An iconic property in the heart of Phnom Penh, Raffles Hotel Le Royal is full of stories, must-try experiences, and the lingering presence of famous former guests.
The original heart of the building is old, and the property still retains all the classic colonial features that made it so resplendent in the 1920s. Stepping into the lobby is like stepping back in time with antique wood fittings, original tiling and grand chandeliers everywhere.
Social media means discretion is a thing of the past, but Raffles Hotel Le Royal manages to bring this into the 21st century with discrete yet attentive service, and architecture that allows for privacy. It’s rare to see guests strolling the hallways, and the two pools are secreted away from prying eyes in a lush inner courtyard. The Raffles Butlers have a canny knack for never being seen but appearing exactly when you need them.
You can’t beat the hotel’s location, either. You’re walking distance from many of the city’s sites, including Wat Phnom which sits at the end of the street. But should you want to venture out, the hotel can easily organise a car – or put you in a local tuk-tuk, if you’re feeling adventurous.
A CAMBODIAN LEGACY
Cambodia’s most historic hotel began life in 1929 under the name Hotel Le Royal. And yes, it had – and still has – ties to the Cambodian Royal Family. For nearly a century, the property has witnessed world events, hosted the biggest names in the world, and offered some of the country’s best dining experiences.
In its heyday, the hotel was the only place foreign visitors to Phnom Penh would stay. Former US First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy; French general Charles de Gaulle, English novelist Somerset Maugham and French writer Andre Malraux are just some of the famous names to have stayed here, and they left such an impression that the hotel’s now has four Personality Suites that pay homage to these well-known figures.
In the early years of the Khmer Rouge, foreign journalists used Hotel Le Royal as their base, filing stories from their rooms and drinking up a storm in the Elephant Bar. Eventually, the regime turned it into a storage facility, essentially shutting the doors on a city landmark.
Though the property reopened as a hotel in 1980, it wasn’t until it became Raffles Hotel Le Royal in 1997 that this grande dame got her groove back. An extensive, careful renovation restored the hotel’s former glory, and ensured it once again became a go-to destination for discerning travelers.
FOOD AND DRINK
When it comes to eating and drinking in Phnom Penh, few do it better than Raffles Hotel Le Royal. Whether you’re after a lavish celebratory dinner, aperitifs or a casual lunch, you’ll find it here.
The jewel in the hotel’s dining crown is Restaurant Le Royal, a storied restaurant which has hosted the crème de la crème of local and international dignitaries – including the Obamas. The opulent restaurant features plush carpets, mirrors and chandeliers, and even a live piano. It’s only the only place in town serving Royal Khmer cuisine, and they do it very well – in fact, the Cambodian Royal Family still dines here occasionally. Western food is also available – try the Jacqueline Kennedy menu which recreates the feast that the former American First Lady ate during a visit to this hotel.
A lavish breakfast spread is offered at the more casual Café Monivong. Whatever you need to start your day, you’ll find it here, from made-to-order eggs, an extensive bread and pastry selection, Asian and Western hot dishes, and even a healthy selection where ingredients and calorie counts are displayed.
Whatever you do, make time for a visit to the Elephant Bar. Arguably Phnom Penh’s most legendary watering hole, it was recently renovated but still boasts that old-world charm with plenty of wood paneling, and lots of elephant motifs. A decadent afternoon tea is served here during the day, and in the evenings, guests flock here for happy hour. Try the famous Femme Fatale cocktail; it was original made for Jackie Kennedy’s visit to the hotel, and the glass which still sports her lipstick stain is displayed around the corner from the bar.
Daily rate starts from US$280.
WHAT WE LOVE
- History is everywhere at the hotel, and there are many stories to hear if you just ask.
- The Elephant Bar is considered one of the best in the city, and the happy hour here is a lovely way to while away an hour or two before dinner.
- The service here is genuinely good – staff go above and beyond to make sure that every guest’s needs are attended to.
- A dinner at Restaurant Le Royal is a real experience and should be on everyone’s must-do list in Phnom Penh.
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW
- The hotel’s airport pick-ups make arriving easy – plus you’ll be riding in a swanky BMW 7 Series.
- The Raffles Spa gets busy, so book ahead.
- If you’re planning a special gathering, Restaurant Le Royal has a stunning private dining room.
- The main building houses the lobby and is the oldest part of the hotel; the additional wings were added later.
The hotel features 175 spacious guest rooms and suites, all rendered in Art Deco style with plenty of colonial charm and Cambodian objets d’art. Adding to the historic atmosphere, rooms feature hardwood floors, neutral tones, ceiling fans and heavy wood furniture. Each room also comes with private balconies or expansive seating areas.
There are four Personality Suites here, each named for a famous past guest; rather appropriately, I’m given the Somerset Maugham Suite. I can only hope bring in the famous writer’s former digs gives me some inspiration for my work.
The suite is large yet cosy, with an oversized work desk, two armchairs in the corner, a king-sized bed, and French windows that open onto a little balcony that’s the perfect spot for sipping my morning coffee.
The bathroom is definitely a little old school, with white tiles, a stand-alone clawfoot bath, and shower with vintage fixtures. The only slight let down were the amenities – you would expect a Raffles hotel to have brand name products on the bathroom counter, but this wasn’t the case.
Suites and Landmark Rooms come with the Raffles Butler Service. After an early flight, the first order of business is a coffee and within minutes of getting to the room, my butler comes around with a latte; later, my dress is perfectly pressed so that I’m ready for dinner at Restaurant Le Royal.
The tranquil Raffles Spa is a veritable oasis, marrying modern wellness with traditional Khmer therapies; it’s well worth a visit. The hotel’s inner gardens also hide two swimming pools lined with sunloungers and frangipani trees that make the perfect place to retreat from the afternoon heat. There’s also a fitness center, if you’re determined to work out.
TRAVEL IN STYLE
Casual’s the way to go if you’re wandering around Phnom Penh, and erring on the conservative side won’t go amiss. Pack something a little nicer for the hotel or evenings out.
WHEN YOU SHOULD GO
December through January is considered the best time to visit Phnom Penh – but that’s also peak tourist season. Avoid the summer months which bring monsoon rains and unbearable humidity.
Raffles Hotel Le Royal
92 Rukhak Vithei Daun Penh
Sangkat Wat Phnom
+855 23 981 888