Many are lured to Cambodia to experience the world’s largest religious monument: Angkor Wat. The decorative Khmer temples are guaranteed to wow from sunrise to sunset, from a tuk-tuk to a hot air balloon. But Cambodia is defined by so much more than awe-inspiring Angkor Wat, and with new 5-star hotels popping up with frequency, explorations of the wild jungles, gushing rivers and copper-sand beaches are now accessible to the luxury traveller.
Your Gateway to Angkor
Start your Cambodian adventure in Siem Reap where you’ll stay for three nights at Amansara, located just 10 minutes from the UNESCO-protected Angkor Wat. In keeping with the Aman brand, the hotel breathes refined luxury with local accents -incense scents the air, tangerine-robed monks add a pop of colour to monochrome interiors and jungle vines are kept just at bay.
Let Amansara arrange your visit to the once-mighty empire of the Khmer, Angkor Wat and reap the rewards that their expertise bring. A customised tuk-tuk will take you to a prime spot, away from the crowds to view a magical sunrise in front of the grand temple complex, a scene magnified in the shimmering reflection below in the moat. Explore the vine-swathed temples of Ta Prohm where tree roots entwine mysteriously with the ancient building. At Bayon, examine the vast carved faces and look out for monkeys who swing in the canopy above.
Back at Amansara have an afternoon of relaxation by your private pool, or on an oversized daybed in the pretty garden courtyard. Ponder activity for the next few days – perhaps a trip to the floating villages of the Tonle Sap lake, a cycle ride through rice fields dotted with sugar palms or a water blessing from a Buddhist monk. Eventually you’ll need to leave this serene haven to explore the islands and beaches of Cambodia’s coastline. Fly to Sihanoukville with a private transfer taking you to the jetty to be whizzed over to Alila Koh Russey.
As you traverse the Gulf of Thailand by speedboat, the island of Koh Russey comes into view. Dark green foliage gives way to golden sands, and as you arrive on the pier, you’ll spot a modern retreat shimmering in a jungle clearing.
For three days at Alila Koh Russey, your time can be filled with as little or as much as you want. Unlike other islands in the Gulf, there’s a caramel-coloured beach which leads into clear, calm waters. This is the perfect spot for paddle-boarding, kayaking and snorkelling. The hotel can arrange a beach picnic or dining under the stars, and you can accompany the Head Chef to the herb garden to learn the secrets of Khmer cooking.
A little further afield, enjoy the cultural charm of the mainland Cambodian Riviera. Join the throng at the weekly Kep Crab Market and select a fresh blue swimmer crab to be cooked up for lunch or cruise the mangroves of the Ream National Park to spot water buffalo and great hornbills. Retreat to Alila Koh Russey, enjoy a Balinese healing therapy in the spa, relax by your private pool or head to the Beach Shack for ceviche, chilled rosé and stunning sea views.
In the Koh Rong archipelago, islands are scattered like jade-green gems in a sapphire sea. Just ten minutes by speedboat and you will be on private island paradise Six Senses Krabey for three nights- an altogether different experience.
Camouflaged in the canopy is a secluded jungle retreat where nature is celebrated at every turn. Wooden boardwalks create a circuit through bamboo forests and banyan trees, opening up onto ocean panoramas. On the summit is the treetop spa where guests can choose to partake in immersive spa programs. Yogis will love to perform sun salutations on the rooftop yoga sala that gives a breathtaking view over the archipelago.
Guest are encouraged to enjoy island life – wandering around the organic garden or kayaking the emerald waters. The roomy villas at Six Senses Krabey are made for relaxation, with use of natural materials in wood, glass and stone, and all have private pools encased in humming foliage. You’ll be surprised how quickly you get into the swing of morning swims, afternoon massages and outdoor movies under the stars.
Into the Wild
Your trip will now take you from Krabey island to two-and-a-half hour’s drive deep into the wilds of Cambodia for three nights at Shanti Mani Wild, an exciting venture in the Cardamom mountains where if you choose, you can zip line through the dense canopy, crashing river and waterfalls that flow through the resort. This is one of the ways Shanti Mani likes to disrupt convention, another is the absence of mini bars in the well-appointed tents that overlook the river, instead a huge cool box contains champagne, fine wines and craft beer.
This off-the-beaten-track dwelling is the brainchild of hotel guru Bill Bensley, whose desire to protect Cambodia’s remote wilderness led to the completion of a luxurious hotel that would also act as a force for good in the area – protecting it from poaching, mining and logging. For guests, staying in a place that offers unfiltered access to a raw and rugged nature has a powerful effect. Wake up to the sounds of the tumbling river, head out on motorbikes with the anti-poaching brigade or take a boat up the backwaters to catch prawn and crab for lunch. This is immersive nature at its best and you’ll fall head over heels in love with it.