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BANTEAY SREI…MORE THAN JUST A TEMPLE

The temple of Banteay Srei, located 45 minutes away from Siem Reap town, is well known for its small but beautiful temple of the same name. With some exquisite carvings and built of fine-grained rose-pink sandstone, Banteay Srei temple is not to be missed. However the surrounding area is full of undiscovered natural and cultural highlights. Combine that with a range of activities for all fitness levels, and homestays to suit all levels of comfort, then Banteay Srei district is much more than a pretty temple.
Thanks to a recent initiative by the Regional Economic Development Program (RED III) with the technical support of the German International Cooperation (GIZ) a website www.visitbanteaysrei.org and a tourist map help travellers prepare their trip to Banteay Srei District. Working together with tourism stakeholders, including remork (tuk tuk) drivers, homestay owners, restaurants and local communities the area is well prepared to welcome guests.

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Nature lovers will find plenty to fill more than a day in Banteay Srei District. The holy site of Kbal Spean, or ‘River of a Thousand Lingas’, offers an accessible medium-grade trek to see the riverbed with its carved stone lingas. Close by is the Angkor Centre for the Conservation of Biodiversity (ACCB www.accb-cambodia.org) where visitors can support the rescue, rehabilitation and reintroduction of threatened wildlife back into the Cambodian forest. Guided tours are available at 9am and 1pm daily and visitors usually see a variety of birdlife, gibbons and langurs which are being protected. The Banteay Srei Butterfly Centre (BBC www.angkorbutterfly.com) holds more than 30 species of Cambodian butterflies and is one of the largest fully enclosed butterfly centres in Southeast Asia. Don’t forget your macro camera lens as super photos are easy to take…even with a smart phone. Also guided walks through Kbal Teuk Community Forest use local guides to see a variety of flora and fauna including fascinating pitcher plants that are carnivorous and feast on small insects. Banteay Srei District can also be used as a gateway to nearby Phnom Kulen mountain, where the Angkor Empire all began back in AD802.

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To keep active during a tour to Banteay Srei District there is a range of cycling and trekking possibilities, from easy going short walks to longer day tours or treks. It is then very easy to spend a night in a homestay rather than return to Siem Reap town. Boat trips in natural beauty spots and ox-cart rides through the stunning countryside offer lots of local, spontaneous experiences that will last long in the memory.

Cultural highlights of course include the temple of Banteay Srei and 12th century Banteay Samre, one of the finest, restored temples in the country. Phnom Bok hill offers not just an outstanding viewpoint of the countryside but also some good exercise to reach the summit. Plan on 20 minutes to climb up and if going up for sunset bring a torch for the descent. The Cambodian Landmine Museum (CLM www.cambodialandminemuseum) provides an education on the dangers of landmines and also an enlightening experience to learn about the work of Mr Aki Ra. Tani Ceramics Museum displays pottery from the Angkor era and is interesting for a short stop. Another undoubted highlight is a visit to the conservatoire of the Sacred Dancers of Angkor http://www.nkfc.org/ part of the Nginn Karet Foundation, a charitable project that helps support many of the poorer villages in the Banteay Srei area and beyond. The Conservatoire Preah Ream Bopha Devi is a rural dance school educating children in traditional dance. Please check ahead to see if it is possible to watch training or see a stunning traditional performance.

41-sacred-dancers-of-angkor-13-oct-2016 Foodies need not worry in Banteay Srei District. If overnighting in a homestay there are lots of opportunities to try authentic Cambodian food. During the daytime we recommend a visit to Preah Dak village to eat some ‘Naom Banchok’ (thick rice noodles). Choose from a fishy broth or chicken curry which is spooned on the noodles and eaten with local vegetables. The village of Preah Dak is famous and visiting Cambodians won’t miss the chance to come here and try the tasty noodles. Cooking classes can be arranged at some local restaurants or also at homestays. Make sure you have a guide to help translate so you understand the ingredients and way to prepare the food.

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There are many different homestays located in Banteay Srei District. All offer an immersive way to learn about local life in Cambodia by staying with a family. The most basic homestays are often a mattress on the floor of a wooden house with mosquito net covering and outdoor shower (bring the local scarf of ‘krama’ to protect your dignity as the locals do!). Though there are also more comfortable and even upscale homestays that offer air-con rooms and indoor bathrooms. Many are set with views of mango and dragon fruit farms.

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As the name Travel Asia a la carte suggests we do not like to offer the same programme for all visitors. We like to listen to your interests and see what is best according to the time you have to spend at Banteay Srei and also your budget. Then we will pleased to make the best suggestion to craft your perfect countryside experience. If travelling elsewhere in Cambodia we recommend once arriving into Siem Reap to first try the homestay at Banteay Srei for one, or possibly two nights and then head into the town for the final stay at a boutique hotel before departing. Please contact us at info@travelasia.travel to discuss your plans.
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wellness in Cambodia

WELLNESS IN CAMBODIA

Spa Villa Pool Song Saa

It is fair to say that Wellness is a relatively new word in the Cambodian tourist industry and compared to options in Thailand and perhaps Vietnam, options are more limited. However this is sure to change in the years to come and the choices available currently can easily combine with exploration of the temples, relaxation on the coast and some healthy dining amongst plentiful restaurants.

Relaxation, rebalancing and recuperation can take many forms and nearly all 4 and 5 star hotels, and many boutiques, offer a quality spa. Besides the hotels then a couple of highly recommended spas are Bodia Spa http://www.bodia-spa.com/ to be found in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh and Sokkhak Spa in Siem Reap http://sokkhakspa.com/ .

The obvious place to start is in Siem Reap and the ideal wellness retreat is Navutu Dreams Resort & Spa http://navutudreams.com/ . Daily yoga classes and Wellness Programmes are coordinated by Francois Chaillou who has worked at Chiva Som, Thailand and has worked with many famous stars and royalty. Francois teaches daily classes of Iyengar and Sivananda Yoga and practices Shiatsu massage. The resident yoga teacher at Navutu Dreams is Siri Atma who has trained with Yogi Bhajan, the master of Kundalini Yoga. She offers Sat Nam Healings and Gong Therapy. Siri’s two fold practice of Yoga and Counseling cover a variety of problems and needs, helping to induce positive life changes and a general feeling of well-being. Components of her methods include Yoga, Movement, Meditation and Stress Management. Acupuncture, cupping and auriculotherapy are all available at Navutu Dreams and various programmes are offered including 1 day or 2.5 days Detox, 3 or 5 day burn out programmes and Weekend Re-Shape Gateways. Compliment the mind, body and soul by chilling out at the resorts three pools and dining at their healthy restaurant, Niam Niam.

Yoga Workshop Navutu Dreams

One of the most relaxing resorts in Cambodia is Knai Bang Chatt,  http://www.knaibangchatt.com/   located in the seaside town of Kep. The exclusive retreat appeals to those who seek privacy and personalised service amongst lush grounds with charming views of the Gulf of Siam. Yoga and Meditation are part of the spa programme offered at Knai Bang Chatt and their staff can guide you through one or more series of basis exercises, breathing and meditation that can enhance the benefits of massage and other treatments. Regular yoga and meditation retreats are the perfect way to rejuvenate the mind and body and with the resorts beautiful pool and fine dining options it is not a surprise many guests have extended stays at Knai Bang Chatt.

Knai Bang Chatt Resort

Over at Song Saa Private Island http://songsaa.com/ , Cambodia’s premier retreat, the entire main island is a sanctuary where regenerative sites, outdoor salas and discreet treatment villas nestle in the serenity of the rainforest, and along the ocean shore. Guests can draw inspiration and energy from the ocean, the rainforest and the tropical birdlife, to relax, rejuvenate and reconnect with inner peace and joy. Practitioners combine traditional Khmer techniques with ayurvedic principles, chakra-clearing, massage, carefully designed spa cuisine and guided meditations to create a unique and transformative guest experience. Beginning with a private consultation with their Head of Wellness, a truly bespoke programme is designed for guests integrating treatments, diet and other activities that will refresh, rejuvenate and revive. The 27 villas at Song Saa, all with private pool, offer an intimate and exclusive way to experience Wellness in the Kingdom of Cambodia.

Song Saa relaxation

Travel Asia can assist with arranging wellness retreats, spa packages and of course hotel and tour bookings, to take your mind away from the stress of planning and into thoughts of a relaxing adventure during your trip to Cambodia. Contact us at info@travelasia.travel for further details.

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BE A BEAR KEEPER FOR A DAY

Want to have a fun day trip from Phnom Penh and help a good cause? Then learning how to care for rescued bears at Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre is what you need.

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Free the Bears originally started back in Australia in 1993 when Mrs Mary Hutton watched a TV programme on the suffering of Asiatic Black Bears being held captive in order to extract bile to meet the demand for traditional Asian medicine. From humble beginnings collecting protest signatures, Mary’s campaign has evolved into a series of projects through South East Asia and India in order to protect bears. Free the Bears opened Cambodia’s first dedicated wildlife hospital at Phnom Tamao in 2006 and today take care of 130 Sun Bears and Asiatic Black Bears. The centre is located about 1½ hours from Phnom Penh.

Being a bear keeper does not involve playing with the bears – after all they are wild animals! However a visitor can help by working alongside the full-time keepers, preparing food and special treats to keep the bears happy, hiding enrichment toys in their enclosures and learning about the work that Free the Bears does. Needless to say taking care of so many animals requires a lot of money and by volunteering you are supporting a good cause as 100% of the donation goes directly to the bear sanctuary.

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A visit to Phnom Tamao can also combine with a visit to picturesque Tonle Bati temple.

For anyone resident in Phnom Penh then please support Free the Bears fund-raising evening “Beers 4 Bears” at The Mansion @ FCC Phnom Penh this Saturday evening.

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(photos courtesy of Free the Bears/Peter Yuen)

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GOLF IN CAMBODIA

Mirroring Cambodia’s economic development, the emergence of golf as a sporting activity in the country is starting to take hold. With a likely ASEAN alliance in 2015, the Cambodian development is promoting development of more courses in order to attract golf tourism much in the way that Thailand and Vietnam already does.

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Siem Reap offers the unique opportunity to pair a round of golf whilst visiting the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Angkor Wat and other famous temples during a short stay.

Phnom Penh is the business gateway and travellers appreciate the chance to play 18 holes whilst having meetings in the capital. The closest course to the capital is the Royal Cambodia Phnom Penh Golf Club, where rounds are played to the backdrop of rice fields and palm trees. Its earliest predecessor, the Cambodia Golf & Country Club was actually the first international standard course in the country and is located about 33km out of the city. The newest course is the Grand Phnom Golf Club, a members only course designed by Jack Nicklaus.

Siem Reap has three available courses which have played host to the Johnnie Walker Classic and Cambodian Open events in previous years. Sofitel Phokeethra Golf Club opened in 2007 and as the name suggests, is professionally managed by Sofitel Hotel. The Nick Faldo designed, Angkor Golf Resort holds a reputation as one of the best courses in South East Asia and is just 10 minutes drive from the town. Also well located is the Siem Reap Resort Golf Club located on the route to Phnom Penh and designed by Kentaro Sato.

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Further courses are under development and will open in the next year or two. These include another Nick Faldo course near Phnom Penh, a golf course shared with Vietnam set on the border and a couple of courses in the south of the country. Based on the growth of golf in neighbouring countries we are sure to see more travellers, both business and leisure, visiting Cambodia for a round or two in the years to come.

 

Alms giving, Battambang (3)

ALMS GIVING TO MONKS

One of the most spiritually enlightening experiences a tourist to Cambodia can see is the donation of alms to monks. Each morning saffron robed monks leave their pagodas either singly, or in a group, to walk through towns and villages to collect donations of food. Monks are expected to walk barefoot, though in the cities flip flops are often worn to protect their feet from the city dirt.

Alms giving, Battambang (1)

The food is donated by villagers and townspeople that see the gift as doing good in this life which will also help them in future lives too. Monks ‘accept’ food but do not ‘request’. Food is usually all mixed together and placed into their bowls. A monk must accept what he is given. Remember they do not earn salaries so have to rely upon donations. The most religious people will prepare a little extra food if the monks usually pass their homes on their morning walks. Should the monks arrive early before the food is prepared then a small cash donation may be given instead. This is also beneficial to the monks as it allows them to buy other additional goods they need for daily life such as soap to wash themselves. After the donation a short blessing is given by the monks as a return of spiritual merit.

Alms giving, Battambang (4)

The alms bowls are traditionally made from steel before being placed in a wood-fired oven. In the village of Koh Chen (35km from Phnom Penh) the bowls are made in the old style and a visit can be arranged as part of a daytrip to Udong.

Alms giving, Battambang (2)

The food collected is taken to the temple where it is shared amongst all monks. Some of the older monks may not leave the temple so rely on donations to be collected. Often the food is plentiful and after the monks finish eating the remainder is shared amongst laypeople who live or visit the temple.

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The alms collections can be seen throughout Cambodia. The photos taken in this blog are from Battambang where a group of monks leave their temple, cross by boat across the river and then walk amongst the small streets as they collect donations. This can be seen most of the year though during festivals such as Pchum Ben the monks stay in the temples and the food is brought to them.  

Alms giving, Battambang (6)