Nothing beats local knowledge and insider advice – whether it’s a whisper about a new restaurant or directions to an off the beaten track temple. As a travel and food writer living in Siem Reap, I know the place like the back of my hand and have my fingers on the pulse. Much of my time is dedicated to experiencing everything Cambodia has to offer and writing about it – from hotels in soft-launch to new tours and just-opened restaurants.
In recent years, I’ve been offering a variety of travel services, initially on an ad hoc basis for friends and friends of friends, but in the last two years more formally through Vayable and in partnership with local travel companies.
As Vayable can no longer pay Asian-based insiders via PayPal I am only accepting direct bookings for itineraries. We are also in the process of establishing our own travel business, but until that happens I will continue to partner with local travel companies.
I create handcrafted itineraries in consulation with clients to match their interests and have been offering a range of themed bespoke itineraries.
When you book a bespoke itinerary, you’re getting:
- an itinerary created especially for you based on your particular interests
- trip planning advice and recommendations
- an orientation by tuk tuk and introduction to Siem Reap soon after you arrive
- a meeting to discuss your itinerary and trip at my favourite café or bar.
Each itinerary is different to the next, depending upon your interests, budget, duration of your stay, etc, however, for ease more than anything, I like to organize them around themes:
Inside Siem Reap
An introduction to the destination beyond the temples, my Inside Siem Reap itinerary can still include Angkor Wat and other must-see archaeological sites, however, I also like to reveal the spots that locals and expats know and love and encourage you to explore lesser-visited ruins. When you’re not scrambling temples, I’ll be sending you to local markets, off the beaten track restaurants, secret boutiques, offbeat art spaces, hidden cafés, laneway bars, alternative tours, village walks, and more.
Savour Siem Reap
A culinary focused experience of Temple Town, my Savour Siem Reap itineraries were first created for chefs and restaurateur friends visiting Cambodia and are aimed at food-lovers. They take you to ‘aromatic’ local markets, including our organic farmer’s market, delicious and safe street food spots, outstanding restaurants, rustic local eateries, the best food tours and cooking lessons, cocktail classes, and shops and stalls selling edible souvenirs and covetable items for the kitchen. Siem Reap may not be known as a gastronomic destination, but there’s plenty to sate foodies and I relish giving visitors a taste of the tantalizing place beyond the temples.
Shop Siem Reap
My Shop Siem Reap itineraries will have you filling your bags with Cambodian crafts, hand-woven textiles, handmade jewellery, recycled accessories, couture fashion, vintage one-offs, and original art and design objects. I’ll send you to artisans practicing traditional techniques handed down through generations, the workshops of skilled crafts-people, ateliers of European-trained fashion designers, and the studios of creative cutting edge young artists. Many things are produced at NGO-supported workshops by disadvantaged Cambodians, such as former street children, landmine victims and people with disabilities who otherwise wouldn’t have skills or a job, so by buying their products you’re supporting them and helping to lift Cambodia out of poverty.
Sip Siem Reap
This is a new experience created in response to client demand, after a few too many one-hour chats about itineraries turned into hours-long bar hops, after clients asked me to show them my favourite watering holes. This is for people who want to venture to the drinking spots beyond Pub Street where expats and locals like to sip. I’m sub-titling it a ‘Cocktail (Bar) Crawl for Adults’ because you’ll pay for your own drinks and can drink whatever you like. I’m not a fan of the highly structured bar tours where you down pre-arranged drinks and there’s no time to linger at spots you might take a liking to. Instead, we’ll hop between specially selected places on the night that match your interests. We won’t follow a set itinerary and if a bar isn’t to your taste or it isn’t happening when we drop in we’ll simply move on.
Local Siem Reap
This is another new Grantourismo style itinerary which focuses only on the local spots that Cambodians and expats know and love. While crafted according to your interests, these itineraries will really mix things up. You might find yourself in a neighbourhood that you’d never stumble upon as a tourist, experiencing something quintessentially local that you’d never envisage doing on holiday, ending up eating at a street food stall or sipping something at a cafe or bar that only locals or expats frequent. This is an itinerary for the more intrepid, time-rich travellers, who are willing to take a risk; the kind of travellers for whom interacting with other people and getting an insight into their lives is more important than ticking off sights.
Slow Siem Reap
The last of our new Grantourismo style itineraries has been created with the slow traveller in mind. This is another itinerary that won’t suit time-poor tourists or people who want to see and do everything and tick off all the major sights. Once again, while crafted to match your interests, this itinerary also mixes things up. It’s best-suited for people whose idea of a holiday is to do very little at all but that doesn’t mean lying by the hotel swimming pool. Think more along the lines of an early morning breakfast at an empty archaeological ruin, a slow bike ride through sleepy villages, pastries and coffee at the organic farmer’s market, a leisurely amble along the riverside, a sunset picnic overlooking the moat of a certain stupendous temple with the locals.
It’s important to note that we only recommend Cambodian guides and Cambodian based travel companies. While there’s obviously a place for specialised foreign guides (archaeologists, historians etc), we don’t believe that foreigners should be taking guiding jobs from locals in a country as impoverished as Cambodia.
This is an extension of the itinerary service. Instead of suggesting tuk tuk drivers and guides, recommending restaurants, and giving you options for tours that you can then go and organize on your own, I can book the driver and guide, reserve your restaurant tables and arrange your tours and experiences. I will then stay in touch with you throughout your stay, touching base to make sure things are going well and offering alternative options in case of bad weather or a change of plans. There is an additional fee for this service.
If you’re heading Siem Reap, other places in Cambodia, or Southeast Asian destinations we have lived in, worked in and know intimately, such as Bangkok, Hanoi and Hoi An, and you need someone to make introductions and arrangements for your trip or project, Lara also works as a fixer from time to time. Her extensive experience as a filmmaker especially equips her for advising creative productions.
Travel Writing And Photography Tours
My photographer husband Terence Carter and I hosted our first culinary travel writing and photography tour in Cambodia in May this year in partnership with Backyard Travel. We’ll be holding a Vietnam tour with Backyard Travel in late 2016, however, in the meantime, we’re hosting a Cambodia culinary tour with an optional travel writing and photography component, which will top and tail the trip, in collaboration with a Siem Reap-based travel company in early 2016. More details coming very soon.
I also offer bespoke culinary tours, crafted with chefs, restaurateurs, food writers, and foodies in mind. See Savour Siem Reap above for the sort of thing you can expect. Tours can be anything from one day to a month long. If you’re a chef who wants to focus on learning to cook Cambodian cuisine or someone who just wants to eat really well, I can create a delicious tour of Siem Reap or Cambodia for you. Get in touch and we can discuss the detail.
For more information about any of these travel services please email me at email@example.com or via my Contacts page.
My partner and I have always spoken to each other about the joy of travelling to places where we have friends living. There is something wonderful about having them introduce you to that side that you only get to know from being there for an extended period and that you rarely see in your limited time as a traveller. We didn’t have any friends in Siem Reap that we could call on but we have certainly come away from our trip feeling like we did. Lara is not only an amazing wealth of knowledge about the city and surrounds, she also showed us a side of Siem Reap you couldn’t hope to discover on your own. As a major added bonus, Lara is a really lovely person; someone who immediately puts you at ease, like you’ve maybe already met before. On top of that, she really genuinely cares that you have your best possible travel experience. During our travels she checked in with us and helped us refine our itinerary as we went, which for us was invaluable because she quickly understood what interests us and was able to give us more of what we love. Lara is passionate about Cambodia and she knows the place, I would highly recommend her to anyone wanting to scratch below the surface in this fantastic place, she is worth every cent. There are many hidden gems in Cambodia and Lara is certainly one of them.
Lara is a well-traveled resource. She has really experienced the cities she’s visited and loves to share that knowledge with others. She even went so far as to make recommendations for my next stops. Her passion for crafting unique experiences for others was very evident. She really knows her stuff and tries to tailor her suggestions to what interests you most. I enjoyed meeting Lara and appreciated all the great ideas she shared. I’d say the one drawback is that Lara is in demand and thus has a pretty tight schedule so you’ll have to be a bit flexible in working with her. Thank you, Lara, for making my trip to Siem Reap even better. Your advice in Battambang was also wonderful! You have a lovely spirit and your passion in helping others was great to experience!
Lara’s advice and guidance were invaluable and we had such a wonderful time. Lara helped make our trip to Siem Reap extra special and we can’t thank her enough. She helped us with restaurant reservations, finding the best guides, tuk tuk drivers and shops. Her local knowledge was extensive to say the least. She was also incredibly friendly and charming. My husband and I will definitely recommend this to anyone!
I was put in touch with Lara through mutual friends, and she provided lots of options for my trip before we met. It meant that I was able to adjust quickly and avoid any newcomer’s mistakes. Throughout the trip she stayed in constant contact and continued to provide suggestions based on my location and the weather. Most of all she approaches people on as clients but as potential friends, and that’s what we are now.
Lara Dunston is knowledgeable in every respect…From temples to bars… restaurants to tuk tuks and everything in between Lara knows Siem Reap. We’ve come to rely on her expertise elsewhere in South East Asia as well. We’ve been traveling in Vietnam for the past three weeks and her guidance has been invaluable, especially when it comes to food. From street to haute Lara’s suggestions have been superb. Again, we can’t thank you enough Lara.
Lara’s unique and vast knowledge of Cambodia puts her in the perfect position to create a bespoke itinerary for visitors to Siem Reap. The focus on authentic experiences (an overused term but in this case apt) helps the visitor to understand a little more about this wonderful country. I only wish we had more time to follow all of Lara’s recommendations.