At the Sofitel Angkor Phokeethra, where cloisters-like corridors are fragrant with lemongrass and where staff demurely whisper ‘Bonjour’ as they glide past, life is serene.
In the early morning on the way to breakfast, I invariably stop to admire the tracery of silvery pearls deposited nightly by monsoonal downpours on the huge lily pads that float on the ponds.
At dusk, tables set for dinner around the salt water pool area seem to be about to gently lift off to join the full October moon above.
Lighting from underneath the crisp tablecloths give the tables a feeling of lightness while the shadows of palms swaying in the breeze are a reminder of how close we are to the all-encroaching jungle that once devoured the temples of Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and the nearby satellite ancient hubs.
The rooms at Sofitel Angkor Phokeethra
The restraint luxury of the surrounds is soothing. The rooms are spacious and well appointed with everything you expect from a 5-star hotel, from comfortable beds and L’Occitaine toiletries to the good quality espresso coffee machines and coffee provided.
The site is a blend of Khmer and French architecture, features landscaped gardens, five restaurants and bars, meeting facilities, a luxury spa and the largest free form swimming pool in Cambodia.
It also has a world-class 18-hole golf course at the Phokeethra Country Club, a 25-minute drive from the hotel.
But what is most notable about this place is the sophistication and the helpfulness of the young staff and trainees.
When I compliment General Manager Monsieur Fabrice Ducry on the performance of his employees, I discover through him Sala Bai, (loosely translated as House of Rice) a French NGO where disadvantaged youth can get training in hospitality: anything from Front of House to Housekeeping.
He is passionate about the project and prides himself on hiring as many of his staff as possible from the school.
I had spotted Malin Nget floating around the premises as if she were an apsara riding a cloud. ‘Certainly Madame,’ she responds to all my requests at Reception.
Her manners are flawless, her makeup perfect, her hair immaculate. It is only later when I interview her that, for a fleeting moment, a cloud of emotion cracks the serenity of her face.
In reference to her success in her hospitality career she says: “I am so happy I can now help my grandparents who did so much for me.”
I learn her orphaned past is a common denominator here. From waitresses to receptionists, housekeepers to ground keepers, their stories have a harrowing beginning but a sunny prospect.
As a result of meeting these remarkable young people, I go to the source itself, Sala Bai, the training school plus restaurant at the social hub of Siem Reap.
Here students practice what they learn in a safe environment supported by sympathetic international diners who are prepared to be patient if the service is not as fast as it could be.
The meals turn out to be great, the service meticulous and all trainees speak French and English coached by volunteer staff.
Their next step is getting a placement at participating 5-star hotels to gain work experience.
Hotels that support training schools such as Sala Bai are commendable and worth patronising. You can enjoy luxury accommodation while helping the community.
Sofitel Angkor Phokeethra Golf and Spa Resort
The Sofitel Angkor Phokeethra Golf and Spa Resort is close to the Angkor Temples; the spectacular sunsets from the Bakheng Hill; Siem Reap River; the Old market and only 20 minutes away from the International Airport while the Siem Reap National Museum is within walking distance.