The Shinta Mani Club, in Siem Reap, Cambodia, has just been voted the third best hotel in the world by TripAdvisor. We thought we'd look back at our stay there. To find out more about what to do, where to stay and what to see click here. Enjoy the photos.
Each time I travel, I step into a time machine. An understanding of the past gives me an appreciation of the present. From there I can allow my mind to wander around the possibililities of the future.
But travel can also send me to new worlds that are full of drama and excitement, especially if the destination has been part of a film set. Sometimes I turn a corner and feel the familiar sense of déjà vu. The familiar scene I see however, evaporates with the realisation that I’ve only seen it on the silver screen.
Today, computer generated graphics are so realistic it’s often a challenge to work out film sets that are real, and those that are digitally created. So if you fancy stepping into a film here’s my top three untouched sets. Click the links for more information about each destination.
New Zealand & Middle Earth: no trip to New Zealand is complete without wandering around like Bilbo Baggins. The Lord of the Rings films are virtual adverts from the tourist board, with beautiful vistas of rolling green hills and craggy snow-capped mountains. Here’s more information about a trip to JRR Tolkein’s fantasy kingdom.
Jordan & the home of the Holy Grail: The Treasury at Petra, in Jordan, provided the stunning backdrop to Indiana Jones and the Crusade, as the entrance to the temple housing the Holy Grail. You used to be able to go inside The Treasury, but it’s now roped off. However, you would have been disappointed. It’s a plain dark square cavern. There are no curtains of cobwebs or wobbly stone floors waiting for an unsuspecting gold digger. Travel around Jordan for a week or more and travel through time from Roman rule to Lawrence of Arabia's desert.
Cambodia and the Temples of Doom: Ta Prohn, near Siem Reap, is the Angkor Wat temple that became part of Lara Croft’s Tomb Raider set, and Indian Jones and the Temple of Doom was also filmed here. Tree roots cling to and ooze over the ruins. Luckily I wasn’t offered any monkey brains.
Here’s a few more out of the way sets to explore:
Where’s your favourite film set? We’d love to hear from you. Drop us a line.
Travels in Cambodia with kids in tow:
In our last post we stood on the sidelines cheering Cambodia on as it participated in the tourism triathlon.
The race is moving out of Phnom Penh and into the countryside. There are several options for getting around the country; you can fly, but that kind of feels like cheating, dropping into one town after another without getting a sense of the connection between them. If you’re heading to Siem Reap, the launching point for the Angkor temples, it’s possible to take a boat, but in the dry season this can be a very slow journey. Your option on the road doesn’t look much better, with potholes and unpaved tracks. However, wishing to see life in the countryside, rather than city hop, this is the route we took. Those with a sensitive derrière should take a cushion – it’s a bumpy ride that lasts about six hours.
Although a tourist hotspot, Siem Reap is a city of charm with art markets, wide boulevards and pavements to walk on. Angkor Wat, the most visited site in the country, is a few kilometres away, and a trip at dawn is a must-see. You can go by tuk-tuk or taxi, but for a real insight into these special temples get on two wheels. There are hundreds of temples dotted around, and a bike is the perfect mode of transport. When you’ve seen one temple you haven’t seen them all. Built at different stages, with different themes, in different locations, you can spend days peddling around the 400km-squared site: from the iconic towers of Angkor Wat, to the many faces on Angkor Thom, to Ta Prohm, the root-bound crumbling temple featured in Tome Raider.
Another advantage of booking with a cycling company is knowledge. The temples are so complex and beguiling you need a guide to help you make sense of it. Just to understand a little about the intricate carvings and the different types of temples enriches your exploration. And it’s suitable for all ages. From my four-year-old on a tag along bike, and my seven-year-old on her own little bike, to my retired parents, the route and pace were tailored to suite the whole group. We booked with Grasshoppers and our guide, Sam, really gave us an insight into the importance of the monuments, without turning it into a stuffy museum tour.
In my option Cambodia is ahead in the tourism triathlon. It might not win medal for “glitzy tourist experience”, but if you’re looking for a destination that stays connected to its cultural routes, and doesn’t get tripped up by mass tourism, then take the time to explore this beautiful country, by taxi, tuk-tuk or tyres.
The practical bit: Siem Reap
Where to stay:
Shinta Mani Club and Resort: ask about the hotel’s Foundation, set up to help make unemployed Cambodian’s employable. Junction of Oum Khun and 14th Street. Www.shintamani.com
Where to eat:
The Apsara Terrace, Raffles: outdoor pan-Asian BBQ buffet with classical Khmer dances. 1 Vithei Charles de Gaulle Khum Svay Dang Kum
What to do:
Cycling: Grasshopper Adventures offers a range of cycling tours from half, full and multi-day trips for all ages and abilities. www.grasshopperadventures.com. Try the Angkor Sunrise Discovery to see Angkor Wat at its best.
Where to shop:
Artisans Angkor: Cambodia fine arts and crafts. www.artisansdangkor.com
I Love Cambodia: Describes itself as giving “jobs for women in ultra poor families” by creating “handicrafts to fight against poverty”. #46, Taprum Road, Tropearng Ses, Kokchork.
Cambodia holiday for families?:
Cambodia feels like one of the final frontiers. In the tourism triathlon it is lagging behind, bending over out of breath, watching mournfully as its neighbours disappear over the horizon, racing ahead.
Or is it? Isn’t it the wise tortoise, who takes everything in its stride, and watches with wise old eyes as its fellow runners compete and jostle for positions with tourists, nodding sagely and taking notes at the mistakes that they have made.
Which is the path to the winning line: running blindly, learning from the potholes you fall into? Or pausing every now and then to learn from the falls of others?
Cambodia is not about to lose its charm in the impending tourism trends and influx of travellers, trying to find innocence before it’s lost forever. Cambodia is brushing the dirt off its knees after decades of colonial rule and Khmer Rouge repression. It’s finding its own identity, based on the principles of sustainability.
Cambodia is a short flight from Singapore, and therefore an easy weekend trip. The Angkor Wat temples are a popular destination for city slickers seeking a rustic escape. This month they featured on Google Earth, drawing even more attention to these iconic landmarks.
If you’re looking for a quick cultural escape, Angkor Wat might be your favoured destination. But what if you’re looking for a longer break. What about it you have grandparents and young children in tow?
We started our eight-day trip in Phnom Penh. You can easily get to grips with the capital with a visit to the Royal Palace, which is right in the city’s heart. There are manicured gardens to wander around, temples to reflect in and royal artifacts to view. The golden roofs, intricate architecture and mosaic tiles all offer an illusion of grandeur, however it is in stark opposition to one of the most visited locations – the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (S-21 Prison).
This converted school was used to house opponents of the Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s. Viewing old black and white photographs of the inmates, their cells and the weapons used on them, you begin to feel aloof and detached as if you are looking at pictures from the Second World War. Then, with a sudden sickening realisation, you remember that these crimes affected people of our generation, and the scars are still open and festering. The Killing Fields are still soaked in blood. A word of warning – this museum is not suitable for children.
Cambodian’s are very aware of the issues in their own country. And there are some startling statistics. According to Daughters of Cambodia, which offers employment and rehabilitation through handicraft boutiques and cafes, one in 40 Cambodian girls is sold into the sex trade. 90% of these girls are sold by their own families. Organisations such as Daughters are trying to break the cycle of rape, abuse and debt. And it’s one uplifting story of many.
In the tourism triathlon, Cambodia is trying to run a different race to its neighbours. With an influx of tourists you might expect large hotel chains to be springing up left, right and centre. You can find the big brands, but you can also find hidden havens that offer a sanctuary from the noisy roads and persistent tuk tuk drivers. These boutique hotels pride themselves in being able to offer something different; a local cuisine restaurant, a beautiful swimming pool or a relaxing spa.
Cambodia is running its own race, and it will be the winner.
The practical bit: Phnom Penh
Where to stay:
The Plantation Urban Resort and Spa, #28, Street 184. A 70-room hotel in a perfectly central location next to the Royal Palace and National Museum.
Where to shop:
Daughters’ Boutique Shop: changing the lives of victims of trafficking. #65EO, Street 178, www.daughtersofcambodia.org
Where to eat:
Friends: a training restaurant for former street youth, #215 , Street 13, www.mithsamlanh.org
Foreign Correspondent’s Club: an intuition in its own right, 363 Sisowath Quay, www.fcchotels.com
Bubbles tea & ice-cream: a welcome rest stop to gather your thoughts after a visit to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
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