Angkor Wat Is Great and All, But It’s Time to Give Siem Reap Its Due

The famous jungle ruins may be Cambodia’s crown jewel, but there’s more to take in now at this tourist town, as artists, chefs, and eco-conscious hoteliers reshape its identity. 

Angkor Wat rightly claims a spot near the top of many ­travelers’ bucket lists, but for most of the area’s 2.5 million annual visitors, the standard visit is about three days—just enough time to wander through the archaeological park’s central ruins and get sufficient selfies. That strategy is a mistake. The city of Siem Reap, a genuine beauty, is home to about 140,000 Cambodians and riches worth lingering for. “Things are looking up,” says architect and conservationist Bill Bensley, who in 2000 redesigned the city’s Hôtel de la Paix, now a Park Hyatt. As in much of the developing world, sustainability in Cambodia can be an afterthought to simply making a living. But now, Bensley says, as the nation has made strides in alleviating the problems of malnutrition and has moved toward cleaner water and better medical care, it can begin to confront First World problems of conservation.
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