In the heart of the jungle, in the Cardamom Mountains, the Shinta Mani Wild was born to save a territory of 160 hectares from deforestation and wild hunting. Its refinement allowed it to enter, as soon as it opened in 2018, the list of exceptional establishments.
It’s not a lodge where you come to have a drink at the end of the day, like in a bar in a big hotel. To do this, you would already have to cross the barrier at the entrance to the reserve where an armed guard only allows passage to customers duly registered with Shinta Mani Wild.
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And, thirty minutes of a bumpy path later, the ladies in stilettos and gentlemen in suits would then be quite embarrassed by the 7-storey metal structure that leads above the canopy. Because it is by there that one reaches this lodge still hidden in a dense jungle.
What we see, on the other hand, is a 400-meter long zip line whose end is lost through the trees. This is how you get to the Shinta Mani Wild (there is another way, much longer, to get there, by a track, with your luggage), flying over the forest from where you can hear the rustling deaf from a waterfall. It appears when you cross its bubbling stream and you finally distinguish, a few meters on the other side, the reception of the lodge. First, a vast wooden platform to take delivery… precisely.
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Then we discover a universe that is more like a cabinet of curiosities than a hotel establishment. A wooden horse escaped from a merry-go-round overlooks the bar, English sofas surround a myriad of objects from Africa, Asia, Europe and who knows where… A staircase leads to the dining room overhanging, immense, from which we look back for the first time towards the landscape that surrounds us. Below, the Tmor Rung River rumbles with what the rainy season has dumped into its bed, nestled in the hollow of impenetrable forest mountains.
In the 2000s, the Cambodian Cardamom Mountains were the scene of all kinds of trafficking (illegal mining, wild hunting, deforestation, etc.). When a government auction of a 400-hectare lot is proposed, Bill Bensley, a Bangkok-based interior designer, and a Cambodian businessman decide to team up to turn it into a viable sanctuary. Hence the idea of establishing an ecolodge, supplemented by a conservation program, and the construction of a school to prepare the inhabitants – who then lived off poaching – for careers in the hotel industry. Like Lucky, our mischievous butler, remarkably trained and who takes care of everything. Which is essential in this environment where simply going to your “room” can give you the opportunity to get lost.
It is a truly “wild” environment, where children under 10 are not admitted. Spread over 1 kilometer through the forest, the 15 rooms-tents-camps are set up along the river, totally isolated from each other. A large terrace with a sofa corner, a dining table and a hip bath already offer a wonderful image of an adventure book. Numbers from the 1960s of “National Geographic” and a “maxi-bar” with cocktail kit suggest long sessions of idleness, lulled by the sound of running water. But it’s nothing next to the bedroom that we discover like a marveling child. Inside, it’s a kind of inventory à la Prévert: old travel trunks, an old transistor, a Bakelite telephone, copper coffee pots and a library made up of improbable works in leather bindings. A huge bed has been raised to better admire the river below. Even the wealthiest explorers of the 19th century could not have imagined such a setting, combining with so much charm the authenticity and comfort of a stay in the middle of the jungle.
The primary objective of Shinta Mani Wild is to offer an experience that is probably unique in the world but, above all, to generate profits to maintain this sanctuary where 54 species listed on the red list of the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of nature). And finance, for example, the eight rangers who patrol the reserve daily to discourage poachers. An activity that we can share with them: we learn to spot the traps set by the irreducible who do not give up hunting. The civet in particular, whose droppings containing coffee tree seeds are highly sought after, as they produce the most expensive coffee in the world: from 200 to 400 euros per kilo! Less expensive, however, than a night at the Shinta Mani Wild, but the conservation of such a natural setting is at this price.
From 2,000 euros per night. wild.shintamani.com.