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CEO Story – Stay another Day in Siem Reap

Siem Reap is one of those places in the world that should have a ‘stay another day’ tourism campaign. And if you wonder why I am suggesting this, my reasons are in my story below.

Siem Reap is the site of the magnificent Angkor Wat temple complex that is not only the city’s main and greatest tourist attraction but also of Cambodia’s, attracting travellers from all over the world to marvel at this spectacular architecture. It is so vast and with so much to explore that a day is not sufficient to discover its magic and unravel its rich historical secrets.

Located in north-western Cambodia Angkor is one of the most important archaeological sites in South East Asia and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Dating back to the 9th century it was the capital city of the Khmer Empire and a major power in the region for five centuries. It is an amazing historical site with a diversity of temples and shrines that is unique to Asia. Most travellers spend two days exploring the temples either as an extension to a journey in Thailand, Vietnam or Laos, but few take the time to see anything else in the area. They honestly don’t know what they are missing.

Siem Reap is the city nearest to Angkor, as well as the entry and exit point for most travellers to Cambodia. A sleepy village 20 years ago it has since developed into a fun place to spend a few days in. I have no doubt that, in a few years, it will be on the ‘must visit’ list of most travellers to Asia.

I spent a few days recently exploring Siem Reap and the nearby countryside, and I simply loved it. On my first early morning I set off with Yann, the owner of the Green E-Bike shop, on a countryside tour. Riding his eco-friendly bike, which runs on batteries, is really easy. It’s like riding a bicycle with no prior skill required, and no need for a driver’s license either.

We left the town centre with its morning traffic and headed for a short ride along the main streets before taking a turn to the untarred country roads. It was quite unbelievable that, only after a short drive of about 15 minutes at 20 km/hr, we had the impression of being in the middle of the Cambodian countryside. Buildings gave way to forests and rice fields, rivers and lakes, wooden houses on stilts, and sugar palm trees. The sun was strong, and I was glad to have my sunglasses and protected my skin with sunscreen. However, the heat was not overwhelming as we were riding through forests and along the lake.

Yann showed me a few temple ruins that I would never have found on my own. We stopped at several villages for a chat with the locals, and to observe their simple way of life. We had a home-cooked lunch in one of the village house before heading back to Siem Reap. A truly rewarding Cambodian countryside experience.

In the afternoon I opted for the antidote of an E-Bike, and decided to go back to the countryside on a quad bike, also known as an all-terrain vehicle (ATV). This is an activity for the more adventurous and daring. There are several quad bike tour options to choose from – easy countryside rides to off-the-road discovery experiences. Anybody reasonably fit and over 18 years of age can ride a quad, and it’s an exciting way to travel.

The quad team took me to a completely different area than what I had seen in the morning, confirming how diverse Siem Reap’s outlying areas are and dispelling the notion that it is a dull city.

As I always say, seeing is believing. We drove along countryside roads, went off road on sandy paths and through muddy fields, stopped at local farms and workshops, visited a temple lost in the middle of nowhere, and drove past buffalos, cows and pigs and making sure not to frighten them. Everywhere we went the children waved at us while their parents gave us friendly smiles. After two hours we were back in Siem Reap, dusty and muddy, but in excellent spirits.

On returning to my hotel in Siem Reap in the early evening and after a good shower, I embarked on a restaurant discovery evening. There is plenty of choice, from simple country restaurants to top 5-star dining that serve both Cambodian and international cuisines as well as meals that were previously unheard off in this part of Asia. With such fascinating food offerings, I am sure the city will soon become a culinary hotspot in the region. If you don’t believe me then you just have to head to Siem Reap and find out for yourself.

My own personal favourites serving Cambodian cuisine include Cuisine Wat Damnak, Chanrey Tree, Viroth’s and the brand new Malis Siem Reap. The most adventurous should not miss the Bugs Café for a taste of the unusual such as tarantula spider, spring rolls with ants, or cupcakes with cricket or scorpion salad – check it out on TripAdvisor.

There is also a vibrant bar scene in Siem Reap with its numerous bars and coffee shops, ranging from fancy ones to simple establishments serving cocktails, beers or wine. Check out Miss Wong, The Angkor What, Asana, Mezze, or the Wine Bar near the local market.

The next morning I decided to go on one of our Vespa Tours. The evening Vespa excursion with the dine-around option is a well-known tour, but I wanted to do the new tour that incorporates the countryside. Asian Trails’ Countryside Life Tour is a day tour exploring the authentic Cambodian countryside and experience what life is like in the shadow of Angkor Wat, all from the back of a Vespa scooter.

This was another great off-the-beaten track yet relaxing experience, just sitting on the back of a Vespa driven by a courteous and professional driver. We visited villages, a local market, a sugar palm juice producing family, a monastery complete with blessing from a monk, a fortune teller, as well as enjoying the hospitality of the local people. Our journey took us through rice paddies and the jungle, on dirt paths and countryside roads. Once again I was amazed that during the entire morning I did not see another tourist even though I was less than 10 kilometres from Angkor Wat.

The afternoon was devoted to exploring the new shopping areas that have mushroomed in the city, and a visit to the spa for a relaxing massage.

My recommendation to travel professionals is to add another day to the itinerary of your clients, and give them the chance to see the Cambodian countryside and to explore Siem Reap’s restaurants, bars, shops and spas. It’s really worth it as the experience is amazing. Asian Trails will be happy to discuss any new tour options with you.

Happy Trails!

Laurent Kuenzle
CEO
Asian Trails

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‘Future of Children’ – Building a Better Tomorrow for the People of Muntigunung in Bali

Welcome to my first story of 2016. This is about doing good and building a future for the children in the Muntigunung region on the north-eastern side of the island of Bali.

Before I share with you my trek to Muntigunung, I would like to talk about the relatively unknown Muntigunung region and ‘Future for Children’, the Swiss-Indonesian non-profit organization founded in Switzerland in November 2004 by Daniel Elber. Its objectives are to finance projects to support sustainable developments in destitute regions of Bali, with its main focus on Muntigunung. In Bali it cooperates with Dian Desa, the most reputed development organization in Indonesia, as well as work with other local partners.

Every Balinese knows Muntigunung, not for its beauty and rice fields but for its reputation of sending women and children to beg in the streets of southern Bali. The sad sight and plight of these beggars made Daniel and his organization start a series of projects to help them.

Muntigunung is one of the driest regions of Bali, and water is a constant worry. Women used to take their children on three to five hour treks every day to fetch water from Batur Lake or the coastal region. Imagine having to hike up and down dangerous pathways on rugged terrain to fetch a few liters of water, the agony of stepping over a stone, dropping the bucket, and having to start all over again.

Daniel realized that the key to improving the life of these poorest of the poor people was to secure them with a sustainable water supply. The first project ‘Future of Children” embarked on was to build a water tank to store rainwater and distribute it to the houses in the villages. To ensure there is enough water for everyone, the villagers were educated not to use more than 25 liters per person per day – a luxury compared to the 10-15 liter buckets of the past that had to last the whole day for the entire family. This was the beginning of several water tanks built in other villages throughout Muntigunung.

‘Future for Children’ then embarked on its next project, which was to create income- generating activities for the villagers. If you have visited Bali and received an Asian Trails’ branded basket with cashew nuts, it was produced by the villagers of Muntigunung. Besides baskets and cashew nuts the villagers also produce hammocks, bags, Rosella flowers (wild hibiscus), and palm sugar powder.

Improving the health and reduce child mortality, as well as assuring adequate education for children, are some of the other activities and training programs initiated and overseen by ‘Future of Children’. Through these projects the organization is changing the livelihood of the 5,500 inhabitants and the 36 villages of Muntigunung.

Asian Trails has been organizing treks with ‘Future for Children’ for many years. On my recent visit to Bali I had the pleasure of going on one of these treks that was led by Nicole, an active member of the organization, its expert guide Pica, a trekking guide from Muntigunung and Bjoern Schimanski, Asian Trails’ managing director in Indonesia.

We left my villa in southern Bali in the early morning and drove to the starting point that was just up the hill from Lake Batur. After a hike uphill the panorama, which opened up to Lake Batur and Mt. Batur on the western side and the coastline to the east, was simply breathtaking.

We continued mostly downhill on mountain pathways, through plantations and forests, and through some of the most rugged and driest terrains in Bali. The views were spectacular, to say the least, and at every turn we saw another amazing panorama.

After about two hours of trekking we reached Muntigunung, and the first village where a water tank had been built. This village today specializes in making baskets. For me this was quite an emotional encounter as I did not only see the finished baskets, which Asian Trails and several of our clients had purchased as customer giveaways for many years, but also villagers with smiling faces making them piece by piece from a few helms of dried palm tree leaves.

We continued to another village that produces luxury quality hammocks, a technique learned by the hammock weavers from Salvador. A fresh coconut drink gave us energy to continue on the last part of the trek through several more villages until we reached the training center of ‘Future for Children’. The leader of the training center, which is also the center for the cashew nut production, explained the organization’s objectives, projects and achievements to us.

After a late lunch at a small resort next to the beach in Tembok, we drove back to southern Bali.

This trek is a unique opportunity to discover an untouched side of Bali, away from the more popular areas and their accompanying mass tourism and to learn about the challenges faced by locals and how help is provided. We took the long route lasting about three hours, which requires good average physical condition. Another option is a more moderate walk of about an hour. Asian Trails can guide you and your clients in the way most suitable to their requirement in exploring and learning about Muntigunung and ‘Future for Children’.

Trekking is one active way to support the organization. Other ways to help are to buy their goods for logo branded giveaways or make a donation to the bank account mentioned on its website. You can be assured that all funds will reach the people in Muntigunung.

If you wish to learn more about Muntigunung and projects of ‘Future of Children’ visit www.zukunft-fuer-kinder.ch/en, or contact Asian Trails Indonesia for further information.
Happy Trails!

Laurent Kuenzle
CEO
Asian Trails

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New General Manager for Vietnam Appointed

Asian Trails Vietnam is delighted to announce that Mr. Jason Blackwell has joined Asian Trails in the role of General Manager. Jason will be based at Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh office and shall take on the responsibility of developing new and enticing products while streamlining operations to provide our clients with the pinnacle in service delivery.

His 9 years of experience in understanding the cultural differences and all aspects of the inbound tourism industry in Asia has made him fell love with Asia. Now living and working in Ho Chi Minh City, Jason is driving the Vietnam team to deliver world class experiences that showcase Vietnam’ s cultural and stunning natural beauty, sharing in Asian Trails’ passion for blazing new paths in travel

We welcome Jason to the Asian Trails family and wish him all the best in his new role!