Feature

This week's dream

Cambodia's fabulous Angkor temples. Also, the hotel of the week, and scenic fall weekends

From the magazine 

This week’s dream: Cambodia’s fabulous Angkor temples

A visitor needs two things when touring Cambodia’s ancient city of Angkor, said Anne Chalfant in the Contra Costa, Calif., Times. The first is “a quick-witted guide who can snake you in and out of temples” before you get lost in a tour-bus crowd. The other is a swimming pool in which you can refresh yourself with a long, cool dip after a long, hot day exploring the ruins of the ancient Khmer empire. The fabulous Angkor complex, designated a World Heritage Site, thrived from 802 to 1295. To best see these temples, and the numerous moats and passageways connecting them, arrive at dawn. High on everyone’s list is Ta Prohm, a temple hidden by jungle overgrowth until being rediscovered in the 1860s. The crumbling ruins of this once grand structure have intentionally been left untouched and uncannily convey “the eeriness of the lost civilization.” Angkor Thom, or “Great City,” built from 1181 to 1220 by the Buddhist King Jayavarman VII, once housed as many as 1 million people. Some 216 “coldly smiling” and slightly unnerving visages still stare down from the 54 columns in the Bayon temple here.

At Pra Thom, another temple, the seven-headed, serpent-like Naga guards the south gate. The complex’s primary temple, Angkor Wat, is the most remarkable. On the morning we arrived, monks were sitting on a floor, preparing an offering of sliced bananas, rice, chicken, and cigarettes to the Buddha. A highlight is the bas-relief Scenes of Heaven and Hell, with hideous devils consigning sinners to damnation. Adjacent to Angkor Wat is a small area “used as a killing field by the despot Pol Pot,” who was responsible for the deaths of more than 3 million people during his reign of terror in the 1970s.

Siem Reap, the gateway to Angkor, lies in northwestern Cambodia, only a short plane ride away from Singapore or Bangkok. Tourism in this city of 800,000 is “on the fast track,” with construction booming everywhere. Although Siem Reap boasts several contemporary hotel chains, a stay at the Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor is “like stepping back into the elegant ways of the British Empire.” Contact: Indochina-services.com

Hotel of the week

The Portofino Hotel & Yacht Club Redondo Beach, Calif. This “middle-aged gal” looks pretty good after a yearlong, $11 million makeover, said Valli Herman in the Los Angeles Times. The ocean-themed renovation updated the spacious two-story lobby with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the sea, and outfitted the 161 guest rooms with sky-blue walls and porthole-inspired mirrors. In the evening, “the hotel takes on a mysterious quality,” as torch-lined walkways and palm fronds flutter in the ocean breezes. The upscale Baleen restaurant features an innovative, seafood-inspired New American menu and a lively bar scene. Contact: Hotelportofino.com

Scenic fall weekends

Southern California’s highways Fall arrives a little later here than in Eastern states. The cottonwoods and oaks turn color in the first week of November in Cuyamaca State Park, on Hwy. 79, just northeast of San Diego. The apple harvest season runs to mid-November on the 23-mile drive along Hwy. 78 from Ramona to Julian. Contact: Parks.ca.gov

The Mississippi’s Great River Road Take a fall foliage tour along the Great River Road, which runs for 2,000 miles alongside the Mississippi River, from St. Paul, Minn., to Vicksburg, Miss. In addition to forested hills and striking bluffs, the scenic route boasts river views, rustic red barns, and historic sites, including Mark Twain’s hometown of Hannibal, Mo. Contact: Byways.org

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