Maison Polanka is a cluster of traditional Khmer villas on stilts, nestled in an idyllic garden estate near Siem Reap – a hip hub of Cambodian culture and gateway to the ancient temples of Angkor Wat. The chic, colour-coded suites feature handpicked antiques, art deco furniture, and wooden verandahs overlooking the grounds. Sample authentic local delicacies at the intimate restaurant, then learn how to make them with a chef-led market food tour and cooking class – or just focus your energy on cooling dips in the pool and deep-tissue massages at the palm-leaf–lined spa.
Noon, check-in 2pm, but both are flexible, subject to availability.
Double rooms from £124.40 ($175), including tax at 22 per cent.
Rates include one-way airport transfers and breakfast (a choice of continental, American and local Cambodian options).
It’s worth making the trip to the orchard-set spa, but you can enjoy treatments in your own room, too.
At the hotel
Free WiFi. In rooms: TV with DVD player, air-conditioning, minibar, Bodia bath products, free bottled water, tea and coffee.
Our favourite rooms
The standalone Khmer House is a traditional 1940s Cambodian lodge on stilts. Inside, you’ve got art-lined and antique-laden interiors to enjoy, and lush tropical gardens outside.
The dreamy teal pool is flanked by sunloungers tucked between palm trees and tropical flora, and there’s an outdoor lounge under a reed-topped pagoda.
The spa – a traditional house made from dried, interlaced palm leaves – is set in the tranquil orchard. Khmer massage is their speciality, but don’t ignore the aromatherapy facial, with a hydrating lemongrass, cucumber and avocado mask.
Leave plenty of space: the Maison Polanka boutique sells handcrafted ceramics and traditional krama scarves.
There is one ground-floor room suitable for wheelchair users, but not all public areas are accessible.
All are ages welcome, and cots can be added to all rooms.
There are only 16 seats in this small-scale restaurant, and the best of them are by the candlelit pool.
Loose linens, and perhaps a silk scarf from Louise Loubatieres’ boutique in town.
Khmer cuisine comes to the fore at the intimate poolside restaurant; expect soulful rice-noodle soup, pomelo salad with shrimp and herbs plucked from the kitchen garden, succulent beef samosas, and fiery organic-vegetable stir-fries. If you’re heading out for the day, you can take a picnic lunch.
Aperitifs in the open-air sala lounge are a daily ritual – try the passion fruit mojito, or the ‘virgin green cocktail’ made with homegrown herbs.
Breakfast is served from 7am until noon, lunch is from noon until 6pm, and dinner is from 6pm until 10pm. The bar is open from 7am until 10pm (food is served from 10am).
You can order drinks, snacks, and dishes from the restaurant menu to be delivered to your room from noon until 9pm.
The hotel is in the food-focused city of Siem Reap, in northwestern Cambodia. The town’s Old Market is a short drive away, as is the temple complex of Angkor Wat.
You can fly into Siem Reap airport from major cities in Asia, including Hong Kong, Singapore and Bangkok. The hotel is a 20-minute taxi ride from the airport; a pre-arranged transfer costs $15.
If you’re willing to do battle with the local tuk-tuk drivers, you’ll find free parking at the hotel.
Worth getting out of bed for
Yes, there are heritage sites on your doorstep, but there’s no harm in a couple of days spent lounging by the pool and spoiling yourself in the spa. If you’re inspired by Cambodian cuisine, sign up for chef Chun’s food tour and cooking class. When you’re ready to go off-property, consult the hotel concierge to arrange kayaking, horseriding and guided visits to the temples – or just grab one of the leather-seated Maison Polanka bikes and set off to explore Siem Reap. Just be sure to return 4pm, when freshly baked muffins and cakes are laid out for afternoon tea.
Learn how to sculpt, fire and paint Cambodian pottery at Khmer Ceramics & Fine Arts Centre (130 Vithey Charles de Gaulle) – or just pick out a professionally-made piece you can claim was your own work later. Between the Old Market and the French Quarter, you’ll find the hip district of Kandal Village; at its heart is Louise Loubatieres Gallery (7 Hap Guan Street), an interiors concept store stocking must-have homewares crafted locally. Phare Circus is remarkable not just for the fearless stunts and acrobatics – the performers come from low-income backgrounds, and have been given free education and circus training at a dedicated school in Battambang. Beng Mealea Temple is Angkor Wat’s little sister – it dates from the same period, and you’ll find it on the ancient royal highway to Preah Khan Kompong Svay. But Angkor Wat is probably a large part of why you came to Siem Reap in the first place – and rightly so. The enchanting, thousand-year-old temple complex is a blue-chip World Heritage site, bigger and better preserved than any other of its kind.
Australian-owned The Hive (Central Market Road) is a local favourite for avocado-heavy brunches, fresh-juice concoctions and a decent cup of Joe. The chef at Mie Cafe (85, Phum Treng Khum Slorgram) was trained in Switzerland, and now serves up neatly presented Cambodian classics in a traditional Khmer cottage; snag a table on the sunny patio if you can. Pizzas and pastas are expertly made at Mamma Shop (678, Hap Guan Street), while for the full Cambodian-cuisine experience, there’s nowhere better than Malis (Pokambor Avenue).
Allow plenty of time for Wild (Wat Damnak Road) – you might intend to stop for a quick, zesty cocktail in the garden, but end up settling on their sofas until the stars come out overhead.
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this Khmer-styled hotel in Cambodia and unpacked their silk scarves and stone carvings, a full account of their tropical break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside Maison Polanka in Siem Reap…
If Maison Polanka has the feel of a family home, that’s because it was – owners Jean Pierre and Nathalie raised their family here, until opening its doors to the public in 2012. They’d arrived in Cambodia independently – Jean Pierre, an engineer by trade, came to start up Chantiers Écoles, a social enterprise school that teaches young, underprivileged locals construction skills, arts and crafts. Nathalie was returning to the country of her birth, and went on to work with environmentally focused NGOs and launch her own handicraft brand (Khmer Attitude). At Maison Polanka, they’ve successfully maintained a low-key, residential feel – it’s a place made for poolside naps and soothing massages at the Khmer spa, plus an occasional bike ride into town or trip to an ancient temple. You don’t get the bells and whistles of a full-scale resort, but you won’t miss them – this is an authentic Cambodian escape.