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Globetrotter Eric Rosen traveled to ancient Angkor Wat, where one of the world’s hottest new luxury hotels has just opened. Read about it here and in the current issue of Quest Magazine.

Cambodia is a study in contrasts, as anyone who arrives in Siem Reap along a dusty, bumpy street and pulls into the private driveway of the recently opened Park Hyatt Siem Reap can tell you.

The road from the airport is littered with the half-constructed bones of new tourist-bus hotels going up at a break-neck pace. Just a few minutes outside the main town lies a landscape that could be from several centuries ago—a maze of vibrant, green rice paddies connecting tiny villages of dirt-floor huts where electricity and running water are scarce.

All that seems a world away from the new Park Hyatt. Formerly the landmark Hotel de la Paix, the assiduously restored Art Deco edifice gleams an almost impossible shade of white in the midday tropical sun, and I am quickly ushered from the noise and exhaust of the outside street into the cool shade of the Living Room lounge for check-in.

Park Hyatt

Sitting upon a plush, dusty-rose velvet chair, ice-cold ginger welcome lemonade in hand, I fill out the requisite information and then am shown up to my room at the end of a corridor on the third (and top) floor. My Park King room felt spacious thanks to a wall of windows overlooking the resort’s famous free-form pool, which slithers between sunlit and shaded lounging platforms at the heart of the complex. It’s a true retreat.

For its first property in Cambodia, Hyatt contracted the services of Bangkok-based Bill Bensley, who is fast becoming Southeast Asia’s luxury hotel designer du jour.

True to style, Bensley incorporated the contemporary touches any luxury traveler expects—hardwood floors, crisp white-on-white linens and all-marble bathrooms (and a Nespresso machine!)—with more local, Khmer- inspired elements like banyan-shaped sculpted metal headboards that mimic the sculptures of Angkor Wat’s temples, antiqued mirrors and carved wooden furniture with brightly upholstered cushions. The local décor elements get me excited to make a foray into the Angkor national park almost as soon as I arrived.

Lending the room a more spacious, if voyeuristic, feel was a peekaboo window with wooden shutters for a privacy screen that separates the bedroom area from the all-marble bathroom with an enormous walk-in shower and separate deep soaking tub as well as his-and-hers vanities.

As welcome a respite from the heat as the room was, I did not come to Siem Reap simply to admire my room. A day trip to the temples for me the following morning included a driver and a knowledgeable guide. But in the meantime, I hired a tuk tuk, made the dusty 20-minute drive into Angkor and hiked up the hill of a medieval temple called Phnom Bakheng to watch the rays of sunset hit Angkor Wat. Afterward, I returned to the hotel to enjoy happy hour in the Living Room, where the refreshing cocktails (try the one with vodka, kefir lime and chili peppers) draw a mixed crowd of local expats and upscale visitors.

Guests can dine on a mix of continental classics and Southeast Asian specialties (think niçoise salad and crispy spring rolls) here. For a more formal meal, the hotel’s signature restaurant, The Dining Room, offers a tantalizing mélange of rustic French dishes and traditional Khmer recipes that can only be described as updated Indochine. Start with the salad of prawns, pomelo, roasted coconut, lemon basil and fish sauce before a main course of tender, roasted spring chicken with honey, garlic, tamarind and peanuts, or that most typical of Khmer dishes: amok seafood stew with curry paste, coconut milk and nhor leaves.

But man cannot live on fine dining alone, and after a day out in the steamy jungles exploring ancient ruins, it was not sustenance, but succor, that I was seeking, and for that, I found The Spa to be a perfect respite.

Park Hyatt

It is worth booking as many treatments as you have time for, not only because of value, but also because of quality. With just six individual treatment rooms, your time here is all your own. There are no awkward conversations with naked strangers here. I stopped
in at reception, just on the far side of the pool, to fill out my information card and was offered a cup of tea. Within moments, my therapist took me upstairs to my treatment room where I could shower, change and relax in private.

The Spa often offers combination specials like the Apsara package, an hour-long full-body massage followed by an hour-long foot massage that is named after the heavenly dancers of Hindu lore that are sculpted into friezes at Angkor Wat. The full-body treatment incorporated invigorating herbal compresses of ginger and lemongrass, while the second hour pampered my feet with trigger-point therapy and a Swedish massage that left me feeling relaxed and reinvigorated.

Although it was a bit farther from the temple complexes than some other luxury hotels in the area, the new Park Hyatt’s central location in Siem Reap also made strolling through town for dinner delightful with stops at the Old Market, along the river and on lively Pub Street. That is, when I could bear to leave the hotel at all.

For more information about adding the Park Hyatt Siem Reap to your next Ker & Downey itinerary, contact your Travel Professional. To read the current issue of QUEST magazine online, click here, and be sure to stay up to date on all of QUEST’s online content by following the QUEST Facebook page.

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