When you enter the Raffles owned Hotel Le Royal in Phnom Penh you are immediately struck by its old school gender. A popular location for both events and high-rolling visitors, in actuality the hotel has a past as dark and varied as modern Cambodia itself.
To read about The Independence Hotel in Sihanoukville click here.
The founding of the Hotel Le Royal
First established in 1929 at a time when the French had finally realised the touristic potential of the enormous empire it marked one of many hotels being built at the time. The examples include the now war ravaged Baron Hotel in Aleppo.
To read about the Baron Hotel click here.
With a French colonial design and central location the Le Royale quickly become the deluxe hotel in Phnom Penh, regularly hosting visiting dignitaries, as well as being hangout for the Phnom Penh elite.
These were though changing times and with the onset of the Cambodian Civil War things were about to change fairly dramatically.
Becoming Le Phnom
In 1970 the government of Sihanouk was overthrown by Lon Nol, the Khmer Bleu and the rightist republican forces. As such names that invoked anything royal related were frowned upon, thus it was rebranded as Hotel Le Phnom.
It was also at this time that things in Cambodia were starting to drift into hell like conditions. Sihanouk had aligned with the Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, while in Vietnam the North were veering very close to victory.
To read about Pol Pot click here.
This made Phnom Penh not just a political and intelligence hotbed, but also one for journalists covering the so called “Secret War”, which was taking place in both Cambodia and Laos.
At this point the Le Phnom became the place for journalists to stay, with notable guests including Sidney Schanberg and Dith Pran, both of whom would play key roles in the story that would become the Killing Fields.
And as Phnom Penh slowly started to fall to the Khmer Rouge the Le Phnom remained one of the last holdouts for both western and local journalists, as well as former members of the government trying to hide from the Khmer Rouge.
The Red Cross briefly tried to declare it a “neutral zone” before it was eventually emptied with remnants either fleeing to the French Embassy or falling into the hands of the Khmer Rouge.
The Le Royal Under the Khmer Rouge
Unbeknown to many King Sihanouk was actually briefly the head of state of Democratic Kampuchea, with the notable leaving out of the word “Republic” seemingly linked to this.
To read about Sihanouk being king of the Khmer Rouge click here.
This though did not last for long, with him eventually being under house arrest in the Royal Palace. During this time it is believed that the Le Royal Hotel was used as a military base while Phnom Penh itself remained little more than a ghost town.
Of course the tide would eventually change with the Khmer Rouge being defeated by a joint Vietnamese and Cambodian revolutionary force, which for a time at least opened up the country to the horrors of the Khmer Rouge.
To read about the war between Cambodia and Vietnam click here.
At this time a number of journalists returned to report on the crimes of the Pol Pot clique. Many reported staying at the Le Phnom/Le Royale Hotel, but that it was also used by the Vietnamese army, who had even gone as far as turning the iconic swimming pool into a pond for growing fish to eat.
When the Peoples Republic of Kampuchea was established the hotel was gain renamed as the Hotel Smakki, or rather “Solidarity Hotel”. Again the most prestigious hotel in the capital, but also a state run one that was a shadow of its former self.
The rebirth of the Le Royale Hotel
With the nominal peace that was chaired in 1993 and the restoration of Norodom dynasty the hotel was again renamed the Le Royale, although after years of neglect under the socialist regime was in desperate need of s refit.
This was to occur late in the mid 90’s then the hotel was purchased by Raffles, since becoming perhaps the premier hotel in Phnom Penh, as well as favourite for high-level events and the like.
The modern decor takes heavy influence formats past, with an extremely retro French colonial feel, as well pictures and memorabilia from its eclectic and pivotal to past.
Want to see the Le Royal for yourself? Join our Cambodia Dark Tourism Tour.