khmer style house with pointed roof and wooden terrace in daytime
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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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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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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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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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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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