How Anantara Angkor Creates A Cultural Spa Retreat In Siem Reap

Once upon a time, the sleepy town of Siem Reap was only visited by off-beat backpackers and culture-hungry adventurers seeking the temples of Tomb Raider fame, but there’s a new kind of tourist in town: the wellness traveller. Anantara Angkor offers an experience of this ancient town that is decidedly healthier and more luxurious, showcasing Siem Reap as a wellness destination brimming with spirituality, tradition and unique activities for the health-conscious crowd. Compare Retreats Editor and Chief Content Officer Rebecca Cairns experiences the resorts new Enlightenment spa and wellness programme with sunrise temple runs and the best facial she’s ever had… 

Anantara Angkor, cambodian wellness retreats, cambodian luxury resorts, spa retreats
Image courtesy of Anantara Angkor

UNESCO Location

A short three-hour flight from Hong Kong, Anantara Angkor is ideally located for quick weekend getaways and week-long adventures alike: just a 15-minute drive from the airport, and with a special airport officer assigned to greet you the moment you disembark, I found myself whisked through on-arrival visas, immigration, baggage reclaim, into an air-conditioned car and at the resort within half an hour.

If you’re time-poor, the location and the resort staff and local connections are perfect here for maximising every moment: the resort is only 15-minutes to Angkor Wat and the UNESCO World Heritage Site temple complex, and 10-minutes to Siem Reap’s town centre. 

Anantara Angkor, cambodian wellness retreats, cambodian luxury resorts, spa retreats
Image courtesy of Anantara Angkor

Boutique Resort

I was welcomed to the resort with a bunch of lotus flowers and quickly whisked away to the spa for a foot-washing ritual with a lavender salt scrub while I sipped on a ginger lemonade. Nothing says holiday like a refreshing mocktail and a foot-rub. 

Careful architecture and design mean the rooms retain privacy through one-way blinds and obscuring foliage.

The resort features an open-plan reception and lobby, which connects via covered walkways to the spa, gift shop, Chi restaurant, and outdoor lounge area. The main swimming pool sits behind the lobby, which the 39 suites are centred around.

See also: The Best Luxury Wellness Retreats In Cambodia

While the rooms look onto the pool, it never felt like you were being watched: careful architecture and design mean the rooms retain privacy through one-way blinds and obscuring foliage; guests can be just a few metres from poolside on their outdoor decking, but completely out of sight from pool users. 

Anantara Angkor, cambodian wellness retreats, cambodian luxury resorts, spa retreats
Image courtesy of Anantara Angkor

All-Suite Accommodation

The 39 all-suites at Anantara Angkor are generously sized, and available in a variety of options, from 46-metre-square suites to the 235-metre-square two-bedroom suites. 

At Anantara Angkor, I stayed in the Anantara Suite, which comes with a large sitting and dining area, complimentary minibar and kitchenette, four-poster king-size bed in a separate bedroom area, and a large bathroom that, with its separate toilet, shower and huge wardrobes, doubles as a dressing room.

Anantara Angkor, cambodian wellness retreats, cambodian luxury resorts, spa retreats
Image courtesy of Anantara Angkor

The crème de la crème of the Anantara Suite, though, is the private spa room, complete with a massage table and Jacuzzi bath for two designed for utter relaxation. 

A yoga mat stashed in the wardrobe meant I could keep up my personal daily practice on the private patio or living room floor, as preferred, and being greeted with a colourful local fruit plate certainly got my stay off to a healthy start.

Anantara Angkor, cambodian wellness retreats, cambodian luxury resorts, spa retreats
Image courtesy of Anantara Angkor

Seasonal Ingredients

Anantara Angkor offers in-house dining for guests at its restaurant, Chi, with more informal dining options available at the Pool Bar. Breakfast offered a great selection both Asian and Western dishes, cooked-to-order egg options, breads and pastries, and a buffet of fruits, cereals, yoghurts, and salads. My go-to breakfast item quickly became the corn and zucchini waffle with cherry tomatoes and a sunny-side-up egg. 

The lunch and dinner menu features both international and local Khmer dishes. Be warned, portions are generous—I learnt quickly and asked the chefs for smaller portions, or started asking for starters as mains. The chefs were very amenable to making edits to the menu and their dishes, so don’t be afraid to make requests.

Anantara Angkor, cambodian wellness retreats, cambodian luxury resorts, spa retreats
Image courtesy of Anantara Angkor

While there isn’t a huge amount of vegetarian options, the chefs were always happy to adapt dishes as I asked and were very conscious about ensuring my lactose intolerance was met, even when I didn’t ask about it. If you have any dietary requirements or preferences, do mention it before your arrival and you can be sure that the kitchen staff will do everything they can to ensure you eat well. 

My go-to breakfast item quickly became the corn and zucchini waffle with cherry tomatoes and a sunny-side-up egg. 

During my stay, I also sampled the seasonal five-course set menu, which embraces local flavours and seasonal ingredients to offer a unique taste of Khmer cuisine. Lotus seed hummus, Bantey Srei noodles, river fish soup, cross-bred wild pork and banana fritters were all on the menu during my visit, and the portions of this set menu were far better proportioned: it was a great example of the chef’s skills and creativity, and will change as the available ingredients do. 

Anantara Angkor, cambodian wellness retreats, cambodian luxury resorts, spa retreats
Image courtesy of Anantara Angkor

Khmer-Inspired Wellness

Anantara Angkor offers multiple wellness packages and healthy holiday programmes, ranging from spa days to multi-day fitness retreats. This summer, Anantara Angkor introduced the new ‘Enlightenment’ programmes in the spa to complement its existing four ‘core’ wellness programmes: Reshape, Refresh, Reboot and Recharge. The Enlightenment programmes cover seven areas: Dhamma Vicaya (investigation), Virya (energy),  Piti (rapture), Passadhi (tranquillity), Samadhi (concentration), Upekkha (equanimity), and Sati (mindfulness). 

See also: The Leading Luxury Wellness Retreats & Spa Resorts In Thailand

While at Anantara Angkor, I experienced a bespoke Enlightenment retreat which incorporated multiple programmes (Samadhi, Virya, Piti and Sati) from the Enlightenment series. Each day involved a movement activity, two or three spa treatments, and a cultural crafts activity.

Sample day:

08:00 Morning swim

09:00 Breakfast

10:00 Floral foot bath

10:15 Chi Nei Tsang stomach massage

11:30 Himalayan Pink Salt Scrub

12:30 Golden Cocoon Silk facial

13:30 Lunch

15:00 Khmer Boxing

17:00 Free time

19:00 Dinner

21:00 Bed

No two days were the same, which I found refreshing given that my expectations of a spa retreat were that it would be quite monotonous. One morning, I’d have a lie-in and a lazy morning in the spa, while the next I’d be up at 5am for a 17-kilometre run through the Angkor Wat complex, or a sunrise yoga session in an ancient temple. The most important aspect of this retreat was the personalised element—every session and activity was designed and recommended by the Anantara team based on my interests and goals. 

Anantara Angkor, cambodian wellness retreats, cambodian luxury resorts, spa retreats
Image courtesy of Rebecca Cairns

Over my stay at Antara Angkor, I spent around 12 hours in the spa, which probably accounts for how relaxed I felt when walking out of the resort four days later. Every treatment I had was excellent, and all carried out by Spa Manager Chandy to my specific preference, but a few highlights included: the Himalayan Pink Salt Scrub, after which I felt silky-smooth; the extremely relaxing post-run lymphatic massage; and the Golden Cocoon Silk Facial, one of the best I’ve ever had in my life. It’s pretty standard to look fresh and dewy for a day or two, but three days later my pores were still flawless.

No two days were the same… One morning, I’d have a lazy morning in the spa, while the next I’d be up at 5am for a run through the Angkor Wat complex.

Anantara Angkor is well connected within the local community and ensured I was always working out with local experts where possible. Khemra at Gold Fitness put me through my paces for two hours of intense one-to-one Bokator, or Khmer Boxing—if you’re a fan of Muay Thai, this is a must-do fitness experience. For my morning temple run, I was guided by personal trainer, health coach and professional runner Jay who was a fountain of knowledge on both health and Siem Reap’s wellness scene.

Anantara Angkor, cambodian wellness retreats, cambodian luxury resorts, spa retreats
Image courtesy of Rebecca Cairns

This programme also introduced me to Nia, a hybrid of dance, martial arts and mindfulness. Nia instructor Debbie led me in a ‘healing’ Nia practice, which luckily for me required little coordination or remembering of dance moves, and more ‘intuitive’ movement. It was much more an exercise in letting go of inhibitions and learning how to be in your body and reconnect with yourself in and out, and strange as it was, was a wonderful experience—certainly something to try for anyone searching for the next thing in alternative wellness. 

One of my biggest fears when visiting a resort is missing out on cultural experiences, but Anantara Angkor goes above and beyond to negate that stereotype, and succeeds marvellously. 

One of my retreat highlights was sunrise yoga at Banteay Thom temple with Marina, a local yoga instructor who specialises in Ashtanga. Post-practice, the Anantara team had set up a luxe picnic—table, chairs, sun parasol, crockery and wicker-basket to boot—for us to enjoy a breakfast of fruit and pastries. Marina’s passion for her practice was infectious, and it was a wonderful opportunity to learn about her personal wellness journey and how the wellness scene is developing in Siem Reap. 

Anantara Angkor, cambodian wellness retreats, cambodian luxury resorts, spa retreats
Image courtesy of Anantara Angkor

Results

The programme was the perfect blend of activity and relaxation. I tend to get restless and enjoy being active, so on the surface, a spa retreat sounds unappealing and suffocating—however, the chance to actually relax and reset is exactly what my body, skin and mind needed. Having an outlet for activity each day — boxing, running, dancing, yoga — allowed me to still workout, but for the most part, relaxation was the name of the game here.

The incorporation of Cambodian culture, whether through scrub ingredients, facial techniques, or the post-treatment activities gave the programme and resort a sense of place and connection to the local community—one of my biggest fears when visiting a resort is missing out on cultural experiences, but Anantara Angkor goes above and beyond to negate that stereotype, and succeeds marvellously. 

Anantara Angkor, cambodian wellness retreats, cambodian luxury resorts, spa retreats
Image courtesy of Rebecca Cairns

We Loved…

As a runner, the temple run stands out as a really special experience that I’ll never be able to do anywhere else in the world. Anantara Angkor is excellent at curating these kinds of experiences using their local connections to get you access to things and places that you might never have had the opportunity to before: for example, we spent an evening at a restricted area in the Angkor Archaeological Park with lead archaeologist Sofia, who showed us around the private research and conservation centre which studies and restores ancient relics from the temples. Whatever your personal interests are, make them known to the team at Anantara Angkor, and they’re sure to find the perfect activities for your personalised itinerary.

Image courtesy of Rebecca Cairns

Our Insider Tips

It’s not on the menu, but my favourite light lunch dish was the lotus seed humus—ask for it with your preference of home-baked pita, rice-crackers, crudités, or a mix of all three. 

Make sure that your fitness gear is temple-appropriate. While I had packed a range of conservative ‘temple’ clothes, I overlooked that many of the fitness activities would be taking place in the temple grounds where my usual tank-tops weren’t suitable. Skip the athleisure crop-tops and running short-shorts for shoulder- and knee-covering attire. If you ever get caught out though (as I did), Anantara Angkor is always a step ahead with shawls and scarves on hand. 

Learn more about retreats at Anantara Angkor today and contact [email protected].

Rebecca Cairns

Editor & CCO

Hong Kong-based Rebecca Cairns is the editor for Compare Retreats, and has formerly written on travel and wellness with Hong Kong Tatler and The Culture Trip. As a NASM-certified personal trainer, Becca is interested in all things fitness. An avid runner, she enjoys running 5K, 10K and 21K races and is currently training for her first marathon. When she's not travelling, she's planning her next trip, taking hikes to the beach or scribbling away in boutique coffee shops. You can follow her travels on Instagram @jetsetcreate.

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