Posts Tagged ‘tourism’

Vietnam – courtesy of Lonely Planet

Monday, July 21st, 2014

Lonely Planet Guide to Vietnam – A Mecca for foodies and a paradise for beach bums, Vietnam is also loaded with cultural interest.

The Hue Citadel and its royal buildings in Central Vietnam

The Hue Citadel and its royal buildings in Central Vietnam

Sensory Overload

Unforgettable experiences are everywhere in Vietnam.

There’s the sublime: gazing over a surreal seascape of limestone islands from the deck of a Chinese junk in Halong Bay.

The ridiculous: taking 10 minutes just to cross the street through a tsunami of motorbikes in Hanoi.

The inspirational: exploring the world’s most spectacular cave systems in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park.

The comical: watching a moped loaded with oinking pigs weave a wobbly route along a country lane.

And the contemplative: witnessing a solitary grave in a cemetery of tens of thousands of war victims.

A Culinary Superpower

The Thais may grumble but in South-East Asia nothing really comes close: Vietnamese food is that good. Incredibly subtle in its flavours and outstanding in its diversity, Vietnamese cooking is a fascinating draw for travellers – the dozens of cooking schools in Hoi An are testament to this. Geography plays a crucial role, with Chinese flavours influencing the soups of northern Vietnam, spices sparking up southern cuisine and myriad herbs and complex techniques typifying the central region, rightly renowned as Vietnam’s epicurean epicentre.

Thrills & Chills

If you’ve got the bills, Vietnam’s got the thrills and chills. Some activities require physical effort, like motorbiking up the jaw-dropping Hai Van Pass in central Vietnam. Others require even more sweat: kitesurfing the tropical waters off Mui Ne or hiking the evergreen hills around Bac Ha or Sapa.

And after the adrenalin rush, relax and indulge in Vietnam’s outstanding spas – from marble temples of treatments, to simple family-run massage salons with backpacker-friendly rates.

Meet the Locals

The Vietnamese are energetic, direct, sharp in commerce and resilient by nature. The locals love a laugh and you’ll have plenty of opportunities to socialise with them and hear their tales.

Generally, the rule is the more uncomfortable the (always tiny) seats in the bar or cafe, the more fun you’ll have.

Poor in parts but never squalid, Vietnam is developing at an astonishing pace and inevitably there are some issues to consider (including a few minor scams).

However, on the whole this is an extremely safe (apart from the traffic!) and wonderfully rewarding country to explore.

Vietnam Top Five

1. Hoi An

Vietnam’s most cosmopolitan and civilised town, this beautiful, ancient port is bursting with gourmet Vietnamese restaurants, hip bars and cafes, quirky boutiques and expert tailors. Immerse yourself in history in the warren-like lanes of the Old Town, shop till you drop, tour the temples and pagodas, and dine like an emperor on a peasant’s budget (and even learn how to cook like the locals). Then hit glorious An Bang Beach, wander along the riverside and bike the back roads. Yes, Hoi An has it all.

2. Food

Perhaps Asia’s greatest culinary secret, Vietnamese food is on the radar but hardly a global phenomenon. Essentially it’s all about the freshness of the ingredients – chefs shop twice daily to source just-picked herbs from the market. The result? Incomparable texture and flavour combinations. For the Vietnamese, a meal should balance sour and sweet, crunchy and silky, fried and steamed, soup and salad. Wherever you are, you’ll find exquisite local specialities – the “white rose” of Hoi An, the canh chua of the Mekong Delta or the good ol’ pho of the north.

3. Mui Ne

Perhaps the adrenalin epicentre of Vietnam, the relaxed, prosperous beach resort of Mui Ne is a kitesurfing capital with world-class wind and conditions, and excellent schools for professional training. For those who prefer dry land, sandboarding and golf are popular alternatives. The resort itself has more than 20km of palm-fringed beachfront that stretches invitingly along the shores of the South China Sea. From guesthouses to boutique resorts, designer bars to fine-value spas, Mui Ne has a broad appeal.

4. Sapa and the Tonkinese Alps

Dubbed the Tonkinese Alps by the French, the spectacular Hoang Lien Mountains soar skywards along the rugged edges of northwest Vietnam towards the Chinese border. Shape-shifting clouds and mist ebb and flow in the mountainous area around Sapa, parting to reveal a glimpse of Fansipan, Vietnam’s highest peak. From the sinuous and spidery ridges, rice terraces cascade down into river valleys, home for several centuries to ethnic minority villages of H’mong, Red Dzao and Giay peoples.

5. Hue

The nation’s capital for 150 years in the 19th and early 20th centuries, Hue is perhaps the easiest Vietnamese city to love. Its situation on the banks of the Perfume River is sublime, its complex cuisine is justifiably famous and its streets are relatively traffic free. And that’s without the majesty of the Hue Citadel, with its royal residences and elegant temples, formidable walled defences and gateways. On the city’s fringes are some of Vietnam’s most impressive pagodas and royal tombs, many in wonderful natural settings.

What’s New

> Zone 9, Hanoi

Filling a former pharmaceutical factory with bars, galleries and art spaces, Hanoi’s Zone 9 precinct is the city’s hippest and most vibrant new destination.

> Hill Station Signature Restaurant

In chic surroundings in Sapa, learn how to cook H’mong cuisine at the Hill Station Signature Restaurant. Wash it all down with a tasting set of delicious ruou (traditional rice wine).

> Cat Ba Island Hotels

New hotels are opening up on private islands in the Cat Ba area, including Cat Ong Beach Cottages, which has its own private beach and bungalows.

Getting There

Vietnam Airlines, the state-owned carrier, flies to 28 international destinations, including Australia.

Top Tips

Prepare yourself for the crazy driving: traffic can come at you every which way, and in the cities swarms of motorbikes reach biblical proportions.

Try to keep calm and consider arranging a massage after a long journey. Be aware that Vietnam has more than its fair share of scams; most concern overcharging.

Though very rare, there are some more serious dangers (like unexploded ordnance) to also be aware of. Relevant warnings are given in destinations throughout this guide.

In towns like Hue and Sapa, and beaches popular with tourists, expect plenty of hustle from street vendors, cyclo drivers and the like.

Off the beaten track there’s little or no hassle.

This is an edited extract from Lonely Planet Vietnam (12th Edition) by Iain Stewart and Hanuman’s own Nick Ray amongst others.. © Lonely Planet 2014. Published this month.

Koh Ker awaits

Thursday, July 17th, 2014

Abandoned for centuries, the temple complex of Koh Ker with many major structures including the pyramid of Prasat Thom, can now be seen in a day trip from Siem Reap. Hanuman Travel TV takes you there.

Koh Ker was the capital of the Angkor Empire from AD 928 to AD 944, but for a long time was one of the most remote and inaccessible temple complexes in Cambodia. Located a little over two hours northeast of Siem Reap by road, the complex has 42 major structures including the 40-metre high seven-tier pyramid of Prasat Thom and some of the largest lingas in the country. Koh Ker is also known for some of the most impressive sculptures of the Angkor period, some of which can be found in Phnom Penh’s National Museum.

Contact the Hanuman Team for more details on visiting Koh Ker, including our popular overnight safari. A trip there can be combined with a visit to Beng Mealea, another favourite temple of many visitors.

Remote Preah Khan of Kompong Svay

Tuesday, July 15th, 2014

Enjoy a look at one of Cambodia’s most remote temple sites at Preah Khan of Kompong Svay with Hanuman Travel.

Traditionally, Preah Khan of Kompong Svay district has been the toughest of the remote Angkorian temples to reach. Even now getting there at the peak of the wet season is almost impossible, and the best time to visit is between January and April when the trails are dry. It’s located some 93km north of Kompong Thom and 64km south of Tbeng Meanchey in Preah Vihear Province.

Most locals call the temple complex Prasat Bakan but it’s common name is Preah Khan of Kompong Svay. Covering almost 5 sq km, it’s actually the largest temple enclosure constructed during the main Angkor period, dating from the 9th to 13th centuries. The central tower at Prasat Preah Stung is adorned with large enigmatic faces and the central area of Preah Khan is overgrown by forest and has been badly damaged with many towers collapsing. Some of this was caused by severe looting at the site. If you are looking for a remote temple complex, then it doesn’t get much more remote than Preah Khan. Contact the Hanuman Team for more details, including our overnight safari at Preah Khan.

Sailing the Mekong

Saturday, July 12th, 2014
Pandaw on the Mekong

Pandaw on the Mekong

The mighty river Mekong flows from the Tibetan Plateau through China, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia into Vietnam’s Mekong Delta and the South China Sea. You can experience the fascinating and varied river life along the Mekong between Vietnam and Cambodia on a river cruise aboard the RV Mekong Pandaw. Pandaw River Expeditions operates weekly departures between Saigon and Siem Reap/Angkor. You will pass from the vibrant French colonial port of Saigon, through the vast delta so rich in human life and endeavour, to travel along the main channel into the rich countryside of Cambodia.  With a full day in charming Phnom Penh, you will then explore remoter waterways on the way to the great monuments of Angkor.

The RV Mekong Pandaw received a full refit in September 2013. In their spacious state rooms, guests can find finest teak wood, new bathroom, new air conditioning and new sliding French windows leading to the promenade deck. The numbers of cabins have been reduced to just twenty-four making way for a much enlarged spa, new gym, lecture and movie theatre, art gallery, fair-trade-shop and library on the lower deck.

Pandaw is providing pre-programmed iPads with new one-touch-applications to its guests on the RV Mekong Pandaw: itineraries, meal and spa menus, gather information on rivers tops, weather forecast, skype, send e-postcards, watch movies, read e-books and surf the internet. This ship has the largest public space to passenger ratio of any cruise ship in the world. Pandaw is preserving the classic yacht atmosphere but enhances service and facilities. On all Pandaw ships you will experience Asian hospitality and enjoy the highest staff – guest ratio afloat ensuring sensational service.

For July and August sailings the prices are reduced by up to 20%. Fantastic deals, contact the Hanuman Team today for more details.

Sambor Prei Kuk

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

Cambodia’s most impressive group of pre-Angkorian monuments can be found at Sambor Prei Kuk, some 30kms north of the provincial capital of Kompong Thom. Here’s Hanuman Travel’s own video of the complex.

Scattered throughout the shady forest are upwards of 100 mainly brick temples that belonged to a 7th century Chenla capital called Isanapura. There are three main complexes, each with a central tower surrounded by minor shrines, ponds, gates and walls. Some of the brick carvings are elaborate, as are the atmospheric brick towers strangled by tree roots. It’s just two hours from Siem Reap and makes for an ideal stop-over, especially if you are interested in the chronological evolution of Cambodia’s temple architecture.

Open-air cinema at Le Palais

Thursday, July 3rd, 2014

An unusual aspect of a new hotel that has partially opened in Phnom Penh is the creation of an open-air cinema within the hotel’s main restaurant.

The exterior of Le Palais des Anges Hotel in Phnom Penh

The exterior of Le Palais des Anges Hotel in Phnom Penh

Part of the newly renovated Le Palais des Anges Hotel was previously known as Cine Hawaii, and it’s now been converted into a three-storey restaurant, called Phkar Romyool, which doubles as a dine-while-you-watch theatre. The only original feature that remains after renovations is a floral emblem above the space where the screen stood. Tables and chairs face a blank white canvas onto which films are projected after dinner. Everything is open to the sky – an extendable roof can be closed if there’s a threat of rain.

The hotel will host 70 rooms and a roof-top swimming pool and sky-bar when its finalised in a few months time. At the moment, thirty rooms have been completed and are open to the public. Le Palais des Anges is located a stone’s throw from the Cambodian capital’s recently renovated Central Market. Both buildings exude the yellow-painted charm of the French colonial style.

The interior of one of the rooms at Le Palais des Anges

The interior of one of the rooms at Le Palais des Anges

iRoHa Garden opens its doors

Monday, June 30th, 2014
A view of the main villa and pool at iRoHa Garden Hotel

A view of the main villa and pool at iRoHa Garden Hotel

A newcomer to the slew of boutique hotels opening their doors in Phnom Penh is the iRoHa Garden Hotel, tucked away in a quiet, secluded street in the Chamkarmon district of the capital city. Set in a renovated 1950s villa, with extensive gardens and a large swimming pool, iRoHa has 27 rooms in seven categories, with their good-sized superior and deluxe rooms with or without a balcony of particular interest. They also have two suites. A restaurant and bar is part of their offerings, alongwith a Samata Spa room, all tastefully furnished in a contemporary Khmer style. Some great opening room deals can be had too, so consider this quiet retreat in the heart of the city on your next visit to Cambodia.

One of the tasteful rooms at iRoHa Garden Hotel

One of the tasteful rooms at iRoHa Garden Hotel

A nighttime view of the iRoHa Garden Hotel in Phnom Penh

A nighttime view of the iRoHa Garden Hotel in Phnom Penh

The Green Season is Calling

Tuesday, June 24th, 2014

Come to Cambodia in the Green Season. We list below a few reasons why coming to this beautiful country in what is considered the low season, but what we like to call the Green Season, is a great time to visit.

Rice harvesting in Kratie

Rice harvesting in Kratie

  • A temple to yourselves. Angkor is considerably quieter in the green season, which is great for visiting the temples. Most of the big tour groups have vanished, the temples are often deserted, especially early in the mornings and even the Bayon and Angkor Wat are quiet. If you head out to Koh Ker and Beng Mealea you will not see many other tourists at all and our guides can take you to some lesser known temples like the isolated Ta Nei where you may be lucky to see some recently released Gibbons in the vicinity of the temple.
  • The scenery. Cambodia is at its most beautiful in the green season. The rice paddies are gorgeously green and verdant, the moats and Barays near the temples are full and when conditions are just right, you can expect spectacular sunsets.
  • It’s cooler. The rains break up the heat, it’s easier to explore and spend longer at each site and for much of the time it is still cloudless and sunny in the mornings.
  • Value for money. Cambodia is pretty unbeatable value for money compared to most other destinations, but in the green season, we offer seriously competitive rates and special offers.
  • The Tonle Sap Lake. The green season is the best time to visit the floating villages of Kompong Pluk and Kompong Khleang. Water levels are getting higher, making it much easier to navigate through the villages by boat. Travel in June and July and see the water levels rising, but still appreciate the height of the bamboo skyscraper houses on stilts. Visit in August and September and the water levels completely flood the mangroves, which is a beautiful sight and it laps at the front steps of the stilted houses.
  • Flights. They are much cheaper in the spring and summer months, both from the United Kingdom and Europe, and internally within Cambodia.
  • Pick of the very best guides. Our tour guides are not as rushed off their feet as they are in the high season, so take a look at our customer feedback and request the guides who appeal to you.
  • A second visit? Many first time visitors travel to Cambodia in the high season. The country takes on a different look and feel in the green season. The landscape changes, the Mekong River reverses its flow into the Tonle Sap Lake which expands, and there are less tourists. It’s a perfect time to return and visit some new and interesting areas like Battambang, Kampot, Kep, Kratie and even venture up to Mondulkiri in the Northeast.

So there you have it, 8 great reasons to visit Cambodia now. Contact the Hanuman sales team for the special offers and competitive rates we will be happy to provide.

On Yer Bike

Monday, June 23rd, 2014

Hanuman are big fans of Battambang, Cambodia’s laid-back second city, and the work of Soksabike is one good reason to stay an extra day in this quiet haven.

Soksabike in Battambang

Soksabike in Battambang

Soksabike bicycle tours are a social enterprise offering people an insight into the traditional livelihoods of the Cambodian countryside. They place an emphasis on educating guests in the realities of life in rural Cambodia, and ensure that the visit makes a positive impact on the local communities – economically, socially and ecologically. The cycling guides are all knowledgeable Battambang locals. Soksabike have created unique bicycle tours that provide an imaginative insight into the Cambodian countryside and daily life but also supports local the local economy and culture. They have half day and full day tours. The trips call in at a rice paper making village, a wine making village, a village that makes Prahok (fermented fish paste) and a cake making village. The full day trip includes lunch with a Cambodian family in a rural setting. The trails follow quiet, flat, partially shaded country roads and the distances travelled are 25kms and 40kms respectively.

Soksabike work in tandem with Kinyei Café, which is located on Street 1.5, right next to the Battambang’s central market. The cafe is staffed by youth from disadvantaged backgrounds and the premises comprise two floors and comfortable balcony of a French colonial era townhouse. The cafe serves expertly made espresso coffee – they recently won a nationwide barista championship – and a small selection of baked goods. The first floor has been renovated to a gallery space that will feature visual art. A worthy cause I’m sure you’ll agree. Ask the Hanuman sales team for more details.

Recognition for Angelina

Tuesday, June 17th, 2014

Cambodian citizen Angelina Jolie becomes an honorary British dame.

Hollywood actor and UN special envoy Angelina Jolie was accorded one of the highest accolades granted by the British establishment when she was made an honorary dame in the Queen’s birthday honours a few days ago. The 39-year-old Oscar winner, who has spent much of this week co-chairing a London summit on war rape with foreign secretary William Hague, becomes a dame commander of the order of St Michael and St George courtesy of the foreign office in recognition of her work on conflict sexual crime. Jolie is co-founder with Hague of the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative (PSVI) and was nominated in the diplomatic service and overseas birthday 2014 honours for services to UK foreign policy and the campaign to end war zone sexual violence.

Jolie, who is UN special envoy for refugees, said of the award: “To receive an honour related to foreign policy means a great deal to me as it is what I wish to dedicate my working life to. Working on PSVI and with survivors of rape is an honour in itself. I know that succeeding in our goals will take a lifetime and I am dedicated to it for all of mine.”

It was while she was in Cambodia in 2001, shooting Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (see the Hanuman Films video link below), that Angelina Jolie became aware of the suffering of the people in that war-ravaged country — “my eyes started to open,” she would later say. That experience — and a greater understanding of a worldwide humanitarian crisis – led the actress to contact the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees later that year. In the years since, her work as a Goodwill Ambassador on behalf of the homeless and dispossessed has taken her to more than 30 countries — including a few war zones — and to Washington, D.C., where she has pushed for legislation to assist refugees in troubled regions around the world. In recognition of her conservation efforts within Cambodia, King Norodom Sihamoni awarded her Cambodian citizenship on 31 July, 2005.

 

Talking about awards, did you know that Cambodia is the current holder of the title, ‘World’s Best Rice’?

It was a moment to savour for Cambodian Rice as Cambodian Premium Fragrant Rice was awarded the ‘World’s Best Rice’ Award for the second straight year in a row at the global rice tasting competition during the World Rice Conference in Hong Kong, China in November last year. Cambodia owed its victory for being not only tasty but also natural, green and healthy. This second year win in a row, 2012 and 2013, has helped to raise Cambodian rice’s status to greater world recognition, leading to a boost in demand for the best rice on the global market and attracting an increased number of international buyers. Now Cambodia will seek to make it a hat-trick of wins at the next World Rice Conference. Fingers crossed.

Actually to make it a hat-trick of awards, “Pour un Sourire d’Enfant” or PSE as everyone knows it by, have proudly announced that their book “The Sweet Tastes of Cambodia” participated in the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards 2013 ceremony – which took place in Beijing last month – and won the award as Best Fundraising Book in Asia. The Sweet Tastes of Cambodia was created by a team of PSE staff who went on a journey through 11 provinces and collected 29 traditional Khmer desserts recipes, tales, legends, cultural and tourist information as well as astonishing pictures of landscapes and individuals. Books in English and French cost US$20, while the Khmer edition costs US$14. PSE offers schooling and vocational training to thousands of impoverished children in Cambodia.