14 Nov An Extraordinary Luxury Camp in the Cambodian Jungle
Bensley Collection – Shinta Mani Wild opened at the end of 2018. It had been on my bucket list of “must places to visit” since it had opened and I couldn’t wait for our 3 night stay here during our recent trip to Cambodia.
The exclusive private nature sanctuary, like no other previously seen in Asia is located in the remote wilderness of the Kirirom and the Southern Cardamom Mountains. Set along a private 4km stretch of wild river punctuated with mezmerising waterfalls and sounds of the jungle, Shinta Mani Wild nurtures its natural environment through partnerships with respected conservation organisations including the Wildlife Alliance. Whilst also being set on an important elephant migration trail our time in the jungle offered us the most extravagant and educational tented camp experience yet.
From the moment we arrived into the Landing Zone Bar, “Indiana Jones” style, via an exhilarating 350m zip line criss-crossing the rapids we knew there would be no such thing as a typical day at Shinta Mani Wild. Our home for the next three nights was an ultra luxurious and very secluded tent, one of fifteen spread along the river, surrounded by a gushing river and its tributaries, sounds of the raging waterfall and the noisy bugs and insects of the jungle.
Days were filled with activity, adventure and some down time too and there was always the opportunity for another go on the zip line. With 2 teenage boys in tow being able to join the Wildlife Alliance rangers on the back of their motorbikes through the forest on an antipoaching patrol and tracking previously unrecorded wildlife activity was certainly a very “cool” thing to do. Funded by Shinta Mani, the camp’s ranger station enables the non-profit Wildlife Alliance to carry out vital conservation work in the area, including protecting animals from poaching, removing snares and preventing illegal logging.
We took up the opportunity to explore the local backwaters of South East Asia’s last estuarine ecosystem with our butler Shieah who was always on hand throughout our stay to ensure that we had the best time possible. The six-metre pontoon-style expedition boat, along with kayaks, ringos, a fully-equipped bar and top deck with daybed and sun loungers allowed for a very relaxing trip down the quiet backwaters. Our boat driver took the boys out on the kayaks and taught them to fish in the mangroves with a simple fishing rod made of bamboo and string with a piece of meat for bait. Our eldest son was delighted to catch his first fish as previous fishing trips elsewhere had always ended up with no catch!
Discovering and tasting Cambodia’s natural larder in the company of expert naturalists was next on the agenda. The naturalists guided us through the forest on his daily forage, teaching us about local edible plants – sadly none appear in our own back garden! We heard that of the camp’s resident botanists, an orchid-aficionado, recently discovered an entirely new species of the exotic flower growing at the camp, alongside fragrant wild vanilla.
A Mongolian fishing enthusiast was resident during our stay and we all headed off down river for a lesson in Tenkara fly fishing: a meditative form of Japanese catch and release fly fishing. According to the boys it was much more difficult than the previous fishing experience in the backwaters.
The Khmer Tonics Spa provided us with daily complimentary chemical-free treatments, all based around massage therapy and essential oils which were specially formulated for Shinta Mani Wild and then tailored to our own specific needs. After busy days seeking adventure the Spa was the perfect tonic to end the day followed by a sneaky cocktail at The Landings Bar prior to popping across the lawn to The Headquarters for dinner. The food throughout our stay was delicious, authentic and carefully curated by the chefs to offer us some amazing dishes using the freshest ingredients.
I knew that the jungle experience at Shinta Mani Wild was going to be like nothing we had experienced before and it exceeded our expectations in so many ways. To of been part of Shinta Mani Wild and their innovative sustainability practices whilst supporting natural and cultural heritage and to of been able to engage with the local community in tangible ways was more than just a holiday – it was a whole new education.
Shinta Mani Wild’s comprehensive conservation and community programmes are spearheaded by the Shinta Mani Foundation, and include the provision of long term employment opportunities to local inhabitants where there is minimal infrastructure and fewer work prospects. To hear first-hand from the charming and dedicated staff, most of which were from the local village, how Shinta Mani Wild’s community programme has benefited their lives and those of the local villagers was eye opening and inspiring and will leave lasting memories with all of us.
Helen travelled to Cambodia with her family in October.