Cambodia’s ancient Angkor Wat temples are hardly a well-kept secret, as over 1.6 million people visit them every year, and they really should be on every traveler’s wish list. Two days are the minimum time required to do the five or six most important temples in the region, but culture vultures should plan on staying at least a week in Siem Reap. The city is just a few miles from the site and offers a welcome alternative to heritage-filled days with its buzzing night life, open-air markets, restaurants and bars.
The Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor opposite the Royal Palace is the city’s oldest hotel, and its cool and collected colonial grandeur sweeps over you when the doorman, wearing a uniform inspired by the Royal Guards, ushers you into the lobby. The manicured gardens between the hotel and the palace are mirrored in the magnificent lawns at the back around the pool, which is a copy of the ancient royal pond at the Ta Prohm temple. Here you are drawn back to not just French colonial days but also to Angkor’s magnificent 12th-century Khmer dynasties.
The black-and-white Art Deco tiles in the old building are original and the 119 rooms and suites, all with butler service, blend traditional features like claw-foot baths with contemporary Cambodian influences. The extended wing, added in 1997, replicates the original building so well that it is difficult to tell where one stops and the other starts.
The 46 Landmark Rooms in the old building—with views over the gardens or the pool—have been renovated and we felt that their high ceilings gave them an edge over the rooms in the new wing. Having said that, the six Cabana Suites, which span 775 square feet and are all on the ground floor in the new wing, are hard to beat. They have a spacious living area, two bathrooms—his with a monsoon shower and hers with a bath—and direct access to the pool from the private terrace which has day beds.
For clients who like a touch of nostalgia there are the four Personality Suites—named after luminaries who have been associated with Angkor—which feature interesting heritage memorabilia. They have small balconies with garden views and are in the main building, like the 53 State Rooms (344 square feet) that have amenities and levels of elegance on a par with the larger accommodations.
If you want the very best for special clients or for large families, it has to be either Villa Uma or Villa Kama, the two-bedroom villas beside the pool. Each has a master bedroom with a four-poster bed, another room with twin beds and a very large living and dining area, three bathrooms, a pantry and a private wine cellar and, of course, 24-hour butler service. General Manager Christian Sack ([email protected]; 011-855-63-963-888 ext.1230) says the privacy these villas offer makes them very popular with VIPs and clients seeking anonymity. “November to February are our busiest months and so are times like the Angkor [Wat International] Half Marathon and Angkor Photo Festival, so booking well ahead is mandatory, either directly through us at the hotel or the GDS.” Celebrities who have stayed include Charlie Chaplin, Jacqueline Kennedy and Hilary Clinton.
Raffles Amrita Spa uses exclusive Amrita products, which are also found in the rooms and suites. Spa Manager Mey Sotheavuth ([email protected]; 011-855-63-963-888 ext.1018) says the six treatment rooms and VIP couple suite are much in demand, especially for traditional Khmer massages. It is a good idea to set up temple tours in advance through the concierge, Pat Sambo ([email protected]; 855-63-963-888 ext. 1226), who also books helicopters to get to the more far-flung temples, and arranges romantic candlelit dinners in the temple grounds.
The Apsara Terrace behind the pool is used for cultural performances and barbecue evenings. The Royal Dynasty Dining Menu at the onsite Restaurant Le Grand, a selection of Khmer specialties served in small portions on a large plate, is a must. Another dining option is the Café d’Angkor, which serves international and Asian cuisine. We had afternoon tea in The Conservatory and were intrigued by the mixture of western and Cambodian delights such as chocolate éclairs, brownies and truffles with mango and coconut cakes, and sweets made from mung beans.
When you walk over the moat into La Résidence d’Angkor, you find yourself in an oasis of verdant tranquillity. Just a little removed from Siem Reap’s central area, this is an good choice for clients who prefer to be away from traffic and city noises. Some of the 62 Deluxe Rooms look out on the pool, others on the gardens or the river, and all are contemporary in muted shades with glowing wood floors, floor-to-ceiling windows and private balconies. Ask for two connecting Riverside rooms for families; and for clients who like more space, one of the eight Residence Suites that are on corners and have a lounge off the bedroom, and sliding glass doors to the bathroom and terraces, are an excellent choice.
The tropical gardens make the pool area delightfully cool even on the hottest day, and the Ember restaurant is a good choice for a midday break and light snack. For more serious dining, Executive Chef Richard Bias and Chef Mey Samorn give a contemporary twist to international and Khmer specialties in the Circle. We really liked the martini menu in The Martini Lounge, which also has a good selection of New and Old World wines.
The Jasmine Rice and Rose Scrub treatment in the Kong Kea Spa is very invigorating after a day of touring and we say it’s even better when you finish with the fantastic four-hand massage.
If you are working with special or VIP clients, contact General Manager Carla Petzold-Beck ([email protected]; 011-855-63-963-390), who will help to customize the Orient-Express experience. She says that from December 20 to January 5 the hotel is always full, so one should book at least a month or two in advance.
The Heritage Suites Hotel is an intimate Relais & Châteaux boutique hotel tucked away beside the Siem Reap River. Our tuc-tuc took 10 minutes to reach here from the downtown market area and we got the warmest of welcomes from Director of Sales and Marketing Jam Nsouli ([email protected]; 011-855-63- 969-100), who was waiting for us in the soaring Lobby Bistro with its handsome zinc bar. The suites are all on ground level and scattered throughout the grounds along paved pathways that wind past the salt-water pool through lush greenery, making us feel a little like the Babes in the Wood.
The six Classic Rooms on the first floor overlook the courtyard and the 17 Bungalow Suites and two Executive Suites are on the ground level, each with its own entrance. The suites are open plan with billowing curtains that create privacy around the marble bathrooms, which have free-standing stone tubs and separate toilets. They all have private gardens or terraces; and the Red Poppy Royal Suite, at an impressive 1,700 square feet, has an outdoor Jacuzzi. Note: Be sure to tell your clients that the rooms and suites do not have TV (you can request it), but they do have complimentary Wi-Fi and espresso machines.
Nsouli explained that management is very much hands-on, hence the lack of concierges, because it is senior management—who come from all over the world—who personally greet guests and take care of them. General Manager
Magnus Olovson ([email protected]; 011-855-63-969-100) hails from Sweden, but was brought up in Paris; Nsouli is from the Philippines and was raised in the Middle East; while Chef Vibol Boun adds the local flavor—quite literally in his famous Amok Tasting menu, Foie Gras Sashimi and Mekong Lobster Trilogy signature dish.
Spa enquiries should go to Cedric (011-855-63-969-100) and we say after a day of temple-trekking to ask for Lam Lay or Seyha and have the Bodia Classic massage. A fun way to enjoy Cambodia’s beautiful scenery is to take one of the quad bikes parked in the courtyard and head for the mountain trails around Siem Reap. P.S.: Do tell your clients not to miss the Tuesday Apsara dancing show and barbecue fondue dinner at the pool or the jazz sessions in the Bistro on Thursday nights.