Discovering Cambodia

Susanne Hamer with Angkor Wat, Cambodia in the background
Body: 
I started my Southeast Asia journey on Cathay Pacific Airlines from LAX to Hong Kong, connecting through Ho Chi Minh to Siem Reap, home of one of the largest Buddhist temple complexes in the world.
 
I spent one night at the Amansara resort, which is located outside of the bustling downtown area in a residential neighborhood. This is a historical building that was originally built as a guest residence for the Monarch's many visitors. I then moved to the Park Hyatt for one night, which is in the center of town and within walking distance of the night markets and many restaurants. Great for shopping!
 
The following two nights were spent at the Raffles Grand Hotel, which is one of the iconic hotels in Southeast Asia, built in 1932.
 
My sightseeing began with hundreds of other tourists with a sunrise tour of Angkor Wat. Since we had a private guide we did not have to stand in line for our tickets, which makes all the difference and a much nicer experience. Our guide took us to the best spots with fewer tourists and explained all the history in great detail. Later we had a light breakfast and a private monk blessing at Wat Damnak Pagoda, which was a very humbling and spiritual experience. For a deeper appreciation and more peersonal experience, I always recommend a private guide. 
 
The next day with our private guide we explored Ancient Angkor Thom, which dates back to the 12th century and was the first capital of the Khmer Empire.
 
We stopped at an artisans workshop, where they focus on the training of unskilled people who were not able to go to school during the war. They produce some of the most amazing Cambodian handicraft, such as lacquer, silver objects, silk painting and wood work.
 
The next day we embarked on our Mekong River cruise on the Jahan, from Siem Reap to Pnohm Penh. This is a seven-day cruise that ends in Saigon; however I disembarked in Pnohm Penh.
 
On our Mekong cruise we see floating villages of the Vietnamese people who emigrated to Cambodia during the war; villages that specialize in ancient pottery and silk weaving. We take an ox cart to visit a local school sponsored by the cruise company, which employs the children once they have finished their schooling and graduate. 
 
In Pnohm Penh we visited the "killing fields memorial museum and park," as well as the prison which held the intellectuals during the war, a sobering and difficult visit. There is great shopping at the local market in Pnohm Penh; worth a full day as the prices and selection is amazing.  You can always buy extra suitcases here to take your purchases with you!