The Kingdom of Cambodia has two iconic Raffles properties: Raffles Grand Hotel D’Angkor in Siem Reap, the city of the 12th-century Angkor Wat temples, and Raffles Le Royal in the capital Phnom Penh.
Most visitors come to Cambodia for Siem Reap, known as Temple Town and home to the world’s largest religious monument, the glorious Angkor Wat. Yes, this UNESCO wonder is every bit as mind-blowing as it looks in photos. And yes, it does take time to get around, as the entire archaeological area covers 154 square miles (Manhattan is just 23 square miles).
Siem Reap’s other glory is Raffles Grand Hotel D’Angkor. In the old French quarter and just 15 minutes from the airport and Angkor Wat, this is the glamorous grand hotel we all dream about and, having just undergone an extensive six-month renovation, positively dazzles inside and out.
Resident historian manager Saravann Mouth ([email protected]; 011-85-563-963-888 Ext. 1227) tells us visitors once clambered onto ox carts and elephants to visit the temples from the terrace, which is now the Conservatory Lounge overlooking the pool and the gardens. Sophisticated and colorful touches have given it a sparkling new look, but it has lost none of its heritage features like the original timber elevator that still glides up and down between floors.
Raffles Grand Hotel D’Angkor has two private villas, one of which is shown here. Spread over 3,423 square feet of space, the villas are styled after the French colonial period with Cambodian art and furnishings.
The 45 rooms and suites in the original Heritage Wing, the 72 in the adjoining State Wing and the two private Royal Villas are styled after the French colonial period with Cambodian art and furnishings and Art Deco influences, like the black and white chequered floors in the corridors. They have hardwood floors, ceiling fans and working vintage rotary dial phones. Welcome new additions include USB points, pillow-top mattresses and the smart Italian tiles and rain showers in the bathrooms.
Some of the 53 entry-level State Rooms (365 square feet) have balconies overlooking the extensive gardens or the pool. Our Personality Suite, the Henri Mahout in the Heritage building, had a large pool-view balcony and, like all the suites, a claw-foot bathtub and rain shower in the bathroom.
The two Landmark Suites, measuring 775 square feet, have separate living rooms and private terraces. Good to know: No. 1323 in the State Wing connects with twin State Room 1327, has garden views and is ideal for families. No. 3102 in the Heritage Wing is adjacent to Landmark Rooms and has a partial pool view.
Choose one of the six Raffles Suite Kings for their space — a bedroom, living room and two bathrooms — and the balconies with pool access. These are the hotel’s most romantic rooms (think: breakfasts and intimate, al fresco dining on the balcony). The two poolside Royal Villas have even more space, measuring 3,420 square feet. They are magnificent, have welcomed royalty and celebs and have large private terraces, one or two bedrooms, and spacious living areas with Persian carpets, antiques and Angkorian art.
For unique room services and special requests and to book the nearby 18-hole Angkor Golf Resort, get in touch with guest relations manager Savy Chhorn ([email protected]; 011-85-563-963-888). General manager Vincent Gernigon ([email protected]) advises booking a month in advance for the best choice of rooms and says younger guests will soon have their own Sugar Palm Kids Club. There are two tennis courts, a gym, sauna and steam room, and the Amarita Spa, whose director, Reaksley Mak ([email protected]), tells us they use Dermalogica and Thann Thailand natural skincare products.
In the new fine-dining restaurant, 1932, Australian executive chef Angela Brown ([email protected]; 011-85-563-963-888 Ext. 1138) leaves her own brand of magic on the Royal Cambodian menu. “This is not fusion cooking; it’s a contemporary take on traditional dishes, respecting the delicate Khmer flavors,” says Brown. Her take on a spring roll was not a roll at all. It was a layered stack of wafer-thin rice discs with oodles of flavorsome and textured fillings. Her luscious Braised Wagyu Beef Cheek brought us back again a second time, and we ended the ambrosian meal with a nightcap in the evocative Elephant Bar.
Shown here is a 388-square-foot Landmark Room at Raffles Grand Hotel D’Angkor. These rooms have high ceilings, wooden floor and hand-crafted four-poster beds.
Angkor Wat, the most famous of the hundreds of ancient temples in the Archaeological Park opens at dawn, so visitors get great photo ops as the sun rises behind the iconic spires. Most break off for a leisurely lunch in the Raffles’ Café d’Angkor — famous for its signature champagne breakfasts — or a plunge in the pool, the largest in the Kingdom and a replica of an ancient Khmer royal pool, before heading back to finish touring the temples.
We learned from Samnang Chhon ([email protected]; 011-85-577-524-777), owner of Asia Natural Tours, that many of the more remote temples are just as fascinating. So, we set off for Koh Ker and Beng Mealea one day and Banteay Chhmar another; all are a few hours’ drive from Raffles. We felt like Indiana Jones as we wandered around the massive jungle-draped ruins, delighted to find ourselves practically alone, as there were very few other visitors there. Insider Secret: Samnang’s advice to add an extra few days to a Siem Reap stay is not to be taken lightly because there is so much more than just temples to see there.
This is a vibrant art city, and Dublin art historian Robina Hanley opens the doors to some of its finest creative minds. Her privately guided art, artisan and shopping tours (www.siemreaparttours.com; 011-85-592-219-647) introduce guests to different art forms and to famous painters, designers and couturiers. Top Tip: Robina’s One Eleven Gallery close to the old market (great for picking up local spices and souvenirs) is a popular place to drop in and chat with artists, locals and globetrotters.
Kandal Village was another find, packed with cafés, galleries, spas and fashion stores. The Little Red Fox serves great espresso, and owner Adam Rodwell, who supports the local arts, gave us tips about what not to miss in town. Paradise is a home décor treasure trove with a range of Asian accessories that make great gifts to take back home and the Maybe Later Mexican Bar & Grill serves a mean Margarita. Tip: Book a reservation in a Phare show in the Cambodian Circus’s big top. The brilliant young actors, musicians and acrobats use athletics, dance and traditional circus arts to tell Cambodian stories and are a must-see for families.
Deciding where to eat in Siem Reap is quite a challenge because of the profusion of popular eateries and fine-dining options. Our favorites were Cuisine Wat Damnak, where chef Joannès Rivière’s “Cambodian food with a French sensitivity” made it into Asia’s 50 best restaurants; Restaurant Embassy is elegant and run by two lady chefs whose inventive Khmer seven-course gastronomy menus change monthly; and, if you want to go Italian, chef Sopheak’s pizzas and pasta in Il Vicolo (011-85-595-875-185) just off Pub Street are as good as Italy’s best.
Want to try Cambodian street food? You can’t do better than chef Mengly Mork’s Pou Restaurant. We loved the creative twists this young chef brings to Cambodian jungle cooking and street food, although we did draw the line at his Sausage with Red Ants, but our friend said they were really delicious.
Raffles Le Royal’s 2,454-square-foot Royal Suite has two bedrooms, a dining room, a living room and a fully equipped pantry.
Raffles Le Royal, Phnom Penh
Phnom Penh, home to Raffles Le Royal, once known as the Paris of the East for its French-colonial architecture, is a vibrant capital with new five-star hotels and fashionable restaurants. It still has plenty of traditional local color, though, for visitors to enjoy — from shopping in the lively Central Market to relaxing at a Sisowath Quay café to watching boats on the Mekong River and touring the glittering Royal Palace where the king resides.
Guest relations manager Pangaroth Puth ([email protected]; 011-85-523-981-888) showed us to our suite, the Charles de Gaulle, No. 318, one of the five Personality Suites. With a portrait of the French general inside the door and a four-poster bed, it looked out on a swathe of greenery with palms and the city’s tallest building.
Raffles Le Royal has 175 rooms and suites in the Heritage Wing and the 1966 State Wing, one of which is shown here.
We loved the welcome gift on the desk: A mini gasoline tank of designer gin with tonic water, a hilariously knobbly fresh lime and a stem of fragrant lemongrass in place of the outlawed plastic straw. Nice Touch: The tie rack, shoehorn and clothes brush in the closet.
There are 175 rooms and suites in the Heritage Wing and the 1966 State Wing. The Landmark Rooms and the Landmark Suites (1,500 square feet) in the original wing have high ceilings, sleigh beds and claw-footed tubs in the marble bathrooms; some have balconies with garden or pool views.
The Somerset Maugham Personality Suite, No. 218, has French doors opening onto a balcony with a small rattan table and chairs. Nos. 310, the popular Jacqueline Kennedy, and 210, the Andre Malraux, don’t have balconies. The rooms in the State Wing are styled on the older rooms, with some overlooking the shaded courtyard, two swimming pools and a 90-year-old rain tree.
Families will love the 1,500-square-foot Landmark Suite with king and twin bedrooms and two bathrooms. The 2,454-square-foot Le Royal Suite is bedecked with antiques, has two bedrooms and a dining room, and comes with butler service.
Raffles Le Royal’s Elephant Bar has one of Asia’s largest selection of gin with over 110 different labels. It is also famous for the Femme Fatale cocktail, first concocted for Jacqueline Kennedy during her visit to Cambodia in 1967.
The breakfasts and all-day dining in Le Phnom 1929 are buffet- and brasserie-style with Cambodian specialties, and the Restaurant Le Royal’s menu was gifted to Raffles by royal decree. It features refined Cambodian cuisine, and our picks on the Jacqueline Kennedy Heritage Menu were the Duck Liver Rissole and the Mushroom Stuffed Beef Tenderloin. Top Tip: Tables should be reserved at [email protected]
Spa director Pannisa Kosasaeng ([email protected]) suggests booking treatments in advance or on arrival and recommends the Le Royal Signature Khmer Massage. The nostalgic Elephant Bar (with over 1,000 elephant depictions) is the city’s most exclusive rendezvous spot and is famous for the Femme Fatale cocktail created for Jackie’s 1967 visit. We found it hard to resist the pan-tossed appetizers — coconut-smoked salmon, duck breast, lobster, Parma ham and oysters — from the chef’s station, and we learned the bar has a live DJ on Friday nights.
Head concierge Sam Nheanika Pann ([email protected]; 011-85-523-981-888) and his deputy, Raksmay, arrange transfers and tailor city experiences, mixing what they call sadness and happiness tours. Raksmay tells us the sadness tours to the Killing Fields extermination camp and the Genocide Museum take guests through the tragic years of the brutal Khmer Rouge repression and the fall of Phnom Penh, and the happiness tours include the Royal Palace, with its silver-floored pagoda where royal ceremonies are performed, and traditional villages on a Mekong island where silk is still woven by hand.
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