An adventure to Cambodia’s most secret & remote temple: Preah Khan

Preah Khan may very well be Cambodia’s most atmospheric temple, hidden in the thick jungle of the Preah Vihear province. Royal palace and worship place dating back to the 9th century, it recalls the Bayon and Ta Prohm temples in Angkor. If one makes the effort to reach it, one will be rewarded by majestic ruins with hardly any other visitors, far from the crowds of Siem Reap.

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The land of the musketeer

Explore the country of d’Artagnan, the most famous of the musketeers. Swap the horse for a bicycle and enjoy the ride through the bucolic Gascony in the south of France!

From the sky, it looks like a fan made of valleys from north to south, running from the Massif Central to the Pyrénées. Biking the Gascony region in the south of France is quite a challenge: Keep traveling!

A night out in Barcelona? Know where to go!

In 2016, about 30 million tourists visited Barcelona, a city of 1.6 million inhabitants. The vibrant capital of Catalonya is victim of its own success: the once atmospheric Las Ramblas have turned into a main tourist drag, La Boqueria market into a trap to be avoided, the narrow medieval streets of El Born have been invaded by a crowd armed with selfie sticks and walking on colourful sneakers, skyrocketing prices of hotel rooms and flat rentals have driven locals out of the city, even the paella has turned yellow (with cheap turmeric thrown on a hardly cooked rice replacing the expensive saffron evenly spread on a slowly caramelized rice)! It matters all the more to know where to go Keep travelling!

The ultimate guide to Thailand

From the shiny Royal Palace to the ruins of what used to be the richest city on the planet, from some of the best dive sites to world’s oldest rainforest, from fishermen’s islands to vibrant Bangkok, from rooftop bars to delicious street-food or some of the most subtle gastronomy, from painful Thai boxing trainings to even more painful Thai massages, from meditating with Buddhist monks in peaceful temples to white water rafting, there is a reason why Thailand is regularly casted for Hollywood blockbusters!

Take a visual tour!

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An immersion among one of world’s largest fleet, Toulon, French Riviera

Dust rises up along the quays of the military harbour of Toulon in the south of France as carriages filled with food and jars of wine pass by. The artillery is spread out on the ground and among the iron cannon balls dozens of people are inspecting the heavy canons which are piled up and ready to be loaded onto the fleet of King Louis XV. I am visiting the Musée national de la Marine, or the Naval Museum of Toulon where a mural of Joseph Vernet represents a scene of the Toulon harbour in 1755. Keep traveling!

The ultimate guide to Laos

Set back by the C.I.A. secret war, Laos has been recovering and is asking to be discovered by you. A real ethnic patchwork, the country is mostly mountainous and irrigated by many rivers fit for traveling. Meet its welcoming tribes, learn the local handicrafts, taste the underrated local gastronomy, motorbike through its stunning and off-the-beaten path landscapes, float down rivers, and fly above tree tops in one of world’s best ecotourism project!

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Conquering Preah Vihear, Cambodia’s pride

“You are going to Preah Vihear?!” All by yourselves? The temple bordering neighbouring Thailand, all the way up in the Dângrêk Mountains?? Wow!… Do you know the road?” With a grin on our faces and small backpacks ready, we nod in reply to the young friendly Cambodian lady who looks slightly concerned on the small parking lot of our hotel in Siem Reap. She takes another look at us and studies the 120cc scooter we have just rented. With a frown she adds: “Whatever you do once you arrive at its foot, do not drive your scooter up there by yourselves; it is way too steep there!! Be safe and enjoy!”
Indeed, exploring Preah Vihear is a true challenge: it is remote, not connected to any form of efficient public transport, it is hardly visited by tourists nor locals. Due to military tensions between the Cambodian and Thai armies in 2008 who both claimed its grounds, people are still cautious as whether or not to roam these splendid temple grounds. Still, Preah Vihear is settled in the most dramatic setting of all temples built by the powerful Khmers, on top of a majestic cliff dominating the plains of Northern Cambodia by more than 500 metres. All the more reasons for us to explore the ancient stairways, courtyards and sanctuaries organised along an 800-metre long axis defining the off the beaten path temple complex. Keep traveling!

Cambodia’s floating villages

The narrow straight road reminds me of one of the Dutch roads being laid out on a narrow dyke not far from where I was born. It prevents the water from flowing from one field to the next. Just the hordes of cyclists are missing. Around me, the landscape is as flat as the one I grew up in, and a smile appears on my face when I observe a familiar bird, the Common Snipe (gallinago gallinago) wading through the muddy shallows of water parallel to the road, searching for food. This bird used to be printed on the former Dutch notes of 100 Guilders, a wader I haven’t seen in a while. It is not the only one searching for food. Bare chested, tanned fishermen make their way through the murky waters, ready to throw their nets while a kingfisher strikes from the air. The road is rebuilt every year when the water of the massive Tonlé Sap Lake resides several kilometres in the dry season. It ends in a dusty parking lot bordering the stream that is connected to the lake. We are about ten thousand kilometres away from the Netherlands when the captain of a characteristic wooden boat welcomes us on board to explore his floating village, Kampong Phluk, in the heart of Cambodia. Keep traveling

Uncovering a time capsule at the tenement museum, NYC

While Henry Clay Frick and John Pierpont Morgan were amassing their art collections with the millions they made during the industrial revolution and setting the basis for the USA, a different story was taking place in the low income areas of New York City, like the Lower East Side where newcomers to the USA flocked by hundreds and also shaped the country.

97 Orchard Street, the Lower East Side of Manhattan, 1988

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Swinging by the Bolaven Plateau, Laos

Next to travelling by river to explore the lesser trodden backdrops of the more remote regions of Laos, venturing out on a motorbike is an excellent way to discover the rural countryside. Besides the scenic multi-day motorbike loop through surreal landscapes leading to the Kong Lor cave in Central Laos, the cooler Bolaven Plateau in the south of the country can be explored similarly. Hop on!

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Way more than a hologram!

The flamboyant doctor, dressed in his white laboratory coat, spins a transparent empty cylinder: “look,” he says mysteriously. Curious, we focus on the inside of the cylinder… A 3D female figure appears and starts dancing, changing colours from red to a shades of green, yellow and orange. When the rotation stops, the psychedelic dancer disappears. Puzzled, I look at Doctor Laser: “this is a 21st century flip book!” he laughs. “More than 2000 holograms are printed on the transparent film stuck on the cylinder, and rotating it is like flipping the pages. He asks us to follow him into his secret laboratory, tucked down underneath the streets of Midtown Manhattan to uncover the oldest holographic studio in the world. Keep travelling

The medieval splendour of Carcassonne, France

We are standing a few kilometres south of the fortified city of Carcassonne, with the vineyards rolling down from our feet to the base of the majestic ramparts, and the Black Mountain in the background. In Southern France, Carcassonne is a marvel of the Middle-Ages: an entire city completely fortified with its narrow cobblestoned medieval streets, its imposing castle, and gothic basilica. Carcassonne remains the most complete example of French medieval military architecture, and it took about 25 centuries to shape Carcassonne as it is today…

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Canal du midi unlocked: the locks of Fonseranes, Béziers (2/5)

Birthplace of Pierre-Paul Riquet, the man who linked the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea in the 17th century by carrying out the largest civil engineering project of the time, the Canal du Midi, Béziers is also where the masterpiece of Riquet can be visited: the 9 locks of Fonseranes.

Having left Sète some 50 kilometres prior, we leave the shade of the centennial plane trees along the Canal du Midi behind to bike over the surreal Pont-Canal de l’Orb. This 1857 aqueduct, both bridge and canal, was built so that boats with their precious wheat cargo would avoid being tumbled over in a violent Keep travelling

The Frick Collection, NYC

The Frick collection is home to one of the finest collections of European paintings in the United States, showcased in a mansion on Central Park in a domestic interior.

Entering the private collection of Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919) is stepping into an elegant mansion highlighting the wealth and taste of the coke tycoon. Keep travelling!

Reviving Cambodia’s pride: Khmer golden silk

Born and raised in Paris, I am familiar with the haute couture stores of Avenue Montaigne or Rue Saint Honoré where the highest end luxury shops in the world can be found. The finest silk pieces I have ever seen are sliding through my fingers and I feel their soft and delicate textures. The shiny fabrics reflect the light delicately. The relief of the silk gives it an unexpected depth. However, I am not in the upscale heart of Paris, I am in rural Cambodia a stone’s throw from the temples of Angkor where this rare Khmer silk was made just for the king: “It took more than 10 years of research, and trial and error to revive the century-old forgotten techniques of silk weaving of the Khmers!” says Sophea Peach, the founder of Golden Silk, and it all started with the devata‘s sculpture of Angkor… Let me show you…” Keep travelling

The Morgan Library: a must-see jewel of NYC

The Morgan library is not on every tourist trail in New York City, and is a masterpiece housing a tremendous collection mostly from the Middle-Ages and Renaissance gathered by Pierpont Morgan, a man who shaped the U.S.A.

Being born and raised in Europe, we are quite familiar with the Middle Ages and the Renaissance eras. Italy and its treasures like Florence, the medieval wonders of France, the UK or Prague, etc. are sites we have been lucky to visit. Heading to New York City, our first reflex is not to head to the repositories of the old world, but to discover its urban jungle and Keep reading

Angkor off the beaten path & on the single track!

The majestic temples of Angkor are victim of their own success: with 4 million visitors a year mostly during the dry season focusing mainly on three temples, the atmosphere can be lost. Still, it is possible to experience the Angkor temple complex off the beaten path for a fantastic and authentic discovery, unravelling the splendour of the great Khmer civilisation.

I skilfully steer my mountain bike along a few pointy rocks on a narrow single track through the jungle of Cambodia. In front of me appears a desolated ruin, half swallowed by tree roots of strangler fig trees. Birds sing, butterflies flutter around reflecting the strong sun rays peeping through the dense vegetation on their brightly-coloured wings, and a cat yawns while stretching its front paws on the step of the almost-millennium old Khmer temple of Preah Khan in the temple complex of Angkor.

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From refugee kid to Cirque du Soleil star

Battambang was a flourishing city before the horrific Khmer Rouge, led by Pol Pot, dramatically jeopardized the lives of its inhabitants. Many of them ended up slaughtered in the killing fields or neighbouring killing caves for no reason, whilst others were luckier and made it to close-by Thailand. Most of them spent years in refugee camps under harsh conditions. Kids grew up traumatised with hardly any access to proper education. In 1986, Véronique Decrop, a French art teacher, volunteered at the Site Two Refugee Camp on the Thai-Cambodian border. She used drawings as a therapy to help traumatised children express themselves. That was the spark to what will become Phare Ponleu Selpak (Cambodian for the brightness of the arts), a non-profit organization improving the lives of Cambodians through arts and education, its highlight being one of the best circus schools in the world. Keep reading

Top 3 running routes of Paris by a local!

 

Discovering Paris running is a fantastic way to enjoy some of the major landmarks and take the pace of the city. It is better though to have a few routes in mind before venturing out as the traffic can be hectic and its nice cobble stone streets that are great to discover on foot can be a runner’s ankle nightmare. These top running routes tend to avoid these hazards and will also take you to some of the nicest parks of Paris. Keep running!

Meet the Akha tribes of Northern Laos

A young woman with a peculiar headdress enters the smoky dark room. She brings in a big tray covered with breakfast dishes: fried morning glory, fried noodles, a bamboo woven basket filled with steamy sticky rice, some chicken, and the homebrewed whiskey! A fire burns next to me in a small clay pot on the dirt floor, and despite the smoke that stings my eyes, I stay close to the welcomed heat source. Reluctantly, I move my little stool closer to the very low table on which the tray is set, joining our guide Sivangxai, the Ban Peryenxangkao village chief and his nephews. Here, in the ethnically diverse Northern Laos, Akha tribes live according to their ancient traditions far from modern civilisation. Keep reading

Rubber tapping in Thailand

Tall thin trees with only very few leafs are planted in perfectly aligned endless rows that cover hundreds of hectares of Thai soil. They provide a little bit of shade during the hot summer months, give off a slightly offending smell and supply their owners and their farmers with an income. We are talking rubber trees and are about to discover the ins and outs of rubber making.

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How a legend saved thousands of lives

“There is a big hole in the ocean where all the fish sleep. When these millions of fish wake up every day, they are hungry and come out of the hole to eat. As they empty this hole, the sea water gets into the hole instead and the sea level lowers: this is low tide. After eating, they get back into the hole to rest, squeezing the sea water out, and raising the ocean level as a consequence: this is high tide.” Lena passionately tells us the story the way she learnt it from the Moken people. These sea nomads of the Adaman Sea have been passing this legend on for generations, saving thousands of lives. Keep reading

An off-track motorbiking adventure to Beng Mealea, Cambodia

I decide to stop my motorbike in front of the narrow improvised bridge. I feel relieved and worried at the same time. Relieved, as the previous river crossing did not offer the luxury of a bridge. I had to launch my semi-automatic 125 cc Honda Dream motorbike into the murky stream and use all of my skills to extract it from the water in which it was immerged wheel-deep. Worried, as this wooden bridge is no more than 50-centimetre wide, with no rails to prevent a potential fall into the water, and for good measure a missing plank in the centre leaving a gap just the right size to sink the front wheel in.

I am looking at my partner with envy as she has already crossed. When she turns her head, I capture her smile and instantly come up with a genius plan Keep reading

Traditional crafts of Cambodia (5/7): fish paste, Battambang

“Smell like the hell, eat like the heaven”, Mr. Ola tells us with a mesmerizing smile while explaining his mother’s signature recipe for the traditional prahok, a Cambodian fish paste dish. I uncomfortably move from one leg to the other trying to carefully listen to his story but holding my breath at the same time, avoiding the offending foul smell. We are about to discover how the unmissable and key ingredient for many Asian dishes is made on the fish paste market of Battambang, Cambodia. Keep reading

Lake safari & jungle trekking in world’s oldest rainforest, Khao Sok, Thailand

Lime stone karst formations are gradually revealing themselves as the morning mist on the Cheow Lan Lake slowly rises. The sun bathes the rocks in warm colours and highlights the jungle growing on their steep flanks. I slowly crawl out of my bed to take a morning swim in the surprisingly warm lake. While climbing back up to the pontoon of my floating bungalow, I notice a familiar rising and falling of shrills that gives me goose bumps: a family of gibbons starts to sing, Keep reading

Traditional crafts of Cambodia (3/7): Rice noodles, Battambang

Rice noodles are a favourite in many Asian countries. A pho for breakfast or rice noodles as a base for lunch or dinner are common. To serve this high demand, most noodles are produced in factories. However, it is still possible to buy them fresh and hand-made. In Battambang, a few families living in the rice noodle district have been passing on this know-how for many generations.

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Horseback swimming Otres Beach, Cambodia

Sihanoukville is the hub to reach tropical Cambodian islands such as Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem, famous for their warm waters and laid-back atmosphere. Sihanoukville itself lacks charm, but a few kilometres south of the centre, the beautiful beach of Otres makes up for it, and is easily accessible by tuk-tuk. Being quite touristy, horseback riding it is an off the beaten path way of exploring the countryside and the beach, leaving the crowds behind. Keep reading