A new boutique hotel with an at-one-with-nature ethos has opened near Wat Preah Enkosei – set back from the River Road, Natura Resort’s nine rooms seek to blend in with their leafy environment.
French-born-and-raised owner Peou Rathanak opened the resort in May. He says he tried to respect the forest-like environs as much as possible, designing the hotel around the tall trees and plants and only cutting down four trees to make way for the pool and restaurant. In the reception area, one tree even bursts through a specially-cut hole cut in the ceiling, spreading upwards to a rooftop garden area.
“Natura Resort is really about allowing the clients to experience nature,” says Peou. “We want people to come and relax and really enjoy nature, almost cocooning into the forest.”
Peou adds that preserving the environment is of tantamount importance. “I think we all know about the problems with deforestation in Cambodia,” he says. “I have always felt really close to nature and when I saw this space I wanted to preserve it. I knew I could do something unique.
“There are a lot of boutique hotels in Siem Reap and in Phnom Penh that are in some ways quite similar, so I just wanted to do something special – adapt the hotel and all the building construction around nature. That’s why we designed the rooms with big windows on the balcony because we wanted to make a link between the inside and the outside.”
The nine rooms are designed in a contemporary, minimalist style and are ideal for couples or families wanting to escape the hustle and bustle of city life, Peou says. As well as the six deluxe rooms there are two garden-view rooms overlooking the pool, and a duplex family suite. The setting is verdant and shady, with large, heart-shaped ‘elephant ear’ plants growing attractively around the white buildings.
“I didn’t want to add exotic flowers or plants because this is really like a forest here,” says Peou. “So I didn’t want exotic trees like the coconut trees you see everywhere. I want to keep it like a forest.”
Peou says Natura Resort has proved especially popular with English expats from Phnom Penh, Ho Chi Minh City, Singapore and other Asian cities, as well as Chinese and French customers.
“I think it’s very good for city dwellers who live in a big city and are very stressed, who need to have a break for two or three days and relax,” he says.
The resort boasts a salt-water swimming-pool, restaurant and an attractive, uniquely-designed poolside bar. Tying in with the nature theme, the transparent front is filled with different types of Cambodian seeds, nuts and grains of rice.
The restaurant serves a mixture of Cambodian and western food, including some more unusual dishes such as duck parmentier, a posh French take on cottage pie, but with an overall emphasis on healthiness. All the staff is from Sala Bai hotel school.
“It’s very healthy food so we do a lot of vegetarian food and we are the only place in Siem Reap doing vegan food as well,” says Peou. “We’ll have some meat of course, but our vision is to promote good food, making the balance between body and soul, wellbeing.”
There are plans to open an open-air spa, a rooftop restaurant and to start holding outdoor yoga classes later in the year.
“Hopefully the spa will open in August,” says Peou. “We’ll do Khmer massage, oil massage and foot massage. We are working with Sokkhak Spa.”
Peou, 28, was born in France and grew up speaking French, Khmer and English but says he feels “really Cambodian.” Having studied business in Lyon he moved to Cambodia six years ago to work at Artisans d’Angkor where he was marketing manager. Peou says he wishes to create a family feel at Natura Resort, and for the staff to enjoy and value their jobs.
“That’s why I came to Cambodia, because of social enterprise,” he says. “My objective was to come back and to participate in the growing economy. There is a lot of opportunity.”
He adds that he wants to run Natura as a social business, and that he would like to encourage Cambodian people to develop but not, “forget all the principles and values of Cambodian society before”.
Natura Resort is now featuring low-season reduced prices – a deluxe room is $69 while the family suite is $99. .