Pandemic Woes at Suon Angkor Boutique Hotel
Suon Angkor Boutique Hotel.
I’ll never forget our crazy months living in Siem Reap at the height of the COVID-19 outbreak. After a few weeks in a studio room and a couple of months based at The Foster Apartments, Sladja and I found ourselves relocating to a so-called “boutique hotel” for a two-week trial stay.
They had a generator, you see, which could deal with the city’s regular power cuts and allow me to teach online smoothly. Having gone to scout the place out one afternoon, we’d been charmed by the Khmer lady at reception. She was an unfathomably cheerful woman who wooed us with promises of luxury living, smooth WIFI, an onsite restaurant and a cool, refreshing pool.
And so it was that we took a punt on Suon Angkor Boutique Hotel. I can still recall the uncertainty that inhabited us both that roasting hot March afternoon as we loaded our bags onto a tuk tuk for the ten minute drive across town to our new lodgings. Ms. Cheerful was positively bursting with beans when we arrived at reception. “Welcome hooooooome!” she trilled, somewhat comically.
As first impressions go, Suon Angkor delivered handsomely. A staff member was on hand to deal with our luggage and check-in was a piece of cake. Ms. Cheerful had even laid on a pair of icy juices and a bowl of sugared nuts. Mm, don’t mind if I do. Handing us our keys, our excitable hostess was keen to assure us that “If there’s anything at all I can do for you… anything…. please tell me”.
Suon Angkor Boutique Hotel.
Unfortunately, this surface charm rapidly fizzled away as we settled into our double room. Don’t get me wrong, the space was nice enough. It was clean, decorated with traditional Khmer wooden furniture and had a giant bed that had been beautifully made up.
But it didn’t take long to see that the WIFI was absolute rubbish. This was particularly disappointing, as I had spent so much time hammering home the importance of WIFI with the cheerful one prior to handing over a wedge of our hard earned dollars. “I have classes to teach”, I explained. We had a blog to run too, of course, not to mention the small matter of keeping on top of the pandemic news and figuring out what the hell we were going to do.
Hence I trudged back to reception and explained myself all over again. This is when Ms Cheerfully Dishonest admitted that the side of the hotel we’d been put in was in fact far from the router and had shaky coverage. Grrr. Within minutes we were off again, our good selves and all our stuff moved to a room by reception near the router.
Suon Angkor Boutique Hotel.
At first glance the new room was much better. Bigger, brighter and with a more homely design. However, over the next few days we realised how run down the place actually was. Certainly not boutique by any stretch of the imagination. Especially when we pulled back the covers on our bed that evening to find bloodstains all over the sheets! With little more than a mumbled apology, someone came to replace them.
Elsewhere, the walls were peeling and home to a variety of insect life. Every piece of furniture was prone to falling apart at the merest touch, while in the bathroom there were cracked floorboards with sharp splinters sticking up. Indeed it was quite a dance to carefully pick a safe passage to the toilet seat. I still remember The Queen of Cheerfulness’ reaction when we told her: “Ooooh yes, you should be careful!”
The furnishings at Suon Angor weren’t the only things falling apart. So was the city, the country and seemingly the world at large. It was here that we understood just how serious the pandemic was becoming, as thousands of people began fleeing Siem Reap in order to get home.
Stuck in Cambodia During the Global Pandemic.
Somehow, on the still-not-very-good WIFI, I managed to bumble through my classes. When not teaching, we were scrambling around trying to figure out where we could go to stay together longer than just a few months. We wanted to avoid separation at all costs, an outcome that seemed increasingly hard to achieve as borders closed all around us. At one point we were about to book flights to Serbia (where I could smoothly apply for temporary residency). But then the airports closed and we were back to square one.
During those first three or four days we were really grateful for the onsite restaurant. With the clientele disappearing, we usually had the place to ourselves, a lovingly arranged jungle garden stuffed with greenery that did much to calm our prickly nerves.
The food was a little pricy but decent, in the beginning at least. The city’s restaurants and cafes were falling like flies as people closed up, hence we took most of our meals within the hotel. Generally, their Khmer dishes were better than their western creations.
But the situation soon deteriorated. First, we were served meals that had clearly been hastily thrown together and were barely lukewarm. Then the portions began shrinking, until one evening dinner came with a somewhat laughable eight French fries.
Suon Angkor Boutique Hotel.
Finally, we sat down one afternoon, only for our hostess to merrily inform us that the kitchen was closed. “The Chef isn’t here!” she smiled. After that, it reopened only sporadically. One evening, we hung out in the restaurant on the patchy WIFI trying once again to work out a path forward. We had just returned from a local travel agency, who revealed that Sladja’s Cambodian tourist visa could not be extended, even with the special circumstances unfolding.
The swimming pool was a godsend. In between everything, we made several visits here daily. It was a real privilege, the perfect place to get some exercise or simply nap in the sun and try to empty our minds.
It was also at the pool that we met the hotel’s last remaining guest, other than ourselves. He was a French guy who had just booked his flight back to Paris. “Wherever you go it should be soon”, he told me. “The flight price is crazy and in the next weeks I think every country will be closed”. He departed the next day, leaving us as Suon Angkor’s only residents.
Living in Siem Reap during the Global Pandemic.
With ideas fast running low, we eventually took the unsatisfactory decision of booking Sladja onto a flight back to China. Despite everything, her school was keen for her to return and this avenue at least represented some stability and continued employment. For a million reasons, some obvious, others more complicated, she hadn’t planned on going back to China. But in the end, this seemed the best solution. Kerching went the credit card and then, just a few days before the flight, the Chinese government announced it had closed its borders. And that was that, we never did get a refund.
Soon after, we admitted defeat and decided to stay in Cambodia. There was a rumour flying around that the government was going to waive overstay fees on tourist visas (a promise they later delivered!) On some days the hotel felt abandoned, even most of the staff had been relieved of their duties at this point. As a result, it was deliciously quiet as we strolled through the various courtyards and corridors on our way to and from our daily swims.
If we were going to ride out the pandemic in Cambodia we knew that… sigh… we’d need to change accommodation again. Thus we set about apartment hunting in a market where hotels and guesthouses were shutting up shop at an alarming rate. On occasion, we would go out to take a look at a place, but the good old WIFI nearly always proved to be a stumbling block.
Suon Angkor Boutique Hotel.
“Welcome hoooooome!” sang our hostess each time we returned. In truth, this empty greeting was starting to grate. In all the days we stayed at Suon Angkor she never once asked us how we were getting on. Or whether there was anyone she should call, or something she could assist with. When we did ask her for basic solutions to the hotel’s many shortcomings, she rarely came up with the goods. So we slipped into the habit of staying polite and keeping to ourselves.
Luckily, by starting our accommodation search straight away, we were ahead of the curve. One morning, Ms. Cheerfully Unhelpful informed us that Suon Angkor was closing at the end of the month. Within twenty four hours we had found our new (and last) place to stay in Siem Reap. A hotel that, as it turned out, we will also remember for the rest of our lives. But this time for the right reasons.
Misadventures in Siem Reap.
We stayed at Suon Angkor Boutique Hotel for thirteen nights. It’s difficult to give a fair assessment of them at what must have been an exceptionally challenging time. It really was a beautiful and peaceful compound, but terribly tatty for a place advertising themselves as luxurious.
At the time of writing it is unclear if they ever reopened. On the one hand I see that they aren’t marked as permanently closed anywhere. They also show up on several booking sites. However, their last reviews date back to March 2020, the month of our stay. So I guess it isn’t looking good… another one bites the dust.
For a look at Siem Reap’s excellent cafe, restaurant and bar scene, check out my detailed guide on Where to Eat and Drink Siem Reap.
You can also read my exhaustive overview of What to See and Do in Siem Reap.
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An interesting account of your two weeks in this ’boutique’ hotel. At least you were safe and sound but it must have been worrying, contemplating your next move with the world shutting its borders. I’ll look forward to your next instalment Leighton.
Hey Marion, yes it was a very unsettling time and a surreal experience to be the only guests left during the last week or so. As you say, at least we stayed away from the virus and were still in one piece by the time we moved on. Thanks for reading and commenting.
Sometimes two weeks can seem a lifetime. This has all the elements of a dystopian movie. The escape routes all closing around you. Seemingly the last guests at a boutique hotel that is crumbling. Plans to leave the country until you can’t. I think Brad and Angelina might be available for the lead roles. Waiting anxiously for a happier next post.
Hey Memo, I was rather hoping we’d play ourselves, but I guess Brad and Angie have a touch more appeal to global audiences. Not sure you’d get them in the same room these days though. It was a weird couple of weeks that we are unlikely to ever forget, thanks for reading!
Empty promises delivered with a smile are still empty. I am sure it was tough times for many places during the lockdowns, but it looks like this place was in tough before that. Many memories, though not all happy. When you are in the middle of a pandemic, good wifi and access to food are musts. Glad you survived long enough to move to a better place Leighton. Allan
You’re right, when Sladja and I finally found ‘the’ place, we pretty much existed on WIFI and eats. Suon Angkor Boutique Hotel could’ve been a fantastic place, but the staff just didn’t have the know how. Or didn’t care, or both. Thanks for following this miniseries Allan, hope you enjoy the happily ever after to these misadventures.
I guess the uncertainty must have added to the perception of discomfort, surely easier to challenge when it’s something temporary.
I think you have a point there, I’m certainly glad that it was only a fortnight before we found a proper solution. Thanks for adding your thoughts to the thread.
What a crazy time to be in Cambodia! Reading this I was reminded of some of the hotels we stayed at in Asia, including the blood spattered sheets. I can almost hear her ‘welcome hooome’ and understand the change from lovely to grating. Great story! Maggie
Thanks Maggie, I’m glad this piece resonated, even if they didn’t exactly bring back happy memories. Everything we went through was worth it for the place we finally ended up in, so it was a process I guess. I hope 2023 has started well for you.
Oh, Leighton, I became panicked while reading your post, so I can’t imagine your state of panic back then! It reminded me of some war stories that I have read where innocent people got caught up it and weren’t able to leave. I am so glad that you finally found a good place to ride out the pandemic – it sure has made for some great blog posts! I hope 2023 is going well so far for you and Sladja!
It was an incredibly stressful time but weirdly I had lots of fun writing these posts up ha ha. If that makes any sense. Glad you have enjoyed these instalments, though I guess the next one will be your favourite of the three. We are doing well thanks Kellye, gearing up for our final week in Georgia. Hope all is well with the Hefners!
Cheerfulness and friendliness is good but not when it is used to cover up dishonesty. I think the worst was the WiFi. You clearly stated you needed it for teaching, a professional need, and she knew it was insufficient. I would have been really mad. Well, you lived through an interesting experience.
You’re right, the WIFI was the worst part. She just lied. Hey ho, what can you do? Thanks for reading Thomas, and for the empathy in your comment. It was definitely a character-building experience.
What a crazy time to in Cambodia! I hope you managed to find food when the hotel restaurant closed! Sorry to hear about Ms Cheerfully Dishonest! I guess people would do anything to make a sale! Glad everything worked out for you in the end! Great story, thanks for sharing it!
Hey Janey, luckily a few restaurants stayed open, so it was never really a case of going hungry. Just inconvenient, plus we were a little nervous about eating out. Seems so strange to think back on all that paranoia. Thanks for reading and getting in touch!
Oof that would be a tough place to navigate the pandemic! The pool and fresh air is nice, but staying in that room and with the lack of good food or access to a kitchen must’ve been tough. Looking forward to reading about the next place.
Yeah, it certainly won’t be winning any ‘Most Fun Fortnight’ awards, that’s for sure. The sense of paranoia, anxiety and confusion was probably the worst thing. That period of the pandemic when we were all unsure what the hell was going on. I can’t believe it’s been three years!
Oh those times. We will never forget that experience as the world closed its borders. Strange times.
Hopefully, we’ll never have to experience such times again. Thanks for your comment.
What a whirlwind of a two-week stay in Suon Angkor! It’s always a huge disappointment when you’re promised fast, reliable Wifi and cleanliness at an accommodation, only to find out that they’re far from it. And especially with the world shutting down so quickly, each day seems like a gamble (i.e. can I get out of the country or not?). You got super lucky with securing another accommodation just before Suon Angkor went belly up, and hopefully, it got better!
At the risk of providing a spoiler, it got WAY better ha ha. Looking back, Suon Angkor was an ok stabiliser after the particularly tough times of the Foster Apartments. But yes, thank god it was only two weeks and that there were happier days around the corner. Thanks, Rebecca.
Suon Angkor Boutique Hotel was so interesting . Before this pandemic it all began with Covid around our world ..so terrible. But we use face masks on the plane but let’s get going to travel. Thanks Anita
Thanks for your comment Anita. Hopefully those days ate far behind us.
Think this sounds more like a bucket hotel, and with those sheets I hope you didn’t check out the mattress with a portable bottle of luminol and a uv light
Thanks for that enduring image Gary. I’m glad we didn’t check that out, as I imagine we wouldn’t have gotten any sleep ha ha.
I can’t imagine how stressful it must have been dealing with all the craziness in the early days and weeks of the pandemic while staying at such a disappointing accommodation. I love it when the staff members of the place where I stay are warm and friendly. But that shouldn’t be used to cover up one dishonesty after another like what you experienced.
In the beginning we were quite charmed by her. By the end of the fortnight I had to grit my teeth every time she sang that welcome home song. You win some, you lose some, I guess. Thanks for stopping by Bama.
I wonder what Mrs. Cheerful’s definition is of “boutique hotel”. I can’t imagine how stressful that must have been. I hope you found better accommodations at your next location. Even though you didn’t get a refund for the ticket to China, at least you got to stay together.
Hey Tricia, thanks for following this miniseries and for rooting for us that it all came good. Without giving too much away, I think you’ll really enjoy the next one. Say hi to Terry and Neville for me.
This place is a mixed bag for sure. Beautiful pool to escape the heat with but blood on the sheets is a hard pass. What a crazy and difficult time to try and make such huge decisions. Glad though that you didn’t have to separate and could stay in the country together.
Thanks Meg. At the time we hesitated over what to do, and it cost us as border after border closed. It’s tricky at the best of times choosing a long term place to be in when you have conflicting (British and Serbian) passports. During the pandemic this was even more of an issue, as anywhere we went would have only been good for 1 to a maximum of 3 months. In the end, staying exactly where we were proved to be the best decision. Especially as Cambodia had barely any cases during the entire nine months we were there.
Of course, if it says “boutique hotel”, it definitely gives you some kind of expectation! Forget the bathroom … those sheets are my nightmare!! Not even the oasis of a garden (or their delicious food) would convince me to stay there a day longer 👀. It was a hard time for you guys … but in the end (and I’m looking forward to that post), it all worked out perfectly (well, as ‘perfect’ as it could be in a very trying time)!
You’re quite right Corna, as usual. I still remember the day Sladja and I entered the grounds of the final place (published on Wednesday) and we just looked at each other with such an intense wave of hope/delight/relief. We thought: SURELY this is the one.
I’m sorry you didn’t get your refund. Not sure what the damage was but as flights from this part of the world are generally very expensive, this upset me the most. March 2020 was indeed a crazy time. It’s a shame about this hotel, it does look quite nice on the surface from the photos, but the blood-stained sheets and the state of the bathroom floor are unforgivable! Happy to read that your next stay was way better!
Yes, the flight thing was a blow at the time. And yet it was all for the best, as going back to China would have been a big mistake for Sladja I think. Thanks so much for following this miniseries Amarachi, the final instalment (out on Wednesday) truly makes up for the last two tales of woe.
the floorboards!!! the blood!!!! that woman!!! what a place, what a story and what a time to be living through it all. glad i was safely cooped up at home during all the crazyness. but then this is why i don’t have as many interesting stories as you. i’ve enjoyed these tales leighton, now i’m waiting for the big payoff you’ve been promising.
Ah Stan, thanks old friend. I think I can safely say that the final chapter of these pandemic accommodation adventures will not disappoint. Appreciate having you along for the ride, as always.
Quite a stressful situation to be in at the start of the pandemic. The restaurant-garden looks lovely, and having a pool is always a nice bonus, however, the negligence of the hotel management demonstrated in the state of the sheets and that broken floorboard is really disgraceful. I wish there was a way to call out the people who sold the flight tickets at that time clearly taking advantage of the situation.
We booked that flight through kiwi. They ignored our emails about the refund until we just wrote it all off and forgot about it. Finally, we received a lame “refund not possible” email about a month ago. Yes, that’s THREE YEARS later. Absolute bloodless charlatans. Thanks Amelie, for keeping up with these tales, it’s much appreciated.
Love the matching dressing gowns!!!!!!
I can safely say that’s the only time we’ve ever had matching anything as far as clothing goes. Thanks for dropping by, Geoff.
I love your writing. This place sounds like it’s sold with a veil of deception, albeit the food does look good (until it disappeared with the chef of course). The blood on the bedsheets would have finished me off though. It must have been so stressful wondering where to go, and then also China falling through for Sladja – but at least that meant you were able to stay together. Looking forward to hearing about the next place 🙂
Thanks so much Hannah. A veil of deception is about right. Sometimes we wonder what would’ve happened if Sladja had actually made it back to China. I’m guessing we wouldn’t have seen each other for a very long time. The concluding chapter of this three-part miniseries focuses on one of my favourite hotels ever, I hope you enjoy reading about it.
That was such a crazy period of time during the early Covid days, and your story shows how difficult it was to travel at all during the shutdowns. This year things finally seem to be getting back to normal, but that was a hard time, especially during the beginning of it.
Hey Allie, thanks for checking in, as always. It was an exceptionally worrisome and strange time for sure. I think the worst thing was that nobody really knew what we were dealing with. We were all just trying to make the right decisions as best we could.
I really enjoyed your account of your stay. I was in Cambodia for 3 days in 2018. Your writing reminded me of the largest cockroach I’d ever seen!
My writing reminded you of a giant cockroach. Ha ha, thanks, I’ll take it as a compliment! Seriously though, thanks for reading and leaving a comment, it’s much appreciated. I’m wondering, what did you do with your three days?
I don’t recall the boutique BnB..however we visited the market which was fun..went to the silk farm..watch the Khmer Dancers and ate at a large buffet..we did go to Angkor Wat..we had private tut tut driver Kaka was his name..
great article thank you for your work
I can’t get over the blood stains on the sheets. That is so gross. It must have been stressful to figure out a game plan during the early days of the pandemic when borders are closing without much warning. At least you got to stay together through it all. Can you imagine if Sladja had actually returned to China? And with their zero-COVID policy?
Thanks Linda. Yes, life in China would have been hell for Sladja. I’m so glad that she was brave enough to turn her back on what was a well-paid job, because in the long run it was the right call. It was one of those major fork in the roads that could’ve gone a bit wrong. We had only been dating for a few months, so it was a big moment for us to say, in the midst of all the chaos, that we wanted to forge a path forward together, not knowing where it would lead.
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Thanks for the repost!
Despite the beautiful surroundings and the swimming pool, that must have been such a stressful time for both of you, not knowing what you should do and with all the uncertainty! It was for all of us of course, but being stranded in a foreign country so far away from home must be really difficult! I’m glad your next stay was much better and I can’t wait to read all your stories about it!
Hey Juliette, thanks for dropping in. Yes, on the surface Suon Angkor Boutique Hotel was lovely. And if one was only staying for a night or two maybe it could come across as a pretty good place. That two weeks though felt like a bit of a sentence ha ha. Luckily for us, it was all about to come good with our next stay. So great that we stayed for four months!
Wow, you, your blogs and your trips are just amazing. You both are looking cute twinning
Thanks for reading and for your comment. I had to check the meaning of “twinning” ha ha.
It sounds like it was stressful at the time, but it makes a good story now. I think this place is a bit, ‘all fur coat and no knickers’ from your description! There’s a novel or movie script in it though; the foreigners trapped in the ‘luxury’ hotel as the world grinds to a halt and french fries are in increasingly short supply…
“all fur coat and no knickers”, brilliant. Someone put that on a donut. I think the movie could work out, maybe as a dark comedy. Thanks for reading Helen, and making me laugh.
Oh my, what a challenge! Siem Reap turned out not the best place to be sequestered. At least you had a cheery greeting, which must have been welcome after the last place. Just as well that China closed to travel – it would have been worse there.
Yeah, we feel blessed that Sladja couldn’t go back to China. It would have been a nightmare for her and I have no idea when we would’ve seen each other again. Cambodia was actually the best place for us in the end. We just had to get the accommodation situation right, which happily we did when we found Apsara Greenland.
That must have been such a challenging and worrying time, with your options closing down even as you explored them. But you must be glad that Sladja was prevented from returning to China, despite the loss of money, as she would have been trapped there for ages! As for the hotel, they couldn’t help the general situation but more sympathy for your plight and more specific assistance would have gone a long way to helping you to overlook the tattiness. I wouldn’t be too sorry it seems to have closed down if I were you – there must be many more establishments in the same boat more deserving of your sympathy!
Yes, you’re right, I don’t think Suon Angkor was a huge loss to Siem Reap’s hospitality scene. Other than for the poor souls who lost their jobs I guess. It was a stressful period for sure, but one of those situations that just worked itself out organically in the end. Dodging the china bullet was such a relief, indeed. Thanks, Sarah!