ONCE JUST the stepping-off point for visits to Angkor Wat, Siem Reap has today become a destination in its own right, with luxury hotels and trendy restaurants popping up all over town.
The newest kid on the block is the Shinta Mani Angkor - Bensley Collection and it’s already winning hearts with its chic modern design, first-class hospitality and great cuisine. The hotel is the latest addition to Shinta Mani Hotel’s portfolio in collaboration with acclaimed architect Bill Bensley.
Built on land that once housed a handicraft market, it boasts 10 opulent Khmer-style villas and the five-star Bensley Butler service to ensure the complete holiday experience.
I fly in from Bangkok on a rainy day but my spirits are immediately lifted by the Bensley all-inclusive experience package that includes a fast track immigration service.
While my fellow travellers remain stuck in the queue, I am greeted as a VIP guest by a polite butler who offers me cold drinking water and a cold towel as well as a complimentary pocket Wi-Fi device for social network connectivity.
It’s just a 10-minute drive from the airport to the resort in the heart of the town and I soon find myself relaxing with a herbal drink in the elegant lobby while my butler checks me in.
Bangkok-based Bensley, who is well known for his luxury resort design, has adopted the unique architecture of King Jayavarman VII for this castle-like resort.
Surrounded by shady tropical landscaped gardens, the white arch-shaped entrance welcomes guests with a glittering glass facade and over-size three-dimensional murals carved to portray the rippling folds of King Jayavarman’s robe.
Spread over two floors, each villa occupies 156 square metres and offers privacy and the ultimate in extravagance, complete with a lush tropical garden that literally brings the outside in.
I spend two nights in the Villa 3, which is entered by an old-fashioned wooden door that has me confused for a while until I realise it opens and locks the traditional way rather than with a high-tech key card.
The terrace is furnished with a lounge sofa set that leads to a private nine-metre lap pool and a kitchenette complete with Smeg coffee machine, tea making facility, glassware and local snacks.
Perfect for families and honeymoon couples, the rooftop living space on the upper floor is adorned with a sofa bed and bar stools.
The villa itself is divided into two pavilions. The monochromatic master bedroom is graced with a collection of gold home furnishings and white low-relief murals of King Jayavarman VII. The king-size bed is made up with luxurious linens and fluffy pillows, also designed by Bensley to ensure deep sleep. There’s also an en-suite marble washroom with a separate toilet, a washbasin and all the amenities you could possible need.
The compact living space with direct access to the pool is where I choose to eat my complimentary in-room breakfast while watching a Thai drama series on a smart TV with satellite channels.
Reached by a marble walkway through the tropical garden is the bathroom with its floor-to-ceiling glass walls. Flower petals float in the outdoor bathtub that shares space with the separate shower.
While the indoor zone has a long counter, a pair of washbasins and a walk-in closet with a towering mirror packed with bathrobes, slippers, safe box, hairdryer, scales, umbrellas and torches.
During the day, guests can take advantage of recreational facilities like standard-size swimming pools, pool bars, restaurants and the Shinta Mani Spa by Khmer Tonics at sister properties Shinta Mani Shack and Shinta Mani Angkor.
The next morning, I am enrolled a two-hour Khmer cooking class created by the Kroya Restaurant and at 10am a chef and my butler take me to explore the colourful fresh market and learn about local ingredients.
Back at the hotel, the chef and his team demonstrate how to make such popular Cambodian dishes as Fish Amok, Beef Soup, Green Mango Salad with poached prawns and Sweet and Snowy Rice Pudding.
With easy access to archaeological sites and shopping venues, the hotel provides Remork (local tuk tuk) transportation within Siem Reap around the clock – just ask the butler – as well as sightseeing tours.
In town, there’s entertainment of Phrae, the Cambodian Circus, which delights travellers with a fantastic performance by its troupe of young local talent in acrobatics, dance, circus and visual arts telling Cambodian folklore.
Those seeking gifts for the folks back home will find handcrafted products, jewellery and artworks at the Shinta Mani boutique. Proceeds from sales are donated to the Shinta Mani Foundation to support education, healthcare programmes and small start-up businesses for children and villagers in Siem Reap’s remote areas.
AT A GLANCE
High point: Good location, spacious villa, shady landscape and friendly staff members
Low point: Too much black in the colour scheme, meaning the rooms tend to be invaded by mosquitoes,
Pay for it: The Bensley Bed and Breakfast package is priced at US$450 (Bt14,400). The Bensley All-inclusive Experience package costs US$850. Both prices are valid through October 31
Find it: Junction of Oum Khun Street, Siem Reap
Contact it: (+855 63) 969 234 or email [email protected]
Browse it: www.ShintaMani.com/angkor-bensley-collection
Published : June 05, 2018
By : Pattarawadee Saengmanee The Nation Siem Reap