Raffles Hotel Le Royal in Phnom Penh // © 2011 Raffles Hotels and Resorts
It’s not very often you hear the words “luxury” and “Cambodia” in the same sentence. After all, Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in the world — where backpackers thrive on $2 beers, $5 massages and traverse the streets on tuk-tuks for less than a buck. But the affluent traveler shouldn’t be dissuaded from visiting and, once there, your upscale clients will find magic in the form of high-end hotels and restaurants, private guides with privileged access to ancient sites and an itinerary that even Angelina Jolie (a frequent visitor) could approve.
Siem Reap and Angkor Wat
When I arrived at the airport in Siem Reap on a recent visit, I was led to my vintage, 1962 BMW, compliments of Amansara, a 24-room modern luxury hotel. Amanresorts is touted as the most exclusive hotel chain in Asia, so at the chain’s Amansara property clients should not expect to run into the budget-minded — a rock star sighting, on the other hand, is entirely possible.
Amansara lures the fashionable set with 24 sleek, 200-square-foot contemporary suites equipped with complimentary minibars, organic bath amenities and large soaking tubs with views out of floor-to-ceiling glass windows. Encourage clients to splurge for one of the 12 suites that come equipped with its own private, 20-foot saltwater pool (these units are a spacious 900 square feet). The hotel was formerly the stomping ground of local royalty, and the resort can even arrange private helicopter tours, should guests have the urge.
Siem Reap is known for its 1,000-year-old temples, including Angkor Wat. Just a few years ago, the site was an off-the-beaten-path thrill, considering the lack of tourists and novelty of the attraction. Now, Angkor Wat can be overrun by hundreds of tourists at a time, so visitors might be hard-pressed to find peace here (ironic considering it’s a former Buddhist temple). Luckily, for guests of Amansara, excursions are included in the rate. The hotel set me up with its private guide, who, at the crack of dawn, took me to the east gate for a private tour. There was not a tourist in sight, and when the sun rose, I headed to the main gate, which began to swarm with visitors.
Amansara has a range of exclusive transportation options too, from tuk-tuks to air-conditioned jeeps, all of which guests can choose for excursions to other popular attractions such as Angkor Thom and Beng Mealea. Unlike other resorts or tour operators, guests can be on their own without having to share a vehicle.
Siem Reap is as chaotic as one might imagine: busy, cramped streets, clamoring bars and alleys crammed with restaurants. While notorious Pub Street offers a bevy of restaurants with spicy Khmer cuisine, visitors should head to Il Forno, a terrific Italian restaurant tucked away on a side street. If clients want romance, tell them to head to Abacus Garden Restaurant, which serves modern European and Asian cuisine, not to mention an extensive wine list. While the restaurant sits up to 50 patrons indoors, advise clients to have their meal on the popular al fresco terrace instead.
History is the main attraction in Siem Reap, and Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor fits right in. The building has been around since 1929, so history echoes throughout the property in an old-world fashion, noted in the furnishings and decor that reflect a bygone era. The 109-room hotel has a timeless appeal, and all rooms feature views of the gardens and the largest pool in Siem Reap — including a brand-new wing of renovated suites that have a more modern sensibility.
Raffles is also the preferred hotel chain in Phnom Penh, only a 40-minute flight from Siem Reap. Phnom Penh has 2 million residents in the cramped city, so Raffles Hotel Le Royal provides the perfect sanctuary, in part thanks to its courtyard swimming pool surrounded by banyan trees. The hotel also features the Elephant Bar, an elegant and rustic bar frequented by ex-pats and other international visitors. The fine-dining French restaurant, Le Royal, offers a degustation menu that’s a far cry from the street food vendors. The hotel can arrange for tours of the city with a private chauffeur, who will take guests to the most important attractions, including the Killing Fields and the haunting Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide, also known as the S21 Museum, which educates visitors about some of the atrocities committed during the genocide by the Khmer Rouge.
Riverside is the city’s nighttime playground, featuring streets lined with bars, restaurants and clubs along the Mekong River. Believe it or not, Cantina is a popular Mexican restaurant in Riverside where ingredients are imported straight from Mexico and the margaritas are touted as the best in Asia.
Visitors will find a fun crowd at FCC, a three-level, open-air lounge that traditionally served as the social center for journalists. Now abuzz with locals, ex-pats and travelers, it makes the perfect setting for a night cap. Tell clients to head upstairs to find a sublime view of the riverfront and, if they happen to run into Angelina Jolie, then they will know they came to the right place.