Archive for November, 2013

Cooking class at Sala Kdei

Wednesday, November 27th, 2013
Tasting the ingredients at the local market

Tasting the ingredients at the local market

Come and discover the secrets of Khmer cuisine with a Cambodian Cooking Class at our beautiful traditional wooden house, Sala Kdei in the Angkor Temple complex.

You begin with a visit to one of the local markets with our chef and then learn how to prepare some of the kingdom’s best loved dishes including a delectable fish amok. Then of course, you can enjoy the fruits of your labours in a serene setting next to the royal bathing pool of Sra Srang. Sala Kdei offers a range of original experiences from cooking classes, breakfast, lunch and evening dining and cocktails to yoga and quiet meditation. Sala Kdei is the perfect private escape from the crowds around Angkor during the heat of the day. Unwind or indulge, it’s the perfect complement to the majestic temples.

The cooking class is in full swing

The cooking class is in full swing 

 

There's always time for more tasting
There’s always time for more tasting 

 

And now its time to enjoy the fruits of our labours
And now its time to enjoy the fruits of our labours

Nam Nern Night Safari

Saturday, November 23rd, 2013

Take a boat upstream in the afternoon, and after dinner, float downstream at night without engines to spot wildlife including sambar deer, dhole, sun bear, wild pig and macaques. This is the award-winning Nam Nern Night Safari in Laos.

The Nam Nern Night Safari

The Nam Nern Night Safari

An ecotourism project in a remote part of Laos has won the World Responsible Tourism Award for Best for Responsible Wildlife Experience. The Nam Nern Night Safari, an ecotour in Lao’s Nam Et-Phou Louey National Protected Area in Houaphan Province, was recognized by the World Travel Mart for its innovative approach to generating benefits for local communities. “Nam Nern Night Safari has been designed to support the conservation of tigers and their prey, as well as other wildlife, by placing a monetary value on tigers and other wildlife for local people,” said the judges. “Each reported sighting of wildlife by a tourist results in a financial reward for the villagers, and this includes people who might otherwise poach… The initiative has been very successful in increasing the number of wildlife sightings per boat – they have doubled.”

Poaching in Nam Et-Phou Louey has been a major challenge for conservation efforts. But the ecotourism project now generates funds to support rangers who go on long patrols collecting snares, looking for signs of poachers, and monitoring wildlife. The project also discourages poaching by providing alternative livelihoods for villagers in the form of employment as guides, boatmen, cooks, and handicraft makers. A local community manages an overnight ecolodge as well. Since the project launched in 2010, some 370 tourists have visited, generating revenue amounting to $200 per village across 14 villages. While the amount of money is small, it is significant in an area where cash incomes are very low. It also has created a potentially replicable model that values wildlife alive instead of dead in a cooking pot, according to the judges. “This approach should be replicable and would contribute to creating a more positive relationship between local communities, wildlife and tourism.”

The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), which set up the project, welcomed the award. “This award is a result of the commitment and tireless work of our local staff and 14 partner communities who believe in the importance and value of wildlife,” said Paul Eshoo, WCS Ecotourism Advisor. “Laos is a country with very rich biodiversity and important ecosystems that hold enormous potential for ecotourism. We hope that our model inspires other projects and areas to develop wildlife tourism in a way that provides tangible conservation results and economic benefits through direct incentives for protection.”

Welcome to Frangipani Villa -90s in Phnom Penh

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013

The expanding Frangipani group of hotels offers some smaller, intimate boutique hotels. Take a virtual tour of the Frangipani Villa 90s in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

The Frangipani Villa-90s property is a 1990s villa restored in the style of 1960’s Cambodia architecture with some contemporary touches. The hotel has 15 rooms providing suite, studio, double and twin room accommodation. Comfortable seating for relaxing at any time of the day or for informal meetings are available on the roof top terrace and on a shady first floor balcony. Food and drinks are served throughout the day in the shady restaurant immediately adjacent to a well designed and extensively planted garden.

The hotel is located in southern central Phnom Penh, a short tuk-tuk ride from the city’s popular Tuol Tom Poung Market (Russian Market) and providing ready access to other sites throughout the city.  A mini-mart, coffee shop and ATM are two minutes walk from the hotel.

Giving Wildlife A Helping Hand

Thursday, November 14th, 2013

Wildlife Alliance are offering a great opportunity for animal lovers to help secure a happy and healthy future for rescued animals at the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center (PTWRC), just outside Phnom Penh in Cambodia.

Chhouk, the Elephant with a prosthetic foot

Chhouk, the Elephant with a prosthetic foot

Animals rescued from the illegal wildlife trade are brought to Phnom Tamao, primarily to be rehabilitated and released back into the wild. In many cases this is possible. Unfortunately some animals cannot be released and are given a permanent home at the Center. Take for example Chhouk, a young male Asian Elephant, found as a baby, wandering alone in the forest in northeastern Cambodia. He had lost a foot to a poachers’ snare, was gravely ill from an infection in his wound, and was severely under-nourished. After caring for him for two weeks in the forest and gaining his trust, WA transported him to PTWRC and were able to heal his wounds. Unfortunately, his foot was gone for good, so they partnered with the Cambodian School of Prosthetics and Orthotics to provide him with a prosthesis, which has changed his life completely. He can now walk normally and has avoided any serious skeletal deformities. He is the first elephant in Cambodia to receive a prosthesis and is a celebrated rescue success story. Or there’s the lively Pursat, the Hairy-Nosed Otter. Pursat was rescued from the province of Pursat on Tonle Sap Lake. He is likely the only hairy-nosed otter in captivity anywhere in the world. Extremely sensitive to stress and pollution, this species is listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List. We bring unpolluted water from Phnom Penh three times a week, and feed Pursat only live fish in an effort to reduce the chance of toxins entering his system. Pursat is a playful and energetic otter, and is doing really well in his new secluded enclosure.

To support animals like these, and others such as Araeng – the Indochinese Tiger or Bangroul – the Sunda Pangolin, Wildlife Alliance have started a Sponsor An Animal program. There are two levels of sponsorship available: basic and premium. The basic level is $5 per month and the premium level is $20 per month. They seek a 12-month minimum commitment, with each sponsor receiving a certificate, photograph, newsletter and factsheet. We think this is a great way for animal lovers to contribute to the fantastic work that Wildlife Alliance are committed to doing in Cambodia. And of course, you can come and see the animals for yourself, with a Wildlife Experience behind-the-scenes tour of Phnom Tamao with the WA team. You can find out more information on sponsoring an animal at http://www.wildlifealliance.org/page/view/423/sponsor-an-animal.

Enjoy the Frangipani Villa – 60’s Hotel

Monday, November 11th, 2013

The expanding Frangipani group of hotels also offers some smaller, intimate boutique hotels. Take a virtual tour of the Frangipani Villa – 60’s Boutique Hotel.

 

The lush, leafy frontage of the Frangipani Villa-60’s boutique hotel conceals a carefully restored 1960’s villa of special character that gives guests an insight into the architecture of a period when Phnom Penh was known as the honeymoon capital of Asia.

The hotel was restored by a team led by a Cambodian architect and a landscape designer and has 7 rooms, providing single, double, twin and suite accommodation.

Guests can enjoy food and drinks throughout the day at the terrace café on the ground floor or relax in the comfortable outdoor seating surrounded by plants in the hotel’s garden.

The Frangipani Villa-60’s hotel is centrally located providing ready access to all the popular sites in Phnom Penh as is just a few minutes walk from a good selection of restaurants, an international supermarket and ATM facilities.

Cambodian Treasures

Saturday, November 9th, 2013

The Independent newspaper in the UK today published an article based on their recent visit to Cambodia, courtesy of Thai Airways, Raffles Hotels Group and Hanuman. The article included visits to Siem Reap and Phnom Penh as well as an adventure on Phnom Kulen, where our own Sacred Mountain Safari allows access to the variety of experiences on the mountain top, about 50kms north of Siem Reap.

One of the ancient temples on top of Phnom Kulen

One of the ancient temples on top of Phnom Kulen

Treasures of the Cambodian jungle

The ‘lost’ Khmer city of Phnom Kulen is more ancient and less crowded than Angkor Wat, writes Leslie Woit. 

Just how does a modern traveller find an ancient lost city? In the soupy heat of the north-west Cambodian jungle, I chose Lin to lead the way. He was one of several boys on scooters waiting by the edge of a dirt track, surrounded by banana trees and chirping cicadas. Wearing flip-flops and a blue T-shirt that read “cosmic”, Lin’s 110-horsepower Suzuki was my ticket into the black hole of time.

We were heading towards the lost city of Mahendraparvata, the sacred mountain site where the reign of King Jayavarman II was consecrated in AD802. From this capital, the mighty Khmer Empire began a rice-rich domination of South-east Asia that was to last for more than 600 years. More recent times saw a long period when Cambodia’s interests were bounced between neighbours, then the country came under French protection in 1863. This month, as Cambodia marks 60 years since independence from France, there’s another reason to raise a glass to the passage of time.

Buried beneath centuries of vegetation, the existence of Mahendraparvata – now commonly called Phnom Kulen – was confirmed to the world in June. Some believe it to have been the largest settlement complex of the pre-industrial world. The remnants of the city were revealed by high-tech archaeological research involving eight organisations, six countries and an airborne laser scanning process known as Lidar. Pre-dating its neighbour Angkor Wat by three centuries, the edge of the city is only 25 miles from the two million people who visit those Unesco-protected temples each year. The “lost city” is new, crowd-free and even more ancient. Suddenly old is new again.

Nobody said it would be an easy ride to get there, though. We negotiated potholes, ankle-deep bogs and one particularly rickety bridge where a plank of rotted two-by-four was all that lay between us and a watery garage sale. Several miles on, Lin geared down abruptly and veered off the road. Both sides of the skinny trail were choked by inky-dark jungle foliage. What was out there was anyone’s bet. What was in my head was last night’s advice, gleaned in a bar in downtown Siem Reap: “The general rule in Cambodia is to always make sure that you stay on the path.”

The sage counsel came from the lips of Stéphane de Greef. He came to Cambodia in 2001 from his native Belgium to map minefields, a deadly business in a land where war raged from 1970 to 1998 and Pol Pot considered the invisible weapons his “perfect soldiers”. More recently, Stéphane applied his cartography skills to assist University of Sydney archaeologist Damian Evans on Phnom Kulen. After months of hiking, digging, plotting and scanning, the analysis finally came through. They had hit the jackpot.

Arranging an ersatz treasure map of chopsticks and salt shakers on the table, Stéphane spelt out what 1,000 years of not mowing the grass can do. To get as far as the mapped zone, we would have to ride motorbikes, bushwhack through dense overgrowth and possible landmines and, oh yes, rebuild a bridge taken out by the arrival of the rainy season. So, when Lin’s motorbike ran out of passable track, it demanded full engagement of my Inner Explorer to access even the outer reaches of this mighty metropolis. Who knew urban sprawl was a 9th-century invention?

Slapped by rubber plants, beaten by the odd banana bush, we dismounted for a half-hour tramp to Sras Damrei, a plateau 1,300 feet above sea level. Through the trees, I spied an elephant sporting a regal moss-green robe: 15ft high and carved 1,200 years earlier from a single sandstone block. Beside it, two giant lions offered stoic company, ferocious jaws frozen open since AD802. Following their gaze through dark, damp foliage, just beyond a blood-red landmine marker hacked into a tree trunk, a millennia-old city as big as Hong Kong still waited to be unearthed.

Archeologists have already located some 30 temples on Phnom Kulen using helicopter-mounted lasers to measure variations in ground height through dense vegetation, a process Stéphane likens to being able to “see the bones without opening the skin”. But don’t expect your visit to dispense the user-friendly terraces of Ta Prohm or the grand crenellated towers of Angkor: some temples form mounds up to 33 feet high, others Stéphane describes as “a pile of bricks”.

Excavations of the Khmer Empire city – roads, sewers, temples and houses that formed the capital of South-east Asia’s most powerful empire – are just beginning. Any anastylosis, the reconstruction of a monument from fallen parts, is yet to commence. Elephant Pond was as far as we were able to reach on that particular day. The motorbike trip to reach its edge cost $10. The experience? Priceless.

“Two kinds of travellers will be interested in Phnom Kulen,” said Andy Brouwer, product manager at Hanuman Travel, a Cambodian specialist tour operator. “Serious backpackers and high-end adventurous types.”

For the luxury-loving explorer, they’ll erect a lavish safari tent camp with cooks, loos and showers, a glamp into the jungly midst of living history fit for a Khmer king. If that’s not enough to impress the folks back home, an eighth wonder of the world will be at your disposal as a party venue. Several of the mysterious, magical temples – including the brooding downcast eyes of Bayon, the lotus-laced moats of Banteay Samre and Angkor Wat itself – can be illuminated and wired for sound for private champagne-fuelled exaltations. Circuses, string quartets and welcome elephants (minimum of two) can be available as extras.

A muted version of this Buddha-bling made a welcome appearance as we beat a sweaty retreat. Slipping into the sumptuous French-styled Art Deco serenity of Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor at Siem Reap, faultless five-star service unfurled as predictably as a well-oiled ceiling fan. Opened in 1932 for a new wave of affluent visitors to Indo-China and “the mystery that is Asia” as the literature promised, it has hosted sultans and soldiers in its day.

While a butler unpacked my jungle-soaked kit, a pool attendant requested permission to mist my exploration-wilted body next to Cambodia’s biggest swimming pool – a shocking contrast to the period when the hotel housed the Khmer Rouge, and prisoners were encamped behind what are now tennis courts.

A glorious history, a tortured past and recent rebirth. There’s plenty of emotional push-pull during the course of a Cambodian day, nowhere more so than in the capital Phnom Penh, where the sturdy visitor can roll several horrors into the course of one traumatising day.

Mutely, I stood before a glass stupa displaying 8,000 skulls exhumed from mass graves at Choeung Ek Killing Fields, one of 389 camps that claimed a significant proportion of an estimated quarter of the Cambodian population killed by Pol Pot’s regime. I followed this with lunch at Lotus Blanc. Laced with hope yet appalling in its own way, this restaurant is part of PS – a charitable school that is successfully educating and housing children rescued from living in rubbish dumps.

I capped this off with a visit to S-21, a notorious prison of the Khmer Rouge where 17,000 enemies of the state were executed and frangipani blossoms now litter its paths. Here, after a group tour of the cement floored cells, S-21’s longest survivor talked to us about his seven years held by Khmer Rouge soldiers. “Bullets were expensive,” said Bou Meng through a translator, explaining how he and others were beaten with rattan whips and machetes fashioned from sugar palm trees. He was spared death because of his talent for painting the portrait of Pol Pot – he used soot harvested from oil lamps and had to first pass a test by painting pictures of Mao and Stalin.

Bou Meng held up the final black-and-white, near-photographic image that saved his life. The impassive, unlined face of Brother Number One stared back. When he lifted up another work, done some time later, Bou Meng’s face crumpled. In vivid colour, he had depicted the Khmer Rouge slitting the throat of his wife.

At the end of a long, emotional day, it was heart-lifting to watch lithe young dancers fromthe Khmer Arts Ensemble perform Cambodia’s classical form of ballet. The graceful Apsara dance invokes the female spirit of water and clouds, their wrists and knees, all of their joints, achieving the same artful contortions carved in countless bas-reliefs at the temples of Angkor Wat. I saw these for myself the next day, on a trip to the temple complex. The most memorable consisted of the nine-headed serpents, the eight-armed Vishnu and the seductive coilings of no fewer than 1,500 Apsara dancers in one long languid row, acting out the Hindu creation story of The Churning of the Ocean of Milk.

It’s a dazzling and hugely romantic saga that has lasted for 1,000 years and it’s one that the lost city of Mahendraparvata is set to continue. “We were really just not expecting it all,” admitted Stéphane. “Roads, city blocks, houses. Under rice fields, beneath forests, it’s everywhere. This is a revolution.”

As Cambodia moves through its most recent incarnations – colonialism, independence, war and revolution – this new discovery starts yet another chapter for the archeologically inclined traveller. As Stéphane says, “We are just at the beginning of the adventure.”

Travel essentials:

Getting there

Leslie Woit travelled as a guest of Thai Airways which has return flights from Heathrow to Phnom Penh via Bangkok from £808.

Staying there

The writer was a guest at Raffles Hotel Le Royal  which has doubles from US$220 (£147), including breakfast; and Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor, which has doubles from US$325 (£202), including breakfast.

Visiting there

Raffles’ Journey Through Khmer Culture tour starts from US$3,187 (£2,125) per person based on two people sharing the tour. It includes five nights’ B&B accommodation with Raffles Hotels & Resorts, all activity options – including a helicopter flight over Angkor Wat, a dawn visit to Ta Prohm and an exploration of the walled city of Angkor Thom – and some additional meals; entrance fees; English-speaking local guides; and transfers. For more information see raffles.com.

A Virtual Tour of Frangipani Fine Arts Hotel

Monday, November 4th, 2013

The expanding Frangipani group of hotels also offers some smaller, intimate boutique hotels. Take a virtual tour of the Frangipani Fine Arts Hotel.

 

 

This contemporary boutique hotel has 22 rooms on 3 floors built around a leafy central courtyard that ensures the hotel is naturally well lit and airy. The Fine Arts Restaurant is on the ground floor.

The spacious rooms are examples of contemporary Cambodian design, featuring polished concrete floors, terrazzo bathroom styling, and furniture and fittings in wood, silk and other natural materials manufactured by leading Cambodian producers.

The Frangipani Fine Arts Hotel is tucked away down a quiet side alley close to the campus of the School of Fine Arts on the edge of Phnom Penh’s bustling art district. It is located in the centre of Phnom Penh a short distance from the Royal Palace and the National Museum and close to the city’s vibrant Sisowath Quay river front home to an extensive range of restaurants and designer shops.