Feast on Cambodia's exquisite delights
BEING a Scottish lad with Indian roots, it would come as no surprise that I am nomadic by nature. Having just moved to Asia in the last 18 months, Cambodia piqued my interest as an off-the-beaten-path destination, coupled with a treasure trove of culture.
Siem Reap's a pretty rough and ready sort of place, but the great thing is that you can choose to luxe up your trip or backpack through it.
I chose The Luxe Nomad way (i.e., stylish sleeps at affordable prices), and Anantara Angkor Resort & Spa hit the perfect spot.
The Anantara is not only home to beautiful architecture inspired by ancient royalty, an outdoor saltwater pool and a signature Khmer spa, but it also has one of Cambodia's best-kept dining secrets: The Sothea.
For my first meal in Siem Reap, I went slightly out of the way and dined at an award-winning restaurant just next to the Mekong Bank, called the Nest.
The combination of modern Khmer and Japanese cuisine may sound like an unlikely fusion, but the flavours were certainly something to write home about.
Whatever you do, don't leave Siem Reap without trying the hot and sour tiger-prawn soup and steamed fish fillet in Amok sauce - true Cambodian specialities. Wash that all down with one of the signature cocktails. I chose a Som Svakum - a concoction of grey goose vodka, rum, frangelico, cranberry juice, pineapple juice and a dash of lime. I would also recommend the Cambodge-tini - a Khmer twist on the classic lychee martini.
Anyone who wants to experience the magic of Angkor knows that a 5am start is a must-do - all the better to catch the sun rise over the majestic ruins. Walking towards the temple complex in the early light gives one a feeling of travelling back through time, and the awe of intricate architecture, craftsmanship and sheer beauty will lead you to a stunning, yet humbling, realisation of your existence in the shadow of the magnificent remains of the Khmer empire.
After visiting the Ta Phrom and Bayon temples - each unrivalled in design with their own individual style - I headed to Viroth's Restaurant, an acclaimed eatery in Wat Bo Street.
Set in a lovely outdoor courtyard, the eatery offers a gastronomic menu that matches its stylish and minimalist decor, with must-haves being the Khmer sour soup, laab (a minced-meat salad), minced pork wrapped in kaplou leaves and pandan chicken.
My rating? Two enthusiastic thumbs up - exquisite food, manageable portions, friendly staff and, best of all, no pretentions.
The following morning, I made the journey to the Cambodian Landmine Museum, which isn't one of your dull walkthrough of sculptures, but a living, breathing showcase of how life prevails in the aftermath of the country's tragic history.
Aki Ra, the founder of the museum, told his story as a child soldier in the Khmer Rouge Army, and how he returned to where he planted thousands of mines before, only to defuse and remove them with homemade tools.
Evening dawned before long and the highlight of my trip was imminent - dinner at the Sothea.
Evocative and inspired by the market's fresh produce, each dish was creatively fused with French and Khmer influences, using simple spices to bring out each dish's subtle focal points. With Anantara's old name being the Sothea, I expected nothing less, and it certainly didn't disappoint.
Afterwards, I couldn't resist the siren call of the Elephant Bar at Raffles Grand where I had the pleasure of having the signature cocktail, the Airavata - a sinful blend of tropical juices and rum in an elephant-head chalice carved out of elephant bone. After a few of those, the details got fuzzy but, that, they always say, is a mark of a good holiday.
The writer is the digital nomad of travel portal TheLuxeNomad.com (www.theluxenomad.com).