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Cambodia high life and sustainability

Gibbons Five star Tent Lodge in Cambodia.

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9th May 2022

Guests at Cambodia’s Shinta Mani Wild Bensley Collection arrive for check-in in style. They don’t arrive by taxi but by Zipwire.

They arrive at reception for their welcome drink and perfumed refresher towel in chains and a safety helmet.

The 865 acre Shinta Mani Wild Bensley Collection is an all-inclusive luxury tented camp located deep in the South Cardamom National Park. The tents are more like luxury lodges. The camp has 14 one-bedroom tents (141sqm) and one two-bedroom tent (140sqm) and offers guests bespoke experiences.

Its unique mode of arrival is via a double-cable 400m zipline above the forest canopy and across the Tmor Rung river and the Raging Big Sister and Middle Sister waterfalls, straight into the Landing Zone Bar where guests are greeted by their Bensley Adventure Butler and the General Manager. And a gin and tonic. Or a slug of tequila.

No mocktails! Not many hotels offer such a spectacular arrival. Or the chance to confiscate a bulldozer!

The five-star tent lodges have been named like The Great Conservationist (after Sir Laurens van Der Post), The Botanist’s (which is decorated with Katie Spencer botanical artwork), Gibbons (situated close and personal with a resident troop of pileated gibbons), Birders and the First Lady Jackie Kennedy which marks her visit to Cambodia in 1967.

Creative luxury adventures include exploring waterways of South East Asia’s last wild estuarine ecosystem aboard a custom Bill Bensley-designed expedition boat. Or joining armed Wildlife Alliance rangers on daily anti-poaching patrols.

You can help remove snares, pangolin and bird nets, illegal trees and help confiscate bulldozers, ox carts and chainsaws as well as release turtles, civets, macques and water dragons back into the wild.

Menus are inspired by sustainably foraged wild edible plants, as the Executive Chef guides guests through the forest to discover Cambodia’s natural larder from fresh mud crabs to red ants.

The Khmer Tonics Spa provides a range of chemical-free treatments including a river-stone foot massage while soaking in a waterfall pool.

Rates start from USD1,900 per tent per night (based on twin or double occupancy) plus applicable service charge and government taxes.  Rates include all food and beverage; private guided activities and excursions, unlimited spa treatments and land and airborne transfers from  Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville airports.  Helicopter transfers are additional.  A minimum three-night stay is required and a minimum age of ten.

The group’s non-profit Foundation was created by Sokoun Chanpreda, the founder of Shinta Mani Hotels, to support health, education and development programmes for the less fortunate in the community.  The Foundation’s operation costs are fully funded by Shinta Mani Hotels.  Guest help support local students, provide family health care empower local business owners and WASH (Water, Sanitation And Hygiene) projects.

The five-star tent lodges have been named like The Great Conservationist. The Birders tent lodge marks Jackie Kennedy's visit to Cambodia in 1967
The five-star tent lodges have been named like The Great Conservationist. The Birders tent lodge marks Jackie Kennedy's visit to Cambodia in 1967

Says GM Sangjay Choegyal: “ Foraging brings work for yet more local community member, including former loggers from surrounding villagers. We’ve hired them as part of our landscaping and kitchen teams, so we’re helping to prevent more deforestation.”

Pioneering sustainability-centered American landscape architect and interior designer, Bill Bensley,  has designed over 200 “hospitality projects” in over fifty countries, including Bangkok’s Shangri-La, and Oberoi Udalvillas in Agra, India, Four Seasons Resort Hualalai and Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangle in Chiang Rai.

Born in California, Bill’s father was a NASA research engineer. He is a graduate of California State Polytechnic University landscape architecture program and urban design at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. Having worked in Hong Kong and Singapore, he opened his first studio in Bangkok in 1989 and a second in Bali a year later. Private clients include Malaysian Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin of Terengganu.

At the Four Seasons Koh Samui, Bensley, now 63, introduced the concept of Minimal Intervention creating a new model of hospitality which blends conservation with high-end luxury. 

His mantra is “Build with purpose. Educate guests and employers. Champion environmental issue. Think locally and sustainably. Build sensibly.” He calls his SSS ( Sensible Sustainability Solutions) “low hanging fruit for the hospitality industry.”

“We really must understand, now, in the 11th hour of life on earth that our world requires some serious rethinking. We are in the midst of the world’s 6th extinction, and it is our responsibility to do whatever we can to save our planet.”

His dedication to conservation and sustainability led him to buy land, “roughly the size of Central Park” in Cambodia’s Cardamom Mountains, home to 54 animals on the Red List to prevent it from being mined. He set up the camp, built the zipwire and helps guests contribute personally and financially to Wildlife Alliance’s protection of the environment.

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