Does the name Hannes Schmid ring a bell? He’s known across the world for his evocative photography; you might know him for the iconic Marlboro cowboy photographs, fierce rockstars, or endlessly glamorous models. His curious eye and the search for truth led him to Cambodia and the haunting truths of the Khymer Rouge killings. Pol Pot drove millions of assumed educated families from their homes in Cambodia to work on slave farms in the late 1970s.
It was these grave truths and the horrors of the past that led Schmid to start the Smiling Gecko, an extraordinary foundation that offers a helping hand to villagers in remote northern Cambodia. There isn’t one Cambodian family that hasn’t been affected by Pots brutal regime. Schmid vowed that one day he would return to Cambodia and realise his vision of taking families away from the slums and providing them with respectable and sustainable work, education and prospects of a future of which they could only dream.
Today, Cambodia is at the top of many a traveller’s bucket list of places to visit. The temperate, tropical climate, unmapped temples and the virtually unexplored countryside, not to mention the proud and friendly people that occupy these beautiful lands, attract both domestic and international visitors. Many families that live in rural areas earn less than $2.00 per day, which doesn’t afford them the luxury of providing education for their children or even considering a brighter future. Schmid was overwhelmed with compassion from the stories told whilst photographing the particularly emotional collection of photo essays depicting families living in the slums of Phnom Penh.
In 2014, Schmid founded the Smiling Gecko Project. This 140-hectare site forms a functioning farm with a huge goal to create a self-sufficient community. Sustainability experts and professional institutions worldwide helped him establish the plans. Schmid’s vision to fight against hunger, poor living conditions, provide children with an education and young adults with vocational training had begun. His dream of providing economic stability and benefits for the entire community while respecting the local ecosystem was finally realised.
The project has since grown and the community added the Farmhouse Resort & Spa to the site in 2015. The resort is located in the tranquil countryside enveloped by rolling hills and rice paddies. The exquisite traditional wooden bungalow resort is at the very heart of the project, with traditional stilted Khmer houses providing guest bedrooms furnished with a blend of contemporary and vintage styles. Each bedroom has a terrace, an under-room patio area, and an extravagantly romantic bathroom.
The Farmhouse Resort & Spa is dedicated to creating a sustainable environment in a beautiful setting. Each team member enjoys a sense of peace, feels safe and has a sense of worth, often for the first time. The resort guests can relax in this extraordinary environment, enjoy an unforgettable experience, and support this innovative aid project.
The creation of Smiling Gecko puts sustainability at the centre of all dialogue, whether it relates to tourism, funding or the community. It is at the heart of all of their decisions. Happy and healthy living in nature is essential to them all. Smiling Gecko happily boasts various forms of agriculture at the farm, which involves farming, aquaculture and vegetables. There is also carpentry, butchery and a bakery; it is truly a farm-to-table destination like no other; all of the food and services are provided from within.
Slum-born executive chef Mariya Un Noun embraces her success story. As a mother of two, the seemingly endless possibilities at the Smiling Gecko project attracted her to become part of the community. Smiling Gecko gave her the confidence to train as a chef under various Michelin star Swiss chefs and study at Hotelfachschule Luzern. She possesses an insatiable appetite to provide exemplary food for the hotel guests and to be able to secure a bright and opportunistic future for her children.
Not surprisingly, The Farmhouse Resort & Spa is becoming sought after for small destination weddings. Guests can enjoy nature’s luxuries in the spa, cycle around the farm or even be introduced to some of the local’s quirks such as ant egg or charcoal farming.
Refreshingly, gone are the days when luxury is a ‘must have’ five-star lavish venue. Today, luxury is time, experience and the opportunity to care for others. Various proposal, marriage and honeymoon offerings are available at this beautiful resort. International weddings in Cambodia are celebrated as a village. There is no better village full of love than the Farmhouse Resort & Spa and Smiling Gecko community.
For more information or to book your wedding, please visit www.farmhouse-smilinggecko.com or email email@example.com. The team at the resort and the whole Smiling Gecko community looks forward to welcoming you to their sustainable piece of paradise for your wedding of a lifetime.
Katie Hollamby is a well-travelled public relations specialist turned writer for various international publications, tourism boards and ethical brands. Originally from the UK, she’s worked around the world, lived in and explored North America, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Maldives and now Thailand. She’s passionate about the welfare of animals and sustainability. For more adventures, you can follow her on Instagram @thekatybooks.