Hotel ‘village’ preserves wooden house culture

Hotel ‘village’ preserves wooden house culture

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The 'village' of wooden homes surrounds an inviting swimming pool. Photograph: Oyen Rodriguez/Phnom Penh Post

A ‘village’ of eleven traditional Khmer houses from different eras and different provinces has been carefully built as part of an uber-chic new hotel, Sala Lodges.

The stilted wooden houses, dating from 1956 to the mid-80s, were all spotted in the Cambodian countryside and transported to the property, where they were reconstructed retaining all the original features. They are in direct contrast with the lobby, restaurant and salt-water infinity pool, which are all designed with a contemporary look, all sleek lines featuring concrete and glass as well as wood.

The four Swiss co-owners – two couples; Céline Goumaz and Adrien Ruffy, and Simone and Arne Lugeon – had the same idea of building a hotel which married the old and the new.

Ruffy and his wife Céline Goumaz, who previously lived in Battambang where they spent two years running boutique hotel La Villa, had always loved the look of wooden houses.  Adrien Ruffy says the basic idea was to scour the countryside looking for suitable Khmer houses.

Céline Goumaz says, “When we were in the countryside we always thought those wooden houses were so beautiful, and that it would be interesting to do something with them.

“Our friend Simone lives in Singapore but organises big tours all over Southeast Asia, and when she went to the Mekong she fell in love with the houses too. We hadn’t discussed it together, but we had the same idea.”

The friends decided on Siem Reap as their location, bought a plot of land in Salakomroeuk commune close to Wat Damnak in 2010, and started looking for houses in February 2011.

“The houses came one by one,” says Goumaz. “We had to think a lot which houses would work where, in order to have harmony.”

Adrien Ruffy says, “We had a Khmer team who knew about the quality of the wood. They went round the countryside and found houses for sale, put them carefully on the truck, brought them here and rebuilt them, like Lego.”

It took about a month to rebuild each house, including renovations on roofs and windows, installing air-conditioning and putting in bathrooms. Ruffy admits they faced some challenges during the rainy season floods of 2011.

Each of the eleven houses has its own history and architectural design, from the oldest of the lodges, the 1956 house with its unique rounded pillars, to the large family house built in 1962 in Kampong Thom and later used as an army barracks.

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Exterior of a 1962 wooden house. Originally a family house built in​ Thnont village in Kampong Chen Chon commune, it became the property of a​ colonel and served as a military base for the army of Stong district until it was sold to Sala Lodges in August 2011. Photograph: Miranda Glasser/Phnom Penh Post

Some houses have beautiful carved wooden roof detail, others pretty blue shuttered windows and all have their own terrace plus a small vegetable patch, in keeping with the village theme.

For the interiors, the team hired Swiss interior designer Marina Cardis to seek out furniture that would best compliment the wooden exterior.

“Most of the furniture you see in the rooms is from India,” says Ruffy. “Also the antiques, and the lanterns at the entrance of the hotel.”

“Our designer worked a lot in India,” says Goumaz. “We also decided on India because we thought it made sense because Angkor Wat was connected to the Indian gods at the beginning.”

The rooms feature spacious bathrooms largely built from wood, but with modern details such as delicate, seed-covered lampshades made by local designer Rany Som of Graines de Cambodge.

The group teamed up with French architect Claire Campens for the contemporary look in common areas such as the restaurant, swimming pool and open-air ‘sky lounge.’

The urban-chic Monolith restaurant with its concrete pillars, iron-topped bar and hanging retro glass lamps is open to the public and serves Asian-fusion cuisine.

Recipes are created by a food journalist friend of Goumaz’s in Switzerland, who has a passion for spices and marinades.

“We have fresh, fusion food like duck with mandarin, and gazpacho soup with sesame and banana flower, gazpacho but with a taste of Asia,” says Goumaz. “Also pandan crème brûlée, and that’s very original too.”

The Sala Lodges garden is a very important part of the village concept, says Ruffy. Singapore-based British landscape designer Stephen Caffyn was brought in and aimed to replicate the look of the countryside.

The name Sala Lodges comes from the Khmer word ‘sala’ meaning small house by a pagoda where travelers can stop for a rest.

And of course, the lodge is in Salakomroeuk commune.

Sala Lodges is featuring a low season special price of $150 per night including breakfast, subject to availability, until the end of June 2013.  The hotel is also running a ‘Swim, Sip and Savour’ package every weekend from 2pm including use of pool, a cocktail and dinner for $30, until end of September.