A white oa­sis is a sooth­ing an­chor in the heart of Kh­mer colour

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - Escape - - DESTINATION | CAMBODIA - DILVIN YASA

There’s no easy way of say­ing this, but a stay at Anan­tara Angkor Re­sort can turn a good per­son into a bad one quite quickly. Is it the re­sort’s prox­im­ity to UNESCO World Her­itage tem­ples filled with spinet­in­gling tales of Kh­mer le­gends? Could it have some­thing to do with the moun­tains of colour­ful herbs and spices mea­sured out, a hop, skip and a jump away, in buzzing mar­ket­places?

Sadly, the an­swer is sur­pris­ing and mun­dane: it’s the qual­ity ser­vice that makes you feel as if you’re the kind of celebrity who blots sweat with $100 bills and uses as­sis­tants for stools.

Din­ing chairs are pulled and pushed with light­ning speed, drinks fetched be­fore a fin­ger is fully ex­tended and doors pushed open as staff run quickly ahead of you, Road­run­ner-style, in a blind panic that your hand may brush against an inan­i­mate ob­ject. At the mer­est sug­ges­tion of rain, staff equipped with over­sized um­brel­las spring up out of nowhere, the lux­ury re­sort ver­sion of a SWAT team ready to take a rain­drop or two for you in the line of duty as you flounce around the pool like J.Lo.

The down­side? When you fi­nally get to your own front door, you gen­uinely feel hard-done by at the idea of hav­ing to open it your­self.

“We work very hard to main­tain the level of ser­vice here,” ad­mits the re­sort’s af­fa­ble as­sis­tant man­ager, Valen­tine Kameza. “I’ll let the team know it’s a job well done.” And that’s an­other way of putting it.


Lo­cated in the heart of Siem Reap, a north­west­ern city long con­sid­ered the sleepier yet pret­tier sis­ter to Ph­nom Penh, the big­gest sell­ing point of this re­cently ren­o­vated re­sort must surely be that it pro­vides the ul­ti­mate ac­cess point to dis­cover the an­cient majesty of the Kh­mer Em­pire.

Not only is it a 10-minute drive away from the UNESCO World Her­itage site of Angkor Wat and var­i­ous other an­cient tem­ples dot­ted lib­er­ally nearby – help­ful for those 4am starts to watch the sun rise – but it’s a sim­i­lar dis­tance to the town cen­tre where a riot of colour and chaos can play havoc with your senses if you don’t have a sooth­ing touch­stone an­chor­ing you.

Pulling up to the 39-suite bou­tique re­sort, which is one of the smaller prop­er­ties of the Anan­tara port­fo­lio, it’s a re­lief to see a white oa­sis of (air­con­di­tioned) calm promis­ing to do just that. Out­side the gates, it’s a jumble of mar­ket­places sell­ing ev­ery­thing from silk scarfs to pigs’ heads, weav­ing tuk tuks and stores promis­ing “gen­uine Nikes”with change from $20, but inside, the mood is de­cid­edly “day spa”. An open-plan lobby (and an ice-cold drink) greets guests with a min­i­mal­ist de­sign of muted olive tones en­hanced by rich, dark wood, while the nearby salt­wa­ter pool is the ul­ti­mate show­piece for suites over­look­ing it – com­plete with sway­ing palm trees, white um­brel­las and a but­ler who watches you like a hawk 24/7 should you even think you might like an­other bev­er­age, snack or towel.

There are a few eat­ing ex­pe­ri­ences to be had on the prop­erty but you can do no wrong with hav­ing each of your meals at the ef­fort­lessly chic Chi Restau­rant and Bar. Un­der a wealth of

brass chan­de­liers de­pict­ing “chats” – or um­brel­las, which in Kh­mer Buddhism are be­lieved to of­fer di­vine pro­tec­tion to roy­alty – guests can en­joy a range of Kh­mer cui­sine laden with fra­grant herbs picked from the re­sort’s own gar­den. Here we dis­cover that while lemon­grass and chill­i­in­fused farm chicken is king, Kh­mer yel­low curry is a game-changer, and red ant salad is sur­pris­ingly spicy, and oh-so-de­li­cious.

Across the way, L Lounge serves up Asian com­fort food in a ca­sual set­ting, while those who’d rather “Dine by De­sign” can choose from pri­vate din­ing ex­pe­ri­ences such as en­joy­ing a can­dlelit din­ner on the rooftop gar­den or a feast at a nearby wooden vil­lage.

The on-site Anan­tara Spa of­fers tra­di­tional Kh­mer mas­sages. Such was the re­lax­ation af­ter­wards that I al­most won­dered if some­one was fol­low­ing me with a ghetto blaster play­ing dol­phin sounds. On sec­ond thoughts, they prob­a­bly were.


I’m hap­pily en­sconced in a Ter­race Suite, an airy space filled with handcrafted teak fur­ni­ture, rich lo­cal tex­tiles and hand-carved sand­stone which all work to­gether to cre­ate an au­then­tic feel­ing of re­gional charm.

Floor-to-ceil­ing slid­ing doors lead out onto a pri­vate out­door seat­ing area over­look­ing the pool, and the room’s daybed, writ­ing desk, com­pli­men­tary Wi-Fi and cof­fee ma­chine see heavy use.

But I strug­gle with poor light­ing in the bath­room which of­ten sees me head to din­ner look­ing like Pen­ny­wise the clown.

Were I Jen­nifer Lopez, I could have stayed in the Henri Mouhot suite, a two-bed­room, 235sq m set-up rem­i­nis­cent of a Kh­mer sum­mer home – all pri­vate pool, jacuzzi and seated din­ing for six. Or I might have stayed in the Anan­tara Ex­plorer Suite – slightly smaller at 178sq m but no less im­pres­sive.


There are some who are bad at hag­gling, and then there are those who are so bad at hag­gling that they’ll pay $40 for an um­brella in Bali (*coughs*). If you are of the lat­ter, you’ll be pleased to know Anan­tara Angkor Re­sort of­fers guests more than 45 build-your-own ad­ven­ture itin­er­ar­ies – each one with an ex­pe­ri­enced but­ler ready to take you by the hand (and pre­vent you from pay­ing $40 for an um­brella).

An early-morn­ing tour of a nearby tra­di­tional mar­ket kicks things off for our Spice Spoons Anan­tara Cook­ing School where we bat­tle the st­ing of fer­mented scents and the hor­ror of bloody sights to pick up in­gre­di­ents for our class.

Al­though cat­fish ac­tively try to leap into my hand­bag and a child of eight im­plores the gen­tle­man in our team to “be a man” and pur­chase some of his fried taran­tu­las, we stick to herbs, spices and fresh veg­eta­bles – items which make our cur­ries come alive as we later cook a range of tra­di­tional Kh­mer dishes with chef Kien Wag­ner.

A quad-bike tour (com­plete with a cham­pagne and canape break) around the coun­try­side is eas­ily the high­light of the in-house Dis­cov­ery Guide which runs the gamut from the cul­tural to the thrillseek­ing, to … golf. On a 21km cir­cuit of rice paddies, pagodas and tra­di­tional vil­lages, it’s both a de­light and sheer heart­break to take in the red, dusty land­scape dot­ted with bone-thin cows and dogs, and wide-grinned chil­dren who come run­ning out of their shacks for a wave.

Trips down­town to Pub Street, the night-life hub of the city, don’t of­fer much op­por­tu­nity for re­flec­tion, but what does is an early-morn­ing wakeup call to watch the sun rise at what is com­monly billed as the Eighth Won­der of the World – Angkor Wat.

Built in the 12th cen­tury, the world’s largest re­li­gious mon­u­ment is a firm bucket list des­ti­na­tion with trav­ellers the world over and our guide, Tong Hann (my vote for ninth won­der of the world), knows it. Keep­ing us clear from the crowds flock­ing into the tem­ple grounds from ev­ery di­rec­tion, he finds us a quiet, rel­a­tively un­known spot just out­side the moat where the wa­ter is so still it doesn’t dis­tort the re­flec­tion of the tem­ple as the sun rises.

“Now tell me if it gets bet­ter than this?” he asks as we watch the sky grow pink and then lighten, the sun beam­ing down on a glo­ri­ous vi­sion.

No, it re­ally doesn’t, I think. Whether you’re an A-grade celebrity or all the way down the list to­wards the XYZ, it’s wor­thy of its place on ev­ery­one’s bucket list.




Anan­tara Angkor Re­sort is a 10-minute drive away from World Her­itage site Angkor Wat; the re­sort pool is the ul­ti­mate show­piece; bike tours take in nearby coun­try­side while fur­nish­ings in the Ter­race Suite re­flect re­gional charm; out­side re­sort sur­round­ings are de­signed to de­light the senses.

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