The Raffles Grand Hotel d’ Angkor, Siem Reap
I flew into Siem Reap in the evening of October 30, 2018. I was going to attend the conference on “Globalising Your Practice: Opportunities and Challenges”, organized by the International Bar Association, LAWASIA, The Bar Association of the Kingdom of Cambodia, and the European Lawyers’ Foundation, on November 1st. The flight I took was the only direct flight from Manila to Siem Reap that fit my schedule.
It was my second time in Cambodia so there was no pressure to go sightseeing. Instead, I slept in. About eight days earlier, I had returned from a two-week trip in Europe – a week of which was for the International Bar Association 2018 Annual Conference in Rome. After my return to Manila, I had to battle jetlag, work backlog, and deadlines before flying off to SIem Reap. My only itinerary for the day was to drop by Raffles Grand Hotel d’ Angkor, considered to be one of the best heritage hotels in the world.
I purposely woke up late and had a late breakfast, after which I took a nap. Around two in the afternoon, I left my hotel and walked about two kilometers to Raffles to work up an appetite for late lunch/afternoon tea.
This sounds very cliché but stepping into the lobby of the hotel was like being transported back into another time. Even though the hotel was right smack in the midst of the commercial center of the city, its walls seemed to contain a different world. I asked where the Conservatory – where they served afternoon tea – and I was told it was right straight ahead.
The Conservatory had a view of the hotel’s pool. The atmosphere had a very colonial feel to it, made more palpable by the high ratio of white people whiling the afternoon away there. I took a seat near one of the windows to have a good vantage point from which to people-watch.
I asked for Raffles Local Khmer Tea(Street Stalls Selection:Local baguette, pork paté, pickled vegetables, coconut and spring onion rice pancakes with coconut sauce, fresh vegetable spring roll with lime and chili dressing. Sweet Selection: taro and sago coconut pudding, palm sugar and coconut dumpling, yellow bean cake. Ancient Traditions Selection: Glutinous roasted rice cake, slow cooked local banana with palm sugar caramel), instead of the traditional afternoon tea because, after all, I was in Cambodia. I paired the set with a Taste of Singapore Tea(“harmonious mix of Ceylon black tea, ginger mango and pineapple dices, passion fruit, and soursop flavoring). It was a very tropical afternoon tea.
The attention to detail was impeccable, which explained why it took some time to assemble and serve. Every morsel was placed on top a banana or palm leaf, moulded into small cups and held by pins. There were a lot of pins. Such attention demonstrates this hotel’s dedication to service.
Service was very warm and meticulous. Since I look Cambodian, the food attendants politely engaged me in conversation and in the process extracted information on where I was from and what I was doing in Cambodia. I may have also called to attention to myself as a lone diner who ordered a large meal and possibly being the youngest in that room. After discovering that I was Filipino, they also informed me that the front desk manager and the pianist, who plays during evenings, were also Filipino.
As I slowly gobbled up the pieces of food, the attendants occasionally checked on me if I needed anything. One of them asked me how the Khmer fare was compared to Philippine cuisine, and I said we use the same ingredients but use them differently. After tea, I walked on the balcony and decided to have a cocktail there.
I ordered the hotel’s signature cocktail – the Airavata. Each Raffles hotel has its signature drink: Raffles Singapore has the world-famous Singaporean Sling, while Raffles Makati has the Makati Sling – which has gold flakes drizzled on it. “I’ve heard of the Makati Sling. Have you tried it?” asked the food attendant. “Yes, I have”, I replied. Maybe I should start a blog series on cocktails.
The Airavata( Rum, Malibu, Creme de Banane, Fresh Coconut Juice and Lime Juice) is described as a “refreshing cocktail x x x named after the mythical white elephant ridden by Indra, the Hindu King of Gods and Ruler of the Heavens. It’s told that once, Airavata sucked up water from the underworld and sprayed it into the clouds, which Indra then caused to rain forth as cool water for the earth”. It came in an elephant-shaped urn. For contrast, I was served fried green banana chips with pepper powder and fried sticky rice balls with paprika salt. I never knew that banana chips and pepper went so well.
The Filipino pianist, before starting his set, came by and introduced himself. We had a brief chat and discovered that we came from the same region in Mindanao and spoke the same dialect. Afterwards, I walked back to my hotel, slightly swaying and sweating heavily. Man, that was a strong cocktail.
The Majestic Hotel, Kuala Lumpur
From Cambodia, I flew to Kuala Lumpur to visit a couple of friends who were a couple. On a lazy Sunday afternoon, my friend Kates, took me to The Majestic Hotel, also considered to be one of the best heritage hotels in the world. Kates tried to reserve a spot inside the hotel’s Orchidarium – a room filled with rows of orchids, a fancy greenhouse so to speak – but it was already fully booked.
“They offered me a spot in the Drawing Room instead” Kates said. “I’ve never been inside although I’ve seen it from the outside”. The Drawing Room felt very British, which makes sense because Malaysia used to be a British colony. We were seated near the window with a view of the lawn, where a small group of people were having a party while accompanied by two people playing a violin and a cello. They even had balloons.
A group of Chinese ladies were already having their tea and were whispering and giggling. “I think I may be the only guy here” I observed. A little while later, a couple came in. “I think they are on a date” Kates noted.
We had the Traditional Afternoon Tea Set (Lemon Tart, Raspberry Tart, Chocolate Ganache, Eclair, Strawberries and Cream, Sandwiches- Salmon, Chicken, Turkey) which we paired with Darjeeling Tea. There was also a Box of Savouries(Seafood Bun, Chicken Roll, and Chicken Pie). I think our set perfectly matched the colonial atmosphere of the Drawing Room. The dark wood paneling and heavy curtains encouraged one to whisper, which Kates and I tried to do. But, as people from the Visayas and Mindanao, respectively, our voices were naturally louder.
“These are the largest scones I’ve seen so far” I said. I was used to perfectly cut and shaped scones. “Really? I thought these were normal” Kates replied. The food attendant, dressed in all white sailor-type long-sleeved shirt and pants ensemble, who was assigned to us, occasionally checked if our cups needed refilling and if dishes needed to be taken away. We were entitled to two refills of hot water and after that we had to order another pot. Since we were tea guzzlers, we asked for a refill. I appreciated the service given to us – unobtrusive but attentive. The portions were quite generous and despite our considerable appetite, we could not finish everything.
We would have wanted to sit around more and ask for another refill but the sky was turning dark. After tea, we went off to look at colonialist architecture in Kuala Lumpur’s heritage area.
Other afternoon tea experiences are here: