Teen adventures in southeast Asia
The recently opened Shinta Mani Wild tented resort in the wilds of Cambodia is perfect for adventure-loving families, reports Catharine Nicol
How would you like to zip line to your resort?
Well, if you’re a guest of Shinta Mani Wild, at the end of a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Sihanoukville or Phnom Penh, you turn off the main road and bump along village tracks to arrive at the resort’s perimeter.
Next, you transfer to an old World War II jeep for a short drive, and finally you climb 30m up a tower in the middle of Cardamom National Park. The next minute you are soaring 350m over the treetops across two zip lines before touching ground again in the resort’s Landing Zone Bar. As dramatic arrivals go, this is up there.
This extraordinary tented camp resort is the dream of quirky architect and designer, Bill Bensley. And in 350 hectares of national park, there are just 15 tents.
The resort welcomes children from ten years and up and a sense of adventure definitely helps. Everything feels extremely safe and professional, but kids (or adults) who don’t want to jump into thin air can of course opt to arrive at the camp by jeep.
The tents, set beside the river, are a hugely spacious 100sqm, with vintage furnishings and elaborate décor. The killer feature is the outdoor living decking, with a colourful animal sofa, dining table and alfresco bath, plus family-sized mini-bar, already stocked with treats before you arrive.
Trails lead between the tents and HQ, busy with butterflies, birds and ants going about their business. The butlers here look after guests, not only with admin and accommodation, but they also lead butterfly walks, forest hikes, mountain biking afternoons, sunset riverboat trips and more. Depending on the height of the river nearby, there’s wild swimming in the pools or the river, as well as a more conventional swimming pool.
Wild, as Bensley calls it, was created to conserve and, in fact, rescue, this part of the national park from the logging, mining and poaching it had been subjected to for years. Teaming up with the Wildlife Alliance, guests are invited to accompany rangers out on their hunts for snares and poachers and check cameras for animal-spotting. Some of these trips are on the back of motorbikes with professional military trained rangers with Kalashnikovs (as deterrents – they have never been fired). An exciting adventure, but parents must obviously decide what they are comfortable with.
At the last check, rangers had released seven civet cats, ten turtles as well as Macaque and porcupine back into the forest, removed 556 snares and 85 illegal fences and confiscated guns, chainsaws and bulldozers. “The animals seem to sense that our park is a safer refuge now,” says Bensley.
It is an incredible way to introduce all ages to conservation in its raw state, while staying in fabulous luxury.
HQ, with its fairground horses and Jackie Kennedy-inspired style, is where guests re-group and regale each other with their tales of derring-do. The little blackboard menu (ask the chef for kid-friendly alternatives) changes every day, and the resort makes each evening an adventure, with BBQs, rock cocktails and more.
Wild is a place that gets under your skin very quickly. Being involved in the preservation of the area builds a special, emotional link, and leaving to return to everyday life ensures you are determined to look after your own piece of the planet a bit better too.
Flights from Hong Kong into Sihanoukville International Airport include a transfer in Phnom Penh, Thailand’s Don Mueang International Airport or Ho Chi Minh City. Alternatively, it’s approximately a three-hour drive from Phnom Penh to Shinta Mani Wild, or a five-hour drive all the way to the coast.
Dry season runs from November to February and wet season – or ‘green season’ – from June to October.