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Cambodia gets familiar with West Java

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Sunda youths perform the Peacock Dance, or Tari Merak, from their native land of West Java in Indonesia. SUPPLIED

Cambodia gets familiar with West Java

At the Indonesian embassy in Phnom Penh recently, five women of the Sunda ethnicity – native to West Java – went on stage wearing peacock costumes with crests of large, stiff and spatula-like iridescent tail feathers. They smiled as they moved together synchronously performing a classical Sundanese dance imitating the movements of the birds their costumes evoked.

Their dance originated in their homeland of Indonesia’s West Java where it is known as the peacock dance or Tari Merak and it is traditionally performed to welcome honoured guests on special occasions. This time the occasion was the embassy of the Republic of Indonesia’s event Hybrid Famtrip: Exploring the Land of Sunda on November 27.

The famtrip or familiarisation trip is a term from the tourism, travel and hospitality industries. They are trips that are organised by entities like tour operators, airlines, hotel chains – or the tourism board or government of a given destination – in order for travel agents, travel writers, journalists and others to become familiarised with a given location so that they in turn will be able to recommend it to their clients, readers and so forth.

The pandemic has brought about the phenomenon of the “hybrid” famtrip, which brings the destination to other places through cultural events and takes place in part as a virtual tour.

“This is actually our first hybrid famtrip. It is the Indonesian embassy’s effort to explore potential cooperation between tourism associations, operators and travel agents of Indonesia and Cambodia. It is also to re-introduce and invite Cambodians to experience a virtual tour of West Java and create a sense of Sundanese atmosphere through dance and music performance, cuisine, dress, cultures and people to people contact.

“There was also a virtual trip to the Asia-Africa Museum which contains a ‘Sihanouk Corner’ and we engaged visitors in some fun games and interactive quizzes,” Indonesian ambassador to Cambodia Sudirman Haseng tells The Post.

The hybrid famtrip was conducted live from the Indonesian Embassy in Phnom Penh in part and it was attended by representatives from government ministries, tour operators, travel agents, airline executives and travel influencers – all of whom were given a virtual tour of West Java as well.

At the embassy there were stations showcasing various items from Indonesia with opportunities to try on traditional Indonesian clothes and try out various West Javan foods and drinks or purchase “souvenirs” from West Java to take home.

The attendees all happily roamed the embassy grounds chatting together and engaging in cultural exchanges while some Cambodians had their pictures taken with Indonesians wearing traditional costumes and dress.

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Cambodian influencers and other guests sample Indonesian food and drink. SUPPLIED

The ambassador says the event was focused on West Java because their government would like to showcase the potential of the destination as a place that can readily accommodate almost all types of travellers from adrenalin junkies and avid adventurers to shop till-you-drop bargain hunters to romantic honeymooners or business people, students or families.

“There are more than 400 tourist attractions in West Java, both natural and man-made. You can find beaches, mountains, forests, lakes, waterfalls and also cultural and historical tourism. Moreover, West Java has a special place in the history of Cambodia.

“In 1955, Prince Norodom Sihanouk – who was by then also prime minister – led the Cambodian delegates in attendance at the Asia-Africa Conference or Bandung Conference there. And then in 1988, West Java’s Bogor Palace was the location for the First Jakarta Informal Meeting, which led to the Comprehensive Cambodian Peace Agreements,” the ambassador explains.

The Asia-Africa museum’s Sihanouk Corner is an area dedicated to the late King Father. It is dominated by a huge print of a photo of Prince Sihanouk meeting with Indonesia’s Prime Minister Ali Sastroamidjojo, while underneath that is the original sofa they are seated on in the picture. Nearby are other related items like a translation of the Ten Bandung Principles into the Khmer language.

Beyond West Java, the ambassador says there are thousands of fascinating destinations in Indonesia because the country consists of 17,504 islands with 1,340 ethnic groups. This means that everywhere tourists go in Indonesia they will find different experiences, cultures, landscapes, history, heritage and charms.

“Bali is our most famous holiday destination. However, we also have what we are calling the ‘New Balis’. They are five super-priority destinations that you should visit as a tourist to Indonesia: Toba Lake in North Sumatra, Borobudur in Central Java, Labuan Bajo in East Nusa Tenggara, Mandalika in West Nusa Tenggara and Likupang in North Sulawesi,” he says.

Borobudur is widely known as the largest Buddhist temple in the world. The temple comprises a wide structure topped by three engraved circular platforms with more than 2000 carved relief panels and 504 Buddha statues.

Mandalika on Lombok Island is a wide stretch of beautiful white sandy beach facing the crystal clear Indian Ocean and while the beaches are the main attraction there, Mandalika also just held the World Superbike championship on November 19-21, 2021, and it will hold a second series of MotoGP races in March, 2022.

Labuan Bajo is the home of the fierce Komodo dragons, the heaviest lizards on Earth and some of the biggest. The National Park that is home to the dragons is also home to other fascinating wildlife both on land and underwater.

Of course, the Covid-19 pandemic which began at the end of 2019 and continues even now has greatly decreased the number of Cambodian visitors to Indonesia. Before the pandemic, Sudirman says they held the familiarisation trip annually as a part of their programme introducing foreign visitors to different tourist destinations in Indonesia.

The trips were usually done in cooperation with the Cambodian Ministry of Tourism and Ministry of Creative Economy in Indonesia along with some local governments and they would invite journalists, travel operators and other influencers to see Indonesia.

Now, living under the “new normal” and hosting the event virtually was quite challenging to prepare, Sudirman says.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Musicians perform with traditional instruments for the Indonesian embassy’s guests as part of its hybrid virtual famtrip on November 27. SUPPLIED

“For instance, we had to create real interactions with the visitors so that they would feel, hear, taste, smell and experience some of the real West Java. Some ingredients for West Javan food had to be imported since they weren’t available in Cambodia. We decided to use the history and relations between the two countries as our pivot point.

“To create interactive engagement with the attendees we had musicians use traditional Indonesian musical instruments like the angklung to play a Cambodian folk-song called Arabpiya. It was really appreciated by the audience,” says Sudirman.

Apart from the hybrid famtrip, he says they also hope that they can use the momentum of Cambodia as ASEAN chair in 2022 and Indonesia’s chairing of the ASEAN Tourism Forum next year to promote tourism between both countries.

Moreover, they will try to resume direct flights between Phnom Penh and Jakarta as soon as possible after having to halt them because of Covid-19 earlier in the pandemic.

“We do hope that next year Cambodia will resume its annual Cambodia Travel Mart, physically, so that we will be able to participate and have travel operators buy travel packages to Indonesia so that more Cambodian tourists can travel and experience different adventures and create long lasting memories in Indonesia,” he says.

He says they will also do their best to implement a memorandum of understanding between PT Taman Wisata Candi – which manages the Borobudur temple – and the Apsara National Authority, which manages Angkor Wat, as a vehicle to promote tourism between the two countries.

For instance, they could create a package for tourists visiting Angkor Wat temple to also visit Borobudur by scheduling direct flights between Siem Reap and Yogyakarta to link those two world heritage sites. Once in Yogyakarta, visitors can also visit the Prambanan and Ratu Boko temples which have similar structures to some of the temples in Cambodia.

“Our two countries share many similarities in various fields. We have the twin world heritage sites. We share the Panji’s story. We share some common words in our languages and similar views as member of ASEAN. We’ve enjoyed thriving relations for decades and we will continue to in the decades to come,” says the ambassador.

The ambassador noted that various Indonesian products from pharmaceuticals to biscuits and instant noodles are available for sale in Cambodia and that Indonesia was also continuing to look for opportunities to encourage their state owned enterprises as well as other major private Indonesian companies to invest in Cambodia.

“The thriving relations between our peoples can be seen through the continuous support by Indonesia for improving Cambodia’s human resources. We believe that creating a better understanding of Indonesia in Cambodia must be done through our people and particularly the youths who will become the future leaders of Cambodia, some of whom many have studied in Indonesia on scholarships.

“But culture is the easiest and most fun way to understand each other’s countries. A good understanding of each other’s cultures will open the doors for further cooperation in other fields like politics or economics and trade,” Sudirman says.

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