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Saving ancient stone – restoration of the Angkor heritage sites

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Saving ancient stone – restoration of the Angkor heritage sites | The Thaiger

by China Daily – Asia News Network

August is probably not the best time for tourists to travel to Angkor Was (Angkor Archaeological Park) in northern Cambodia – the rainy season brings particularly muggy conditions.

But for Yuan Mengxi, an assistant researcher at the Chinese Academy of Cultural Heritage, her trip last month was perhaps one of her most exciting although she had been there more than 10 times.

Restoration of Ta Keo, a temple at the site built in the 10th and 11th centuries, has been completed.

“The work has been long and tough,” Yuan said.

“But it is meaningful when you see locals, including the elderly and children, continuing to worship deities at the shrines.”

The park houses the major tourist attraction of Angkor Wat and welcomes visitors from around the world.

But when the Angkor complex was entered onto the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1992, it was also labeled as being “in danger” due to unstable foundational architecture and severe damage caused over time by warfare. Many parts of the temples there have collapsed, and refurbishing foundations posed potential hazards to workers.

As a result, the International Coordination Committee for the Safeguarding and Development of the Historic Site of Angkor, also known as ICC-Angkor, was organised in 1993 under the UNESCO framework. China is one of the members of this committee.

Yuan visited Ta Keo to inspect the restoration work, which the academy started in 2010.

“Maybe it’s our best way to celebrate the 25th anniversary of ICC-Angkor and the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Cambodia,” she said.

Construction of Ta Keo as a “state temple” began during the reign of Jayavarman V, a ruler during the Khmer Empire (802-1431). Covering 46,000 square meters, the site is generally considered one of the most magnificent temple-mountains in Angkor.

The term temple-mountain refers to the style for the construction of state temples during the Khmer Empire, which was influenced by Indian temple architecture.

“It’s important evidence showing the transition of architectural styles from the early-stage Angkor sites with typical Hindu characters from India to the later ones featuring local Buddhism,” Yuan said.

Ta Keo is also believed to be the first temple built entirely from sandstone in the Khmer Empire. However, when the academy started restoration work, experts had to sift through tens of thousands of fallen stones and largely collapsed halls, corridors and turrets.

“We had to find the right stones in the rubble and put them back,” Yuan said.

“Everything has to be concise. But restoration is far more than putting the fallen stones back. The bulk of the work is done through detailed research before the engineers start.”

Saving ancient stone - restoration of the Angkor heritage sites | News by The Thaiger

Chinese specialists help renovate Ta Keo Temple at the Angkor complex in Cambodia in July. [Photo by Mao Pengfei / Xinhua]

STORY: The Nation

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Hong Kong

Hong Kong property investors turn to SE Asia

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Hong Kong property investors turn to SE Asia | The Thaiger

From luxury Singapore apartments to Malaysian seafront condos, Hong Kong investors are shifting cash into Southeast Asian property, demoralised by increasingly violent protests as well as the China-US trade war.

Millions have taken to the streets during four months of pro-democracy demonstrations in the southern Chinese city, hammering tourism while also forcing businesses to lay off staff – and the property sector is feeling the pain. Property stocks in one of the world’s most expensive housing markets have plummeted since June, with developers being forced to offer discounts on new projects and cutting office rents.

Hong Kong businessman Peter Ng bought a condominium on the Malaysian island of Penang – which has a substantial ethnic Chinese population and is popular among Hong Kongers – after the protests erupted.

A 48 year old stock market and property investor told AFP he was worried about long-term damage to the Hong Kong economy if the unrest persists.

“The instability was a catalyst for me. Investors will always look at things like that, political stability.”

And Derek Lee, a Hong Kong businessman who owns a Penang apartment, said he knew others in the semi-autonomous city who were considering investing in south east Asian property because of the unrest.

“People are thinking about how to quicken their ideas, how to make a more stable life,” the 55 year old told AFP. Part of the allure of Malaysia is its relative affordability and prices much lower than Hong Kong.

The Malaysia site of Southeast Asian real estate platform Property Guru has seen a 35 percent increase in visits from Hong Kong, according to its CEO Hari Krishnan.

China-fuelled boom

While Hong Kong’s protests are primarily pushing for greater democratic freedoms and police accountability, the summer of rage has been fuelled by years of simmering anger towards Beijing and the local government over falling living standards and the high costs of living.

Hong Kong’s property market is one of least affordable in the world with sky-high prices fuelled, in part, by wealthy mainlanders snapping up investments in a city which has failed for years to build enough flats to meet demand.

But now mainland Chinese, who traditionally viewed property in Hong Kong as a safe investment, are opting for rival financial hub Singapore as a result of the protests and the US-China trade war, according to observers.

There has been a jump this year in sales of luxury apartments in the city-state, which like Hong Kong is known for pricey property, driven partially by mainland Chinese buyers, according to the consultancy OrangeTee & Tie.

“The protests in Hong Kong have made some of the (mainland Chinese) based there… (more concerned) about investing in Hong Kong real estate, so they carry that investment to Singapore,” said Alan Cheong, executive director of the research and consultancy team at Savills.

As well as hitting China’s economy, trade tensions may have discouraged some Chinese from investing in the West and pushed them towards Singapore, with its mostly ethnic Chinese population.

“I think they don’t want to go to the West.”

Singapore is “the closest country culturally to China other than Hong Kong and I think they feel more comfortable with that”. There are further signs the stable, tightly ruled city is benefiting from the Hong Kong turmoil. Goldman Sachs last week estimated as much as $4 billion flowed out of Hong Kong to Singapore this summer.

And analysts warned there was little hope of Hong Kong’s property market recovering soon.

“Hong Kong property share prices have corrected by about 15 to 25% since July,” said Raymond Cheng, head of Hong Kong and China property at CGS-CIMB Securities International.

Residential sales were still holding up but only when developers offered discounts, office rents were expected to fall by as much as five percent and shop rents were also badly affected, he said.

But despite the unrest, businessman Ng, who will rent his Penang property and has no plans to move there permanently for now, was still hopeful about Hong Kong’s long-term prospects.

“The problem may not be solved in the short term but it is not so serious as pessimists think. Everything is still in the government’s control.”

SOURCE: Agence France-Presse

PHOTO: newlaunches.sg

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Myanmar

Six more countries now get visa-on-arrival into Myanmar

The Thaiger & The Nation

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Six more countries now get visa-on-arrival into Myanmar | The Thaiger

Around Thailand the possibilities for foreigners travelling is growing with visa-free arrivals, waived fees, no paperwork and quick processing at Immigration ports.

Now, the Myanmar government is introducing new regulations to facilitate easier access as another step towards opening up the country to the world, and tourism.

Visitors from Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong and Macau were granted visa-free entry last year. Indian and mainland Chinese nationals were also granted visas-on-arrival into Myanmar in a move to draw more Asian visitors to the country.

In the second quarter, Myanmar saw an increase in arrivals from countries granted visas free and visas-on-arrival treatment.

May Myat Mon Win, Chairperson of Myanmar Tourism Marketing says… “We hope the new regulation will lead to more foreign travellers to Myanmar, to discover the country’s unique culture and most of all, the hospitality of its people.”

Myanmar Tourism Marketing is organising roadshows, trade shows and media familiarisation trips for journalists, TV producers and digital marketing influencers from around the world.

“Visa-free and visa on arrival entry from these Western countries would further boost growth of the Myanmar tourism industry.”

SOURCE: The Nation

Six more countries now get visa-on-arrival into Myanmar | News by The Thaiger

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Cambodia

Raffles reopens historic Grand Hotel d’Angkor in Cambodia

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Raffles reopens historic Grand Hotel d’Angkor in Cambodia | The Thaiger

Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor, one of the most iconic heritage properties in south east Asia, reopened its doors to guests this week after a six-month closure for renovations and refurbishments.

One hundred and twelve of the landmark property’s 119 rooms and suites have been fully refurbished, buttressing the intrinsic appeal of a property renowned for its classic facade, its expansive pool, a celebrated metal and timber elevator, and a guest list that runs from Charlie Chaplin to Jackie Kennedy.

“In the Grand Hotel, we’re custodians of an incredible historical asset,” said Raffles Cambodia Cluster General Manager Oliver Dudler.

“The careful restoration and refurbishments will enhance guest comfort by offering new modern amenities while staying true to our longstanding heritage and classically elegant ambience.”

Among the contemporary touches, spotlights have been added to brighten up the rooms, and power ports and USB charging stations have been fitted. The French windows, which swing open to views of either charming street scenes or the plantation-style grounds of the hotel, have been upgraded, and each room now has a writing desk and vintage rotary telephone, thanks in part to the added floor space created by removing cabinets and replacing them with built-in wardrobes.

The greatest makeover is to the bathrooms, with all-new Italian tiling and fixtures, and separate rain showers.

Raffles reopens historic Grand Hotel d’Angkor in Cambodia | News by The Thaiger

PHOTO: Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor’s newly renovated Landmark Room features vintage touches such as a rotary telephone

The main difference that returning guests will notice upon arrival is that the façade and the entire exterior of the hotel is now painted alabaster white, rather than its former cream-beige hue which is the color of Royal Khmer architecture across the country.

The hotel’s Elephant Bar, renowned for its celebrity patrons, retains the air of a bygone era. Contractors David Grace Designs have brightened up the Café d’Angkor, while refurbishing the interior design in the conservatory, famed for its afternoon teas and baby grand piano. Meanwhile, a new signature restaurant, named “1932,” stands poised and polished, ready for its official launch next month.

The biggest structural addition to the property is the complete renovation of the outdoor Apsara Terrace, where Khmer performances are enacted, into a new MICE and banquets venue to be called the Raffles Marquee. With Angkorian boundary stones of laterite, and surrounded by lush gardens, the new canvas-roofed center aims to meet the growing luxury MICE business demand.

Fronted by a labyrinth of lawns, orchards and gardens, the Grand Hotel d’Angkor was designed in 1929 by French architect Ernest Hébrard, whose vision endures in many of the longstanding French colonial buildings of Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, and Phnom Penh. Hébrard and his contemporaries set out to incorporate facets of local architecture, which was better suited to the regional climate, into their designs, which became known as the style Indochine.

The Grand Hotel opened in 1931-2 with just 63 rooms, all with private bathrooms – a revelation in its day. Its first visitors were treated to an interior combining Khmer art and furnishings with Art Deco influences such as black and white marble floors. Many of those early guests were foreign archeologists and explorers to the nearby site of Angkor Wat.

The property, along with its sister heritage hotel, Le Royal, in Phnom Penh, was taken over by Fairmont Raffles Hotels International in 1997 at the invitation of Cambodia’s King Sihanouk. The Siem Reap resort’s reopening comes two months after Raffles reopened its flagship hotel in Singapore following a two-year closure for renovations.

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