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CRUISE PLUS: CAMBODIA
Angelina Jolie filmed Tomb
Raider and where the
enormous power of the jungle
to reclaim its own is on show
as tree roots gobble up the
The stones for the temples came from 70
kilometres away, carried by elephants, and
the huge task of carving the statues and walls
went on for decades.
But by the 16th century, Angkor’s temples
had been abandoned. Their ruins were
rediscovered in the 1860s, but reconstruction
has been slow and is still incomplete.
While the temples are its main drawcard,
Siem Reap has other attributes – food being
chief among them.
Khmer cuisine is a softer version of the
fiery curries of its neighbours. Spices play an
important part, and chilli is not so prevalent.
Raffles hotel continues the tradition of
having concierges that really know their
stuff. We try every one of their restaurant
recommendations, and they all prove terrific.
Chanrey Tree, a stylish restaurant at the
cutting edge of new Khmer cuisine, and
Viroth’s are especially good.
We also try a cooking class at Raffles,
when we are shown how to prepare a red
curry and one of the most delicious desserts
imaginable – pumpkin custard, a hollowed
out pumpkin filled with coconut egg custard.
From Siem Reap, we take a 40-minute
Cambodia Angkor Air flight to Phnom
Penh. We may as well have arrived in
Like every major Asian city, Phnom Penh
never sleeps. Every kind of enterprise is
being conducted on every street corner and
tuk tuks race enormous loads of human and
commercial cargo along the streets. We are
warned to hang on to our bags, as motorcycle
thieves snatch them as they go by. Many tuk
tuk drivers now have metal screens around
Insider Journeys had booked us
into our second Raffles – this time Le
Royal. It’s a beautiful cream-painted
French colonial building surrounding
two central pools; an oasis in the
middle of a bustling metropolis.
The mighty Mekong is at the heart of the
city – and we have an appointment on board
one of the newest and must luxurious ships
to ply its waters.
From the banks of the river, we see cruise
ships everywhere. But they are eclipsed by
Aqua Expeditions’ eclectic Aqua Mekong –
described as the first true luxury small ship
to sail this waterway.
The Aqua Mekong certainly looks different,
a bit like a rustic floating shed, with timber
and black panels, and floor-to-ceiling
windows. Aqua Expeditions has two similar
ships in South America, but this is its first
The line’s signature is luxury. There is a
pool, spa and cinema. The ship has a crew
of 40 and room for 40 guests. Cabins are
beautifully designed with wood trimmings.
The food has been created by Australian
chef David Thompson, whose Bangkok
restaurant, Nahm, has been named one of
the world’s top 50, thanks to his astonishing
ability to cook Thai food better than the Thais.
Thompson, who is on board when we visit,
has adapted his recipes to include the river’s
plentiful supply of prawns and catfish.
As we leave, the guests are piling aboard
– including two Australians who tell us they
simply Googled “Mekong and luxury” to
find the ship.
No visit to Phnom Penh is complete
without seeing the museums that are a
testament to the genocide carried out by the
Pol Pot regime during the 1970s.
You will need to brace yourself for a
harrowing period of introspection.
S21 was an ordinary high school on the
outskirts of the city. Its nondescript nature
is poignant. Some 14,000 men, women and
children where taken into its courtyard,
shackled to iron beds and tortured by mainly
teenage guards. Only seven survived.
Extraordinarily, in a bizarre and horrifying
act of bureaucracy gone mad, each one
was photographed. Their pictures adorn
the walls, their faces staring out in horror
and resignation. It is an uncomfortable but
essential ingredient of a visit to Cambodia.
But beyond these walls, an altogether
different country now bids the world
welcome. The new Cambodia has
experienced strong economic growth,
led largely by tourism. It has embraced
ethical tourism, too. There are a number of
restaurants and even a circus, which help
street children train and find work.
Insider Journeys is a partner of the
Childsafe network that, among other things,
discourages visits to orphanages, making
the point that children “are not tourist
We visit the Royal Palace – great
buildings, but too many are closed to tourists
– and the Foreign Correspondents Club,
which has terrific views of the Mekong.
The Russian market sells everything from
imitation Louis Vuitton to food. Fake watches
are scooped out of displays by the handful, so
don’t expect a lifetime warranty.
If you feel like a snack, there are fried
tarantulas and crispy locusts to sample.
We give them a miss, preferring Friends
restaurant, which employs street kids and
An organised tour/itinerary is a good way
to see Cambodia. We were certainly glad to
be in the hands of a reputable company with
knowledgeable local guides.
‘If you feel like a snack, there are fried
tarantulas and crispy locusts to sample.’
CLockwise from top
comfort on the
Mekong; the river
ship’s crew; the
We travelled with Insider Journeys, who
specialise in small group tours in Asia. This
seven-day Highlights of Cambodia journey
starts from $1,555 per person twin share. It also
books the Aqua Mekong cruise ship and many
more. See insiderjourneys.com.au.
We stayed at Raffles Hotels – see raffles.com.
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