During our hunt for hotels in Siem Reap, Santa Clara Hotel came onto our radar because we wanted to stay close to Angkor Wat. Little did we know, we got way more than we expected when we met the lovely owners, Mary and Leslie. They are incredible people and very thoughtful entrepreneurs. I often think about intentional living from the perspective of a consumer. But meeting Mary and Leslie gave me a viewpoint of what it means to be a conscious hotel owner. They put a lot of thought into their hotel to ensure that guests have the best experience during their stay while being kind to the planet as well.
This post was written in collaboration with Santa Clara Hotel
The ambiance of Santa Clara Hotel in Siem Reap
Santa Clara Hotel has the charm of a bed and breakfast but with facilities that match an upscale hotel. The hotel design creates a close-knit ambiance for guests. After all, with only 13 rooms on site, it is easy to get to know the owners and the staff members.
It was always effortless to reach the owners if we had a question or concern. Of course, guests are left to their own devices if that’s their preference. Not us though! We were so smitten by them that we stuck to them like glue.
The trees and lush landscape are inviting to guests and creatures alike
The hotel grounds felt like a large garden with unusual plants and of course, wildlife! There were tadpoles, frogs, and butterflies making their way from one place to the next. We even saw a lovely olive-backed sunbird visiting the gardens. If you care about animals, please pay attention to where you step to avoid killing another living creature.
Time moved at a different pace during our stay as we got lost in discussion with the owners. One minute, they were sharing with us their views of the world and the country. The next minute, we were walking along the river in search of wildlife and twinkling stars in the dark sky.
The hotel owners at Santa Clara Hotel in Siem Reap
Without a doubt, the owners of this charming hotel play a huge role in enhancing your stay. Leslie and Mary have lived in interesting places around the world, and they’ve done slow travel too. As a result, their travel experiences gave them a deep understanding of the needs of a savvy traveller. Of course, their previous careers have an impact on the positive experience you’ll find at Santa Clara Hotel.
For starters, Mary was a senior nurse in Australia before moving to Cambodia
If you read my second-month highlights of our life on the road, you’ll understand why this was music to my ears. Long story short, we weren’t sure if Gary should go to a hospital that was an hour away from our hotel when we were in Thailand. Getting sick in some places in Asia is not the same as in Canada – the facilities are iffy, and healthcare is not up to par compared to western countries. As a result, deciding on what to do was time-consuming and stressful. While we had our travel insurance to help us, phone assistance is still not the same as in-person support. Had Mary been next to us during that ordeal, we would have been assured that she would guide us to the right doctors or chemists.
And Leslie? Well, let’s just say our minds blew up with a million questions each time he talked. He has a very well-balanced view of the world and he cares about understanding the root cause of things. Every time he shared a bit of his life philosophy with us, I could not help but agree with excitement because of the similar values shared.
Perspective on Cambodia
Perhaps the most significant thing we appreciated about the couple were the views and observations they shared with us about Cambodia. As travellers, we strive to learn as much as we can about the country we are visiting. It’s a hard task to achieve when we are visiting a place for a short amount of time. Because Mary and Leslie are expats who have lived in Siem Reap for over a year, we were able to learn about Cambodia from both the couple and their staff.
For instance, as much as we enjoyed Siem Reap, our stay was incredibly eye-opening, and at times, heartbreaking as we saw remnants of the country’s tragic past. Our days would be spent soaking in all that we saw and then going home to read about the observations on the internet. It’s not quite the same as talking to people who live in Cambodia.
By the time we arrived at Santa Clara Hotel, we both had this insatiable desire to have the answers to everything we could not make sense of in Siem Reap. But by the end of our stay at Santa Clara Hotel, we learned and understood the country a bit more thanks to the staff members and the owners.
Fun fact about the couple
One of them had a pet lion growing up…a PET LION! Can’t say I didn’t feel insanely jealous when I found out (I want to hug a pet lion too!)
The hotel room at Santa Clara Hotel In Siem Reap
Our hotel room was a classic king room, located on the second floor. The room was immaculate, modern and ultra comfortable.
One common concern we hear from travellers visiting Asia is about the hard beds; they’re everywhere. Outside of international chains, most hotels in Asia have firm beds. It’s something to be mindful of if firm beds aren’t your thing.
Of course, this isn’t a problem you have to worry about at Santa Clara Hotel because the beds are plush and comfy.
We were very impressed with the room. The concrete flooring made for a sleek and chic feel. My favourite place to sit was the daybed, which was large enough that I could even nap on it if I wanted to. Of course, the daybed was right next to the window, which allowed for ample sunlight during the day.
The bathroom and storage area was large with windows that allow for natural lighting. We barely turned the lights on during the daytime.
A funny incident happened while we were at the hotel
I woke up one morning in a panic because I thought I left the bathroom lights on all night. It’s a big pet peeve of mine to waste electricity (thank you, parents, for instilling this habit in me) and I was feeling quite guilty as this had never happened before in my life. I ran to the bathroom, only to realize that the windows were strategically placed in a way that allowed sunlight to light up the whole room once the sun started to rise. Whew! I went back to sleep right afterward.
Once I finally woke up and processed what just happened, I realized how this amusing incident is an example of how the is designed in an environmentally friendly way.
Santa Clara Hotel in Siem Reap – Quality with a Conscious
While Santa Clara Hotel does not brand itself as an eco-friendly hotel, I see many ways in which it operates in an eco-friendly manner.
The impact of plastic in Cambodia
We all know plastic, in general, is terrible, but the situation is worse in Cambodia. You see, plastic is not recyclable in this country, which means they end up everywhere; be it rivers, roads, the countryside… you name it, it’s there.
Leslie and Mary try to do their part in minimizing the use of plastic. They attempt to avoid plastic or source biodegradable plastic where possible. For instance, the plastic lining of the garbage and toiletry packaging are eco-friendly. When they couldn’t find biodegradable straws in Cambodia, they sourced it from outside of the country. As well, all soaps and shampoo are in refillable jars instead of the typical plastic containers.
Of course, the most significant contributor to the plastic problem in Cambodia involves water. Plastic water bottles are ubiquitous in Cambodia because it is a simple way to keep travellers hydrated. Luckily, this issue is minimized at Santa Clara Hotel since they have drinking water in glass jars available in every room.
If you need a refill, there are water stations on every floor, making it easy for guests to stay hydrated.
Enhancing the lives of the staff members at Santa Clara Hotel in Siem Reap
Leslie and Mary make it their duty to create a safe and nurturing environment for their staff. To start, Santa Clara Hotel pays above average salaries for the team and funds their education. Most of them go to school to advance their English while some learned Khmer because they never learned to read or write in their language. The owners also spend one-on-one time with their staff to develop their English skills. Thanks to the owners’ generosity, some of the employees who were illiterate can now read and write in Khmer and English.
We also learned that access to clean water is difficult for Cambodians. As a result, Santa Clara Hotel allows their staff to bring home filtered water for their family to use and drink.
Seeing the efforts they put into improving the lives of their staff members is heartfelt. Remember how I mentioned that we were feeling restless when we arrived at Santa Clara Hotel? Well, those unsettled emotions also came from the overwhelming desire to help, which were then overpowered by not knowing how to help.
Witnessing the daily things that the owners did to improve the lives of their employees made us feel more at ease and gave us a realistic example of how creating change doesn’t have to come from marketing savvy NGOs or social enterprises. It can start by running your business with integrity, which is what we saw at Santa Clara Hotel. Thanks to the decisions they make in running their business, the owners are improving the lives of their 11 staff members.
The Service at Santa Clara Hotel In Siem Reap
Throughout our stay, we could tell that customer satisfaction is their priority. In fact, ensuring that customers have a good experience was evident even before we arrived in Siem Reap. Simple things like reminders to bring crisp USD bills in small change, or scams to avoid are useful, especially for independent travellers like us.
The staff members were always available to help us with our requests or answer our questions. They also noticed little things about us and made sure to do what they can to make us happy. For example, Sokheat noticed my interest in the wildlife at the hotel and made sure to point out frogs and birds to me whenever he saw me.
If you are arriving in Siem Reap with a vague idea of your itinerary, you’re in good hands! The hotel pays attention to your interests and will suggest things that are best suited for you. The hotel will also arrange transportation for you and will charge you prices that are on par with market prices. The extra benefit of booking through the hotel is that they’ve vetted the tuk-tuk drivers and the tour companies, so you don’t need to worry about scams or bad experiences.
The Food at Santa Clara Hotel Siem Reap
Our room included complimentary a la carte breakfast.
After enjoying their scrumptious breakfast, we knew we had to try their dinner
And boy was it delicious. I live for food, and I get extremely happy when I have a good, healthy meal.
After asking Sokheat a thousand questions, I went with Khmer curry, my go-to dish in Cambodia while Gary ordered eggplant. Indeed, the Khmer curry dish turned out to be perfect.
The reason why I asked a gazillion questions is that I found this dish to be a huge hit or miss in Cambodia. Some restaurants make their Khmer curry well while others overcooked their vegetables or added too much sugar. One place had pretty good curry, but depending on the day, that same dish had a burnt taste and was inconsistent with our original visit.
Not so at Santa Clara Hotel. The Khmer soup had hearty vegetables, and the broth was perfect. I was so happy with the curry that I ordered it again for dinner the next day.
The menu caters to European preferences as well. We skipped over the salads, pasta, and sandwiches and ordered French fries instead.
Santa Clara Hotel cares about the food chain and sources quality ingredients
Where possible, they grow herbs and fruits in their garden and source ingredients locally. For example, their bacon and yogurt come from a local manufacturer while house-made condiments minimize the use of preservatives. Learning about their efforts to avoid preservatives and sourcing food locally made me quite happy because I strive to do the same back in Canada. I’m one of those who takes forever to grocery shop back home because I read every ingredient on labels!
For those who love spicy food, you MUST try their house-made chili! Their chili is so addictive that we could have eaten the chili sauce with plain rice… no joke. Try dipping French fries in chili sauce; that is another way to enjoy the delicious chili.
The location of Santa Clara Hotel In Siem Reap
The location is ideal, especially for temple hopping folks like us who wanted to be close to Angkor Wat. That means avoiding traffic jams on the main road to the temples or getting to sleep in a bit later for those early temple hopping days.
Santa Clara hotel is also next to a quiet river and a short ride away from the busy pub street area. A stroll along the river will give you a different and less touristy perspective of Siem Reap.
The Facilities at Santa Clara Hotel in Siem Reap
The swimming pool at Santa Clara hotel is one of the few saltwater pools in the city! Not only is it a great way to cool off after a long hot day in Cambodia, but it won’t irritate your skin!
The best part of the pool is the serenity that came with it. There were many times where we stayed in hotels with inviting swimming pools. But there were so many people that it became distracting. We didn’t have to worry about that problem at Santa Clara Hotel and found the grounds to be very peaceful and calm.
The Restaurant and Bar at Santa Clara Hotel In Siem Reap
The hotel has a small restaurant and bar for guests. We found the ambiance of the restaurant to be quiet and serene. Perfect for us as we ate our tasty food.
The seating area at the restaurant is also an excellent place for thought-provoking conversations late into the night. Trust us on this one, it has been tried and extensively tested.
Santa Clara Hotel, an incredible way to experience Siem Reap
Without a doubt, Santa Clara Hotel made our trip so meaningful thanks to the staff and the owners. Not only did we leave the hotel with heartfelt memories, but we left with a deeper understanding of… well, life, in general.
As for our journey on of slow travelling, they helped us to make a decision on our next destination after Cambodia (“Just flip a coin!”). Looking back, we realize now that we would have had regrets in our travels if it weren’t for them.
Visit their website for more information or contact them through firstname.lastname@example.org.
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