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Posts Tagged ‘Cambodia’

New Photo Albums

Friday, January 11th, 2013

These have just been uploaded:

London (2 visits, one when I arrived in Europe and the other just before leaving for India)

Paris, where I celebrated my 40th birthday

Antwerp, Belgium, famous for diamonds and seafood

Amsterdam, I love this beautiful city, its canals, and its artsy  funkiness

Linhemm/Copenhagen, visit with my lifelong friend and her family, Michelle, Morton and Luna

Sihanoukville, Cambodia, a beach town

 

 

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Posted in Food, history, nature, travel | 3 Comments »

Hey, Lady…Need Tuk-Tuk?

Friday, October 19th, 2012

“Hey, Lady…Need Tuk-Tuk?”  These five words are ubiquitous with my stay in Cambodia, and while I was there, I felt like if I heard them one more time I might smack someone, but everyone needs to make a living, so I took it all with a grain of salt, would say “no thanks, not today,” and continue on my way.  But the tuk-tuk is the primary tourist vehicle in Cambodia, and it’s funny how they vary bit-by-bit from country to country.  In India they were a little smaller, painted black-red-and yellow, and were personally decorated with photos, pictures of the area or of the driver’s interests, had Ganesh or Shiva figurines on the dash, sometimes massive sound systems and tassels hanging from the windshield.  In Cambodia they were larger, more open-aired, colorful, but not as decked out and decorative as in India, and they served as advertising billboards.   In Vietnam, it’s all about the motorbike.  I don’t even recall seeing a tuk-tuk there.  The moto driver will throw you and your 20 kilo (that’s 44 pounds) pack on his bike without even thinking about it.   But the phrase starting with “Hey Lady” will remain in my mind forever.

From the Angkor Temples, I headed to Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital city.  I was planning to take in some of the Khmer Rouge history, visit the memorial sites of S21 and the Killing Fields, until I had the worst night I have had on my entire trip so far.  I’d met a brother and sister traveling together from Holland on the bus.  We decided to have dinner and some drinks together.  When we arrived back to the hostel it was late, the area was quiet, it was time for bed.  Well, time for bed for the humans, but not for the bed bugs.  Yes, disgusting nasty horrible bed bugs.  I had never experienced anything like them before, and it was miserable.  As soon as the lights went out, they came out.  I noticed that I was being bitten right away, flipped the lights on, and there were lots of them.  The bed was infested.  I immediately freaked out, ran out to the manager, and upon seeing them, even he said “oh my god.”  He apologized profusely, but then tried to blame the infestation on a woman who had been there the night before, saying she had just come from Laos.  While that bit may have been true, I am no fool, and that infestation did not happen overnight.  Being that it was past 1:00am, I was promptly moved into the dorm, and told they would have a bed for me at their other location the next day, for $5 more a night.  Well, needless to say, I didn’t have a great night’s sleep, and being that I was totally grossed out and unimpressed with the customer service, I left at 7:30am for a hotel I’d found on Booking.com that had received very high cleanliness ratings.  Granted, it was a bit more expensive, but still, it was better.  Even so, I decided that the next day I’d be leaving for the coast.  I knew Dore & I would be coming back through Phnom Penh together, and I’d wait to do the tourist thing then.

So, after getting some sleep, I just wandered around PP, not a bad city, and decided to check out a location for our return.  This hostel had very high ratings on all the websites, and literally, The Mad Monkey saved my life on that very down day.  I wandered in just as the rain began to fall, it is still monsoon season, and it poured for hours on end.  The reception/restaurant area was loungey, comfortable, and inviting.  The staff was great, all Cambodian, but English owned, so well trained for the industry.  The music was relaxing, but modern.  The restaurant menu and the food, varied and yummy.  And the rooms were clean, so yes, that is where D&I stayed upon our return. For photos of Phnom Penh, link here.

From there, I headed southwest to the coastal town of Sihanoukville, and more precisely, Serendipity Beach.  I stayed at a place that was recommended by a friend I’d made in Siem Reap, and ended up rooming with a woman we had both met from Pittsburgh.  It is nice to have someone to share expenses with, as well as having the company.  I ended up staying there for 9 days.  Dore was arriving 5 days later, and we ended up chilling there for a bit.  The weather fluctuated, but it was the beach, and rain or shine, I love it.  A few days it rained continually, but thankfully wifi was available in most places, fellow travelers were friendly and fun, and there was a movie theatre there.  Gotta love these theatres, we had experienced one like it in Bagsu, India.  This one was owned by two British men.  They’d built it 6 years earlier, and it was 6 small private screening rooms and one large theatre.  For $4/person, $3 for each film after the first, you could pick from a huge library of illegally downloaded digital films.  They had classics and new releases, and everything in between.  It was a great way to whittle away a rainy afternoon, and would be an amazing concept in the US, except there it could never be done so cheap because it could never be done illegally like that.

And we had sunny beach days, as well.  The water was beautiful and tropical, crystal clear and warm, there were waves to play in, but they were not strong.  Lovely.  The beach was lined with cafes featuring local seafood and Western favorites, as well as cheap beer and fruit shakes.  Local vendors wandered the beach selling all sorts of seafood, fruit, soup, etc…and also touting various services (threading and massage) and wares.  It was laid back, and the perfect way to recoup from lots of travel (at this point I really hadn’t stopped since I’d landed in Sri Lanka) and to let the horrible experience of Phnom Penh drift away.  I didn’t visit any of them, but there are several offshore islands one can stay at, too, and the diving is supposed to be good there, but because of the rain the visibility was about 4 meters (12 feet) max, so I decided to pass.

We decided to check out another coastal town, Kep.  The beach there was not as inviting, but we did have the best meal in all of Cambodia there.  The area, Kampot especially, is known for it’s pepper, and here they are famous for Crab with Green Peppercorns.  It was one of the best crab dishes I’ve had in my life, and if I can find fresh green peppercorns at home, I will most definitely try to recreate it.  For photos of Sihanoukville and Kep, link here.

Rested and recharged, we headed back to Phnom Penh for a few days.  Mostly, we chilled at the hostel with other travelers, wrote, read, that sort of thing; explored some of the local markets (if you are traveling through several countries of SE Asia, do not plan to do your shopping in Cambodia, it is expensive); and visited S21.  So, S21 and the Killing Fields, these are not nice pleasant tourist sites.  They are the places of genocide from the time of the Khmer Rouge’s rule, 1975-1979.  S21 had been a school in Phnom Penh, and ended up being a prison/torture center/and death camp for 20,000 Cambodians.  We hired a guide, a man who was 15 when the Khmer Rouge came to power, and he had an amazing story to tell.  He was put to work outside the city, and after being injured he was lucky he wasn’t killed, but relocated as a fisherman.  He did defy death twice, and you can read this account on Dore’s blog.  Thankfully, we followed up this melancholy afternoon by meeting up with Dore’s friend’s brother who has been living in Phnom Penh, and saw a comedy show with him and his friends.

Interestingly, there is a huge expat community in all of Cambodia.   I think it is really easy to acquire long term visas, and to extend them, as well as to find work or start businesses.  We met several people from all over the Western world, who had been there for many years and weren’t making plans to move on anytime soon.   From Cambodia, we decided to cross the border into Vietnam, another country with a huge expat community.  That blog is to come…

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Angkor Wat, Angkor Wonder

Tuesday, October 9th, 2012

From Bangkok, I took the 10 hour trip by train and taxi to Siem Reap, the city located outside Angkor Wat, the most beautiful and largest temple complex in the world.  Siem Reap is a city that was literally built for tourists, comprised of hotels and guest houses, restaurants and bars, markets and food carts, and souvenir shops and art galleries.  The only reason to visit Siem Reap is because you are visiting Angkor Wat, and what can I say…I loved Angkor Wat.  I dig this sort of stuff, ancient ruins, especially if I can rent a bicycle and ride around all day. 

The temples of Angkor Wat were influential at various times during the rule of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th-13th centuries, when the Khmers ruled the majority of SE Asia, before being overthrown by the Kingdom of Siam.  The temples were important not only for their religious significance, but also for being central to daily Khmer life.  Angkor Wat was initially built as a Hindu temple dedicated to the creator, Vishnu, and eventually became a holy place for Buddhists, as well.  The influence of both these religions is displayed in the intricate carvings found throughout several of the temples, as well as many shrines dedicated to Vishnu, Shiva, and Buddha.

Day one was spent with a guide visiting the three most famous temples of the complex: Angkor Wat, the largest and most important of the temples, and the national symbol of Cambodia with its three distinct towers;  Ta Prohm which was abandoned in the 15th century, allowing for the jungle to encroach and is well known for the number of huge trees growing out of it, as well as the fact the it was featured in the film Tomb Raider starring Angelina Jolie; and Bayon, located at the center of Angkor Thom, featuring 37 towers, each carved with four faces of Buddha, or it’s been said four faces of King Jayavarman VII who identified himself with Buddha and the bodhisattva of compassion.  This was one of my favorites.  I loved the calm and kindness which the faces emanated, and the intricate carvings on the temple walls which depicted daily Khmer life.

Day two, Cora (a woman I hung with from Portland, OR) and I rented bicycles and rode through the complex.  We started at Phnom Bakhong, a small temple with very steep stairs and a temple dedicated to Buddha at the top.  It is also the oldest known temple in this group, which is apparent in the way the sandstone has corroded.  Then, we returned to Angkor Thom, the last capital of the Khmer Empire, to explore the several temples there aside from Bayon.  Among these is Baphuon, which is one of the largest temples, and was a section of the royal palace.  Initially dedicated to Shiva, it eventually becoming a Buddhist temple, at which time a 27 foot high 210 foot long reclining Buddha was added to the west wall.  It takes a discernable eye to see the Buddha, but it is possible.  Here you will also find the Palace of Phimeanakas and the Terrace of Elephants, which was used for public ceremonies.  We finished the day at Preah Khan, just north of Angkor Thom.  It was central to Khmer religious life as it was a large Buddhist temple surrounded by several Hindu temples.  Today, like several of Angkor’s structures, it is in a state of major disrepair.  Several foreign countries and organizations are doing restoration work on many of the temples, yet the World Monument Fund, who is in charge of Preah Khan, has only done some minor repairs in wanting to stay true to nature and history, thus they have left much of the temple walls in the piles of rubble to which they have fallen.  They say that there would be too much guess work in rebuilding it.  This is in contrast to say the French who have been working on the restoration of Baphuon, or the Indians who have been working on Ta Prohm, and have had to use complex analysis to make sense of it all.

Day three I hired a motorbike to travel a bit further to the Roluos Temple group, the first capital of the Khmer Empire.  It was wonderful to ride through the Cambodian countryside and small villages surrounded by canals and rice paddies.  The most interesting of these three temples is Bakong, the very first temple to be built.  There is evidence to support that Bakong remained an important temple even as the capital moved to Angkor Thom.  It was constructed as three levels, each one a bit smaller, like a pyramid.  At each corner there is an elephant sculpture for protection, most of which no longer have tusks or ears, and for some no faces.  Like so many of the Angkor temples, this structure is surrounded by jungle and a moat, allowing for a beautiful natural setting.  Also on the property is a modern day Buddhist temple, with an active monk population.

So, if you have the opportunity to visit Angkor Wat, it is well worth it, even if you make the trip for just a few days from Thailand.  It is rich in history and natural beauty, and we are all lucky that the Khmer Rouge did not destroy and loot it all when they were in power (side note: there are several pieces missing believed to have been destroyed by the KR, or to have been stolen by local people to sell or trade just to be able to have food to feed their families).

Link here for pictures of Angkor Wat.

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Posted in history, Spiritual, travel | 2 Comments »

Food…Glorious Food

Sunday, September 23rd, 2012

I had started this blog as a travel log, like most of my past blog entries, but then I was inspired by my cousin Adam to write a blog just about the amazing food I experienced in Bangkok and Cambodia.  Adam, this blog is dedicated to you and Hector, and to all the other foodies in my life.

If you live your life scared of street food, change your attitude before visiting Bangkok, known to have the best street food in the world.  If you think you will never eat an insect on purpose, wait until you’re walking Khao San Rd at midnight with a beer buzz.  If you don’t like spicy, never tell anyone in SE Asia, seems that that’s when they spice it up.  If you like curry, know that here red and green and tom yum are just the beginning.

The streets of Bangkok are lined with food vendors, selling everything from fried dumplings and spring rolls, to curries and noodle soup, to all sorts of barbequed meat and seafood on sticks.  You can find papaya or mango salad, any type of Asian fruit you may desire, and even ice cream served in a sweet bun, in addition to lots of other sweet pastries.  Then, hit Cambodia and add into the mix fresh spring rolls, sticky buns, and Banh Mi, the baguette sandwich inspired by the French.   You can sit and eat at the makeshift cafés, a table or two and some plastic chairs set up on the sidewalk, or take to go.  Depending on the dish it will come in a to go container as we know, or in a plastic bag, or in a banana leaf.

My first night in Bangkok I was to be meeting up with some fellow travelers for dinner.  I had an hour to spare, and my appetite grew as I walked past the several food stalls lining the streets.  I had to sample some of the food before I met up with them.  My first stop was for some vegetarian noodle soup, which I tell you, is hard for them to understand here.  There is meat in almost everything, but I was successful, and the veggies were fresh and delicious, bean sprouts and greens, spring onion and carrots.  Then, I met up with Nico and Lara and we found a restaurant on Rambutri Street where mostly Thai people were eating in this tourist part of town, so we settled in there for many Chang beers and some food.  My first course was Som Tum, Spicy Papaya Salad, and they were not kidding.  In Thailand, everything is made spicy.  Do not make the mistake of asking for “not” spicy, because according to my friends, the request does not translate and things are made spicier.  I had made no request, and it made my eyes water and nose run, but the small red chili peppers have such great flavor, it was spicy in a good way.  This is one of my favorite dishes at home and I’m happy to say that Thai Life in Key West does it justice.  Fresh green papaya, juicy tomatoes, green beans, carrot, bean sprouts, peanuts, and baby prawns in a flavorful fish sauce.  The next course was Tom Yum soup with Prawns.  So flavorful and delicious with thick slices of fresh ginger and pieces of lemongrass, roasted chilies, lots of coconut flavor, beautiful prawns, and fresh baby corn and Thai basil.  Doing it right.

Afterwards, we wandered from Rambutri Street to the well-known tourist street Khao San.  This is the Bourbon or Duval Street of Bangkok.  Lined with bars, restaurants, souvenir shops, and tourists, Khao San is a site to be seen, yet not my cup of tea as a place to spend lots of time, still fun for the visit.  The most interesting thing to me was the cart selling all sorts of fried and sautéed insects…yes, like bugs.  I’m sure lots of you have seen footage of this sort of thing on the travel channel or the food network, but seeing it in real life, the variety is pretty impressive.   So, you’re in a foreign country, have had several beers, and the insect cart is rolling by…what do you do?  Well, sample some bugs, of course.  I did not go for the large and expensive grasshopper or scorpion (they were $3 each), but went for the more simple grub and some sort of smaller cricket.  The grub, not so good, but the cricket was actually tasty.  And these were about 30 cents each.  My friend Jenny had asked me if I was going to eat any weird foods, and I guess now I can say, “Yes, I am.”  It’s part of the adventure.

The following morning I was extremely pleased with the breakfast at my guest house.  They offered the traditional continental breakfast of Asian guesthouses for Westerners: eggs, toast and fruit, boring.  Much more exciting to me, they also offered Asian breakfast of rice, sautéed pork with ginger and veggies, and fresh salad, including the best lettuce since I left the states.   The following mornings featured something very similar.  A really great way to start the day, especially before heading out to walk, and walk, and walk around Bangkok.

So, the best food in Bangkok is on the street and in the markets, which makes it very easy to sample many things while wandering the city.  I sampled several dumplings while there, and my favorite came from a woman near the Amulet Market.  Most often there were three kinds of dumplings: bamboo, kale, and shrimp, very lightly fried.  Tradition here is to cut them up and put them in a plastic bag with a soy-chili-ginger sauce.   This is also tradition with fried spring rolls, which are served with lettuce and basil leaves, sweet & spicy sauce on the side.  I don’t know if it was tradition to wrap the roll in the lettuce with basil, but that’s what I did.  So good.   I also tried fish that was steamed with spices in a banana leaf.  The fish was so fresh and delicious, and just lightly cooked, so almost like sushi.   The spices gave it really nice flavor, and the texture reminded me of tartar.   For a meal, there is a woman who whips up Pad Thai, as well as other noodle dishes, on Rambutri Street, and it was the best Pad Thai I’ve ever had.  Another traditional dish that you will find anywhere is noodle soup.  There are lots of different versions made with a variety of noodles, as well as a variety of meat and fish.  I had one of these noodle soups my last night in Bangkok, at a stall down the street from my hotel.   Flavorful rice noodles (my favorite) loaded with fresh herbs, ginger and veggies.

On the sweeter side, there were grilled bananas served in a sweet coconut milk; ice cream in a sweet bun with or without fruit sauce; and then there are khanom bueang, thin mini crispy pancakes covered with a sweet cream and fresh spiced coconut.  These were a personal fav, especially at 10 bhat, about 30 cents each.

The one other meal I ate in a restaurant was on Nico and Lara’s last night.   We shared some prawn rolls to start, prawns in pastry and fried, served with a sweet and spicy chili sauce.  And then I had another of my favorites, Green Curry with veggies and tofu.  It was delectable.  They made it with a couple of types of eggplant, one of which was small, green, and round like a grape, but firm in texture.  Really flavorful and different than any eggplant I’d had before.

While there are some similarities, the food in Cambodia is very different.   For one, it is not spicy.  It can be, but on request.  Seafood is a staple here, as is the dish Amok, made with any type of meat or veggies, but fish amok is the very popular and traditional staple.   The fish is wrapped in a banana leaf with a coconut based curry paste, accented with fresh lemongrass, kaffir lime, galangal, turmeric, ginger, garlic, shallots, and dried red chilies.  If you eat it at the right place, it is absolutely delicious.

The best and the cheapest foods are found on the street here, too, or in food stalls found in the markets.  Again, noodle soup is a traditional dish, made similarly to in Bangkok.  Aside from Amok, the dishes which set Cambodia apart are sticky buns, a doughy bun stuffed with a pork and fermented cabbage, and Banh Mi, the traditional baguette sandwich inspired by the French colonization of the region.  Made slightly different depending where you get it, these are stuffed with cucumber, pate, spring onion, cilantro, and a cucumber-carrot sort of slaw, add chile paste, pork, or cheese, if you like.  These sandwiches are awesome, and cost anywhere from $.75-$1.25.  A solid meal for little money.

The beach in Sihanoukville is a constant barrage of people selling things, including lots of food, seafood especially.  The sellers will cook you fresh squid or octopus right at your table, they carry trays of crawfish (which they call lobster) lightly spiced, and all the restaurants serve fresh fish and prawns.  You can also find all types of tropical fruit, including durian, which is infamous for its odor.  You can smell it from quite a way off, even if not opened.  It definitely has an acquired taste, but not as bad as I thought it was going to be, since the smell is so off-putting.

One more new dish for me, and absolutely delicious, was Som Lo Machuyun soup.  A Cambodian version of egg drop soup, and perfect for those who do not like spicy.  Just slightly on the sweet side, made with pineapple and tamarind, it also contains tomato, bitter melon, egg, fresh basil, and possibly a squeeze of kefir lime, too.  This is the dish to try.

What else to do in Bangkok and Cambodia, besides eat, and according to what I have seen so far: get massaged, it’s cheap and good; The Golden Palace in Bangkok, and of course, Angkor Wat, the awe inspiring temples of the Khmer people near Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Link here for more pictures of food, including market photos.  The meat in the markets here can make even the biggest of meat eaters a little unsettled.

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