On the way to Siem Reap’s tenth-century temple Banteay Srei is a more than 100-year-old structure now serving as an authentic Cambodian homestay for tourists, giving them an insight into a bygone era.
Bong Thom Homestay features three types of traditional Khmer structures; the 85-year-old ‘rural tycoon’s house’, the 88-year-old ‘patron house’ and the 119-year-old ‘almshouse’.
The homestay’s owner, Sou Say aka Bong Thom, tells The Post: “I decided to create a Khmer house homestay, aiming to develop and preserve old houses by buying and refurbishing them in the same style.”
Even though the wooden almshouse is more than century old, its columns remain strong and its decor refined after a renovation in 2010 that was respectful to the original design. The one modern addition is a swimming pool for guests.
Situated by the forest and domestic plantations growing vegetables, mangoes, passion fruit, dragon fruit and durian – the products that support the main kitchen – the homestay opened for tourists in 2011.
“Customers want to experience the real lifestyle of rural people, but their actual accommodation has to be comfortable,” says Khan Vann Chhay, Bong Thom Homestay’s General Manger.
“They are mostly students from Europe, Singapore and Malaysia. They come to stay and trail around the villages, ride oxcarts, observe villagers. We see people cook Khmer rice cake, produce palm sugar and harvest rice.”
While guests enjoy a rural lifestyle experience, the homestay is also equipped with modern amenities, including air-conditioning and a swimming pool.
The four wooden villas at the homestay – named Hara-Chapa, Coconut Mamgnalia, Rumdul and Ylang-Ylang – can house couples (around $100 per night including breakfast and dinner) or families of six (between $190 and $220, including breakfast and dinner).
The homestay also hosts Khmer cooking classes to promote local food and share rural flavour.
“They learn some Khmer foods – such as mango salad, banana blossom salad, amok, as well as palm fruit cupcake – and see natural backyard vegetables and practice rice farming,” says Vann Chhay.
“The land around the homestay is organised as a traditional Khmer vegetable garden, but instead of growing the usual local vegetables, it produces Western vegetables. These items can be supplied to our homestay. Fruit trees and flowers will also be planted, and behind the house are two ponds for raising fish.”
Each evening guests also get to enjoy traditional music with local villagers and experience local customs.
“We have traditional musicians to sing popular Khmer songs. Our customers can dance with Khmer traditional songs along with the villagers,” says Khan Vann Don, the homestay’s Business Development Manager. “People can hire and wear traditional costumes to take photos with our farming tools in our old houses.”
Bong Thom Homestay also contributes to the education of children in the community that still lacks a foreign language school.
“We hire someone to teach English for community children who want to have a foreign language for their future careers. Around the village there is no such school,” Vann Don says.
The Bong Thom Homestay is in Banteay Srei district’s Sanday village, Siem Reap, about 10km from Banteay Srei temple and 25km from Siem Reap town. The swimming pool is open to the general public each day until 5pm at a cost of $5.
For more information, you can contact them via telephone (098 695 224) or visit their website (www.bongthomhomestay.com).