A boutique hotel in Cambodia resurrects eleven old houses from the countryside and transforms them into a series of charming tourist hideouts. Here’s how.
Quaint from the outside but contemporary on the inside, Sala Lodges in Cambodia is one of those quintessentially exotic, boutique hotels that works like a magnet to attract tourists hungry for authentic local experiences.
Located in Siem Reap, Cambodia, and spread over 7,000 sq. m. of land, Sala Lodges recreates a traditional village setting, albeit a luxurious one, with a cluster of 11 wooden houses flanked by a pool, restaurant and abundant tropical flora.
Weather-beaten and smoothened by years of habitation, some of the houses date back to nearly half a century and exude the precious whiff of history. The owners of the Lodge reveal that the houses were originally discovered in the Battambang countryside from where they were transported to the hotel site and eventually restored and refurbished.
If restoring traditional village dwellings and converting them into contemporary hotel rooms is a trending tourism concept, it was also, claim the owners of Sala Lodges, “An opportunity to preserve an endangered tradition.”
What proved to be the real challenge was identifying 11 houses that fitted the hotel’s concept as well as that could be safely transported back to site. A team of joiners and carpenters were hired to scout the countryside for wooden village houses that met certain criteria of design and durability.
The houses that made the final cut were selected on the basis of their exteriors, interiors and quality of their wood. The hotel owners add, “In agreement with our architect, we chose most of the Sala Lodges houses based on the pictures and technical advice of wood specialists.”
“Transporting the houses back to the site proved a bit tricky”, admit the owners adding that the workers had to be especially careful when putting the pieces together.
With the original exterior architecture of all 11 houses restored, changes in height were adopted to bring harmony to the different structures. The hotel’s interior designer – Marina Cardis – developed the idea of blending traditional dwellings with contemporary architecture and worked with French architect Claire Campens to extend this look to every corner of the hotel.
The owners generously add, “Sala Lodges complex would never have presented such character without this harmonious collaboration.”
Beneath their rustic appearance, the houses reveal large bedrooms decorated in an understated and refined fashion. The owners place credit for the hotel’s clean, contemporary interiors at the feet of their Swiss designer adding, “Marina Cardis immersed herself in Cambodia and learned to understand its people in order to create novel interiors; all of which are different but imbued with the same spirit and sentiment.”
On a hunt for vintage furniture that would complement the rustic atmosphere, Marina travelled to India – a country intimately linked to Cambodia’s history and one with a significant influence on the art and architecture of the region.
Marina found just the thing she was looking for in the markets of Rajasthan – patina furniture in contemporary designs – and shipped loads of these back to the hotel in Cambodia.
At Sala Lodges, the bedroom’s minimalistic interiors are sprinkled with hand-crafted artifacts that elevate the resident village atmosphere. At the same time, guests are pampered with modern conveniences like air-conditioners, fans, modern toilets, rain showers and the indispensable wi-fi.
The unfussy, contemporary look is further extended to community areas like the pool and restaurant, yet all the while keeping a close eye on maintaining aesthetics that appear more natural than manufactured.
Explaining the origin of the hotel’s name, the owners say it was inspired by the Cambodian word ‘salarien’ which refers to a kiosk on the roadside or in a pagoda and which is designed as a space for travellers to rest. For sure, there’s much to look forward to in this hotel with a past.
Text By Christabelle Athaide
Photographs Courtesy Régis Binard