December 19, 2006

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Phnom Penh is the capital of Cambodia. Its a great city still undergoing lots of development with lots of places to visit and sights to see as the city is divided into two banks of the river. Getting into Phnom Penh is easy via direct flights from all the major neighbouring cities like Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and others.

In the last five years especially, the number of businesses and restaurants catering to tourists has exploded, and Phnom Penh offers just about anything a much larger and more developed capital could. Phnom Penh is also the stop-over point for many tourists venturing to the northern town of Siem Reap which is the gateway town to Angkor Wat.

The main sights in town include Wat Phnom from where you have great views over the city, the Silver Pagoda in the Royal Palace complex, where you can see the emerald Buddha and a Buddha made of solid gold. The National Museum is also worth a visit. Other sights include the Phnom Temple, the Orchid Garden, the central market and a 15th-century pagoda or you can take a boat ride on the Mekong River to see the floating villages and a crocodile farm.
On The Riverfront, take a romantic stroll or cycle along Phnom Penh's Sithowath Quay to enjoy the breeze and the view of the busy life of the Mekong and Tonle Sap Rivers. The water level varies greatly depending upon what time of the year you visit and is at it’s highest at the end of the rainy season in October. The sunrise can be spectacular over the river in front of the Royal Palace. There are also regular 2-hour cruises during the day which are particularly pleasant if combined with lunch or dinner and sunset on board a cruising restaurant.

You should try and visit at least one traditional market while you are in Phnom Penh. The two best known are The Russian Market and the Central Market. The Russian Market is not so centrally located but is the best for souvenirs, curious and silks and the vendors seem more realistic in their expectations. The 1935 art deco-style Central Market is architecturally interesting but is geared almost entirely to the tourist who doesn’t have time to venture further afield and the vendors are most aggressive. More exclusive shopping can be found along Streets 178 and 240 where there are a number of elegant boutiques and galleries displaying contemporary Cambodian art, fine silks and sculptures.

There is a host of fine dining opportunities in Phnom Penh. Most restaurants, ranging from small, family run affairs to 5-star luxury venues offer excellent traditional Khmer cuisine and this should not be forgotten when faced with the plethora of western food delights on offer in the city. Given Cambodia’s history and relationship with France, it is not surprising to find that some of the most elegant venues are French, with food and wine reflecting that relationship. There are a number of excellent Chinese restaurants in Phnom Penh, ranging from places near the Central Market offering noodles and dumplings for $1 a plate to the fine dining experience offered at the Inter Continental Hotel. There are a number of Dutch, Australian and American style restaurants around the city if your favourites include steak, burgers, chips and salads. For lovers of Mediterranean-style food should seek out the streets lining and just behind Sisawoth Quay offer a variety of styles to suit every budget.

Whether its a snack, a casual meal or a bedtime dessert, Phnom Penh's fine bakeries beckon. The traditional French baguette is available on virtually every street corner. A large expatriate community ensures that in more sophisticated (and expensive) venues, you can purchase wonderful baked delights such as muffins, croissants, pastries, doughnuts, cakes and tarts.

Phnom Penh is the heart of the Cambodia's nightlife. Providing a good balance of fun and safety it's a pleasant change from the hectic Bangkok scene. The recent explosion of bars in the city offers greater choice than ever before. In the late evening though, do take precaution as not to be wondering in the alleys and out of town areas unless escorted.

Last but not least, do ensure that you bring along enough US currency as it is widely used in the capital for almost everything including fees for visiting places of interests to dining.

Some of the major attractions are:
  • Independence Monument
  • National Museum
  • Royal Palace and ‘Silver Pagoda’
  • Wat Phnom
  • Choeung Ek Memorial (The Killing Fields)
  • Toul Sleng Genocide Museum
  • The River Front
  • Central Market
  • Russian Market
  • Old Market

December 16, 2006

Lombok, Indonesia

The island of Lombok which means 'Chilli' in Indonesian is located to the east of Bali. From the small black sand bays of Sengiggi, some of the most spectacular sunsets on the planet can be witnessed. The pace of life is slow to the point of stopping and the southern coast of Lombok has some of the most stunning beaches in Indonesia. From silhouetted palms, to mist ringed volcanoes, Lombok island is a haven of natural beauty and just the ticket for getting away from it all which explains the recent popularity of Lombok in recent years. Most tourists make the trip to here to get away from the hustle and bustle of nearby Bali and enjoy the serene beaches.

The flight from Bali to Lombok’s Mataram airport takes just 30 minutes but upon arrival its like stepping into a different era altogether. Getting around is quite convenient with reasonably priced Bemo (converted minivans) or the tourist favourite Cidomo (horse pulled cart).

The local inhabitants of Lombok are called Sasaks. They speak Indonesian as well as their local Sasak language. The other main ethnicity’s include Balinese, Chinese, Arabian, and Javanese. Lombok has three main districts with three capital cities: Mataram in the west, Praya in central and Selong in east Lombok. The majority of commerce is in the capital city of Mataram in west Lombok.

When it comes to souvenirs from Lombok, its a choice between their woven textiles or potteries which is being exported throughout the world. There are also many traditional handicrafts you could take back as a souvenir i.e; wooden masks, baskets made out of ketak grass, wooden boxes designed with bits of shells, or other things made from bamboo or rattan.

At the end of the day, Lombok's charm truly lies in its century-old, tranquil coastal areas with virgin white beaches and green mountains.

Some of the major attractions are:

  • Mt. Rinjani
  • Sendanggile Waterfalls
  • Gili Islands
  • Mayura Water Palace
  • Masbagik Village
  • Narmada Palace
  • Pura Meru Temple
  • Lombok Pottery & Weaving
  • Sasak Village
  • Mataram Museum