Latitudes Magazine “l’art de vivre in Thailand and in Cambodia” is featuring us!

Latitudes Magazine team thoroughly enjoyed our new interactive walking adventure in the heart of Phnom Penh and featured us in their last issue #13 for February & March 2019.

In summary, they highlight that “at the end of this fun and informative adventure, you have not only discovered places steeped in history but also some traditions deeply rooted in the Khmer way of life“. It is for them “perfect for a family or friends on vacation“.

>>> You can read the whole article right here, on page 64.

Thank you for your article, Laurence Labadens!

Urban Tales Phnom Penh
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Few facts about “Krama”

We could say that the krama is to Cambodian people what the sombrero is to Mexican people, a very strong visual symbol of the country.

This typical checked scarf is part of the Cambodian history and a legacy that passed through generations.

History is not very documented and precise about its origin, but kramas [pronounce it “kroh’mah” in Khmer] are said to date back to Angkor times (around the 13th century).

Originally what we called the krama was the fabric that Khmer women used to traditionally make, from collecting the cotton, soaking it in rice for few days, and partly tinting it before weaving it on the wooden weaving loom. In the past, little people would use cotton scarves when healthy family would prefer silk kramas (usually referred to as “kan’saèng sotr”).

Traditionally weaved in red and white or blue and white checks, it is nowadays available in many colors. Patterns and colors vary depending on the province the krama comes from.

Khmer people of all ages still wear it a lot and upon many occasions and use it for many different functions: sun or cold protection, belts, or even shorts or swimwear; they could use it as bags for carrying goods or even as a baby carrier or hammocks for babies… Kids also use it rolled and curled to play a local dodge ball game (Cha-ol Choong). Some people even repair their bicycle tires by filling them with their (karma) krama, how clever! Finally, L’Bokator fighters still traditionally wrap the krama around their waists.

So many different uses for one scarf is quite fascinating.

The krama is a very strong representation of the Khmer spirit strength: it managed to stand still without wobbling and without losing its courage and dignity despite the extremely difficult times it went through in the past.

That is why nowadays, young Khmer people are proud to wear this very traditional scarf, and the trend is spreading throughout the world with the Khmer diaspora community abroad !

If you want to know more about Cambodia’s tradition & culture, join our daily interactive walking adventure!

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“Kattha”, the Khmer amulets 📿

Most Cambodians hold a strong belief in the existence of spirits, both good and evil…

That is why protective amulets have a major role in Khmer people’s life to keep off evil spirits and bring them good luck. 📿📿📿

Usually, Khmer amulets include engraved gems, small statues, coins, rings, plant bits or written words in the form of a magical spell to prevent evil spirits. They contain “kattha” [pronounced “K’thaa” in Khmer]. “K’thaa” is the name used for Sacred Pali prayers, mantras and other magical incantations. K’thaa are used in by Cambodian people for a great many purposes; be it for protection, charm or business ventures, there is a K’thaa which can be summoned and worn. They are aimed at bringing luck, happiness or even love to the person wearing it on his wrist or keeping it in his pocket.

These amulets are received from the monk at the temple after making donation. The “krus” (same word as the Sanskrit word “guru”) and Buddhist monks are believed to have the power to prepare or sanctify an amulet by establishing a supernatural link between it and the person holding or wearing it.

You may see Cambodian babies wearing K’thaa around their neck or their waist to ward-off evil spirits, or adults wearing it inserted with a cotton thread around their wrist to be protected on a long journey or when they feel unsafe. Many businessmen and shop owners have sanctified key-chain amulets with K’thaa to bunch their keys and opening their office or shop with such key chains is considered auspicious.

As a tourist, you can buy Khmer amulets on the markets and use them as colored typical bracelets or as decoration, ignoring their importance in locals’ eyes.

If you want to know more about Khmer culture and little known parts of Phnom Penh, join our interactive mystery tour !

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5 things you need to know about Tết! 🇻🇳🙏

While getting closer to the end of this month, you can feel the atmosphere changing. It is progressively becoming festive and jolly, with everybody getting quite excited about the Lunar New Year (TET) celebration coming soon…

But what do you actually know about Tết? Here are 5 facts you need to know about it.

Where does it come from?

The full name for Tết is “Tết Nguyên Đán”. From Chinese origin, this name literally means “the first morning of the year”. It symbolized in the ancient times the start of a new rice cultivation cycle and was a major celebration time for all inhabitants.

When does it fall?

Tết Festival in Vietnam usually falls from mid January to mid February. Based on the lunar calendar, the dates vary from year to year. Traditionally a 3-day celebration, Tết has nowadays become a one-week celebration as it actually involves preparations in the prior week(s) and as people get more days off than before. This year, Tết day falls on the 5th of February 2019 and will start the 🐖Year of The Pig 🐖!

What is it exactly?

Tết is the most important and widely celebrated public festival of the year in Vietnam. It is the occasion for Vietnamese to express their respect for ancestors as well as welcoming the lunar New Year with all their family members. Overall, Tết holiday for Vietnam is a bit like the Spring Festival for Chinese or Christmas or Thanksgiving time for Westerners: every family will get together to have big meals to welcome the New Year.

As a strong and joyful family moment, it marks the beginning of the year in the lunar calendar and a new sense of renewal. It is a time for reunion, hope and luck. 

What is going on during the celebration?

Since it is the biggest festival of the year, preparations for celebration begin well in advance before the celebration itself. Families traditionally make “Bánh Chưng” and “Bánh Dầy”, two traditional cakes made of glutinous rice and wrapped in banana leaves. The Bánh Chưng is square to represent the Earth and the Bánh Dầy is round to represent Heaven. Their making of symbolizes the expression of gratitude to ancestors and homeland.

Apart from preparing food, before Tết, most of the families will go to temples to make offerings and pray. They clean and decorate their house with new items and flowers such as Hoa Đào (peach blossoms), Hoa Mai (Apricot blossoms) and Cây Quất (Kumquat tree). They put the traditional “Mâm Ngũ Quả” (5 different fruits tray) on their ancestors’ altar to bring them protection and to bring prosperity and fertility to the house members.

Before Tết, the other important things to get rid of are debts and disputes.

On the eve of Tết, Vietnamese cook loads of food for upcoming family gatherings.

Then, on the first day of Tết, everybody, especially kids, wear new clothes and shoes to visit families and friends to present their New Year’s greetings and to enjoy food. Many children receive “lucky money” in red envelopes. Finally, it is a common belief among the Vietnamese that the first visitor who enters the house in the New Year could bring good or bad luck to the family for the whole year. For that reason, no one enters a house on the first day of the New Year without first being invited !

Who is it important for?

It is the most important and widely celebrated public festival of the year in Vietnam. Everybody comes back to their hometown to gather with family and chill out after a busy year of working or studying. Tết is definitely a family gathering time of the year and everything is happening inside the houses.

As a traveller, you may as well be concerned by Tết if you decide to visit Vietnam at that special time of the year. It could be quite difficult to plan your trip when all transportation means are fully booked well in advance.

Be ready: the bad news is that many museums, indoor places, art houses, shops, restaurants and tours will be closed for approximately 1 week. But the good news is that beaches and cities will be empty and very quiet, which is something quite incredible in Vietnam, so that will be a great time to wander around for visitors & tourists!

Please note that our interactive adventure in Saigon & Hanoi will be closed from 2nd to 9th of February 2019.

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All you want to know about the Water Festival

November is a very rich month with festivities in Cambodia.

After Independence Day in early November, another one of the biggest local celebrations is coming soon! Actually starting tomorrow.

It is called the Water Festival or “Bonn Om Touk”. It usually takes place during the full moon of November, which falls this year on 21-23 November. It is definitely one of the most spectacular of its kind in Southeast Asia.

Find below all you want to know about this highly joyful festival.

Where does it come from?

This Water festival has been celebrated in Cambodia since the 13th century.

Originally, it is aimed at celebrating the end of the rainy season which often coincides with the reversal of the flow of Tonlé Sap River – that first began in June/July to go northwards with the start of the rainy season combined with the melting of the snow from Tibet -, and the resultant flooding of the Great Tonlé Sap lake upstream. This phenomenon is very unique in the world. During the wet season, the water level in the Mekong rises and the water flows upwards into the Great Tonlé Sap lake. It then turns into the biggest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia, increasing nearly 10 times its size. At the end of the rainy season in November, the tide is turning Southwards, emptying the Big lake and waters flow back toward the sea.

On top of falling with the Full Moon which embodies the symbol of a bountiful harvest, Bonn Om Touk symbolizes the importance of the water as a life-giving resource: the lake being full is a source of fish abundance and a source of mineral abundance for the cultivated lands around.

What is going on during the celebration?

This annual festival is celebrated throughout the whole country with traditional dances, folk songs and festive gatherings everywhere.

It is particularly popular & well known in Phnom Penh where it is celebrated with spectacular boat races on the Tonlé Sap river, with more than 300 long and colorful dragon boats, all coming down the river together and competing in a crazy parade in front of His Majesty the King.

Those rowing regattas are said to commemorate the Khmer military victory in the 12th century over the Châme army. They are now a real impressive show for all locals and visitors, highlighting the expertise and speed of the rowers.

Who is it important for?

Bonn Om Touk is a non-religious celebration but has a very special place in all Khmer people’s heart. It is a very joyful and a crazy time of the year with thousands of people from various provinces converging to Phnom Penh to watch the races on the river, eat traditional food, go to street concerts and have fun during the 3 full days of the Festival. After the Khmer New Year, it is the most important holiday time for Cambodians.

Do you know that each of the Wats in Phnom Penh and in the provinces has its own racing dragon boat? There is actually an elaborate ritual to “waken up the boat” after a year-long “sleep” and to “open their (removable) eyes” when they are placed again onto the prow of the regatta boat. And when getting the boat to the Capital City, when the boat has to go under a bridge, the “eyes” are being removed from the prow, taken up on the shore to the other side of the bridge and then placed them back onto the boat, this to avoid bad luck during the race as people will be walking over the boat when they are crossing the bridge. Bonn Om Touk also intends to pay respect to the tutelary deities living under the waters – the Naga (mythical Serpent) – and also to demand Pardon to the waters that have been spoiled over the course of the past year.

So if you are not afraid to tightly mingle with the crowds, you can join the gatherings on Sisowath Quay, you will probably have an unforgettable experience. If you are not in a jostling mood, then you should just find a good spot on a roof top along the riverside to watch the hectic festivities, the many illuminated floats with the logos of the highest institutions of the Kingdom (Royal Palace, Senate, National Assembly, various ministries,…) and marvel at the fireworks from a distance.

On the last day of the festival, Khmer people would prepare offerings such as food, drink and incense in front of their home before gathering at temples later in the evening, in order to thank good spirits of the moon, the water and the land for providing life. Then, after the Sampeah Preah Khaè ceremony (Salutation to the Full Moon), they would eat traditional newly harvested fried rice (Aork Ambok) mixed with coconut and fresh banana, around midnight to end up with the celebration in a joyful mood.

If you want to learn more about Phnom Penh’s best kept secrets, do not miss our walking tour in the Old District!

Photo Credit: various sources

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