Archive for January, 2014

Virtual Tour of La Residence d’Angkor, Siem Reap

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

Embark on a virtual tour of La Residence d’Angkor, one of the leading hotels in Siem Reap, in this exclusive Hanuman Films video.

From the Hotel

Set in a verdant jungle and surrounded by lush riverside gardens, the hotel celebrates the splendour of Khmer architecture. Built out of wood and furnished in the local style, modern comforts and luxurious touches give La Résidence d’Angkor a welcoming atmosphere.

From Hanuman

The delightful lobby is the epitome of understated elegance, with beautiful Angkorian sculptures adorning the walls. Rooms are open plan and inviting, including Jacuzzi-style terrazzo plunge tubs. The new wing is ultra-contemporary and includes the stunning Kong Kea Spa. The pool is long enough to invite a languorous dip. Dining outlets include the best in French cuisine and mod Khmer tasting menus. Orient-Express through and through.

http://www.hanuman.travel/Hotels/Cambodia/Siem_Reap

Hi-Yo, Silver! Away!

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

Horse riding in the kingdom of Cambodia is starting to take off, with classes available and opportunities to test yourself on a trusty stead or a pony, popping up in Siem Reap, Phnom Penh and on the south coast.

Horse riding with Happy Ranch

Horse riding with Happy Ranch

The best known of the horse riding schools is Happy Ranch, which offers the chance to explore Siem Reap on horseback, taking in surrounding villages and secluded temples. This is a calm way to experience the countryside, far from the traffic and crowds elsewhere. Popular rides, with experienced horse riding guides, take in Wat Athvea, a modern pagoda with an ancient temple on its grounds, and Wat Chedi, a temple set on a flood plain near the Tonle Sap Lake. Riding lessons are also available for children and beginners.

In the capital Phnom Penh, the Cambodian Country Club, just on the outskirts of the city, offers lessons with larger horses and ponies for children. For those that prefer their horse riding under strictly controlled conditions, the carousel horses at the funfair opposite NagaWorld are worth considering.

Down on the south coast, the Ranch de la Plantation has opened up in Kep, with more than ten horses, which can take visitors on scenic rides around Kep, or more experienced riders to the pepper plantations and mountains of Phnom Voar. In Sihanoukville, Liberty Ranch offers horseback riding along the beach at Otres or in the nearby countryside, as well as lessons for beginners and youngsters.

Certainly an activity worth considering when you are in Cambodia and you are looking either at trying something new or getting back in the saddle whilst on holiday.

Hotel Inspections in Laos with Lonely Planet

Monday, January 27th, 2014

Nick Ray was recently working in Laos on a new edition of the best-selling Lonely Planet guidebook, out this month. This video takes readers behind the scenes to show them how LP goes about selecting the best places to stay.

The video starts with Nick inspecting the memorable Luang Say Lodge in Pak Beng. His cameraman colleague Andy Richardson then takes a look at the Xayana Guesthouse, also known as the X3 Capsule Hotel to see the dormitory options on offer in Luang Prabang. At the other extreme, Nick checks out the stunning La Residence Phou Vao, one of the most luxurious properties in all of Laos. Andy then gets to sample some style with a visit to Le Sen Boutique Hotel, one of the best all-rounders in Luang Prabang. They finish up at Villa Suan Mark, a family-run flashpacker pad with a great atmosphere.

Warning: these videos were made by toilet-humour obsessed Brits and several uncensored toilets appear throughout the video.

Uncover the Majesty of Luang Prabang

Friday, January 24th, 2014

Continuing the Laos theme of recent days, discover Luang Prabang with our 4-day Explorer tour.

Giving alms in Luang Prabang

Giving alms in Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang oozes class and old world charm, it’s a living, breathing museum with its gleaming temple roofs and crumbling French architecture and deserves its World Heritage status as one of the most atmospheric cities in the whole region. In our 4-day Luang Prabang Explorer tour, we delve into some of its 32 stupa-studded pagodas like Wat Xieng Tong and the Royal Palace Museum, we take a boat upriver to river to visit the massive collection of Buddhas in the Pak Ou Caves and enjoy a relaxing day in the turquoise waters of the Kuang Si Falls. To complete our immersion into this lovely city, we also enjoy a cooking class of authentic Lao food at the classy Tamarind restaurant by making a classic dish such as mok pa (steamed fish in banana leaves). Recommended hotels in Luang Prabang include La Residence Phou Vao, Auberge les 3 Nagas, Apsara and Le Sen Boutique Hotel. Eat at Tamarind but also try the fare at Le Banneton, Coconut Garden, Rosella Fusion, Le Patio and Dyen Sabai. You are spoilt for choice.

Adrenaline Activities around Luang Prabang

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

Lovely Luang Prabang is not all about saffron-clad monks and timeless temples. Beyond the historic heart of town lie action-packed adventures on land and water, as this video showcases.

One of Hanuman’s long-term partners in Laos, Tiger Trail pioneered the Fair Trek concept in Laos, ensuring money from overnight treks is ploughed directly back into local host communities. Tiger Trail also offer multi-activity adventures including mountain biking, kayaking and even the odd elephant encounter. If you thought Luang Prabang was all culture, think again, as there are plenty of activities to keep adrenaline junkies riding high.

 

The Elephant Conservation Center in Laos

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014

Check out this video put together by together by Nick Ray and Andy Richardson during his recent Lonely Planet research trip through Northern Laos for the new Laos Lonely Planet guidebook, out in bookshops now.

Nick was covering Luang Prabang and Northern Laos for new 8th edition of the Laos guidebook. The Elephant Conservation Center was one of the standout new additions for the latest book, located in Sayaboury Province in the far west of the country. A new bridge and road link means it is just two hours from Luang Prabang.

Nick Ray and Andy Richardson studied at the University of Warwick together back in the 1990s and have since had the opportunity to work together on several filming assignments for Lonely Planet and other leading global brands.

Learn from the experts

Thursday, January 16th, 2014

Get under the skin of traditional Cambodian Dance and Combat.

You can find out more about Cambodian culture by experiencing exactly what it is like to learn the gestures and postures of Classical Khmer Dance, or to try some moves from the principal techniques behind the original Khmer Martial Art, Yuthakun Khom. Two experienced Cambodian teachers at Selapak in Phnom Penh are offering an exclusive one hour (or more) initiation into either of these traditional aspects of Cambodian life. The sessions will include a presentation on the specific art form, a demonstration followed by your own initiation into either dance or close-quarters combat, depending on your own preference. The sessions with the teachers will be a private, not shared, experience. Contact Hanuman for more information about this exciting new addition.

Escape to Vietnam’s islands

Monday, January 13th, 2014
Vietnam’s islands: an escape route to peace – an article in the Telegraph Online by Lonely Planet’s Iain Stewart.

Away from the bustle of the mainland, on islands that were once hell on earth for thousands of prisoners, tranquility now reigns.

Vietnam is very densely populated. With most of its 90 million people living along a narrow coastal strip, it’s all too easy to experience the country through a blur of exhaust fumes, struggling along Highway 1 and stopping off at the most popular towns and cities along the way. As it’s a lot to take in, you would do well to factor in time away from the mainland, on one of the country’s beautiful islands that are fast attracting visitors.

In the north, the Ha Long Bay area has more than 2,000 craggy limestone islets, but you need to choose your boat trip carefully as the Unesco-listed region is wildly popular. So it’s worth investing a little time to explore the less-visited, outer islands.

Off the central coast, the Cham Islands are a great day trip from historic Hoi An, while in the deep south, Phu Quoc is developing fast but has a lush interior and unspoilt beaches. For the ultimate escape, however, my pick would be remote Con Dao, with a fascinating history and empty beaches.

Con Dao:

The Con Dao islands have an utterly unhurried ambience. “There are two traffic lights, but no work,” the bike rental guy said apologetically as he gave me the island rundown. “One gas station, but close for lunch. Only one road, so you no lost. Right to airport or left to prisons and port.”

Moped key in hand, I was relishing the chance to get out and explore some empty roads in search of a perfect beach for the day. I’d spent the previous week embracing Vietnamese city culture and its furious energy and commerce, but was now in need of some serious hammock time.

A cluster of 16 islets in the South China Sea, the Con Dao islands are 155 miles from Ho Chi Minh City. Only the main island, Con Son, is inhabited (its population is just 6,000), though the other islands can be visited.

Once hell on earth to thousands of prisoners incarcerated by French colonists and the American military, today the Con Daos are blissfully tranquil. With their ravishing sandy bays, rainforests and healthy coral reefs, their tropical appeal is easy to grasp. Flight connections used to be atrocious, but Vietnam Airlines now offers three daily flights from Ho Chi Minh City (£52 one way).

The rental guy had lied about the one road. Easily sidetracked, my Honda and I had chanced upon a rough track close to the airport, and our inquisitiveness had rewarded us royally in the form of Dam Trau beach, a sublime half-moon crescent of pale sand, bookended by forest-topped rocky promontories.

After an hour’s snorkelling, exploring the kaleidoscopic coral teeming with macro life and spending five minutes swimming eye-to-eye with a hawksbill turtle, I retreated to the plastic chairs in the bay’s seafood shack, picked a victim from the live fish tank and gorged on crab with tamarind and chilli. The only other diners were a group from Hanoi, employees of a state-owned bank on a corporate jolly-with-a-purpose.

Vietnam is a country steeped in revolutionary rhetoric, and Vo Thi Sau, a teenage resistance fighter executed in Con Dao during the French occupation, fits the bill perfectly. (She killed a captain in a grenade attack at the age of 14, and wasn’t captured until years later.) The bank staff were here to pay their respects to this national heroine, and to the thousands of others who lost their lives in Con Dao’s 11 prisons.

Ghosts are everywhere in Con Dao, nowhere more so than at Phu Hai jail. Built in 1862, it once housed 20,000 prisoners – political and criminal inmates chained together naked in rows. The really troublesome individuals were kept in “tiger cages”, with six to 10 men crammed into a tiny open-roofed enclosure, beaten with sticks from above and dusted with lime and water (which burns the skin). Unbeknown to the world, the Americans continued operating these tiger cages until 1970 when a Life magazine report broke news of their existence, provoking an international outcry.

It had been a chastening day, the brutality of prison conditions contrasting acutely with the overwhelming beauty of my surroundings. As I strolled along the seafront promenade in Con Son town, it was easy to marvel at the sheer gentility of this pocket-sized island capital, its litter-free streets, French-era villas, well-kept municipal buildings and air of calm and prosperity.

Con Son town has a dozen or so hotels and guesthouses but the Six Senses resort (sixsenses.com; from £441), a short ride away to the north, really is in a class of its own. Occupying the island’s best beach, it comprises 50 or so ocean-front, timber-clad beach villas, each fusing contemporary style with rustic chic.

The next day I dropped by the National Park offices just outside Con Son town. The islands’ ecosystems are unique, with 11 trees found nowhere else in the world. It’s thought that a dozen or so dugong, or “sea cows”, remain in the waters around Con Dao, though they are extremely elusive.

You’ve a much better chance of seeing sea turtles as the islands are Vietnam’s most important nesting ground. The World Wide Fund for Nature has supported conservation efforts to protect the green turtle, and national park rangers run night-time boat trips to neighbouring Bay Canh island (the main turtle-nesting season is May to November).

I’d already been lucky enough to snorkel with a turtle, so I fixed up a hike with a ranger instead. Following a slippery but well-marked trail we entered the ever-dripping island rainforest, inching up a mountainside past giant creepers, roots and shoots, picking our way over colossal hardwood buttresses up to the long-abandoned So Ray Plantation, established by the French but now occupied by a sociable troop of long-tailed macaques which are thriving amid the fruit trees planted decades earlier.

On my last day I hooked up with a Honda again for a ride south. Bicycles are also available for rent from hotels (from £2 per day) and taxis can be booked, though they are quite pricey. We hugged the coastline, buzzing past coves and beaches, the lonely road lined with wild bougainvillea and the curious aerial-rooted pandan tree. Towering granite cliffs cascaded down to a turquoise sea as we rounded Ca Map point before rolling into Ben Dam, a no-nonsense port preoccupied with the gritty business of Vietnamese life.

Here sailors sell giant durian fruit from boats and their decks are crisscrossed with clotheslines pegged with drying seaweed, fluttering in the ocean breeze. I ordered a treacle-thick Vietnamese coffee from a café to fix me up for the return leg and paused to watch ruddy-cheeked, beer-happy men paddle from the shore in bizarre coracle-like contraptions back to their fishing boats moored in the bay.

My final stop was Hang Duong cemetery. In the windy season, bones lie exposed in the sun here when the sandy topsoil is blown away. But today there was just the gentlest of breezes, on which drifted the smell of incense.

Following the scent through the flowering scrubs and trees, I was guided to a specific grave, one of thousands there. Here I found the group of bank workers again, heads bowed, at the tomb of Vo Thi Sau as prayers were offered and thanks given to a national icon.

I found myself contemplating the nature of the modern Vietnamese nation: the long struggle for independence and years of suffering, today’s breakneck pace of development, the economic successes and the inevitable growing pains. Here in Con Dao, I enjoyed the silence.

Cat Ba:

Rugged, mountainous Cat Ba island is emerging as a great base to explore the wider Ha Long region. Most of the island is a national park, with trails that fringe the habitat of one of the world’s rarest primates, the cherubic-looking, but highly endangered Cat Ba langur.

Cat Ba is also something of an adventure sports mecca thanks to pioneering work by Asia Outdoors (asiaoutdoors.com.vn), which has established dozens of climbing routes on the spectacular limestone islets that fringe Cat Ba, and also offers all sorts of kayaking and sailing excursions.

In Vietnam you’re never far from a reminder of the conflict locals call the American War. Cat Ba’s amazing Hospital Cave was used by the North Vietnamese as a safe shelter for the military elite, and has its own operating theatres, a small swimming pool and even a cinema.

Cham Islands

Until a few years ago the Cham islands in central Vietnam were a military zone and off-limits to tourism. Times have changed and the islands are now accessible by boat trips (April to September only) from Hoi An.

During the main Vietnamese holiday season (July and August) local tour groups can swamp the golden beaches, but after they’ve departed (around 2pm) normal service (peace) resumes.

There’s decent diving, though visibility can be challenging. Try Cham Islands Diving (vietnamscubadiving.com) and Blue Coral (divehoian.com).

Make sure to drop by the unusual little temple Ong Ngu in Bai Lang, which is dedicated to the whale and whale shark (regarded as oceanic gods by locals until a generation or two ago).

Phu Quoc

In Vietnam’s extreme south, Phu Quoc island is tipped to be the country’s next beach hot spot. A new international airport opened in 2012 (daily flights arrive from Ho Chi Minh City) and dirt roads are steadily being paved.

For now it’s still possible to find a quiet place to escape the mainland crowds. Try eco-friendly Mango Bay (mangobayphuquoc.com; from £80) or Itaca (itacalounge.com), which offers modern-Mediterranean and Asian food, hip decor, DJs and a chilled atmosphere.

Break up the beach-hopping, if you can brave the smell, with a visit to the nuoc mam (fish sauce) factory in Duong Dong, the main town.

When to go

Vietnam has a very complicated climate. The best time to visit the Con Dao islands is between November and March.

Tube Maps of Cambodia and Angkor

Friday, January 10th, 2014

Pick up a Camboground Tube Map of Cambodia as an alternative souvenir from a trip to the Kingdom of Wonder.

Camboground Tube Map of Cambodia

Camboground Tube Map of Cambodia

Visitors to the UK’s dynamic capital London will be familiar with the iconic tube map of the London Underground originally designed by Harry Beck in 1931. This design has now been adapted by Tube Map World into the Camboground with Cambodia’s main towns and cities marked as stations. There is also a Temple Map showing the temples of Angkor.

Temple Tube Map of Angkor

Temple Tube Map of Angkor

Order your very own tube map online at http://www.tubemapworld.com/onlinestore.html or pick one up in selected outlets in Siem Reap, including The Warehouse.

Moon Julie arrives

Monday, January 6th, 2014

The 108-room 4-star Moon Julie comes to Cambodia’s Sihanoukville.

The Moon Julie Hotel

The Moon Julie Hotel

There’s a new vibe encompassing Sihanoukville on the Cambodian coast these days. An influx of new accommodation options have added to the appeal of its sandy beaches and easy access to unspoiled tropical island, made considerably easier and quicker by the introduction of two new Sea Cat boats. Otres Beach appears to be the favourite amongst many in the know with Tamu and the bungalows at The Secret Garden obvious attractions, though Ochheuteal Beach will always remain top drawer for Snooky regulars and soon, 20 January to be precise, there will be a new 4-star option in the form of the Moon Julie Hotel. With a large swimming pool, fitness center and 108 rooms, it will sit just behind the Sokha Beach and Independence Hotels as one of the best options in town, just a few minutes walk from the beach.