Archive for June, 2011

Free-for-all

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

A popular loophole that allows free daily access to the Temples of Angkor in Siem Reap after 5pm has once again come under scrutiny and could become a thing of the past if some experts have their way. At a recent Siem Reap UNESCO-backed international meeting on safeguarding the temples, the topic came up for discussion because of the increasing numbers of tourists who make use of the loophole to visit the popular sites of Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Ta Prohm and the hill-top temple at Phnom Bakheng. Calls for a tour circulation program to better manage these temples at popular sunrise and sunset times was mooted, especially in light of the increased traffic and pollution caused by the 5pm free-for-all.

Staying at Angkor, a new audio device which allows tour guides to communicate directly with their clients will soon be available according to the team behind Angkor Audio Tours. The initiative which uses radio technology and iPod-sized devices, and which is already in place at 450 historic sites around the world including the Taj Mahal, will allow tour guides to keep their group together and will no longer have to shout.  Speculation by guides that the devices would put them out of work has been quickly quashed by the company and the temple authorities. They will not provided recorded commentaries for tourists.

Mouth-watering cuisine

Monday, June 27th, 2011

One of the most anticipated new restaurants in Siem Reap, gateway to the Temples of Angkor, is the new home of the former Hotel de La Paix head chef Johannes Riviere at Cuisine Wat Damnak. Located on the west bank of the Siem Reap river, in a quiet residential area, close to the Angkor High School, keep your eyes open for the lights and a large blue sign with an illustration of a pot. The delightful menu changes each week and features traditional Cambodian dishes with a novel twist served up in the romantic garden area or in the contemporary air-conditioned interior of a wooden Khmer house. Already a favorurite with the local expat community, the secret is out and the restaurant is fast becoming a popular pilgrimage for visitors from far and wide. Make sure you get a table on your next visit to Siem Reap, but our advice is to book ahead. The restaurant is closed on Mondays.

“My intention was to create a restaurant centred around quality Cambodian food. I insist on the word Cambodian and not Khmer, as Khmer has a strong sense of national identity, and it leaves out Chinese, Cham Muslim and Vietnamese-influenced foods, all of which are represented in the menu,” commented the owner and chef, Johannes Riviere. The six-course set-menu is a banquet and includes an eclectic mix of dishes featuring freshly caught fish from Tonlé Sap Lake and locally grown vegetables and meats such as quail or grilled puffer fish to pork shanks served with pumpkin and deep fried shallots. Cuisine Wat Damnak is awaiting your custom.

Quick snippets

Monday, June 20th, 2011

Myanmar Airways now fly twice weekly from Yangon into Siem Reap and a new private airline, Air Bagan, will also begin direct flights on the same route in October.

Visitor numbers to Cambodia for the first half of the year have risen by 13%. Vietnam head the list of arrivals, followed by South Korea and China.

Green Season Promo extended

Thursday, June 16th, 2011

HanumanAlaya Promotion extended to 30 Sep 2011

We are pleased to extend the fantastic Green Season Promotion for 2011 at our very own boutique residence in Siem Reap, HanumanAlaya. The promotion is now valid through to 30 September 2011. Throughout the period, if you stay for 3 nights, you only pay for 2, or stay for 4 nights and only pay for 3, or extend to five nights and pay for 4. And if you stay for 2 nights or more, we’ll also include one complimentary dinner or spa treatment, free transfers to and from the airport and a free room upgrade on arrival, subject to availability. Unbeatable value at one of Siem Reap’s favourite boutique hotels, offering a perfect blend of traditional Khmer design with sophisticated international amenities. Do not hesitate to contact us at Hanuman sales to ensure availability. Find out more about Angkor’s Boutique Residence at http://www.hanumanalaya.com/.

Where the Wild Things Are

Monday, June 6th, 2011

Hanuman journeyed deep into the Cambodian jungles of the Mondulkiri Protected Forest to visit a new jungle camp at Mereuch on the banks of the Srepok River.

Luxury tented camp at Mereuch

The first thing to share is that it’s remote, very remote. Mondulkiri has a reputation of being a remote wild east province in the highlands of Cambodia. However, the new road connecting Sen Monorom with the town of Snuol means it takes less than six hours from Phnom Penh. Mereuch lies beyond, north on a dirt road to Koh Nhek and then several hours further on a winding jungle trail that crosses several rivers. Pack your Indiana Jones wardrobe, this is going to be an adventure.

The first part of the trip included a visit to the Dei Ey homestay, a small community project located midway between Sen Monorom and Koh Nhek. Our party stopped for lunch to visit the property which is already receiving a trickle of backpackers each week. A local lunch was prepared and we had time to walk through the nearby spirit forest and explore the local village. Lunch was a tasty Cambodian affair and set us up for the challenging jungle journey to Mereuch.

Our team was on motorbike, as the journey would continue north to Ratanakiri some days later. The track was tough, but reasonably clear, although it was easy to imagine it would be impassable with heavy rain. We got to test our theory the next day. One of the river crossings was already high and the drivers needed to plot their route by wading through the river first. The high-clearance dirt bikes bounced off hidden rocks, but we made it safely to the other side.

On to the camp, we discovered that some of the group had seen a herd of wild banteng on their bumpy journey through the jungle. A rare wild cow, this was headline news for a group of travel pioneers all too used to hearing pessimistic assessments about the state of Cambodian wildlife. Our accommodation was sadly not the new luxurious tented camps built on the banks of the Srepok River, but the nearby research station. It was a major downgrade from 4* to 0* but entirely understandable as the new furnishings were still under wraps.

Just as we were inspecting the tents, their designer furnishings and the jungle views, the skies opened. Lightning streaked down and thunder cracked ominously overhead. Several of the party jumped for cover as it moved overhead. It eventually moved on, but left us thinking about the road back to civilisation the next day.

The next morning we awoke early to track wildlife. The banteng sighting had everyone excited and we set off downriver in one of the ranger’s wooden boats. The river was very beautiful with lush jungle cloaking the banks and short stretches of navigable rapids. We eventually banked and began trekking through long grasses which had sprung up with the recent rain.

With our group were two trackers. One was a Frenchmen, Mr Green, who had run lodges in Cameroon and tracked big game in the jungles and scrublands of Africa. The other was the classic poacher turned gamekeeper, a former Cambodian hunter who had bagged tigers and gaur before being retrained by WWF. Both were following hoof prints and excrement of wild cow and estimating when they had passed.

After 30 minutes of trekking, we saw a herd of banteng no more than 150m away. It was a large family or group with about 10 adults and two or three young. They saw us and froze for long enough to fire off some photos. Then they galloped across the grasslands in front of our gaze, a beautiful natural sight more associated with game parks of Africa than the jungles of Southeast Asia. We eventually continued to a salt lick where animals gather by night, the wildlife equivalent of a local pub. Future plans include hides to view larger mammals congregating here at night.

We ventured back to camp and everyone was buzzing thanks to the banteng sighting. Other mammals spotted included wild macaques and a variety of birdlife, expertly pointed out by our colleagues from Sam Veasna Center, one of the good projects we support. It was time to continue north on the notorious Death Highway to Ratanakiri, so we hit the road once more, fearful of swollen rivers and slick mud. The journey wasn’t a complete disaster and the bike made it through unscathed. Thanks to moving ahead of the 4WD pick-ups, we managed to see a second herd of banteng about 30km from the morning sighting, so we are pleased to report a healthy population from our observations.

Creative Lao cooking

Thursday, June 2nd, 2011

A new book from Friends International

Lao Food, Lao Culture, Lao Futures

Friends-International are pleased to announce the publication of their much anticipated new cookbook ‘From Honeybees to Pepperwood – Creative Lao Cooking with Friends’. This latest addition to their award-winning series of cookbooks turns the focus onto Laos, where their program ‘Peuan Mit’ (a collaboration between the Laotian Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare and Friends-International) runs the internationally recognized restaurant Makphet in Vientiane. The restaurant not only provides excellent authentic Lao cuisine for patrons to enjoy in comfortable surroundings, but also provides training and hands-on experience in the hospitality trade for the former street youth who make up the majority of the staff, following the successful model established by their training restaurants in Cambodia.

A team of students and teachers from Makphet visited seven provinces and traveled nearly 3,000 kilometers across the country collecting recipes for the book, including visits to four ethnic tribes to ensure that the true taste of Lao culture was reflected in the contents. However, in common with our other cookbooks ‘From Honeybees to Pepperwood’ is much more than simply a collection of recipes. It tells the stories behind many of the dishes, combining cooking tips with anecdotes which will raise a smile, and it also gives the background to how Friends-International began working in the country.

The vibrancy and beauty of the Lao people and countryside overflow from its pages, the stunning colour photography enhanced by amazing paintings and drawings from the children that they work with… children who will also benefit from the sales of the book, as all profits will be invested in Friends-International projects supporting marginalized children back into education, training and employment, building futures for them.

The official launch of the book, which is written in Lao and English (and will also be published shortly in Lao and French), will take place at a special event held at Makphet restaurant  in Vientiane today (2 June), with Cambodian and International launches planned in the coming weeks.