All sharp lines, crisp whites and eye-catching vertical foliage, Viroth’s Hotel has taken a leaf out of the book of New Khmer Architecture, a local take on the modernist movement of the Fifties and Sixties. Open to the outdoors thanks to balconies, patios and a leafy courtyard restaurant, this bold but laid-back bolthole is the talk of the town: expect a smart pool, a pampering spa and sleek mid-century stylings just a hop and a skip from Siem Reap’s buzzy nightlife.
Noon. Earliest check-in, 2pm. Both are flexible, subject to availability.
Double rooms from £112.98 ($143), including tax at 22 per cent.
Rates usually include the à la carte breakfast of French toast, pancakes, waffles, banana cake, yoghurt and fresh fruit, cold cuts and cooked-to-order eggs, bacon and noodle soup, as well as an in-room welcome drink and seasonal fruit.
Responsible for much of Siem Reap’s recent modernist revival, East-Bank firm Asma Architects is the Khmer-French outfit behind Viroth’s Hotel’s striking good looks. Their vision embraces south-east Asia’s indoor-outdoor lifestyle – look out for their breezy, leafy design in cafés, spas and restaurants around town.
At the hotel
Spa, gym, library, free WiFi throughout. In rooms: flatscreen TV, minibar, tea- and coffee-making facilities, free bottled water.
Our favourite rooms
Decked out with black floor tiles, jewel-toned day-beds and hand-picked antiques, rooms have a retro flavour livened up with tropical foliage and local handicraft. Each has a private terrace; pick one overlooking the pool for a spot of people-watching. Suites are large and airy, with tub-equipped bathrooms for restorative soaks.
The centrepiece of a peaceful palm-fringed courtyard within drifting distance of the bar, the hotel’s 20-metre, mosaic-tiled pool is a crisp shade of aqua blue – just the ticket for a cooling dip after a day of temple-traipsing in the heat.
Framed by a living plant wall, Sokkhak spa bears the Khmer name for tranquility. Book one of the three treatment rooms for a soul-soothing rub (the four-hands massage is recommended for total indulgence); beautifying wraps and facials are whipped up using powerful botanicals and vitamin-packed local ingredients such as mango, avocado and pumpkin.
Get in the mid-century mood by tracking down a copy of Vann Molyvann’s Modern Khmer Cities, an insightful look at urban development by Cambodia’s pre-eminent architect.
All ground-floor rooms are accessible to wheelchair users.
All ages are welcome; baby cots for under-2s (free) and extra beds can be added to some rooms, on request, for US$35 a night.
Viroth’s Hotel takes care to tread lightly: water is heated by solar power, lighting uses low-energy LED bulbs and most of its waste is recycled.
Take refuge from heat and humidity in the air-conditioned dining room, or pick a spot by the pool for a starlit tête à tête.
Channel the Drapers on holiday: bold shifts and kaftans for her, tailored linen and a colourful krama (the ubiquitous Cambodian scarf) for him.
Just steps from the pool, the hotel’s restaurant is a wide-open indoor-outdoor space decked out with banquette seating and tables clad in crisp linen. The kitchen whips up tempting classics from across the globe (comforting hummus, cooling gazpacho or a scrumptious niçoise) as well as seasonal Khmer dishes such as banana-blossom salad and crunchy, zesty mince laab. Carnivores should order their lok lak with fries – the local take on steak frites.
With its high ceiling, vintage-inspired fans and imposing bookshelf, the pool bar is a mid-century-styled watering hole for weary travellers. Sip on classic mixes (negroni, martinis and whisky sours) or plump for something a little more exotic involving rum, coconut cream and passion fruit. Peckish? Summer rolls, avocado tartare and pandan chicken will make short work of any hunger pangs.
Breakfast is served 6.30am–10.30am. Guests can order from the all-day menu 11am–10pm and sip on a post-prandial tipple until 11pm.
A light menu of burgers, sandwiches and Khmer dishes can be brought to your room until 10pm; the bar delivers cocktails until 11pm.
Tucked away on a quiet cul-de-sac across the river from the Old Market in the centre of Siem Reap, Viroth’s Hotel is within easy reach of the Angkor temples.
A 15-minute drive away, Siem Reap airport (www.rep.aero) serves international flights from most Asian hubs and domestic flights to Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville. For stays of two nights or more before 30 September 2023, the hotel offers a free one-way airport transfer in a vintage Mercedes between 6am and 10pm (subject to availability).
There’s free parking at the hotel, but visitors aren’t allowed to drive. You’ll need to hire a chauffeur-driven car, tuk tuk or moto (motorcycle) to explore Siem Reap's temple-dotted countryside.
Worth getting out of bed for
You’d be forgiven for hiding away in Siem Reap’s up-and-coming East Bank, the verdant, still sleepy quarter just across the bridge from the Old Market. Wat Bo and Wat Damnak pagodas are both worth a gander. The latter, a former royal palace, now houses a centre for Khmer studies where the curious can pore over maps, guidebooks and journals; its frangipani-scented gardens are a peaceful spot for a stroll for those of less scholarly disposition. Meander down the serene, calming backbone of the river for glimpses of life in what was once a small provincial town: wooden houses on stilts, monks chatting in their saffron robes, children skipping stones on the water. There’s much in town to please shopaholics, too: bright, textured couture from Eric Raisina (you’ll find samples in his shop at FCC Angkor as well as at Le Bon Marché in Paris), delicate ceramics and hand-dyed scarves at Prolung Khmer near Bakong temple, or wild honey and fragrant Ratanakiri coffee at Senteurs d’Angkor. NearbyAngkor Night Market is good for a bargain. Most visitors, of course, are here for the captivating splendour of Angkor, a sprawling complex of pink-hued granite temples, carving-lined river beds and mirror-smooth reservoirs; staff will happily organise passes, tours, drivers and picnic lunches.
Viroth’s Restaurant has been a fixture of the Siem Reap dining scene for the past 10 years – an elegant spot to sample carefully prepared Khmer classics such as fish amok, stuffed tomatoes and pungent, fermented prahoc (fish paste). Cuisine Wat Damnak’s tasting menu changes every two weeks; book in advance for a fine-dining take on local cuisine that’s earned plaudits from Raymond Blanc. For a taste of idle colonial days (and pan-Asian small plates), grab a table at FCC Angkor and watch the world go by.
If you’ve fallen for Viroth’s retro-chic style, drop by nearby Pages, a salon, café and showroom where you can pick up custom-designed lamps, furniture and decorative objects alongside fresh seasonal fare. LoftyTemple Coffee n Bakery is a quirky hangout for local hipsters. Don’t miss a taste of Blue Pumpkin’s home-made tropical ice-creams – the durian flavour is quite addictive, if you dare.
Scarlet-hued Miss Wong Cocktail Bar has the seductive allure of 1920s Shanghai: perch at the bar and sip on a kaffir lime martini. Sheltered beneath a sail-like canopy, Nest is a garden bar with cosy rattan day-beds and live music.
There’s no other way to say it. Arriving at Viroth’s is like stepping into a David Hockney painting. Sunlight cutting wavy paths through the swimming pool; smooth lines, curved glass, and a quantity of palm leaf that feels like mainlining the world’s most sacred feeling: I. Am. On. Holiday.
I look at Mrs Smith. At this point, we’ve been travelling for 23 hours. She worked an all-nighter before we left, and not a fake all-nighter, an all-all-nighter, poor bean. But I look at her now, and Lord how fates have changed. On one side, she’s being handed a lemon eucalyptus hand towel, and on the other, a tamarind and honey sour that is still hovering around the Top Five Drinks I’ve Had In My Life.
It only gets better. You know that feeling when you start a book, and you realise it might be the best book ever written and that you can relax? Arriving at Viroth’s is also like that. It feels instantly like you’re in safe hands. Good hands. God hands.
It’s Mrs Smith’s first non-work related holiday in about a decade. Within minutes (I counted), she is sprawled, not only on one sun-lounger, but on two. Cocktail in hand, her book forgotten, she is a portrait of happiness. ‘I feel like Don Draper,’ she says. She’s totally right. If Don were real, this is definitely where he’d hang out. A paradise of peak Sixties cool – all teak and terrazzo rather than Formica. (The terrazzo, by the way, is smoky black and made with ruby-ish local stone – I took so many pictures of it it was embarrassing for everyone.)
It genuinely feels like an affront to shut my eyes, because everywhere I look there’s something beautiful. Dusty pink velvet mid-century armchairs. Banana leaves so wide you could use them as a blanket. Antiquities and curiosities that the French owner Fabien has collected over the years. Shady reading corners with Majorelle blue sofas. Pool towels rolled like pain au raisins. Black and white photos of Jackie O’s 1967 tour of Angkor Wat: elephants, parasols and knock-out sunglasses. All of this with bright waves of citronella in the air, and the comforting purr of retro ceiling fans.
And that’s before we even get to our room, a place so perfect we took to talking to it. ‘Hello, room.’ ‘Goodbye, room.’ ‘I miss you, room.’ Yes, turns out it’s possible to miss a place even when you’re in it.
Some very fine hours later, we drag ourselves away to see our first temple. The concierge points us in the direction of Pre-Rup: lesser-visited but high up enough to catch as big a pink sky at sunset as possible. A tuk-tuk pulls up outside. And so we meet Mr Chum. He wears a helmet emblazoned with the word ‘Lucky’, and he was kind and safe and we loved him. It’s the first time I’ve ever been in a tuk-tuk and I love that too.
We whip through the streets of Siem Reap and into the jungle with what feels like an animated postcard on all sides. Long-legged chickens and equally modelesque palm trees. Roots like monkey tails and road-side stalls selling petrol out of Johnny Walker and Fanta bottles.
Pre-Rup is sublime, like all of Viroth’s tips. Honestly, on my return to London, whenever city panic has struck me, I’ve just shut my eyes and thought of Viroth’s smiling concierge. And later that evening, after dinner at Viroth’s sister restaurant (banana blossom salad, say no more), their magic strikes again. It’s just started to pour but the night porter can tell that Mrs Smith is still hankering for another adventure. ‘The princesses must go out!’ he declares, and no sooner than the words have left his mouth, umbrellas appear above our heads and we’re what feels like teleported to Pub Street, Siem Reap’s main drag, with its baby pink neon lights, bars on wheels and two dollar foot massages. (We have one. I cannot for the life of me stop laughing. Ticklish feet. Very ticklish feet.)
The only conceivable problem with Viroth’s is that Siem Reap is a place with a lot to see, and most of the time, you will not for the life of you want to leave the hotel. But, if you are forced to spend your day viewing 12th-century temples then you can at least conciliate yourself with late nights at the poolside bar for a Khmer Collins and some peanuts. And because it’s Viroth’s, not just any old peanuts. They’re roasted then bounced through sugarcane and lemongrass.
It feels almost traumatic to leave. Mrs Smith paints the balcony of our room (by which I mean, she whips up a watercolour, rather than attempts to redecorate) and in the days that follow we talk about Viroth’s so much, it’s almost like he’s become our third travelling companion. But anyway, if it feels traumatic to leave, because it’s Viroth’s, we leave in absolute style. Through the foliage of the front door, we spot our ride – a 1962 classic Mercedes, forest green and polished to the nines, with a cream leather lining and a Phnom Penh number plate. We leave feeling just like two Jackie O’s, waving, pretty much crying – and just like that we drive out of the painting…