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.
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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!
Morocco travel video: Essaouira, Argan oil & cooking classes! Berber Cultural Center family homestay.
Morocco road trip and travel video — let’s do it!
My friends and I continued our journey from Marrakesh to Essaouira, where we relaxed in the beach town and saw the famous tree-climbing goats. We then met women running an argan oil collective, and stayed with a Berber family that gave us cooking lessons.
All these eye-opening adventures are featured in our new travel video about Morocco. (Produced by the amazing Borderless Media.)
We wanted to put the focus on women in this country, running businesses and carving out their own paths. Please take a minute to watch the episode above and here — we appreciate your support!
None of our Morocco travels would have been possible (especially in a single day!) without our expert guides, Plan-It Fez.
Our driver highly recommended Essaouira, a seaside town about 2.5 hours away. He was spot on: Essaouira turned out to be one of the highlights of our Morocco journey.
We drove down a long stretch of beach, and immediately sensed the laid-back hippie vibe. No wonder Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley loved Essaouira (we saw his face on a few buildings here!)
This port city has a history that goes back to prehistoric times. It was taken by the Portuguese in the 16th century, and surrounded by fortress walls.
Today, Essaouira still feels like a Medieval city. We wandered the streets sandwiched by tall stone walls, and browsed for colorful handicrafts in the kasbah.
We saw quite a few cats along the way! They stayed true to the Essaouira vibe, relaxing among the camel-skin purses.
Moroccans love to come here for honeymoons and getaways. I spotted this woman sitting on the medina wall, looking out at the sea.
We stopped for mint tea at a restaurant by the beach. The view from above: timeless.
Game of Thrones is partially filmed in Morocco (for the scenes with Daenerys the Dragon queen — remember my photoshoot inspired by her in Iceland?) Essaouira’s medina and fortress towers look like the sets from the HBO series.
Flying carpets and cobblestone tunnels. Morocco gets my imagination going.
Where else in the world can you come across a scene like this? One of the many joys of travel is being able to see, hear and breathe it all for yourself.
We enjoyed leisurely walking around Essaouira and seeing the arts and crafts for sale in the streets.
Fez and Marrakesh’s vendors can be a bit aggressive, getting in your face and hounding you to buy something.
Essaouira, in contrast, is a laid-back experience. You can browse items as peacefully as this sleeping cat, without feeling pressured.
So many fez hats to choose from! I can’t get over the amount of colors and textures in a single frame.
I found giant double-doors to pose with, next to street art that read “Mogadooor!”
Good thing we had our Plan-It Fez guide/driver with us to explain the meaning behind the pun. The Portuguese couldn’t pronounce the town’s name, so they called it Mogador. (What an ominous , Tolkien-worthy title!)
We piled back into the van and continued the road trip. Do my eyes betray me… or are those goats standing on top of tree branches?
There’s no Photoshop here. Moroccan goats can scramble up argan trees, and feed on the leaves while balancing on the branches!
Morocco is rich with plantations of these short argan trees.
We stopped by an argan oil collective, run by Berber women. They showed us how they turn the nut of the fruit into oil, using a manual process. Fantastic to see these ladies working together and running a business, like the bakery that we saw with Plan-It Fez.
Recently, argan oil has become a favorite ingredient for beauty products. It’s rich in natural oils and vitamins, which keeps your hair and skin silky.
The nut is also rich in vitamin E. After grinding and filtering, Moroccans love to dip bread in the oil, or drizzle it over couscous and salads.
The road trip was a pleasure thanks to our driver Lotfi, who entranced us with stories of Moroccan culture, and even gave us a CD of Berber folk music. He stopped by a viewpoint, and a camel came to say hello.
We drove further through the foothills of the Atlas Mountains. Finally, we arrived for a very special stay at the Berber Cultural Center in the village of Imintanoute (about 3 hours from Marrakesh).
This cozy, home-style stay is run by Mohamed and his family. The facilities are safe and secure, and the family goes all out to offer warm Moroccan hospitality.
We sat on the carpets and drank mint tea, made in the Berber way by Khalid (rinsed and poured from up high).
We enjoyed getting to know the sweet family — all the adults spoke fluent English, and the children were curious and playful. This little girl was fascinated with Melissa’s iPhone camera, and then ran around the picturesque courtyard with her dad.
The Berbers are the indigenous people of North Africa — many of them have light colored eyes!
One of my favorite ways to learn about culture is by taking cooking lessons. The family showed me how to prepare goat stew with turmeric and other spices, heated in a tagine.
I followed along with the cutting and layering of ingredients such as onions. The tagine is heated with coals — we let the food simmer, stirring it from time to time.
Meanwhile, Melissa learned how to roll and pat bread in the Berber way.
We took the dough outdoors, and it was baked in a stone oven. Such a joy to experience the Berber lifestyle for a day!
The best part was sitting with the family to share the feast. Melissa was the “Bread Queen,” meaning it was her duty to break and pass bread to everyone at the table.
Then we went to look at the clear night sky dotted with constellations — and saw a shooting star.
If you are in Marrakesh, I hope you’ll consider spending at least a night at the Berber Cultural Center in Imintanoute. It’s a rewarding and immersive experience, and we were glad to support this kind family-run hotel. Make a funny face at the boy Anir for us!
I leave you with this peaceful scene from breakfast, where we shared fresh-made bread dipped in argan oil and the freshest jams and butter, washed down with mint tea.
Thanks to Plan-It Fez Tours, we met so many lovely people and got immersed in Berber culture. It was well worth having them as our guides, as there was no way we could have seen / done all this in a day, on our own. I encourage you to look them up when you visit Morocco, as they can customize a trip for you too.
PS — please take a minute to watch our Morocco travel video — I hope you enjoy our work!
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!
2015 is drawing to a close… Time for my annual blog ritual of looking back at the highlights of the year!
In my 2014 recap (see part 1 and part 2), I was determined to dedicate more of this site to travel and subculture stories. I feel like this goal came into fruition: my work took me to 14 different countries in 2015, where I covered alternative topics ranging from British Goth festivals to Moroccan beauty workshops.
In this post, I’ll share how these projects came together, and reminisce on my favorite memories of the first six months (above is my Giuseppina Magazine cover – here is the whole shoot). I’ve also embedded my travel videos from each destination, in case you missed them when they first came out.
And the year’s not quite done yet… Two more destinations ahead. Find out what they are at the end of this post, and on my social networks (@lacarmina, linked below). Thanks for being part of my journey, and here’s to a meaningful 2016!
My travel filmmakers and I started the year in Hong Kong, where we were working with the new Hotel Sav. I always love coming back to this city, where I have many friends and relatives.
It was an incredible honor to have my own hotel room at Sav, which I decorated with artist Naomiyaki! This “Floor of Love” project appealed to us because it had the goal of elevating a traveller’s stay through art, and giving back to charity.
Check out all my Hong Kong articles here for the behind-the-scenes story of how we made a “La Carmina” room, and what these paintings represent.
We also celebrated Chinese New Year for the first time, in Hong Kong.
Dragon dances, fireworks and food… take a moment to watch the travel video above, to see it all in action.
Next, my film team and I flew to Tokyo, Japan. We were working once again with trip-planning startup Odigo. I had the time of my life at the Odigo launch party with my friends.
We also did stories and videos about the bizarre, kawaii attractions found only in Japan. From the Pompompurin puppy cafe (above) to the mecha Gundam robot, you can see the latest pop culture oddities in all my Tokyo posts.
And above is the Tokyo travel video — Pokemon cafe, Suspiria horror pubs, game centers and more madness.
In the spring, I finally visited one of my top dream destinations: Iceland. The country is like nowhere else, with science fiction buildings and an otherworldly landscape.
My Reykjavik memories include exploring the street art and prismatic architecture, eating insanely fresh seafood, and meeting the RuPaul drag queens (they were randomly performing while we were there).
You absolutely must take a nature tour in Iceland. Our wonderful guides Salty Tours took us to secret spots including black sand beaches, waterfalls and elf caves, instead of the usual Golden Circle. (Here are all my Iceland photos and posts, to help you plan a trip here.)
Enjoy the ethereal video of my Iceland adventures above and on YouTube @lacarmina. There’s footage of me dipping into the Blue Lagoon and taking selfies with plump Icelandic horses!
My white rabbit (Miffy) and I went onward to Manchester UK, where we were working on stories with support from the tourism board. These British adventures included Alice in Wonderland high tea…
… and a pilgrimmage to Manchester music landmarks, including Salford and Sons. (Enjoy the full story about my The Smiths and Joy Division music tour.)
After a train ride through the Yorkshire countryside, I arrived at the seaside town of Whitby. We did a magazine cover shoot at the Dracula abbey that inspired the Bram Stoker novel.
Such fun to finally experience Whitby Goth Weekend, where Andi Sex Gang and other Gothic greats performed. For more photos of the event, take a gander at all my England posts.
I then went back to Tokyo, Japan for a Travel Channel TV shoot. I can’t reveal anything about this TV hosting gig yet, but when it airs next year, I’ll be sure to let you know.
I also got to see the Japanese cat temples, Gotokuji and Imado shrines (featuring thousand of lucky cat statues). I haven’t had a chance to blog about this yet… still so many posts from 2015 that need to go up…
In May, I traveled to Singapore for the first time (it was a year of many firsts). We got insider access at Marina Bay Sands, and ate our way around the city — from high end molecular gastronomy, to hawker center street food.
I still have a Little India and Chinatown post to share with you, but until I get around to it, you can see all my Singapore travel tips so far.
And then, there was Bali — land of temples and spirituality. I thoroughly enjoyed my time here with my friends Cohica Travel, and think back fondly at our temple tour around Ubud.
We also had far too much fun taking a Bali cooking class at the Ritz-Carlton Nusa Dua, with these jolly chefs!
I invite you to check out my Indonesia posts here, for a visual diary of my time on the island.
That takes us up to June! Next up, I’ll look back at memories from the second half of the year.
And what’s next? Off to New York City and Mexico — with partner in crime Yukiro! We’ll be celebrating New Year’s Eve, and kicking back at the new Karisma El Dorado resort in Riviera Maya / Tulum.
How about you — what were your favorite moments of 2015? Did you achieve any goals that you set, or experience something extraordinary?