Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor

1 Vithei Charles de Gaulle Khum, Krong Siem Reap 17251, Cambodia

Opened in 1932 in the historic Royal Khmer compound, this landmark hotel was the first luxury lodging in the area, catering to well-heeled adventurers intent on visiting the storied ruins of the temples at Angkor. Everyone from Charlie Chaplin and Charles de Gaulle to Jackie O and, more recently, Angelina Jolie have slept within its dramatic, art deco walls. Just a short walk or tuk-tuk ride to central Siem Reap, the hotel, now part of the Raffles collection, features 15 acres of manicured gardens with more than 20,540 species of tropical plants, making it a relaxing oasis after a day spent exploring the temples. Following a major restoration by David Grace Designs in 2019, the 119 rooms, suites, and villas—some set in the original main building, others overlooking the garden or pool—are now a vision of French windows, hardwood floors, and marble bathrooms with Italian tiling and oversized rain showers. Some have added perks like furnished terraces, high ceilings, or four-poster beds. Elsewhere in the hotel, features like the 1929 metal-and-timber elevator, art deco black-and-white tiles, and classic conservatory have been refurbished but maintained.

The large central swimming pool is ringed by loungers, while the tucked-away spa has a sauna, Jacuzzi, and six treatment rooms for excellent, regionally inspired therapies. Both in-house and outside guests frequent the six drinking and dining options, which include the legendary Elephant Bar, the elegant Restaurant Le Grand (serving both Western and Royal Khmer cuisine), and the completely renovated Apsara Terrace, which offers a dinner-cum-cultural dance show three or five nights a week, depending on the season. The on-site gallery and boutique showcase high-quality local goods.

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Soak up some history while sipping cocktails

The majestic Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor was Siem Reap‘s first hotel, and it remains the city’s grande dame. If you’re not staying here, it’s worth heading to the elegant Elephant Bar for a cocktail so you can snoop around this regal old hotel. (Don’t miss the original antique elevator in the lobby; the stupendous swimming pool inspired by the man-made barays, or dams, at Angkor Archaeological Park; and the stylish boutiques, including Galerie Cambodge and Khmer Attitude in the chic shopping arcade.) While the Elephant Bar primarily sees hotel guests here sipping cocktails before or after dinner, expats also drop in to take advantage of the happy hour (4-6 p.m.), when drinks are 50 percent off. The bar’s signature cocktail, the Airavata, is pretty special. Named after the mythical white elephant that was supposedly ridden by Indra, the Hindu king of gods, it’s made with rum, crème de banana, and fresh lime, pineapple, and coconut juices, and is a heady taste of the tropics in a coconut shell. I personally prefer their modern martinis, such as the Chillitini, with chili-infused vodka, ginger, and lime juice. There’s a smart-casual dress code, so men need to wear a collared shirt and trousers and everyone needs to leave their flip-flops at the hotel.

Learn to cook Cambodian cuisine in grandeur

Most hotels and many restaurants in Siem Reap offer cooking classes in Cambodian cuisine, beginning with a market tour and ending with lunch, and the class offered by Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor is one of the best. The chefs are some of the most professional and knowledgeable in the city, so they’re able to teach the class at an introductory level or offer advanced insights for those who already know how to cook Asian cuisines. If they weren’t reasons enough to check in and sign up, the grand environment and historic surroundings of Siem Reap’s oldest hotel make for a pretty special culinary experience.

Try amok trei (fish amok), Cambodia's national dish

It’s thought that amok trei (fish amok) is a Royal Khmer Cuisine dish that dates back to the Khmer Empire that later travelled to Thailand where it is known as hor mok. When prepared properly, the freshwater Tonle Sap snakehead fish is marinated in a yellow kroeung (a lemongrass-based curry paste) and fresh coconut cream, then massaged and left to rest, before being poured into in a banana leaf basket lined with a noni leaf or two (important), and steamed. Once ready, it’s drizzled with a little coconut cream and served. The result is a rich souffle-like dish, more correctly known as a mousseline. If it’s not steamed, it’s not amok, it’s just a curry. These days, much to the horror of older Cambodians, it’s often served in tourist restaurants simply as a curry and the fish is replaced with chicken, beef and even tofu, to please tourists. Locals do not consider this to be amok. The best in Siem Reap is at the Sugar Palm restaurant, however, my husband and I made the amok trei pictured above at the Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor cooking class.

Try the piquant lok lak, Cambodian pepper beef

Cambodia’s ubiquitous pepper beef dish known as lok lak came from the Vietnamese and before that China. With the best renditions the beef is simmered in a piquant pepper sauce and presented beautifully, as it is here at Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor. My husband made this one during their superb cooking class. However, in rustic, family eateries, the beef is often stir-fried, served with rice and green tomato slices, and the pepper and lime sauce is served in a dish on the side. Occasionally a fried egg is plopped on top. When quality beef is used and left rare to medium-rare, it is sublime. Unfortunately the Cambodian beef can be tough and is often over-cooked. Regardless, it’s a delicious in both its street food and fine dining forms.

Raffles Grand Hotel d'Angkor

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