4 RIVERS FACTS:
❏ Four hours’ drive from Phnom Penh to Tatai Village.
❏ 30 minutes by boat from Tatai Village.
❏ Accommodation costs $240 per night (including breakfast, use of kayaks and DVD movies).
❏ The five-course dinner costs $24 per person.
❏ Wi-Fi and regular television are not available.
❏ All-inclusive tours cost from $25 per person.
IT is a luxury hotel bereft of a swimming pool and gym, boutique accommodation with just 12 “rooms” but fronting no city street. And it cannot be reached by regular transport.
Yet 4 Rivers Floating Lodge has emerged as one of Cambodia’s “must stay” places, a hotel like no other that is known as much for its eccentricities as it is for its outlook on adventure and its overall pampering of guests, 12 spaciously luxurious accommodation tents, dining, recreation and administration tents and staff quarters, all built on a series of pontoons taking in the sweep of a river bend.
As its name implies, 4 Rivers Floating Lodge sits on Cambodia’s Tatai River, about 30 minutes by boat from Tatai Village – itself a four-hour drive from Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh – and half-a-world away from reality.
It is an interesting mix of design regimentation and otherworldliness. The guest tents are in two lines of six (referred to as “North” and “West”) leading away from the central admin and dining areas which are themselves on a broad boardwalk that also serves as both boat dock and relaxation area with tables for al fresco dining or simply wasting time. Each tent is on its own pontoon and has an outdoor relaxation area that includes sun lounges and sunshade. For privacy, each one is separated from its neighbouring tents by about five metres of river and boardwalk.
And it is entirely possible – in fact the resort has been deliberately designed – to constructively waste a great deal of time there because the concept of absolute time quickly becomes an abstract of “eat, relax, sleep”. Sure, there are tours to various locations and jungle treks for the truly dedicated but for some strange reason, every guest seems to lose his or her urgency as soon as they step off the boat and onto the pontoon.
Dropping off the grid is easy. The overwhelming desire to constantly check emails quickly becomes a non-issue because there is no Wi-Fi, mobile phones work but really, who do you want to call? Television is not happening in this neck of the woods but each tent has a flat screen television and DVD player and the lodge has a good selection of movies as well as a good reading library.
Easing into the experience does not take long and comes with the understanding that clocks, phones, laptops and tablets don’t really mean a whole lot. Once you “get” 4 Rivers, it is amazingly hard to get back on the boat that will take you back to the real world.
Food on the riverbank is plentiful, regular, relatively inexpensive and quite incredible. Breakfast is from 7am-10am, lunch is from 12pm-2.30pm, dinner starts at 7pm and finishes at 10pm. All good, but keep in mind that a comprehensive snack menu is available all day and the bar is open from, well, whenever you want. By the way, don’t be fooled by the word “snack” because most of those on the menu will pass as a complete meal.
Dinner is an impressive affair with five courses (soup, a double entree, main, double dessert and coffee) every night. Soup, entree and dessert are set but change every night and every afternoon one of the wait staff visits each tent for a main course selection from the three on offer, plus your preferred dining time.
The food is generally Asian-Western fusion and utterly delicious. In the five nights we were there no dish was repeated and each was a credit to the chef. Add to that a comprehensive wine list, a solid cocktail menu and local and imported beers (all at good prices) and it is easy to understand why aloofness soon gets tossed in the Tatai and the guests all become good mates, language barriers notwithstanding.
Getting out and about mostly means getting in a boat. Go north and you reach the Tatai Falls in an hour for swimming, lazing in rock pools or grabbing a kayak from the boat and going for a paddle.
Going west on the broad Tatai means visiting a local fishing village before heading for the mangroves and kayaking for clams. Heading across the river with Rambo or Bono, two of the resort’s experienced guides, means visiting the nearby island for a “meet the neighbours” walk which will definitely get you a juice-filled coconut at the end of the two-hour tour and maybe a swig of the quite memorable home-brewed rice wine.
The tours start at $25 per person and are all inclusive.