Photo Of The Day: Sketching In Angkor Wat

As the largest religious monument in the world, Angkor Wat is truly massive, taking hours to get just a cursory view of the temple complex. While it is Cambodia’s prime attraction, there are still plenty of corners in which to find your own personal space, which is exactly what this sketch artist is doing inside Banteay Kdei. Known as the “Citadel of Chambers,” monks still lived inside up until the 1960s. Captured by Lauren Irons, “The Traveling Teacher,” and submitted to the Gadling Flickr Pool, this picture shows one man’s ability to do what many of us yearn for: find our own moments of peace within spectacular locations.

You too can have the chance at your travel photos being featured as our “Photo of the Day” by submitting it to our Gadling Flickr Pool or via Instagram by mentioning us @gadlingtravel and using tagging your photo with #gadling.

[Photo credit: Flickr user thetravelingteacher]

Orphanage tourism and Cambodia’s fight to end it

In Cambodia, it’s not uncommon for tourists to be offered tours of local orphanages in the same way they’re offered tours of Angkor Wat.

It might be tempting to accept the opportunity to experience “the real Cambodia,” especially when you’re confronted by extreme poverty at every turn. But before you do, a new campaign backed by international NGO Friends-International and UNICEF asks you to think again.

“Travelers care for Cambodia and are often disturbed by the perceived situation of children,” said Sebastien Marot, Executive Director of Friends-International, whose headquarters are in Cambodia. “It is essential for them to understand the real situation and what positive actions they can take to effectively protect and support these children.”

A recent study of Cambodia’s residential institutions showed that the rapidly growing practice of “orphanage tourism” actually does more harm than good, violating the rights of children and contributing to the separation of families. The study revealed that 72 percent of children living in institutions labeled “orphanages” have at least one living parent, and that the number of these types of institutions has grown in recent years, despite the fact that the number of orphaned and vulnerable children has shrunk. The study also showed that a number of these orphanage tourism schemes are run by unscrupulous business operators, and many aren’t regulated.Orphanages in themselves aren’t bad, but visitors must be aware of the effects of their actions. The Friends/UNICEF campaign encourages tourists to ask themselves a number of questions before they decide to visit an orphanage, including:

  • Are visitors allowed to just drop in and have direct access to children without supervision? Orphanages that allow strangers off the street to interact with children unsupervised, without conducting sufficient background checks, are not protecting the interests of the children.
  • Are children required to work or participate in securing funds for the orphanage? The songs and dances may be cute, but they can also be viewed as child labor and groom children for begging and street work that leaves them open to exploitation.
  • Does the orphanage have an active family reunification program? The extended family plays an important role in Cambodian culture, and efforts should be made to reunite orphaned children with family members that can care for them.

One of the most important questions, though, is one visitors should ask themselves.

“You aren’t allowed to go anywhere and hug a child in your own country,” said Marot. “Why should you be able to do it here?”

To learn more about positive ways to protect children in your travels, check out these seven tips from Friends-International.

Cambodia’s Hôtel de la Paix tree made of 3,200 white feathers

Implementing a massive symbol of both peace and sustainability takes time. Ten days, in fact. Cambodia‘s Hôtel de la Paix (The Hotel of Peace), a luxury boutique hotel dedicated to community sustainability in Siem Reap, Cambodia, is currently displaying an eco-conscious Christmas tree composed of 3,200 white feathers hung on individual wires from the ceiling in the hotel’s lobby. More than 3 million people have seen this creation on Facebook and the hotel has recently launched a video explaining the engineering behind this technical feat.

Since 2008, the hotel has created unique holiday trees to bring joy to the community. At each year’s unveiling, the hotel makes a donation to its community partner of choice, this year, the
The Green Gecko Project.

Of course, if you could use a little luxe in your life, the hotel earned Gold List status as Conde Nast Traveller UK’s 2011 Best Hotel for Ambiance and Design.


Siem Reap – 3 days in Cambodia

Siem Reap is an ancient place. It is well-worn with character written like wise creases on an old face. At its apogee, the Khmer empire built some of the most extraordinary temples in the world, ruling a kingdom covering parts of current day Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Myanmar. This was the Rome of Southeast Asia. Angkor Wat, the crown jewel in the Cambodian crown, is laid out to mirror the universe – this ambition rivaled only by its beauty. When I stood before the pyramids of Giza, I was impressed. When I came upon Angkor Wat, I was in love.

Flying to Cambodia is easy, as routes fly nonstop from many Southeast Asian hubs. The cheapest flight into Siem Reap is on Air Asia from Kuala Lumpur for roughly $120 round-trip. Flights from Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh are closer to $300 round-trip. If you are just aching to part with your dough, Silk Air offers a flight from Singapore that hovers around a grand. You can also take a bus into Siem Reap from Bangkok or Phnom Penh. Cambodia issues a visa on arrival so there is no need to obtain one beforehand. The process is quick and easy.


Day 1 – ATVs and Ta Prohm
Start the day with a tour of rural Cambodia on an all-terrain vehicle. Quad Adventures Cambodia provides an exhilarating trip through rice paddies and simple villages on red dirt roads. The expedition affords a glimpse into rural Cambodian life and stops by Chres Village School and Orphanage. The school is filled with Cambodian orphans, and they will give you a heartwarming tour of the premises. If you plan on being in Siem Reap for two weeks or longer, then you can volunteer at the school as a teacher.

After your cruise through the countryside of Siem Reap, head to the Angkor complex to buy a 3 day temple pass. The pass is required for visiting the ancient temples and costs $40. Check out the jungle temple of Ta Prohm in the late afternoon. Ta Prohm has a “taken back by nature” aesthetic with gnarly tree roots covering the temple walls like silly string. Visiting this temple is a fantastic way to get in the Angkor spirit. Follow it with sunset at Phnom Bakheng – a high temple on a hill overlooking the Angkor complex and dense jungle.

For the evening, head over to pub street. Pub Street has many bars and restaurants with food offerings ranging from local food such as Amok (fish wrapped in banana leaf) to pizza. The restaurant Le Tigre de Papier is a great spot and has a local cooking class. After dinner, check out the Angkor night market and “splurge” for a $3 foot massage.

For accommodation, a wide range of options exist. Le Meridien Angkor possesses an unbelievable pool and looks like a Bondian bad guy lair, but it is slightly on the expensive side. Kool Hotel is a great hotel at a great price. They provide complimentary breakfast, wifi, and have a pleasant pool.

Day 2 – Angkor Wat Sunrise and Tone Sap

Awake at 4:30am and begin your journey to the temple of Angkor Wat. Stumbling into the temple complex under moonlight and watching the sun slowly light up this otherworldly place is one of the world’s most memorable travel experiences.

After sunrise, tour the storied halls inside massive Angkor Wat and visit nearby Angkor Thom. Angkor Thom houses the photogenic Bayon temple, famous for its bas reliefs and gigantic stone faces. In the late morning, arrange a car or tuk tuk to Tonle Sap Lake – the largest lake in Southeast Asia. Many Cambodians call this lake home. They live in simple stilt houses, and it is not uncommon to see a child paddle by in what appears to be a salad bowl, perhaps on his way to a floating market. The most authentic lake experience is at the village of Kompong Phluk, but visiting the more touristy location near Siem Reap is still mind-blowing.

After your day at the lake, treat yourself to a fantastic Khmer-French fusion dinner at either Meric, Abacus, or AHA Wine Bar.

Day 3 – Banteay Srei, Land Mine Museum, and a Cambodian Carnival

Start your day with some fresh fruit juice and breakfast at your guesthouse and head out by tuk tuk through the countryside to Banteay Srei. The red sandstone carvings at Banteay Srei are the most meticulously detailed in Cambodia. Built in the 10th century, Banteay Srei served as an elaborate temple and library. Due to its slight remoteness, many visitors pass on this temple, but those that visit are rewarded with one of Angkor’s top sights.

The land-mining of Cambodia was a great tragedy. Many Cambodians have been disfigured and even killed in mining accidents. A stop by the Landmine Museum is necessary to put the damage into perspective. Learning about the founder’s life story is especially interesting. Museum founder Aki Ra fought as a child soldier, and some of his childhood narratives will leave a deep impression. Today he defuses land-mines and educates the public about their destructiveness. A movie was made about his life titled A Perfect Soldier, and he was named a CNN hero of 2010.

Late in the afternoon, visit the local carnival grounds on the outskirts of Siem Reap. Many games and local foods are there to sample. If you are feeling adventurous, try the delectable fried cricket. Several of the games, like “pop a balloon with a dart,” have prizes. You can win ice-cold Coca Cola and other beverages. The sodas are a welcome respite from the Cambodian heat.

The more local you get, the less people harass you. Walking through this foreign fairground, I felt like an American ghost. Watching Cambodian society undisturbed was an extraordinary experience.

Spend your last night at a traditional Cambodian barbecue spot. Touich Restaurant provides a tasty tour of this fiery cuisine style known as phnom pleung or “hill of fire.” Be sure to arrange reservations to guarantee a seat.

Extras – Bang Melea is a temple that has been left to the elements and is about an hour or two from Siem Reap. Roughly the size of Angkor Wat, you will feel like Indiana Jones exploring the unkempt ruins. On my visit, it was completely devoid of tourists. Some local kids gave me an impromptu tour of the dilapidated temple, and we climbed trees and explored dark hallways.

All photography by Justin Delaney

Photo of the Day (3.14.2010)

I’ve seen plenty of bland photos of Cambodia’s famous Angkor Wat temple complex. Enough to know today’s choice, by Flickr user mick62, is anything but. The close-up details of the exotic dancer, the wonderful sense of movement and grainy “reportage” quality to the image combine to create a photo that is both visually interesting and authentic. I’m also wondering if the the grainy quality of the image is from Photoshop? Or is this simply taken in low light? Anybody know?

Have any great photos you’d like to submit for Gadling’s Photo of the Day? Submit your best shots here.