Archive for October, 2010

Arts revival in Phnom Penh

Thursday, October 28th, 2010
The Children of Bassac performing

The Children of Bassac performing

The revival of traditional Cambodian arts is picking up apace and at the forefront of this charge is the organization, Cambodian Living Arts. Under their umbrella, The Children of Bassac are fast developing a reputation of the highest order after showcasing their talents both in the United Kingdom and Japan and at the recent International Youth Arts Festival held in Phnom Penh. The group, aged between 16-21 are under the tutelage of the renowned Cambodian arts master Ieng Sithul.

From Thursday 4 November until April 2011, The Children of Bassac will be showcasing their talents every Thursday on stage and under lights at the entrance to the National Museum of Phnom Penh, from 7-8pm. Seating is limited so advance booking is recommended for a show that will include both classical and folk dance and music. Tickets cost US$18 per person.

The Children of Bassac troupe was formed in 2003 by Ieng Sithul and were named to remind people of its origins in the Bassac community in Phnom Penh where the performers still live and rehearse. The intent was to provide poor and street children with the opportunity to learn traditional Khmer music and dance. “Most of the children in the program can sing, dance and play traditional instruments,” says Sithul. “They can get some income doing this, but what’s more important is that it helps the children avoid lives of drug use, thievery and prostitution, which are not valuable activities in society. We are only able to help about 10 or 20 percent of the children in the Bassac area who are susceptible to bad influences from society and their environment,” he said. In 2005 the group joined with Cambodian Living Arts, increasing opportunities for the children to learn more skills and today they are a flourishing troupe, bringing the revitalization of the arts to a wider audience.

Chau Doc made easy

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010
The waterways of Vietnam and the Makong Delta

The waterways of Vietnam and the Mekong Delta

The Blue Cruiser

The Blue Cruiser

Entering Vietnam with the Blue Cruiser boat was an absolute doddle. On a recent visit to the Mekong Delta, we took advantage of the daily Blue Cruiser boat run from Phnom Penh to Chau Doc, and it was a good choice. We left bang on time at 1pm from the city’s boat dock, the boat’s helper Mai was on hand throughout with explanations and assistance at both the border checkpoints, and the 26-seater boat was comfortable, with room to move about, take photos of the trip, and four and a half hours later we arrived at the Victoria Hotel boat jetty in Chau Doc, as fresh as daisies.

Crossing borders always fills one with a little trepidation but after enjoying the views along the Mekong River all the way to Neak Loeung and beyond, we arrived at the sleepy Kaam Samnor Cambodian border crossing for our departure formalities just before 4pm. This border crossing has been open for a decade so its all pretty quick and painless and hopping back on the boat, another fifteen minutes later we were inside the Vietnamese immigration room at Vinh Xuong. More hanging around, though soon enough we were back on the boat and into Vietnam – if you weren’t aware, you must get your Vietnam visa before you arrive at the border or else they’ll turn you away – where the waterways are much busier, lots more river traffic, lots to see en route and after taking a long connecting canal to Chau Doc, which is 30kms from the border crossing and sits on the Bassac River, we arrived to a welcoming cold towel at 5.30pm and a stay at the luxurious Victoria Hotel. A couple of boat companies offer this border crossing, Victoria even have their own boat, though Blue Cruiser did us proud on our 1st time into Vietnam by the river route.

Total Cambodia

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

Sunrise over Angkor Wat in CambodiaHanuman has received widespread praise in the international press, as an innovative and original operator offering something very different from the competition. Last weekend, the Sunday Times newspaper in the United Kingdom offered up this article on Cambodia and Hanuman.

What would you do with a month?

The Sunday Times

It’s the holy grail of holidays: four straight weeks off work, enough for a life-changing journey. But what could you do with the time? Our team of writers map out their dream trips.

Total Cambodia

Vincent Crump

For a lifetime trip it has to be a down-and-dirty blast through Cambodia, the steamiest, seamiest madhouse of a country I’ve every dipped a toe into. This time I want a full week in Angkor – it’s like the Taj Mahal, Mount Rushmore and the Terracotta Warriors squidged into one mammoth rainforest clearing: far too stupefying to be rushed.

Next I’ll find the right guide (ideally Nick Ray, Cambodia’s original tomb raider) and take off on a five-day jeep safari to unearth some lost temples of my own. Places like Koh Ker where you can scramble up a 120ft pyramid and become sole overlord of a thousand-year old citadel almost as big as Angkor. That still leaves time for remote, red earth Ratanakiri, where wild-eyed returning travellers whisper of bull-worshipping rituals and pipe-smoking toddlers.

And finally a week among the crocs and tigers of the Cardamom Mountains, ecotourism’s newest wild frontier. I plan to swim in waterfalls and hang my hammock in the fizz of the jungle and then hunker down at the 4 Rivers Floating Ecolodge for a sybaritic last few days.

Phnom Penh-based Hanuman can tailor-make your month in Cambodia, including a Temple Safari and time at 4 Rivers.

Hanuman appearing at WIT and ITB Asia in Singapore

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

The beauty of romantic travel

The beauty of romantic travel

Hanuman’s Executive Director Kulikar Sotho has just travelled to Singapore to appear on the ‘Romance of Travel’ panel at Web In Travel conference this week. She will also be attending the ITB Asia at the same time. Passionate about travel and romantic at heart, Kulikar will be talking about how a great travel company can still make an ordinary trip into an extraordinary one.

Some say the romance of travel is gone. Trip Advisor or Twitter, someone else has been there and done that already and shared it with the world. We don’t buy this theory. We know that the romance of travel is alive and well. You just have to search a little harder to find those romantic moments or intimate experiences.

Redefining the run-of-the-mill has long been our trademark here at Hanuman. The Temples of Angkor are very much on the global travel map in this day and age, but the romance that first captured Europe’s attention in the 19th century lives on. Enjoy a private catered breakfast by the moat of Angkor Wat, see a traditional shadow puppet show in a rural ricefield with a temple outlined against the night sky or pop the question over a champagne dinner in the grounds of a 10th century temple. Romance is dead? Only for those that lack the imagination to dream.

Venture off the trail into the Cambodian jungle and experience a Temple Safari, recreating the Angkor experience of old without the crowds. Or enjoy a private barbecue on a secret beach in Vietnam or a catered picnic on a Mekong River sandbar near Luang Prabang. See the sights from a different angle with a helicopter flight over Halong Bay or by sailing through the jungle on a zipwire in Laos.

It’s not just the experiences that count, but the sophistication of your surrounds. Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam are home to some of the finest resorts and smartest boutique hotels in Asia. Rediscover the romance of a leisurely lie-in with breakfast in bed or a private pool to call your own. Indulge in a holistic spa journey to rejuvenate body and soul.

So whether you a planning a honeymoon, celebrating an anniversary or just wanting to get away from it all, Hanuman is pleased to inform you that romance is alive and well in Indochina.

Here at Hanuman, we want to put the personality back into travel. We want to share our expertise, that elusive combination of knowledge and experience, to help create the perfect journey to Indochina. Our travel collection is inspired by imagination, driven by our daydreams. We love Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam and want to share our passion with you. Every journey is special and we are pleased to offer our advice and guidance to craft the right experience for you. A successful trip is down to service and we understand the importance of getting this right every step of the way, from hotels of distinction to guides with passion and personality. This is our commitment to travel with a personal touch.

We have crafted a selection of unique journeys, one of a kind trips that take in the best the region has to offer. We have designed a variety of original adventures, our inventive, innovative tours that including hiking, biking and a little bit of adrenaline. And we have created some authentic experiences, genuine encounters with real people from the Mekong region and memorable moments that elevate the ordinary into the realms of the extraordinary.

Hanuman is proud to have been selected by The Sunday Times of London as one of the World’s Top Travel Fixers. These are “the best locally-run, well-established, reputable companies, the insiders with impeccable guides, and are masters of their region”.

Hanuman training moves to a new level in Autumn 2010

Thursday, October 7th, 2010
The Hanuman guides at the end of their training session

The Hanuman guides at the end of their training session

Long-serving guide Polrith (left) receives his 1st-aid certificate

Long-serving guide Polrith (left) receives his 1st-aid certificate

As high season approaches, Hanuman has been busy with guide and driver training. Well, training may be a little misleading, as all our guides and drivers are already very well-trained, but we have been holding some refresher workshops and some additional training in other areas where we are now focusing such as Responsible Tourism.

Practical Training : The guide workshop was held in Siem Reap on 11-12 September 2010. About 20 guides were in attendance, including all our permanent guides. The first day was conducted by Jake Corke and Nick Ray. Adventure Manager Jake Corke previously worked as a tour leader for nearly a decade and has trained guides and local tour leaders in the Southeast Asia region for companies such as Explore and Indochina Services. Nick Ray has also worked as a tour leader and lecturer for many years and has been heavily involved in guide training at Hanuman.

Breakout sessions included such topics as what makes a great tour guide and brainstorming on problem solving, including both real and imagined complications. Morning topics included understanding the visitors, customer care and the sanctity of the itinerary. The latter session included an interesting discussion on good changes vs bad changes to itineraries. We reiterated that change for the sake of change is not good for Hanuman or our travel partners, but client-requested changes due to fatigue or desire for more free time are acceptable, as are changes necessitated by unforeseen circumstances such as bad weather or damaged roads. Travelling in some parts of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam remains an adventure as much as a holiday and some degree of flexibility may be required with more complicated itineraries. However, we stressed the need for clear communication with both clients and the operations team at Hanuman so we are in a position to inform our partners at the earliest possible opportunity.

The afternoon session included presentations on responsible guiding and the dos and don’ts of interacting with clients. This led on to Responsible Tourism and discussion on the sort of projects we support at Hanuman, including ecotourism initiatives. Jake finished off this session with a broad introduction to our adventure itineraries, including cycling, trekking and Temple Safaris.

The day ended with a long session on the sharing of information and clarity of communication, including the subject of daily briefings on the itinerary. We suggested the simple rules we have always used as tour leaders, which is clear and concise information at the relevant times. Brief at the end of the day on the following day’s programme. Brief in the morning on the day ahead. Brief after lunch on the afternoon activities. Be especially clear about timings with a group and repeat the time if necessary.

We also covered talks and the sort of subjects that are interesting to visitors. One of the key points was for the guides to try and learn about the interests of their clients so they would be able to deliver information accordingly. For example a doctor may be interested in learning more about the healthcare system in Cambodia (or lack thereof) and enjoy a drop-in visit to the Angkor Hospital for Children. We suggested guides think about the location of any talks (shady, quiet), the length of the talk (are guests looking sleepy?) and the quality of delivery. To this end we stressed the value of asking questions themselves sometimes. Do you understand me? Do you want to know more about this place?

The guide training session over, we took the guides to Samot Siem Reap, a local restaurant and beer garden. The mood was good and the feedback was that the training had gone very well. Much had been learnt and they felt that Hanuman was the best of the only local companies investing in this type of event.

Operations Training: The second day of training was more formal and involved the communication of policy and general guidelines. The Guide Charter was revisited to ensure all guides were happy with the contents and understood what they were signing each time they agreed to look after a Hanuman client. The Guide Charter has been well-received by guides, as it has encouraged them to share any concerns they have with the itinerary in advance of the trip. Here at Hanuman we believe we are very proactive in advising on improvements or changes that can be made to itineraries and the Guide Charter ensures our tour guides have a part to play in this process.

Drivers were also present at the training on the second day. This was in part to ensure that all drivers were up-to-date on new traffic rules that have come into effect in Cambodia, but also to brief them on good customer care throughout the tour. Finally, it was useful to ensure guides and drivers remember that they are part of a team and both need to work together to ensure the best possible customer experience.

First Aid Training : 10 of our permanent guides and drivers were then enrolled on a three-day International Red Cross first aid training course. Designed to international standards, this course covered the basics of first aid, as well as more serious intervention in the event of an accident. This included an introduction to the ABC of first aid – airway, breathing and circulation – as well as learning about the importance of not moving a serious accident victim in case of shock and the recovery position.

Childsafe: We have also been conducting extensive training with guides, drivers and operations staff on the importance of vigilance against abuse of children and helping to prevent them being placed in abusive situations. Childsafe is a regional campaign run by Mith Samlanh, the NGO behind Friends Restaurant in Phnom Penh and Mak Phet Restaurant in Vientiane, which also happen to be two of our most popular Responsible Tourism visits in the region. Childsafe trains tourism personnel to be child aware and look out for children in potentially vulnerable situations with foreign visitors. The training is designed to help our team become aware of the dangers children face, especially children on the streets. Childsafe has also provided guidance on how to make a real difference by creating positive behaviours when coming face to face with a child in a risk situation. Hanuman is proud to be part of ChildSafe’s growing network. For more on the work of Childsafe, visit http://www.childsafe-international.org/.

Pchum Ben

Monday, October 4th, 2010

One of the most important ceremonies in the Cambodian calendar is taking place this week, with the Pchum Ben Festival – when all Cambodians pay respects to their deceased ancestors with visits to pagodas and offerings to the monks. For this ceremony most Cambodians return to their home province and so we at Hanuman will be closing our doors on Friday 8th and Saturday 9th October 2010, so our team can do exactly that. We will be open for business again on Monday 11th October.