A con­vivial oa­sis in the shadow of fa­bled tem­ples

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel - ROOM AT THE INN Susan Kuro­sawa

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.

Check­list

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.

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