Since 1932, Siem Reap’s Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor has been a magnet for well-heeled travellers on a sojourn to the nearby ancient temple wonders
By Daniel Besant
“The only routine with me is no routine at all,” Jackie Kennedy – a one-time guest at Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor – once said. Thankfully for guests staying at this landmark property in Cambodia’s temple town, the staff haven’t taken this mantra to heart. Service is impeccable from the moment guests draw up under its wide porch.
In the soft light of late afternoon, as the sun picks out the art deco details of the hotel’s walls – the colour of aged ivory – guests could be forgiven for mistaking the hotel for one of the greats on the Côte d’Azur. Indeed, it is one of five built across Indochina under a French colonial plan to build resort-style hotels in their fiefdom. The symmetrical wings, high portico, window shutters and balconies are all architectural devices employed in the classic ‘palace’ hotels of Europe.
Opened in 1932 to attract the growing number of wealthy tourists making the trek to the sublime ruins of Angkor, and after a hiatus during Cambodia’s troubled times, the hotel reopened in the early 1990s and was completely refurbished in 1997. A conservatory was added to extend the lobby, creating a perfect environment for a ‘medicinal’ cocktail to accompany your view of the expansive pool and well-tended gardens.
Verdure adjoins the building at the front too. Across the way is one of the King’s palaces and in between are the Royal Crusade for Independence Gardens, which contain the shrine of Preah Ang Chek and Preah Ang Chorm, the spirit guardians of the town. Huge trees line the sides, roosts for fruit bats who take wing in great numbers when dusk settles. At night, the lit backdrop of the hotel’s imposing frontage exudes the sense of a building that is meant to be situated exactly where it is, much like the ancient temples just eight kilometres away.
Back inside, guests are ushered into a vintage cage-style lift by a liveried attendant in order to smoothly ascend to their allocated roost. Such period details are abundant throughout the hotel, notably the floral metalwork railings that wind up the stairs.
Returning to one of the spacious suites following a sumptuous meal of Royal Khmer cuisine in the lavish Restaurant Le Grand, guests find their complimentary slippers have been laid out on a pristine white cloth. It is an unexpected service in keeping with a hotel that certainly deserves the “Grand” in its name.
No visit to Siem Reap would be complete without viewing the temples of Angkor. However, those with a bit more time might consider visiting the forested ruins of Koh Ker. Set up by young local guides Dieb and Ty, Koh Ker Treks is a grassroots initiative offering tailored trips to these less visited but no less fascinating temples.
So near, so spa
Fish pedicures and bargain massage establishments abound in Temple Town, but those looking for the best and most extensive offerings should head to the hotel’s award-winning Raffles Amrita Spa. Housed in a large poolside bungalow, exceptional staff are on hand to help you choose from the 16 massages and 27 treatments on offer.
On the up
The temples of Angkor are impressive from any perspective, but to get a true sense of their scale the only way is to get above ground. Helicopters Cambodia offers a wide range of flights, from a 15-minute hover over the must-see Angkor Wat temple to tailor-made multiple-stop trips reaching all corners of the Kingdom.
View from the top
Every visitor to Siem Reap should check out Phare circus. In a newly built big top, a group of energetic and talented young performers give a uniquely Cambodian take on the circus tradition. Through dance, music and spectacular acrobatics they tell ancient and modern stories centred on the Kingdom’s lives and legends.
Tel: +855 (0)63 963 888. Website: raffles.com/siem-reap. Rates: from $315 for a Landmark Room, $830 for a poolside Cabana Suite and $3,000 for one of the hotel’s two enormous Bungalows that sleep four. Suggested accommodation: with their private terraces, twin bathrooms and direct access to the pool, the Cabana Suites are the way to go for couples.
“Tradition is a guide” – George Town’s E&O hotel laid the foundations for luxury hotels in the region and remains a role model today