Navutu Dreams: heightened reality


Navutu Dreams: heightened reality

Early-rise road-trips, resplendent temples, rest and romance – all in a weekend's work for this pair of Lara Crofts bedding down in Siem Reap serenity

Rosa Rankin-Gee

BY Rosa Rankin-Gee17 June 2022

I am lying on a single bed, an arm’s reach away from Mrs Smith. A woman I don’t know is rubbing a thick green mixture onto her breasts. Mrs Smith is wearing a large shower cap, and a one-size-fits-all pair of gauze underwear. It’s a perfect test of attraction. But will she pass? Tune in later…

We’ve just arrived at Navutu Dreams, a burst of palm green and bright white, a short rust-red road away from Siem Reap. Moments before, welcome cocktails ice-cold in hand, we’re taken to our room, and can I just pause here to say that even the bathtub – the bathtub itself: a lemon-tiled nook next to the bed, which features a subaquatic bench – is the size of most bedrooms in London. Mrs Smith looks at me. Her eyes go kingsize. The shower, also the size of a bedroom, is a wide, opulent corridor away. We also have a study area, a curved antechamber for entertaining (!) and – the clincher – a little garden.

It’s a layout of temple-esque proportions, and once, like daring and dazzling Lara Crofts, we finally navigate our way out, we have lunch. For a spa and wellness retreat, Navutu does great crisps. Curls of sweet potato, orange as turmeric. This is very important to me. Fans of macrobiotics are also well tended to, but I steer us in the direction of a Khmer platter, because it features all things fried.

‘Don’t say it,’ Mrs Smith says, as I joyfully slot a spring roll into my mouth. ‘You always say it.’


She goes deadpan. ‘There’s a reason ‘fried’ and ‘friend’ are only one letter apart.’ It’s true though.

Anyway, we eat. We eat. We drink so much fresh juice that we become juice. And it feels like we’re sitting on a lilypad. There are so many pools at Navutu, you have the impression of being on water at all times.

But we’re not here for Waterworld, we’re here for Angkor Wat. For that, Navutu also has everything covered. It makes me blush a little even to write this, but our room came with a personal tuk-tuk driver for 12 hours a day. 12 hours a day! Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? But no, no it’s real, it’s very real, and it’s 4.30am, and he’s waiting for us, because we, my friends, are going to see Angkor Wat at sunrise.

Last night this seemed like an excellent idea. At 4am, when the alarm sounded like it was going off inside my bone marrow, less so. But as soon as I see the tuk-tuk, my bones rebuild: there’s a woven breakfast basket waiting for us on the front seat. We shake our driver’s hand, and then change our minds midway through and hug him. Moments later, shaky-ass road under-wheel, we’re off.

With hindsight, I think that I was prepared, in every way possible, for Angkor Wat to be a disappointment. But the cold, hard truth is, I have never seen anything like it. Particularly in those unworldly moments before the earth wakes up. The faint beginning of blue in the sky. The jet black silhouette that slowly gains perspective as the sun rises. We stood with water between us and the temples, which doubled the outline, and made it look like the high domes were hovering. As the sky turned gold, songbirds and bats started to criss cross in the sky. Naturally, we snogged. Even the smattering of selfie sticks to one side of us couldn’t touch it with a barge pole. It was godly.

In the light, it’s a little Gaudí too – a sandy, meltiness that comes from enduring millennia of rain. In other places, the details are perfect, precise. Stone goddesses draped in material the maker somehow managed to render translucent with a chisel. Most of the tour buses set sail at 8am, so we do our best to see as much as we can before then.

Our tuk-tuk scoots at light speed through the jungle to Ta Prohm, which Angelina Jolie back-flipped her way though in Tomb Raider, and which we had almost entirely to ourselves. By the time we get to Bayon, the coaches have caught up, but nothing can take the smile off those stone faces. Or ours, for that matter.

Mrs Smith – and this is one of the many things I adore about her – is someone who has a daily urge to have lunch at 11am, but we manage to hold off eating breakfast until our driver tells us the time is right. He takes us to a secret spot, where the silver of the moat stretches out like an antique mirror and finally we dive in.

Temples and tastebuds aside though, during our time at Navutu, we were perhaps happiest at night. There are so many pools, you can almost always find one that feels private. And another benefit of being just outside Siem Reap — it made the stars magnificent. Under their bright watch, Mrs Smith and I may have even attempted some rudimentary and potentially life-threatening synchronised swimming.

Oh and at the spa? Shower cap on and being fondled by another woman? I looked at her and I looked at her, and she passed with flying-fast-as-a-concorde colours.

This review was first published in 2018 so some hotel details may have changed

After a stint living in Paris, where her first book won the renowned Shakespeare and Company’s literary prize, author Rosa Rankin-Gee returned to the UK, living between London and Kent, where her latest novel, Dreamland, is set. It’s been hailed as ‘a triumph’ by GQ, ‘enthralling’ by The Guardian, and ‘shimmering’ by the Mail on Sunday. It’s out now in paperback.