Archive for November, 2012

Cambodia Road Conditions

Friday, November 30th, 2012
A Cambodian road in need of urgent repair

A Cambodian road in need of urgent repair

An update on road conditions around Cambodia.

As the green season draws to a close and Cambodia slowly but surely dries out, it is a good time to take stock of the road conditions on the main roads around Cambodia. This year, the rains were more intense than usual in some areas of the country and have continued well into November and are taking their toll on the roads. Here is a rundown of the major roads:

National Highway 6: Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. There are major roadworks on the early stretches out of Phnom Penh as the road is doubled in width and this is really slowing the journey time down. This also affects all journeys towards Kompong Cham, but not the new route out to Kratie and Mondulkiri. There are also some bumpy stretches between Skuon and Kompong Thom, but the second half of the road from Kompong Thom to Siem Reap remains in excellent condition. As for the side trip to Sambor Prei Kuk, the main road north from Kompong Thom to Preah Vihear Temple is fully surfaced, but the dirt road to the pre-Angkorian temples is a little bumpy in places but generally okay.

NH7: Kompong Cham to the Laos border: This road has seen some major deterioration on the section between Kratie and Stung Treng which really slows down the journey from Kratie to the Laos border or to Ratanakiri. Repairs are ongoing, but it is really more sensible to use a 4WD on overland trips to Ratanakiri or the Laos border while these conditions persist. The road east to Mondulkiri remains in excellent condition for the time being.

NH3 & NH4: Phnom Penh to Kampot and Sihanoukville. The two main coastal highways heading south are both in excellent condition with no uncomfortable sections along the way. The only problems are on the last stretch of NH3 that links Kampot to Sihanoukville along the base of Bokor Mountain. This road has some very bumpy stretches and this slows the journey down along the south coast.

NH48: Sre Ambel to Koh Kong. This road received some damage in the more mountainous sections but is still passable for cars or minibuses and repairs are ongoing.

NH5: Phnom Penh to Battambang. In poor health from the capital to Prek Kdam, the rest is in reasonable condition, but there are some bumpy stretches through Pursat Province that can add 30 minutes to the overland journey. Continuing from Battambang to Siem Reap, the road is in good condition throughout.

This covers most of the major roads in the country. As long as the major roadworks continue between Phnom Penh and Skuon, which may take up to one year to complete, then you might consider a more comfortable flight between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap with Cambodia Angkor Air rather than the time-hungry journey by road.

COPE Visitor Centre: Helping People To Move On

Thursday, November 29th, 2012

An essential stop on a trip to Vientiane, capital of Laos, the COPE Visitor Centre provides an excellent insight into the legacy of the secret war in Laos and the impact of UXO (unexploded ordnance) on the local population.

COPE Visitor Centre, Vientiane, Laos

COPE Visitor Centre, Vientiane, Laos

Take time to wander through the exhibition to learn about the UXO problem in Lao PDR and the work undertaken by COPE (Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise) to provide disability services for people affected by UXOs.  As part of the exhibition there are a number of excellent documentary films about UXOs and COPE, including the award-winning Bomb Hunters about the work of the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) in Laos. Exhibits include detailed maps of bomb sites, defused cluster bombs displayed as artistic sculptures and a variety of homemade prosthetic limbs moulded from wood and stone. Visitors can try traditional stick operated tricycle wheelchairs at the centre or try walking with a prosthetic leg. There is also a mirror box on display that is used to treat phantom pain in amputees and this is a very surreal experience for visitors.

The COPE Visitor Centre includes a small gift shop with original t-shirts, postcards, and fair-trade Lao Mountain Coffee. There are also snacks, ice cream and drinks on offer at Karma Cafe. All money raised from the gift shop and the Karma Cafe go directly to funding COPE services. It is also possible to buy a leg for someone, as well as donate different sums of money for different needs. Buying a leg is the best present imaginable. Thanks to donations, more people are able to move on. Learn more at http://www.copelaos.org/donate.php

The COPE Visitor Centre is located on Khou Vieng Road, 1km from the Talat Sao (Morning Market), opposite Green Park Hotel. It is easy to reach by bicycle or tuk tuk. It is open everyday from 9am to 6pm.

Learn more at http://www.copelaos.org/visit.php.

Hotel Openings

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012
Samsara Villa in Phnom Penh

Samsara Villa in Phnom Penh

Two new hotel offerings in quiet-as-a-mouse Phnom Penh and on the beach in Hoi An.

If you are looking for boutique accommodation tucked away in a quiet, leafy lane in Phnom Penh, then the recently-opened Samsara Villa might be just the ticket. A converted 1960s villa offers sixteen rooms in three categories, standard, deluxe and suites which boast a private balcony, together with a good-size swimming pool and open-air dining. Wi-fi throughout and all the usual amenities are on offer at this new addition to the rapidly-expanding boutique offerings that the city has these days. Good rates and special opening offers make Samsara an attractive proposition. They will add another eleven rooms to their portfolio, in a neighbouring property by early January.

In Hoi An in Vietnam, the soft opening of the 5* Fusion Alya has been delayed until next month. Inspired by Portugese tradition, Fusion Alya will offer a setting of tranquility and exclusivity on three hectares of land on the quiet and private Cua Dai beach. Lifestyle options include 15 pool villas and 7 luxurious beach villas, most with direct access to the sea, spacious terraces and private plunge pools. Another 57 apartments and 19 penthouses make up the accommodation options. It will be the first-ever resort dedicated to Asian food and cooking, focusing on every aspect of Vietnam’s culinary culture, offering regular cooking demonstrations and foodie excursions included in the basic room rate.

New look website for HanumanAlaya

Monday, November 26th, 2012

Siem Reap’s best boutique residence has a brand new website.

HanumanAlaya, Angkor’s boutique residence, has a striking new website complete with a real time online booking engine to assist guests and tour operators alike in checking room availability. The new website includes a stunning new collection of photographs to enhance the visitor experience. Please take the time to visit the new website at www.hanumanalaya.com.

Visit the new Rooms pages to browse a selection of rooms, including the Superior Rooms, Deluxe Rooms, Studio Suite and Alaya Suite. The new live booking engine is embedded in every page, making it that much easier to check availability as you navigate.

Our Facilities page includes a selection of services on offer at the hotel, including free wi-fi throughout the hotel and an impressive library collection of books on the Cambodia and the Temples of Angkor.

Our Dining page offers a selection of the epicurean delights on offer at HanumanAlaya, including our signature Reahoo Restaurant for authentic Khmer cuisine and sophisticated international dishes. There is also information on the Asura Bar and the new Rama Lounge.

The Spa page includes an introduction to Sita Spa, a refuge of peace and tranquility after a day exploring the Temples of Angkor. Foot massage, body massage and spa journeys are all available to sooth the spirit and sole.

Our Events menu includes a selection of inspirational ideas for a unique honeymoon experience at HanumanAlaya, an intimate exchange of vows at the Temples of Angkor and ideas on how to make a special occasion more memorable around Siem Reap and Angkor.

The Excursions menu includes a travel planner on how to get the most out of a visit to the temples, a selection of unique experiences on offer around Angkor and the kingdom of Cambodia and a guide to our signature Temple Safari trips to remote jungle temples.

Our Media section includes reviews from magazines and newspapers such as Conde Naste Traveller and The Daily Telegraph, a beautiful online E-Brochure to download or browse and a selection of online videos.

The Testimonials menu includes real feedback from the HanumanAlaya guestbook, a eulogy to the art of hospitality, plus online reviews from popular websites such as Trip Advisor or Agoda.

The Gallery offers a range of striking images from HanumanAlaya, including the Ganesha Pool, Sita Spa, Reahoo Restaurant and Hanuman Traditional Arts gallery, located opposite the hotel.

Our About section includes a Contact page, a Meet the Team page to learn more about the management and staff, plus links to our social media pages like Facebook, Twitter and Youtube.

The HanumanAlaya Team is very proud of the website. We do hope you can take a moment to look around at www.hanumanalaya.com.

Festival Closures

Saturday, November 24th, 2012

Phnom Penh’s Water Festival cancelled for a second consecutive year.

The Water Festival boat races in Cambodia are a big attraction to both international and domestic tourists each year. The city of Phnom Penh normally doubles in size as rural Cambodians come into town to join the festivities, known as Bon Om Tuk, surrounding the boat races that take place on the Tonle Sap River. However, last year was cancelled after serious flooding, which followed on from 2010 when the event was marred by the tragic deaths of over 350 people. This year the country is still in mourning following the death of the King Father Norodom Sihanouk, so the boat races and associated celebrations have been cancelled again, both in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. The public holiday  (27, 28 and 29 November) will be observed however and that means a couple of the most popular good cause restaurants will be closed to visitors. In Phnom Penh, Friends (near the National Museum) and Romdeng restaurants are taking the opportunity to have an extended break and are closed from 19 November until 3 December. The PSE restaurants at their headquarters in Stung Meanchey and in BKK1 on Street 51 will shutter their doors from today until 30 November.

Stay longer in Battambang

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012
Making rice paper in Battambang

Making rice paper in Battambang

Hanuman are big fans of Battambang, Cambodia’s laid-back second city, and the work of Soksabike is one good reason to stay an extra day in this quiet haven.

Soksabike (www.soksabike.com) bicycle tours are a social enterprise offering people an insight into the traditional livelihoods of the Cambodian countryside. They place an emphasis on educating guests in the realities of life in rural Cambodia, and ensure that the visit makes a positive impact on the local communities – economically, socially and ecologically. The cycling guides are all knowledgeable Battambang locals. Soksabike have created unique bicycle tours that provide an imaginative insight into the Cambodian countryside and daily life but also supports local the local economy and culture. They have half day and full day tours and will soon offer a city tour with a twist for those with limited time in Battambang. The trips call in at a rice paper making village, a wine making village, a village that makes Prahok (fermented fish paste) and a cake making village. The full day trip includes lunch with a Cambodian family in a rural setting. The trails follow quiet, flat, partially shaded country roads and the distances travelled are 25kms and 40kms respectively.

Soksabike work in tandem with Kinyei Café, which is located on Street 1.5, right next to the Battambang’s central market. The cafe is staffed by youth from disadvantaged backgrounds and the premises comprise two floors and comfortable balcony of a French colonial era townhouse. The cafe serves expertly made espresso coffee – they recently won a nationwide barista championship – and a small selection of baked goods. The first floor has been renovated to a gallery space that will feature visual art. A worthy cause I’m sure you’ll agree.

Cambodia welcomes Obama

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012
Gridlock as President Obama arrives in Phnom Penh by KPR

Gridlock as President Obama arrives in Phnom Penh by KPR

History in the Making as President Obama Joins the Party.

The streets of Phnom Penh came to a standstill yesterday afternoon with the first-ever visit by a sitting President of the United States to the Cambodian capital. Barack Obama, fresh from an historic whirlwind stop-over of a few hours in Myanmar, dropped in on the ASEAN and East Asia Summits taking place in the city. Air Force One breezed into Pochentong International Airport amidst unprecedented security, that also welcomed other world leaders such as the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, South Korea’s Premier Lee Myung-bak, and the Prime Ministers from Japan, Australia, New Zealand and India, who joined the leaders of the ten ASEAN countries. The American contingent were housed at Raffles Le Royal Hotel last night after a Gala Dinner at Koh Pich, with meetings booked for much of today before the President returns to Washington this evening. All of the capital’s best hotels have been booked by the Summit attendees, though a few rooms became available at the last minute when Russia’s Vladamir Putin decided not to join the party!

Song Saa Rewards

Friday, November 16th, 2012
Song Saa Private Island

Song Saa Private Island

Cambodia’s highly-rated Song Saa Private Island is in the news again.

For an in-depth look at the stunning Song Saa Private Island, then look no further than the latest Southeast Asia Globe magazine website, which has a dedicated feature, with great colour photographs, of the resort. Click http://sea-globe.com/perfect-isolation/ for the full story. There’s also a feature on the resort in volume 2 of the glossy magazine, Discover – The Essence of Cambodia, which was launched this week. See http://www.discover-cambodia.com/ for the online version. In addition, Song Saa has just picked up an award for “Best Accommodation for The Environment” at the Responsible Tourism Awards 2012 with the Awards ceremony – sponsored by BBC World and held at London’s World Travel Market – rewarding Song Saa’s progressive conservation programmes. Top marks to Cambodia’s top resort.

Roof-top splendour at the Frangipani

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012
The Frangipani's roof-top swimming pool

The Frangipani’s roof-top swimming pool

Fabulous roof-top views will be a magnet at the soon-to-be-completed Frangipani Royal Palace Hotel in Phnom Penh.

The recently-opened Frangipani Royal Palace Hotel hosted lunch and a look around their facilities this week, though it’ll be another week before the hotel is fully operational. The first three floors are complete, as is the roof-top swimming pool, but the builders are still finishing off some of the contemporary-style rooms and the top floor lounge. Lunch I must say was tasty and the hotel have an extensive menu. What the hotel does boast in abundance is a great location and excellent views, whether you are looking east over the Tonle Sap River, south across to the Royal Palace or west to the National Museum and the remainder of the Phnom Penh skyline. A drink at their sky bar will be a magnet as soon as word gets out. The front rooms of the hotel will also have a bird’s-eye view of the King Father Norodom Sihanouk’s funeral when its held in February, with work already underway preparing the gardens in front of the National Museum for a traditional Buddhist ceremony and cremation. It’s been announced that the King Father’s funeral procession will once again allow the population to pay their respects to their revered former monarch before the cremation takes place. The King’s cabinet has said some of the King Father’s ashes will be kept in a stupa at the Silver Pagoda, though most will be placed in the area where the Tonle Sap meets the Mekong River at Chaktomuk. If you are staying at the Frangipani at that time, you’ll have a memorable view of the whole proceedings. The seven-storey Frangipani Royal Palace Hotel will have 72 rooms, restaurant and spa when its completed next week.

South Coast Hot List

Friday, November 9th, 2012
OC Hotel in Sihanoukville

OC Hotel in Sihanoukville

Cambodia’s south coast proves ever-more popular.

On Cambodia’s increasingly popular south coast, Kep is making a return to the days when the French elite used it as a colonial retreat and Cambodian high rollers in the 1960s did the same. The ultrachic Knai Bang Chatt will soon re-open its doors after a few months of expansion, taking its boutique room count up to 18 in its waterfront villas. Next door, their very own Sailing Club remains one of the country’s top sundowner spots. Nearby, Le Flamboyant Resort is expanding too. From 1 December, they will complete an expansion to 28 private bungalows, two swimming pools and an al fresco restaurant. For romantic getaways, the Veranda Natural Resort remains a firm favourite, with stunning sunset views from its restaurant and the biggest pool for miles around. If you are seeking a socially responsible ecolodge, then consider the Vine Retreat, a dozen kilometres northeast of town, with solar power, an organic farm and naturally filtered swimming pool. In the relaxed riverside town of Kampot, The Columns have re-opened this week, expanding their renovated French Colonial rooms to 17 and are one of the best choices in town. Meanwhile over in Sihanoukville, Cambodia’s most happening beach destination, a newcomer to the hotel options is the OC Hotel, with 66 suites and rooms, just a block or two from the seaside town’s most popular beach, Occheuteal. Contemporary in design, with rooms to match, the OC has submerged beds in its pool. The new bungalows amongst the landscaped gardens of the Independence Hotel get consistently good reviews, whilst Pagoda Rocks sits on a hill with an infinity pool and swanky cottages, and is a fave choice of in-the-know expats. But the top choice has to be the exclusive, award-winning Song Saa Private Island, distinctive, remote, romantic, intimate, responsible and on everyone’s hot list.