Located a short tuk tuk ride from the neon lights of the night market and the pumping music of the infamous tourist strip Pub Street, the Shinta Mani Angkor is a refined and elegant sanctuary in the heart of Cambodia's most cosmopolitan city.
Whilst most hotels offer a cold towel on check-in, the Shinta Mani's entranceway thoughtfully incorporates a mini-fridge stocked with towels for guests returning from a busy afternoon exploring Siem Reap's famous temples. ‘”How was your day?”, a member of staff asks me as we pass on the corridor. One could assume this is a scripted line in the hotel's staff manual, but from my experience, Cambodians are some of the warmest and most hospitable people I've encountered so it feels natural and unaffected.
You find yourself stopping to engage in conversation not because it’s polite, but because you actually want to. Most of the staff on the team are students or ex-students of the Shinta Mani Foundation, which, funded by the profits of the group's hotels and donations, educates locals in basic IT, English, healthcare and the hospitality industry offering them financial support throughout their training. It's through the scheme that the group are able to build a strong brand culture and genuine sense of loyalty, which translates into passionate, honest customer service.
Designed by renowned architect Bill Bensley, the hotel is an aesthete's dream, taking it's inspiration from the Art Deco period with sharp black and white lines, intricate detailing and unique art works. The spaces seamlessly blend into one another and harmoniously interact with the natural surroundings; sunlight streams through blinds on the corridors and collects in pools in alcoves, whilst tropical plants line the poolside and walkways, and fill interior courtyards.
Our Deluxe Pool View Room is similarly calming in design, featuring a balcony overhanging the slick swimming pool, a huge king-sized bed and a large shower room. The amenities are top notch with a fancy coffee machine, herbal teas, exclusive Shinta Mani bath products, a fresh fruit bowl that's replenished daily, a bespoke Monopoly board and in the evenings, a small square of rich chocolate brownie topped with mini meringues appears on our bedside tables.
Breakfast is served on a swing bed, suspended over a shallow pond of gold fish at the on-site restaurant, Kroya. The decadent buffet is a rotating selection of classic favourites, fresh juices, homemade Bellinis, tropical fruit and innovative takes on local delicacies such as basil-infused jelly slices and divine deep-fried, sweet sticky rice balls. If you've still got room, you can order from the à la carte menu; the smoked salmon gravlax with whipped cream cheese comes highly recommended.
The restaurant stays open for lunch too or for a more immersive experience you can sign up for the cookery class, which begins with a tour of the local market. The hotel's pastry chef leads us through the labyrinth of stalls selling everything from vegetables, noodles and herbs to live fish, frogs and insects. “You eat frog?”, he asks me. I shake my head. “It's very tasty.” Back at the hotel, we use slightly more subdued ingredients to prepare a Khmer feast of green mango and prawn salad, sour fish soup, fish amok and palm sugar rice dumplings – learning how to construct banana leaf baskets for steaming fish and garnish dishes with an artistic flair.
For dinner Kroya's tasting menu is a favourite, followed by cocktails at the beautiful Bensley's bar, but there's also The Steak House on Pub Street. It's the hotel group's newest opening and whilst it may sound like an odd choice of outlet for a sophisticated boutique brand, the restaurant somehow manages to offer an atmosphere of casual calm that's perhaps enhanced by the chaos outside. Crispy calamari starters and prime cuts of beef with a side of truffle fries and creamed spinach are served up by zealous waiters wearing cowboy hats.
The spa is small with only three double treatment rooms, a suite and an open-air relaxation terrace, but the menu is extensive with therapies based on traditional Khmer healing rituals, classic massages, fragrant body scrubs, nourishing facials and meditation sessions. We opt for the signature sixty-minute minute Shinta Mani aromatherapy massage, which combines western techniques and Thai massage using natural oils. It's a deeply relaxing experience that leaves us feeling soft and dreamy as we sip on a warm cup of lemongrass and honey tea, with a post-treatment complimentary canapé of a fresh spring roll with sweet chilli dip.
That afternoon we drift across the road to the group's second Siem Reap location, which recently reopened earlier this month as the Shinta Mani Shack, to swim in the larger pool (guests are free to enjoy facilities at both properties). There are plans underway to open a handful of uber-luxurious, private Bensley villas on the Siem Reap estate, as well as a new hotel in Phnom Penh and a jungle retreat a little further south, each with their own foundation to help support local communities. It's an exciting development of a friendlier, lighter kind of luxury that provides indulgence whilst also contributing positively to the growth and maintenance of existing cultures.
For now though, the Shinta Mani Angkor is an idyllic spot from which to explore Siem Reap and its ancient temples, or else to just hideaway in for a few days of pure relaxation with exquisite cuisine, world-class spa treatments and beautifully-designed spaces for day-time lounging.
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