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About Maison Polanka
…a hotel with a soul and a story
Maison Polanka was born in 1992 as a place of peace and refinement, when Jean Pierre moved from his native France to Cambodia to found the esteemed Chantiers Écoles, a social public institute that re-taught underprivileged young Cambodians building techniques and traditional arts and crafts, such as wood and stone carving. Along the way of this great adventure, he met and fell in love with Nathalie, a French-Cambodian woman who had returned to her homeland to rediscover her roots. Before it was transformed into a luxurious boutique retreat, Maison Polanka was the couple’s much-loved home and was where they went to to raise their two children. The property has hosted magical family gatherings and countless parties. After the family moved to Phnom Penh for the children to pursue their studies, it was decided they should find a new life for the house and its staff.
Maison Polanka is a special fusion of Cambodian and French culture which proudly opened its doors in May, 2012.
A Cambodian childhood
Born in the sixties in Phnom Penh from a French mother and a Cambodian father, Nathalie grew up in the heady, culturally-rich capital city before being forced to flee Cambodia when war and heavy bombing closed in around Phnom Penh in 1974, just a year before the brutal Khmer Rouge evacuated the city and enforced a genocidal regime. In 1992, once the country was relatively peaceful, she decided to come back in search of the origins of Khmer culture and its unique art forms, and implemented an inventory of Khmer crafts after 20 years of war.
In 2000, Nathalie launched her own vision of Khmer excellence in handicrafts: a boutique in the Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor in Siem Reap and the Hotel Le Royal in Phnom Penh.
The concept of Khmer Attitude is to showcase the distinctive style, simplicity and perfection of the country’s highly skilled master weavers, potters and artisans. You’ll find luxurious textiles, silk and cotton scarves and throws, along with exquisite garments, all made from fine materials and displaying excellence in craftsmanship. Khmer Attitude also displays the very best of Cambodia silver. www.khattitude.com
Involvement in the local communities
Nathalie is lending her time and experience with local NGO projects. She has been helping Osmose, a social environmental project located on the vast, beautiful Tonle Sap lake, since 2003. She started the water hyacinth handicraft project that now provides income to 30 of the poorest families of the lake’s Prek Toal Village.
She also closely collaborates with Weaves of Cambodia, a high-end quality weaving workshop and NGO located in remote Preah Vihear Province in Cambodia’s north
Nathalie supports the sublime ballet dance troup, the Sacred dancers of Angkor established by Nginn Karet Foundation Cambodia (NKFC- nkfc.org). The Foundation aims at helping the development of villages around Bantey Srey temple through the education of traditional and spiritual dance.
A pioneer in Cambodia
After a successful career in the engineering world, Jean Pierre decided to have a complete change of life when he turned 40 and became a laic monk, with the mission of helping young and poor uneducated people. He arrived in Siem Reap with the aim of opening a training school for uneducated young Cambodians. It was the early days of peace in Cambodia, after 30 years of turmoil. Siem Reap was a tiny city, still surrounded by the Khmer Rouge guerrilla fighters and was isolated as roads were heavily mined or destroyed.
Jean Pierre rented a remote wooden house, not far from the river and nearby the Wat Polanka pagoda. He would meditate at sunrise every morning in Wat Polanka before heading to the Chantiers Écoles that he had just helped set up. Soon, he was joined by 12 “companions of duty”, a famous French brotherhood of skilled artisans, who taught the Cambodian students intricate construction techniques, as well as stone and woodcarving. By 1993, they started a silk farm project just outside of town, in Puok district.
The great adventure of Chantiers Écoles
Created in 1992 with the Ministry of Education, between 1992 and 2004 the Chantiers Écoles trained thousands of young underprivileged Cambodians in an array of building and handicraft techniques, from sandstone and woodcarving to silk weaving.
One day in 1993, the Khmer Rouge took over Siem Reap for a day and marched through the village without entering into the house. Some of Jean Pierre’s companions left back to France. Jean Pierre decided to stay, and took over the program completely, leaving the monkhood. He kept the house and soon bought it. That house is the “Maison” today.
In late 1994, he met Nathalie and started making big plans for the Chantiers Écoles, which once supported by some major EU funding, became the Artisans d’Angkor in 2002.
Creation of the Artisans d'Angkor in 2002
The success of the project brought a new turn. The crafts part of the Chantiers Écoles became a company, the Artisans d’Angkor, which has become a major showcase of Khmer workmanship. In 2015 about 1,200 artisans had been trained and employed by the company.
Family, coup d'état and peace
When their first son Luca was born in 1997, the neighbours all came to visit the “Baby Room” – today the “Yellow Room” – because in the Cambodian village culture, it seemed unbelievable that a child might sleep without his parents. During the July 1997 coup d’état, the house was a gathering point for the few western volunteers that called Siem Reap home. By the end of 1998, once daughter Naïs has been born, a brick building was added to the property. The Maison had by then its modern structure, consisting of 5 houses, connected by corridors and wooden staircases.
Also in 1998, the Cambodian government collected all civilian weapons that were floating around the country. The family finally removed the front reinforced staircase (it was used as a shelter during bombings) to replace it with the existing light wooden steps; peace had arrived.
Maison Polanka was a great place for Sunday gatherings, parties, birthdays, and treasure hunts in the compound. That is today the spirit that infuses the grounds, the team and our guests. We had become a family.
FRIENDS, Family, Tribes, Clan, Humanist, SHARE, Spirituality, SOUL, Artist, Parties, vibration, HOME, Universe, SECRET, personality…
Maison Polanka has been home to countless parties and gatherings. Friends, friends of friends, as well as guests all come together and meet. They soon become friends, and the magic goes on. We have been home to poets, dancers, religious and spiritual people, healers, yoga teachers, chamans, Nia retreats, humanists, TV producers, filmmakers, writers, chefs and artists.
They all come in search of the authentic “Cambodian soul” which inhabits the grounds of Maison Polanka and is embodied wholeheartedly by our team.
Nathalie and Jean Pierre have a number of artist and designer friends who are regular guests and have all left behind beautiful pieces of their creation. Carol Cassidy, the acclaimed silk weaver based in Vientiane, Laos, has her own suite – the “Orange Room” – which is adorned with her exquisite brocade silks and pleated Cambodian scarves. From Eric Raisina –the Madagascar-born, Siem Reap-based couture designer – we inherited the sambos dessert recipe which has become a firm favourite of guests. The early paintings and lacquered elephant sculptures of Cambodian artist Theam lighten up all of the rooms. British artist Sacha Constable offered us one of her lithographies for the “Green Suite”. Christophe Loviny, the photographer who founded the much-loved Angkor Photo festival dedicated his Apsara dancers book for the “Khmer House” as well as the 1905 dancer’s photo poster.