It’s commonly said that if you visit Cambodia, you visit to see the temples of Angkor. It could also be said that if you visit Angkor, you should stay at Amansara.
The former royal retreat was built in the ’60s, and was a favorite of Jacqueline Kennedy, Peter O’Toole and President Charles de Gaulle (until the Khmer Rouge got a hold of it and used it as a military guesthouse). Since then, Amanresorts has restored the exquisitely understated one-story complex, all clean lines and geometric gorgeousness, and turned it into one of the world’s finest small hotels.
Of course, such luxuries don’t come cheap. The 24-suite property, which celebrates its 10th birthday as an Amanresort next year, is the ultra-luxe jewel in the crown for the region, and costs north of $1,200 per night (including full board for two). But the experience is unlike anything else in Asia — unless of course you’ve stayed at one of Aman’s other properties in the region.
Upon arrival at Siem Reap’s airport, you’re met by the hotel’s house car (a 1962 vintage black Mercedes) and two of Amansara’s “family” (that’s the word they like to use instead of “staff”), who are dressed in crisp white linens and already know your name. Before you’ve even stepped foot on the property, you feel like you’re in a Bond movie.
Service, even by ultra-luxe Asian standards, is in its own league — the staff family-to-guest ratio is five-to-one, and they’re always two steps ahead of you with knowing what you want and when you want it (let’s just say they know you enjoyed those freshly steamed Khmer summer rolls at breakfast; they’ll make sure to have a few waiting in your suite when you return from the temples in the afternoon).
And it’s the temples you’re here for. Angkor is said to be the world’s largest pre-industrial city, and so of course there’s plenty to see. Aman make a point of making it easy for you: their reputation for pairing you with top private guides is second-to-none (fee for the guide is additional to room and board). But in addition, the entire experience is tailored — our guide, Sopheng, was mastered in the art of knowing exactly which times to hit which sites so that we were able to consistently skirt around the crowds.
In fact, for much of the time during our four-day exploration, we were able to experience Angkor almost entirely by ourselves — sometimes at dawn, or even pre-dawn, hiking through the jungles, getting the inside track on a millennium-old story from a local who was far more deeply schooled in his country’s history than most young people in the west.
What everyone comes to see is, of course, Angkor Wat (sometimes called the world’s largest religious building), though there’s far, far more to the area that shouldn’t be missed. You could spend the whole day just staring up at the gigantic, serene faces sculpted out of 800-year-old stone at the Bayon. And the never-ending gnarly roots that spew like molten lava through the ruins of Ta Prohm are like nothing else you’ve ever seen.
Sensory overload? Don’t worry, by the time you’re ready to retreat back to Amansara, your guide will already have your driver waiting to take you back on one of the house remorks (the Cambodian answer to the tuk-tuk). A dip in your private plunge pool may be in order, or a seriously exquisite treatment in Amansara’s intimate spa. And of course, those summer rolls.
Photos courtesy of Amanresorts.