Once a guest villa of King Norodom Sihanouk, Amansara now offers the imperial friendliness of Khmer culture for discerning travelers. VE HANDOJO indulges himself in the pampering leniency only derived from the Aman Resorts’ tradition.
The richness of Aman’s culture is not in the limo service pick up for world-class travelers. A clean, but humble van was sent to Siem Reap airport. There was no worshipping bow from the pick-up staff either. Yet, the enthusiasm and warmth of his genuine smile instantly made this small town feel like home, even for those who come from the other side of Indochina.
The 15-minute drive from the airport gives a glimpse of the famous Angkor Wat from afar, and circles around the moat that surrounds the ancient city. There is no doubt, every eye that catches the sight of Angkor Wat will hope to get closer to the majestic 12th century temple. The itinerary offered by Amansara, though, keeps it as the climax to the trip to Siem Reap. There is no point in getting to the top of a civilization without experiencing it from ground zero.
The gate of Amansara keeps the whole complex discreet. The only sign of it was a rather small chrome plate of “Amansara” in Cambodian script, making the site a real part of the city.
The terrace is the reception lobby where formalities are all skipped. White-dressed smiling faces welcome the guests by their first name respectfully. You will never be called by your room number here, but addressed the way your friends do.
Amansara consists of a round dining room (which once was a movie screening room of the King / Leader / Filmmaker Norodom Sihanouk), a library, a spa with four treatment rooms, 12 garden suites, a swimming pool, fresh green-washed gardens, 12 pool suites, a 5 x 25 meter hidden lap pool, and a romantic roof-top restaurant.
A plate of rice paper spring rolls and a sparkling glass of fruit punch kicks off a good start to a Khmer cuisine encounter. The shiny plastic-like spring roll has the softest kind of texture, yet the interior is rich with the freshest vegetables. This sort of luxury is tagged “organic” in the Planet Urban. Here, it’s humbly called “a welcome snack”.
Khmer cuisine is not far different from its neighbour, Thai. Yet, instead of going to the red hot chili side, Khmer food loves to go sweet and delicate. Those who are not into hardcore Southeast Asian mouth-burning delights will find solace in Khmer salads, main courses, as well as side dishes. An Indonesian digestive system like mine easily finds a home in the 7 meter high ceiling dining room. The reason is not just the recipes, but also the Executive Chef, Mrs. Linda (no surname required as here everybody forgets all about that). Origin: Bali.
Filling the tummy with Khmer civilization is one deal well-done by Amansara. The house talk that occasionally takes place in the library, with guest scholars sharing their experiences and pieces of mind (and heart) regarding Cambodia, will bring us closer and closer to it. Optional small-scale events could be a large shadow puppet play staged in the garden during the evenings. With wine, and the campfire, and fellow travellers sitting next to each other, the night couldn’t be any warmer.
The personal guides assigned to accompany guests in their conquest of the ancient cities are ready to customize the itinerary. Mine was already in the business for sixteen years. With a notebook in his hand that keeps track of the amount of tourists in Angkor for the last decade, how could I question his proficiency in leading me to explore these temples? Not only does he pick the right hours to visit this and that site to avoid heavy crowds, or narrate the story behind every bas relief along hundreds of meter long walls, he can also point out the best spot to take pictures. Mr. Yokohama (I didn’t even dare to question how this native Cambodian started to use such a nickname) finds his joy in avoiding the crowds, thus making me always the first one to reach a temple, or at least to enter from the right side.
For all the adventure, Amansara manages to make it original yet comfortable. Fresh towel welcomes after every morning tour, and a filled bath-tub is always ready after the afternoon walk. It is all granted way ahead before you wish it. The stay in Amansara is made the best not only by its clean 80 square meter suite shaded in ivory and earthy tones with private pool, but mostly by the heart winning service that leaves the deepest impression of all. All in all, a stay roughly priced USD 1,000 a night, delivers its luxury in the most personal way imaginable. Amansara is a place where you are considered a true friend.
Flights available from major cities. On-arrival a Cambodian visa is required. Prepare a passport-sized head shot, and USD 25.
Remork is the way to go exploring the city. Price is starting from USD 1 to 3. Bring the dollar bills everywhere you go. Exchange just a few of them to Riehl, the local currency.
What to Do
Besides Angkor, tourists head to The Old Market for the local charms and cotton scarfs priced approx. USD 1.5 each. Head to Artisans D’Angkor for more comfortable air-conditioned shopping. Nightlife is happening in Club Street, a small version of Khao San Road in Bangkok. Recommended places: The Red Piano Bar and Linga Bar.
Find “The Hidden Smile” that beats Mona Lisa’s and “The Giant Bottom” in Ta Phrom, one of the temples in Angkor Thom.