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What We Ate in Cambodia

While it makes us feel a little better to know that Cambodia isn’t really known for its cuisine, we also feel a little guilty.  We didn’t really experience a huge variety of outstanding food in Cambodia. Half of the blame falls on us, because we didn’t get out of tourist areas much. The other half was that we actually had some difficulty finding good local food. Other than in areas directly adjacent to markets or inside the markets themselves, it seemed like most of the places we went had almost no street food (compared to Vietnam and Thailand where you are almost tripping over it).  We know we missed a ton, and we’re not even sure whether everything below is uniquely Cambodian.

But what we did find was delicious.

Chicken heads

 

So here’s a very small taste of Cambodia.  You’ll need some utensils.  They’re all ready for you, waiting in their hot water bath.

 

Clean silverware delivered to your table in a glass of steaming water

Donuts with a toffee-like crunchy glaze.

Candy glazed donuts

Mi Char – Short, worm shaped noodles rolled by hand, fried with sprouts and meat and greens, topped with a fried egg.Khmer noodles with fried egg

Sach Ko Chomkak – Marinated beef skewers grilled over hot coals, dipped in sweet chili sauce, served with a tangy green papaya and carrot salad.  You’re charged by the number of skewers you order but the vegetables are all-you-can-eat and on the house.  One of our favorites.Grilled beef with chili sauce and green papaya salad

Bobor – Rice porridge, a typical breakfast food. This one has chicken, crispy fried garlic and a blood cube.Breakfast: rice porridge

Grilled red snapper with tamarind sauce.Red snapper

Nyoum Trayong Chaek – Banana blossom salad, really similar to the ones we ate in Thailand.
Banana blossom salad

Kuy Teav Phnom Penh – a Phnom Penh specialty featuring meat, blood, liver, intestines and tongue. This particular one is of porcine origin.
Mixed pork noodle soup

Num Pa Chok Kari Sach Ko - Curry beef and noodles.
Curried beef and noodles

Khmer red curry with chicken, potato, pumpkin and vegetables.
Red curry with chicken

Green curry with prawns, potato, onion and green beans. Those things that look like oversized peas are water lotus seeds.
Green curry with prawns

Amok – A thick, turmeric-heavy yellow curry with vegetables, typically with fish but there’s always a meat or prawn option, topped with coconut cream…
Amok with green beans

…sometimes served in a banana leaf if you’re someplace fancy.
Amok in a banana leaf

Our first pizza in five months. So what if it had corn and mayo on it.
Pizza in Phnom Penh

17
Mar 2013
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Ancient Khmer Temples Up Close

The Angkorian temples at Siem Reap are overwhelmingly detailed. Even after nearly a thousand years, you don’t need much imagination to see what they once were. Come in for a closer look.

Approach to Angkor Wat

Fallen column at Ta Prahm

Stone balusters at Angkor

Cracked relief at Angkor

Wildflower at Angkor

Lizard at Ta Prohm

Bas relief at Ta Prohm

Buddha-turned-hermit at Ta Prohm

Fallen balustrades

Broken wheel on bas relief

Doorway carvings

Dancers on columns

Cracked face

Green row of worshippers

Eroded ladies

Bas relief detail at Bayan

Bas relief dancers at Bayan

Flowers at Bayan

Elephant bas relief at Bayan

Roots at Bayan

Bas relief detail, leaves, at Bayan

Buddha's face at Bayan temple

Small green plant at Bayan

Sunrise, Bayan

Sea turtle bas relief at Bayan

Sunrise at Bayan temple

Sunrise at Bayan temple

Sunrise at Bayan temple

Mossy figures, Terrace of the Leper King

Terrace of the Leper King

Khmer writing

Tumbledown walls

Green plant in the rubble

Elephant war bas relief

Spider webs

Stretched ears

Kala

Dusty insect

16
Mar 2013
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Secret Sunrise at Angkor Wat

Siem Reap road sign

Everybody goes to the west gate watch the sunrise in front of Angkor Wat.

E-v-e-r-y-b-o-d-y (and their tripods).

But watch the sunrise from Angkor Wat? That requires sneaking around in the dark and paying a small… *cough*… “fee.” Ahem.

East facade at dawn

Our hearts raced with nervous energy as we entered the 900 year old temple alone, in pitch blackness. At one point, we stepped into a courtyard and paused because we thought we heard monks chanting. (Nope… we had just awakened all the mosquitoes in Cambodia.) Alicia wavered, sure that the instructions that a fellow traveler gave us would get us arrested, but Tony kept us on mission.

cobwebs

We made it up to the third, final, most sacred tier, the Bakan, just in time to hear the jungle come alive with the calls of strange birds and to see the bas reliefs illuminated by the red morning sun.

Sun peeking over the jungle canopy

Orange sunrise

Sun peeking over the jungle canopy

Wildflowers

Empty courtyard

We looked down at the hundreds of people gathered at the far end of the pond, grateful that we were not among them.

Hundreds of people gathered for sunrise

Tony waves

As soon as the sun was up, the guards quickly shooed us back down, presumably to avoid the scrutiny of the people who began filtering into the courtyard who might wonder why the posted opening times didn’t apply to us.

Apsaras at Angkor

Steep steps up Angkor

Facade lit by the morning sun

Empty corridor

Chedi along the east wall of Angkor

Us at east gate of Angkor Wat

After that great start, we were not too frustrated with the tour groups clogging the pathways through Ta Prohm (a.k.a. the Tomb Raider temple).

Big tour group at Ta Prohm

Poky straw hats

Goofy selfie

Ta Prohm corridor

Looking up

We experienced another peaceful (albeit more conventionally achieved) sunrise at Bayon Temple the following morning.

Bayon silhouette

Sun coming through the trees

Pink sun

Buddha at Bayon

Spider at Bayon

Bayon tree trunk

Apsaras on columns

Linga at Bayon

Bayon east facade

Buddha altar inside Bayon

Bayon face

Bayon face - vertical

Lens flare

Bayon face with jungle

Apsara at Bayon

Us at Bayon

We visited many other ancient Khmer temples around Siem Reap, but those two sunrise experiences were the best.

Kid sleeping

Tree roots

Interior shot

Colorful banner

One head left on the bridge

Disembodied feet at Preah Khan

Back entrance to Preah Khan

Tree through a hole at Preah Khan

Monkey and baby at Angkor

Terrace of the Leper King

Girls selling souvenirs

Angkor pass

Beard pass

15
Mar 2013
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R&R on Otres Beach

King Sihanouk’s funeral was going to bring an estimated 1.5 million visitors, including major foreign dignitaries and security forces, to the capital.  It sounded like it might be really interesting, or maybe just a huge headache.  Since we had already seen the King’s 100 day memorial ceremony, and we were already planning to spend some time down on Cambodia’s coast, we left Phnom Penh and waited it out on a beach near Sihanuokville (a port city named after… guess who).

Everythang's lounge chairs

pink rock

Tony at the office

Welcome mat

 

We waited it out all right.  For 13 days.  Maybe that was a little excessive…

 

Our bungalow

Bed

Bamboo Shack

Red snapper's snappers

…but when you’re in a little hut a few meters from warm blue water, all the days start blending together in a good way.

Between the fish tacos at our place, the amok (Khmer curry) and coconut shakes at the cafe next door and the laid back and friendly people around us, there was really no reason to leave.

We read a lot of books. Tony finally conquered this one. (Hi Pete!)

Zen

We might have turned a few shades browner.

A few shades darker

A very handsome fellow

Warm water, tasty food, plenty of lounge chairs… did we mention there were puppies?

Black puppy

Here is Alicia’s face when she sees a puppy walking towards her.

Puppy sighting

(This is the puppy.)

Beach pup

The sunsets weren’t too bad either.

Yellow sunset

Fishing boat at sunset

People walking dogs at sunset

So yeah, 13 days on Otres Beach. We finally dragged ourselves away because we knew that the last “big” sightseeing event of our year of traveling was up next.  Otherwise, we might still be there.

14
Mar 2013
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A Few Days in Phnom Penh

Goodbye Vietnam, hello Cambodia.  First stop: Phnom Penh.  It’s Cambodia’s capital city of 2.2 million people and is set on the banks of the Mekong River.  Its nickname was “Pearl of Asia.”  Wikipedia is careful to note that that nickname was only applicable prior to the 1960s.

Cambodia arrival card

Basic Khmer

We spent several days wandering around Phnom Penh.  Haven’t we typed that sentence a hundred times already?  ”We spent several days wandering around ___.”  Well, we did.  Here are some photos from our self-guided non-tours.

Residential neighborhood

Central Market hall

Crabs in the Central Market hall

Moto driver naptime

Straw nagas on Wat Pnomh grounds

Wat Pnomh banner

Not a bird

Russian Market chaos

Moto shop

Welding on the sidewalk

Watch repairman

Russian Market food vendor

Fruit juice vendor display

Woman walking down the street

Pink flowers at Ouna Lom Pagoda

Ouna Lom Pagoda

In many places throughout the city, we saw shrines and joss sticks burning to former King Norodom Sihanouk, who died in October.  Between 1941 to 2004, he was king, sovereign prince (twice each), president and prime minister, all to varying degrees of power and influence throughout Cambodia’s bid for independence from France, the Cold War, the Vietnam War and including two years as a pawn head of state during the Khmer Rouge era.  This guy had seen some things.

One of many memorial altars for former King Sihanouk

One night, we were visiting a wat near the Royal Palace and noticed that the road was blocked off and a huge crowd had gathered.  Many people were taking photos of this building, which we later learned was the crematorium specifically constructed for the King Father’s upcoming funeral (set for three months after his death).

Crematorium

We walked further, to the square in front of the palace, and found an enormous crowd seated there.  News articles we read later said claimed that 20,000 monks were in attendance at this ceremony, which commemorated the 100th day after the King Father’s death.

Monk with phone

Monk with candle

Sea of monks

Security guard

Lights turned on

The ceremony was in Khmer, so we were not able to understand what was happening, but it was very moving to be in that place at sunset along with many thousands of Cambodians who were paying their respects to their much-loved king.

Birds overhead

Few visitors to Phnom Penh leave without having visited the former high school now called Tuol Sleng Prison, which turned into a center of interrogation and torture by the Khmer Rouge.  It is now a museum, although most of the rooms and cells remain bare, a stark and solemn monument that contrasts unnervingly with the cheerful yellow and white tile floors.

Tuol Sleng Prison Museum grounds

Tuol Sleng corridor

Torture bed at Tuol Sleng

Cells at Tuol Sleng

Prisoner mug shots

Key rack?

Lucky few survivors of S-21

We originally intended to visit the Killing Fields outside of the capital, but we learned that the grounds are now owned and operated by a private, for-profit company.  After a solemn afternoon spent staring at mugshots and into the eyes of the victims of Tuol Sleng (which included very young children), we felt that visiting the actual execution and mass burial site would contribute more to vulgar opportunism than to our own education and respect for the dead.

We left the shaded grounds of school-turned-prison-turned-museum and walked back out into the bright, hot sun.

Young monks

 

Building near the palace

Children playing around Garuda statue

[If you don't know much about what happened in Cambodia that caused the death of 1.7 to 3 million people (depending on who's counting) less than four decades ago, you can read A Brief History of the Khmer Rouge (Time Magazine), or if you like your information packaged as entertainment, you can watch Sam Waterston star in 1984 movie The Killing Fields.]

12
Mar 2013
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