I've long been fascinated by the mysterious temples of Angkor Wat. Last fall, I spent several days living out my "Tomb Raider" fantasies in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
Most visitors fly here directly from Hong Kong on HK Express, or travel north from Phnom Penh. Even if you come to Siem Reap only for a weekend, you can experience a wide range of nightlife, restaurants and entertainment in this small city.
My Cambodia travel video highlights some of the top attractions in Siem Reap. I hope you find my recommendations helpful for places to stay and eat, and how to make the most of your visit.
Stay: Le Meridien Angkor
I adored the warm Cambodian hospitality at Le Méridien Angkor. The modern hotel is inspired by classic Khmer design -- with a swimming pool framed by lotus flowers, and gardens dotted with Hindu statues. The location is also as good as it gets: Angkor Wat is less than a 10 minute drive away.
Explore: The Sunrise and Temples
I recommend going to Angkor Wat at 5pm the day before your visit, to purchase your ticket (for one, three or seven days entry). This way, you can go inside to see the sunset and skip the line-up the next day.
I am not a morning person, but it was worth waking up at 5am to see the sunrise over the towers of Angkor Wat. Our Le Meridien guide took us to a prime photo-taking position by the second reflective pool.
After dawn breaks, many tourists go on to explore the main buildings of Angkor Wat. However, to avoid the crowd, I suggest seeing other temples in the morning (there are over a thousand in this large complex).
Some tourists ride tuk-tuks or bikes, but my team and I had a driver and guide, which made it easier to get around. If you only have one day, be sure to visit Bayon with its smiling Buddha faces. You also can't miss Ta Prohm, the "Tomb Raider" temple with tree roots converging into the ancient architecture.
In the afternoon, I suggest returning to the main Angkor Wat temple. The lighting conditions are best at this time, letting you capture dramatic light and shadows. My guide walked me through the long galleries, brimming with bas-reliefs of the Hindu epics.
Eat: Cambodian and Italian Food
I developed a new appreciation for Khmer flavors after dinner at Cuisine Wat Damnak. French-trained chef Joannès Rivière changes his six-course set menu every week. His locally sourced ingredients and creative preparations -- like frog legs with Cambodian spices -- were outstanding.
One of my most surprisingly wonderful meals was at l'Angelo, an Italian restaurant headed by chef Nicolas Rouleau. He served us traditional dishes -- such as spicy penne, osso bucco and duck breast risotto -- prepared with French flair, and paired with international wines.
Drink: Miss Wong Cocktails
Siem Reap's Pub Street is a raucous collection of bars geared mainly to tourists. I much preferred the intimate, retro-Shanghai vibe of Miss Wong, a cocktail joint tucked away from the main roads.
Miss Wong infuses spirits with Asian flavors, resulting in nuanced concoctions such as the Lemongrass Collins, Mocha Martini and black pepper Bloody Mary. If you enjoy sipping handcrafted cocktails in a vintage atmosphere, then this bar is a gem.
Watch: Phare, the Cambodian Circus
Now that I've seen Phare, the Cambodian Circus, I understand why it has rave reviews. Under a big top tent, I saw young local performers tumble, juggle, balance and clown -- while wearing the biggest smiles on their faces.
The show combined folk storytelling with avantgarde antics and sky-high acrobatics. All of the performers came from difficult socio-economic circumstances, but overcame them through the schools and social programs run by Phare.
For colorful footage of the circus and temples, watch my Angkor Wat travel video. (Hosted by La Carmina, photography by Ken Yuen and Sniper Chau.)
Check out more Southeast Asia travel tips on La Carmina's travel blog. She currently appears on the NBC travel TV show "Better Late Than Never," starring William Shatner, Henry Winkler, George Foreman and Terry Bradshaw.