This wilderness camp is redefining luxury in Asia
Top hotel designer Bill Bensley rips up the rule book at this Cambodian tented camp.
Words by Ute Junker
Bill Bensley is done with luxury. That news will distress the travellers who flock to the luxurious hotels he has created in some of Asia’s most beautiful destinations, including Rosewood Luang Prabang, The Siam Bangkok and Hotel de la Coupole in Sapa, Vietnam. Fortunately for Bensley’s legions of fans – those who love waking up in his high-concept hotels, where local traditions are given a baroque twist and where every time you turn a corner you get hit with another big dose of wow – Bensley’s idea of dialling down the luxury still delivers an unforgettable experience.
Just getting to the Shinta Mani Wild tented camp in the Cambodian jungle is an adventure. After a three-hour drive from Phnomh Penh, my personal butler leads me through the trees to a tall wooden tower. We climb all the way to the top, where I am strapped into a harness in order to zip line into the resort.
It is a spectacular way to arrive, speeding over the treetops and a small waterfall. From here, it just gets better. Guests are encouraged to throw themselves into the jungle experience, with activities include kayaking along the river, discovering the dozens of species of wild orchid that flourish here, or even hopping on the back of a motorbike to join rangers on anti-poaching patrols in the heart of the jungle. Those who prefer lounging around are also catered to, with unlimited spa treatments included in the room rate and tents that are designed for indulgence.
These tents, you must understand, are nothing like the ones you remember from family camping holidays. Located in tree-fringed privacy overlooking the river rapids, each one measures 100 square metres and is stocked with eye-catching vintage furnishings. The real highlight, however, is the expansive deck which features a sofa, a dining table and chairs, a fully stocked complimentary bar and – just in case that wasn’t enough – a roll-lipped bath tub overlooking the river.
To Bensley, however, Shinta Mani Wild is first and foremost a conservation project. The land on which it sits forms a buffer zone between two national parks; Bensley bought the land to ensure it would continue to exist as a wildlife corridor.
“My big thrill in all of this is using hospitality to help folks that need it in a sustainable fashion,” Bensley says. “Virtually none of our Shinta Mani guests know that five per cent of their room rate goes to the admin costs of the Shinta Mani Foundation, which in turn lets us use 100 per cent of the donations that we gather effectively.”
As well as educating his guests about the need to conserve one of Asia’s last wildernesses, Bensley wants Cambodians to understand how precious this resource is, and why it is important to protect it. “This whole Shinta Mani Wild project is, for me, a way to teach Cambodians that conservation is more valuable that extraction.”