Next-Level Retreats

Writer Angela Goh | November 12, 2018

Long known for its ancient wonders, Siem Reap, Cambodia has unfurled its natural beauty, transforming itself into an emerging destination for beach and jungle hideaways. And a number of luxury hospitality brands have taken notice.

This year alone, a string of luxury eco-conscious resorts have taken shape at its off-the-radar islands and coastal tropical jungles.

Meanwhile, the hotel scene in Phnom Penh has also caught up a few notches against neighbouring capitals with a smart modern high-rise hotel. That and other upcoming properties in the Cambodian capital will make the dreaded stopover a thing of the past. From the budget-friendly to the ultra-posh, these are the latest stays away from touristy Angkor.


Cardamom Tented Camp

As our small motorboat slices through the mirror-like stillness of Preak Tachan River deep in the wilderness of western Cambodia – the only route to Cardamom Tented Camp – a plume of smoke rises near the riverbank. Likely a poacher’s indiscriminate disposal of a lit cigarette, according to Sokhan Yung, the lodge’s assistant manager who promptly alerts forest rangers by radio.

“When I was here in 2002, the only sound was of chainsaws,” says Sokhan, describing the scale of plunder since the 1990s by illegal loggers in what is now Botum Sakor National Park. Wildlife traffickers and hunters were equally active then such that crocodiles were wiped out from this river. But today the jungle has regrown evidenced by hums of birds, macaques and the barking deer. Conservationists are hopeful that with continued protection, wildlife will thrive again. Such is the driving force behind the year-old not-for-profit camp, a confluence of conservation and affordable lodging.

Spearheaded by Minor Hotels (the group behind the Anantara and Avani brands), responsible tourism group Yaana Ventures and conservation organisation Wildlife Alliance, all the camp’s proceeds are used for conservation including supplementing the income of 12 rangers on full-time patrol of the 180sqkm concession. Hence, its tagline: Your stay keeps the forest standing.

In a natural clearing of low wispy grass ringed by thick woodland, a boardwalk connects nine safari style tents, each kitted out with a plush bed and fully appointed bathroom. Its three-star amenities include a simple dining and lounge area. This sustainably built outfit is fully solar powered and can be removed without scarring the landscape.

Guests get to kayak, trek and accompany rangers on their patrol, and visit a ranger’s station where snares, homemade rifles and chainsaws confiscated from poachers are on display. “I am glad to earn a living while helping in conservation for the next generation, such as my sons,” says staff guide Tina Duong. Its all-inclusive packages offer transfers from Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville and Trat, Thailand.

Shinta Mani Wild – Bensley Collection

Along the same environmental ethos as Cardamom Tented Camp but with an upscale proposition is Shinta Mani Wild, which scheduled to open in December. Located deep within South Cardamom National Park, it’s cradled in a photogenic valley, three hours west of Phnom Penh.

Adventure begins right from the start. Guests take a 380m zip-line to the property, touching down at the aptly named Landing Zone Bar where a warm reception and cool refreshments await. Those not keen on an adventurous entrance can opt for the conventional arrival by vehicle.

Designed and owned by acclaimed designer and architect Bill Bensley, this super-luxurious resort also sets a new benchmark for responsible luxury marrying style with substance.The resort protects the surrounding habitat in collaboration with Wildlife Alliance, The Royal University of Phnom Penh and the Cambodian government. Meanwhile, its philanthropic arm Shinta Mani Foundation focuses on community outreach offering villagers long-term employment, education and training.

Fifteen chic luxury tents elevated over the edge of a rushing boulder-strewn river are infused with a whimsical take on a jungle safari. Soak in the wilderness from a bathtub on the private terrace or let the river’s torrent lull you to sleep. The interiors feature eclectic furnishings of antiques and custom-designed pieces within an ample living space of 100sqm.

The adventurous streak extends into dining as well. Eschewing a menu, Chef Kien Wagner’s dishes include wild edible plants foraged daily (guests can join him). The area is also a source of large succulent mud crabs, a local delicacy.

Cambodia has unfurled its natural beauty, transforming itself into an emerging destination for beach and jungle hideaways