By Simon Ostheimer
Apr 23, 2021
Images courtesy of The Hyatt Regency Phnom Penh
HYATT REGENCY PHNOM PENH HAS BEEN a long time coming. For years, the once sleepy Cambodian capital had few five-star lodgings to choose from, the market cornered by the historic Hotel Le Royal, now run by the Raffles group. Much later came the Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeethra, a pseudo-colonial affair that nonetheless does exude vintage French charm, and then most recently was the opening of the modern Rosewood, offering bird’s-eye views of the expanding city skyline.
Now arrives the Hyatt Regency, the natural successor of this hospitality evolution. Located in the historic French quarter, opposite the National Museum, which houses the kingdom’s greatest collection of ancient Khmer artifacts, guests check-in on the ground floor of a restored 100-year-old mansion—once belonging to a princess—before seamlessly seguing via a cavernous glassed-in foyer to the modern building behind and its 247 rooms and suites, with their views of the nearby Royal Palace, and the mighty Mekong.
With its location in the heart of the city’s oldest area, it’s been hard to miss the construction of the Hyatt, and as residents we have watched as it rose behind the hoardings, intrigued by the pairing of an imposing modernist glass-and-steel ground-scraper and delicate colonial-era mansion. The final month before it actually opened its doors were the most exciting, as you saw the vision take shape, but still longed to explore inside. (Er, yep, if you can’t tell, I’m a hotel nerd.) When that day finally came, we stepped out of our car into the yellow-hued mansion with its traditional white shutters and red tiled roof, to be greeted in a remarkably cozy reception, with its distinctive Khmer floor tiles.
Upstairs, as we later found out, houses The Attic, a superb colonial-themed cocktail bar—think leather banquettes and marble countertops—with drinks like the Miss Cambodia, a superb gin-and-lime affair named after the country’s first beauty pageant winner in the 1960s. Back downstairs, you leave the lobby behind and enter the glass ceilinged ‘patio’ known as Market Cafe, the all-day dining restaurant where we enjoyed our varied breakfast (try the hearty Khmer noodle soup known as kuy teav) and an original take on afternoon tea where traditional items are matched with local flavors (durian puff, anyone?) and paired with tea-tails, essentially house-made hard iced teas. But before all that, we unpacked in our Royal Suite Pool View, a luxurious 101-square-meter abode (the hotel’s largest) with two bedrooms, and a muted color palette of browns and grays with splashes of vibrant color from the artwork and flower arrangements.
There’s a small kitchen in case we wanted to cook ourselves (god forbid), but it did come in useful for leftovers from our various meals around the property. For while we had originally thought of exploring the many cafes and eateries that adorn this charming district, we ended up spending our entire stay inside the hotel walls—such was the bounty on offer. Guests in the three Royal Suites enjoy privileged access to the Regency Club, though unfortunately we were so quick off the mark to stay that this facility wasn’t open yet. The Jivapita spa, however, was, and we were lucky to be some of the first ever patrons to this calming space—with its flowing wooden walls and subtle lighting it had a distinctive Zen vibe, as we drifted blissfully off to sleep with their signature massage. However, after a splash in the pool, the energy was brought back that evening with dinner at FiveFive, the feature rooftop outlet on the 14th floor.
Indoors, the high-class lounge theme has comfy sofas and chairs surrounding a sunken bar, but—like most others—we were immediately drawn to the main attraction, the large outdoor terrace that provides 180-degree views of the city, from the junction of the Tonle Sap and Mekong rivers (the whole reason why Phnom Penh was chosen as the capital back in the day), to the old Chinese neighborhood to the north, and the flashing lights of Diamond Island and the NagaWorld casino. It’s an unparalleled perspective on the city that has already made it the go-to for the city’s rich, young and fashionable (and interlopers like us). They’re also drawn by the tapas-sharing a la carte menu that combines locally sourced dishes like the must-order Kampot crab on toast, with a mix of quality imported items such as Australian lamb and Spanish ham, and inventive desserts—order the tropical baked Alaska with coconut, passion fruit and lychee.
Indeed, the F&B choices at the Hyatt were so hefty that we almost completely forgot about Metropole Underground, their subterranean speakeasy designed to resemble the early-20th-century Parisian subway, with its luggage area and darkened caboose room perfect for amorous couples sharing a beer or few—which transports you to another world despite sitting directly underneath the driveway.
The best way to explain the charms of this new property is this: over a two-and-a-half-day staycation we sampled all this superb hotel has to offer, and did not leave its doors once. But with many of the city’s major attractions within easy walking distance, when global borders reopen and the tourists return, the Hyatt Regency will be the perfect base for visitors to explore the city—yet also a welcome respite from the city once sightseeing is done