With vintage typewriters and rotary phones, handmade Khmer textiles, native koki wood shelves and rain-tree timber bed heads, little brass geckos skittering up the walls, shuttered windows, Buddhist statues and a colonial patina gracing each space, the recently renovated FCC Angkor hotel, managed by Avani Hotels & Resorts, is an oasis of tropical nature-infused tranquility amidst the bustle of Siem Reap.
The hotel marks Avani’s first foray into the Cambodian market, and the original heritage property has been beautifully redesigned with authentic French colonial architecture and Khmer and Buddhist-inspired design details, which reflects the historic and cultural identity of the country.
If Cambodia isn’t on your must-visit bucket list yet, add it to the top. Despite a traumatic history of civil war and genocide, a present where landmines continue to be a silent danger to peasant farmers with swathes of land still to be cleared, and a population largely under the age of 22, there is a remarkable sense of patriotism, community and a thirst for knowledge and improvement, making the friendly and welcoming Khmer people an inspiration to be around.
After a day photographing the impressive 12th-century temples of Angkor Wat Archeological Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, FCC Angkor by Avani offers a quiet, calm corner for the discerning traveller.
There, you can retreat within the abundant greenery, chill by the pool, relax in the soothing terracotta tones of the culturally accessorised bedrooms, and savour the delicious Khmer cuisine at the beautifully restored restaurant The Mansion, which is the central point for the property and its heritage.
Formerly a French governor’s mansion, the property was transformed, in 2000, into a high-class restaurant with a boutique hotel, designed by Bali-based architect Gary Fell in a tropical-modernist style.
Phnom Penh-based Bloom Architecture were tasked by Avani to modernise and extend the property with 60 new rooms, two salt water pools, a gym, an al fresco bar dubbed Scribe, and a spa (yet to be completed), and tackle the issues of privacy. The Cambodian architecture practice wanted to realign the “unclear” flow of Fell’s design and put the mansion building back at the core of the guests’ experience.
Despite this directive, if you don’t have breakfast included with your stay you can easily miss The Mansion restaurant as it’s situated on the far side of the property to the rooms. However, it’s certainly worth detouring along the first floor levels to enjoy a meal on the balcony terrace looking down over the bamboo Acapulco chairs at Scribe, and beyond towards the tree-lined river, where concrete statues of elephants peep out from behind leafy fronds.
The Mansion’s interiors feature the same vintage-luxe aura as the bedrooms, with faded patterned tiles underfoot, colonial fans whirring overhead and walls of shuttered French windows; a social collective of bamboo peacock chairs, cane-backed armchairs and Ercol spindle-backs gather around locally made rain-tree wood tables; natural tones of raw wood, sandstone, eggshell blue upholstery and green foliage accentuate the vintage colonial vibe in a contemporary palette.
The hotel’s 80 guest rooms and suites are beautifully furnished with a surprisingly Moroccan feel, which — like Cambodia — was once a French colony. Warm copper tones in the textiles, lights and bathroom fittings, sisal floor mats, thistle-flower patterned tiles under the bed and mismatched patterned tiles in the bathroom, all in earthy terracotta shades, bring a distinct taste of Morocco into the design.
Dutch-born interior designer Malee Whitcraft, working from Bangkok, has cleverly incorporated quirky nods to the hotel’s former life as the Foreign Correspondents Club (which denotes the “FCC” of the brand) and a refuge for journalists. More decorative accessories include a vintage radio, a (working) rotary telephone and a vintage typewriter. (A charming touch is the typed note of welcome from the GM, sitting in the grip of the typewriter’s paper bail.)
While hotel rooms are often under accessorised, Malee’s finishing touches bring the hotel’s heritage and the country’s historical and current culture to life. A large brass elephant bell and earthenware pot play reference to Khmer heritage (you’ll spot these ornaments in the city’s museums, while replicas are available in the local artisan markets).
FCC Angkor also supports a community outreach initiative with the guest rooms’ bed throws, cushions and manava baskets handwoven by local female artisans. Even the colour scheme of sandstone and clay pays homage to the country’s age-old tradition of practical earthenware-made handicraft, which stretches back many centuries.
The shuttered rolling door that separates the bathroom from the bedroom effortlessly creates an unobtrusive feature wall with its colonial-style slatted design. When shut, the door exposes a thoughtful Khmer saying on the wall — mine read: “No matter how educated you are, not sharing your knowledge makes you a stupid person”.
A large drawback to the design is the unfortunate lack of privacy in the bedrooms, inherited from Fell’s design, on the ground floor especially and some first floor rooms. The pathways for staff and guests wind their way past the rooms, while the wall-to-wall windows invites every passersby to look in. You need to keep the black-out curtains drawn in the day, which surely defeats the point of wall-to-wall windows ... Ask for a first floor room with a private balcony to afford you some more privacy.
Not only is the hotel perfectly located next to the Royal Independent Gardens and Royal Residence, and a stone’s throw from beautifully ornate Buddhist pagodas, the helpful staff can organise curated photography tours around Angkor Wat led by renowned photojournalists, and other notable sights such as the floating fishing villages on the Tonlé Sap lake. Ask for the hotel to book Sophan from Taxi in Cambodia tour agency, whose knowledge, infectious smile and brilliant English will make sightseeing around the city as fun as it is informative.
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