IT might be unfathomable to recommend Siem Reap for anything other than the architectural wonder that is Angkor Wat. Instead of temple-hopping, we suggest staying in bed. Yes, you read that right. This week, Anith Adilah Othman advocates for opulent comfort in an eco-friendly establishment dubbed Jaya House River Park- – a luscious green hideaway, minutes away from the city’s hustle and bustle.
“Sousdey. Welcome to Jaya House. Please take a seat. You’re home now, so get comfortable while waiting for your room to be ready.”
Those were the first words that greeted me as I stepped into the luxurious establishment at
10pm on a Friday. I chose a striped, plush couch in the lobby. The striking patterns lend a touch of modernity to the carefully-curated decor which are clearly inspired by the Khmer heritage.
After a six-hour bus journey from Phnom Penh, I was more than happy when the staff handed a cold towel to refresh myself. At this point, I had expected to be given a welcome drink in a tall, fancy glass that mirrors the hotel’s opulence but instead, I was handed an aluminium water bottle with the familiar words ‘Refill Not Landfill’ written across it.
“This is for you. If you need water, feel free to refill from one of our many water stations in the hotel. You can bring it home too, so you will never need to buy bottled water anymore,” the staff that welcomed me, Mr Kol, said.
This is only one of Jaya House’s various go-green efforts widely practiced by its team of 120 staff and guests. The hotel reportedly hands out between 800 to 1,000 of these refillable bottles monthly, which costs approximately $6 each. By doing so, the hotel hopes to cultivate a better environmental habit among its guests.
‘Refill Not Landfill’ is a campaign, pioneered by Jaya House’s own Managing Director Mr Christian de Boer, which initially aimed at revolutionising the way water is consumed by tourists in Cambodia. Since inception in 2015, the initiative is now spread out throughout Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Sri Lanka and New Zealand.
Surrounded by the beauty of fully grown trees, Jaya House possesses the DNA of a luxurious haven – with the many Khmer stone sculptures, one-of-a-kind wooden furniture, and locally made artworks. However, what drew me in the most was the importance it places on honouring responsibilities towards the local communities.
Speaking to Good Times2, Mr de Boer does not believe in traditional marketing. He believes in keeping his staff happy, doing his very best to spread the message of environmental awareness while prioritising ultimate comfort to his guests.
“We are offering guests a level of service that not many hotels in the world can live up to. It is because we focus on what guests learn, achieve, receive in small doses of soft experiences,” he explained.
With only 36 rooms available, it almost does not make sense why Jaya House would need 120 staff to maintain the premise. However, Christian said he intends to continue to create jobs for the locals. This is why he hires local remorque (big tuk-tuk) drivers to chauffeur guests and masseuses to give daily massages – and these services are provided to guests for free.
Since the tourism industry goes through high and low seasons, it is a norm for hoteliers to hire workforce accordingly. This would typically mean some staff are laid off during the low season as the volume of tourists are significantly lower but that is not the case at Jaya Hotel. Mr de Boer said all jobs at his hotel are all-year-round to ensure fixed income for the locals.
“All my staff is full-time, no seasonal staff. Which means they are more confident in actually focusing on the guests. Because they know that in six months from now or in the next low season, they’ll still have their jobs. They can actually plan their life and the education of their kids. Or if something happens, they can afford that.
“Wherever we feel that we could integrate job creation into our service, we have done it. This is our way to help the local community. We are going to have more staff, some of which are going to Jaya House 2 and Jaya House 3 which are expected to be open before year’s end,” he said.
In spite of a general drop in the number of tourists in Siem Reap, Jaya House continues to expand. With only three years under its belt, the hotel is ready for another two ‘sisters’ in the same vicinity. Mr de Boer said the success was a combined result of top-notch service and the good cause that they champion.
“The expansion will see small, little hotels under the Jaya House brand. It is impossible to provide experiential travel if your size is too big. In a small property like ours, it is simply one of the things we do daily.”
Upon entering the room, I was greeted with a spacious area filled with basic amenities and more. Each room is equipped with a selection of homegrown teas, a Malongo espresso machine, Bluetooth connectivity, high-speed wireless internet, a well-stocked complimentary mini bar and arguably the best beds in town.
“I honestly don’t understand why hotels would charge for the small, nitty-gritty stuff. All they do is upset people. What is the point of upsetting guests for the sake of what, 50 cents? I strongly believe all service charges and tips should always go to the staff,” Mr de Boer said.
The highlight of the room was surprisingly their own natural skincare products that I found in the bathroom, dubbed Jaya Organics. Stored in little glass bottles, they are carefully formulated and lovingly handmade in small batches in Siem Reap. This ensures the freshness and stability of antioxidants and the natural goodness in the extracts, butters and natural oils.
This is also another initiative that was spurred by the need to cut down on plastic usage at Jaya House, Mr de Boer said. The hotel had, since August, been providing Jaya Organics products as an in-room amenity. Aside from that, I was also amazed by the unconventional toothbrush and shaver found in the bathroom.
“It took us a long time to find, for instance, good quality bamboo toothbrushes. It took a good year and a half to get them, but now we have them. One of the next things I want to introduce here is toothpaste and shaving cream tablets. Right now it’s still covered in plastic. That needs to go.
“We set the goal of being as plastic-free as possible. Now we are at 97-98 per cent. It is doable. Obstacles are there to be dealt with. You look for alternatives and eventually you find them,” he said.
Currently, the hotel is still in the midst of realising one of its main goals which is to plant 10,000 trees in Siem Reap. Since its inception in 2016, Jaya House, together with Little Red Fox Espresso, Khmer Loves Khmer and Life Project Cambodia, had planted over 1,300 Moringa trees.
Today, guests and Siem Reap visitors are able to witness the nurturing and growing site of the trees for themselves. They are located next to Road 60 in Ornchanh Village, Norkom Thom Commune.
“Maybe 15 years ago you could make a broad statement on your website about all the trees you planted and people would believe you but now people want to see it. Now, you can go on Google Earth to see what this area looked like 3 years ago and you can compare it with your own eyes,” Mr de Boer said.
Personally, I think a good vacation is one that not only revitalises your body, but also your mind and spirit. Despite my short stay at Jaya House, I genuinely believe that I left there a changed woman. At the very least, it made me re-assess all the plastic items I have at home and that, I think, is a good start.