The choice of accommodation in Siem Reap for the discerning traveller used to be somewhat limited with a smattering of hostels and hotels from which to explore the temples of Angkor Wat.
But in the past fifteen years this sleepy backwater of a town has developed at a rate of knots. Phum Baitang came onto the scene in 2015 with its extensive grounds, huge pool, spacious villas and quiet location. Positioning itself as a characterful alternative to the minimalist Amansara, the travel industry queued up to visit the property and assess whether the hotel really would live up to the hype.
Phum Baitang has extensive grounds, a huge pool, spacious villas and a quiet location set apart from the city’s bustling yet still charming tourist hub. The villas, designed along traditional Khmer lines, are set on a large plot of land (with an extension already planned) and nestle amid tropical gardens and lush paddy fields. Wooden walkways raised above lemongrass meadows and rice paddies connect the villas to the communal pool areas, bars and restaurants. With hardly any trees in the fields, the paths can become very hot, but golf buggies are available to whizz guests up, down and around.
Terrace Villas and Pool Villas on wooden stilts are clustered together and reflect the ambience of a Cambodian countryside village. All are stunningly decorated, with chic grey tones and traditional antiques, although the lack of privacy is noticeable.
After a day of sightseeing, families and couples can feel a bit on top of each other when relaxing by the one main swimming pool, and it can become a little noisy for couples who want to chill out. This can be remedied by opting for a Pool Villa, although these aren’t terraced and lack privacy.
That said, Phum Baitang’s rustic character and undeniable style offer a place of authenticity from which to explore the ancient kingdom of Angkor.
- Daily breakfast for two
- Room upgrade upon arrival
- Subject to availability
- Return airport transfer
- From Siem Reap airport
- Early check-in / Late check-out
- Subject to availability
- Complimentary Wi-Fi
Exclusive benefits may vary by hotel or hotel group. Exclusive benefits apply when booking the Best Available Rate and are not combinable with any hotel offers or special packages unless stated.
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The drive up the long lane leading to the entrance may be annoying for those guests in some of the villas nearby but for the newcomer there is a sense of anticipation for what will be revealed within the grounds. The lobby is housed in a lofty, Khmer-style house and beyond there are glimpses of the sugar palms, paddy fields, banana trees and verdant plants that form the landscaped hotel grounds.
On arrival I was met by the front-office manager and escorted to my villa in a golf buggy. Check-in took place in the villa, which felt more personal than at reception. The friendly staff were welcoming and genuine, which made for a pleasurable experience.
Rooms and suites
Phum Baitang is all about rural simplicity but the decor is far from just a lick of paint. In fact, its style is one of the resort’s most appealing attributes.
Inspired by traditional wooden Cambodian houses on stilts, untreated hardwood and pale concrete made up most of the structure. There was a spacious wooden balcony with a large sofa day bed, small dining table and shutters made from woven banana leaves. Villas are packed quite closely together and although the foliage is still fairly sporadic, the outdoor areas lack seclusion, including the rooms with pools.
The interior decor was decidedly chic in sophisticated grey palettes with splashes of colour, antique furniture and crumpled linen. High ceilings with exposed beams had a modest grandeur and made the space feel bigger than 80 square metres. The huge bed formed the focus of the main room, with a sofa to one side plus a lovely and useful large, dark-wood desk complete with power points. On the other side of the bed, wall-to-wall wardrobes had plenty of hanging and storage space. Dark wooden shutters, when open, allowed plenty of light to pour through the windows, making the villa supremely light and airy. When closed, the villa felt completely private and rather cosy.
Thankfully there was air conditioning, which ran at a whisper. Light switches were placed discreetly around the villa and there were international power outlets that didn’t require converters.
There was a Nespresso coffee machine, a kettle for tea, a well-stocked minibar and exotic fruit, which appeared in my room every day. In the corner of the room a flat- screen smart television hung from the wall with satellite channels including radio and music. There was also a surround-sound system with an iPod docking station and Bluetooth connection. Wi-Fi was also complimentary.
Separated from the bedroom by large wooden doors, the bathroom was the picture of earthy serenity with aged wood, woven mats and charcoal tones. The enormous half-egg bathtub was sculpted out of stone and naturally took centre stage. His and hers stone sinks were stationed on either side, each with a large mirror above, lit by hanging lanterns. The lighting could be set at different intensities, so it could be either bright for shaving and make-up, or atmospheric for a long soak in the bath.
Soft grey bathrobes hung beside the bath, and slippers could be found under the vanity areas. There were organic toiletries by Aesop and a good-standard hairdryer, as well as a separate WC, rain shower and dressing room.
Phum Baitang doesn’t complicate things with its choice of two restaurants. Bay Phsar is open all day from the buffet breakfast through to dinner. During the day the restaurant’s strategic poolside location means lounging guests can order simple lunches such as club sandwiches, tuna carpaccio salads and pork and shrimp spring rolls. In the evening, dinner is served street- food-style, where guests can choose from a vast array of local ingredients. Bay Phsar is al fresco so consider long-sleeved clothing to protect from mosquitoes during the evenings.
Hang Bay, which looks out over endless rice paddies and is nearer to the resort’s entrance, is an altogether more intimate affair in a wooden house on stilts with both indoor and outdoor seating and menus featuring international fusion cuisine.
I tried the national dish – delicately steamed Cambodian fish amok (catfish curry) in coconut cream. It came wrapped in nyoa leaf with fresh chillies and typically Southeast Asian flavours. There are also Mediterranean dishes with Cambodian influences such as the salt-baked sea bass with pepper crust and kaffir lime, which tasted delicious. The food is good, but given the diversity of the region’s cuisine, the menu choices felt somewhat limited.
Behind the main pool the cocktail lounge is another testament to Phum Baitang’s style. Fashioned out of a century-old farmhouse, the interior decor is a nod to colonial times with oriental carpets and rattan chairs outside on the terrace. Small, round pots of green rice shoots are used to decorate wooden tables – a nice, simple touch. Staff create well-blended cocktails with home-grown ingredients. There’s an extensive menu with infusions such as the signature ginger basil martini or an aloe vera margarita – both refreshing during the balmy nights. Downstairs the open-air pool bar is open all day serving homemade juices and then sundowners.
Other restaurant options
For a more intimate dining experience, guests can go shopping at the local market with the hotel chef, who can create a bespoke menu for in-villa dining or candlelit dinners in the paddy fields.
With only two restaurants at the hotel, most guests also dine out. Phum Baitang is 15 minutes’ drive from the heart of Siem Reap, where a handful of good Khmer restaurants can be found as well as some finer dining experiences. The concierge is an around-the-clock fountain of knowledge when it comes to recommendations.
Spa and wellness
Next to the main pool hub, the large spa is designed to represent an Angkor temple, complete with carvings and columns. Upon entering, herbal teas and fruit are offered. The sauna and steam room are available to all inhouse guests as well as seven treatment rooms (two are couples’ rooms), a relaxation room, a yoga pavilion and a fully equipped gym with cardio machines, weight machines and free weights. In-villa treatments are also available for those less inclined to pad through the whole resort in a dressing gown.
‘Your body is a temple’ is the philosophy and the extensive spa menu showcases a range of Khmer-inspired treatments such as the herbal-infused leg massage, designed to soothe tired legs and feet post temple exploration. It includes acupressure point massage and a silky mask of crushed ginger, nutmeg and cloves. A much-needed remedy after walking miles through archaeological sites.
Pool and beach
Social activity revolves around a curved 50-metre infinity pool with thatch-roofed dining areas behind it. Lunch from the restaurant to the sun lounger is delivered in a matter of minutes. It’s also a couple of steps to the pool bar, although the pre-emptive service makes that an unnecessary journey.
Forest-green sun loungers fringe the edge of the pool, although the decking only lines one side. This means that although views of the lush greenery are uninterrupted, the sun beds are more tightly packed together. Being only on one side of the pool, they also only get the morning sunshine and there is sometimes a strained atmosphere between families playing in the pool and couples wanting to relax.
With the kids’ club just around the corner from the main pool, parents won’t feel uncomfortable with them straying too far. The kind and calm Cambodian staff are fantastic with children and there is a range of activities from cooking classes to discovery tours in Angkor Wat and rice-harvesting in the paddies.
Due to the tranquil nature of the hotel, perhaps Phum Baitang is not for the most energetic of teenagers, although there are many activities off-property (provided everyone is up for some exploration).
High chairs are available at restaurants and complimentary babysitting is offered on request.
Staff and service
The service on the whole felt seamless and subtle. Staff were friendly and welcoming from the get-go, taking the lead from the brilliant general manager. From delivering snacks to my villa and juices to my sunbed, the service and smiles seemed genuine, with some staff remembering my name from the beginning. Housekeeping was thorough and discreet.
There was quite a mix of nationalities including French, American, Japanese, Australian and Chinese. Most clients were touring during the day and only in the hotel in the late afternoon and evening. Originally built to attract couples, the resort has developed a family following, so there is a mix of kids, parents, couples and friends. Guests were relatively quiet and well behaved but the hotel felt a bit like it was trying to cater for everyone.
Checking out of my villa was swift and relatively painless. After quickly settling the bill, I found myself in the golf buggy with my bags and waving goodbye within minutes.
How to get here
20 minutes by road from Siem Reap International Airport