Archive for December, 2012

Saved from destruction

Thursday, December 27th, 2012
233 Pansodan Street (right) in Yangon

233 Pansodan Street (right) in Yangon

As Myanmar forges ahead with change, concerns abound over the fate of its British colonial heritage.

Myanmar’s Yangon (formerly known as Rangoon) is a city that is undergoing rapid transformation and change. In this city of six million people, the fate of the country’s colonial buildings are a real concern, with many having already been demolished to make way for newer structures. Others have been renovated but many remain in a poor state of health. One such iconic colonial structure, at 233-235 Pansodan Street, was declared dangerous by the city’s developers and workers were sent to tear it down. However, the building, which served as a hostel for famous Burmese politicians, writers and artists during the colonial era, was subject to a last-minute reprieve after a successful campaign by the Rangoon Heritage Trust carried by the local media, prompted government officials to postpone their original order.

Only around 40 historic colonial building in downtown Rangoon remain, some are over 100 years old, and many have been declared restricted buildings after falling into serious disrepair. Activists worry that colonial buildings in the city center will be torn down to make space for hotels catering for Burma’s blossoming tourism industry. The local authorities have already painted the century-old Rangoon City Hall, which now looks rejuvenated, with other nearby examples, such as the Immigration Office, covered with plastic and bamboo poles in preparation for renovation. The Trust group has asked the government not to auction the 101-year-old Rangoon High Court and Police Commissioner Office to a consortium of local and Chinese businessmen who plan to turn the buildings into a restaurant and museum. The British colonial-era heritage of Yangon is a feature of the city which traditionalists and conservationists are keen to maintain but they face a battle to convince the majority of their countrymen, who don’t necessarily put great value in antiquity and given the choice of a restored older building against a modern development, will choose the latter. It’s an on-going tug-of-war being played out in many cities across Asia.

Festive Greetings

Tuesday, December 25th, 2012

Shopping for a Good Cause

Monday, December 24th, 2012

Passionate about fair trade and treating everyone equally, Reaching Out Arts & Craft opened their doors in 2001 in the vibrant old quarter of Hoi An, in Central Vietnam. They continue to go from strength to strength.

Reaching Out Arts & Craft

Clothing and accessories, jewellery, ceramics, lacquer ware, stationary, toys and embroidery at Reaching Out

Clothing and accessories, jewellery, ceramics, lacquer ware, stationary, toys and embroidery at Reaching Out

Who and What: Reaching Out is a unique craft store owned, operated and whose products are made by artisans with physical disabilities. We train and employ disabled people and allow them the flexibility of working in the store and attached workshop or from the comfort of their own homes. We are firm believers of fair trade and fair wage – our artisans receive about 35% more than the average wage.

The Experience: Visit our store and workshop, see the full array of crafts available and witness the artisans at work. Support our artisans by purchasing Reaching Out products at our shop or online. Choose to sponsor the vocational training fee for one or more people with disabilities from our long waiting list.

From Hanuman
Reaching Out is a good cause boutique located on the popular Nguyen Thai Hoc St, home to such renowed restaurants and bars as Mango Rooms and Tam Tam. Reaching Out produces high quality local handicrafts, including silk, lacquerware, ceramics and homeware. Making purchases here assists Reaching Out in their mission to provide employment opportunities to the disabled community. More at http://www.reachingoutvietnam.com.

Sita Spa, an oasis of tranquility

Friday, December 21st, 2012
The Sita Spa at HanumanAlaya

The Sita Spa at HanumanAlaya

Bringing the beauty secrets of ancient Cambodia to the modern world at Sita Spa.

Sita Spa is an oasis of tranquility at the HanumanAlaya Boutique Residence in Siem Reap and an exclusive cocoon to relax, recharge and rejuvenate the body and mind. We offer a wide range of carefully selected treatments, only using the finest local and natural materials in our therapies. The treatments, based upon ancient knowledge of our bodies’ energy system, not only help you unwind or radiate inner and outer beauty, but also provide multiple health benefits. Our massages activate subtle internal energy flows, stimulate blood circulation and strengthen the central nervous system.

Our skilled and experienced therapists are supervised by Saral Phleav, a very experienced massage therapist who joined Sita Spa last year after three years with the Somadevi Hotel. Originally taught by Khmer, Chinese and Thai Spa managers, she brings a variety of international techniques to her massage, ensuring a relaxing and recuperative experience. She is a confident therapist and generates fabulous feedback from guests, as she is a perfectionist when it comes to the art of massage.

Her personal recommendations include the energizing Stone Massage; in combination with our Aromatherapy treatment, the application of heated stones dispels stress and creates inner well-being. The penetrating warmth of the stones, in combination with aromatic essences is a real treat for body and soul. Our Four Hands Massage; two skilled therapists; four tender hands working together in perfect harmony and balance, soothing your tense muscles and aching bones. Based on our Traditional Khmer body massage, but can be combined with aromatherapy if you wish. The Blind Massage; massage therapy by blind therapists is a well-known tradition in Cambodia. Their lack of eyesight enables easy location of energy blockage points with heightened textual senses.

Take the time to immerse yourself in the Sita Spa at HanumanAlaya.

Leading TV Celebrities on Safari with Hanuman

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

Hanuman’s signature Temple Safari is an original and innovative product in Cambodia. A lot of people know that. But not a lot of people know that several leading television personalities have been ‘on safari’ with Hanuman in the past few years, including celeb chef Gordon Ramsay, Travel Channel host Samantha Brown, motorbiking adventurer Charley Boorman and Snakemaster Austin Stevens.

 

Gordon Ramsay, Gordon’s Great Escapes, 2010
TV chef Gordon Ramsay travelled to remote Mondulkiri Province for a Bunong minority wedding. As well as helping to collecting
honey and witnessing a buffalo sacrifice, he also stayed overnight in one of Hanuman’s safari tents in the remote jungle.

Samantha Brown, Samantha Brown’s Passport to Asia, 2010
Popular US presenter Sam Brown explored much of Asia for her 2010 series, but Cambodia was the one country she loved more
than all the rest. The episode closes with a beautiful Beach Safari in Ream National Park as she muses over her experiences.

Charley Boorman, By Any Means, 2008
One half of the famed Long Way Round and Long Way Down team with actor Ewan McGregor, Charley travelled through
Cambodia as part of his overland journey from London to Sydney, which included a Temple Safari at Beng Mealea.

Austin Stevens, Snakemaster: The Flying Snake, 2005
South African snake expert Austin Stevens came to Cambodia for an episode of Snakemaster for Animal Planet and the support
crew camped out at Beng Mealea temple for about six days, including full catering support for 10 people.

Thailand to Cambodia Direct Bus Services

Tuesday, December 18th, 2012
Mekong Express, Cambodia

Mekong Express, Cambodia

Thailand and Cambodia will launch the first direct bus services linking Bangkok with Siem Reap and Phnom Penh in the next two weeks. The first bus service between the two countries will debut on 29th December, said The Transport Co, a Thai state enterprise under the Transport Ministry.

The service includes the Bangkok to Siem Reap route, a 424km trip that takes about seven hours. The two countries will provide two trips a day and the fare will be 750 baht or US$25. The Bangkok to Phnom Penh service, covering 719km and taking 11 hours, will run once a day with a fare of 900 baht or $30.

Air-conditioned buses will serve both routes, which will use the popular border crossing at Aranyaprathet/Poipet. It is to be hoped the new cross-border service will reduce the petty corruption that plagues this border. International travellers crossing this way are routinely faced with a variety of unofficial and official scams ranging from fake visa offices to insisting on visa payment in Thai baht at a prohibitive exchange rate. Poipet is notorious among overlanders and could learn a lesson or two in manners from its eastern counterpart Bavet on the Vietnamese border. There are no major scams at Bavet and the visa fee is fixed at the official US$20. Poipet has long been the worst possible introduction to Cambodia. Perhaps this new international bus service will finally force Poipet to change its ways?

 

Dining in style

Sunday, December 16th, 2012
Restaurant Le Royal at Raffles

Restaurant Le Royal at Raffles

Robert Tompkins dines in le royal style in Phnom Penh, at Raffles Hotel Le Royal.

We were met at Restaurant Le Royal with smiles and the folded palms and slight bows of the traditional sampeah greeting. Chandeliers hung from the high recessed ceilings, which were creatively painted with a floral motif. The lighting was subdued and enhanced by candles. There were eleven tables, spaced far apart to provide privacy. Only five were occupied by other couples.

While sipping an aperitif, we perused the ten-page menu, which featured international (predominately French) and Khmer cuisine. A separate menu listed the special five-course “Degustation Menu” to which I succumbed, while Doris, whose appetite is far less rapacious than that of her husband, ordered à la carte.

The tasting menu began with an appetizer of cucumber parfait wrapped in a beetroot coat and topped with caviar-laced sour cream—preparing the palate for the following course of goose liver ravioli served with an artichoke essence. Sharing brought further dimension to our meal, as Doris’s generously portioned starter of melt-in-the-mouth pan-fried goose liver complemented perfectly the rhubarb compote.

Poised delicately between our starter and entrée, an amuse-bouche of duck carpaccio was served to Doris to coincide with my course of salmon confit, which was matched with a slightly tart calamansi-and-lime butter sauce and presented on a bed of lightly spiced eggplant. Then came the high note. Paired with chateau potatoes and sautéed French beans, Doris’s entrée of duck à l’orange was moist and delicately flavored, while my oven-roasted veal mignons were basted in a tamarind–port wine sauce and accompanied by braised cabbage with glazed sweet potatoes.

Although dessert would indeed be excessive, we surrendered to the temptation. For me, the tasting menu concluded with a wild-berry-and-chocolate charlotte. Doris yielded to the waiter’s recommendation of deep-fried port wine ice cream with red pear compote. This final gustatory indulgence left us sated and attempting to aid digestion with cognac.

Throughout our meal the muted background music featured Count Basie, Duke Ellington, and the unmistakable vocals of big-band-era singer Jimmy Rushing. Service was well honed and flawless. Our needs were anticipated and attended to unobtrusively and smoothly, and for just one night, a sense of time and place seemed to slip away. We were no longer in twenty-first-century Cambodia. The real world dissolved into a surrogate of comfortable illusion.

We left to a chorus wishing us a good evening along with a replay of the smiles and sampeahs that had greeted us two and a half hours previously. Wrapped in a cozy postdinner lethargy, we sat on our balcony at the hotel. The sultry night was frangipani scented and echoing with cricket calls. Surrendering to the serenity of the moment, we drifted in Le Royal’s lost-in-time version of Phnom Penh.

Restaurant Le Royal, Raffles Hotel Le Royal, 92, Rukhak Vithei Daun Penh (off Monivong Boulevard), Phnom Penh.

This copyright article by Robert Tompkins appeared in the guidebook, To Cambodia With Love, published by ThingsAsian Press in 2011.

Relaxing in Cambodia

Thursday, December 13th, 2012
Yoga practice at Angkor

Yoga practice at Angkor

Opportunities for yoga enthusiasts are on the rise in Cambodia.

Visitors and residents looking for physical, mental and spiritual relaxation and practice can find suitable classes in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, as well as further afield. The Peace Café in Siem Reap has been holding hatha yoga classes for a while now, set in a traditional Khmer wooden building, which is also home to a vegetarian café, NGO shop, and community centre. Also in temple town, the UberOum Yoga Studio is next to Pub Street and they offer a range of classes for experienced practitioners as well as beginners courses. Further out of town, near the Roluos complex, the Hariharalaya Retreat Centre is an oasis for calm, peaceful reflection with a holistic approach that hosts retreats, detox programmes, healing services and cooking classes. The daily schedule includes meditation, breathing practice, chanting and readings, with yoga classes early every morning.

If you are in Phnom Penh then you might consider NataRaj Yoga, who offer beginners classes as well as those for more experienced yogis, on Street 302 in the fashionable BKK1 area with internationally certified teachers. Near the Russian Market you will find the HQ of the Kundalini Yoga group, who began classes in 2004 for people suffering trauma and stress and who could not normally access yoga and meditation activities. They claim their form of yoga is different from the other styles available in Cambodia as it combines breathing, movement, mantra and meditation in a continuous flow. Further afield, the Vine Retreat near Kep offers regular weekend retreats and are planning at least seven in 2013. And if you really want to practice your yoga in beautiful surroundings, then head to Song Saa Private Island where you can take a yoga and meditation course on the beach. Sheer bliss.

The Lifestyle of Luang Prabang

Tuesday, December 11th, 2012

Watch this new video of the highlights of languid Luang Prabang, one of our favourite places in the Mekong region.

A place where time stands still is one way to describe the charms of this historic capital of ancient wats. Languid and lovely Luang Prabang is the most popular destination in Laos, a compact, atmospheric town that can be enjoyed at leisure on foot. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995, there are more than 30 historic temples hidden among the backstreets of town, as well as the Royal Palace Museum. Popular activities include rising early to take part in the Tak Bat or alms offering to the monks. Beyond town, adventures await, including waterfalls, elephant camps, kayaking and cycling. Luang Prabang is now plugged into Laos and the rest of the region, with flight links to nearby Bangkok, Hanoi and Siem Reap. Combining this atmospheric place with the highlights of Indochina such as Hoi An in Vietnam and Angkor in Cambodia has never been easier.

Myanmar Approves an International ATM network

Monday, December 10th, 2012

It has been officially announced that ATMs are now available for international MasterCard, Maestro and Cirrus card holders in Burma. Visa and American Express have not yet received approval, but it may only be a matter of time.

It is important to note that for the time being this is only a debit card service. The use of credit cards is planned for later, but is not yet available. Debit card holders will be able to withdraw up to 900,000 kyat per day (about US$1000 at current exchange rates) with a limit of 300,000 kyat per transaction and a maximum three transactions  per day. A charge of 5000 kyat per transaction will be applied. The exchange rate will be the same as the central bank, which is the normal rate offered by the banks and exchange desks at the airports.

There are 39 ATM locations around Myanmar most are in Yangon but also Mandalay and some in Bago and Taunggyi.