Deep in the heart of the Cambodian rainforest, Shinta Mani Wild, a Belmond Collection hotel is so much more than a tented riverside perch. This luxe retreat taps into the country’s burgeoning appetite for adventure basecamps that don’t scrimp on home comforts – and it does so in Bill Bensley’s inimitable escapist style. Strap on your hiking boots to explore jungle trails, butterfly sanctuaries and unspoilt waterways. And the tents? They’re one of a kind, of course: picture-perfect feats of stretched canvas, polished teak and outdoor bath tubs just waiting to welcome weary explorers home.
Noon. Earliest check-in, 2pm. Both are flexible, subject to availability, and guests are welcome to use the in-spa showers.
Double rooms from £2129.91 ($2,695), including tax at 23.42 per cent.
Rates include airport transfers, plus all activities, food, drinks, spa treatments, excursions and activities, and a portable WiFi device to borrow during your stay.
This jungle retreat sprawls across a long stretch of the river, so be prepared to walk. You don’t have to zipline your way to the hotel, but it’s part of the fun. Slide across the water straight into the Landing Zone bar. Embrace the rainforest setting: there may be slithering and creeping critters about, but a keen eye can also spot the flash of colourful feathers and gibbons swinging in the canopy. Come nightfall, rangers are at hand to escort you back to your tent.
Wonderfully secluded in their own pocket of jungle-fringed luxury, Shinta Mani Wild’s suites give the humble camping tent a terrible name. Dressed in Bill Bensley’s distinctive style, they’re vast indoor-outdoor affairs decked out with carved teak, jewel-bright textiles and handpicked objets d’art. Nurture your inner exhibitionist with a soak in the roll-top tub, which takes pride of place on the riverside terrace. Ask for a tent close to the restaurant if you’re likely to suffer from weary legs, or opt for a Waterfall Tent to fall asleep to the gentle sound of rushing water.
Picture an exceptionally oversized bath tub and you might just get the measure of the camp’s striking 25m freshwater swimming pool. Sleek and black, it’s flanked by a hardwood terrace and a neat row of sunloungers – just the spot for long post-adventure soaks.
Harnessing the secrets of traditional Khmer medicine, the Boulders Spa rustles up home-made lotions and potions from plants foraged in the rainforest, before bottling them on-site. Book one of the two treatment rooms for soul-soothing ministrations such as hot herbal compresses or an ache-relieving foot massage in one of the river pools.
Bring plenty of active wear: the surrounding roads and paths can get muddy and dusty in turn, so you’re bound to need a fresh set for each day’s escapades. Thankfully, a Bensley butler can help you unpack (and repack) your gear.
Extra beds can be added on request (and for an extra charge).
Over-nines are welcome; under-16s will need to share a tent with their parents. An extra bed can be added to each room for $750 a night for 10-15 year olds and $1,000 a night for over-15s.
Shinta Mani Wild’s approach to conservation is hands-on, thanks to collaborations with the Wildlife Alliance, local researchers and government agencies helping to protect the vast river valley from poaching, mining and logging. The resort has introduced clever alternatives to single-use plastics, and makes the most of organic-, seasonal- and locally sourced ingredients in the kitchen.
Grab a seat at one of the communal tables to swap stories of the day’s adventures with fellow guests.
In the evening, change out of your activewear into something a little more Jackie O: silk blouses, wide-legged trousers or artfully crumpled linen.
The open-air Waterfall Restaurant takes its cues from Jackie Kennedy’s Cambodian safari in the 1960s: think leather sofas, acid-bright bamboo seats, a camo canopy and a monochrome portrait of the icon of style herself. There’s no breakfast or lunch menu as such: take a peek at the blackboard for the day’s scrumptious specials, or chat to the chef who will happily rustle up something to your liking – a watermelon and whipped feta gazpacho, say, or herb-topped Phnom Penh noodles. Dinners on the decked terrace are themed: look out for foraged feasts, curried Kep crab and barbecue nights under the stars.
Sheltered beneath a straw roof and jutting out over the waterfall, the aptly named Landing Zone bar has rugged Wild West good looks. Surrender to one of the leather club chairs scattered over the deck, or pull up a stool at the bar. Signature cocktails use every part of foraged plants, from earthy galangal roots to aromatic holy basil and jasmine-infused Mekong Dry Gin.
Sate hunger pangs from 6am to 10pm; the bar can mix whatever strikes your fancy from 1pm to 10pm.
Served from 6am to 9.30pm, the in-tent picnic takes its cues from around the world. Graze on a smoked chicken quesadilla, say, or tuna tataki with green tea soba.
Shinta Mani Wild hides away at the crossroads of Kirirom, Cardamom and Bokor National Parks, a landscape of dense rainforest, swift rivers and tumbling waterfalls.
Two and a half hours’ drive away, Sihanoukville is the nearest airport, with flights to Siem Reap and Phnom Penh in Cambodia, as well as the global hub of Hong Kong. Phnom Penh, a three-hour drive away, has good regional connections to Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur or Singapore. Stays at Shinta Mani Wild include airport transfers in comfortable Toyota Fortuners.
Leave the car at home: going off-piste in Cambodia is best left to the professionals.
Thrill-seekers can choose to make their grand entrance by zipline (the longest in South East Asia) – just keep a comfortable change of clothes handy.
Worth getting out of bed for
Resist your outdoor bath tub’s siren call and take your adventure butler’s advice: there’s too much to do in this unspoilt wilderness to stay cocooned in your tent. Highlights change with the season, but there’s something for all levels of experience, from expert-guided orchid-spotting hikes to adrenaline-pumping motorcycle patrols with the rangers. Follow the chef on a foraging walk through the forest (mangosteens, moringa and wild vanilla are there for the picking), or try your hand at Tenkara, the Japanese meditative practice of fly-fishing. Trekking, kayaking and mountain biking are on the menu, too, as are slow, languid afternoons spent tubing on the river.
Pootle your way around the backwaters of the estuary on Shinta Mani Wild’s private pontoon boat, decked out with day-beds for bird-watching in perfect horizontal comfort. The Shinta Mani Foundation supports local communities with schooling, small business sponsorships and sustainable farming; ask to tour the villages to get involved.
For the best wildlife-spotting opportunities, tick the three nearby national parks off your list: wild elephants, porcupines and leopard cats have all been spotted in the verdant neighbourhood.
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 luxurious hotel in Kirirom National Park and unpacked their hiking boots and binoculars, a full account of their adventure break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside Shinta Mani Wild in Cambodia…
Not so long ago, sampling Cambodia’s untouched wilderness meant a backpack, water-purification tablets and a daredevil spirit of adventure. The latter endures in Shinta Mani Wild’s rainforest hideout, but it’s thankfully been tempered by a generous helping of comfort and style. Architect Bill Bensley’s tented suites, scattered along a babbling river, make improbably lavish retreats from which to plot adventures: the zipline entrance straight into the cocktail bar sets the tone. Wildlife-spotting, jungle-trekking and estuary-exploring are de rigueur here – all the better to savour the delights of a plump king-size bed, river-view hammocks and petal-scattered bath after a long day of hitting the trails. From expeditions aboard the Bensley-designed boat to Khmer massages and convivial feasts rustled up from foraged ingredients, no two days are the same. Check in and buckle up: this is one wild, all-inclusive ride you won’t want to miss.