This is the time of year for lists..... and more lists. First there's the Christmas shopping list, then the post Xmas return list, followed by that all too inevitable New Years resolution list, and so forth. I often get asked to do lists, stuff like Pho restaurants, eating itineraries for visitors (which I love to do BTW - it's just that I'm kinda slow on the email thing), and other stuff. Recently, Dennis asked me if I was going to do an updated 10 photos post, and I thought about it, but after a bit of pondering I gave up. You see, we average somewhere around 300 or so posts a year, and picking a few photos out of those...... well you see what I mean, right? And yet, because it is the time of the year for lists, I just felt I needed to do one. And so I pulled out an often requested list, of our most memorable meals, not in any order, and kinda off the top of my head. Now note that that is "our" list, which is, the Missus and I, which automatically excludes places like......
Urasawa, which was a ginourmous three part post......
And even though we've had some very memorable dishes like the Roasted Whole Sparrows from Highway 4 in Hanoi......
Which was really delicious..... or even sannakji (live octopus), which I thought was less so....
Or even Prahok, a fermented Cambodian fish paste, made more interesting by the sour little crunchy things....
And there were those stories, like the young lady in Siem Reap named Akin, who came to work in the city at the age of 9!
Akin, an orphan who never knew her parents nor siblings, felt the need to comfort us when we were so touched and distressed by her story by sharing with us her philosophy on life: "no worries, no worries, I'm Happy-Happy every day!"
Frothy, yeasty, and light, it's a wonderful beverage. There's just one thing you need to understand about Chicha de Jora, to quote: "In order to start the fermentation process, the maize is moistened in the maker's mouth.....the digestive enzymes in saliva helps to break down the starches and start the fermentation process. In fact, it is thought that the modern name for this drink is based on the Spanish word "chichal", which means to spit".
I'd also need to exclude the best "hootch" I've ever had, Snake Ruou (rice wine):
We've found that there's no way to get to know the folks than by trying out some of the local "beverages":
After all, if it comes out of a rusty old barrel, through a bamboo tube, it's gotta be good, right?
Hmmmm..... another list! I'll stop now, and leave this list for later. But I'm wondering, how many of you have been reading for the last four years or so. And if you have.... first I'd like to thank you so much for reading! Second, are there any posts which stand out in your mind.... or perhaps you'd like to take a stab at what you think were our most memorable meals?
One of the great things about Asia Hotel is the location. It's right around the corner from Psar Thmei, the Central Market. You can't miss the monolithic, kinda scary looking building.
The building is surrounded by stalls with interconnecting swatches of tarp, canvas, and other materials. I love the drainage system!
The market itself is an impressive array of goods, though I just scratched the surface since we didn't have much time.
Phnom Penh itself is a bustling city, if you wonder where all of the folks live, you just have to raise your eyes above street level.
As for the streets...... if Hanoi was controlled chaos, Phnom Penh was just chaos.....
There weren't as many motorbikes, but many more cars and Suv's, the lanes are wider, and folks drive faster.
We saw at least half a dozen accidents during our very short stay in Phnom Penh! Some of them looked pretty bad.
You know it's tough when we saw a Red Cross truck drop off these folks to direct traffic......at a traffic light no less!
And yet, it was on these streets where I had my favorite meal in Phnom Penh. Even though it was pretty early, my stomach was rumbling. We noticed a young man hauling a cart down the busy street. Every so often we'd see a signal, or hear someone call him. He'd stop, and prepare some noodles on the spot. And by the way folks were chowing down.......
We hailed the young man, who gave us a wonderful smile, and through sign language, indicated what we wanted. And he was off to work.
It was simple fare, reconstituted packaged noodles. But it was what the regular folk ate, so you know it would cure the hunger pangs. The noodles were stir fired on a metal pan, mixed with seasonings, fish sauce, and crowned with that necessary topping....a fried egg!
I remember being satisfied, and it filled me up. I may not recall how the noodles tasted, but sometimes that's not important. What I will always remember is the young man's kind and gentle demeanor...and even though we didn't speak each other's language, the smile says it all.
And it's what we'll always remember.....
One thing was pretty clear by this time. We always say, "it ain't a vacation until I fall or get bad sunburn." So I guess it was time to go home.
In Siem Reap, I made sure to put on sunblock........but I think I missed a spot......
Here's another C(leaning) O(ou the) M(emory) C(ard) post from our trip to Cambodia.
It was quite unfortunate that by the time we hit Phnom Penh, both the Missus and I were kinda bushed. On our first night we were looking for something close to the hotel. As we turned the corner on Street 136, we came across a whole street of Chinese shops and restaurants. It appears that this street is sort of a "Little Chinatown", with a grocer, and several restaurants. After walking down the street, and past the guys making lā miàn (hand pulled noodles)....
We decided to forgo our search, and have some Chinese Food. We were tired, the heat was getting to us.....and frankly, I was missing Chinese food.
We chose the Sichuan Restaurant on the row, which sounds strange because of the soaring temperatures (we visited Cambodia during April, the hottest month of the year), but we liked the look of the restaurant. Plus, when the Missus spoke to the Gentleman running the front of house, his accent was undoubtably Sichuan.
The restaurant was clean, and the menu fairly extensive.....and with a real "Cambodian" feel. There was quite a bit of seafood on the menu.
Another touch was the addition of a plate of raw garlic and red chilies to be used as a condiment.
I nspite of the heat, we found that we were ravenous and ordered a bunch of food, which finished in its entirety. The Missus consulted with the owner of the restaurant on a couple of dishes.
We started with Ma Po Dofu:
This was more of a "brown sauce" Mapo Tofu and was very mild. Very un-Sichuan like.
When in Vietnam and Cambodia, we got into the habit of ordering whatever the fresh vegetable of the day was, as it was always pretty good.
And this was no exception, as it was done simply, and cooked perfectly.
We also decided on trying the Water Boiled Beef, a classic Sichuan dish.
Again, this lacked heat, but came with a good amount of numbing Sichuan Peppercorns.
The owner of the restaurant highly recommended the live "Mekong Riverfish", so we ordered it.
The Missus calls this, "the best fresh water fish ever...." It was simply prepared, steamed, with soy sauce, ginger, scallion, and sizzled with oil, but man this fish was good! The flesh was delicate, moist, light, flakey, with a hint of sweetness. I'm not a big fan of freshwater fish, but this changed my opinion forever.
So what kind of fish was this?
You got me...the Missus asked the owner who said that he doesn't know the Cambodian name for it, and they don't have this in Sichuan, but said they call it something like "Elephant fish" in Mandarin. So maybe one of you will know the English name of this.....
Regardless, that fish was great! And paid the "exhorbitant" price of a whole $12/US for this meal. That's the price of one dish (or less) in San Diego.
"Sichuan Cookshop" 111 Street 136
The next day, we were after some lunch before our drive to the airport. We had just taken a walk through Psar Thmei (the Central Market), and headed back to the hotel, when we noticed that this restaurant:
Had just gotten their delivery of live "Mekong riverfish":
We instantly stopped, and knew what was for lunch!
The interior of this restaurant could have passed as a sibling of the Sichuan restaurant in layout.
Again, the first thing delivered to our table was again what appears to be the standard condiment, the raw garlic and chopped red chilies.
Along with a plate of peanuts....which turned out to be not such a great idea for the Missus's stomach.
And of course we had the vegetaable of the day:
And since this was a Hangzhou restaurant, of course the Young Lady running the place told us to get one of the fish "Red Cooked". In this case the fish was deep fried, than quickly braised with a pseudo-red cooked sauce.
This was a bit of overkill. The sauce overpowered the delicate flavor of the fish.
We ordered the other fish done simply with a ginger-scallion preparation, like we had eaten the night before.
Again the fish had a wonderful texture and flavor. In this case however, it was not prepared with quite the same amount of finesse as the fish we had the previous night. There were a few sections of the fish that were still raw.
Still, for ten bucks, this wasn't bad at all. And we got to bid the other fish farewell before we left the restaurant, and made our way to the airport.
Hang Zhou Restaurant 81 Street 136
There's a part of me that wished that I gotten some Cambodian food for lunch....but there's another bigger part of me that is so happy I got to sample this fish...whatever it is.
COMC, definition: When a kind of forgetful blogger tries to "Clean Out the Memory Card" and posts on events that happened quite a while back.
Recently, the Missus reminded me that I had never posted on our two days in Phnom Penh. I didn't believe Her...."there's no way I forgot to do posts on Phnom Penh." And yet I did. So pardon me while I C(lean) O(ut the) M(emory) C(ard) and catch up on all those potential posts that have been languishing on my hard drive.
We had decided to "bus it" to Phnom Penh from Siem Reap, it was cheap, and it gave a glimpse of the countryside. The bus happened to make a stop in Kampong Thom. And while everyone rushed into the nice and clean restaurant and shop. We noticed something several blocks away. It was a rather large market. It was situated on a large dusty, drab, patch of dirt, with piles of garbage lying around, but it was interesting. It was also fascinating to note that no one on the bus ventured even close to this market. So here's a few photos:
How's this for a big pile of bugs?
Andof course there's always prepared food..... just as in Vietnam, Baguette Sandwiches are very popular.
And there were several of these typical eating stands.
Each stand had pots or trays lined with dishes...a steam table, without steam. You were free to peer into the pots, and eyeball the various items.
You pick out what you want, and the dishes usually come with rice.....have a seat and eat.
Unfortunately we had a bus to catch.....
We made it into Phnom Penh, and in spite of the very comfortable bus ride on the very clean Mekong Express Bus ($10 Siem Reap to Phnom Penh), after hitting the National Museum of Cambodia I needed a rest. Instead of staying along Tonle Sap, we decided to stay on busy Monivong Boulevard. Our Hotel was the Asia Hotel. This hotel has a special place in our heart.....it was quite quirky in several ways. First, many of the folks working here are somewhat detached, but the folks who are nice, are really...well kinda overboard nice. The lobby smelled kind of strange...the fragrances from the attached restaurant permeated everything as the lobby did not have great ventilation. And then there were the signs....everywhere..... Tons of signs in the lobby of things you cannot do:
Everything from No Cooking and No Durian, to no drying laundry, to no bringing strange women (!) into your room. And it seemed that management would not be responsible for anything!
And to top it off there was this sign...yes you too can fire off a B40 Rocket Launcher for just 200 bucks!
When I read the ($8 US) "go to shooting by taxis 2 ways".....I couldn't stop laughing. I hope no one took that literally! BTW, I saw a couple of young men "packing" when we went for a walk....I'm guessing this is legal in Cambodia. And there was a fridge in lobby where you could grab a bottle (or two, or three, or....) of beer, and an attendant would pop the top, and you'd trot off to your room.....
And then there were the hallways. Did you ever see the movie "Ju-on" (the Grudge)? I found the perfect setting for a sequel. The gloss white along with bad flourescent lighting, combined with rather tight hallways, is not very flattering.
In spite of these somewhat amusing quirks, the rooms were very large, clean, and the hot water was....well hot!
And thankfully, the A/C worked well, and the beds were comfortable.
And on the cleanliness note. This young lady was death on two legs for any flying insect in the lobby. We called her the "Ex-term-in-NATOR", and she worked with a dedicated fervor. I'm still looking for one of those battery powered fly zappers......but I don't know if they sell them here in the states.
And yet, there was something even more amusing......
When we checked in, one of the young men, looked at me proudly, and guided me toward an adjoining doorway, telling me: "we are very modern, and advanced...."
So what was he talking about.....some kind of cutting edge technology?
"We are the first to have......" He proudly puffed out his chest.
"A KFC in Cambodia!"
Yep folks, you heard it right here. And this KFC did bang up business...plus the Missus turned out to be quite fond of Mirinda Orange.
Of course this KFC had it's own regional specialty:
Called Colonel Rice (which I believe is a Malaysian KFC item), which I tried....it's rice in some bland seasoning with sweet raisins (ick) covered with gravy. One thing I did like was the inclusion of chili paste with everything.
Just think, among all of the strong selling points of the hotel, big rooms, cold A/C, comfy beds.....KFC outshone them all!
As I mentioned before, during the day, while the tourists are hitting the temples, Siem Reap is a calm and fairly sleepy city. Whether it is due to the heat (95+ F, and humid), or the laid back attitude, things move at a pretty slow pace.
We had decided to keep our last day in Siem Reap wide open, just walking around the city a bit.
Among the more interesting (at least for us) things we saw, was the Shrine to Ya Tep, a local spirit who is said to bring good luck. We thought the location of the shrine, in a traffic circle, in the middle of a street was fascinating.
Right across the street is the Royal Gardens, and the Shrine to Preah Ang Chek & Preah Ang Chorm, two local dieties.
Walking(very slowly) alongside the Siem Reap River, we made our way back to the Psar Chas (Old Market) area, and stopped to have some iced coffee at a popular Vietnamese Restaurant in the area called Soup Dragon. While having our coffee, we saw a Monk stop by, and various customers and employees would walk over to the Monk, hand Him an offering, and receive a blessing:
The Missus was enchanted with the idea, and went over to the Monk, and passed over a few Riel (but did not touch the monk...that is a no-no). Suddenly overcome with indecision....not knowing what to do....instead of receiving any blessing, She high-tailed it back to our table instead. Leaving the Monk with a bemused, somewhat puzzled look on his face.
The coffee had stimulated our appetites, and we decided to grab a bite at a place we passed several times on previous evenings.
All over Cambodia, we found that a typical little eatery, or even cart for that matter, would have a collection of pots sitting on a table. It is common to walk on up to the pots, open the various lids(if there were lids), peer inside, and order what you wish. Every night we'd pass this little place, and the Missus would inevitably stop and start opening lids, checking out what was being served that day. Usually, because it was later in the evening, there wasn't much left. But on this day, the pots had just been brought out.
So I got a nice bowl of Beef Stew.
Very much like a cross between Chinese and Vietnamese Beef Stew, full of star anise and pepper flavor.
The Missus got a Hot and Sour Pork Soup with what we usually call Ong Choi or Water Spinach.
I dunno, the Missus enjoyed it so much, I never got a shot.....
Each of us also received a plate of excellent Jasmine Rice. A little bowl of fish sauce and chilies was provided. Along with the roll of tissue, a container of utensils was placed at the table along with a tin cup of boiling water. We learned that the hot water was used to sterilize our fork and spoon.
At first we thought that this was such a nice, thoughtful gesture, showing concern to us tourists. But as locals started to pour in, they were accommodated in the same manner.
We sat, chatted, and watched the stream of folks stopping by, many with "tiffin containers", picking up lunch.
Lunch for two, with rice, and a large bottle of water ran us about $3.50/US. It was funny, the Lady running the place had remembered us, since we had passed by every evening. And so we felt that we should eat here.
After lunch we wandered around Psar Chas a bit.
And even though the market is full of stalls selling various tourist knick-knacks and such, during the day there were much more locals around. And many of the booths sold items such as various dried fish and meats.
And one entire side of Psar Chas was dedicated to eateries just like the one we had lunch at.
We really enjoyed the vibe....very relaxed. It may have been very hot, and all the tourists were either visiting the ruins or in their air-conditioned hotels taking a nap....but no time was better than now for an intense chess match!
On the way back to the hotel we passed another street full of stands and couldn't help but go and explore.
The Missus claims that the Longan She ate in Cambodia was the best She's ever had.
And having been allowed to taste one, I'd agree....even though one of neighbors growing up had a Longan tree, these were much sweeter.
We also saw a very popular cart selling snails. Half of the snails were plain, the other half looked to be seasoned with chili pepper.
Later that evening we got our first, and thankfully only, tuk-tuk ride (a story for later), and per the Missus' wishes had Indian Food for dinner again, this time at a restaurant called New Dehli, which turned out to be quite good. I had the Mutton Thali, the Missus the Vegetarian Thali.
Have you grown weary of all those postson the temples of Angkor yet? Are they starting to look all the same? Perhaps you're suffering from "Temple Fatigue".... And yet, temple fatigue never really hit us. We found most temples interesting and unique, but I'll keep the rest of my posts on the various temples short and sweet. Our post lunch started with.....
Called the "Citadel of the Cells", Banteay Kdei was built in 1181.
Banteay Kdei has been used as a monastery at different points in time.
The most well known feature of Banteay Kdei is the "Hall of the Dancing Girls". Where all of the columns feature beautiful bas-reliefs of Girls doing the Apsara dance.
Banteay Kdei has been kept somewhat unrestored, making for some fascinating viewing.
Some of which is due to poor construction and low quality materials. In addition, no one really knows who this temple was dedicated to, adding to the mystery.
For us, Ta Prohm proved to be one of the more intriguing temples.
It's impossible not to gaze upon the giant Kapok (silk cotton tree) trees whose roots have have become one with Ta Prohm. Several of the trees have taken root on the ceilings and walls of Ta Prohm, giving the temple an air of mystery.
You see the roots of the Kapok trees snaking their way throughout Ta Prohm.
When FOY MrB checked out our photos of Ta Prohm, he immediately told me, "I've seen this as the set for Tomb Raider." And he was correct, Ta Prohm is easily the most recognizable of the temples used as a backdrop for the movie Tomb Raider.
When we returned from vacation I read an article that mentioned the the Archaeological Survey of India will soon begin to do some restoration work on Ta Prohm. To my relief all work is planned so that the trees are "not disturbed in any way."
As we approached Ta Keo, we quickly noticed something unusual. There was no ornamentation, and it remained undecorated.
At around 1000AD, construction of Ta Keo ceased, and it was abandoned. Legend has it, that Ta Keo was struck by lighting, which was seen as a bad omen.
The temple of Thommanon is well restored, and small enough to enjoy quickly.
But the thing we'll always remember the most about Thommanon is the poor fellow on the right. While his parents and siblings were enjoying themselves, he was having none of it. Yes, "temple fatigue" was rearing its ugly head. His parents and siblings viewed this with much good humor....his brother even made sure to catch some great shots with the camcorder. I'm sure the tired little guy will hear about this for many decades to come! "Remember the time we went to Angkor, and you had a tantrum....."
Jayavarman II is credited as being the founder of the Khmer Empire, and according to legend, the Preah Khan, or "sacred sword" is said to have symbolized his power. It is speculated that this was the home of the mighty sword, a copy of which said to still be hidden away at the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh.
Like Ta Prohm, Preah Khan is left in a rather unrestored state.
It is believed that up to 10,000 people lived within the walls of Preah Khan during it's heyday. And also that a prestigious and famous school was housed on it's grounds.
After Preah Khan, Narin asked us if we wanted to revisit any of the temples we had seen to end or day. We decided that The Bayon had been our favorite site, and making a more detailed exploration of the wonderful bas-reliefs would be a nice way to end our 2 day visit to Angkor.
Narin decided to take us through the lower East Gate of Angkor Thom, known as the "Gate of the Dead":
It is less restored, and much more peaceful than the famous South Gate.
We ended our day, taking in the bas-reliefs of the Bayon in greater detail.
Narin dropped us back at our hotel. We showered and headed out to dinner.
Siem Reap is an interesting town....during the day, it is very calm, and sleepy. During the evening, after everyone has returned from the temples, it is a bustling, and busy tourist mecca.
During the day this street:
Is transformed to this in the evening.....
Though these street stands are more directed at feeding the locals.
You'll find an interesting variety of food at these night markets.
Chinese style roasted and BBQ'd meats seemed popular.
With grilled items a very close second.
A very typical meal for the locals goes this way; you walk up to a stand full of pots. It is perfectly fine to peer into the pots. You decided what you want to eat, and your meal comes with whatever is chosen and rice.
On this evening, noodles seemed to be very popular.
These stands use packaged dry noodles that are cooked and kept to the side. When an order is placed, the noodles are stir fried, with bean sprouts, soy sauce, hot sauce, and maggi, and sometimes served with a fried egg on top. A very cheap meal.
So what did we get? Well, you'll just have to wait for that one!
After our filling breakfast of Num Banh Chok, and a short stop to check out how palm sugar was made, we were on our way to our next stop, Kbal Spean. Kbal Spean is not a temple in the typical sense of the word. Located about 25 kilometers from Angkor Wat, Kbal Spean is a sacred site in the jungle. As we drove it started to rain fairly hard. This made Narin turn to us and say, "you are good luck, we've been waiting for the rain." After a bit of sliding and mild hydroplaning, we arrived at a large field.
At the rear of the field is the trail to Kbal Spean.
The hike takes about 20-30 minutes through the jungle. The trail was a bit slippery, but except for a few steep areas pretty easy. The humidity and the moisture made me feel like I was back home in Hawaii hiking.
The main feature of Kbal Spean is the river, which contain carvings that have been done in the bedrock. According to some of the literature we read; these carvings were originally made in the 11th century by hermits who inhabited the area.
We had arrived right after a very loud group of Young Japanese Tourists who were making a racket and walking back and forth over the stone carvings. Soon enough, a little Gentleman wearing a blue shirt emblazoned with a badge restored order. Seeing that there would be no more jumping over the rocks and walking across the river carvings the group soon left. The Gentleman, seeing that the Missus was interested in the carvings, gave us a little tour.
It was a neat encounter; neither of us spoke the other's language, but somehow we communicated and understood each other through gestures and sign language. And of course, there are gestures that are universal.....especially the ones used to explain which of the carvings were fertility symbols!
The water that passes over all of the symbols is supposed to be Holy Water. And of course you know the Missus had to get some of that!
Luckily we had packed our raincoats! As I always say, we need all the help we can get.
The hike down seemed amazingly short, and I felt refreshed by the change of scenery. And so we headed off to our next stop.
About 20 Kilometers East of The Bayon; Banteay Srei is unique for several reasons. The first becomes apparent at first glance:
It's the wonderful red color of the sandstone used for this temple.
Making some of the carvings quite stunning.
The other unique bit of information about Banteay Srei is that it is the only temple in Angkor not built by royalty. It was instead built by two brothers; Yajnavaraha, the court physician and trusted confidant of King Rajendravarman II, who granted them the land, and gave the brothers permission to build, and his younger brother Vishnukumura, who was a wealthy landowner.
Whatever the history, this is a beautiful site, and quite deserving of it's modern name Banteay Srei, which I was told means "Citadel of the Women". The temple itself is small, and can be covered fairly quickly, but chances are you'd want to take your time.
I can't say the same about our next stop.....
This place gave me the heebie-jeebies. It just looked ominous.....and frankly kinda spooky.
The place was also very empty. As I climbed up the temple stairs, I could imagine flying creatures with fangs swooping down to prey upon us from the crumbling spires.
The Missus later told me that the current name, "Pre Rup" means "turning of the body", and many Cambodians believe that cremations and other funereal rituals were carried out here. This story is fiercely debated. But, I can see where the stories come from....
And while the Missus was standing on the third level looking for Angkor Wat, I couldn't wait to get the heck out of the place. As I scurried down the tiny stairs, the Missus had to keep reminding me to watch my step. One false step could be my "Pre Rup"......
We got back to the car, and a more pleasant subject came up. Lunch!
Meet the Prahok:
Unfortunately for us, we stopped at one of the many tourist eating spots that line the edge of Srah Srang (The Royal Bath). We did convince Narin to eat with us. The menu was a uninspired collection of Thai, tourist-Khmer, American, and European dishes. Wouldn't you know that the Missus ordered Fish Amok...sigh.....
I couldn't even bring myself to taste it....
I ordered some very routine Lemongrass Chicken:
What did Narin order? Narin ordered in Cambodian, so it remained a mystery, until it arrived. He had ordered Hamburger and Fries!!! The Missus and I looked at each other in astonishment. It was a platter of mystery meat disks, that by the two handed effort (no buns, Narin held the fork with 2 hands to bite, nay tear a piece off) necessary to eat it, must have been closer to jerky than meat. There were strips of soggy looking shoe-string potatoes on the plate as well. Later the Missus postulated that Narin had never had a chance to have a burger and fries, so he probably took this opportunity to sample "American food". After eating that garbage, I wondered what he thought of the American diet? Regardless of what he thought of what Americans eat, there's no doubt in my mind that he must think we have the strongest teeth and jaw muscles in the universe!
There was one bright spot of the meal. Narin had noticed that we enjoyed eating the local food much more than the tourist food, and brought by a little dish.
It was Prahok, the crushed or pounded fermented fish paste, a staple as important in Cambodia as cheese or butter is here in the States. At first taste, it was very pungent, the fermented fish flavor made me tilt my head back in surprise. But with the addition of some lime juice to take the edge off, I rather enjoyed it on my rice. I mentioned the crunchy texture, and the distinct sour flavor to the dish. This made Narin smile......if you enlarge the photo above, you'll find out why.....
He told us, "it is the ants". Say what? As I focused my beady eyes on the little dish of half consumed Prahok, I could make them out. And yes, there they were, red tree ants, dozens of them in the dish....they were indeed crunchy, and added an interesting sour flavor to the dish. I took one of them out for a photo-op. So say hello to my ant:
One of the good things about this restaurant was that is was right across the street from Srah Srang, the Royal Bath. Not really understanding the magnitude of Srah Srang, we crossed the street, and dodged the grazing animals:
And walked to the edge of Srah Srang:
Boy, this was some bath.......
More like a lake. And the breezes coming off the water gave us some relief from 100 degrees plus temperature.
A few minutes later; sufficiently refreshed, we headed off on the last leg of our tour of the Temples of Angkor........
As I noted at the end of my last post, we had just finished a repast of Khmer Noodles (Num Banh Chok), and the Missus had wandered off. It seems that She had been unable to ward off the temptation of fresh Durian. And having been suitably tempted, She purchased a nice fresh Durian. I'm sure that all travelers to Southeast Asia has at least one Durian story, and here's ours.
The Missus has this Durian, the smell of ripe compost wafting in the air so thick I could have cut it with a chainsaw. She brings it into the car...now you must remember that we have a whole, hot, humid day ahead of us.
And though Narin thought it humorous that the Missus would be so excited over Durian, I was kind of worried about having the smell of stewing sewage permeating the car for the entire day. Which led to a conversation:
Me: Did you really have to buy that Durian? The Missus: Looks good, huh? And I didn't see any "no Durian" signs around the hotel. Me (lowering my voice): You realize that this car isn't Narin's, right? He's probably renting it. And he'll return the car smelling like Durian. The Missus: Oh.....
Suddenly, the Missus brightened up...it had all become clear, a solution presented itself. The Missus reached over, opened my backpack, placed the Durian into my backpack, and zipped it up tightly. I should've kept my mouth shut. To this day, Sammy will be walking past my backpack, he'll suddenly stop, sniff, and look up at me with an expression that says: "Daddy, did you poop in your backpack?"
Along the way to our first destination Kbal Spean, we passed numerous stands; each with woks, or pans simmering over fire. Narin, seeing our interest, stopped. These stands were making Palm sugar:
Narin showed us the various Palm Sugar products.
And even went over the fruit and differences between the male and female palm. Unfortunately, I flunked Palm anatomy and physiology, so I don't know which is which.
There was also a Cashew Tree, which fascinated me. I'd never seen one up close before.
The nice lady even had the Missus taste a cashew fruit.....I could tell by the sour look on Her face, that I wanted no part of it.
As our way of thanking the lady for being so gracious, as we found most all Cambodians to be, we ended up buying two tubes of palm sugar.
This palm sugar is darker than the palm sugar I buy at the market here in San Diego.
The flavor is a much more condensed "complex" sweetness. I used some in a Beef Salad I made, and because I used the usual amount of the stuff, it overpowered everything else in the dish!
As we headed up the 25 or so kilometers to Kbal Spean, it started raining pretty hard. Narin smiled, turned to us and said: "this is quite unusual, it is early for the rains to start, you must be good luck."
Here's another Durian story, some friends of mine have a bunch of siblings...so many that I think I've lost count. When they were young, their Mom, always so resourceful, used to lock up the Durian in a cabinet with chains and a padlock!
Even though the previous day had been pretty full, from sunriseuntil our afternoon trip to Lake Tonle Sap, we were ready to go the next morning. I was especially rarin' to go, since Narin had told me we'd stop at his favorite noodle stand on the way to our first stop Kbal Spean, which was a bit out of Siem Reap.
We stopped at a crossroads village outside of Siem Reap. The place was colorful and bustling, dusty and yet somehow alluring. And tons of tourists and visitors in sight....except these were mostly from Phnom Penh. There were several mini-buses parked alongside the road, along with SUVs, and motorbikes.
This place was doing some major business.
Narin ever so concerned with our welfare, first stepped out and checked the well water....
This is the noodle dish that arrived:
A very nice and mild coconut milk based fish noodle soup. The noodles provided were rice noodles, which looked just like the "Bun" we had in Vietnam.
Along with the noodle soup several garnishes arrived. At the bottom of this bowl are some of the most amazing long beans we've ever tasted. So very sweet.
A bowl covered with a plate arrived at our table. On top lime and chilies.
Underneath was a brown fragrant sauce, that at first glance I mistook for some tamarind based sauce. Until I tasted it, a strong and complex sweet flavor, with pungent, savory undertones. I was told it is called Tik Pha Em, and is a basic sweet fish sauce.
I also had Narin write down the name of the noodle dish, he called it Num Banh Chok. The only real reference I could find to it was a recipe found here. Apparently, what makes this dish unique to Siem Reap is they way it is served, with the sweet sauce, and with all of the herbs, many of which I hadn't tasted before. No it's not table decoration, it belongs in your Rice Noodle Soup!
It was a staggering variety of herbs, some tasting peppery like cilantro, some had a celery like saltiness to it. The most amazing were the green leaves, which tasted almost like curry leaf:
I asked Narin to write the name of it down for me. Poor guy, he must think I'm a nut! He spelled it Kantrop. I found several citations of it, in English it's called Wampee, or Chinese clausena. It is the leaf of a certain type of citrus fruit tree. In Vietnam it's called Hồng bì, I had never had anything like it before. We even saw the trees growing on the trail up Kbal Spean.
All of the herbs like the Lily Stems added an amazing flavor to the dish, making it unforgettable.
We were also told that dish was famous in Khmer legend. After searching a bit, I found a post, here. The story of Thun N'chey and the Chinese Emperor. Who'd have thunk, revolutionary noodles, in a little village outside of Siem Reap.
Narin insisted on paying for the meal, telling us that, if we paid, they would overcharge, and would not take reimbursement. I was determined to make up for this later.
Meanwhile, the Missus had wandered away......I just knew She was up to no good!
We didn't quite know what to expect as we headed off to Lake Tonle Sap, we had read about it in various guidebooks, and knew it was a UNESCO Biosphere, and that it was Cambodia's "larder", providing up to 60 percent of Cambodia's protein. We had also read that "there isn't much to see", and it was "an over-rated tourist trap". But Narin really wanted us to visit Tonle Sap, and we had learned over the course of the morning that he would not steer us wrong. And we did enjoy the ride down to the Lake.
And it was during this ride, that the Missus snapped what is one of my favorite photos.
It got quite dusty as we approached Tonle Sap. Approaching the boat docks, we saw huts lining the side of the roads.
A bit flimsy you say? We arrived in the midst of the dry season when the lake occupies about 2500 square kilometers. During the rainy season the lake expands to 16,000 square kilometers. When the water rises, all of these huts are disassembled, and the village is moved to higher, dry ground.
As we approached the lake, this hut drew our attention.
A generator was running full blast and car batteries were being charged up. It seemed a bit strange to us, but we'd understand soon enough.
As we approached the boat dock and causeway, the heady stench hit us, a combination of rotting organic matter and gas fumes. A sudden thought went through my mind....."this is where all the fish we're eating comes from?"
As our boat was steered backwards using a combination of the motor, pushing, and strategic bumping of the other boats, we had a chance to look at the surroundings.
Seeing how people live here was a humbling experience. And tourism is a mixed blessing for these folks; on one hand it brings in much needed income. On the other, the pollution, invasion of space, and noise create problems of there own. Life here is hard, and you can't help but wonder what effect you're having.................
Right now, it's the rainy season, and all of this is now underwater......quite an interesting thought.
Here's a large fish trap.
We saw 3 schools on our way to the floating village. One sponsored by Koreans, one by the Japanese, and one by the French. The most interesting thing was the enclosed basketball court.
As we motored out to Chong Khneas floating village, we passed many boats delivering various goods and necessities. These blue jugs which contain drinking water.
And there's no minimum working age here....
As we approached Chong Khneas we could see floating houses dotting the great brown "plain" of water.
I'd heard and read of people being mobbed by children in buckets asking for money, but we were never bothered. We ended up docking at one of the Fish Farms, and Narin took us around to check out what was being raised.
You don't want to slip and fall into this pen! Many homes have large "pens" built along the bottom of their home/boat. And it looks like the rest of Tonle Sap....brown water. But throw in some "chum", and you'll be startled. There are thousands of fishes in these pens. Fish is the lifeblood of Cambodia, in fact Cambodia's currency, the Riel is named after a fish.
As we strolled around the floating fish farm/convenience store/restaurant, we noticed shrimp being dried everywhere.
Stepping gingerly up a ladder to the roof, we had a nice view of the surroundings.
Droves of Korean tourists were being boated out to places like this.
It's a floating Korean Restaurant!
After a half hour or so, we re-boarded our boat, and Narin gave the young man steering some instructions. We headed off into the heart of Chong Khneas.
The population of Tonle Sap is interesting, 60% Vietnamese, 20% Cambodian, 20% Cham. And seeing such squalid conditions can be a bit disheartening.
But something interesting happened after a few minutes. We started really noticing those little touches that make the place you live "home". Whether it's your own little flower garden.
Or the herbs and greens you're growing, under the wood pile.
And then there's the neighborhood electronics store:
Remember the car batteries being charged? Narin joked that the one thing people in Cambodia cannot do without is television. Even on Tonle Sap Lake...every houseboat, no matter how small, had a television.
We were constantly reminded of the strength and resourcefulness of the people living on Tonle Sap. Check out the pigs.
I guess some people just can't do without their pork!
And instead of people trying to sell us stuff, they were throwing kisses our way.
In some strange way we were deeply touched. And on a more practical level, I can imagine how many boatloads of tourists pass through here. Now I don't know about you, but if truckloads of tourists came driving up and down my street, taking photos, putting my daily life under a magnifying glass, I'm not sure I'd be waving and throwing kisses at them.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not over-romanticizing life on Tonle Sap Lake; it is a very, very, hard life. But there's something to be said about people who live in such challenging conditions who can still manage a smile and wave at the end of the day.
We were pretty quiet on the ride back to Siem Reap. Once we got into the city we started discussing options for the next day. Narin had also started to understand, "my peculiarities" by this time. As we were dropped off, he promised to take us to his favorite noodle stand for breakfast. We were told that the stand served some very special Khmer Noodles. Alright...no more Fish Amok!
Well, at least that's what I thought. After a quick shower, we took a stroll down to the Old Market (Psar Chas) area. We had intentions on checking out one of the typical Khmer eateries surrounding the market. But while walking through "Pub Street" we were charmed by a young lady into stopping for a meal at Khmer Family Restaurant. The menu was pretty much typical tourist Khmer fare, but that was fine. The young lady who served us was named Akin, who as quick with a smile, very warm, and quite funny. She kept having problems remembering where we were from, so we kept quizzing her; "now Akin, where aaarrrre we from?" At which time she'd go down her mental list, "ummm, no, can't be Australian....."
Most of the dishes at Khmer Family restaurant are about $3, and there are special 3 item "sets" for $8, which would save you a dollar. We didn't want the "set" items, even though Akin seemed dead set on saving us that buck. We managed to order what we wanted. After taking our order, Akin charmed another couple into the restaurant. This couple was from Sweden, and were very nice, and fun. We usually don't socialize much with other tourists when on vacation, but this couple we simply fantastic; mellow, well traveled(the husband had been to San Diego!), and they had a great sense of humor. During one of our conversations about our homes, they asked us what we new about Sweden, which was less than zero. If I were a bit faster, and perhaps wittier, I could have come up with, maybe ABBA...or Ikea? But the Missus beat me to the punch with; "oh, MEATBALLS!" Which sent the couple roaring with laughter. Yes, the two rubes from the States, the only thing they new about Sweden were Swedish Meatballs.
The meal was somewhat forgettable, the Missus got, duh.....Fish Amok!
Actually this was probably the best version we had during the entire trip, it had a good quantity of fish in it(probably from Tonle Sap Lake), and the flavors were more balanced.
We also had a Khmer Curry:
The vegetables were severely undercooked.
The most interesting dish of the evening was Somloo Caco (Samla Kako):
Very much like a mild green fish curry, it had a nice mild salty savory flavor. The dish supposedly had Prahok in it, but it didn't have a particularly strong fishy flavor.
During dinner we got to know a bit more about Akin, she's 19, and goes to school during the day. When we asked her if she's from Siem Reap, she told us she came to Siem Reap 10 years ago to work! As it dawned on the Missus and I that 19 minus 10 equals 9, we looked at Akin, and asked her what her parents thought about this. To which she replied, "no, no mother or father, grandmother, or grandfather." Oh my, Akin was an orphan. What do you say? "Akin, we're so sorry...." And her reply stays with me, and I repeat it almost everyday, "no worries, no worries, I'm Happy-Happy every day!" The sincerity of the way Akin said that short phrase melted every little snarky, sarcastic bone in my body. We got another surprise when we got our bill, she only charged us $8 instead of $9...she really wanted to save us that buck! As for our $2 tip? She chortled, "oh, for me, thank you, thank you." The Missus had Akin write down her name in both English and Cambodian:
It reminds me of that simple, but noble goal, to try to be "Happy-Happy every day".
Read about Wandering Chopsticks experience at Tonle Sap Lake here.