Wed, Aug 19, 2015 - Page 12 News List

Searching for serenity in Siem Reap

Once synonymous with Angkor Wat, the historic Cambodian city now offers travelers numerous Khmer fine dining options, locally-brewed infused rice wine and a world-class circus troupe

By Dana Ter  /  Staff reporter

Angkor Wat welcomes travelers with its centuries-old majestic temples and intricate stone carvings.

Photo: Dana Ter, Taipei Times

“It would mean so much to us if you could write us a review on TripAdvisor,” says Rayou, our personal assistant at The Privilege Floor. “We are currently number three for best hotels in Siem Reap but with your help, we could make it to number one.”

I glance at Rayou, at his toothy smile and sincere eyes, then at my partner, and we exchange a shared pang of guilt. When planning our trip to Cambodia, we could not decide on one hotel since there were dozens of amazing ones beckoning us on booking sites like Expedia.com and Booking.com. So we eventually came up with a grand plan — why not stay at two hotels? Genius.

But now it felt like we were betraying our first hotel after everything they had done for us — a free upgrade to the royal suite with three balconies overlooking the swimming pool, calling us by name whenever they saw us leaving our room and providing us with a pillow menu with detailed descriptions of feather counts and health benefits. Not to mention hunting down a Panadol when I suffered from a splitting headache at four o’clock in the morning.

It used to be the case that travelers came to Siem Reap to explore Angkor Wat and chug beers at boozy bars along Pub Street, the city’s backpackers’ row. Five-star hotels were only for the rich and the snooty — namely, elderly French tourists. But much has changed in the nearly five years since I last visited. More resorts have opened, along with fine dining options and other forms of entertainment that did not revolve around drinking Angkor Beer.

Everywhere we went, shop owners and restaurateurs implored us to write favorable reviews for them on TripAdvisor. We didn’t mind it too much — to say that Khmer hospitality is top-notch would be an understatement. Nearly every establishment is on TripAdvisor and apparently, competition is stiff. Forget Phuket or Bali if you’re searching for serenity. Luxury is affordable in Siem Reap — at least for now.

PACK YOUR BAGS

GETTING THERE

■Round-trip flights from Taipei to Siem Reap via Bangkok on Bangkok Airways or via Kuala Lumpur on Air Asia cost around NT$15,000 per person

Stay

■The Privilege Floor at Borei Angkor (privilegefloor.com/borei)

■De Sarann Villa (www.desarannvilla.com)

■Raffles Grand Hotel D’Angkor (www.raffles.com/siem-reap)

■Most hotels will provide a private chauffeur and free mobile phone for guests, so getting around Siem Reap is convenient

Eat and Drink

■Viroth’s (www.viroth-hotel.com/dinning.html)

■Chanrey Tree (www.chanreytree.com)

■Marum (www.facebook.com/MarumRestaurant)

■Kroya at Shinta Mani (shintamani.com/club/food-and-beverage)

■Rice wine tasting at Sombai (www.sombai.com, reservation required)

Visit

■Angkor Wat

■Bayon Temple

■Miniature golf (www.angkorwatputt.com)

■Phare Cambodian Circus (www.pharecambodiancircus.org/circus, US$35 for reserved front-row ticket, US$15 for regular ticket)


ROYAL TREATMENT

“How do you like your Mai Tai, Miss Dana?” my waiter asks me.

“It’s perfect,” I reply.

“Good, good,” the waiter says, before breaking into a fit of laughter that sounds like Muttley the dog on LSD.

He is without a doubt the life of happy hour at the Damnak Lounge on The Privilege Floor, happily giving out free-flowing cocktails and finger food to amused-looking couples dressed in Bermuda shorts and sundresses.

Siem Reap is dotted with resorts that are all a five to 10-minute drive from each other. The Sofitel, Park Hyatt and Shinta Mani are all top contenders. As is the Raffles Grand Hotel D’Angkor, the hotel I stayed at during my last visit. Opened in 1932 and featuring a wrought iron cage elevator which is still in use today, the Raffles is Siem Reap’s oldest hotel.

This trip, we stayed at one of the city’s newest resorts. The Privilege Floor consists of the fourth floor of the Borei Angkor Resort & Spa. Guests staying in any of these 19 rooms and suites are given a private chauffeur, personal assistant and mobile phone. The best part (besides happy hour), however, is the all-day complimentary breakfast. This is a novelty as most hotels stop serving breakfast before 10am, expecting guests to commence their sightseeing in the wee hours of the morning.

The royal suite is complete with a living/dining, master bedroom, kitchen, Jacuzzi bathtub and a powder room. The silk table runners and regal yellow curtain drapes add an extra touch of warmth, while a bottle of sparkling wine greets us upon arrival. The free refill at the minibar helps quench our thirst throughout our stay.

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