Apsaras – From the legend to the Khmer classical dance

Apsaras are one of the most emblematic symbols of Khmer identity.  But do you know who they are and what they represent?

In few words, Apsaras are female spirits of the clouds and waters in Hindu culture and were born, according to the legend, from the foam created by the Churning of the Ocean of Milk in the Indian epic “Mahabharatta”. They are celestial nymphs of great grace and sensuality who embody the pleasure of the senses and of the spirit. To some extent, we can compare Apsaras to the muses of ancient Greece.

In the ancient Indian mythology, Apsaras are young and beautiful creatures dancing at the court of Indra, the king of the gods.

During the Angkor monarchy, Apsara dancers would perform the sacred and ritual dances in royal palaces for official ceremonies, in order to grant a wish from the Deities or to give a blessing to the King or welcome distinguished guests. Apsaras are widely represented in the bas-reliefs on the walls of Khmer temples, especially those of Angkor Wat.

Apsara dance is a form of classical dance that was under Royal Patronage of the King, and solely performed in the ancient days at the Royal Court and Palaces for ritual ceremonies purposes to appease the gods and as offerings to them. They are indeed at the heart of Cambodian culture and civilization. It was initially known – back in the early sixties’ “Golden Age” of the Royal Ballet – as “Robam Apsara – Le Ballet des Apsaras” to name the dance featuring the Apsaras celestial dancers only, and the name was recently extended to the entire répertoire of the Royal Ballet in the 1990’s at the end of the war.

The main characteristics of the dance are the hand gestures. With more than 1,500 different gestures, each movement of the fingers and positions of the arms have its own distinct meaning, all related to ancient legends. To give you an idea, it takes a dancer around 6 years to learn all the hand gestures and around 2 hours to show them all in a row.

Like most of other Cambodian cultural traditions, Khmer classical dances as well as folk dances were severely repressed and banned during the Khmer regime and 90% of the dancers and musicians were deported out of the Royal Palace and Capital city, killed or locked up.

Princess Buppha Devi – the eldest daughter of the late King-Father Norodom Sihanouk, who was herself the Prima Ballerina in the “Corps du Ballet Royal” in the 60’s, had an important role in the current revival of Khmer Apsara dance. Hence in November 2003, it was put on UNESCO’s List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Nowadays, it is still becoming more and more popular.

If you visit Phnom Penh, you should not miss a traditional Khmer dance show. There are different shows in the city, you can check the schedules at the National Museum or at the Sovanna Phum Arts Association.

In January 2019, you can attend as well the new creation of the Royal Ballet of Cambodia, “Metamorphosis” on January 18th and 19th, 2019.

If you want to explore more of Phnom Penh’s best kept secrets in an original way, join our daily interactive walking adventure!

Photo Credit: Facebook page Ballet Royal du Cambodge

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Mid-Autumn festival preparations in Hanoi

All the streets in Hanoi’s old Quarter are bustling with Mid-Autumn Festival preparations…

Traditional games, musical performances,  colorful lantern & toys in the shops, parades and lion dances, mooncakes everywhere, children singing folk-songs…🎶🎶🎶This time of the year when the moon is rising is a very joyful time!
The Mid-Autumn Festival is one of Vietnam’s biggest festivals and also known as Children’s Festival because of its focus on children.

This year the most important day will be on the 24th of September.

It’s a great time to take pictures on the streets.

If you join our mystery adventure tour in Hanoi, you would be able to see all these preparations in the heart of Hanoi.

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Hive Life online magazine is featuring us!

« Hive Life » tried our Urban Tales adventure during the summer.

They thoroughly enjoyed our interactive walking adventure in Cholon and featured us in one of their articles about Saigon’s original activities.

In summary, our tour represents for them « a tale of murder and mystery that offers a unique way to get to know Saigon’s historical hub of Chinatown.  »

>>> You can read the whole article right here.

Thank you for your support, Sarah!

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2018 Certificate of Excellence

We are so happy to have received this email from Trip Advisor this morning.

We have just been awarded a 2018 Certificate of Excellence for our Urban Tales Cholon tour based on the extremely positive reviews and feedbacks we have garnered on line!
Thank you so much to all our visitors and to all our staff to work tirelessly to give the best experience possible to our guests.

Certificate Excellence 2018
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The Museum of Traditional Vietnamese Medicine

If you are interested in traditional Vietnamese medicine, you should not miss the FITO Museum in Saigon.

This small museum is the first one in the country devoted to traditional Vietnamese medicine. Founded in 2003, it opened to the public in 2007. In our opinion, it is really worth the visit.

Traditional medicine is part of the cultural heritage of Vietnam and was at the time based on interactions between the two well-known schools of Chinese & Vietnamese medicine.
Historical evidences indicate that from the second century BC, during the Hung Vuong dynasty, Vietnamese people knew how to use hundreds of plants for medicinal purposes. According to the Ministry of Health, there are now 1,800 plants in Vietnam used for medicinal purposes.

The museum is laid out in a Vietnamese house decorated with gorgeous carved wooden interior. It presents many documents, books, ancient drawings and old utensils, tools (medical herb slicers & boat-shaped grinders), wine jars and pots. You can find on display nearly 3,000 items dating back to the Stone Age.

At the beginning of your visit, you can watch a short documentary about the history of medicine.

As a reminder, the greatest Vietnamese scientists Tue Tinh (14th century) and Hải Thượng Lãn Ông – also known as Le Huu Trac – (18th century) are considered as the medical founders of Vietnam’s traditional medicine.

They set the standards and in some diseases, identified the cures and the principles of care that in some cases are still in use today. For example: chewing betel could prevent tooth decay, eating ginger can act as an anti-cold and flu treatment, and “linh chi” mushroom (lingzhi) is still known and used as a longevity booster.

You can visit the FITO museum after your Urban Tales adventure in Saigon, as it is not very far from the location where the game ends. It takes approximately 15mn by taxi or motorbike to get there.

More info on the museum: http://fitomuseum.com.vn/
Opening hours: 8:30am to 5pm. Entrance fees: 120,000 VND
Address is: 41 Hoàng Dư Khương Phường 12 Quận 10 HCMC

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