Taking a train through postcard horizons of paddy fields. Tasting-the fire of sizzling street food. Sorting that stylish tailor-made suit. Want to turn your Southeast Asian dreams into reality? Start right here…
You’re dreaming of…
Sunrise Over Angkor Wat
First comes the chorus of the birds, a hundred thousand rainforest voices. Then the dark sky brightens, silhouetting the serrated stupas of Angkor Wat on the horizon, and colouring the moat that surrounds them.
A frog plops off a lily pad, sending ripples through the reflections. And then the sun breaks, apricot behind the ruins. Shafts of light through the forest fall on monks as they shuffle to the temple gate, clutching brass begging bowls like upturned bells. The day warms, butterflies fill the air and the fatigue of that 4.3oam start fades from your mind.
Angkor Wat is as ancient as the great cathedrals of Europe, part of a ruined city nearly twice the size of modern Edinburgh, protected by a forest park. You’ll need at least two days here and it’s really worth waking early on both.
Try to arrive prepared by prebooking both hotel and driver-guide; the ruins are about 3o minutes from most nearby hotels. On the first day, join the throng at the West Gate for that iconic silhouette view. On the next, go to the East Gate to see the morning light burnish the temples. For a magical half hour, you’ll have the buildings almost to yourself.
You want to…
Have an Outfit Tailor-Made In Vietnam
Nothing makes you feel more like a don or a diva than slipping into a little number made especially for you.
And in fashionable, French-influenced Vietnam, you can get a catwalk-worthy outfit run up for the price of a Michelin-starred main course. In Hanoi, whole neighbourhoods are given over to tailors – of varying quality. To find the best, look for shops that have their own tailors on staff (the others send your measurements out to factories). You should be able to see them snipping and stitching away.
Most have a stash of outdated fashion magazines for you to peruse for ideas, but unless you want to look like an extra from Dynasty, it’s best to bring a photo or two of your own. Or, better yet, pack a favourite dress, shirt or suit and have it copied – the Thao Silk tailors are experts at this, charging about USD35 for a pair of linen trousers or USD50 for a silk dress.
TOP TIP: Get to the tailor’s as soon as you can on landing, as you’ll require at least one additional fitting (two for a suit) – 24-hour services do exist, but a rush job is unlikely to result in the best fit.
How to do…
Preah Vihear Temple, Cambodia
You finally reach the ancient stone gates of Preah Vihear Temple, after a slow rumble over a sandstone causeway. It’s a long, vertiginous climb, but worth it for the sprawling complex of grand winged walls, balustered windows and slender galleries, busy with carvings of warriors.
Visually, it compares to Angkor but this is one temple you’re likely to get all to yourself. Crowning the Dangrek Mountains, it’s the highest shrine in the Khmer Empire.
Brushing the border with Thailand, it gives you the best sense of northern Cambodia.
Inaccessible for years, due to an ownership dispute between the two nations, with the issue now settled you can wander peacefully through ancient archways, taking in eerie views across Cambodia’s rainforested lowlands.
Bring your passport – it may be checked on the way into these remote borderlands. And don’t stray further than the temple’s grounds as there may still be the odd landmine.
TOP TIP: It can be done in one day, on an eight-hour trip from Siem Reap, but it’s better to overnight at Preah Vihear Boutique Hotel.