Cambodia is one of our favorite countries in the world. We’ve been visiting for over 20 years now. It has it all: incredible nature, fantastic architecture, culture, and lovely people. Unfortunately, it also has a sad recent past. However, it seems the dark days are over, and the future looks promising.
For us, Le Relais de Chhlong is one of a handful of hotels that truly convey the essence of a place. The hotel is more than a gorgeous building with great service. It is part of the past, present, and future of Cambodia.
You will travel in time and experience what the country is all about. That is, travel with class and comfort. Everything in the hotel is of prime quality and exquisite taste. Not only that, but they offer whatever you could possibly need. No, this is not another luxury hotel. It’s a tour de force through Cambodia.
France considered Cambodia one of its lesser colonies. Its resources came from taxing Cambodians. They paid the highest taxes in Indochina and were the least developed. Thus, the revolution of 1916. At that time, France discriminated against the locals. Only the French could have companies and power. To a lesser extent, the Chinese.
A very wealthy Chinese Khmer family built the main house in 1916. They made money exploiting the area’s resources, mainly timber. Some of the grandest palaces in Paris were built with Cambodian wood. In the 1940s, the French Governor moved to the house. You can see advertisements and pictures from those times in the hotel.
If you are into history, we recommend you read At the Helm of Indochina: My History as Governor General 1940-1945 by Jean Decoux. After the war, the property fell into oblivion. Then, as the rest of the country, it suffered the brutality of the American invasion. You can see in the lobby pictures of the property in ruins.
The hotel is on the main road that connects Phnom Penh to Kratie Province. Some sections of the road are in good condition and some are not. In any case, you should cover the 120 miles (200 kilometers) in approximately 4 hours. Kratie Town is just 20 miles (35 kilometers) further east.
From the hotel you can also go to Siem Reap, some 190 miles (300 kilometers) away. We did that but decided to stop for a night in Kampong Cham to check the unbelievable Wat Nokor. It proved to be a brilliant decision. Then we stopped in Kampong Thum to visit Prasat Sambor Prei Kuk.
The buildings are set in a splendid garden directly over the Mekong River. You open the gate, and there you are on the sandy bank of the river. You can walk directly to the center of town in no time. The same road takes you west to a temple and a small forest.
The compound has three buildings: the original two, and a new elegant one. The reconstruction of the main buildings took several years to complete! The lobby and common grounds are in the main house, overlooking the river. Plush sofas and original antiques decorate the lobby, which opens to a veranda.
The façade of the main house is in the so-called Austro-Hungarian Baroque style. However, it incorporates materials and techniques which were modern at that time. You can see French Second Empire characteristics in the eclectic decorations, iron cresting on the roof, and bracketed balustrades. It was all about showing wealth and comfort.
However, the building adapts perfectly to the tropical weather. Tall ceilings, wide corridors, and big balconies maximize airflow. Even to this day, the hotel is cool and fresh. A grand staircase leads to the second floor, where the rooms are. The other original building has more rooms and a couple of seating areas. The new building resembles colonial architecture.
As beautiful as the buildings are, we have to say that the gardens took our breath away. We are talking about coconut, mango, banana, and old centurion rubber trees, a small teak plantation, and fragrant flowers. In fact, the harmony between the buildings and the gardens is superb.
Comfortable lounges with chic umbrellas surround the big pool. We spent hours enjoying fresh juices by the pool and under lovely trees. In the evenings, we had wine while chatting with the manager in the lobby and listening to French music. You can also play pool next to the bar.
We enjoyed the complimentary bicycles. Since we are a bit tall, finding comfortable bicycles in the region can sometimes be difficult. We had a great time exploring the area with our bikes. Finally, the hotel can arrange transportation to Kratie, Phnom Penh, and beyond. The manager and the staff speak perfect English, so we chatted without a glitch.
The rooms at Le Relais are in a class of their own. Big and with tall ceilings, they feature premium four-poster beds and antique furniture. Since we work online, the antique desk came in handy. What could be better than working with views over the Mekong River? Enjoying your favorite drink in the privacy of your own balcony.
All of the rooms come with a spacious balcony. Ours had comfy teak lounges perfect for reading. Not only that, but an original tin fan hanging from the ceiling kept us fresh all day long. Of course, we had modern-day conveniences, like a flat screen TV and a silent AC.
We found out that local women made the delicate linen and silk cushions that decorate the rooms. The sizable bathrooms come with a shower and a tub with original claw feet. Counters are made of marble, and the amenities are top-notch. The new building has big rooms perfect for families.
Without a doubt, the hotel’s restaurant is the best in the province. In fact, we had some of the best food in Cambodia here. The restaurant occupies the front of the main house and extends to the large veranda overlooking the garden. The bar is next to the pool table.
The chairs are comfortable, and the lighting and music perfect for a relaxed evening. Though the menu on offer is not extensive, every dish we had was delicious. They specialize in both Cambodian and French cuisine. We believe they source their products locally because everything was fresh and tasty.
A special mention goes to the breakfast. The bread and coffee were as good as in a top boulangerie in Paris. To be honest, we are no wine experts, but we found a good selection of both red and white wines. What we do know are cocktails and juices! All were perfectly made.