Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Amansara Siem Reap

We loved staying at Amansara. As an Aman Resort, the Amansara Hotel in Siem Reap is a luxurious base for the ruins at Angkor Wat. It was once King Norodom Sihanouk’s guest palace and was built by a French architect in the 60’s as place where the king could accommodate his diplomatic and celebrity guests.

There is a  a bit of history at Amansara. The king’s palace also served for a time as a state guesthouse for the infamous Khmer Rouge. The house car, the king’s original ‘62 Mercedes, is said to have carried Jackie Kennedy while she was there.  The Aman dining room today once was the film screening room for the king and his guests. The restaurant now serves very tasty western style food with a French touch and well-prepared Khmer.

The Suites feature open planning, clean and elegant furniture and can be reserved with a personal plunge pool that’s much appreciated in the tropical weather of Cambodia.

The highlight of staying here is enjoying Amansara’s exclusive temple excursions-you’ll be outfitted with a private guide and Remork (powered pedicab) driver. Starting early in the morning, the expeditions leave for the  temples before the heat of the day and explore until returning to Amansara for lunch around 11-12:00. The afternoon is open for more temple exploration and when welcomed back from a sunset outing by a smiling staff member offering chilled towels, Amansara is a magical place. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Le Royal Phnom Penh

The Raffles Hotel Le Royal, Phnom Penh is a grand colonial era structure adapted to the tropical climes of Indochina. High ceilings and open airy spaces are reminders of a time when air conditioning was not a feature of hotel design. Since Raffles refurbished the original 1920 design, Le Royal has all the modern conveniences the renovations in the mid 90s successfully retained the best of the original. There are dedicated personality suites in the old building that are outstanding.

Restaurant Le Royal
Once sleepy Phnom Penh is an increasingly active place and Le Royal is the perfect sanctuary after busy days exploring the city. The interior courtyard features two good-sized pools (one for adults only) and lush gardens. The staff and service are impeccable in keeping with Raffles rigorous standards. The main restaurant, Le Royal serves very good French food for dinner and the Monivong Café serves a good buffet breakfast outdoors in the morning along with lunch and dinner.

Andre Malroux Suite
Le Royal is a short walk from Wat Phnom in the embassy area of Phnom Penh and overlooks a broad boulevard with manicured gardens. The riverfront along Sisowath Quay, the location of many restaurants and bars, is ten minutes away on foot. The city’s other major sights are a short tuk-tuk ride away. Hotel Le Royal is located in an area designated by the French as the original centre of the colonial government so many of the city's notable structures are nearby. The large new US Embassy is also nearby.

History has happened here. Charlie Chaplin, Andre Malraux and Charles de Gaulle were among others who have stayed here. Sydney Schanberg and Jon Swain (of Killing Fields fame) were also here along with many other journalists covering Khmer Rouge activities in the 1970s. A drink at the famous Elephant Bar is a must; the Champagne glass used by Jackie Kennedy for her Femme Fatale in 1967 is on display; her lipstick stains are still present. Exciting and historic!

Boulevard Daun Penh- Looking From Malroux Suite
Raffles Hotel Le Royal is truly a historic colonial Grande Dame and shouldn’t be missed when in Phnom Penh. It’s a wonderful place to stay.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Phnom Penh

Wat Phnom

On the way to Battambang and Siem Reap we spent some time in Phnom Penh, a wonderful city to experience. It’s a mixture of Cambodian hospitality, exotic Asia and Indochinese charm.
Sisowath Quay along The Tonle Sap River
Once known as the Pearl of Asia, it was considered one of the loveliest French-built cities in Indochina in the 1920s. Phnom Penh (“Phen’s Hill”) takes its name from the present Wat Phnom (“Hill Temple”). Legend has it that in 1372, an old nun named Grandma Penh went to fetch water in the Mekong and found a floating tree. Inside a hole in the tree were four bronze and one stone Buddha statues.

Grandma Penh brought the statues ashore and built a temple on a small hill to house the five Buddha. statues. The temple, which still stands, was named Wat Phnom.
Sisowath Quay Street Scene

The city of Phnom Penh is situated at the confluence of three great rivers, the Mekong, Tonle Sap and Bassac. It is a city of more than 2 million people, the capital of Cambodia and the country's commercial, economic and political center. It is also a relatively new travel destination. An adventurous destination 10 years ago, the city is now a safe center of diverse economic and urban development. It’s quickly morphing into a city of chic bistros and restaurants along with fantastic boutique hotels and bars/restaurants along the Tonle Sap riverfront on Sisowath Quay.
Royal Palace

Phnom Penh is a fairly young city, only rising to it’s role as a capital in 1866, but it’s still steeped in local history and offers several fascinating cultural and historical sites. The city was under French colonial control from 1863-1953, and flourished in it’s independence in the 1960s. It was besieged and then evacuated under the Khmer Rouge in the late 70s and repopulated in the 80s. 
Toul Sleng (S21). The site of Genocide

Historical sites from the Khmer Rouge period in Phnom Penh include the Toul Sleng (S21) Genocide Museum at a former high school turned prison and the Choeung Ek Memorial at the Killing Fields, 17 km south of the city. The Khmer Rouge era was a brutal time for the Cambodian people.
Mass Graves at Choeung Ek

Finally revitalized in the '90s, Phnom Penh now undergoing rapid change and development. Much of the central city including the Royal Palace and the national Museum was built during the French period, with quite a few old French buildings in colonial yellow nestled among the Southeast Asian shophouses and classic Khmer pagodas. 
Phnom Penh is an exciting and fascinating city to visit. Highly Recommended!

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Thursday, March 1, 2012

Ferry to Slanted Door

Lakspur Ferry Terminal

The other day we went into San Francisco on the Larkspur Ferry to eat lunch at the Slanted Door with guests. Super!
The fast catamaran, The Mendocino took off right on schedule and we then went down the stairs to the cool little bar that has hand made Bloody Mary’s. They are out of this world, no mix for them. After grabbing our drinks we sat at a table and watched the SF Bay go by.
We had great views of the City and the famed San Quentin Prison hulking on the shore. San Quentin’s quite an institution. Opened in July 1852, San Quentin is the oldest prison in California. There’s also the small village of San Quentin next to the prison which has some of the best views of San Francisco in the Bay Area.
The roughly 30 minute crossing is so easy compared with the other ways into the city. It drops you right there at the Ferry Building and the foot of Market Street. 
The Restaurant is in the the ferry building itself, right off the boat and down the central food hall. Perfect. And this place is busy! Make reservations well in advance. We had a res for 6 and were seated right away at a large round table with a good view of the Bay Bridge. Perfect!
The Slanted Door’s up-scale Vietnamese food is very famous and quite good. Especially the Vietnamese Crepe that’s crispy on the outside and filled with shrimp, pork, bean sprouts and onions. Also liked the Shaking Beef, cubed filet mignon, watercress, red onion and lime sauce. There’s also the Caramelized Wild Shrimp with garlic, onions and chili sauce and many more wonderful dishes. Pretty expensive but worth it. Mmmmm!
After lunch we boarded the ferry and had a great return voyage. Got to see the new tower being built for the Bay Bridge earthquake retrofit peeking over famed Treasure Island from a water angle. There’s so many things to see from the ferry that you just can’t see from a car. We’re going to go into the City this way again soon. Great trip. Highly Recommended!
New Tower for BayBridge
Coit Tower

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