Archive for May, 2012

Making Life Easier in Myanmar

Thursday, May 31st, 2012

Visa on Arrival Expanded in Myanmar (Burma)

In a further sign of liberalization in this enigmatic country, Myanmar will offer visas-on-arrival (VOA) to conference attendees and transit visitors from 27 countries starting 1 June 2012. Under the new arrangement, visitors from ASEAN, Australia, China, Denmark, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, South Korea, North Korea, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, the UK and the US, will be able to avail of a 70-day business visa for US$50, a 28-day entry visa for meetings, workshops and events for US$40, or a 24-hour transit visa for US$20. Initially only available at Yangon International Airport, the VOA service will be introduced at Nay Pyi Taw and Mandalay airports in the near future. Further good news, a tourist VOA is also in the pipeline. VOA is currently granted to visitors from any country arriving on Myanmar Airways International flights from Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Guangzhou.

New ATMs Making Life Easier in Myanmar (Burma)

Private banks in Myanmar have recently installed ATMs in Yangon and other major commercial centres, making life easier for the local population. With the suspension of international sanctions on Myanmar, including the US embargo, negotiations are also underway with both Visa and Mastercard. So visitors will still find cash is king for the time being, but by the year-end it may be possible to use credit cards and international ATM machines when travelling in Myanmar.

Tour of the Week – Myanmar Revealed

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

Myanmar's must-see Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon

Come and experience Myanmar Revealed with Hanuman’s Tour of the Week.

Take an in-depth journey through Myanmar that will take you beyond the highlights and under the skin of this beguiling country, beginning in Yangon with the stunning must-see Shwedagon Pagoda, arguably the most impressive religious structure to be seen. We then head to Bago and the dramatic gravity-defying Golden Rock of Mt Kyaiktiyo, though be prepared for some foot slogging en route. After a brief return to Yangon, the shimmering waters of Inle Lake await us next, with its stilted Intha villages, leg-rowing fishermen and their floating gardens. In Mandalay, where local crafts and the world’s largest book are on the itinerary, we also visit the historic capitals nearby and the iconic U Bein bridge. With the dazzling array of stupas and dramatic scenery at the ancient Burmese capital of Bagan as our next target, we call into visit the ”nat” spirits at the extinct volcano of Mt Popa on the way. Bagan, the site of the first Burmese kingdom, has 3000 temples scattered across its plains and we explore its highlights as well as the quieter corners of Myanmar’s most popular attraction. The archeological site and former royal capital at Mrauk U and nearby Sittwe cater to a combination of temple exploration and local village life before we take the opportunity to relax and wind-down for a few days on the beautiful beaches at Ngapali. Then it’s time to head back to Yangon and our final lingering look at this incredible country.

Find out more about Hanuman’s 20-day/19 night journey through the beautiful country of Myanmar at http://www.hanuman.travel/Tours/Myanmar/Myanmar_Revealed.html.

Brunch at Raffles with Somerset Maugham

Monday, May 28th, 2012

Raffles Hotel Le Royal in Phnom Penh has launched a new Signature Sunday Brunch in the company of famous guests from its past.

Raffles Hotel Le Royal Personality Brunch

Raffles Hotel Le Royal Personality Brunch

On Sunday 27 May it was the turn of W. Somerset Maugham, one of England’s most celebrated literary figures from the 20th century. His journey through Burma, Cambodia and Vietnam was the subject of his book The Gentleman in the Parlour, first published in 1930. The historic Raffles property already has a Personality Suite in the hotel named in his honour and now it is the turn of an impressive lunch spread in the Raffles Le Royal Restaurant.

The brunch was extremely civilised as you might expect from one of Phnom Penh’s finest institutions. Unlike a traditional buffet spread that requires guests to be up and down throughout the meal, chefs and waiters wander among the tables offering tasters and selected cuts such as salt-encrusted salmon and 240-day cured topside of beef. The buffet includes some fine seafood and sashimi dishes, including fresh oysters and langoustines.

The cheese buffet was extensive and impressive and obviously designed to reflect Maugham’s long years as a resident of Southern France. A highlight included a Calvados-encrusted brie that simply melted on the palate. The dessert selection included some English classics such as a bite-sized spotted dick and a shot glass of trifle. All in all it was an excellent way to while away a few hours on a Sunday.

The Signature Sunday Brunch starts from US$39 including a personality cocktail. Or enjoy freeflow of Tattinger Nocturne Champagne for US$79. Highly recommended by the Hanuman team.

Reinventing the Low Season in Indochina

Friday, May 25th, 2012

The majority of visitors to Indochina prefer to travel during the high season which runs from November through March. Here are some insightful reasons to buck the trend and travel during low season which we prefer to call the ‘green’ season.

Angkor is certainly more crowded than it used to be. That is why Hanuman has carved a niche for itself as the company that approaches the temples differently, striving to avoid the crowds and to make the experience more personal, more intimate, more spiritual. Visitor numbers have risen tenfold in a decade from around 250,000 to around 2.5 million. However, the vast majority of these visitors are travelling during high season and the five months from November to March. Why not consider promoting Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam during green season? Here are a few highlights about the green season that could make the difference.

Rain clouds over Angkor Wat

Rain clouds over Angkor Wat... and not a tourist in sight.

Saving Money

In these difficult economic times, price matters. Until recently, there was little difference between high season and low season prices, so there was no real economic incentive to promote the region during green season. This has all changed with the advent of the global crisis and green season rates are now substantially lower than high season, particularly for some mid-range to high-end hotels and long-haul flights. A number of hotels in places such as Siem Reap, Luang Prabang and Hoi An are offering discounted rates of 30% to 50% off the high season price. This particularly applies to Myanmar, where high season rates at hotels are spiraling out of control, but low season rates remain affordable.

Avoiding crowds
Peak season is a busy time and it means the leading destinations (and by default the leading hotels) are very busy. Travel off-season and the numbers plummet. This means the sights are less crowded and the hotels less busy, adding up to a more relaxed and serene experience. In the past week, our team has been in both Luang Prabang and Siem Reap and it is very tranquil compared to the high season. It almost feels like a flashback to bygone days when Cambodia and Laos were truly off-the-beaten-path and only for the most adventurous travellers. This can be particularly important for the more wealthy and discerning traveller who really wants a different experience. It is that much harder to create with ten times the number of tourists in town. The best rooms are available, the best places calm and peaceful and the best restaurants not overcrowded. Coupled with price, this is quite an incentive.

The Weather
This is the big fear when it comes to green season travel. What will the weather be like? Well the honest answer is that we don’t know anymore. Global warming, El Nino, unexpected typhoons, many elements have combined to ensure the weather is not as predictable as it once was. The monsoon no longer arrives and departs to schedule.  Even when it rains, the showers are usually short and sharp, falling at the end of the day, some time between 5pm and 8pm. Yes, there may be some instant floods here and there, but this can be quite a spectacle in itself. So the weather should no longer be an obstacle for a low season visit, as it is too unpredictable these days. If we are choosing our favourite green season months, then June to August are probably the best. May is very hot in many areas and still arid, while September is traditionally the wettest, although in recent years Siem Reap has experienced major flooding in October. There’s never been a perfect season to travel to Vietnam, as there are microclimates up and down the country, so make that the perfect excuse to travel to Indochina when you want and not when everyone else does.

Spectacular Clouds
Well it’s linked to the weather, but the incredible clouds that appear during the wet season are something to behold. Like post-nuclear mushroom clouds, they tower in the sky and make for some spectacular sunsets. These are clouds the like of which you may never have seen. Similarly the storms are a force of nature and witnessing one roll in across the Mekong River from Luang Prabang to Can Tho is something visitors will never forget.

The Landscape
Travel in many parts of Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar from December to April and it will be dry and arid in the countryside as the rice has already been harvested. Travel in the green season and the landscape is a rich tapestry of emerald greens glistening in the sun. Not only are the paddy fields more alive, but the lakes, rivers and streams are flowing with water, making for faster and safer boat trips across the region. The moats and ponds at the temples of Angkor fill up, making for spectacular reflections for photographs. The moss and lichen that clings to many temples comes alive, adding a dramatic carpet of green or orange to many of the ancient stones.

So whether you are looking for better value, a more intimate experience without the crowds or a more spectacular landscape, the low season can deliver. Add these together and it might just be a better time to travel to the countries of the Mekong region.

HanumanAlaya is playing its part in promoting the green season with an incredible 50% all rooms from now through until 30 September 2012. For more details, visit http://www.hanumanalaya.com/.

LP Cambodia Launch

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

Hanuman’s very own Nick Ray, who doubles up as the coordinating author of the best-selling Lonely Planet Cambodia guidebook, will be appearing at Monument Books in Phnom Penh on Thursday 31 May, alongwith his LP colleague Greg Bloom, to help launch the arrival of the 8th edition of the popular guidebook.

Temple-hunting in the jungle

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

One of the ruined brick towers at Prasat Preah Neak Buos

Andy Brouwer’s temple-hunting adventures take him into the remote northern jungle of Cambodia.

Re-discovering Angkor temples lost in the mists of time is an exciting hobby. Back in January 2003 I went in search of the fabled Prasat Preah Neak Buos, a temple built in the eighth century but because of its remote location, inaccessibility and the ever-present danger posed by landmines, it was one of the last remaining ancient Khmer temple sites to escape close scrutiny by archaeologists and tourists alike. It lies at the foot of a promontory of the Dangrek Mountain range that forms a natural border between Thailand and northern Cambodia.

Prasat Preah Neak Buos is an unusual monument. Its location demands that it faces south, and with various structures added during the reign of different Kings, it houses an eclectic cluster of temples rather than one large imposing structure. Early inscriptions call the location at the foot of the mountain, Canandagiri as well as Sivapadapurva. In later centuries, additional monuments were built at the same location, including brick temples with inscriptions facing east, whereas the original temple faced westwards. In the eleventh century, a new group of buildings were erected, with a large brick sanctuary holding centre stage and other smaller edifices and galleries amidst the rocky outcrops and boulders.

Located just a few kilometres east of the small town of Choam Khsan in the far north of the country’s Preah Vihear Province, I enlisted the help of a couple of locals, who’d visited the temple before but who stressed that landmines, lain indiscriminately by both sides during hostilities just five years before, were everywhere so we had to be careful. To get the temple we took motorbikes but with deep sand along the trail we spent most of our time walking the nine kilometers. We criss-crossed three deep and dry riverbeds, meandered along a cool and shady forest section and got stuck in ox-cart tracks before we arrived at a border police checkpoint, a kilometre from the foot of the mountain range. Surprised by our appearance, the police had not encountered foreigners before and took some persuading to let us continue our journey. They confirmed that there were no landmines inside the temple but that we must stick to the main trail for our own safety and waved us on our way. We soon abandoned our motos to continue on foot and stumbled upon a large laterite wall, which my guide confirmed was the southern entrance to Neak Buos. We had arrived. Nearby, a broken statue of a lion and a finely carved colonette lying in the grass was early confirmation that this was indeed the prize I was seeking.

The southern entrance is a mishmash of building styles. On one side is a well-defined stepped laterite wall, whilst the opposite side is a natural ridge with sandstone boulders. The main entrance staircase is overgrown, whilst brick and laterite structures lie in ruin on top of the terrace behind. At one of the outer brick buildings, a damaged lintel at the base of a sandstone doorframe was ferociously guarded by red ants, a common enemy throughout my exploration. Walking through the undergrowth along a path of sorts, we encountered another large entry building, this time constructed of brick with a distinctive sandstone double doorframe, before a laterite gopura signalled the beginning of the inner enclosure, where the largest collection of buildings were to be found. Negotiating our way through the two-metre high vegetation, we stumbled across a sandstone lintel with well-known Hindu motifs carved in minute detail, poking out of the earth and likely to have come from one of the five brick towers to our left, in the southwest corner of the enclosure. Thorn bushes made up much of the foliage we encountered and I silently cursed myself for not insisting that we brought with us some machetes to cut our way through. In the excitement of the morning, I’d forgotten something so fundamental. As the sharp thorns penetrated my shirt and trousers, I vowed not to make the same mistake again.

We headed for the largest of the towers in the center of the inner enclosure. Like so many of the more dramatic of Cambodia’s ancient temples, this was partly engulfed in the clutches of a strangler fig tree whose trunk sprouted skywards from the top of the tower. As we got closer we could hear the bats inside the tower signal our presence and the smell of their droppings was overpowering as I peered into the gloom of the sanctuary. The tower is of brick construction and has a stepped-pyramid or tapered appearance, opening out to the south. It was built later than most of the other structures and had survived in a much better condition. The main doorway, the three other doorways are false, boasted half a decorative lintel with an elephant and hermits in meditation, and a broken colonette. Lying closeby was the other half of the lintel where apsara dancers flying above elephants had their heads chipped away. No temple in Cambodia is safe from the temple thieves who seek to cash in on the trade in Angkorian material. I could find no other decoration on the tower as we inched our way through the brush to a large laterite gallery, with crude sandstone pillared windows, on the east side of the courtyard. Climbing to the top to gain a better view of our surroundings, we could just make out the pinnacle of at least eight towers but it emphasized exactly how wildly overgrown with vegetation the whole complex was. We rested for a while, listening to the quietness of the surrounding forest as our exertions had been tiring, with perspiration soaking my skin and clothes even though the overhead sun had not yet reached its’ hottest.

Our adventures continued on a more difficult route around the rear of the central brick tower, stepping gingerly through the thorn bushes and on top of discarded bricks and boulders. There was no path, we made it up as we went. A sandstone lotus flower, fallen from the summit of a tower and another half lintel protruding from the ground led us onto another two ruined brick towers. Both opened out to the east and both had inscriptions on their sandstone doorframes in Pali, an old Khmer script and in Sanskrit. Closeby was the original temple, known as Sivapadapurva, built in the eighth century and with its main doorway opening to the west. The base of the tower was laterite, whilst the top half was made of brick and housed another Sanskrit inscription, with some modern graffiti superimposed, as well as a perfectly rounded colonette and an intricate piece of carving. A few bats had also made their home in the upper reaches of its sealed tower. Another brick tower, opening out in a southern direction, stood a few metres away.

From atop the gallery we had spied another set of structures, lying in the southeast section of the enclosure and that’s where we headed next. We were more than two hours into our exploration of the temple complex and whilst we hadn’t uncovered anything as remarkable as the main temples of Angkor, the thrill of exploring a virgin site was no less palpable. Reaching the southeast corner, next to the surrounding laterite wall were two very ruined brick buildings. In front of the first was a large decorative lintel with gods, hermits and dancing figures carved in intricate detail. Scrambling around in the undergrowth nearby, we found more finely-carved stonework. At this point the vegetation was almost impenetrable and I just managed to reach two more small sandstone towers with carvings of demon faces, both in situ and lying in the undergrowth. Balancing precariously on fallen blocks of stone, I decided safety was the best option and that we’d seen as many of the structures as we could within the main enclosure. We now headed for the large brick gopura with the double sandstone doorframe we’d seen on our earlier arrival. A row of rectangular sandstone posts preceded the doorframe where I noticed a date carved on the stone, 8.2.1904, most likely from one of the French archaeologists that documented this and many of Cambodia’s ancient temples in the early part of the twentieth century.

After a final inspection of the outer southern entrance, we ended our visit to Neak Buos. The thick undergrowth, the vicious ants and the incredibly hot and muggy conditions had made it a hard slog for more than three hours but the thrill of uncovering a major temple complex that few, if any, had visited for many decades, made it all worthwhile. We called in at the police station to rest, eat our lunch and to mend two punctures on one of the motos. If you are seeking to explore a temple that doesn’t conform to the more popular versions you find at Angkor and you aren’t afraid of a fair amount of discomfort then Prasat Preah Neak Buos may be just what you’re looking for. If you do pay a visit, make sure you heed seriously the warnings about landmines and are accompanied by a knowledgeable local.

If visiting a remote temple grabs your imagination, Hanuman can look after you in comfort with our Temple Safaris to the large temple complexes of Koh Ker, Preah Khan of Kompong Svay and Banteay Chhmar. Contact us for more details.

The Mother of all Rivers

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

For centuries, the Mekong River was an impenetrable mystery, defying traders, unseating empires and baffling explorers. Today, adventurous travellers can go follow its legendary waters through an Asia less travelled.

Sunset over the Mekong River in Luang Prabang

Sunset over the Mekong River in Luang Prabang

One of the world’s great rivers, the mighty Mekong rises in a glacier on the Tibetan plateau, winding its way through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam before spilling into the South China Sea, a journey of some 4880km.

Known by many names, all underline the importance of the great river to the peoples of the region. To the Chinese it is Lancang Jiang (Turbulent River) as it rages and boils through mountains and gorges. To the Burmese, Lao and Thai, it is Mae Nam Khong or the Mother of All Rivers, fertilising the land and breathing life into the ricefields. In Cambodia, it is known as Tonle Thom or Great Water, as it dominates the country and feeds the population. The Vietnamese know it as Cuu Long (Nine Dragons), as it splits into many tributaries in its search for the sea.

The Mekong has played a dramatic role in the history of the region, precipitating the birth of empires, nurturing their expansion through trade and conquest, yet contributing to their ultimate decline. As merchants took to the seas in search of opportunity, the Mekong Delta became an important port of call for Indian and Chinese merchants venturing into uncharted waters. This was the time of Funan, a small Cambodian kingdom with a window on the world through its seaport of Oc-Eo. Currently under excavation, the site has turned up a Roman medallion with the likeness of Antoninus Pius from 152AD, as well as Persian pottery and Chinese wares.

Merchants came in search of rubies and sapphires, sandalwood oil, cardamom, and other exotic herbs and spices from the jungles of Cambodia. In return, traders brought with them silk and textiles, pottery and porcelain, and precious metals.

However, it was more than the material that was to have a profound impact on the future of the Mekong region. With the traders came Holy Men from India, spreading the two great religions of Hinduism and Buddhism. With religion came the languages of Sanskrit and Pali, Sanskrit the root of the Khmer, Lao and Thai alphabets. And the artisans brought with them their skill in sculpture and form, later adapted by the Khmers to produce some of the finest carvings the world has ever seen.

With all these ingredients in the mix, the early Khmers began to push inland up the Mekong, spreading the Indian influence deep into the Indochina region, culminating in the birth of the Angkor empire in 802AD.

While the Mekong facilitated this expansion, allowing the Khmers to spread their power and influence throughout mainland Southeast Asia, its waters also contributed to their eventual demise. First came the Chams of Central Vietnam, launching a surprise attack on Angkor in 1177 by bringing their fleet up the Mekong. Later, the Thais used the great river to migrate southwards, fleeing their homeland in southern Yunnan after a devastating attack by Kublai Khan in 1250. The river was their route to new territories and culminated in the eventual eclipse of Angkor by the new Thai capital Ayuthaya.

The river remained a riddle for early European explorers, as much of its length was punctuated with rapids, cataracts and whirlpools. French naturalist Henri Mouhot, who accidently ‘rediscovered’ Angkor during an entomology expedition, penetrated as far as Luang Prabang in 1861 before succumbing to malaria. The posthumous publication of his journal sparked a thirst for all things Mekong and the Mekong Exploration Commission was duly dispatched to seek its origins. Two years in the steaming jungle, the team covered a greater distance than the length of Africa, losing seven members along the way. They eventually gave up in the raging waters of Yunnan where the Mekong tumbles down from Tibet.

After the early explorers had tamed the river, it was still a further century or more before the first bridge spanned its length in 1994. The Mekong played host to some of the most brutal wars and bloodiest revolutions of the 20th century, effectively wiping much of the region off the visitor map. However, calmer waters lie ahead and this incredible river is now more accessible than ever, with the region stable and at peace for the first time in generations. It is now possible to explore the river from Jinhong and the Xingshuangbanna region in China to Saigon and the Mekong Delta in Vietnam. Go with the flow on a journey down the Mekong into the heart of old Asia.

This article on the Mekong River, written by Nick Ray, first appeared in Singapore Airline’s Silverkris magazine in 2007.

The Legacy of War in the Mekong Delta

Monday, May 21st, 2012

The memorial to the victims of the Khmer Rouge at Ba Chuc

Re-visiting the horrors of the late Seventies in the sleepy Mekong Delta.

Memorials in honour of those innocents slaughtered by the Khmer Rouge in the late Seventies aren’t confined to the fields of Cambodia. In the sleepy Mekong Delta village of Ba Chuc, a glass tomb, an ossuary or the bone pagoda of Phi Lai, as it is also called, stands as a reminder of the death and destruction visited upon this small village in April 1978. Of the village’s population at that time of 3,159, only two people are known to have survived the massacre, one of a number of incursions into Vietnamese territory made by the Khmer Rouge forces along the nearby porous border that eventually goaded the Vietnam authorities into invading Cambodia, or Democratic Kampuchea as it was known, and driving the Khmer Rouge out of power in early 1979. But that came too late for the inhabitants of Ba Chuc, some of whom were disemboweled, raped and decapitated as they sought refuge in the pagodas of Phi Lai and Tam Buu. Ba Chuc was one of five villages attacked by the invading killers, who burned and looted as they went, leaving four thousand dead in their wake. The hexagonal, glass-windowed memorial was erected in 1984. Inside, 1,700 skulls of the deceased are classified according to age and sex including one sign that poignantly reads ‘Baby of Ba Chuc under 2 years old (29)’. Behind them, in the centre of the monument, a pile of bones are heaped up randomly, unclassified. There was a long line of people visiting, lighting incense and saying silent prayers as I walked around the stupa during my visit. The Ba Chuc memorial is not a quiet place when a coach party arrives. A few steps away, in a large room that is part of the Tam Buu pagoda, black and white photographs line the walls, detailing how the villagers met their gruesome deaths in the fields and buildings of the hamlet. Ba Chuc is firmly on the tourist map, as Choeung Ek is just outside of Phnom Penh, and now that the roads in this part of the Mekong Delta are improving, more and more visitors are finding their way to the memorial, to learn more about the shocking massacre that wiped out a whole village.

Ba Chuc is located close to the Vietnam-Cambodian border; to reach it, follow the road that runs along the canal from Ha Tien to Chau Doc. Turn off this main road onto Highway 3T and follow it for 4kms.

Remembering ‘Nam

Friday, May 18th, 2012

Vietnam was the story for a generation. Follow in the footsteps of soldiers, journalists and politicians on the trail of the war.

Vietnam may be fast reinventing itself as the new Thailand, offering an enticing blend of adrenaline activities and blissful beaches, cultured cities and remote forests, but it is also a fascinating destination for those with a passion for modern history. ‘Nam to a generation, one of the most dramatic conflicts of the Cold War was played out here and the legacy lives on in poignant sites across the country.

Renamed Ho Chi Minh City by the victorious North Vietnamese, it remains Saigon to all but the most committed communist. The Tet Offensive of 1968 was the turning point in the Vietnam War, when the conflict exploded on to television screens across America, shattering the myth of an imminent US victory. Coordinated uprisings were launched across the south, but it was the symbol of the communist flag being raised above the US embassy that pierced the armour of invulnerability. Today the complex is once again open for business as the US consulate.

Nearby is Reunification Hall, the former South Vietnamese Presidential Palace, left as it was on 30 April 1975 when North Vietnamese tanks smashed through the gates, one of the most iconic images of the war. A visit to the nearby War Remnants Museum is essential to put these places and events in some perspective. Originally the rather propagandist ‘Museum of American War Crimes’, it now includes the excellent Requiem photographic exhibition featuring the most powerful images of the war.

Communist success was founded on guerrilla warfare. The Vietnamese realised they would stand little chance against American weaponry in open warfare, so opted for attrition. Nowhere is the tenacity and dedication of their approach better illustrated than underground at the incredible Cu Chi Tunnels. This subterranean labyrinth originally stretched for more than 200km, from the Cambodian border to the suburbs of Saigon.

Part of the tunnel network was located directly beneath a US military base and included field hospitals, meeting rooms and living areas. Today it is possible to experience the claustrophobia and clamminess of life underground. Crawling through this underground maze, it is almost impossible to imagine that people endured this hell on earth, this Underworld, for months on end.

US troops on tour of duty needed somewhere for their R & R (rest and recreation) and that place was China Beach, near Danang. An unbroken stretch of white sand cloaks the coast from bustling Danang to the historic trading port of Hoi An, 30km south. Indulge in your own R & R at one of the impressive new resorts before picking up the trail to the north.

The former DMZ (demilitarised zone) divided North and South Vietnam from 1954 to 1975. Erroneously named, this soon became one of the most militarised areas on earth. The vestiges of war are everywhere. One of the most sobering is the Truong Son National Cemetery with row upon row of white tombstones stretching across the hillside. Honouring the north Vietnamese dead, many of the graves are empty, bearing the names of some of the 300,000 MIAs (missing in action).

Further east lies Khe Sanh, a former US military base that US commander General William Westmoreland feared could become America’s very own ‘Din Bin Phoo’, as President Johnson referred to the French defeat. In fact, it proved an elaborate smokescreen for the Tet Offensive and the US eventually abandoned the base without a fight. Closer to the Lao border lies ‘Hamburger Hill’, site of a fierce battle in May 1969 where 241 US soldiers died.

During the war, the communists used an elaborate network of supply routes known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The Ho Chi Minh Highway is a modern successor running along the spine of the Truong Son Mountains and offers the most incredible scenery. Travel through the Ke Bang National Park to discover a Halong Bay on land, where impossible karst formations poking through the dense jungle.

Entering Hanoi, one discovers another side of the wartime story. The ‘Hanoi Hilton’, also known as the Hoa Lo Prison, was where John McCain spent five years as a POW. The original French sign is still visible above the door, ‘Maison Centrale’, and the displays include a guillotine, fortunately no longer in use when McCain checked in. In a sign of the times, there is a Hilton Hotel just down the road, overlooking the lavishly restored Opera House.

The driving force behind Vietnamese independence and the quest for a united Vietnam was Bac Ho (Uncle Ho or Ho Chi Minh). No visit to Vietnam would be complete without a pilgrimage to his mausoleum. Like Lenin and Mao before him, Ho was interred, against his wishes, in a forbidding tomb, which remains a mecca for aspiring Vietnamese communists. See the changing of the guard outside, before entering the austere mausoleum to meet the man himself. If one man can be said to define the history of a nation, for Vietnam it is Ho.

Forget tours of duty, touring the new Vietnam is one of the most enriching, enlivening and educational experiences on earth.

This article, written by Nick Ray, first appeared in the BBC History magazine in 2009. It is reproduced here in memory of Horst Faas, one of the great Vietnam War-era combat photographers who died on 10 May 2012.

Hanuman Travel Collection for 2013/14

Thursday, May 17th, 2012

Work has begun on the latest incarnation of the strikingly-designed Hanuman Travel Collection.

Hanuman Travel Collection

Hanuman Travel Collection

Following on the success of the existing Hanuman Travel Collection, new developments in the next edition will  include the launch of Myanmar as a new destination, as well as a new Hanuman Travel Collection DVD and associated online video promotion.

The Hanuman Travel Collection features inspirational ideas, imaginative itineraries and unique experiences, together with selected properties and cruises in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam. Please note that this is on an invitation-only basis,  so we are only targeting the most exclusive and unique properties in the region. To view the existing Travel Collection online, please visit http://www.hanuman.travel/pdf/HNM-brochure-web.pdf.

The Hanuman Travel Collection DVD will include preferred hotels, unique experiences and selected destinations. Produced by sister company Hanuman Films (http://www.hanumanfilms.com/), the production team that brought Tomb Raider to the temples of Angkor, guided Gordon Ramsay, Charley Boorman and Samantha Brown around Cambodia, and organized the Top Gear Vietnam Special for Jeremy Clarkson and Co, this will be the most professional destination DVD seen in the Mekong region to date. Hanuman Films has worked on more than 100 international productions in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia during more than a decade of film-making. Hanuman is an official vendor for the BBC, the world’s largest broadcasting company, and has countless credits with National Geographic, Discovery, Travel Channel and more.