On the list of the world’s most desired holiday locations, ‘rice paddy field’ tends to be a bit of a lesser mainstream entry. But that could very likely change soon. Welcome to Phum Baitang.
Translating from traditional Khmer to ‘green village’, the renowned Zannier Hotels’s venture into Cambodia’s cultural heart of Siem Reap could top the register for the regional traveler who believes to have seen it all. The resort village is set within 8 hectares of lush gardens, lemongrass plantings, and picturesque rice paddy fields, offering both a tranquil retreat and strategic gateway to the Angkor World Heritage Site.
Phum Baitang is distinctive and uncommon, trimming away much of the fuss and fluff of foie gras fountains or chandelier mountains of its glitzy counterparts. This is not to say it is not in every way a luxury resort, but rather that it banks on purity being the ultimate luxury in a resort. Checking in for the weekend, scroll ahead to see what we thought.
[All images courtesy Phum Baitang]
Anyone who has been to Siem Reap will know that traffic is not quite an issue when it comes to navigating this charmingly sleepy town. Phum Baitang too lies in an easy breezy 15-minute proximity to the international airport, though getting there is an experience in itself.
It will feel as if the car took an unexpected wrong turn off the main road almost suddenly, before a wooden gate opens to unveil a small village ecosystem. You’ll walk onto an open wooden deck before the landscape unfolds before you: a sprawl of neat, green (or yellow, depending on the season) rice paddy fields, a long pier that leads to a highly ‘grammable infinity pool, and a sprinkling of small self-contained wooden villas on stilts that dot the property at either side. There’ll also be an occasional buffalo; though if you wanted to say hello, be informed that “the buffalos are here to work, not play,” and they do so to the soundtrack of bird chirps and a couple of crickets.
All in all, the greatest sense of arrival comes from the staff, who will repeatedly yet sincerely utter the phrase “welcome home.” It’s a warm and genuine reception.
Phum Baitang is comprised of 45 spacious villas in total: 25 terrace villas (at 80 metres squared living space) and 20 plunge pool villas (at 130 metres squared living space).
Inspired by Khmer decor, the little homes on stilts manage a fine balance between cultural authenticity and world-class comfort. The rustic-luxe interior design is unpretentious yet still feels extremely well executed. The light falls in all the right places. The extremely photogenic stone bath tub looks like it could fit an entire small family. And even the smaller details – from the cleverly selected books on the work desk to the sound system and mini bar drinks list (there’s tequila) – all prove why both Phum Baitang and Zannier Hotels belong in the top tier of resorts in the region.
The villa, though essentially just a bathroom, bedroom, and outdoor (also: napping) area is romantic and restful. It’s the ideal place for someone who’s done the 4am at Angkor Wat plenty before, boasting an aura that lures you into never wanting to leave the resort throughout your entire visit.
There are two main dining venues at Phum Baitang: Bay Phsar and Hang Bay. The former is adjacent to the main pool, serving up a mix of local Asian and continental flavours, whilst the latter lies near the lobby and serves fusion dishes. Naturally, the rice that is served at these venues comes from – you’re about to guess it – the surrounding paddies. Fresh, organic meals that are wholesome and are served on homey ceramic plating: farm-to-table your heart out.
Beyond these two, there’s also the Cigar & Cocktail Lounge, which is set in a 100-year-old farmhouse near the entrance of the resort. Here, guests can enjoy cocktails and vintage liqueurs alongside a fine cigar selection. Our tip is to head here in the early evenings, as the terrace is decked out with comfortably plush chairs meticulously positioned for the ideal sunset viewing experience. The staff will also position you personally too, to ensure you get that perfect ‘Sunsets in Siem Reap’ photo.
Further on from the serenity of the paddies, there’s no denying that Phum Baitang’s showstopper is its 50m freshwater infinity pool. Whether you’re looking to tan the day away under the sun or catch up on reading in one of the shaded pavilions, the pool is the peacefully beating heart of the property. There’s Café del Mar kind of music, cold-pressed juices to sip, and guests coming and going on the resort-provided white basket bicycles.
Those looking to indulge a little more can head to the Spa Temple, which lies behind the pool in the most quiet setting on the premises. Here, Cambodian techniques and natural products are employed to foster an ultimate sanctuary of tranquility and rejuvenation. There’s also a fitness centre, if you prefer to sweat it out rather than spa it up.
There are no clocks at this resort, which is annoying at first, but symbolic on second thought. Time flows in its own special way at Phum Baitang. Rush hour does not exist. A pressured deadline has no place here. And does it really matter whether you have lunch at 12 or 3pm?
In many ways, Phum Baitang feels like the kind of place that tilts its head at you when you’re stressed with the city’s ticking hot hustle, and says, “we’ll take it from here.” It’s a Sunday newspaper that was picked up off the coffee table, folded in half, and tucked under the arm of a loved one. Simple sophistication meets an experience that is wholly comforting, culturally charming, and soulfully enriching.
Where ‘wake up and smell the roses’ has long become lacklustre and lost in the cut-throat competitive hospitality world, we’re going to be bold and blunt and put it this way: it’s time to wake up and smell the buffalos.
Phum Baitang, Phum Svaydangkum, Sangkat Svaydangkum, Siem Reap, Cambodia, +855 63 961 111.