Category Archive for Cambodia
I’ve long been fascinated by the mysterious temples of Angkor Wat. It was a dream come true to live out my “Tomb Raider” fantasies in Siem Reap.
If this UNESCO site is on your bucket list, then I hope you’ll enjoy my latest Cambodia travel video (watch here), which includes tips on what to see and do.
I’ll also share the dramatic photos we took amidst the ancient temple ruins — inspired by Lara Croft!
But first, a special announcement. I’m excited to finally reveal that I’m in a new NBC travel TV show, “Better Late than Never” — starring William Shatner (Captain Kirk) and Henry Winkler (The Fonz!) I shot this series last year in Asia, and had to keep it secret until now.
You can see me goofing off in Hong Kong on this major network program, which airs on Tuesday, August 30th at 10pm ET. (Check your listings to make sure of the exact air time, and stay tuned to my social media for previews.)
“Better Late than Never” is basically four elder celebrities on a bucket list adventure all throughout Asia. That’s correct: I got to be on-screen with William Shatner (Star Trek), Henry Winkler (Happy Days), boxer George Foreman, and football legend Terry Bradshaw!
Can you imagine how much fun I had with these legends? There was dancing, singing and costumes involved… Be sure to tune in this Tues, Aug 30 for a good laugh at our Hong Kong shenanigans!
My glasses are by Oliver Goldsmith, whose styles are inspired by Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly and other silver screen icons.
Please take a moment to watch our short Cambodia travel video (above and on @lacarmina YouTube). It highlights some of the best travel attractions in Siem Reap, from the circus to the temples.
What’s the best hotel in Siem Reap? My vote goes to the magnificent Le Méridien Angkor hotel. They have a lush backyard garden…
… and modern interiors, inspired by classic Khmer design. The location is also as good as it gets: Angkor Wat is less than a 10 minute drive away.
Le Meridien has one of the coolest swimming pool designs I’ve seen. The waters are framed by gardens dotted with Hindu statues.
Lotus flowers add to the feeling of peace.
Posing with my travel buddy John Skeleton. We also went to Vietnam together, one of my favorite trips.
See many more photos of my outfit and Le Meridien Angkor, in this previous post.
Thanks to Ken Yuen and Sniper Chau for the photography.
Now, let’s tackle the temples!
I recommend going to Angkor Wat at 5pm the day before your visit, to purchase your ticket (for one, three or seven days entry).
This way, you can go inside to see the sunset and skip the line-up the next day.
Our Le Meridien guide took us to a prime photo-taking position by the second reflective pool.
I am not a morning person, but it was worth waking up at 5am to see the sunrise over the towers of Angkor Wat.
After dawn breaks, many tourists go on to explore the main buildings of Angkor Wat. However, to avoid the crowd, I suggest seeing other temples in the morning (there are over a thousand in this large complex).
Walking through the humid jungle can be a challenge, but you’ll get to see powerful trees with roots like this.
Some tourists ride tuk-tuks or bikes, but my team and I had a driver and guide, which made it easier to get around.
The left side of this pathway over the water had Buddha statues. We preferred to take photos of the right side, which was lined with scowling demons.
Our guide showed us the Terrace of the Elephants. It was the site of public ceremonies for the Khmer king and his troops.
One can’t help but smile when you come across these beaming Buddha faces, peeping out from the trees.
I was mesmerized by this long wall of carvings, which depict Hindu devas.
Some of the faces have been worn down by the elements and time, adding to the feeling of mystery.
Words can’t capture the feeling of standing right in the doorway of century-old ruins. The Cambodian architecture stands the test of time.
Anyone can get up close to the structures, and even climb them. Just watch out for the slippery moss.
Feeling like I’ve entered a lost world. There were no other tourists around us, since our guide helped us avoid the crowds.
Imagining that I am Lara Croft for a day. I even wore a braid in my hair.
The fallen bricks are as beautiful as the standing structures, in their own way.
If you only have one day, be sure to visit Bayon with its smiling Buddha faces. You also can’t miss Ta Prohm, the “Tomb Raider” temple with tree roots converging into the ancient architecture.
In the afternoon, I suggest returning to the main Angkor Wat temple. The lighting conditions are best at this time, letting you capture dramatic light and shadows.
A big thank you to HK Express for making this epic journey possible. This short-haul airline goes directly from Hong Kong to Siem Reap, and the service is phenomenal. They fly to Tokyo, Osaka, Seoul and other destinations in Asia as well.
In addition to the temples, you can experience a wide range of nightlife, restaurants and entertainment in the city center. Be sure to check out my Siem Reap travel guide for food and bar tips.
If these photos caught your attention, then come see my Angkor Wat Cambodia video (click to play). I hope you find my recommendations helpful.
And don’t forget to tune in on Tuesday, August 30th — NBC channel — to watch me on “Better Late Than Never” with Henry Winkler, William Shatner, Henry Foreman and Terry Bradshaw! Life can be full of amazement, wouldn’t you agree?
Call me Lara Croft, braided hair and all.
One of my favorite travel adventures was exploring the mysterious temples of Angkor Wat, Cambodia. If you watched the Tomb Raider movie, you’ll recognize this as the site of Angelina Jolie’s adventures.
My team and I came here thanks to HK Express, which flies multiple times a week between Hong Kong and Siem Reap, Cambodia (where these ancient ruins are situated). The flight was less than three hours, on a low-cost but comfortable and modern carrier.
For years, I’ve wanted to see this “lost world” for myself. Did it live up to my expectations? This photo diary says it all, from smiling Buddhas to Khmer pyramids.
Our dream-hotel, Le Meridien Angkor, arranged a private day-tour for us. We had an air-conditioned van with a driver and guide, who spoke about Khmer culture and allowed us to avoid the tourist-saturated sites. (Check out my full review and photoshoot at this Le Meridien hotel.)
It was an early start: 5am wakeup call! But it was worth it, to see the legendary sunrise over the towers of Angkor Wat. Our guide took us through the less-crowded east gate, and we walked to the best location for photos of the temple: the second (further out) reflective pool on the west side. While there will be a lot of tourists around, you can find and unblocked view and capture this iconic silhouette.
We sat in silence over this bank, observing the clouds and lotus flowers, and listening to the crickets. The sky gradually lightened and a burst of sun appeared over the rooftops. I felt at peace here, taking in the constantly changing view.
We were glad we were staying at Le Meridien Angkor, since it was less than a 10 minute drive from the main temple. It was easy to return to our hotel after the sunrise, to enjoy a big breakfast spread including Cambodian dishes and tropical fruits.
Tickets and admission info: You’ll need to buy a ticket in order to enter Angkor Wat and see all the temples (as you can see above, they take your photo). There are various checkpoints at different sites, and the papers get crumbled easily, so I recommend keeping them in a plastic bag or ticket pouch.
We got the 1-day pass for $20 US (bring American cash in Cambodia, instead of changing it to the local currency). However, you can also get 3-day or week long passes. If possible, go to the ticket booth at 5pm the day before you want to visit the temples. That way, there’s no lineup and you can go in to see the sunset for no extra charge.
We quickly realized how important it was to have an Angkor Wat guide: the archaeological park has over a thousand temples, within 1.5 million square meters!
Some people rent bicycles or hire a tuk tuk to go between locations. However, if you come all the way here and have limited time, it’s better to have someone to take care of these logistics. We were able to enjoy the sights and listen to the guide talk about Khmer history. And I admit l liked having an air conditioned car to go back to, between the sites.
For the fashion-travelers out there, let me warn you… it’s not easy being Lara Croft. Be prepared to trek for hours, over uneven jungle terrain in high humidity. Wearing good shoes, sunglasses and sunscreen are a must.
Outfit Details: I’m wearing new Oliver Goldsmith sunglasses, which are actually prescription glasses that I outfitted with Transition lenses (so they turn dark under sunlight).
Angkor Wat was the passion project of Khmer king, Suryavarman II. It originally was built to be his mausoleum and religious complex for the Hindu god Vishnu. However, by the 12th century, it had become a Buddhist temple.
We walked through these “elephant gates,” which are large enough to let these gentle pachyderms pass through.
The gates are topped with smiling Buddha heads. You can’t help but smile back when you see this gentle face, merging into the moss and stones.
A closer look at my red Oliver Goldsmith cat-eye glasses. I have a hard time finding glasses I like, and tried on quite a few before finding this London designer. He makes luxury eyewear based on vintage icons: these ones are the Grace Kelly frames.
Oliver Goldsmith also has retro-styled eyewear inspired by Audrey Hepburn. Shop his designs below:
We wanted to see the most famous temples in Angkor Wat, but also avoid the crowds whenever possible. Our guide delivered. He took us to hidden jungle pathways and lesser-known structures.
This pyramid-like temple was a perfect example. It’s as impressive as anything else in this UNESCO heritage site — and yet, there was nobody around. We got to climb the steep stairs and shoot images without anyone photo-bombing us.
There’s a feeling of energy, in the towering trees and snaking roots found all over the park.
I was fascinated by the ancient Khmer spiritual architecture. These temples are made primarily from sandstone bricks, and harmonize beautifully with the surrounding nature.
Although some parts had crumbled, the structures still stood. The intricate carvings looked even more mysterious in the moss and ruins.
Most of Angkor Wat’s temples give you full access, meaning you can explore to your heart’s content without running into a “do not cross this rope” sign. We ducked into tunnels and climbed through the windows. Just look out for the tall, steep stairs!
(Photography by Sniper Chau and Ken Yuen)
I couldn’t believe how well the bas relief carvings stood the test of time. Our guide took us to a wall of meditating figures with beatific expressions.
Other carvings showed Buddhas and demons, and apsaras and devatas (Khmer nymphs, celestial dancing girls).
Our guide took us to Ta Prohm, where Tomb Raider was filmed. This mesmerizing temple has trees growing right out of the ruins.
The thick roots have wrapped themselves around the doorways and sculptures. Nature has become part of the architecture, and in this case, rendered it even more mystifying. One trail of root covers an entire wall, except it parts around a carved deity’s face.
Our guide took us to a small space in Ta Prohm where if you stood in the right place and thumped your heart, you could hear it resonate throughout the room.
In a single picture, you can see how high Khmer civilization rose in the 12th century. Not long after, the Thai invasion changed the course of history…
For anyone fascinated with ancient civilizations, Angkor Wat will not disappoint. To get the most out of this adventure, I encourage you to hire a guide and driver, get the 5pm ticket, and prepare for the humidity and hiking.
This is not your last glimpse of Angkor Wat: I still have a travel video for you, and a tour of the main temple. Also check out my guide to Pub Street in Siem Reap, and fashion shoot at Le Meridien Angkor.
Are you familiar with this temple, maybe from seeing it in Tomb Raider? Is it on your list of destinations to see?
(Find glasses like mine below):
Cambodia was one of the most inspiring countries I’ve visited.
I’ve long been fascinated by Angkor Wat — and the mysterious temple more than lived up to my expectations.
However, there’s more to see in Siem Reap than just the archaeological ruins. I’ll give you a glimpse of the nightlife of Pub Street, where you’ll find bars like “Angkor What?” (Couldn’t resist taking this photo!)
You also must stop by my favorite craft cocktail bar, innovative restaurant and Phare, the Cambodian circus… read on to find out why!
I’m not a morning person, but it’s worth it to wake up at 5am to see the sunrise over the reflective pool at Angkor Wat. (I’ll show you more photos in an upcoming post.)
After the sun rises, many tourists go on to explore the main buildings of Angkor Wat. However, to avoid the crush, I recommend seeing other temples in the morning and early afternoon — and coming back later, when it’s less busy.
Angkor Wat’s lighting conditions are also better in the afternoon. You can capture dramatic light and shadow-play such as above (in this long hallway that feels like an infinite portal).
We loved incorporating the ancient architecture of Angkor Wat into our photography. This image is by Ken Yuen, who didn’t realize until too late that Sniper Chau was in the frame!
Angkor Wat is one of the world’s most mysterious archaeological sites. There were rumors of a great Khmer stone city, but the West was unaware of its existence until the late 19th century.
Shop more nu-Goth fashion below:
Can you imagine how French explorer Henri Mouhot must have felt in 1860, when he stumbled upon this view? There are over a thousand temples here, filled with images from Hindu mythology and Cambodian legends.
The unusual architecture made my imagination run wild. I imagined that this thin, rectangular door was a portal into an alien universe.
Inside the central sanctuary, we saw a monk offering blessings to visitors.
The 12th century temple design reflects Hindu conceptions of the universe. We were glad to have our guide (provided by Le Meridien Hotel) with us, to answer questions about this fascinating place.
Visitors are free to climb and explore most of the temples. I went up this stepped terrace in the main Angkor Wat hall.
We walked down the long covered galleries, which were decorated with exquisite bas-reliefs. Most of these carvings depict the Hindu epic tales, Ramayana and Mahabharata.
Our guide also pointed out depictions of hell tortures, elephant warriors, martial artists, and much more.
An outside view of one of the long galleries, which surrounds the central sanctuary. My pose was inspired by the carvings of apsaras (celestial dancers).
Of course, there is much more to see at Angkor Wat. We wished we had more time to see the outer-lying temples, such as Banteay Srei (dedicated to the god Shiva).
On the way to an elephant gate topped by a Buddha, we saw this row of Buddha and demon statues. Some had been restored, hence the different conditions of the faces.
In the previous post, I showed you the famous “tree roots Tomb Raider” temple, Ta Prohm.
We also stopped by Bayon, the richly decorated structure that is famous for its serene, smiling rock faces.
These depict the Buddha, or King Jayavarman VII — or perhaps both.
Similar to the temples in Bali, there is a lot of flow between Buddhism and Hinduism. Angkor Wat was originally dedicated to Hindu god Vishnu, but later became a Buddhist holy ground.
An ancient civilization, hiding in the jungle… Angkor Wat truly captured my imagination.
A closeup of my Disturbia UK long sleeve shirt with mesh cut outs. The symbol is the Necronomicon gate symbol, from the Lovecraft mythology.
There’s more to see in Siem Reap, Cambodia than the legendary temple. At night, the city center comes alive with night markets, street food and bars.
We crossed this bridge, lit up with X-lights, and John found a stuffed crocodile to take home.
Pub Street is the center of the nightlife (including the Angkor What? pub that you saw above). It’s a cacophony of tuk tuks, partiers and bars, many of which are geared towards foreigners.
So many bars, so little time…
Pub Street was fun to walk through, but these tourist-oriented bars and shops aren’t our type of scene.
Fortunately, we found a place where we felt we belonged: Miss Wong. This retro Shanghai-themed bar is located a little off the main roads, tucked away from the crowds. Look for these glowing red lanterns at the entrance.
(Address: The-Lane, Krong Siem Reap, Cambodia)
Inside, the decor is ravishing: elegant red walls and vintage Chinese art. Dean (the owner who is originally from New Zealand) gave us the warmest welcome. We could sense that he runs Miss Wong with passion, always taking the time to make his visitors feel at home.
Miss Wong is known as the best cocktail bar in Siem Reap. It deserves this accolade: the rose petal and mocha martinis were as amazing as they sound, and look.
We were impressed by how Miss Wong infuses spirits with Asian flavors. The Lemongrass Collins, made from vodka heated with fresh lemongrass, was one of the best drinks I’ve had all year. We were also wowed by the black pepper infused vodka, delightful on its own or as a Bloody Mary.
Miss Wong also serves Chinese dim sum bites, and has a top selection of liqueurs from around the world.
If you’re all about handcrafted cocktails and a classic, relaxing atmosphere, Miss Wong Siem Reap is a gem. You can’t miss out on this bar; tell Dean that we sent you, when you visit!
We had a wonderful set-menu dinner at Cuisine Wat Damnak, a restaurant that merges Cambodian flavors with French culinary techniques. It is on my cousin’s list of top 50 restaurants in Asia (we are trying to go to each one).
(Address: Wat Damnak village, Sala Kamreuk Commune, Siem Reap 17000)
The open kitchen and lush dining area set the mood for this special meal. Chef Joannès Rivière changes his six-course menu every week, focusing on seasonal ingredients sourced from local farms and foragers.
The unusual ingredients and creative preparations — like frog legs with Cambodian spices — were magnificent. The chef does an outstanding job of balancing modern and traditional, French and Khmer.
Six sophisticated plates for under $30 US — only in Cambodia! Be sure to make a reservation in advance for Cuisine Wat Damnak, since this restaurant is often booked up.
Finally, you can’t leave Siem Reap without seeing the Phare, the Cambodian Circus. Inside a big top, we saw young Cambodian performers tumble, leap, juggle, balance, dance and clown — while wearing the biggest smiles on their faces.
The show drew upon Cambodian folk storytelling, and pushed it forward with avantgarde antics and sky-high acrobatics. We watched these young performers tell a narrative that took us from primordial times to colonial conquest and beyond.
Phare is more than just entertainment: it has the social mission of educating Cambodian youth (through their NGO school), helping them find employment, and furthering the Cambodian arts.
The crowd could sense the passion and determination of the young artists, who all overcame difficult socio-economic backgrounds.
Phare, the Cambodian Circus has performances daily; you can find out more on their site. We loved watching these young talents, especially knowing that it was in support of Phare’s meaningful programs.
Cheers to Cambodia! From Angkor Wat to the bars, restaurants and circus, I had a blast here.
I leave you with a sunset shot. Cambodians are known as some of the friendliest people, and I’d have to agree. (Photography by Sniper Chau and Ken Yuen)
Are you as fascinated by the “Tomb Raider” temples as I am? Coming up soon — I’ll unveil the photoshoot we did amidst the archaeological ruins!
Happy New Year! Before we jump into 2016, let’s wrap up the second half of my “Year in Review” — which included journeys to Morocco, Cambodia, Vietnam and Portugal.
This year, I was fortunate to work with a number of travel partners that made these trips possible. I’ll give you a deeper look at how these blogging projects come together (case studies, if you will). Hopefully this sheds some light into the way we team up on projects around the world.
The downside of being a road warrior is that you can’t spend as much time with your pets…
But my Scottish Fold cat had his own adventure this summer. He went on a stuffed toy tour of Poland, with Panda Tours. (Here’s the full story.)
Meanwhile, my film team and I went on a long and slightly grueling trip throughout Spain, Morocco and Portugal.
Since we aren’t on the road full time, we try to combine as many destinations, partners and projects into a two or three-week leg. This way, we can keep flights to a minimum and capture a lot of content, in a limited amount of time. Then, we can go home and work on this material for you, in various formats (videos, travel stories, photos).
For our Southern Europe journey, we partnered with Spain Tourism Board, Portugal Tourism, and Eurail (riding between the cities on their rail passes). We also stayed with hotels like the art nouveau El Palauet Barcelona (here are all the photos).
We’ll only ever team up with partners that are a natural fit with our niche (artistic, creative, offbeat travels). It’s a delicate balance, and we turn down a lot of offers. At the end of the day, our primary mission is to capture worldwide stories that otherwise wouldn’t get a voice — such as punk rock artists in Iceland, and women running collective businesses in Morocco.
A perfect example: We worked with Plan-It Fez Tours for our Morocco journey (driving from Tangier to Fez, Marrakesh, Essaouira). Thanks to their translation and expertise, we were able to stay in Berber villages and interview locals.
We were happy to get the word out Plan-It Fez, since their approach was exactly in line with ours (and we wholeheartedly recommend their tours for travelers to Morocco). With their support, we were able to dive right into the culture — such as by taking a henna workshop with ladies of all generations.
- If you’re interested in more, enjoy all my Morocco posts here.
As I mentioned, we try to visit multiple destinations in one go. From Marrakesh, we flew to Lisbon and took the train to Porto.
When tourism boards assist us (with a driver, accommodations, meals etc), we can cover more ground in a short period, without stressing about the logistics of getting around. Keep in mind that we aren’t traveling as tourists for leisure, but have work responsibilities — so we can’t just show up somewhere and “wing it.”
I haven’t gotten around to sharing all my stories from Portugal yet, but they’re coming up… and this country is now one of my favorites in all of Europe!
I also frequently travel for television hosting jobs, especially in Asia. In spring, I was in Tokyo for a Travel Channel shoot. Later that summer, I was flown to Hong Kong for a major US network TV project. As usual, I must keep mum until it comes out… and it can take a while.
For example, I filmed with German TV in Hong Kong last year, and didn’t get to post the clip until recently (watch me on Inside TV with Palina Rojinski).
While in Hong Kong, I also did a dark fashion photoshoot with my friends. I also collaborated with a new pet supplies company called Pet Sensei, which has Basil as its mascot! (All the details and modeling images here).
When I have time off in Hong Kong, I take the opportunity to find cute shops and cafes to share with you. One of my most popular articles last year was about the Hello Kitty Chinese dim sum restaurant, and it’s no surprise why.
Hanoi is only a two-hour flight from Hong Kong… say yes to an adventure, always! This time, I collaborated with Vietnam Food Tour. Similar to Morocco, I was able to have an immersive, foodie experience thanks to the help of these local experts.
From making spring rolls with a village grandma, to interviewing tattoo artists in Hanoi, Vietnam surpassed all my expectations. (Read all my Vietnam travel posts here.)
We made a casual video about these Vietnamese adventures — watch it above, for pirate shenanigans!
You’ve probably noticed that I travel with different people (who help me with the photography and videos). Who accompanies me?
It depends on the job, location and availability, but I’m always around friends — which makes these trips all the more fun.
I wrapped up 2015 with a journey to Cambodia, thanks to my long-time flight colleagues HK Express.
I felt at peace in Siem Reap as soon as I arrived. One of my favorite outfit shoots of the year was this one, at Le Meridien hotel (another partner that shares our artistic leanings). Soon, I’ll share a video from our Cambodian travels.
It was unthinkable — even a few years ago — that I’d be able to see such incredible places around the world, with my own eyes. The sunrise at Angkor Wat temple was one of the magic moments of 2015, and I’m excited for what 2016 holds.
If my 2015 was all about travel, then what will be the word for 2016? Technology. I have to keep my current project secret for now, but it’s happening — and I’ll share the news with you as it unfolds.
Sending you all the best for 2016. Be bold, take a leap, live life according your terms… and let this be the most extraordinary year yet!