As a photographer and travel writer I've been a frequent visitor to the magical Angkor Wat and the town of Siem Reap over the years since my first visit in 2001 initially fascinated by the temples then fell in love with the people, over the years I've been privileged to see the place grow and evolve into an incredible destination that takes it's sustainability and socially beneficial credentials very seriously. My favourite place to stay has been the Treeline Urban Resort run by another Kiwi Joni Aker, it's designed and owned by Hok Kang a famous Cambodian Architect and founder of Browns Coffee cafes. Built with local materials and with a genuine heartfelt commitment to sustainability and nurturing Cambodian artists, The Treeline is the perfect place to be based. Joni the GM keeps me up to date on what's happening on the sustainability front in town and actively encourages local initiatives such as the Kandal Village project and the new Wat Bo neighbourhood initiative. Both are neighbourhood associations promoting places offering something new and original in their hoods. On my trip before last, she suggested I come back and do a story on a new initiative covering all of Siem Reap town.
#Ecofriendly #socialenterprises #charities
#cafes #restaurants #hotels #resorts #conservation
A few years ago some key players in Siem Reap's sustainable and socially oriented businesses got together and set up The Collective for Good where like-minded businesses could have an accreditation scheme for social responsibility to help the growing number of visitors wanting to know their patronage was going to those businesses genuinely trying to make a difference.
I spoke to David from Little Red Fox Espresso and Craig from Phare the Cambodian Circus who were key players in moving the Collective for Good forwards along with Sara and Paul from Haven. among a few others. The critical meeting was in January 2022, and Enno a very energetic OFFTRACK TOURS intern initiated and led, others present included Wild, Spoons and Heartprint.
They explained how the concept was gladly embraced and the group grew to nearly a dozen members very quickly. Not everyone can pass the stringent requirements however but those genuinely wanting to join can always count on the Collective for help and advice on how to raise their sustainability efforts to join the group..
Collective members need to do away with plastic waste, source locally and sustainably as far as possible within the Cambodian context, offer staff medical benefits, and minimum wages, be a registered business, and pay tax and social benefits. In short, play fair and contribute to the community.
I discovered that many of the main players had come to Siem Reap over the years and like me been inspired by the warmth of the Cambodian people to return and set up businesses or charities hoping to improve the lot of the average Khmer. Mostly rural and entirely reliant on the tourist industry many locals were exploited by unscrupulous people, pseudo orphanages exploiting the children for tourist dollars as photo opportunities, and other “charities” fundraising only to disappear overnight a few months later. Post the “killing fields” the lot of the average rural Cambodian was pretty dire. Luckily with tourism and some good-willed businesses and NGOs, the internet and gradually improving conditions post covid, there is now a remarkable number of young Cambodians with mobile phones, laptops and knowledge of the connected world enjoying Cambodian cafes and arts/craft markets marking a real improvement in the lives and expectations of Cambodians.
I visited the famous Spoons a Hospitality Training Charity supported by their restaurant and cafe and now an official Cambodian charity after a Cambodian management team handover from the original international charity that struggled with fundraising during COVID. This is a great example of Cambodians stepping up and being active in raising expectations and opportunities for themselves. The school is very comprehensive having a great track record of placing graduates into the local hospitality industry. The restaurant as well as providing valuable hands-on experience also helps to fund the school itself ad serves delicious classic Khmer dishes with modern flair garnish coming from their own herb farm out back!
A few years back I visited the Amazing Robert and Morrisson holding court at their fantastic Brick-a-Brack micro-hotel in Battambang and was given an insider’s walkthrough of Phare the circus school in Battambang, so it was a joy to meet Craig one of the founding members of the Collective for Good who is the Sales and Marketing Director of the performing arm of the school, Phare The Circus, in Siem Reap. All the Profits from the Circus in Siem Reap go to supporting the school’s training program offering opportunities to local villagers in the Battambang area. Graig explained that the most important aspect of the school is not just giving training and work as circus talent but raising the expectations of local people who have often never travelled more than a few kilometres from their farms, or known any other expectations but to work, live and die on one. Many have never seen Angkor Wat their national treasure even though they only live a few kilometres away. The circus however has toured the world and been invited to perform in far and exotic places such as Paris and Miami. Having opened the eyes of the circus people to a world of possibilities many now aspire to be scooter mechanics or nail spa owners, previously inconceivable occupations! Greg feels that anyone operating as a business in Cambodia is obliged to give back to the local community, for foreigners setting up where there is little local competition, it's not fair to exploit that advantage, foreign business owners should operate ethically and not abuse the situation, a very important consideration for the Collective.
Chatting to Little Red Foxe’s David he explained how he and his partner Adam, after visiting for many years took the plunge, invested their savings and set up the third cafe in Siem Reap. Offering their own vision backed by their hospitality business experience from Australia and a commitment to help their local Cambodian friends and people. Determined to be sustainable, over the years they gradually evolved from organizing community-based local street rubbish removal to completely doing away with plastics much as possible while sourcing organic and local produce for the cafe that had grown to include a fantastic selection of healthy food dishes! A joy to shoot and sample for sure! And very well-frequented by health-conscious travellers and local regulars! Their staff have embraced the sustainable ethos and post covid during which the city transformed the local roads into properly paved dust-free thoroughfares they express a newfound civic pride, initiating plastic rubbish drives while encouraging plastic waste awareness amongst their friends and families. David feels that It's activities like these that create a real grassroots awareness of sustainability in the community.
Sara and Paul of HAVEN explained to me how they grew disillusioned with their lives in Switzerland, feeling “there must be more to life than this”. They saved, then quit their good corporate jobs, sold everything they had and started their extensive world trip. When they arrived in Siem Reap they deeply connected with the place and people. After learning about the lack of opportunities for young adults, it was impossible for them to go back to Switzerland. They wanted to stay, create meaningful opportunities for this next generation and contribute to the development of the community. With a background in training and nutrition, they decided to set up HAVEN, a training restaurant taking in an annual group of young disadvantaged people and give them the theoretical and practical training to succeed in the food and beverage industry. Supported by the Restaurant itself the training is completely free to the students. they are provided with housing, medical benefits and training in not just the practical matter of working in a kitchen or as service staff but in food hygiene, stock taking, and interview techniques and guided to placements partnering hotels and restaurants regularly taking graduates in the thriving tourist sector. Every year at graduation the whole school and restaurant celebrate and experience immense satisfaction that another year's class of young lives have been uplifted and given opportunities previously unimaginable. Head chef Pardet, who has been with them from the start, eagerly receives visiting former students that come back to thank Chef and the team, telling their success stories of life in the big wide world. There is never a dull moment for SARA and PAUL who obviously thrive on the challenges and achievements of each class.
WILD is a real breath of fresh air on the local scene! Bringing exceptionally good cocktails to Siem Reap fusing classics with local flavours. Lorraine and Renaud a Parisian couple, left their successful but unfulfilling corporate careers and fell in love with Siem Reap while Travelling. They were compelled to set up a mould-breaking outdoor cocktail bar. Renaud inspired by local food on a visit to the Reunion islands started offering them to friends and visitors and soon they took off big time transforming WILD into a lunch and dinner venue! Part of the attraction of Siem Reap was the opportunity to make a real difference by uplifting the local Cambodian’s expectations and opportunities. While not being a social enterprise as such they pay their staff well above the local average and ensure they have medical benefits, good training and access to plastic-free food via the restaurant. WILD actively contributes to local Charities in kind or with funds generated from their shop area featuring sustainable local items and some WILD merchandise such as the nicely decorated stainless steel water bottles. Plastic-free is an important goal for them!
Other Collective members are contributing in different ways like ACCB a biodiversity Centre in the nearby Kulen national park dedicated to preserving endangered Cambodian animal species while also doing their bit to employ, train and source locally. Christel the Center director went out of her way to pick me up in Siem Reap and drove me through classic Cambodian countryside up into the foothills of the National park, while showing me around the beautiful jungle-embraced Centre Christel talked about how her team of Cambodian and international conservationists are doing their best to preserve some of Cambodia's most endangered species. The Centre provides a vitally important place to study and breed the endangered water birds and turtle species often unique to Cambodia. Rescuing animals from the trafficking trade provides some real characters, of course, these vary depending on what rescued animals are at any time but I was lucky to see monkeys, civet cats (don't buy the coffee!) and some amazing eagles! My particular loves were the cheeky and playful otters. The centre engages on the national level with an outreach program to Cambodian temples that traditionally offer refuge to animals and collaborations with Universities that help shape the nation's attitudes to Conservation. Christel sees an increasing Cambodian interest in conservation and sustainability and is cautiously optimistic about the future.
Over at the incredible Heartprint Hub, I chatted to Wendy and Garry about their holiday visits to Siem Reap over the years where they recognized a sore need for education and a safe haven for the children of siem reap especially those from poor families often struggling with addiction problems. Leaving their building business behind in Australia they were ideally placed to help build houses for the poorest families and supply social support, therapy, and assistance to children and expectant mothers in the surrounding villages. Heartprint hub is a cafe and shop that helps support their effects as well as Australian and other charity funding while giving vocational training to older young people with disabilities or disadvantaged backgrounds.
It was a great honour to be invited to meet and shoot some of The Collective for Good’s movers and shakers. It's a valuable story that needs to be told and shows us all what’s possible with determination and compassion. The Collective is a growing and dedicated alliance determined to offer genuine sustainability and a social conscience to visitors to siem reap who are concerned enough to care where their patronage goes and want to know that their visit benefits Cambodians and the planet as much as possible.
The new Lola Rouge Restaurant at the Naumi Studio Hotel is a welcome addition to the Wellington Foodie Scene!
South and East Asian fusion dishes are shown off in an amazingly striking interior!
The Interior is part of the incredible makeover that the Naumi group have made of the former Cuba Street “Peoples Palace”.
Working with New Zealand artists and designers Naumi has taken a heritage building and made a veritable luxurious boho Nest for the adventurous traveller.
The Naumi Group has strong international roots in Singapore and sure bring that look, experience and level of service to NZ with Aplomb!
Lola Rouge itself has a strong Deco meets Siagon atmosphere with the private dining room being a stand out Statment in Red!
Kiran the Chef has taken great pains to ensure a fresh and adventurous Menu. Pan Asian food features with classic European favourites in the deserts section! The best of all worlds!
The Interiors are very Striking
The Team in the kitchen are a well oiled machine!
breakfasts are served for hotel guests and and others!
Ram, Roy, Kiran and Daron the GM,
are all keen to make your experience second to none!
We love Owner Operated Hotels! They bring something special to the scene and the Naumi Studio Hotel is no exception!
Designed by the award-winning studio Material Creative the hotel is a real visual statement sitting on the upper reaches of Wellington’s vibrant Indie Cuba Street.
Working with New Zealand artists and designers Naumi have taken a heritage building and made a veritable luxurious boho Nest for the adventurous traveller.
The Naumi Group has strong international roots in Singapore and sure bring that look, experience and level of service to NZ with Aplomb!
We feel stongely that The Naumi Studio is a real breath of fresh air in the kiwi Hotel scene.
The very literal “ Lola Rouge “ restaurant will open soon serving Pan-Asian food in sumptuous surroundings.
On our visit, we enjoyed the highly anticipated, after its one yeah covid hiatus, CubaDupa Street Festival that celebrates Wellington’s eclectic Cuba Street that is the Naumi’s home. The Hotel actively participated in the festival as a Host to bands and acts while it also sponsored the Reality TV Marriage Ceremony event.
The Naumi Studio provided the perfect Urban Escape from our hectic festival shooting. Enjoy our festival snaps after the main coverage of the Hotel.
Roy the Barman, Kiran the Chef and Daron the GM,
are all keen to make your stay the most memorable possible!
Naumi local Stories
A quaint little musical instrument shop specializing in traditional classical instruments such as cellos violins, acoustic guitars etc is to be found tucked away to the right of the main entrance to the Hotel.
It is owned by Alistiar and his wife Catriona who really know their trade, actively tuning and repairing instruments where needed and having many small impromptu musical events in the shop itself! They have a word of mouth reputation for having eclectic and unusual instruments which attracts local and international musicians whenever they are in the Capital.
They are very welcoming even if you aren't a musician and the shop is full of amazingly decorated and handmade musical instruments from all over the world!
Is a Cuba Street institution!
Great unpretentious food in a viby atmosphere with real locals.
Fidel's is just up the road for breakfastfrom the Naumi Hotel and is a great way to kick off your Cuba street exploration.
The Film revival is alive and well in Wellington!
Some of the Older labs are still doing film but there are a number of enthusiast run new film labs and shops popped up recently.
One of my Favs is Splendid with a friendly crew, new and expired films and some classics cameras to lust after.
I love their Print Suitcase! Take a dip, find one you like and drop in one of your own prints to keep it all going!
the lab is good ive had severl dev and scans done with them and not regretted it!
Join them for a Photowalk while your visiting! Highly recommened!
CubaDupa Street festival
Held once a year in March
this years celebration was a particulary enhtusiastic event as the previous years had been cancelled due to COVID.
The Treeline Urban Resort
a exceptional art centric hotel
I was extremely intrigued by the Treeline when I first discovered it nestled on the banks of the placid Siem Reap River on the last day of a previous visit to Angkor. After a bit of research back at base, I was really excited to find it to be an owner-operated hotel with an emphasis on sustainability, local communities and Khmer Art. I decided an in-depth visit was a must!
The Treeline people were very accommodating in arranging a visit, loving our photography and interest in the Treeline as more than just a hotel.
Being a uniquely Cambodian owner-operated and designed hotel of such outstanding quality makes the Treeline truly exceptional in Siem Reap. The Hotel’s great location on the relatively uncongested east bank puts it within easy distance of the Central Market and many excellent restaurants, shops and galleries nearby.
Behind an ancient stone Buddha head enshrouded in the roots of a tree, symbolizing the hotel’s concept of Civilization integrating with Nature, lies the bright airy lobby with a major artwork by Pich Sopheap as a centrepiece.
The lobby is flanked by HOK Asian Restaurant and BROWNS, a high-end cafe. Named after the founder, HOK serves Asian classic and fusion dishes until late. while BROWNS is the perfect place for a coffee and a digital nomadism.
Canopy the roft-top Bar and the infinity pool overlooking the lazy Siem Reap River provide an urban retreat from the hustle and bustle of Siem Reap that is an ever growing tourist destination. Its riverside position gives you a more open and green experience than downtown hotels.
Cascading greenery on the building and the courtyard reinforce the feeling of spaciousness and oneness with nature.
The Treeline is far more than a simple hotel project, however. Build-in from its foundations up is its philosophy of engaging with the local community on many levels through Sustainability and Creativity.
Firstly as a gallery and incubator for Khmer artistic talent, the Treeline has ambitious plans to play a significant role in the national and international art scene.
Built around a courtyard containing several permanent art pieces from internationally acclaimed Khmer artists such as Sothea Tang, the porticos provide hanging space for ongoing exhibitions or fresh local talent.
The rooms also feature permanent artworks by Sothea Tang made with local materials that organically blend with the interiors.
The brainchild of architect and entrepreneur Hok Kang, founder of HKA & Partners and co-founder of Browns Cafes, he is a firm believer of sourcing local materials and designing for the Khmer climate in a sustainable way. Having been brought up in a dark stuffy traditional shop house he is determined to bring a mastery of light and airflow to his projects. He has certainly achieved this with the Treeline.
The dedication to sustainability and the environment is more than a nod to modern convention. It's a deep-seated founding principle of the Treeline and Hok’s own. Single-use plastics are not to be found in the hotel, toiletries are eco-friendly, organic and locally sourced. Everything possible is recycled and food waste composted. Hot water is solar and building materials are local timber and stone. Local ceramics are used throughout, the staff uniforms are designed locally using organic fabrics. Even the hotel muzak playlist is curated by a Khmer project supporting local musicians.
Joni Aker, the GM, was involved in planning at the early stages of the project. A fellow Kiwi, Joni has a long history in the Siem Reap NGO scene and had spent the years previous to joining Treeline involved with luxury cruise experiences on the Mekong and Amazon RIvers. Keen to get back to her beloved Siem Reap she was an unusual but ultimately perfect choice for GM of the Treeline adventure.
Joni with her beloved Art installation by Sothea Tang
Together with stylist Natalie Lee the team created and fleshed out the concept of a project focused on local communities, environment and art.
The staff are encouraged to break out of their Khmer shyness and engage with the guests. Everyone from the cleaners to the day manager is super friendly and helpful. It reminds me of the ACE HOTEL staff that are hip young locals with their own knowledge and interests. I was chatting happily with one young man at the front desk about analogue photography.
The art aspect of Treeline is not just an initial design consideration. The group has plans to launch a Treeline Art Foundation and provide Artist in Residence opportunities at the hotel, to encourage local artists and give them a platform to showcase their work. The hotel is already attracting a serious art clientele for this very reason.
The Treeline is not in isolation in Siem Reap for art and is active in spreading the roots of the artistic community. Several new galleries of international standard have opened recently, including the MIRAGE Contemporary Art Space headed up by Servey Sry who is also involved with the not-to-miss ANGKOR photo festival. The focus of this new space, a short tuk-tuk ride from Treeline, is exhibitions of local artists works and art residences of regional Asian artists to mix up the local and international scenes.
Servey Sry co founder of MIRAGE gallery
Batia Sarem Gallery, also a recent arrival on the local art scene that had an excellent show by Khmer Photographer Sovan Philong, was established by Lyvann Loeuk and Yves Zlotowski after a three-year gestation in late 2018. The owners’ respective neighbouring art galleries in Paris have given them an international perspective and curatorial skills. Lyvann Loeuk told us during our visit that they see Siem Reap as a key developing hub in the S.E. Asian art scene and a great step in the door for emerging Cambodian artists.
Lyvann Loeuk co founder of Batia Sarem
The Treeline provides a Peaceful Haven in the bustling Angkor Wat centric Siem Reap while offering exciting insights and connections to the new emerging Creative Siem Reap.
Robert shopping at the local market for the evening meal.
Morrison & Robert
the Festival of
The Boats of Light
“Boun Lai Heua Fai or Loy Krathong ”
The Laotian Festival of Light is a 1000 year old boat racing festival, taking place on the Mekong River at full moon every October.
The sacred Naga (serpent) is the god or spirit of the river itself and life has always focused around it. Many countries on the Mekong have similar festivals in their folk traditions. This one marks the end the Buddhist Lent and wet season.The Evening after the Boat race is the Loy Kratong festival. People release small floats with offerings and lanterns onto the river. Unlike in some neighbouring countries, this is still free and unfettered. It's combined with the launching of the life-size boat lanterns in the forms of Nagas and Swans.After weeks of preparation, each of the 50 plus “Bans” or neighbourhoods, parades its carefully crafted boat lantern.In traditional costumes they Parade through the centre of the UNESCO world heritage old town. Arriving a Wat Xiengthong, one of the most ancient Temples, they are judged and blessed. Then taken down to the nearby river and launched in their full glory to join the swirl of Kratongs floating downstream.Our perfect Host for this festival was the Amantaka!We were so excited to be staying at one of the amazing Aman Resorts unique locations. Every one of the Aman properties is individually created in sympathy with the local culture and environment. They are renowned for understated but attentive care of their guests. The Amantaka is housed in an old French colonial hospital (don't worry all the ghosts have been suitably placated!) just outside the UNESCO world heritage old town. For the Festival the hotel provided their own boat for a late afternoon Loi Kratong offering ceremony on the River. Dropped after at a pier in time to walk up to the main street of the old town to join the Big Procession. The Bans in traditional costumes, paraded their huge boat floats by on the way to the temple at the end of the peninsula.From the blessing ceremony at Wat Xiengthong the boats are taken down the steep river banks to the waters edge and then launched to join crowds of swirling kratong floating downstream. Festivities carried on late into the night. We beat a timely retreat before things got too crazy.Next day it was time to seriously relax and Nine, my travelling companion for the trip, bravely volunteered to try the Yoga and Spa experiences. Yoga meditation and practice around the grounds of the hotel was truly transcendental. Followed by massage and spa treatments rounded off by a swim in the large bathhouse pool. Then a final foot massage to treat aching feet from all the walking during the festival the day before.The hotel was very keen we should experience their new Laotian Afternoon Tea experience. We graciously submitted.I retreated to the library to recover while Nine had a nap in the room, being Thai she takes her food very seriously and needed to recover. The Library was my favourite room in the hotel stocked with an excellent range of books and magazines. It had a seemingly never ending sweet and cookie buffet!Once we had recovered from recovering there was much to see and do in the old town itself. Early mornings are great to see the local fresh produce Market down the road from the Amantaka towards the river, just past the roundabout.After the market, there are many new cafes, Lao handicrafts and galleries to explore. Visit the Thai owned DEXTER cafe for breakfast with excellent coffee antipodean style. (Thais have embraced Melbourne coffee and taken it to heart, most local coffee is more the more bitter traditional european style)After the market, there are many new cafes, Lao handicrafts and galleries to explore. Visit the Thai owned DEXTER cafe for breakfast with excellent coffee antipodean style. (Thais have embraced Melbourne coffee and taken it to heart, most local coffee is more the more bitter traditional european style)Ock Pop Tok handicrafts and the Ethnological Museum (at the museum itself and thier shop on the main street) have great Hill-Tribe handicrafts. Anakha (The Blue House) has some lovely upmarket clothing made with local fabrics. Nearby is a small local photographers gallery with great shots of traditional Lao life. If photography is your thing (and it should be here!) go check out ADRI BERGER's Work at the Big Tree Cafe & Gallery. Sometimes there will be exhibitions in the royal palace (do check out Haw Pha Bang Temple on the way in and the school of dance opposite it, especially for the late afternoon performances).Fine Art Galleries are on Sisavang Vatana Road, between the French Institute (worth popping into this quaint little building) and the Mekong River.In the evenings try the many fantastic restaurants and bars. The Elephant Restaurant is "a must" while my favourite place to watch the sunset, enjoying a nibble on a cheese and charcuterie board, with people watching on the main street is Tangor. Near the night market at the royal palace.After all the walking, a good massage at the Hibiscus Spa is in order.If you have any energy left, pop into the ICON bar for a cocktail or five.For day trips the Buddha Cave on the River is beautiful. Try to go at the end of the day to avoid the crowds and enjoy the cool evening breeze running back to Luang Prabang for sunset. It's definitely worth taking a private boat for the trip.Mount Phousi is worth the short climb to join the sunset lovers. Walk back along its length to come out behind Tangor for a much-deserved drink!Hunt out the secret Pizza Garden Restaurant one evening.One of my favorite day strolls is a walk around the peninsula that borders the old town. Start near the bamboo bridge over the river and wander down along the river to tip of the peninsula. I enjoy stopping at the Burasari Heritage Veranda restaurant for a refreshing drink and satay on the way. Enjoy the small park and the Viewpoint Cafe at the tip to absorb the two rivers meeting, boats fleeting by on the current, the small temple across the river. When ready continue on around the Point. Wat Xiengthong is one of the oldest temples and worth visiting again outside of the Loi Kratong festival events. The entrance is opposite the Xieng Thong Dock, a wide set of stairs going down to the river guarded large Tiger statues greet you after you leave the Viewpoint Cafe. Further along The Belle Rive Terrace offers a taste of luxury on an otherwise backpacker and local set of bars and restaurants along that bank. The Big Tree cafe gallery is also is worth a stop.One morning, time your brunch at the Le Cafe/Bistro Ban Vat Sene and watch the mums and dads pick up their kids for lunch at the primary school across the road. Very entertaining! A real slice of local life. Classic kids on bicycle shotsåEarly one morning enjoy the alms giving procession of the local monks. But please avoid getting too close or touching them especially women as this is against their vows. Check with the Amantaka about a special temple visit as an alternative. Sadly the Alms Procession is overwhelmed by tour vans and in-your-face tourists which threatens the continued existence of the Procession. .Over the festival period, you could stay for at least 3 nights and maybe another one or two to relax and soak up the local atmosphere and surrounding sights. Do go and explore soon though, before the overland connection to China is completed!!
Nine enjoying the Wellness
yoga 1 on 1, medatative walking, massage and bathhouse.
Amantakka Afternoon Tea Lao Style
On the Amantaka boat for Loi kratong offering
and some local sights
and lastly the Lovely Staff that works to hard to make you welcome!