Rhapsody in green
I’ve never experienced the magical moment of twilight at a rural Cambodian village, but after spending a night at Phum Baitang, on the outskirts of Siem Reap, I know what it feels like.
Meaning green village in Khmer, Phum Baitang is a rustic-luxe resort on the cusp of the town that’s a gateway to the temples of Angkor Archaeological Park. Spread over eight hectares within a grey-walled compound, the one-year-old property fashions a Cambodian agrarian tableau, with stilted thatch-roof villas that use local wood and stone to mimic the regional design, set among lemongrass, frangipani, coconut palms, and rice fields tended by gardeners in straw hats (the rice grown here is given to guests).
The 45 villas are remarkable for their simplicity, with wood a recurrent component — giant blocks on the thatch-roof verandas that serve as tables, hefty window shutters and solid unfinished doors for the closets.
Throughout the verdant property, buildings switch between red-tile and thatch roofs, the one exception being the spa lobby, a boxy stone structure with intricate carvings around its doorway, a nod to Angkor Wat. The hotel’s two restaurants — Bay Phsar (meaning rice market) and Hang Bay (rice shop) — offer a decent selection of Asian and Western dishes that mine herbs and vegetables from the onsite organic gardens.
The supremely stocked cigar and cocktail lounge, a 100-year-old building transplanted from another province, recreates a tree house or classic explorer’s shack, with impressive wooden beams and scores of faded photos of Cambodia. A wooden walkway dissects the property, extending from the lobby, rising over rice paddies and terminating at the stunning 50m infinity pool.
The sounds of nature are never far, guests constantly serenaded by mynah birds and the choruses of frogs that live in and around the rice fields, adding to the feel of a countryside escape. The overriding ethos here appears to be the focus on simple pleasures, and that’s both welcome and restorative.
The sensation of being enclosed in a bucolic paradise is all-embracing, and as the evening light fades and burnishes everything with a golden glow, the tinted sky reflected in the saturated rice fields, time stops, your mind empties and the skirmishes of everyday life just seem to melt away.