Archive for December, 2011

Wildlife viewing

Monday, December 26th, 2011

On the trail of Black-shanked Doucs

There’s good news for wildlife lovers in Cambodia. Two projects are just about to be launched in the north east provinces of the country which will provide visitors with a good chance of getting close to some of the country’s rapidly disappearing wild animals. With the forests of Cambodia vanishing faster than you can shake a stick, as plantations and commercial mining demand more and more space, its great news that there are still pockets of wildlife in numbers sufficient to entice conservation groups to set up these programs. In the Seima Protected Forest in Mondulkiri, the Wildlife Conservation Society and Sam Veasna Center are working with the villagers of Andong Kraleong to set up one, two and three-day treks that will take you amongst the world’s largest known population of Black-shanked Doucs (estimated to be around 40,000), while other monkeys such as macaques, yellow-cheeked crested gibbons and langurs, together with larger cattle like Banteng and Gaur, and night-viewing of loris and wild cats are also a possibility. And that’s not to mention the elephants and the abundant birdlife including giant hornbills. The project, using villagers as guides, aims to provide the local community with sustainable employment in tourism in return for not hunting the wildlife and for forest conservation. The treks around Andong Kraleong will take visitors through pristine forest and to a series of 20-meter high waterfalls. A second project, this time with Conservation International to the fore, is looking to benefit from the groups of yellow-cheeked gibbons and red-shanked Doucs that inhabit the fringes of the Virachey National Park in Ratanakiri near Voen Sai. They are working with locals to allow limited access to these closely-related cousins of the proboscis monkey a reality. Other animals such as macaques, sun bears and wild dogs are known to inhabit the same area. Contact Hanuman for more details.

Closing for renovation

Thursday, December 15th, 2011

Hotel de la Paix is closing its doors, temporarily

Looking ahead to the middle of 2012 and one of the most successful hotels in Siem Reap, gateway to the temples of Angkor, will be closing its doors for renovation. Hotel de la Paix, voted Cambodia’s No 1 Hotel (and No 6 in Asia) will cease operations for a period of around 9 months from 1 July 2012 to begin a program of renewal that will include creation of new suite products, as well as cosmetic enhancements in the public areas. The original designer of the hotel, Bill Bensley, will be supervising the work. In fact Bensley has been the guiding hand behind the renovation work that has been undertaken at de la Paix’s affiliate Siem Reap property, Shinta Mani, which will re-open its doors on 13 February 2012.

The original hotel opened on the site in 1957, though the current building was brought back to life in 2005. It’s Siem Reap’s most centrally-located five star boutique hotel, with 107 well-appointed rooms, an award winning spa and excellent fine dining at its Meric restaurant. It also boasts an Arts Lounge that showcases exhibitions of emerging artists.

Taking to the skies

Friday, December 9th, 2011

Easier and quicker access to the beauty of Halong Bay in Vietnam

Yesterday was the maiden long-haul direct flight from Vietnam (Hanoi) to London Gatwick, with Vietnam Airlines, opening up the route for the first time and reducing flying times to around 12 hours, cutting several hours off the journey – until now only possible via regional hubs such as Bangkok, Singapore and Hong Kong.

Last year, 90,000 Britons visited Vietnam (up 28% the previous year), exploring beautiful Halong Bay and the Mekong Delta by boat, heading to the hills of Sapa, relaxing on one of the country’s many beaches and discovering the myriad of treats awaiting them in Vietnam’s vibrant cities. Now Vietnam Airlines have begun twice-weekly services between Hanoi and Gatwick and the same number between Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) and Gatwick.

The Hanoi-Gatwick flights will operate on Mondays and Thursday and will leave Vietnam at 2345, arriving in the UK at 0620 the following day. The return flight will depart from Gatwick at midday and land at 0640 the day after.

The Ho Chi Minh-Gatwick service will take off from the former Saigon at 2345 on Tuesdays and Fridays and land at Gatwick at 0620 the following day, with the return flight leaving at 1200 and arriving in Vietnam at 0720 the next day.

The national flag carrier of Vietnam, and member of the SkyTeam alliance, Vietnam Airlines has a domestic network of 20 cities and flies to 26 destinations in Europe, the United States, Australia and Asia. There are plans to increase capacity of the direct flights to London to seven weekly flights by 2015.

With quicker and easier access to Vietnam from the UK, Cambodia will also expect to benefit from the increased number of visitors to the region. So it’s timely that Cambodia Angkor Air are opening up new flights between Siem Reap and the coastal city of Sihanoukville with three flights a week, each way, beginning on 14 December. The flight will take around 70 minutes. The ATR72 aircraft will depart from Siem Reap (REP) at 1410 on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and return from Sihanoukville (KOS) to the gateway to the Temples of Angkor at 1550.

Amongst the Tree Tops

Thursday, December 1st, 2011

In amongst the tree tops

Nick Ray takes a closer look at the Tree Top Explorer experience in Southern Laos.

Everyone has heard about the Gibbon Experience in Bokeo Protected Reserve in Northern Laos, but now there is a new, more accessible treetop experience on offer on the Bolaven Plateau in Southern Laos. Tree Top Explorer is located about 45km from Pakse and offers the chance for an adrenaline adventure in the jungles of Laos. Combine trekking, ziplining and abseiling with an overnight stay in the Jungle Hotel, located in striking treehouses set more than 10m above the forest floor. Trekking into the jungle, the first part of the trek includes a breathtaking canopy walk. The most memorable experience is the 400m zipline which passes a thundering waterfall and is definitely the biggest rush on the trip.  After spending the night in the romantic surrounds of the treetop huts, the trek out is another challenge. The trail eventually hits a huge limestone cliff where a series of iron steps have been bolted into the rock to create a climbing path to the link up with the trail. This is rock-climbing for softies and a fantastic way to make this extreme experience accessible to all.

Tour operators will already be aware that the Gibbon Experience does not like working with travel agents. Tree Top Explorer is completely the opposite and is very open to working with tour operators and travel agents. Hanuman is keen to support this exciting new adrenaline adventure and can tailor a trip to include it in any Southern Laos itinerary. Easy access from Pakse makes it that much easier to include in a Laos itinerary and it also works well as part of an adventurous overland itinerary linking up Laos and Cambodia.

To see Tree Top Explorer in all its glory, check out the official video at: http://www.treetoplaos.com/videos.html . It should come with a health warning as it is dangerously addictive.