Anyone who calls Hong Kong home knows that as much as we all love and adore this city, it’s absolutely necessary to take a mini break every few months and escape from the hustle and bustle of crazy work hours, nonstop social events and crowded commutes. I’m reaching my one-year mark in Hong Kong and I’m realising that this little holiday is a requirement on my calendar – even if it’s just for a day trip – every two months or so. Therefore, it was with a great amount of excitement and relief that I embarked on my end-of-summer mini getaway to Cambodia (thanks to the travel experts at The Luxe Nomad!). This was my first time to Siem Reap, and having heard about its amazing beauty, culture and heritage sites from friends, I was beyond excited to see it all firsthand.
Siem Reap is a relatively small town with a handful of hotels to choose from, but you just can’t go wrong with the Raffles Grand Hotel D’Angkor. The Raffles Grand was built in the 1930s to accommodate the first wave of tourists to the awe-inspiring Angkor Wat temple, and originally incorporated 63 to 65 rooms. From the period of 1930-1960, the hotel was considered the most dazzling, ‘concrete palace’ in the area and was visited by many notable figures of the time, (including Charlie Chaplin!). During its glory days, guests were treated to unheard of luxuries such as temple performances from torch-lit Khmer dancers, elephant excursions, motorised tours and a private golf course. Although the hotel suffered along with the rest of the country through the turbulence that followed in the next two decades, it has returned to all its former glory and splendour, and now boasts 119 rooms after a massive renovation in 1997.
From the moment I stepped off the plane and entered Siem Reap with its rice paddies, lush jungle and ancient ruins, I felt a grand sense of adventure (this is coming from a born and bred city girl!) which lasted the whole trip, whether I was hiking to the top of Angkor Wat or sipping cocktails at the Elephant Bar at Raffles. I loved that the resort was able to provide all the luxury and comfort of 5-star accommodation without that jarring effect of a change in scenery every night you come home (think a Ritz Carlton in the middle of an African jungle safari!).
Approaching the resort, the first thing that strikes you is the stateliness of the building and the surrounding grounds, which includes 15 acres of beautifully landscaped French gardens. There are two wings that make an ‘L’ shape, outfitted in an Art Deco style with white and black tiled halls, wooden floorings, ceiling fans and antique ornaments at every turn. There’s a spa, three luxurious villas, an outdoor performance house used for cultural performances and a 35-metre outdoor pool – the largest in Siem Reap!
We were greeted at the door by by friendly staff who presented us with traditional Cambodian scarves and showed us to our deluxe suite, which was outfitted with all the modern amenities you could wish for – WiFi, round the clock butler service, LCD flat screen TV, iPod docking station and a luxurious claw-footed bathtub! Honestly, I could’ve spent the whole trip lazily lounging about, but as we only had two days and plenty of sights to see, there was no indulging in such luxuries! As our flight arrived pretty late, our first night was capped off with a refreshing drink in the Lobby Bar, where we were serenaded by lovely music from a pianist who performs daily from 6-10pm.
We woke up in the wee hours of the morning the next day and caught the misty sunrise over Angkor Wat, followed by a tour of all the temples in the Angkor Wat temple complex. You simply buy a temple pass and are free to tour all the temples in the area at your leisure throughout the day (2-day passes are also available). I loved exploring the ancient red ruins of Pre Rup, navigating the complicated maze of Banteay Kdei and trekking through the undergrowth at Ta Prohm (the temple made famous by Angelina Jolie in ‘Tomb Raider’). We hired a tuk-tuk driver, which I would highly recommend; it was great because we could make several trips back to the hotel during the day, so we weren’t absolutely exhausted after visiting 7 or 8 temples!
At night, we headed back to the hotel to take a tour of the grounds and enjoy a cocktail with the hospitable Raffles team. There are so many fascinating tidbits of information and history seeped into the walls of the Raffles Grand that you could spend a day just exploring the beautiful landscapes and architecture. One of the coolest things we uncovered was an old-school cage elevator in the lobby, which is reminiscent of the hotel’s heydays when guests would be transported to their room with the aid of an elevator attendant – and yes, you can still ride it!
After the tour, we met Hotel Manager Charles Demange for a signature cocktail in the Elephant Bar. The lounge is outfitted in dark mahogany wood, comfy armchairs, elephant statues and antique trinkets from the old days, and is the perfect place to sit back and relax while striking up new acquaintances in a foreign place. Charles was quick to recommend several must-visit attractions, helping us make the most of our short trip there! We then headed to dinner at the Restaurant Le Grand, which serves up both French fine dining and local Khmer cuisine. We chose to go the local route and were treated to a magnificent spread of curries, seafood and lamb chops. The food was excellently prepared and after a few glasses of wine and engaging conversation (in which we learned about some very famous people who’ve stayed at the Raffles, but my lips are sealed!), we were ready to call it a night and retreated to the comfort of our suite.
The next morning was spent shopping around the various little boutiques in the resort, and enjoying a Champagne breakfast buffet at the Café d’Angkor (because when have we ever said no to a glass of bubbly at breakfast?!). The all-day dining cafe offers a good spread of Western and local dishes, including noodles, curries, bread, cold cuts, cereal, pastries, smoothies and fresh fruit. After doing a bit more temple-seeing during the day and enjoying a fun Cambodian cooking class (from Beyond Unique Escapes, which I would highly recommend!), we retreated back to the hotel for a refreshing afternoon swim. When we came back to the room, we had a fresh tropical fruit platter waiting for us and a bit of chocolate fondue – the perfect way to end the day!
If I had a few more days, I would have definitely loved to check out the golf course as well as the spa, which provides traditional services that are perfect for a spot of pampering on your holiday. Although we only had a few days, overall our stay at the Raffles Grand was an amazing journey stepping back in time and immersing ourselves in the history and heritage of the area and its surroundings.
The location of the resort is great (10 min. to Angkor Wat and 5 min. to the town centre), the staff friendly and hospitable, and the facilities fantastic. You may not find flashy hotel décor and super modern technology at the Raffles Grand, but there’s a historical elegance that is timeless and perfect for a weekend getaway to an exotic location like Siem Reap!