For many an Aman pilgrim, the resort is the destination. Formerly the guest residence of King Sihanouk, Amansara continues this noble tradition, welcoming the fortunate and famous for a unique boutique experience at Angkor. A Sixties designer delight from the halcyon days of new Khmer architecture, this is Siem Reap’s retro-chic masterpiece.
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A traditional noodle breakfast at Khmer Village House
Noon, but flexible subject to availability. Check-in, 2pm.
Double rooms from £1333.14 ($1,728), including tax at 23.42 per cent.
Breakfast and choice of lunch or dinner with drinks is included in half board rates, as are private temple tours (excluding temple pass: $37 a person for one day; $62 for three days; $72 for a week), Siem Reap Airport transfers and tuk tuk rides.
Afternoon tea is served daily between 3pm and 5pm. Gym hours are 6am to 9pm, and fitness classes on offer include aerial yoga, Khmer kick-boxing and Apsara dance.
At the hotel
Library with iMac for guests’ use, gym, CDs and board games, free WiFi throughout, spa, gallery. In rooms: iHome sound system and iPod dock, minibar with house beverages, ‘secret drawer’ with handy things such as torches and adaptors.
Our favourite rooms
Offering a subtle contemporary take on Indochinese styling, all rooms are airy and open-plan, with floor-to-ceiling glass doors opening onto private courtyards and water features. Suite 1 enjoys proximity to both the swimming pool and restaurant. Consider suites 19 or 20 if planning on inhabiting a Pool Suite, as both are also close to the lap pool. Among the original rooms, number 4 has the biggest courtyard.
Choose from two poolsides (make that three if you bagged a pool suite), either by the original curved slate pool, with shady pergola and loungers, or the newer 25-metre lap pool for discreet work-outs.
Amansara's Spa draws on Cambodian therapies and natural, organic products, with four soothing treatment rooms decked out in dark wood and white. Each comes with a private relaxation area with a steam bath and shower, as well as chill-out views of a reflection pond and Angkor-inspired bas-relief.
Dust off that old autograph book from your starry-eyed childhood as this place draws the A-list. Chic yoga kit for sunrise sessions on the Roof Terrace.
The half-board charge doesn't cover winelist wines, premium spirits and champagne, or temple passes, and is subject to tax and service charges. A minimum four-night stay is required from 20 December to 3 January.
Cots are available free of charge for infants and Aman throws in a little baby welcome pack to make them feel at home. Extra beds (and full board perks) cost US$85 plus tax a night for under-12s, and US$340 a night for children over 12.
Lunchtime dining is best by the pool or go exclusive with room service by your own plunge pond. By night, take a table on the Roof Terrace overlooking the original wing for a barbecue experience.
Not overly showy, as you wouldn’t want to stand out too glaringly against the black and white minimalist surrounds.
The soaring-ceilinged Dining Room is the eye-catching centrepiece of the former royal guest villa, once used as the king's screening room. The circular design affords prime views in all directions and includes alfresco dining by the pool. Choose between Khmer favourites such as fish amok curry or Western prawn risotto.
The bar is part of the main restaurant and includes a walk-in wine cellar and a selection of fine cognacs and single malts. For loftier lounging, the Roof Terrace offers seductive seating under a canopy of ancient trees for pre-prandial cocktails by candlelight. Let us not forget the private, run-of-the house minibar, as there is no dress code in your own room. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink.
The last drinks are served around 11pm, but this is flexible. Continental breakfast is available 4.30am–7am; à la carte hot options are served 7am–11am; lunch is 11am–6pm; dinner, from 6pm–11.30pm.
Room service is available from 4.30am to midnight and includes all the dishes on the daily menus.
Amansara has a very central location, in a private compound opposite the verdant royal gardens. Fabled Angkor Wat lies just five kilometres up the road.
Fly into Siem Reap International Airport (www.cambodia-airports.com), about seven kilometres, or a 15-minute drive, from the resort. All guests receive free transfers as part of the experience. Cross your fingers and hope that it's the vintage Mercedes limousine greeting you at arrivals.
Self-drive is not possible in Cambodia, which is very much in line with the Buddhist philosophy of preserving life. Amansara includes house outings by remork (tuk-tuk) or jeep.
Worth getting out of bed for
The compulsory board and touring charge includes twice daily private tours of the Angkor temple complex by remorque (moped-powered trishaw) with an English-speaking guide. Be sure to sample some of Amansara’s original trips that take in sights and sounds at Angkor and further afield. Try a romantic dinner for two in a traditional wooden house overlooking the royal bathing pond of Srah Srang, indulge in some spiritual cleansing with a blessing at Wat Athvea, which blends a modern pagoda with an ancient sandstone ruin, or explore the jungle temple of Beng Mealea.
Aman has long been a supporter of alternative dining experiences in Siem Reap and Cuisine Wat Damnak fits the bill. Set a short 10 minutes from the world’s largest religious building, it offers simple Cambodian fare and fine wine. Also recommended by the concierge at Amansara is Khmer Kitchen, located in an alley running north of the old market (this is where your private remork driver becomes incredibly handy). Here you can sample authentic local curries and stir-fries in a more relaxed environment than the bustle of the market.
In Kandal Village, chic coffee bar Little Red Fox serves up a potent espresso and has 'cold drip' coffee on tap. Home-made cakes are offered too and there's even a hair salon upstairs.
If you can tear yourself away from the complimentary bar sitting temptingly near your bed or bath tub, then try Miss Wong, a throwback to the old Shanghai of the roaring 1920s. Decadent cocktails are de rigueur.
You get an inkling that something out of the ordinary awaits you when a vintage 1962 Mercedes the size of a small apartment – white-uniformed driver and attendant in tow – arrives to whisk you off to Amansara. Either that or you’re really being carted off to a sanatorium. In our case, despite potential arguments for the latter, it was thankfully the former.
Amansara is the modern reincarnation of the original residence built for the Cambodian king in Siem Reap in 1962 to accommodate honoured guests such as visiting heads of state or royalty. Going by old photographs, this included the Queen of Camelot herself, Jackie O. Despite several name changes since then (and occupation, if not near-obliteration, by the Khmer Rouge), it’s as if time has stood still at Amansara since the 1960s. Guests who now stay here are treated to a level of discrete, stylish luxury usually reserved for a lucky few, and the original architecture has been faithfully restored and extended to encompass more suites, a lap pool and world-class spa.
‘Discrete’ is the key word for the Amansara experience. To begin with, you’d be hard-pressed to find the location unless fluent in Latin (in which the hotel name is artfully inscribed). But it’s the staff’s inexplicable talent for not just executing but anticipating guest needs that seems remarkable. Example? After returning from a walk into ‘downtown’ Siem Reap, I comment to Mr Smith as we head towards our suite that I might soak in the bath before dinner. We enter the room to find that the bath is already drawn – to a perfect temperature – with a cluster of lotus flowers floating on top of the jasmine-scented water. Needless to say, I’m blissfully floating soon after.
We could happily laze away the day in our sumptuous suite, complete with private courtyard and pond where Mr Smith enjoys his book and evening whiskey accompanied by placid frogs, but the main pool area of Amansara is equally enticing. Curling up on enormous day-beds to read, snooze or sunbathe is pleasure enough, let alone when a friendly attendant brings you your preferred cocktail paired with some delicate tempura prawns and black pepper sauce to stave off any pre-prandial hunger pangs. When the light eventually fades, the space becomes a twinkling outdoor dining room courtesy of tea-lights encased in translucent banana leaves.
Amansara’s daily-changing menus cater to both Western and Khmer tastes. Both are outstanding, but the signature tasting plates of Khmer cuisine, typically including a soup, curry, noodles, salads and vegetables, are a highlight of our stay. Breakfast and lunch or dinner are included in the hotel’s rates and half-board charge, along with a selection of French house wines, and high-end cognacs, Armagnacs and cigars to finish off the night, ideally on the rooftop terrace. Guests are also free to delve into the walk-in cellar at their own expense to select something even more exceptional.
In fact, Amansara’s only downside is the strong likelihood of weight-gain due to the delicious and plentiful food, including freshly baked cakes and cookies available all day in the main dining room (formally the king’s private screening room) and each suite. This can be countered either by taking advantage of the complimentary guided tours of Angkor Wat or an activity from the top 10 ‘to do’ list compiled by staff to offer a truly out-of-the-ordinary experience.
This is an exhilarating and unforgettable adventure, traversing rock, sand, streams and thick jungle – often all at once – on the back of off-road bikes to marvel at breathtaking statues and stone carvings, including the impressive River of a Thousand Lingas, pre-dating the Angkor temples. What’s more, we don’t spot a single other tourist, which is virtually unheard of in Siem Reap. After bidding farewell to our skilled drivers, we picnic on a five-course Khmer lunch beside a waterfall before being chauffeured back to Amansara in a four-wheel drive for another evening of relaxed luxury.
The virtuous Mr Smith rises at 5am on the morning of our departure to photograph Angkor Wat at dawn before returning for a long breakfast and perusing books in the library. I opt for a more indulgent start to the day in the form of a two-hour spa treatment in which I am soaked, scrubbed, moisturised, wrapped and massaged. Such extravagance should be compulsory before any long-haul flight home. After bidding a reluctant farewell to the wonderful staff, we climb into our vintage chariot again for the airport. As we cruise the old boulevards of the former Cambodian capital, I can’t help but muse on Amansara’s name. The ‘sara’ in the title is a derivative of apsara, referring to a beautiful woman whose charms were used to distract or entice, usually to good effect in ancient wars and battles. We are both entranced enough to know this won’t be our last visit to this seductive city and hotel. Apsaralutely.
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