Raffles Hotel Le Royal

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Discover the Raffles Hotel Le Royal, which features some of the best French Colonial architecture in all of Cambodia.

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Raffles Hotel Le Royal, a member of Historic Hotels Worldwide since 2018, dates back to 1929.

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A member of Historic Hotels Worldwide since 2018, the Raffles Hotel Le Royal has been among the best vacation retreats to visit in all of Cambodia. French architect Ernest Hébrard constructed the Hotel Le Royal in Phnom Penh during the 1920s. Hébrard situated the hotel within the fashionable European quarter of Phnom Penh, bordered by the historic waterways that ran throughout the city. As he constructed the hotel, Hébrard blended French-Colonial styles with local architectural influences. The original hotel featured sloping tiled roofs, punctuated by triangular dormer windows, airy uncluttered corridors, and shuttered windows. Hotel Le Royal finally opened in 1929 with a lavish ball, attended by His Majesty Sisowath Monivong, King of Cambodia. During the mid-1950s, the Sangkum Reastr Nyum (People’s Socialist Community) implemented many successful government projects that grew the economy of Phnom Penh, drawing even larger numbers of international tourists to Cambodia. To facilitate the influx of new guests arriving to Phnom Penh from abroad, the Hotel Le Royal added additional rooms on the upper floors of the main building. Architect Henri Chatel designed the lodgings, adding on some 30 bungalows and 6 studio apartments in the late 1950s. He also added an outdoor restaurant called, “Le Cyrène,” a swimming pool, and a terrace, too, while also transforming the hotel’s entire entrance hall.

The international popularity with the Hotel Le Royal swelled considerably by the middle of the century, with hundreds of guests visiting every year. Its appeal had even attracted a number of noteworthy luminaries from across the globe, including the likes of Charlie Chaplin, W. Somerset Maugham, Andre Malraux, and French President Charles de Gaulle. Former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy even visited the hotel in 1967 as part of her trip through Cambodia. To celebrate her arrival, the Hotel Le Royal served her a special cocktail called the “Femme Fatale.” But this boon in international tourism came to an abrupt end in 1975, when the Khmer Rouge rose to power. As political instability rocked Phnom Penh, many of those still inside the ancient city recalled how the Hotel Le Royal managed to retain some of its earlier charm. Agence France-Presse journalist, Jon Swain, recalled:

  • “My home was Studio Six, a two-bedroom duplex with ceiling fans on the ground floor of the Hôtel Le Royal… Only at the Hotel Le Phnom was there still something of the lazy charm of the pre-war days, but with a difference: most of the French community had deserted the city after the Khmer Rouge shelled it with artillery, hitting the Lycée Descartes.”

Once the Khmer Rouge firmly established itself within the city, the hotel ceased operating, with the regime forcing everyone affiliated with the building to leave. For the next several years, Hotel Le Royal functioned as a storage facility for food and other supplies. But with the fall of the Khmer Rouge, the hotel reopened as the “Hotel Samakki” in 1980.

The hotel gained a new lease on life in 1996, when renovations began under the supervision of Raffles International Limited. Raffles demolished the surrounding bungalows, replacing them with three new, more substantial wings. The Raffles architectural team also altered the original floor plans for both the mail building and the studio apartments, only leaving the original layout for the guestrooms intact. Similarly, the architects restored the two symmetrical octagonal rotundas, located north and south of the lobby, to their original, understated splendor. Following the construction of its three new courtyard wings, the hotel boasts a total of 175 guestrooms and suites. The new wings approximate the former bungalows, albeit on a much grander scale. Inside the original building, the black-and-white floor tiles were faithfully copied and re-laid in the same configurations. Raffles also completely restored a number of original claw-footed bathtubs, and incorporated them with modern fittings. Raffles architects also retained and restored bot the he glazed light-well over the central entrance foyer, as well as the popular grand wooden staircase. After its extensive renovation, Raffles Hotel Le Royal finally reopened to great acclaim in the winter of 1997. Now approaching its centennial anniversary, the Raffles Hotel Le Royal remains Phnom Penh’s most prestigious hotel.

  • About the Location +

    The largest port situated on the famous Mekong River, Phnom Penh is the capital city of modern-day Cambodia. But despite its prominent place in Cambodian society today, its origins are much more of a mystery. Many local legends abound of a mythical elderly woman named Penh, who allegedly founded the great community toward the end of the 14th century. The stories tell of how Lady Penh wandered down to the Mekong one day to collect firewood, only to find a floating koki tree stuck along the bank. Working her way to the shoreline, she supposedly discovered four statues of the Buddha placed within the plant’s trunk. Lady Penh subsequently fished the statues out of the tree and placed them inside a small temple atop a nearby hill. A small fishing village called “Chaktomuk” quickly sprang up around the temple, with its now-famous Buddhist monuments attracting scores of people from across the ancient Khmer Empire. Over time, the little hamlet would exponentially grow into the current city of Phnom Penh. While the tale persists to this very day, scholars often have difficulty in proving its accuracy. Archeological evidence has revealed that the first settlement may have actually appeared during the 5th century, settled within the boundaries of Phnom Penh’s Dangkao district. The research subsequently uncovered all kinds of ceremonial pottery, as well as remnants of abandoned roads, canals, and even the ruins of an ornate brick temple.

    What scholars can definitely determine is that the site of Phnom Penh emerged as an important commercial hub during the twilight of the Khmer Empire. The community’s position within the Mekong Delta made it an enticing place to conduct trade among merchants from areas all over Asia. Great wealth flowed into the city, as such, expanding its population significantly by the mid-15th century. In fact, Phnom Penh’s newfound economic affluence inspired the Khmer rulers to make the settlement their capital. Despite the fact that the capital later moved to Longvek just a few years later, Phnom Penh’s commercial connections nevertheless remained strong for years thereafter. Its lucrative markets eventually attracted the eye of a few European traders, specifically those operating out of the Iberian Peninsula. Spanish and Portuguese merchants established their own unique neighborhood inside Phnom Penh throughout the 16th century, in order to have direct access to the goods entering into the city. In fact, many more societies followed suit, including the Japanese, the Chinese, and even the Dutch. The Dutch actually opened an official trading outpost in Phnom Penh that serviced the Dutch East India Company’s operations throughout the region. Phnom Penh, thus, developed a cosmopolitan atmosphere that few other places in the world could rival at the time.

    In some cases, resistance to the foreign influence manifested, especially in regard to the Europeans. Both the Spanish and the Dutch were eventually exiled from Phnom Penh, with the native Cambodians even building a series of bridges to trap a Dutch fleet that had come to reinforce its trade office. European influence remained fairly weak in the city for a while, until the arrival of the French in the mid-19th century. By this point, Cambodia had become a battleground between the Siamese (Thai) and the Vietnamese. The French gradually colonized Southeast Asia throughout the 1860s, eventually incorporating Cambodia into the greater “Indochinese Union” in 1863. The ruling Cambodian king at the time, Norodom, had actually welcomed the French, seeing their arrival as a way of diluting the power of their neighboring rivals. The French immediately made Phnom Penh the center of Cambodia’s government, permanently reestablishing the city as its capital. Phnom Penh subsequently underwent a massive construction boom that saw the development of many fascinating French Colonial structures all over the community. A brilliant stone complex also debuted as the official Royal Palace for the Cambodian Royal Family, which quickly emerged as one of the city’s most cherished landmarks.

    French control over Phnom Penh and Cambodia endured for decades, despite brief period when the Japanese controlled the region during World War II. But many Cambodians had grown to desire their own national sovereignty and launched a successful secession movement from the French Empire in 1953. Phnom Penh experienced another golden age in the years immediately following Cambodia’s independence, although it came to an immediate end with the rise of the authoritarian Khmer Rouge regime in the mid-1970s. Led by the dictator Pol Pot, much of the city’s inhabitants were violently forced to relocate to the countryside to work in collectivized farms. Despite the harrowing experience, Pol Pot and his cohorts were overthrown by the end of the decade. Phnom Penh—as well as the rest of the nation—have recovered swiftly in the years since, becoming one of the most vibrant communities in Southeast Asia. It is also among the most popular destinations to visit, as it is home to such renowned cultural landmarks like the Wat Phnom, the National Museum of Cambodia, and, of course, the Royal Palace.


  • About the Architecture +

    When French architect Ernest Hébrard first constructed the Raffles Hotel Le Royal, he infused a blend of French Colonial styles with local architectural influences. The original hotel featured sloping tiled roofs, punctuated by triangular dormer windows, airy uncluttered corridors, and shuttered windows. Architect Henri Chatel designed the lodgings, adding on some 30 bungalows and 6 studio apartments in the late 1950s. He also added an outdoor restaurant called, “Le Cyrène,” a swimming pool, and a terrace, too, while also transforming the hotel’s entire entrance hall. The Grand Hotel D’Angkor then underwent another series of renovations some three decades later, in which developers restored much of the building’s historical features. Among the areas that the architects restored included the original wooden staircase, its two symmetrical octagonal rotundas, and the central entrance foyer. As such, the Raffles Hotel Le Royal once again displays some of the finest French Colonial architecture in all of Phnom Penh. French Colonial architecture in general was distinct throughout the former Indochinese Union, with slight variations appearing in Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia. The French often relied upon using elements of native architecture to adhere better to the tropical climate. Nevertheless, French Colonial structures across Southeast Asia typically shared a few common traits, such as gorgeous stucco tiling and thick brick walls. They also featured iconic pitched roofs, as well as wooden shuttered windows.

    But the architects who embraced French Colonial architecture also incorporated aspects of Art Deco design into the blueprints, specifically during the 1920s and 1930s. As such, the Raffles Hotel Le Royal is one of the many French-inspired buildings in downtown Phnom Penh to display aspects of the style. The form itself originally emerged from a desire from architects to break with past precedents to find architectural inspiration from historical examples. Instead, professionals within the field aspired to forge their own design principles. More importantly, they hoped that their ideas would better reflect the technological advances of the modern age. Historians today, thus, consider Art Deco to be a part of the much wider proliferation of cultural “Modernism” that first appeared at the dawn of the 20th century. Art Deco as a style first became popular in the early 1920s, after the designs of Finnish architect Eliel Saarinin went public for the first time. Architects in both North America and Europe soon raced to copy his format in their own unique ways, giving birth to modern Art Deco architecture. The international embrace of Art Deco had risen so quickly that it was the central theme to the renowned Exposition des Art Decoratifs in Paris a few years later. Architects the world over fell in love with Art Deco’s sleek, linear appearance defined by a series of sharp setbacks. They also adored its geometric decorations that featured such motifs like chevrons and zigzags. Many examples of Art Deco architecture survive today, with the some of the best located in such places like New York City, Chicago, London, and Paris.


  • Famous Historic Guests +

    Jacqueline Kennedy, First Lady to former U.S. President John F. Kennedy (1961 – 1963)

    Charlie Chaplin, renowned actor known for his silent roles in The Kid and A Woman of Paris.

    Paulette Goddard, actress known for her roles in Modern Times, The Great Dictator, and So Proudly We Hail!.

    Charles de Gaulle, World War II hero and President of France (1959 – 1969)

    W. Somerset Maugham, author known for publications like Of Human Bondage.

    Andre Malraux, author best remembered for his novel, La Condition Humaine.

    Sisowath Monivong, King of Cambodia (1927 – 1941)


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