Wednesday newsletters always feature a hotel or flight review.
I recently enjoyed a wonderful holiday in Thailand (home to my favorite hotel in the world: Soneva Kiri) and the Kingdom of Cambodia. You can read my trip reports here:
- Review: Etihad Airways Airbus A380 First Class Apartment from Paris to Abu Dhabi
- Review: Etihad Airways Dreamliner B787 Business Class from Abu Dhabi to Bangkok
- Review: Waldorf Astoria Bangkok, Thailand
- Review: Zannier Hotels Phum Baitang, Cambodia
- Review: A visit to Angkor Wat, Cambodia
- Review: Alila Villas Koh Russey, Cambodia
- Review: Shinta Mani Wild by Bensley Collection, Cambodia (today)
- Review: Cathay Dragon Airbus A320 Business Class from Phnom Penh to Hong Kong
- Review: Cathay Pacific First Class Boeing 777 from Hong Kong to Frankfurt
Today (10 June, 2020): Review of Shinta Mani Wild – Bensley Collection (Cambodia).
- Location: Google maps
- Hotel website: Shinta Mani Wild – Bensley Collection
Created by famous resort designer Bill Bensley, Shinta Mani Wild is a radical new ‘glamping’ hotel concept in Cambodia, combining world class hospitality and conservation. The property is located in an unprotected wildlife corridor connecting the Bokor National Park with Kirirom National Park, and aims to protect this 350 hectares river valley from poaching, mining and logging. Fifteen custom designed tents are perched over swift moving waters and waterfalls, providing a view and experience unlike any other resort in Asia. Each tent is meticulously designed to invoke the feeling of what it would have been like to be on a luxury safari in the jungles of Cambodia with Jacky O.
Shinta Mani Wild features in my top 10 lists of the best hotels in Cambodia, the world’s best glamping sites, and the world’s best National Geographic lodges.
Have you ever stayed at Shinta Mani Wild? If so, what was your experience? Leave a comment.
In this review of Shinta Mani Wild (more info and photos below my Youtube clip & slideshow):
- Pros & things I like
- Cons & things to know
- My verdict
- Tips for future guests & save money
- Best time to visit
- How to get there
REVIEW OF SHINTA MANI WILD: PROS & THINGS I LIKE
- Shinta Mani Wild enjoys a delightfully remote location in a private nature sanctuary bordering the untouched wilderness of South Cardamom National Park. Established in May 2016, the National Park is protecting wildlife corridors for larger animals, and also aims to create a safe environment for reintroducing tigers to the Kingdom of Cambodia (tigers went extinct in the country in 2007). The property is a three hours’ drive from Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh and 2,5 hours’ drive from Sihanoukville, Cambodia’s premier beach destination (roundtrip transfers by private car are included in the room rate). Helicopter transfers are also available.
- Every arrival at the Shinta Mani Wild is an exhilarating experience as guests can “glide” into the lodge Indiana Jones style by a series of zip lines. The longest zip line is 400 m (1312 ft) long and represents the longest zip line in Cambodia. The zip lining adventure starts at a 7-storey high steel tower in the rainforest where guest are strapped into a harness by the experienced staff, before crisscrossing seemingly never-ending stretches of jungle, picturesque waterfalls, and the rushing Tmor Rung river. Zip lining is not the only way to arrive at the lodge (you can also get there by car), but it certainly sets the most appropriate tone for a stay in the wilderness.
- The lodge is the brainchild of acclaimed designer and architect Bill Bensley. Recognized for his art-deco inspired design, Bensley is the creative mastermind behind many of Asia’s most famous hotels, including the boutique property The Siam in Bangkok and The Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangle nestled in the Thai jungle. Shinta Mani Wild is a culmination of all that Bensley has learnt over 35 years of making hotels. He bought the land at an auction in order to save it from poaching, mining, and logging, and joined forces with homegrown entrepreneur Sokoun Chanpreda, to create a new travel experience far from Asia’s beaten tourist track.
- The ultraluxurious camp – which comprises a collection of tents – has been meticulously designed to evoke Bensley’s vision of what it might have been like to be on luxury safari in the jungles of Cambodia with Jacky Kennedy Onassis, who traveled throughout the Kingdom with King Sihanouk in 1967. The colorful and spacious tents – which house the accommodations, a bar and an al fresco restaurant – are design extravaganzas, all featuring a tastefully eccentric decor. They are stocked with expensive antiques, dark wood furniture, leather arm chairs, and remarkable curios such as a carousel horse hanging from the ceiling above the stylish bar.
- The 15 canvas-walled tents are dotted along a 1.5 km (1 mi) stretch of river, some directly over the rapids. All tents are raised above the ground, allowing the natural migratory movements of the forest inhabitants to continue below, and to provide sweeping views across the forest and river. The tents are opulently designed in true Bensley style with tasteful local colors and fabrics, and fascinating curios to recall the age of explorers and la belle époque. Each tents features an extra-large kingsize bed made of hardwood, double vanity, and enclosed shower and toilet cubicle, and has a large outdoor deck with living area and standalone bathtub.
- The lodge serves terrific cuisine, prepared by Chef Tim Pheak, a Cambodian trained at the Sofitel Siem Reap and Song Saa Private Island. Meals are served in the tents or in the restaurant at the lodge’s headquarters. Daily breakfast and lunch options are updated on a blackboard, while the set dinner menus rotate each evening, and feature (among others) a dumpling-themed dinner (with Asian dumplings served alongside mushroom ravioli and empanadas) and a curry night (showcasing a variety of curries, including mud crab curry). Thanks to the small number of guests, special requests can be readily accommodated with some advance notice.
- The camp’s headquarters not only comprise the main restaurant (as described above) but also an atmospheric bar, which boasts plush leather armchairs and overlooks a small waterfall. The bar is the perfect location to mingle with other guests and unwind after a day of trekking in the jungle, or exploring the waterways, previously untouched by tourism. The bar also doubles as the check-in area for ziplining guests, hence its name ‘Landing Bar’. Behind the bar is a magnificent black-bottom swimming pool that is shaped like an enormous bathtub, nestled amidst the jungle’s lush greenery. There’s a wooden terrace next to the pool with one row of sun loungers.
- The lodge’s spa is located deep inside the jungle, a short stroll from the headquarters. The treatment menu celebrates Cambodia with chemical-free tonics made from a unique mix of medicinal plants, herbs and spices all of which are present in the surrounding rainforest. The spa’s two treatment rooms are set high up in the tree canopy amid dramatic natural boulders, but the river takes center stage, too: guests can enjoy a river-stone foot massage while soaking in a waterfall pool. Unlimited spa treatments – which also includes natural heat healing, a full-body scrub and a detoxifying facial – are included in the room rate at no extra charge.
- Shinta Mani Wild offers a wide variety of wilderness experiences that exemplify the camp’s spirit of fun and adventure, promising authentic interactions with the incredible national parkland setting – all with a twist of Shinta Mani style. For example, guests can join the Wildlife Alliance anti-poaching rangers and researchers as they check camera points and study the untamed forest and its wildlife inhabitants. Another highlight is exploring the secret estuary backwaters and river beaches on one of the camp’s luxurious pontoon-style boats designed by Bill Bensley – so naturally they each have a fully-equipped bar and a top deck with daybed and sun loungers.
- Described by Bensley as a “utopia of sustainability”, the lodge’s conservation and community programs are spearheaded by the Shinta Mani Foundation, and include the provision of long-term employment opportunities to local inhabitants where there is minimal infrastructure and fewer work prospects. A key part of the protection of the forest is a partnership with Wildlife Alliance, whose daily patrol is funded by guest stays at the camp. This exercise in ingenuity enables guests to explore this pristine wilderness while making the lowest possible impact on the land, offering a luxury adventure with intimate access to one of Asia’s most stunning ecosystems.
- Shinta Mani Wild offers an all-inclusive experience. The room rate covers all privately guided excursions and adventure activities offered by the camp, all food and drinks consumed (both meals and in-suite beverages, including world-class wines and alcoholic drinks ), unlimited spa treatments (which is an exceptional feature), pop-up sunset drinks in different locations around the lodge, unpacking on arrival and packing before departure, complimentary laundry service (no dry cleaning though), as well as roundtrip car transfers (with onboard WiFi) from either Phnom Penh (3 hours) or Sihanoukville airport (2,5 hours).
- Shinta Mani Wild is a member of National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World, a collection of lodges that invite guests to discover some of the planet’s most treasured places, while helping to protect those places for generations to come. These properties – each handpicked by National Geographic – share a strong commitment to sustainable practices and to protecting natural and cultural heritage. They embody the values that National Geographic holds close: authenticity, enrichment, and a dedication to preserving our planet’s diversity. The guest experience they offer is intimate and exceptional, inspiring guests to connect with their destination in a meaningful way and to play a part in safeguarding it for the future.
REVIEW OF SHINTA MANI WILD: CONS & THINGS TO KNOW
Shinta Mani Wild is one of the most impressive resorts I’ve ever stayed at. The rainforest setting, zipline arrival, Bill Bensley design, fabulous tents, world-class cuisine, unlimited spa treatments, and unique excursions make for a memorable stay. That said, there are a few things you need to know when considering a stay here:
- The guest tents are set in the forest along the river and rapids, and some are a significant walk, across uneven terrain, from the lodge’s headquarters where the main restaurant, pool and bar are located. This may be very challenging for those guests that have difficulties with walking.
- Shinta Mani Wild is an extremely expensive resort but, on a positive note, 100% of the nightly rates goes back towards conservation efforts and the lodge does offer an all-inclusive experience (including airport transfers, all meals & drinks, unlimited spa treatments, and all excursions). That said, some costs are truly astronomical and simply too high, such as the nightly charge for a third person ($750 USD, excluding taxes) – wow!
- Joining a Wildlife Alliance anti-poaching patrol is advertised as the camp’s flagship activity, but it is not as exciting as one may think and is also not completely without danger. For example, during my patrol tour, we rode for 45 minutes on the back of motorbikes with the rangers over very bumpy roads under the scorching sun to the edge of the national park. Once we arrived there, the rangers arrested a group of poachers that were using an electric power saw to cut trees. Since the situation was deemed too dangerous, we had to wait (understandably) outside the forest during the arrest, and had to return to the lodge immediately following the arrest because the rangers could not exclude retaliation actions from the poachers’ relatives. While there was an (uncomfortable) adrenalin factor to this, the excursion felt poorly executed (a 90 min motorbike ride for only 10 min on site), but I guess we had bad luck.
REVIEW OF SHINTA MANI WILD: MY VERDICT
- Location: 9/10
- Design: 9/10
- Pool: 8/10
- Rooms: 10/10
- Food: 9/10
- Breakfast: 9/10
- Spa: 9/10
- Service: 10/10
- Value for money: 7/10
- Excursions & activities: 9/10
- Overall experience: excellent 8,9/10
REVIEW OF SHINTA MANI WILD: TIPS FOR FUTURE GUESTS & SAVE MONEY
- Tip: get complimentary VIP perks when booking via Virtuoso (e.g. room upgrade, early check-in, late check-out, and beautifully wrapped branded dry bag).
- Save money: read here my tips for getting the best deal at a luxury hotel like Shinta Mani Wild (and/or receive many free perks).
- Read my tips for preparing your trip in time.
REVIEW OF SHINTA MANI WILD: BEST TIME TO VISIT
The weather in Cambodia is dominated by a tropical monsoon climate and comprises three main seasons: a cool, dry season between November and February (which is the best period to visit the area); a hot, dry season from March to June; and a rainy season from July to October. Expect daytime temperatures to be in excess of 30 °C (86°F) throughout the year (with the possible exception of late December and early January, when it’s a bit cooler). The two periods April to May and September to October are characterised by high, almost untolerable humidity. The southwest monsoons arrive between May and October bringing unsettled, cloudy conditions and, for many, this is a welcome respite.
REVIEW OF SHINTA MANI WILD: HOW TO GET THERE
Shinta Mani Wild is a three hours’ drive from Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh and 2,5 hours’ drive from Sihanoukville, Cambodia’s premier beach destination (roundtrip transfers by private car are included in the room rate). Helicopter transfers are also available.
REVIEW OF SHINTA MANI WILD: PHOTOS
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