It's befitting that one of Phnom Penh’s most iconic hotels is named after the Japanese word for sunflower, given that it is surrounded by beauty and ambience matched only by the hotel’s scenery, rooms and facilities.
Himawari Hotel Apartments’ reputation for providing visitors with a stay to remember precedes it as one of the gems of the Kingdom’s tourist industry. Himawari Hotel is perched along the city’s river bank, where the conflux of the Chaktomuk river converges with the Mekong river, Tonle Sap river and Bassac river.
The hotel boasts a stunning sunrise view overlooking the four rivers; it’s just between the Cambodian Cultural Heritage Mansion of Chaktomuk Theatre to the north and the fabled Cambodiana Hotel located to the south, while the western side of Himawari Hotel enjoys a landscape view of traditional Khmer buildings.
Today, Himawari Hotel is a property investment project managed by Himawari Pte Ltd. Andrew Tay, director of Himawari Hotel, took the time out to talk to the Post in an exclusive interview in late July at the hotel’s Biz Cafe.
Tay explained that “Himawari Hotel is not only in unique in Phnom Penh, but throughout the Kingdom of Cambodia. We do something different from everyone else, not just the hotels.”
“Himawari Hotel provides private apartments that feel like home.
“Throughout its existence, Himawari Hotel has served as the best service hotel in Cambodia,” Tay said. “As our records show, there are many important and people that have come to stay and celebrated functions here.”
“And we have had royalty from overseas who have stayed at Himawari Hotel. Recently we have hosted IMF chairwoman Christine Lagarde. Also, Princess Marie of Denmark during her visit in the Kingdom celebrated an event here.
“We have also hosted a long list of celebrities. Hollywood film stars such as Angelina Jolie, Anne Hathaway and Meg Ryan have stayed at the hotel, and Sir Chaky Chan, a good will ambassador for UNESCO, has also stayed here,” he said. “Recently there has also been celebrities from Singapore such as Zoe Tay, Chew Chor Meng and currently Elvin Ng who acted in ‘The Jade Elephant’ on CTN.” Generally, most of the guests that have been to stay at Himawari Hotel have been high-ranking diplomats and business executives. In the past few years, many corporate clients have selected Himawari Hotel to be a partner with their company. “Of late, the clientele that has been frequenting the hotel has mainly been Japanese businessmen who have come to stay here since the AEON Mall opened its doors in Cambodia,” he said.
Tay recalled the establishment of the hotel, almost two decades ago back in 1995, saying: “My family planned to take a summer vacation in Cambodia. By that time our family had a company doing business in and around Southeast Asia including in Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam.” At the time, Tay was a university student in the US, where he studied the travel industry and international business.
“I decided to go to Cambodia with my parents. At that time, not many Singaporeans came to Cambodia, because they were scared about it being unsafe. For me it’s OK; you just have to be careful. As a Singaporean, I trained in the military, and I have experiences in some countries. So I knew I would be OK.”
In Cambodia in 1995, Tay said that in Phnom Penh “there were not many tourists, we saw many people carrying weapons and it goes without saying that I had concern for my wellbeing and safety.”
However, during that trip, his parents discussed investing in the hotel business in the capital, he said.
“My parents knew that it was a very good location, it could be the best place for building the hotel,” Tay added. Then in the late 1990s, his family started a project to build the hotel with specified concept designs for the apartment hotel. The hotel was constructed with large rooms and comfortable bed rooms, fresh living rooms, well-equipped kitchens and private verandas. The standardised rooms in the Himawari Hotel have 56 square metres of floor space while the executive suite and premium suite rooms have 89 to 175 square metres.
Himawari Hotel features 115 spacious suites and apartments promising a luxury stay in a rich and fresh atmosphere on the Chaktomuk riverbank. Over the tropical garden, the Himawari building was a fusion of modern Khmer architecture and cosy international artistry, with most of the rooms boasting a view overlooking the rivers and the hotel garden.
“The construction was finished in 2001 and the hotel was launched under the name ‘Micasa Hotel’ under the management of Malaysians and Singaporeans,” Tay added. “The management position ourselves as the five-star service apartment with the hotel support.
“At that time, it was the only me in the family who had experience in the hotel industry as I also learnt hotel management.
“My parents asked me to come and work at the hotel as the representative of the owner. So, I came to work in Cambodia. In 2005, our company was restructured a little bit.
“After that, the Singaporean shareholder took over the management of the hotel and changed the name to ‘Himawari Hotel Apartments’.”