French colonial chic graces ancient land
Phnom Penh has a new landmark, and not only is it 12 storeys - making it the tallest building in the burgeoning business district - but also eye-catching with cream walls and bright red tile roofs.
It's the Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeethra, and it's also the first five-star hotel to open in this increasingly international capital since the 1990s, making it a neat symbol of the city's, and possibly the country's, rapidly growing economy and attractiveness to the outside world.
While the first glimpse of the hotel from afar encapsulates the feeling of the hotel's design throughout - grand but tasteful, feminine but functional - the drive up the short road to the lobby slightly detracts from this: the gardens are presentable, but plants, shrubs and trees have yet to grow. Plans are to move the entrance gate to another more dramatic location closer to the Mekong and Bassac rivers by the end of the year.
Smiling staff whisked away our luggage and ushered us to comfortable dark leather sofas in the impressive lobby. The space is vast with cool marble floors, plenty of windows to let in the light, and a giant art deco-styled chandelier. To one side of the lobby is Le Bar, an inviting colonial-style watering hole perfect for a refreshing gin and tonic or nightcap.
Once check-in was completed, we were soon in our room. Accommodation starts with superior rooms at 40 square metres, and there are bigger luxury rooms and junior suites. Prestige suites are more than 90 square metres with two private balconies. Our superior room was generously spaced, and was classy and restrained in a soft palette of cream, white and brown.
The beds were indulgently plush, with puffed up pillows, and duvets designed for cocooning in. Bedside tables were well equipped, with a console of adaptors for power and the internet for guests to work on their laptops while reclining in comfort. A desk offers another work station, while each room also comes with a wide-screen television and iPod dock.
Open since December, the hotel now has 201 rooms. Despite being a large development, it managed to maintain an atmosphere of friendly intimacy during our stay, with the staff - some of whom were still somewhat inexperienced - always ready to help.
The hotel aims to appeal mainly to business and conference guests, and there are a number of meeting rooms as well as Cambodia's biggest ballroom. The layout of the hotel means, however, that tourists should be largely unaware of events taking place. There is also an executive club floor with a members' lounge.
A sports centre, including a squash court, two tennis courts and a gymnasium, as well as two large and very inviting outdoor swimming pools, should keep both children and adults entertained. The hotel has four restaurants - international, Japanese, Chinese and the signature Italian venue, Do Forni, which serves mainly Piedmont dishes - plus a charming patisserie cafe.
As none of the venues specialises in Cambodian cuisine and Phnom Penh has such excellent Khmer restaurants, it's worth heading into the city for meals, too.
While the hotel is not for those seeking a boutique experience, it's likely to attract mostly corporate guests, and leisure tourists will still feel at home and well taken care of. The hotel also offers an outdoor playground and a video game area, making it a good option for families, as well.
WHERE TO FIND IT
Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeethra
26 Old August Site
Sangkat Tonle Bassac
Tel: +855 (23) 999 200
Room rates from US$150 per night including tax