Mekong Meanderings: Siem Reap

It seems now that few places are untouched by tourism. Those along the Mekong River have certainly seen their share, for better or worse; fortunately, there are a few new luxury destinations that offer travel with a bit of sensitivity to the local culture. Here’s the second in our series, to keep you dreaming over your holidays.

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Diverging from the Mekong to its Tonle Sap tributary and the rapidly growing Siem Reap, you find a different kind of bustle but the same Bensley ethos at the new Shinta Mani Angkor — Bensley Collection. These private 150-square-metre villas are a recent addition to the existing Shinta Mani properties, and offer surprisingly secluded nests within walking distance of the crowds.

This is no accident. Bensley, a part owner of Shinta Mani Hotels, was given creative freedom to design the villas based on his version of escapism — read lush gardens and cultivated stillness. The experience begins at the airport, where you’re greeted, ushered to your car and are checked in on the way to the property. And of course, deeper serenity is to be found in the beautifully designed spaces that await.

It’s a mark of Bensley’s immense talent that he can create tropical luxury by combining vernacular Khmer architectural elements with Art Deco. The property’s structure echoes a Khmer temple, with its series of walls around the inner sanctuary of your villa. Perhaps Bensley has also riffed on the ornate temple entry building for the reception. There are even bas-relief elements, such as the monumental ‘hands of meditation’ piece on the external wall and the robe of King Jayavarman VII that dominates an internal and external wall in each villa, bisected by a window.

From there, though, the touch is decidedly modern and strongly Deco, first exemplified in the beautiful finishes and geometric proportions in the reception space, and in the concentric square architraves that appear throughout. You might not expect to feel tropical relaxation in a room with black walls patterned in brass, but you will. As well as these striking contrast colours, cooling stone and patterned black and white tile are used liberally, particularly in each villa’s semi-outdoor bathroom and around the nine-metre plunge pool. Splashes of colour in the soft furnishings provide further contrast, but nature is the real star of the show here. Full-height windows flood the villas with natural light, though blackout curtains can be employed if you’re so inclined, while the lush gardens right outside the glass exude calm. The Bensley Collection also sees the debut of the Bensley Butlers, with one dedicated and on call throughout your stay to take care of those necessary details.

For those in search of a more literal escape, the brand-new sister property Shinta Mani Wild offers a similarly luxurious experience in Cambodia’s south in a national park setting. Conscious travellers might appreciate the opportunity to support the park’s conservation, and the fact that part of the hotel group’s proceeds from all properties go to the Shinta Mani Foundation, which supports locals through a vast range of initiatives that impact most areas of their lives and see them gradually less reliant on aid rather than more.

Text / Philip Annetta

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