Architect Turned Hotelier Sets Sights on Sustainable Designs

Din Somethearith shares his journey from juggling work and study to becoming one of Cambodia’s leading hospitality players, transforming old buildings into striking hotels and designing the first sustainable housing resort
Din Somethearith. Kiripost/supplied
Din Somethearith. Kiripost/supplied

Din Somethearith, Co-founder and CEO​ of Frangipani Villa Hotel Group and a founder of Phumi Phka TroKoun natural resort, has used his passion for architecture and environmentally-friendly concepts to create a 10-hectare eco-friendly resort that takes in innovative sustainable designs.

Hailing from a middle-class family in Phnom Penh city and an architecture graduate from the faculty of Architecture and Urban Planning at the Royal University of Fine Arts, he earned a Master’s degree in Urban Environmental Management from Thailand’s Asian Institute of Technology.

Since then, Somethearith has gone on to become one of the most successful businessmen in the Kingdom’s hospitality industry, operating eight hotels and a 10-hectare eco-friendly resort.

He juggled work and education from his first year of studying. However, pursuing higher education was a priority for him, and he quit his high-paying job to pursue a Master’s degree.

“During that time, I graduated in 1999 and applied for a Master’s scholarship, and the new CEO organization arranged to increase my salary by $950 per month. But I continued to pursue my Master's degree instead,” he said in an interview with Kiripost.

Din Somethearith speaks with Kiripost journalists Meas Molika and Seng Mengheng during an interview. Kiripost/supplied
Din Somethearith speaks with Kiripost journalists Meas Molika and Seng Mengheng during an interview. Kiripost/supplied

When he graduated, he worked as a project manager at a UN organization from 2002 to 2007, progressing to become a leader. In 2010, he decided to quit his long-time job journey, despite having three hotels and expanding into Siem Reap with more branches.

“I always work part-time and I choose to work in a remote working environment because I’m the kind of person who doesn’t like sitting in the office all day everyday. I want to work independently and be flexible,” he added.

Being self-employed on his new journey operating a hotel initially began with a seven-room property before enhancing his business in the service industry. Within the next four-and-a-half-year later, he established eight hotel branches in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap province.

From 2003 until 2010, he worked from Monday to Friday. During his spare time at weekends, he worked as a lecturer at Norton University in the morning and in the evening worked on his start-up by holding team discussions.

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Turning Architect Skills to Hospitality Business

Somethearith, 44, said sightseeing abroad gave him the opportunity to explore and open his eyes to the tourism sector. He was especially impressed by the striking architecture of Thai hotels and resorts.

These experiences upgraded the knowledge and technical skills he learned at university and took them to the next level of hospitality by innovating old buildings and houses to give them a new lease of life with his creative designs.

“When I traveled to Thailand, I saw a lot of better and more modernized things than in our country. While learning architecture, I had the idea that when I graduate from studying, one day I will rent or purchase old buildings or houses to fix or renovate, then put them on sale. This idea was triggered in me when I saw many beautiful hotels in Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai in Thailand. When I came back, I always had a dream to do it,” he said.

Phumi Phka TroKoun. Kiripost/Meas Molika
Phumi Phka TroKoun. Kiripost/Meas Molika

He was also inspired by a speaker from a workshop at Cambodia Development Center (CDC), who raised the issue of the lack of entrepreneurship in the country, which affects the price of work labor. Less businesses to create more jobs leads to lower labor costs.

“That man inspired me, including the shortage of working places in our country during that time, and what people were giving up on is labor. That’s why labor costs were so cheap because there was no one providing the work. He said entrepreneurs will provide work for people,” he said.

At 33-years-old, Somethearith began to work on his dream by restoring his first building and turning it into a hotel. It opened its doors in 2007.

Sustainable Architecture Design Resort and Village

In 2018, he established a natural recreation park with the dream of creating the first sustainable houses surrounded by green landscape in Svay Proteal commune, Saang district, Kandal province, about one hour from Phnom Penh. This dream arose after he became concerned about the environment. In response, he set out to create the first sustainable housing project that incorporates natural air and green nature.

He said he designs the house style while his wife designs the landscape.

“As an architect who studied urban environmental management, I am always concerned a lot about renewable energy, and we try to save energy as much as we can. Whatever we can do to help the earth, we will try to do it,” he said.

Phumi Phka Trokoun, an ecotourism resort that spans 10 hectares, conveys the concept of a sustainable large-scale room. Its design takes in environmentally-friendly architecture to keep the room cool throughout the year by using natural fresh air from the surrounding environment.

Phumi Phka TroKoun. Kiripost/Meas Molika
Phumi Phka TroKoun. Kiripost/Meas Molika

This is achieved by using local materials and innovative Khmer designs to create sustainable rooms for tourists who want to experience relaxation in nature. The resort is also decorated with grass, flowers, trees, and ponds, all mixed with the sound of birds and nature, and a natural fresh breeze.

Moreover, this is also a green village that allows people to destress and escape the bustle of polluted urban life by enabling them to purchase land and design sustainable houses that follow traditional Khmer style.

“Our concept is to allow people from Phnom Penh city that normally use the air conditioners to enjoy the atmosphere here because no matter what season it is, dry or rainy, it always keeps cool inside,” he added.

He said he has spent about $100,000 buying flowers, trees and other natural plants to design the vast landscape that surrounds the resort. The resort has 1,000 plots of land and now has about 50 houses that have already been built.