Posts Tagged ‘travel’

Child-friendly Phnom Penh

Friday, October 3rd, 2014

So what does Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital, have to offer for children?

Climbing walls at Kids City

Climbing walls at Kids City

With chaotic traffic, a lack of green spaces and sights that are predominantly morbid, Phnom Penh would not seem like the most child-friendly city. Thing again. There are plenty of little gems to help you pass the time with your children in the capital. Plus, what kid doesn’t like a remork ride? One rule of thumb is that kids also love Buddhist temples – especially colourful temples like Wat Langka or Wat Ounalom, and hill temples like Wat Phnom, or outside of town, Oudong. Shimmering gold Buddhas, shiny stupas, animal statues and the occasional monkey give children plenty of visual stimulation (just keep their eyes averted from potentially scary demons). The Royal Palace is similarly rich in Buddhist iconography.

If your kids ride two-wheelers, consider renting bicycles and crossing the Mekong by ferry from the dock behind Imperial Garden Hotel. On the other side, smooth roads and trails lead 15km or so north to Smango, a guesthouse with decent food and a refreshing swimming pool. Phnom Penh has decent public play spaces, including a playground northwest of the Cambodian-Vietnam Friendship Memorial in Wat Botum Park, and another playground just south of Wat Phnom. To escape the heat (or the rain), Kids City on Sihanouk Boulevard, is a vast indoor play palace, with a first-rate climbing gym, an elborate jungle gym, a science gallery and an ice rink. Other indoor playgrounds (bring socks) with elaborate slides, bouncy castle and the like can be found at amusement park Dream Land, which also has a ferris wheel and other rides; and for younger children, Monkey Business, which has wi-fi and a cafe for adults. Many of the restaurants and cafes are child-friendly, but there are a few specifically aimed at families, including Le Jardin. The most interesting attraction is beyond the city limits and makes a good day trip: Phnom Tamao Wildlife Sanctuary, a rescue centre for Cambodia’s incredible wildlife.

Dolphin watching

Saturday, September 27th, 2014

The clock is ticking on seeing the rare Irrawaddy dolphins in Cambodia.

The increasingly rare Irrawaddy dolphin

The increasingly rare Irrawaddy dolphin

The freshwater Irrawaddy dolphin is an endangered species throughout Asia, with shrinking numbers inhabiting stretches of the Mekong River in Cambodia and Laos, and isolated pockets in Myanmar. The dark blue to grey cetaceans grow to 2.75m long and are recognisable by their bulging foreheads and small dorsal fins. They can live in fresh or salt water, although they are seldom seen in the sea.  Before the civil war, locals say, Cambodia was home to as many as 1000 dolphins. However, during the Pol Pot regime, many were hunted for their oils, and their numbers continue to plummet even as drastic protection measures have been put in place, including a ban on fishing and commercial motorised boat traffic on much of the Mekong between Kratie and Stung Treng. The dolphins continue to die off at an alarming rate, and experts now estimate that there are fewer than 85 Irrawaddy dolphins left in the Mekong between Kratie and the Lao border.

The place to see them is at Kampi, about 15km north of Kratie, on the road to Sambor. Motorboats shuttle visitors out to the middle of the river to view the dolphins at close quarters. Encourage the boat driver to use the engine as little as possible once near the dolphins, as the noise is sure to disturb them. It is also possible to see them near the Lao border in Stung Treng province, at Preah Rumkel, which also boasts a community homestay. Another serious threat to the lifespan of the dolphins is the environmental impact of a series of hydroelectric dam projects that are in the works in both Laos and Cambodia. No-one really knows the impact on the Mekong River and its tributaries or the knock-on effect on the dolphins and fish stocks that inhabit the rivers, but environmentalists fear the outcome will be nothing short of catastrophic. Our message is simple, see them while you can.

Pandaw to cruise Laos

Monday, September 22nd, 2014

Luxury cruise company Pandaw breaking new ground in Laos.

Pandaw on the Mekong

Pandaw on the Mekong

Paul Strachan, founder of the expedition company Pandaw, said he is looking forward to the day when all the countries the river runs through – China, Burma, Laos, Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia – can be seen in one trip. “You can’t do it on one ship due to waterfalls and other obstructions but within two years we hope to have boats on all these stretches,” he said. The 5,000-mile journey from Saigon, in Vietnam, to Harbin in China, would take around three weeks in total.

In the meantime, Pandaw is launching a new 10-night river cruise in Laos. Billed as a luxury cruise, the Laos Mekong sailing on the line’s newest ship, RV Laos Pandaw, will be available from November next year, with just ten suites onboard. The Mekong river flows through over 1,000 miles of the landlocked country, from north to south, and Pandaw is the first river operator to cross it. A stay in the Unesco World Heritage city of Luang Prabang with time to explore its Buddhist temples and Royal Palace, and the chance to travel into the mountainous north are among the highlights. The Laos Mekong is a three-country expedition as the itinerary touches Thailand and Myanmar as well. Excursions will see passengers traversing rapids and gorges, swimming in jungle pools and visiting tribal villages and Buddhist temples along the Mekong river to observe the morning alms.

Pandaw currently operates cruises in Burma, Vietnam and Cambodia and more recently the Brahmaputra in northeast India. “We are always looking for new cruising territory,” said Strachan. “We were the first on the Mekong (in Indochina) the Irrawaddy and Chindwin (in Burma), the Ganges (in India) and on Borneo’s Rajang river. Earlier this month Pandaw announced a new cruise to Halong Bay in Vietnam that takes in the Red River, a key tributary of the Mekong.

Walking with the herd

Saturday, September 20th, 2014

Original elephant adventures with Cambodia’s EVP.

Gee Nowl, one of the EVP elephants

Gee Nowl, one of the EVP elephants

For an original elephant experience, visit the Elephant Valley Project. The project entices local mahouts to bring their over-worked or injured elephants to this sanctuary, where, in the words of project coordinator, Jack Highwood, ‘they can learn how to act like elephants again.’ A Briton with a contagious passion for elephants, Highwood is on a mission to improve the lot of Mondulkiri’s  working elephants. While Bunong tradition calls for giving elephants a certain amount of down time, Highwood says that economic incentives to overwork elephants prove too great for the impoverished mahouts of Mondulkiri. In addition to toting tourists around on their backs, elephants are hired to haul around anything and everything, including illegally cut timber. Most tour companies in Mondulkiri stress that their tours employ only humanely treated elephants. Highwood commends this, but says it’s the exception rather than the rule. “Most elephants in Mondulkiri are in a highly abused state. They are beaten on the head and made to do things they aren’t meant to be doing.’

Enter the Elephant Valley Project. Mahouts who bring their elephants here are paid a competitive working wage to retire their elephants full time to ecotourism. Mahouts continue to work with their elephants, feeding and caring for them and making sure they don’t escape into the wild. The elephants, for their part, can spend their days blasting through the forest in search of food, uprooting saplings to get to their yummy roots and hanging out by the river spraying mud on one another. You are not allowed to ride the elephants here. Instead, you simply walk through the forest with them and observe them in their element. In the process you learn a lot about not only elephant behaviour but also Bunong culture and forest ecology. Other project components include health care for the Bunong communities in the project area, and health and veterinary care for the mahouts of Mondulkiri. The Wildlife Conservation Society lauds the EVP for helping to protect the eastern reaches of the Seima-Protected Forest.

The main option for visiting the EVP is a day trip in which half the day is spent observing the elephants, and half the day is spent washing the elephants and doing other tasks around the project site. There are a few exquisite bungalows at EVP but at the moment they are not able to accept overnight stays. Access to the site is strictly-controlled so don’t show up unannounced and the maximum number of day trippers allowed per day is 12. The site is not open to visitors on Saturday and Sunday, however there are plans to open six days a week in the future.

The EVP recently announced a fund-raising effort so that one of Phnom Penh’s best-known residents, Sambo the elephant, can see out his final years enjoying himself with the other elephants at the project. Forced to retire by authorities from giving rides at Wat Phnom and then his daily walk along the riverfront of the capital, Sambo has been in limbo for a while but it looks likely that he will be the latest addition to the EVP. Which is welcome news. Hanuman have been big supporters of EVP for many years, so don’t hesitate to contact us for more details on this excellent adventure in northeast Cambodia.

River rafting through Angkor

Friday, September 19th, 2014

Bringing the Siem Reap River to life with exciting new raft adventures.

With the Flight of the Gibbon ziplines already a firm favourite amongst visitors to the Angkor Park in Siem Reap, Cambodia, a brand new activity is just about to take off with the arrival of Float Angkor, and their eco-tour raft adventures. Amongst the temples of Angkor lies the Siem Reap River, as it meanders its way from the hills above Angkor, through the temple complex and out into the Tonle Sap Lake. Float Angkor will bring the river and the natural beauty of the surrounding forest to life. Their rafts will accommodate no more than six people at a time, everyone gets a safety briefing and equipment before they are allowed on the river and go-pro helmet cams are also available. All of the river guides have been trained by a world champion kayaker, Eric Southwick, so you know you’ll be in safe hands. Float Angkor is expected to be fully operational by the end of this year.

Hanuman at PATA Mart

Thursday, September 18th, 2014
The Hanuman booth at the PATA Travel Mart

The Hanuman booth at the PATA Travel Mart

The Asia Pacific region’s largest travel trade show, the  PATA Travel Mart 2014, kicked off in Phnom Penh at the Koh Pich Exhibition Center today. The 2-day PATA (Pacific Asia Travel Association) Travel show brought together more than 1,000 delegates from over 60 countries and regions around the world. The Hanuman booth at the event was manned by Nick Ray, Patrick Chase, Andy Brouwer and Tugdual Paul on day 1, and they welcomed a succession of visitors, eager to find out more about Cambodia and the Mekong Region. It’s an excellent platform for buyers, sellers, travel agencies, hoteliers, restaurant owners, airline operators, and all tourism stakeholders from all over the world to meet and explore possibilities for business cooperation.

Pandaw’s newest luxe adventure

Monday, September 15th, 2014
Pandaw break new ground in northern Vietnam.
Pandaw to break new ground

Pandaw to break new ground

Luxury river expedition company, Pandaw has announced a new 10-night Halong Bay and the Red River sailing. The itinerary will commence in July 2015 and is open for bookings now. The sailing will offer Pandaw guests the chance to explore the beautiful limestone islands in the iconic Halong Bay, before travelling to the remote upper Red River. Pandaw is the first river expedition operator to do so.

Pandaw press release says: “The new Halong Bay and the Red River itinerary provides agents with a luxury expedition product like no other. Customers looking for that once in a lifetime experience without compromising on luxury will, for the first time, be able to visit the iconic Halong Bay as well as the remote upper Red River in one 10-day itinerary.” Pandaw’s newest sailing includes two days of sightseeing in the bustling city of Hanoi before entering the Red River with its emerald green rice paddies and 8th and 11th century Buddhist temples. Unexplored by any other river expedition company, Pandaw’s route into the upper Red River will visit the region close to China’s Yunnan Province where the river narrows. Hiking from a remote river village is on offer for guests keen to make the most of this unique off-the-beaten-track experience.

Pandaw guests will enjoy a ‘yacht-like’ feel onboard the 16-suite Angkor Pandaw as well as five-star luxury service and a crew to passenger ratio of 2:1. All excursions are included in this unique itinerary. Guests will also visit floating villages, a floating school and limestone caves in Halong Bay before entering the Kinh Thay River, mooring at Yen Duc Village surrounded by historic mountains. On the Duong River, the Angkor Pandaw will visit local villages known for their 11th century folk painting and traditional ceramic production.

Guide Training in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap

Thursday, September 11th, 2014

As high season approaches, the Hanuman team hosted another refresher session for the leading tour guides in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.

Hanuman Siem Reap Guide Training at Sala Kdei, Angkor

Hanuman Siem Reap Guide Training at Sala Kdei, Angkor

The Phnom Penh training took place on 3 September 2014 in the Hanuman head office and included a practical session out and about in the city in the afternoon. Guides joined our revised Living History of Phnom Penh tour and explored the new route to discover some new buildings and stories along the way. This original Hanuman itinerary includes some of the most iconic colonial-era buildings in the city, as well as some hidden gems in the back streets of Cambodia’s charming capital.

Trainers Patrick Chase and Nick Ray then travelled up to Siem Reap to work with the leading Angkor tour guides based in Siem Reap. The guide training was hosted in the stunning Sala Kdei overlooking Sra Srang which was looking better than ever with the gardens flourishing in the green season rains. The morning session was lively with lots of shared ideas on temple timings and best secret spots for sunrise and sunset, and was followed by a catered lunch.

In the afternoon we ventured into Angkor Thom for a practical session to teach the guides the philosophy behind the Angkor Thom Photographic Scavenger Hunt. Starting out at the Bayon Temple, we explored the smaller temples of Angkor Thom on foot, including the atmospheric Preah Palilay and the seldom visited Preah Pithu. This is an original, interactive way for families to explore the temples and keep their children interested. Highly recommended.

Latin fusion in Phnom Penh

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014

Inside a renovated colonial mansion on the corner of Street 178 and 19 in the Cambodian capital, sits the Latin Quarter, serving up dishes from Colombia, Peru and Spain. Hanuman paid a visit this week.

Inside the Latin Quarter

Inside the Latin Quarter

Making the fusion of South American and Spanish cuisine more popular is the aim of the relaunched Latin Quarter restaurant, with an exciting new menu which three fortunate members of the Hanuman team were invited to try. The tapas-style menu certainly hosts a few stand-out culinary delights with our favourites including the Bombas de la Barceloneta, a meat and potato concoction; Chicharron, a delightful crispy pork belly served with a strong coriander puree; and the beef and chicken Cannelloni with parmesan cheese sauce. The offerings continued with Peruvian Ceviche seabass, Ox-tail with apricot stew, Chorizo A La Plancha sausage and of course, Spanish Omelette with a twist. The menu includes a host of other options to tickle your tastebuds from Paella to Suckling Pig, to Cuttlefish Meatballs and spherical olives as an appetizer with zest. For drinks we sampled the Peruvian Pisco Sour and the refreshing Gin Basil Mountain cocktails, and finished off our lunchtime extravaganza with a decadent chocolate coulant. The fusion food we enjoyed certainly worked for us and the Latin Quarter is definitely a recommended drop-in for lunch or dinner in central Phnom Penh.

Dining for a cause in Siem Reap

Thursday, September 4th, 2014

Check out some of Siem Reap’s good cause dining possibilities when in temple town.

Marum, courtesy of Asia Life Magazine

Marum, courtesy of Asia Life Magazine

Siem Reap has some good restaurants that support worthy causes or assist in the training of Cambodia’s future hospitality staff with a subsidized ticket into the tourism industry. If you dine at the training places, it gives the trainees a good opportunity to hone their skills with real customers.

Marum, Wat Polanka area: Brings the best of Friends to Siem Reap. Set in a delightful wooden house, there’s a good selection of mains, vegetarian and seafood dishes and mouthwatering desserts. We recommend a visit.

Haven, Sok San Street; A culinary haven indeed, dine here for the best of East meets West. Proceeds go towards helping young adult orphans make the step from institution to employment. Loved by Trip Advisor regulars.

Blossom Cafe, Street 6; Creative cupcakes and coffees and the profits assist Cambodian women in vocational training.

Joe-to-Go, near Psar Chas; Gourmet coffees, shakes and light bites, with proceeds supporting street children. Upstairs is a small boutique supporting The Global Child.

Les Jardins des Delices, Paul Dubrule School; Enjoy good standards at affordable prices with a three-course meal prepared by students training in the culinary arts.

Peace Cafe, Street 26; Popular cafe serving affordable vegetarian meals. A focus of community activities, there are cooking classes daily, yoga sessions and Khmer classes every weekend.

Sala Bai School; This school trains young Khmers in the art of hospitality and serves an affordable western and Khmer cuisine.

Sister Srey Cafe, Pokambor Ave; Offers an ambitious breakfast menu and a Western lunch with a creative twist.