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January 2017

My zen retreat in the middle of the rice fields of Angkor

By Ludovic Bischoff

It is the dream of a modern colonist, nostalgic for the fantastic Indochina of the last century. An idyllic retreat straight out of an Asian sepia dream. The Phum Baitang estate opened its doors in early 2016, but one might think it has been weathered and monsooned forever. A delightful and luxurious enclosure in the suburbs of Siem Reap, the tourist capital of Cambodia, the gateway to the fabulous temples of Angkor. The neighborhood is without charm but when you pass the high walls that encircle this little paradise, magic operates instantly. You will discover 45 private villas in the middle of rice paddies. Everything is new. Everything is staged. And yet, the charm operates and we instantly feel projected in this Southeast Asia that made so many travelers dream. What a good idea to build these little wooden houses in the middle of rice fields through which the wind gently blows. Decorated villas. Wood, rustic fabrics with cleverly pasted tones (olive green, ocher, sand beige …), an immense bed on which we can watch the blue sky, a bathroom with an immense “cup of water” in which we could almost swim. Some villas have their own outdoor pools. But it does not sulk the pleasure of crossing the fields of rice to join the huge pool next to the restaurant. A curvy swimming pool, with green slabs that give the impression of being directly immersed in the rice fields with infinite greenish tints. There is a spa, of course, that provides cares based on the Khmer tradition. But also a “cigar lounge” to take a drink and think that we are back in the Indochina of Marguerite Duras. The Zannier group, which has just opened this exotic address, far from its luxury chalet in Megève, has for mantra a quote from Léornado da Vinci: «simplicity is the ultimate sophistication». Okay. But a simplicity made of good taste, natural and local products as well as a good dose of creativity. Here is the recipe for this golden retreat in which we spend a few days out of time and world frenzy …


Things to see around Siem Reap
Siem Reap has long been a small, peaceful village. Until the day when one discovers the traces of the Khmer civilization on the site of Angkor. The “forest of stones” gathers dozens of temples, more or less well restored, more or less accessible. Start with the unmissable: Angkor Wat, the most imposing and spectacular, the emblem of the country, the pride of the Khmer people, sometimes compared to the Versailles of Louis XIV, a diamond that is reflected in the moat surrounding it. We never get tired of admiring it, at sunrise or sunset … Also, go see Bayon and its hundreds of smiling faces that seem so unreal with their enigmatic smiles. Ta Prohm, a temple eaten by the jungle and the cheesemakers, these trees with gigantic roots that destroy the stone, smothering the buildings like a boa.

Angkor, Cambodia PLUMEVOYAGE @plumevoyagemagazine © Ludovic Bischoff

Or Baphum, the last temple to have been restored, or climb the pyramids of stones by questioning the genius that allowed men, with little equipment, to build such buildings between the 10th and 12th century Of our era.
Do not forget to visit Les Artisans d’Angkor, an association that allows young men and women of the region, sometimes physically handicapped, to learn a craft. We visit the learning center where they spend several years specializing in the work of lacquer, sculpture on stone or wood, in the art of ceramics or silk. Then, they return to their village to exercise their art and thus contribute to the economic development of their area. If you wish to bring back memories of your trip to Cambodia, you will find all kind of gifts at the Artisans d’Angkor Center in Angkor and you will make a beautiful gesture for the development of a local and sustainable economy.


Practical information: Jet Tours is one of the few tour operators to offer stays and tours in Cambodia, all year round. There are no direct flights, so you have to flight threw from Vietnam or Thailand. Jet Tours offers the Khmers Splendor Tour from Phnom Penh to Angkor, spending a few nights in Phum Baitang!


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