For the past two decades, Amansara has been the property of choice for discerning travelers seeking luxurious accommodations and a deeper connection to Siem Reap town. Recently, Prestige had the chance to visit this emblematic property, which will soon celebrate its 20th anniversary.
When I arrive in Siem Reap, I am greeted at the airport by a member of Amansara staff who accompanies me to my trip; a beautifully restored 1962 jet black Mercedes stretch sedan. Our route then winds through a local village just outside the famous temples of Angkor Wat – visible up close as we glide – before finally arriving in town at the hotel’s unmarked main gate. The fact that there is no signage outside saying ‘Amansara’ clearly indicates two things: privacy and exclusivity.
Once inside the doors, I am warmly greeted before being shown straight to my room (where check-in then takes place). It’s a seamless procedure that immediately sets the tone for my stress-free two-night stay: tranquility and serenity in equal parts – perfectly suited to a hotel whose name translates to ‘heavenly peace’.
Like all Aman properties, Amansara offers understated luxury – no flash, just panache – as well as a true “sense of place”. The property itself dates back to 1962, the same year as the vintage Mercedes, and was originally built for the King of Cambodia as a guest house. Designed in the very chic “Modern Khmer” architectural style of that decade, this royal residence has hosted a long list of visiting celebrities and dignitaries. Unfortunately, during the tumultuous and politically unstable period that began in the mid-1970s, it was abandoned and left to decay.
In 2002 it was taken over by Aman and brought back to its former glory as a 12-room luxury resort, with all of the original architecture restored (down to the main pool). Four years later, a second wing was added, offering 12 magnificent pool suites, as well as a second pool and fitness room.
Although I’m a big fan of vintage architecture, I was ultimately happier to be booked into one of the new 141-square-meter private pool suites, all of which offer an open, seamless layout. The interior’s understated color palette incorporates soothing shades of white, ivory, stone grey, earthy brown and rich dark wood, with only a few soft embellishments – a muted inlaid wall sculpture here, a vase containing fresh pink lotus flowers there.
At the foot of the comfortable king-size bed is a circular table, two armchairs and a small sofa, and a stone’s throw from this is the large free-standing bathtub, flanked on either side by twin vanities. From here, sliding glass doors lead to the sun-drenched saltwater pool, surrounded on three sides by high white walls. For some it might seem a little austere at first glance, but everything included in the sequel has been well thought out, as has everything not included. Case in point: there’s no flat-screen TV, but there’s an iPad and sound system on the bedside table (which, when I arrived, was tuned to a playlist of soothing, meditative songs).
As tranquil as the Amansara is, it’s hardly what you would call a “destination hotel.” And with such a historic and captivating attraction as Angkor Wat just around the corner, no one expects you to stay put. Carefully curated excursions are an integral part of the overall experience, and one of the most recommended tours is to watch the sunrise over Angkor Wat. for which you have to get up well before the first light of dawn.
Since I’ve explored much of the Angkor Archaeological Park on two previous visits to Siem Reap, I knew I wasn’t going to have any major surprises. However, this was my first time to sunrise – quite spectacular – and the first time I had a personal guide, as provided by Amansara (with a personalized guide tow – a covered buggy attached to a motorcycle – and designated driver).
Knowing and speaking well, my guide led me through the main temple at a leisurely pace, as well as the Ta Prohm ruins, famous in the Lara Croft: Tomb Raider movie (and if you’re wondering if Angelina Jolie stayed at Amansara, the answer should be obvious). Then, around 10 am, I was taken to a traditional wooden house on stilts in a nearby village. Here I was greeted by Tom Rutherford, the hotel’s General Manager, who joined me for a specially prepared breakfast.
“We call it the Khmer Village House,” Tom remarked as we sat on the sunny upstairs terrace. “It’s part of Amansara. We organize special dinners, breakfasts and cooking classes here. The facility is for private use, so you won’t have people who aren’t in your group.
“From how our tours are conducted, how far you use entrance to Angkor Wat so you don’t enter with all the crowds, we try to ‘Amanize’ every guest experience as much as possible. Even arriving from the airport is important to us. We have an agreement with ASPARA [Authority for the Protection of the Site and Management of the Region of Angkor] where you pass Angkor Wat on the way to Amansara. No other hotel has this privilege. The arriving guests don’t have their temple passes yet, but the authorities know our Mercedes, so they know they are our guests. Otherwise, you would have to take the less scenic main road.
For hotel guests, one excursion per day is included in the room rate, and many outings outside Angkor Wat revolve around spirituality, the environment, and connecting to local culture.
“On one tour, guests go out with a senior monk and take a meditation walk through the forest and through a monastery that’s actually in Angkor,” Tom explained. “We also have two boats, fitted out in the Aman style, which take guests on Tonle Sap Lake and through the floating villages.”
Since the hotel turns 20 in December, I asked Tom what the future holds. “We have land right next to the hotel and in March, if all goes as planned, we will start building a two-bedroom suite with a large swimming pool and dining area. We will also build four more pool suites and an Italian restaurant which will have its own entrance from the road. It will probably take a year to complete.
It’s definitely something to look forward to, but for now I was looking forward to my afternoon massage at the Aman Spa, another delicious Khmer specialty menu dinner at the hotel restaurant and a few additional dips in my private pool before leaving this very pleasant private oasis.
For reservations and information, visit Amansara.
This story first appeared on PrestigeOnline Thailand