Ta Prohm is a sight to remember. Swallowed by jungles, its ancient towers and walls are embraced with vast winding roots, highlighted by the rays of sunlight streaming through the canopy above.
Such is the mystique of the temple, that it served as the backdrop for the 2001 Lara Croft: Tomb Raider movie starring Angelina Jolie. This was when it was catapulted into the international spotlight, putting Siem Reap on the tourist map. One of the last vestiges of the Khmer empire, Ta Prohm makes up a part of the Angkor Wat temple complex — one of the largest religious monuments ever constructed.
The cultural complex is just a remork (tuk-tuk) or jeep ride away from a ’60s property encircled by lush forests and rice paddies, reminiscent of the golden days of new Khmer architecture. Originally built in 1962 by French architect Laurent Mondet as a royal guesthouse of King Norodum Sihanouk, the property is once known as Villa Princière or Villa Apsara — where it hosted dignitaries such as former French President Charles de Gaulle, Jacqueline Kennedy and Yugoslavian President Josep Broz Tito, as well as actors like Peter O’Toole (who stayed here while filming Lord Jim) in its heyday.
Following a refurbishment in 2001 by Australian architect Kerry Hill, the property is now managed by Singapore-based luxury hotel brand Aman. Hill’s design brilliantly recaptures the boldness and simplicity of the Villa Princiere, yet incorporates the right amount of healthy dose of modernity into the new design. Think: understated chic with just the right hint of tranquillity.
Called Amansara, the resort draws its name from two Sanskrit-Derived words, aman (peace) and apsara (the heavenly nymphs of Hindu mythology). This is where we spent four days while exploring Siem Reap, the gateway to the world-famous Angkor Wat.
Unlike other hotels and resorts in the capital city, Amansara offers 24 beautifully-designed suites on the outskirts of Siem Reap — so it boasts the added advantage of being within proximity to more than 1,000 temples (including Angkor Wat, Bayon and Banteay Srei). Guests can easily hop on one of the property’s bicycles and wander around Siem Reap, or embark on a market visit with the property’s chef to discover Khmer cooking.
And while Amansara feels like a world away from civilisation, it is just a short drive (20 minutes) away from Siem Reap International Airport — so getting there isn’t too much of a hassle.
Out of the 24 open-plan suites located in the garden estate, half feature private plunge pools and floor-to-ceiling glass doors that open onto light-filled garden courtyards with cushioned banquettes.
We stayed in one of the pool suites, which was flooded with hues of earthy tones, grey flooring, dark timber and ivory walls, oozing a tranquil sense of zen. The elegant bedroom flowed into a separate living area, as well as an airy, light-filled bathroom. Our personal plunge pool provided an absolute sanctuary of calm, especially after a day of exploring the history and culture of Siem Reap.
Sure, there are amazing dining options nearby — however, you can savour authentic Khmer cuisine right at the resort. Amansara’s circular restaurant offers Cambodian-centred cuisine served under its beautiful soaring ceilings, or outdoors at pergola-shaded tables by the pool. Its daily changing menus focus on simple flavours, using organic produce direct from the market and local suppliers.
Here’s where Aman’s renowned hospitality truly shines. For special celebrations, the resort’s helpful staff can organise after-dark dinners at the 10th-century temple of Prasat Kravan — where you can have candlelit dinner while enjoying live music and entertainment in the form of traditional dancing and shadow puppetry — or private dining at the resort’s rustic Khmer house at Angkor, where meals are prepared over charcoal to the sounds and sights of village life.
Alternatively, guests can head to the roof terrace for early or late evening drinks and private dinners. The terrace doubles up as an ideal place for yoga practice in the mornings, especially at sunrise.
Granted, yoga isn’t for everyone. The day we arrived, we chose to wind down at the Aman Spa instead. A sense of calm overwhelmed us as we stepped into the reception area, which overlooks a verdant garden with an ancient rain tree as its centrepiece. We were then brought into one of the spas four treatment rooms by one of the staff members, and took a few seconds to marvel at the view of reflection pond set against a 43-metre sandstone relief, right at the spa’s doorsteps.
As expected, any spa experience by Aman is flawless. At this particular location, they have got a signature treatment that is executed by blind masseuses, each individually trained to soothe away your world-weary aches just by touch.
Yes, having your private plunge pool is a luxury in itself — trust us, we didn’t want to leave. However, guests staying at the courtyard suite can also choose to take a dip at the resort’s main 17-metre curved pool or a 25-by-five-metre lap pool located at the other end of the lawn, hidden behind a six-metre-high wall.
Far from a modern escapade in the city, Amansara is a sanctuary of zen in Siem Reap. It is perfect for those looking for a convenient retreat within accessible reach to some of Cambodia’s most magnificent cultural landmarks, or simply seeking for a place to get away from it all, even if just for a few days.