An evening of celebrations at the end of November at Belmond La Résidence d’Angkor marked the reopening of the hotel following seven months of extensive renovations. Completing La Résidence’s new look, Thomas Henseler has taken over stewardship as general manager for the luxury property.
Henseler, who also has responsibility for Belmond’s Laos property, La Residence Phou Vao in Luang Prabang, arrives at the height of a 20-year career and on the heels of a five-year stint as general manager of the international hotel group’s Myanmar property, Belmond Governor’s Residence in Yangon.
The Bavarian native has been enjoying the move to Siem Reap. “There’s much more to do here, and for less money, too,” he says, noting that the cost of living is about 25 percent less than it is in Yangon.
Those looking to spot the differences at La Résidence won’t see them from outside the 59-room property’s riverside walls. Most of the changes come inside the rooms, which are brighter, with a greater sense of visual space, says Henseler.
New artworks by Cambodian artists like Lim Sokchanlina, Khvay Samnang and Neal Sophal adorn the walls. Out of sight, top-of-the-line technology has also been added. “The most important is the addition of triple glazing on our riverside rooms, which makes a huge improvement in noise reduction,” says Henseler.
Evi-Elli La Valle, director of sales for La Residence, adds that the garden junior suites – which can sell for as much as $717 on online reservations platform Booking.com – now have their own private gardens and direct access to the hotel pool.
More than 200 people joined in the opening celebration on November 25, when they also got the chance to see two new paintings from local artist Christian Develter, whose subjects’ curious gazes now sweep over the hotel’s lobby.
More changes can be found in the Ember restaurant. A new outdoor wood-fired pizza oven, barbecue and wok station give a more dramatic edge to poolside dining. Executive chef Saul Garcia Cristiani, a native of Oaxaca, Mexico, adds his customary spice as well. He’s especially happy with the Oaxaca-style chorizo pizza.
Henseler is looking forward to reinstating Belmond’s popular Mexican nights once the high season is under his belt. Henseler takes over the helm for the 140-strong team at the beginning of this year’s tourist season, but concedes that for hotels in Belmond’s niche, the market seems to have plateaued.
“Siem Reap and Cambodia will definitely continue to see more tourists coming in, but I think the greater part of that expansion will go to other markets – not ours,” he says.“We want to make sure that we’re attractive to the local population as well as to travellers.”