Saturday, December 28, 2013

Friendly locals

Friendly locals in Long Xuyen
An overnight stop in Long Xuyen on Friday with Phnom Penh Crown making the trip to An Giang province in the Mekong Delta to play a friendly. Wandered the local street market on Saturday morning and met a few friendly locals merely stopping to say hello - I got the feeling that westerners were a rare commodity in Long Xuyen - or cutting up the local delicacies like snake.
Snake for lunch anyone?

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Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Cut-price comedy

The Comedy Club of Cambodia is introducing a mini-version with Glenn Wool coming to Equinox on Thursday 9 January for a fiver ($5). This is what I had to say when Glenn Wool was at Pontoon in Nov 2012: Mirth filled the room at Pontoon tonight with the appearance of headline act Glenn Wool, originally from Canada but now a world citizen, and his own particular brand of stand-up comedy and story-telling. Facially-expressive, Wool littered his act with expletives and lots of shouting but it did the trick and the reception he received was one of the loudest the Comedy Club of Cambodia has witnessed. Personally I made the mistake of watching a chunk of Wool's act on YouTube the day before, so most of his punchlines were already firmly planted, which spoiled my enjoyment a tad. But I can see why he's won awards and is a man in demand on the circuit. As with most stand-ups, his topics ranged from religion and relationships to drugs, to alcohol and back to drugs again. The usual tried and tested formula. It would be invigorating for a comic to ignore the usual staple diet of subjects - especially drugs which I loathe - and come up with something uniquely original. Fat chance.

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Friday, December 20, 2013

Miss potty-mouth

Rumnea (green) and myself with Gina Yashere, courtesy of KPR - click to enlarge
Remembering a superb night of comedy with Gina Yashere, or potty-mouth as I like to affectionately call her, alongwith Emo Philips (not in picture). Rumnea has never seen the like of these two fantastic stand-up comedians and like myself, loved it. Thanks to Kampuchea Party Republic's Nick Sells for capturing our moment in time with Miss potty-mouth herself.

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Getting closer

Nine films have been selected as semi-finalists for the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film and they include Rithy Panh's The Missing Picture. The final five contenders will be announced on 16 January and the winner gets to hear the good, or not so good news, on 2 March. Panh's 1994 film Rice People was also nominated for the same award but didn't make it this far. Cambodia's only other film to be nominated was Lost Loves by Chhay Bora, which didn't make the short-list either. The Missing Picture shows Panh piecing together his adolescence in a Khmer Rouge labour camp, through archives and reenactments using small clay figurines. Novel and effective. A trailer for The Missing Picture can be seen http://youtu.be/GBsf1TvX_WI.

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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Rewarding

Dy Saveth (center) and Soma Norodom at the Asia-Pacific Film Festival Awards - click to enlarge
Famed Cambodian actress Dy Saveth (center), soon to be seen in The Last Reel when the movie gets its release in 2014, alongside Soma Norodom, at the 56th Asia-Pacific Film Festival Awards Ceremony held in Macao a few days ago. Both were presenters at the awards, as Cambodia made their debut at the prestigious event. Ruin, a movie made in Cambodia with the help of Hanuman Films and Kulikar Sotho, director of The Last Reel, won the prize for Best Editing at the festival, their third festival award to-date.

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Sunday, December 15, 2013

Noeut in the spotlight

Goal machine Suon Noeut doing his after-match duties
I know this is not my football blog but occasionally an incident of note is worth a quick post. One of the noteworthy occasions took place today when the Phnom Penh Crown Academy U-15s inflicted a massacre on the National Police U-15s in a league match. The final score was 40-0 after a half-time scoreline of 14-0. Literally a minute or so after each goal came another in the second half. Of course it was one-way traffic and Police never threatened the Crown goal throughout the ninety minutes, but credit both sets of youngsters for sticking at it. Crown for bashing in the goals and Police for staying on the pitch. Other teams might've walked off. Man of the moment was Suon Noeut, a defender turned striker who not only rattled in 18 goals in this one game but also provided no less than 9 assists so his teammates could score. That in anyone's book, is the game of a lifetime. He now has scored 53 goals himself in seven matches this season. Remarkable. However, good his scoring record is, there is no resting on laurels at Crown and here he is doing his bit in collecting empty water bottles after the match. Noeut is a quiet, down to earth young man and deserves his time in the spotlight.

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Saturday, December 14, 2013

Coming home, at last

An immaculately sculptured head of Jayavarman VII at the Guimet Museum
Bingo! Sotheby's have caved in and will return the 10th century Duryodhana statue, stolen from Prasat Chen in the Koh Ker complex in the 1970s, back to Cambodia. It took them two years to reach that decision, faced with just about everyone and their dog opposing them. Too bloody long in my book, but at least the statue will come back home. Now the pressure is on for other museums in Cleveland, Denver and Pasadena to do the same. They possess statues looted from Koh Ker - so face up and give them back. And then the Guimet Museum in Paris should be next on the list. They have hundreds if not thousands of artifacts from Cambodia - removed by French explorers in the late 19th century and taken to France for ... safe-keeping. People like Louis Delaporte systematically raped remote Cambodian temples of their removable treasures, which now adorn the galleries of the Guimet, and lie gathering dust in their basement archives. I'm not naive to think that the Guimet will ever give up their headline sculptures - like the Jayavarman VII head above - but they should return every last piece that is lying ignored in their vaults and seen by no-one. I would allow them to retain a small collection of artifacts, on loan, but the majority should come home to Cambodia. As if that will ever happen.

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The best of the rest of Cambodia's islands

Belinda Beach, Koh Sdach, Cambodia
It’s not only Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem that offer idyllic island escapes. There are another two dozen or so islands off the coast from Rabbit Island near Kep to Koh Kong Island, the largest of the kingdom’s islands. Part 3 of Cambodia's islands.

Starting out in the west near the border with Thailand, Koh Kong Island holds huge potential as the country’s largest island. However, it has remained somewhat impenetrable to hospitality and tourism developers due to a rumoured lease to exiled Thai business interests and military control of the area. Day trips to the island have long been possible, taking in the several beaches that line the western coast of the island. However, there is now one hotel on the island in the shape of Koh Kong Island Resort, offering rustic beachfront bungalows in the US$50 to US$100 range.

Moving further west along the coast, visitors arrive at the tiny Koh Sdach archipelago of islands. Located off the southern tip of Botum Sakor National Park, this cluster of islands offers a mixed bag of accommodation for intrepid beachcombers. Hanuman clients should make for Belinda’s Beach, a Belgian-run bungalow operation on Koh Sdach itself. While it lakes the quintessential tropical beach, it does have the best bungalows this side of Koh Rong and the hosts whip up some excellent cuisine, handy given how far it is to the nearest restaurant. However, the island pricing still applies, meaning rates pushing US$150 per night are considerably higher than one would pay on the mainland. Other accommodation options in this area include the very basic Mean Chey Guesthouse on Koh Sdach and the eco-friendly resort of Nomad’s Land on nearby Koh Totang, but both are a touch too rustic for Hanuman travellers.

Directly off the coast of Sihanoukville are several smaller islands with a range of accommodation available, but none quite fits the bill for Hanuman at this stage. A large part of Koh Russei and Koh Ta Khiev islands is leased by French investment firm Citystar, with plans in the pipeline for a 5* Alila Resort on Koh Russei, including a 150-room hotel and one/two/three bedroom villas. Spread over 25 acres, this promises to be a significant development on the Cambodian coast with rooms starting from around US$200 and villas from US$400. However, hold your breath, as it is unlikely to be ready before 2015 at the earliest.

Elsewhere options are similarly thin on the ground. Tiny Koh Pos just a few hundred metres off Sihanoukville, now has a splendid bridge but it leads to nowhere, as the Russian investors haven’t actually built any of the planned villas. Some observers suggest it might have been better to build the villas first rather than the bridge. Another Russian-owned resort looks like something out of James Bond, the lair of Scaramanga, and is known as the Mirax Resort. It might work well of Russian billionaires seeking something different, but Hanuman prefers to recommend Song Saa Private Island for a luxury escape. Other islands have one or two options, but they are predominantly aimed at backpackers looking for some peace and quiet. Koh Thmei, part of Ream National Park, has the German-run rustic Koh Thmei Resort. Further afield, islands such as Koh Tang and Koh Prins don’t yet offer any accommodation, but it is possible to visit as part of a liveaboard dive trip or even camp on the beach.


The final small group of Cambodian islands lies off the coast of Kep. Here the sophisticated resorts are all found on the mainland with very little development on the islands. Rabbit Island has a cluster of ramshackle bungalows on the beach, but these are backpacker crashpads and not really suitable for Hanuman guests. The island has been leased to a major Asian developer and there are plans to create a resort complex at some time in the future.

There ends a snapshot of the Cambodian coastline in 2013. Koh Rong remains the best all-round island with everything from ultra-luxury Song Saa Private Island to rustic resorts of Koh Tui. Koh Rong Samloem is another fine option for an island escape, including long-running Lazy Beach and the up and coming resorts of Saracen Bay. Elsewhere the choice is more limited and it’s really all or nothing once you have selected your resort. Belinda Beach on Koh Sdach and Koh Kong Island Resort are the best of the rest, but it might be smarter to opt for Koh Rong or Koh Rong Samloem with room to move if the accommodation doesn’t fit the bill.

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Escape to Koh Rong Samloem

The lesser developed twin to Koh Rong, Koh Rong Samloem is starting to take off, with a cluster of new bungalow resorts on beautiful Saracen Bay. This is part 2 of our look at Cambodia's islands.

Koh Rong Samloem is a little closer to the mainland than neighbouring Koh Rong, so slow boat transfers take just two hours to popular Saracen Bay. Long the only accommodation on Koh Rong Samloem, Lazy Beach remains one of the most attractive places to stay in splendid isolation on the west side of the island. However, it is now being given a run for its money by several newer resorts on Saracen Bay, located on the eastern side of the island.

One of the most established places on Saracen Bay is Freedom Island Bungalows, linked to the Freedom Dive Centre, offers solid concrete bungalows facing a rocky section of the bay. The rooms are comfortable enough and include a unique freshwater bathing pool built into the base of a pretty jungle waterfall. Transfers are arranged by dive boat and the Freedom Dive vessel is one of the most sturdy on the water. Further south on the main section of Saracen Bay are a couple more interesting options, including Saracen Bay Resort, which has attractively finished thatched bungalows on the beach with smarter bathrooms than the average Koh Rong Samloem resort. The other possible option is The Beach Resort which has a bit of a hippie vibe but there are some flashpacker options available, including some beachfront bungalows. For the average Hanuman client, it’s probably best avoided around full moon when they host a monthly rave up.

Elsewhere on the island, Lazy Beach remains the all-round best choice on the island for some seclusion, and the best sunsets. The spacious bungalows include seaview verandas and the bathrooms are finished with stone floors. The newer Koh Rong Samloem Villas are another option to monitor in the coming months, as they plan to add some larger family bungalows in 2014. M’Pay Bay is a great place for a good cause, a bungalow resort that supports the local community and assists marine conservation. Unfortunately for the average Hanuman guests, facilities are rather rudimentary.
Access to Koh Rong Samloem is usually via boats run by individual bungalows or resorts. There are, however, a couple of island touring boats that stop off at Koh Rong Samloem daily, including the Suntours boat and the Party Boat. There are plans for the SEA Cat fast boat between Koh Tui (on Koh Rong) and Sihanoukville to stop at Saracen Bay, but this hasn’t materialised yet.

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Koh Rong on the map

A look at Koh Rong's longest beach in 2007
The islands off Cambodia's southern coast are becoming increasingly popular. To aid your decision-making about whether to visit and where to stay, Hanuman have taken a timely look at the main options. Here's the first, Koh Rong.

Koh Rong is the second largest island in Cambodia and offers some of the most beautiful beaches in the country. After years of minimal development, the island was leased to the Royal Group (Mobitel, ANZ Royal and many more companies) who laid out some grand plans to create the next Koh Samui, including an airport and ringroad. However, as the global economy imploded, these plans were put on hold and the island has begun to develop in a more traditional, organic sense, with lots of small backpacker pads and bungalow resorts springing up on the island. Hanuman looks at the best of the current crop of accommodation.

Koh Touich (small in Khmer, sometimes spelt Tui) is the main focus for accommodation on the island, with a range of family homestays, backpacker bungalows and a couple of, well almost, flashpacker resorts. It’s a place with a slightly hippy trippy vibe, with backpackers camping out in tents or slinging hammocks between coconut palms during the peak season months of November to February. However, it is an active local community with friendly fishing families resident in significant numbers. Turn left from the main piers to arrive in the heart of the thriving local community, turn right to discover some quieter bungalow resorts and relatively deserted beaches. Between the two piers lie most of the popular backpacker crashpads and small bars.

The best of the Koh Tui accommodation is also some of the longest running. Treehouse Bungalows sits on its own stretch of beach about 1km from the pier area and offers some rustic accommodation, including some stilted ‘treehouses’, plus a relaxing restaurant with wood-fired pizzas. Monkey Island is another veritable veteran on this stretch of sand and some sturdy bungalows, some right on the sand, plus a lively restaurant-bar by night. However, the smartest accommodation on Koh Rong proper (excluding ultra-luxurious Song Saa Private Island nearby) is Paradise Bungalows. This expanding resort has a wide range of rooms, including some of the only air-con options on the islands. There is also a family bungalow available and this would be the accommodation of choice for adventurous Hanuman guests wanting an island escape.

Elsewhere on the island, small resorts are scattered about the bays and beaches. The west side of the island is home to Long Beach or Sok San Beach, a 7km stretch that is picture perfect, but has a reputation for sandflies. There are several bungalow resorts in this area, including Angkor Chum Guesthouse, Broken Heart Resort and Sok San Bungalows, but none of these would be considered comfortable enough for the average Hanuman guest. Formerly a popular Italian-run resort near Koh Tui, Pura Vida has reopened as Pura Vita and offers a romantic hideaway for those wanting to escape from the development in Koh Tui village. Up on the far northeastern tip of the island lies Lonely Beach, a small backpacker hideaway, but once again rather too basic for mid-range or top end travellers.

One thing to remember about all the Cambodian islands is that the beachfront bungalows come at a premium compared with accommodation on the mainland. Depending on the season, prices run from double to triple those found in Sihanoukville or Kampot and are more in line with prices on Otres Beach in Sihanoukville or Kep. Some visitors prefer to stay on the mainland and make a day trip to the islands. This used to be a bit of a challenge, as the only boats running out to Koh Rong were fishing boats or converted dive boats, taking about 2hrs 30m each way. However, this has all changed with the launch of the SEA Cat, a new fast boat running between Sihanoukville and Koh Rong four times daily. Promotional prices are reasonable and will eventually settle at around US$20 one-way, taking just 45 minutes.

When it comes to activities on Koh Rong, it is mostly about relaxing on the beach. However, snorkelling and diving trips are popular and can be arranged on the island. When it comes to choice, there are more dive operators based on the mainland, including long-running professionals Scuba Nation. Other activities include fishing trips, sunset cruises and the possibility of jungle walks through the island’s forested interior.

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Friday, December 13, 2013

Treasured memories

A fisherman's boat at Portland Bill - click to enlarge
One of the few things I miss about England is my occasional visit to Portland Bill, a windswept corner of the Dorset coastline, pounded by the waves of the English Channel and dominated by the red and white lighthouse. As a young boy, our family went en masse to stay in a rickety old shack that belonged to a distant aunt for a long weekend during the school holidays and whilst I've forgotten much of my childhood, I remember those times as treasured memories. I even went out in one of the fishermen's boats, lowered into the sea by the crane in this photo. Clambering over the rocks at the foot of the lighthouse was something I could do for hours on end. I revisited Portland Bill later in life a few times and it was as if nothing had changed. Time stood still. The shacks were still there, the lighthouse was as imposing as ever and the memories washed over me like the waves pounding the rocks.

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Thursday, December 12, 2013

Purging Innocence

Pauch Khiev was barely one year old when the Khmer Rouge separated her from her parents who were forced into hard labour. She was left alone with her two older sisters. Mystically, a beautiful leopard appeared nightly to sleep under their stilt house as if it was sent from heaven to be their guardian angel. In 1981 she emigrated to the United States. She is the author of Purging Innocence and is using Indiegogo to raise funds to get her story published. Read more here. She hopes to publish in early 2014.

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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Fun in the sun

Everyone having fun at the football festival at Phnom Penh Crown - click to enlarge
Over 250 young children, boys and girls, had fun in the sun at the Equality In Sports Human Rights Day Football Festival yesterday at the home of Phnom Penh Crown. The kids came from four organisations such as New Day Cambodia as well as four communities such as Prek Pra, and as well as practicing their football skills and playing in friendly games, they also took part in talks on human rights. The community involvement isn't just great for the children, the club's professional players all play a part in coaching and encouraging the youngsters and you can see from the rivalry amongst the different coaches, that the players enjoy the day as well. Since the arrival of Sam Schweingruber at the club, this community involvement has expanded in leaps and bounds and with So Dany now on board as well, it will only get better. This is what a football club must do to become a real part of any community. And no-one is doing it better than Phnom Penh Crown.
The girls from New Day Cambodia and their coach, Touch Sokheng - click to enlarge

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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

In the comedy groove

Gina Yashere - top drawer comedian
Top drawer stand-up comedy at Pontoon this evening with Gina Yashere and Emo Philips. It's best that I don't comment on the compere and move swiftly onto Emo, who churned out a bellyful of 1-liners and typical surreal humour, allied to his eccentric appearance and weird voice, all of which went down well with the big audience. Emo's been doing his routine for many years, its a well-crafted and finely-honed set and it showed. His greeting cards prop was a classic. However, Gina Yashere brought the house down in my opinion, with her brash and acerbic wit, observations and general piss-taking. Loved her to bits. She was definitely worth waiting for. Rumnea found Emo funny but hard to catch quite a few of his meanings, but Gina was much more in your face and obvious (especially her dick deck routine) and I wasn't the only one to leave the gig singing the praises of the London-born gag-mistress.
 Emo Philips - a well-crafted performance

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Saturday, December 7, 2013

Panha and his dreams

Sok Panha, his dreams are coming true - click to enlarge
There are many hardship stories in Cambodia. It's a country that you can find them wherever you turn. And Phnom Penh Crown football club is no different. Take the example of one of the newest members of the club's youth Academy, Sok Panha. Born in October 2000, the young midfield-cum-striker was just a month old when his mother left him with his grandfather in their Battambang home, to go and work in Thailand. He has seen her just twice since that time. Panha's father remained in Battambang but was out of a job and was a drug-user, whilst his grandfather was sick and confined to bed. Realising that Panha needed help, his grandfather asked Children's Future International, a non-government organisation in the city, to support the boy's education. For the first time, Panha was able to attend school regularly, in grade 5, and was learning Khmer literature, English and computer studies. He also discovered a love for football, when CFI put a team into the league organised by the SALT Academy in Battambang. And that was when Panha really started to shine. His team were well placed at a couple of tournaments and his own potential was quickly spotted. He was invited by Bouy Dary to try out for the Cambodia national team with U-14 tournaments in Thailand and Myanmar on the horizon and he made the team.

After the squad returned from Myanmar, Panha was invited to join the Crown Academy on a permanent basis, where he now plays football every morning and attends Sovannaphumi School, studying in grade 8, and has hopes to go onto university to study English, his favourite subject, as well as Maths, Physics and Chemistry. The youngster said; "I really wanted to play when I first saw kids playing, as it looked fun and you can make a lot of friends. So I started playing for fun but now I want to work hard to make football my future career." He also has dreams of furthering that career by following in the footsteps of his Academy coach Dary. "I want to be like him. He knows English and he can bring national teams to play in many countries. I really wish to be like him one day in the future." But Panha's story isn't one without heartache. His father died just three months ago, and just twenty days later his beloved grandfather passed away too. It was a very difficult time for the youngster, but he remains positive at the direction his life has now taken, with his teammates giving him a lot of support, his schoolwork continuing to improve and his dreams of becoming a professional footballer taking shape.

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Sunday, December 1, 2013

When Andy met Sally

With Sally Ingleton at Meta House
It was a great pleasure to meet Sally Ingleton tonight at Meta House, for the showing of her film, The Tenth Dancer. Sally made the film in 1992 and introduced the world to Em Theay and the revival of classical dance in Cambodia. A watershed film for me and many others. You can read more about Sally and the film @ http://www.singingnomads.com/tenth/index5.htm. Sally hails from Australia and has been making award-winning documentaries for more than twenty years. Whilst she's in country on this trip she is meeting the main protagonists of the Tenth Dancer, Em Theay and Sok Chea. Enjoy your visit Sally.

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