Enter Siem Reap's most secluded, serene and storied gateway, Amansara
A timeless retreat at Amansara
To get away from the hustle and bustle of Bangkok, it is always nice to pop across the border into Cambodia for a luxurious weekend away. And no better place than Siem Reap, a place I’ve been to numerous times and yet never tire of it.
Given the number of luxurious retreats in Siem Reap, one is spoilt for choice, though can it get any better than staying at Amansara, which was known as Villa Princière when it was built in 1962 for King Norodom Sihanouk by French architect, Laurent Mondet. To add to the opulence, you are met at the airport with a vintage Mercedes limousine, interiors intact and complete with white-gloved chauffeurs.
Amansara is so private that even you won’t know its there unless you’re really looking for it. The name on the outside gate is in Khmer, with no English writing. A stunning sample of 60s New Khmer architecture, the resort's manicured gardens, a tranquil spa, curvilinear pool and canopy of mature trees add to tangible tranquillity that inspired its name — “heavenly peace”.
What does hit you almost immediately is aptly named the resort is, as you enter and you’re almost in a different place. The property retains all of the Old World charm, with a new annexe that was built in 2006 to blend in with the already existing space. A courtyard in the middle of the new addition is probably my favourite place in Amansara as the massive tress form a canopy of shade over it, while the suites surround it. At the rear of the property, there is a modern gym and a lap pool, added in 2019, which is rather secluded for those concentrated swims.
The suites at Amansara are a large bedroom that also has a living area, with a bathroom set against large French windows overlooking the private garden terrace outside. A few of the suites come with a plunge pool and sun loungers. Though, for me, one of the biggest joys was a shower that looked out through French glass windows to a reflecting pond. It was like having the outdoors indoors. The other joy was the island bathtub, which while being in the suite was private enough for some alone time, if sharing the suite.
Since the resorts retained the original structure, it also has only one restaurant, housed in a majestic circular room. Though, the best place to start the day would be outside by the pool under a slatted roof taking tranquil mornings. Choices of breakfast include Western or Asian and I usually tend to go for the local options to fully immerse myself into the moment. If you spend the entire day by the pool, there is day bed to laze around till tea time, when afternoon tea is served. Ignore the Western options for dinner and do choose the Cambodian tasting menu, which offers the best in local fair and the soups are to die for. Satisfaction guaranteed!
Should you choose to go out for the day, do take advantage of the resort’s custom-fitted remork. It will take city strolling to another level.
Once back from taxing visits on foot, book the 60-minute Temple Walk massage. The best foot massage I’ve ever had (and I live in Bangkok), the massage includes a foot scrub, cooler and massage. Created especially for post exploration of the temples at Angkor, the crystal salt soak and foot scrub cleans and refreshes tired feet. This is followed by a 100% natural Aman cooling foot and leg lotion to stimulate and revive. This effective treatment culminates in a soothing foot and leg oil massage. By the end of this, your feet so relaxed, it’s like walking on a cloud!
In Siem Reap, it is always best to make the most of the sun. So do choose a day to wake up before dawn and capture the atmosphere of Angkor Wat, as the sun rises. A 4.30am wake-up call and prompt 5am departure from Amansara via a remork will awaken you with fresh cool air. Fret not, the remorks come with warm blankets to ward off the morning chill. As your guide takes you to the East Causeway, along a forested path it is breathtaking to view the temple grounds in the dark. Amansara’s guide leads a short hike among the trees, vines and rare flora of the ancient forests surrounding the temples, and reveals the Angkor story, which isn’t common knowledge. Though nothing prepares you to witness the magnificence of Angkor Wat as it light up with the first rays of the sun.
You know you have to tear yourself away from Angkor once the monkeys are out and your stomach starts rumbling. The Khmer Village House is set in a garden within the Angkor Wat World Heritage Site and is a traditional stilted two-storied wood house overlooking the 10th-century royal reservoir of Srah Srang. An inspiring and culturally immersive setting, it is the spot for lazy breakfasts after exploring the temples, hands-on cooking classes and romantic candlelit dinners cooked over charcoal to the accompaniment of live music.
Though, nothing with let you embrace the spirit of Cambodia more than receiving a water blessing to cleanse spirits. It is new Thai year after all! At a private ceremony, the head monk of a temple outside of town administers a water blessing – pouring flower-infused water and chanting to purify the spirit. Though be prepared to remove all clothes (yes, all) and wrap yourself in a sarong and have ice cold water showered on you for around 10 minutes. The ideal way to end a stay at Amansara with a lasting sense of peace.
Amansara may have been brought into 2023, but what has not changed is the property’s soul. Conceived with all the largesse of King Jayavarman VII’s great monuments and thoroughly imbued with their spiritual peace, the resort is as welcoming as it was during the days of Villa Princière in the 60s. It seems that the Apsara and their knowing smiles were right. For exclusive offers, visit haman.com/resorts/amansara/exclusives.