Forgoing the wonders of Angkor, Mark Bibby Jackson spends a day relaxing at the Park Hyatt Siem Reap glorying in this modern day marvel.
I have always had a soft spot for the Park Hyatt Siem Reap, even back in the days when it was called the Hotel de la Paix. Over the years many things have changed in temple town but one thing that has remained a constant is the elegance and the comfort of the hotel situated in the heart of the old town conveniently close to Pub Street and the night market.
Art has always been a keen feature of the hotel, and never more so than now with John McDermott‘s gallery set across three floors. This features some of the best photography ever produced of the temples of Angkor. You can see the gallery as part of Robina Hanley’s wonderful art tour of Siem Reap.
Art oozes out of every crevice of the Bill Bensley designed hotel. Entering the building I am greeted by one of his amazing statues of a woman holding a lotus leaf. I can remember it from when the original hotel opened over a decade ago. Like Angkor itself it is timeless.
The corridors are filled with the most spectacular photography of Angkor, while each space seems filled with a priceless work or art – all have an echo of Angkor but some also suggest a more European religious art tradition. After all isn’t Siem Reap now a melting pot for different cultures and civilizations? It is more like you are visiting someone’s private art collection than checking into a hotel.
Nor does the attention to detail finishes at your rooms where beautiful silverwork reflecting Angkor’s glorious past hangs above both my bed and the lavatory. The most inviting bed competes for my attention with the divine day bed.
I choose neither and head for the pool.
A Tale of Two Pools
In its Hotel de la Paix days the hotel only had one pool. Rather ornate it was like wandering back into a scene from some Angkorian fable, ideal for relaxing and keeping the kids quiet, but not perfect for serious swimmers. Although it remains, it is to the more recent ground floor, salt water pool to which I head. I discover I have it all to myself, apart from the one member of staff who offers me some chilled water and fruit. Is this because of the downturn in tourism this year, or is everyone else at the temples? I think the latter.
It is mid-morning, and most people are still pretending to be Angelina at Ta Prohm or marvelling at the beauty of Bayon having risen early for the most amazing sunrise at Angkor Wat.
I have always preferred to return to Siem Reap after the sunrise, and recharge my batteries beside a pool before returning to Angkor later in the afternoon when the crowds have somewhat dissipated.
The Park Hyatt Siem Reap’s swimming pool makes for the perfect venue for this. Just contemplating all my fellow travellers traipsing around the temples while I took a few leisurely strokes through its cool waters made me feel content.
Earlier, I had enjoyed the most wonderful breakfast. Simply concocting your own juice, from the mixture of fruit, vegetables and, of course, galangal is an exercise in virtue, although there is also someone at hand to assist you, as well as freshly squeezed juice for those who just want an easy life.
After breakfast and a swim you can return to the temples and stay for the sunset refreshed, rejuvenated and assured you will enjoy the experience much more. Or if you are more intrepid you could travel to some of the temples further afield or even Preah Vihear. Even during the high season these are pretty much deserted.
I opted to relax by the pool. A week spent catching up with friends in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh and struggling with jet lag had exacted its toll. Consequently, I was happy to spend the morning chilling before my scheduled Siem Reap art tour, which rather conveniently commenced on the third floor of the Park Hyatt.
Park Hyatt Siem Reap Dinner and Show
Despite the somewhat unexpected artistic pleasures shown to me on the Siem Reap Art Tour concluding with the most wonderful glass of rosé at Christian Develter’s studio-cum-home set in the paddy fields outside of town, I managed to make it back in time for dinner at the Park Hyatt only slightly late.
Dining around the central courtyard with its pool and delightful tree is a great experience, especially so as this night the hotel had laid on a performance of traditional Khmer music and Apsara dancing for the guests. This is always a beautiful and melodious occasion, but as I was catching up with one of my oldest friends, Nathan Horton who runs photography tours across Cambodia and the region, we decided to dine indoors in the air-con so we could chat easier.
The food was exactly as you would expect from an establishment of this quality. We chose from the Khmer dishes that included an aubergine salad and then a delicate prawn curry. All this we washed down with an excellent crisp white wine that seemed to fit in perfectly with the tone of the evening.
Taking a More Responsible Attitude
My only criticism of the hotel was the prevalence of single-use plastic especially in my room and around the pool.
I addressed this point to the hotel’s General Manager Pravin Kumar shortly before checking out.
Pravin is new to both Siem Reap and Cambodia, having spent the last year in the Maldives, where he says the beaches and waters are pristine. He assured me that soon all single-use plastic should be banned from the hotel. “It has been mandated by Park Hyatt for all properties,” he says, adding that he hopes the hotel will have its own bottling plant. “It’s what I did in the Maldives.”
There they also made thread out of plastic waste and turned it into shoes, maybe this is something the hotel could do with the wider community of Siem Reap – after all there is plenty of raw material to use.
Park Hyatt Siem Reap Photo Gallery
In the past, the Hotel de la Paix was an essential part of the Siem Reap community. Kumar wants to achieve this now with the Park Hyatt. “The hotel is beautiful, but we want to showcase what we are doing here. We want to work on the brand, our positioning in the market and visibility.”
Perhaps that visibility will include a plastic-free future not just for the Park Hyatt but for Siem Reap as a whole.
Park Hyatt Siem Reap
Sivutha Boulevard, Siem Reap, Cambodia
T: +855 6321 1234