Despite its relatively small population, the city of Siem Reap in Cambodia is home to an impressive number of plastic-free hotels. These pioneer establishments are amongst the staunchest supporters of being environmentally friendly and they hope to inspire other boutique hotels and large chains to follow suit, both in Cambodia and further afield. They were some of the first plastic-free hotels in the world, not only proving that it could be done and also now becoming one of the top reasons that people choose to book with them.

As more and more tourists realise the huge environmental impact of their holidays, they are looking for ways to travel without damaging the wonderful destinations they visit. The demand for plastic-free accommodation is increasing, which is welcome news for local communities that desperately fight to stop the deluge of plastic bottles, straws and containers that flood the lakes, streets and rivers around the world.

Plastic waste on the beach

Here are some of the Siem Reap hotels that are leading the way with their innovative eco-friendly ideas and solutions towards sustainable tourism:

5 Plastic-Free Hotels in Siem Reap

1) Jaya House RiverPark

Located along the Siem Reap River is Jaya House RiverPark. This boutique hotel has 36 rooms, two pools, a tranquil spa and one of the most environmentally conscientious operating policies.

Pool at Jaya House RiverPark hotel

The all-Khmer workforce empties the river of plastic and rubbish on a daily basis, so big is the problem they are facing. They provide each guest with complimentary aluminium canisters that can be refilled at the various refill water stations located around the town.

It is part of the Refill, Not Landfill scheme that aims to drastically reduce the amount of single-use plastic bottles consumed by the two million annual visitors that Siem Reap welcomes. There’s even a website that shows you where to refill the canister: Refill Cambodia. It’s no surprise that the hotel’s GM, Christian de Boer, is one of the founders of this scheme, which is now operational in several countries in SEAsia.

Refill, Not Landfill canisters at Jaya House RiverPark

You won’t find a plastic straw or rubbish bag on site and guests are both impressed and inspired to seek bamboo straws and biodegradable packaging elsewhere in the town, and beyond. Their policy is appreciated by the already environmentally conscious and makes it easy for others who are just learning about it to get on board and appreciate this move towards sustainable tourism and responsible travel.

2) Babel Guesthouse

Babel Guesthouse is a 22-room hotel in one of the most relaxing areas of Siem Reap. Featuring a tranquil tropical garden and a bamboo restaurant, it really is a welcome oasis from the dust and noise of the central market and downtown area.

Room at Babel Guesthouse

Its plastic-free policy is truly commendable and is encouraging guests to stay there. As well as being a supporter of the Refill Not Landfill scheme, this hotel only uses biodegradable garbage bags, boxes and cutlery, as well as bamboo straws.

Its on-site shop sells bamboo toothbrushes and travel cutlery sets to reduce the amount of plastic consumed. There is even a coconut bowl for travellers to use when purchasing street food. These items are hopefully something that other hotels will look at selling as more and more travellers seek products of this nature.

Eco shop at refill station at Babel Guesthouse

Babel has recently introduced a new scheme that allows customers and locals to bring in their empty bottles of shampoo, shower gel, body lotion etc. and simply purchase refills from their eco-friendly shop. The price is cheaper and there is no need to purchase yet another plastic bottle. A win-win for the customers and the planet too.

3) Treeline Urban Resort

Treeline Urban Resort adopts many of the same policies as Jaya and Babel.

Pool at Treeline Urban Resort

All their water containers are glass and filled with filtered water. The minibar is even stocked with M&Ms in glass bowls, having been purchased in bulk to reduce packaging. The bins are made from water hyacinth with washable liners. This is an invasive plant found on the Tonle Sap Lake that is damaging to the aquatic environment.

The hotel further reduces the need for plastic by making their signs and coasters from wood, and their slipper and laundry bags from linen and cotton. If a guest needs some shampoo or body lotion, they simply request it from reception, avoiding the need to automatically fill each room with products. They even replace plastic shower caps with hair ties.

Room at Treeline Urban Resort

Local villagers supply their palm leaf containers and eco-friendly food containers eliminate the need for plastic and Styrofoam takeaway items. They too support and promote the Refill Not Landfill scheme and partners with Plastic Free Cambodia to learn more ways to reduce their waste and environmental impact in the future.

4) Meru Asia 

Meru Asia offers something rather unique – a beautifully restored wooden villa on the edge of the Angkor Wat temple complex. It can accommodate up to 10 people and is a hit with nature lovers, writers, artists and those wishing to get away from the stress and noise of everyday life.

Room at Meru Asia hotel

Despite its remote location, the villa has air-con and a fully equipped kitchen, and it is plastic-free which the guests really appreciate. It’s safe to say that people who choose a holiday retreat like this do not want to see a mountain of plastic during their stay. It’s owned and operated by a couple that is eager to share information about the Cambodian culture. Their enthusiasm for this country is evident and guests are sure to enjoy an enhanced experience in their company.

Meru draws on locally produced products whenever possible. It chooses environmentally friendly items throughout the villa and informs guests about the reasons for doing this. The Meru team is finding that more and more tourists are booking Meru not only for the serenity and unique location but also because they too are committed to helping the environment during their holiday.

5) Mulberry Boutique Hotel 

Mulberry Boutique Hotel has also adopted a plastic-free policy and provides each guest with the Refill Not Landfill aluminium canisters. There is no plastic in any of their 13 bedrooms and they are committed to reducing their impact on the environment as much as possible. Their in-house complimentary laundry service is a commendable way of reducing plastic – most of the laundry services in town wrap clean clothes in a bundle of unnecessary plastic.

Room at Mulberry Boutique Hotel 

Each bedroom is different in its design – from family suites to traditional wooden houses and rooms with balconies and gardens. It’s a welcome change from the same uniform design of most hotels. Much thought has gone into the design of the hotel, and their minimalistic style ensures comfort and tranquillity.

Its spa and restaurant operate without plastic bottles and packaging and all staff members at Mulberry have been taught about the positive effects of running the hotel this way. Educating local staff is a huge part of changing the future of Siem Reap.

Pool at Mulberry Boutique Hotel 

Impact of going plastic-free so far

It’s not just the tourists that are inspired. Information learned by the staff of each of these hotels is passed on to their friends and family. The hotels also work closely with the community to educate the local Khmer residents on ways to reduce damage to the environment. By informing each and every person, it’s hoped that this generation of Khmer people will be more diligent and resourceful when it comes to recycling and discarding unwanted plastic materials. And future generations to come will benefit from today’s actions.

The hotels and other local businesses team up to participate in regular clean-up days around the town, with each company nominating to remove rubbish from a specific area.  It’s hoped that in the future, there won’t be a need for this, but for now, they do what they can and there is genuine hope of progress and change to come.

The main hope is that more and more visitors to Siem Reap will book their stays at these impressive plastic-free hotels which do a great job of offering all the luxuries of a holiday while rewriting the impact of tourism on the environment into a positive one. As competitors see the importance of adopting a plastic-free policy, it’s hoped that they will get on board so that everyone wins – because right now, the people and infrastructure of Siem Reap simply cannot cope.

Right now, these five pioneering hotels are stronger together and their willingness to work as a team is rare and inspiring. They don’t see competition and rivalry, even in this competitive industry – instead, they know that working together will actually have a positive effect on their businesses, their local community, Cambodia and the planet. They are not alone in hoping that their mindset, business practice and vision will inspire others to do the same.