Shinta Mani Wild changing nature of travel in Kingdom with ‘open hearts’

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The resort has won a number of global awards and received international acclaim. SUPPLIED

Shinta Mani Wild – the international award-winning resort nestled in the unspoilt tranquility of the Cardamom Mountains – is changing the nature of travel in Cambodia, and putting the Kingdom firmly on the international map for sustainable tourism.

Set over 350hectares of pristine jungle in Koh Kong province, Shinta Mani Wild is the result of a collaboration between Cambodian businessman Sokoun Chanpreda and celebrated Bangkok-based American designer Bill Bensley to safeguard valuable forest in the Kingdom’s southwest and its wildlife.

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General manager David Steyn. SUPPLIED

“In December 2018, Shinta Mani Wild was launched with the aim of working with the community and Wildlife Alliance to protect the buffer zone between developing areas and the southern Cardamom forests,” explained Shinta Mani general manager David Steyn.

“Bill Bensley – the designer of Shinta Mani Hotels and a co-owner – and his good friend and business partner Sokoun Chanpreda purchased the parcel of land together to protect the forest and wildlife therein.

“And from Bill’s passion for wild places, adventure, conservation, education, great design and luxury, Shinta Mani Wild was born.

“The first goal was to protect such a beautiful piece of land, while the second was to develop a world class product that would assist in doing that,” said Steyn.

The wild and remote location is such that the adventure begins with being picked up by a 1960s-era army jeep before finally arriving at the resort via a 400m zipline after whizzing above the jungle.

“During construction, everything was brought in by buffalo cart, so all the trails in and out of the property are single track, allowing whatever was minimally disturbed to grow back in a relatively quick time.

“Paths and buildings move and allow for trees to continue growing, and not one tree was cut down during construction. The tents are on stilts so the physical footprint on the ground is very light. It also allows any wildlife to roam unobstructed and does not impede natural drainage patterns.

“Initial recognition was mainly for the construction of the property and the low-impact and sustainable approach that the architects, designers and owners took. The goal was to have as little impact on the forest as possible – with the design allowing for the forest to dictate the development and not the other way around,” said Steyn.

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Shinta Mani Wild is the creation of celebrated designer Bill Bensley. SUPPLIED

Shinta Mani Wild works with international non-profit conservation organisation Wildlife Alliance to ensure the wilderness is protected from logging and poaching.

“Through our Shinta Mani Foundation, we collaborate with Wildlife Alliance and their team of armed rangers who patrol the forest daily, searching for and destroying illegal logging camps, confiscating chainsaws, breaking down animal traps, snares – which can take down a baby elephant – and bird nets.

“To date, we have confiscated over 385 chainsaws and 5,952 snares, all of which would have contributed to the destruction of the forest – and that’s just our small team here. Preventing the illegal meat trade is also a part of their work protecting the forest and wildlife,” said Steyn.

‘Unique experience’

Guests can take part in protecting the forest themselves by joining an anti-poaching patrol, and enjoy the lush nature that surrounds them by picnicking by waterfalls, birdwatching and taking boat expeditions, while foraging and cooking classes with the chef, hiking and butterfly identification are all among the jungle-related activities on offer.

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Guests arrive via a 400 metre zipline. SUPPLIED

Steyn explained that the Shinta Mani ethos is one of “open hearts, open doors”, ensuring its business is conducted as ethically and sustainably as possible – and to work with and support local communities.

The efforts of Shinta Mani Wild in environmental protection and community support – as well as its unparalleled vacation experience – has seen it accrue a slew of global awards including “Eco-Friendly Accommodation of the Year” at the Luxury Travel Group Asia and Australia Awards in 2020.

It has also received acclaim from a host of top international travel publications including Time, Tatler and Harper’s Bazaar, with Conde Nast Traveller’s Juliet Kinsman writing: “Shinta Mani Wild is no airy piece of greenwashing . . . this is the real thing.”

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Shinta Mani Wild is set over 350 hectares of pristine jungle. SUPPLIED

“Since opening, due to the unique experience the camp offers, we are both grateful and humbled to have received significant awards and recognition, which are extremely valuable in spreading the word and growing awareness globally.

“The most recent was being included in the highly coveted Conde Nast Traveller magazine’s 2022 Gold List, which is one of the best regarded globally.

“I think there is no other way to exist in the world right now. If you are not doing what you can to conserve and preserve you shouldn’t be operating. It is essential we keep reminding people and teaching people that we are inextricably tied to the Earth and its ecosystems,” said Steyn.