Shinta Mani hotel in Siem Reap has a secret. While it advertises itself as a 4 ½ * hotel, it is actually a 5* hotel at heart.
The hotel was designed by Bill Bensley – a famous designer of luxury resorts. It is modelled on the temples of Angkor, down to every last detail. The preciseness of the design resulted in the creation of a truly special building with all the comforts of 5* luxury.
However, Shinta Mani has a social mission – as well as its purpose of providing Siem Reap tourists with an exquisitely comfortable stay. In fact, the hotel’s slogan is “Open doors, open hearts”. Shinta Mani hotel has its own foundation and doubles as a hospitality training centre, and $5 of each guest’s nightly room rate is donated to the foundation. Students receive 10 months of on-the-job training in different hotel departments. It is for this reason that the hotel cannot be considered 5*as many of the staff are still learning their craft. It is perhaps a shame the hotel is in some ways penalised rather than rewarded for this social activity – but the advantage is that those expecting less than a 5* experience are rewarded with a very special kind of stay.
In truth, the success of the hotel as is much down to the execution of the services as its visual style. Staying at the Shinta Mani guests are really cared for as individuals, not just as another nightly stay. This is perhaps due to its relatively small size (there are only 39 rooms) but can also be attributed to the fact the hotel is a learning environment too. This gives a friendly atmosphere that can be lacking in other exclusive resorts. While personal space and relaxation is of utmost importance, all the staff take care to greet the guests and are genuinely interested in being a part of their experience of Cambodia.
The detail that Bensley paid to the hotel’s design is carried through in the personal touches given to each guest’s experience. Guests are greeted at the hotel with a cold towel on arrival – and this gesture is repeated on every return to the hotel, not just at initial check-in. It’s a small gesture, but is much appreciated when returning from an outing in the Cambodian heat. In the rooms, the guide for the guests is friendly and comprehensive and includes a varied selection of DVDs to borrow for free. The hotel enables guests to personalise their own experience in providing iPod docks with the speakers to play their own music. The rooms also provide a complimentary fruit platter, a small gift of potpourri on the bed, and, sweetly enough, a note from the Housekeeping manager wishing sweet dreams accompanies a small pack of biscuits.
This level of attention is apparent in every area of the hotel. When lounging by the pool you’ll be brought a complimentary ice lolly. Drinks are delivered with tasty nibbles. Books and magazines are discreetly available in the bar areas – as well as in the main library. All staff members are warm and friendly and obviously dedicated to providing a helpful, attentive yet not claustrophobic service.
The food available in the hotel is tasty and quite reasonably priced. The menu is varied, but not so extensive as to be overwhelming and there’s always a cocktail on special offer at the pool bar. The complimentary breakfast, however, is pretty comprehensive! The big outdoor sofa swings that suspend from the roof are the perfect place to relax for a few hours while sampling everything the buffet has to offer – and the buffet is in addition to the traditional breakfast dishes that can be ordered from the kitchen! Traditional Khmer breakfasts of rice porridge or noodles are there to be sampled, plus some familiar European comforts of cereals pastries, breads and spreads. There’s even marmite for those with specifically British tastes. Worth mentioning is the standard of the coffee – a really smooth taste and beautifully prepared.
The atmosphere of the restaurant at breakfast time is light and bright – the positioning of the space receiving the morning sun. Sitting outside you can really appreciate the charm of the hotel’s design, with the sun filtering through the Angkorian-themed entrance pillars and casting shadows that suggest an altogether different era. In the evening however, the restaurant transforms and the orange glow of candles throughout the area gives it a restful and intimate feel. The bar area – located on the first floor directly above the restaurant – provides a nice space to continue with after dinner drinks. The space invites relaxation, with comfy deep sofas constructed in alcoves that overhang the outside restaurant area below.
Returning to the bedrooms, it is fair to say that any room at Shinta Mani hotel, whether the superior or deluxe, feels spacious yet cosy. The beds are spacious and the duvets are heavy and snug. The bathrooms include the modern essentials and it is easy to request additional items from reception. The flat-screen TVs are just the right size that they don’t dominate the room. The rooms are relatively sparse in terms of artwork and unnecessary furnishings, but what is there is interesting yet understated and all inspired by the ancient Khmer empire. The air conditioning is discreet and effective and carefully positioned away from the bed so as not to blast guests with cool air in their face as they sleep!
Shinta Mani has not been open long but is already attracting repeat visitors. The hotel is extending on the other side of the road, constructing more rooms and an additional pool. Again, with a clever design Shinta Mani is able to offer its services to more guests, while still providing an atmosphere of intimacy. Specifically not a tour-bus hotel, it is a smart choice for travellers with a sense of individuality.