Bill Bensley has become a household name when it comes to luxury properties in Asia. With a career spanning almost four decades and more than 200 hospitality projects in nearly 40 countries, his greatest hits are largely located in Singapore’s neighbouring countries, including the Four Seasons’ resorts in Thailand, and the Intercontinental Danang. His most recent opening is in Cambodia, where he brings his trademark whimsy to the Shinta Mani Angkor — Bensley Collection, in the heart of Siem Reap.
The walled compounds hide a palatial oasis. Local culture often serves as his muse, so one of the most striking features you’ll see upon entering the resort is a massive carving portraying the hands of Jayavarman VII, one of the most popular and reportedly handsome 12th century Khmer king, in a meditative pose.
The veneration continues in each of the 10 villas, where another three-dimensional mural – this time carved to portray the rippling folds of Jayavarman’s robe – envelops the length of one wall in the living space. The rest is Bensley flair: bold, Art Deco-inspired finishings where the stark contrast of blacks and whites is lifted by bright pops of colour and gold accents. Each villa is divided into two pavilions, with the second one housing a floor-to-ceiling glassed bathroom decorated with folded lotus flowers, and with views of the garden and outdoor stone bath.
Lush greenery fills every corner that isn’t occupied by amenities or artwork. Speaking of the latter, there are more than 80 prints, photographs and paintings telling the story of the Khmer civilisation – past and present – decorating the establishment and contributed by artists like Robert Powell, Martin Reeves and Kate Spencer, as well as some from Bensley’s own studio in Bangkok.
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The villa makes good use of its 156 05 sq m space, creating such an indulgent escape that the notion of leaving seems preposterous. Lounge in the 9m lap pool or upstairs in the rooftop living area. There is a Bensley Butler assigned to every villa – all trained to be resourceful, and invisible until needed – and they will be happy to scatter flower petals in the pool, set up the day bed on the second floor for those who want to sleep under the stars,
bring breakfast in bed or even set up afternoon tea or a barbecue by the pool.
The restaurant, bar and spa are located across the street in the adjacent sister resort Shinta Mani Angkor (also refurbished by Bill Bensley) and it is here that guests can take a cooking class after a guided tour of the nearby wet markets. Alternatively, the unapologetically languid can ask their butlers to bring the dining and spa experience to the villa as well.
LINK TO THE COMMUNITY
Hotels today are increasing their charitable or green initiatives but Shinta Mani’s efforts reach deep into the community and its impact is significant. Shinta Mani founder Sokoun Chanpreda started these community activities in 2004 when he opened the Shinta Mani Hotel and Institute of Hospitality to provide free training to underprivileged Cambodians.
These activities increased in scope and were eventually unified under a non-profit organisation now known as the Shinta Mani Foundation – it’s the largest of its kind in the country. It has built over 100 homes and 1,000 water wells, given out more than 2,000 water filters, helped at least 63 businesses with loans, and is training those living in rural areas to farm. While a portion of the daily room rate is donated to the foundation, 100 per cent of guest donations as well as profits from the hotel gift shop go directly to the foundation.
Guests are also welcome to visit these villages and participate in charitable activities. According to foundation director Brad Akins, there are guests who specifically choose to stay at Shinta Mani properties for this reason. “For other hotels, it’s corporate social responsibility. For us, it’s a full-time job.”
BEYOND THE TEMPLES
There’s plenty to buy in this city of legendary wats. Look for the fabrics and designs of Yves Saint Laurent alum Eric Raisina on Charles de Gaulle Avenue, or jewellery made from recycled brass ammunition by Ammo, located on Wat Bo Road. Hap Guan Street is a browser’s haven, dotted with dandy boutiques and hip cafes.
End the day with a meal at Cuisine Wat Damnak, a restaurant on stilts that combines local ingredients with French techniques, and catch a show by Phare, Cambodia’s only big top circus. It’s no Cirque du Soleil, but the storytelling and energy the performers display make for a truly remarkable experience.
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