If you're ever in Siem Reap, Cambodia, there is only ONE PLACE TO STAY: Shinta Mani Angkor - Bensley Collection.
This is an extremely luxurious collection of ten private pool villas created by my favourite hotel designer - Bill Bensley. A stay here comes complete with 24-hour butler service, so you will be as spoiled as can be!
Located on a peaceful, leafy street in the French Quarter of Siem Reap, the Shinta Mani brand has two other accommodation options within the vicinity: Shinta Mani Angkor, a luxury boutique resort, and the more casual and trendy Shinta Mani Shack. Angkor Wat is a mere 15 minutes away by tuk-tuk or taxi.
At the time we went (January 2018), the Bensley Collection pool villas had only been opened for a couple of weeks. Staying here made all the difference to our first visit to Siem Reap.
Ricardo and I spent four blissful nights at Pool Villa No. 1. Perhaps more blissful for me than him since he was stricken with a stomach bug midway. But hey at least he suffered in luxury!
FIRST, A VIDEO!
This video will give you a much better feel for the villa and how it's laid out - so the photos that follow will make more sense!
THE WELCOME CARD
I knew we were in for a grand treat the moment we got off the plane. We had a designated escort to guide us through the visa process that took us through a special fast-track immigration lane. No queues! A white car with the hotel logo on its doors picked us up and we were offered some refreshments, cold towels, and mobile Wi-Fi during the short ride.
But nothing prepared me for the amazing welcome card we found in our villa! It was too much! There were handwritten well wishes from various members of staff and we had a picture of ourselves (that they plucked from my blog) superimposed against Angkor Wat!
OMG I was so impressed and embarrassed and amused all at the same time.
This is the only hotel welcome card I have ever cherished and kept. It has a special place in my room now <3
* 'Bong' is a term of respect used to address someone older/of the same age, in Khmer
THE POOL VILLA
Shinta Mani Angkor - Bensley Collection
We were introduced and oriented to our pool villa by our personal butler, Kemlek.
Once the door was open, it was like stepping into paradise! IT WAS LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT.
The attention to detail put into the design and aesthetics of the villa was truly impressive. I loved the colour scheme of gold, black, and white - highlighted with bright accents of yellow and orange and calmed by the lush greenery of tropical plants carefully placed all over.
Every villa comes with a fully equipped bar, outdoor shower and bath, and a private, shaded roof terrace.
It felt like a big, picture-perfect playground that was both elegant and fun! We pranced around barefoot a lot. We played a lot of happy music using the bluetooth speakers provided.
It was so enjoyable to be in the villa that it became a huge challenge to get ourselves out to do anything else! Haha.
THE MOST BEAUTIFUL BATHROOM
The bathroom and dressing area was located at the back of the villa, accessible through an 'outdoor' pathway that connects it to the bedroom.
IT WAS BEAUTIFUL. THE BATHROOM OF DREAMS.
I can still feel the cool marble tiles under my feet and the freshness of that artificially cooled air every time I entered through the glass door.
Getting ready had never been so joyful!
Delightful Things TO NOTE
Gold taps & (rain) shower.
Real flowers (lotus flowers folded into roses!).
Many towels of various sizes.
Lots of power sockets.
Male & female sized slippers/robes.
Upon checking in we were offered an unpacking service.
This was a standard of luxury I had never experienced before, so I excitedly agreed and quickly envisioned seeing all my colourful items neatly arranged in the walk-in wardrobe, with zero effort from me. It was a glorious idea!
So imagine my face when I saw that.. only Ricardo's clothes had been taken out and hung/folded! My bag remained open on the bench.
I concluded that Kemlek must've not wanted to touch my rubber deer mask and blue sequinned wand. Or maybe my things were just so messy that he'd rather not.. 😆
MAGICAL EVENINGS BY THE POOL
The bedroom has floor-to-ceiling glass doors that open up to the pool area, which was of a generous length and ends at a tall and shiny mirror wall on the other side.
You know what? There aren't enough outdoor mirrors in this world!
We loved lounging around the pool during the evenings when the weather cooled down.. although the mosquitoes also had the same idea.
MY BUTLER IS BETTER THAN YOURS
Kemlek helped us with everything, including making arrangements for any activity or excursion we were interested in. Really, the whole team of butlers was amazing. Friendly, attentive, and helpful. We were treated so well that I sometimes I had to question reality.
Kemlek organised for us to catch sunrise at Angkor Wat, which was a total pain to wake up for especially if you hate mornings (like me)! Although I shouldn't complain - we were lucky to do the temple tour using a nice air-conditioned car provided by the hotel. They also packed us mats to sit on and a nice picnic.
And oh! Look at these sweet handwritten notes that were left for us!
One day, I thought I would be a giant cliché and ask for.. a flower bath. I'd never had one before and this was the only occasion where I felt like I could ask for one without sounding like a diva!
And so.. the staff filled up the stone bath with pink lily petals.
They also placed four too-big candles around it.
I felt like asking for more petals for more coverage, but decided that it would bring me up to diva level, which I didn't want.
Anyhow, they managed to figure out my secret desires and I walked in one afternoon to an industrial sized bubble-making machine by the pool. YES! BUBBLES!!!
You will have seen it in the video. If not, go watch it.
THE ROOF TERRACE
We didn't spend enough time on the terrace!
It has a spacious lounge sofa that can be turned into to a bed on request - so you can spend the night 'under the stars'. And with the mosquitoes.
It was a hard sell when the king-sized bed downstairs was so damn comfy.
One night, we were treated to a most sumptuous BBQ dinner on the terrace, prepared by the head chef. There was so much food! It was delicious.
We were spoilt rotten. But I didn't want the unused/uncooked food to also be spoilt rotten, so asked if the staff could take it home for themselves. It wasn't allowed due to hotel protocol but I was told they could use it for lunch/breakfast the next day.
THE COOKING CLASS
I shall point out that I have by now long forgotten how to cook any of these dishes. Who actually remembers any instructions from cooking classes?
We had the privilege of spending some time with the head chef at Kroya, the main restaurant for Shinta Mani just across the road. Breakfast is served here for Bensley pool villa guests. We never made it for breakfast so I can't comment on that!
During the cooking class, we were taught how to make a spicy papaya salad, fish amok (a kind of steamed fish curry), and this beef sour soup with morning glory (last pic) which was MY FAVOURITE. Well that and the fish amok. Hard to decide - everything was incredibly tasty!
I think I'll need to re-learn these recipes, especially that beef soup because it needs to be more present in my life.
SHINTA MANI FOUNDATION
Open Doors, Open Hearts
During our stay, we were offered a visit to one of the villages supported by the Shinta Mani Foundation, which is an initiative funded by revenue made from Shinta Mani hotels (and donations) aimed at giving back to the local community.
Sadly, Ricardo wasn't feeling well/couldn't leave the toilet, so I went on my own.
“The only way to positively impact Cambodia is by giving each individual the power to realise their own dreams"
What I love about it is that the Foundation aims to empower the underprivileged with the tools they need to fight poverty; so providing long-term, sustainable solutions that create independence. These include teaching them how to establish and run their own businesses (such as setting up a shop), and encouraging them to learn to grow their own food/manage a small farm.
The Shinta Mani Foundation takes care of dozens of surrounding villages. One of the goals is to build a water well for every family so that the time and effort spent on collecting water from afar can be cut down. In addition, bicycles are provided and assistance given to the construction of simple yet functional homes for the families.
At the village, I got the opportunity to observe the various levels of progress made by different families. It was heartening to be able to see tangible results of the Foundation's work, which were manifest in small but thriving vegetable farms, small tuck shops, and of course, happy faces of children running around.
One thing I noticed was how neat and CLEAN the village was. Even the dirt/sand paths seemed cleaner than.. normal dirt? It's hard to explain!
Shinta Mani Farm & School of Hospitality
On the way back, we stopped by the Shinta Mani Farm. This was a good-sized vegetable and fruit plantation that supplied fresh produce to the Shinta Mani hotels/restaurants!
Kemlek (our personal butler, in case you forgot) filled our car with a bunch of vegetables harvested that day to bring back with us.
He told me that he was attending farming lessons there, too. Shinta Mani staff are apparently given access to free education and training in farming, so they can learn how to build and upkeep their own farm.
Some of the hospitality staff at Shinta Mani are graduates of the Shinta Mani School of Hospitality, which invites a group of underprivileged locals into their programme (at no cost to them) every year, based on need and potential. The School gives them a chance to gain the knowledge and experience required to get a job in the growing hospitality sector in Siem Reap.
Lastly, Cambodian doctors are supported by the Foundation in providing healthcare and dental care to rural areas, as well as schools with underprivileged children. Again, education is key - so people are also taught proper hygiene practices and habits to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
SHINTA MANI ANGKOR (BENSLEY COLLECTION)
Why You Should Stay Here
EVERY STAY COMES WITH
Daily breakfast at Kroya
Personal Bensley Butler
Private roundtrip airport transfers
Fast-track immigration on arrival
Use of a tuk-tuk within Siem Reap for 24 hours
Complimentary laundry service
Welcome drink & daily seasonal fruit
Mobile wifi device
WHAT I ESPECIALLY LOVED
Fresh ingredients & tasty food at Kroya
Location - only 15 min from Angkor Wat
Level of service (exceptional)
Having a spacious outdoor space that was private
My butler, Kemlek!
The spa - best massage ever
Shinta Mani Foundation <3