The spirit of Shinta Mani


  • Asia & Oceania
  • Friday, 21 Feb 2014

The cosy reception area.

The Shinta Mani Club Siem Reap, an award-winning, eco-luxury boutique hotel, is a short ride away from Angkor Wat, and promises the weary traveller more than just a good stay.

THE sight of Shinta Mani Club, a luxury eco-boutique hotel which truly practices an admirable CSR programme under its foundation, took my breath away. The 10-year-old hotel, designed by Bill Bensley, has won many awards for responsible tourism. Time magazine placed Bensley, the king of exotic luxury boutique resorts, among the top 100 designers in the world:

“Bangkok-based, Harvard-educated architect and landscape designer Bensley is known as the king of exotic luxury resorts; his properties number more than 100 in 26 countries. With his firm, Bensley Design Studios, he transforms wild landscapes into sophisticated environments. One of his recent projects is the Anantara Resort & Spa Koh Samui in Thailand.”

Shinta Mani is a fine example of his work. Its blue-grey, white and (some) black tones point to a minimalist design and architecture, but it is undoubtedly welcoming. Artwork is hung on every wall, applauding Cambodian culture and artists. The smell of peppermint pervades every corner, and lotus flowers greet guests. Water elements also make up the interior of the hotel; the reception waiting lounge is accompanied by a water fountain trickling discreetly in the background.

Room 212 faces the Shinta Mani Resort, a new expansion of the hotel, and the main road. The ceiling above my bed featured a painting of apsaras dancing, and every morning I woke up to a gentle sunrise.

The swimming pool calls out to you to dive in.

I was pleasantly surprised that my bed had a down mattress topper, and the down pillows the bed came with, supported my neck well, making for a blissful night. We writers spend way too much time on the computer and have all sorts of neck pains. Pillow quality cannot be negotiated. The hotel passed the Bed Test with flying colours.

WiFi was easy to access, and overall, I felt pretty much at home. More often than not, hotel rooms are sterile and rather bland, despite attempts at bedroom interiors. This time around, I didn’t want to leave the room. Personal touches like the daily fruit basket (with fruits which were fresh), and “nightcap” offering of biscuits made the room even more welcoming.

Surprise, surprise – Shinta Mani has its own “daily paper”. It’s basically a roundup of global headlines and news, focusing on politics, the economy and lifestyle, and printed and stapled on A4 paper (!). While it may not be a proper tabloid or broadsheet, it certainly puts the hotel at the forefront of services.

The choice of news clearly showed a sharp editor who keeps abreast of current affairs. How many hotels do you know that makes such an effort for its guests?

Kroya, the hotel’s coffee house, is heavenly. It offers indoor and outdoor dining, and the latter is rather unique: guests sit on a huge swing that allows them to sit or relax as they dine. A note of caution: don’t swing too hard. You’ll either get vertigo or nausea and won’t be able to finish your dinner.

An elegant deluxe room.

Kroya’s menu is also standard hotel fare, but offers a traditional Khmer dinner set menu which changes every night. The menu offers about seven dishes, including dessert, but they are filling. All dishes are cooked in traditional Khmer spices, and may be exotic to those who prefer their food safe. Snail, vermicelli and silver mushroom salad? Turmeric marinated prawns wrapped in banana leaves?

My recommendations would be the lemongrass marinated mackerel and young tamarind dip, which was a delight to the senses. The fish was fresh and its flesh plump, and just as I tasted the saltiness of the dish, a whiff of lemongrass teased and played with the tastebuds.

The beef salad with lime juice and mixed herbs is not the usual beef salad you get at packed Thai restaurants here. It was a playful yet sensual feast, with a kick. The beef was tender to the point that it almost fell to pieces when picked up, and melted in your mouth. The bean sprouts that came with the salad were crunchy.

Organic brown rice mixed with white accompanied each dish, and soup was served throughout dinner. As a final flourish, wok-fried minced chicken with toasted ground rice and fresh mint was served too, and while filling, did not have that muggy, heavy feel to it.

The dessert was unusual: think of pulut (glutinous) rice rolled with bananas and coconut. It certainly was not the standard Terengganu fare of pulut lepa. And, unlike many glutinous rice dishes, the dessert did not put us in a food coma.

The cosy reception area.

One mark of an exemplary hotel would be its spa. One cold night (it was about 13°C), I braved a trip to the spa to try out the Shinta Mani Spa Signature Massage. The spa offers many treatments that are available in Kuala Lumpur, but the Signature Massage had to be one of the best massages I ever had.

One, the masseuse had healing hands – no scrawny fingers that clawed one’s body and left bruises on meridian points. Two, she used the right amount of pressure. Some masseuses believe that pounding and “killing” a person are good, but not this one. The massage focused on chakra points, and attention was paid to the feet.

I hesitate to sound like a gushing visitor, but Shinta Mani has surpassed my expectations of a hotel. As an avid traveller who has stayed in plush hotels, heritage hotels, and homestays, one gets picky and fussy, which gets worse with age!

What sealed the deal for me was Shinta Mani’s foundation, which empowers Cambodians living and working in Siem Reap through three initiatives: education, healthcare and small-business start-ups. Through the hotel, Shinta Mani also recruits disadvantaged young Cambodians who want to work in the hospitality industry.

They are trained in English, and intern at the hotel’s various departments, such as maintenance, housekeeping, food and beverage, to name a few. Many of them find employment after their 10-month course, and if they are not retained by the hotel, the hotel places them with other hotels in Siem Reap. The foundation also partners with Senhoa, an ethical enterprise that produces and sells jewellery handmade by vulnerable persons and survivors of human trafficking.

SHINTA MANI CLUB

Junction of Oum Khun and 14th Street Siem Reap, Cambodia

Phone: +855 63 761 998

More info at:

www.shintamani.com/club/ or www.facebook.com/shintamanihotel or www.agoda.com/shintamaniclub/hotel/siem-reap-kh.html

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The spirit of Shinta Mani

   

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