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A Grand New Look

by Ann Tsang / Images: Courtesy of Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor

After six months of renovations and refurbishing, one of Indochina’s most storied grand hotels has unveiled its new look.

Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor, one of the most iconic heritage properties in Southeast Asia, reopened its doors to guests on October 1 after a six-month closure for renovations and refurbishments.

 

The historic property first opened its doors in 1932 with just 63 rooms, based on a plan to build five hotels throughout French Indochina. Hoteliers built the hotel to accommodate tourists visiting Angkor Wat, the world’s largest religious temple complex. The famous French architect Ernest Hébrard proposed the idea of a luxury hotel in Siem Reap to replace the bungalows that were no longer suitable for the burgeoning number of tourists to the area.

 

The Grand Hotel d’Angkor takes its name from the capital city of the ancient Khmer Empire, which ruled much of Southeast Asia from 802 to 1431. The strong historical influence of the Khmer Empire inspired an ongoing fascination with the Khmer culture into the 1900s, with Hébrard incorporating aspects of architecture, art, and furniture throughout the Grand Hotel d’Angkor. He also included elements of French-Colonial architectural into the design of the hotel, with strong Art Deco influences also being woven into the overall fabric of the building, such as black and white marble floors. 

 

When the hotel opened, many considered it to be very advanced for its time. The first iteration featured rooms complete with indoor plumbing and private bathrooms. Hébrard also installed a wrought iron elevator, which has remained popular among guests ever since.

 

Upon opening, the Grand Hotel had over 60 rooms with private bathrooms, something that had previously never been seen in the region. Guests of the property could expect torch-lit Khmer dances, traditional live music, and excursions into the jungle by elephant. 

 

British author H.W. Ponder mentioned the newly built hotel in her book, Cambodian Glory, published in 1936, likening its style to grand hotels in Nice, Monte Carlo and the French Riviera.  

 

The management also provided its guests with a small golf course for their entertainment. Due to such luxuries, the Grand Hotel d’Angkor hosted many luminaries over the years, including actor Charlie Chaplin, French President Charles de Gaulle, and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, as well as Princess Margaret and her husband Lord Snowdon. Many of those early guests also included foreign archeologists and explorers to the nearby site of Angkor Wat. 

 

Today, one hundred and twelve of the landmark property’s 119 rooms and suites have been fully refurbished, buttressing the intrinsic appeal of a property renowned for its classic facade, its expansive pool, and a celebrated metal and timber elevator.

“In the Grand Hotel, we are custodians of an incredible historical asset,” says Oliver Dudler, Raffles Cambodia Cluster General Manager. “The careful restoration and refurbishments will enhance guest comfort by offering new modern amenities while staying true to our longstanding heritage and classically elegant ambience.” 

Among the contemporary touches, spotlights have been added to brighten up the rooms, and power ports and USB charging stations have been fitted. The French windows, which swing open to views of either charming street scenes or the plantation-style grounds of the hotel, have been upgraded, and each room now has a writing desk and a vintage rotary telephone, thanks in part to the added floor space created by removing cabinets and replacing them with built-in wardrobes.

The greatest makeover is to the bathrooms, with all-new Italian tiling and fixtures, and separate rain showers. 

 

The main difference that returning guests will notice upon arrival is that the façade and the entire exterior of the hotel are now painted alabaster white, rather than its former cream-beige hue which is the colour of Royal Khmer architecture across the country.

The hotel’s Elephant Bar, renowned for its celebrity patrons, retains the air of a bygone era.


Contractors David Grace Designs have brightened up the Café d’Angkor, while refurbishing the interior design in the conservatory, famed for its afternoon teas and baby grand piano. Meanwhile, a new signature restaurant, named ‘1932’, stands poised and polished, ready for its official launch 
in November.

The biggest structural addition to the property is the complete renovation of the outdoor Apsara Terrace, where Khmer performances are enacted, into a new MICE and banquets venue to be called the ‘Raffles Marquee’. With Angkorian boundary stones of laterite, and surrounded by lush gardens, the new canvas-roofed centre aims to meet the growing luxury MICE business demand.

The property, along with its sister heritage hotel, Le Royal, in Phnom Penh, was taken over by Fairmont Raffles Hotels International in 1997 at the invitation of Cambodia’s King Sihanouk. The Siem Reap resort’s reopening comes two months after Raffles reopened its flagship hotel in Singapore following a two-year closure for renovations.

Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor in Siem Reap and its sister Raffles Hotel Le Royal in Phnom Penh are part of the Raffles Hotel group which launched in Singapore in 1887. For reservations or enquiries to Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor, call +855 23 982 598 or email bookus.siemreap@raffles.com. Rooms at Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor start at US$230 per night.