The Vine Retreat: An Eco-Friendly Escape In Kep, Cambodia

Sometimes you just need a hammock and a view. At least that’s how I felt after six weeks of life as an ex-pat in the loud, congested capital city of Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

I found respite at The Vine Retreat, a rustic eco-friendly hotel in the southeastern Cambodian province of Kep. There, simplicity is the name of the game. With little to do but relax, read, and enjoy the scenery, The Vine offers a peaceful getaway from inland Phnom Penh, without the drunken beach bum backpacker scene of nearby Sihanoukville.

Tucked away in the rice paddies near the Phnom Vor mountains, The Vine Retreat is constructed from natural, locally sourced materials and powered by an off-grid, low-carbon power system. A highlight of the property is the recently completed naturally filtered swimming pool – a great way to escape the mid-afternoon heat. Meals are taken at a communal table with a revolving menu that includes organic produce from the garden and fresh seafood from the nearby Bay of Thailand. Kampot pepper, widely said to be the best in the world and grown in a small plantation on-site, is always on the table.

%Gallery-158764%The Vine’s rooms are simple, but well-appointed, with canopy beds and handwoven textiles. Hot water is provided by a solar heating system, and the provided coconut-scented soap is handmade by a local women’s cooperative. The guesthouse is also committed to economic development in the surrounding villages. In partnership with a local non-profit, they offer sustainable tourism excursions, including trekking, biking and tours of nearby Chamcar Bei village, and they reinvest all excursion fees into community education and training. I opted for a bicycle tour of Chamcar Bei’s craft cooperatives, which create home and lifestyle items out of coconut shells and recycled plastic bags.

Rooms start from $25/night for basic accommodations, but off-season Facebook specials offer deals as low as $10 (yes, you read that right). To arrive at The Vine Retreat, hire a tuk-tuk (about $8) from nearby Kep or Kampot, or a car from any of Cambodia’s major cities.

Adventures By Disney Travels To The Far East In 2013

Travelers looking to explore the exotic Far East will have a new option in 2013 when Adventures by Disney launches a new itinerary to Southeast Asia. The 12-day tour will visit Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, while still featuring the family-friendly activities that the travel company has become so well known for.

Highlights of the trip include stops in Saigon, Hanoi, Siem Reap, Luang Praban and more. Adventurers, young and old, will marvel at the ancient wonders of Angkor Wat and visit remote villages while exploring the Cambodian countryside on horseback. They’ll shop for the ingredients to a traditional Vietnamese meal in the markets of Hoi An and then learn to prepare it under the supervision of a local chef. They’ll even visit the pristine beaches of the South China Sea where they can relax in the warm waters and soak up the sun.

Adventures by Disney tours specialize in family travel to a number of fantastic destinations across the globe. The trips are designed to immerse travelers of all ages in the cultures and landscapes of the countries they visit while providing experiences that they wouldn’t normally get from any other travel company. Two well-trained Disney Adventure Guides will lead this particular journey through Southeast Asia and will organize activities that are a blend of both active excursions and relaxing downtime.

For more information on the Southeast Asia adventure visit or call 1-877-728-7282.

[Photo courtesy Adventures by Disney]

A cultural tour of Burma through tilt-shift timelapse

For those who’ve wondered what local life is like in Burma (Myanmar), “Bonsai Burma” by Berlin filmmaker Joerg Daiber can enlighten you. Using tilt-shift photography, Daiber takes viewers on a cultural tour of the country showing daily life, women working in the hillsides, children playing, hawkers selling goods at the market, and fisherman working for their catch. Furthermore, viewers will be taken through various cities and shown an array of landscapes – mountains, hillsides, rivers, and cities – giving an all-encompassing tour of the country.

Why you should visit Singapore in 2012

There are many reasons Singapore makes a great travel destination, from unique architecture to rich cultural experiences to carefully prepared cuisine. In 2012, the Southeast Asian destination has even more reasons to visit, from exciting new restaurants to the opening of their first river-themed animal park. Here are some reasons to put Singapore on this year’s trip itinerary.

New cultural venues

In February, 2011, the ArtScience Museum at Marina Bay Sands opened to the public as the first of its kind in Southeast Asia. First there is the architecture of the building (shown right), which is designed to look like a lotus flower in order to metaphorically welcome guests from all walks of life. The museum itself houses more than 50,000 square feet of exhibits for visitors to explore, helping them to better understand the connection between art and science.

The National Art Gallery in Singapore is undergoing a complete renovation and is being relocated to the center of the Civic District. The new visual arts venue will be housed in two adjacent heritage buildings: City Hall and the former Supreme Court building. It will be the largest of its kind in Singapore, and will “focus on the display, appreciation, promotion, research and study of Southeast Asian and Singaporean art, as well as play host to international art exhibitions”. The completed project should be done by the end of the year, and until then travelers can still visit the former National Art Gallery, which features an array of local and cultural works.Luxury shopping

Last September, Singapore unveiled their Louis Vuitton Island Maison to merge luxury shopping with art and architecture. As the brand’s first-ever island maison, the store’s interior is nautically themed and will also introduce cultural elements of the area into the design. Along with selling designer accessories, the venue will also feature a contemporary artwork tunnel as well as a bookstore housing works on art, culture, and design.

Tourists who want to shop should also take a stroll down Orchard Road. While expensive, it is the best in Singapore in terms of quality, choice, and how many shops are centered in one place. Even if you’re short on cash, it’s worth it to visit Orchard Road just to window browse and check out all of the diverse architecture. If you’re on a budget and want to buy something, check out the Far East Plaza, which is on Scotts Road in the Orchard Road District and is home to countless boutique shops and non-chain stores.

Outdoor leisure

In June, 2012, Singapore will be able to welcome visitors to the brand new Gardens by the Bay. The park, which is being constructed to be the “Central Park of Asia”, will encompass 250 acres of land in the Marina Bay District. The project is meant to align with the city’s vision of transforming into a giant garden. Some major attractions include the Heritage Gardens (shown right), the Flower Dome, Dragonfly Lake, Bay East Gardens, and Golden & Silver Gardens.

Asia’s first river-themed animal park

Scheduled to open very soon, River Safari Singapore will be the first river-themed animal park in Asia. Visitors will have the chance to take boat rides and get a close-up encounter with freshwater environments and animals. The goal of the park, which is a project of Wildlife Reserves Singapore, is to educate people on freshwater habitat conservation. Some of the experiences you can have include visiting the Amazon Sunken Forest (shown right) and meeting manatees and arapalmas, riding down the Mekong and seeing Long-tailed Macaques and giant catfish, floating down the sacred healing waters of the Ganges and spying ancient Indian Gharial and narrow-headed turtles, and more.

Unique properties

Last year, Singapore prepared for hotel expansion through many efforts. For instance, the well-known Shangri-La Rasa Sentosa Resort (shown right) underwent a $63 million renovation while new properties like the budget-friendly Ibis Singapore Novena and the luxurious Fullerton Bay Hotel opened their doors to guests.

And, expansions are continuing into this year. In August, 2012, visitors to Singapore will be able to stay at the brand new chic and trendy island resort, W Singapore Sentosa Cove, which will be the W Hotel’s first property in Singapore. Moreover, this year the Pan Pacific Hotel Group will be opening a brand new property that is planned to be one of the most eco-friendly hotel options in Asia, PARKROYAL on Pickering. The venue will feature energy and water regulation, solar-powered landscape lighting, and rainwater harvesting as well as lush skygardens, reflecting pools, and waterfalls. Around the hotel property, the landscape will hold a relaxing, tropical feel.

High quality food

Most people would agree that the number one reason to visit Singapore is the food. Even international food expert Anthony Bourdain has toted Singapore as being the most “foodie destination” in the world and has said that once you’ve had the food there “you can’t go back to the way you were before”. One excellent way to get a taste of the street food culture in Singapore, which is high-quality and authentic, is at a Hawker Centre. Here you will be able to sample an array of local cuisines that have undergone careful preparation, like Laksa (shown right), Beef Rendang, and Hainanese Chicken Rice for a good price.

Sinapore also has some excellent new restaurants that have just opened up. To help you experience the hawker food culture even further, there is The Food Republic Beer Garden. Here you can choose from 18 different push-cart stalls offering street food as well as experience live music until 1AM. What’s also great about this place is it’s housed in an old Tiger Beer lowry making it great choice for beer lovers and oenophiles.

There are also L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon and Joël Robuchon Restaurant at Resorts World Sentosa, both opened by Michelin star chef Joël Robuchon. The two restaurants are the chef’s first venture in Southeast Asia and give guests the opportunity to sample two unique fine-dining menus at the same resort.

[images via ArtScience Museum, Schristia, Gardens by the Bay, River Safari, Shangri-La Sentosa, Diane Bondareff]

Exploring the street food in Singapore

Singapore is an island-nation in Southeast Asia that has a rich culture, especially when it comes to food. Their unique street food culture can be experienced in the numerous hawker centers: open-air food courts housing authentic, carefully prepared cuisine for a budget-friendly price. Sample delicious options like the local favorite Hainanese Chicken Rice (shown right), peanut sauce-laden satay skewers, mildly-spicy laksa soup, and the rainbow-colored desert, Ais kacang, made with ice and topped with beans, corn, fruit, and other delights.

International food expert Anthony Bourdain, the host of the Travel Channel’s No Reservations and The Layover, is a huge fan of Singaporean street food. At a recent event held at LAUT in New York, Bourdain described Singapore as one of the best “foodie destinations” in the world and explained how the culture is comprised of “incredible foods with individual personalities.”

He continued, saying, “I kind of lost my mind in Singapore. It ruined me from my previous life. When you’ve had laksa for breakfast there’s no going back. You’ll never eat Cheerios again. You can’t go back to the way you were before.”

For a better idea of Singapore street food culture, check out the gallery below.