Siem Reap, Cambodia is a dream destination for many – just a few kilometers away are the mythical, mysterious, awe-inspiring temples of Angkor Wat, World Heritage site and one of the Wonders of the World. A journey to Angkor is a must for serious world travelers, right up there with the Pyramids of Egypt and Machu Picchu.
Hotel de la Paix is a modern respite of luxury in the shadows of this ancient civilization, that is a pleasure to retreat to after a day of temple hopping. The five-star boutique hotel is a study in soft minimalism, full of soothing palettes of cream and soft black, with all the latest amenities built in throughout.
But de la Paix is much more than just a hotel. Walking into the ground floor public areas, you would be forgiven for thinking you had wandered into an art gallery…or perhaps an upscale restaurant, or the latest trendy nightclub. The hotel integrates itself into the community in a dozen important ways, from its support of local staff, free hospitality training, and partnerships with Cambodian artists and activists, to its outstanding involvement in social welfare projects such as an orphanage, sewing school for disadvantaged women and a center for street children.
“In the five years we’ve been open, we have never terminated a single employee,” says Christian de Boer, Director of Sales & Marketing – not even during the economic downturn that hit tourism hard. Instead, de la Paix found other ways to cut costs, such as eliminating its print brochures. “You can’t lay people off here; there’s nothing else for them. Cutting staff is the easiest solution – you can do it in one afternoon. But we have tremendous respect for the Khmer people; they are our most important resource.”
Those staff members all offer top-notch service, are polite yet friendly, and take huge pride in both their jobs and the hotel. Showing you to your guest room upon arrival, you are met with an oasis of luxury. White marble and dark wood floors, seating areas with flat-screen television, a pre-loaded iPod softly playing in the background, an abundance of natural lighting, and a king-sized bed that seems to soak you right into it. All 107 rooms feature a refrigerator, safe, air conditioning, complimentary wi-fi and luxurious baths. For the ultimate, splurge for the Pool Suite or the two-level Duplex Spa Suite.
Several dining options await. Breakfast is taken in the Fountain Garden, where you can choose from the buffet or order from the menu, and eat your meal inside or from beautiful swinging day beds surrounding the courtyard. Meric Restaurant offers a world class degustation menu of authentic Khmer cuisine and international dishes. Drinks, snacks and small plates can be taken in the Arts Lounge or Café de la Paix, and the hotel also operates Aha Restaurant in Old Siem Reap and a Country Farm Dining experience in a romantic, torch-lit gazebo where a private chef will whip up an intimate dinner.
An incredible pool at the second level is surrounded by lush greenery and sunbeds as well as private reclining alcoves. The fitness center offers all the latest equipment, and the three-story Spa Indochine is a haven for restorative treatments. Art openings and exhibits, fashion shows, community and social events are held regularly in the Arts Lounge, as well as traditional Apsara dance performances.
In a great location at the center of town and walking distance to the markets, restaurants and Pub Street, Hotel de la Paix is convenient to most everything Siem Reap has to offer and still only a 15-minute drive to the entrance of the Angkor Wat complex.
Hotel de la Paix can arrange a variety of excursions for you, and offers several special packages from temple sightseeing to a cultural experience that introduces you to Khmer history and traditions, and enables you to visit some of the community projects that de la Paix is involved with.
The Hotel de la Paix does a lot more than simply make donations or affiliate itself with community organizations. The entire operation, privately owned by Khmer and Thai partners, is heavily involved with the projects it supports. The hotel works closely with the Life and Hope Foundation, run by monks and based at Wat Damnak, to provide a 10-month sewing program that gives young women a vocation as well as English and life skills. Upon graduation, the participants receive their own sewing machines and start-up kit for their own businesses.
The Green Gecko Project and Sangkeum Center for Children both provide education, safe shelter and care to street children, orphans or children from extremely disadvantaged, struggling families. Hotel de la Paix is heavily committed to all their community projects, and not only works with partners such as MasterCard to donate $50 every time a guest uses MasterCard to pay; but also encourages guests to get involved in the social fabric of Cambodia – whether that means visiting one of the community projects, or bringing supplies in their suitcases to donate such as coloring books and small toys.
The passion and commitment to these causes is evident in every aspect of the hotel’s management and in every staff member – Guest Relations Manager Cristina Akemi Shimabukuro, who took me to visit the Sewing School and Sangkeum Center, volunteers at Sangkeum on her day off. Every child there knew her by name and was excited to see her!
Hotel de la Paix
Rates: $181-750, including breakfast
Sivutha Boulevard, Siem Reap, Kingdom of Cambodia
Telephone: +855 63 966 000
Siem Reap Cultural Travel Tips:
See more of the real Cambodia and its incredible, though often tragic, history and culture:
• Visit one of the Community Projects that Hotel de la Paix supports, such as their sewing school or center for children.
• Hire tour guide Ponheary Ly to visit Angkor Wat. Ponheary is a CNN Hero, and survivor of the Khmer Rouge. She now leads tours in which she shares the history of Angkor, as well as the sometimes brutal history of her country. Ponheary uses her proceeds to send disadvantaged children to school – she currently is providing education to more than 2,000 kids! http://theplf.org/wp/
• Visit the Cambodian Land Mine Museum, where you can see the work of another CNN Hero, Aki Ra – a former soldier who has dedicated his life to finding and clearing land mines. So far, Ra and his organization have cleared around 50,000 mines. http://www.cambodialandminemuseum.org/