Archive for August, 2011

Rare turtles on show

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

Rare Mekong Turtles

Since June of this year, the Mekong Turtle Conservation Center has been open to visitors daily, for a small fee, where you can see one of the world’s rarest and largest freshwater turtles, the Cantor’s softshell. Hatchlings are given the opportunity to grow into juveniles before being released back into their natural habitat, after spending ten months in indoor tanks, whilst a large outdoor pond assists with a turtle breeding program. The center gives sanctuary to four types of turtles until they are ready to be released back into the Mekong River. Local fishermen and communities have been educated not to eat or steal the turtle eggs and in fact to report the nests they find in exchange for small rewards. All entry fees and donations will go straight back into the project and to the local villagers near the center, which is housed in the grounds of the Wat Sarsar Mouy Rouy pagoda, better known as the 100 pillar pagoda, about 40kms north of Kratie town. Conservation International and the monks at the pagoda are the driving forces behind the center, which is open from 8am until 5pm, with a break for lunch. So for wildlife enthusiasts, that’s critically endangered turtles and the rare Irrawaddy dolphins on your Mekong River itinerary. Whilst on the subject of wildlife in the northeast of Cambodia, if elephants are your thing, then the Elephant Valley Project in Mondulkiri is definitely worth checking out and we’re just hearing reports of a potential Gibbon-related project starting up in Ratanakiri. More as we get it.

Hanuman Sponsors the World Ecotourism Conference 2011

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

The World Ecotourism Conference takes place in Sihanoukville in October and Hanuman is proud to be one of the main sponsors of the event.

The event will take place from 3-5 October 2011 at Independence Hotel in Sihanoukville, one of the south coast’s most popular boutique hotels renowned for hosting Jackie Kennedy during her 1967 visit to the kingdom. Keynote speakers include Luigi Cabrini, Director of Sustainable Development, UNWTO, and leading international ecotourism experts.

Hanuman has been involved in helping to craft innovative and eco-friendly post-trip experiences for conference delegates to help showcase the best of Cambodia. Hanuman will also send a team to the event, including Company Advisor Nick Ray who will give a presentation on “How to Successfully Market Your Ecotourism Business”,  based on his extensive experience as a regional author for Lonely Planet Publications. As well as writing or contributing to the Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos guidebooks, he has also worked on guidebooks in Africa that have  helped to give him a wider perspective on ecotourism initiatives worldwide.

For industry professionals who are planning a trip to Cambodia or the Mekong region during October 2011, we hope to see you in Sihanoukville on 3-5 October. The World Ecotourism Conference has previously been held in Laos (2009) and Malaysia (2010).

Giant Escaper Disc Mountain Bikes

Thursday, August 18th, 2011

Hanuman has just taken delivery of a fleet of new Giant Escaper Disc mountain bikes for cycling tours around Angkor, Phnom Penh and beyond.

Giant Escaper Disc Mountain Bike

New for 2011, the Giant Escaper Disc mountain bikes include a host of upgrades, including Shimano gearing, front suspension and disc brakes. These 24-speed bikes come in a range of sizes, including frame sizes from 15″ to 21″. Hanuman has also ordered smaller frame sizes that are suitable for shorter men or women, or children between the ages of 10 and 14, depending on their size.  Based on earlier experience, Hanuman has also arranged comfortable padded saddles for all bikes, rather than the standard small saddles that most bicycles come with today. They also have extras like reflectors, mudguards and water bottle holders.

Adventure Manager Jake Corke has developed a new temple circuit around Angkor that includes Ta Prohm at dawn and backroads through the Angkor complex to Angkor Thom. This is the perfect way to beat the heat with an early ride to Ta Prohm and explore the jungle temple without the crowds. It also helps to avoid the noisy construction work taking place as part of the restoration of Ta Prohm. The ride includes smaller trails and backroads through Angkor Thom and will be unveiled later this month in conjunction with our Hanuman Siem Reap guide training.

Please do not hesitate to contact our Product or Adventure team if you have any specific questions about the new Giant moutain bikes.

Con Dao Comes of Age

Tuesday, August 16th, 2011

Once the Devil’s Island of French Indochine, hell on earth for a generation of revolutionaries, Con Dao has been reborn as heaven on earth with pristine beaches, endangered sea life and a new Six Senses hideaway.

Six Senses Con Dao Beach Villa

Nha Trang, Mui Ne, Phu Quoc, Vietnam offers some of the most iconic beach destinations in the Mekong region. But don’t forget to add Con Dao to the list, as this remote island group is now plugged into the mainland via several daily flights to Ho Chi Minh City with Vasco and Air Mekong.

Touching down in Con Dao, it is a world apart from mainland Vietnam. Life moves at a slower pace with just 6000 inhabitants on the principal island of Con Son and there are few cars or even motorcycles. During French rule in Indochine and the South Vietnamese regime, Con Dao was used as a major prison island for nationalists, revolutionaries and POWs. The remains of the old prisons litter the island. Phu Hai Prison, built in 1862, was one of the largest and contains life-sized mannequins of emaciated prisoners. Nearby Hang Duong Cemetery contains the remains of the 20,000 prisoners who were executed or died during imprisonment. A poignant place of pilgrimage for a generation of older Vietnamese veterans, the island is now reinventing itself as a top beach adventure destination.

As well as beautiful tropical beaches, there are diverse activities on offer from diving to trekking. Rare manatees (sea cows) are found in coastal waters and the islands provide a protected nesting area for the endangered green sea turtle. Underwater, Con Dao is widely regarded as the best dive destination in Vietnam and includes a recently discovered wreck for more experienced divers. On land, the walks and hikes include jungled peaks and hidden coves.

When it comes to accommodation, there are several small resorts in the three-star range, including Con Dao Seatravel, ATC Con Dao Resort & Spa and Saigon Con Dao Hotel, but the latter is mainly the preserve of North Vietnamese veterans visiting the historic island. ATC Con Dao Resort & Spa is the best in this range, but the destination of choice for those seeking something truly spectacular is Six Senses Con Dao.

A Six Senses opening is always something to savour and Con Dao is no exception. Set on beautiful Bai Dot Doc beach, this is designer castaway at its very best. The resort features a series of striking pool villas finished in natural materials such as bamboo and wood. Beachfront villas have a private pool facing the sea and a stunning bathroom with a plunge tub, his ‘n’ hers sinks and an al fresco rain shower. Upstairs in the master bedroom, attention to detail includes a private wine cellar, a Bose sound system fully loaded with world music and a day bed with balcony views towards dramatic island peaks.

Dining options include a Market restaurant that offers guests the chance to try local Vietnamese flavours, as well as Deli’cious, an unexpected treat in remote Con Dao, serving superb cuts and cheeses. The signature restaurant is Dining by the Beach which offers a virtuoso menu of international flavours from Wagyu beef to locally-sourced shellfish.

In keeping with their SLOW LIFE philosophy, plenty of environmentally-friendly activities are on offer, including hikes in the surrounding hills, cycle rides along the island’s quiet backroads and cooking classes. Offshore activities include the best diving in Vietnam, a range of watersports and the opportunity to visit rare turtle nesting sites during the May to September season.

Con Dao was always destined to be the next big thing. With the arrival of Six Senses, Con Dao it just got bigger.

Audio tours at the Killing Fields

Friday, August 12th, 2011

The Killing Fields at Choeung Ek

There are changes afoot at one of the most popular tourism sites in Cambodia, the Killing Fields at Choeung Ek, the final resting place of more than 9,000 victims of the Khmer Rouge regime, located just outside the confines of the city. A visit to this historical reminder of what befell Cambodia in the 1970s is on the schedule of most first-time visitors to Phnom Penh. The private Japanese company that took over the management of the site in 2005 (for a term of 30 years) have just announced that from 1 January 2012 the admission fee for foreign visitors will increase and will also include an audio tour of the center, in various languages, whether you use it or not. The audio tour will be available on a voluntary basis from 1 September before becoming compulsory at the turn of the year.

More Cardamom adventures

Friday, August 12th, 2011

Early morning in Chiphat

The official unveiling took place last week of the new community-based ecotourism project at Trapeang Roung, in the Cardamom Mountains corridor, next to the highly successful Chiphat project. Essentially it will be more of the same as its sister operation at Chiphat, which means trekking through remote jungle, rough-and-adventurous mountain biking tours, visits to 500-year-old burial jar sites, swimming at waterfalls, wildlife and bird watching, evening boat rides, and nighttime fishing for river lobsters, amongst the activities on offer. A big player in making it happen has been Wildlife Alliance who began work in Trapeang Roung in 2008 to ensure the conservation of the area and in getting the community on board. Before they began, the community had few options other than illegal hunting and slash-and-burn farming that was destroying the rainforest. Tourism will now offer community members an alternative opportunity to work as guides, chefs, and guesthouse operators, earning a sustainable living and preserving the environment around them. It promises to be a more adventurous version than Chiphat, which has already proved one of the most popular ecotourism projects in the country.

Filming in Cambodia

Thursday, August 4th, 2011

The following abridged article appeared in the online Screen Hub – New Zealand website last week following the world premiere in New Zealand of the brand new documentary Brother Number One, which follows the efforts of Olympic rower Rob Hamill (above) as he seeks justice for his murdered brother Kerry Hamill, one of the few foreign victims of the Khmer Rouge regime.

Brother Number One : in Cambodia
Hanuman Films’ Kulikar Sotho was the line producer for Brother Number One. We caught up with her in London for an interview about the film and, more broadly, about shooting in the Mekong Delta.

Kulikar’s connection to the subject-matter of Brother Number One is a very personal one. Her uncle was executed in the same prison as Kerry Hamill, having been called back to Cambodia from what was then Czechoslovakia by Foreign Minister Ieng Sary (one of the surviving Khmer Rouge government currently on trial). Kulikar’s father was also executed by the regime, for having an international outlook. He was a civil aviation pilot and well educated – both things considered threatening to the agrarian society the Khmer Rouge was determined to recreate.

Annie Goldson has spoken about wanting to include and acknowledge Cambodians’ experiences in Brother Number One so as not to focus entirely on Rob Hamill’s experience. As one of those affected, Sotho found it very challenging. “Every time I have worked on Khmer Rouge-related documentaries, it opens a Pandora’s Box of emotions, as I have to face my own loss and suffering.” In Brother Number One, she also acted as interpreter for several of the meetings between Hamill and Cambodians, including “senior Khmer Rouge leaders responsible for the policies that killed so many of my family … (who) deny everything when the evidence is so overwhelming. Brother Number One was special as it was a shared journey with Rob, someone who had also experienced a huge loss because of the Khmer Rouge regime. We shared our loss and discovered the truth together and that helped to share the pain.”

A young child at the time of the Khmer Rouge coup Sotho has, like generations of Cambodians, lived her life under the shadow of what the regime did to the country and its population. Before becoming involved in film and TV production, the company she helped found, Hanuman, had travel as its main focus initially before becoming a destination management company. Its first major contract was ticketing the thousands of UN personnel despatched to Cambodia in the early 1990s. Hanuman is still going strong, handling the visits of thousands of tourists each year to the Mekong region of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.

Kulikar’s partner in Hanuman (and in life) is Nick Ray, writer for Lonely Planet and author of six guidebooks to Cambodia. The travel and destination management experience provided a solid bedrock on which to build the film servicing business as many of the services visiting crews require are the same as Hanuman provides tourists – hotel bookings, transport, guides and translators. The company also has what Kulikar described as “very knowledgeable fixers” for all the other issues that need dealing with, such as permitting.

Following location work on smaller documentaries and films the big break into film servicing, and with it the creation of Hanuman Films, came in 2000 when Paramount contracted Nick and Kulikar as Location Manager and Line Producer for the first major international production to shoot in Cambodia since the mid-sixties, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. Hanuman was instrumental in securing permissions for some of the temple shoots, despite strong opposition within government, as well as the logistics of road-freighting large amounts of equipment into remote parts of country, which involved the army building a couple of new bridges. Since then, Hanuman has become well-established and a regular partner of broadcasters the BBC, Al Jazeera and a raft of documentary production companies and netwroks including Discovery and the History Channel. Perhaps strangely it remains the only such film servicing company in Cambodia.

Inbound productions from the UK, US and Australia/NZ make up the bulk of Hanuman’s workload and income. Hanuman Films is a main vendor for the BBC in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. According to Kulikar, “That brings a lot of work ranging from the Top Gear Vietnam special through to an earlier Brother Number One for BBC Timewatch, a popular history programme. Television is probably still the main bread and butter (or rice and noodles), but commercials are a growing area and we have supported some signature shoots for Pepsi, Cisco and TUI through Radical Media of London. Films are small but growing. And each time they come around they are definitely not small, but very big in terms of organisation and focus.”

With the obvious exception of the ongoing Khmer Rouge trials, the first of which being the focus of Brother Number One, Cambodia is looking forward and growing its economy. The film and TV industry is a very small part of that growth at present, but – as it hasn’t been over-shot and remains cheap by international standards – it is growing.