As the global luxury hospitality industry wades its way out of what is hoped will have been the worst of the Covid crisis, the most innovate hoteliers are looking at new ways to stand out from the crowd.
One way to do so is through the edition of exceptional bespoke activities for guests, that “immerse” them into the local culture. In Cambodia, Park Hyatt Siem Reap has come up with a wonderful way to do this, as guests cycle through the ancient Khmer kingdom and discover the Angkor Wat temple complex from a unique point of view.
The activity is the brainchild of Park Hyatt Siem Reap General Manager, Stavros Packeiser. We asked him how the idea came about.
The pandemic has given us an opportunity to rethink our experiences and fine-tune them to make them unique to us, and also unique to the guests. Our new cycling experience allows visitors to weave through town, across bridges and past vast rice fields in the countryside stretching as far as the eyes can see. They ride along the friendly bike trails in the Angkor forest and explore every corner of the immensely expansive temple ruins. They see rice farmers at work and can wave at the village children as they are guided through easy criss-cross trails past straw-thatched bamboo huts and bullock carts for an unforgettable day of exploration with family and friends or as a solo trip.
Cycling around the temples is really an uncommon experience – a combination of local flavour with luxury behind it. Guests are equipped with a map; but we also have a guide that can accompany the cyclists and take them around the secret pathways, through areas where there will often be no tourists. They also have the opportunity to experience some local culinary items. It is basically a journey through time, as travellers cycle past these beautiful temples surrounded by nature and packed with history. The guests not only see the different temples, they can see how the locals live.
What kind of cycling competency do people need?
You don’t need to be a great cyclist, and it is very safe. Furthermore, we are only six kilometres from Angkor Wat… and there is always a tuk-tuk following our guests in case they need to stop and repair the bike or if they feel tired and they want to come back to the hotel with the tuk-tuk.
What other extraordinary activities can visitors get up to around your property?
We are always trying to find something unique, but also to bring the ‘genuine’ Cambodia to our guests. And this is why we are creating new experiences. One one of these is the “Taste of Cambodia”, curated by our third-generation Cambodian Executive Chef Piseth Theam. Here, guests are taken by a tuk-tuk from the hotel to visit the local market with our chef to choose some vegetables and other items, to be used at the end of the trip. But at the same time, they can taste some of the fruits and vegetables they have perhaps never seen before, that are unique to Southeast Asia. Then the tuk-tuk we take them through the temples to our local village, where for generations there is a family that produces noodles. Here, the guests can actually participate in the process – from the flour-making to the noodles, to the cooking of the noodles. Following that, the guests will go to a ceramics class, because ceramics is a big industry that has a long history in Cambodia. They are given a personalised course so they can see how to make ceramics. They then head back to the hotel, where they are taught how to cook with some of the items that they have picked-up in the morning. So, on the one hand, this is a culinary tour, but it’s also an historic tour of local Cambodia.
Why is it so important to develop activities or ideas like this, rather than just letting people do their own thing and sit around the hotel?
It is important that we provide to our guests the best time available while they’re on vacation, without them losing time to try to find what is the best through other means. We have chosen these curated experiences that we believe allows them to get the best out of short break. We also have cultural experiences, where guests get to experience Buddhist culture, to sit with monks and meditate and learn about Buddhism. Also, very importantly, we have experiences that give back to the community, like our water well project – our partnership with Trailblazer foundation that provides clean water to local families. And this experience is not only about donating and giving money, it’s about actually going and being part of the water filter making. We actually go and give these filters to the families and see what difference our help is making for these families.
How is your Park Hyatt different from other properties? What sets you apart?
Emulating a luxurious colonial residence in the downtown area of the city, Park Hyatt Siem Reap was completely reimagined by award-winning designer Bill Bensley to blend Khmer architecture with Art Deco. Once the Hotel De La Paix, a prominent heritage landmark in Siem Reap since 1957, this architectural jewel takes inspiration from Cambodian art and the world famous Angkorian ruins. It is the most centrally located luxury hotel in Siem Reap, so is ideal to explore the ancient ruins of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Angkor Wat and modern Khmer culture in nearby Pub Street and the bustling night bazaars.
Photo – top of page – Stavros Packeiser, General Manager, Park Hyatt Siem Reap