We’ve been quiet here on Grantourismo these last few months while we’ve been bouncing around Cambodia working on stories. An update from the road, ruins and rice paddies is long overdue, so here goes…
From Siem Reap to Battambang and Bangkok and Back Again
One of the biggest challenges with being bloggers as well as professional writers, and Terence a pro photographer, is that the paid work for publishers takes priority, and we’re thankful that there’s been an abundance of it this year, particularly in the last six months. Unfortunately this has meant less time to spend on Grantourismo, though we’re hoping that will change soon.
So where have we been and what have we been writing about? When we returned to Siem Reap in June from Saigon, we planned to work on stories on the things that had changed since we were last here – new restaurants, hotels, tours, that sort of thing. We never imagined we’d be writing pieces on the new big top in Siem Reap that is home to the quirky and distinctly Khmer Cambodian Phare Circus, which we wrote about for CNN Travel, nor the new archaeological discoveries.
Branded by the Sydney Morning Herald as the discovery of a ‘lost city’ – an angle the sub-editors at the publications we write for also latched onto – the new archaeological discoveries announced in a report released in June weren’t exactly ‘new’ nor were they about a particular city that had been ‘lost’. Rather, the report described the results of a groundbreaking aerial survey of several sites, confirming theories archaeologists had long had about the Angkor area but didn’t have the technology to prove.
That narrative may not sound as dramatic as the unearthing of a lost city, but it really is exciting stuff, changing the way we think about and imagine Angkor forever. We thought so, anyway, writing about it for The Guardian, CNN Travel, National Geographic Traveller, Wanderlust, and a few more publications which will publish our pieces next year. We’ll also share more about it all here on Grantourismo.
When we last posted we told you about our experiences feeding the hungry ghosts during Pchum Ben or Ancestors Festival around Cambodia, the most memorable of which was at a pagoda we stumbled across in a village while on a bike tour around sleepy Battambang. We’ve spent a lot of time in Battambang over the last few months working on stories for food and travel magazines like Travel+Leisure Asia, Feast, Australian Gourmet Traveller, Delicious, SE Asian Globe, and The National.
The impetus was the launch by Cambodian Children’s Trust of their first new social enterprise project, a terrific new training restaurant backed by legendary chef David Thompson of Nahm Bangkok and Australian restaurateur John Fink of Quay in Sydney. We were behind the scenes in the period leading up to the launch, hanging out in the kitchen with David, John and Matthew Albert (former head chef of Nahm London and soon to helm David’s new Singapore restaurant), tasting food and trying drinks, and we were there for the fantastic opening night party.
We have returned a few times since, spending a couple of weeks at a time in Battambang, and it’s been a real delight seeing the menu develop and the lovely young staff grow under the supervision of the multi-talented Tom O’Sullivan, who comes from a strong social enterprise cafe background in Melbourne.
While we were in Battambang we discovered there’s so much more to the little city than the new restaurant, the Bamboo ‘Train’ and its historic colonial centre, which are the reasons why most travellers visit. For starters, Battambang feels more like the ‘real’ Cambodia – down to earth, laidback, unpretentious. It also boasts the world’s friendliest people and its surrounding villages are home to thriving family-ran cottage industries. Expect to read more about Battambang here soon.
We haven’t spent the whole time in Siem Reap and Battambang. In fact, we’ve been bouncing between the two places and Phnom Penh, with occasional side trips to cities like Bangkok, where Terence had a major photography project for a restaurant and we gathered content for a handful of stories on Bangkok, from Bangkok’s Off The Beaten Track Floating Markets (for Feast and the Sunday Times Travel magazine, which also published pieces of mine on Sydney vs Melbourne’s food scenes and my favourite picnic spot in New Zealand) to Green Bangkok, from the city’s riverside renaissance to Secret/Hidden Bangkok.
In Print and Online
We’ve covered a lot of these places for a new series on The Guardian on travel itineraries. Check out my pieces (with some of Terence’s pics) so far on Bangkok in Three Days, Siem Reap in Three Days and Top 10 hotels in Siem Reap, and Phnom Penh in Three Days. The Top 10 Hotels in Phnom Penh piece should be going up soon, if you’re looking for accommodation in the Cambodian capital, along with my countrywide and regional itineraries, and stories on Bangkok’s Best Thai Restaurants and Hoi An’s Top 10 Dishes. I’ll post the links here when they’re published.
Aside from the pieces I’ve mentioned above, it been nice to see other features finally published, including our stories on Contemporary Australian Cuisine in the Four Seasons magazine; Halong Bay for Ocean; Hanoi’s Bia Hoi Scene, Vienna’s Krampus festival, Cape Malay Cooking, and Istanbul After Dark for Get Lost; Bangkok’s Best Restaurants and Phnom Penh for Thai Airways’ in-flight magazine Sawasdee; Dubai for Executive Traveller and Garuda’s Colours magazine; and for Feast, stories on everything from the legendary Cao Lau Noodles to Hit List guides to cities as diverse as Hoi An, Jerez, Budapest, and Rio, and bite sized pieces on everything from Hoi An’s chili sauce to Mui Ne’s fish sauce. Let me know if you’re interested in seeing any of these and I’ll email PDFs.
From Staying in Hotels to Establishing a Home
We’ve spent an awful lot of time in hotels over the last few months, for the stories above and more, such as this Guardian piece on the world’s 100 best boutique hotels, for which I wrote about hotels in Asia and New Zealand, and we’ve got a lot more pieces on accommodation in the region publishing there and in other publications, as well as here on Grantourismo.
I must do a proper count, but I reckon we’ve stayed in 40-50 hotels in Cambodia alone in recent months – I hate to guess how many we’ve stayed at this year – everything from luxurious hotels like Raffles, Park Hyatt, La Residence d’Angkor, Heritage Suites, and the new Shinta Mani here in Siem Reap to lots of budget boutique places for another story. I’m going to blog about the latter here soon, as they’ve had us thinking a lot more about accommodation and what people really want when they travel.
As you know, our preference has always been to stay in holiday rentals, apartments or houses, but unfortunately they’re in low supply here in Cambodia and serviced apartments are very expensive. We did test out the fabulous Karavansara apartments right on the river here in Siem Reap. It was our stay there, with a big kitchen and an abundance of space to sprawl out in, that really got us itching to establish a home base again.
After several months of searching, we finally found a lovely, light-filled apartment in Siem Reap that we can call home. It’s only a one-bedroom place, which is not ideal, as we don’t have a separate office. Terence is working from the living area and I’m in the bedroom – the first time we’ve worked at separate tables, let alone in separate rooms, in years. However, the rooms are super spacious, there are big windows everywhere, we have a huge balcony that wraps around two sides of the apartment. and, most importantly, we have a decent kitchen. I’ll Instagram some pics soon.
Thank You for Reading
We really want to thank our regular readers who have continued to drop by and dip into the Grantourismo archives even though we’ve been so quiet here. I have to say that there are few things that make us feel as good about what we do as when you come to search for information on a place and use our guides. The only thing that delights us more is when you email or visit us on Twitter and reference that story when asking for tips. Thank you. It means a lot.
We like to know that our stories have inspired you to go somewhere, but even more, we’re pleased to know that they’re of practical use when you’re planning your trips. We love to know you stayed at a hotel, ate at a restaurant or did a tour or activity that we tested out and recommended to you, and that you loved it.
I know some people think we take our jobs too seriously. Yes, we’re that couple at a restaurant intensively deconstructing the dishes on our plates, asking the waiter where the chicken came from, and sizing up the other diners in the room to make sure that restaurant is right for you. But the reason we do what we do is so that you have a great time when you travel – and it thrills us when you tell us that thanks to our advice you did.
What Next for Grantourismo
We have a lot more stories we’re continuing to work on for various publications, as well as some book and photography projects, but we’re also busy working behind the scenes at Grantourismo, with some big changes planned for 2014. Terence has been especially busy on a long-overdue redesign of the site to give it a fresh look and feel, as well as developing some exciting products we hope to launch early next year.
Watch this space to find out what’s next for Grantourismo.
In the meantime, normal programming is resuming.
Thanks for sticking around xx