This morning, well before the sun rose, I walked through the black hallways of Angkor Wat. The only sound was the echo of the footsteps of my guide, my friend and me. The guide’s torch lit the path perhaps a meter ahead of us, and he paused occasionally to show us a stunning bas relief, an apsara carving or a 16th century Buddha statue.
He led us up stairways with steps cut in the stone so narrow and high it was almost like climbing a ladder. They were designed to make the climber bow down while approaching this state temple and the largest religious monument in the world.
We peered through windows with seven carved columns, meant to cast the same shadow as Angkor Wat’s towers. We watched the sun rise from one of the libraries, far far away from the masses of tourists jostling and chattering out front trying to capture the quintessential Angkor photo.
It was magical. Angkor Wat is a magical place, but it is almost never empty, and often extremely crowded with tourists.
And the day was far from over…
We had a light breakfast of pastry and fruit, packed by the Amansara, while the sun made its slow appearance. Stopping by a few other Angkor Wat highlights, we made our way to my favourite temple, the faces of Bayon, before the crowds arrived there. We even had time for a stop at Ta Phrom, the temple best known for the overgrown trees left standing around — and on — the ruins.
We then went to Srah Srang, the Amansara’s traditional wooden Khmer village house, for a second breakfast. The house is right in the Angkor park, overlooking the royal bathing pool of Srah Srang, which was built in the 10th to 12th centuries. The house is on stilts and surrounded by fruit trees and a herb and vegetable garden, used in the kitchen here and in Executive Chef Molly Rygg’s main kitchen back at the resort in town (where I enjoyed a delicious lunch earlier in the week).
I tried my first milk fruit, picked from the tree in the garden; it looks like a large purple plum and tastes a bit like lychee. A traditional Khmer breakfast of nom ben chak noodle soup followed, made with fresh noodles and tasting of lemongrass and the slightest bit of coconut milk. It was heavenly. We were cared for like gold by the charming staff.
And if that weren’t enough, the Amansara then treated me to a massage in the serene spa back at the resort. The therapist expertly found the knots in my back and kneaded them out, leaving me feeling supple and refreshed despite my 4:30 am wake up call.
The Amansara is 24-suite resort (many with private pools), luxurious but understated, in the former guesthouse of Cambodia’s King Sihanouk. The resort is calm and cool in the busy and hot city of Siem Reap, the ideal place if you want peace and privacy for your base to explore Angkor’s wonders.
Beyond the hotel facilities, the Amansara offers exceptional service and extraordinary experiences, such as private access to Conservation d’Angkor’s warehouse of treasures, a candlelit dinner in a temple, and unique opportunities to help Cambodia’s post-war recovery.
It is only on the rarest of occasions that I have experienced this level of thoughtfulness, kindness, service and knowledge in a hotel. Thank you Amansara!
You can find out more about this amazing resort via their website- http://www.amanresorts.com
Blog and pictures by Johanna Read