Essentials to bring

Climate

Rainy season in Cambodia is from May to October and it is best to avoid this time for a visit to this location because getting around with flooded roads can be a huge challenge here. November and January are the most ideal vacation times here as the weather is quite cool and pleasant.

Entry Requirements

You can get your visa when you land in the Kingdom either at Siem Reap or Phnom Penh. However, for entry from certain points, visitors need to have a visa ready. Online visa processing is possible and you can also get further information about these requirements from the Royal Embassy of the Kingdom of Cambodia located in their country.

Currency

The ubiquitous use of the U.S. dollar here is a great convenience although the Reil is the official Cambodian currency. Keep in mind though that Riel is not convertible so if you do opt for currency exchange into this currency do so with care. Keep well stocked with cash and travelers checks because credits are not accepted everywhere.

Medical

World class medical facilities are not easy to find in Cambodia and even the number of pharmacies is rather limited. Getting immunizations for malaria, thyroid, tetanus, cholera, TB, hepatitis A/B before you leave is a great idea. Carry your own medicines for relatively minor problems like diarrhea, cold and fevers and you should be able to manage just fine.

Culture of Cambodia

Although Khmers dominate the ethnic groups in Cambodia, Vietnamese and Chinese do make their home here too albeit in much smaller numbers. In terms of religion, you will find a predominance of Buddhism here. The language used is modern Khmer although you might find quite a few French words peppering any conversation, a remnant of the years of French colonial ruling. Thankfully, English is spoken and understood by many, particularly in the locations where tourists tend to throng. French and Mandarin are also spoken, although primarily by the older generation of Cambodians.

One of the most interesting aspects about the Cambodian society is that individuals are always secondary to the groups they belong to. That is, the people traditionally put their family, their society and their country ahead of their own needs.

For foreigners in Cambodia, etiquette is a very critical aspect to brush up on before heading out here. Causing offense to others inadvertently or deliberately can cause serious problems and it is very important to avoid embarrassing or criticizing others, especially in public. On the other hand, complimenting someone in public on their hospitality is a simple way to add to their honor and show them respect or appreciation.

Cambodia’s Culture

Although Khmers dominate the ethnic groups in Cambodia, Vietnamese and Chinese do make their home here too albeit in much smaller numbers. In terms of religion, you will find a predominance of Buddhism here. The language used is modern Khmer although you might find quite a few French words peppering any conversation, a remnant of the years of French colonial ruling. Thankfully, English is spoken and understood by many, particularly in the locations where tourists tend to throng. French and Mandarin are also spoken, although primarily by the older generation of Cambodians.

One of the most interesting aspects about the Cambodian society is that individuals are always secondary to the groups they belong to. That is, the people traditionally put their family, their society and their country ahead of their own needs.

For foreigners in Cambodia, etiquette is a very critical aspect to brush up on before heading out here. Causing offense to others inadvertently or deliberately can cause serious problems and it is very important to avoid embarrassing or criticizing others, especially in public. On the other hand, complimenting someone in public on their hospitality is a simple way to add to their honor and show them respect or appreciation.

3 Things To See and Do from Nagarkot

Approximately 25km to the East of Kathmandu, in Bhaktapur District, you can capture Nepal at it’s essence. Nestled in the hills and crevices of the Kathmandu Valley, beyond the famous heritage site of Bhaktapur itself, a beautiful selection of villages, temples and nature await.

I spent 8 days in this gorgeous nook of the world in November 2016. I found the climate in Nepal to be comfortable this time of the year. Daytimes were warm (in the mid 20’s) and nights were cold- a result of the altitude. Telkot was my base point- a tiny village in the hills, 10km below Nagarkot. Nagarkot is renown for it’s spectacular views of the Himalayas and Kathmandu Valley. I made my way here via a local bus from Kathmandu via Bhaktapur- an adventure in itself! Weaving through the dusty backroads with the locals, you feel you could be on the Knight Bus from Harry Potter, (Nepal, after all, isn’t known for having quality roads.) Having caught the bus too far, I was lucky to capture the view from Nagarkot when stopping by the luxurious KavyaEpikurean Resort for Nepalese tea and directions. A week here in the hills enabled an oasis of serenity, with a selection of must-see sites within reachable distance. Here are my top 3 excursions:

Changu Village

Changu is located on a high hilltop surrounded by forest, a panorama of the Himalayas completing it’s landscape. You can walk here from Telkot (the next nearest village), passing by the huts and farms of the locals along the way. The beauty is in the contrast between snowy mountainsand a landscape below that in not unalike desert villages I’d expect to see in Africa.

walking with friends to Changu Village, seen in the distance
Cows and Goats

The village of Changu houses the ancient Hindu temple of Changu Narayan, one of the oldest in Nepal. This temple miraculously survived the 2015 earthquakes while the village around it near- shattered. The locals are gentle, many of them selling quality, inexpensive home-made goods on the lane leading up to the temple. They have been working together to rebuild their village, and it’s fulfilling to be able to support them. Should you wish to stay longer, homestay with a local family is also an option. (Regrettably, I wasn’t able to do so due to my schedule.) With a 3 hour return walk- if you’re coming from Telkot- the combination of stunning views, history and shopping make for a lovely day.

Changu Temple

Sankhu Village and Bajroyogini Temple

Stand in the right place and you’ll see the vast village of Sankhu sprawled in the valley below Telkot/ Nagarkot. Surrounded by crop fields, and with a river that weaves its way around the outskirts, Sankhu provides a classic example of Nepalese daily life. Take a walk down the hill from Telkot to capture the valley in it’s entirety (the nearest buses go to Telkot, or to Sankhu itself if you’re coming from the direction of Kathmandu.) Greet the locals as you pass through- you’ll find they are as interested in learning about your culture as you are about theirs.

The view of Sankhu as seen from the direction of Telkot and Nagarkot Heights

Across the valley and halfway up the opposing hill lies Bajrayogini Temple, celebrating a Hindu Goddess by the same name. Getting there requires a walk up over 1000 steps through the jungle (a challenge- I won’t deny it) though the view is worth it. The main temple is 3 stories high and beautifully constructed. Monkeys, goats and cows can be seen along the way. Go there on the right day and you’ll be able to sit and listen as Nepalese play music and sing in celebration of their God. As you return through Sankhu, stop for some lunch at a local restaurant- after all that walking, you’ll need it

The steps to Bajrayogini
The temple itself

Sunrise at Nagarkot Heights

At 2,195 meters, Nagarkot Heights offers panoramic views of the Himalayas (including Everest) and Kathmandu Valley, making it one of the most scenic places in the District. Coming here at sunrise is probably the best way to see it. This will require an early start- but do ensure you get up there in time to source a prime location for the spectacle. To watch this everyday occurrence in such grand surroundings is truly powerful. The Himalayas sure have a way of capturing your full and undivided attention. If possible, take some masala tea up there with you. Not only will it keep you warm until the sun rears it’s head, but it will add to the experience of capturing Nepal’s finest.

Sunrise at Nagarkot Heights.
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Cruising the Mekong River

The Mekong River starts its journey from the Tibetan Plateau, surging and snaking its way through six countries including China’s Yunnan province, Burma (Myanmar), Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and finally Vietnam and is the 12th largest river on earth.

I have just completed a cruise that leaves from the quaint city of Kampong Cham and meanders down the Mekong River, stopping off at various locations and cities along the way including the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh and ending up in the port city and capital of Vietnam Ho Chi Minh City.

This is a seven-day tour and a delightful and relaxing way of discovering the cultural riches Asia has to offer.

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R.V. Mekong Pandaw
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Captain of the R.V. Mekong Pandaw
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Relaxing on the Pandaw’s massive deck

The boat that was my home for this adventure is the elegant and stately RV Mekong Pandaw, a modern replica of an old colonial steamer.

It’s a great way to discover the cultural riches Cambodia and Vietnam has to offer while experiencing the mighty murky Mekong River. As we slowly make our way downriver, the Pandaw stops at numerous and remote cultural locations and cities along the way. The boat supplies local Cambodian and Vietnamese guides for each expedition and excursions. Their local expertise and knowledge ensures each adventure, (every day bar one) is a memorable trip. The insight the guides provide and information imparted on the history of towns, temples and monuments is invaluable.

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Quiet street off the Mekong River

The Pandaw Company organizes transport and a local guide and picks you up from your hotel in Siem Reap. From there you’re transported, via a five-hour interesting bus ride to Kampong Cham where the RV Mekong Pandaw is moored.

Siem Reap is the second largest city in Cambodia and site of the ancient Khmer capital of Angkor Thom. Stretching over 400 square kms in size the Angkor region is a UNESCO World Heritage site, making it one of the most historic and cultural destinations on Earth.

A day tour of some of Angkor’s most famous Temples is a memorable way to start this tour.

 

 

FAMOUS ANGKOR TEMPLES TO VISIT

*Ta Prohm: Giant figs have grown through the Temple ruins and visually, the most breathtaking of all the Angkor ruins. Angelia Jolie made the movie Tomb Raider in this location

*The Bayon: 216 giant faces have been eerily carved on 54 towers that have 4 faces on each tower. The giant stone faces of the Bayon have become one of the most recognizable images connected to Khmer art and architecture.

*Angkor Wat: The most famous and largest temple of all the Angkor ruins and even features on the Cambodian flag. Angkor Wat is considered by many to be the most inspired and spectacular monument ever conceived by the human mind.

*Banta Srei: This Temple displays some of the finest examples of Khmer art and is densely covered in the most beautiful and intricate carvings of any Angkorian temple. The unusual red sandstone ensures this temple is a standout.

PLACES OF INTEREST YOU VISIT

*Wat Hanchey: An ancient 7th century group of hilltop temples features a wide variety of Khmer art. A special treat is the opportunity to meet the resident monks. Some of the best views of the Mekong River can be found here.

*Choeungkok: Visit a quaint local Cambodian ecotourism village. With a population of 700 people, it is supported by AMICA (Assistance Mediation Internationale) and provides a fascinating glimpse into the rural Cambodian way of life.

*Take a bullock cart ride and visit Kampong Tralach Leu Pagoda and Temples that date back to the last century

*In Phomn Penh, visit Royal Palace and the Silver Pagoda and the National Museum of Cambodia. For a raw and emotional view of recent Cambodian history, take in the “killing fields” and infamous S21 torture centre.

*San Dec market: Very colorful, bustling and friendly markets. The town is described as the little Venice of Asia due to its countless canals.

*Visit a local factory that produces Vietnam’s most popular sweets, which include pop rice and coconut candy. Free samples are handed out (great for the palate, but not the waistline).

*Ho Chi Minh City: Bustling capital city, which boasts charming French colonial architecture and wide boulevards.  Lots to see and do in HMC, including museums and palace visits. Also a great city for markets, shopping and eating.

BEST THINGS ABOUT THE RV MEKONG PANDAW

*Beautiful Western and Asian-influenced food expertly prepared by international chefs. Buffet breakfast and lunch, table service for evening meals. Cocktails and fine wines are also available.

*Exceptional staff offering outstanding service. The ratio of staff to guests 2:1

*Amazing non-compulsory shore excursions: (two a day) with local Cambodian and Vietnamese guides.

*Peace and serenity: resting on the huge upper deck is blissful as the Cambodian and Vietnamese countryside slowly passes by.

* An extremely educational and cultural experience due to the expertise of local guides.

*Delightful hand crafted teak cabins with brass fittings.

* An evening highlight is the crewman who walks around the boat prior to the evening meal banging a gong announcing the commencement of dinner– a much-anticipated event.

TIPS

*Best times for Angkor Temple visits are early morning or afternoons. It is less crowded at this time of day and the varied colours make for great photography.

*There are so many temples to visit, a local guide is essential; working out an itinerary in advance is most advisable.

*Wear comfortable light clothes due to the heat. Local custom decrees that women must cover their shoulders and knees, and men their knees for temple visits.

* Bring a comfortable pair of walking shoes, lots of sunscreen and a hat.

* In HMC, be very careful when crossing roads due to the incredible amount of traffic

HOW TO GET THERE

Vietnam Air

www.vietnamair.com

Fights leave Sydney and Melbourne five days a week

HCM City to Siem Reap three times a day

HOW TO BOOK THE RV MEKONG PANDAW

PANDAW CRUISES, Australia

Tel:61 (0)2 8080 5622

www.pandaw.com

WHERE TO STAY

Angkor Spa and Resort

www.angkorspaandresort.com

Go to www.paradisesonline.com for more beautiful Cambodian hotels and resorts

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Angkor Wat

Sometimes known as the ‘eighth’ wonder of the world, Angkor Wat has always been a mysterious place that I definitely wanted to tick off my travel list and that came true for me recently….

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Angkor Wat
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Temple in Angkor Thom
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Classic red sandstone of Banta Srey Temple

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The town of Siem Reap Cambodia is home to Angkor Wat, built during the early years of the 12th century by King Suryavaram II. One of the world’s greatest historical and religious sites, Angkor Wat is UNESCO World Heritage listed.

Angkor Archaeological Park is located in north-west Cambodia and contains the remains of the Khmer empire. It is Cambodia’s number one tourist destination and is so famous and important that it is featured on the national flag. But as famous as it is, it represents only a small portion of this extraordinary site.The Angkor region contains many temples (built between the 9th – 15th Centuries) and include: Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, The Bayon Temple, Banta Srey and many many more. Each temple is so different and unique in its architecture that I recommend at least a few days to take in as much of this breathtaking complex as possible. As there is so much to see, it is advisable to organize a local guide to show you around.

 BANTEAY SREI

Banteay Srei is approx 25kms from the main complex of Angkor Wat and is a comparatively small 10th century temple. It has a pink hue due to the hard red sandstone and has extraordinary detail and exquisite sculptures. It is one of the oldest and most beautiful temples you will see in Siem Reap.

THE BAYON

The Bayon stands the center of Angkor Thom which forms the heart of the Angkor  complex as it is today. The Bayon forms a three tiered pyramid with 54 towers, each dominated by over 200 enormous four meter high mysterious faces all looking out to the north, south, east and west. Each incredibly formed face has a faint smile and closed eyelids. As with most of this magnificent archeological site, the colours change due to the light, depending on the time of day. I advise early in the morning or late afternoon

 

Ta Prohn

Giant figs and silk cotton trees have embedded their roots so deep into this temple that they have been left untouched as disturbing them could mean the crumbling of this historical and magnificent structure.

Angkor Wat and the city of Angkor Thom are historical and majestic but Ta Prohm is by far the most dramatic and enchanting temple of all, making it the most visited and popular amongst tourists. The temple of Ta Prohm was used as the eerie and surreal location for the movie Tomb Raider, starring Angelina Jolie, making this site even more popular and well known.

 

Top Attractions at Siam Reap:

Visit Phnom Kulen Mountainand see Lingas (rock carvings in the river bed ), Sleeping Buddha and the Phnom Kulen waterfalls.

Ballooning….balloon ride above Angkor Wat.

Eating…Many restaurants catering for every budget and taste, but none better than “The Sugar Palm” restaurant and bar.

Bars/Nightlife…Pub Street and the Old Market area have establishments that cater for drinkers and diners either for a quite cocktail or a thumping night club.

Markets…In town there is the Old Market (Phasr Chas) and the Central Market (Phasr Kandal) and also the famous Angkor Night Markets.

Bike riding…both standard bike and mountain bike riding have become very popular in Siem Reap. There are many places to hire from.

Golf…Phokeethra Country Club, opened in 2007, was the first international golf course in Siem Reap. A very challenging par 72 hole course.

Other popular activities include; cooking classes, horse riding, spa and massage and also classes for painting, weaving and carving. There is plenty to do in Siem Reap.

TEMPLE TIPS

*Due to amount of walking and steps you may encounter and the heat, ensure you wear comfortable clothing and appropriate footwear.

*Angkor Wat is so popular I suggest you start your tour early in the mornings for two reasons.

1. Less crowded

2. The light in the morning is perfect for great photography

Tuk Tuk driver and guide

Mr Pech Vanny English speaking driver….Tel+855 97 72 65 499

Email : pechvanny@yahoo.com

Getting There:

Vietnam Airlines Flies from

Sydney to HCM City /Hanoi….Daily

Melbourne to HCM City /Hanoi….Daily

HCM City to Siem Reap….5 flights per day

www.vietnamair.com

STAYING THERE

Victoria Angkor Resort and Spa Siem Reap – www.thienminhtravel.com+(855) 637 60428

Sofitel Angkor Phokeethra Golf Resort and Spa – H3123@sofitel.com+(855)63/964600+(855)63/964610

For any more information on where to stay and what to do,  plse email me at kelly@paradises.travel

Photography and words Kelly Tang