There are many fantastic luxury hotels in Siem Reap to retire to after exploring the ancient temple city, yet new kid on the block, Templation, a MAADS hotel, stands out as one of the most unique and eco-conscious of them all.
Templation, a portmanteau of Temple (i.e. Angkor Wat) and Plantation (the grounds were built on a former working plantation), opened its doors in 2016. Its location, only 3kms or a 6 minute tuk-tuk ride from Angkor Wat, makes it the closest hotel to the ancient and mystical ruins and only 800 meters from the Angkor ticket office, which was very welcoming when we had to wake up early to capture that famous sunrise shot of Angkor Wat.
The 4 acres of grounds where Templation lies are also in the middle of a residential area you can explore on one of the bicycles that the hotel offers for a small fee. French architect and Cambodian resident, Ivan Tizianel, designed this gorgeous oasis with the mindset of “Simplicity in details and closeness to Nature”, which I felt from the moment I entered its grounds and passed through the expansive driveway.
Tizianel used traditional Cambodian architecture and sustainable practices when designing Templation. Rather than blasting the aircon and using ceiling lights in the central lounging area, he allowed natural airflow and lighting to take over. Instead of cutting down the trees that were in the property, he built the cement structure around them and let them jut out of the ground and through the ceiling. We definitely felt his philosophy thrive throughout our stay.
Arrival and check in at Templation Siem Reap
After disembarking from the plane and waiting in 2 queues to obtain our passport, we were hit with the notorious Cambodian heat. The last thing we wanted to do was wait around, melting away with our luggage. Templation whisked us away immediately in an air conditioned Jaguar (a nice break from the ubiquitous Lexus) where we were handed ice cold towels and Perrier sparkling water by a fresh young faced man clad in cotton and flops.
And this is when we learnt about the traditional Buddhist Cambodian salutation, palms closed together in front of the face with a slight bow of the head.
The drive from the airport was a 20 minute breeze, filled with jovial and light conversation from the young staff about where to go and what to see in the ancient city. After dodging the many motorcycles and bicycles on the muddy ochre dirt road, we arrived at the hotel in all its surreptitious splendor.
It’s a funny thing when you feel so comfortable that you forget about your luggage. And that’s exactly what happened when we arrived at Templation. We were escorted through the most gorgeous waterway with murmuring fountains overhead to the spacious lounging area and were welcomed with a very refreshing thirst quencher made from the local santol fruit (or cotton fruit) that grows on the grounds.
Apparently this fruit is not favourited by the Cambodian locals due to its sour, almost lemony taste, and the Templation management wanted to do something with it. So they added a bit of sugar and made a delightful palate cleanser.
As we reclined in the sofas and filled out our forms, we were welcomed by the Indonesian-born General Manager, Ayub. He was very knowledgeable about the area and the grounds and helped us sort all our outings and excursions, catering to our tastes and interests.
We suddenly realized that we had left our bags in the car, but of course, they were silently placed in our rooms without us noticing.
About the grounds
MAADS, the brainchild of Marie and Alexis de Suremain (hence the name), is known in Cambodia for deeply respecting the Earth, the people and for encouraging responsible tourism. Similar to many other high-end properties in Cambodia like Shinta Mani Wild and Shinta Mani Siem Reap, all MAADS properties are created with a deep knowledge and understanding of the environment and the culture. And if you dig into Templation, you’ll find that every aspect of the hotel is well thought out and eco-conscious to the last brick, literally.
We noticed that there were 352 solar panels attached to the roofs of the various rooms. A lot of research went into this, the major impetus focused on conserving energy. These panels were said to produce around 1,000 kilowatt-hours in peak times, while the hotel uses around 850 to 1,500 per day.
Another intricacy invisible to the naked eye is that Templation does not bring in any outside water, but rather uses a unique pump and filtration system that helps to filter the groundwater and rainwater that it harvests throughout the year. So when you’re floating in the 1,000 cubic meter swimming pool or your own private pool, you can rest assured that the water is refreshingly clean and sourced considering the environmentally. The pools consume about 500 kilowatt-hours on a daily basis, hence the need for the solar panels.
To conserve energy in the cooling of the property, Tizianel used traditional Khmer architectural techniques that leverage the natural airflow. There is no air-conditioning in the main outdoor lounging area, just large open spaces and fans that circulate the air. In the suites, the bathing area is separated from the living spaces and open to the elements, something that is usual in Cambodia.
Adding to their eco-centric focus, Templation also recycles or composts refuse right on their premises, and is also active in helping to keep Siem Reap, and Cambodia in general, clean and tidy.
As mentioned above, the grounds were built on what was previously a plantation. But instead of tearing the entire plantation down, the hotel was built around the foliage, resulting in a mix of symmetrical concrete structures merged with organic surroundings and locally sourced stone and wood, making it ergonomic, spacious and environmentally sound.
Throughout the lush area there were 33 luxurious suites and villas on three categories. The Junior Suites have a patio and view of the main pool, the Pool Suites have a single bedroom and private pool and the Pool Villas come with 2 double bedrooms and a private pool. We stayed at one of the Pool Suites.
When entering our Pool Suite the word that came to mind was space. We were surrounded by rich nature, trees of all kinds – jackfruit, mango, cashew – a fairly large pool (4x7m) with built in air jet seats, and separate bedroom and living areas, each with en-suite bathrooms.
The Pool Suite was perfect for a honeymoon getaway. It was secluded and romantic. The emerald slate-tiled pavilion area surrounding the pool included two loungers, a small table with chairs and a resting area that also acted as a block from the other suites for a late night skinny dip.
The rooms were decked in a warm, dark wood, with orange, red and grey colour tones. A sliding curtain that wrapped around the bed protected us from the mosquitoes. There was complimentary Bodia mosquito repellant and water. The queen size bed was complemented by a comfy divan for a child or a friend.
And then there were the bathrooms. All bathrooms were open to the sky and stars, but of course the his-and-hers sinks were protected from the rains. We got to relax in the blissful and ever so large terrazzo bath or the rainfall shower among the sounds of the geckos and other nature. The bathrooms were kitted with rejuvenating cosmetics and toiletries by local brand Bodia in aromas like turmeric and ginger.
The living room area had a Sony TV and sound system which you could connect via Bluetooth, but I never used it as I preferred the sounds of nature. The living room was a great space to get some writing or reading away from the heat and humidity.
Dining and food experiences
Breakfast was always included and the staff kept coming back to ask if we needed anything else. We chose from an array of a la carte options and set meals – or a mixture of both. There were local Khmer dishes, Continental, Asian or good ol’ American fare.
While the servers said we could choose one set and one special dish, we could actually order whatever we liked – so three coffees and four courses later, we were stuffed. The coffee was great, not the usual super sweet Robusta you’ll find elsewhere or the very low quality hotel coffee, as was the bottomless fresh fruit juice in tropical Cambodian flavours.
The lunch and dinner menu were also filled with choices of either local, Western and vegetarian options. We really wanted to taste local Khmer favourites like lok lak, amok or char kreung, and am happy we did so at Templation. The local options were divine.
There was also a competition among the chefs while we were there which apparently runs all year round. The chefs come up with delicacies made from local ingredients, most of them being sourced from within the Templation grounds, talk about proximity food. The main ingredient used in the competition while we stayed was frog, which included every cooking style from braised to fried.
There was a reasonable wine selection that was fairly priced with a choice of wine from 8 different countries. And the cocktails were original and included all the local Cambodian fruits. The lemongrass and kaffir lime mojito was a real treat.
There was also a selection of craft beers from the only craft beer distillery in Siem Reap, Brewpub, which is a well worth visit. And of course, there was happy hour. I highly recommend visiting the restaurant even for visitors to Siem Reap that are not staying at Templation, just to get some solace away from the noise of Pub Street.
Lucky for us, we had the chance to take the Khmer cooking class which started with a visit to the local the market. Usually, we would have gone to the farm as well, but the rain flooded the road making access very tricky. We then had a full culinary experience, poolside.
Led by passionate Executive Chef Toek Menghout, we were introduced to all the secrets of a real Khmer meal, from learning about all the spices that go into fish amok to the art of cutting star-shaped banana leaves and we ended up enjoying our food. The experience left us amazed and satisfied and is highly recommended for everyone visiting Siem Reap, not just guests.
Other than the working plantation that surrounded us, there were also a few facilities to keep us occupied. A very small gym contained a few yoga mats, dumbbells, two treadmills and an elliptical. It was not catered to hardcore fitness fanatics but the exercise is to be had outside the hotel, walking up and down the temples and cycling around Angkor Wat.
There was also a small “Business center” for meetings and the ever increasing Angkor Database™ and Library. This is a collection for the more clued up visitor to either read books or digitised documents, or even watch documentaries about the ancient City. There is so much to read about Angkor that the library is a good way to spend the hotter hours of the day.
The small but serene Bodia Spa sorted out our stressed muscles. We were blessed with a complimentary 15 minute massage and we didn’t want it to end. There was also a small shop called Cambomania with locally made and crafted gifts like handmade jewelry, local rum or even swimsuits.
Things to do in and around Siem Reap
The main attraction in Siem Reap is most definitely visiting Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples. We let the front desk know what day and time we wanted to go and they organized a tuk tuk and personal guide for the day, which I highly recommend.
I suggest getting a 3-day pass if you’re going to be there for 2 days or longer and definitely try get it the day before you visit the temples so that you don’t have to rise at 4:30am, like we did, and stand among a swarm of queuing tourists for the magnificent and ever so spiritual sun rising behind Angkor Wat.
We also had the choice between the small circuit and the grand circuit (or tour). We were a bit deceived by the names, but one is no less impressive than the other. The names of the circuits have nothing to do with wonderment but more with distance traveled.
The small circuit is the usual circuit where you go to the most famous and celebrated temples including Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Ta Phrohm (of Tomb Raider fame), and Banteay Kdei. It runs about 17 kms and it also includes lesser known sites within Angkor Thom like the Baphoun, The Terrace of the Leper King, The Terrace of the Elephants, the Twelve Prasats, as well as the giant reservoir Srah Srang.
The grand circuit is about 26 kms and includes other sites such as Preah Khan, Preah Neak Pean to the Eastern Mebon and the various monuments like Ta Som, Preah Rup. I would advise taking both tours if you’re in Siem Reap for 2 days or longer. We felt a bit jaded after seeing temple after temple, but we still do not regret it. We witnessed the vast architectural varieties of the surrounding areas and were happy we did it.
When we were feeling a bit “templed out”, we hit Pub Street for a uniquely Cambodian expat experience. This is a bit contradictory with the rest of the Angkor Temple atmosphere, as it was very noisy and filled with drunken Westerners singing karaoke, something similar to Patong in Phuket. That being said, it was quite fun to have a drink and witness the party vibe. We then visited the Night Market close by Pub Street for some trinkets and clothing.
One of my favourite places to go was Kandal Village along Hap Guan Street, about a 10 minute walk from Pub Street. It’s a quieter, up and coming neighbourhood filled with hipster cafés, local NGOs selling their wear, a yoga studio by Azahar Foundation and even a place to sip wine at Mademoiselle Thyda. We loved having brunch at the Little Red Fox Espresso, which has a quiet room upstairs with Wifi. There were also coffee shops and restaurants one street parallel on Central Market Street.
If you want to read more about what is there to do in Siem Reap, I wrote a complete guide to Siem Reap (coming very soon).
From pick-up to drop off the service was fantastic. The staff were attentive, yet not overbearingly so. We had many fun conversations about Cambodian culture and they all loved sharing thoughts about their history, cuisine and society. The staff were a fountain of information, the kind that could only be provided by true patriots who are proud of their heritage.
As we were in Cambodia during the elections, we were able to get local insights into the political status of the ruling People’s Party on the car rides and over breakfast or dinner.
My partner unfortunately got an eye infection from the dust when riding in a tuk tuk – lesson learned, always wear your shades when traveling in open air. And the service couldn’t have been more professional.
They took us, in the hotel car, directly to the international hospital, a fortunately short ride away, and waited until the consultation was completed to drive us back to the hotel. While they did show concern, they did not go overboard which was much appreciated. One or two, “How is your eye?” the next day was all. It was just the right amount of professionalism.
Templation Siem Reap – The verdict
My stay at Templation was unique, relaxing and friendly. The team really lived up to the expectations and rave reviews. Thanks to the meticulously designed architecture, we constantly felt at peace with waves of serenity hitting us like warm rays of sun.
I’m so happy I stayed in an eco-friendly location surrounded by tropical flora, much better than the kitsch conveyer belt hotels along the main road. While other hotels use images of Angkor as a tasteless selling point, Templation really imbued the spirit of the ancient World Wonder. We felt amazed, at ease, and humbled by nature. And what is more, the pool villa was a real oasis in the crowded and dusty/muddy temple area, a great place to retire to.
Once in a Lifetime Journey was a guest of Templation. As always, all opinions are our own.
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