Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Cultural Cambodia; One Corner of Asia Has Resisted the Onslaught of Western Consumerism

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Cultural Cambodia; One Corner of Asia Has Resisted the Onslaught of Western Consumerism

Article excerpt

Byline: JILL HARTLEY

HAS Asia lost its magic, or are we obsessed with nostalgia for a colonial past? It's a tough call in places such as Bangkok, where you can shop in Tesco, Boots and Body Shop, as at home.

They may be building hotels faster than termites build nests, but so far Cambodia is still a fast-food-free zone that blasts the senses with that quintessential Asian olfactory mix of dust, dung, spices and joss, even headier at dawn and dusk when thousands of cooking fires give it a top note of sweet wood smoke.

If you don't find the magic of Asia in Siem Reap, the 11th century stronghold of the Khmer kings and home to the famed temples of Angkor, you need to seriously chill. Best start on a sunbed around the pool at the Grand Hotel d'Angkor, built in 1932 and refurbished by present owners, the Raffles Group, in 1997.

My current favourite hotel, it's the essence of colonial cool. Messrs Maugham, Conrad and Greene would have done pink gins in the lobby among the palms, brass and mahogany fans, or tea from silver pots on the colonnaded terrace.

Our room, the Henri Mouhot suite, named after the French explorer who discovered Angkor Wat in 1868, was time-warp elegance with Bakelite switches, Orient-Express-style lamps, a Victorian roll-top bath and monogrammed towels.

The four-poster and the terrace daybed were full of claret, topaz and tobacco-coloured silk cushions - a decadent touch of the opium den.

Ly (pronounced Lee), our guide, suggested we head for Angkor Wat, just 10 minutes' drive away, at sunset. The time, he said, "when boys and girls come to flirt each other".

He was right - the rose twilight added to the romance as it softened the edges of the weathered stone and gave a sensuous smile to the many carved faces.

The mysterious stone carvings, friezes and figureheads of Angkor are said to have as many layers of meaning as Joyce's Ulysses. Ly couldn't unravel it, but he asked us to imagine its construction, allegedly undertaken by 40,000 elephants and 60,000 slaves. …

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