From the November 2009 Hideaway Report
During our recent trip to Asia, we found ourselves in Bangkok and decided on a whim to revisit the stupendous temples at Angkor Wat in Cambodia. (It is only an hour by air from the Thai capital to the city of Siem Reap near the ruins.)
The golden age of Angkor came at the end of the 12th century, when the city controlled a vast empire. Abandoned in 1431, it slowly disappeared into the jungle, only to be rediscovered in 1860 by Frenchman Henri Mouhot. At least three full days are required to appreciate the complex, including majestic Angkor Wat itself; the Bayon temple at Angkor Thom, where huge enigmatic faces gaze from the massive stone columns; and the jungle ruins of Ta Prohm, gripped by the python-like roots of strangler fig trees.
For close to 20 years, the site was inaccessible as a result of the mayhem caused by the Khmer Rouge and the land mines they had gratuitously sown. Nowadays, however, Angkor is very much on the tourist circuit and, during the winter dry season from November to March, it receives several thousand visitors a day. Fortunately, much of the area is still partially overgrown, and with a first-rate guide, it is possible to escape the crowds. As with many celebrated archaeological remains, the golden rule is to rise early and arrive at the temple before dawn.
Today, Siem Reap is Cambodia’s fastest-growing city, with close to 150,000 inhabitants. Having been away for a few years, we were astonished to see how many hotels had sprouted. On our previous trip, we had stayed at Amansara, an exquisite enclave of just 24 suites in the grounds of a guesthouse that once belonged to King Norodom Sihanouk. If price is not a primary consideration, Amansara remains the best that Siem Reap has to offer. But if a rate approaching $1,000 a night seems a little steep in these recessionary times, there is now an attractive and less expensive alternative.
Unlike Amansara, La Résidence d’Angkor is located right in town, close to its colorful markets, on the banks of the Siem Reap River, which flows down to Tonle Sap (“Great Lake”). La Résidence asserts its charm from the moment you set foot in the dramatic reception area, a soaring space with its ceiling supported by massive teak beams. The floors are of local stone, and behind the front desk is an intricate frieze of dancing apsaras (celestial nymphs). Everywhere, the design and craftsmanship are of the highest order.
All of the 55 rooms and suites are pleasingly spacious, with floor-to-ceiling windows and either balconies or terraces. Lustrous hardwoods, bamboo and local silk combine to create a seductive environment. Lavish baths come with double vanities and deep terrazzo tubs.
One of the chief joys of La Résidence is its lovely walled garden, which contains a riot of bougainvillea and frangipani beneath spreading palms. At the garden’s center is a huge and irresistible pool, lined with handmade mosaics in multiple shades of green.
In The Dining Room, the lighting is flattering, and the walls are hung with exquisite examples of local artistry. Tables are set both indoors and outdoors, but owing to the humidity, we chose to eat inside. The menu includes both French and Khmer dishes, but we opted for Cambodian curries, which tend to be milder than those of Thailand, and particularly enjoyed a yellow curry with generous chunks of local freshwater fish. The service was poised and charming. Elsewhere, the Pool Bar provides a stylish setting for a light lunch and the BBQ Restaurant offers a teppanyaki table, as well as grilled meats and fish.
A variety of spa treatments is available, the signature offering being the “Khmer Inspiration,” which includes acupuncture as well as stretching exercises and massage. Overall, La Résidence d’Angkor is delightful. However, avoid rooms overlooking the river, as these can be noisy when local boat races are taking place.
La Résidence d’Angkor 93 Royal Deluxe Room, from $365; Suite, from $515. Siem Reap, Cambodia.