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A Siem Reap resort blends wellness and culture in its holistic spa rituals, writes Angela Goh

The hotel exterior. Photo by Anantara Angkor Resort

ARRIVING at Anantara Angkor Resort, I am led not to the lobby but to the spa where I receive one of the most soothing welcome from any resort, a floral foot bath.

This ritual stems from the local tradition of cleansing the feet before entering a home. My tired feet are soaked in warm water adorned with white frangipani and cleansed with lavender sea salt scrub.

By the time the calming ritual ends my check in is complete and I am on my way to the room.

With temples great and small, Siem Reap is a spiritual centre of Cambodia, tracing its belief system from Hinduism in the early years to Buddhism today. Here, Anantara has taken its spa experience to a whole new level by integrating it with cultural heritage.

The comfortable room at the Anantara Angkor Resort in Siem Reap

Anantara Spa’s wellness packages are themed on Buddhism’s Seven Ways of Enlightenment (mindfulness, self-realisation, energy, joy, tranquillity, focus and equanimity). Indulged as a four- to five-hour package or strung over a couple of days, each of the seven spa journeys to “enlightenment” or wellness, comprise massages, body treatments (scrub or facial) and activities. A customised package or a la carte is also possible, as with mine.

For a spa treatment that’s both curative and immersive, you can’t get any better than the deeply relaxing Aroma Angkunh Tree Seed massage. The angkuhn tree is found mainly around Angkor Wat and besides being massaged with its seed (heated and applied as in a hot stone treatment) guests get to bring home an angkuhn seed key chain. These rituals are part of the second step to enlightenment focused on reconnecting with nature towards self-realisation.

Angkor Wat from the west. Photo by Angela Goh

To prepare for the next day’s temple tour, which incurs a lot of walking and climbing, I am bolstered with traditional Khmer massage good for revitalisation and flexibility. Originally created to reinvigorate monks from prolonged meditation, it’s similar to traditional Thai massage (without oil) but with longer, smoother strokes and less stretching. This massage is a component in the third path, focusing on energy.

Mind and muscle energised (and raring to go despite waking up in the wee hours of the morning), breakfast basket loaded into an SUV, the resort’s “temple guru” guide and I set off into the sunrise.

A man staring out from the window at Bayon. Photo by Angela Goh

Covering the main temples, Angkor Wat, Bayon and Ta-Prohm, we have turned the initial sunrise tour into a steering-from-the-crowd tour. We enjoy a peaceful entry to Angkor Wat, entering from the back at the west entrance just after 6am (most tourists gather at the east entrance for the sunrise). Except for a scattering of tourists in the central part of Angkor Wat, we had the gallery of bas-reliefs mostly to ourselves, allowing time and space to really appreciate the wall carvings in sandstone, depicting stories from Indian epics such as the Mahabharata and the Ramayana.

Leaving Angkor Wat before the “sunrise crowd”, we head to Bayon then to Ta-Prohm (both open at 7.30am), going against the flow of typical tours. This means no jostling at compact Bayon and Ta-Prohm, made famous by the movie, Tomb Raider.

The writer enjoys a walking tour at Ta-Prohm

Back at the resort, I am lavished with the Anti-Ageing Golden Silk Cocoon facial. Inspired by the Cambodian tradition of silk weaving, this facial is reimagined as one of the spa rituals towards achieving meditative focus (samadhi), the sixth step to enlightenment. More than just a fad, this silkworm cocoon skincare regime offers longer lasting moisture and smoother skin.

Two activities are associated with this step. Along with this pathway is a lesson in the art of incense stick making, a dying trade amid mass production. Rolling an incense paste-covered stick over a sprinkle of sandalwood powder is a slow yet mindful process. And capping a restful day, a monk’s blessing ceremony in a pagoda is a further step into bliss.

There’s so much more to Siem Reap than temple hopping and sightseeing. Combined with a holistic spa journey, the holiday can be enriching for the body and mind.

Yoga is offered in Anantara Spa as first way to enlightenment which is focused on mindfulness. Photo by Anantara Angkor Resort

SIDEBAR

FAST FACTS

ANANTARA ANGKOR RESORT

6, National Road, Khum Svaydangkum, Siem Reap, Cambodia

TEL +855 63 966 788

EMAIL [email protected]

WEBSITE www.anantara.com

STAY 39 suites, recently renovated, includes two new presidential suites (two-bedroom Henri Mouhot and one-bedroom Anantara Explorer). All suites are adorned with classic Khmer design and floor-to-ceiling windows, come equipped with in-room smartphone, Nespresso machine and complimentary minibar.

EAT All-day dining Chi Restaurant & Bar serves organic, farm-to-table, progressive Khmer cuisine. Enjoy high tea at the open air L Lounge faces the tranquil courtyard.

DO Besides the wellness journeys, there are four wellness programmes (lasting four to seven days) to reshape, reboot, refresh and recharge. Go on a city tour by tuk-tuk or take a cooking class.

GO Explore Angkor Wat and other temples, 15 minutes by car, with an in-house guide. Siem Reap town is a 10-minute drive. A new amusement park is next door.

HIGH Complimentary airport transfers. A five-minute drive from Siem Reap International Airport.

LOW Away from the town centre.

Take a dip at the hotel courtyard pool. Photo by Anantara Angkor Resort

PHOTOS BY ANGELA GOH AND ANANTARA ANGKOR RESORT

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