Away from Siem Reap's paved streets lined with big luxurious hotels and packed with tour buses is a charming villa hidden deep within a sleepy village: The Amatao Tropical Residence. It is indeed a residence—a residence for those who visit Cambodia, the Kingdom of Wonder. On a recent trip to Cambodia, I was able to call Amatao my home, and I'd be delighted to return. Here are a few of my favorite reasons to stay at this exceptional property once more.
It takes a village: I love a property built out of a dream, and few places could rival the devotion it took to make Amatao Tropical Residence what it is today. Owned and operated by a Frenchman (Stéphane) and his Japanese wife (Naomi), Amatao Tropical Residence remains the permanent home of this remarkable couple. Naomi, with years of hospitality experience, wished to have her own luxury bed and breakfast, and Stéphane pined for a garden, wine cellar, and pool to swim laps in.
Once settled in Cambodia, the couple bought a patch of land in the village of Svay Prey (Mango Forest Village), just 10 minutes from the town of Siem Reap. The land had but two pitiful trees upon it, so Naomi worked six years to make the property into a lush garden of palms, orchids, and flowering vines. Week after week, Naomi would canvas Siem Reap's botanical nurseries, selecting individual plants to fill the property.
Meanwhile, Stéphane spent the same number of years working with the Khmer village people to build each villa on the property, by hand. According to the couple, no machinery was used constructing the elegant two-story structures at Amatao Tropical Residence. Native koki wood was used to create the posts and furniture of the property, and the craftsmanship of the custom works is dazzling. Stéphane also designed the villas' enormous rooms, which feature intricate paneling and enclosures, rather than rooms, for the showers, baths, and vanities.
Besides relaxing in the jet spa within my room, I found a number of little spots at Amatao that I just loved to linger in. One was set upon my room's deck, which overlooked tranquil and vividly green rice paddies. Another was from under the pool cabana, where I could gaze at water lilies and dancing dragonflies in the late afternoon.
At night, the damp tropical air swelled with the sounds of frogs and other creatures of the jungle, and I loved listening to Cambodia’s natural soundtrack. A four-course dinner, set alongside the luminous pool and prepared by Naomi and her attentive staff, is a must-do. Naomi’s recipes merge authentic Khmer dishes with Asian and European flavors.
Hospitality at a concierge level: Staying at the Amatao Tropical Residence has a grand benefit so appreciated in a foreign country: an on-call concierge. Naomi is beyond a host—she is a concierge of the highest caliber. She gave my guest and I a cell phone with her preprogrammed number while we explored the ruins and expertly negotiated our Tuku (taxi) fares to and from the resort at rates I know I could never command.
Our favorite drinks were handed to my guest and me upon arriving back to the property, and heaps of our laundry (from two weeks of travel) were done for two dollars by a villager, thanks to Naomi’s help. Luxury while traveling is often just about removing the worry of detail, and this is how Naomi and her team set themselves apart from other resorts.