American interiors whizz Bill Bensley has worked wonders at Shinta Mani Angkor boutique hotel in Siem Reap, which seduces with soft lighting, fragrant scents and stylish mod-Cambodian design. Mission out on tailored tours to Angkor's dazzling temples, then retreat to the luxe suites, cool pool, soothing spa and romantic swing-seat dining.
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One Khmer set menu meal for two, excluding alcohol
Noon; check-in, 2pm, but both flexible subject to availability. A room for changing or showering can also be made available for early arrivals or late check-outs.
Double rooms from $175.01, excluding tax at 23.42 per cent.
Rates include welcome drink, breakfast and a daily fruit platter.
Make time for a session in the soothing, top-floor spa, which sports one spa suite with a massive bath tub, three double treatment rooms and an alfresco relaxation and yoga terrace. Aromatherapy massages kick off with a choice of fragrant oils and a footbath or banish jetlag with a Khmer Coffee Scrub, using white clay and coffee beans from Ratanakiri Province.
At the hotel
Spa, concierge, fitness centre, charity centre, library with books, DVDs, games and magazines, guest computers, gallery, free WiFi throughout. In rooms: flatscreen cable TV, DVD player, CD player, radio, iPod dock, free minibar (replenished with snacks, soft drinks, local beers and bottled water daily), coffee machines, toiletries, pillow menu.
Our favourite rooms
For views over the courtyard pool from your balcony, opt for a spacious upper-floor Deluxe Room, or for privacy and a small garden, make it a ground-floor Deluxe pad. Our personal faves are the Superior Poolside boudoirs with chill-out porches just steps from the refreshing lap pool. Showers get more sumptuous as you upgrade.
In a tranquil internal courtyard, the sculptural black-tiled lap pool encourages cooling dips, backed by a soothing waterfall feature and flanked by palms and sleek loungers. The adjacent Pool Bar is a stylish spot for cocktails, smoothies, juices, coffees, teas or snacks, with a cabana den for private dining or shaded snoozing.
Trainers for temple-hopping; flip-flops for tackling town in the wet season. The hotel provides umbrellas, but bring your own mosquito repellant and sun cream (afternoon rays can be scorching).
Welcome, although the hotel has a sophisticated, adult feel, with lots of toddler-unfriendly antiques and stairs. Baby cots are free and extra beds can be supplied for older kids for US$49 a night. Babysitting costs US$5 an hour, with an hour's notice.
Shinta Mani is a sophisticated, adult retreat, but children are welcome and the spacious rooms can suit a family stay.
Older kids, who can cope with the tranquil mood, breakable ornaments and flights of stairs (the bar, spa, library and two floors of rooms are upstairs, and there are no lifts).
Ground-floor Superior Poolside rooms offer the easiest pool access, with a small terrace outside, but only some Superior Rooms interconnect. The family-friendly Deluxe Living room has an extra sofa-bed and TV. Twin beds can be requested in all rooms.
There are no specific child-friendly activities, but older children will enjoy half- or full-day tuk tuk rides to the temples of Angkor or exploring the ruins by bike. Teens will also get a kick out of souvenir shopping at the night market. Khmer cooking classes at Shinta Mani's Kroya restaurant might appeal to mini gourmets. The hotel can also organise visits to the local silk farm, the floating villages of the Tonlé Sap Lake, Kulen Mountain or village tours.
The lap pool at Shinta Mani is a fairly deep, adult affair, but it's quite small, so you can easily keep an eye on children in the water from the nearby loungers or Pool Bar.
The wide choice of food and drinks at the hotel should mean picky little eaters are covered, with informal, day-long snacks at the Pool Bar, tapas small plates at Bensley's Bar and a range of Asian and western food at Kroya, from breakfast through to dinner. Room Service is fairly extensive, and you can request breakfast boxes to go if you want to eat early while catching sunrise at the temples. Switched-on staff will happily accommodate any requests they can.
Babysitting is available for US$5 an hour, given at least an hour's notice.
No need to pack
Baby cots, which can be supplied gratis.
One extra bed for children can fit in all rooms types, and is free for kids up and including age four; from age five up to and including age 12, they'll cost US$49 a child a night. Superior Rooms can work better than Deluxe Rooms if you want to add an additional bed as the lay-out is more flexible (Deluxe Rooms include a desk area behind the bed headboard, which eats up usable floor space). Families can also opt for a king-size double room, with a twin room for children nearby.
US$5 of each night's booking goes towards the Shinta Mani Foundation, which trains local Cambodians in the hospitality industry (guests can visit the development centre at the hotel). The foundation also supports a raft of other social projects in Siem Reap, including health and dental care, a village school and small businesses.
Anywhere in Kroya's air-conditioned interior for breakfast or lunch; the seductive outdoor dining swings for dinner.
Informal by day, elegant by night (linen trousers beat skirts for decency on the dining swings!).
Meaning 'food' in royal Khmer, streetside Kroya restaurant includes a chic grey dining area with stripy floors and temple maps on the ceiling, and a breezy terrace slung with suspended dining swings and lined with lotus-dotted pools. Enjoy smart à la carte modern Cambodian dishes, such as prawn skewers, crab bouillabaise, fish amoc curry with rice, or ginger and lemongrass pannacotta.
Perched above Kroya, Bensley's Bar is a relaxed, airy space with smart charcoal-grey screens and booths cantilevered out over the terrace below. Snaffle a style mag, then kick back with Asian, Spanish or dessert tapas platters and an Open Heart cocktail, a heady mix of Cuban rum, passionfruit, mint leaves and palm sugar, picking up on the hotel's motto 'Open Doors, Open Hearts'. The lounge tune-toting Pool Bar, dotted with slouchy sofas, saffron accessories and striking ornaments, also dispenses drinks and delicious day-long snacks (look out for daily cocktail deals or ask the staff to whip up your preferred tipple).
Breakfast is served from 6am until 10.30am; Kroya takes last orders by 10pm.
Mirroring the restaurant menu, room service can be yours from 7am until 10pm, offering tasty soups, salads and curries. You can also order breakfast boxes, including coffee, pastries, fruit and yoghurt, at extra cost for sunrise temple trips.
You need a transfer to reach this hotel. For approximate costs, see location information
Set near the river in the quiet old French Quarter, centrally located Shinta Mani Angkor is just a stroll from buzzy bars, restaurants and shops, and 15 minutes by tuk tuk from the Angkor temples.
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). If required, you can obtain a tourist visa on arrival for US$20 cash, plus one passport photo. The hotel is a five-mile or 15-minute drive away. Call our Smith24 team to organise flights.
There's free on-site parking at the hotel, 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
At Shinta Mani Angkor, be sure to sample the soothing spa, cool pool or try a yoga or cooking class. Bonalai Library offers a chilled out spot for reading style mags or playing board games. You can also visit the hotel's development foundation to find out more about local life, with two classrooms for hospitality workers upstairs, as well as off-site charity projects. Our Smith24 team can also arrange half- or full-day tours by tuk tuk or air-conditioned car to visit the famous Angkor temple sites on the edge of town (buy a one-day pass for US$20, a two- or three-day pass for US$40 at the entrance to the Angkor Archaeological Park, open 5am until 6pm). Sunset trips to Phnom Bakheng hilltop temple are also atmospheric, although you may find yourself dodging the tourist crowds. You'll need at least two days to make a good dent in the temples, and be sure to catch the carving-coated, massive Angkor Wat itself, the many-faced Bayon and surrounding Angkor Thom complex, and tree-hugged Ta Prohm. If you have more time, take a trip to the outlying delicate, pink Banteay Srei temple, about 16 kilometres north-west of Siem Reap.
Fancy a break from the temples? Head to the Angkor Silk Farm (+855 (0)63 5555 768), in Puok, about 16 kilometres from town. You can see the whole process from silk-worm cultivation through to textile dyeing, then snap up gifts to take home. Organise a guided tour to local villages, Kulen Mountain, or the Tonlé Sap Lake, where you can see communities living on the water. You're also near the Angkor National Museum if you're a fan of artifacts, and want to find out more about the history of Angkor.
The Old Market (Psar Chaa) is a short walk away if you fancy perusing packed stalls of local fruit, veg, fish, meat and spices, as well as jumbles of clothing and knick-knacks, and tiny food stands. For souvenir-friendly scarves, bags and Buddha figurines, make for the nearby Angkor Night Market, west off Sivatha Street, buzzing from around 6pm until midnight. Divided into several covered areas, it also plays hosts to bars, massage centres and the ever-popular, if creepy, Dr Fish foot baths, where small fish will nibble the rough skin off your feet. Artisans Angkor is a good bet for authentic craft finds, with the chance to see artisans at work. This fair-trade Cambodian studio supports stone- and wood-carving, lacquering, silver-plating and silk-painting workshops. For more hot shopping, walk up to the FCC Angkor complex, just five minutes from the hotel on Pokambor Avenue, surrounded by tempting boutiques. Try Tiger Lily for covetable Khmer antiques, Buddha figurines and tableware; WA Gallery and Wanderlust for funky accessories, jewellery and bags; and the McDermott Gallery for moody black-and-white photos of Angkor.
Just a 10-minute stroll away across the Siem Reap River, respected Viroth's Restaurantis a must for elegant Khmer, Thai and pan-Asian fare, served on an airy garden terrace hung with red fabric screens. Classics such as Khmer sour soup, fish amok curry and mango sticky rice are a delight, although you may find yourself sharing dining space with the odd tour group. A five-minute meander from Shinta Mani, Sugar Palmis a favourite for zesty pomelo salads and Khmer curries, served on the upstairs balcony of a traditional timber house. Share a platter of bestselling dishes, such as spring rolls, banana blossom salad, Khmer crispy noodles, fish amok and rice, or opt for the tasty mains (frogs' legs in season nod to French influence; squid with Kampot peppercorns picks up on Cambodia's coastal cuisine). The tempting cocktail list includes the Lychee Breeze, fusing vodka, cranberry and lychees. Pick of the pews are the lounging day-beds by the balcony edge, great for groups. Set in another old wooden house, Khmer restaurant Café Indochine is also nearby, serving Asian and western fare. Choose between the air-con dining room, French colonial first-floor or lush garden.
Just a five-minute walk up Pokambor Avenue beside the Siem Reap River brings you to the colonial-chic FCC Angkor, a top spot to combine a cocktail or glass of own-label sauvignon blanc on the balcony with prime people-watching. Black-and-white photos of Cambodian life deck the upper floor, with slouchy seats beckoning down by the reflection pool on the ground-floor courtyard, too, prettily illuminated at night. Happy hour kicks off daily from 5pm to 7pm, and there's a wide range of Cambodian and western food up for grabs, from fish amok to fish and chips, burgers, pizza, pasta and salads. Smith can vouch for the Passionfruit Caipiroska. If you fancy a splurge, you're also a hop from Raffles Grand Hotel d'Angkor, an impressive edifice overlooking a park. Retire to the Elephant Bar for a signature Airavata cocktail, a tropical temptress blending rum, coconut, lime and other fruity liqueurs. Restaurant Le Grand is also rated for Khmer cuisine paired with fine wines.
Never had I been so thankful to a tuk-tuk driver as when we finally pulled up outside the hotel after a 4am start and a long day spent scrambling around up on Phnom (mount) Kulen in search of pre-Angkorian temples. Plastered in red earth from riding pillion on a motorbike all day, kitted out in bright hippie tourist trousers from the Siem Reap Night Market and clumpy hiking boots, and it was with some reluctance that I handed my equally grimy rucksack over to the bellboys. Still they greeted us with warm smiles – I was overcome by the urge to hug them both at once. At first unsure of whether we were staying at the newly opened Shinta Mani Resort or the more exclusive Shinta Mani Angkor, our doubts vanished as we entered the sleek and refreshingly cool lobby. Lofty corridors led to a contemporary temple-like interior – not a child in sight bomb-diving in the pool.
‘Bill Bensley, who’s actually based in Bangkok, just came up to our owner one day and said: “How can I help you?” It was a project he was keen to work on,’ our host explained after Mr Smith asked about the bold design. Strikingly contemporary, the shelved grey walls and thick square columns reminded us of some of the 802 AD temples we’d been scouring the mountains for that day – only brand new, very urban and super sleek. Had the past kings of Cambodia wanted to build a hotel in this century, the concept from the American interiors talent would have enchanted them.
After a revivifying welcome drink – a mocktail of freshly squeezed orange and carrot juice with a twist of lemongrass – we felt reenergised just long enough to be led to our room. Stepping onto the cool immaculate marble in my dusty hiking boots, I was afraid of leaving red footprints – we had already made enough of an impression at reception in our dishevelled Indiana-Jones-meets-Krusty-the-Clown attire. Reaching the turquoise slice of pool we noticed the narrow opening to the cobalt blue sky allowed in little sunlight onto the surrounding deck chairs – this was much to the relief of a sunburnt Mr Smith.
After draining a can of local Angkor beer from the (free) minibar, I was impatient to jump in the shower and make attempts at looking respectable again. I wasn’t disappointed when I laid eyes on the bathroom – and more importantly the large walk-in shower that was tiled like a Parisian Métro station. Once out of the shower, for what could have been an hour, I lay on the bed: this was my first mistake. It felt like I’d sunk into a soft snug nest. I drifted off instantly – much to Mr Smith’s disappointment, who soon followed suit. One of the most comfortable beds we’ve ever tried in our long hotel history, complete with featherdown duvets that aren’t chokingly hot for Cambodia’s tropical pre-monsoon temperatures and fluffy pillows that moulded perfectly around my head. Before it was too late to have dinner at the restaurant, we were awoken by an angry flock of mosquitoes and we thanked our lucky stars for malaria pills – our room didn’t have a mosquito net; in its place on the ceiling was a slightly garish black-and-white digital image of a Ta Prohm temple in Angkor. The contemporary paintings of Khmer dancers and mock cave painting décor of the walk-in wardrobe were more to our taste.
Earlier we’d have killed for sub-zero temperatures while up on the mountain where the sun scorched earth, wind and water, but we weren’t prepared for it at the restaurant. Before the starter arrived, I rushed up to the room for a sweater. The giant swing-bed dining tables for two out on the terrace, looked fun, but were all taken. Our waitress Chodra’s kind and helpful manner was a delight, but our expectations when it came to how the menu was interpreted was less so. We agreed after that an underwhelming salmon plate that we should have gone for the chef’s dinner, the Khmer option on the menu.
While the restaurant wasn’t the hotel’s strong point for us, we weren’t disappointed by the spa the next day – especially with Sophea (pronounced Sop-hea)’s cheerful welcome. After teaching us a few words in Khmer such as aw-koon ch'ran(thank you very much), two elegant white-clad Cambodian therapists led us to a large white room, black curtains drawn, and motioned for us to lie down on the two beds. As soon as the massage began, our tired muscles soon unwound and we both fell into a deep slumber. I woke up an hour later to find Sitha, one of the therapists, adroitly painting my toe nails a fresh shade of scarlet, and feeling like a million dollars. After a warm goodbye (and many aw-koon ch'rans) I was looking forward to slipping into that super comfy Shinta Mani bed for the second time.
The night was too short and I woke up deeply regretting not being able to slip my share of the bed into my rucksack, Mary Poppins style. At check-out we met the general manager, a dandy Dutchman wearing a crisp white shirt, his trousers held up by braces and we ended up sitting in the lobby for an hour hearing all about the hotel’s ‘Open Doors, Open Hearts’ foundation.
‘I’m not sure the next place we’re staying has anything like this,’ said a somewhat stirred Mr Smith. We cancelled our booking and got down to seriously rethinking the long wish list of hotels we’d spent years carefully compiling. Temple tours by tuk-tuk or air-con car are all very well, but the chance to visit the on-site charity projects that put the heart into this compassionate haven is really special.
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