A convivial oasis in the shadow of fabled temples
WE want you to be happy, announces one of the airport gift shop signs when we arrive at Siem Reap in Cambodia. And we are, especially with our choice of hotel, La Residence d’Angkor, on the river in this gateway town to the fabled temples of Angkor Wat. The 55-room property is on the eastern side of the Siem Reap River and has a cosy character that lives up to its residential name.
There’s abundant use of laterite stone and dark wood in the open-sided lobby, corridors and stairways, and guestroom floors, shutters and partitions. A generously proportioned day bed nudges against the tall windows in each guestroom and the granite bathtub is of hippowallowing proportions. Frogs hop about our wooden balcony and bowls of sweet fruit are replenished daily.
This is not luxury at its most opulent but much care has been taken to ensure guest comfort. The hotel was a Pansea property until the early 1990s and is now managed by Orient-Express Hotels, which knows a thing or 2000 about how to run things.
In tune with a more competitive approach, OrientExpress closed the hotel for refurbishment a few months ago and phase one opens this month with a new teppanyaki restaurant, fitness centre, martini lounge, computer nook and, on a rear-adjoining parcel of land, a spa with six ground-floor treatment rooms. On the first floor of the spa annexe, eight hotel suites have been added to complement existing accommodation.
Our room, this startlingly humid February, is on the
Respite from the bustle: La Residence d’Angkor first floor, looking down to the long saltwater pool through old trees, travellers palms and luscious vines; stay on the ground floor and it’s just a few steps to the shiny peppermint water, which appears deeply cool thanks to thousands of shiny hand-made green tiles.
It feels like an oasis, well removed from night-time touts and the boisterousness of so-called Pub Street with its bars, clubs and Tomb Raider cocktails named in honour of Siem Reap’s celebrity of choice, Angelina Jolie. The air-conditioning is pleasingly polar and we sleep under layers of bedding, our reading glasses steaming up when we emerge for a wake-up coffee on the balcony. As we look down, a pool attendant is placing an orchid atop each folded towel on the lounging beds.
When not hunkered away at La Residence d’Angkor, we either stroll around compact Siem Reap or hop aboard a moto. Specifically, we hop aboard Mr Chan’s Best Moto. The affable Chan lies in wait for us and, each time we emerge from the hotel, he zips across with his sunbeam smile and rattling exhaust, and how can we refuse?
The days assume an agreeable rhythm: up at dawn to take a hotel vehicle out to marvel at the wonders of Angkor Wat, a swim mid-morning, a lie-down and then off in the cool of late-afternoon for shopping, sightseeing, dinner and foot massages at one of the streetfront salons near the central market (our pick: the fascinatingly named Dr Feet).
We are assisted in our slow passage around Siem Reap by the Luxe Guide, which also covers Laos; it’s a small concertina affair with a gold and magenta cover and it gives snapshots of where to go and what to avoid. But we make our own fabulous discoveries, too (the Luxe Guides lot just love that word fabulous).
We buy pleated silk purses and clutch bags at Jasmine Boutique next to the Foreign Correspondents Club on Pokambor Avenue; the Jasmine label is the work of Australian designers Kellianne Karatau and Cassandra McMillan and the clothing and accessories are fashioned from hand-woven Cambodian silk. The boutique looks expensive but its scarves and bags, in particular, are well priced.
Artisans d’Angkor is a must-visit complex; its craftspeople paint, carve wood and sandstone, lacquer and gild decorative pieces and weave silk, and visitors can wander around a series of workshops. The project started in 1992 to create work for young rural Cambodians and their wares are sold in a gorgeous gemcoloured shop, with silk ties for $US24 ($25), cushion covers $US12 and silk purses $US12; there’s a big branch at the airport, too.
In the courtyard adjoining Meric at the art decoinspired Hotel de la Paix, we sit on cushioned swings and drink Sicilian wine and chamomile and honey martinis. Back at the hotel we breaststroke through fallen frangipani petals and soggy coral bougainvillea on the surface of the ink-dark pool and sleep soundly in a room glowing with the same sunset colours as the silk shops of Siem Reap.
La Residence d’Angkor, River Road, Siem Reap, Cambodia. Phone (+855) 63 963 390. Bookings via Orient-Express, (02) 8248 5200; www.orientexpress.com or www.residencedangkor.com. Tariff: Hotel Club has doubles from $US208 ($223), including American breakfast; www.hotelclub.net. Check with Orient-Express for packages and seasonal deals. Getting there: About 20 minutes from Siem Reap airport (one hour from Bangkok by air). Checking in: Lots of Europeans; very casual vibe. Wheelchair access: Possible in ground-floor rooms. Bedtime reading: Luxe Guide to Cambodia and Laos; www.luxecityguides.com. Stepping out: To Angkor Wat, naturally, but it is very crowded; the concierge may suggest going in the middle of the day, when tourist groups disappear for lunch. Even if it’s blazing hot, this is a good option. Brickbats: Service can be slow and hesitant. Housekeeping seems random; our room is not serviced until late afternoon each day. Bouquets: Wi-fi in guestrooms has been upgraded during the refurb to the fastest broadband available in Cambodia. A homely hotel that feels planets removed from the Las Vegas-style edifices along Airport Road with their fountains and fakery. La Residence d’Angkor supports a local orphanage; look for the donation box at reception.