When it comes to the quest for luxury and splendour, nothing fires the imagination quite as quickly as royalty. From our feudal past, the ruling houses of empires and kingdoms have all demonstrated their boundless penchant for rich living through the monumental statements that had accompanied their reign. Art and architecture seem to be the most obvious vestiges of their grand existence and today many surviving royal edifices have been restored and given new leases as luxury hotels and tourist attractions.
A novice monk meditating in Angkor Wat at the crack of dawn
In Southeast Asia, one of the most enigmatic ancient sites that conveyed a marvelous sense of historic majesty is the Angkor complex in Cambodia. Emerging from obscurity after centuries of neglect when French explorers rediscovered the forsaken temples in 1860, the Angkorean buildings transited into our modern age via a tumultuous era that saw the French colonialisation of Cambodia, the ravages of the 2nd world war and a most horrendous period after, marked by the madness of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge.
Sunrise at Angkor Wat, a sight not to be missed
When peace and relative stability were finally instilled after Pol Pot was deposed, the royal family headed by King Norodom Sihanouk remained popular and emblematic in the new Khmer nation. This highly respected constitutional monarch left behind a legacy of political attainments that include cultural and nationalistic cohesion, as well as a splendid guest house in Siem Reap that has since become the luxurious resort Amansara.
Unlike the flashy royal capitals of the Middle East where skyscrapers with gilded trappings have transformed the landscape, Siem Reap retains its rustic charms with a flat visage somewhat incongruous with aspects of modernity. Within these precincts however, impressive pleasure palaces have emerged to cater to a new age of royal tastes flowing into the city in search of old world resplendence.
Brooding skies enhance the atmosphere at Angkor Wat
Whilst royal blood is the one thing that money cannot afford, the lavish ways of today's moneyed elites may surpass even the expectations of some royalties. Here are some royally lavish pursuits in Siem Reap one can desire and engage in with the simple aid of grand disposable incomes.
The scenes at Ta Prohm, where architecture is fused with nature, elicit a sense of adventure
Most people would visit the Angkorean temples as a tourist highlight. A good guide can however make all the difference in the experience, offering meaningful insights and showing details lost to mass tourism, and even avoid the mess of mass tourism in the city. Our trained guide from Journeys Within ( www.journeys-within.com ), a tour operator that arranges bespoke exploration services in Siem Reap, is not only highly proficient in English but also extremely well-versed in the historical facets of Angkor and knows where the surprising details are. A day trip to the complex begins at 5am at Angkor Wat and traverses 3-4 other significant temples like Angkor Thom and Ta Prohm. The attention to details and guest satisfaction exhibited by both guide and driver is highly gratifying.
Royal modes of transport at Amansara is coupled by sterling service
Amansara was once the splendid guesthouse of King Norodom Sihanouk and the refined touches of this royal have not abated since its transformation into an Aman resort. A most impressive aspect of royal living in this kingly estate is the availability of King Sihanouk's old limousine, a meticulously restored antique Mercedes Benz that is still making its rounds across Siem Reap. Stepping into an iron chariot so palpably rich with the romance of a bygone era sure brings one back in time.
Cambodian Apsara dance and dirty martinis at the Park Hyatt Siem Reap
Within the resplendent oasis that is the Park Hyatt Siem Reap are the glints of cultural brilliance unique to Siem Reap. Raised as an art deco statement imbued with local accents, the former Hotel de la Paix shines at the edge of Siem Reap's ethnic-resort precincts. Here are plenty of luxuriating spots, from salt water lap pools to private cabanas and plush swings. Catching the exquisite Cambodian ballet with pre-dinner cocktails is a truly inspired moment.
Sold out performances at Phare the Cambodian Circus deliver a social message beyond tourist entertainment
It is the duty of royalties to look after the well-being of their subjects and although this is not a requirement for tourists, support for local charities and NGO is highly helpful to say the least. Phare the Cambodian Circus ( https://pharecircus.org/ ) is an excellent local attraction that puts up nightly performances to full houses. Proceeds from the ticketing office go towards efforts to help improve the lives of underprivileged children in the country with their education and child protection programs.
The Explorer Suite at Anantara comes with all the right notes of royal living
Anantara's banner in old world Siem Reap bears all the right notes of luxury - elegant interiors, comfortable rooms and an inviting pool that shimmers like emerald under the Cambodian sky. The resplendent Anantara Explorer Suite replete with private plunge pool, massage room, complimentary (and well-stocked) bar and a gorgeous bedroom set with Jim Thomson silk panels, conjures enough regal accents that befit a king.
The menu at Restaurant Le Grand showcases inspired traditional royal Khmer dishes
The culinary heritage of Cambodia may throw out some surprises - think hearty servings of insects prepared multiple styles, including a popular red ants beef dish that is purportedly quite good, but the royal cuisine that has been satiating aristocratic palates for centuries are definitely not to be missed. Inspired royal Khmer cuisine elegantly presented at Restaurant Le Grand at Raffles Grand Angkor is a good induction into the royal palates of this ancient kingdom.