La Résidence d’Angkor is a place of hidden charms. Arranged around a discreet courtyard with an inky swimming pool as its centerpiece, this stylish sanctuary encourages you to slow right down. The rooms are open and inviting, blending traditional materials with subtly modern design, and you can’t help but love the oversize bathtubs. And the spa; oh, the spa. In a word? Special. And, if you need to switch gears, the night market and town centre are a 10-minute walk away.
Noon, but flexible subject to availability and at a cost of 50 per cent of the nightly rate (or just take advantage of the free check-out area, with superb bathrooms, if you're leaving later in the day). Check-in, 2pm, unless rooms are ready earlier.
Double rooms from £177.48 ($229), including tax at 20.62 per cent.
Rates include a free one-way airport pick-up but not buffet breakfast (US$22 a person, a day).
At the hotel
Restaurants, bar, pool, spa, gym, boutique, gardens, free WiFi throughout. In rooms: flatscreen TV, DVD player, iPod dock, Malongo coffee machines, Euphoria Collection bath products from Nature Touch, minibar, tropical fruit, free bottled water.
Our favourite rooms
The Garden Junior Suites have direct access to the hotel's swimming pool; Mr Smith, be warned, it may be difficult to extricate Mrs Smith for yet another temple visit. All rooms offer a turndown treat each night, such as macaroons or home-made chocolates.
A leafy tropical garden cloaks one side of the 35-metre pool; the other is dotted with inviting loungers. Guarding the water is an Angkorian heraldic lion, competing for attention with a sacred linga (yes, it's a big stone phallus).
The state-of-the-art Kong Kea Spa sports an indoor plunge pool overlooking a serene bamboo garden for chilling out after a pampering session. Try one of the signature treatments with cleansing, purifying and relaxing part of the ritual, or enjoy a private yoga session.
Bring a paperback pocket copy of Ancient Angkor by Claude Jacques, with easy-on-the-eye photography by Michael Freeman, to plan your adventures around Angkor.
You'll need to stay at east three nights over Christmas and New Year.
Welcome. Baby cots are free, extra beds for children under-12s cost US$35 and for those 12-and-over it's US$70 a day. Babysitters are on tap for US$6 an hour. Smithereens (little Smiths who like to jump around) will love the spacious rooms.
The hotel's spa uses organic products and its restaurant favours conservation-canny Cambodian Ibis rice. As well as employing local trainees, the team supports the area's orphans and schools.
On cooler nights, an outdoor table at Circle sets the mood for a romantic rendezvous. By day, perch poolside at informal Ember. You can also request seductive private dining set-ups in the spa or out on the garden terrace.
The balmy environs suit light and natural layers, and nothing too showy – La Résidence is not that kind of place.
Helmed by executive Chef Saul Garcia Ramos, Spice Circle serves hawker-style Khmer cuisine on a fixed menu. Eat alfresco in the lush gardens or in the relaxed dining room. For light lunches by the swimming pool, open-kitchen Ember serves Asian-style dishes with Latin flair; order freshly baked pizzas, wok-fried pepper beef and noodles, Cambodian green mango salads and refreshing fruit smoothies.
The Martini Lounge is a refined indoor-outdoor bar overlooking the gardens and Siem Reap River. With 14 martinis, including the Lemon Drop Martini, to choose from, as well as global wines, you could work your way through the entire list during a stay. Happy hour is from 5pm to 7pm, there are tapas up for grabs, and you'll find board games and free WiFi if you need more distraction. During the day, you can also savour drinks at Ember.
Circle serves breakfast from 5am to 10am and dinner from 6.30pm to 10pm; Ember is open from 10.30am to 10pm; the Martini Lounge plies its trade from 3pm until midnight.
Available from 5am to 11pm, handy if you are getting in from a late one… ahem, we mean getting up for an early start to your temple viewing. The menu spans salads, soups, pizza and burgers.
Belmond La Résidence d’Angkor has a central riverside location in Siem Reap, just a stone’s throw (don’t try it, as the locals won’t be impressed) from the Old Market. The mother of all temples, Angkor Wat, is just seven kilometres up the road.
Fly into Siem Reap International Airport (www.cambodia-airports.com), about eight kilometres from the hotel, from major centres throughout Asia including Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City. Pick up a taxi at the airport for US$7.
Visitors aren’t allowed to hire cars that they then drive themselves – the traffic is so anarchic you must also hire a driver. Chartering a chauffered car from capital Phnom Penh, about five hours’ away, is an affordable option.
Fast boats connect Chong Khneas, 12 kilometres from Siem Reap, and Phnom Penh (US$35) for those preferring a waterborne approach.
Worth getting out of bed for
The hotel can organise guided tours to the Angkor temple complex, Rolous temple group and Beng Mealea further afield (similar to Angkor in layout but buried deep in the jungle), as well as sunset boat rides on Tonlé Sap Lake. You can also sign up for an adventurous excursion to Kompong Pluk, a Tonlé Sap village that looks like a set from Waterworld (if you are unlucky enough to remember that Kevin Costner flop). If you visit in the wet season, you’ll be boating down the high street, but in the dry season it’s a gentle if dusty stroll, boats yielding to motorbikes. Nearby is a stretch of flooded forest that can be explored by dugout during high water. Wet or dry, it’s an otherworldly experience, the houses towering like bamboo skyscrapers when the water recedes.
Closer to home, enjoy a visit to the Psa Leu morning market, followed by an outdoor Khmer cooking class back at the hotel. Sporty types can tee off at local golf courses; hedonists can sink into the luxurious Kong Kea in-house spa. You can also ask the team about visits to local museums and markets (including the Angkor Night Market in town), silk farms, artisan workshops and tours by bicycle, kayak or helicopter. On a culture tip, reserve a table for one of the regular Khmer dance performances at La Résidence.
Like an exile from Bali, Viroth’s(+855 (0)16 951 800; 246 Wat Bo Road) brings the best of alfresco dining to Siem Reap. The lower deck, with its well-spaced tables and lush foliage, is atmospheric and romantic. Chef Viroth uses only traditional ingredients in his artfully presented dishes, and both the amok fish (prepared in coconut milk and lemongrass) and roast Khmer chicken come highly recommended. Alternatively you could dine in five of Siem Reap's best restaurants in one evening. The hotel can organise a gourmet odyssey (the Mystery Dining Tour), where a tuk-tuk ferries you from one decadent course to the next.
The intimate Miss Wong (+855 (0)92 428 332; The Lane) is a cocktail bar – concoctions made using house-infused vodkas are a specialty – inspired by the glamour of 1920s Shanghai. Run by New Zealander Dean Williams, it's popular with just about everyone: locals and visitors, straight and gay.
In Angkor, capital of the ancient Khmer kingdom, if you made it safely over the temple moat it meant that you were either a guest of the king or you had successfully conquered his realm. Both were significant events and cause for much ado. But it is as more like a couple of ragged scouts than a triumphant army that Mrs Smith and I hobble through the gateway to La Résidence d’Angkor hotel in Siem Reap. The overnight flight and the humidity have taken their toll but no matter our rumpled attire, a small retinue of staff, neat in their pressed shirts, descend on us as if we are royalty.
Energetically courteous, they bow and immediately relieve us of our bags. Then, amid more bobbing, they invite us to step across the pretty, gable-roofed bridge that crosses the hotel’s ornamental moat. In its clear waters red and orange carp flick playfully among the lily pads.
We are seated in the low-lit coolness of the foyer, under a ceiling of dark wood beams. A large stone bas-relief, glowing like treasure, is framed by the foyer’s main wall. Fragrant chilled drinks materialise – Mrs Smith stretches, sips and smiles. It is clear already: we may not be nobility but that’s exactly how we’ll be treated here.
La Résidence, built in 2002, faces the east bank of the Siem Reap River, a placid, tree-lined waterway bisecting this gateway to the ancient kingdom’s one thousand temples. When we are led to our Royal Deluxe Poolside room, Mrs Smith and I begin to appreciate the hotel’s cocooning properties as the buzz of tuk tuks and clatter of jackhammers recede behind its stone walls and palm thickets. We follow a path through the foliage, brushing volcanic brick columns and skirting a stately pool. Our eyes drink in white rendered walls, dark wood louvered screens and gabled terracotta roofs; our new home is a restful combination of neo-colonial French architecture, tropical-modern luxury and Khmer temple art.
Entering our room, Mrs Smith coos appreciatively at the crisp bedlinen and the talc-smooth, scalloped stone bath in the adjoining bathroom. Relaxation instantly kicks in. Later, stirring from her novel in the shade of our balcony, Mrs Smith ventures poolside to languish on a sunlounger, quaff a gin and tonic, and nibble on grilled salmon, one of many treats that hint at the kitchen’s potential. At the nearby Ember restaurant, I pair a chilled gazpacho soup and a spicy noodle dish. Here, west meets east with ease.
Although the more languid can feast until midday, temple-goers eager to beat the heat can breakfast at 5am on freshly baked croissants, friands and pains au chocolat, or Khmer rice-paper rolls. Mrs Smith firmly demurs, so in dawn’s half-light I stroll alone around the vast maze of colonnades, rooms and towers of the 12th-century Angkor Wat temple. It predates the Palace of Versailles by 500 years but loses nothing in sophistication, at least until the day’s first tour buses arrive.
Mrs Smith’s strategy is to raid the spa, which nestles discreetly behind a small pool, ringed by a stone snake. A local monk or yogi periodically pops by for those who are intent on mindfulness. But these daytime diversions are a sideshow. At La Résidence, nighttime is show time. Refreshing by day, come evening the pool is magical, with a guardian lion brooding at its side, framed by flickering torches and rustling fronds. Eerily sub-lit, its emerald-green tiles suggest something sacred. I slip into the cool waters thinking of Tomb Raider, having just heard that Ta Prohm temple’s jungle-infested ruins featured in the film.
Before dinner, Mrs Smith and I are enjoyably distracted by some mojitos, Singapore slings and martinis in the second-storey Martini Lounge. Then, seated beside the ornamental moat, I singlehandedly tackle a towering Khmer medley of lobster, king crab and tamarind-spiced beef at Circle. Fittingly, my feat is topped by a captivating performance from the Sanskrit epic Ramayana, enlivened with shadow puppets and a small orchestra.
Performance and art are part of the fabric at La Résidence, with cultural pursuits up for grabs from meditation to cooking or dancing lessons, and guides for temple tours. But tempting though it is to explore further afield, we realise our home-from-home is where the heart is – and for the remainder of our stay we don’t wander across the sturdy planks of La Résidence’s moat bridge.
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