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Category: Cambodia

Travel Guide: The BEST Of Siem Reap

There is so much to see in Siem Reap and this little province is bursting out of its seams with eateries, pubs, boutiques, markets and entertainment aplenty. Of course, you…

Siem Reap Travel Guide
There is so much to see in Siem Reap and this little province is bursting out of its seams with eateries, pubs, boutiques, markets and entertainment aplenty. Of course, you can’t avoid the fact that the magnificent ancient Angkor Wat sits at the very center of this booming province making it an essential destination when you travel Cambodia.

I have to admit, every time I make a trip to Siem Reap I’m bubbling with excitement – it’s that sense of familiarity – going back to favourite restaurants and massage spas, coupled with the sense of curiosity – trying out that new cafe or staying at the new hotel that keeps the anticipation stirring. I live three-hours away from Siem Reap, in the lovely countryside province called Battambang. While I absolutely love the laid back, friendly, local lifestyle here, I’m ever ready to play tour guide when it comes to bringing visitors to Siem Reap.

When, Smart Travel Asia contacted me to write a guide for Siem Reap, I was thrilled! The link below will lead you to a comprehensive guide to the province’s BEST. So pass the word around to anyone you know who’s planning a visit to Siem Reap – read it before you arrive, it’ll help you make the most of your visit.

P/s: If you have a few more days to spare, take a bus or a cruise to Battambang. I assure you, the people, ancient temples and old French buildings will make for a charming stopover.

Go to Smart Travel Asiahttp://www.smarttravelasia.com/angkor.htm for the full travel guide.
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Heritage Suites, Siem Reap: Hospitality With Heart

Cambodia’s a developing country, where the gap between the rich and poor is vast and the slow emerging middle class is the very stratum of society that indicate the country’s…

Cambodia’s a developing country, where the gap between the rich and poor is vast and the slow emerging middle class is the very stratum of society that indicate the country’s economic progress. Travel ten kilometres out of Siem Reap, Cambodia’s vibrant tourist town centre and you will see the real Cambodia – wooden stilt homes, lack of proper toilets and roads ridden with pot holes.

Now travel back to the heart of Siem Reap and the reality can easily be forgotten. Five-star and luxury boutique hotels, restaurants that cater for any palate with international standards in mind, wine bars and even designer boutiques – but none of these places are patronised by locals. They are established to serve the growing stream of tourists that have been increasing since the tourism boom in 2002.

Cambodia countryside

Those who stand behind the counter and serve the food and drinks are local Cambodians. They are young people who travel out from the countryside to seek employment in hope for a better life. Alongside this boom, organisations have sought to do more for Cambodia through social responsibility initiatives. You don’t have to look hard and long before you spot another initiative that sounds something like this: “Helping local Cambodians craft a future” or “Alleviating poverty one bag at a time”. While all this is great, I can’t ignore the fact that many organisations have also jumped on the bandwagon for marketing gain. Jarring leaflets and posters stuck on walls, tacky and thick compendiums in hotel rooms and websites claiming that they can save the world. When staff are asked if they know of the hotel’s social commitment, they simply shrug their shoulders and hand me another leaflet.

That’s why when I came across a hotel like Heritage Suites and an organisation like Sala Bai, I’m duly refreshed to learn of their genuine commitment and sustainable efforts in helping people through practical ways. In the sea of copycats, there are genuine organisations that want to help and find a way to make their contribution more meaningful and lasting.

Heritage, Creating A Legacy

The luxury 26 room and suites boutique hotel is tucked away in Slokram Village not too far away from the buzz of Pub Street and the Night Markets, but far enough for a peaceful retreat. During the day, I hear children from the local school laughing and chatting and school bells ringing just behind the hotel’s compound walls and at night, along the street leading to the hotel, I watch families sitting out on their verandah enjoying a meal of rice, soup and vegetables. The hotel in all its luxury and top-notch service is set amongst a local Cambodian commune – the very thing that preserves its sense of place and community charm.

Heritage Suites

The facade is that of a French colonial building curtained by palm trees. The hotel’s lobby, restaurant and bar sharing the same space, a lofty open hall with a tall ceilings supported by timbers and grand massive candle lights hanging over top. The arched window panes and large panelled mirrors at the bar facilitate the flow of natural light and magnify the spaciousness of the restaurant.

Heritage Suites 3

The same simplistic grandeur follows through into the suites. My bungalow suite had wall-to-ceiling windows with thick curtains that turn the suite from a bright and airy space into a slumber wonderland. The decor is minimalistic with an emphasis on Cambodian art and modern furnishings. The hallmark of the suite is the private steam room and stand alone oversized stone tub facing the private garden and open air shower.

Heritage Suites 1 Heritage Suites 2

Whilst I thoroughly enjoyed my suite, I wanted to understand Heritage’s stand on their community efforts. So I sat down for a chat with Magnus Olovson, the hotel’s general manager, a seasoned hospitality professional who’s been in the industry for years and leading in his game. “I’ve been doing corporate hospitality for so long and when I was given the opportunity to return to old fashion hospitality, I jumped at it”.

“What is old-fashioned hospitality?”, I asked. “It’s where I get to greet every guest by name and learn about their day. It’s like welcoming people into your home”. Just then, he spots a couple behind the thick glass doors alighting from the hotel’s vintage Mercedez. He politely excused himself to greet some guests that have just arrived from the airport. After a few handshakes, some jovial laughs and a warm welcome, he returned and candidly said, “My guests are important to me but my staff are so much more important. Without them, all this would not be possible”.

Magnus continued to explain Heritage’s partnership with Sala Bai, a hospitality vocational school that have trained over 1000 students in the last 13 years and given them job opportunities at world-class hotels in Siem Reap and beyond. “Look around, would you have guessed that they (the staff) come from really poor families? Look at them now, they are thriving and building a future of their own”.

Heritage Suites

Dressed in crisp black and white uniforms and a perpetual smile, the staff at Heritage Suites are all hands on deck. During my stay, I was met with prompt attentive service with the genuine warmth of Cambodian hospitality. I have stayed in Cambodia long enough to know that good job opportunities are hard to come by and even harder to keep. Cambodians, especially women have to battle with ongoing issues like human trafficking due to severe poverty and the social stigma that women are better off staying at home instead of working and earning a living. And those who fight through those battles have the chance to emerge as Cambodia’s new middle class.

Hope For Cambodia

Such is the story of Kim Hiv, a sweet, pretty, small statured lady with a big bright smile. At 27 years old, Thy Kim Hiv is the F&B supervisor at Heritage Suites and have hopes to climb the ranks in the future. Just five years ago, Kim Hiv’s story was extremely different. A graduating high schooler with no plans or means to further her studies, she heard from her neighbour about an application into Sala Bai school. She knew nothing about hospitality and her parents were disapproved of her decision to waitress as the job was frown upon and carried negative implications.

Kim Hiv Heritage Suites

After some persuasion, her parents agreed to her application into Sala Bai and she underwent seven months of intensive hospitality training with an additional four months of practical training. For Kim Hiv, this was the ideal opportunity as her food, lodging and tuition fees were completely paid for by Sala Bai and a job was guaranteed after her training.

“Heritage is my first job and I have been working here for five years. I am very lucky to learn about Sala Bai and when I started working, I help pay for my sister’s school fees”. Her family is one of many families living below the poverty line. They are simple farmers slogging to make ends meet. “Now, I am able to give my parents money too!”, Kim Hiv added with a wide grin. Schools like Sala Bai give hope to people who have little to look forward to. Sala Bai’s efforts are realistic with a clear goal in mind, to raise people from poverty and to create opportunities for a better life.

But the model won’t work without the commitment of hotels like Heritage Suites, the Raffles, Amansara and other trusted hospitality names. Heritage Suites give amateur hoteliers a chance to be further trained on the job and allow them equal opportunity to climb the ranks if they so desire.

As with all NGO organisations, Sala Bai is dependant on donations and have been thriving since with strong donor partnerships across the globe. Heritage saw an opportunity to give back and so every year since 2013, the hotel organises an annual charity gala dinner and auction at their beautiful property. This year in May, the gala titled ‘Changing Lives’ featured a culinary feasts prepared by Thailand’s rising culinary star Chef Thitid ‘Ton’ Tassanakajohn. The dinner was aimed at raising funds to help Sala Bai expand its new campus to accommodate more students. The gala was a glamorous success and Heritage raised a total of $15,000 in funds, which, for a property of its size, is truly remarkable.

Photo credit: Sala Bai

Photo credit: Sala Bai

Social responsibility can be a fad that fades off over time for those who jump on the bandwagon, but genuine organisations are those that go the extra mile because they believe in the cause that would outlast the organisations lifetime.

Claude Colombie, director of Sala Bai explained, “Our model very simple, in a country as poor as Cambodia, we need to find real solutions that help close the gap. We find the poorest of the poor, educate them and give them a job. That’s it! And this model has proven successful over 13 years, families who earn less than $500 a year now have a daughter or a son who earns half or more a month and are able to support their families”.

It’s incredibly remarkable what a door of opportunity can do for one life, one family, one community. At Heritage Suites, there are no garish posters that spell “DONATE” or leaflets in the room’s compendium. Instead, an unassuming bicycle with a simple poster at the entrance explains the hotel’s partnership with Sala Bai. Hotel guests can donate if they wish and donations help pay for school materials and bicycles for the students to get to their place of work. The truest and most sincere testament of Heritage’s commitment to social responsibility is in the people, people like Kim Hiv who live to tell her story.

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A Closer Look: Yea Or Nay To Elephant Rides

It was a thrilling experience as I sat bumping along from side-to-side on a tailor made basket fitted on the arch of the elephants back. The gentle giant paced along…

Elephant Mondulkiri_8

It was a thrilling experience as I sat bumping along from side-to-side on a tailor made basket fitted on the arch of the elephants back. The gentle giant paced along sure footed as ever over the wide open plateau, passing through endless forest covered hills and down incredibly steep slopes. The hilly landscape of Mondulkiri, Cambodia’s eastern province is beautiful yet unforgiving.

Elephant_Mondulkiri 1

I dodged the occasional menacing branch that came head on as the elephant continued along the path where sounds of the rushing river roared. It was about 45 minutes into the ride and my bottom was starting to get sore from the bumpy ride. My knuckles were a certain white from the mighty grip I kept along the exhilarating journey. The adventure was just beginning, for the elephant, that is. Poun, my elephant was taken into the rushing river for a bath. It looked fun as he splashed around and enjoyed the free scrub by his mahout. All of this sounded rather picture perfect for a wildlife experience. But as curiosity warrants, I gathered some answers to some probing questions that make the Case of The Elephant Ride.

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You see having been involved in the business of sustainability, I have been trained to ask questions. Questions that most tourists would not ask. These questions helped me make informed decisions on whether tourism has leave a positive or negative impact for communities and the environment.

The Elephant and His People

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Poun belongs to Mr. Hong, a native Bunong (Pnong) man. The Bunong tribe are the indigenous peoples of Mondulkiri. They are animistic in their beliefs and therefore have incredible respect for animals, trees and all living creation. Mr. Hong bought Poun from a shaman when the elephant was 10 years old. There was no money exchanged, instead it was a barter trade – 30 bulls for 1 male elephant. Mr. Hong had to bring together livestock from a few families to ‘purchase’ Poun.

Mr Hong tells me that the shaman is the only person capable of luring the elephant from the deep forest. Poun was a baby elephant when he was taken out. He was intentionally separated from his mother and left to wonder. The shaman conducted some spiritual rituals and was successful in leading the baby elephant out of the forest into the village. Poun then spent many years with the shaman where more spiritual rituals were conducted and the elephant was finally tame enough for a human master. It was then that Mr. Hong ‘bought’ Poun.

Elephants are a big part of the Bunong culture and lifestyle. Mr. Hong considers him more than just an animal, in many ways, Poun is part of the village community.

The Elephant and His Work

Elephant_Mondulkiri

Since the age of 10, Poun has been used as a ‘transporter’ for Mr. Hong and his family. Poun would take them on his back into the deep jungles to forage for food, cross rivers and carry bamboo and logs. Poun did a marvellous job, according to Mr. Hong. The elephant brought them to places where otherwise would take days to get to. Undoubtedly, it was also hard work for the elephant – steep terrains and heavy loads.

Today, Poun is used as a ‘transporter’ for tourists. He works up to 3-4 hours a day with meal breaks in between. The labour is probably not as intense as before but he still gets growled at by the mahout. During my elephant ride, I was quite disturbed at how the elephant was coerced to walk and move. My mahout, a young lad held a hard whip made of bamboo with a hard rubber ball hanging at the end. He was constantly threatening to whip the elephant if the animal did not respond immediately to his loud grunts and growls. There were moments where I thought it absolutely unnecessary for the mahout to be as demanding as he was. I watched carefully to see if the whip did end up on the elephant. Thankfully, I witnessed no whipping, but the rude commands were unsettling. I am no veterinarian to comment on the state of the elephant, but I personally did not see any wounds or bruises.

Poun’s working environment has been such for the last 20 odd years. He is 33 years old now.

The Elephant, Money and Well-being

Elephant_Mondulkiri 3

Poun helps provide for the family. With every tourist that come and participate in an elephant ride, the family gets about $25. There are now 4 elephants shared among a few families and the money is divided amongst them. Mr. Hong said, “Since I started this ecotourism activity, my children can now go to school and I have motorbike to go around Mondulkiri and we can now buy more meat from the market instead of eating vegetables and rice only.”

It seems like a win-win situation for all. The elephant works and is allowed a fair amount of free time to wander, his master gets fed, his master’s family is happy and tourists are happy. But as I pondered on the situation, I can’t help but realize that all of this is misfitting for the magnificent mammal.

Elephants are made for the wild with the freedom to road, chew on any bamboo branch until his heart’s content. Elephants that are taken from the wild have little chance of reproducing, stunting the elephant population. Elephants are great not just for its size and mighty ears, but its tusks. Tamed elephants have their tusks broken or sawed off to avoid fatal accidents.

In this case, it’s a win-lose situation and the loser is quite apparent.


Elephant_Mondulkiri 5

After the rugged trip into the jungle sitting on the mighty beast, I have come to an unresolved conclusion. A definite yes or no is unfair and difficult as there are so many factors to consider. It is easy for me as an ‘outsider’ to judge, critique and assess the way Mr. Hong lives and how the mahouts treat the elephants, yet it is more complex to fully understand the heritage, tradition and culture of the Bunong people (or any tribe for that matter). In this case, the elephant is an important part of their livelihood and who are we to criticise when in other cultures horses are trained to show jump, bulls are put to fight and dolphins are trained to jump through hoops.

I was not completely comfortable with the grunts and growls offered by my mahout to Poun, but I also witnessed how these mahouts genuinely cared for the elephants. I cannot fault that the elephants are really part of the village community and I choose to respect the Bunong people’s culture and acknowledge that this (in fact) their way of earning moolah. Would I ride on the elephant again? Perhaps not. But I did enjoy the experience and chance to be so close to such a magnificent mammal.

** Whether you are planning to ride on an elephant in Thailand, Cambodia or India, I would strongly advise tourists to look up the tour operator or organization you are engaging with and read up before making an informed decision to ride or not.  Each elephant case is specific, individual and closely linked to a certain destination and its community.

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Journey to Kratie Where Dolphins Play

Traveling in Cambodia is not as simple as hiring a car and heading out. Roads are often ridden with potholes. Cows, chickens and dogs dodge on roads without notice. Children…

Traveling in Cambodia is not as simple as hiring a car and heading out. Roads are often ridden with potholes. Cows, chickens and dogs dodge on roads without notice. Children cycle and play on roadsides making it a gruelling experience to even drive more than 80km/hr. Tractors and crazy busses whizz by without a wink. Despite living in this country for more than three months, I would not take the risk of driving on my own.

I was extremely relieved to learn that my driver and guide, Ra is an experienced and careful driver. It was going to be a long day on the road, 7 hours to be precise. We left Cambodia’s popular Siem Reap province down south pass Kampong Thom and busy Kampong Cham and onward to Kratie, the sleepy waterfront province.

Most of the journey’s landscape were of resplendent paddy fields and stilt houses. Most of Cambodia is flat and its fields as far as the eye can see. We stopped at Kampong Thom for a stretch at a beautiful restaurant facing the lake covered with lotus pods. Little huts erected along the banks with swinging hammocks inviting the lazy traveller for a snooze.

Kampong Thom_Ardent Traveler

We travelled on to Kampong Cham and soon the landscape dramatically changed. We caught a glimpse of the Mekong River, its tea-colored waters distinctive. There on, the road heading to Kratie was quite unpleasant. Dotted with hundreds of potholes, the road was anything but smooth. The view however was a good change from paddy fields. Large rivers were peppered with floating huts set on large rafts said to be the houses of Vietnamese villagers. In place of paddy fields, dense shrub and bush followed the roads. Finally, passing the first of five one-way bridges, we arrived at Kratie.

Kratie

The sleepy town made popular by the endangered freshwater Irrawaddy dolphins, Kratie has become a popular stopover for wildlife lovers and independent backpackers. The town is fairly small and a nice size to explore. There is a large market right in the center and most guesthouses face the waterfront.

Kratiw market

You can rent a bike under $1 and cycle the whole town. If you are ambitious, you can also cycle 15km north of Kratie to Kampi where the dolphins can be seen. At Kampi, we rented a fishing boat to take us out to the deep pools where the dolphins hang out.

Kratie_Ardenttraveler

After about 30 minutes on the boat, our boatman turned off the engines and paddled around. In the deep pools, the waters were still, unlike the rough waters on the way there. Tall trees submerged in water with only its tops swaying on the surface of the water create a good spotting mark to help with keep our orientation. We waited for a mere five minutes and then we heard our boatman say, “There!” About 60meters away, we saw silky bodies gliding above the water. And then another, and another! Their stature much smaller than bottlenose dolphins and a lot shier too. The big bulging head of the Irrawaddy dolphins are unmistakable.

Irrawaddy dolphins 1_Ardent Traveler

We spotted at least 4 dolphins, always in pairs. Ra, our guide told us that there are less than 100 dolphins left in the massive Mekong river, spanning over 4000kilometres and bridging 6 countries. The numbers intensely dwindled both from hunting and pollution as a result of over development. It is said that during the Pol Pot regime, these dolphins were even seen in the Tonle Sap River but were tragically wiped out because people hunted them for oil and meat.

Irrawaddy dolphins_Ardent Traveler

With energy to spare, we rented a bicycle on the mainland of Kratie for $1 and boarded a large fishing boat over to the small remote island of Koh Trong, a quaint island village. This is a must for those who want to immerge in the real Cambodian lifestyle. Koh Trong has only one paved road going around the island. There is no tuk-tuk on the island, only bicycles and motorbikes. Renting a bicycle on the mainland ensured that we had speedy transport the minute we arrived on the island.

Koh Trong Island

People on the island were extremely friendly exchanging hellos and even giving us free pomelos! There are several mid-range lodges on the island and a few community-based homestays. There is no constant electricity on the island and villagers charge their car batteries at a small makeshift generator station. Private lodges have their own generators but electricity only comes on after sun down. As I explored the island, the more it grew on me. The laidback lifestyle, the friendly people and the numerous farm animals; chickens, horses, cows and dogs – a slice of real local Cambodian community.

Koh Trong Island1

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The 240, Phnom Penh: A Break From The Countryside

The trip from Battambang to Phnom Penh is a long one. Five hours on a bumpy road passing by seemingly unchanging landscapes of paddy fields. The occasional houses dotted along…

The trip from Battambang to Phnom Penh is a long one. Five hours on a bumpy road passing by seemingly unchanging landscapes of paddy fields. The occasional houses dotted along the dusty highway and massive tractors and lorries zooming by breaks the mundane scene. To help ease the monotonous ride, our taxi was packed with five adults and three children.

There are no restrictions on number of passengers or the fact that children need to be car seats. In Cambodia, as long as you hang on tight and reach your destination, any vehicle works – this includes three-wheelers, tuk-tuks, motorbikes with wooden plank extensions as seats, open roof lorries and bullock carts. So we found ourselves (me, my hubby and toddler son) sharing the taxi with another couple, their toddler and a baby. We were entertained the whole way with baby gurgles and toddler chatter.

Countryside, Cambodia

Having spent two months living in Battambang’s countryside, arriving in Phnom Penh was a breath of fresh air. A sense of excitement bubbled at the sight of sky scrapers, a MacDonald’s delivery van and the red Illy coffee sign. I was relieved to be back in the city, albeit for a few days.

We checked into an artisty boutique hotel, The 240. Its entrance fresh and welcoming with colourful paintings of animated depictions of Cambodian life hung on the walls and the ceiling. The kind of small boutique hotels that take on the character and charm of the neighbourhood. Apparently, the 240 Street where the hotel is located, has developed into a hip and happening go to offering a selection of fine restaurants, dainty cafes, boutiques and quite a number of small hotels. Old shophouses have been refurbished into nice meeting places. Over the next few days, I spent my afternoons walking the street and making beelines into secondhand bookshops, fairtrade boutiques, jewelry shops and a really good bakery.

The 240_Phnom Penh_1

The 240’s hotel room although a little small had all the necessary fittings including a small study table and a cozy balcony with deck chairs. The room opens out to a balcony curtained with plants making it a quiet recluse from the heavy Phnom Penh traffic.

The 240_Phnom Penh

Just below the hotel is the 240’s cafe, a healthy and wholesome restaurant serving organic delights. Fresh juices, salads and sandwiches. The cafe takes on the same fresh ambience with natural colours on the walls, planters of grass and fresh flowers as table decor, and furniture made with local rattan and wood. The cafe also carried a fine selection of organic goodies from baby food to handmade soaps. Constantly buzzing with customers, I got a sense that the cafe is a local favourite.

The 240 Cafe_Phnom PenhThe 240 Cafe_Phnom Penh_1

Although the hotel did not have a pool, we were given access to their sister hotel’s pools just a stones throw away. The Kabiki is a family friendly hotel set in a colonial building within a lush green compound. The pool is surrounded by native kabiki trees providing just enough shade for the comfy lounge chairs and cabanas. The Kabiki is situated just 250 metres from The 240 and we enjoyed a quick evening swim with our little one there.

Kabiki_Phnom Penh

I also visited The Pavilion after reading about it in the hotel’s compendium. Located near the Royal Palace and about 150 metres from The 240, this property is catered for the seasoned traveler looking for a bit of luxury. Its white walls provide recluse for the guests and one would easily walk pass the unassuming heavy wooden door leading into the compound.

A perfectly palm shaded walkway led me into an open courtyard with a beautiful aqua blue pool facing the entrance of what looks like a heritage building. The beautifully refurbished villa was reportedly the Cambodian royal family’s home in the mid-twenties. I was treated to a massage at the Pavilion’s Spa, a small intimate spa with signature massages. After the blissful massage, I lazed around in the daybed while enjoying a steaming hot cup of ginger tea while the sun rays danced on the pool.

The Pavillion_Phnom Penh

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Navutu Dream, Siem Reap: A Slice Of Serenity In The Kingdom Of Wonder

Cambodia, a Kingdom of Wonder where ancient ruins lay bare with legendary stories etched on its walls and aged tree roots form the foundations of fortified temples, a kingdom where…

Cambodia, a Kingdom of Wonder where ancient ruins lay bare with legendary stories etched on its walls and aged tree roots form the foundations of fortified temples, a kingdom where the sun announces a new day before the rooster ruffles its feathers and children cycle off at the break of dawn for another day at school.

For the traveler, Cambodia is a magical experience, especially when you arrive in Siem Reap and explore the notable Angkor Wat and the other surrounding temples. Walking on foot or cycling around the temple circuit can be extremely tiring and the sun rather unforgiving as the day unfolds. However, returning to a quiet haven after a day of exploring makes all the difference to the memorable experience.

Cambodia (1)

Located two kilometres from Siem Reap’s bustling town center is Navutu Dreams. Tucked in the corner, at the end of a dusty road, Navutu’s entrance opens up to a spacious and simple lobby decorated with delicate wooden furniture and handcrafted wooden sculptures. Friendly hotel staff play great host at welcoming you back to this amazing retreat.

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Behind the lobby is where the real relaxing begins. Surrounded by lush rice fields, Navutu’s 1.5 hectare land is perfectly manicured with palm trees and tropical flowers abloom. The resort has enough pools to satisfy sun-seekers, water babies and health enthusiasts. There is an 18-meter long freshwater lap pool and a salt water family pool and a private salt water lounge pool at the end of the property enclaved around palm trees.

Pool_Navutu Dreams (8)Navutu Dreams_Pool1

Hidden in nooks and corners of the compound are hammocks for a quiet snooze or a good read. The resort also has an open lounge with spacious day beds and a selection of excellent reads right next to the lounge pool. White-washed villas with flat open roofs polka-dot the compound. A glimpse of Santorini or that of Greek islands, with open cabanas draped with white-curtains dancing to the rhythm of the wind.

Navutu Dreams_Pool

My Grand Tour Room, one of three kinds of rooms offered at Navutu follows the same expansive concept. The large room incorporates seamless geometry in the smooth curved walls leading into the open closet and bathroom. Combining clever use of space and simplistic design, a capacious quarter-shaped bath tub is carved in the corner between the bedroom and toilet overlooking a small garden.

Navutu Dreams_Room

The smooth wood panelled floors distinguish the bedroom and living space, while cobbled stones and tiles form a pathway into the bathroom area. The minimalist décor in the room lends to the vastness of space. Unique wood carvings of native men and women used as wall pieces and table ornaments stand as a reminder of South East Asia’s rich art tapestry.

Navutu Dreams_Bathroom

At Navutu, it’s hard to resist a spa treatment. The resort offers wellness programs that include detox, acupuncture and ancient healing methods. The massage and spa menu is made up of a selection of the Asia’s best massage and beauty treatments including the traditional Khmer Massage, the invigorating Indian Head Massage, their signature Queen Bee Facial using local organic ingredients such as wild rice for exfoliation and wild honey as a mask and a range of body scrubs and wraps.

The therapist led me upstairs along the white-stoned stairs into an open air deck where my massage therapy started. I dipped my feet into a bowl of jasmine and lime speckled water and was given a sea-salt scrub along with a cup of cold ginger tea on a sunny afternoon. I was led into the massage room, the warm ray of sunshine beaming in from the round windows with wooden covers. Along one wall an array of bottled local herbs and ingredients such as turmeric, ginger, lemongrass and star anise are stacked on a wooden shelf and on the other, a basket of organic herbs together with the traditional Thai ‘Luk Pra Kob’, a muslin sack tightly packed with herbs and essential oils used for herb rituals. I remembered little of my massage as soon as it started. Lulled to sleep by the soothing deep and long massage strokes along my back, I was carried into dreamland before waking up later to be given an amazing shoulder and head massage.

Navutu Dreams_Spa

Amidst the busy exploration, I was glad to have stumbled on this tranquil retreat in the Kingdom of Wonder.

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Mission Trip 2010: The Real Cambodia

A history of genocide, wars and devastation, it’s a wonder Cambodia and her people are still very much alive today. Still the stains of such history are seeing its ripple…

A history of genocide, wars and devastation, it’s a wonder Cambodia and her people are still very much alive today. Still the stains of such history are seeing its ripple effects in today’s generation. Statistics have shown that 51% of Cambodia’s population is under the age of 18. And of this 51% not even half get a proper education. Many of them are forced to help their parents on the field, some of them are make it through only to primary school and there are those that are urged to beg and even sell their bodies for a meager dollar or two.

On our second night in Battambang, we had our dinner at a road side stall. Our tables were filled with food, drinks and more food to go around. We ate with much comfort relishing the delicious Cambodian meal and fruit shakes. After we satisfied our hunger, we stood up to leave. Within seconds of leaving our seats, a man in tattered clothing comes rushing to the table with an empty plastic bag pouring our leftovers into it. He scrapped the plates clean. Oblivious of our presence, his only focus was to get whatever food that was left before the stall owner comes shooing him away. I stopped at my tracks unable to comprehend the severity of hunger this man was facing. He retreated to a corner stuffing his face with a jumble leftover.

Regardless of how much I’ve travelled, seen different cultures, traditions, people and places and regardless of how many mission trips I’ve been too, my prayer is that I will never be immune to scenes of poverty, desperation and scarcity. Because compassion starts in the heart and compassion can move mountains.

Our Sunday in Cambodia was spent traveling to four different churches ministering to adults and children. Two teams travelled on motorbikes for over 50 kilometers on a dusty gravelly road. The other two teams travelled by van to the other two churches. These churches were simple, some just under a tree, one church under a wooden shack and one in a make-shift church. Simplicity and sincerity was very apparent. There was no sound system, LCD screens, big pulpits, ushers, leaflets or anything of that sort. It was merely the gathering of His people in a place sharing fellowship and feeding from God’s word. Isn’t that what church is about?!

Battambang_Medical Camp 2010 (1)

I sincerely believe that there is hope for Cambodia. This generation of 51% under the age of 18 is a God given generation with God given destinies and futures. They have talent and skills just like you and I – the only thing lacking are opportunities. But opportunities are not far-fetched, it’s coming to Cambodia and I hope to see the fruits of it one day.

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