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Heritage Suites Hotel, Siem Reap, quietly oozes with ‘history’

WHAT IS IT? A mainly French-owned collec­tion of 20 bungalow suites and six rooms close to the centre of town, but far enough away from raucous Pub Street and the traffic-jammed down­town to feel like a retreat. It’s de rigueur for stylish Southeast Asian hotels to have a vintage motor or two parked out­side and Heritage Suites doesn’t disappoint, a pair of 1960s Mercedes, which belong to a Khmer shareholder, in the car park, waiting to collect or deliver guests from/to the airport.

WHAT’S INSIDE? Behind the reception desk is a large restaurant/bar area held aloft by wooden pillars from a pagoda, all that is old in the colonial-looking main building, which dates back only to 2006 (the name comes from Heritage Road, off which the hotel stands). Out back, beyond the saltwater outdoor pool (nice touch: straw hats alongside towels on the sun loungers) are the suites.

OH YES, PLEASE TELL US ABOUT THOSE. Named after flowers – ours was Peony – the open-plan, semi-detached, two-room bunga­lows are generously sized and each boasts a free-standing tub in a sunken area at the foot of the bed, a garden with out­door shower and a steam room. Upon entering, you may notice (to either your delight or dis­may) that there is no television – but you can order in a flat screen with DVD player, if you must.

AND THE FOOD? “Heritage Restaurant expertly blends European elegance with traditional Khmer charm,” claims the hotel website, and I wouldn’t argue with that. If you’re not in the mood to try the Khmer dis­covery menu – which includes green mango salad, beef lok lak (strips of meat with, in this instance, oyster sauce, garlic and kompot pepper) and banana roll – there are a number of Western classics to fall back on. The hotel is a keen supporter of the NGO-backed Sala Bai Hotel School, which gives underprivileged Cambodians an education in the hospitality industry, and several of the waiting staff are graduates. They have been taught well.

WHAT’S THERE TO DO? There’s a charm­ing spa and live jazz on Thursday nights, as well as the occasion­al special appearance (we just missed a performance by Yale University a-capella group the Whiffenpoofs), but one of the hotel’s main strengths is that it’s a pleasant walk or short tuk-tuk ride from the centre of town and its extensive markets. Even closer, on the other side of the Siem Reap River, is the Angkor National Museum, which transports you to Angkor Wat should you not feel like being driven (or cycling) out of town to the real thing. Visits to other attractions can be organised through the onsite Heritage Adventures office and well worth a tuk-tuk trip into the night (an experi­ence in its own right) is another enter­prise supported by the hotel: Phare, a Cirque du Soleil-type circus for the whole family. Often to be found in the main area of the hotel, general manager Jam Nsouli, a woman who clearly has her ear to the ground, is happy keep guests abreast of what’s going on in Siem Reap and offer restaurant tips, if a change of culinary scenery is needed. A short amble from the front door, for instance, is one of the city’s finest restaurants, Marum, which is set in a walled garden, serves tapas-style and Cambodian food and is staffed by an army of eager students.

WHAT’S THE BOTTOM LINE? Bungalows cost anywhere between US$200 and US$300 a night, depending on the season, the price including breakfast, airport transfers and, says Nsouli, “a lot of tender love and care from all the team”. A range of packages are also available on the hotel website: www.heritagesuiteshotel.com.