Exploring Amansara, the temple of tranquility in Siem Reap

For the past two decades, Amansara has been the property of choice for discerning travellers seeking both luxurious lodgings and a deeper connection to the city of Siem Reap. Recently, Prestige had a chance to visit this landmark property, which is soon to celebrate its 20th anniversary.

Amansara Resort’s famous vintage 1962 Mercedes
Amansara Resort’s famous vintage 1962 Mercedes

Upon my arrival in Siem Reap, I am greeted at the airport by a member of the Amansara staff who escorts me to my ride; a beautifully restored, jet black, 1962 Mercedes stretch sedan. Our drive then winds through a local village just outside the famed temples of Angkor Wat – visible in the near distance as we glide by – before ultimately arriving in town at the unmarked main gate of the hotel. The fact that there’s no actual signage outside saying ‘Amansara’ clearly indicates two things: privacy and exclusivity.

Once inside the gates I’m given a warm welcome before being taken directly to my room (where check-in is handled afterwards). It’s a seamless procedure that immediately sets the tone for my stress-free, two-night stay: tranquility and serenity in equal measures – perfectly suiting a hotel whose name translates as “heavenly peace”.

Amansara, main swimming pool
Amansara, main swimming pool

Like all Aman properties, Amansara delivers understated luxury – no flash, just panache – as well as a real “sense of place”. The property itself dates back to 1962, the same year as the vintage Mercedes, and was originally built for the then king of Cambodia as a guesthouse. Designed in the very chic ‘Modern Khmer’ architectural style of that decade, this royal residence played host to a long list of visiting celebrities and dignitaries. Unfortunately, during the tumultuous, politically unstable period that began in the mid-70s, it was abandoned and left derelict.

Amansara, main dining room
Amansara, main dining room

In 2002, it was taken over by Aman and brought back to its former glory as a 12-room luxury resort, with all the original architecture restored (right down to the main swimming pool). Four years later a second wing was added, offering 12 gorgeous pool suites, as well as a second swimming pool, and a fitness room.

Amansara’s beautiful Pool Suite Rooms
Amansara’s beautiful Pool Suite Rooms

Although I’m a huge fan of vintage architecture, I was ultimately happier to be booked into one of the newer 141-square-metre private plunge pool suites, all of which offer a seamless, open-plan layout. The interior’s unobtrusive colour scheme incorporates calm-inducing shades of white, ivory, stony gray, earthy brown, and rich dark timber, with just a few gentle embellishments – a muted, inlaid wall sculpture here, a vase holding fresh pink lotus flowers there.

Understated luxury and chic room decor
Understated luxury and chic room decor

At the foot of the comfy king-size bed sits a circular table, two armchairs, and a small sofa, and down two steps from that one encounters the large, standalone bathtub, flanked on either side by twin vanities. From here, sliding glass doors lead to the sun-drenched saltwater plunge pool, surrounded on all three sides by high, white walls. For some it may seem a tad austere, at first, but everything included within the suite has been well thought out, as has everything that’s not included. Case in point: there’s no blaring, flatscreen TV, but there is an iPad and accompanying sound system on the bedside table (which when I arrived was set to a playlist of soothing, meditative chanting).

Amansara, tranquil Pool Suite
Amansara, tranquil Pool Suite

As tranquil as the Amansara may be, it’s not really what you’d call a “destination hotel”. And with an attraction as historic and captivating as Angkor Wat just a stone’s throw away, no one expects you to stay put. Carefully curated excursions are an integral part of the overall experience, and one of the most recommended tours is watching the sunrise over Angkor Wat; for which one has to get up well before the first light of dawn.

Amansara’s main swimming pool
Amansara’s main swimming pool

Since I’ve explored much of the Angkor Archaeological Park on two previous visits to Siem Reap, I knew I wasn’t in for any major surprises. However, this was the first time I was going at sunrise – quite spectacular – and the first time I had a personal guide, as supplied by Amansara (along with a customised remork – a covered buggy attached to a motorcycle – and designated driver).

Sunrise over Angkor Wat
Sunrise over Angkor Wat

Knowledgeable and well-spoken, my guide walked me through the main temple at a leisurely pace, as well as the ruins of Ta Prohm, famously featured in the Lara Croft: Tomb Raider movie (and if you’re wondering whether Angelina Jolie has stayed at Amansara, the answer should be obvious). Then, at around 10am I was taken to a traditional stilted wooden house in a nearby village. Here I was met by Tom Rutherford, the hotel’s General Manager, who joined me for a specially prepared breakfast.

“We call this the Khmer Village House,” Tom remarked as we sat ourselves on the sunny, upper floor terrace. “It’s part of Amansara. We do special dinners, breakfasts, and cooking classes here. The facility is for private use, so you won’t have people dining here that aren’t part of your group.

Amansara’s Khmer Village House, a beautiful spot to dine
Amansara’s Khmer Village House, a beautiful spot to dine

“From how our tours are conducted, to which entrance you use for Angkor Wat so you’re not going in with all the crowds, we try to “Aman-ise” each guest experience as much as possible. Even the arrival from the airport is important for us. We’ve got an agreement with ASPARA [Authority for the Protection of the Site and Management of the Region of Angkor] where you actually get taken past Angkor Wat on the way to Amansara. No other hotel has that privilege. Arriving guests don’t have their temple pass yet, but the authorities know our Mercedes, so they know it’s our guests. Otherwise, you’d have to come through the less scenic main road.”

Activities at the Angkor Temples include cycling tours
Activities at the Angkor Temples include cycling tours

For hotel guests, one excursion per day is included in the room price and many of the non-Angkor Wat outings revolve around spirituality, the environment, and connecting to the local culture.

“On one tour, guests go out with a senior monk and do a meditation walk through the forest and through a monastery that is actually within Angkor,” Tom explained. “We’ve also got two boats, done up in Aman style, which take guests out onto Tonle Sap lake and through the floating villages.”

Sunset Boating, at the Preah Khan reservoir
Sunset Boating, at the Preah Khan reservoir

Since the hotel celebrates its 20th anniversary in December, I asked Tom what the future holds. “We’ve got some land right next to the hotel, and in March – if all goes to plan – we’ll start building a two-bedroom suite with a big pool and dining area. We’ll also build four more pool suites, and an Italian restaurant that will have its own entrance from the road. It’ll probably take a year to complete.”

Amansara’s Spa & Wellness facilities
Amansara’s Spa & Wellness facilities

It’s certainly something to look forward to, but for the time being I was just looking forward to my afternoon massage treatment at the Aman Spa, another tasty Khmer specialty set menu dinner at the hotel restaurant, and a few more dips in my private pool before checking out from this very pleasant, private oasis.

For reservations and information, visit Amansara.

This story first appeared on PrestigeOnline Thailand 

 

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