Asia

Rokkhak River Resort: A Green Retreat in Siem Reap

If there’s one place on Earth you need a serene place to come home to to re-energise after a day of sightseeing, it’s Siem Reap.

There are literally hundreds of hotels and resorts to choose from in the town that’s blossomed around Angkor Wat. I usually stay in the city, but on my third visit to Siem Reap this summer, I had an opportunity to try something different.

Rokkhak River Resort (formerly Natura Resort) sits on a leafy property roughly halfway between downtown Siem Reap and the entrance to Angkor Archaeological Park. The location and the overall experience was a total game changer for me. I don’t think I’ll ever stay in the city again!

My stay was hosted by Rokkhak River Resort, but all opinions are my own.

A swimming pool surrounded by trees and a dark-coloured wooden deck.

About Rokkhak River Resort

Rokkhak River Resort is one of the few properties scattered along Siem Reap’s quiet River Road. Formerly known as Natura Resort, it recently changed hands and took on a new identity. The new managers are implementing some changes, but the property’s core vision remains the same: To offer guests a peaceful, nature-filled environment to start their day in, and to be leaders in social and environmental responsibility.

The word rokkhak means ‘tree’ in Khmer, and staff refer to the property as ‘the resort shrouded in deep forest’. The ‘river’ part of the name references the Siem Reap river, a shallow, slow-moving tributary that runs along the front of the property. This waterway was crucial for transporting the stone used to construct the temples of Angkor just up the road. It’s a nice tie-in that reminds you exactly where you are and helps you feel present.

That’s one of the things I like most about Rokkhak. It’s peaceful and serene and at times, seems a world away from the dust and disarray of Siem Reap. But all throughout my stay, I still felt like I was in Cambodia. It’s very easy to feel removed when you’re staying at a hotel in the city.

Management are cognoscente of this, and make an effort to emphasise the Khmer-ness of the resort. The gardens are planted out with native trees. The company is locally owned – which is a huge deal in Siem Reap. Inside the rooms, subtle design details reference Khmer culture and the nearby temples. I’ll explain these touches in more detail later on.

A modern white building with open walls and seating inside.

The grounds

If I had to choose two words to describe Rokkhak River Resort, they would be ‘contemplative’ and ‘meditative’. It’s so quiet, the only thing you hear is chanting emanating from the pagoda down the road. The air is fresh, and even though it’s purposefully overgrown in places, the whole complex conveys impeccable attention to detail.

When you first arrive at the resort, you’re greeted by a modern, open-air reception area surrounded by shallow ponds and deep bowls filled with lotus buds.

One of the first things you notice is the large holes in the roof. Not wanting to fell too many of the trees that grow abundantly on the grounds, the resort’s architect made room for older trees by cutting openings in the concrete floor and roof so they could continue to grow. The effect is wonderful.

Behind the reception area, stone paths link a restaurant and bar with blocks of rooms. The back of the property centres on a voluminous saltwater pool surrounded by a charcoal-coloured deck. Both the restaurant and breakfast bar are open as well, so you’re always immersed in greenery. (I should note that despite all the plants and water, I didn’t see a single mosquito during my stay.)

The garden is landscaped ‘jungle-style’, with many of the original trees left to flourish. When choosing new plants to add, the owners focused on indigenous shrubs and trees found in Cambodia’s mountainous areas. Small details such as wooden Buddhist statues nestled inside tree trunks are just delightful.

With such a strong focus on creating a clean environment for guests, it’s not surprising that Rokkhak puts a big emphasis on environmental stewardship. The resort is a plastic-free property (your first hint is the grass straw that comes with your welcome drink). Bathroom products are kept in cute ceramic jars, drinking water is served in glass bottles, and there are no bin liners.

Staff are actively engaged in community clean-up projects to keep the waterway outside the hotel and the surrounding area pollution-free. Siem Reap still has a long way to go on this front, but it’s wonderful to see a locally owned hotel taking the lead.

A hotel room with a wardrobe, sofa and curtains.

The rooms

Rokkhak River Resort has 23 rooms in total, including doubles, and garden and family suites. All have a balcony that looks out onto the leafy grounds.

My double room was compact but comfortable, with a lounging nook, desk space and coffee and tea provisions. One design feature I really love is the mosquito nets. Instead of clunky overhead nets, Rokkhak has wrap-around ceiling-to-floor curtain nets that shroud the entire bed.

I also love the matte concrete floors that run from the sleeping area through to the en-suite bathroom. They feel great underfoot and have a bespoke finish. In my room, I could clearly see paw prints left behind by a pooch who must have been running around before the concrete set! This little quirk brought a big smile to my face every time I walked in the door.

Decorations are understated. My room featured all-white walls, lots of windows for air and natural light, and two beautiful iron bells hanging from a piece of plaited rope for decoration. Staff are currently in talks with local artists to introduce more artworks into the rooms. I think this will work well.

My en-suite was very generous and had more design quirks that made me smile. The shower drain, for example, looks normal until you realise the holes are unevenly spaced to look just like a lotus pod.

Breakfast comes included in the nightly rate. It’s served a la carte by the pool, and you have a choice of four options: French, Western, Asian or Healthy. I tried three of the four menus and found them to be a cut above your average Cambodian hotel breakfast. I especially appreciated the proper espresso!

The kitchen uses all-local ingredients, and staff have plans to start growing herbs on the restaurant roof to use in the kitchen. They will also introduce Khmer cooking classes in the high season. According to their website, some of the food guests prepare is donated to monks or given to people in the local community.

A dining area with a wooden ceiling and statues sitting around trees.

Social responsibility

Initiatives that feel like second nature and measures we take for granted in other contexts are still very atypical in Cambodia. Chatting with resort staff, I was really impressed by their commitment to social and environmental responsibility.

First of all, Rokkhak is Khmer owned and managed, which is a big deal in Siem Reap. A lot of hotels and tourist businesses are foreign-owned, and as a result, most of the profits from tourism leave the area. This has left Siem Reap Province one of the poorest in the country – incredible when you consider how popular it is.

Some staff I spoke to during my stay at Rokkhak had been working on the property for four years. That’s an awfully long time in a town like Siem Reap where staff turnover is high. The owners must be doing something right.

A grey bowl filled with pink and yellow lotus buds.

The General Manager told me he likes to take young people and recent graduates under his wing, help them improve their English, and train them up for a career in hospitality. He was given a similar opportunity when he left university, and now he wants to pass it on.

Like all staff I met, he was warm and generous, and had an attitude towards leadership that I found really remarkable. He spoke to me at length about the power of positive thinking and how he tried to instill this philosophy in staff through team building exercises. This includes the community clean-up projects I mentioned earlier.

The GM has a vision to spread Siem Reap’s tourism dollars and channel more of the proceeds of tourism back into local hands. Rokkhak tries to do its bit for the community by encouraging guests to support local businesses and to visit lesser-known attractions. Rokkhak is involved in various grassroots tourism organisations that see companies (and competitors) band together to improve the situation in their city.

The GM’s passion, it seems, is supporting Siem Reap as a destination rather than just generating profits for his own hotel. This kind of foresight and commitment to steering tourism in the right direction earns Rokkhak another big tick from me.

The details

Rokkhak River Resort is located on River Road, roughly 3 km or a 10-minute ($1-$2) tuk tuk ride from the Old Market. The entrance to Angkor is a 13-minute drive north. Rokkhak offers a pick up service from the bus station or airport, and staff can organise a tuk tuk driver for the temples or a number of other itineraries around town for a flat price.

Rooms at Rokkhak start from xx a night and can be booked direct through their website.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Here are more Siem Reap accommodation options.

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