Raffles Magazine Issue 5

It was a trip we made in July 2016. We were gifted with this beautiful opportunity by [the then] Raffles Hotels & Resorts to take an all-expenses paid family vacation to Cambodia, residing in the luxurious Raffles Hotel Le Royal. In return, I was to write a story to be published in Raffles Magazine Issue 5. It would have been my very first published piece on international print and I did not want to give this big break a miss! It was a golden opportunity; a golden ticket to the chocolate factory. Our chocolate factory was the hotel's Presidential Suite.

Travel posts are one of the most taxing ones to write. We are the authors; we don't stop thinking about paragraphs when we jet-ski in the open waters. We are self-taught photographers; because how else can we entice you to make a trip? We update you constantly on social media; even though we really should sleep while the kids are sleeping. We are still a parent; we really do not stop bathing, feeding and playing with the children. We hope what we put together will benefit our readers [and their friends and their families]. So Thank You for those comments, sharesfollowslikes and loves!

Why of course the husband wanted me to take this up. His reasons:

1. I do not have to pay a single cent! Our air tickets, accommodation, food and visits to the local attractions will be covered by the hotel!

2. All you have to do is Write! You do not have to stress over photographs anymore because they have hired a photographer to follow us on the trip right?

3. Oh gosh mommy! It is a free trip with an opportunity to have your first published piece on a luxury magazine! I'll write it if you don't want to.

*hahah* Of course I wanted to write! I'd rather Words By: Liang May on the magazine than Words By: Meyer Yang. Then again, no matter how many times I replied emails with my signature as Liang May, it had to come out May Liang on print. Doesn't matter what magazine the family is being featured: Harper's Bazaar, Singapore Women's Weekly or Young Parents, they will always have me as May Liang. It's okay. I'm not too harped up on it. #justsaying #reallyjustsaying #itisokay

I knew the issue will be published in October 2016. With it being a July trip, we do have some time before they need to go to the printers. I had expected to submit my copy in August, a month after the trip. Frankly speaking, all holidays end up with exhausted parents. Lots and lots of fun we cannot deny that! But lots and lots of rest is needed too. 

So upon returning, I was flabbergasted to receive an email from the Raffles Magazine's Editor for a submission in five days! Woah! This cannot be real! I asked for an extension of course! erm... to seven days. It was a rather stressful week because besides the deadline, I do need to tweak my usual blogging voice to fit the Raffles style. It is after all a magazine reaching out to an international audience. Deadline and Voice aside, I was given an unbelievably short story [1,200 words] to fulfil. If you are a writer, you will agree that it takes a lot of skill and probably magic to compress a five day trip into a 1,200 story. 

I did as I was told and submitted a sparingly-written story of what might have been an adventure if there was no limit to the article. We did two rounds of edits after and I was really happy that they decided to give me more coverage so that I can expand more about the food we ate, the stay in the hotel, the places we went and most importantly, our experience! I presented the final copy of 2,000 words, resulting in seven pages of coverage together with pictures by Sam Jam

We felt like a celebrity with Sam following us around! He was there shooting us while we went temple visiting. He was there shooting us as we stroked the trunk of an elephant. He was there, capturing moments of us as a family! It was like a dream come true - having someone to document the holiday rather than myself! Yet, I still couldn't' resist taking 600 pictures while we were there *woops*

When I received the physical copy of the magazine last Thursday, I was beaming with pride. Who wouldn't?

We touched down on Khmer soil after eight transformative years. I vividly recall our visit to Pol Pot’s secret prison which left a disturbing shadow of the past in my mind. It makes a depressing city for a holiday where tourists learn about its brutish past. Today, history never changed but Cambodia is flourishing as a country and never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that Phnom Penh would make a beautiful destination for family travels. 

Our family was greeted by Hakley, senior butler of Raffles Le Royal, at the airport on a humid midsummer afternoon. He took our baggages and whisked us swiftly to our luxurious full-size MPV. Hakley saw to our needs so well that we were quickly refreshed from the sluggishness of our flight with just one revitalizing cold towel. I was especially warmed by the thoughtfulness of the Raffles  hospitality when I saw a child seat fixated in the vehicle for my two-year-old to own it for the ride.

We received an enthusiastic red carpet welcome at Raffles Le Royal. Although it was almost a decade ago since our last return, we were greeted by many “Welcome Back”s! I would not describe the hotel as majestic but it is a charmer in itself. She stands gloriously in the city centre with a grand gravel driveaway. Now if only horse-carriages are still in existance. 

As we entered the lobby, the stillness of the room engulfed me. There was a kind of tranquility that was indescribable. For a moment, my children’s squeals were muffled and I took in all of its calmness, enjoying our refreshing lemongrass drink while our butler got us checked in. The silky soft white linen drapes hanging from the ceiling gave the lobby a light and breezy persona. A beautiful Khmer instrument sat in the corner and I imagined a musician playing it in the evening to wind the hectic day down.

As our shoes clip-clopped on its black and white checkered tiles on the upper-most floor of the heritage building, we wondered which royalty’s footsteps were we shadowing. Hakley roomed us into Le Royal Suite and we were blown away by its unrivalled grandeur and space. Restored to its 1929 former glory, we were greeted by polished wooden floors, luxurious drapes and a mix of modern and traditional furniture. I remember my son and husband chiming in unison, “I could stay here forever mommy!” when we entered the suite. The children ran in and out of each room, familiarising themselves with their bedroom, bathrooms and pantry. Oh and what a glorious view of the hotel’s driveway as we stood admiring the scene from our elegant balcony. The entire suite was larger than our home in Singapore! My son got lost once and we were chuckling when we saw him scrambling, trying to find his bearings. 

The children are still at an age where they feel most comfortable rooming in with us. We rested the night in one bedroom that housed two double beds and a baby cot. Even so, our bedroom had ample space for the children to run around about amidst a sofa seating and study table. The natural daylight that flowed instinctively into the room exuded a majestic aura which made us felt like royalties. 

As much as a lushly-decorated room can sweep you off your feet in an instant, nothing beats personalised notes and entrancing service every single day. On arrival, the children were greeted by a pair of Khmer Silk Elephants with a hand-drawn card for each of them. The words on the flipside reached out to us more than all the antiques put together in this elegant suite.

We had stayed in many luxury hotels before and turndowns are a norm. Yet here at Le Royal, they overhwelmed us with unconventional turndown gifts! One evening, we received raincoats for the whole family with a weather forecast card depicting tomorrow’s stormy weather. On another evening, the children received a pair of swimming floats for a morning dip because the weatherman forecasted tomorrow to be spendid day!

We spent a considerable amount of time at the swimming pool. Every other day in fact! There are two large pools centred in the heart of the hotel - a family pool and an exercise pool. Frangipani trees lined the perimeters and worked as beautiful shades to the loungers by the pool. Whenever we announced that it was time for some water play fun, the children would shriek in excitement and ensured we brought their new swim toys [gifts from the hotel] along to the pool. The loudest squeals must be from us at the family pool. While I sat back to watch daddy and his brood have a splashing good time, I indulged in fresh fruit skewers. They were so good that the chlidren kept running back to me for more!

With Raffles Le Royal stretegically located in the heart of Phnom Penh, we were able to reach many family-favourite spots within minutes. Well of course we left out the Killing Fields and Genocide Museum from our itinerary because they are deemed unsuitable for Ewan and Faye. So what is left to visit? Isn’t Phnom Penh all about the Khmer Rogue, anguish and cruelty? 

No it is not. 

We found passion and respect for the life in the wild from a team of dedicated conservation professionals. At Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Reserve, not only do they protect wildlife, they help poor communities develop alternate livelihoods as well. We were treated to an exclusive behind the scenes tour of the Wildlife Reserve and had first-hand encounters with animals that were rescued from illegal wildlife trade. 

I had visited most of the Indochina region and never once left without meeting an elephant. Regretfully, we were one of many thousands who supported elephant tourism by paying for a ride but gladly announce that we do not anymore today. Truth is, wild elephants need to be tamed before they can be ridden and to accomplish that, the training can be brutal. Think starvation, sleep deprivition and torture. We have to do our part to put elephant tourism out of business. 

The first animal we met was Lucky the elephant at the Wildlife Reserve. She was rescued and raised in the centre, always in contact with humans. I had never seen such a bubbly elephant before and she reminded me of a happy puppy bouncing off the track just to meet us. We stroked her trunk, fed her bananas and her eyes returned a loving smile which I had never seen in any elephant in the past. If you haven’t noticed, show elephants are lethargic and wearisome. There were no bright sparks in their eyes like I had seen in Lucky. Love and care bring so much out of an animal. We also observed how Chhouk’s, another rescued elephant, prosthetic foot was being cared for and the keepers trained him with gentle reward-based positive reinforcement. With every command that Chhouk reciprocated, he was praised with a resounding, “Good Boy!”

We got up close with endagered animals like baby macaque monkeys, leopards, gibbons and tigers as well. What an eye-opening experience for the children to learn about the importance of wildlife and the need to respect their space. 

I am always equipped with a camera at all times because I believe in capturing precious moments of my children as they interact with the world. It is part of the job scope I had set out for myself on top of core motherly chores. The best time to seize those invaluable smiles and squeals from their faces is when they are at play. We found a public playground near the hotel where we shared a notable hour bonding together as a family. The Cambodians looked upon us with intrigue because tourists do not usually thread on local grounds. Yet, I am convinced that a cutural immersion is important to understand the country and their people better. To achieve that, we should be localised. 

Just across the street from the playground stood Wat Phnom, a Buddhist temple, which is the tallest religious structure in Phnom Penh. We were driven over by a Tuk Tuk because the traffic conditions were too messy and congested for us to cross over safely. Legend says that a woman name, Penh, discovered four Buddha statues by the waters of the Mekong and Wat Phnom was built in 1373 to house these Buddhas. A grand eastern staircase brought us up to the temple, the only hill in the city, and is gaurded by snakes and lions. The clouds were looming and we had to leave the temple shortly after praying for our families. 

While the children took a late morning siesta on day 3, the hotel set up an in-room dining lunch treat for mum and dad in the next room. We heard no footsteps nor clanging of utensils as they worked their magic on the table. Hakley’s efforts to keep noise level at minimum lest Ewan and Faye got awoken were commendable. We left the Chef to choose some local specialties for our lunch menu and were not disappointed in the least. We savoured Khmer delights over a bottle of Mumm in the privacy of our suite and their thoughtful gestures to create a memorable couple time for my husband and I was a huge succss. Oh and we had our children to thank as well. They woke only after we had our fill! Perfect timing.  

After their restful nap and very happy bellies, we made our way to Kids City. It is an indoor edutainment centre which made a clever entrance into thriving Cambodia recently. We found ourselves as happy as larks in the 11 story building covered with 11 stories of fun! We could spend hours on end battling in a laser tag war, discovering about science and how the universe works, race on tracks with a Go-Kart or bring out the inner Tarzen in us in the indoor rock climbing facility. We asked the children to rank their favourites by floor and Ewan said he had the best fun with Bumper Cars and Go-Kart while Faye had the time of her life at the Toddler’s Playground. 

We kept the children really busy the whole day and it was part of the agenda to put them down for bed earlier than usual because Raffles Le Royal is hosting its very first Midnight Brunch at Elephant Bar! We look forward to every opportunity avaiable to spend some quality time as husband and wife. With babysitters available in-house, we can head “out” to treat our tastes buds to a refined selection of dainty dishes prepared a-la-minute before our eyes. Oh and the night goes on with unlimited pouring of G.H. Mumm Cordon Rouge Brut Champagne, signature wines and cocktails. If we hadn’t had enough, we could even travel in style wiht a complimentary Audi limousine transfer to VITO Club who they had a collaboration with for this Midnight Brunch party. We did not dare venture too far in case the children did wake. Nevertheless, we had an enjoyable night. The Elephant Bar kept its murals and architecture as it was when we first visited. However, the new upholstries and furniture gave it a lot more life and modernised it to fit into this 21st century era. With a collection of over 30 different gins, the bar has one of the largest slection of gin in Asia!

We woke to a chirpy Sunday morning in Phnom Penh. Our last day. The children begged for one last dip in the pool before we bade farewell. While the brood, husband included, spent their time away from the suite, I took the opportunity to write personalised letters to every staff who made an impact in our stay. Heartfelt appreciations sealed with gratitude are rather be received than great riches. As I wrote, I was interrupted by a ring of the bell. Hakley stood before me, with that warm smile he carries with him thorughout our stay. He politely offered to pack our suitcases and prepared our bill in anticipation of our departure. Five days were over in a blink of an eye. If we could, I would stay a week. Truth be told, we could not bear to leave the Raffles family. 

I only managed to edit my pictures and wrote about Phnom Penh for Kids two months after my submission of the Raffles article. The reason being quite simple: I was #CambodianOverdosed. I went through our days in detail [every day] while writing for the commissioned piece and wanted only to tuck the holiday away somewhere without thinking any more about it.

Glad I re-visited because there are so many beautiful pictures in my camera to share.

May's Suggested Itinerary for Phnom Penh

Our little Travel companions 
July 2016 - Ewan at 4 years old and Faye at 2 years old 
Click on our Travel tab to read all about our travel tips and tricks
including our stay at Raffles Hotel Le Royal, coming soon.

A stay at home mum, blogging to widen her social life. 
We want to echo the sound of love through our lives to inspire other mothers alike.


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