Archive for July, 2011

Epic Arts open day

Tuesday, July 26th, 2011

Epic Arts do fantastic work with deaf and disabled students in Kampot, on Cambodia’s south coast. Whether its their successful outreach programme, or their educational help to the disadvantaged, as well as their incredible arts and performance workshops and vocational training, not to mention their lovely cafe in downtown Kampot. If you are in this popular riverside town, take time to pay them a visit. Even better, if you visit them this coming Friday, 29 July, you can join them for a special performance day at the Epic Arts Center. Two especially created pieces will be performed by the dance troupe whilst the Kampot Traditional Music School will also perform two folk dances. Lots of other activities too as well as refreshments and it’s all free from 3pm.

Epic Arts believes in a world where Every Person Counts (EPiC) and where people living with disabilities are valued, accepted and respected. Epic Arts aims to change people’s attitudes towards disability. They hope to nurture the abilities of those usually termed disabled by society through arts workshops and an arts café. Their workshops provide an environment where disabled and able-bodied people can interact, build confidence and express themselves creatively. They began life in Cambodia with dance workshops and performances in Phnom Penh; however when the team moved to the rural town of Kampot, things really took off.  A need for tea and delicious cakes soon led to the setting up of Epic Arts café, and a need for a fully-accessible building brought about the Arts Centre in 2009 – the first of its kind in South East Asia.

Heaven awaits in Laos

Friday, July 22nd, 2011

19thC luxury at Shangri Lao

Sustainable tourism will be an important feature of the brand spanking new Shangri Lao project when it is finished later this year. Based just fifteen kilometres from Luang Prabang, the concept and aim of the Shangri Lao Explorer Camp, is to give customers a unique and authentic experience of an old colonial-style camp and expedition, and at the same time preserving natural areas and providing former logging elephants with an alternative future. In addition, with every tour that is booked, 1 square meter of forest will be replanted for the benefit of future generations. The two luxury tented camps at Shangri Lao not only have spectacular views but will hark back to the exploration days of the 19th century with spacious tents, furnished with period style furniture, on permanent hardwood floors as well as bathrooms which provide an authentic bath tub or whirlpool. Jungle trekking, elephant rides, river-rafting, elephant bathing and Mahout training will all be part of the tours on offer at Shangri Lao, as well as visits to the Tad Sae waterfall, Nam Khan River and the Huay Sae River valley. A half-day tour is already available and can be booked through Hanuman which encapsulates much of the adventure.

Staying in Luang Prabang, two new stylish hotels that are already receiving guests include the 24-room boutique Kiridara hotel, with views across to Mount Phou Si and within easy reach of the city center, and the Villa Nagara. An infinity pool, spa and relaxed a la carte dining await you at Kiridara. Lovingly restored, the Villa Nagara has a riverside location in the center and hosts just seven rooms in total, named, painted and decorated with jewelry themes.

Luxury on board

Friday, July 22nd, 2011

River Saigon

A new luxury cruise boat will be plying the waters of the Mekong River from the end of January 2012, when the brand new River Saigon undertakes its maiden voyage. Expanding their Asia program, the Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection will see a series of new itineraries spanning Vietnam, Cambodia and China for next year. The growing fascination with the Mekong Delta region has prompted the newcomer to join the existing schedules being offered by cruise boats such as The Jayavarman, La Marguerite, Pandaw and Toum Tiou, to mention the four existing cruise options on this popular route. The River Saigon will offer an intimate cruise experience with just 30 riverview staterooms so there will be no more than 60 guests on-board at any one time. Each deluxe stateroom is a generous 15.6 square metres and features French-doors which open onto an outside sitting area, allowing for sweeping views of the river. The ship’s public areas add another level of luxury with a spacious sun deck, a separate lounge with library, massage room, boutique and a panoramic, fine-dining restaurant inviting indulgence of the highest order. They will depart from Saigon through the Mekong Delta and up and into Cambodia, onto Phnom Penh with trips to Kompong Cham and Kompong Chhnang.

Bird-watching partners

Monday, July 18th, 2011

Bird-watching

One of Hanuman’s most successful partnerships in Cambodia is with the Sam Veasna Center in Siem Reap, who are close partners of the Wildlife Conservation Society, for anyone wishing to visit the key bird-watching sites around Cambodia. In our opinion, Sam Veasna are one of the most impressive ecotourism non-governmental organisations operating in Cambodia. Their projects include most of the major birding hotspots in the kingdom, including popular and accessible Prek Toal and Ang Trapeang Thmor, as well as much more remote birding sites in Preah Vihear, Stung Treng and Mondulkiri, such as the famous ‘vulture restaurants’ of the northeast. An interesting birding article appears in the latest edition of Audubon Magazine courtesy of Christopher R Cox, which we urge you to read at http://www.audubonmagazine.org/features1107/greentravel.html.

The same author was responsible for identifying the different bird species that you can see closer to home, around the main temples of Angkor. You can find out more in this extract from Audubon magazine:

Tomb Raider…However, much of this protected landscape is also cloaked in forest, making it a haven for birds—and heaven for twitchers that can appreciate finely carved pilasters as well as flocks of red-breasted parakeets. As a tune-up for an impending ramble into north-central Preah Vihear Province, one of the remotest wilderness areas in Southeast Asia, I accompany Sang Mony, a guide with the Sam Veasna Center, a local environmental nonprofit that conducts Cambodia birding tours, to the world-famous temples just three miles north of Siem Reap.

As dawn smudges the eastern sky, we cross a broad sandstone causeway spanning Angkor Wat’s 600-foot-wide moat. Over the metallic din of cicadas, Mony notes an Asian barred owlet’s soft, trilling hoot and a common myna’s bright, cocky whistle, a vocal talent that’s made this type of starling a pet-shop perennial. We admire the iconic temple’s central quintet of lotus-bud towers. When the crush of tour groups becomes too noisy, we head north through open forest bursting with an invisible bird chorus: cooing greater coucals, raspy red-throated flycatchers, loon-like lineated barbets.

We’re only a few hundred yards removed from one of the world’s most recognizable monuments, yet there’s not another soul around. Our solitude is rewarded every time we scan the trees: the egg-yolk-yellow plumage of a black-naped oriole; a black baza, a handsome hawk with a banded belly and rakish vertical crest; and an ashy minivet, a pedestrian-looking passerine with an impeccable pedigree—it was first scientifically described by Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, the founder of Singapore. After watching a pair of long-tailed macaque monkeys lope across the trail, we pass through the gopura, or gateway pavilion, of Angkor’s northern exterior wall to a placid stretch of the moat filled with wading birds, including male pheasant-tailed jacanas stalking across lily pads upon incredibly elongated toes while flaunting the special tail-feather extensions that are its breeding attire.

In the afternoon we admire the 800-year-old face towers and bas-relief sculptures of the Bayon and then tackle evocative Ta Prohm, another late-12th century temple, which is noted for its symmetrical layout, its fine stonework, and especially for the immense silk-cotton trees’ tentacle-like roots strangling nearly every structure. We thread our way through dim temple passageways and still courtyards, pausing to admire the detailed apsara dancer sculptures adorning the temple walls, to a towering jackfruit tree near Ta Prohm’s southern edge. Above us the branches are festooned with chattering red-breasted parakeets—highly social, foot-long birds known as “moustache parakeets” for their signature facial markings. Though common, their sheer, squawking multitude is breathtaking. It’s a memorable coda to a unique temple tour.

You can find out more about the Sam Veasna Center at http://www.samveasna.org/.

Samantha is always right

Friday, July 15th, 2011

Samantha Brown

In an article for CNN.com yesterday, entitled On the road with Samantha Brown, the subject of the story, who globetrots for the Travel Channel some 230 days a year as the perky and popular host of shows such as Passport to Europe, Passport to Asia and Samantha Brown’s Great Weekends, she expresses her favouritism for Cambodia. She toured the country with Hanuman at the beginning of 2010, taking in the sights and sounds of Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Angkor and the south coast for her television series, Passport to Asia.

CNN: Do you have any favorite destinations that you like to return to?

Brown: Unfortunately, because of my travel schedule, I don’t really get to return to places, but I certainly have places that I’m unbelievably fond of and that really stand out.

My most recent series was Asia, and my favorite country was Cambodia. The people were absolutely lovely, and I actually nicknamed them “the Irish of Southeast Asia” because they’re very talkative and they’ll just strike up a conversation with you. And then of course you go there to see Angkor Wat, which is just so much more amazing than any photos can really convey. So it was a great trip.

CNN: Is it something an average American traveler could do?

Brown: In terms of being accessible, it might be a little off the beaten path than what people are used to. However, financially, it’s highly accessible and I think that makes it really attractive. I always say Asia is one of the last places where Americans can afford to have the time of their life. Everything is so dirt cheap.

So if Samantha recommends it, it must be true – right?

A cyclo at sunset

Thursday, July 14th, 2011

Phnom Penh Cyclo Tours

Phnom Penh takes on a vibrancy as the afternoon sun begins to sink lower and the city comes alive with residents taking to the parks and exercising to popular music, families sampling the cooler weather to go for a stroll or to sit and eat snacks on the grass lawns in front of the Royal Palace. You can join in the fun with our Sunset Cyclo Tour of the city’s busy riverfront area any late afternoon. We’ll begin near the newly-opened amusement park just a stone’s throw from Koh Pich Island and make our way past the Vann Molyvann designed Chaktomuk Theatre before sampling some local treats with a stop opposite the Chan Chaya Pavilion that fronts the royal residence and throne hall. You can make a wish by releasing one of the small birds or join in the worshippers at the two small shrines that occupy a prominent spot on the riverfront. We carry on past the recently renovated gardens along Sisowath Quay, past a myriad collection of restaurants, bars and cafes before venturing into the side streets for a more local flavour to the tour. We amble past the National Museum and Royal Palace and come to a halt at the Cambodia-Vietnam Friendship Park to watch the coordinated exercise work-out groups and colourful fountain lights as the sun sets below the city skyline. A great way to end any day in Cambodia’s capital city.

The Sunset Cyclo Tour also complements our half-day Cyclo Tour of the city’s main sights that includes Wat Phnom, the Central Market, Independence Monument and the Royal Palace. We join forces with the Cyclo Conservation Association which provides vital help and support to the cyclo drivers in the city.

World’s Best Cities

Tuesday, July 12th, 2011

Travel + Leisure Magazine has released its 2011 World’s Best list, with Bangkok voted as the top city in the world in the annual poll voted on by the American luxury travel magazine’s readers. Ranked top in both the World and Asia, scoring 90.49, Bangkok retains its number one ranking in the world for a second consecutive year after it was voted to Best City in 2008 and 2010. Cambodia’s Siem Reap, scored 87.90 in the survey to grab a 7th best spot in the top rankings. The Top Ten looks like this: Bangkok, Florence, Rome, New York City, Istanbul, Cape Town, Siem Reap, Sydney, Barcelona and Paris. In voting to choose the World’s Best City, respondents were asked to rate sights, culture and the arts, restaurants and food, people, shopping, and value. The results of Travel + Leisure’s 16th annual World’s Best Awards survey reveals readers’ favourite hotels, cities, islands, cruise lines, airlines, car-rental agencies, spas, and tour operators and safari outfitters. If you were wondering, Singapore Airlines were voted the World’s Best International Airline.

Eye on Cambodia & Laos

Thursday, July 7th, 2011

DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Cambodia & Laos

A new guidebook that has just hit the bookshelves is the DK Eyewitness Travel Guide to Cambodia and Laos. 304 pages and available in paperback and eBook formats, the DK Eyewitness guidebooks have cornered a niche in the market for their easy to read glossy style, with lots of photographs, illustrations and maps. This book has specially devised walking tours that take you right to the heart of the two countries’ bustling cities whilst allowing you to take in the unforgettable sights of the temples, beaches, markets and festivals town-by-town. Illustrated food sections highlight the differences in regional cuisines, and the detailed listings of the best restaurants are provided by resident experts. With its comprehensive guide to dining, hotels and tours, the new DK Eyewitness guide is worth checking out.

Sofitel hits the mark

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeethra

The newest five-star hotel in Cambodia’s capital city, the Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeethra is set riverside amongst landscaped gardens in the old French quarter of the city. This stunning twelve storey colonial style hotel is close to key attractions, embassies and the central business district. Along with 201 luxurious rooms and suites with Mekong or Bassac river views, this modern hotel offers an array of nine chic restaurants – including all-day dining, Chinese Fusion, Japanese Robatayaki and Italian fine dining – and bars, an upscale spa, two swimming pools, a sports club (including squash and tennis courts) and the best-quipped conferencing facilities in Cambodia. If you want contemporary opulence in the heart of Phnom Penh, look no further than the Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeethra. Contact the Hanuman sales team for the best room rates.

PPS in July

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

Roll Up, Roll Up… the circus is in town. In fact it’s always in town if you are in Battambang, in northwestern Cambodia, where the Phare Ponleu Selpak Circus is permanently located. It’s a wonderful experience, particularly for families travelling with children. The circus team includes skilled acrobats, master jugglers, contortionists and, of course, clowns. The clowns are from the Charlie Chaplin school of slapstick and their humour transcends the language barrier. They also perform in Phnom Penh quite regularly. Their July programme of events in Battambang will see performances taking place every Monday and Thursday, beginning at 6pm with a visual arts exhibition followed by the circus show. The two shows in July will be Happy Time (Mondays) and Mix 5 (Thursdays). It’s worth noting that the organization’s visual arts school director Srey Bandol, a renowned painter and one of the founders, will soon be leaving PPS to join a research program in New York. PPS has also now come to Phnom Penh in the shape of a new professional gallery called Romeet Gallery, on Street 178, which opened its doors for the first time towards the end of June and which will be the avenue through which the PPS students can sell their works.