Chamroeun and Sok love nothing more than lounging under straw parasols, taking the weight off weary feet while sleepily paying very little attention to the world as it slowly passes by. A cool drink interjects the snoozing, that, and meandering to other parts of the resort at various times of the day.
They work hard. They deserve the rest.
Just like us.
Except Chamroeun and Sok aren’t like us. They are water buffaloes.
Luckily living at Zannier Hotels, Phum Baitang, a luxurious five-star resort on the outskirts of Siem Reap, Cambodia. They are an integral part of the family, working the rice paddy fields that are harvested three times a year. The paddy fields and gardens combine to create this ‘green village’ or ‘Phum Baitang’ in Khmer, sitting at the feet of the UNESCO Angkor World Heritage site. Twenty acres forms this haven of forty-five villas, half of which has a pool, all designed like stilted traditional farmhouses.
Siem Reap International Airport is fifteen minutes away. The resort’s Land Rover Defender smoothly navigates along the perfectly tarmacked, pothole less road, exceptionally well kept as the gateway for tourists. Suddenly, a left turn slips onto a side road, and this is where the Defender comes into her own. Dips and crevices test her suspension. The deep red clay road, acts like the proverbial yellow brick one, follow it through a local village, along a stream and past farmland, to freshly built rustic walls and the towering gate that signals the entrance to paradise. Passing through, you are transported back in time, the lush green trees sway overhead, the hundred-year-old farmhouse that is now the cigar and cocktail bar, swims into view and peace descends.
The lobby is enchanting. It begins al fresco and morphs into a regal, rural space clad with dark wooden cabinets, flickering candles, and original furniture.
The air is warm and soothing, breathe deeply and let the relaxation begin.
A long wooden walkway leads from the lobby to the main 50 metre pool. Off shoots branch throughout, providing a connection to every part of the resort. After checking in you can hop in a golf cart or make your way on foot to your villa. Bikes are also available to potter about. A frog chorus, some may argue toads, offer a welcome serenade. At certain times of the year local weddings held in the field nearby heralds joyous singing that floats over the walls. Who needs radio?
There are two types of villas; the balcony, and the pool. The latter, as the name suggests, are gifted with private plunge pools and adjacent salas. All are modelled on traditional Khmer homes. Both have red tile roofs, wood cladding, worn wooden floors, rattan sliding doors and rich furniture. A set of wooden abacus adorns the wall, ridiculously ironic, as the last thing you want to do is count the days until you leave.
The longer you stay the better.
Gone are the days of rushing to Siem Reap to visit the temples and dash. Phum Baitang has changed that, it makes you want to put down roots, admittedly not as large as those that can be seen at the Ta Prohm Temple, famously featured in the film Tomb Raider.
An open lotus flower, the flower that arises from the mud without stains, aptly awaits in the grand bathroom, furnished with a standalone bath and rain showers. A welcome drink made from honey, mint, lemongrass, lime, and sugar accompanies an exotic fruit platter. Nespresso machines, surround sound and Bluetooth ensure connectivity. Better to switch it off though and surrender to nature, frogs included.
On the table, a book of ‘Great Yoga Retreats’, encourages rest and relaxation, as does the Temple Spa, styled on the architecture of Angkor Wat. The holistic spa has seven treatment rooms, as well as a sauna and a stream room offering traditional Khmer therapies and rituals including a water blessing by a Buddhist Monk.
You could easily stay at Phum Baitang without venturing outside the privacy and sanctuary of its walls, however, should you wish to visit the Angkor ruins or Siem Reap town centre, they are merely a twenty-minute drive. The resort has a fleet of cars and ‘remoques’ or tuk-tuks, that can take you there, they also provide water and a light snack, and a half-frozen cloth to refresh sweat drenched faces. When you return, staff greet you with ‘welcome home’, a thoughtful gesture, well received.
After a culturally immersed day at the ruins, nourishment is essential. There are many options to suit every palate. Wander from your villa, a torch is by the bedside table should you be out late, to the Bai Phsar Restaurant by the pool. It serves fantastic local cuisine, using rice from the paddy field, outdoor dining is a must. The Hang Bay Restaurant is fully air-conditioned presenting pure Cambodian fine dining. You could eat in your room, or in the garden by your villa, amongst the White Pulmeria trees, that scatter petals like an illusionary dusting of snow on the ground.
The Sunset Lounge lives up to its name with stunning views as the sun descends. Climb the steps into the 100-year-old Cambodian farmhouse, sit on the rattan winged chairs, oriental carpets underfoot. Peruse the local artefacts, before selecting a cocktail, try the Sunset at Phum Baitang, made with Jason Kong Butterfly Pea’s gin, tonic water, and a slice of orange. Settle in before the sun dips to savour every second. Pure simplicity, just what owner Arnaud Zannier strives to achieve.
Before leaving, a gift of ‘Sen Kro Oub’ rice or Cambodian fragrant rice is given. The gardeners have taken great care and pride in planting, cultivating, and harvesting the product. Chamroeun and Sok also played a vital role, but now its time to rest. So, like them, come and choose a parasol, take the weight off your weary feet, and let the world go by. Simple.
For more information visit: Zannier Hotels Phum Baitang