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    Swish Shinta Mani in Siem Reap

    Reception area at the Shinta Mani Resort

    For my money, the swishest place in Siem Reap is the Shinta Mani Club and Resort. Designed by luxury hotel maestro, Bill Bensley (Bangkok based and Harvard educated), the Shinta Mani sets the standard for haute hotels in Cambodia. A few descriptive words to get you in the mood: the fragrance of water lotus flowers; green malachite; ocean blue glass; swinging day beds suspended over a pool of orange goldfish; sweet Cambodian jellies; baskets of hanging green ferns; open hearts.

    Proving that true beauty isn't ever just skin deep, the Shinta Mani also has a strong commitment to responsible tourism. A percentage of your room rate goes to the Shinta Mani Foundation which then donates the money to local community projects - medical programs, English lessons and schools (like Human and Hope Association who make Alexandria Main beach bags). 

    There are two Shinta Mani hotels - the Shinta Mani Club, and the Shinta Mani Resort, directly across the road. Distinguished from the Resort by being a little smaller, the Club is decorated in shades of orange and grey and rooms are designed for privacy. It has a large lap pool where ice creams are handed out in the afternoon. A tiny spa is located upstairs - head there for a banana leaf body wrap after a day at the temples. Play a game of bespoke Shinta Mani Monopoly in your room before lounging on a hanging day bed over a goldfish pond at dinner time. (Tip: don't drink too much alcohol on a swinging bed: queasy gets doubled.)

    The Shinta Mani Resort is directly opposite and slightly larger than the Club. The Resort maintains a boutique feel, with low rise buildings wrapped around a large grass courtyard, a large pool sunk in the centre. Malachite print cushions and deep blue glasses complement large hanging fern baskets in the restaurant.

    When the shopping bug calls you, pop outside the hotel gates, turn towards the river and walk a few steps to the delicious Wa Gallery. Owned by a French expat, Cambodian style is melded with French flair in Wa. You can buy armfuls of multicoloured shagreen bangles, fluorescent Buddhas to drape on chains around your neck and the traditional krama (checked Cambodian scarves) refashioned in the softest Tibetan cashmere. Heading around to the road parallel to the river, turn left and you'll get to Foreign Correspondent's Club (sister property to the famed FCC in Phnom Penh) where you can dine al fresco in the tropical night heat, while bats glide over head.


    Shinta Mani Club and Resort

    Junction of Oum Khun and 14th Street,
    Siem Reap,

    Phone: +855-63-761-998

    Shinta Mani Club: Rooms from USD $220 (including taxes, breakfast and free wifi)

    Shinta Mani Resort: Rooms from USD $185 (including taxes, breakfast and free wifi)

    [* This is an unpaid review. I pay all my own way at every hotel I stay.]

    Lobby at the Shinta Mani Club

    Lobby at the Shinta Mani 

    Restaurant at the Shinta Mani Resort

    Cambodia Spa Challenge

    Best Spas in Phnom Penh

    On a sourcing trip to Phnom Penh in the New Year I decided to set myself a spa challenge because, as I like to say: why go hard when you can go soft? As it turned out, it wasn't all a cakewalk. There were tears, sweat, humiliation and yes, even pain in this week of spa-athon. Leave your Alexandria Main resort pjs on, because you'll be so zen at the end of this, you'll be wanting to go straight back to bed.

    (Note: All prices are in USD)

    Day 1: Sofitel So Spa 

    • Treatment: So Rejuvenating facial (60 minutes)
    • Price: $60 plus 17% VAT and service charge = $70.20 
    • Address: 26 Old August Site, Sothearos Boulevard, Phnom Penh 
    • Open: 10am to 10pm

    Situated in the Sofitel Hotel, the So Spa is a luxurious and zen space with the relaxation music and dark wood panelling you would expect from a five star hotel. I was greeted with chilled ginger tea and an iced face cloth in a quiet lounge. The menu is fun - you choose from Starters, Mains and Desserts. I was there for a facial which was relaxing and pleasant. After the facial I was given a macaroon and hot tea. It’s appropriate that the sweet treats are western in style because the bill that followed was western priced. For $70 USD it is probably the most expensive facial in Cambodia but if you are staying in-house it's a worthwhile indulgence. 

    Tip: Follow your treatment with fresh Vietnamese rolls and a pressed lemon drink served poolside.

    2. Seeing Hands Massage 










    • Treatment: Body massage (60 minutes)
    • Price: $7 US
    • Address: 12 Street 13 (Wat Phnom), Phnom Penh
    I was excited to get a massage from the famed Seeing Hands blind masseurs. After paying my $7 at the front desk, I walked up a couple of narrow flights of stairs and entered a dimly lit room with 6 beds. Everyone was wearing blue tunics and pants that resembled medical scrubs. Not going to lie, stories about tourists losing kidneys were starting to play in my mind (or wait, was that South America?) and I wasn’t feeling the most relaxed. The hostess pointed to a freshly laundered pair of blue scrubs on the bed and gestured to a curtain hung in the corner of the room where I could get changed. Signs on the wall asked for silence and advised that no responsibility will be taken for lost or stolen possessions. I changed quickly, placed my clothes in a locker and held the key tight as I sat on the bed waiting for my masseur to come in. She deftly placed a clean towel around the hole in the middle of the massage bed and pointed to me to lie face down in it. The silence was broken by the sound of talking clocks that alerted the blind masseurs to the time and a disturbing groaning coming from a bed in the corner. Occasionally the masseurs chatted to each other in Khmer and giggled. I try to relax into the massage, but it wasn’t for the faint hearted. In fact, it was pretty rough. The low point came at the end when she gave me a vigorous stomach massage that seemed designed to rearrange my internal organs. The litre of water I drank before the massage was now inhabiting my bladder and was not enjoying the pressure of a fully grown woman on it.

    I wanted to leave a tip, lack of enjoyment notwithstanding, but it wasn't clear where to put it, so I left feeling a bit mean. Karma got me in the end - as soon as I dressed, I developed a horrendous headache, which left me confined to a dark room waiting for pain killers to work for the rest of the day.

    Tip: More adrenalin raising than cortisol lowering. I’d go back just for the adventure of it, but will stick with a foot massage next time.

    3. Bodia Spa 

    • Treatment: Anti-ageing and firming facial (55 minutes)
    • Price: $34 (plus $5 tip)
    • Address: Corner Sothearos Blvd and St 178 (above U-Care Pharmacy)
    • Open: Daily from 10am to midnight

    The entry foyer is an organic curved space with slatted walls, hardwood floors and sisal stools. I was presented with a tray of cool ginger tea, an ice cold facecloth and a pretty pink lotus flower.

    In my cocoon-like treatment room - all dark brown painted walls with splashes of green - gentle hands applied soft, sweet smelling concoctions of avocado, egg white and lemon juice to my face and massaged my hands and feet. I decided I was never going to leave the room.


    Tip: Bodia offer complementary tuk tuk pick up from any hotel in Phnom Penh.

    4. Bliss Spa 

    • Treatment: Traditional Lulur Scrub (45 minutes)
    • Price: $26 (plus tip of $4)
    • Address: #29 Street 240, Phnom Penh
    • Open: 9am to 9pm every day

    To get to the Bliss Spa you step over a worn wooden doorstep onto a beautiful patterned tiled floor and walk past the racks of washed cotton confections that line the walls of the Bliss clothing boutique. An urn of lotus flowers and batik covered couches signals you have arrived in the spa. I booked online and didn’t bother to select the box that asked whether I wanted a man or a woman, largely because I didn't think I cared. Until… I was greeted by the Cambodian equivalent of George Clooney and suddenly self-consciousness took on a whole new meaning. While I stop blushing at the memory, let me tell you about the massage: it was a scrub of crushed rose buds and fresh jasmine flowers, blended with tumeric powder and rice and finishing with lavender oil massage. If that doesn’t sound like something you want to eat all up then I don’t know what does.


    Tip: Take extra cash because you’ll never get out of the Bliss Boutique without buying something.

    5. Friends International Nail Spa

    • Treatment: Gel manicure
    • Price: $16 (plus $2 tip)
    • Address: #215 Street 13, Phnom Penh

    Friends International is one of the poster children for successful social entrepreneurship in Cambodia. Through their nail spa, shop and restaurant they train and employ the most vulnerable children and give them skills and employment. The Nail Spa is in a small room next to the Friends ’N’ Stuff Shop. With only two nail technicians I couldn’t get an immediate appointment and was asked to come back in an hour. This left me just enough time for a short tuk tuk dash to the Elephant Bar at Raffles for a cocktail, where I discovered it was Happy Hour and everything was 50% off! I was in a sparkly mood by the time I came back to the nail bar so I chose a pretty silver glitter polish.


    Tip: Look at the gorgeous recycled football wallets in the Friends Shop - they look just like shagreen, except no stingray had to die for them.

    6. Phnom Penh Airport Plaza Premium Lounge Wellness Spa

    • Treatment: Foot Massage
    • Price: $20 (plus $2 tip)
    • Address: Phnom Penh International Airport

    Well, hello! I thought the challenge was finished until I walked through airport security and saw signs pointing to massage rooms.  There’s nothing sweeter than an encore when you think the show is over. Sheryl Sandberg would have been proud - I leaned into that massage chair faster than you could say Boarding Gate 7 and let my feet feel the love for 30 minutes.




    Tip: Business class travellers and members of reciprocal airport lounges get complimentary access, but anyone can use the lounge for $35 USD for 2 hours. (Massage price is additional)

    Luxe Hotel Guide to Phnom Penh

    If you’re looking for Luxe in Phnom Penh, look no further. Here are my top tips for beautiful beds, sparkling service and something special. And ....naturally all hotels listed have a commitment to responsible tourism or sustainability through programs that give back to the local community and ensure a light touch on the environment.

    Sofitel Phnom Penh

    • Sofitel Phnom Penh (5 stars) is very luxurious and quiet, with superb service. Set in the middle of a large green space it boasts 2 pools and 2 gyms and also has a spa. Ask for a pool view room. The alternative is a view over the large Aeon shopping centre next door, which could also see you woken up by truck deliveries all night. 

    I love it because it's a peaceful respite from the craziness of the city, but it you want hip and happening, you might prefer one of the other options below.

    Rooms are around $295 AUD per night

    • Raffles Hotel Le Royal. (5 stars) The grand dame of Phnom Penh, Raffles has been around since 1929 and is where Jacquline Kennedy once stayed (see the entrance foyer below). From a pebbled circular driveway, you walk up a small flight of stairs and in through a white colonnade facade. The Elephant Bar is where all the diplomats and wealthy ex pats hang out. Check out the US Embassy opposite. If you had any illusions that US power and influence was on the wane, the size of the building might make you reconsider. 

    Rooms are around $380 AUD per night
    Entry Foyer at Raffles Phnom Penh

    • Plantation Resort Hotel. (3-stars) A happening and hip boutique hotel in the heart of Phnom Penh, the Plantation Resort Hotel is tucked behind a high white fence in a street just behind the Royal Palace. You enter to peaceful water fountains and calming pools of water. It has a great boutique and a very swish cocktail bar or you might just prefer to retreat to a private day bed around the palm fringed swimming pool. 

    Rooms start at approximately $125 AUD per night

    • La Rose Hotel. Sustainable travel organisers, Soulful Concepts, recommend La Rose Hotel. The hotel is comprised of 2 separate properties - 4-star La Rose Boutique hotel and 5-star La Rose Suites, which has larger rooms. The spa and pool are located at La Rose Suites, which is a complimentary tuk tuk ride away from La Rose Hotel.

    Room rate start at approximately $120 AUD per night

    Dream weaver - why a pair of pajamas can change the world

    Alexandria Main pure silk pajamas are made from Cambodian hand loomed silk. Which, to conscious consumers, has bigger picture importance.

    I’ve chosen to use Cambodian silk because it has a value beyond just being beautiful. The art of weaving is a technique that has been handed down from mother to daughter, through the generations. Stands of mulberry trees - the food of choice for silkworms - would indicate a silk community. The Khmer Rouge period saw the virtual destruction of the silk industry, as the mulberry bushes were destroyed, and weavers were forced to turn their hands to agricultural production.

    Since the end of the war, the international community and Cambodian government have co-operated to attempt to revive the silk sector. The Cambodian National Silk Strategy estimates that silk generated a sales volume of $35 million in 2014, or around 0.15% of Cambodia’s total GDP. In spite of the low monetary value to the country, the silk sector is counted among the 10 most important sectors for economic development because it represents a potent way out of poverty for groups who have few alternatives to make money. Many weavers live in isolated rural communities. Silk production offers the dual advantages of high value add and flexibility as it can be done in the weaver's house. The demand and price for silk have been steadily increasing. Between 2004 and 2014 Cambodian silk exports grew at an average rate of 14% per year. The price of Cambodian silk more than tripled in the seven years between 2007 and 2014.

    Between 66% to 87% of the silk workforce are women. A significant number of these women are landmine or polio victims, people with disabilities, victims of human trafficking, widows and orphans. The US State Department reports that Cambodia is a source, transit and destination country for men, women and children subjected to forced labour and sex trafficking. The sale of virgin women and children in Cambodia is a continual problem. Poverty makes people vulnerable. I’m not suggesting that buying a pair of silk pajamas is going to stop these scourges, but engaging people in financially beneficial work reduces their risk of being taken advantage of.

    Knowing the provenance of our clothes and understanding that our choices have the potential to make a positive difference in the life of another person is powerful for us and powerful for them.

    I hope you enjoy wearing your life altering pajamas.

    How to care for silk

    Caring for silk is easier than you might think. All Alexandria Main silk has been washed before making it into pyjamas, so the natural shrinkage has already occurred and the dye has been tested for colour fastness. Any colours that run are rejected. 

    I hand wash my silk pyjamas in lukewarm water using a gentle washing liquid. Unless they are stained, you won't need to do much more than a gentle swirl around the water. I gently wring them out and hang them inside on a clothing rack, laid over a white towel to dry. When the pyjams are dry, use a low heat and iron on the reverse side. 

    Alexandria Main pyjamas are made from hand loomed silk, using weaving techniques that date back thousands of years. The silk has a beautiful starched taffeta feel because it has been made with a traditional manual reeling process. Over time, and with more washing, the silk will become less crisp. Our navy blue silk is softer, for example, than the other colours because it has been over-dyed several times.

    Fun facts for you: Silk is one of the most hypoallergenic of all fabrics because it is made from a natural protein structure. It appears luminous because it is made of triangular prism shaped fibres that reflect light at different angles.