Phum Baitang means ‘green village’ in Cambodian Kmer language and that is exactly what meets the eye when entering the gate of this luxury resort.
I had to blink mine more than once. My eyes had trouble registering the serene green scenery after the drive from the airport on dirt roads outside of Siem Reap. The contrast couldn’t be bigger. From noisy, dusty and chaotic roads – welcome to Cambodia – to an elegant, green oasis of tranquility.
Forty-five stilted wooden villas are set against a backdrop of eight acres of lush gardens and paddy fields. The houses are designed according to a traditional Cambodian local village while honouring the demands of the stylish traveller at the same time. This place ticks all the boxes.
Open just over a year and if it is a good omen when the very first booking comes from a very VIP, then they’re looking forward to prosperous times. It was Angelina Jolie (extended family included) herself who booked the whole place for 3 months while filming her new Netflix movie in Cambodia.
Phum Baiting, Arnaud Zanniers dream
“I personally couldn’t find all the elements that suited my values, tastes, and philosophy. Every hotel I stayed in just had something missing,” says Arnaud Zannier. This intrinsic motivation – and being a member of the well-known Zannier business family – was enough to materialise a new approach on hospitality based on design and social responsibility.
It takes vision and courage to change a large, paddy field area outside the village of Siem Reap into the lush green luxury resort it is today. Where spoiling the well-travelled is as important the – eco-friendly – integration of local knowledge.
From the total of 160 Cambodians who found a job at Phum Baitang, thirty of them are local gardeners from the Siem Reap village who work on the paddies and are given a good wage, uniform and meals. Together with gm David Ashworth they form the Phum Baitang family. Who welcomed their first group of guest with open arms.
“I spent a wonderful three months at Phum Baitang, where the best of Cambodia is shared with those who are looking to enjoy peace, tranquillity and the uniqueness of the country,”
__ Angelina Jolie.
Bed- & Bathroom, Phum Baitang villa style
For the first time ever I had no comment when entering our ‘hotel room’. No desire to re-arrange the interior – I know, I have my hidden quirks – or stash half of it in the closet. This is the higher art of less is more.
Reflecting local Cambodian architecture, the – plunge – Pool Villa is large, serene and done in natural colours. Inside and outside.
Wooden floors and wooden walls with integrated wooden (closet) doors, a king size bed with the crispest linen, local art, fresh lotus flowers, a spacious work desk – need that – and a large sofa overlooking the terrace. The latter with sun loungers, gazebo and dining table.
The large bathroom (hidden behind the wooden wall) features a egg shaped ceramic bathtub, separate rain shower, individual WC, his and hers wash basin and luxurious – numerous and repleneshed daily – Zannier amenities.
No white towels, bathrobe or slippers to be found anywhere in this green village. All done in a sophisticated green/greyish tone. When talking Birkin language, I would say Vert Pelouse.
The Spa Temple at Phum Baitang
Behind the pool area another secluded, small lush village dooms up. The luxurious and tranquil Spa Temple offers seven treatment rooms, also in stilted villas. Apart from sauna, steam room and relaxation area there is a yoga pavilion. Oh, and a fully equipped fitness room (not for me, allergic).
The text on the spa menu alone – your body is a temple, treat it as sacred – was enough to make a booking. Stepping inside this temple is entering the life-enhancing world of wellbeing. Again, the interior of the treatment rooms is breathtakingly beautiful. A great working environment for the skilled therapists and guests alike. A true holistic retreat to connect mind, body and spirit.
How about the food, you say?
Well, where to start. You can eat wherever you want. In the villa, in your garden, at the pool (bar) or at one of the two restaurants. The elegant, colonial Hang Bay for fusion and international cuisine. The Bay Phsar – with views over the 50 m infinity pool and surrounding rice paddies – for a range of unique Khmer dishes. Try Amok, steamed fish in banana leaf and the fresh springrolls, definitely my favourite snack/starter: . Both restaurants work with locally sourced and market fresh ingredients. Guess where the rice comes from? Right. Straight from the front door paddies.
Confession: we never left the premises for dinner in Siem Reap. Why should we?
The day starts with a sumptuous breakfast on the terrace of Hang Bay. Simply follow your nose along the rice fields boardwalk towards the aromas of freshly baked breads and Danish pastries. Or should I say French Pastries since we’re talking croissants and pain au chocolat here.
It comes as no surprise that Phum Baitang wins 4 awards in the 2016 Asia Hotel Design Awards. This is only the start. Visiting the wonders of Angkor Wat in Siem Reap with this intimate (hidden) luxury retreat as home base is the perfect balance of where old meets new. Or as Leonardo Da Vinci puts it, simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.