An open lobby basking in the 33 degree tropical sun, flanked by giant banana leaves lapping at the light. An impressive bas-relief wall gives a nod to what the Cambodian city is best known for – the temple complex of Angkor Wat. A smiling concierge offering cooling tea and a towel after 13 hours of travelling await us. The hotel is an Avani property, FCC Angkor a newly renovated destination built around the former French colonial governor’s mansion. If you’re wondering where to stay in Siem Reap this is it.
Walk down a pathway that falls across a water feature and you’ll meet the dipping pool, an alluring stretch of dark turquoise. The glass exterior rooms of this courtyard give the hotel an inviting family feel, where despite the peacefulness, you know there’s company just outside your door. Design is high on the list here, from the copper outdoor shower to the cute minimalist poolside cafe. The rooms themselves are filled with antique-inspired treasures, like a typewriter with a letter welcoming guests to the hotel. In the style of Asian hospitality, you’ll also find sweet treats to nibble on as you settle into your room.
The hotel proves that new doesn’t always mean emotionless. Details like providing covetable straw sandals instead of typical cloth slippers show they know their clientele well. They’re fashionable enough to wear for the rest of your travels! Not to mention the laundry bag looks like a £400 tote you ordered from Net-A-Porter for your holiday. There is literally no shame in ‘borrowing’ this for a few shopping trips around town.
The bar, Scribe is one of FCC Angkor’s gems. It’s a two storey beauty, designed with contemporary natural materials and a signature gin cocktail list. In the evenings, wander from the alfresco rooftop area to the restaurant. The vibe here is bohemian and upscale casual and the menu offers everything from Khmer cuisine (try the red duck curry and the green veggie version too) to western comfort food. My rule is to eat local as much as possible, which meant contrary to normal life, I looked forward to breakfast the most. Try Bor Bor, a Cambodian rice porridge similar to Chinese congee. It’s packed full of beech mushrooms and the perfect light but filling start to the day. There’s also Kao Soy Thai noodles soup (see first image), which is a little more like a lunch dish. But with severe jet lag and an angry body clock, there was nothing better than this! My most surprising gastro discovery of the trip was that the coffee culture is strong here, not once did I have a nose-wrinkling bad cup.
Things to do
Angkor Wat and Ta Prohm
Siem Reap is known as the ‘gateway’ to Angkor Wat, which is the world’s largest religious structure and an UNESCO World Heritage Site. The temple was originally constructed in the 12th century to celebrate the Hindu deity Vishnu, before it became a Buddhist complex of worship.
FCC Angkor arranged for a 4:30am start, which took us to the ticket office and then to the temple – just in time for the vivid sunrise. Over the course of thirty minutes the light changes dramatically. It’s worth seeing the impressive structure transform from dark silhouette against fuschia and violet, to detailed stone and dusty blue sky.
After a tour around Angkor Wat in the morning, we tracleld just 10 minutes by car to Ta Prohm. It’s also known as the site where Angelina Jolie’s Lara Croft Tomb Raider was filmed! The deconstructed temple has been overwhelmed by the giant roots of a Banyan tree and at places the structure is supported by scaffolding. Compared the the gargantuan former site, I found the smaller temple more atmospheric.
What would a South East Asian tourist hub be without a bustling strip full of restaurants, bars and fish tank spas? Although the latter isn’t recommended, the nightlife epicentre of the city is worth a visit, even if that’s not really ‘your scene’. The market is open late, hawking fashion accessories like woven bags and those ‘gap year’ batik print trousers (if you know, you know but it’s better to not know).
One of the day time activities the hotel recommends is a trip to Ammo Jewellery, a workshop hidden in a small courtyard. The studio trains local people over the course of six months to make the jewellery. The signature designs are made from bullet cartridges collected from a firing range.
As a customer, the session runs for about an hour and a half, where you can create your own piece using stamps and a hammer on a brass disc.