Archive for June, 2012

Shot in the arm for the arts

Friday, June 29th, 2012
Sophea Chamroeun and the Children of Bassac

Sophea Chamroeun and the Children of Bassac

Cambodian Living Arts announce news to bolster the performing arts in Cambodia.

News just in from Cambodian Living Arts will see a dramatic increase in the number of shows they will be staging in Phnom Penh for the upcoming tourist high season. Beginning on Thursday 25 October, Cambodian Living Arts will host a six nights a week program at the National Museum in the capital and offer up a rotating series of performances of classical and folk dance by the Children of Bassac; Yike (operetta); and Theater including Chayam, Mohaori, Pinpeat and Smot.

The shows will be held in the gardens of the Museum between 7-8pm each night, Monday to Saturday until March 2013, and they will give opportunities to sixty emerging artists to demonstrate their talent, with the cost of each individual show pitched at US$10 per visitor. This is fabulous news for all concerned. The promotion of Cambodian culture will get a much-needed shot in the arm, the ultra-talented performers like Sophea Chamroeun get the chance to show off their skills to audiences and those living in or visiting the country’s capital will get a regular opportunity to enjoy traditional performances by the cream of Cambodia’s young performers.

Cambodian Living Arts had previously hosted a once a week show from the Children of Bassac at the same location, before announcing their ambitious new initiative earlier today.

The King of the Mountain Temples

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

Onwards and upwards on the trail of the ancient temples of the Khmer Empire, read all about a ‘Temple Safari’ to Preah Vihear, the height of architectural audacity during the Angkor period.

The following article originally appeared in Fah Thai, Bangkok Airways inflight magazine. Hanuman has not been running Temple Safaris to Preah Vihear since border skirmishes broke out between Thailand and Cambodia in 2008. However, as relations between Cambodia and Thailand are fast improving, a visit to this most mountainous of mountain temples may soon be possible once again. The new road from Stung Treng to Siem Reap via Tbeng Meanchey is improving dramatically and should be finished in 2013, offering new overland links from Champasak to Siem Reap and Ratanakiri to Siem Reap via the majestic temple of Preah Vihear.

Former Temple Safari at Preah Vihear

Former Temple Safari at Preah Vihear

Location, location, location, you know the old adage and the magnificent temples of the ancient Khmer empire are no exception. The classic Khmer temple of Phnom Rung boasts Thailand’s boldest location, perched atop an extinct volcano, while in Laos the Khmers left their legacy under the shadow of Lingaparvata mountain in the elegant lines of Wat Phu. But both these perfectly proportioned prasats (temples) pale into insignificance when confronted with the dramatic profile of Preah Vihear temple, clinging to a cliff face in the Dangrek Mountains, towering hundreds of metres above lowland Cambodia below.

The views from this most mountainous of temple mountains are breathtaking, the foundation stones of the temple stretching to the edge of the cliff as it plunges precipitously away to the plains of Preah Vihear province below. The holy mountain of Phnom Kulen and the great lake of the Tonle Sap are vaguely visible in the distance, suggesting a horizon hundreds of kilometres away.

We are on a Temple Safari tour, a pioneering trip established by local company Hanuman Travel to take adventurous tourists to the lost temples of Preah Vihear province. Using fully furnished luxurious African bush tents, complete with bathroom facilities, Hanuman take visitors to places other companies fear to tread. The mysterious faces of Banteay Chhmar, the usurper capital of Koh Ker, the massive city of Preah Khan and the forgotten temple of Neak Buos, all become accessible on a Temple Safari. We journey by 4WD into the heart of northern Cambodia and experience the magic of these temples with not another visitor in sight. Spiritual sunsets, personal sunrises, this is Angkor 20 years ago before it became Cambodia’s golden goose.

Once at the summit it is late afternoon, but we are exhilarated explorers, buoyed by the befuddled looks of Thai tourists wondering from where on earth we have appeared. Curiosity compels us to explore by torchlight, a privilege not possible at the popular temples of Angkor. We have come prepared with chloh, the traditional torches made from bark and sap and make our way through by the light of the flame, deciphering the architecture for clues to its age. Reaching the drop-off of the Dangrek Mountains we sit in silence, awed by the audacity of the ancestors, the light of the moon bathing the temple in ethereal splendour.

We retire to our tents for the night, appreciative of little hotel-like touches such as antique fans, silk throws, slippers and bathroom amenities. There is even electricity thanks to the distant murmur of a generator. It’s a world away from the usual remote temple experience of hammocks and a mosquito net. The next morning, our hosts wake us early for a coffee on the porch. It is still dark and we make our way to the ridge to see the sun cast its subtle light over the Cambodian countryside. This is one of Cambodia’s most moving places and will be well worth its Unesco World Heritage status when approved.   

This temple was considered so sacred that a succession of Angkorian devarajas (God kings) left their mark from Yasovarman I (ruled 889-910) to the great Suryavarman II (ruled 1113-1150), builder of Angkor Wat. In all seven monarchs contributed to the construction of Preah Vihear in work spanning three centuries, including celebrated kings Jayavarman V (ruled 968-1001) and Suryavarman I (ruled 1005-1050).

The 300-year chronology of its construction is reflected in the progressive gopuras or sanctuaries stretching up the mountainside and offers an insight into the metamorphosis of carving and sculpture during the Angkor period. There are several impressive pieces, including a rendition of the Churning of the Ocean of Milk so perfectly mastered at Angkor Wat.

Preah Vihear was built, like other monumental mountain temples from this period, to represent Mt Meru and was dedicated to the Hindu deity Shiva. The complex includes five principal sanctuaries, and their state of preservation improves with their elevation. The central sanctuary is constructed right up to the edge of the mountain and the foundation stones of the temple blend into the cliffs, further proof of the architectural genius of the ancient Khmers.

Stylish dining 'on safari'

Over breakfast, our guide Tra tells us a little of the modern history of the place. Long contested by Cambodia and Thailand, Prince Sihanouk took the controversy to the International Court after the Thais seized the temple in 1959. The court ruled in Cambodia’s favour and the temple was returned to Cambodian control in 1962. “It was a proud moment for my people, as Preah Vihear was acknowledged as Cambodian by the international community,” Tra added. Later it became the last stronghold of the Khmer Rouge as the civil war rumbled on and one of the most heavily mined places in all Cambodia. Today it is once again at peace and looks set to become the leading destination in the far north of Cambodia.

Preah Vihear, known as Praa Viharn to the Thais, translates as sacred monastery and it was a prominent place of pilgrimage during the Angkor period, with the faithful coming from as far as Preah Khan or Phimai. Pilgrims of old would have made their way on foot or cart before climbing the mountain on the ancient bandai stairway carved into the mountainside, partial remains of which are still visible today. Like the pilgrims of old, we have journeyed far from the Cambodian capital to earn our encounter with this king of the mountains, the majestic temple of Preah Vihear.

 

The Governor’s House opens in Phnom Penh

Friday, June 22nd, 2012

Hanuman paid a visit to Phnom Penh’s latest boutique hotel and enjoyed the first lunch to emerge from the new kitchen.

The Governor's House, Phnom Penh

The Governor’s House, Phnom Penh

Exclusive high-end boutique accommodation is at a premium in the capital city of Phnom Penh, so it was a pleasure to get the first look at The Governor’s House, the latest addition to the city’s upscale range of rooms. The Governor’s House, a four-storey colonial-style mansion, has just opened its doors to a select few, although its formal opening will come later in the year. With 10 rooms lovingly designed by Belgian art collector Alain Garnier, the exquisite decoration in the rooms and public spaces of are a key feature of this new boutique hotel’s exclusive image.

With a swimming pool and shady outdoor dining terrace, next to a more formal dining room and wine cellar, relaxation and fine food is definitely on the menu. The tasteful rooms are split between the three upper floors, surrounding a sun-blessed atrium and featuring rooms dedicated to personalities from Ernest Hemingway to Jackie Kennedy. Each room hosts original antiques, high-quality bedding, Jacuzzi bathtubs or rain showers with a contemporary feel aligned perfectly to comfort and class.

The Governor’s House is a distinctive newcomer to the city’s accommodation offerings and one which is sure to find its niche amongst the more discerning of clientele.

Family Fun at Jungle Junction, Siem Reap

Tuesday, June 19th, 2012

Newly opened in Siem Reap, Jungle Junction is the place for children (and parents!) to have a bit of downtime away from the temples.

Jungle Junction, Siem Reap

Jungle Junction, Siem Reap

Set in a striking modern villa on the outskirts of town, the attractive garden is home to a mix of entertainment for the kiddies, including a playground with protective flooring, a large trampoline and a bouncy castle, plus wining and dining pavilions for parents to relax. Inside the spacious villa, there is a small cinema with room for about 20 children and all the DVD classics are available from Disney Pixar and Dreamworks to Shaun the Sheep and Wallace and Gromit. Our young researchers enjoyed watching ‘Monster House’ again, a contemporary classic. There is also a large indoor playground to escape the heat of the day. For parents, the upstairs area includes a pool table and the bamboo bar, where a selection of drinks and snacks are available. The menus include a good range of children’s food with themed dishes, a huge specialist burger menu and lots of international classics. It’s a great little oasis for adults and children seeking to offer the young ‘uns a diversion away from the temples.

For those visitors who want to see the temples and have children either too young to cope or too disinterested to care, there is also a half day programme available for children to spend time at Jungle Junction in the company of other children and carers, including drinks and snacks. This could be the perfect tonic for very little ones who cannot cope with the heat or a pair of siblings who are templed out on day two when the parents are still raring to go.

For more on Jungle Junction, check out their website at: http://www.junglejunction-siemreap.com/eng/

Jumbo Adventures

Monday, June 18th, 2012

The Phnom Penh Post’s Anna Brown took a trip to Mondulkiri to spend time at the Elephant Valley Project, one of Hanuman’s close partners in securing the future of Cambodia’s wildlife. The EVP is an important part of our itinerary for our 14-day Wild Cambodia tour.

Rescued elephants at the Elephant Valley Project. Photograph: Mike Hodgkinson

Hidden among dense jungle, tucked in the northeast corner of Cambodia, an Englishman has created a home and a sanctuary for some of the country’s used and abused elephants. Take a road less traveled – indeed one that was only completed a couple of years ago – from Phnom Penh to Mondulkiri and Jack Highwood, the manager of the Elephant Valley Project, will introduce you to his charges, involve you in his passion and invite you to help with his daily chores.

For eyes wearied by the hot orange dusted landscape of the plains, arrival in the mountainous Mondulkiri countryside is a lush green relief. Perched on a high ridge, the Elephant Valley Project lodge has a splendid view of the province’s gorgeous jungle. The glorious view is accompanied by a raucous soundtrack – the thick jungle is full of wildlife that fills the air with its whirs, squeals and hums.

In 650 hectares of rented forest, Highwood and his team look after 12 elephants that had been overworked and abused in the tourism, agriculture and logging industries. The elephants were brought to the sanctuary and simply allowed to be elephants again. Highwood began working with elephants in Thailand 10 years ago and says that he witnessed a great deal of maltreatment. In 2005 he set up the Elephant Livelihood Initiative Environment charity in Cambodia, providing mobile veterinary service and a research and monitoring program.

A year later he established the Elephant Valley Project with big ambitions. “Not only do we want to give a home to elephants, a place where they can connect back to the forest, but we want to connect people back to conservation again,” he says. The project sustains 35 – 40 workers, several of whom are dedicated to protecting the jungle and its wildlife. It also provides healthcare to three nearby villages and tries to address land-rights issues with local communities.

The vast majority of the project’s work is funded by paying guests who visit for as little as a day or up to several months, and can spend their time shadowing the herd and learning about the elephants, as well as volunteering. Visitors can pick from a range of accommodations: four bungalows, a backpacker house with seven beds, and a larger group house with 16 beds. All are quite basic. Be prepared for cold-water showers, communal bathrooms shared with eight-legged friends as well as those on two, and no luxuries such as fans or mirrors. Unfortunately, some of the mosquito nets were also the worse for wear, but these necessities were quickly replaced after a complaint. Despite the lack of luxury, falling asleep to the buzz and screech of the jungle is a magical experience.

Mornings spent at the project are an astonishing opportunity to walk with the elephants as they wander their surroundings, eating, bathing and socialising. Although the male elephant, Bob, is aggressive and unapproachable, several of females are accustomed to close human contact. Visitors can sluice them with buckets of water from the river, touch the hot leathery skin of their ears and pass bananas into inquisitive trunks that greedily post the fruit into ever-hungry mouths.

Simply watching the elephants as they amble is also a joy. With plenty of time, and in such proximity, their wonderous, humourous – and very individual – quirks can be spotted; the way Buffet crosses her back legs as she stands; Bob and Onion’s big romance; Ning Wan’s trumpeting; the delicate pink edge of Ruby’s ears. Volunteers spend afternoons contributing to the essential maintenance of the project; working on small construction projects and gardening. After a physical and tiring day, visitors are rewarded with meals prepared by a talented chef: mouthwatering fresh fish, crunchy stir fries and Khmer curries.

Highwood acts as host and tour guide, as well as vet and manager. He admits that he can “sometimes be a bit Basil Fawlty” and it’s clear that the elephants are his sole focus. He confesses, too, that he “is like a squirrel”, in that he sees things he wants and goes out and gets them, squeezing them in where he can. There are more elephants that he would like to rescue, two with landmine injuries, and he would love to breed the elephants at the project, believing that calves would help raise awareness of the necessity of preserving Cambodia’s forest. Since the completion of the road from Phnom Penh, Mondulkiri is easily accessible from the capital.

Copyright © 2012 The Phnom Penh Post. All Rights Reserved.

Footprints in Kampot

Sunday, June 17th, 2012

A majestic and beautiful tiger at Tek Chhou Zoo

In March 2011 the state of neglect and ill-care at the Teuk Chhou Zoo in Kampot, Cambodia made global headlines. One year on and the turnaround in the condition of the animals at the zoo is remarkable thanks to a small and dedicated band of animal lovers. Footprints is the name of the body formed to develop a long term and sustainable future for the zoo and to move Teuk Chhou beyond its emphasis on static displays towards a centre for environmental learning and education. The centre will serve all of Cambodia and the lower Mekong region, focusing on promoting the knowledge and understanding of the region’s animals and natural ecosystems. Find out a lot more at their website, http://teukchhou.com/. The zoo is seven kilometres outside of Kampot and close to the Tek Chhou rapids, which are popular with local bathers and picknickers.

Smoking Ban @ Angkor

Friday, June 15th, 2012

The Apsara Authority who oversee the massive Angkor complex of temples just outside Siem Reap in Cambodia, known as the Angkor Archeological Park, have introduced an immediate smoking ban for visitors and staff working at the site. The authorities want to promote Angkor as a 100% smoke-free zone and have informed all tour guides, security staff and everyone else working at Angkor on a regular basis, that the ban is aimed at supporting a healthy lifestyle and will avoid draining the country’s budget through medical care caused by smoke-related illness. Visitors to Angkor, which are again on the increase and may top the 3 million mark this year, will be advised of the new regulations when they purchase their entry tickets, as well as by signs placed around the complex.

Gibbon Spotting in Cambodia

Wednesday, June 13th, 2012

Adult Female Gibbon. Copyright Conservation International Ben Rawson

A unique wildlife opportunity in remote Ratanakiri in Northeast Cambodia.

Wildlife lovers now have a unique opportunity to see the incredibly rare ‘northern yellow-cheeked gibbons’ in their natural habitat in the Ratanakiri province of Northeast Cambodia. This rare and endangered species of gibbon was only discovered in 2010 and with an estimated 500 groups at the site, this is the largest known population in the world. The gibbons reside in a luscious protected 550 square km forest called the Veun Sai – Siem Pang Conservation Area. A partnership between local operators, Conservation International and the local indigenous communities have enabled the start of one and two-night gibbon spotting treks offering what is a very special experience to see these rare creatures.

The new project not only aids conservation of the gibbons and their territory but also helps the local communities. The site is managed by a community-based ecotourism group made up of democratically elected community members.  All profits which go to the community are spent by the community on developing the community.  Local people are also employed in positions such as trackers, guides and wildlife enforcement, which help maintain the forest and wildlife for their long-term benefit. More than a third of the proceeds of the treks go directly to the community.

Being escorted by specialist guides and researchers means you have a much higher chance of seeing the gibbons, estimated to be more than 70%. The treks are for more adventurous visitors, particularly those with a genuine interest in wildlife and conservation. The program includes cycling and trekking through the evergreen forests of Ratanakiri, interaction with indigenous villages en route to the research station, bird-watching in Veal Thom Savannah and both a night-time and early morning trek through the forest. Visitors need to be physically fit to undertake this tour in hot and humid conditions. Accommodation at the research/ranger station is pretty basic but that’s all part and parcel of the overall experience as visitors immerse themselves in this unique wildlife experience.

Until 1 October tours will be on an ad-hoc basis. After that, set departure dates will operate until the end of March 2013. The project is constantly evolving and the intention is to introduce additional viewing possibilities including red-shanked douc langurs and a bird nest protection scheme for giant ibis. For now, the focus is firmly on the rare gibbons, and an experience and interaction that takes you up close and personal with a family of habituated gibbons in their natural environment. An experience not to be missed.

Contact the Hanuman team at http://www.hanuman.travel/ to book your Gibbon Spotting Experience.

Special Time at HanumanAlaya

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

HanumanAlaya is the perfect blend of traditional Khmer design and sophisticated international amenities, just a short distance away from the magnificent temples of Angkor, capital of Cambodia’s ancient Khmer empire, in Siem Reap. A home more than a hotel, guests find it the perfect place to unwind after an adventurous day exploring the temples. Surrounded by lush gardens, a swimming pool, tropical plants, and a soothing Spa, it is an idyllic retreat from the bustle of Siem Reap beyond, a stay to be savoured rather than rushed. And now, until the end of September, HanumanAlaya guests will receive an incredible 50% off published room rates in an unbeatable green season promotion.

It’s been a busy green season at HanumanAlaya. We’ve recently re‐designed and improved our Sita Spa and completed extra treatment training to be able to offer a wider range of spa treatments. Each room in HanumanAlaya has received upgraded lighting and a Ganesha Pool snack menu with a variety of snacks, treats, refreshments and coffees for the benefit of our guests has been introduced. There is also a new children’s menu catering for our younger guests. We have redesigned our first floor terrace area, now called the Rama Lounge and created a comfortable seating area for guests to relax in a breezy and shady spot, browse through our selection of handpicked quality books on Angkor or enjoy a refreshing sundowner after a day exploring the temples. The Reahoo Restaurant has been re-decorated – the entrance area now boasts an impressive tablet with traditional Sanskrit engravings and bamboo décor, whilst other areas throughout the hotel have been re-painted and refurbished.

We are also undergoing a kitchen expansion, making doubly sure our in-house guests are not disturbed. This will help us to offer an even wider variety of dishes and homemade products including bread, pastries and signature desserts. The mini-bar in each room has been expanded to include extra snacks, single portion spirit bottles and the new Cambodia beer. The road repairs directly outside the hotel have been completed and are a marked improvement. And we now have two reliable, English-speaking remorque drivers on call for our guests.

There is no green season slow-down at HanumanAlaya. It’s business as usual, with that personal HanumanAlaya touch for which we are so well known. Find out more about our unique boutique residence at http://www.hanumanalaya.com.

Temple Safari in the Press

Friday, June 8th, 2012

Hanuman’s signature Temple Safari product has been feted in the press in recent years. Here we look back on some of our favourite quotes.



Pucker Lips Now

Lusso Luxury Lifestyle Magazine

“There are no other visitors at the temple of Banteay Chhmar. Just us. It attracts 100 tourists monthly, but once the new road is built, 10,000 are expected. We stand alone amid the almost untouched antiquity or the architectural masterpiece commissioned by King Jayavarman VII in 1191. For 800 years, until 1956, its towers and temples lay hidden in undergrowth, harmed only by nature. And then looting began in the 1990s.

We clamber amid a jumble of fallen sandstoneblocks. Think arches, walls, temple ruins, nearly everything lopsided and toppling. Light filtering through the dense jungle foliage, we discover magnificent carvings. Here, a bas-relief of naval warfare, with some dead sailors being gobbled by crocodiles; there, scenes of warfare with infantry and elephants; and over there, carvings of the Bodhisatva Lokesvara with 32 arms.

Now we go glamping (glamorous camping) by the temple. We have a butler in a white jacket, cook, driver, tour guide and endless factotums. I could get used to this. I take a shower, the hot water from an African-style bush bag. Then Jeeves serves a great Khmer dinner on a wooden table with a silk cloth. Blissfully, our staff have also dotted candles over the nearby temple and lit a fire. Fireflies flit through the air. And we dine to the ‘music’ of cicadas. When we go to bed, it’s a tent with a double bed, fan and bedside tables.”

Tomb raiding, fried tarantula and sunrise over the world’s greatest wonders in Cambodia

The Daily Mail

“We were spending the night in what our tour company called a ‘luxury safari camp’, with the promise of a ‘traditional local dinner’. My immediate thought was of a tarantula starter, followed by civet cat, gently roasted after being shot out of a tree by a member of the kitchen staff armed with a catapult. The orange canvas tents of the camp were set up almost against the walls of an ancient temple, in a forest clearing. As darkness fell, oil-rag torches lit up the pathways to the dining area. A substantial table with matching chairs, crisp tablecloth and napkins had been set up for the traditional local meal. It also came with a printed, gold-embossed menu and waiters in uniform. Soon a long glass of gin and tonic was coursing into my pot hole-battered limbs, followed by a substantial goblet of Chardonnay. Boy, the locals around here really live well, I thought. The dinner itself was a menu that might have come from the kitchens of a Raffles hotel.”

Camping it up in Cambodia

The Sunday Times

“Angkor must be seen, certainly — but if you wonder what the 1,000-year-old civilisation of the Khmers looked like before it got “discovered” by French colonists and tarted up for the megaphone masses, you need to strike out beyond Siem Reap into Cambodia’s steaming, spidery highlands. Here lie the outposts of Khmer empire: Sambor Prei Kuk, a religious complex even older than Angkor; Koh Ker, jungle stronghold of the usurper king Jayavarman IV; and especially Preah Vihear, a cathedral-sized monastery chipped into the top of a 2,000ft crag. A new “temple safari” promises to take travellers with intrepid urges to find them — and that’s what I’ve signed up for: just me and my tent (and my driver, my tour guide, my cook and my factotum).”

“This is Indiana Jones made real: along shadowy corridors, into flooded vaults, never sure whether you’ll find Buddhas or bats. We finally emerge onto a craggy balcony 2,000ft above the jungle, where kings once came to greet their gods. Sunset seeps across the plain; the roar of the cicadas is lion-loud. It’s quite incredible. It’s the most astounding camp site I’ve been to… I feel privileged to be here and very well looked after.”