Introducing Phnom Penh
Long overlooked in favor of Angkor, Cambodia’s capital is experiencing a renaissance. Here are five reasons to plan a visit to Rosewood’s newest destination.
If the past belonged to Angkor—the massive complex of 300-plus Buddhist and Hindu temples that served as the seat of the Khmer Empire from the 9th to 13th centuries—the future of Cambodia is shaping up around Phnom Penh. After years of bubbling under the radar, the country’s dynamic capital balances its authentic historic character with a profusion of contemporary creativity. This year, Rosewood is thrilled to invite guests to its new high-rise hotel in the city’s vibrant downtown. Here are five reasons why the sprawling city on the banks of the Mekong should be on your 2017 itinerary.
A Rich but Complicated History
Visiting Phnom Penh means reliving both the glories of empire and the depths of tragedy. The wing-tipped and gilded Royal Palace, built in the 19th century, houses the Silver Pagoda, inlaid with 5,329 silver tiles and filled with bejeweled statues like the diamond-encrusted Maitreya Buddha. Next door, the equally palatial National Museum of Cambodia contains an engrossing collection of ancient Angkorian art. More somber, but equally essential, are the monuments honoring the victims of the brutal Khmer Rouge regime of the 1970s. The Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide educates visitors about the horrors that took place at this high school turned interrogation facility. And 25 minutes outside Phnom Penh are the so-called Killing Fields, where the Choeung Ek Memorial pays chilling tribute to the estimated 1.7 million people murdered during the Khmer Rouge.
Photos by @robert_kleiner and @jsmuecke.
The capital’s magnificent palaces capture the attention of many visitors, but just as intriguing is the city’s collection of mid-century architecture from the New Khmer movement. Encouraged by King Norodom Sihanouk as part of a cultural renaissance after independence from France in 1953, the style blends Khmer and Angkorian motifs with tropical modernism. Most remarkable are the works by French-educated architect Vann Molyvann, who reimagined the typical elevated structures of Khmer wooden villages for his 100 Houses project, adding the concrete walls and oversized windows of 1960s International Style. Molyvann’s grander buildings include the polygon-roofed Royal University of Phnom Penh and the National Sports Complex, designed to resemble Angkor Wat.
Photos courtesy of The Tiger’s Eye, Khema, and Bloom.
There is no greater testament to the New Cambodia than Phnom Penh’s revived, internationally minded restaurant scene. Pushing culinary horizons here are the South African fare at The Tiger’s Eye and the Moroccan Berber cooking at Casablanca. A more formal yet utterly contemporary affair, Khema attracts homesick French expats with its breads, macarons, and bistro classics like steak tartare and duck breast.
Authenticity reigns at Kravanh, where small plates of Cambodian home-style dishes encourage sharing. For something doubly sweet, the stunning cupcakes at Bloom are made by women enrolled in an economic empowerment program.
A Surprising Shopping Mecca
Photos courtesy of Un été à Kep-sur-Mer.
Local pride comes with material benefits in Phnom Penh, where international designers like Romyda Keth have returned to create fashionable buzz. At her boutique Ambre, Keth displays her perennially popular silk and cotton dresses. Just down the street at Garden of Desire, jewelry maker Ly Pisith, who previously designed for Philippe Starck and Alain Mikli, shows his nature-inspired collections. And the Franco-Khmer twin designers behind Un été à Kep-sur-Mer bring a Parisian sensibility to their light-as-a-feather casual wear produced in Cambodia.
A New Rosewood
Panoramic views put the city into captivating perspective from all 175 contemporary rooms and suites at the new Rosewood Phnom Penh. High atop the 39-story Vattanac Capital Tower One, the hotel looks over the heart of the Central Business District and across the mighty Mekong. Unwind between urban adventures at the five-room spa or in the 65-foot, sky-high swimming pool on the 33rd floor. And don’t miss the breathtaking sky bar, where Phnom Penh’s emergent creative class meets for cocktails.