Siem Reap, Cambodia
A Royal Retreat
Amansara is a peaceful royal refuge that brings you away from the hustle and bustle of Siem Reap. It is a haven where privacy is its main focus set in an intimate and relaxed space where the guest could feel at ease. Opened its doors to the public in 1962 for the as Villa Princiere (before changing the name into Villa Apsara later on), this property was originally built as a royal retreat of King Father Norodom Sihanouk.
The history of this small luxury hotel, which has become the architectural gem in Siem Reap, stretches back to the late 1950’s when French architect Laurent Mondet came under King Father Sihanouk’s radar while working with Vann Molyvann in France. The King was impressed by his ability to bring the modernity into life and wanted the architect to work on the grand complex he was creating.
Following the minimalist movement, Mondet together with Molyvann designed this state guest house into a series of single-storey white buildings containing luxurious guest suites, two swimming pools and a circular dining room with floor-to-ceiling windows juxtaposing the serene landscape.
Its turbulence past took this royal retreat into its abandon state during the Khmer Rouge regime. It had a few unsuccessful resurrection attempts in the 1980’s and 1990’s; however, it was not until 2002 when Aman Resorts founder Adrian Zecha (who stayed here during the heyday of Villa Princiere) decided to restore this complex to its former glory. Working together with Australian architect Kerry Hill, they take the inspiration from the original design by retaining the 1960’s charm and elegance while giving a contemporary makeover with sleek lines and subtle curves.
The former royal enclave has transformed into a 24-suite retreat (12 suites and 12 pool suites), yet it boasts similar design and features an open plan setting with finishes in terrazzo and timber. The colour theme is muted and creates a soothing ambience over the combined sleeping and living area. Floor-to-ceiling windows offer views of the courtyard featuring a small water garden or 6m x 5m pool in the pool suite. Design highlights in Amansara include the roof terrace with cushioned seating and low tables shaded by trees (offering great cocktails and amazing traditional performing arts), the sexy looking spa dominated in black featuring four treatment rooms, and the circular dining room with a soaring seven-metre high ceiling where King Sihanouk once enjoyed screening his collection of movies.
Since the day this place commenced its operations in 1962, it has gained international popularity with the likes of Jacqueline Kennedy, Peter O’Toole, Charles de Gaulle to Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. The way I see it, Amansara will continue becoming the city’s architectural and historical gem.