This two-week itinerary to Hong Kong and Cambodia is an ideal way to travel in our footsteps, including a stay in a fine new hotel in a great Asian city, a restful interlude at an exquisite new private island resort, a cruise on a new luxury ship on the Mekong River and a stay in Siem Reap, home to the incomparable Angkor Wat.
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Arrive in Hong Kong and transfer to the wonderful Upper House hotel. Located in the stylish Pacific Place enclave on the Hong Kong Island side of Victoria Harbour, the hotel features 117 studios and suites on Floors 38 to 48 of a tower. The staff are superb; the views are stunning, on both the mountain and harbor sides; and the top-floor restaurant is under the aegis of star chef Gray Kunz, who created the still-lamented Lespinasse in New York’s St. Regis hotel.
On Hong Kong Island be sure to ride the red funicular tram — in operation since 1888 — to the top of Victoria Peak for the stupendous views over Central and the harbor. (If you are feeling energetic, there is a two-mile, tree-lined walking trail.) Visit Man Mo Temple, the city’s oldest Taoist temple, on Hollywood Road in Sheung Wan. Then meander through the Western District, one of the least-changed and most atmospheric parts of the city. The streets are dedicated to sellers of specific products: Queen’s Road West has herbal remedies and temple goods, Bonham Road has dried seafood and Man Wa Lane offers beautifully carved chops (Chinese name seals).
If you happen to be in the city on a Wednesday, attend the evening horse races at Happy Valley. Everyone in Hong Kong, it seems, is an inveterate gambler. The tai-pans have private boxes; lesser mortals make do with the terraces. The atmosphere is electric.
On Day 3, if time permits, you might make an excursion to scenic Lamma Island. After a 30-minute ferry ride from Hong Kong to the village of Yung Shue Wan, hike for 40 minutes to the seaside town of Sok Kwu Wan for lunch at Lamma Rainbow (formerly Rainbow Seafood Restaurant).
Depart Hong Kong for Phnom Penh, Cambodia, a flight of two hours, 45 minutes. Transfer from the airport to the seaside town of Sihanoukville, where a launch will transport you to the island retreat of Song Saa for three days of blissful relaxation. Spacious Ocean View Villas (2,475 square feet) come with large private pools. Overwater pavilions house the main restaurant and bar. Food at both the Vista restaurant and the waterside Driftwood Bar is excellent. Spend a morning at the Khmer cookery school. You can also enjoy a full menu of spa treatments, plus ample opportunity to snorkel, scuba dive and kayak.
Return to Phnom Penh, a bustling metropolis of 1.5 million people that retains its French Colonial boulevards and parks. Check in at Raffles Hotel Le Royal, a historic property with 175 guest quarters divided among an Old World main building and low-profile wings overlooking a tree-lined courtyard and an 80-foot swimming pool. Appealing dining and cocktail choices include the elegant Restaurant Le Royal for French-influenced Cambodian dishes, and the celebrated Elephant Bar. The spa includes a fully equipped gym, outdoor lap pool, Jacuzzi, steam room and sauna.
Visit the Royal Palace and its Silver Pagoda glistening with more than 5,000 silver tiles, then shop for gifts in the atmospheric Central Market, built in art deco style by the French in 1937. Next day — if you are feeling strong — visit Tuol Sleng, the notorious Security Prison 21, a former high school where 20,000 people were tortured and executed by the Khmer Rouge. In the afternoon, drive to the infamous Killing Fields, 40 minutes south of the city, to see the Choeung Ek memorial. Its centerpiece, 17 stories high, contains the skulls and bones of genocide victims.
Board the Aqua Mekong riverboat in Phnom Penh for a journey upstream to Siem Reap. The Mekong carries 40 passengers in 20 suites (attended by 40 crew) and has three decks. The top deck has a spacious bar/lounge, a media room with a large screen and a small library. In the bow, a shaded plunge pool offers an idyllic place to relax.
The Mekong has four auxiliary aluminum launches with capacity for 10 passengers, crewed by English-speaking guides. These head off two or three times a day and are in radio communication with the main vessel. Ten bicycles are also available for guided or independent shore excursions through rural areas little visited by Western travelers. Other activities include hiking and kayaking.
Much of the time, however, you will wish just to lounge on deck as Southeast Asia slides gracefully past. The life of the great river is an endlessly diverting spectacle of which it is almost impossible to tire.
Your cruise ends in the city of Siem Reap, which, thanks to the allure of Angkor Wat, has become a destination for travelers from all over the world. Check in at Amansara, an established favorite of Hideaway Report subscribers. Set within a tranquil enclave on the grounds of a guesthouse that once belonged to King Norodom Sihanouk, its two dozen accommodations surround a grassy central courtyard. Public areas include a dining pavilion that serves traditional Khmer and Western dishes, a library and a 55-foot outdoor swimming pool, plus an 82-foot lap pool and a full-service spa. This is a true hideaway hotel in Siem Reap that offers a refuge from the tourist hordes. (Another wonderful hotel away from the masses is Phum Baitang, which replicates the look and feel of a traditional Cambodian village.)
Visit Angkor Wat at sunrise, escorted by a private guide. Afterward, explore some of the area’s lesser-known temples. In the early evening, stroll along the picturesque Siem Reap River. The old town was formed by an aggregation of small villages that were originally developed around Buddhist pagodas. The most animated quarter is concentrated around Sivutha Boulevard and the Phsar Chas (Old Market), with its French colonial buildings. The Phsar Leu area is crowded with shops selling gemstones and woodcarvings.
Fly back to Hong Kong (two hours, 35 minutes), then home.
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