Five special hotels in Cambodia
First published 20th November, 2007
Cambodia's guesthouse and hotel scene is really developing, with some outstanding places to now stay at across the country. Here are five very special places that caught our eye on a foray through the countryside in 2007. If you'd like to factor in a splurge or two during your trip, these all belong on your short list.
PHNOM PENH: BODDHI TREE ARAM
Set in the heart of Phnom Penh's colonial district and within a short walk of the Royal Palace and the riverfront, Boddhi Tree Aram is easily one of the most charming properties in Phnom Penh. Set in a renovated 1950's house, the building was once the residence of the Spanish owner of the Boddhi Tree brand and it must have been an oh so hard decision to up and move out to make way for guests.
Boddhi Tree Aram boasts soaring ceilings, airy rooms and interiors, a comfortable balcony cafe and a rooftop terrace. A tranquil colour scheme permeates throughout, and the rooms, while not massive, are immaculate and well decorated (though we'd swap the TV for a minibar). Small balconies accompany some rooms, though the views are little to get excited about. Spacious bathrooms come with piping hot water showers. The first floor encompasses both reception and lobby, with comfortable furnishings, tasteful art and a complimentary selection of newspapers (IHT and Cambodia Daily). WiFi access is available throughout the property without charge.
Boddhi Tree has little flourishes that distinguish it from its competitors -- tiny fish in tall vases by reception, aromatherapy burners infusing calming lemongrass scents, mixed light and heavy curtains -- perfect for early birds and late sleepers. Sashes deflect the harsh midday sun if you're lounging on the terrace restaurant, and complimentary mixed olives come with your afternoon tipple.
But these are trivial compared to Boddhi Tree's number one asset -- its staff. Travelling with a baby isn't always easy and we found Boddhi Tree's staff and owner to be incredibly accommodating of our needs. Our kitchen is your kitchen -- please make yourself at home was how we were greeted, and by the time we left, Aram truly felt like a home away from home.
What Boddhi Tree Aram isn't, is cheap. You'll get a property for half the price with a swimming pool elsewhere in Phnom Penh (Boddhi Tree doesn't have a pool, though you can walk over to the Himawari and use theirs, for a fee). But there's more to life than a swimming pool and we found that the glowing service and lovely building more than compensated for the stiff rates.
Boddhi Tree Aram
70 St 244 Phnom Penh
Tel: (011) 854 430
SIEM REAP: VIROTH'S HOTEL
As we waited at Viroth's reception, one of the guests wandered over to say hello, and when we asked how the rooms were, he replied: "Fabulous -- nothing more -- nothing less," and then promptly offered to walk us through their room. Viroth's is the kind of place where the guests freely intermingle, the staff are approachable and the rooms, well, they're fabulous!
Set a short walk from the Siem Reap River in Wat Bo, we found compact Viroth's to be a breath of fresh air in Siem Reap's cluttered hotel scene. Truly a boutique hotel -- one that has earned the moniker rather than shamelessly appropriated it -- Viroth's has but a handful of slick, stylishly designed rooms, clustered through a multi-level modern building which overlooks the most wonderful (albeit small) swimming pool.
The rooms are light and airy and styled in the ivory linens, sharp edges minimalist manner popular in Thailand, and we'd say they've got it down just about perfectly here. Amenities include air-con throughout, open-plan bathroom with rainfall shower, cable TV, internet access and firm, queen-sized beds. Some rooms are barely stumbling distance from the ideally placed swimming pool.
There's plenty of open space, the foyer blends off into poolside with the rooftop cafe (breakfast only) and Jacuzzi swinging the deal. To us, Viroth's felt like it would be just as at home perched on a Balinese cliff top overlooking the ocean as it does on this Siem Reap back road and next time we're in town we know where we'll be staying. Reservations recommended.
0658 Wat Bo, Siem Reap
Tel: (063) 761 720;(016) 951 800
BATTAMBANG: LA VILLA
Battambang's La Villa is, quite simply, one of the most charming hotels we've seen in Cambodia -- and we've seen most of them.
Dating back to the 1930's, this lovingly restored colonial villa has been transformed from a squat into the most mesmerising of small hotels. La Villa sits just across the Sangker River from central Battambang and is comprised of a compact two-storey building in a walled-off garden.
The rooms are exquisite -- cool encaustic tiles are relaxing on the feet and charming to the eyes, while art deco interiors display an attention to detail we see far far too infrequently. Tall ceilings and subdued colours make what are already very spacious lodgings appear even more so -- the upstairs rooms are simply massive, with an almost public reading room appearance about them. Downstairs, the rooms are more moderately sized, but they're still lovely, with tasteful linens, cloths and antiques littered throughout. The hot-water bathrooms come with large and deep freestanding bathtubs ideally suited to the type of long -- hot -- soak you'll need to rid yourself of red dust after a day in the countryside. But it doesn't stop with the rooms. La Villa also boasts an excellent restaurant -- bright and airy courtesy of a large atrium skylight. Both the restaurant and bar come well recommended.
The only thing La Villa lacks is a swimming pool and we were told, by the especially friendly co-owner who showed us around, that one may be on the way some time in the near future.
While the rates blow the Battambang average out of the water, that's more a reflection on most of the town's lodgings being ridiculously cheap rather than La Villa being at all overpriced. This is a truly lovely boutique hotel worth every penny -- we'd go to Battambang just to stay here. Highly recommended for a splurge.
185 Pom Romchek 5, Battambang
Tel: (053) 730 151, (012) 991 801
KAMPOT: LES MANGUIERS
We first heard of Les Manguiers (The Mango Trees) in hushed tones in Phnom Penh and what we found was just as we were told -- hidden-away bungalows in a mangrove grove, nestled between rice paddies and the slow waters of the Kampot River -- all a couple of kilometres north of Kampot town, along a rutted dirt road guaranteed to keep the minibuses at bay.
It's an interesting spot, a melange of sorts -- backpacker meets expat -- under French-Khmer management. We arrived in the midst of a heaving rainstorm and as we plonked our way up the cracked pavers, with the river's waters very high and the grounds almost awash, it felt almost malarial -- but in a good way. Once safely ensconced in our spacious bungalow we felt a world away from, well everywhere. While we didn't swim due to poor weather, at night the river is aglow with phosphorescence and quite the experience to immerse yourself in -- another facet that adds to the magic. It's a very timeless, captivating spot.
The bungalows are far bigger than normal and very spacious inside with plenty of well-screened windows and, something we'd not seen before, screened in ceilings -- removing the need for any netting on the actual bed. Bathrooms were equally large, with bitingly cold water showers and a throne with a view. Minor gripes was a shower hose designed for the height-challenged and a frustratingly small balcony which could have been a good deal larger and more comfortable if the stairs went up the side of the bungalow rather than the front.
Les Manguiers has a dining area set over the river that felt like it was going to collapse at any moment, but the very cheery and helpful staff guaranteed us it was far more solid than it looked, which wasn't very solid at all. While there's no menu, the food was pretty good and once you're over the shaking floorboards, the dining area is quite a comfortable place to while away the slow hours.
Perhaps reflecting its popularity with expats, Les Manguiers is a little overpriced for the standard, but if you're after a few sleepy days by the river, it could be right up your alley. Popular with Phnom Penh expats, particularly families, it can get busy on weekends -- especially holiday weekends, so keep that in mind.
A couple of km north of Kampot
Tel: (092) 330 050
KEP: KNAI BANG CHATT
The most incongruous of our five, Knai Bang Chatt charges premium rates in one of Cambodia's more low-key settings -- Kep. Listed among Conde Nast Traveler's Hot List 2007, and with rates that start at US$110 a night (skyrocketing up to US$392), this luxurious compound isn't trying to be anything but the very best.
The setting is sublime -- three main buildings sit upon a landscaped lawn estate with a sizeable horizon pool, artfully placed hammocks and massage salas accompanied by a lovely, open-air restaurant that offers terrific views across the Gulf of Thailand and serves up fine, very healthy, food. Both the restaurant and "beach bar" (a few hammocks slung under a shade tree) feature tremendous bench tables -- each wrought from a single tree -- and make for ideal settings to while away the day and evening.
The rooms vary in style and positioning -- most, though not all, have sea views, and while they're minimalist in styling, some are quite bare and we didn't feel the fittings, nor the bedding were up to scratch. But there's more to Knai Bang Chatt than the rooms -- there's a reading room/library affair by the swimming pool and ample public veranda space to enjoy the views. A Beach Club was being built during our stay (October 2007) which promises to deliver a wide array of watersports including windsurfing and catamaran sailing.
We list Knai Bang Chatt because there's nowhere quite like it in Cambodia, but it should be oh so much better than it is. As it stands, you're paying for the exclusivity alone -- not for five-star service and facilities. The count on which Knai Bang Chatt really falls down is its service -- or lack thereof. For these prices, the standard of service, from general level of spoken English right through to just being able to find someone to get you a drink or coffee (to enjoy in your sala) should be tenfold where it currently stands.
That said -- perhaps we caught them on a bad weekend, as friends who have also stayed here waxed lyrical about the service. So if your budget is six-star and you'd like to stay somewhere that was previously open only to those with the means to hire the entire resort, then keep it in mind.
Knai Bang Chatt
Kep Beach, Kampot
Tel: (012) 349 742, (012) 879 486
Somewhere got a special place in your heart in Cambodia? Please tell us where and why over on the Travelfish messageboard.
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