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Travel Guide: Where To Go in Cambodia

Philip Lapinid does a temple run through Siem Reap, and discovers why after all these years, people are still falling in love with its majestic beauty.

There was a story of a king some centuries ago. Around him, the soil was red and sandy, and when mixed with liquid, made strong bricks. The king had his men construct the largest religious monument in the world using only these sandstone blocks and the muscle strength of man and elephant. The monument, which spanned an area of 162 hectares, was designed to represent the mythical Mount Meru, said to be the legendary home of the gods. He dedicated this monument to the Hindu god Vishnu. The king’s name was Suryavarman II and his legacy was Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Intricate carvings at the temple complex.

Regarded as a marvel of Indochina, Cambodia runs on tourism and it does not disappoint. Hidden in the middle of the country just above the Tonle Sap Lake is the city of Siem Reap, a magnet for tourists and the former seat of the Khmer Kingdom. King Suryavarman II didn’t know the magnificence of the architectural treasure he had left here—though much of the glorious Angkor is in ruins.

Tourists at Angkor Archeological Park.

Start exploring the city with a temple tour around the Angkor Archeological Park. Most hotels offer this as part of their tourist packages, or set an appointment with a tuk-tuk driver. A personalized tuk-tuk tour runs from US$10-35, depending on how far the site you choose is. Before sightseeing, you’ll have to buy passes for either 1 day (US$20), 3 days (US$40) or 7 days (US$60). Make sure to hold on to the passes as they’re needed to access every temple site you visit.

The Gaurdians of the gates at Angkor Thom.

The Angkor area is vast so it’s best to plan which route to take. There’s the Little Circuit, the Grand Circuit, the Angkor Wat-Angkor Thom Complex, and the Roluos Group of temples. Both circuit tour routes fill up a whole day and are enough fun. But a tour of the Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom is the experience.

A woman paddles through the flooded forest.

An hour’s drive away by tuk-tuk is an essential yet less-visited spot in Siem Reap—the fishing village of Kampong Phluk. A US$25 boat ride takes you out to where this whole village with houses built on stilts sits high above the water. See how the villagers go about their lives and watch them harvest shrimps. The boat tour ends at the mouth of the Tonle Sap lake and where the mangroves are quite a sight against the color of the river and the green landscape.

The rust-like color of the East Mebon Temple.

The Little Circuit Tour begins at the majestic Angkor Wat and takes in many minor and major temples like the Angkor Thom and Ta Prohm, known best as the location of Angelina Jolie’s film, Tomb Raider. The Grand Circuit Tour is an extension of the little circuit. Notable temples dotting its 26-kilometer route are Pre Rup, Neak Pean, East Mebon and Preah Khan. Pre Rup is a five-tower temple and is best viewed when the sun is low and the temple stones show various reddish hues. Neak Pean sits on an artificial island whose waters were considered to heal sickness back in the day. The Roluos Group, situated some 13 kilometers away from the city, is composed of 3 temples—Preah Ko, Bakong, and Lolei. Though drawing in less tourists, they too are important since they were some of the earliest structures built by the Khmers. Angkor Thom is a separate temple city beside Angkor Wat; and one of its most visited temples is Bayon, whose towers have a giant face carved on each side. Inarguably, the best time to visit the temples is after sunrise to catch the splendor of Angkor Wat with the first rays of sunlight hovering over the towers. This is a picture-perfect. 

Fresh Spring Rolls, Amok and Stuffed Tomatoes.

Hungry wanderers will find Siem Reap a sanctum of gastronomical goodness. Amok is the most well-known Cambodian dish and is widely offered in most restaurants. It’s a creamy fish (sometimes meat or seafood) curry with coconut milk and egg, wrapped in banana leaves then gently steamed. An order of spring rolls made of fresh vegetables rolled with rice paper make a perfect side dish, and comes with a sweet dipping sauce with crushed nuts. To beat Cambodia’s sweltering heat, go for an iced Khmer coffee, a strong brew that’s balanced with sweetened condensed milk.

Friend Ice Cream

Food in Siem Reap is actually cheaper near the Old Market with dishes in the price range of US$2 to $6. For your sweet fix, a serving of fried ice cream is a must-try. Try it by mixing flavors like banana and chocolate or kiwi and vanilla. At night, most visitors flock to Pub Street, the city’s “cap off.” Cocktails are sold in the streets for US$1.50. Or check out the dance clubs and resto-bars like Temple or Angkor What? Bar, where a bucket of your favorite cocktail is served complete with glow-in-the-dark straws.

FAST FACTS

  • A number of airlines now fly from the Philippines to Cambodia, including Cebu Pacific, which flies from Manila to Siem Reap four times a week.
  • Many travelers recommend hiring a tuktuk driver for the duration of your stay, if only to do away with the hassle of finding a tuktuk between destinations. Building a rapport with your driver will also be a good way to get some insight from locals.

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Travel

Get Lost in this Not-so-distant Island Safari Paradise

LOST IN PARADISE

Tao Philippines Crusoe-style deserted island camp paradise is perfect for those who understand the luxury of simplicity and disconnection.

by Melo E. Esguerra photography by Scott Sporleder

Just when you think Palawan is fast becoming a second Boracay, where congestion of concrete buildings and human bodies have begun to define the island experience more than the pristine beaches of white powdery sand, the Lostboys of Tao Philippines came up with a new island project that guarantees an escape to paradise. They call the island Camp Ngey Ngey.

The Lostboys have taken over the abandoned resort of Manguengey in Busuanga, a remote island in Palawan. They have kept the ruins from the typhoon and built their signature bamboo Tuka huts around the main beach of the island, which serves as the camp area. Just a short walk away you’ll find jungle trails that lead to three other wild beaches, preserved reefs and windswept cliffs encompassed by crystal blue waters. And on certain days, when the winds are strong, one side of the island becomes a good site for surfing.

 


Eddie Brock, one of the founders of Tao Philippines, explains how this concept of an island safari came about. “When we took over Manguengey Resort, we were stuck with the idea of how to run it. We do not know how to cater to resort guests, the individual choices and needs, and menus,” he admits. “Tao’s expertise is to show travelers something new, something more raw and adventurous. We decided that we will not worry about things we don’t understand, and stick to what we do best. One of the best aspects of a Tao trip is creating an atmosphere of connecting with other travelers, disconnected from digital clot—without the worry of planning, wallets and keeping a status. Five days out in the remoteness with the islanders in control leads to a positive attitude: guards down, inhibition is off and open to meet new friends.”

The camp is accessible through the three day/two night boat safari from Coron, with beach and reef stops en route the camp and back. Guests will be joining other travelers, staying in individual Tuka huts dotted along the beach. There are lounges, a dining and kitchen area, and open hang-out places. Currently, the big mansion from the old resort is being restored into a villa that can accommodate a family or group of friends.

The island can be reserved for big events like weddings, parties and other meaningful gatherings.

In the island, there is no room service, no menus, no WiFi. You will arrive as strangers, you will eat together, swim together, laugh together, drink together, and get to know each other offline. Become part of the magic of Tao, and see what happens!

For more information on how the trip to Camp Ngey Ngey works, log on to www.taophilippines.com

 

(This article has already been published in Zee Lifestyle’s June 2017 Men’s Issue, “Lost in Paradise” on pages 110-113.)

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Travel

THROWBACK THURSDAY. Our Stylish Voyage on a Boat with Loida and Richard

FOR SAIL

With hosts Loida Montesclaros and Richard Forteau, we take entertaining to the high seas.

by Shari Quimbo photography Steffen Billhardt

The sky was decidedly gloomy on the Sunday afternoon Loida Montesclaros and Richard Forteau invited a small group of us for a sail, the clouds getting darker as I make my way to Porter’s Marina, where the Blue Planet was docked.

“Richard built the boat himself in Cebu,” Loida explains, going on to share that he was the former honorary French consul in Cebu. “It was built here, and I designed the interiors.”

All that work certainly paid off—Loida and Richard would often sail the boat out to different Philippine destinations such as El Nido, Siargao, Boracay and the Gigantes Islands in Iloilo. These could mean days-long journeys that sometimes meant dealing with some rough seas. Quick day trips, much like the one we were about to embark on, were also a regular past time.

Loida gives me a quick tour of the boat then shows off her tropical spread. With its bright blue and white floral seating, the cabin’s dining area is already a pretty festive site. “I wanted to keep it simple,” she tells me, arranging her fresh fruits around on the banana leaf-covered wooden slabs she was using as serving trays. “And I wanted it to look more local, more tropical. We are on the water, after all.”

The bamboo slats of the dining table were the perfect backdrop to Loida’s spread, which featured tropical fruits alongside an entire roll of lechon belly, fresh lumpia, empanada and steamed shrimp.

The highlight of the table, though, was the chicken liver pate, a dish that Richard makes himself. “Luckily, the French love to cook,” Loida jokes conspiratorially.

Finally, it was time to take the vessel out onto the high seas, and the group makes its way above deck to enjoy the view. The cool sea breeze was a bit stronger than usual, something that had to do with the dark rain clouds looming above us—something that would have deterred any other group, but not this adventurous bunch. Armed with a glass of champagne in one hand and a biscuit smeared with pate on the other, many stand against the railing, admiring the sight of the sky turning orange above the Mactan Channel.

And then it starts to pour. No matter, though—as the rain pounds against the deck, the party finds its way down below. A bottle of wine is opened, and then another, while a second pot of pate is transferred on a plate. Our captain waits until the waves calm before he brings us back ashore.

(This story has already been published in the printed edition of Zee Lifestyle Magazine’s November 2016 issue as one of the Entertaining Features on pages 82-85.)

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Culture

Experience authentic Korean Barbeque at Da-In Restaurant

Filipinos are crazy for Korean barbecue. As such, there are a lot of places that are offering Korean barbecue. But Da-In restaurant isn’t just one of those restaurants.

Located in Salinas Drive in Lahug, Cebu, Da-in restaurant is a joint project between the Creative Cuisine Group and Da-Won restaurant. With state-of-the-art grilling stations in each table and various Korean cuisines ready to be served, Da-In would surely sate your Korean barbecue cravings without any hassle.

Visit Da-In restaurant today!

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