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In May 2019, I checked into the Somerset Maugham Suite at Raffles Hotel Le Royal Phnom Penh, a colonial era-style heritage property which is situated along a tree-lined boulevard in the heart of the Cambodian capital. The 175-room hotel is a short tuk-tuk ride away from local attractions such as the Royal Palace, National Museum of Cambodia, Central Market and Wat Phnom, as well as 25 minutes away from Phnom Penh International Airport. Notable former guests at the hotel include former US First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Charlie Chaplin, Barack Obama and Angelina Jolie.

The UTW (“Under Ten Words”): Romantic, idyllic heritage hospitality in Phnom Penh.

The must-dos (if any): Spend time luxuriating in your room, have breakfast along the corridor outside Cafe Monivong, have cocktails at Elephant Bar.

THE HOTEL

Built in 1929, the hotel possesses a very rich history, from its long list of illustrious guests since the hotel’s launch to the turbulent years under siege by Khmer Rouge cadres during the Khmer Rouge years in the late ‘70s which led to significant distresses to various parts of the hotel. The hotel eventually reopened as Raffles Hotel Le Royal in 1997 after careful restoration and refurbishment, with a newly-built extension where most of the hotel’s State Rooms are located.

The hotel’s aesthetic combines French colonial, Khmer and Art Deco styles, with the proceedings playing it simultaneously stately (the lobby is especially elegant) and dreamily idyllic with creamy hallways, checkered floors, generous sunshine and lush greenery at every turn. Almost every inch of the premises – from the original French doors and teak staircase to the bookcases and bureaus which line the corridors – is positively steeped in history, with various pieces of furniture originating from the Raffles Hotel in Singapore.

The hotel’s private garden courtyard houses two outdoor pools – one for children and one for adults – which are surrounded by sun-beds and shaded by frangipani trees. Elsewhere, the Raffles Spa offers various treatments using THANN products as well as male and female changing rooms with their own saunas and steam rooms. A common hot tub area that feels ripped from the ‘90s and discouragingly situated fitness centre are accessible past the changing areas.

Boutiques along the ground floor arcade offer Khmer fabrics, art, souvenirs, gemstones and gifts.

raffles hotel le royal phnom penh entrance
Entrance (Raffles Hotel Le Royal Phnom Penh).
raffles hotel le royal phnom penh lobby
Lobby (Raffles Hotel Le Royal Phnom Penh).
raffles hotel le royal phnom penh Ground Floor Hallway
Ground Floor Hallway (Raffles Hotel Le Royal Phnom Penh).
raffles hotel le royal phnom penh Ground Floor Hallway
Ground Floor Hallway (Raffles Hotel Le Royal Phnom Penh).
raffles hotel le royal phnom penh staircase
Staircase (Raffles Hotel Le Royal Phnom Penh).
raffles hotel le royal phnom penh Raffles Spa
Raffles Spa (Raffles Hotel Le Royal Phnom Penh).
raffles hotel le royal phnom penh fitness centre
Fitness Centre (Raffles Hotel Le Royal Phnom Penh).
raffles hotel le royal phnom penh Raffles Spa jacuzzi
Raffles Spa Jacuzzi (Raffles Hotel Le Royal Phnom Penh).
raffles hotel le royal phnom penh pool
Pool (Raffles Hotel Le Royal Phnom Penh).

SOMERSET MAUGHAM SUITE

With a private balcony that overlooks the tree-lined driveway and the iconic traveller’s palm tree near the grand entrance (i.e. the same tree depicted in the Raffles logo), the 48sqm Somerset Maugham Suite is one of the hotel’s four Personality Suites, each inspired by the life and work of different well-known luminaries who have once stayed at the property (one of them being Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, former US First Lady). The suite is specially adorned with paintings and photographs of Somerset Maugham, the British writer popular in the 1930s who famously said “Raffles stands for all the fables of the exotic East” after his stay at Raffles Hotel Singapore.

The Somerset Maugham Suite plays it all colonial chic meets hazy romantic resort laid-back with its high ceilings, French doors, hardwood floors, Cambodian handicrafts, old-fashioned cabinet, quaint lampshades, four-poster bed and ceiling fan – the perfect setting for sultry summer passions. The minibar is equipped with a BonMatic Mini coffee machine with Segafredo coffee capsules, as well as 1872 Clipper Tea Co tea-making facilities.

The hefty, 200-page “Soirées, Sojourns & Stories By Raffles” tome on the writing desk is not so much a glossy coffee table book than it is a proud, dignified statement of intention, featuring not just extensive detailing of the history and development of the brand and its concepts but also various engrossing and interesting anecdotes, letters, photographs and illustrations. It is an effective and transportive reading (or, in my case, browsing) experience, serving to contextualise whichever Raffles property you may be at as part of the overall Raffles narrative and immediately strengthening the heritage property’s sense of place.

Elsewhere, the white-tiled bathroom is equipped with an original claw-foot bathtub and a separate shower space, with bathroom amenities from Algotherm.

raffles hotel le royal phnom penh Somerset Maugham Suite
Somerset Maugham Suite (Raffles Hotel Le Royal Phnom Penh).
raffles hotel le royal phnom penh Somerset Maugham Suite
Somerset Maugham Suite (Raffles Hotel Le Royal Phnom Penh).
raffles hotel le royal phnom penh Somerset Maugham Suite balcony
Balcony, Somerset Maugham Suite (Raffles Hotel Le Royal Phnom Penh).
raffles hotel le royal phnom penh Somerset Maugham Suite
Somerset Maugham Suite (Raffles Hotel Le Royal Phnom Penh).
raffles hotel le royal phnom penh Somerset Maugham Suite
Somerset Maugham Suite (Raffles Hotel Le Royal Phnom Penh).
raffles hotel le royal phnom penh Somerset Maugham Suite bathroom
Bathroom, Somerset Maugham Suite (Raffles Hotel Le Royal Phnom Penh).
raffles hotel le royal phnom penh Somerset Maugham Suite
Bathroom Amenities, Somerset Maugham Suite (Raffles Hotel Le Royal Phnom Penh).
raffles hotel le royal phnom penh room key
Room Key (Raffles Hotel Le Royal Phnom Penh).

DINING

Champagne breakfast is served at Café Monivong, the hotel’s all-day dining concept with buffet and a la carte options. The breakfast buffet comprises a Peking duck station, an egg station offering dishes such as eggs Benedict and truffled scented scrambled eggs, a noodle soup station with your choice of either chicken or beef, Khmer selections such as the simple but tantalising fresh water fish soup with herbs (I had three bowls and pretty much emptied the big earthen pot of all fish slices by the end of breakfast service) as well as the usual pastries, cold cuts, fruits, Western sides with your choice of either soft or crispy bacon and Asian selections such as dim sum, Indian flatbread and stir-fried udon noodles.

Guests are better off skipping the rather dimly-lit and lethargic indoor seating in favour of the al fresco seats along the brightly-lit and idyllic potted plant-lined and ceiling-fanned corridor, which makes for an ideal setting for Carrie Bradshaw-esque laptop musings and self-improvement book-accompanied champagne sips alike.

The  Restaurant Le Royal serves Royal Khmer cuisine – recipes handed down to the hotel by the Royal Palace – in an elegant, fine dining setting. I tried the Royal Khmer Cuisine Tasting Menu with an accompanying wine pairing and was suitably smitten by the jungly sweet Samlor Machu M’Noas (fish soup with pineapple and local herbs) as well as the surrenderingly soft and firmly mushy Amok Bangkong (steamed Mekong lobster in mild spices and local herbs).

My favourite dining space at the hotel is the Elephant Bar, which manages to tastefully incorporate its elephantine elements into the sophisticated and timelessly romantic bar setting without ever veering into cheesy exoticism. The jasmine-sweet Kaf Kaf Gin & Tonic and energetically fizzy Femme Fatale – an honorary cocktail created for Jackie Kennedy Onassis made from crème de fraise des bois, cognac and champagne – were highlights. The latter cocktail was apparently sipped by Jackie O herself whilst she was listening to the jazz of King Norodom Sihanouk played on the bar’s piano during her 1967 visit to the hotel, and her lipstick-stained glass remains on display at the hotel to this day. The bar snacks I tried – the Beef and Pork Sausage and the Lobster Amok – were rather excellent, although the presentation of the former was somewhat unappetising in its evocation of imagery I observed during my tour of the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum earlier that day.

Elsewhere, the humble Writer’s Bar at the lobby as well as the Poolside Terrace offer tipples, snacks and other refreshments.

raffles hotel le royal phnom penh Café Monivong
Café Monivong (Raffles Hotel Le Royal Phnom Penh).
raffles hotel le royal phnom penh Café Monivong Champagne Breakfast buffet
Buffet, Champagne Breakfast, Café Monivong (Raffles Hotel Le Royal Phnom Penh).
raffles hotel le royal phnom penh Café Monivong Champagne Breakfast
Champagne Breakfast, Café Monivong (Raffles Hotel Le Royal Phnom Penh).
raffles hotel le royal phnom penh Café Monivong Champagne Breakfast noodle station
Noodle Station, Champagne Breakfast, Café Monivong (Raffles Hotel Le Royal Phnom Penh).
raffles hotel le royal phnom penh Café Monivong Champagne Breakfast
Chicken Noodle Soup, Champagne Breakfast, Café Monivong (Raffles Hotel Le Royal Phnom Penh).
raffles hotel le royal phnom penh Café Monivong Champagne Breakfast
Fresh Water Fish Soup Herbs, Salad Leaves and Vegetables, Champagne Breakfast, Café Monivong (Raffles Hotel Le Royal Phnom Penh).
raffles hotel le royal phnom penh Restaurant Le Royal
Restaurant Le Royal (Raffles Hotel Le Royal Phnom Penh).
raffles hotel le royal phnom penh Restaurant Le Royal Green Mango Salad with Grilled Scallop, Peanuts and Nuoc Mam Sauce
Green Mango Salad with Grilled Scallop, Peanuts and Nuoc Mam Sauce, Khmer Royal Cuisine Tasting Menu, Restaurant Le Royal (Raffles Hotel Le Royal Phnom Penh).
raffles hotel le royal phnom penh Restaurant Le Royal Fish Soup with Pineapple and Local Herbs
Fish Soup with Pineapple and Local Herbs, Khmer Royal Cuisine Tasting Menu, Restaurant Le Royal (Raffles Hotel Le Royal Phnom Penh).
raffles hotel le royal phnom penh Restaurant Le Royal Seared Elephant Fish with Tamarind Sauce
Seared Elephant Fish with Tamarind Sauce, Khmer Royal Cuisine Tasting Menu, Restaurant Le Royal (Raffles Hotel Le Royal Phnom Penh).
raffles hotel le royal phnom penh Restaurant Le Royal Grilled Beef Skewered on Lemongrass, Served with Kampot Black Pepper Sauce
Grilled Beef Skewered on Lemongrass, Served with Kampot Black Pepper Sauce, Khmer Royal Cuisine Tasting Menu, Restaurant Le Royal (Raffles Hotel Le Royal Phnom Penh).
raffles hotel le royal phnom penh Restaurant Le Royal Amok Bangkang
Steamed Mekong Lobster in Mild Spices and Local Herbs, Khmer Royal Cuisine Tasting Menu, Restaurant Le Royal (Raffles Hotel Le Royal Phnom Penh).
raffles hotel le royal phnom penh Restaurant Le Royal Assortment of Khmer Desserts
Assortment of Khmer Desserts, Khmer Royal Cuisine Tasting Menu, Restaurant Le Royal (Raffles Hotel Le Royal Phnom Penh).
raffles hotel le royal phnom penh Elephant Bar
Elephant Bar (Raffles Hotel Le Royal Phnom Penh).
raffles hotel le royal phnom penh Elephant Bar
Elephant Bar (Raffles Hotel Le Royal Phnom Penh).
raffles hotel le royal phnom penh Elephant Bar Kaf Kaf Gin & Tonic
Kaf Kaf Gin & Tonic, Elephant Bar (Raffles Hotel Le Royal Phnom Penh).
raffles hotel le royal phnom penh Elephant Bar Femme Fatale
Femme Fatale, Elephant Bar (Raffles Hotel Le Royal Phnom Penh).
raffles hotel le royal phnom penh Elephant Bar negroni
Negroni, Elephant Bar (Raffles Hotel Le Royal Phnom Penh).
raffles hotel le royal phnom penh Elephant Bar bar food
Beef and Pork Sausage, Elephant Bar (Raffles Hotel Le Royal Phnom Penh).
raffles hotel le royal phnom penh Elephant Bar Lobster Amok
Lobster Amok, Elephant Bar (Raffles Hotel Le Royal Phnom Penh).

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

It is not difficult to see why, after so many years, the hotel remains one of the essential luxury experiences in Phnom Penh as its product offerings – from its unique heritage and historical significance to the strength of their F&B offerings, in particular Elephant Bar – remain distinctive and unrivalled in the Cambodian capital. It would be interesting to see how the property matches up to its sister property Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor in Siem Reap, which is due to complete its facelift and reopen in October 2019.

Raffles Hotel Le Royal Phnom Penh
92 Rukhak Vithei Daun Penh
Sangkat Wat Phnom
Phnom Penh, Cambodia

This review was written at the invitation of Raffles Hotel Le Royal Phnom Penh.

Postscript: The hotel has commenced a significant renovation and refurbishment of the property, and certain wings/blocks will be closed in stages. However, the hotel remains operational throughout the refreshment period.

Author

Shawn is a full-time lawyer based in Singapore. Neither a professional critic, blogger nor photographer, Shawn is simply somebody who loves food and luxury hotels very much and (likes to think that he has) a quirky sense of humor. When Shawn is not premature ageing and turning his hair further grey due to stress and vicious deadlines, he is somewhere spending an exorbitant amount of money trying out new dining places and hotels.

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