Archive for October, 2011

Cambodia Update

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

Flooding in Cambodia

Across Cambodia, high water levels are now beginning to recede, though large areas of the countryside will continue to suffer the severe flooding problems of the last few weeks which has affected so many families in low-lying regions. Over 1.2 million people have had their lives disrupted by the flooding. Phnom Penh city escaped the problems seen elsewhere, such as in Siem Reap, where the old market areas and the riverside were underwater on numerous occasions, though this has now cleared and tidying up is underway. The temples at Angkor and access to the popular floating floating villages is no longer a cause for concern either. In Kompong Thom province, the worst hit, the temple complex of Sambor Prei Kuk was cut off for a time but the access road has now re-opened and the temples are open for business once again.

In other news the Apsara Authority, which controls the Angkor temples at Siem Reap, have announced that they will begin limited access to Phnom Bakheng from the end of  this month. 300 people at a time has been mentioned but no firm plans on how this will be controlled and monitored have yet been announced. Phnom Bakheng is the traditional sunset spot overlooking both Angkor Wat and the Western Baray but in the past few years has been overrun with hordes of tourists at sunset time. There were real concerns that the size of the crowds was causing damage to the temple, hence the number restrictions being  mentioned.

Nicknamed the world’s largest jigsaw puzzle, the Baphuon is now open again to visitors. Apsara have also announced new access restrictions for the temple. No children under 12 are allowed inside the temple and mini-skirts and shorts are also not allowed.

The increasingly popular Elephant Valley Project in northeast Mondulkiri is raising its profile as a great example of a responsible tourism project that ticks all the boxes and much more. Hanuman are pleased to be one of the project’s biggest supporters and we encourage any of our guests who are heading into the northeast region, to consider spending a day or two with the elephants at EVP. But please note, the elephants and staff have weekends off. Read more about the project at http://www.hanuman.travel/Responsible_Tourism/Cambodia/Elephant_Valley_Project.html.

Finally, Friends-International have just kicked-off a new promotional campaign, Children are not Tourist Attractions, opposing orphanage tourism that is rife in Cambodia. You can find out more about this worthwhile campaign at http://www.thinkchildsafe.org/thinkbeforevisiting/.

Under water

Monday, October 17th, 2011

The riverside road in Siem Reap this weekend

The flooding that has plagued Cambodia in recent weeks shows no sign of abating in the short term, with more rain at the weekend flooding the Old Market, Pub Street and riverside areas of Siem Reap. At the moment all the major hotels and the Angkor temples themselves remain accessible. The floating village of Chong Kneas remains impossible by car, but minivan access is okay and the other floating villages can be visited. Phnom Penh city has so far avoided the flooding though water levels on the Tonle Sap and Mekong rivers remain high, whilst access to the temple complex of Sambor Prei Kuk in Kompong Thom has been disrupted as the access road has been washed away in places. The Water Festival boat races scheduled for 9-11 November in Phnom Penh have already been cancelled.

Hanuman Sponsors the World Ecotourism Conference 2011 in Sihanoukville, Cambodia

Friday, October 14th, 2011

The 3rd annual World Ecotourism Conference was held in Sihanoukville from 2-5 October 2011. Hanuman was proud to be one of the official sponsors of the event and has recorded a video for those that couldn’t make it to this landmark event.

Following on from the success of the first World Ecotourism Conferences in Vientiane, Laos and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the 3rd WEC 2011 was held in Sihanoukville, Cambodia, recently voted a member of  ”One of the Most Beautiful Bays in the World” (www.world-bays.com). The event began on Sunday 2 October with an opening buffet dinner at the Sokha Beach Resort where the Hanuman team rubbed shoulders with Luigi Cabrini, the Director of Sustainable Tourism at the UN World Tourism Organisation, along with a selection of Asean Tourism Ministers.

The conference venue was the much improved Independence Hotel. The first day included the Deputy Prime Minister of Cambodia, HE Sok An, and the Minister of Tourism of Cambodia, HE Thong Khon and some lively discussions on the future of ecotourism in the travel industry. On the second day, there were a series of panel discussions on the ecotourism businesses in action. Hanuman’s Company Advisor delivered a presentation on ‘Ideas on Marketing an Ecotourism Business’ and answered questions on a panel that included Rory Hunter from Song Saa resorts and delegates from the Philippines, Japan, Malaysia and Lebanon.

Several post-trip technical tours were available for delegates at the conference, including a trip to Song Saa to the see the latest phase of resort construction, a journey to 4 Rivers Floating Ecolodge in Koh Kong Province and the mangrove forests of Ream National Park just outside Sihanoukville.

For a snapshot of the World Ecotourism Conference 2011 in Sihanoukville, visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R_3sjM9ugwE&feature=channel_video_title on Hanuman Travel TV, our very own Youtube account.

Boat races cancelled

Friday, October 14th, 2011

The high water levels on the riverfront at Phnom Penh

Cambodia has cancelled its annual Water Festival boat races from 9-11 November, due to the severe flooding that is affecting large parts of the Cambodian countryside. With nearly 250 lives lost to the flooding so far, the Cambodian Prime Minister, Hun Sen, has called for the funds to be used instead to aid flood recovery and assistance to flood victims. 17 out of Cambodia’s 23 provinces are affected by the situation, which has already destroyed nearly 8% of the county’s rice paddies. Hun Sen said; “The water level is too high, which is a risk to the boat racers and participants. In Phnom Penh the entertainment can go ahead as normal, but there will be no boat racing. The concerts and the King Father’s birthday and other national holidays can be conducted as usual.” It was last year that the Water Festival was marred by a stampede on a bridge that killed 351 people.

An Alternative North Vietnam

Thursday, October 6th, 2011

Boutique homestay in Moc Chau

New destinations come and go. What was yesterday’s best kept secret is tomorrow’s spoilt “has been” destination. We all want to visit new places and have fresh experiences, but in our pursuit of un-spoilt paradises aren’t we merely sowing the seed of its eventual demise?

At Hanuman we like to think we lead the way in innovative travel experiences. We also like to think we create and implement our experiences in a responsible way. We believe that tourism practiced the right way should make better places to live as well as better places to visit. We realize that it is essential to preserve our natural and cultural treasures, but it is equally important to give host communities a voice and allow them to improve their living conditions. For this reason we often work alongside local communities and NGO’s in order to maximize the benefits to all involved. This is the path we have taken for our new Northern Vietnam products: using responsible tourism to promote sustainability according to the priorities of the locals themselves.

On a recent trip to Vietnam, Hanuman Adventure and Responsible Tourism Manager Jake Corke, wanted to experience the north in a slightly different way. Sapa is the people’s choice destination of the north, and for good reason, it is stunning! However, with hotels getting taller, trails getting busier and locals getting pushier, it’s no longer the natural haven it used to be. It’s also at least an 8 hour journey from Hanoi.

So Jake set off to explore the north west of the country. Closer to and more accessible to Hanoi, Mai Chau has been popular with travelers for some time now. But it is the gems of Ngoc Son Ngo Luong Natural Reserve to the South and Moc Chau to the North [of Mai Chau] that were the real attraction for this trip. New very comfortable and well managed home-stay accommodations have recently opened in both locations which allow amazing local experiences in areas that other tourists do not visit. Our Vietnamese partners have exclusivity to both.

Having escaped the chaotic traffic of Hanoi and its suburbs we found ourselves winding through mountain roads with rice fields and forest on either side. Arriving at the Ranger station of Ngoc Son Ngo Luong Natural Reserve, was like entering another world, this was an untouched secret garden inhabited by the Muong people. The deep roots of their ethnic culture and their isolated location have contributed to the preservation of what is a cultural and natural treasure. We spent several hours enjoying light trekking through fairyland scenery: lush forests, blue rivers, and misty waterfalls in a deep valley surrounded by limestone rock formations, palm trees, and bamboo groves. Curious locals stopped their work to share welcoming smiles and friendly waves. We stopped to enjoy a picnic lunch at one of the many small waterfalls.

Our accommodation for the night was at a home-stay owned and run by a local Muang family in a very traditional home. We were welcomed by a lady in traditional dress with a huge smile and a bowl of steaming water infused with lemon grass to refresh ourselves. There was a western toilet and a ladle yourself shower. Our dinner was simply delicious! 6 courses including barbequed pork, spring rolls, wild mushrooms and numerous local vegetables. All were served by our charming hostess Lin, the mother of the family. Her and her daughters had prepared the meal and watched from a distance checking for our approval. She was practicing her English and was obviously so proud and happy to receive us in her remote home. Dinner was followed by plenty of local rice wine. We slept on mattresses with mosquito nets on the floor. The home was spotlessly clean as was all the bedding. For such a genuine and remote homestay experience you couldn’t hope for more comfort or friendlier hospitality … we felt truly honoured.

The following morning, after a hearty breakfast, we followed the winding mountain road for a couple of hours to Mai Chau. Mai Chau can be reached directly from Hanoi in under 4 hours. The ease of access combined with its flawless beauty has attracted large numbers of visitors over the years. Yet it continues to be a peaceful and beautiful spot nestled among the ice fields beneath stunning limestone mountains. The Thai peoples here are renowned for their warm hospitality and have opened numerous home-stays in recent years. But I opted for a little bit of rustic luxury at the Mai Chau Lodge. Locally owned and run by the white Thai, this is a charming little lodge which offers more formal hotel comforts and also has a pool for cooling off in the  mid day heat. There are numerous walks and hikes available through neighbouring villages where locals sell an array of colourful locally produced textiles, carvings and so on. I opted to spend the afternoon cycling through the rice fields and villages. I’d forgotten how beautiful Vietnam could be and how warm hearted and welcoming the local people are.

The following day we continued to Moc Chau. Again, the scenery on the journey was stunning. Moc Chau is all about its surroundings – a mountainous area, famous for its tea hills, limestone karsts, endless plum orchards, corn fields and dairy products. But a range of traditional and deep-rooted ethnic cultures create more interest for the discerning traveler. Remote villages are nestled among the misty valleys surrounded by crenellated karsts and dense forests. This area offers ideal biking routes, light trekking and as is so often the case in Vietnam, warm and heartfelt local hospitality. For those interested, it is possible to go and join the tea pickers in the plantations and visit the factory were the tea is processed. There are also plans for numerous agro-tourism initiatives whereby visitors can participate in the daily agricultural practices of local people. An great way to get an insight into a fascinating way of life and to experience some genuine cultural interaction.

This night we were to be the very first overnight visitors to stay in the brand new and only homestay. A local Thai stilt house had been renovated sleeping was again on (thick) mattresses on the floor, mosquito nets and fans were provided. But the biggest surprise, in such a remote location, was the toilet and shower block downstairs that gave us hot showers around the clock! This was a joint enterprise between a local tea plantation owner and our Vietnamese partners, and between them they have created something unique in Vietnam: somewhere you can escape all the other tourists, share everyday life experiences with local people, and still enjoy certain comforts that you would not imagine exist in such locations. There will now be a studio complete with its own kitchen for couples or families who want a little more comfort and privacy, or for those who would like to stay longer.

Another delicious 5 course meal was shared with our host before we polished off a couple of bottles of his home made corn brandy. It was then time to retire to our beds, a cacophony of night sounds sent us into a dreamy sleep with memories of misty mountains, a thousand shades of green, smiling faces and an alternative slice of north Vietnam. For tomorrow, it’s back to the hustle and bustle of Hanoi … but what a trip!