Thursday, November 15, 2012

21 things to do in Cambodia

Cambodia is totally wonderful. It’s smaller than it’s neighbors and it’s just getting back on it’s feet after a pretty hectic time with the Khmer Rouge and all. But this doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of things to do. Here is a list of  21 things to do in Cambodia – must see places and activities in Cambodia in no particular order.

1. Catch a Tuk Tuk
Cambodia has probably the world’s best tuk tuks. They’re essentially little cushioned chariots pulled around by a guy on a motorbike. Tuk tuks give you a chance to sit back, relax and take in the view of bustling street scape of little ole Cambodian.  Plus it’s much cooler than walking.


2. Have a drink at foreign correspondent’s club
The FCC in Phnom Penh sits on the river bank and looks out at the mighty Mekong River. Sitting on the FCC balcony at the end of a stinking hot day (which is most days) is the perfect way to cool off and unwind. It also helps that drinks are cold, strong and half price everyday 5-7pm. They also serve food which is pretty tasty.

3. Visit rabbit island
Rabbit Island (or Tonsai Island) is a tiny island off the coast of Cambodia. The island is covered in thick jungle and has quiet sandy beaches, lined with coconut trees and hammocks. You can stay in a bungalow on the beach from just $7. If you’re looking for an almost untouched island get away where no one will hear you scream- this is the place for you. Boats leave the Kep pier everyday- rain, hail or shine.

4. Eat crab at kep
Kep is on the coast of Cambodia, about a 4 hour drive from Phnom Penh, an is famous for it’s crab. The crab is so fresh that when ordering crab at one of the restaurants along the shore, you can often see staff wading into the water to fish out a crab from one of their many traps bobbing away in the ocean. Now that is fresh.  This is one of Ryan’s favorite things to do in Cambodia.

5. Visit Sakura Japanese thrift store
This might not be for everyone, but for those who love a bargain or are into vintage clothes, Sakura Thrift Store is amazing. I’ve seen a few of these shops hidden around both Phnom Penhand Siem Reap. They’re great for finding interesting (and sometimes designer) clothes, bags and shoes and the best thing is that things are cheap, cheap, cheap. There are plenty of clothes for $0.25 USD.

6. Eat amok
Amok is a traditional Kher Me curry made with meat or fish, lemon grass and coconut milk (and some other delicious mystery ingredients). It’s often served in a coconut with rice and is t-a-s-t-y.

7. Visit Angkor or Archaeological Park
This may seem pretty obvious as one of the things to do in Cambodia – Angkor Archaeological Park is Cambodia’s #1 tourist attraction and money maker, but it had to be said. The park is just outside Siem Reap and is home to dozens of ancient temple ruins. Grab a guide (you’ll learn more) and a tuk tuk and get ready for a hot sweaty day of temple lovin’. You can also see the temples via elephant or helicopter if that’s you’re that way inclined.

8. Visit the National Museum Phnom Penh
The National Museum is filled with hundreds of ancient statues and sculptures that were taken from the Angkor Temples to be protected from the sticky fingers of looters and scavengers. The building itself is amazing and there’s a pretty sweet garden and fish pond in the middle. Good to spend a few hours, especially if you’re planning on visiting the Archaeological Park.

9. Hit the Beach at Sihnoukville
Sihnoukville is not Thailand. The beaches are clean and lined with lounges and restaurants waiting to feed you while you sun yourself and sip fruity drinks. You can also hop on a boat and visit some islands and go snorkeling etc.

10. Have a massage on the Beach
At the few beaches available in Cambodia, there are always locals waiting to paint your nails, thread your legs and armpits (like plucking but with string) or give you a massage – all for a price of course. The touts constantly pestering you can get a bit too much, so sometimes giving in and just getting that $3 massage is the best option. Avoid paying the kids though- they should be in school. They might be oily and sandy, but beach massages are the best.

11. Eat Tarantula
Fried Tarantula, or a-ping, is a Cambodian favorite. The ladies believe it makes them beautiful and I think the kids just like the thrill of it all. Either way it’s there and you can eat it. You can find some vendors selling it on the streets and also in some restaurants in Phnom Penh. This might not be one of my favorite things to do in Cambodia, but hey, it might be yours.

12. Visit the friends shop and restaurant in Phnom Penh
Cambodia has so many NGOs helping those in need and getting this country back in the game. Just one of them is Friends International who help street children, their families and communities. One of their initiatives is to train students for the food service industry and employ them in their restaurants around Phnom Penh. Students also create products and artwork using recycled materials and sell them in the Friends shops. NOTE: There’s plenty of these NGOs around town so do some research and find and visit one that takes your fancy.

13. Catch a giant ibis bus
To get to many places around Cambodia the only option is to catch a bus, especially if you don’t want to pay $150 for a 30min flight. Most bus companies are mediocre but I’m happy to say there’s a new kid in town. Giant Ibis Bus Service is a new luxury bus company. The buses are new, spacious, clean, have free wifi and there’s no karaoke in sight. The bus drivers seem like they don’t have a death wish and it’s rumoured they may even hold drivers licenses. All this must be pretty pricey right? Wrong. You can travel in style for just $1 more than any other bus company. Now that’s a bargain in anyone’s books.

14. Go to the fish doctor
Basically there’s a giant tub filled with fish. You put your feet in and they nibble off the dead skin. Gross, I know. Some people are into it though. But if you don’t like your feet being gently nibbled by fish you only just met, I’d give it a miss. Or have a glass of wine or two first and see how things go.

15. Visit the central market in Phnom Penh
There are markets all over this country but the Central Market (Psah Thom Thmey) in Phnom Penh is particularly special. It’s in the central part of town (duh) and is housed in a stunning art deco building built in the 1930s. The building itself arches up, allowing plenty of breathing room for those scavenging for bargains at the markets below.

16. Visit the S21 Museum
S21 was once a school that was transformed into a prison and torture chamber by the Khmer Rouge. The site hasn’t changed all that much and is definitely very eery. Take tissues.

17. Visit the Killing Fields
The Killing Fields are about 30kms out of town. This is where the Khmer Rough killed and buried 100s of 1000s of Cambodian people. It’s now a memorial site that you can wander around and learn about via the audio guide. Take more tissues.

18. Get a massage from seeing hands massage
This massage parlor down a tiny dirt road near the night market in Siem Reap is a little different. All the masseuses are blind and trained in Shiatsu and Reflexology. This is a great way to directly support the community (and get a sweet massage while you’re at it!).

19. Go to the Flicks
The Flicks Community Movie House is a movie cinema in Phnom Penh with a difference. Instead of blockbusters being blasted out on mega screens, the Flicks offer a casual alternative. Showing a wide range of old and new films for up to 32 people, the Flicks is more like snuggling up and watching a film at a friends house while you have a few drinks.

20. Visit Tonle Sap lake
Lake Tonle Sap is a short drive from Siem Reap and is SE Asia’s largest fresh water lake. It provides half of the fish consumed in Cambodia and is filled with floating villages, huge bird colonies and an even bigger water snake population- over 4 million are caught there very year. Yuk.

21. Visit Orussey Market
Orussey Market near the centre of Phnom Penh is a hive of activity where locals go to buy anything from hardware to dried fish and everything in between. This is an indoor market with several levels jam packed with hundreds of stalls and is like a hot and steamy rabbit warren. Orussey is an authentic locals market, so if you’re looking to wheel and deal and survive to tell the tale, perhaps it’s best if you venture in with the support of a Cambodian friend.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Some essential tips in Motorbike tour

1. Reasons for choosing motorbike

Motorbike is considered the best means of transportation for traveling mountainous areas due to its convenience and initiative. With a motorbike, one is free to go wherever he loves, despite all kinds of road’s condition. He can stop whenever he feels like to take photographs or relaxing, instead of depending on the driver or tour guide. Motorbike helps integrating people with nature and fresh air, and one will never be afraid of motion sickness. If choosing a car, people are likely to waste hours sleeping in passenger’s seat with air condition, not to mention the car sick caused by consecutive slopes and mountain passes. Riding on the motorbike means living on every single kilometer of your itinerary! Moreover, one can ride a motorbike in any kind of terrains, and it is much easier to repair in case of breaking down.


2. Which kind of motorbike and when?
 
100 cc-or-more semi-automatic motorbikes are all suitable for roads in Northern Vietnam mountainous area. The main criteria for choosing motorbike are strong engine, gasoline-saving and flexible packing space.

Weather is one of the most essential issues regarding planning for motorbike trip. The best time for exploring those mighty areas is from late September to the beginning of December or after Tet Nguyen Dan, when there is almost no rain and the temperature is cool. The spring’s rain and summer’s heat in high region somehow are hazardous for health as well as damaging to the road’s quality.


3. Be well-prepared!

There are indispensable things that one has to bring whenever traveling to remote areas such as specialized clothes and shoes, personal stuff, map, contact information and medical bags. However, a motorbike trip requires more than that. One will have to be well-prepared with a protective helmet and a motorcycle repair tool kit, and of course, certain skills of mending engine. An extra spark-plug and motorbike’s key are always in need. Remember to maintain the whole motorbike before setting off, change the oil and check its tyres, brakes, mirrors, horn and light. Fill up your motorbike with gasoline and know the location of gasoline station!

4. On the way

If possible, traveling in groups of two or three motorbikes with one experienced leader is advisable. All members of the group are required to have detailed itinerary to get rid the risk of getting lost. People should not ride parallel to each other and talk while controlling the motorbike, thus, stop the bike if feeling a need for a conversation.

Pay attention to the bend and ones driving contrariwise and do not drive into other lane. Sometimes, there may be animals like buffaloes, cows, dogs or even pigs crossing the road, so one should decrease the speed and avoid making them panic. At night or in rain weather, when the vision is limited, travelers had better pause the journey for resting and safety reasons.

5. Other things to remember
• Do not ride when you feel tired or sleepy.
• Do not ride after drinking alcohol.
• Avoid riding too fast or stop without noticing.
• Observe carefully and pay attention to road signs.
• Bring your identity paper and driving license because there will be police checking along the road (however they will not be very strict to foreigners)
• Be extremely careful when crossing the stream; be sure about the depth of the water to have the best arrangement.
• Respect the ethnic minority people and their distinctive culture.
• Protect the environment and always remember: Safe is of primary important.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

What is adventure travel?

Adventure travel often conjures up images of mountain climbing, whitewater rafting, scuba diving and four wheel driving. While these are certainly activities associated with adventure travel, adventure travel may involve something as sedate as a wine tasting Motorcycling tour in Ho Chi Minh trail, Viet nam. Adventure travel is simply to go above and beyond one’s normal known area, seeking out experiences which are unfamiliar. The travel destination may be as close as a few kilometers from your home, or it can be thousands of kilometers away in an exotic location in Africa or Asia.

 Maybe it has to do with the stressful and fast-paced lives we are leading, that adventure travel has become one of the fasting growing segments of the travel industry. More and more travelers are abandoning the usual beach resorts, and are actively seeking new experiences in their travels. These trips often bring significant personal discovery, development of new skills and knowledge and cross-cultural experiences.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

What & Where to Eat in Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh is the largest city and the capital of Cambodia. It is considered to be a 'rough' city. But despite this negative reputation, Phnom Penh is an easy and wonderful place which serves as a great introduction to Cambodia. It was said to be the "Paris of the East" in the 1970's. It is trying to retain the old glory which lost due to certain tragic circumstances. The abundance of beautiful wide boulevards, majestic colonial architecture and park like riverfront with cafés and restaurants help make Phnom Penh a worthwhile destination. Besides sightseeing and buying ethnic items, what/where to eat in Phnom Penh is a major concern of the tourists.


Restaurant in PhnoPenh
The interesting culinary treats offered in Phnom Penh are not available anywhere else in Cambodia. There is wide range of French influenced dishes. The dining also mixes Thai, Vietnamese and modern takes with traditional Cambodian dishes. The standard backpacker fare consisting of a pizza-banana pancake-fried rice combination is always easily available. This is mainly found along the riverfront where all varieties of stalls ranging from stand-up stalls up to fine French Bistros are readily available. Tourists of Phnom Penh have wide range of eating options and restaurants. Hence getting information about what/where to eat in Phnom Penh is not a hard task. There are numerous restaurants available of different budget ranges. 
The list on what/where to eat at Phnom Penh is enhanced by the availability of some fabulous Asian Restaurants. The beautifully decorated Khmer Surin Restaurant in Phnom Penh, located south of Sihanouk Boulevard is a rather romantic restaurant which serves delicious Khmer and Thai food. The traditional Khmer seafood dish and amok provided by the restaurant are unique. Bali Cafe has good quality Indonesian food. The other Asian restaurants in Phnom Penh are Mith Samlanh (Good Friends) Restaurant and The Boddhi Tree Restaurant.

Comme á la Maison Restarant
The good Continental restaurants in Phnom Penh are Comme á la Maison Restaurant, Foreign Correspondents Club (FCC) Restaurant, Rendezvous Café and Tamarind Café. The FCC Restaurant in Phnom Penh provides superb views of the river with modern colonial-style charm,and is a favourite hang-out offering particularly good desserts. Their signature cocktails, Tonle Sap Breezer and Burmese Rum Sour are also worth a tasting. The French restaurants in Phnom Penh like Le Deauville Restaurant, River House Restaurant and Topaz Restaurant provides fine French dishes in modern and well decorated interiors. Eating in Phnom Penh can also be attributed to the presence of Italian restaurants in Phnom Penh offering fabulous Italian dishes.

What/where to eat in Phnom Penh is a common issue which most tourists face while visiting the place. The excellent quality of the dishes available at these restaurants and cafés makes for fabulous eating options in Phnom Penh. The Phnom Penh travel guide shall remain incomplete without the details of the eating joints which are the main attractions while visiting any place.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Where and how to meet minorities in Southeast Asia


Minority cultures in Southeast Asia are often time capsules of earlier lifestyles that have escaped the full force of globalisation’s effects. Consequently, they are a highlight for travellers to the region who want to get a sense of a country’s past…as it collides with the present.
But how do you ensure that while visiting, you don’t cause unintended damage or offence? You can show your respect for a culture by being educated about its ways, beliefs and taboos. Here are a few general guidelines:
1. Always ask permission before taking photos of tribespeople.
2. Don’t touch totems at village entrances or sacred items hanging from trees.
3. Avoid cultivating a tradition of begging, especially among children.
4. Avoid public nudity and don’t undress near an open window.
5. Don’t flirt with members of the opposite sex.
6. Don’t drink or do drugs with the villagers.
7. Smile at villagers even if they stare.
8. Ask your guide how to say ‘hello’.
9. Avoid public displays of affection, which might be viewed as offensive to the spirit world.
10. Don’t interact with the villagers’ livestock; avoid interacting with jungle animals, which might be viewed as visiting spirits.
11. Don’t step on the threshold of a house, prop your feet up against the fire or wear your shoes inside.
Where to meet Southeast Asia’s minority cultures
If you want to meet minority cultures, you’ll often have to get away from popular tourist centres; how far you’ll have to go depends very much on the country and how popular it is with visitors.
The trekking industry in Thailand is very developed and a minority visit can be a disappointment for some, but much depends on the operator organising the trip. Northern Vietnam and the Xīshuāngbǎnnà region of Yúnnán have emerged as popular places to experience minority cultures, but as in Thailand, visitors need to travel further from the trail to have a genuine experience. Laos is really taking off as a destination to meet minority groups, partly due to its ethnically diverse population and in part due to the relatively small numbers of visitors venturing off the beaten path.
Cambodia and the Central Highlands of Vietnam provide a home to some minority groups in the northeast, but as they dress like lowland Khmer or Vietnamese, they have been less exposed to mass tourism than elsewhere. As for the effects of trekking on the host tribes, many agree that individuals within the village might financially benefit when the trekking companies purchase supplies and lodging, but the overall pluses and minuses are considered to be minimal compared to other larger institutional forces.
Lonely Planet has a suggestion of the top 5 spots for a genuine interaction with a minority culture in Southeast Asia:
1. Cambodia: Ratanakiri
2. Laos: Muang Sing
3. Thailand: Chiang Rai
4. Vietnam: Sapa
5. Yúnnán: Xīshuāngbǎnnà
But there are many other important minority groups in the region, some rendered stateless by the conflicts of the past, others recent migrants to the region, including the many hill tribes.

Cham
The Cham people originally occupied the kingdom of Champa in southcentral Vietnam and their beautiful brick towers dot the landscape from Danang to Phan Rang. Victims of a historical squeeze between Cambodia and Vietnam, their territory was eventually annexed by the expansionist Vietnamese. Originally Hindu, they converted to Islam in the 16th and 17th centuries and many migrated south to Cambodia. Today there are small numbers of Cham in Vietnam and as many as half a million in Cambodia, all of whom continue to practise a flexible form of Islam. Over the centuries, there has been considerable intermarriage between Cham and Malay traders.

Hmong

The Hmong are one of the largest hill tribes in the Mekong region, spread through much of northern Laos, northern VietnamThailand and Yúnnán. As some of the last to arrive in the region in the 19th century, Darwinian selection ensured that they were left with the highest and harshest lands from which to eke out their existence. They soon made the best of a bad deal and opted for opium cultivation, which brought them into conflict with mainstream governments during the 20th century. The CIA worked closely with the Hmong of Laos during the secret war in the 1960s and 1970s. The US-backed operation was kept secret from the American public until 1970. The Hmong were vehemently anticommunist and pockets of resistance continue today. The Hmong remain marginalised, distrusted by central government and mired in poverty. Hmong groups are usually classified by their colourful clothing, including Black Hmong, White Hmong, Red Hmong and so on. The brightest group is the Flower Hmong of northwest Vietnam, living in villages around Bac Ha. The Hmong are known for their embroidered indigo-dyed clothing and their ornate silver jewellery. There may be as many as one million Hmong in the Mekong region, half of them living in the mountains of Vietnam.

Jarai

The Jarai are the most populous minority in the Central Highlands of Vietnam, northeast Cambodia and southern Laos. Villages are often named for a nearby river, stream or tribal chief, and a nha-rong (communal house) is usually found in the centre. Jarai women typically propose marriage to the men through a matchmaker, who delivers the prospective groom a copper bracelet. Animistic beliefs and rituals still abound, and the Jarai pay respect to their ancestors and nature through a host or yang (genie). The Jarai construct elaborate cemeteries for their dead, which include carved effigies of the deceased. These totems can be found in the forests around villages, but sadly many are being snapped up by culturally insensitive collectors.



Sunday, September 2, 2012

Adventure tour will be developed in Cambodia


Cambodia is a place where you would never fall short of fun and excitement. The beautiful lush green fields, winding mountain ways, and long stretched beaches allow the local people as well as the tourists to indulge into a number of Adventure and Recreation in Cambodia.
Some of the most popular options for Adventure and Recreation in Cambodia are: Mountain Biking, Hiking, Scuba Diving, Water Sports, and Golf.



1. Mountain Biking in Cambodia
One of the most adventurous and exciting leisure activity of Cambodia is mountain biking. Riding through the rugged ways and paddy fields to the Angkor Wat is one of the most popular and interesting mountain biking trails in Cambodia.

2. Hiking in Cambodia
Following some of the most popular hiking trails in Cambodia you can reach to the highest point of the kingdom and witness some of the most fascinating views of the whole country.

3. Scuba Diving in Cambodia
Scuba diving and snorkeling are two of the most popular options for Adventure and Recreation in Cambodia. Koang Kang, K. Khteah, K. Chraloh, K. Ta Kiev, Sokha BeachOchheuteal BeachIndependence Beach, and Victory Beach are just a few destinations to name that have the most favorable condition for snorkeling and scuba diving. The unspoiled sea allows the tourists to view as much as 40 meters below the water surface.

4. Water Sports in Cambodia
Water sports are very popular in all over Cambodia. The pristine beaches allows the Cambodians as well as the tourists to indulge into various water sports like white water rafting, swimming, snorkeling, and scuba diving.

5. Golf in Cambodia
Golf is a newly introduced game in this part of the world. There are a few golf courses offering world class amenities like 18 hole courses, restaurant cum bars serving small refreshments, changing room etc. most of the luxury hotels and travel agencies offer packaged golf tours, that also includes a transfer to and from the golf course. The most popular golf courses of Cambodia are: Cambodia Golf & Country Club in Sang Kreach Tieng of Phnom Penh, Angkor Golf Resort and Phokeethra Country Club in Siem Reap, Royal Cambodia Phnom Penh Golf Club in Kob Srov District of Kandal Province.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

4 Cambodian temples that aren't Angkor Wat

More than 640,000 visited in the first three months of 2012, with archaeologists claiming the UNESCO World Heritage Site is being loved to death. Yet there are dozens of Angkor-era temple complexes in Cambodia that receive a fraction of the visitors Angkor Wat gets, some of which you can have all to yourself.

These are four of the most impressive. 

Phnom Chissor 

Set on a hill not far from Phnom Penh, with knockout views of the fertile deltas and emerald green rice fields of Cambodia’s deep south, this small but impressive Hindu temple predates Angkor Wat by 100 years.

It’s also where the party scene in Matt Dillon’s 2002 thriller "City of Ghosts" was filmed.


The old monks who live here are especially friendly, as are the neighborhood kids who’ll gladly take you down the ancient staircase to see the ruins of two additional sandstone temples built on the flats.

Getting there: Hire a taxi and driver for a half-day trip to Phnom Chissor for about US$20.

Alternatively, hire a moped for US$5 a day and follow Highway No, 2 south to Takeo. Turn left just before the 52-kilometer mark and follow the dirt road for four kilometers to the base of a hill. 

Sambor Prei Kuk

The site of the ancient kingdom of Chenla, this 1,400-year-old city is home to a whopping 140 temples and monuments.

Without the maintenance crews that sanitize Angkor Wat, the square stone walls, shiva lingmans, lion sculptures and octagonal towers of Sambor Prei Kuk are fighting a losing battle against the jungle.


But that adds to the rawness of exploring it and also keeps the masses away.

For those seeking an Indiana-Jones experience in Cambodia, Sambor Prei Kuk is it.

Getting there: The nearest town, Kampong Thom, lies roughly half way between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. Motorbike taxis from Kampong Thom’s central market take about two hours to reach the ruins 30 kilometers to the north. Expect to pay US$5-10 per person.

Koh Ker

Built in the 10th century, this lost city was the Angkorian kings' last seat of power before they relocated to Angkor Wat and met their demise.

There are about 50 temples at Koh Ker, most of which remain ensconced in jungle.


The two most impressive are Red Temple, named after the color of the bricks and home to King Jayavarman IV’s old thrown room; and Kohmpang (Prasat Thom), a dazzling 65-meter-high semi-pyramidal temple structure and replica of mythical Mount Meru. 

Getting there: Kok Ker lies 130 kilometers north of Siem Reap. Taxis charge anywhere from US$50-100 for a day trip, with fares depending on the state of the vehicle. Air-conditioning, four-wheel drive and working suspension cost more but are definitely worth it.

There are a few basic food stands in front of Prasat Thom here but no accommodation, so you'll need to bring a tent or hammock if you want to stay the night and get the most out of the arduous journey.

Phreah Vihear

Atop a 525-meter-high cliff in the Dangkrek Mountains demarcating the border between northern Cambodia and Thailand, Preah Vihear (or Prasat Phra Viharn to the Thais) is claimed by the governments of both countries.

Their war of words escalated into a troop buildup when the site received UNESCO World Heritage Listing in 2008 and tourists were banned from visiting.

The most recent hostilities in 2011 saw a wing of the main temple destroyed by artillery fire.

While the situation remains tense this year, Preah Vihear is once again open to visitors.


Built between the 9th and 12th centuries, its stone buildings and courtyards are spread across several levels interconnected by ancient stairways. They lead to an eagle’s nest precipice, where the view into Cambodia seems to stretch out forever. 

Getting there: Preah Vihear lies 200 kilometers north of Siem Reap. The going is slow, so you may want to stay the night at a guesthouse in the nearby town of Anlong Veng.

When your taxi reaches the bottom of the cliff, you’ll need to pay US$5 at the ticket. The fee includes box a motorbike ride up the steep winding road to the temple.

Note: the entrance at the Thai side of the temple has been closed since 2010.   

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Cambodia in the eyes of a traveller



It's been two months since we've been to Cambodia and I am trying to remember why I liked its capital city that much. Not an easy task, since we spent not more than 18 hours spread over two days. The shabby roads, the no-traffic-lights system, and the sheer poverty of most neighborhoods make that even harder. But truth is I had a great time and felt more at ease than anywhere in Asia.

After an 8-hour bus ride by Mekong Express from Saigon, we "landed" in an air-conditioned van that took us on a guided tour to four of the most important sights in the city: the Royal Palace, the Independence Monument, the National Museum of Art, and Wat Phnom.

The Throne Hall
The Royal Palace was built in the 19th century and amazingly survived all horrors of the 20th century. The complex houses the Silver Pagoda and the Temple of Emerald Buddha, as well as a series of perfectly executed stupas and shrines.

 The Royal Palace Thorn Hall

The grounds are wonderfully maintained and really worth seeing. The Palace is open every day between 7 a.m. and 11 a.m. and in the afternoon, between 1 and 5.

Inaugurated in 1958 as a memorial to Cambodia's war dead after the gaining of independence from France in 1953, the Independence Monument, built in the Angkorian style in the form of a lotus-shaped stupa, consists of five levels decorated with 100 snake heads and dominates the intersection of Norodom Blvd. and Sihanouk Blvd. in the center of the city. The best time to visit it is in the afternoon, just before sunset, or at night, when it is fully lit.

The Independence Monument
The next stop marked a 45-minute visit to the National Museum of Art (Street 13, Sangkat Chey Chumneas, Khan Daun Penh, Phnom Penh), just opposite the Royal Palace. You really don't need more time unless you are a historian or an archeologist: the museum is fairly small, but very interesting, and the guides are really effective. 

 No pictures are allowed inside the museum, thus remember to take picture before entering 

The exterior of the National Museum of Art.
The last attraction on our guide's agenda was Wat Phnom, the temple on the hill (St. 94). The namesake and symbol of the capital city of Phnom Penh sets prominently atop an artificial 27-meter hill (or Phnom) near the Tonle Sap River in the northeast section of the city. Legend relates that Daun (Grandmother or Lady) Penh, a wealthy widow, found a large koki tree in the river. She hoped to use it for a house, but inside a hollow of the tree she found four bronze statues of the Buddha (and possibly a stone statue of Vishnu); she erected a small shrine on the site to protect them. Eventually this became a sacred site and sanctuary where people would make wishes and pray for good luck and for success in school or business.

Inside Wat Phnom.
Well, that was the first time we went on a guided tour. No tourist's remorse at all, especially because the time was short and we couldn't have possibly seen so many things by ourselves in only 3 hours. But the best thing came the next day, when I discovered how pleasant a tuk-tuk ride can be.

 The Buddha statue inside Wat Phnom

The advice I will give to anybody who visits Phnom Penh is to get up in the morning, have a good breakfast, and jump in a tuk-tuk. Tell the driver to give you a tour of the city starting on Sisowath Quay, the boulevard that parallels the bank of the Mekong. This quaint neighborhood dotted by picturesque hotels, cafes, and chi-chi shops and fronted by manicured lawns is the best place to start and finish your city tour.

Cafes along Sisowath Quay.

One of the hotels on Sisowath Quay which offers great views of the river.
Then tell the driver to head to the Central Market. You'll pass en route by most of the attractions I mentioned before:

The Park in front of the Independence Monument, where most national celebrations are held.
     
Well, even if you decide to give up and shop like crazy for GAP T-shirts for $2 and 50-cent souvenirs, you can still take the tuk-tuk back to Sisowath Quay for lunch and drink a cold Angkor beer.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Complete Siem Reap Experience

It would appear that south-east Asia’s largest freshwater lake doesn’t know whether it’s coming or going.

The town this lake is accessed from — Siem Reap — is essentially famous for being the gateway to the temples of Angkor. But with more than three million people living on or around the lake in floating villages, the Tonlé Sap is a stand-out attraction in its own right. The lake is home to many ethnic Vietnamese who have emigrated to Cambodia over the past 50 to 100 years. Despite some tensions between this minority group and the local Cambodians, it’s a popular tourist stop off.

Cruising along in an old wooden boat with an equally ageing motor, I observed the locals going about their daily lives in their simple shacks, constructed from bamboo and sitting on mostly submerged stilts. Women sat on the front veranda mending fish nets; men worked on their boats and children played happily nearby.

I found this sobering reality something of a contrast with the sprawling opulence of Angkor Wat, which I visited one morning. Around 6am I found myself sitting on a rock in front of this magnificent edifice, its silhouette etched against the inky blue sky. As the sun scaled the horizon the intricate designs of this temple, once the centre of the Khmer civilisation, came into full view.

Siem Reap

A Hindu temple, Angkor Wat is regarded as the supreme masterpiece of Khmer architecture, with its elaborate bas-relief carvings illustrating scenes such as heaven and hell and the creation of the earth.
When in Siem Reap, it’s pretty much a fait accompli that you will get ‘templed out’, but the good news is there are lots to choose from. The temples of Angkor, which are spread out some 65km around Siem Reap, were constructed between the eighth and thirteenth centuries.

The temples are classified according to different styles, depending on when they were built. The styles are compared with one another according to aspects including the use of materials, the style of pillar, the pediments (at the front of the temple) and the lintel (the block of stones between the pediments and the pillar).
One of the most captivating is the small, pink-hued Banteay Srei, a 10th century sandstone Hindu temple. Another standout is Angkor Thom, the last and most enduring capital city of the Angkorian empire. Each of its grand gates features four giant smiling faces.

Angkor Wat, Siem Reap

A great deal of restoration work has been done and continues to be done on many of the temples around Siem Reap, initially led by the French and later taken on by international agency UNESCO.

Siem Reap has evolved dramatically since the early 1900s, when the French rediscovered the city of Angkor after it had lain abandoned for centuries. Those planning a visit to this northern Cambodian town may be surprised to learn that it’s a pretty cosmopolitan place when it comes to wining and dining. The aptly named Bar Street is where many of these outfits are located. There are also a number of more socially conscious places to dine and shop, the profits from which are put back into local education and health.


Fish amok (amok trei)

When staying in Siem Reap, the night markets are a definite must-visit. Tourists spent a good few hours here, even opting for a fish massage, which involved dangling my feet in a spa while small fish nibbled away at my dead skin cells. It’s not for everyone, but every trip should include a few spontaneous experiences. Adventure travel, whether it’s extreme or soft, is in the end about having new and exciting experiences. Foral most tourits, the town of Siem Reap provided that in spades.