Warning: a stay here may seriously benefit your wellbeing

By Rachel Roberts | 19 Feb 2021 | Indulge, Travel

Tempus checks into the newly opened Hyatt Regency in Cambodia’s capital of Phnom Penh for a 'staycation' to remember

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Who hasn’t dreamt about running giddily through the marshmallow-soft carpeted corridors of a luxury hotel wearing just their underwear? In my defence, there are some grounds for this particular fantasy, so do bear (or should that be ‘bare’) with me.

Since moving to Cambodia’s capital of Phnom Penh in early 2020, I’ve lived opposite a construction site that has, over the past year, risen from the rubble to become the five-star Hyatt Regency Hotel. It’s the latest addition in a clutch of international hotel portfolios going full steam ahead into the growing Cambodian market.

First came the skeleton of the 14-levels-high establishment, blending effortless urban cool with traditional Khmer/French colonial architecture (more of which later). The attendant noise and dust an acceptable trade-off for the daily spectacle of the colossal establishment’s fitting together in the style of a giant’s jigsaw puzzle.

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This was followed by the addictive ‘Rear Window’ phase. Under the coolness of the night hours, inside the skeleton – now clad entirely in glass – busy-bee workers set about bringing the 247-roomed hotel to life. Beds, chairs, desks, mini bars… all were put in their allocated spots; accidentally illuminated by the light thrown out from the workers’ smartphone screens.

Heck, by the hotel’s official opening in the early days of January this year, I’d practically moved in. The ‘perfect’ storm of conditions created by the pandemic – Cambodia’s key sector of tourism is but a cruel memory for now and business travel is also seriously impacted – plus a super-quick ‘yes!’ to my media visit request, had also tipped my ‘corridor- dash’ fantasy into the ‘well, stranger-things-have-happened’ realm.

But the buzzy scene that greeted me on a recent Saturday afternoon in the light-filled atrium, home to the Hyatt Regency’s Market Café & Restaurant, vapourised my flight of fancy with its own triumphant flash.

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I was there to to sample the hotel’s ‘Staycation’ package, a clever marketing response to the current downturn in the hospitality sector. A tempting lead-in price of $165 per night (for two people staying in a standard 30.5m2  room) offers an affordable way to experience the hotel’s highlights. This includes afternoon tea served with a Khmer (Cambodian) twist, a four-course affair paired with ‘teatails’, a specially created menu of alcoholic or non-alcoholic cocktails. And judging by the almost-full Market Café & Restaurant (full capacity is 136), the package is going down an absolute storm with well-heeled Khmers and expats alike.

Overseen by a British chef, the tastebud-tickling experience features delights such as Kampot Crab with buckwheat waffles and pandan, coconut and marzipan battenburg cake. Alcoholic cocktails include Smoke on Water, smoked Chinese tea infused with vodka, Kaffir lime bitter and Fever-tree tonic, and non-alcoholic options such as Drivers Club, a refreshing concoction made with main ingredients of Rose tea, pomelo juice, egg white and strawberry preserve. The hotel is also pet-friendly and several pooches waited patiently in the hope of catching stray crumbs from their owners’ tables in their specially allocated zone.

It was a leisurely way to both ease into the rhythm of hotel life and people watch, following check-in in the restored French colonial villa which now serves as the lobby/reception area. 

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Swapping the mercury-bubbling temperatures of Cambodia’s ever-scorching-sun for the air-conditioned and delicately fragranced cocoon of the lobby had already induced the sense of delicious serenity you only experience when you step into a five-star establishment. 

A $5 million budget has ensured that the latest incarnation of the colonial-style French/Khmer villa retains key authentic features. This includes the intricately patterned floor tiles and open-plan feel, while elegant yet superbly comfortable sofas, harmonious muted colours and a cornucopia of ‘just-so’ vases, statues and mirrors delivers the level of luxury design that clients have come to expect from the international hotel portfolio.

The Hyatt Regency’s location in the historically rich Doun Penh district of Cambodia’s capital will also prove to be a guest magnet in the post-COVID future. My King Palace View Deluxe category suite (room 801) was on the eighth floor and afforded my first-ever view of the gold-gilded villas and temples housed in the Royal Palace complex. The top tourist attraction, home to the King’s much-loved mother, has been closed to the public since the first wave of COVID-19 in January 2020. Close by lie the National Museum of Cambodia, drenched in all of its traditional rust-red and dark-wood magnificence, and the Silver Pagoda. Further still, the Mekong River playfully sparkles in the sunlight, framed by sky-kissing palm-tree fronds. 

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It’s a perfect vista to de-stress business types – a core client sector for the hotel – and all rooms are equipped with a multi-functional desk with data port, ergonomic chair and complimentary high-speed Wi-Fi to make working a breeze. A nespresso-style coffee machine delivers mind-sharpening caffeine for those with pressing deadlines.

However, the Hyatt Regency’s impressive choice of meeting rooms is where it truly shines. Spread over 1400m2 and with a capacity of up to 1500 people, the hotel offers multi-functional spaces to suit myriad business needs and social events. The headline act is the pillarless Regency Ballroom and the hotel is already a destination for Phnom Penh’s movers and shakers. Also noteworthy is the Broadcast Lounge and the spaces adjacent to the outdoor swimming pool featuring dedicated kitchens, which kick the outdated notion of stuffy meeting rooms and lukewarm food to the kerb.

When the sun goes down and it’s time to relax, The Attic, tucked under the eaves of the original colonial villa, is the perfect spot for a pre-dinner cocktail in a seductive grown-up atmosphere. And The FiveFive Rooftop Restaurant & Bar on level 14, created to accommodate up to 125 guests, has quickly established itself as theplace to be seen by the capital city’s ‘in crowd’. Snag a high seat at the open-air viewing window to watch the skyline put on its nightly light show while a resident DJ plays a vibe-enhancing set. Both of these are included in the Staycation package. Night owls can then hop down to Metropole Underground, an early 20th-century metro themed bar located at basement level, to continue with the revelry.

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Back in my 49 m2 suite, I had everything I needed to get my chillax on. This included a choice of king-sized bed or corner sofa to lounge on while watching the latest Netflix offerings on the 65-inch Smart TV (also Google Chromecast-ready) and – heaven after 12 months of showers – a cavernous bath-tub to sink into. There was also a separate rain shower, stocked with sustainable Pharmacopia Natural Bodycare products and vanity kits. The mini-bar was stacked with locally-sourced drinks and snacks, including Seekers Mekong vodka and gin. I loved the fact that the individually controlled air-conditioning and lighting set-up didn’t require a degree to navigate, too. The last thing any weary traveller wants to do is waste hours trying to switch off pesky reading lights.

I squeezed out every last drop of my visit (thanks to a late checkout of 4pm) by taking a dip in the skin-kind salt-water infinity pool. Personal call buttons beside the loungers mean you don’t have to move another muscle if you want to concentrate on your tan. And a state-of-the-art gym and attendant instructors await guests who like to take their exercise to the next level.

Finishing touches were being put to the Jivapita Spa but when it opens, it will feature a rejuvenating Himalayan Salt Room and a full complement of massage therapies. My name is already on the waiting list.