Thursday, December 30, 2010
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Labels: Asean Tourism Forum
Monday, December 27, 2010
Another shameless plug
The Great Xmas Stickup
Labels: John Weeks
Pointing the way
Labels: To Cambodia With Love
Sunday, December 26, 2010
Labels: To Cambodia With Love
Saturday, December 25, 2010
To round off the day, I went to Chayyam restaurant on Street 278 for a Christmas Day fish amok and watched one of my favourite dancers, Sophea Chamroeun from the Children of Bassac group, give an excellent rendition of one of the Khmer classical dance masterpieces, Ream Eyso Moni Mekhala. She is such a graceful mover and to my untrained eye it looked perfect. Sophea is part of the team that puts on music and dance performances at the restaurant four evenings a week.
Friday, December 24, 2010
Labels: Cambodian Space Project
Thursday, December 23, 2010
Update: As forewarned, CSP played the full roster of songs from their debut album tonight at La Croisette to a good crowd, though I expect Equinox to be packed to the rafters for tomorrow's Christmas Eve gig. The restaurant on the riverside isn't the most ideal place for an eight-piece live band but it's where it all started for CSP a year ago so they feel comfortable there. Though for the audience, it has no room to dance (which for me is what CSP gigs are all about), the view can be obscured and people are trying to eat. Nevertheless, after an initial hiccup with the sound, Srey Thy was belting out the numbers in her own inimitable fashion and the combination of tried and tested numbers and less well-known songs went down a treat. The album promises to be special. Marc Eberle, who is a filmmaker and currently producing a documentary on Srey Thy, is also a dab hand at bass and made his first appearance with the band tonight, in preparation for their forthcoming world domination tour. Srey Thy told me she's off to Australia followed by China and then the USA and wrapping up in the UK. Not bad for a gal who until a few years ago had never left her province of Prey Veng. More power to her elbow I say.
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
TCWL Book Launch
The official book launch of TCWL will take place at the main Monument Books store at 6pm on Thursday 13th January 2011. Come along and listen to me rabbit on for a couple of minutes, more importantly meet some of the contributors who are the real powerhouse behind this book, and eat some of Monuments' freebie snacks. Oh, and buy a book if you like, at that special Monument Books-only pricetag.
Kent's on the ball
An Essential Travel Guide in a Digital World - by Kent Davis
To Cambodia With Love is an attractive and useful guidebook for any traveler headed to Cambodia. Its secret is that this book offers a unique collection of tips and ideas that readers simply won’t find anywhere else.
When I began traveling internationally in the 1970s trips were always too expensive and too short. So some things never change!
Info about exotic destinations was sparse, but even a few ideas about sights, food, transport and lodging could make the difference between a memorable adventure and a stressful fiasco.
On my first trip to Laos in 1992 I just ripped the 20 page supplement out of the Thailand Lonely Planet Guide so I didn’t have to carry the whole book…but even those 20 pages made my Laotian trip easier. Knowledge is power!
With the advent of the Internet, travel research has evolved. So have travelers.
Finding mainstream attractions and accommodations is fairly easy. If anything, there’s too much information available and online sources aren’t always reliable. Beyond that, most modern travelers are seeking insights and experiences much deeper than “been there, done that”. Enter senior editor Kim Fay with a new concept to create “travel guides for the connoisseur”.To Cambodia With Love is a perfect example of how well her formula works. With Phnom Penh-based British writer Andy Brouwer, they sought out more than 60 expert contributors with one thing in common: a passion for some aspect of Cambodian life. Food, history, sights, temples, Buddhism, wildlife, art, music, nature, charity, adventure, education…you name it…these people all live and love their Cambodian dreams.
And to each they posed one question: If you were giving advice to a friend who was headed to Cambodia, what would you tell them?
And so To Cambodia With Love was born, the newest in a brilliant series of travel guides. In addition to Cambodia, ThingsAsian Press now offers guides for Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar, Shanghai, Northern India, Nepal and Japan.
I can honestly say that I wouldn’t go to any of those places without one of these clever compact guides in my luggage. Why take a chance of missing the most inspirational experiences that await you in these exotic lands?
Labels: To Cambodia With Love
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Thumbs up from Gabi
Spiders, temples and a great bowl of hot noodle soup - by Gabi Yetter
I moved to Phnom Penh with my husband six months ago and thought I was pretty clued up on a lot of the good local spots to eat and explore in this region.
But, after reading Andy Brouwer's new book, "To Cambodia With Love", I now have a host of new places to add to my list.
I want to find the chive rice cakes hidden away in Psar Tuol Tom Pong which are a favourite of Loung Ung and to dine on crabe farci (fried, stuffed crab) at Seng Lipp restaurant. I want to hang out at Battambang’s s riverside Balcony Bar and find Karen Coates’ favourite seafood restaurant in Kampot. I want to discover the little café near the airport with “the most amazing bowl of hot noodle soup”. And I want to find the lesser-known temples in Siem Reap where I can walk to the top of Phnom Bakheng to watch the sunrise and then have breakfast at Angkor Reach.
"To Cambodia With Love" is a fabulous read for people visiting, living in or wanting to learn more about Cambodia. It's a patchwork of personal stories and fact, woven together by a host of esteemed authors who are familiar with the lesser-known areas of the country and who provide insights not usually given in traditional guide books.
The stories and experiences described in the book are written by such authors as Loung Ung ("First They Killed My Father"), Socheata Poeuv (producer of "New Year Baby") and Phil Lees ("the unoffical pimp of Cambodian cuisine") along with a host of others who reveal their own personal favourites in the country they love.
It's not just a how far/how much/how to guide - but rather a compilation of secrets and delectable bites from each author, giving the reader better insights and direction into how to find the real Cambodia.
Not only do you learn how to order (and recognize) exotic fruits, where to find the best deep fried spiders and how to find a white-shouldered ibis, but you'll also learn how to behave at traditional weddings, what to expect at local festivals, how to find secret gardens and how to volunteer your services at charitable organizations.
And, while the book includes travel information about the usual suspects (Siem Reap, Phnom Penh, Kampot and Sihanoukville), it also takes you to places like Sambor Prei Kuk, Kaam Samnor and Virachey National Park – places which are certain to dispute the cliché that “everything looks about the same in Camboda”.
Labels: To Cambodia With Love
Sunday, December 19, 2010
Avoiding a faux pas
Saturday, December 18, 2010
Ice with your Pepsi
Dickon Verey catches that Pepsi spirit in Battambang
Excerpted from To Cambodia With Love: A Travel Guide for the Connoisseur, available from ThingsAsian Press.
I spent almost three years of my life in the town of Battambang, which has a quiet provincial charm and laid-back ease. It also has its fair share of rumors and legends. I used to spend days driving around on my motorbike, following hearsay, happy in idle discovery. One time, I was in the Balcony Bar describing an adventure to Kompong Puoy Lake. My drinking partner looked at me, smiled, and said, "Bet you've never been to the Pepsi factory. That place gives me the creeps."
"Eh?" I said, cocking my ear. I had always assumed that Western corporations stayed away from Cambodia due to corruption. Furthermore, why would fizzy drinks frighten this character? "Yeah, it's an old Pepsi factory from Lon Nol times. Now it lies empty. Scary place. Apparently the Thais had an exclusive contract with Coca-Cola, so Pepsi built a factory in Battambang and shipped the stuff across the border. You can find it just outside of town on the road to Ek Phnom."
Fact or fiction? To find out, the next morning I hit the road. Three kilometers later and there it was; a large 1960s-style complex of warehouses and buildings. On the largest sat the old Pepsi logo. I drove up to the entrance and parked my bike. It appeared that the factory was in use. A group of ladies was cleaning plastic bottles. They looked at me in surprise. In broken Khmer I asked if I might look around.
"Ot panyahar!" (No problem!). I walked into the second room and stepped back in time. All the bottling machines were there, along with what must've been ten thousand old bottles. There were classic Pepsi, green Miranda, Singha Soda Water, and Teem. Could I take a couple? I was given the go-ahead. I then explored some more. The factory was suffering from age, but other than a few bullet holes and shell damage to one of the warehouses, it seemed largely untouched.
When I got home I noticed that the bottles had "72" etched on the bottom. I assumed that was the year they were made and that consequently they had never left the warehouse, as the surrounding countryside at that time was full of Khmer Rouge. The sense of history was palpable.
I decided to do some more research and talked to a friend of mine who spoke fluent Khmer. A few weeks later we headed back to the factory. As we wandered around outside, a band of giggling kids approached us. My friend asked one of them if he knew anything about the place.
"Speak to my dad," the kid said. A man of about sixty approached. My friend started chatting to him in Khmer. He seemed delighted that anyone was interested in the factory. He told us he delivered water that was processed by the people who were working there now.
"Where do you live?" He waved at some shacks a few meters away.
"Have you lived here long?" He laughed and explained that he had always lived there.
"Do you remember the time when the factory made Pepsi?" He laughed again and told us that he had delivered the stuff around Battambang. He didn't remember if the product was shipped to Thailand but thought it likely. The factory had closed when Pol Pot's people came, he said. However, every Khmer New Year the Khmer Rouge opened the factory for five days and made ice. In a rare act of generosity, they gave the ice to the villagers, and then they shut the factory again. When the Vietnamese occupied the country, they reopened the ice factory. When they left, the factory lay dormant until the water company came a few years ago.
On my last visit the factory was still there, so go and have a look yourself. Sure, Cambodia may be a country of myth and fable, but this is one story that's definitely true.
Fact File: Getting to the Pepsi factory
Battambang is located in the northwest of Cambodia about three hundred kilometers from Phnom Penh along National Highway 5. From the center of Battambang, take the road to Ek Phnom. Keep your eyes peeled for the Pepsi bottling factory, which is located about one mile from town.
Talking of To Cambodia With Love, we are aiming to hold a launch getogether at Monument Books in Phnom Penh around the middle of January. More when it's firmed up. Basically just standing around talking about the book or anything else you want to talk about. Probably a few difficult questions like, "why did it take so long from the beginning of the project to publication" at which point I blush, shuffle uncomfortably and look at my feet, hoping the floor will swallow me whole. Monument should have a pile of the lovingly crafted books by then. Lovingly crafted by the 60+ contributors I might add. Amazon had the book for sale before I'd even seen a copy and their author section tells me that 9 books have been sold in Seattle over the past couple of weeks. Go Seattle! With a fair wind we might even get some reviews in the local press here in Cambodia in the next couple of weeks. I'm buying a hard hat and building a bunker just in case the reviews are less than complimentary - I have to live in this town afterall.
Bon voyage CSP
Labels: Cambodian Space Project
Friday, December 17, 2010
I've been informed by a couple of people that Sambo the elephant has been seen back at her post at Wat Phnom recently, though walking home at rush-hour along Sisowath Quay has been suspended for the time being. The other Sambo, the rampaging bull elephant in Kompong Speu province, has been calmed down with tranquilizers pending the authorities deciding on what to do with him. Phnom Tamao Zoo looks the most likely location. While I'm on the topic of Wat Phnom, the inside of the pagoda on the top will be off-limits for a few months whilst renovation work takes place on the inside wall paintings and the outside roof tiles. They reckon it'll take six months from February. Just a pity they can't renovate and train the monkeys at the same time.
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Better late than never
Labels: Banteay Chhmar
Preah Vihear's future
Despite signs of detente between the Thai and Cambodian governments, the temple remains a conflict zone. Andy Brouwer, product manager for Hanuman, a tour agency in Phnom Penh, said yesterday that while the new road made tour visits "much more feasible," the temple needed permanent peace to reach its full tourism potential. "Until the two sides categorically state that they are no longer squabbling or fighting over Preah Vihear, then it's always going to remain a potential trouble spot that could go downhill at any stage," Mr Brouwer said.
Essentially we need to avoid false dawns as far as Preah Vihear is concerned. The troops may've pulled back but I don't hear of any peace treaty being signed or the Thai government stating publicly that the military stand-off won't flair up again, which means that the situation remains fragile. That will be a concern to many foreign tourists who will shy away from a potential trouble spot due to safety concerns. And rightly so. We all want Preah Vihear to flourish as a tourism magnet, but people must be aware of the situation they are entering before they go and without their safety being assured, many will stay away.
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Ayai - an artform that involves pitching their wits against each other through song
Chapei Dong Veng - a two-stringed long-necked guitar, played by veteran musicians such as Kong Nay
Sambor Prei Kuk - the 7th century capital city in Kompong Thom province
Hol Phamuong - a colourful traditional dress made from silk
Kbach Kun Boran Khmer - a traditional form of boxing.
Tangible heritage refers to built heritage, cultural landscapes and all man-made elements with cultural significance. Intangible heritage refers to the practices, representations, expressions, memories, attachments, as well as the knowledge and skills that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals, recognise as part of their cultural heritage. It is sometimes called living cultural heritage, and can be manifested in the following areas: oral traditions and expressions, including language as a vehicle of the intangible cultural heritage; performing arts; social practices, rituals and festive events; knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe; traditional craftsmanship.
On the subject of preservation, the rampaging 5-tonne elephant currently running around wild in Kompong Speu province by the name of Sambo, is not the elephant of the same name that has been giving people rides around Wat Phnom for the last few years. It's just a coincidence that they have the same name. The Kompong Speu Sambo has already killed three people in the past, including his owner last week and is running amok near Mon village in the province. It doesn't look like there will be a happy ending to this particular dilemma. The Wat Phnom Sambo, who was given a rest by the authorities during the recent Water Festival, may not be allowed back to carry on her regular duties if the local authorities have their way. I don't know the latest but traffic congestion was the main sticking point for the Phnom Penh authorities.
Monday, December 13, 2010
Kim loves Kratie
Kim Fay falls into the rhythm of life in Kratie
Excerpted from To Cambodia With Love: A Travel Guide for the Connoisseur, available from ThingsAsian Press.
Kratie at seven in the morning is similar to Kratie at noon and Kratie at sundown. Mellow. Midway up the Mekong River between Phnom Penh and Stung Treng, this is an old colonial town that does not know how to not relax. Even progress goes at its own pace here, as a cement mixer passes by on the back of a pony cart. Kratie has a sedative quality, and it was in this state that I set out from my guesthouse on a rented bicycle, with a water bottle, a camera, and a Mekong Discovery Trail booklet tucked into my basket.
I headed north on the road that trailed the river, and I made it just a few hundred yards beyond town when I realized that it was already uncomfortably hot. Turning back, I stopped at the first stall at the market, bought a big hat and shawl, and covered myself from head to toe. Wrapped in this cocoon, with only the backs of my hands showing, I cycled for hours while the river ebbed and flowed from view, the shadows of sugar palms skipped over the road, and people went about their daily business in the shade of their modest wooden homes, which were lifted off the ground on stilts.
When I returned to my guesthouse that afternoon, I was addicted and asked if I could rent the bike again the following day. I set out even earlier, my muscles already aching from my first ride. This time I did not go for the countryside surrounding Kratie, but clumsily carried my bicycle down the steep steps to the boat landing. There it was hauled onto a canoelike wooden boat (so small it had only two facing benches) that was the ferry to Koh Trong Island in the middle of the river.
Along with a handful of locals, I was deposited on a vast, flat beach, where a cow that was curled up for a nap could not even be bothered to glance at us. I dragged my bike across the sand to a bumpy, slat-wood path, which led to a deeply rutted trail up a hill to the dirt road that circled the island. The morning was so quiet, and as I set off, I was intensely aware of everything around me. The petals of flame trees scattered on the ground. Butterflies drifting as if a breeze had come to life. Chickens pecking at fallen jackfruit. Spirit altars like small bird houses perched in front of homes on stilts. I cut off on a side path through the center of the island, and the landscape opened, its pastoral fields smelling of wood smoke, hay, and the lanky grazing cows. Without the shelter of trees over the road, every passing cloud was a gift, a relief from the sodden heat.
It was possible to pedal for great stretches without seeing a single person. When I did, it would be a grandfather napping in the shade of a roadside food stall or a naked child emerging up a bank with an armload of mangoes. The mango trees were laden at that time of year, and when I passed the one group of children I saw the whole day, they did not go crazy shouting "hello! hello!" but just smiled and gave a nonchalant wave before returning to eating the ripe green fruit.
It was as if, by coming out to the island, a person belonged, no matter her hair or skin color. To be there was just that: to be. The feeling stayed with me throughout the afternoon and back to town, where the day came to a close in perfect Kratie style, with a cold beer at one of the little café tables on the promenade while the sun set over the river.
Fact File: Getting to Kratie
Buses to Kratie leave Phnom Penh from Psar Thmei market, usually around 8 a.m. Numerous companies make this journey. Kim used the Phnom Penh Sorya Transport Company, whose office is at the market. While tickets can be purchased the morning of travel, she suggests buying in advance, to get decent seats at the front of the bus. Buses are basic, and the ride takes six to eight hours, with stops along the way for food and toilet breaks. Food at the roadside restaurants is acceptable, but not terrific. The same goes for the toilets. Bring your own toilet paper.
Biking around Kratie
Although it's not essential, try to pick up a copy of Mekong Discovery Trail while you're in Kratie. This booklet has basic bike route information, including the road north out of town and around Koh Trong Island. A bike with good tires and brakes can be rented from the You Hong II guesthouse (see below). Make sure to bring lots of water, a hat, a scarf/shawl, and your own sunscreen, since purchasing sunscreen at the market is nearly impossible. Don't underestimate the sun. The backs of Kim's hands-the only part of her body exposed-were blistered for days after her two rides. Also, keep in mind that there are no public toilets anywhere on these bike rides. www.mekongdiscoverytrail.com
You Hong II (U Hong II)
Accommodation choices are limited in Kratie, and not all are appealing. The first night, Kim stayed in a guesthouse that was swarming with cockroaches. When she mentioned this as the reason for leaving, the manager shrugged and said, with little concern, "They come in to play with the light." This led her to the You Hong II, which she highly recommends. The rooms are clean, the fans work, and there are en suite bathrooms-all for less than $10 a night. The ground floor restaurant is also quite charming (especially during blackouts), serving good food to travelers as well as those few expatriates working in town. A copy of the Mekong Discovery Trail can be borrowed here. The guesthouse is located just off the river, off the road at the south end of the market.
Of eating and drinking in Kratie, Peter Walter adds: Walking along the river, I stumbled onto a long stretch of drink and snack huts basking in the glow of the late afternoon sun. After picking a spot, I was soon enjoying a bottle of ice-cold beer. The proprietor, a middle-aged mother of two girls, offered me some snacks, including the local favorite of an unhatched chick still inside its egg. Sticking with my drink, I closed my eyes and enjoyed the last rays of the setting sun before it disappeared behind the opposite bank of the river.
Once it was dark, the lady and her teenage daughter caught me by surprise as they started racing around their tables, lunging after fat, buzzing, cicadalike insects that had arrived under the cover of dusk and were flying all around the place. The pair successfully caught about two dozen of the critters, methodically plucking off the wings and legs before skewering the meaty remains and cooking them in a small charcoal oven. The proprietor explained that they planned to bring them home as a snack for her other daughter, who was still a toddler.
Sunday, December 12, 2010
Labels: Em Theay