Cambodia in Style
Cambodia is shaking off its image as a budget destination reserved for backpackers only. Thanks to a string of new luxury hotels, you can now tour the country’s highlights in as much style and comfort as you’ll find anywhere else in Asia.
- Exploring the markets, palaces and pagodas of Phnom Penh before returning for cocktails at Raffles Le Royal
- Joining wildlife rangers on poacher patrols in the Cardamom Mountains from luxury eco-lodge Shinta Mani Wild
- Enjoying a Robinson Crusoe picnic on a private beach in the gorgeous Koh Rong Archipelago, courtesy of Song Saa
- Watching the sunrise over Angkor Wat, the largest religious building in the world
- Clambering over the roots of the giant strangler figs that smother the ruins of Ta Prohm
Cheap beer, budget accommodation and the promise of adventure put Cambodia back on the backpackers’ trail after it opened up to tourists in the mid-1990s, following decades of civil war and conflict. Raffles brought a little more refinement when it opened in Phnom Penh in 1997, followed by Sofitel in Siem Reap three years later.
But it’s only been recently – with the opening of high-end resorts on the coast, in the jungle and away from the crowded temples – that it’s been possible to view the country as a proper luxury destination. This two-week tour shows just how comfortable Cambodia can now be.
A two-week luxury adventure through Cambodia, taking in the country’s greatest sites and finest hotels.
Luxury travellers with a sense of adventure looking for an authentic taste of South East Asian culture.
When to go:
The dry and cooler months between November and April are generally considered the best times to visit. That said, travelling in the monsoon season (May to October) also has its rewards: the countryside is at its greenest, attractions are less crowded and hotels are often cheaper.
Days 1-3: Phnom Penh
Begin your journey through Cambodia in Phnom Penh. Sprawling, vibrant and often chaotic, Cambodia’s capital is a compelling mixture of old and new. Wide boulevards and Parisian-style cafes stand alongside Buddhist temples, with street markets, scooters and tuk tuks adding to the bustle of what still has the feel of a frontier town.
The Killing Fields and the memorable, if unsettling, Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum shed light on the tragic history of Pol Pot’s regime. But as painful as this memory remains, the city is recapturing its old allure and boasts a host of impressive sights, including the hillside temple of Wat Phnom, the National Museum of Cambodia, and the Royal Palace, home of the Silver Pagoda, which takes its name from the 5,000 silver blocks that line its roof.
Raffles Hotel Le Royal
Although no longer the only high-end option in Phnom Penh, Raffles is still our favourite. The former French government building oozes with colonial charm, with a slick Art Deco lobby and elegant black and white checked tiles throughout the corridors. The garden and outdoor pool – where Jackie Kennedy swam in the 1960s – are especially lovely, and the historic Elephant Bar is as much loved today as it was when it was sought out by Somerset Maugham and other notable literati.
Days 3-5: Shinta Mani Wild
Around three hours by car from Phnom Penh lies a protected corridor of lush forest that’s home to the ground-breaking and luxurious tented camp, Shinta Mani Wild. This is a wild and untouched corner of Cambodia that’s never before been open to tourism, and there’s nothing quite like it.
For starters, the arrival process involves ziplining more than 1,000 feet over waterfalls and a rushing river before landing at the bar where staff will have a G&T ready and waiting. Then it’s over to your Adventure Butler, who’ll guide you through the myriad ways to spend your time here. Go orchid spotting with the resident botanist. Hop on a motorbike with armed wildlife rangers as they patrol the forest looking for poachers. Hike in the mountains, kayak the rivers, swim in the waterfalls, or simply relax at the luxurious Boulders Spa.
Tents at Shinta Mani Wild
Shinta Mani Wild is the brainchild of theatrical hotel designer Bill Bensley, who with customary flair has designed the camp’s 15 tents around Jackie Kennedy’s jungle safari with the Cambodian king in the late 1960s. The tents are spread along a one-mile stretch of jungle-backed river and have all been built without removing a single tree. Each is filled with brightly coloured prints and antiques from all over the world – many chosen and shipped in by Bensley himself. They boasts outdoor decks with standalone bathtubs, generously stocked minibars and handmade beds of hardwood, leather and hand-beaten steel.
Days 6-9: Koh Rong Archipelago
This string of islands in the south of Cambodia is easily accessed from the beach resort of Sihanoukville, about a three-hour drive from Shinta Mani Wild. Even in an area known for its beaches, Koh Rong stands out. The silky, sugar-fine beaches stretch for miles and slope gently down into brilliantly blue waters that support brightly coloured corals, delicate seahorses and schools of iridescent fish.
Just off the coast of the largest island, Koh Rong, are the two tiny ‘Sweetheart Islands’. Connected by a footbridge, these exquisite little isles form one of the smartest hotels in the country, Song Saa Private Island.
Song Saa Private Island
There are few better places to escape to than Song Saa. The 27 villas make the most of their secluded island setting. Some stand over the water on stilts, more akin to what you’d find in the Maldives than you’d expect in Cambodia. Others perch on the beach with the ocean as a front porch. The rest nestle on the forested hillside, offering views that stretch for miles. Spa treatments are a speciality here, and there’s a wide range of activities and experiences on offer, including snorkelling tours of the house reef, blessings from Buddhist monks, Khmer tea making ceremonies and romantic picnics on castaway beaches.
Days 10-13: Siem Reap
End your journey through Cambodia amid the magnificent temples of Angkor, which pepper the dense jungle around the city of Siem Reap. “Grander than anything left to us by Greece or Rome,” is how French explorer Henri Mahout described the temples when he uncovered them in the mid-19th century.
The private guides we work with will help you get the most out of all the Angkor temples, including Angkor Wat, whose walls are covered with intricate bas-reliefs depicting scenes from Hindu mythology and the battles of Khmer history, and Ta Prohm, which looks much as it did when the French first discovered it in the 1850s. You’ll also have time to explore Siem Reap itself, now a fashionable city full of boutique hotels, stylish bars and French-influenced restaurants.
As fun as Siem Reap is, all that noise and busyness can get to you after a while. That’s why we love Phum Baitang: it’s far enough outside of town to offer genuine peace and quiet, yet just 15 minutes by car or tuk tuk from the Angkor ruins. Set in eight acres of lush gardens, lemon grass meadows and rice paddies, it offers 45 simple yet supremely tasteful villas, all with gardens and terraces, and nearly half with private pools. There’s an indulgent spa with strong Angkor-era design elements, a 50m saltwater pool, and bicycles for guests to use in the resort grounds.
If you’ve more time
Cambodia undoubtedly holds its own as a solo destination, but it’s also easy to combine it with other South East Asian nations. The high-end river ship Aqua Mekong, for example, offers three-night cruises from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. There are also regular flights from Siem Reap to Luang Prabang in Laos, from Phnom Penh to the Laotian capital Vientiane, and from both cities to Bangkok in Thailand.
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