Hotel Le Royal, Phnom Penh - review by Rusty Compass
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Hotel Le Royal, Phnom Penh

| 08 Feb 2011

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Hotel Le Royal, Phnom Penh
92 Rukhak Vithei Daun Penh, Sangkat Wat Phnom, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
+855 23 981 888

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Price guide: More than US$220 per room

Our rating
Location
Design
Ambience
People
Facilities
08 Feb 2011

The only choice in Phnom Penh for travellers wanting to combine a stay in the city's most luxurious hotel - a Raffles no less - with a leap into Cambodia’s traumatic history.

Note: The information provided in this review was correct at time of publishing but may change. For final clarification please check with the relevant service

History

Raffles Hotel Le Royal has been front and centre of of the dramatic shifts of life in Phnom Penh since its opening in 1929.

Cambodia,Hotel Le Royal,Phnom Penh Hotels,Raffles
Photo: Mark BowyerRaffles Hotel Le Royal, Phnom Penh

The hotel is the work of celebrated French architect Ernest Hebrard - the name behind many of Indochina’s finest colonial era buildings including the Raffles Grand in Siem Reap as well as the Vietnamese History Museum and Ministry of Foreign Affairs buildings, both in Hanoi.

Hebrard was also influential in establishing the urban plans for Hanoi and Phnom Penh that have served the cities for decades.

In the 1930s, the Le Royal hosted the toast of French colonial life as well as travellers attracted by the wonders of Angkor. Charlie Chaplin stayed here in 1936.

WWII brought an abrupt end to this mini tourism boom and in the early 40s, the hotel was been taken over by occupying Japanese forces.

Cambodia,Hotel Le Royal,Phnom Penh Hotels,Raffles
Photo: Mark BowyerRaffles Hotel Le Royal, Phnom Penh

As Cambodian Independence approached in the 1950s, the hotel was renovated and extended. A brief golden era in Cambodia’s story was beginning. A newly emerging traveller elite flocked to the temples and Prince Sihanouk dreamed of a peaceful independent Cambodia with a flourishing education system and arts and architecture to match. Hotel Le Royal was at the centre of this heady era.

By the late 60s, Cambodia’s golden era was souring as the American sponsored war in Vietnam spilled across the border. By the early 70s, desperation set in. The Le Royal became the Hotel Phnom and was the prime vantage point for journalists and diplomats watching the steady advance of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge across the country.

As the Khmer Rouge made its final assault on Phnom Penh in 1975, the hotel was draped in Red Cross colours and declared a neutral zone. Some of the most heart wrenching scenes of the Khmer Rouge takeover of the city took place here as Khmer Rouge officials demanded senior officials from the fallen Cambodian government be handed over for what everyone knew would be execution. Foreigners were marched to the nearby French Embassy and so began a long and infamous standoff - retold first hand in dramatic accounts in Jon Swain’s River of Time and Francois Bizot’s The Gate.

Read these books before a stay at the Le Royal and you’ll be sure to come away with a deeply moving experience of the city and the hotel.

A small corner area near the lobby serves as a memorial of sorts displaying images donated by some of those involved in the final days at the Hotel Phnom before the Khmer Rouge takeover.


Location

A short walk from Wat Phnom in the centre of Phnom Penh and overlooking a broad boulevard of manicured gardens. The riverfront is ten minutes away on foot and the city’s sights are a short tuk tuk or drive away.

The Raffles Hotel Le Royal is located in the area designated by the French as the centre of the colonial government so many of the city's most impressive colonial era structures are nearby. The sprawling new US Embassy is also just down the road.


Architecture, ambience and people

The Hotel Le Royal is a grand colonial era structure adapted to the tropical climes of Indochina. High ceilings and open airy spaces are reminders of a time when air conditioning was not a feature of hotel design.

Cambodia,Hotel Le Royal,Phnom Penh Hotels,Raffles
Photo: Mark BowyerRaffles Hotel Le Royal, Phnom Penh

The main building at the front is the only structure that remains from Ernest Hebrard’s original 1920 design. The wings that flank the main building were sympathetically added in renovations carried out by the Raffles Group when they took over the hotel in the mid 90s. That renovation successfully retained or reintroduced the best features of the time though the upgrade of rooms currently mooted seems well timed.

Once sleepy Phnom Penh is an increasingly boisterous place and the Le Royal is a perfect sanctuary after busy days exploring the city. The interior courtyard features two good sized pools and lush open gardens.

Staff and service are impeccable in keeping with Raffles exacting standards.

This is the only place to stay in Phnom Penh if you want to combine the colonial experience with the comforts of a luxury hotel in an excellent location. The atmosphere might lack a little in warmth - like its counterpart in Siem Reap - but few guests leave disappointed.

Travellers seeking out something different and atmospheric should also check some of Phnom Penh’s designer boutique hotels. Facilities are usually basic but the experience can be cosy and refreshing.


Facilities brief:
2 pools, spa, free wifi throughout, restaurants, bars and all that you’d expect of a Raffles.

Mark Bowyer
Mark Bowyer is the founder and publisher of Rusty Compass.
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