Blog Archives

Reflections: Art Boutique Hotel in Siem Reap

Standard

“What the hell is that?!” were the first words that I uttered when I saw the crazy couch that was completely covered with soft toys. I mean, these soft toys were the couch.

The crazy couch that caught our eyes

WB and I were so intrigued, we walked in and ask if it was a restaurant or ..

“A new boutique hotel! Let me show you our rooms!” The manager, Hea, was quick and enthusiastic in showing us around despite us telling him that we were leaving the next morning and wouldn’t be able to stay the night there.

Reflections Siem Reap is the epitome of eclecticism. Described as an “art hotel” by its designer, Anusorn Ngernyuang, it has elements of art deco and pop art that border a little on kitsch. But what is most impressive about this hotel is the crazy amount of thought put into every nook and cranny. As each of the rooms has a different theme, guests are treated to a visual orgasm of colour, motifs and paraphernalia. The creation of each room is also unique. For example, Anusorn hired disabled artists to paint “Hope for Cambodia”. With names like “Secret Garden”, “Moody Moods”, “What A Cat Think?” and “Trash Chic”, there is a room for the movie aficionado to the barbie-crazed. It is also noteworthy that several rooms, such as “Hope for Cambodia”, were beautifully painted by disabled artists. “Trash Chic” (probably not what you were thinking there), on the other hand, comprises of stylish lifestyle products made from recycled materials.

There's definitely Hope for Cambodia

You're not gonna feel too moody when you enjoy the jacuzzi in this room

Secret Garden (One of the rooms with a jacuzzi)

Gotta love a "Life in Plastic"

Outdoor verandah for events

Swimming pools! They were still filling up the pool with water when we were there.

Good news is, the rooms are available at the wonderfully affordable rate of 80USD per night. If you fancy spending some time in a private jaccuzzi, be prepared to part with an additional 40USD (though I think this could be well worth it as the jaccuzzis are positioned under a skylight). If not, the hotel also has two pools for its guests and a cafe in the compound. There are also plans to include two dorm rooms for the budget traveller. Located along Wat Bo Road, which is just across the main river in Siem Reap and a 15-minute walk from Psar Chaa (Old Market), it is surrounded by trendy bars, cafes and designer boutiques.

WB and I with creative (and brilliant) designer, Anusorn!

For the love of art, check out Reflections: Siem Reap (for now, this link takes you to its sister hotel in Bangkok) at #0545 Wat Bo Street, Sangkat Salakamreuk, Siem Reap.

luxe reflux

Standard

“I know that I travel in large part in search of hardship — both my own, which I want to feel, and others’, which I need to see. Travel in that sense guides us toward a better balance of wisdom and compassion — of seeing the world clearly, and yet feeling it truly.” – Pico Iyer

I have a love-hate relationship with luxury.

I couldn’t help smiling when I stepped into our villa at Alila Soori. From the calming smell of lemongrass, the crisp clean cloud-like duvets, the twin-sized bath-tub, the marbled blue lap pool that fringed the living room, the sprawling day beds right down to the mahogany boxes that had little compartments for each of the toiletries, the sense of perfection that permeated the environment assured its occupants that they were royalty. We even had a personal butler who was on call 24/7, ready at all times to deliver bicycles, swimming floats or ferry us from our room to the restaurant with a buggy.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Yet despite how much I enjoyed soaking in that bubble of comfort, I couldn’t help feeling a pervasive sense of unease at the artificiality of this perfect world that was created by the rich for the wealthy. Because the moment you step outside of the villa’s perimeters, the stark contrast of the living conditions of the surrounding villages is all the more glaring. Dirt roads, broken shutters, faded walls, drains that threaten to overflow – nothing of that crisp cleanliness that exists just a wall away. But there is so, so much beauty and life in the lushness of those perfectly filed padi fields, the expressions of the stone temple guardians and the laughter of the kids as they chase after the school-bus.

And as I gazed over the edge of that infinity pool, I couldn’t help but wonder if, once upon a time, the padi fields had extended to where I was to seamlessly merge with the black sand beaches. Or if, like my dad says, it must be torturous for those who work at the villa to straddle the juxtapositions of these two worlds. I don’t know how that must feel, but I do know that it is only too easy to be consumed by the lust for luxury once you’ve gotten a taste of it. It was evident by the dissatisfaction we felt at our next villa, which by normal standards would have been wow, but paled in comparison to Alila.

At the end of the day, I guess the question goes back to why you travel. Luxury is justified if the intention is relaxation. But, if like Pico Iyer says, we travel to lose and find ourselves again, then perhaps there is a necessity to break out of that bubble and get a little dirty, a little alive.

 

 

Stop elephant abuse!

Standard

I’m no expert on elephants, but I can confidently say that they were not born to paint.

While most of the other visitors at the Maesa Elephant Camp in Chiang Mai gasped in amazement at the beautiful works of art these gentle creatures had created, I could not help but feel an overwhelming sense of uneasiness. If it takes humans many hours of practice just to produce a simple painting, imagine how much “training” these elephants had to go through! A simple search online confirmed my suspicions that the elephant training camps in Chiang Mai are far from nurturing habitats for talented elephants.

Elephant painting. If you look closely you will notice that the trainer will use the hook on it or pull its ear to direct the brushstrokes.

National Geographic recently produced a documentary on how these elephants have to go through the process of phajaan, or “crush training”, where baby elephants that are barely 4 months old are removed from their mothers, squeezed into tiny cages, and beaten into submission. In addition, they are also deprived of food and 40% usually end up dying from the ordeal. Reports from tourists on the Lonely Planet forums also reveal that the mahouts ill-treat the elephants by jabbing them in their sensitive inner ear or cutting them with the hook on elephant rides. I saw for myself the hook that these trainers use, and I can assure you that no human will find it acceptable as a tool for “education”.

Mahouts with their elephants. Look at their instruments of torture.

Hence, I strongly appeal to you not to support this tourist venture. If you really do have a soft spot for elephants, consider visiting the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai instead. You will not get to ride the elephants or see them painting, blowing the harmonica or playing soccer there, but you will be able to see them interacting freely with other elephants and you can even volunteer to bathe or feed them.

Just like we wouldn’t want to be forced to walk with our hands or paint with our toes, let’s try to keep it natural for these animals too.

Antigua

Standard

Hola de Antigua !

The multi-colored walls, cobble-stoned streets, horse-drawn carriages and vine-adorned gates make Antigua the quintessential colonial city, yet the ruins of cathedrals presumably destroyed by volcanic eruptions adds a certain sense of realism to the otherwise postcard-perfect facade. Even though this is our second day here, I feel like I haven’t really explored the city even though I am beginning to fall in love with it. Not sure if it’s the sweet smell of lavender in the air, the gorgeous cafes with awesome live music, or the friendliness of the locals, but I could definitely see myself spending a couple of months here.

We also went on a hoax of a tour around these ‘villages’ today that were not indigenous in any sense. Ciudad Viejo, the first city in Guatemala that the Spanish conquistadors first settled in, had the shell of a cupuola which is now used as a school. The macadamia nut farm had the best white chocolates and ingeniously green farming methods, but they were set up by a Canadian man and his Guatemalan wife. The ‘Mayan’ village was really a market which sold ‘traditional’ clothes an handicrafts by the local women. And finally, we also went to this house which manufactured jade jewelry and ornaments. I’m somewhat ashamed to admit that I bought something from each of the places we visited except Ciudad Viejo because we didn’t visit any shops there.

Still despite the gimmicky gringo trail that we blazed, I had a gorgeous time taking in the sights of the city. Like Arequipa, it’s also flanked by three volcanoes- Fuego, Agua and Acatenango that are all active. There was a hilarious moment when our guide stopped by the roadside for us to take a postcard shot of the volcanoes as we stood amidst a pile of trash. In that sobering moment there was the realization that beauty exists around and in spite of crap.

Gonna hit up a real volcano with hopefully some legit lava tomorrow! Wish me luck!

Photos when I can upload them!

What I Love About Travelling.

Standard

The thing I love, and sometimes hate, about travelling is the impermanence associated with it. There is absolutely nothing that you can be sure of: you could be perfectly healthy one day, and then the next moment find yourself slumped over the toilet bowl puking your guts out; you could be used to waving to the man dressed in a Santa Claus suit selling chocolates in the middle of the road but yet still be surprised that Santa Claus suits come in yellow and green; you could meet an amazing bunch of people, do ridiculous things like parade down the city in animal suits and flamboyant headdresses, but not know if you will ever see them again, or even be able to have fun with them again once you’re taken out of this common context. And here’s my favourite: you can almost be sure that the combi bringing you to school will come, but whether you end up levitating by the force of 5 squished bodies combined, exposing your butt to the possibility of catching fire whilst sitting on the bus battery or watching women attempt to breastfeed surreptitiously, is really up to fate (and whether the combi driver is a Grand Prix- wannabe). Every moment in a life of impermanence is just that- a moment to be enjoyed and relished before it vanishes.

There are some things that have come close to the essence of permanence. Take my routine here, for example. Spanish classes from 8 to 10 am on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays; teaching at the school everyday from 3:30 to 5:30 and then Salsa class for an hour on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. But just as it was starting to become second nature, BAM. Somehow, 5 weeks have passed. Time to leave and try something different.

I love the impermanence in travelling because it ensures that there is always change, and it necessitates the need to treasure everything that you see and experience. But that doesn’t mean that it can’t be extremely painful at the same time, since falling in love and becoming attached is often inevitable. Still, as they say nauseatingly, better to have loved (and left) than never at all.

So to all the travellers (not tourists!) that I’ve met along the way, thank you for making this journey so magical. I wish you impermanence in life.