Cambodian Princess Chansita Norodom at the Raffles Hotel and her country of birth

Just before the turn of the century, Cambodian Princess Chansita Norodom returned home after decades abroad. Over tea at the prestigious Raffles Royal Hotel, she spoke to Crystal Lee about her role as the hotel’s ambassador and the evolution of her country of birth.

oxygenA beautiful portrait of a Khmer dancer in silk and sparkling jewels hangs on the wall of the Royal Restaurant at Raffles Royal Hotel Phnom Penh. Princess Chashita Norodom told me that the woman in the painting is her mother Princess Norodom Bubedevi, King Norodom Sihanouk (reigned 1941-55 and 1993-2004) daughter, and the first public performer of the Khmer classical dance Apsara, in modern times. Overhead, ornate chandeliers hang from an ornate ceiling hand-painted by Royal artist Assachs.

royal restaurant

I think there is no better place to meet a princess than here. The Raffles Royal Hotel may not have been an actual palace during its lifetime, but it was a true icon of grandeur in the Cambodian capital. Opened during French colonial times in 1929 as Le Royal, the 55-room hotel was designed by visionary architect Ernest Hébrard as part of his urbanization plan to transform Phnom Penh into a modern, vibrant metropolis part. Elegantly embodying French Colonial, Khmer and Art Deco styles, it has hosted royalty, foreign dignitaries and celebrities, including former US first lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, film star Charlie Chaplin, The hotel was inaugurated in the presence of French President Charles de Gaulle and His Majesty Sisoward Monivant (reigned 1927-1941).

Beyond its opulent interiors, storied history and ancient Khmer royal recipes served at Le Royal restaurant, Raffles Hotel’s ties to the Cambodian monarchy go even further: Her Royal Highness Chansita Norodom ) is the brand ambassador for the hotel group’s Phnom Penh and Siem Reap hotels and has been for the past 20 years. Part of her role includes dining with VIPs and enriching their stays with insights into Cambodia and the untold stories of the royal family.

The facade of the Raffles Hotel
The facade of the Raffles Hotel

I spent a few hours with Princess Chansita on day two of my Cambodia Discovery Tour, a tour curated by Scott Dunn Private, an award-winning luxury travel expert with discretion, privacy and convenience And proud.
Her Royal Highness is elegant, lively, and enthusiastic, even more enthusiastic than I imagined. “My family, we’re all like that, maybe because of our past trauma,” she said. “When my mother travels, she never informs the embassy because she wants to remain anonymous. There are no bodyguards wherever we go. We don’t have to wear royal clothes all the time. I think that’s a good thing. I love the people I work with. People; they all respect me, but it’s 2023 and we can do away with certain royal traditions.”

The black history that Princess Chauncetta said was that the Khmer Rouge regime killed nearly 2 million people from 1975 to 1979. Born in 1965 in a kingdom of poetry and potential, she was quickly drawn into the rebellion In 1970, General Lon Nol succeeded her grandfather, Prince Norodom Sihanouk, as head of state. Years of civil war ensued and ended with the Khmer Rouge taking power. As a result, the princess became stateless in 1973 and lived with her grandfather and his extended family in several countries. She later settled in Paris, the beloved adopted city of King Sisowath Monifon,
Because the Cambodian royal family still has the privilege of belonging to the last French dynasty. After the declaration of peace in 1993, she couldn’t help but return to her beloved homeland.

Beautiful aerial view of Angkor Wat at sunrise in Siem Reap, Cambodia

Her return home was not easy. The Cambodian genocide left a deep impression on the country and its people, who are still grappling with the aftermath of the disaster. “Everything was different. People spoke differently and thought differently,” she recalls. “There were big rats everywhere. It was chaotic and not safe. I had culture shock.”

“During the Khmer Rouge, elites were killed or forced to leave the country, and heritage sites were destroyed,” she added. “When the Khmer Rouge fell, people went back to Phnom Penh and took whatever they wanted. No papers, no ownership. There are a lot of new buildings in the city now. Maybe it’s my European mentality, but I feel like historical buildings It should be preserved. We have to stay true to ourselves. That’s what we try to do at Raffles. We’re not here to compete with the 72-story skyscraper next to us. We’re not here to show off the latest technology. We’re here to really tell the story of who we are s story.”

Her Highness Chashita Norodom

Despite the loss, His Highness saw the beauty and potential of Cambodia beyond Angkor Wat. “We own Six Senses on Krabey Island, close to many heritage and cultural sites. Song Saa Private Island is lovely.
We have Shinta Mani Wildlife Sanctuary surrounded by national parks in Cambodia. You can go on a cruise on the Mekong River. Battambang has done a good job of preserving the French colonial architecture, as well as the nearby ancient temples. I hope more Cambodian heritage can be preserved to give tourists a new understanding of the country. ”

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