TIO SE Asia: Maison Polanka

TIO SE Asia: Maison Polanka

It was our temple away from the bucket-list temples in a temple town.


And it comes with a mascot, a bunny named Lily.

The difference between our hotel in Siem Reap and other venues in town is best summed up as the difference between Aspen and Telluride.

If your scene is seeing and being seen then our indie boutique hotel in Siem Reap is not for you.

Maison Polanka is not scene-y.


For buzzy and mod, Siem Reap boasts digs for days, places like Amansara, a royal guesthouse and gardens, plus countless French-colonial style venues tricked out with mass-produced Khmer carvings.

Maison Polanka is for those who prefer the serenity of a haven, something authentic and real, intimate and independent.


For us, the hotel was a soft landing from the laid-back luxury that defined our boutique cruiser, the Jayavarman.

So far, our trip planner, Inspiration Cambodia, has been batting 1000 in choosing our hotels from Hanoi to, well, here in Cambodia. Until now, the stand-out was the Intercontinental Sun Peninsula in Danang, voted the Best Hotel in SE Asia in 2016. (More on that hotel here.)

Maison Polanka is just as elegant as the Intercontinental, as carefully and imaginatively conceived, but way, way smaller, just five rooms to the many villas and suites on Intercontinental’s water-front acreage on Monkey Mountain.


Down to the smallest detail, the design and style of the hotel is a reflection of the owners’ life, that is to say, intricately linked to Asian and Cambodian crafts for over 20 years: a private collection of paintngs and photographs from Khmer, Asian, and European artists, the Art Deco and 1950s furniture and objects sourced since 1992, all found their natural home and function in the renovated “Maison” and “Khmer House.”img_2532

The whole hotel is just two those Cambodian-style – read stilted – teak villas set inside spacious, lush, tropical, and best of all, secret gardens that sit behind a tall wall, which shuts out the hullabaloo that marks the start of high season.


The setting at Maison Polanka is a bit like the Boccaccio’s “Decameron”– minus the Black Death. (Although the picture-snapping Chinese hoards at the temples are to be avoided like the plague.)

If what you are after are the temple adventures Siem Reap has to offer, Angkor Wat the crown jewel, then Maison Polanka is just a short drive from that UNESCO World Heritage Center.

Upon your return home you will be tired (very, the wake-up call is generally 4 a.m. so your guide can get you there for sunrise) and sweaty (when it’s not pouring frogs, Cambodia is hot and humid), so a restorative dip in the hotel’s cool, crisp infinity pool will feel great.

Maison Polanka

Maison Polanka

Or perhaps what you fancy is a massage at the hotel’s spa.

For 1 1/2 blissful hours, Dalen, one of a small cadre of highly skilled massage therapists on call for guests, used acupressure and herbal compresses to tease out my aches and pain – and leave me smelling like cinamon and lemongrass.

The spa is a temple within this temple. Is it possible to square serenity?

The restaurant sala is next to the pool, its menu, owner Nathalie assured us, features authentic family recipes, largely her own. She also told me an aunt owns a restaurant in Boston and a cousin wrote a Cambodian recipe book. Meals at Maison Polanka are prepared by Pich, a woman who has been the family chef for 20 years.

Ingredients for all dishes on the menu are sourced from the hotel’s gardens plus nearby local markets, a mix of authentic Khmer cuisine and French influences that for better or for worse, (in this case, better), pervade what was once colonial SE Asia. But here at Maison Polanka, French influences in the cuisine are a direct result of Nathalie’s DNA: she is part-Cambodian; part-French.


We found the menu choices all so good – a perfect caesar salad, fried spring rolls, steamed rice, stir-fried squid with peppercorns, a Khmer chicken curry, caramelized pork with an egg and rice, stir-fried eggs and veggies for breakfast, beef loc lac– we chose to eschew the many fine options Siem Reap has to offer foodies and instead, have all our meals, including several candlelit dinners, at Maison Polanka next to the pool, which at night is lit by votive candles.

Starshine on the water.

Stars in our eyes.

Four stars on the table.

Who could ask for anything more?

Our trip planner (again, Inspiration Cambodia) encouraged us to try a few great restaurants in town. If you are so inclined, if you choose to venture out among the crowds, their suggestions included Touich, the Embassy Restaurant on King’s Road, and Chanrey Tree.

But allow me to pose a question: Where would you rather be at the start of high season in Cambodia? In a sanctuary like our hotel or out on the town in a crowded, albeit oh-so-chic restaurant where you can’t hear yourself or you partner talk?

A meal at Maison Polanka is the best of East meets West.

Design at Maison Polanka is also a bold-faced idea that includes staffing.

Nathalie understands that the devil is in the details, so made it her mission to choose the right accessories for every corner of every room according to the color code on each door at the “Maison”: ours was the Purple Room, so variations on the theme popped off the all-white decor – tile floors blush a grayed-out lavender; stylized batik flowers bloom in the heat of two lamps; a bamboo pattern of deep purple and white cover the pillows.


She developed her staff with equal passions and pride, so service at Maison Polanka is both gracious and efficient, any request met in the moment with a warm smile.

Cathy, the open-faced, multi-lingual, general manager hails from the Philippines and used to work at three other top-tier hotels, including Amansara.

Francis, the engaging reservations manager, also from the Philippines, met us at check-in, greeting us by name as soon as we walked through the gates. Then he handed us a cell phone, instructing us to use it day or night to summon anyone on campus for anything we might need.

Francis, with help from the lovely Sophie, (who, by day, works for an NGO dealing with eco-tourism around Lake Tonle Sap), also oversees the dining experience.

Soem, Thy, and Ratana, all proud graduates of Sala Bai, our regular waitresses were reserved at first, but wound up joking with us as the days progressed.

Sopharin greeted us with washcloths to wipe our brows whenever we returned from a hot day out in the “field.”

According to our guide Chhay, Cambodians believe their culture was born from Mera, daughter of the great dragon, and her Chinese consort. Which is why when you enter most temples in the country, a huge snake, a naga or nagi, encircles the building. Once inside, a visitor is, in effect, reborn.

At the end of every hurried day in Cambodia, we were reborn in the belly of Maison Polanka.


For more about Nathalie, husband and co-owner Jean Pierre, a former engineer turned monk, then entrepreneur, and the services offered at Maison Polanka, go to its website here.


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