Sitting majestically at the junction of the Mekong and Tonlé Sap rivers, Phnom Penh once served as a crucial hub for both the French colonialists and Khmer empire. It walked on a tightrope of both cultures for decades, constantly adapting to become the busy capital that the world has come to love today.
Yet it’s managed to withstand the test of time to still retain the same charm that once earned it the title as the “Pearl of Asia”. The French influence is still very much prevalent — obvious from the cuisines and attractions offered — but mostly from architecture that still stands today. Many of its most shining examples are now given new leases of life as hotels, and they are some of the best Cambodia has to offer.
Here, the best luxury hotels in Phnom Penh.
A grand vision of Khmer influences, Art Deco details, and French colonial style architecture, Raffles Hotel lends its signature eye for luxury to Phnom Penh’s prestigious hotel Le Royal. In preserving the near century-old building’s heritage and architecture, the illustrious hotel name carefully refurbished and extended it to give it a brand new lease of life.
Like its Singapore counterpart, this historic landmark is built around a central private courtyard, with two pools generously lined with frangipani trees and tropical flora or good measure. Its elegant suites pay homage to the ‘grand dame’s’ timelessness too, and is a decadent place to call home after a wander around the must-see sights around the neighbourhood – think the National Museum, Royal Palace, and the Russian Market.
Designed to be a respite from the frenetic city beyond its walls, Plantation embodies the serenity of the word that it’s been named after with its minimalist decor and inviting atmosphere. The stately building occupies a spot on Street 184 — which leads down to the Royal Palace — so expect exclusivity and prestige in the air from the moment you step in.
Like many hotels in Phnom Penh, Plantation is set within a carefully restored French colonial building, but has managed to break away to offer an ambience that’s suitably more contemporary. The warmly-coloured rooms extend the same laid-back ‘resort’ vibe that the hotel’s staff and plush lobby have created. If you’re concerned about food, its La Pergola Restaurant is a destination in itself for many tourists, with a menu of inventive dishes that showcase the best of Khmer cuisine.
- Pavilion is another to bookmark in this city for its sheer legacy. Once home to Queen Kossamak — the late King Sihanouk’s mother — the 1920s French-Khmer property stands out for its dedication to architectural heritage, thanks to the experienced hands of hotelier Alexis de Suremain, whose portfolio include Plantation.
Pavilion’s time-tested walls now double up as gallery space for local art, and ornate staircases lead up to the 36 rooms within the property, many suites of which boasts private patios. Still the tree-lined Lush Pool remains to be one of its most popular hangouts, with sunbathing pavilions and a poolside bar that transports you into an oasis of calm within the city.
The sleek 39-storey high building is currently the tallest hotel in town, which translates to the most phenomenal views you could possibly get. Still, the glassy high-rise offers an authentic – albeit more modern – take on Khmer culture. Rooms are kept uncluttered, with the occasional batik panels and intricately carved brass handles to remind you of the country’s heritage and craftsmanship.
- Food wise, Brasserie Louis serves up decadent takes on local favourites such as palm sugar porridge at sunrise, before switching to Gallic and elevated Cambodian cuisine after dark.
- Set within a sprawling compound right on the shore of the Tonlé Bassac River and by the buzzing Sothearos Boulevard, Sofitel is a grand 121-key establishment that’s sealed its reputation as one of the best in the capital city. It is here that you’ll be properly transported to another place in time.
- Plenty of Angkor-era embellishments are accompanied by walls lined with historic photographs of Khmer temples within the region. The nostalgia continues to the rooms, where dark wooden furniture and matching floors exude an air of sophisticated old-world luxury done right.