khmer style house with pointed roof and wooden terrace in daytime
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Amansara

Our review of Amansara, a 24-suite hotel with a low-slung main building that makes for an ideal escape in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

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river cruise ship with three levels on Mekong River
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Aqua Mekong, Cambodia & Vietnam

This dedicated 20-cabin vessel, the first five star boat on the Mekong, features cabins with floor-to-ceiling windows and lush furnishings.

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cambodian-style architecture of hotel suite exterior with palm trees
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Zannier Hotels Phum Baitang

Elegant in its simplicity, Zannier Hotels Phum Baitang is a highly luxurious oasis just outside of Siem Reap’s chaotic city center.

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Alila Villas Koh Russey

With a seriously stunning 1.2 kilometer beach lined with willow and banyan trees, this eco-friendly resort both stands out from and complements its setting.

Accommodations, which include garden rooms and villas, are designed with a sexy and contemporary vibe. Minimal décor is accented by crisp white linens, floor-to-ceiling windows, rustic wooden decks and infinity pools. Days are spent partaking in cultural activities, exploring the gorgeous surroundings and savoring meals at the sophisticated restaurants, including French fusion cuisine served poolside or authentic Cambodian grilled fish by the beach.

Pool Lounge at Belmond La Résidence d’Angkor, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Belmond La Résidence d’Angkor

The most traditionally Khmer of Siem Reap’s top lodgings, the riverside Belmond was built almost entirely of rosewood and lava rock, and its lushly planted courtyard around an elongated, black-bottom pool is a great spot for balancing cultural touring with down time. Built in 2001 along the east bank of the Siem Reap River, the hotel has a wonderfully destination-specific feel. 59 guest rooms and suites are spread around the three-level building feature elegant French-Colonial furnishings, white-washed walls and crisp linens. Bathrooms are outfitted with powerful showers and deep soaking baths. Natural light fills all of these generously sized rooms during the day, but the ones to get are those framing the swimming pool (rather than facing the busy street as those can be a bit noisy at night). For those who have visited Yangon and stayed at the Governor’s Residence, you will recognize a similar colonial heritage. The best rooms are the suites with balconies.

Kong Kea Spa offers a welcome respite, both for its refreshing indoor pool and reliably effective treatments (try the Khmer massage, which is a less-yoga oriented version of a Thai massage). Happy hour in the upstairs Martini Lounge offers plenty of time to sample an array of tropical fruit cocktails before you continue downstairs to dine on Khmer or French-influenced classics at the formal Circle dining room, which overlooks a performance space where apsara dancers and others regularly entertain.

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Pool Lounge at  Knai Bang Chatt, Cambodia

Knai Bang Chatt

Knai Bang Chatt (which means “rainbow” in Khmer) is a colorful waterfront property consisting of five Modernist-style villas painted in playful shades of blue, red, and brown, which together offer 18 stylishly appointed rooms. Three of the villas were built in the 1960s during Kep’s heyday as a popular getaway for wealthy French and Khmer vacationers and were owned by the governor of Kep, a friend of King Sihanouk, and the Head of Customs. After the Khmer Rouge occupation in the 1970s (when Kep became a battleground), the villas were abandoned and fell into great disrepair. Only in 2003 were the buildings now belonging to Knai Bang Chatt restored to their former grandeur. At this time another villa was built in the same clean-lined Modernist-style as the original architecture and in 2012 a fifth villa was added to the property.

All of the rooms at Knai Bang Chatt are light-filled and elegantly furnished with local antiques including mid-century modern wooden dressers and bookshelves as well as more ancient artifacts like handmade clay pots and vases. The mix of traditional Cambodian and modern French-inspired designs gives Knai Bang Chatt a unique aesthetic, but the interior décor intentionally takes a back seat to the natural surroundings. Despite their hard geometric lines, the villas blend in with the luscious trees and landscaping and the best rooms are considered as such because of their sea views. Room number 13 on the upper floor of the red villa (originally home to Kep’s Head of Customs) offers a stunning vista out over the pool to the narrow palm tree-lined beach. The hotel’s most luxurious accommodation, the Knai Bang Chatt suite (room 18), takes over the entire second floor of the newest villa and treats guests to a glorious sea view from a spacious private terrace.

While the rooms are comfortable and stylish, guests at Knai Bang Chatt will likely spend much of their time lounging and loafing outside. The hotel’s seafront property is sprinkled with plenty of cozy, private nooks for reading or napping including shaded daybeds, comfy lounge chairs, simple hammocks, and rattan swings. Children will enjoy playing by the pool or along the small sandy beach (not a swimming beach). And for those who need help unwinding, the on-site spa is open from 10am until 10pm and offers traditional Khmer massages as well as treatments featuring local products such as the “Kep salt scrub” and the “KBC organic rice scrub.”

Sporty types can rent sailing equipment or bicycles from The Sailing Club next door and explore the small and charming village of Kep by land or sea. The hotel can also arrange guided outings by car whereby guests will discover more about Kep’s unique landscape, history, and culture. Those interested in architecture may choose to tour some of the abandoned Modernist villas in the countryside, including the former residence of King Father Norodom Sihanouk. Beach lovers, on the other hand, might opt for a day trip to Rabbit Island (Koh Tonsay) for some snorkeling and a private beach BBQ of fresh seafood. Seafood fans, meanwhile, can book an excursion on a local fishing boat where they will learn traditional fishing techniques and can have their catch of the day prepared for dinner at The Sailing Club.

Dining is a main event at Knai Bang Chatt and when hunger strikes, there are multiple options: order snacks by the pool, to your room, or amble over to one of the hotel’s two restaurants. The Strand, a bi-level restaurant just in front of the reception, offers fine dining for lunch and dinner (this is also where breakfast is served each morning.) Guests can sit upstairs in the white tablecloth dining room and enjoy an air-conditioned vantage over the outdoor restaurant and the beach below, or on the main level, which features a long wooden communal table as well as two-tops and four-tops protected from the sun and wind by a peaked thatched roof. Chef Janine Fourie’s ambitious menu features local ingredients in a variety of traditional Khmer dishes as well as familiar Western preparations, ranging from Khmer-style steamed crab to tamarind palm sugar glazed pork belly. A romantic dinner for two can be reserved for a private driftwood table lit by hurricane lanterns on a small area of sandy beach in front of the restaurant. A more casual option for lunch and dinner is The Sailing Club, a relaxed seaside restaurant/bar housed in a former fisherman’s cottage. Decorated in nautical blue and white, the spacious wraparound deck is the perfect place to enjoy delicious crab cakes and a sundowner during happy hour (5-7pm, daily.) The Sailing Club’s chill-out beach bar vibe is completed by the indoor pool table, outside Ping-Pong table, and rattan globe lanterns that cast golden reflections over the sea.

Driving distances

  • Sihanoukville to Kampot: 1-½ hours
  • Kampot to Kep: 45 min.–1 hour
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Maison Polanka

An unmarked wooden gate behind Wat Polanka slides open to reveal a profusion of tropical leaves cossetting two authentic Khmer houses on stilts, each stylishly filled with polished wood floors, colonial Deco furniture and Khmer artifacts. Walking around, it's impossible not to pass brilliantly hued butterflies fluttering around this one-of-a-kind property, the only private villa rental in Siem Reap.

When the property is not rented in its entirety, it is also possible to reserve each of the five rooms individually. Staff are accustomed to taking care of villa groups, honeymooning couples, traveling families and even the occasional (indulgent) solo

traveler. Owner Nathalie Saphon Ridel is also the proprietor of two of Siem Reap’s classiest boutiques, Khmer Attitude and Galerie Cambodge, and her stylish touch can be seen throughout Maison Polanka.

A highlight for many guests are the meals. Family recipes, both French and Khmer, fill the menus here. The owner’s aunt runs the acclaimed Khmer restaurant in Boston, Elephant Walk, and her cookbooks guide the chef. Breakfast can be a hearty noodle soup or bountiful fruit platter and fluffy homemade breads. Lunch is a light combination of addictive rice-paper rolls and lemon grass, lime and chicken soup. The chef really shines after dark when guests typically linger over Khmer traditional classics like lok lak minced beef marinated in soy sauce with pepper and lime or stuffed duck with lotus seed, glass vermicelli and mushrooms that's steamed for seven hours over a broth made of sugar cane leaves.

Meals take place in the airy poolside pavilion, located between the four-room Maison (on stilts) and the one-bedroom Khmer House. The Maison features a twin bedded children’s room, with fantastical artwork from Battambang (a town two hours away). An outdoor deck on this upper level is perfect for yoga. Built in the 1940’s, the Khmer House boasts exposed wooden beams, vintage furniture and an expansive terrazzo bathroom with rain shower. In the open-air living room at ground level, two vintage, leather-seat bicycles beckon—a great way to explore the nearby temples. Do note that the bathrooms have showers, not tubs.

Who Should Stay

Ideal for families or groups who want the exclusivity and privacy of a villa rental, previously unavailable in Siem Reap. This retreat also works for couples seeking a restful haven away from the crowds. What staff lack in professional hotel training, they more than make up for in personalized, authentic attention.

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Suiite at  Park Hyatt Siem Reap, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Park Hyatt Siem Reap

Originally opened in 2006 as Hotel de la Paix and recently reincarnated under the Park Hyatt banner, this stylish address sits at the heart of Siem Reap, making it an optimal choice for those seeking a retreat within easy access to shopping.

The 14-month renovation by original architect Bill Bensley (who also designed Shinta Mani nearby) has considerably upgraded this local institution, adding an elongated swimming pool and upping the swanky factor in even standard accommodations. A plethora of pillows round out the spacious day bed in all the rooms and the powerful shower removes any trace of temple dust.

Have breakfast in the courtyard surrounding an ancient tree or inside to be closer to the copious buffet that includes both scrumptious homemade baked goods, as well as tropical fruit and Khmer sticky rice cakes wrapped in banana leaf. For a quick bite, nip into the casual street facing café called The Glasshouse, already earning a reputation for generously stuffed sandwiches, Siem Reap’s best bagel and scrumptious homemade ice creams.

A stylish stand-out is the pink-hued library, where guests can sink into velvet love seats and admire the stunning pink elephant textiles hand-loomed by Weaves of Cambodia. This cooperative of land mine victims is overseen by American weaver Carol Cassidy and offers a fine example of the luxury goods with philanthropic origins increasingly produced in Siem Reap.

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Front exterior shot of the hotel entrance. Palm trees frame the front door.

Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor

Set within 15 acres of beautifully landscaped French gardens, this Colonial grand dame retains an old-world classical ambiance.

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Personality Suite at Raffles Hotel Le Royal, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Raffles Hotel Le Royal

Known simply as Le Royal, this historic hotel has hosted such luminaries as Charlie Chaplin, Jacqueline Kennedy and President Obama in 2012.
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patio with lights and tents at sunset

Rosewood Phnom Penh

Centrally located in the tallest tower in all of Cambodia, the Rosewood is a deeply stylish property, with 360-degree views and large rooms.

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Outside Sitting at Sala Lodges, Siem Reap, Cambodia - Courtesy Regis Binard

Sala Lodges

In a sea of fabulous hotels in Siem Reap, the Sala Lodges is the most authentic and charming property. The French and Swiss owners have lovingly cultivated a plot of land about 15 minutes outside of town, then spent two years finding, transporting and restoring eleven Khmer houses, built from 1956 to the 1980’s, which now serve as villas with just the perfect amount of added amenities such a rain shower and king beds. The service feels akin to staying in a small village where everyone knows your name the moment you check in – the smiles and interest in you are genuine.

The small village luxuriates in simple pleasures such as organic, locally grown food (the bread and yogurt is made on property), amazing service and a lovely infinity pool. The outdoor restaurant features a mixture of Khmer specialties and western comfort food – the Khmer chef prepares breakfast made to order along with homemade breads and yoghurts. Local cell phone calls are complimentary — travelers can use these to arrange a private Sala Lodges tuk-tuk to go to and from town.

When staying here, a favorite moment for our staff was in the morning rising early for a dawn viewing of Angkor Wat. Being awoken by the sounds of the Cambodian countryside is a true pleasure, sitting on your terrace sipping a coffee, listening to the lowing of a cow and crowing of the roosters as they awake the countryside for another day — a perfect moment of tranquility before the chaos of one of the world's most popular sites .

Pool at  Shinta Mani Resort, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Shinta Mani Angkor and Bensley Collection Pool Villas

Architectural Digest darling and Harvard–trained architect Bill Bensley, who also designed the nearby Park Hyatt Siem Reap, found his experience at this hotel-meets-social enterprise so moving that he teamed up with the owners and upgraded the humble 18-room inn into a showpiece. In August 2013, Shinta Mani expanded again, this time across the street with a new wing, the more family-friendly Shinta Mani resort with a larger swimming pool and tree-lined grounds.

The original Shinta Mani Club opened in 2004, along with a hospitality training center that provided free education to less fortunate Siem Reap youth. The 39-room property is considered the five-star older sister with a more exclusive, vibe and plusher rooms and facilities. The new 62-room Shinta Mani Resort has greatly expanded this philanthropic mission with a more affordable, four-star option. Now as the Shinta Mani Foundation, its operations include a micro-loan program, a mobile medical clinic and a new agricultural training center. Bensley built new facilities for the original Development Center within the hotel that provides free training in all aspects of hospitality, from maintenance to finance. Proceeds from guest stays support the Foundation’s work as do direct contributions.

Guests will see trainees working around the property, which sits just one block from the Siem Reap River (you can distinguish them from the staff by their shy demeanor). Staff meanwhile is friendly, helpful and engaging. Most guests recall this aspect as the most memorable of their Shinta Mani stay, topping even the powerful rain showers and chic high ceilinged guestrooms.

Meals can be ordered at the bar by the swimming pool but most come to Kroya, the hotel’s nouvelle Khmer eatery, whose dining room has a ceiling festooned with fantastical Angkor architectural renderings. Kroya, which means “food” in the Royal Khmer language, serves bountiful breakfasts including authentic French croissants and pain au chocolat, a legacy of a former chef who has gone on to open Siem Reap’s classiest eatery, Cuisine Wat Damnak. Dine inside with cooling air conditioning or outside on one of the half dozen day bed swings. Either way, order the lemongrass chicken burger and pomelo-prawn salad. The Khmer chef may be local but his cooking is world class, as are his desserts.

The tiny spa is staffed by program graduates, and massages feel even better knowing you’re helping more than just yourself with this indulgence.

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Shinta Mani Wild

One of the most unique settings for a property in southeast Asia, Shinta Mani Wild is made up of 15 luxury tents in 600 acres of Cambodian jungle.

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Exterior View - Song Saa Private Island, Cambodia

Song Saa Private Island

Song Saa, which means “the sweethearts” in Khmer is actually two privately owned islands attached by a gently curving wooden footbridge. The larger of the two islands (Koh Ouen) is home to twenty-seven private villas, two restaurants, an activities center, a large main pool, a small boutique, and a spa, while the other island (Koh Bong) has been left in its natural state and can be explored via a footpath that cuts through the verdant and rocky interior landscape and leads to a beach of black rocks, which makes an ideal vantage for watching the sunset.

Once you arrive at Song Saa, typically via a chic white speedboat (Dramamine or some such is recommended for those who are prone to motion sickness, as the 35-minute ride can be a bit choppy) from Sihanoukville’s port you will be on “island time.” This refers both to the immediate feeling of relaxation brought on by the beachy landscape and mellow barefoot luxury vibe, but also, more specifically, to the unique time zone that the resort has established in order to maximize the sunlight hours. Song Saa clocks are set one hour ahead of the mainland so that guests will enjoy an extra hour of sunlight in the evenings. This is just one of the many great lengths Song Saa and its staff go to ensure guests make the most of their time in paradise. After being greeted at the dock by smiling staff bearing refreshing cucumber and lime welcome drinks, Song Saa guests are personally escorted to their private thatched roof villa.

Guests choose their preferred paradisiacal abode from three options: Over-Water Villa (perched out over the sea, accessed via a stilted boardwalk), Jungle Villa (nestled up in the rainforest with spectacular views over the water), or an Ocean-View Villa (on the shore, with a small private sandy beach). The most spectacular accommodation is the Royal Villa, a spacious two-bedroom over-water villa with private boat access. All of the villas have an airy open layout with a muslin-draped four-poster bed, sunken living room, rainforest shower (and separate stone tub for two), and an outdoor porch with a private infinity pool and shaded daybed. The villas’ décor mixes creature comforts (Ploh linens, Aesop products, Bose sound system) with an eco-design aesthetic that is very much in tune with the island landscape. Adding a touch of color to natural materials like driftwood, pinecones, and straw, the walls are decorated with planks of blue-painted wood, which have been salvaged from old fishing boats. Another ingenious example of decorative recycling are the reshaped metal petrol containers, which make for unexpectedly elegant lampshades.

Once you check-in to Song Saa, you may never want to leave your private paradise, but when (if!) you do feel like venturing out of the villa, there are plenty of activities to keep you entertained including watersports (snorkeling, kayaking, sailing, paddle boarding), nature excursions (bird watching, beach hikes, island and marine safaris), fitness (daily sunrise yoga and there’s also a small gym), as well as scuba diving for experienced divers and PADI diving courses for all levels. Activities can be planned in advance or booked spur of the moment. Based on your energy and skill level, friendly and knowledgeable staff will set you up with state-of-the-art equipment, delicious snacks (even a full picnic lunch), and an expert guide.

Following a day of hiking or water sports, what better way to unwind than with a relaxing spa treatment? A comprehensive list of spa treatments that combine traditional Khmer techniques with ayurvedic principles, are available in the special spa villas or in the privacy of your own villa. The best spot for a massage is at the outdoor treatment hut overlooking the untouched island of Koh Bong. Those looking for a unique relaxation experience can try a sophisticated underwater meditation technique involving a breathing apparatus and an MP3 player programmed to complement the sights and sounds of the ocean at night.

Dining is another high point of the Song Saa experience. There are two restaurants, which offer surprisingly diverse options for such a small resort. In addition to featuring distinct daily menus, each restaurant has its own particular vibe, which makes it easy to choose a venue for lunch or dinner depending on your mood and culinary cravings. The Vista Bar is a large open-air dining room that sits out over the sea and is shielded from the sun and wind by a thatched roof. The warm sea breeze and dramatic view over the water make this a spectacular ambiance in which to enjoy a sunny breakfast (delicious house-made yogurts, granolas, fruit smoothies, and made-to-order eggs) or romantic dinner under the stars. A more casual dining option is the beachfront Driftwood Bar and Restaurant, which specializes in thin-crust wood-fired pizzas but also offers nightly specials like seafood barbecue. Here guests can dine while enjoying the soft sand under their feet and a bonfire in the evenings. Of course, it is also possible to eat in your villa—the extensive in-dining menu is available until the kitchen closes at 11pm (a variety of snacks are available 24 hours a day.) Another option is “destination dining,” where guests can arrange to have a private dinner served in a beautiful secluded spot on the island.

In addition to welcoming travelers to an idyllic haven for a little much-needed fun in the sun and R&R, Song Saa takes care of the natural environment and makes a concerted effort to give back to the local community. Through the Song Saa Foundation, a dedicated team of conservationists and humanitarians have been able to realize diverse projects ranging from the construction of a new school on neighboring island Koh Rong to establishing no-fishing zones to help encourage healthier reef systems. Song Saa guests can learn first-hand about the foundation’s current projects and future goals at the Discovery Centre. Those who want to get involved before their arrival should check out the foundation’s website, where there is information about programs like “Pack for a Purpose,” which encourages travelers to use spare space in their luggage to bring supplies like notebooks, pencils, teaching aids and other resources that can be used in local schools.

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Lounge at The Plantation, The Plaza, New York City, New York

The Plantation

Located just behind the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh’s historic center, this 70-room hotel is an oasis of lush greenery, bubbling fountains, and shaded seating areas. Although the entrance is off a lively street filled with tuk-tuks, taxis, and pedestrians, the hotel provides a true respite from the hustle and bustle. Spanning four buildings, the oldest of which dates from the 1930s and was expertly restored in 2011, the modern-style hotel centers on a large slate swimming pool lined with lounge chairs, shaded daybeds, and tropical trees including palms, acacias, and frangipanis. The airy poolside is a perfect spot to unwind after an active day of tourism and is also where the delicious breakfast buffet is served each morning. Other amenities include a very reasonably priced spa, a small air-conditioned gym, and an elegant restaurant housed in the upstairs quarters of the restored 1930s mansion.

Rooms at The Plantation are cheery, bright, and contemporary. Four-poster beds are draped with muslin and enlivened with silk pillows in poppy orange, yellow, or green. The modern furniture is made from local materials like rubber wood (desks) and palm wood (mirror frames.) The best rooms have small balconies with views over the pool (Deluxe Pool View) and the decadent Rooftop Suite, which is great for families, boasts two bedrooms, two bathrooms, three terraces, a private bar, and a Jacuzzi.

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