Archive for February, 2011

Apsara dance in the city

Monday, February 21st, 2011

Apsara dance at Chaktomuk Theatre from 11 Match

I have some very good news to report that travelers to Phnom Penh will soon be able to attend a regular weekly performance of high quality classical Cambodian dance in the city, something that has been sadly lacking from the Phnom Penh schedule of events for quite a few years. The Friday night performances will begin on Friday 11 March at the Chaktomuk Conference Hall, located on the riverfront facing the Mekong River. The evening event will begin at 7pm and a selection of classical dances and folk dances will be performed by the 60-strong troupe of the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts’ Department of Performing Arts. Normally this troupe only perform overseas or on very special occasions, so a regular weekly event is something new and very welcome. Amongst the dances scheduled for this new show are the classical white Apsara, Tep Monorom and Moni Mekhala dances, as well as folk dances from the Suoy and Kola ethnic groups, the praying mantis and good crop harvest dances. The proclamation of the Royal Ballet of Cambodia as a masterpiece of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity by UNESCO in 2003 gave it suitable recognition and this quintessential cultural heritage is a must see whilst on a visit to the country. Contact the Hanuman Sales team for admission tickets.

Meanwhile, the weekly Thursday night performances from the Children of Bassac dancers at the National Museum in Phnom Penh come to an end this week after their diet of dance, music and song for the last three months. They will soon take their show to the United States during the months of April and May.

Tragedy in Bay

Friday, February 18th, 2011

Halong Bay in north Vietnam

A visit to Halong Bay in north Vietnam, normally a magical event cruising among its 1,900 limestone islets, turned to tragedy two nights ago. A dozen people including ten young foreign tourists, died when their boat sank without warning. Officials are trying to piece together what caused the vessel, anchored for the night in a calm sea close to Titov Island, to sink in minutes shortly before dawn. Most of the 15 survivors – nine of them foreign tourists, the rest Vietnamese – had been on deck, to take pictures of the sunrise.

Hanuman sends its sincere condolences to the families of those who have been affected by this tragedy. The boat which sank is not one of the high quality cruising junks that we use in Halong Bay.

Celebrating the Hanuman way

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

A few of the Hanuman team having fun on the dancefloor

Celebrating 2010, looking forward to a prosperous 2011 and recognising the fantastic contribution of everyone in the wide-ranging Hanuman group was the theme of the annual Hanuman company party held in Siem Reap at the weekend. HanumanAlaya was the venue, hotel and travel guests, as well as friends and neighbours were invited to join in the fun, a coachload of staff members were bussed up from Phnom Penh to join their Siem Reap colleagues and a wonderful time was had by all.  Entertainment was in the form of a live Khmer band with vocalists and they rattled through all the Cambodian favourites as the dancefloor came alive with a sea of waiters, guests, cooks, drivers, cleaners, managers and tour guides letting their hair down and having fun. All branches of the Hanuman group were suitably represented with the tour company, film production team, fine arts, Kambuja and of course the hotel team out in force to make sure they enjoyed themselves and cement the teamwork that is a hallmark of this truly Cambodian company.

Reinventing luxury

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

Cruising Halong Bay

Cruise Halong reinvented luxury with the arrival of the Halong Ginger and now have three elegant boats (Ginger, Halong Jasmine and Halong Violet) exploring the bay. Cabins are stylish and the food on board is highly-rated including sumptuous seafood feasts. Opt for a two-nighter to explore the beauty of the bay in depth. With its golden sails, polished woodwork and refined Asian decor, private dock & waiting lounge, and longer cruising loops, Cruise Halong offers an unforgettable experience of relaxed elegance. To increase their Halong Bay options, the company have now added a fourth junk, Halong Sunset, a deluxe day boat by which to enjoy the timeless scenery of this incredible World Heritage site. This will be for the exclusive use of guests who overnight on the three boats mentioned above and who wish to experience the untouched areas of the bay whilst still enjoying luxury comfort.

In order to maintain their high quality, Cruise Halong will take their three main cruise boats out of service for their yearly maintenance check-up on the following dates;

Halong Ginger will be in dry dock from 1-31 May 2011,  Halong Jasmine will be out of service from 1-31 July 2011, and Halong Violet’s maintenance will be from 13-30 September 2011.

All quiet at Preah Vihear

Friday, February 11th, 2011

The sun sets at Preah Vihear

The international media have been carrying reports recently concerning the armed clashes surrounding the World Heritage temple site at Preah Vihear on the Cambodian-Thai border. After three days of skirmishes and artillery shelling, the situation has been calm for the last two days and hopes are high this will continue, whilst ways are sought to get the two countries talking to each other again, instead of trading insults and bullets. Fatalities have been small in number but thousands of villagers have been evacuated on both sides of the border and are being housed in temporary shelters whilst the situation remains volatile. The temple itself has been closed to tourists and Cambodia has reported to UNESCO that the temple itself has suffered damage during the conflict.

It’s important to understand that this is a very localized problem concerning the ancient temple of Preah Vihear. The rest of Cambodia, including Siem Reap and all main visitor destinations are safe to visit and are experiencing no disruption at all. In fact all international border crossings between the two countries have remained open throughout the conflict. However, we feel that the immediate areas surrounding Preah Vihear temple and the former Khmer Rouge stronghold of Anlong Veng should not be visited whilst the tensions remain high. The safety of our guests is paramount and if the situation changes or worsens, we will keep you informed. At this time, there is no concern over the remote temple complex of Banteay Chhmar, which is in close proximity to the border, but is located a considerable distance from the conflict area. However, we will continue to monitor the situation very closely.

Luu Meng, Cambodia’s celebrity chef

Monday, February 7th, 2011

Luu Meng, the Kingdom's celebrity chef

Malis, one of Phnom Penh’s finest restaurants

He may not be as well known as Ken Hom or Rick Stein, but Luu Meng has been making a name for himself in Khmer cuisine over the past two decades. This culminated in him appearing with Gordon Ramsay on a forthcoming episode of Gordon’s Great Escape and he’s also juggled woks with Anthony Bourdaine during his visit to Cambodia.

Luu Meng runs several renowned restaurants in the Cambodian capital and these are well worth seeking out during a visit to Phnom Penh. Perhaps the most famous is Malis (meaning Jasmine). The first designer restaurant to open in the capital, Malis specialises in authentic Khmer cuisine. Aromatic and lightly scented, the dishes are beautifully presented and include such favourites as beef cooked in bamboo and a baked fish curry in banana leaf, the national dish known as amok. The garden setting is delightful and the property includes air-conditioned dining rooms if the temperature is soaring.

He is also a partner in one of the leading French restaurants in the city, Topaz. Also located on Norodom Blvd, south of the Independence Monument, this is another stylish spot for a dinner with a Gallic accent. Imported snails and foie gras are on the menu, plus some excellent cuts of steak. As well as a popular place to dine, upstairs is Studio 182, one of the leading bar-nightclubs in town with regular jazz and events.

Other eateries include the new Yi-Sang, stunningly located on the banks of the Mekong next to the Chaktomuk Theatre, and Cafe Sentiment, a chain of popular cafes. Yi-Sang is a great place to while away an evening by the river, soaking up the breeze. As well as riverside dining, there is also a rooftop terrace. The menu is eclectic and includes Khmer set lunches or dinners, authentic Chinese cuisine and a good selection of international favourites.

Hanuman has been fortunate to work closely with Luu Meng on several film projects over the years, including the Gordon Ramsay and Samantha Brown television shoots last year. Thanks to our close relationship, Luu Meng has kindly made himself available for culinary masterclasses for those with a professional interest in Cambodian cuisine. Although more expensive than the standard cooking classes we offer in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, this is a unique opportunity to learn the secrets of Khmer cuisine from the leading expert.

Even if you don’t find time for a masterclass, we strongly recommend you seek out one of his restaurants during your stay in Phnom Penh. Malis comes highly recommended for the authentic flavours and superb presentation, but the new Yi-Sang has location, location, location.

Luu Meng is also featured in the Lonely Planet Cambodia guide on Page 61 of the Food & Drink chapter. Here is an excerpt:

“We discuss Cambodian cuisine and what differentiates it from its neighbours. ‘Thai food is hot, spicy and sweet, while Vietnamese is more Chinese influenced,’ explains Meng. ‘Khmer cuisine is all about fresh spices. There are influences from India, but always with fresh ingredients, not powders. Our cuisine is not as spicy as Thai and we don’t use as much fish sauce as Vietnam, although we do love prahoc [fish paste].’ He pauses to reflect, ‘It’s all about freshness.’

On the subject of Cambodian tastes and a Cambodian national dish, he is animated, and naturally amoc (mild baked fish curry) leads the discussions. ‘Amoc is typically Cambodian and takes advantage of our abundance of fresh fish from the Tonle\’ Sap,’ Meng points out. ‘Cambodian cuisine also has some superb salads, which often surprises people. Sait ko plear [raw beef salad] can be prepared carpaccio style with fresh, finely grated lemon grass and is a symphony of subtle flavours.’

Travelling widely and cooking for a diverse audience, Meng has taken on many influences, but is quite a traditionalist at heart. ‘For me, the most important thing about cooking is quality. Quality of the ingredients, quality of the kitchen, quality of the service,’ he continues. ‘If a chef knows and understands this, it can be applied to different cuisines.’ However, he prefers to concentrate on his strengths and promote local ingredients and traditional dishes. ‘If we plan to promote another cuisine, then we bring in a specialist chef from that culinary culture,’ he explains. ‘That way, we always guarantee the authentic flavour.’

Naturally, we end up discussing the best restaurants in Phnom Penh for traditional Cambodian food. ‘For me, you have to go over the bridge [Chruoy Changvar Bridge] for the real taste of Cambodia,’ he enthuses. ‘Many of the places in town serve a bit of everything from the region, but over the bridge are the real Cambodian restaurants.’ A favourite? He laughs. ‘It has to be Rom Chong, as they offer very traditional recipes and a peaceful setting.’”