It costs next to nothing (between USD 100 and 200) to travel back in the good old time of the 1930s – 1960s Indochina, exploring Siem Reap and Angkor driven in style, in a vintage car.
Initiated a decade ago by Victoria Angkor Hotel & Spa, one of our favorite lodgings in the city, this activity tends to develop, slowly yet surely. Discovering the ruins of the temples in a sputtering torpedo is something so unique, that words are not enough to describe our experience in one of the authentic, amazingly well kept Citroën cars, parked in from of the hotel. No need to stay at Victoria Angkor to hire them (at around USD 200 per half day, to be negotiated): the concierge can manage a tour for you, depending on availability. Just make sure that you book a few days in advance, and never forget that you need to purchase a pass to Angkor Park before your visit. You can do it the same day; but this would make you lose one precious hour, or more, standing in a queue. We embarked from the hotel, sat in the back of our rutilant bordeaux Citroën B14. Built in 1928, it has still its original “Made in France” engine. It looked like freshly imported from the “Quai de Javel, Paris” Citroën factory. Amazingly maintained, the 1.6L 4-cylinder 22Bhp engine started from the first attempt, with its signature “puff-puff” melody and some shakes from another time. A four seater, we recommend this car for a couple: because a large cool box, filled with Angkor Beer, Coca, fruit juice, and fresh water, occupies part of the back seat. Don't believe that you are the center of the locals and visitors' attraction: everyone is interested in your car! Its obvious popularity gave us the opportunity to have our picture posted hundreds of times on the social network... Married men visiting Angkor with their girlfriend might receive a unexpected "welcome" back home... This is the unique and marginal disadvantage of the amazing experience.
We repeated it recently, with the Mercedes acquired by Hillocks Hotel & SPA. We love that place. It has it all for the spoiled traveler, looking for the best of everything. Beside a jeep, which can provide a nice off-road escape, two elegant cars proudly park in front of Hillocks: a contemporary beige Mercedes-Benz 280SE, from 1965, but still up-to-date, and an old lady, a black 190, from 1959. Both have been nicely reinstated. Purists may dislike it, but the original Mercedes engine has been replaced by a Toyota Crown, more reliable machinery. For one simple reason: it provides a much more powerfuk air-conditioning stream, for a comfortable ride. We logically didn't find this comfort in the Citroën B14: which was not a problem at all, as we are used to the tropical heat. Elder people, or those traveling with children, might consider AC, and the experience with the Mercedes by Hillocks has been tailor-made for them.
We experienced both cars. The Mercedes 280SE is one of our favorite models. We missed a little bit the original sound of the German engine, but the W108 elegant line of the body is still here. The car is still wearing its 1960's perfume! The deep seats are those of a limousine, and spending the whole day visiting Angkor in such a premium car was a real pleasure. Though our preference goes, of course, to the Mercedes 190. Again, we missed the antique sound of the diesel engine, but this is a black car, hard to cool under Cambodia blazing sun, and only a modern engine can do the job. Round shaped, with shining chromes, this car was already out-dated in the late 1950s... but so classy -and rare- nowadays. Imported from America, it provides more comfort than the models designed for the German market. The seats of the nicely beautified interior are smoother. Like the Citroën, our Mercedes was the center of attraction from part of the photographers. We would say that, besides the originality and comfort of the experience, the bonus of a tour by vintage cars are the pictures you can send to your friends, and keep as a souvenir of the best possible way (better than balloon or helicopter) to discover the temples. It provided us with an unforgettable image of Angkor, at a more than affordable price (little bit more than USD 100 per half day, negotiable, and always excluding the entrance fee to Angkor Park).
Most recently the Temple Group of Hotels imported a white Chrysler New Yorker Brougham 4-door sedan, 1975, with a powerful V8, and the characteristic “fuselage” distinguishing the 70s Chrysler cars from the competitors. The tours with this car are only available to those staying with Golden Temple, and the price was still under consideration during our last visit in winter 2017. It would be something like USD 200 per half day. Those nostalgics from the glorious 70s will love it, as the car is 100% original, and utterly comfy. A palace on wheels!
Next day (s) you should
definitely have lunch or, better, dinner in the
Night Market / Old French Quarter area. We recommend the very kind Perk
restaurant. This is where local peoples and expats like to invite their
visiting friends. A favorite for Mick Jagger and Angelina Jolie who has
a foundation in Cambodia (she also likes to dine at The Red Piano,
which is not bad though too touristic nowadays): jet setters and
anonymous visitors come for the coconut milk soup, the “fish amok” and
the traditional Khmer vegetable curry. Very cheap (less than US$10 for
two, plus a couple of dollars for two or three bottles of Cambodia
Those options are ideal for your first day in Siem Reap. Foodies can discover more ambitious gastronomic resources checking our reviews of the best restaurants in Siem Reap.
Khmer massages and SPAs
Siem Reap is characterised by its multitude of SPAs, operating all day long virtually everywhere. With a concentration in the Old French Quarter / Pub Street. Cheaper alternatives can be found in the poorly lit lanes of the Night Market: usually promoting one to five dollar body massage. Ignore that scam: the staff is poorly trained and will aggressively beg for a not merited tip. Moreover, the “services” are more hanky panky than wellness oriented... Mediocre in all cases...
In Pub Street, we like to visit some of the Temple Massage parlours. They all offer clean, nicely designed rooms. The masseuses, in their 30 – 40s are all expertly trained. The oil, cream, and scrub lotions are guaranteed 100 natural. We have a slight preference for the Temple Massage located 2 Thnou St, almost next to Banana Leaf Pub. Essentially frequented by tourists, mainly from China, it is quieter compared with the other shops of the brand. Masseuses are poorly paid. Consider a tip. We recommend 5 dollars; more in the luxury hotels, where the younger masseuses catering Western tourists expect a 10 dollars tip minimum. We recommend Jaya House or Templation, welcoming upper-class travelers.
High-end SPAs, catering tourists and the cream of the Cambodian society, were non-existing until the recent opening of the Real SPA and Kesor SPA.
Both are located almost next door, in the city center, not far from the Night Market, and constituting the ultimate destination to luxuriate, rejuvenate and relax both body and spirit.
Real SPA has an intimate, refined design, and provides tailored-made techniques, using home-made oils which we were invited to select from a rich palette of scents. Each oil has its effect: some are distressing, other revigorating.
We left the lovely lobby, quite reminiscent of the nostalgic colonial Indochina, and climbed the supremely elegant spiral staircase to experience our Full Body Oil Massage in a tasteful and immaculate Spa Suite at the first floor. Like most of the therapists in Siem Reap, ours had quite a limited knowledge of English; but she had been informed of our preferences, and did a perfect job. All masseuses are in their 40s, imported from the best hotels SPA, and amazingly skilled after more than 20 years of experience. One hour our exquisitely relaxing treatment made us feeling blissed-out and tension-free.
The SPA Menu features eight options. Our selection was amongst the most demanded, together with Real SPA signatures: Indian Head Massage, Hot Stones, or Four Hands Full Body Massage.
Our treatment was nicely concluded by traditional herbal tea enjoyed in the lobby. The reception staff kindly inquired about our impression, willing to make sure that everything went as smooth as silk. We felt like particularly pampered. Even by the bill... Only USD 30 for our massage, with regularly updated promotions for an even better rate.
Kesor SPA is the ultimate destination to luxuriate, rejuvenate and relax both body and spirit. Supremely elegant, in a Khmer Art-Nouveau building designed by Vasia, one of the most celebrated architects in South East Asia, it boasts a palatial lobby with a view on the private pool which all clients can use before or after their treatment. It has open-air, pool-side massage beds, and also magnificent private suites, with stone-tub, and steam shower.
We had a massage at Kesor SPA. Our masseuse has been imported from the luxury Golden Temple Retreat hotel. We experienced with her, for the first time, a “Hot Bamboo Massage”. This was extremely relaxing. Soothing our skin and muscles, it provides such a mental relaxation! We selected our favorite oil from a generous collection of bottles. It is guaranteed 100% natural. Such a treatment, in such a lavish place surprisingly only costs USD 35! Twice the price of a cheap, tourist massage parlor. But what a difference! Promotions are available all year long.
The SPA menu is extensive. Kesor is also particularly indicated for couples (some suites have been designed for them), and would be a very nice gift for a honeymoon.
MORE ABOUT CAMBODIA & SOUTHEAST ASIA:
OF THE BEST LUXURY HOTELS IN SIEM REAP
OF THE BEST RESTAURANTS