31 July, 2014
Travel

A weekend in Siem Reap, at Belmond La Residence d’Angkor

31 July, 2014

I have to say that my true passion is travelling – I’ve always loved exploring new places, and since I’d been in Hong Kong for months and months I was itching to get away. Thankfully, I was granted a golden opportunity when I was invited to stay at Belmond La Residence d’Angkor in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Cambodia is somewhere I’d always dreamed of visiting, especially to see the ancient temple ruins of Angkor Wat. I couldn’t wait to travel to this awe-inspiring place, and I quickly set about booking flights. With such specific flight times (and with my rather small budget!) I asked the experts at the Flight Centre for help, and they managed to find me perfect flights that would maximise my stay in Siem Reap. I simply transferred over the cash to Flight Centre and voilà; they were booked! It was easy, quick and relaxed. A good start to the trip – and definitely recommended if you’re looking for the best deal, last minute.

Black_Car_Driver_ColorThat being said, one of our flights was at 8am, so we would need to leave for the airport at 5am… yawn. Luckily, I decided to trial the new car service from Uber (check out our day with Uber here!). It couldn’t have been easier for us; we simply went downstairs, dumped out cases in the car and were driven straight to our terminal without a second thought. Skilled driver, nice car and not a care in the world… so far so good!

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After a speedy stop over in Bangkok, we boarded the little Bangkok Airways (the ‘boutique’ airline) plane and flew over to Siem Reap airport. We were greeted by the serene, clean new airport (which almost felt like a museum inside with its fancy décor) and quickly got our visas on arrival and collected our luggage. As we came through arrivals, we were met by a driver from La Residence and swept into a car with cold, jasmine-scented towels and bottles of water already waiting for us.

DSC06312La Residence d’Angkor is located in the heart of Siem Reap town, right across the river from the old market. Only a couple of minutes drive away from Angkor Wat, La Residence certainly prides itself on convenience and ease, whilst still feeling like it’s in its own tranquil bubble. I loved how the hotel building itself was able to retain a sense of heritage with the traditional inspired architecture, so different from many of the other flashy five-star hotels in the area.

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Once we’d checked into the hotel, we were led to our Deluxe Poolside room. The king-sized bed with the elegant mosquito nets hanging down from it, teamed with the quaint balcony and simply sophisticated furnishings made for a relaxing room. And we hadn’t even seen the bathroom yet. What a treat it was to have such an enormous bathtub when we’re stuck with child-sized ones here in HK… I was determined to have a bath every night to make the most of it!

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Our room looked onto the stunning pool area, so we couldn’t resist going to check it out straight away. The pool itself is a natural, salt-water pool, so it’s great because you don’t have that horrible chlorine feel on your skin afterwards.

cambodia collage 2 Lying by the pool in the sun with magnolia flowers gently falling down around us truly did feel magical… and the pool is perfect for cooling down in, even though it’s not very big. You can also order from the poolside menu, which includes delicious burgers, gourmet sandwiches, Khmer dishes and salads – and who can resist having a fresh young coconut too?

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One of the great things about La Residence is that it’s the ideal base. Not only can you rely on great quality food at one of their three restaurants (Ember, Circle and the Martini Lounge) when you return from a busy day, but they are actually able to help you organise a host of interesting activities and tours to make the most of your trip too (check out the tours here). Being a foodie the ‘Mystery Dining Tour’ was at the top of my list! We were given a small piece of paper with ‘clues’ to the three destinations we would be trying, starting off in La Residence’s Martini Lounge. The platter of snacks we started off with were the perfect way to begin a night of feasting and we particularly enjoyed the blue cheese biscuits and the rice paper rolls.

Apart from the great food, the Martini Lounge also hosts a group of local children and teenagers in partnership with Together for Cambodia every Saturday, giving you the opportunity to chat to them and help them practice their English. A great cause that the hotel keeps you up to date with using nightly reminders in your room.To provide a safe

DSC06346We then hopped on a Tuk Tuk that drove us to our surprise restaurants for each course. I won’t spoil the surprise – but I have to say this was an incredible way to get a taste of Siem Reap’s dining scene, and every plate of food we tried was absolutely delicious! The perfect way to take your tastebuds on a journey and get to know delicious Khmer cuisine… my favourite place had to be the ‘Off the Beaten Track’ restaurant! And if you’re feeling adventurous, head over to Pub Street to enjoy a bit of Siem Reap nightlife and a host of other dining options. I would definitely recommend checking out Miss Wong for delicious desserts and cool cocktails in a stylish, Chinese setting.

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How can you visit Siem Reap and not visit Angkor Wat? As a UNESCO World Heritage site and an eighth wonder of the world, this temple is truly remarkable, especially if you catch it at sunrise. La Residence can help arrange a car to take you there, pick up your passes and guide you around this historic structure with ease. Our guide was extremely knowledgeable and I was so glad we had him for all the little details that we wouldn’t have picked up otherwise.

DSC06709We also visited Angkor Thom (we loved the amazing wall carvings), Banteay Srei, Ta Prohm (the Tomb Raider temple!) and Beng Mealea… it was a little too much for one very hot and humid day, but I’m so glad I got to see all of them. While each temple was fascinating for its rich history, I would definitely recommend Bang Melea for true temple exploring, as you can climb all around the ruins. Angkor Thom’s wall carvings are particularly interesting if you go with a knowledgeable guide, but I have to say that I wouldn’t do more than 2-3 temples in a day as it can be quite exhausting – especially in the heat. Check out our Cambodia Guide here for more info on other sights to see in Siem Reap!

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Apart from exploring temples, La Residence can also organise other trips to the Silk Farm (which was unfortunately closed when we showed up) and Phnom Kulen, which has a lovely waterfall and a river filled with 1000 lingas (complex Hindu symbol carvings!). Although Phnom Kulen is a fair distance away from Siem Reap (prepare for an hour’s drive), it would be the perfect spot for a picnic – which the hotel can actually provide – and a great chance to experience a more rural side of Cambodia.

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Another awesome activity in Siem Reap is Phare, the Cambodian Circus. And don’t worry – it’s not your typical circus (no animals are involved!). This is an incredible show that features original stories, circus arts, contemporary theatre and dance that will truly blow you away. The talented performers are full of energy and have all learnt their skills from Phare Ponleu Selpak, an association providing arts education in Battambang, Cambodia, that supports kids from the streets, orphanages and struggling families. Ticket proceeds go to the association and the performance perfectly represents Cambodian culture… find out more about it here. You can also like their Facebook and donate here! This show is highly recommended – I couldn’t believe how amazing the performance was and I would definitely go again if I return to Siem Reap.

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Worn out from exploring this fascinating city? La Residence offers a sanctuary of calm after you return from a busy day of temple hopping. We thoroughly enjoyed all our meals at the hotel at their three restaurants, particular dinner at Circle, which included a traditional Cambodian Apsara performance. Oh, and the mango sticky rice was divine! Breakfast each day at Circle is also a treat, with a spread of fresh fruits, yoghurt, muesli, hams, cheeses, pastries, bread, eggs and a selection of  la carte dishes to choose from too.

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To top off our trip, we managed to sneak in the hotel cooking class the morning before we left. Off we went with Sous Chef Piseth, who took us around the local market. The market was full of colour and vibrancy, with a huge array of vegetables (lots of chillis!) and lots of different fish on offer too!

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We then headed back to the hotel and (with lots of assistance from Chef Piseth!) we whipped up our very own rice paper spring rolls, lobster soup and fish curry. Yum! Definitely recommended for a real taste of Cambodian cuisine.

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Overall, my weekend in Siem Reap at Belmond Residence d’Angkor was filled with cultural delights, foodie fun and blissful relaxation. Although it was stiflingly hot, we felt so relaxed at the hotel and I have to say that the staff were all friendly and lovely – particularly the waiting staff! Thomas, the Resident Manager, and Diego were both charming, polite and helpful, and the overall service at the hotel was great, especially as everyone was always smiling! I would definitely stay here again for the location and convenience… it was such an easy trip and the hotel provides so many ways for you to experience the best of Siem Reap. The one thing I would do is double check with the front desk before you go on any of your trips, as it was quite disappointing going to the Silk Farm when it was closed (which could have been checked before hand).

So if you’re looking for a weekend away that’s not to far from HK, but offers up a range of interesting activities as well as a bit of relaxed luxury, definitely consider popping over to Siem Reap in Cambodia – the Kingdom of Wonder!

Belmond La Residence d’Angkor, River Road, Siem Reap, Kingdom of Cambodia, +855 (0) 63 963 390, www.belmond.com/la-residence-d-angkor-siem-reapwww.facebook.com/laresidencedangkor. Email [email protected] or call 852 3071 3051 for reservations.

lauren

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