Thursday, 21 January 2010

Raffles Hotel Le Royal, Phnom Penh: hotel review

Somerset Maugham and Jackie Kennedy have both stayed here

Three wings form a courtyard around gardens with two swimming pools

The graceful building that began life as Hotel Le Royal 80 years ago

Yolanda Carslaw enjoys Old World ambience at Phnom Penh's Raffles Hotel Le Royal.

By Yolanda Carslaw
Published: 18 Jan 2010


The capital's smartest address, near Wat Phnom and several embassies, removed from the riverfront tourist hub yet a 10-minute tuk-tuk ride from most sights.


A sweeping driveway leads to the graceful building that began life as Hotel Le Royal 80 years ago. In 1997 Raffles reopened the refurbished property having added three wings to form a courtyard around gardens with two swimming pools, palms and monkey pod trees. Ceilings are high, floors are polished black-and-white tile or marble, the stairway restored teak and furnishings mostly Art Deco reproductions. Approachable staff, some in Khmer dress, look after a cosmopolitan 50-50 mix of business and leisure travellers. There is also a spa and gym.


In our spacious Landmark room we loved our sleigh beds, the period prints and the sleek, spotless bathroom. Some suites are named after famous visitors (Somerset Maugham; Jackie Kennedy) but these aren't always larger or smarter.


The gargantuan $20 (£12) breakfast buffet is a feast of international food, from tropical fruit to scrumptious steamed dim sum. You can order food all day, and Restaurant Le Royal offers appetising Khmer and international evening meals. The Elephant Bar (happy hour 4-8pm; live music Monday-Saturday) is popular with expats.

We like

The romantic Old World ambience; the pool; and the chamber trio in the Writers' Bar.

Not so keen

Breakfast finishes early, at 10am; guests pay for Wi-Fi ($6/hour).


00855 23 981888;; from £98, room only.

Why Phnom Penh?
If you're visiting the temples of Angkor, don't bypass Phnom Penh – the Cambodian capital has a history both fascinating and chilling, a lively social scene and gorgeous palaces. Only in the past decade has it recovered from the Khmer Rouge years (1975-79) when a quarter of the population perished and the city was forcibly evacuated. Put aside at least half a day to visit the Museum of Genocide at Tuol Sleng Prison and the Killing Fields outside the city. For a cheerful antidote, visit the colourful Royal Palaces, join early morning aerobics in the park, marvel at the good-natured traffic mayhem and visit craft shops and markets – great for homewares such as silk and basketry. Khmer food is light, fragrant and cheap, and for a cocktail don't miss happy hour at the Foreign Correspondents' Club.

Getting there
Several Asian carriers, including budget airline Air Asia (, fly from London to Phnom Penh via Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur; you can also go via Hong Kong with British Airways and a local carrier such as Dragon Air. The total journey time, excluding transit, is about 15 hours. Phnom Penh airport is 30 minutes from the centre; most hotels pick you up. Buses from Siem Reap (for the Angkor temples) take six hours; the Mekong Express ($11) is a good option, with a lavatory on board, drinks and snacks included and a halfway stop. You can also travel by boat (six hours; $35) from Siem Reap. You can walk safely in Phnom Penh by day, but take tuk-tuks after dark ($2).

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