Amansara, a destination within a destination
Editor’s note: See other Escape Plan stories here.
Explorers and history lovers, allow us to point you in the direction of Siem Reap. The resort city of Cambodia is one of Singapore’s most cheerful neighbours, and we can only attribute it to genuine, friendly locals and tourists who don’t have to spend much to fully enjoy a bucket-list destination. Plus that sunrise at Angkor Wat that people willingly wake up for? Breathtaking. The city of northwestern Cambodia is Asia’s secret gem, and it offers untold riches when it comes to history, culture and architecture, and with cooler weather until February, this is the perfect time to visit. Do so in the comfort of Amansara, a luxury resort that’s as much of a destination as Siem Reap.
If speed impresses you, you are off to a great start. After a fast-track immigration on arrival arranged by Amansara, be whisked away in a black Mercedes-Benz from the ‘60s and off you go in King Norodom Sihanouk’s old ride. It’s only 15 minutes to Amansara, one of Siem Reap’s best hotels and the late king’s former guesthouse for his most special guests. The property underwent major restoration by the late architect Kerry Hill, who was responsible for iconic Aman resorts like the one in Kyoto, and has been welcoming visitors to Siem Reap since 2002.
Only 10 minutes away from the world-famous Angkor Wat, Amansara sits quietly along Charles de Gaulle Boulevard in the heart of the city. A stone’s throw away is the national museum, Old Market and the bustling road known as ‘Pub Street’, where cheap beer and massage parlours are every backpacker’s remedy after a day of exploring. Perhaps with a desire to not rub luxury in their faces, Amansara sits behind the most nondescript entrance. While it doesn’t scream luxury on the outside, it whispers seclusion. Once the gate shuts, you’re in incognito heaven and the company of only suites, manicured gardens, pools and a destination spa.
Bask in the quiet luxuries of yesteryear. Muted cream walls, long corridors and stone pillars elevate the modernist look, and the canopy of trees in the courtyard add to the tranquillity that inspired its name—‘heavenly peace’. Amansara went through another refurbishment a few months ago and reopened in October with several improvements. All 24 suites start at 75 square metres, with floor-to-ceiling glass doors that open to a private courtyard with sun loungers, a daybed and in 12 of them, a private plunge pool. In-room features and amenities have been improved, and sandstone reliefs point towards the temples of Angkor. Your stay will take you back to the peak of Cambodia’s ‘golden age’, where those pre-Pol Pot days were filled with creativity, growth and hope, and Aman being Aman, prides itself on unique experiences that will bridge you with the city. “Whatever you want, happens,” as MJ the general manager would say.
Every stay includes a guided excursion to the famed temples, but the four-night Spiritual Angkor Journey is your golden ticket to Siem Reap. Enjoy a spiritual water blessing by the monks, a hot herbal compress massage, and traditional breakfast at the hotel’s Khmer Village House that overlooks the 10th-century royal reservoir of Srah Srang. There’s more, and for better or for worse, there is also fortune telling by an elderly woman who will tell you your future with a deck of poker cards. Use your 10 minutes wisely, and whenever it’s a ‘holy day’, you may test her skills with questions about the past. Though she might instead offer her two cents about your love life, if you are comfortable with that.
Finally, at an extra cost, end your spiritual journey with a cruise down the Mekong River, the gateway to the floating villages of Tonlé Sap. Watch children splash around in the murky water and see life there for yourself. While it might feel obnoxious doing so from a nice boat drinking nice champagne, it is still a rewarding experience that’s not to be missed. History buffs, on the other hand, may enjoy a private tour of the Angkor National Museum with both the museum curator and archaeology expert.
Food and drink
Think of Khmer cuisine as the lovechild of Thai and Vietnamese—not too spicy, and not too ‘clean’. Developmentally, it has room for improvement, but the executive chef Sattar Seikh Rabul does an excellent job with a sophisticated selection of Khmer and international dishes. The Chicken Spring Rolls and Beef Lok Lak (wagyu tomahawk with kampot pepper butter) hit all the right spots, and guests can even request for off-menu specials, such as an entire dinner built around kampot pepper. For extra spice, there’s a new Indian menu that’s inspired mostly by the chef’s grandmother, filled with classics like Seekh Kebab and Tandoori Chicken Tikka. Enjoy your meals in the comfort of your suite or under the grand domed ceiling of the property’s one restaurant, a lofty circular centrepiece that was once a dance hall. Dinner may be accompanied by traditional live Khmer music or a dance troop led by a 96-year-old lady boss, and the acoustics are so exceptional, you will find yourself eavesdropping on conversations from across the hall, even if you don’t want to. The perfect excuse to request for more live music and dance, and all that lok lak you can eat.
Featured photo by Amansara