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Hidden oasis of Cambodian charm

Hidden oasis of Cambodian charm

A lavish redesign of Belmond La Résidence d’Angkor has intensified its authentic Khmer atmosphere. Think languid tropical gardens, opulent suites and evocative artworks—spiced with contemporary Cambodian style.

Set beside a tree-shaded river at the gateway to Angkor Wat, Belmond La Résidence d’Angkor is a world apart. Just steps from Siem Reap’s vibrant urban buzz, it echoes the style of the great temples themselves. A wooden walkway, suspended over a beautiful fish pool, leads from the dynamic city into a realm where peace and serenity descend.

It is often after dark when guests arrive. The richly panelled lobby, with its exquisite Khmer artworks, glistens in the subtle light. The magic deepens as you turn and glimpse the swimming pool for the first time. Surrounded by luscious plants, the glimmering water is guarded by a majestic sandstone lion that recalls the leonine sculpture at Angkor’s temple of Phnom Bakheng.

The hotel’s recent redesign has distilled this exotic, evocative ambience. Interior designers, landscapers and a specialist art curator all came together to pay homage to the legendary temple complex, while adding an innovative twist.

Lush gardens and shimmering silks

Pool

The tropical gardens, always a highlight of this intimate residence, have been refined and calmed. Tangled jungle has been tamed, to re-emerge as sumptuous planting among clipped hedges that frame a series of “garden rooms”. As guests stroll around they come upon delightful touches such as the decorative pool. “We sought to create an almost ceremonial space,” says landscape architect Chatchai Petcharad. “A still, tranquil body of water leads the eye towards an elegant statue suggestive of a ‘devata’ temple custodian.” Elsewhere, flower and bead motifs, typical of Khmer-style Siraphorn statues, inform the circular topiary.

The resort is now an all-suite hotel, with spacious new guest rooms including a Deluxe Poolside Suite that opens onto an alfresco terrace with views across the gardens and pool. Vast windows let the light flood in; bathrooms have been transformed into lavish sanctuaries with freestanding tubs and decadent showers.

Colour is key, with strong gold and umber accents conjuring up the stunning costumes of the Apsara dancers who make Siem Reap evenings such a visual delight. Details such as handwoven, jewel-coloured silks, Khmer wood panelling and trays crafted by artisans add to the genuine sense of place.

Cambodian art in One Bedroom Poolside Suite

Contemplate Cambodian art

A vibrant new art collection adds adds excitement and surprise. Curated by leading Phnom Penh-based art historian Roger Nelson, it highlights contemporary Cambodian creativity. As he explains, the works “juxtapose the country’s dynamism and originality of vision with its deep links to the culture of the ancient Angkor temples.”

Every suite features a unique artwork by one of Cambodia’s most celebrated living artists. The stunning new meeting room is adorned with a series of photographs by leading Cambodian artist Khvay Samnang, of dancers from the Sophiline Arts Ensemble in scenes from “Bend in the River”, a dance based on a popular folk tale.

The adjacent library features newly commissioned paintings by Siem Reap-based artist Roeun Sokhom. “His works sparkle with designs drawn from a magical traditional practice known as the ‘yantra Khmer’,” says Nelson. “These mysterious designs feature special prayers and incantations, written in the beautiful Khmer script but based on words derived from the historic Sanskrit language.” Nelson also curated the library books, choosing a selection that showcases the arts, culture, history and landscape of Cambodia and surrounding countries.

Dine from tuk tuks—and explore

Spice Circle

The hotel’s restaurants, too, have taken on a new lease of life. Pop-up buffet stations arranged on tuk tuks add a fun new touch to fine-dining Spice Circle’s Cambodian and Khmer cuisine. Ember offers a fresh indoor/outdoor experience, highlighting the chefs’ skills with a show kitchen, pizza oven and organic Asian menus with a Latin twist. Light tapas join an enticing new list of cocktails in the Martini Lounge.

To complement the refreshed resort, new bespoke activities whisk guests to the Cambodia beyond the temples, including themed local dining tours and helicopter trips to the Cambodian-Thai border. Belmond La Résidence d’Angkor has never looked more beguiling—or offered so many opportunities to experience the rich culture all around.

by Julia Pearey