Udaya is a Sanskrit word which, amongst other meanings, is related to rising up, the dawn, and ascent. By staying at Udaya Residence you’ll have the feeling of ascending to a new level of relaxation as you enjoy the boutique hotel’s excellent hospitality. You’ll also feel great knowing that you’re contributing to advancing a family-owned business in this developing country with a growing economy.
Unless you set an alarm, though, you won’t be up with the dawn at Udaya Residences. Unlike at many Cambodian hotels, you can’t hear roosters or traffic from your room and Udaya’s staff take care to be quiet. They’ve even applied a fabric cushioning under chairs and other furniture, so they there’s no noise when your upstairs neighbour slides them across the tile floor — a rare and thoughtful touch.
You’ll be in one of Udaya’s 22 rooms, in either one of the two buildings surrounding the saltwater pool or in a building behind the restaurant, all surrounded by gardens. Rooms are large and have subtle Khmer decorations. The rooms are spacious and have plenty of space for storage, plus a desk, large safe and TV. A double-sided mirror in the sink area, open to the bedroom, is ideal for two people wanting to get ready at the same time.
Our room has a king-size bed, decorated daily with flower petals, atop a wooden pedestal and a stunning carved wooden ceiling. We have a separate shower room and toilet room as well. First floor rooms like ours have glass doors out to the pool. Upstairs rooms have a balcony overlooking the pool, some rooms also have a separate private terrace, ideal for a romantic candlelit dinner. Book the presidential suite for an outdoor rain shower and pool-like bathtub.
The saltwater pool is in the centre of the hotel. It’s surrounded by curtained sunbeds and has two beautiful elephant sculptures at one end. Udaya’s restaurant is at the other end. Rates include a buffet breakfast with delicious pastries, fruits from the farm of the owners, and a variety of western and Asian hot dishes. The chef generously offered to cook eggs to order for Paul, wanting to be sure his breakfast was allergen-free. Not only that, but other restaurant staff were briefed on his allergies and were fully prepared at our next meal. This is a kindness and thoroughness that is rare even at the world’s top luxury chains and is a tremendous relief for an allergy-sufferer.
Your stay at Udaya will undoubtedly include visiting the Angkor temples and other local sites. Arrange bespoke day tours through Udaya; guides are specifically selected to go above and beyond and offer deeper insights into Khmer culture and Cambodian history than many other tours. Booking a photo tour to Phnom Kulen, for example, includes a tripod to borrow and photography advice so you can learn how to make your photos of waterfalls look as smooth as silk.
Be sure to save time to visit the spa. Book the traditional Khmer herbal compress massage — not only will it cure you of any aches and pains from the steep steps at the temples, you’ll be so relaxed you’ll float back to your room in a daze afterward.
Udaya is one of those rare hotels that makes you feel welcomed and special. Book early as this Cambodian gem is often sold out well in advance.
Listen to the rustle of the breeze through the trees in Swiss-owned Sala Lodges’ gardens and imagine what it would have been like to live in one of these traditional houses in rural Cambodia. This unique Siem Reap hotel has saved, dismantled and restored eleven wooden houses from across Cambodia, and re-created a village of hotel suites like no other.
While the houses look traditional on the outside, inside they’ve been adapted into hotel suites. As much as possible of the original has been maintained. Our suite is House Number 1 — “mouy” in Khmer. We check-in with frangipani-scented cool towels and lime ginger drinks on the front porch of our house. We learn that it was the last to arrive on the property and that it’s from Ta Prom, a village about 60 km from Siem Reap. It was built by its first owner, a master carpenter, in 1957 and he added quality and embellishments that many houses of the same era lack.
Inside there’s a small sitting area, a large main room complete with king bed, a separate toilet room and a large bathroom area with shower. Rooms are equipped with a safe, mini-fridge and telephone, but not a television. In the evening, turndown staff come to close the wooden shutters, arrange the mosquito nets surrounding the bed, and prepare your room for a comfortable sleep. While the hotel sprays for mosquitos weekly and suites do have air conditioning and fans, the nature of the old wooden buildings means a mosquito could sneak in through a crack in the floorboards, though we saw none. Earplugs are also provided to protect against noise from the restaurants, fellow guests and neighbours who rise early to start work when the day is still cool.
As one would expect in a hotel that has gone out of its way to protect the archeological heritage of Cambodia, Sala Lodges also makes efforts to protect Cambodia’s environment. It treats its tap water and participates in the Refill not Landfill program started by a group of Siem Reap hoteliers and restauranteurs. They provide guests with aluminum water bottles that can be refilled for free onsite or in 20 locations in Siem Reap. Lotions and potions to make you feel and smell pretty are by organic Bodia Nature line and are also in refillable containers.
The traditional houses are sprinkled over Sala Lodges’ bright green grounds dotted with small rice paddies and other trees and plants used in the kitchen. Sala Lodges’ saltwater pool is at the back of the property, past a secondary outdoor restaurant ideal for breakfast or cocktails. The main restaurant is near the entrance to the hotel. Common areas have contemporary lines and modern chairs and couches, mixed with traditional tables and lanterns.
Befitting its traditional village atmosphere, Sala Lodges is outside of the built-up part of Siem Reap. It’s about a half hour walk or a short tuktuk ride to downtown Siem Reap.
While Siem Reap’s hotels are full of beautiful gardens, trees are rarer until you get close to the Angkor Archeological site. Natura Resort is unique because it was built around a small grove of old trees. Holes are even cut into the floor of the restaurant balcony for the trees to grow through.
Across the street from the river, the hotel is on the way to the Angkor temples from downtown. It’s an easy 30-minute stroll or five-minute tuktuk ride to the central market and Pub Street. You’re also close to one of our top recommended restaurants, Mie Café.
Natura Resort aims for a zen experience. The boutique hotel has 23 rooms in two two-storey buildings. Room size ranges from a cozy 25 square metres to 35 for the deluxe rooms and 50 for the 2-storey family rooms. The restaurant is in the centre of the grounds, and the pool and bar are at the far end from the road.
Our room looks out over the saltwater pool and has a huge balcony shaded by flowering vines. The room is equipped with a minifridge, TV, small safe and queen bed. The decor is simple and soothing, with a Buddha statue guarding over us. I loved the fresh scent created by warming lemongrass and water via a candle in the corner. It was also nice to have drinking water provided in refillable glass bottles to try to help Siem Reap’s plastic problem. Natura Resort provides its soap, shampoo and conditioner in refillable clay jars too. The bathroom has a large counter area, though the glass wall to the shower was a bit short to prevent water from splashing into the main part of the bathroom.
The pool bar plays piano spa music in mornings, aiming to cover up any noises coming from the kitchen. Before lunch the music switches to cool jazz, perfect for enjoying a cocktail or a fresh fruit juice in a poolside lounge chair. The pool area has a cool vibe with grey and green colour scheme. The saltwater pool is refreshingly cool thanks to its significant depth. It’s an ideal place to recharge and rest from the dustry streets and temples of Cambodia.
Natura Resort’s breakfast is delicious, offering both western and Asian set breakfasts. The restaurant menu includes a variety of vegetarian and vegan foods for lunch and dinner too.
Samanea is a new 5 star resort opening in Kep in July 2014. I was lucky enough to be a ‘preview’ guest, watching the project manager putting the finishing touches on the resort and hearing about the plans for the future.
The 8 villas (10) rooms were built amongst extensive landscaped gardens on the coast of Kep in 2012 but was never opened due to family reasons. The owners have now engaged the services of Belgian antiques dealer, Alain Garnier, who is behind the charming Governor’s House in Phnom Penh, to create something special at Samanea.
I stayed in a spacious junior villa, decorated with antique ceramics and trunks from across Asia and tasteful furnishings. I loved being the first person to sleep in the comfortable four poster bed and to use the fluffy white towels.
Bathing is al fresco here – the large bathtub, rainwater shower and Khmer washing pot are outside in a private courtyard. The shower area is sheltered from the elements by the roof awning.
Although not operational during my stay, a glass house restaurant will serve meals overlooking the swimming pool and with views to the sea. Ex Song Saa chef will be joining the team. You can also choose to take meals at one of the private dining spots along the walkway through the mangroves.
The swimming pool is large, about twice as big as most hotel pools and is long enough to swim laps without getting dizzy, with room to spare for more sedate bathers.
One of the best features of Samanea is the 250 metre pier. It truly feels like you’re walking out into the middle of the ocean. It’s the perfect spot from which to watch the sunset behind the Bokor Mountain peninsular. Equally perfect for brides – the team hope to host many weddings here.
Future developments include a dedicated cooking school area, vegetable and herb garden, and onsite spa, as well as becoming a tropical wedding destination.