Cambodia often conjures images of the crumbling Khmer city of Angkor. It’s a heady 12th-century complex with over a thousand stone temples, some featuring intricate bas-relief figures, others enveloped in ancient tree roots. But there are also bundles of sandy beaches, idyllic islands, dense stretches of rainforest and French colonial piles in Phnom Penh, a capital clutching the Mekong’s banks.
Backpackers on the banana pancake trail have long known about the kingdom’s charms. However, a spate of luxury openings this year mean the country is starting to shake off its shoestring reputation by enticing deep-pocketed visitors to lesser-known corners. There have been a handful of posh pads in the past 20 years — Raffles and Sofitel — but Song Saa welcomed guests to OTT villas on a private island in 2012, becoming a catalyst for the rise in opulent accommodation options.
Newbies are largely of the tropical variety: kicking off at the end of 2017 was The Royal Sands, Koh Rong island’s first five-star with 67 thatched beachfront villas; while December will welcome two resorts — the jungle-backed Six Senses Krabey Island and the minimalist-chic Alila Villas Koh Russey. December also sees a luxury tented camp addition with the opening of Shinta Mani Wild along a river valley in the Cardamom Mountains. Capital gains include Rosewood Phnom Penh — the city’s first ultra-luxe hotel, which opened earlier this year with drop-dead divine views from its rooftop bar.
For city chic
Rosewood Phnom Penh
On the top 14 floors of a slick steel-and-glass tower, Rosewood made its Cambodia debut in February with 175 palatial rooms, plus five restaurants from fabulous French to izakaya. But the showstopper is the sky bar Sora, where sophisticates mingle above the red-roofed cityscape.
For jungle fever
Shinta Mani Wild
The beautiful brainchild of designer Bill Bensley, this new opening is a real gamechanger — it snapped up an unprotected swathe of rainforest for its private nature reserve. Digs are 15 handsome tents sprinkled along a river with beck-and-call butlers, while excursions are via souped-up expedition boat.
For a beach blow-out
Six Senses Krabey Island
Honeymooners and wellness zealots can hole up at the boho brand’s first Cambodian property when it opens this month. Making a splash are 40 villas with plunge pools. It’s laid-back luxe throughout: detox workshops, outdoor yoga sala, meditation cave and an observatory for starry-eyed visitors.
The world’s first nomadic hotel, 700,000 Heures, wandered to northwestern Cambodia in November for six months. Bed down in a traditional Khmer house and meet the team restoring Ankor’s ancient temples.
Published in the December 2018 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)