Considering the abundance of gorgeous shops and superb restaurants, cafes and bars that Siem Reap boasts, it’s not surprising that this laidback Cambodian city also has some beautiful luxury boutique hotels.
There are a colossal number of hotels in Siem Reap, from budget places to five stars, and an array of interesting options, making it easy to avoid the cookie-cutter accommodation targeted at tour groups. As we were working on a story on the city’s chic side for an Asian travel magazine, we were lucky to test out some of Siem Reap’s most fashionable and most luxurious sleeps.
Siem Reap’s Most Luxurious Hotels
From the moment the Amansara staff collected us from the airport in a very cool 1965 Mercedes stretch limo and handed us bottles of water and cold scented face towels, we knew we were in for an indulgent experience. If you’ve stayed at an Aman resort before, then you’ll know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, then make it a priority to do so. (We’ve also stayed at Amantaka, Luang Prabang; that post is coming soon).
The Amansara is an exquisitely beautiful property. Set in a walled garden compound, it’s elegant yet understated. The former guesthouse of King Norodom Sihanouk, it was built in the early 1960s in a sleek, low-rise, modernist style that’s all lines and curves. The natural materials of the exterior architecture (whole stones, dark wood) match the neutral shades of the interiors (white, ivory, beige). It’s intimate and compact – there are just 24 suites at Siem Reap (the same at Luang Prabang) – yet the rooms are super-spacious, with courtyards and plunge pools, big bathtubs, and huge beds.
Guests are allocated their own private remork (the Cambodian tuk-tuk) with driver and guide and an itinerary scheduled with early morning and late afternoon excursions to explore the Angkor temples. It was on these outings that we got to experience a handful of the famed archaeological sites with a knowledgeable guide. If you have other interests – whether it’s textiles or cooking, hot-air ballooning or biking – staff can arrange activities. There’s a spa with a long list of treatments to speed up the body’s recovery after days hiking the ruins, a library filled with reading material so you can brush up on your Cambodian history, and occasional lectures and dance performances.
The food is also fantastic. Based on the freshest of seasonal produce, the Khmer cuisine was some of the finest we had in Siem Reap. The only reason we didn’t include it in our guide to Eating Out in Siem Reap is because the restaurant is not open to the public. Guests can also dine whenever they like, there’s no need for reservations, and we were invited to drop into the cheese room and wine cellar or help ourselves to a cocktail.
But it’s the outstanding service that really distinguishes the Amansara. Staff greets guests warmly when they see them around the property, however, they’re discreet and unobtrusive. Every time we returned to our room, cold beers in the complimentary mini-bar would have been replaced, the bed would magically be made, and towels would be refreshed, without us having ever had a knock at the door or having even seen a housekeeping trolley.
And staff knew when to bring just what we needed: a refreshing drink and light snack of fresh spring rolls greeted us upon arrival, a bath had been ran to wash away the dust and sweat after an afternoon scrambling around the ruins; and in the evening, there was champagne on ice and snacks. And if we were wowed by the welcome, we were touched by the farewell. All the staff came to say goodbye and wave us off and were still waving until our car was out of sight. It’s an Aman tradition. And it’s a charming one at that.
The Park Hyatt Siem Reap
Designed by the renowned Thai-based architecture and landscape designer Bill Bensley in 2002, on the site of the original 1957 Hotel de la Paix, the property is inspired by the Art Deco era as much as the ancient Angkor architecture. Yet while the main building features the monumental blocks synonymous with Art Deco (while tipping a hat to Khmer temple design), the corridors are wide, and the interior spaces are lofty (the soaring atrium is 20-metres high), once again, due to the friendliness of the staff, the 107-room property somehow seems intimate.
With the Hyatt brand taking over operations the hotel, it was renamed The Park Hyatt Siem Reap from Hotel de la Paix but still with the original owners. Bill Bensley returned to remodel the hotel and it received an ‘interesting’ reception, with most who knew the hotel well preferring the original.
The rooms at the The Park Hyatt Siem Reap after the renovation are more colourful and more lavish, with Bensley stating that he “…wanted to achieve a mood of an opulent Cambodian home…”. The rooms are very comfortable and the suites expansive. The beautiful courtyard and Bensley’s signature outdoor swinging chairs and tables remain.
While the hotel revamp itself keeps the spirit of the old and much-loved hotel, the new food and beverage outlets are a disappointment. The fantastic restaurant Meric — where chef Joannès Rivière refined his take on Khmer cuisine — has been replaced with ‘The Dining Room’ where you can still taste some Cambodian fare, but it’s just not as refined as Rivière’s award-winning cuisine.
While the Amansara is a ten-minute stroll into the centre and many of the brand hotels a long way from the city centre, The Park Hyatt Siem Reap is slap bang in the middle of Siem Reap, with the market, restaurants, bars and cafés within a couple of minutes’ walk making it the best choice for those who want to play it safe with a big brand-name hotels.
Book the Park Hyatt Siem Reap online with our booking partner Booking.com.
BELMOND LA RESIDENCE D’ANGKOR
Located opposite the leafy riverbank and set amongst lush palm-filled gardens dotted with serene ponds, the relaxing La Residence d’Angkor, an Orient-Express property, couldn’t be more different to Hotel de la Paix and Amansara, yet it’s still a very special hotel.
The accommodation surrounds an enormous, alluring, deep green swimming pool, giving the hotel more of a tropical resort-feel than the other two properties. Plenty of sun-beds shaded by umbrellas, pool staff on hand to top up cold drinks, and a basket full of sunblocks and lotions you can help yourself to, make this a great choice for guests intent on working on their tan as much as exploring temples.
The rustic Khmer-inspired architecture, with buildings constructed from local hardwoods and bamboo, and decorated with traditional silk textiles, also work to create a more Cambodian atmosphere and experience. As do the traditional Khmer dinner shows with mesmerizing apsara dance performances and folk dancing held several nights a week in the hotel restaurant, The Dining Room (see this post).
While the pared-back resort-style rooms – with polished wooden floors, deck chairs on the veranda, mosquito net-covered beds, and colourful silk scatter cushions on day beds – are perfectly comfortable, they don’t offer the same level of luxury and attention to detail as those at the Amansara and Hotel de la Paix. This is the hotel to choose if you want a slightly more casual environment.
The Dining Room serves both Khmer cuisine and an international menu that was very French focused when we ate there, as well as an outdoor BBQ restaurant by the pool that I wish we’d had time to try, a casual pool bar-café, and the lovely, breezy Martini Lounge (our review here), which was a wonderful spot for a post-dinner drink. They do Asian-inspired killer cocktails.
The hotel can also arrange tours to the temples and surrounding sights, such as Tonle Sap Lake. There’s also a spa that offers yoga and meditation among its treatments, including complimentary meditation sessions with monks, which could be a nice relaxing (and more spiritual) alternative to a massage. Next time…
Book Belmond La Residence d’Angkor online with our booking partner Booking.com.
Note: as we only write about accommodation we’ve stayed at and recommend, this guide is obviously not comprehensive. We also have strict criteria for accommodation we choose to review on Grantourismo: properties must align with our slow and sustainable travel philosophies, they must ‘give back’ to their community in some way, offer experiential and/or local travel experiences, and have those same ‘home away from home’ qualities we value — space, flexibility, privacy, intimacy, comfort, an idiosyncratic style, attention to detail, thoughtful touches, and welcoming and friendly staff.