From Villa D to River Retreat, one hell of a transformation!

Welcome to River Retreat, our little haven along the banks of the Siem Reap River.

When we decided to purchase Villa D Riverside, we always knew that there were plenty of changes that we wanted to make, little did we know the actual scale (or the blowout costs) of the works required to turn the bright blue, old hotel with canary yellow rooms and 2 decades old decorations into this charming boutique hotel today.

When we first took over the hotel, we inherited a reputation as a late-night jazz bar and rundown rooms that hadn’t seen a paint brush or a new bedsheet in a long time. The former owners had survived through the worst of the Covid lockdowns, and were ready to move on to new endeavors, so understandably they’d run out of the steam required to give this place the new life that we envisioned.

The first thing we knew we needed to do was to give the hotel a facelift and brighten it back up again. We also knew it needed a new name, and River Retreat was born.


We got into the hard work from day one, beginning with ripping up the old and damaged timber decks that were in the front garden and surrounding the pool. The cost and constant maintenance to repair the old, rotten boards was just too much, not to mention the rat infestation that was inhabiting the subspace beneath the boards, so they had to go.

We kept hold of all the best pieces of timber though and have put them to good use in other projects throughout the hotel. You may spot some lovely timber shelves in your bathroom or above your bed. We love to re-use, and upcycle, and have done that with most of the items that we found in the hotel. Sometimes even the simplest act of changing the position of an item can make it look like it’s brand new.

We were excited, we were on a roll and accomplishing so many jobs ahead of schedule, but then disaster struck. One which would hold up the works and delay our progress for the next four months.

After only being here for 6 weeks, we had a major catastrophe. The ceilings in two of the second level bedrooms had collapsed due to a major water leak in the roof. The third level terracotta tiled terrace was just soaking up all the rain like a sponge and finally the ceilings couldn’t take any more. We were devastated – we had started to paint those rooms and had just installed new shower fittings and now they were closed up, with soggy plaster and buckets to collect the water that was continuously dripping from the cracks in the original ceilings above.

After reaching out to our landlord and discovering his reluctance to fix the structural damage, we considered cutting our losses and calling it quits. But we’d only just started, and we love a good challenge so we decided to persevere and continue what we set out to do.

It took four months of negotiations and finally a mutually agreeable solution was found to the roof leak, and we now have a lovely pergola built outside the rooms on level 3. This new terrace roof not only offers protection from the rain, but it also has the added bonus of offering much needed shade from the heat of the sun during hot season.

With the roof leak fixed (fingers crossed), we continued with the rest of the renovations. The most noticeable being the repainting of the hotel exterior. It was a daunting task painting the entire outside of the building from the deep bright blue back to white and took many weeks of climbing precariously over the edges of the balcony, and tip toeing delicately over the restaurant roof tiles, but it was worth every hour spent up there in the baking heat.

With the new street appeal, it was now time to continue the renovations on the interior. It took us several weeks to paint all the rooms. In many of the rooms the old paint was peeling off in sheets, and needed to be totally re-plastered first. Some rooms even had cracks so big around the cornices that the sunlight was shining through! We spent days in just one of them getting it prepared for the new paint. Finally we could get to the fun stuff, redecorating! We purchased new bed linens, mattress protectors, pillows and cushions and added locally sourced hand-woven decorations for the walls, which supports women from the local villages provide an income for their families.

Whilst we were busy working on all the projects in the hotel, like new electrical switches, new plumbing fixtures, repairing broken hinges, blocked drains, installing new lighting, and creating a new linen storage room for our housekeeping team; we also had to juggle the creation of a new restaurant, and setting up a quality kitchen from scratch.

We were lucky to hire a very talented young local chef, and with his expertise have crafted a simple yet tasty range of both western and local dishes. This meant we needed to create and design a new menu, menu costings and planning, and we had no experience in this arm of hospitality at all. Nor in hotel management either for that matter, but hey, we already told you we like a challenge!

Once the menu was created it was time to focus on the final touches of the renovations, and that involved all the little details from upcycling the old orange lampshades, having new curtains made, and making sure the pot plants were in the just right positions and we could finally get the hotel ready for her new photographs.


Rebranding takes more than just a new name though. Now it was time to build a new website, print new business cards, design our new logo, update our Facebook page, print new guest books for the rooms, update the Wi-Fi name and password, update google business and TripAdvisor, change the booking agents listings such as, Expedia, and Airbnb. We even had to change the ‘do not disturb’ door hangers. It seemed endless.  

We spent about 8 months, with loads of setbacks and obstacles in between, and not a single day off, but we made it. We did it. We have finally got it close to the charming hotel we imagined from the start.

River Retreat is now a cozy, peaceful haven for our guests. We are still a budget friendly hotel, but we have a big heart and are ready to welcome you and share in this little slice of heaven in Siem Reap. 

BEFORE – Premium Triple Room
AFTER- Premium Triple Room