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When most people hear Cambodia, their first thought is Angkor Wat. Although the temples of Angkor Wat are absolutely stunning, to ignore Cambodia’s past would be discourteous. As only had one week to spend in Cambodia, we split our time up in between Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia, Siem Reap, the gateway to Angkor region.
Before travelling to Cambodia I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t know much about what a traumatic past the country had to endure in the 1970s under the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot regime. We’ve all heard of the Nazi genocide, but after visiting Phnom Penh, my eyes were opened to the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge, who were responsible for one of the worst genocides of the 20th Century. It’s hard to comprehend the horrors, but in less than four years (1975-1979), more than 30% of Cambodia’s population was executed. We visited two sites in Phnom Penh and both were incredibly shocking and heartbreaking.
Before 1975, the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center (The Killing Fields) were a vast fruit orchard – now, it’s a memorial. Upon entering, each visitor is given a headset with an audio tour which describes each sign, building and tree. During 1975-1979, the Killing Fields (pictured directly below) were a number of sites in Cambodia where collectively more than a million people were killed and buried by the Communist Khmer Rouge Regime.
Just outside of Phnom Penh is Tuol Svay Pray High School. In 1976, the Khmer Rouge renamed the high school S-21 and turned it into a torture, interrogation and execution centre. Similar to Choeung Ek Genocidal Centre, upon entry each visitor is given a headset with an audio tour, this time walking you through the courtyard, buildings, photographs and cells within S-21 Prison. Over 15,000 people are known to have entered (possibly more), only seven survived. S-21 is not for the faint hearted and some of it is quite graphic, but if you want to learn about the country’s past, there is no better place to start.
The Killing Fields and S-21 Prison serves as a stark reminder of the country’s all too recent past. To skip past Phnom Penh and these sites would be unjust.
On a lighter note, earlier this year, some of the world’s most respected street artists took their talents to some of Phnom Penh’s streets. All around Phnom Penh you can find street art scattered about but we found a few pieces by David Choe, Esao and James Jean.
Our next and final stop was Siem Reap.We arrived at Angkor Wat around 4am, the perfect time to catch sunrise over the temple. Angkor Wat is one of the seven wonders of the world, and no wonder – the sheer size and beauty of this temple complex must be seen to be believed.
Arriving for sunrise, we spent hours travelling around via tuk-tuk to the various temples each with its own unique feature in this UNESCO site. Although many temples have been well preserved or restored, many still show signs of the war and the Khmer Rouge (many Buddhas were beheaded by the Khmer Rouge regime).
Angkor is one of the most important archaeological sites in South-East Asia. There are magnificent remains of the different capitals of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th to the 15th century and include the famous Temple of Angkor Wat and right next to it at Angkor Thom, the many stone faces of the Bayon Temple. You can easily spend a few days touring the temples as there are too many to count on one hand.
If you’ve never been to South East Asia before, then step outside your comfort zone of holidaying in the Caribbean/Europe as you won’t regret it. After a few weeks in Vietnam (to read more, click here) and a short stop in Cambodia, we fell in love with the people, history and beauty of both of these countries.
– Chenessa Lam
Vietnam and Cambodia have always been destinations that were on my bucket list. This long, narrow country offers splendid views of the South China Sea and borders China, Laos and Cambodia. Last month, my boyfriend and I planned a trip to Vietnam and Cambodia where we barely scratched the surface. For three weeks, we travelled from the north (Hanoi) to south (Ho Chi Minh City), then made a short trip to Cambodia. Here’s what we did in Vietnam (to read about our Cambodia trip, click here).
After about 20 hours of travel (as there are no direct flights), I landed in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. Since I only travel with hand luggage, I packed for the hot weather of the south without paying much attention to the weather of the north. Big mistake. With temperatures in the 5°C mark and only one sweater, to say it was frigid would be an understatement (note to anyone visiting Hanoi: it’s cold, pack accordingly). But despite the weather, we wandered around the town visiting various sites, including their Water Puppet Theatre and even stopped for Vietnamese egg coffee, a specialty in the north where egg yolks are used to substitute milk. After a few days to acclimate to the climate and jet lag, we set off to Halong Bay.
Halong Bay, meaning “descending dragons”, is known for its thousands of limestone islands, which boast inspiring caves and spectacular floating fishing villages. It was amazing cruising around Halong Bay on a 2 day cruise. Unfortunately, the photos don’t do justice to the beauty of this UNESCO heritage site.
From Halong Bay, we took an overnight sleeper train to the imperial city of Hue. We did most of our travels with overnight trains or buses because flights were either unavailable or offered inconvenient timing. When we arrived in the former capital (from 1802-1945), we scoped out the old imperial palace and temples from Vietnam’s past. With much of the country destroyed by the bombing in the Vietnam/American war, seeing these sights in all their glory was simply stunning.
Our next stop was Hội An, but before our arrival, we made a quick pit stop in the Marble Mountains, a cluster of mountainous rock of marble and limestone in Da Nang (just north of Hội An).
After our quick pit stop, we arrived to Hội An, which many travellers referred to as “the Disneyworld of Vietnam”. We quickly understood the reference upon our arrival. The ancient town of Hội An is a mix of Chinese wooden shophouses and temples, ornate Vietnamese houses with lanterns lining the streets. After a day in the ancient town, we cycled around the smaller locales to get a glimpse of local life and dine on local delicacies, including their infamous White Rose dumplings.
After Hội An, we continued onto Mui Ne, a quiet beach town in Southeast Vietnam. We woke up at an ungodly hour to catch the sunrise in the Vietnamese sand dunes and then wander around the red and white desert before the sand became too hot. Aside from long stretches of sand and sea, Mui Ne is home to an original fishing village where locals still outnumber tourists. During the peak sun hours, we retreated back to our resort and relaxed poolside. After a few days on the go, a quick break was much needed.
Our last stop in Vietnam was Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon. Ho Chi Minh was once Prime Minister but more importantly, he was one of the Vietnamese communist revolutionary leaders who fought the colonial forces for the liberation of the Vietnamese people. After the Vietnam War, Saigon was renamed after their leader.
Our time in Vietnam was all too short but utterly compelling. I didn’t know what to expect prior to visiting Vietnam but the country offers an interesting past and some breathtaking beauty. If you’re planning to visit South East Asia, don’t skip past Vietnam. For the second part of our trip, read “#SETRAVELS: Sunrise to Sunset in Cambodia”.
– Chenessa Lam
How often do you step foot into a hotel to be greeted by a life-sized bronzed crocodile? At Das Stue, Berlin’s first luxury boutique hotel, this is just one of the many delights that await you.
Once I stepped foot out of my taxi, I was met by a grand entrance complete with two sweeping marble staircases as well as a door man who graciously offered to take my bags. As the former Royal Danish embassy, Das Stue offers a relaxing stay within their walls of modern design and neo-classical architecture. Let’s just say, the second you walk into Das Stue, there is a feeling of grandeur.
Situated in the city’s embassy district, Das Stue is just a ten minute drive from Mitte, Berlin’s city centre, where many of the sights and museums are located. Most buildings near Das Stue precede World War II. With the help of refurbishments, you can still see the history within the architecture of this peaceful neighbourhood.
Das Stue also offers a breath of fresh air – literally. Just next door is the city’s Tiergarten Park and Berlin’s Zoological Garden, which features more animal species than any other zoo in Europe. In fact if you’re lucky, some of the rooms on the upper floors have an expansive view of the grounds, which means you can spy on the ostriches and antelopes from the comfort of your room.
Within Das Stue, there are 79 guest rooms and suites, ranging in size from 27 to 110 square meters. All rooms are equipped with large windows and some are complete with floor to ceiling windows, balconies or terraces. Aside from the natural sunlight, the rooms are also furnished with a rain shower (some have oversize bathtubs), Wifi and a full HD entertainment system by Apple, incorporating both internet access and a flat-screen TV.
Our room was located in the old part of the building, which meant sizeable windows and very high ceilings (well over 4 meters high). The room was quite spacious and offered modern decor, which was clean, relaxed and comfortable.
Across from our room was the library. As I attempted to fight my jet lag, I failed miserably and found myself awake at 3am. I sauntered across the hall and wandered through the library in the historical front part of the building. The neo-classical architecture in this section is complemented with an expansive landing, original parquet floors, French doors, restored hardware and comfortable seating arrangements. The perfect spot to lose yourself in a wide selection of Taschen books.
Lounges, Bars and Dining
With two separate restaurants as well as a lounge, bar and private dining space, Das Stue is bound to satisfy your taste buds.
For those who prefer something more avant-garde, Cinco, the Michelin starred restaurant by Spanish chef Paco Pérez, is truly a gastronomic experience. In an intimate room embellished with an overhead explosion of copper pots and pans paired with copper lamps, you can tempt your senses with oyster and caviar tartar or fully amuse your palette with a tasting menu reaching up to 22 courses.
If you prefer comfort food like Spanish tapas, step across the hall to The Casual, where natural light streams into a triangular space from skylights above. Here you can indulge in Pérez’s take on Octopus, Salmon Tataki or Thai Salad.
Sometimes you just fancy a drink. Das Stue offers a bar, lounge and outdoor terrace. Throughout this area, you can spot beautiful artworks including a large giraffe made of painted chicken net as well as stunning black-and-white vintage fashion photography and portraiture. The drinks will take you back in time to the 20’s, and spirits include unusual whiskies and cognacs not otherwise available in the German capital. For those who prefer vino, you can choose up to 400 German and Spanish wines – the options are pretty close to endless.
If the library isn’t enough to relax your mind, the spa might do the trick. Right off the lobby is a discreet hallway, leading to a lap pool and sauna, as well as three private treatment rooms offering Susanne Kaufmann products and treatments. You can go for a swim and then treat your muscles to a massage or your skin to a facial. If this doesn’t combat the jet lag, I’m not sure what will.
Das Stue truly is luxury at its finest. Their name is derived from Danish meaning living room, and Das Stue creates a comfortable and relaxing experience without any pretension. That’s reason enough to stay at this upscale hotel, but it’s just one facet of an unforgettable experience in Berlin.
Prices start from $290/night for a room and $410/night for a suite.
Disclaimer: Our media visit was hosted by the hotel, however
the opinions expressed in this post remain our own.
Posted in #SETRAVELS |
Tagged #SETRAVELS, berlin, europe, germany, hotel, hotel feature, hotel review, jetset, review |
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When I realized, I had yet to visit Eastern Europe, it was immediately on my list. On the top of that list was Prague. Unfortunately, I didn’t know much about the Czech Republic but knew that there was something intriguing about their capital. With only 72 hours to play with, I booked my flights and made my way to this fairy tale city.
The second I landed, I made my way to my hotel, andel´s hotel Prague. Once unpacked, I took a short (less than 10 minute) tram ride into the city centre and realized that the city is very walkable and offers a great public transit system. With less than 72 hours to go, I knew I had to narrow down the to do list: walk along the River Vltava, cross the Charles Bridge, people watch in Old Town Square and climb up to Prague Castle.
I meandered down the Vltava, the longest river in the Czech Republic, before crossing over into the Old Town. Although much of the city is quite touristy, I managed to find a few quiet spots along the river to soak in the view. Along the Vltava, there are many bridges but the Charles Bridge is the one you want to take. It may be full of tourists, but this stone bridge offers both history and architecture and boasts 16 arches and 30 statues of religious figures along the way.
Once I crossed the Charles Bridge I sauntered over to the Old Town Square, where you could easily people watch for hours – and I’m pretty sure I did. The square takes you back in time. With the Old Town Hall with Astronomical Clock, Gothic Church of Our Lady before Tyn and Church of St.Nicholas, you’re surrounded by beautiful history. There are rumours that Walt Disney was inspired by the Our Lady before Tyn Church and created a Disney castle based on the architecture. I’m not sure if there is any truth to this but either way, you really do feel like you’ve wandered into a fairy tale.
Speaking of fairy tales, Prague also has the largest castle in the world (according to Guinness World Records). Within the castle district we spotted the beautiful St. Georges Basilica and St. Vithus Cathedral, with stunning gothic architecture and incredible stained glass windows. But make sure you bring your walking shoes! It’s a nice (hot and sweaty) walk to the top. But once you get there, the views are definitely worth it.
Did I mention the food? Ohhh the food! Czech food is not exactly what anyone would call dietary – insert eyebrow raise. At dinner one night, I ordered duck with a side of cabbage and baked apple. Here I thought I would get a duck breast, a small side of cabbage and slices of baked apple. WRONG. I apparently ordered a whole duck, dumplings, caramelized cabbage, red cabbage and a whole baked apple sprinkled with cinnamon. I thought I was ordering dinner, but apparently it was a feast for one. Either way, I savoured every moment of it and it was delicious. My taste buds and stomach were happy but my hips, not so much.
Unlike many other cities of Europe, Prague emerged from World War II relatively intact. With so much history littered in the streets, you can easily lose yourself for hours just walking around the city. As you wander the cobblestoned streets and look up at the castle, it really does feel as if you’ve been transported into a fairy tale. All I’m missing is the glass slipper.
– Chenessa Lam