Suite History: the Raffles Hotel Le Royal Phnom Penh

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Suite History: the Raffles Hotel Le Royal Phnom Penh

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Inside Restaurant Le Royal

Lisa Gries Managing Editor, Bangkok
29 Jul 2019

The Raffles Hotel Le Royal Phnom Penh is a storybook complete with glitzy gala dinners past and present, but also imbued with a turbulent history.

The 40-minute Chopin-assisted journey from Phnom Penh International Airport to the hotel ends with a tranquil ride down leafy Monivong boulevard, before the gates open to reveal what could only be a colonial Wes Anderson fantasy, should the American filmmaker have had more of an affinity for pastel yellow than pastel pink. Sense of arrival is strong at the Raffles Hotel Le Royal, and since its conception, has always been so.

The now historic landmark first opened its doors in 1929, and its inauguration was attended by His Majesty Sisowath Monivong (reigned 1927-1941). The visionary architect Ernest Hébrard was behind the construction of the then 55-room hotel, with an aim to turn the Cambodian-French colonial outpost into a world city and dynamic metropolis. Hébrard succeeded, soon making Le Royal the centre point of the fashionable European Quarter, wherein Phnom Penh grew to be the crossroads between Southeast Asia and French Indochina, and the gateway to excursions to Angkor.

Between the 1930s and 1960s, Le Royal was thriving, but in the tumultuous few years that followed, the beautiful hotel’s fresh heyday would come to an abrupt halt.

If there is one name that seems to linger on the pages at each of the dining venues here, it is hers: Jacqueline Kennedy.

Past a few black and white photographs of the former First Lady’s visit to the hotel, as well as her original cocktail glass from an evening long passed, Restaurant Le Royal is the hotel’s main dining room. Between smooth white table cloths, a pianist, and a hand-painted ceiling by royal painter Assasax, the restaurant serves up an ancient Royal Khmer tasting menu (with recipes from the palace), a Gueridon tasting menu (exceptional), and a Jacqueline Kennedy menu. The latter is a reproduction of the very meal that was served at the banquet during Kennedy’s visit in 1968.

At physical heights, the Elephant Bar is a an voguish hangout, with hand-painted majestic elephants on each of the walls to commemorate the revered animal. A sweet story goes that while the royal painter was composing each of these works, a little monkey used to come out to play and keep him company. The artist later paid homage to the monkey by including him in one of the paintings at the bar. The game is that guests are urged to find the cheeky creature in the murals, where something tells us it is likely to get easier to find as the evening progresses.

Where dining has plenty to swoon for, the facilities at Le Royal are relatively limited, but cover just enough to meet that sweet spot of never needing to leave the hotel should you only stay for a weekend. There are two swimming pools, a gym, and a spa. Additional highlights include a cinema night under the stars, or the classical performances at the Apsara Terrace during the dry season.

By the pool, it becomes evident that most of the guests at Le Royal continue to be largely Europeans and Americans, many of which, we are told, are returning guests and fond friends of the hotel. It is a soothing location, wherein hours float along like a melody under the — always so strikingly blue — Cambodian sky. By the pool too, guests can order light bites and treats, with interesting features like Kampot pepper ice cream, or coconut and chili sorbet.

This speaks volumes, and underscores what differentiates a hotel from a grand hotel, and a place of the present from a place of heritage. On flipping the pages of the Raffles magazine, the classic Raffles quote will pop up: “while at Raffles, why not visit Phnom Penh?”, almost as if the city comes second place to the hotel. It’s not insulting, nor does it feel like a heavy PR exercise, as Le Royal itself already boasts enough reason to visit alone.

Whisking guests away into a world of history and glamour, Le Royal is reminiscent of the times when we wore suits and got perms to board flights. We wore heels on train journeys with petticoats and hats. Sirloins were grilled on board, cigarettes were stylishly smoked inflight (though we’re okay with that one not persisting), and going on holiday was spelled with a capital G. What it stands for? ‘A Golden Travel Age.’

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Re: Suite History: the Raffles Hotel Le Royal Phnom Penh

Post by Doc67 »

A nice read...
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Re: Suite History: the Raffles Hotel Le Royal Phnom Penh

Post by Nicolas »

A really nice read.

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