Former fashionista Elizabeth Kiester gave up a crazy-glam-hectic New York lifestyle (complete with full Sex and the City trappings, requisite high heels and sashimi-platter lunch dates) to give something back to the Khmer people she’d fallen in love with on a trip to Cambodia.
She sold her apartment, packed her bags and (quite literally) set up shop in Siem Reap. Which is where we discovered her, while researching star stays for our next hotel guide, Mr & Mrs Smith Hotel Collection: South-East Asia (out later this year).
The result, Wanderlust, is a lifestyle concept boutique selling hand-made clothing and homewares, all created by local women – it’s been so successful that there are already three outlets in Cambodia.
Tell us a bit about Wanderlust, Elizabeth – how did it come about? What drew you to Cambodia in the first place?
I came to Cambodia in 2008 on a short-term volunteer holiday through an American NGO. I wanted to take a vacation, but I really wanted to do something. I was at crossroads in my life, and the idea of a week on a beach just didn’t appeal at the time. I have always loved south-east Asia and Cambodia was on my ‘must check out’ list. So I came to Siem Reap and installed water pumps in rural villages, painted a pagoda, and taught songs and English to the kids at a local orphanage.
I just loved the magic of the place: the light, the sounds, the unfamiliar and strange smells, and the sense of hope that I felt everywhere, in every eye and every smile – even in every tear I saw shed. I wanted to be part of it on a deeper level, and try to do what I could to help instill a sense of security in the Khmer people, and above all, to celebrate and make noise about all of it.
Though our hunt for hip hotels is ceaseless, every now and then something comes along and gets in the way. The best coffee in London for example, or the best steak in London, or the best bohemian book launch with cheese (yup, also in London)…
Yesterday’s distraction was tea at the sumptuous Soho Hotel. Afternoon tea is always a treat – the combination of prettily patterned crockery, wafer-thin buttered bread and dainty pastries is enough to make us dizzy – but this one was all the more special: the Ruinart and Miller Harris Sensory Afternoon Tea.