Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Family Adventures: Discover the greatest temples Angkor Wat

 Angkor Wat is one of the most beautiful and fascinating places on the planet. Made by the Khmer kings in a process that lasts almost 4 centuries, this magnificent area has been abandoned and hidden by the forest. Re-discovered by a French man about 150 years ago, Angkor Wat is ready to become one of the most visited archaeological and artistic sites on the planet.

Kids love Angkor Wat
We booked a family adventure tour  with ACTIVETRAVEL CAMBODIA (ATC), a member of ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA. ATA has several itineraries for Family Adventures in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, from two-day to two-week, with multi-activity adventures. The itineraries mix the cultural and the fun, for example, trek-and-bike trip, fishing villages, caves, boat trip, pirate ship aquarium...

Best View
Nestled between the huge roots of a banyan tree, watching my two kids clambering around the dilapidated ruins of the remote and glorious Beng Melea Temple, trying to find me in an Indiana Jones inspired game of hide and seek!

Dish to die for
Special Food in Cambodia
The one to boast about when you get home is stir-fried red tree ants with beef. I ordered it purely for shock value but it was surprisingly delicious, with the ants adding an unusual lemony flavour. I’m not sure I’ll try to recreate it at home, but I certainly wiped the plate clean! And, amazingly, it didn’t ‘taste like chicken’.

Top Tipple
Angkor Beer. It comes in big bottles, served ice cold, at the end of a long day of sightseeing. What more could you want?
Mango and banana fruit shake, with cocktail umbrella for sophistication value, and marshmallows on the side because why the hell not?!

Best Activity
The obvious choice is cycling to the fabulous ruins of Angkor Wat, following smaller tracks through the paddy fields to some of the more remote and little visited temples. But our kids’ favourite was searching for dolphins in the Mekong in the far north of Cambodia.


Advice to Travellers?
Don’t be tempted to just whizz through Cambodia to see Angkor Wat and then leave to focus on the ‘bigger neighbours’ of Thailand and Vietnam. There is so much to see in this small country, and the people are incredibly friendly, particularly towards children, that you will regret it if you don’t spend a bit more time exploring.

Fun at Angkor Wat

Your Dream Itinerary
Start in Phnom Penh and spend a couple of days exploring this laid back and attractive city by tuk tuk – any kid will enjoy a day of sightseeing if they are transported by tuk tuk! Then head west towards Angkor Wat, stopping en route at the beautiful pre-Angkorian temples of Sambor Prei Kuk. You’ll have the ruins to yourselves and they are perfect for exploring, with lots of crumbling temples for the children to clamber around. If you fancy it, spend the night in a local village on a homestay. 

Then continue on to Siem Reap, the town next to Angkor Wat; there are great hotels here with swimming pools and lots of ice-cream parlours and international restaurants if the children are in need of something other than stir fried red ants! This is where you base yourself for a few days visiting Angkor Wat – either by bike or by tuk tuk depending on the age of your children. Make sure you visit some of the smaller more remote temples, away from the hordes. 

Liddy and family ride the Bamboo Train
Finally head to Battambang, a lovely French colonial town with crumbling charm and the great attraction of the ‘bamboo train’ a ramshackle contraption which is basically a small bamboo platform that is placed over two sets of wheels, powered by a tiny motor and driven by a child usually under the age of 14!

Memorable Moment
A group of Buddhist monks on a pilgrimage to a remote hilltop monastery guffawing with laughter as my five year old son, who had spent the last ten minutes teasing his two year old sister about being scared of the local monkeys, screamed with fright as a monkey jumped literally right over him, landing just next to his lap to snatch his half eaten banana!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Bike Riding Through the Cambodian Countryside


The vivid colors, open air and bicycles were all in the Cambodian countryside. The experience taught me an important and unforgettable lesson: One of the best ways to spend time exploring a new country or city is to do so through bike riding.

Bright green fields stretched to my right and left, scattered with small wooden shacks with resting farm animals, drying clotheslines and barbed wire fences. A bright red dirt path stretched in front of me. The air was hot and extremely humid, a combined feeling of refreshing and stifling. There were no cars and no mopeds, only bikes running over the million little rocks stuck within the country road.

Biking between green fields

Bike riding, especially in smaller, more off-the-beaten-path destinations, allows you to go places and see things in ways that traveling in cars, trains or airplanes will never let you do. You can take your time and relax, stop where you want to and go where you want to with little hassle and with little disturbance of the area around you. You get to enjoy the open air and do a little exercising while actually interacting with the people and places that you see.

Biking Cambodia
Bike riding may be a little more time consuming than other modes of transportation, but the experiences you have while doing so will almost certainly be more memorable than staring out a window. This is what I discovered when I made proficient use of bicycles in one of Cambodia’s smaller, southern coastal towns. I spent the better part of a day bike riding through dirt paths, past cow herds led by dogs and little children, and along stretching rice fields and salt flats.

I ended up having the most memorable experience of my whole trip- Angkor Wat temples, Tuol Sleng and Killing Fields all included.
River at Kampot, Cambodia
My destination was Kampot, an old French colonial hangout now suffering from the same poverty afflicting most of the rest of Cambodia. The town is very small, and doesn’t attract near the number of tourists or ex-pats as Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, but it’s all the better for it.

Kampot has one of the country’s finest ensembles of old colonial architecture, but I admittedly didn’t spend much time in the city center. We went to the farming fields and shacks of poor farmers who have undoubtedly seen very few Westerners in their day.

Most of the scenery was the homes of local farmers, the dirt road and rice fields: an accurate depiction of how so many Cambodians live their daily lives. Gone were the pothole-filled roads left un-maintained by corrupt government officials. Gone were the hoards of mopeds and vehicles cruising down the main roads. Gone was even the slightest hint of visiting tourists to the region.

One thing that remained, however, and which we experienced very often in Cambodia, was a personal and genuine friendliness from the families and children we passed by. Excited children constantly greeted us with shouts of “hellloooo!” both up-close and from afar, and their parents often smiled and waved to us as well. They welcomed us to their land openly and without reservation, furthering the sense of belonging I was already beginning to feel.

Children in Cambodia
All these elements together created a scene that was calm and a beauty that was sprawling. Even through the heat, the humidity, and the physical exertion, it was all a profoundly calming experience; being alone and isolated from the city crowds and pollution exhaust, being able to breathe and take in the vivid, stretching colors with little interruption. Those images, feelings and interactions all combined to give you a complete sense of being grounded and connected there, to the land and the people and the history of the whole place. Seeing the locals and their homes and a small piece of their lives, so far removed from my own, created both a feeling of isolation and a sense of belonging I’ve never felt before, but now believe every traveler should experience.

My path took me a total of about 10 miles and left me sore, bruised, tired and dirty. Yet if given the chance to do it over again, I would take it in a minute.

The next time you ponder renting a car or buying a bus ticket, be a little more adventurous and head to the bike rentals instead. Don’t be lazy. The experience outweighs the extra effort tenfold.

By Karina Schroeder

The truly adventure travelers can find out all things Cambodian at: http://www.activetravelcambodia.com/tour.php?op=detail&tourId=70

ACTIVETRAVEL CAMBODIA (ATC) is member of ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA offers a wide selection of Cambodia adventure tours, including hiking and trekking, biking, motorcycling, overland touring and family travel packages. ATA’s packages and custom itineraries will take you through exotic destinations to really experience the culture, history and nature of Cambodia. Outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy an unforgettable active vacation. 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Ratanakiri Province: The Hidden Gem of Cambodia

Cambodia is an amazing country; Cambodians are incredible people– resilient, creative, full of optimism and resource. The Angkor Temples are breathtaking, some of the most amazing sights anyone can ever see! Cambodia definitely lives up to its name as the “Kingdom of Wonder.”

Of all the Cambodian provinces, though, Ratanakiri is the jewel-in-the-crown.  Ratanakiri is the real Cambodia; full of kind, honest, hardworking farmers who survive off of what the weather gives them any given year, be it rice, cashews, coffee, cassava, or rubber.

Ratanakiri is beautiful. Even the name is beautiful; it’s made up from two Cambodians words, Ratanak, (which means jewels), and Kiri, (mountains). Quite literally, it means “the land of Mountains and Jewels.”
Water fall in Ratanakiri
The local crater lake, called Yak Loum, is gorgeous. It’s almost perfectly round, surrounded by forests filled with parrots, mynahs and monkeys. I recommend buying a hammock at the market, and wiling away an afternoon at Yakloum,  in peaceful solitude.

Some recommends that can make-or-break your trip to Ratanakiri:

1: Pick your season!
I know that most trips fall into a pre-arranged time slot based on one’s vacation from work, but if at all possible, come to Ratanakiri during the transition of the seasons. Here are the four times to visit, in order from worst to best.

Ratanakiri
If you visit from February to April, at the height of dry season, Ratanakiri will be furnace, and if you’re lucky enough to get an unseasonal rain, it will a free sauna. The countryside will be parched, and the fields burnt black and readied for planting. The air will be gray and dusty. It’s not a pretty time of year! If you want to see high desert, go to Australia. I’m not discouraging you, just bequeathing real expectations.

If you visit from July to September, the countryside will be cool, green, and lush. The streams and lakes will be overflowing their banks, and the rice fields will be waist high. But there’s also the possibility that you could go a week and not see the sun. This is the zenith of rainy season. Your picnic could be rained on every day, maybe all day.

If you visit in May and June, you’ll split the difference.  The monsoons won’t be in full force yet, but the province should be green, and the air will be clear. It’ll be hot as anything, but at least you’ll probably get a cooling rain some evenings, and some amazingly gorgeous sunsets.

Now for the holy grail of schedules: November through January. The air is clear, the hills are still green, it’s cool and crisp, with nights that drop into the low teens (Celsius). You won’t have to worry about rain, either. This is the time to visit!

2. Rent a motorbike and explore!
 Ratanakiri is probably the best place in Cambodia to explore on a motorcycle. There’s little traffic and tons to explore. You can tool around for days, exploring remote riverine towns and stopping in minority villages that rarely see foreign faces. You could even strap some food, water and a hammock on the back of your bike and go for your own trek through the villages– it’s safe, especially in minority villages.

Some cautions: wear a helmet! Not wearing one risks a ticket from a traffic cop, or worse, a concussion. Expect some dust in dry season, and some slick surfaces during the monsoons.

3. Don’t haggle over prices, please!
Ratanakiri is not a well-traveled place. Rural Cambodians are not aggressive, mean-spirited people. 

In fact, most shop-owners in Ratanakiri will actually sell an item at a loss, rather than risk a showdown with a pushy, aggressively bartering tourist. Often tourists come to Ratanakiri from Vietnam (a bastion of rip-offs and aggressive sales tactics), and end up making themselves a stench to the locals, arguing intensely over a dollar…. a dollar! Even the poorest Western tourist makes more than most here will ever see; so pay the extra buck.

The truly adventure travelers can find out all things Cambodian and Ratanaki at:
http://www.activetravel.asia/cambodia-adventure-tours-tl346.html

ACTIVETRAVEL CAMBODIA (ATC) is member of ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA offers a wide selection of Cambodia adventure tours, including hiking and trekking, biking, motorcycling, overland touring and family travel packages. ATA’s packages and custom itineraries will take you through exotic destinations to really experience the culture, history and nature of Cambodia. Outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy an unforgettable active vacation. 

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Trekking Ratanakiri, Cambodia: A Real “Off-The-Beaten-Track” Adventure

Have you ever wanted to trek through the jungle? Like the sound of sleeping in a hammock under the trees and stars? How about visiting isolated jungle villages and sharing a meal with traditional rice wine? Elephant rides, waterfalls, ancient tribal cemeteries: Ratanakiri has something for everyone.

Yak-Loum-lake-in-Ratanakiri, Cambodia
One of the most popular provinces in Cambodia, Ratanakiri is home to a burgeoning ecotourism movement. Virachay National Park, the biggest protected area in Cambodia, remains largely unexplored and is home to several ethnic minorities as well as a range of wild animals.

Ratanakiri means mountain of treasure and gem mining is an important industry for the locals. Beautiful sapphires, amethysts and zircon are produced here and it is possible to visit the mines, see the process and even try your own hand at it. 
Trekking Ratanakiri

Known for its red dirt, Ratanakiri becomes a dust-bowl in the dry season and a mudpit in the wet. While the roads have improved considerably, in the height of wet season some are virtually impassable. A good time to visit is in November, when the rains have stopped and the dust has not got too far out of hand. Known for its red dirt, Ratanakiri becomes a dust-bowl in the dry season and a mudpit in the wet. While the roads have improved considerably, in the height of wet season some are virtually impassable. A good time to visit is in November, when the rains have stopped and the dust has not got too far out of hand.

Ban Lung, is the regional capital of Ratanakiri Province. Around trekking Ban Lung there are many beautiful waterfalls. A lazy trip along Tonle San river stops off at Laos and Chinese minority villages and the haunting Tompuon tribal cemetary where jungle strewn wooden effigies mark abandoned graves. At Boeng Yeak Lom you can swim in a mysterious seven hundred thousand year old jungle-clad crater lake so perfectly circular that some say it was formed by a meteor.

Waterfall in Ban Lung, Ratanakiri
Waterfall in Ratanakiri
The Ban Lung locals frolicked in the pools at the base of the thundering falls, the more adventurous squeezing behind the solid curtain of water.

Ratanakiri is a province of traditional villages, virgin jungle, and breathtaking scenery. Most travellers who make the effort to reach here tend to stay at least three nights, exploring the waterfalls, minority villages and cemeteries and perhaps doing an overnight (or longer) trip into the national park. No visit to Cambodia could be complete without a Ratanakiri jungle adventure.
 
Note: The flight that link Phnom Penh and Ban Lung is available some months of the years. If you take flight the itinerary would be shorter and price would also be cheaper. You can check with travel agencies for more information.  

ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA (ATA) can be your good recommendation, offering a wide selection of Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia adventure tours, including hiking and trekking, biking, motorcycling, overland touring and family travel packages. ATA’s packages and tailor-made private itineraries will take you through exotic destinations to really experience the culture, history and nature of Asia.

Have you a good journey!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Things Nobody Tells You About Angkor Wat, Cambodia


The temples of Angkor, flanked by Angkor Wat, are one of Southeast Asia’s top destinations.  And justifiably so.  These temples are beautiful, thrilling, and absolutely fascinating.

But despite all the information that is out there, Angkor was very different from what I expected.  If you’re planning to visit Angkor on your trip to Cambodia, here’s what you need to know.

1) You need to be in good shape.

Climb to Phnom Bakheng
I knew there would be a lot of walking involved, so I planned accordingly and wore good shoes.  But I had no idea that I’d be climbing with my hands as well as my feet!

Not all temples require that you climb them, but a few of the good ones do, including the sunset at Phnom Bakheng.  Plus, the views from the top are amazing.

If you have any injuries or issues with your body, the temples of Angkor might be too much for you. Know your limits – and do research to find out which temples are easier to handle.

2) It’s crowded

Sunrise at Angkor Wat
Go for sunset at Phnom Bakheng, or sunrise at Angkor Wat, and you’ll be sharing the view with hundreds of others.

Want a picture without anyone else in it?  Good luck. It’s not easy, especially at the jungle temples of Ta Prohm.

There are a few ways to get by.  If you go see the sunrise over Angkor Wat, leave as soon as the front of the temple is illuminated and go explore the inside.  Also, if you’re staying for a few days, have your driver take you to obscure temples as early in the day as possible.

3) The vendors are relentless.
Sure, the vendors are pretty crazy throughout Southeast Asia and Cambodia in particular.  But at Angkor, they bring persistence to a whole new level.

Don’t let them wear you down.  Be stronger than me. Every time one of them starts running to you saying, “Hello, laDYYYY,” don’t look her in the eye!

4) Temple fatigue sets in quickly.

Cambodia
I went for just one day, and I wanted to see as much as I could.  Well, by 2:00 PM, I had been there for nine hours and didn’t want to so much as look at another temple for the rest of my life!

You need to pace yourself at the Angkor temples. Take the time to get coffee, get food, relax while reading for a bit.  Even with lots of breaks, you can see the major temples in one day.

And though this may seem like a bit of a rant, hear this: It’s worth it.  It’s so worth it. These temples are incredible!
Cambodia
Tour companies:
There are lots of companies in Cambodia, but I recommend an adventure travel  company I knew,ACTIVETRAVEL CAMBODIA. The guides were helpful, pleasant and well-informed. 

ACTIVETRAVEL CAMBODIA (ATC) is member of ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA offers a wide selection of Cambodia adventure tours, including hiking and trekking, kayaking, biking, motorcycling, overland touring and family travel packages. Their packages and custom itineraries will take you through exotic destinations to really experience the culture, history and nature of Cambodia.

 Whichever tour you choose, have fun!