Back to Global Conversations 1.21: Bill Bensley, Hotel and landscape architect
Meet the magic man behind some of the world’s most sustainable—and unforgettable—resorts from Ubud and Siem Reap to the Golden Triangle and beyond. Listen in as he tells Melissa Biggs Bradley about why he builds hotels with a purpose beyond just housing guests, how he arrived in Singapore with $17 in his pocket and ended up in Bangkok, plus the places that are still on his bucket list, the benefits of Slow Travel and much more!
Even if you don’t recognize the name Bill Bensley, if you’re an avid traveler, chances are that, you know his work or that you’ve actually stayed in his work, because along with his team, the legendary hotel landscape and interior designer has masterminded 200 plus projects in over 30 countries. But it isn’t the quantity that’s most impressive, it’s the incredible diversity and distinctive quality of each of these hotels, including some of Indagare’s favorite properties, like the Four Seasons Hualalai on the Big Island of Hawaii, the Four Seasons Tented Camp in Thailand’s Golden Triangle, or the Siam in Bangkok, or the Oberoi Udaivilas in India. In fact, most of the Oberois in India and the one and only in the Maldives, but the list goes on and on.
It’s really not an exaggeration to say that Bill has designed more top luxury hotels around the world than anyone else alive, but it isn’t the hotels that have garnered the most awards or press that are dearest to Bill’s heart. Rather it’s the Shinta Mani properties that he designed to do good in their communities. The first one he developed was in the temple city of Siem Reap in Cambodia, and the newest edition, Shinta Mani Wild also in Cambodia, is a 15-tent glamping lodge set on 600 protected acres in the Southern Cardamom Mountains.
Both have tremendous social and environmental impacts in their respective locations. And Bill speaks with passion and purpose about the responsibility he believes hotels and resorts should always have in the communities where they’re built. He’s also just an incredible storyteller, thanks to his sense of humor, whimsy, and wonder, all of which can be seen in his design sensibility. Suffices to say that at Shinta Mani Wild, guests can opt to arrive via a 1,200 foot zip line over a waterfall. And that the decor inspiration there was the idea of “Jackie O going glamping with the king of Cambodia in the 1960s”.
Bill is based in Bangkok, where he met his life and business partner, Jirachai Rengthong when he was working there on his first job in 1984, has been to 92 countries. And no one talks about travel quite like he does.