may be more Wild East than Wild West, but the cowboy spirit is alive and well at Happy Ranch, where patrons can saddle up and tour the area on horseback. With the traffic and crowds mercifully absent, riding a horse around the Cambodian countryside is a gentle experience that makes for a perfect romantic afternoon. Trail rides run from one to four hours, and take visitors through villages and rice fields to the southwest of Siem Reap. On the longer journeys, look for Wat Athvea, a striking, modern pagoda. If you'd rather snuggle up to your partner than a horse, cart rides are available.
    Photo courtesy of Happy Ranch
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    Bird-Watching at Tonle Sap
    The range of biospheres at Tonle Sap lake, just outside Siem Reap, makes it an attractive place for all sorts of birds. Prek Toal Bird Sanctuary is one of the region’s most impressive, protecting many rare species—including spot-billed pelicans, milky storks, and the huge lesser adjutant and greater adjutant storks. The best time to visit the sanctuary is during the dry season, when the drier conditions make it easier to spot birdlife. For serious birders, there are basic beds available for an overnight at the facility. Several companies also offer tours, with options for both amateurs and experts.
    Photo by Cheyenne Swaekausk
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    Browse the Boutiques
    Few visitors to Siem Reap miss out on Angkor, but there are many other diversions on offer, such as a growing number of quirky shopping choices. A good place to start any retail expedition is on the lane known as Alley West, which is lined with chic boutiques, jewelry and accessories stores, interior-decor shops, and art and photography galleries. Theam’s House is a gallery owned by artist Lim Muy Theam and is a home for quality Khmer arts and crafts; also check out acclaimed fashion designer Eric Raisina, who makes clothing from Khmer silk.
    Photo by Steve Vidler/age fotostock