Thursday, January 22, 2009

Cambodia Trip '08 – Accommodation Write-Up: Holiday Villa Hotel & Suites, Phnom Penh

Unlike my previous trips, the hotel accommodations for my stay in Phnom Penh was already arranged by our trip organizers. Having being told a few weeks before we left for the trip where were would be staying, I decided to look the Holiday Villa Hotel & Suites, Phnom Penh up on the web and easily found their website. The website was quite well laid out and they even had updated rate promotions listed there. I’m fairly sure it would be easy to navigate and use if I had to make the bookings on my own.

(Exterior of the hotel)

Located in a fairly convenient part of town, the hotel was fronted by a fairly busy road almost all hours of the day. Having said that, I’m fairly certain it would be easy for visitors staying at the hotel to flag down local transportation to go out and about from the hotel. Despite being in a corner of a busy road, the sounds of traffic were scarcely noticeable in both the lobby and the rooms. We were given a welcome drink in the form of sweeten iced tea upon arrival while waiting for the organizers to check us in and assigned the rooms to us.

The room that we were assigned to was a double twin bed room which was surprisingly bigger than I expected. It had all the amenities of a hotel room targeted for the travelling business person. The beds were fairly comfortable and the bathroom was adequately setup for our purposes. The hotel offered complimentary coffee making facilities in room with the usual selection of instant coffees and teas provided. Other than the minibar that was empty by the request of the organizers, the hotel room was quite cozy and sufficient for our needs during our stay in the city.

(Room interior)

There were a few places of interest within the block that the hotel was located. Several message parlors were just across the street offering legitimate message sessions. There were also local restaurant just down the road from the hotel that offered a variety of local street food. Just around the corner from the street food, there was a bakery that sold the local version of the baguette. The hotel was also located within walking distance of the Central Market in Phnom Penh if one wished to walk the distance.

Our room rate included a buffet breakfast at the hotel’s in house Lagenda Fusion Restaurant. Being a Malaysian owned hotel, the food served at the restaurant was certified halal for Muslim visitors. The morning buffet consisted of the usual mix of international and local dishes that one finds in these type of hotels. We also had a dinner once at the hotel and ordered from their fairly large selections from their ala carte menu. Even with all prices on the menu listed in US dollars, it was still comparable to what one would expect to pay for in a similar hotel in KL.

(Hotel Lobby and Reception area)

(L: Heading to the restaurant and lifts to the left, R: Hotel entrance at night)

The Holiday Villa Hotel & Suites, Phnom Penh is definitely an easy choice to recommend as a place to stay at for visitors coming to Phnom Penh. The fairly nice amenities, ease of getting halal food and easy access to local transportation makes it a fairly convenient base of operations from where visitors can explore Phnom Penh from. The only drawback that I could say about the hotel is the slightly high premium that one had to pay for this convenience but the promotional rates that they have on the website make for a very convincing case to come and stay at the hotel.

Full Contact Details:

Address:

89 Monivong Boulevard, Sangkat Monorom Khan, 7 Makara,
Phnom Penh, The Royal Kingdom of Cambodia.

Tel : (855-23) 990 888
Fax : (855-23) 990 999

Email : monoromsales@camnet.com.kh
URL : http://www.holidayvillaphnompenh.com/

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Cambodia Trip '08 – Day 03: River Cruise on the Tonle Sap River, Phnom Penh

From the Silver Pagoda, we drove around the corner from Street 240 to head up towards the Sisowath Quay which run along the Tonle Sap river bank. It was clear that this area was were all the tourist would go to when they visited Phnom Penh as it was lined with pubs, caf├ęs, cheap hotels and touristy places from one end to the other. As we passed these establishments, I made a mental note of things to do there for the next time I breeze through the city. I would have loved to spend an evening walking down the riverside but considering it was our last night in town, I didn’t think that I would have a chance to.

(Buildings at Sisowath Quay)

(Boats for charter at the Tonle Sap riverside)

Across the street from the shops, the whole area of the riverbank looked fairly torn up. We were told that the whole area was currently under construction as part of a beautification project of the riverbank. It was expected to be completed in a few months time and it would end up being a nice esplanade to hang out at during the evenings. The current ongoing construction didn’t stop the crowd that was steadily building in the area in anticipation of the Water Festival that was scheduled in Phnom Penh in the next few following days. We were told that droves of people from the other districts would descend down to Phnom Penh to support their hometown longboat team who would participate in the races that was held during the Water Festival.

After the short drive, we finally arrived at the boat pier where our Cambodian hosts had arranged for a river cruise down the Tonle Sap River. Since there was a number of us, we got a boat all to ourselves but individuals could still arrange these boat cruises through their hotel or one of the many travel agencies that dotted the Sisowath Quay area. We were told by our hosts that boats were available for charter from as low as USD25 for a 1½ hours cruise down the river. Some boat operators even organized hi-tea or a bar in their boats for those who want more to their experience than just sitting up deck to watch the world go by. We were happy with our no frills package as we already had dinner arranged later in the evening.

(View of the riverside from our boat going down the Tonle Sap River)

(Looking down from the top deck down to the river)

The boat took us down the Tonle Sap River which connects to the Tonle Sap Lake further inland near Siam Reap. All along the river bank, flags and decorations were already put up for the Water Festival. Some were already there from the Independence Day celebration earlier in the day. We were able to see the Royal Podium where the King of Cambodia and his entourage would be watching the Water Festival proceedings being decorated with lights that I assume would be lighted up at the end of the following day. Our boat proceeded slowly down the river to where the Tonle Sap River meets the mighty Mekong River before turning back to the pier. On the journey back, we were able to see the activity on the other side of the river bank where most of the people had been gathering at.

(The riverside all decorated for both the Independence Day & Water Festival celebrations)

(L: 4 star Hotel Cambodiana at the riverside, R: Charter boat on Tonle Sap River)

(Watched the sun going down on the river point where Tonle Sap meets Mekong rivers)

As we floated down the river, a longboat race team came along side our boat. Having a bunch of tourist like us cheering them on and taking their pictures, the boatmen went and started a practice run as we watch them speed off. I must say that I was quite surprised to see how fast those race boats could go given the right combination of rowers. After the impromptu preview of how the races would be like the following day, we slowly made our way past the many boats that was sending people across the river to were the race boats were docked. The grounds around it seemed to be transformed into a fairground with rides and stages all set up for the crowds that came to watch the races. I had a feeling that they also slept in makeshift sleeping tents in the area as I could see some of them already set up for the night.

(L: The longboat team that came alongside our boat, R: Longboat practise run)

(End of the practise run)

(Charter boats passing this close to each other gave an opportunity for tourist to snap photos of each other)

(The other bank of the river was abuzz of activity with people coming in to watch the races)

(Modes of water transport people took to get to the other bank where the fairground was set up)

We finally docked back at our starting point and proceeded to a nearby restaurant that was owned a fellow Malaysian. The food was pretty much the same as what we have been having for the past few days. Interesting enough, the Muslim community in Cambodia seem to eat a lot of chicken as it was on the menu in every meal we had up to that point. One highlight of the dinner was that we finally got to try the Cambodian baguette for ourselves after seeing them all being sold all over the city. Slightly skinnier that the usual baguettes that I’m used to seeing, it was cut lengthwise and filled with a local version of beef satay and julienned white carrots. It was quite nice and we ended buying a few more of them to bring back to the hotel where we had to repack our bag to check out very early in the next morning.

Phnom Penh was a pleasant surprise for me. It was not as modern looking as KL, Singapore or even Manila but it definitely had a distinct character of its own. The people there were friendly despite the language barriers but with a little patience, getting around in Phnom Penh was not that difficult. Halal food was not that difficult to find thanks to the numbers of Malaysians who have made Phnom Penh their second home and brought their businesses there as well. There were so much that I didn’t get to do in Phnom Penh since I was travelling in a group that I would definitely consider a return visit once I’ve completed my travel circuit of all ASEAN countries.

(Good bye Phnom Penh! I will definitely come again)

Monday, January 19, 2009

Cambodia Trip '08 – Day 03: Silver Pagoda, Phnom Penh

After a short rest at our hotel, we left in our minivan heading towards the Royal Palace grounds which was located a short distance from our hotel. On the way, we noticed quite a few people in national dress and somewhat formal looking shirts walking down the street where we were heading. It was then that we were told that the people were coming back for the Cambodian Independence Day gathering further down the road which we missed earlier that morning. If I had a chance, I would have loved to participate in the festivities that morning just to see how they celebrate their Independence Day in Cambodia.

(Cambodian National Assembly Building, Phnom Penh)

Our minivan soon delivered us near the entrance of the Royal Palace facing Street 240. From the place where we parked, we could see the National Assembly building which served a similar function as our own Parlimen building. We crossed the street to enter the Royal Palace entrance and paid our entrance fee there. Guides were available for hire at the entrance but we decided to skip this as we already had a local person with us in the group. We walked through the building at the outside of the Silver Pagoda walls where they currently store items that was used during the recent installation of the new King of Cambodia. Among the items that we saw were equipment used on the elephants during the Royal Elephant Procession as well as other items that was carried by attendants during the ceremony.

(Musicians playing traditional Khemer musical instruments in one of the pavilions)

(Wall relief depicting Hanuman's army and guardian statues on the grounds)

After a walk around the walls of the Silver Pagoda, we finally came to the huge double layer doors that opened into the grounds of the pagoda. We walked through and among the towering stupas that contained the ashes and remains of some of the Cambodian royalty. The grounds of the Silver Pagoda were surrounded by a wall on which was painted with murals that depicted the events from Reamker which was the Khmer version of the classic Indian epic, the Ramayana. Some sections of the mural looked faded considering that they were exposed to the elements but I was fairly certain that they would be professionally restored.

(L: Outer door, R: Inner door details of the double gate into the Silver Pagoda grounds)

(Reamker murals, Silver Pagoda, Phnom Penh)

Another interesting feature on the grounds was also the statue of HM King Norodom who ruled Cambodia between 1834-1904. Perched on his horse, the statue was definitely a distinguishing feature of the grounds which stood out among the more traditional looking architecture of the area. Right next to the statue was the Silver Pagoda which the area was named after. Visitor must remove their footwear before entering the pagoda which housed Buddhist artifacts including the famous Emerald Buddha. Since the pagoda is still a functioning house of worship, pictures are not also allowed to be taken inside the building.

(Library that housed sacred Buddhist texts)

(L: Stupa of HM King Suramarit and HM Queen Kossomak, R: Statue of HM King Norodom)

(Silver Pagoda entrance)

(L: Stupa of HM King Norodom & Royal Palace beyond it, R: Stupa of HM King Ang Doung & Keong Preah Bath shrine)

(The Cambodian Royal Palace beyond the wall enclosure surrouding the Silver Pagoda grounds)

(Pillars around the Silver Pagoda)

(L: Close up details of pillar decorations at Silver Pagoda, R: Roof details of the Silver Pagoda)

(Stupa of Princess Kantha Bopha, Silver Pagoda)

After spending sometime looking at the artifacts within the Silver Pagoda, we left the building to head to the back area where a scale model of the Angkor Wat was located. After resting for a bit there we proceeded to the pagoda grounds exit as we were told that the Royal Palace grounds were closed for visitors on that afternoon. While I was slightly disappointed not being able to walk around the palace ground, it was still an afternoon well spent walking though the grounds of the Silver Pagoda.

(Scale model of Angkor Wat, Silver Pagoda, Phnom Penh)

(Additional info and names for the structures were obtained from http://www.canbypublications.com/phnompenh/pproyalpalace.htm)