Backgrounder – The Creation of Shinta Mani Wild - A Bensley Collection
1 December 2022
Shinta Mani Wild – A Bensley Collection is Cambodia’s most unique all-inclusive tented camp experience, located in the heart of the South Cardamom rainforest. The brainchild of architect, interior designer, landscape architect and most of all conservationist Bill Bensley, it all started with a sale of government land designated for logging. Along with Sokoun Chanpreda (founder of the Shinta Mani Foundation and its group of boutique hotels dedicated to empowering Cambodians) Bill purchased some 875,000 trees, 4.5 kilometers of wild river and 3 magnificent waterfalls over 865 acres, saving it from becoming a titanium mine. In order to protect this corridor of rainforest the size of Central Park from poaching and logging - in what is now the biggest and last great forest in Southeast Asia - a high yield low impact camp was created, with the main mission being a sustainable way to protect the forest and its wildlife inhabitants through a collaboration with the Shinta Mani Foundation and the Wildlife Alliance NGO.
During their stay at Shinta Mani Wild – A Bensley Collection, guests select one of 15 luxury tents, each of which was meticulously designed and placed along the river through Bill’s process of minimal intervention, which seeks to preserve the forest and understand the idiosyncrasies of the river valley. There is one tent to every 66 acres of forest - and not a single tree was cut down in the building process - so guests are well and truly immersed in the greatest of great outdoors. Each tent is unique: Bill was inspired by King Sihanouk and the legendary Jackie O’s 1967 travels across Cambodia, as well as explorers, conservationists, the precious animals of this forest and the heroes who work hard to keep it safe.
He set about designing each tent to be an embodiment of a Cambodian Safari trip with Jackie Kennedy-Onassis, complete with every last luxury, including an open-air bathtub facing the wild river, a private Bensley Butler and antiques sourced by Bill and his husband Jirachai in European antique markets for each tent’s one of a kind interiors. From the onset, Wild adventurers are pushed beyond their boundaries: Bill wanted to take guests comfortably out of their comfort zone, so why not start with the arrival? The result was one of his favorite hotel creations yet. Guests take a leap of faith from a 7-storey tower and fly along one of South East Asia’s longest zip lines (400m), over the dense Cardamom rainforest, a river and a roaring waterfall to arrive at the Landing Zone Bar, where they are greeted by the General Manager and Bensley Adventure Butlers with a stiff drink! That is only the start of the adventure…
Shinta Mani Wild – A Bensley Collection’s core purpose is to protect this vast expanse of forest from illegal poaching and logging. Bill formed a partnership through the Shinta Mani Foundation, with the Wildlife Alliance NGO, whose armed rangers patrol the forest and have the ability to prosecute offenders. To date they have confiscated over 2700 chainsaws, and protected hundreds of hectares of Cambodia’s precious Cardamom rainforest. Bill committed to building a ranger station and a lifetime of financial assistance – Shinta Mani Wild – A Bensley Collection dedicates a percentage of income to keep 8 rangers employed 24/7, equating to the protection of 2000 hectares of forest and 500 wild animals saved every year. It is a sustainable model which will hopefully be copied many times all over the world, teaching people with influence that we are nature. Guests are able to join the armed Wildlife Alliance rangers on their daily patrols, who teach them in a hands-on way about their work in catching poachers and loggers, rescuing and caring for wildlife in need, research into local wildlife by way of camera traps, clearing the forest of snares, and rainforest protection.
Beyond ziplining and patrolling, there are activities to suit every taste: as Bill says “We get super athletic guests doing somersaults off the 5-storey Raging Big Sisters Waterfall followed by kayaking and mountain biking - and those who go foraging for dinner in the forest with our chef or simply read a book in the outdoor bath which overlooks the jungle. There is something for everyone, but always within inches of one of the last great wildernesses.” Activities include birdwatching, butterfly identification, expedition boats, foraging and cooking class, hiking, kayaking, mountain biking, waterfall picnics, the spa, swimming at the camp’s “Cistern” Pool, catch and release fishing and one of Bill’s favorites - tailgate sundowners at the waterfall! At other times of the year when the river is higher, guests are brought out to the mountain plains where a vintage Land Rover turned roving bar welcomes them for fireside drinks with a view.
Along with its partnership with Wildlife Alliance, Shinta Mani Wild – A Bensley Collection also works with the Shinta Mani Foundation and the local community, teaching Cambodians that conservation is more valuable than extraction through community outreach and environmental education programs - these started long before the camp was built. A community that is educated about its environment will be sustainability prosperous in that environment. Shinta Mani Wild employs 120 people, 70% of whom are from the local village. Many were poachers and loggers before the tented camp was built, as this region had little infrastructure and fewer opportunities to work.
They were first brought on board to help build the camp, instilling a real sense of ownership and pride, and then trained through the Shinta Mani Foundation to bring to life this five-star luxury tented camp in the middle of the forest. Should they desire, these employees can receive further education and training in Siem Reap through the other Shinta Mani hotels in the group, as well as the Foundation’s Hospitality School, allowing them to become well-paid professionals in a country where such opportunities are few.
Shinta Mani Wild – A Bensley Collection welcomes one and all, from the honeymooners to the wildly adventurous types, and even those who might not have expected to love it - Bill’s sister in her late 70s at the time, holds the record for oldest zipper and did 5 rounds on her first try! It is an exhilarating immersion into the wild and the world of conservation, where guests push their limits, reconnect with nature, and - Bill hopes - leave feeling the unique pride and joy that comes with knowing they played a role here in making a difference, and take that mindset home with them.
For more information and reservations, please contact Shinta Mani Wild- A Bensley Collection:
Tel: +855 12 223 782
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Tel: +65 8323 1240