A world of Calm and Elegance – The Balé Phnom Penh

Janiqueel feels the luxury vibe outside a bustling Southeast Asian city

Color choices follow the same minimalistic, ‘en plein air’ theme, taking a cue from nature rather than being reinvented or mechanically manipulated. Soft, cool hues blend with subtle warm tones to create a soothing escape from the everyday hustle and bustle.

Leatrice Eiseman

Pronounced ’BAH-lay’, the Balé is a thatched roof structure with or without walls. It is a feature of traditional Balinese architecture.

Airport pickup is the way to go if you are traveling to The Balé straight from the Phnom Penh Airport. In about 40 minutes our safe efficient driver had motored across this bustling third-world city to a place quite removed. Goodbye hustle. So long, bustle. Welcome to a world apart.

But, lest you shun the frenetic activity that you’ve driven through, take a moment to appreciate the panoply of Cambodian big-city life through which you glide: tuk-tuks with improbable cargoes; busses wheezing under commuting loads; motorcycles whizzing around like flies; street food carts; clothing by-the-rack, fresh and not-so-fresh produce of all description. This is the third world, but it’s on the move. As in many Asian cities, the high rises are rising as capitalism carves a wedge into the urban milieu.

As the car leaves the city, the dusty road becomes a tree-lined path into the outskirts of Phnom Penh. Rural life now: food carts in clumps at intersections; farm-related equipment replacing consumer goods; tuk-tuks with long-haul fares; still hurried, the pace is less frenetic. Off the main road, down a residential lane, is the entrance to The Balé Phnom Penh Hotel. Staff quickly arrive in the car park to tote bags down a long walkway with a wall of vines on one side and grey-brown stucco on the other. This geometry is accentuated by a walkway spanning an extensive water feature leading to the lounge/dining area and greenery by the riverside pool. The first glimpse of green comers almost as a relief from the monochromatic walls.

The modernistic, minimalist feel of The Balé heightens the sense of being in an oasis of calm. The sand boats on the Mekong silently ply their way up to the city laden to the gunwales with the raw material of a burgeoning city. They float barely above the waves on their way to countless construction sites, then return riding high and unladen to repeat the journey. Across the water, temples stand stately watch on the changes at their feet.

The 30-meter pool offers a delicious diversion from the midday heat. Long enough for laps, and deep enough to remain cool all day, the pool is surrounded by chaise chairs and sun umbrellas. Staff are quick to supply decanters of ice water. Large purple pool towels are a reach away. There’s a nicely equipped gym at the end near the restaurant/bar. The restaurant features cuisine inspired by Cambodia but infused with a Western panache. Served in style and complemented by an extensive wine list, the menu is gourmet-quality. The food, including a superb breakfast served in the suite if desired, was a highlight.

At 100 square meters, the suite was another outstanding feature. With its own secluded courtyard (perfect for nude sunbathing, should one desire!), a bathroom with a full-sized bath seemingly carved out or the wall and plenty of hot water, a sitting area with a large flat-screen TV, and a king-sized bed “floating on a wooden plinth,” it was sometimes hard to leave. But the pool and the cuisine made their siren call to the fortunate guests.

The Cambodian Dancer by Daryn Reicherter and Christy Hale (illustrations)  is among the several books in the room. It tells the true story of a Cambodian dancer interrupted in her pursuit by the horrors of recent Cambodian history pointing out that facilities like The Balé offer a reflection on the political past and the journey to modern life that the resort embodies.

The nightlife charms and cultural venues of Phnom Penh are a short motor trip away. For the first time visitor, they are an easily-arranged day trip.

The only problem lies in tearing one’s self away from The Balé.

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With research and writing help from JKJ.

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