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Posts tagged ‘shinta mani’

New Year’s Eve in the killing fields…

I thought I should make one final post for 2014!  Still lots of travel tales that have not yet made it to the blog so will be some reiminscing in 2015… along with some new adventures and countries…  Happy New Year!

I haven’t done it as an annual rite of passage but in my twenties I developed a kind of tradition of going to see a film on New Year’s Eve.  In those days I mostly drank milkshakes and I’m far too logical so found the celebration of the New Year to be a bit underwhelming.  I have experienced a handful of memorable New Year’s Eves but generally it seems a bit overrated.

But I started my consulting gig in January 2004 so New Year’s Eve 2013 held special meaning.  And, as previously noted, I had been hankering for a visit to Angkor Wat for at least a couple of decades.

What made the experience more surreal and memorable was that my first New Year’s Eve film was “The Killing Fields”.  Hardly most people’s idea of the right activity but I had a wonderfully quirky and intellectual boyfriend at the time and we had both been yearning to see the film.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0087553/

It is one of those films that take your breath away and I would highly recommend seeing it if you have not.  It will make Law & Order re-runs more poignant.  That is how I discovered Sam Waterston.  I am sure it is one of the reasons I became a Law & Order fan so quickly.  It is to film as Law & Order is to television…

When I woke up in Cambodia on December 31st I definitely remembered the film – and started my day of celebrating the phenomenal changes that have occurred since the film`s time period – and my first visit to the region in 1991.

shinta mani prepped for NYE

shinta mani prepped for NYE

I would celebrate my own anniversary on Jan 1, 2014.  December 31, 2013 belonged to Cambodia.

Staying at Shinta Mani allowed me to sign up for their New Year`s Eve celebration.  You should do it!  We began with a sumptuous buffet full of fresh, local seafood.  There was entertainment.  And, post-dinner, pre-midnight, we wandered down to the river with our wish boats.

floating your dream boat on the river

floating your dream boat on the river

The tradition is to write your hopes and dreams for the new year on a piece of paper and then place it on a small boat that you will release onto the water at midnight.  A much more romantic and symbolic version of making a wish and blowing out your birthday candles 🙂

We had to cross the main street in Siem Reap to reach the river.  Around midnight it was a cacophony of noise, flags and enthusiasm, which just added to the sense of magic.  Pushing my little boat onto the water with my hopes for 2014 was one of the greatest New Year`s Eves of my life.

siem reap at midnight

siem reap at midnight

What really made the evening so memorable though was the lady who saw I was sitting alone and invited me to join her table.  Tania is a force of nature.  Her `kids` were part of the entertainment for the evening.  And she confirmed for me that the hotel did indeed do good works and support the community, as I had hoped.

Her story is astonishing.  She came from Australia to check out Cambodia because she read about the plight of street kids in a Virgin Airlines magazine.  She ended up marrying her Cambodian driver as she fell in love with the country and he fell in love with this foreign woman who was so committed to doing good in his country.

Go to Cambodia and meet her!  (And him).  Their story is so much more incredible than any soppy thing you will see on the screen.  Tania is one of those people who use their developed world skills in the developing world in a way that blows your mind and inspires you to try a little harder – or at least support those who do 🙂

You should really hear her tell the story.  I can’t do it justice – or even apply an Australian accent, which does seem the right voice for her tale of passion.  To hit some of the highlights, she went to check out the plight of the street kids in Siem Reap.  She never even saw Angkor Wat on her first visit.

Like most issues in the developing world, the situation was complex and heartbreaking with no easy solution.  She went back to Australia.  Almost everyone else would have just stayed there and felt bad about the street kids in Cambodia.

But she couldn’t concentrate on her work.  She felt she had to do something.  So she went back.  She hired a driver.  She met kids.  She talked to people.  She tried to figure out what she could do to help.

Her first thought was to feed them.  She coerced local restaurants and citizens into helping her.  With a full belly, the kids were ready for more.  She thought they needed more education.

So she went looking for a school that would take them.  But the schools told her that her kids were dirty and smelly. So she negotiated… could she have a special class for the dirty, smelly kids?

That definitely helped the kids but it wasn’t enough to propel them forward in society to make them self-sufficient.  So she created a school for them.  She educated their parents on why it was good for these children to be in school instead of begging on the streets.

When I met her last New Year’s Eve, some of her kids had gotten to the point of considering post-secondary education.  They performed some intricate traditional Cambodian boxing manoeuvres for a huge crowd.  It was a great showcase for them – and for the Green Gecko Project.  She might not technically be their mom but she cares for them as if she was and was a proud and caring parent that night.  She had even lured some friends to spend their vacation helping out (they were also at the dinner).  She is inspirational 🙂

http://www.greengeckoproject.org/

Think about New Year’s Eve in Cambodia.  I would highly recommend it.  Stay at Shinta Mani.  See Angkor Wat. Float your tiny ship of dreams onto the Siem Reap River at midnight.  Seek out Tania and learn about The Green Gecko Project…

http://shintamani.com/resort/

is Cambodia the new Thailand? ;)

Of course, your best plan of action may be to make like me and quickly dispense with Bangkok and get on a flight to Siem Reap!  If nothing else, you will be able to tell people you are going to Cambodia.

A few people will have been – and they will tell you that you will love it (that will prove to be very accurate J).  Most people will still be channelling the Dead Kennedys even if they don’t know the lyrics to “Holiday in Cambodia.”

But, of course, they will just be a couple of decades out of touch… I, on the other hand, have been dreaming of Cambodia for a couple of decades.  I don’t know what took me so long!  Working all the time and going nowhere exotic…

But of course that has all changed in the last five years as I resolved to quit postponing all those “trips of a lifetime”.  Angkor Wat certainly was one of them.

For me, though, getting to Angkor Wat was much more personal.  Over twenty years ago, I had been in the hill tribes near Chiang Mai wondering if I was going to be randomly killed by the Khmer Rouge and hearing about the wonders of Angkor Wat while settling for Sukothai as it was still risky and complicated to cross over the border to Cambodia.

But things were changing and I knew I would get there.  In 2013, I gathered, going to Cambodia was no big deal so I booked a hotel, found out how to get a visa, made sure I had a flashlight, scored some malaria tablets and braced for the weather.

And Cambodia turned out to be Claridges… you just need to know where to stay 😉

shinta mani

restaurant – note swings

There is really only one place to stay when you come to Angkor Wat (unless you are on a tight budget – you can definitely do it cheap too and it will still be wonderful).  But if you can afford a decent night’s hotel room in the developed world, you will live like a princess in Siem Reap.

resort pool

resort pool

My room cost about $300/night (including all the crazy taxes) but it was palatial so you can spend less and still have a great time.  I stayed in the Shinta Mani Club where the rooms are larger.  They now have a sister property across the street, Shinta Mani Resort.  As a guest, you can spend time in the public facilities of both.

http://shintamani.com/

shinta mani

lap pool shinta mani club

For $15, someone will come and collect you from the airport.  Dan started my visit on a high note.  He told me Shinta Mani was the number one hotel in Siem Reap.  I knew he was biased – but after six nights there, I can’t say he was wrong 🙂

The level of service is astonishing – on par with very few other places I’ve stayed (it really is a Cambodian version of Claridges).  There is a lap pool at the Club, a big pool at the resort, bar and restaurant facilities at both, a spa… and gorgeous spaces that make you feel like you’re in the Caribbean.

I still wasn’t healthy when I arrived so my first evening was low key.  I had some lovely food in the hotel restaurant and had an enthusiastic, charming hotel staff member organize an Angkor Wat tour on my behalf.

leaving the hotel

siem reap river

The hotel really is so wonderful it’s tempting to just hole up there and never see a temple… but that would be wrong!  And then I wouldn’t have anything to write about 😉

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