There is a lot I have missed about Southeast Asia since I was last here – sunshine, fruit that tastes like sunshine, a focus on space as opposed to time, tuk-tuks, negotiable prices, … There is less I currently miss about Berlin – except for one thing. My recycling bin.
Traveling as a vegan is becoming a relatively straightforward thing to do, but integrating all my conscious habits from back home is a different story. Especially in Southeast Asia, where they really really REALLY love their plastic packaging, and recycling facilities are currently as mythical as unicorns… So when I rocked up at luxury boutique hotel and ethical resort Jaya House Siem Reap, I was excited not just at the anticipation of a comfy beds, access to the best temples in Siem Reap, and good coffee (fine, I miss these a little bit too), but to find out what a hotel with the ambition to be 100% plastic free is like.
JAYA HOUSE SIEM REAP: AN OASIS OF ZEN
Jaya House River Park ticks all the boxes for a luxury boutique hotel: with only thirty-six rooms, big lawns with tropical trees and two swimming pools, it feels intimate but far from crowded. Aesthetically, it’s a harmony of monochrome geometrics, punctuated by antiques and art ranging from buddhas and bodhisattvas, a swing through pre-Khmer 1960/70s Cambodian pop culture with gramophones, tv sets and stereos, and canvases by contemporary Cambodian artists. It’s minimal without feeling sterile, quirky without being kitsch.
In the room, echoes of nature are felt in the emphasis on sustainably-sourced natural stone and wood details, giving the whole space a very zen feel – of course, helped by the beds being big, white, high-thread-count squishes of heaven. The bathroom had both a shower and a huge tub – long enough for my very long self to extend out fully – carved from a great slab of stone. I may have been reading too much about feng shui recently, but I’m telling you, I could almost feel the hum of all the good energy in the space, soothing away stress and pumping me full of wellbeing. My balcony also happened to overlook the waterfall swimming pool, so I was accompanied by a de-stressing soundscape too.
The room was full of simple but effective choices to eliminate the need for plastic, which, as well as being environmentally sound, just made the whole space more appealing. Glass stoppered bottles for water, jars of loose tea, paper pods for the Malongo coffee machine… and oh those jasmine scented toiletries in their ceramic bottles! I bathed, showered and moisturized A LOT just so I could keep slathering them on.
SUSTAINABLE CAMBODIA: AN ETHICAL RESORT IN SIEM REAP
Jaya’s greatest plastic-minimizing success is one which reaches far beyond its walls. One of the first things I was presented with was a refillable aluminum bottle stamped with RefillNotLandfill (check!) This countrywide initiative has its roots with Jaya’s manager and is aimed at eradicating the need for plastic bottles on the Cambodian tourist trail. There is a vast and growing network of restaurants, hotels and various cultural hubs across the major tourist destinations in Sustainable Cambodia as detailed on the map on their website, where you can refill your bottle with filtered water for free!
And as much as I loved enjoying all the luxuries of Jaya, what really made its mark on me was all the other initiatives to support sustainable and ethical tourism. There is a big emphasis on looking out for and integrating the hotel, with the local community. This ranges from the hundreds of lotus flowers purchased from the local market every day, which you can watch being expertly folded and then placed around the hotel. There is a gorgeous scent of lemongrass that permeates Jaya, candles are burnt around the public spaces and in your room, and every time you arrive back to the hotel you are handed a lemongrass scented cool towel. All the lemongrass is sourced from a local farmer, who was commissioned to start growing it when the hotel opened as a way to support local agriculture.
I loved the staff, too. Jaya House River Park is definitely a place where staff starts to feel like family as they are so hospitable and love to have a genuine conversation with you – and importantly all the staff is employed full time. In most tourist centres the staff is seasonal, so after high season has finished, they can be left without the certainty of work until the next year.
One morning I walked past the pool to see a group of local kids splashing about with a swimming instructor – most local children don’t have access to a pool, let alone lessons, but Jaya House Siem Reap shares its facilities and offers free swimming lessons to local kids.
JAYA RESTAURANT: THE BEST FOOD IN SIEM REAP?
When I wasn’t spending my time getting to know more about the initiatives, talking to the wonderful staff, or chilling by the silver tiled pool, I was – naturally – eating. For breakfast, you could make the most of the buffet, and order items a la carte. All of this was devoured poolside in one of the gigantic swings where I spent several hours eating. It is also extremely vegan-friendly. Side note, don’t wait to be a vegan to try coconut milk in your coffee. It is incredible.
Whether you are a vegan like me, celiac like my Jaya Instagram-husband and co-writer of this article Miranda, or have any other dietary needs, the service at Jaya House is oh-so-attentive and personalized that they will have all of your needs met. We were honoured to be prepared a sampling meal from the chef which included some already-vegan treats from the menu, as well as a veganised version of his very extravagant smoked eggplant dish. Whether you are staying at Jaya House Siem Reap or not, a visit to their wonderful restaurant should not be missed!
Many thanks to Jaya House Siem Reap for their hospitality. As always, all opinions are my own regardless of who is footing the bill.
Heartfelt thanks also to my co-creator, editor, moral support and Instagram husband Miranda Wiendling. I has all the feels.