Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah

•September 24, 2013 • Leave a Comment
Still taken from Lonely Planet's video review. Click photo to see Lonely Planet's video.

Still taken from Lonely Planet’s video review. Click photo to see Lonely Planet’s video.

As you may know, there are lots of great non-temple activities in Siem Reap. There is a recent addition to this list that could be really exciting and unusual. A couple months ago a brand new attraction opened its doors: Flight of the Gibbon. This is a tree-top zipline adventure nestled in the jungle between the temples. From the company’s website:

Nestled in the rainforest, not far from the majestic temples of Angkor, prepare to soar on ziplines, traverse suspended sky bridges, abseil from towering trees, be amazed by the majesty and magic of the rainforest, and fly like never before.

And the Phnom Penh Post recently ran a first-person review of this new attraction. It begins:

Standing on the edge of a 100-foot-high platform about to step off into thin air, the phrase “legs turned to jelly” suddenly took on a very real meaning. Luckily I didn’t need my legs as I was to be carried by a harness, ropes and gravity, and about to zip-wire through Angkor Archeological Park at the newly-opened Flight of the Gibbon eco-adventure tour. With thoughts like, “Why am I doing this?” and “Is this really necessary for the article?” going through my head I launched off and instantly realised what all the fuss was about…

So if you’re looking for some thrills on your visit to Angkor Wat, this could be just the thing you are looking for. Maybe I’ll give it a try on my next visit.

(Thinking of visiting the temples of Angkor Wat? Don’t forget to check out my friend Savuth’s tuk tuk services and all the handy information available on Angkortuktuk.)

Wat Damnak

•September 22, 2013 • Leave a Comment

 

Not far from Pub Street is Wat Damnak - an oasis of peace and tranquility and home to the Centre for Khmer Studies

Not far from Pub Street is Wat Damnak – an oasis of peace and tranquility and home to the Centre for Khmer Studies

One of my favored activities when I am in Siem Reap is strolling around and hanging out at Wat Damnak. Its a large pagoda complex with all the ‘trimmings:’ an active pagoda, orange-robed monks, a large reflecting pool and numerous stupas. The grounds are also home to an elementary school which with Cambodian kids always offers many opportunities for some nice photos and a lot of laughs when you show the kids the pictures you have taken.

Wat Damnak also houses something that few people are aware of – the Centre for Khmer Studies. This great article from the SiemReapPost.com does a wonderful job introducing us to this valuable resource. An excerpt:

In one corner of the compound is a burgundy and cream coloured building which is a drop in library. It’s well worth popping in to if you’re even remotely interested in Khmer history, including the history of Angkor. There is a fairly extensive library there which houses a host of books about the subject. You’re more than welcome to call in and browse through the collection – which includes many books in English and French as well as Khmer.

So if you find you have some time to spare, head over to Wat Damnak for a few moments. As the article ends: “It’s a nice place. Don’t go there expecting anything particular and you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Allow lots of time to wander, meditate and enjoy.”

(Thinking of visiting the temples of Angkor Wat? Don’t forget to check out my friend Savuth’s tuk tuk services and all the handy information available on Angkortuktuk.)

Cuisine of Cambodia

•September 20, 2013 • Leave a Comment

 

West Baray grill stall

Don’t forget that Cambodia also has a great deal of delicious roadside grills with fresh fish, fowl, frogs and other interesting stuff

I love the food in Cambodia! I’m no expert or even gourmet hobbyist (although I am very enthusiastic about eating) but I know what I like and I love a lot of Cambodian dishes. Just a couple days ago I stumbled across this article on CNNGo’s travel pages – “10 meals every visitor to Cambodia should try.” I’ve had a lot of the dishes on the list although not every one. My favorites are Amok, Bai sach chrouk (Pork and rice breakfast dish), Lap Khmer and Khmer curry. I’ve never tried Red tree ants with beef and holy basil but I love Cambodian beef and holy basil and I found the lemony taste of tree ants in Australia’s outback to be very nice so I think I’ll put this dish on my things to try on my next trip to Siem Reap.

And don’t forget of course all the roadside grill food that you will come across and which is not mentioned in the article. Many westerners will shy away from these roadside stalls with grill food but I can tell you the chicken and fish is really tasty and I have never had a stomach problem there. I have yet to taste the frog or occasional snake, bird or spiders but I hear tell it all tastes like chicken :)….

(Thinking of visiting the temples of Angkor Wat? Don’t forget to check out my friend Savuth’s tuk tuk services and all the handy information available on Angkortuktuk.)

My Hero – Ponheary Ly

•September 19, 2013 • 1 Comment
Ponheary Ly Foundation

Ponheary Ly with some of the 2,000+ kits of school uniforms and supplies without which thousands of poor Cambodian children would not be able to attend school.

Actually I have many heroes in Siem Reap. There are so many people there doing selfless work and amazing things for their fellow human beings. And I have so many Cambodian friends who are just living a life that we could not even imagine, a life facing great challenges and almost against all odds, a life where they nevertheless manifest great love and compassion in the world. These too are heroes for me who give me such energy and inspiration each time I visit.

But I never tire of telling people or writing about Ponheary Ly who was among her other achievements a CNN Hero finalist in 2010. One of my most soulful and emotional days in Siem Reap was going with Ponheary to the opening day of Wat Bo school where the Ponheary Ly Foundation supports hundreds of very poor school children with the school supplies and other bits and bobs they need to stay in school. My thoughts on that day were encapsulated in an article I wrote after an interview with Ponheary. The title – Education is the Sweetest Revenge – pretty much summed up the life’s mission this stalwart woman has given herself. One of the other most soulful and moving days I have spent in Siem Reap, perhaps in my life, was again with Ponheary and some of the other amazing folks from the Ponheary Ly Foundation when I had the immense privilege to truck a nutritious hot lunch 3 hours north of Siem Reap to the most amazing school the foundation runs in the terribly challenging village of Koh Ker.

So, no, I never tire writing about this amazing and inspiring woman. But I am not alone. Here’s a beautiful article about Ponheary written by Shelley Seale – In the Shadows of Angkor Wat, Cambodia – that shares some amazing and inspiring insights into the background of this woman of valor. The article begins:

At the age of 14, Ponheary Ly died and came back to life. At least, that’s how she describes it. The year was 1977, and the Khmer Rouge was on its deadly rampage in Cambodia. After seeing her father killed, along with 13 other family members, Ly was on the run and in hiding when some soldiers accused her of stealing food. They marched her deep into the woods and forced her to dig her own grave.

I encourage you to read the full article. I’ll be very surprised if Ponheary doesn’t become one of your heroes too.

(Thinking of visiting the temples of Angkor Wat? Don’t forget to check out my friend Savuth’s tuk tuk services and all the handy information available on Angkortuktuk.)

The Jungle Temple Beng Mealea

•September 18, 2013 • Leave a Comment
Beng Mealea jungle temple

Beng Mealea means lotus pond and you can see why from this lotus pond by the temple’s entrance

Here’s a nice recent travelogue article – “Visiting the 900-year-old temple Beng Mealea in Cambodia” –  about one traveler’s day visiting this mysterious jungle temple. Its referred to the jungle temple because it lies largely unrestored in the jungle. Once hardly visited it is now a bit unfortunately more and more often on the bus tour group route and the now paved road is more inviting to individual tourists as well. It is still well worth the time and cost to visit. Late afternoon is one of the best times to visit since by then the tour groups have left. And if you are traveling with children or teens, Beng Mealea is the best place for them to feel Indiana Jones, while Ta Prohm is the best temple to feel like Lara Croft from Tomb Raider.

Beng Mealea jungle temple

Inside Beng Mealea one can really feel like Indiana Jones

A trip out here with Savuth and his tuk tuk costs $35 and can be combined with a visit to the temples of the Rolous Group which are on the way. For $40 you can also have a great day combining Beng Mealea and Rolous with one of the stilted villages on the great lake Tonle Sap, either Kompong Phluk or Kompong Khleang.

(Thinking of visiting the temples of Angkor Wat? Don’t forget to check out my friend Savuth’s tuk tuk services and all the handy information available on Angkortuktuk.)

Angkor Wat Temples To See Recovery of Stolen Artifacts

•September 17, 2013 • 3 Comments
Angkor Thom South Gate

These beautiful statues leading to the gates of Angkor Thom have almost all been beheaded by looters. Hopefully some of these will also be recovered one day.

Several months ago New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art decided to voluntarily return Khmer artifacts in their collection once it became clear that these had been originally illegally looted from the temples. Here is a fascinating article about that process, how it happened and what the implications are for other museums: “The Smuggling Scandal That’s Ready to Erupt

The destruction of so many parts of the temples and other artifacts like the statues leading to the gates of Angor Thom has been terrible over the years. So this news is so fantastic. Let’s hope that a lot of artifacts find their way back to their rightful and proud home!

(Thinking of visiting the temples of Angkor Wat? Don’t forget to check out my friend Savuth’s tuk tuk services and all the handy information available on Angkortuktuk.)

To Guide or Not to Guide – That is the Question

•January 31, 2012 • Leave a Comment

I am often asked by friends, acquaintances and website visitors if they should or need to hire a guide and if my friend Savuth or his driver mates are guides. Let me share my thoughts on this question by giving some background on how the driver and guide system works in Siem Reap, by outlining some of the possible pro’s and con’s of guide or no guide and by giving you several sources of good and unusual information for the do-it-yourself guest.

Background – the difference between a driver and a guide

First a small bit of background. In Siem Reap, you have drivers and guides. Guides do not drive and drivers are not allowed to enter the temples with their guests. A driver has an amazing amount of local knowledge, can put together a great touring itinerary, make suggestions of things to do, knows where its good to eat while out touring and can be one’s ‘man about town’ when it comes to arranging things or taking care of needs that come up during your stay. They know something about the temples but do not have in-depth knowledge about the temples. A guide has completed a rigourous study to gain in-depth knowledge of the temples and everything about them.

If one wants a guide, then one will need to hire and pay for both a guide and a driver. One can engage a guide and he or she will arrange and charge for the transportation. Or one can engage a driver and he will arrange a guide out of his network to accompany the guests. In both cases, once again, the guest will pay for both the transportation and the guide.

To ‘guide’ or not to ‘guide’

The vast majority of people do not use a guide but there is absolutely no right or wrong answer to this question. It really is a matter of personal style. Some pre-travel research and a good guide book is generally sufficient in my opinion and from my experience. However, that’s me. Each person will crave a varying level of detail when visiting these wonders and each person will have a different style of preparing for such a trip. Some people will love the in-depth running commentary that a guide provides, getting to know a lot of detail that may otherwise be missed in terms of the meaning and evolution of the rich imagery and architectural motiefs that characterize the temples as well as some background and historical details. But again, with some pre-trip research and a good guide book in tow, one can do most of this on one’s own.

On the other hand, most people, including myself, seem to prefer the more do-it-yourself approach. I find that the guidebook level of information provides more than enough insight and detail for me and gives me the freedom to wander and ponder on my own. At many moments I enjoy just sitting in silent solitude absorbing the incredible atmosphere, watching the other tourists and in particular locals and of course taking a lot of pictures. Many people may find it difficult with a guide to say something like, “I think that’s enough for now, I think I would like to wander around a bit on my own. Be back in 30 or 40 minutes.”

Sources of info for the do-it-yourself traveler

I highly recommend exploring the amazing multi-media special coverage of the ancient Angkor empire from Nat Geo. It provides some wonderful context to what the temples actually are and the role they played in the powerful and very technologically advanced ancient Angkor empire. It is fascinating stuff and really brought the place to life for me on my subsequent visits. This is where I encourage every Angkor visitor to begin their research, whether you will be hiring a guide or not. If you only want to read one thing before you go, then this would be it in my opinion.

In terms of guidebooks here is what I have learned: You can check out Lonely Planet’s ‘Temples of Angkor‘ which is a 21-page downloadable guide for about $5. It offers good detail without getting too detailed. This is my favorite and what I take with me every year. If you want to know everything there is to know, you can download a massive and free guide from Maurice Glaize who in 1944 wrote the definitive guide to the temples. You can also check out a nice audio tour (with corresponding maps) that everyone in the family can put onto their Ipod or MP3 player. It covers several of the major temples and is similar to the audio tours that most museums offer using a numbered route corresponding to the tracks.

As interesting background reading, you can also download ‘Time, Space and Astronomy at Angkor Wat’ that looks at the often overlooked aspects of the cosmology and astronomy of the temple Angkor Wat. Oh, have an I-Phone? Check out Travelfish’s Angkor guide app for the Iphone. Unfortunately, as of this writing, Travelfish hasn’t yet made a version for Android.

(Thinking of visiting the temples of Angkor Wat? Don’t forget to check out my friend Savuth’s tuk tuk services and all the handy information available on Angkortuktuk.)

Ten tips on visiting Angkor’s temples

•July 6, 2011 • 3 Comments

One of the things our guests really appreciate is Savuth’s skills in itinerary planning. We get so many comments about how Savuth knows the best times to see which temples and in which order to maximize one’s time and pleasure in avoiding the crowds to the extent possible. Unfortunately, not everyone uses Savuth as their tuk tuk driver. Here’s a great recent article with ten tips on how to get the most out of visiting the temples. An excerpt:

1  High season runs from November to March, when the weather is usually fair. Late October and November, the country is still lush after the rains and there are fewer tourists.

2  Wear comfortable shoes with good soles; the paving at the temples is uneven and slippery when wet. Take an umbrella against the rain/sun. A torch is useful for windowless rooms.

3  Have a basic understanding of Hinduism and Theravada Buddhism. Most guidebooks have a section on this subject. A good map is available at local bookshops in Siem Reap (they do not have one at the ticket office).

You can read the full article here at The Telegraph.

(Thinking of visiting the temples of Angkor Wat? Don’t forget to check out my friend Savuth’s tuk tuk services and all the handy information available on Angkortuktuk.)

Cambodia: A good primer for first-time travelers

•July 5, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Credits: The Telegraph

I recently came across this good article in the UK’s Telegraph newspaper:

Cambodia: a country with its eye on the past: Clover Stroud revels in the colour, energy and optimism of modern Cambodia, but also discovers a country where few people remain unaffected by its recent history. 


“Children are playing basketball in the water. In a caged court on a lake, they dance with the ball, slamming it into the wire walls encasing them. A boat bobs alongside, its driver shouting to the children. They thrust hands out for cartons of mango juice which he exchanges for sweaty coins. I’ve never seen a basketball court on water, but this is Cambodia and it’s one of many things in the country that opens my eyes…”

You can read the full article here.

(Thinking of visiting the temples of Angkor Wat? Don’t forget to check out my friend Savuth’s tuk tuk services and all the handy information available on Angkortuktuk.)

The Visual Genius of the Anjali Kids

•November 16, 2010 • Leave a Comment

One of the highlights of this year's Angkor Photo Festival will be the launch of Anjali House's "Cambodia, Our Vision" collection of stunning pictures from kids

One of the highlights of this year’s Angkor Photo Festival is the official launch of the beautifully executed photo book “Cambodia – Our Vision” from the kids at Anjali House. Anjali provides refuge, care and education for nearly 80 under-privileged children between the ages of 4 and 16 years old.

I have always been a strong believer in the curative and developmental power of art, creativity and imagination for anyone but especially for children. Seeing the world through children’s eyes is always a fascinating journey and these photographs from the Anjali kids will not disappoint. They are powerful and emotive images of their lives.

Check out Anjali’s website for more information or download Anjali House’s “Cambodia, Our Vision” – the brochure about the book. Anjali’s website has a great store section where you can order prints from the book, post card sets from the various young photographer’s and some other kit for yourself or vital stuff for the kids at the house.

I was lucky enough this morning to run into some of Anjali’s

This promises to be a fun event at next week's Angkor Photo Festival

youngsters this morning at the Blue Pumpkin Cafe here in Siem Reap. What a great bunch of kids who have come so far from such difficult circumstances. They deserve your support. If you are in town from November 20 – 27 check out all the great stuff, including the Anjali book, at this year’s Angkor Photo Festival. If you can’t be there, check out the Anjali stuff and maybe order something for yourself, for some lucky child in your life or help out the house itself in fulfilling its mission. You’ll be glad you did!

(Thinking of visiting the temples of Angkor Wat? Don’t forget to check out my friend Savuth’s tuk tuk services and all the handy information available on Angkortuktuk!)

Angkor Photo Festival About to Kick-Off

•November 16, 2010 • 3 Comments

6th Annual Angkor Photo Festival kicks off this weekend!

The folks are busy with final preparations and everything is coming together beautifully

If you are in Siem Reap for the next few days, or about to come, don’t forget that this coming weekend is really a special time in town. There’s the boat festival (more on that on a second post a bit later today) and the annual Angkor Photo Festival. The folks at the festival are putting the final touches on all the preparations and it really promises to be another exciting program.

The festival kicks of on Saturday, November 20 at continues with a very varied daily program until the event’s closing one week later on Saturday evening, November 27. You can see the program on the organization’s website.

While talking to some of the organizers this morning at Angkor Gallery, I noticed this flyer about a cool event on November 23 which I wanted to draw some extra attention to. It’s a preview night slideshow highlighting the amazing photographs of some of the kids from Anjali House. It’s being held, as you can see, at the Siem Reap Hostel where a lot of the tutors for the Anjali photo workshops and other students participating in the festival’s workshops will be staying. They wanted to put together a preview event for the following day’s children’s program at the nearby Wat Damnak. Something tells me that the energy of these folks along with the subject matter will make this evening a really rocking affair.

You gotta check out the work of these kids! It is really stunning and moving!

Sadly after extending my stay here once already for six days I really have to head off tomorrow so I will miss the festival. I stopped by one of the main venues this morning – Angkor Gallery along the river road – and got to see some of the stuff. Make sure you check it out if you are lucky enough to be here!


(Thinking of visiting the temples of Angkor Wat? Don’t forget to check out my friend Savuth’s tuk tuk services and all the handy information available on Angkortuktuk!)

Siem Reap Fun Fair

•November 9, 2010 • 1 Comment

For 'smile-view' click to enlarge 🙂

Last night after hanging out a bit at Savuth’s house we decided to head out to the local Siem Reap fun fair. Seeing the pure joy of a kid during a rare visit to a fun fair has got to be one of life’s better and more simple pleasures.

Siem Reap fun fair

The picture doesn’t do it justice as it was a pretty major affair. Lots of rides, plenty of food stalls and dozens if not hundreds of stalls selling everything from shoes to handbags to household accessories and more.

Let's do it again!

The rides are  quite simple, unsophisticated and would never qualify for liability insurance in the west but that does not have any negative impact on the joy and fun-factor for the kids. In some ways, the simple nature of it all creates a powerful back to basics type of pure fun that we no longer experience or perhaps appreciate with our high-tech, high-polish, super-sized lifestyle.

It was also a bit funny watching them initially struggle to eat their first-ever pizza slices with a plastic fork and knife which I think they associate with western food as a matter of fact. After a few minutes of observing their most valiant efforts, I decided

Continue reading ‘Siem Reap Fun Fair’

Ponheary Ly Foundation and Koh Ker – Part 1

•November 8, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Whenever I come visit Cambodia, some of my friends back home collect a bit of money to support one of the projects here that is near and dear to my heart. This year I used the money to help a small, independent and fantastic charity I have known here since 2007 called the Ponheary Ly Foundation. For some more info about them you can check out the bit I wrote last year when visiting: “Education is the Sweetest Revenge.”

We earmarked the money to provide a hot lunch to the nearly 200 primary school students of the very rural and very poor Koh Ker community. This is a school that is pretty much run by the Ponheary Ly Foundation since 2006. Koh Ker is the site of the ruins of one of the capital cities of the ancient Angkor empire. Due to its 100 km distance from Siem Reap, the tourist town serving the main temples of Angkor Wat, it gets almost no tourists and enjoys no development.

Koh Ker village was established in 1979 after the Vietnamese drove the Khmer Rouge from power. This part of northern Cambodia was one of the Khmer Rouge’s last holdouts. When established, the village became home to transient war victims: returning refugees who had fled to the northern border with Thailand, those who had survived wandering in the area’s jungles for several years or people who were lucky enough to outlive their torturous Khmer Rouge servitude.

Continue reading ‘Ponheary Ly Foundation and Koh Ker – Part 1’

Here we go again!

•October 22, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Getting really psyched for my next trip to the places and people I love so much!

The initial itinerary looks like this:

Oct 24 fly to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; overnight at airport
Oct 26 fly to Vientiane, Laos; overnight there
Oct 27 fly to Luang Prabang, Laos
Nov 1 fly to Siem Reap, Cambodia
Nov 12 ten – twelve hours by road to Kep, Cambodia
Nov 17 fly to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Nov 21 fly to Amsterdam

(Thinking of visiting the temples of Angkor Wat? Don’t forget to check out my friend Savuth’s tuk tuk services and all the handy information available on our website Angkortuktuk).

Angkor Photo Festival – Schedule of events!

•October 17, 2010 • Leave a Comment

I woke up this morning to find I had received the press kit with the full schedule of events for this year’s Angkor Photo Festival. Thank you Camille Plante!

If you are going to be in Siem Reap between November 20 – 27 you have got to check out this fantastic photography festival. (At the end of the article you will find a link to directly download the press kit which contains a complete day by day schedule.) You will find 10 indoor and 4 outdoor exhibitions at some of Siem Reap’s marquee locations such as Hotel de la Paix’s Arts Lounge, the McDermott Gallery, Angkor Photo Gallery, Angkor Hospital for Children, Blue Pumpkin Cafe, Raffles’ Garden and FCC Angkor. There will also be evening slide shows, events for children and of course the annual tie-in with the fantastic Anjali House for at-risk children. You will have the opportunity to see works from 110 photographers, including 50 from Asia encompassing fascinating themes from across the broader Asian continent.

As I read through the program I am once again sad and disappointed that my annual visit to Siem Reap comes to an end just a few days before the festival takes place. It looks like it is going to be a fantastic event.

For those not familiar with this sixth edition of what has become an important annual event, let me bring you up to speed with an excerpt from the press kit’s introduction:

“Created in 2oo5, the Angkor Photo Festival is the first such event to be organized in Southeast Asia. Each year, and for a week, the festival showcases exhibitions and outdoor slideshows by celebrating international and emerging Asian photographers’ works in Siem Reap. The temples of Angkor become a hub that draws both famous and passionate photographers from around the world in creativity and sharing spirit. The strong educational goals of the Angkor Photo Festival set it apart from other photography events. During their stay, famous photographers tutor Angkor Photo Workshops for emerging Asian photographers and the festival also presents its outreach programs Anjali Children’s Photo Workshops.”

Click HERE to download the presskit with the full schedule of events.

(Thinking of visiting the temples of Angkor Wat? Don’t forget to check out my friend Savuth’s tuk tuk services and all the handy information available on our website Angkortuktuk).