Siem Reap’s much-revered Humble Hanuman House, in a prime downtown locale surrounding the Wat Damnak monastery, is up for sale for a mere $1.38 million.
But the house is not so humble, and in fact, it’s not really a house at all.
It’s more of a marvelous olde-world luxury compound nestled on a 1,707-square-meter spread comprising a two-story main house, a two-story guesthouse, a single-story guard station, maid’s quarters and a garage big enough to house three cars.
And then there are the extras. The two main houses, modeled along traditional Khmer styles, are made from luxury timber, are fully furnished and air-conditioned and come complete with ultra-mod cons such as Wi-Fi, CCTV security cameras, a 25 kilowatt back-up generator and a full water purifier for the kitchen and laundry areas.
Other fancy features include hand-carved facades, doors, windows and shutters, “sandstone moon stone” steps approaching the main house and handcrafted rosewood furniture on the porches.
And then there is the landscaping, which includes a covered bridge over a canal, a central lotus pond, a fish pond next to the dining area below a “moon viewing terrace,” plus a meditation path, palms and a kitchen garden, all screened by a nearly two-meter high laterite wall.
But the real charm about the not-so-humble compound is the story behind it, a love story involving the owner, San Francisco-based academic, author, editor, and lover of Khmer fine arts and architecture Joyce Clark, who has also sat on a number of boards and at present heads the Heritage Watch board.
Since 2000, Joyce has been coming to Siem Reap every year around January as well as in the summer to work on cultural heritage-related projects.
She had the houses built during 2002-2004 and while the time is now nigh to sell the compound, Joyce says she will never fully farewell her beloved project, put together in partnership with the then up-and-coming young architect Hok Sokol, who oversaw every minute detail.
“I will never say goodbye to the Humble Hanuman House compound in my head or heart,” Joyce said. “The houses and Cambodia are very much a part of who I am and have become.
“It was a wonderful experience working with Sokol on the idea and then the touches. He put his heart into these houses. I am glad that they spurred him on to do so many interesting projects.”
Initially the plan was to keep the property for a short time.
“When I built the house, I intended to keep the property for five years,” she said. “Five turned into 10 and then I let Sokol know that it was time for me to sell and to begin thinking about rebalancing my life.
“I am a few years late on my revised plan. I have been so busy with board work and projects that I did not move forward as intended.
“So now it is time. While I am physically fit, I want to do more traveling to some remote places as well as to spend more time here in San Francisco.
“As I reduce my time in-country to two months rather than four-five months per year, it makes sense to turn them over to another owner, and one who cares about traditional wooden architecture. I can use some of the money for more projects.”
Joyce was inspired to build the compound after seeing Ho Chi Minh’s house in Hanoi.
“I told my late husband that one day I wanted a house like it,” she said. “He laughed and said, ‘We’ll do it!’ He died. Then I did it and it was a thrilling two years.
“This all came together because I saw an exhibition of traditional wooden houses that Sokol mounted at the Center for Khmer Studies. I wanted the spirit that I detected in the Ho Chi Minh house. What I got was much more.
“I think that nearly all of my earthly friends have enjoyed their visits and stays on the property during the last 12 years. Literally many dozens of friends and their friends have come to spend time. The houses generated considerable financial support for heritage and training projects.
“The joys of building the houses are among my favorite thoughts. I never tire of looking at the photographs as I witnessed Humble Hanuman House evolve.
“I think about these houses, the reading corners, the stupa, the wall, the pond. This property is in my head and heart every day – no matter where I am in this world.”
The Hanuman house features all the amenities expected in a modern home. Supplied