The Story

The most secluded, serene and storied gateway to Cambodia’s jungle-embraced ruins, Amansara is a timeless retreat originally built for the royal descendants of Angkor’s greatest architect – King Jayavarman VII.

A consummately private garden estate on the green fringes of Siem Reap, Amansara was known as Villa Princière when it was built in 1962 for King Norodom Sihanouk by French architect, Laurent Mondet.

But the roots of this fabled getaway’s story reach back through the centuries – as entwined with Angkor’s legendary temples as those of the giant fig trees that jealously guard the ancient stones today.


Chinese diplomat Zhou Daguan’s detailed account of his visit to Angkor in 1296 gives a vivid portrayal of daily life in Jayavarman VII’s royal court. He describes elephant tusks encased in gold and apsara – the heavenly nymphs that inspired Amansara’s name – dancing to the king’s whim. 

Carved in stone on walls slowly reclaimed by nature, Angkor’s apsara witnessed tumultuous periods in Cambodia’s history over the next 700-odd years. But their enigmatic smiles seem to imply that they knew it would all work out in the end. 

From 1296, fast forward to the early 1960s. King Norodom Sihanouk has guided Cambodia out of French Colonial rule as the realm’s new Head of State. He decides to build a personal retreat in which to host family and visiting dignitaries at the threshold of his ancestor’s masterpiece – the 12th-century city of Angkor Thom.

Just 5km from Angkor Wat, Villa Princière is completed on 11 July 1963, representing one of the finest examples of New Khmer Architecture ever built. In the words of Cambodian scholar, Darryl Collins, Mondet’s creation is “unabashedly modern, but not showy” – effectively blending elements from the Modern Movement with touches of Angkorian grandeur and vernacular simplicity.
With tourism burgeoning in the mid-1960s, King Sihanouk gifts the property to the Société Khmère des Auberges Royales (SOKHAR) and Villa Princière – later Villa Sokha and then Villa Apsara – becomes a hotel for those seeking the most exclusive Angkorian experience.

Luminaries such as Jacky Kennedy, Peter O’Toole – whilst filming Lord Jim – and Prince Raimondo d’Orsini of Italy make this tranquil abode their base for discovering the magic of Angkor. After exploring the temples with a personal guide, they relax by the property’s curvilinear pool and dine beneath its striking rotunda, much as Amansara’s guests do today, 60 years later. But dark times lay ahead.

The political turmoil of the 1970s and 1980s took a serious toll on the villa’s elegant structures and verdant grounds. By the time that national peace was restored in the early 1990s, the property was derelict. Utterly abandoned, with glassless windows and unpainted walls, by 2002 the only trace of its former glory was its architectural bones. 

Practiced in the art of restoration, Aman knew that this was enough to gently breathe this sleeping beauty back to life. Drawing on old photographs, Aman meticulously reconstructed every aspect of the property, and Amansara – its name meaning ‘heavenly peace’ – finally opened its doors on 15 January 2003, welcoming guests with 12 spacious suites. 

As Amansara now celebrates its 20th anniversary, 60 years after its foundation was laid, the intervening years have passed in the blink of an eye. In 2006, 12 new pool suites, a lap pool and Aman Spa were seamlessly added to complement the original 1960s architecture, and in 2019, a state-of-the-art gym and movement studio were introduced.

But what has not changed is the property’s soul. Conceived with all the largesse of Jayavarman’s great monuments and thoroughly imbued with their spiritual peace, Amansara welcomes guests today with the same joy and generosity that Villa Princière welcomed royal family members in the ‘60s. It seems that the Apsara and their knowing smiles were right.

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Enter another millennium

From the intricate bas reliefs and expressively carved apsaras to the architectural marvel of Angkor Wat itself, Angkor Archaeological Park stands testament to the exceptional sophistication of the bygone Khmer Empire. Just 10 minutes from the jungle-ensconced ruins, Amansara guests can enjoy private tours with tailor made itineries, allowing them to experience the meditative stillness of the once-sacred site, undisturbed by other visitors.