Archive for May, 2011

Hanuman at MTF

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

The Hanuman team at MTF. LtoR: Guillaume, Nick, Bophay, Andy

Hanuman recently attended the Mekong Tourism Forum (MTF) in Pakse on 27-28th May 2011. Following on from the success of last year’s event in Siem Reap, Hanuman was one of the official sponsors for the MTF 2011, supplying support and logistics for a pre-conference motorcycle trip from Phnom Penh to Pakse via the riverside town of Kratie. Spending a night in Champasak to attend a New Media Boot Camp at La Folie Laos lodge on Don Daeng Island, the team overnighted at the Inthira Champasak Hotel before continuing on to Pakse for the main event at the Champasak Grand Hotel. Hanuman had a stand at the travel exhibition and was involved in presentations and lively debate during the conference.

Hanuman Product Manager Andy Brouwer teamed up with Elephant Valley Project founder Jack Highwood to promote Responsible Tourism in Mondulkiri Province. Jack Highwood introduced the Elephant Valley Project via a series of videos and impressed the audience with his commitment to elephant conservation and his original ‘Walking with the Herd’ experience. He also promoted the mutually beneficial relationship between Hanuman and the Elephant Valley Project to demonstrate that the NGO community and private sector can team up to offer visitors a good cause experience. Andy Brouwer described Hanuman’s active commitment to Responsible Tourism in Cambodia and the Mekong region through an introduction to a variety of products and experiences, including Cambodian birding safaris with the Sam Veasna Centre, the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre in Luang Prabang and KOTO Restaurant in Vietnam. Hanuman advisor Nick Ray was involved in a panel discussion on the various routes into southern Laos and gave a presentation on his motorbike trip along the Mekong River, interspersed with photographs taken by his travelling companion Dejan Patic.

Hanuman looks forward to attending next year’s Mekong Tourism Forum in Chiang Rai.

Jason’s insights

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

Jason Blackwell

Hanuman are very pleased to announce the latest addition to our management team, Jason Blackwell. Captivated by travel, aren’t we all, Oxford-born Jason tried his hand in the Merchant Navy before returning to shore to study tourism management in Birmingham and then three years leading tours for Explore Worldwide in Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe. He settled in Laos for a year and worked in sales and adventure travel for two local tour operators before joining Hanuman this month, where he takes over responsibility for the sales and operational teams. Jason is passionate about music and sport when he’s off-duty. We picked Jason’s brains for the inside track on some of his Laos highlights.

For Luang Prabang, everyone’s fave location in Laos, he chose the Tamarind Restaurant for its superb local food, exquisitely presented. His hotel of choice is La Residence Phou Vao, in his opinion, the best hotel in the country. For the capital Vientiane, he went with the newly-opened Ansara Hotel, a 4* boutique offering with a neat French restaurant and great overall value. His preferred eatery is Kongkhao, a Lao fusion restaurant and art gallery that is fast becoming the city’s weekend venue of choice.

As for his preferred destinations, he was quick to pick out the Phu Hin Boun national protected area and home of the spectacular 7.5km long Kong Lor cave. It’s possible to take a boat trip the whole length of the cave, relax in riverside bungalows or basic homestays and then carry on via the ‘bomb boat’ village to the charming Mekong River town of Thakhek. From there, there are easy walks to discover more hidden lakes and caves in the area.

Also on his ‘must see’ list is Phongsali in the far north of Laos, bordering China, and home to stunning scenery, the best trekking in the country and homestays with hill-tribes. Or he recommends the city of Sam Neua in the northeast, famous for its weaving and the nearby Vieng Xai karst cliffs dotted with impressive caves that sheltered the Pathet Lao government during the Second Indochina War and now open to the public. His up and coming location is Viengthong, home to a new ecotourism project at Nam Et that offers a genuine opportunity for wildlife-watching, it’s home to a tiger population, and rustic accommodation.

A slice of intimate luxury

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

Song Saa's overwater restaurant and lounge

In December of this year, Southeast Asia’s latest private island resort, Song Saa – in Khmer it means ‘The Sweethearts’ – will open its doors to honeymooners, couples and guests seeking an intimate slice of luxury. Located on two pristine islands in Cambodia’s beautiful Koh Rong Archipelago, the resort spans the islands of Koh Ouen and Koh Bong, connected by a footbridge over a marine reserve established to safeguard the islands’ reefs and marine life including dugongs, seahorses and exotic species of tropical fish.

Song Saa will feature 27 luxurious overwater, rainforest and beach villas built with sustainable materials and each with a private swimming pool. At the resort’s heart is a top quality restaurant and lounge, surrounded by the sea and a perfect spot for sunsets and cocktails. Add to that, the exploration of the islands’ reefs, its virgin rainforest and pure white sand beaches and it’s as close to perfect as possible. For relaxation, a spa and wellness centre sits snugly inside the rainforest, a large infinity pool straddles the southwest corner and water-sports are on offer for guests seeking a little more activity. Marine conservation is an important aspect of the resort and something the Song Saa team take very seriously. Transfer to the resort by speedboat from Sihanoukville takes half an hour.

To book your slice of luxury, contact the Hanuman team at sales@hanumantourism.com for more details. To find out more about the resort, click http://www.songsaa.com/.

Gordon’s foodie adventures

Tuesday, May 10th, 2011

Gordon Ramsey (center) cooking for the royal family alongside Luu Meng

Channel 4 television in the United Kingdom screened the opening programme of their second series of Gordon’s Great Escape last night, with celebrity television chef Gordon Ramsey enjoying the sights, sounds, smells and cuisine of Cambodia. Hanuman were the fixers and local ground handlers for the television shoot that took place a year ago and saw Gordon venturing across the country in search of the interesting and unusual. The official press release for the programme states:  Gordon visits Cambodia, eating fried tarantula and preparing a traditional banquet for the royal family. Cambodia is a country still ravaged from the ruthless rule of the Khmer Rouge and recovering from the terrible famines inflicted on the population. Travelling thousands of miles across the country, Gordon samples a host of surreal, unusual and delicious foods including local delicacies fried tarantula, stuffed frog and raw baby duck eggs. His thirst for adventure leads him to hunt, cook and eat the deadly anthropoid; catch frogs in snake infested waters; witness a traditional tribal wedding feast; and visit Phnom Penh, where the Friends Cookery School is re-establishing the country’s traditional cuisine. Gordon is eager to learn how to cook perfect pork and pumpkin curry, and meets gifted student Sopheak, whose promise is so exceptional that Gordon invites him to join him in preparing a traditional banquet for Cambodia’s royal family.

Gordon’s final word on his experience: ” Take a trip out there because it was a dream for me. No-one was looking for sympathy, and the whole place had this vibe of a hard-working culture, a culture which, in the case of Cambodia, was deprived of freedom for so many years and had to become so self-sufficient beyond belief.” If you want to see what Cambodia has to offer, culinary-speaking, then why not consider our 7-day Culinary Cambodia itinerary, which you can find out more about here.

Our culinary journey takes us into the heart of Cambodia’s kitchens including a cooking class with Cambodia’s leading gourmet chef and lunch cooked at a restaurant educating disadvantaged children in the culinary arts in the capital of Phnom Penh. In Siem Reap, gateway to the ancient temples of Angkor, we return to the kitchen for a cookery lesson in the town’s top restaurant and enjoy a home-cooked meal with a local family in a floating village.

A Walk on the Wild Side

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011

Silver Langur from Dao Tien

Cat Tien National Park lies just 165km from Ho Chi Minh City, but is a world away from the bustle of Vietnam’s biggest city.

Arriving at the checkpoint for Cat Tien National Park, it feels like a location from Apocalypse Now. The Dong Nai River lies ahead, the far bank shrouded in jungle, and the sun is setting on the horizon. Fortunately Colonel Kurtz is nowhere to be seen and we are greeted by a golf buggy, courtesy of Forest Floor Lodge, the first and only private ecolodge to operate in one of Vietnam’s protected areas.

New in 2010, this lodge redefines the national park experience in Vietnam, offering an unrivalled level of comfort and atmosphere. There are four luxury tents are right out of Africa. Spacious and elegant, they are set on wooden platforms with views across to Dao Tien Island and its population of resident gibbons. Beds are invitingly draped in mosquito nets and the bathrooms permanent, including hot water showers and flush toilets.

Other accommodation options are available in reclaimed traditional Vietnamese houses, including family units with a day bed that doubles up for children. Sandwiched between the river and the jungle, it really is a peaceful place to unwind, far from the madding crowds of Saigon. Located en route to Dalat, it is the perfect place to break the long journey into the Central Highlands. The restaurant here offers a good balance of Eastern and Western cuisine, including the best-stocked bar in this relatively remote corner of the country.

Cat Tien National Park is home to many activities for visitors with a thirst for adventure. Choose from trekking trails to a nearby crocodile swamp or ethnic minority village or mountain bike along birding trails that follow the Dong Nai River. A small population of rare Javanese rhino was discovered here in the early 1990s and there are still small herds of elephant resident in the park, although visitors are unlikely to encounter these larger mammals. However, take a night safari with a local spotter and it is possible to see deer, wild cow and a variety of smaller nocturnal creatures near the park headquarters.

However, the real stars here are the primates. It is possible to visit the Dao Tien Endangered Primate Species Centre each day at 8am and 2pm, located on a lush island in the river. Operated in partnership with Monkey World in Dorset, this is a rescue and release centre working to rehabilitate gibbon, duoc and loris, all under threat from traders and traffickers in Vietnam. See them frolic in the surrounding forest and learn about their plight.

For those really wanting some monkey business, it is possible to experience the Wild Gibbon Trek. Starting out at 4am, join the rangers on a trek to locate a family of habituated gibbons and observe them going about their daily lives. The dawn chorus of the gibbon family brings the jungle to life and is a memorable experience, similar to chimpanzee or golden monkey tracking in East Africa. All proceeds from the US$60 fee go towards the work of the ranger team in protecting the park.

For more on trips to Forest Floor Lodge (www.forestfloorlodge.com) and the Dao Tien Endangered Primate Species Centre (www.go-east.org), contact the Hanuman Sales Team who will be happy to put together a tailor-made programme in the south, including Saigon, Dalat and Mui Ne.

Forest Floor Lodge accommodation