Sambor Prei Kuk
Only 7,600 tourists visited Cambodia’s Angkor Archaeological Park in 1993, the year after it received World Heritage status. This year, visitor numbers are projected to reach a staggering 2 million, with custodians claiming the 1,000-year-old temple complex is being loved to death.
There’s little chance of that happening at Sambor Prei Kuk. Built in the 7th century, it’s the largest, best-preserved pre-Angkorian city in Cambodia but attracts few visitors. To find it, take the Mekong Express (catmekongexpress.com) from Phnom Penh or Siem Reap to Kampong Thom. There, hire a moto-taxi to take you along the dusty road to Sambor Prei Kuk’s crumbling outer ramparts. Within are 52 temples decorated with sculptures and intricate carvings. Don’t want to share them? With 200 more temple sites scattered around Kampong Thom province, you’ll have no trouble getting another all to your own.
—Ian Lloyd Neubauer
Merchant’s House Museum
manhattan’s once infamous “Skid Row” is now a chic hipster enclave that was until fairly recently a squalid quarter of disrepute and soup kitchens. Precious little evidence remains of the Bowery’s heyday as a genteel residential neighborhood full of gardens in the 19th century, when the eponymous street was New York City’s main thoroughfare. But a stately federal brownstone on East Fourth Street provides a wormhole into the New York of yore: the Merchant’s House Museum, home to the family of wealthy merchant Seabury Tredwell.
Its last inhabitant, Gertrude Tredwell, born in the house in 1840 and never married, died there in 1933. By the onset of the Civil War, the Bowery was host to lowbrow theaters, brothels, beer gardens and flophouses, while the four maiden Tredwell sisters remained in the rambling house, barely changing it save for amenities like electricity and plumbing. Nearly all the furniture is original, and the privileged family owned pieces made by the best cabinet makers of the day. Rescued from the hands of developers after an appeal by architectural critic Ada Louise Huxtable in 1970, the house has been restored just enough so that it feels like the family has momentarily stepped out. See merchantshouse.org for more.
(PHOTOS: The Cambodian Diaspora)
if you still associate Mexico’s capital more with mariachis than jazz, prepare for a surprise. Mexico City hosts an international jazz festival, and the number of venues devoted to jazz has increased considerably in recent years. While the capital has sleeker, snazzier jazz clubs, like Zinco (in a former bank vault in the Centro Historico), it’s hard to beat Blue Monk Jazz Bistro when it comes to conviviality.
Run by a Japanese-Mexican father-daughter pair, Blue Monk opened in 2003 under a different name (Papa Beto) and has been a stronghold of jazz in Mexico City ever since. It has hosted luminaries like trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and pianist Danilo Perez, but it has also fostered a generation of Mexican jazz artists. Almost as lively as the music is the menu of Mediterranean and Asian-influenced cuisine. For information and schedules, visit www.bluemonkmexico.com.
You could walk past this New York City bookstore 100 times before noticing the small sign reading, simply, COOKBOOKS. A lucky few will spot it, push the heavy, worn wooden door and walk straight into the 19th century home and shop of Joanne Hendricks. She has been selling cookbooks here for almost two decades. Most are first editions or have other historical or cultural value. Visitors get the sense that Hendricks doesn’t really care if she sells any books; she just likes to be surrounded by them and enjoy the conversations they inspire with the customers who wander through her door. Find it at 488 Greenwich Street.
Like the curiosity shops of old, much of the stock at Amsterdam’s Otherist defies classification—other than to say it reflects the quirk and caprice of its owners, Steven Stoddart and Joshua Walters. The two San Franciscans scour the globe in search of handmade, one-of-a-kind and difficult-to-find treasures from private sellers, small producers and select artists. You can expect anything from glass eyes (there’s an impressive collection) and delicate Swedish ceramics to fair-trade Uruguayan wool. In one corner are insect specimens adorned with antique watch parts; in another, white porcelain animal skulls (skunk, anyone?) that are the work of an illustrator from New York City’s natural history museum. A Dutch designer once dropped in for a vintage prosthetic leg that was reinvented as a lamp for a hotel project—the Otherist is that sort of shop. Seven years on and Stoddart and Walters’ passion for the strange remains undiminished: if ever there were an antidote to homogenized chain stores, this is it. Details at otherist.com.
Isfahan is half the world, the Persians like to say, on account of its splendor. It’s surely the better half. There’s a reason why the few foreign tourists who make it to Iran loiter in the city, 340 km south of Tehran. The tiles of the showcase mosques reflect the dewy light. The exquisite public gardens bestow a sense of egalitarian privilege. And there’s a mystical quality to the city’s beauty, as much felt as seen, and perhaps fully realized in the vaulted passageways of its Grand Bazaar.
When I visited, I was living in Istanbul, where the bazaar is a tourist assault. I had also just passed whole days in Tehran’s teeming central market, so workaday that it marks the other extreme. Isfahan’s balanced the two in scenes still with me a decade later: a dome illuminated by outdoor light fanning from a hole at its peak; the air beneath alive with the sound of hammer on metal. Here, they still make what they sell: copper pots banged into being by an old man with thick glasses and nothing kind to say about the mullahs; fabrics printed by hand. Things have the beauty of daily use, like the woven scrap used as a cushion by a man at a stall selling carpets. When I told him nothing looked as good as the piece he’d been sitting on, worn and formed in the contours of the years, he flourished it: “Make me an offer!” Better where it is.