There is something about Cambodia that makes it a popular choice of travel for people who look for a combination of experiences – some mystery, some getting lost in the forest trails leading to spectacular ruins and somewhere to unwind and relax. These were a few of the deciding factors for the missus and I to end up choosing this South Asian nation as our honeymoon getaway.
Located at the heart of ancient history and a modern city life, the beautiful Belmond La Résidence D’Angkor fits the bill perfectly. The hotel recently reopened, completely refurbished in the quaint town of Siem Reap.
The hotel is situated 30 minutes from the Siem Reap International airport, which has ample connections from Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur. Another option to reach Siem Reap is on road using the Mekong Express from the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh – this will take six hours, with a halfway stop for refreshments. Alternatively, you can also get there by boat from the capital city, which also takes six hours.
A hotel representative picked us from the airport and drove us to the property in style. Seated in the plush Audi Q7 and dabbing our faces with jasmine-scented cold towels soon made us forget the distress of the dreary immigration queue we had to endure after our long flight.
Belmond La Résidence D’Angkor enjoys a stellar location, situated opposite the Siem Reap River and a short walk away from the old town. There is a fine dialogue between nature and the five senses here, evident from the minute you step into the property.
The entrance walkway takes you past lush gardens on both sides with pockets of shaded paths, lotus ponds, and several statues. Here you will also get a visual treat of the famed ancient temple of Siem Reap – Angkor Wat. There are plenty of water features speckled across the property including a giant aquarium which leads to the spa.
Stepping into the hotel, you will notice how the exterior merges with the interiors through a balance of nature and style. Traditional Khmer architecture with the heavy use of wood ranging from split bamboo, varnished teak to detailed ironmongery and fine silk and natural cotton fabrics welcomes you. We spent a few minutes drinking in the design finery before proceeding to check-in.
The accommodations at the 2-storey hotel include a deluxe poolside suite with a large alfresco terrace offering views across the tropical gardens and saltwater swimming pool; 20 poolside junior suites, 12 garden junior suites, 8 deluxe studio suites and 18 junior suites.
We were checked into a junior suite on the second floor. It was love at first sight. Well-appointed with hardwood floors and the same earthy tones of the lobby, the room is airy and has a balcony which overlooks the palm tree-lined pool and courtyard. This was our favorite spot during the day, enjoying the view with relaxing cups of coffee. Inside, there is a sitting area with a comfortable sofa set and a wooden writing desk that came with hinged tops and a lamp looking over the desktop – every writer’s dream desk!
The bathroom felt like a rainforest too – with a walk-in wet area, a massive oval soapstone soaking tub (big enough to fit two) and rain shower. The cherry on top is the local brand of toiletries, Puriya.
Dine & Wine
Food is a culinary journey at the Belmond La Résidence D’Angkor. Breakfast is served at the Spice Circle starting as early as 5 am for those wanting to catch the first rays of the sun over Angkor Wat. The restaurant offers an ‘interactive hawker-style’ dining opportunity, with dishes whipped up by Executive Chef Saul Garcia Ramos. French windows blend perfectly with the Cambodian interiors, with its teak furniture and tall pillars at Spice Circle.
The restaurant offers traditional local cuisine. Also, you get to enjoy a dinner and the traditional ‘Apsara’ dance performance with local Khmer harp and flute musicians. The restaurant also offers classes where you can cook with the chef. Other delicacies to try are Mekong lobster and grilled river fish.
Ember offers an international menu – well, almost – offering Asian dishes infused with a Latin twist in an open-kitchen style restaurant. For sweet lovers, as yours only, the Nutella pizza should be sufficient to satisfy your sweet tooth cravings.
If you are one to enjoy a drink or two, the Martini Lounge does not fail to impress. The venue is great to sip on cocktail and nibble on tapas while enjoying views of the gardens or the Siem Reap River.
Basking in the Sun
My absolute favourite part of the hotel was its saltwater pool. Surrounded by bright orange loungers like the rays of the sun and an arch of palm trees for natural shading, the pool is ever-inviting to take a plunge. You can spend hours here, in the midst of sun, shade, burgers and cocktails. Don’t forget to order a tender coconut, sweet as nectar and absolutely refreshing!
Once you have allowed the sun to take care of your tanning and Vitamin D business, you should try out the spa at Belmond. Black lava stone–tiled floors and driftwood art pieces will welcome you into this pampering haven. A comprehensive menu of treatments will be available, of which the Ancient Khmer Massage is a highlight. Unfortunately for us, we didn’t indulge in this comfort this time.
Around Siem Reap, walking is a good way to explore the city, if not a taxi then you can take tuk-tuks – a motorbike that can take upto four people at a time. The hotel is just a 7kms ride away from the world renowned UNESCO site Angor Wat. Cambodia’s Khmer Civilisation (9th-15th century AD) flourished on the plain of present-day Siem Reap province north of the Great Lake of Tonle Sap. While out and about, try to include a boat ride to the stilt village of Kampong Phluk and the day and night markets to pick up a bargain. The Pub Street is a must visit – it is a stretch of the street lined with restaurants for anything and everything edible – from scorpions on a stick to the Angelina Jolie cocktail to crocodile meat pizza.
The Belmond La Résidence D’Angkor is one of the finest hotels in Siam Reap. Whether within the hotel premises or outside in the city and the ancient relic sites, there is plenty to see, experience and enjoy in this oriental mysticland. That, paired with the sanctity of the Belmond La Résidence D’Angkor, will give you a permanent and memorable stamp in your travel diaries. You will surely have a bit of Cambodia hovering in your aura when you leave Siem Reap. A tangible way to achieve this is by making sure to pick up a pouch of Cambodian pepper from the reception before you leave for the airport!
Where: Belmond La Résidence d’Angkor
River Road, Siem Reap, Kingdom of Cambodia
Tel: +855 (0) 63 963 390
Note– The critic was invited by the Belmond La Résidence d’Angkor. But all the opinions expressed herewith are his own.