Navutu Dreams Resort & Spa hotel in Siem Reap feels like a blissful beach retreat, even though it's on the rural fringe of Cambodia's famous inland temple town. Light white-and-blue contemporary boudoirs nod to soothing Mediterranean style, while three pools, tropical gardens, smart Italian and Khmer dining, and an intimate spa make this a super-relaxing oasis.
Noon; check-in, 2pm, both flexible subject to availability. The hotel will try to arrange late check-outs until 4pm when possible. Changing rooms are also up for grabs for guests who've checked out but want to hang by the pool.
Double rooms from £81.84 ($100), including tax at 22 per cent.
Rates usually include a welcome drink, breakfast and one hearty fruit platter per stay.
Mindfully stretch and de-stress with Navutu's daily yoga sessions; choose from Ashtanga, Hatha, Vinyasa, meditation and gentle flow classes.
We love the six upper-tier Grand Tour Rooms, divided into two sleek, white pavilions, each sharing a roof terrace with a dreamy day-bed for soaking up rural views at sunset. Set out like spacious apartments, they also sport enormous corner baths, a separate rain shower and walk-in wardrobe. The 12 entry-level Explorer Rooms offer showers only and a dash less privacy. For the best pool vistas, bag number 2, 3 or 4. All rooms feature a small terrace out front, for lounging alfresco.
Navutu Dreams Resort & Wellness Retreat has not one, but three pretty pools, set around its central restaurant and fringed with shaded loungers, relaxation salas and white umbrellas. Exercise fans can swim up and down to their hearts' content in the linear freshwater lap pool, or flop around in the saltwater lounge pool. There's also the child-friendly plunge pool.
Book a pampering session in the intimate Navutu Spa, open from 9am until 10pm, where treatments span trad Khmer, Thai and tropical therapies inspired by the South Pacific, where Navutu's owners run a sister stay in Fiji. Go for a brightening coconut and papaya scrub, a hydrating aloe vera body wrap or a knot-banishing Thai massage.
Bring snazzy swimwear, as the pools are front and centre here, so folk in the restaurant or glass-fronted rooms can check out your look. Leave space in your bag for buys from the smart lobby boutique, which sells quality Khmer scarves, handicrafts and bath products, as well as tribal art from Laos.
Smoking is allowed on room terraces and in public areas only. The golden coconuts in your room double as Do Not Disturb signs.
Very welcome, and Navutu's quiet setting, spacious gardens and pool make for a family-friendly getaway. Baby cots are free and extra beds for older kids cost US$20-25 a night. Babysitting costs US$12 an hour, ideally with one day's notice.
Children are very welcome at Navutu Dreams, which offers a respite from busy Siem Reap thanks to its tranquil, Chunlong Village setting, spacious gardens and pool.
Kids of any age will enjoy this chilled-out sanctuary, from babies to tweens and teens.
Entry-level Explorer Rooms come with double or twin beds, with some interconnecting options for families. Grand Tour Rooms are bigger, but the space doesn't work as well for an extra child's bed.
There's no dedicated nursery for infants.
Most of the hotel's activities would appeal to older kids, from trips to the Angkor temples to tours of Tonlé Sap Lake's overwater villages and croc farms. Active teens might fancy cycling, quad biking, dirt-bike riding or Flomo dune buggy off-road adventures. Elephant safaris, horse riding or bird watching should please your nature-loving brood. Teens can also hit the night market to bag souvenirs to take home, or try a Dr Fish foot spa massage for freaky fun.
The squiggly saltwater pool is suitable for children, with a separate shallow pool alongside (50cm deep). There are no lifeguards, but you can keep an eye on things from the restaurant.
Children are welcome in Navutu's restaurant or bar at any time, and although there's no specific kids' menu, staff are happy to adapt the western or Khmer dishes to suit junior tastes. High chairs are available, and the team can heat up baby food or milk.
Babysitting costs US$12 an hour, ideally with a day's notice to secure a good babysitter. Non-professional babysitters may be available at shorter notice.
No need to pack
Baby cots or high chairs.
Baby cots are supplied for free. One extra bed for a child can be added to any room type; this is US$20 per night for kids aged 4 to 11 and US$25 for kids aged 12 and over. Prices include breakfast and extra beds must be booked through the hotel. Request an Explorer Room with a pool view if you want to keep an eye on swimming kids from your front terrace; for more privacy though, you may prefer the garden-view rooms.
Navutu Dreams serves local, seasonal food, recycles, harnesses solar power for hot water and uses eco-friendly light bulbs and air-conditioning.
Any of the tables at the restaurant's outer rim for aquatic views. We like the pew for two nearest the bar, overlooking the Sports Pool. For private dining, request a table on your terrace, by the pool, or for Grand Tour Room residents, up on your rooftop
Floaty linens and flip-flops will suit the relaxed resort mood.
Fringed by pools and gardens, simple, circular, open-sided Navutu Restaurant sits at the heart of the hotel, and is open day-long for tasty breakfasts of fruit and pastries, lunch, dinner and snacks. It offers the best of both culinary worlds, with delicious Italian fare inspired by its three owners Manfredi, Maddalena and Giovanna, and a creative southern Khmer menu whipped up by its talented local chef. Top Cambodian treats include grilled fish amoc wrapped in spiced nhor leaves, imperial curry in fresh coconut, and salad with mango, pepper and herbs. For European flavours, it's hard to resist the house-made tagliatelle with ragu' alla Bolognese, washed down with mango pannacotta or an affogato al caffé. Produce hails from organic gardens, and breakfast boxes can be ordered for sunrise temple tours.
Sharing space with the restaurant, Navutu Bar is the go-to spot for cocktails and an affordable list of tempting global wines, as well as juices, coffees, teas and soft drinks. Signature sips include passionfruit and mint caipiroskas and mango daiquiris, perfect for rewarding yourself after a hard day of temple-hopping.
Chef Ran keeps the kitchen whirring, with breakfast from 6.30am until 10am, lunch from 11am until 3pm, and dinner from 6pm until 11pm. The bar sees action from 11am until 10pm.
Available from 6.30am until 10pm, free room service lets you raid the breakfast, restaurant and pool snacks menus. Favourites include salmon and avocado ciabattas or Asian starters such as Indonesian chicken satays.
Navutu Dreams Resort is on the south-east outskirts of Siem Reap, off the Angkor High School Road in rural Chunlong Village, about a 10-minute tuk-tuk ride from the town centre.
Fly into Siem Reap International Airport (www.cambodia-airports.com), which receives direct flights from Bangkok (70 minutes), Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Luang Prabang (although not currently from Hong Kong), as well as domestic flights from capital Phnom Penh (40 minutes). For regional carriers, try Bangkok Airways (www.bangkokair.com), Silk Air (www.silkair.com), Air Asia (www.airasia.com), Jet Star (www.jetstar.com), Singapore Airlines (www.singaporeairlines.com) or Vietnam Airlines (www.vietnamairlines.com). If required, you can obtain a tourist visa on arrival for US$20 cash, plus one passport photo. The hotel is eight kilometres (or a 20-minute drive) away and private transfers are available in a car for US$18 or in a van for US$28 each way.
There are no train connections to Siem Reap.
There's an on-site car park, but self-drive isn't permitted here, so we recommend hiring a chauffeur-driven car, tuk-tuk or moto (motorcycle) for getting around Siem Reap's bumpy, busy roads.
If you're travelling overland from the capital, fast boats connect Phnom Penh and Siem Reap via the undulating Tonlé Sap river and lake (it’s still a five- to six-hour ride). Luxury cruise operators also run between Ho Chi Minh City, Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, if aquatic action floats your boat.
Worth getting out of bed for
If you need a break from lounging by the pools, yoga or Pilates classes can be booked 24 hours in advance. Navutu Dreams' intimate spa is also a must. Guys should try the Royal Facial for Men, harnessing exfoliating sticky rice, a white mud mask and invigorating cucumber, or how about the honey-laced Queen Bee Facial for the girls? Coconut Shrubs body scrubs are just one of the tropical treatments up for grabs, or chill out with a Khmer, trad Thai or four-hands massage. Shopping addicts should hail a tuk-tuk to the Old Market to check out local produce and food stalls. For more take-home appeal, the Angkor Night Market's illuminated stands tout everything from scarves to jewellery and bags. You're right near many of the city's buzziest bars and restaurant. Obviously, visits to the jaw-dropping temples of Angkor are the numero uno activity in Siem Reap, with Navutu able to hook you up with tuk-tuk tours at sunrise, sunset or any time in between. For a more alternative experience if you're templed out, take a tour of the local villages of the Tonlé Sap Lake, where you can see crocodile and fish farms, houses, schools, temples and food markets all set on the water. The hotel can also arrange horse-riding, elephant safaris or bird-watching excursions, as well as cycling, dirt bike or motorbike rides, quad bike adventures or even Flomo tours (that's dune buggies for the uninitiated). As well as scoping outlying temples by funky forms of transport, you can arrange to visit villages, rice fields or remote jungle areas, or even take it all in from a helicopter or scenic flight. For culture vultures, there's the chance to check out the city's artisans, ceramicists, frangrance-cultivators or puppet-makers. Then again, you could just line up a game of golf...
Before launching Navutu Dreams, its owners founded Il Forno Restaurant in a quiet alley in town. Savour Italian delicacies such as Neapolitan wood-fired pizza, crafted from authentic ingredients, accompanied by wines from Piedmont, Tuscany and Veneto. Behind Wat Preah Inkosei, north-east of town towards the Angkor temples, The Touich restaurant and bar is worth a visit for tasty Khmer food and barbecue grills. Open from 6pm until late, it can also offer jeep pick-ups if you reserve three hours ahead of time (until 8.30pm), as it's a tad off the beaten track. Expect beef fillet marinated with Kampot pepper, 'pork rib on glowing embers' and tiger prawns from the Mekong River. For something closer to Navutu's neighbourhood, try rated restaurant Cuisine Wat Damnak, open Tuesday to Saturday, 6.30pm until 9.45pm, between the Psa Dey Hoy Market and Angkor High School. Set in a beautifully lit Khmer house and garden, it serves only local, seasonal Cambodian dishes, with changing tasting menus by acclaimed chef Johannes Riviere (formerly at Meric).
Peace Café is the same side of the Siem Reap River as Navutu. Head here for relaxing, healthy juices, coffees, paninis, salads and veggie dishes in a lush garden. Yoga classes and weekly 'monk chats' may also be on the menu. A café, art gallery, library and alternative performance venue on the Alley West, Art Deli serves organic fare and tasty Italian dishes in a 1920s French colonial house, near the Old Market in central town. Pick up art to go or just kick back with a cocktail. For yummy home-made cakes, Illy coffee and TWG tea, or heartier soups, quiches and salads, pop to Upstairs Café on Wat Bo Road. As well as whipping up all-day breakfast and lunch, it has also been known to host the odd Stitch 'n Bitch knitting gathering. Order iced coffees by day or enjoy wine, cocktails, tapas and chilled tunes by night at Angkor Photo Gallery Café, also in Wat Bo at Sankat Salakam Roek.
Channeling 1920s Shanghai, Miss Wong Cocktail Bar is an intimate Sino-chic blend of ruby-red walls, lanterns and carved timber booths. Beat the heat with a tropical fruit cocktail spiked with house-infused vodkas. One of Siem Reap's most popular bars for a reason. Set in an old Khmer wooden house, Asana is another atmospheric spot in Siem Reap's buzzy centre for Angkor beer, wine and Khmer cocktails, including Ginger Mojitos, with a selection of Asian tapas and finger food, 'grandmother recipes' such as chicken lemongrass or beef noodles, and Italian cheeses and cold cuts.
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.
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