I’ve always dreamt of going to Cambodia so when Natalie and I were invited to go to Thailand with Anantara Hotels, we decided to skip the trip to their Phuket property and instead, visit their hotel in Cambodia. After all, it was half the distance (218 miles instead of 430 miles) from where we would be in Bangkok and would make for a much better story to report on a country I’d never been to before.
The luxury hotel company booked us on Air Asia flights. Here’s my review of Air Asia.
When we walked down the plane stairs into the thick, steamy, Siem Reap air, we made a B-line to the ‘Visas on Arrival’ line. Luckily, Natalie and I were sitting towards the front of the plane so there wasn’t much of a wait. TIP: Book seats towards the front of the plane so you can get off the plane quicker and won’t have to wait in a long visa line.
There were two lines for visas and they charge $20 USD to get one on arrival. If you don’t have a passport size photo they will charge you another $2 to scan your passport pic. You need to pay in U.S. cash and the bills can’t be torn or marked. That goes for everywhere in Siem Reap. I was surprised to learn that their main currency was U.S. dollars. But don’t worry if you don’t have U.S. cash on hand. The ATM machine will spit out fresh crisp greenbacks.
After my experience getting a visa in Cambodia, I know how foreigners must feel when they come to America. The Cambodian agents weren’t very friendly, took fingerprints of both hands, including thumbs, and sent us to the immigration line to get our passports stamped. At least they were efficient.
With our visas issues, Natalie and I were ready to hit our hotel and explore Siem Reap. Here are 10 reasons to stay at Anantara Angkor Resort & Spa:
1. Hotel welcome
Once we cleared customs (since we were among the first people off the plane, everything only took about 12 minutes), we met our hotel’s driver. He and all the other locals we met along the way were extremely welcoming. Inside the van, the driver greeted us with chilled towels, bottled water and soda. On arrival at the hotel, guests are given a Lotus flower and a tasty welcome drink. I can’t recall what it was called or find my notes with its ingredients. Sorry! But I do remember it was non-alcoholic.
Good to know: There are 15 million people living in Cambodia and 195,000 live in Siem Reap.
Anantara Angkor Resort & Spa is easy to get to; it’s just a seven-minute ride from the Siem Reap Airport (REP). It felt surreal because we were in Southeast Asia, where normally, locals are driving by at breakneck speeds, in all different directions. But here, they were all going the speed limit and in an orderly fashion. I quickly asked why we, and everyone else, was driving so slow. Our driver said that they are very strict about enforcing speed limitations in Siem Reap and no one wants to get a ticket.
3. Comfortable rooms
The 39-room Anantara Angkor Resort & Spa is situated between downtown Siem Reap and Angkor Wat. Since the hotel isn’t in the city’s downtown, it’s much quieter, although you hear some traffic and plenty of tree frogs. The rooms are on the small side but they have comfortable beds and pillows and a beautiful bathtub. I loved that they had bedside controls so you can control everything from the lights to the air conditioning without getting out of bed.
Good to know:
Anantara Angkor Resort & Spa offers traditional Khmer cooking classes and it’s included for free in their package deals, which are very reasonable. Currently (December 2014) they are offering, for $405:
-Three nights’ accommodation or more in a room or suite
-Daily breakfast for two persons
-One courtyard Dining by Design for two persons
-One Khmer cooking class for two persons
-Complimentary tuk-tuk service to town
-Round-trip airport transfers
4. Saltwater pool
The modern hotel was built in 2002 and has everything you need, including an outdoor salt-water pool. It rained every day we were there so we didn’t swim in it but it did look nice. CAUTION: The pool area and the tile stairs going up to the rooms are extremely slippery when wet. Natalie almost killed herself slipping and still has a huge bump today from slipping on those stairs. Why they don’t have safety strips on the stairs is beyond comprehension. If you go during the rainy season, be sure to hold on to the rails and don’t wear flip-flops.
The Anantara Angkor Resort has two restaurants; both offering indigenous Khmer and international cuisine, and the food is delicious. Seriously, I could eat the Banana Blossom and Chicken Salad all day long. It comes with julienned shallot, red long chili, carrot, long mint leaves, sweet basil, tossed in coriander dressing ($10). The breakfast buffet is amazing and is included in most rates. Try the Khmer soup.
The hotel service is as you would expect from any five-star Southeast Asian hotel and that’s because they have 70 people on staff for just 39 rooms. Note: Many of the staff speak limited English so communicating can be a bit of a challenge if you don’t speak Khmer!
The Anantara Spa has three spa suites; two Khmer massage rooms and one foot massage room. There’s also a sauna, steam room, and Jacuzzi all of which are complimentary. Sadly, we didn’t make it to the hotel gym or their morning yoga classes on the spa’s rooftop garden.
8. Free Tuk Tuk to Pub Street and Night Market
Natalie and I did take advantage of their free tuk tuk rides to Pub Street and the Night Market, which was a fun 10-minute ride. Pub Street is very touristy and has a huge variety of shops and restaurants filled with westerners and ex-pats.
9. Monk blessing
It’s not advertised but guests can make a special request and arrange for the hotel to invite a local monk to give you a blessing for peace and prosperity.
10. Proximity to Angkor Archaeological Park
The hotel is plush but the real reason you’ll want to go there is for its proximity to the magnificent Angkor Archaeological Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site of ancient Khmer Empire ruins. The most famous is Angkor Wat, which is labeled the Eighth Wonder of the World. Here are my Angkor Park photos.