Background A historical hotel in the Cambodian capital, Raffles Hotel Le Royal was first established in 1929, when it was known simply as “Le Royal”. Its opening bash was attended by King Sisiwath Monivong, who reigned from 1927 to 1941, and other notable guests. Many famous personalities have walked through its front doors over the years, including Charlie Chaplin and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. It has undergone a series of name changes too, for example Le Phnom and, after resuming operations post-Pol Pot reign, Hotel Samakki (Solidarity Hotel). It was Hotel Le Royal once again in 1993 when Norodom Sihanouk was reinstalled as king. The hotel reopened with its current name on November 24, 1997, after one and a half years of renovation work. Another major revamp is in discussion.
What’s it like? There is really the sense of being in a time warp when walking into this hotel: the carved-wood staircase handrails, checkerboard flooring and chandeliers all seem to be telling a story about the property’s colourful past. I was invited to a function at one of the salons and as I walked past the swimming pool lit up by parallel rows of candles and headed up the stairs, it felt as if I were about to run into Charlie and other guests in their dinner suits or cloche hats. This is one of the few hotels left that still use keys, which you are advised to leave with the front desk when you head outside; the weighty metal key-ring ensures that you don’t want to carry it around.Raffles did a good job in the mid ‘90s restoring the hotel, updating it to modern standards without taking away the original flavour. I hope that the next round of renovation will achieve the same.
Where is it? Neighbouring the Municipality Hall and National Library, this property is in a posh and tree-lined area called Sangkat Wat Phnom, between the riverside and Boeng Kak Lake. It is possible to walk to the entertainment district of Sisowath Quay, but it would take some 20 minutes and there is not that much to see along the way. Taxis or tuk tuks are the best way to go.
Room facilities There are seven accommodation categories; I was staying at one of the start-up state rooms, which is a suitable size for a lone traveller like me. Consistent with the rest of the property, the room felt like it had not changed since it was first built – except for the very breezy aircon. The ceiling fan, wood flooring, draped curtains, and four-legged bathtubs combined to create a feel of old-fashioned glamour and luxury. But there were signs that refurbishment was in order: The buttons on the safe were so worn out that I couldn’t read many of the numbers anymore. There was also no wifi, only cabled internet connection.
Restaurants and bars There are six food and beverage outlets and a pastry shop. Restaurant Le Royal is the fine-dining restaurant serving French and Khmer cuisines in an interior of classical decorative ceiling and flickering long white candles. The Poolside Terrace serves drinks and light snacks throughout the day and is a great place to kick back. Elephant Bar, decorated with wicker chairs and palm leaves, is where one can enjoy the hotel’s signature cocktail Femme Fatale, a rouge Champagne cocktail that was first served right here to Jackie O when she visited Cambodia in 1967.
Business and meeting facilities There is a basic business centre and 12 types of indoor function space including two salons, a ballroom and private rooms in the restaurants.
Leisure facilities There is Raffles Amrita Spa offering traditional Khmer massages and other spa treatments, and it also includes a fully-equipped gym, saunas, a Jacuzzi and a steam room. There is a lap pool and a fun pool in the courtyard. Three shops in the arcade sell Khmer fashion, Angkor arts and traditional carpets.
Verdict Some might say the décor and furnishing here are dated, but that’s exactly the charm of this property. We agree that renovation is needed, but we hope it won’t take away the original flavour.
HOW MANY ROOMS 170 guestrooms, apartments and suites.
ROOM HIGHLIGHT Art Deco-style furnishing meets Cambodian objet d’art, with a genuine nostalgic feel.
PRICE Internet rates for July start from US$160 per night, and there is an offer of 20 percent off best available rate if booked 21 days or more in advance.
CONTACT Raffles Hotel Le Royal, 92 Rukhak Vithei Daun Penh, Sangkat Wat Phnom, Phnom Penh, Cambodia; tel +855 23 981 888, www.raffles.com