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Cambodia’s Newest Hotels Are Changing the Luxury Outlook for Southeast Asia

Today's luxury brands, be they boutique or big-name, know that Cambodia's travel scene is on the rise, and that's changing the way people think about the land of the Khmer.

This small Southeast Asian nation has long been famous for the ruins of Angkor, but now a raft of new accommodation is drawing visitors to other undiscovered corners of the kingdom. The recent spate of new hotel openings includes everything from tented camps in the jungle by Bill Bensley to some of the biggest names in hospitality finally setting up shop in Phnom Pehn.

Rosewood Phnom Penh

Soaring high above the Cambodian capital, and casting nearby Wat Phnom – the 14th century temple for which the city is named – in the shade, the newest Rosewood outpost is hard to miss. Perhaps that’s to be expected when you occupy the top dozen 14 floors of the kingdom’s tallest building, but it’s also reflected in the stylish suites (which offer city or river views), no less than five dining venues (from the excellent yakitori at Iza to the classic French stylings of Brasserie Louis), and the signature Sense Spa complete with indoor pool.

That said, the piece de resistance in this former French colonial town has to be sky bar Sora, which is best visited as sunset falls on the ever-changing face of Phnom Penh.

Shinta Mani Wild – Bensley Collection

ABOVE: Riverside tent at Shinta Mani Wild – Bensley Collection.

One of Cambodia’s most anticipated new hotel openings comes from the wild imagination of celebrated resort designer Bill Bensley. The Bangkok-based American has made his name with unique properties throughout Southeast Asia, but this is perhaps one of his most ambitious.

ABOVE: Shinta Mani Wild comes from the mind of star designer Bill Bensley.

Situated in Cardamom National Park – a vast wilderness three hours drive southwest of Phnom Penh – guests will zip line the last 380 meters to the property, before being greeted with a welcome drink at the Landing Zone Bar. It’s a spirit of adventure that continues through the 15 luxury safari tents dotted amongst jungle and waterfalls, a menu including forest-foraged food, and day trips that include boat expeditions and nature hikes.

Le Bokor Palace

Mirroring the story of Cambodia itself, the tale of Bokor Mountain is one of boom, bust, and revival. In the early 1920s, seeking a cool retreat from the hot and humid climes of Phnom Penh, French colonialists began construction of a hill station atop the Bokor plateau, which  looms one kilometer above the ocean below.

The pinnacle of their ambition was Le Bokor Palace, a magnificent 18-room art deco edifice constructed on the edge of the precipice, which drew the kingdom’s great and good to enjoy la belle vie. Over the next 100 years, various wars of independence, revolution and insurrection took their toll, until the hotel was finally restored to its former grandeur in early 2018, ready once more to welcome guests.

Le Relais de Chhlong

ABOVE: Le Relais de Chhlong from above.

A rather bumpy four hour drive of Phnom Penh is the sleepy settlement of Chhlong. Once an important trading post on the Mekong, when it served as a riverside retreat for French timber merchants, today it consists of a chaotic though rather fun fresh market, the odd cafe or two, and an assemblage of crumbling colonial buildings – all except one, that is.

ABOVE:Le Relais de Chhlong balcony.

Le Relais de Chhlong (the name loosely translates from French as countryside inn), built in the early 20th century, has been restored to its former glory by a group of Phnom Penh residents, and now offers weary city dwellers a taste of the quiet life, with the addition of a cooling pool, menu of local favorites (try the Chhlong-style fish amok), and open-air bar.

Knai Bang Chatt

Once upon a time (well, the 1950s), there was a classy seaside town known as Kep-Sur-Mer. The kingdom’s rich and famous built holiday homes on this charming stretch of Cambodian coastline, which looks out to the looming Vietnamese resort island of Phu Quoc.

The king even began construction on a seaside palace on a prime hilltop until the Khmer Rouge period intervened. While most buildings have long since been reclaimed by the jungle, expat Belgian hotelier Jef Moons has restored three of them to form the luxury Knai Bang Chatt resort, which features high-end restaurant The Strand, The Lounge Bar, and rustic beach shack The Sailing Club – also home to, you guessed it, a sailing club.

The Balé Phnom Penh

ABOVE: The boutique The Balé exterior.

If there’s a sure sign that Phnom Penh is fast becoming a major tourism destination, it’s the arrival of luxury boutique properties such as The Balé. The first overseas branch of a Bali-based hospitality group, this modernist collection of low-rise buildings on the banks of the Mekong – 15 kilometers north of the city, opposite rural Silk Island – stand in stark contrast to the traditional wooden Khmer homes more commonly found in this area.

ABOVE:The Balé pool area.

When you add into the mix 18 private suites, a serene 30 meter pool, an intimate spa that combines Cambodian and Balinese treatments, and the Theato restaurant that showcases local favorites using quality ingredients, you have a resort unafraid to forge new ground.