A Phnom-enal Time!
Trip Start May 05, 2011
37Trip End Aug 27, 2011
Map your own trip!
Show trip route
Where I stayed
Off to Cambodia today! We got up nice and early to pack up our things and check out of our hostel. We made sure to leave ourselves plenty of time so that we could change all of our Vietnamese dong into American dollars. In Cambodia, they have local currency (riel) but prices are almost always listed in American dollars and people are mostly expected to pay in American dollars as well. The other problem is that it is extremely difficult to change Cambodian currency outside of Cambodia.
We left on a nice comfy bus with air conditioning at about 9am. It took forever to get out of the city. Rush hour was still on full force and stop and go traffic seemed to be everywhere. I saw it as a good opportunity to get some street shots to give you guys an idea of the chaos. We can see now why a relatively short (distance) drive turns into a 6 hour bus ride
The two of us napped on and off for the ride to the Vietnam/Cambodia border. We got off the bus to get our passports stamped and to fill out our departure cards. Back onto the bus and another short drive to the Cambodian part of the border crossing to get our visas and have our passports stamped again. The bus drove a little further and the group of us stopped for lunch at an open-air Cambodian diner. Stuff-on-rice! Plates of steamed rice, with stewed pork belly and boiled eggs (for Shannon), and stewed pork hock with fermented bok choy (for Andrew). We got a couple iced coffees, and chilled out, but before long it was time to leave again, so back to the bus!
Cambodia didn't look too different from Vietnam except for the language of course. We're back to not being able to read the signs again, lol. Damn. The highway from the Vietnam border is well-paved, but that's relatively new. A few years ago the road would have been a nasty, rutted track, and it would have taken us hours longer to reach Phnom Penh. There were loads of casinos near the border as well (cause gambling is legal in Cambodia, but illegal in Vietnam). Towards the end of our bus ride we actually got to travel across the Mekong River by ferry while still on the bus
We had been following where the bus was on our map as we were driving so that we knew exactly where we were when we got off. Turns out our hostel was only a little over a kilometer away so we decided to walk instead of taking a motorbike or tuk tuk. One major difference between Vietnam and Cambodia is the fact that there are not very many taxis around at all. Every driver that came up to us to ask if we wanted a ride either had a motorbike or a tuk tuk. It was nice...they weren't very pushy at all. Some pushy drivers in our travels would follow for a block or two before giving up, lol.
The hostel was easy to find and we checked in and dropped our things in our room. It was getting close to dinner time so we headed out. It was a gorgeous evening for a walk and we strolled along the Tonle Sap river. There were a lot of people out enjoying the evening… women doing organized aerobics, kids running around, couples, families, foreigners. Oh yeah, it's Friday night. That might have something to do with it. ^_^ We didn't end up finding the place we had set out to find so we just turned around and headed back the way we came
We ended up stopping at a Thai restaurant that was on the way back to the hostel. A very busy little place, which boded well for a fresh and delicious meal! :) We ordered fish cakes, which were lovely. More like fried fish paste (with lime leaf and ginger), rather than our North American idea of fish cakes. We also ordered a fresh green mango salad, which was minty and fish saucey, and tart and delicious. Super fresh tasting. For mains, Shannon had fried eggplant with pork, which was delicious, but a bit greasy. I had dry red curry, which is basically a stir-fry of chicken, peppers, chilies and eggplant, with a splash of coconut and red curry paste. Holy hell was it ever spicy! I loved it. It also had fresh green peppercorns (still on the stem), which I've been looking forward to since we decided to come to Cambodia. The country used to be very well known for the quality of it's pepper, before the Khmer Rouge. It was amazing to try fresh pepper! Gotta find some in Toronto. <_< Some steamed rice and cool beverages (beer for me, and tea for Shannon) completed the meal.
We wandered back towards our guesthouse, not in any particular rush
Saturday, July 9
In the morning we spent some time doing blog post stuff and reading up on where we might like to go today. By the time we got on the move, it was lunchtime and so narrowed down our decision to a place called Frizz about a 5 minute walk from our hostel. We started with a pair of Cambodian specialties - a crepe stuffed with ground chicken and bean sprouts (very similar to the Banh Koai in Saigon), and lotus-leaf-wrapped sausages, dipped in batter and deep fried. Both were delicious. :) For mains, Shannon had fried slices of beef, marinated in soy and pepper, served on a salad of raw onions, tomatoes and lettuce, and it came with a fried egg. I had fish Amok (probably the most famous Cambodian dish), which is fish marinated in fish sauce and peanuts, steamed in a banana leaf with coconut milk. Came with rice. Tasty. :) Tasted pretty much like you'd imagine it would
On a whim, we wandered around a little bit after lunch and happened upon Wat Ounalom. At the time, we didn't know what it was, but it was obviously open to the public so we went in. We later found out that it was established in 1443 and consists of 44 structures. It was damaged during the Khmer Rouge reign of terror, but has since been restored. The main complex has a stupa which contains what is believed to be an eyebrow hair of Buddha. It was really beautiful inside the complex but, as there weren't many signs, we weren't sure what areas we were allowed into. There were obviously more buildings behind the main ones at the front, but it looks like monks live there and we didn't want to intrude. When we walked into the main building, we were greeted by a monk who smiled and asked where we were from while we strolled and looked around. After we answered, it was a little awkward because I couldn't tell if he was just curious where we were from or if he was trying to strike up a conversation. How do you have an idle conversation with a monk when you're not sure how large the language barrier is? "Hey...so, you're a monk, eh? That's...cool...and stuff. So...a monk….huh, how's that working out for you?.....uh...I like your robe…" >_>
Our next stop was Wat Phnom ("Temple of the Mountains" or "Mountain Pagoda), a Buddhist temple built in 1373 and stands 27 metres above the ground...the tallest religious structure in the city
It was quite late in the evening when we returned so we had to make sure that we didn't chill out in the room too long before heading out to dinner. We ended up choosing a place called Pop Café...an Italian place owned by an expat and known for its fresh pasta. Cool! Shannon had a tea, and I started with a Campari and soda. (:D). Had a glass of white wine when our apps arrived. We shared a green salad with boiled egg and capers, a spectacular bruschetta (super simple… tomatoes, garlic, salt, pepper and olive oil, on garlicy toast), and a plate of amazing meatballs in simple passata tomato sauce. Everything was *really* on point. For mains (with which I had a glass of red), Shannon had Parmigianna di Melanzana (eggplant parmesan), and I had the house-made tagliatelle with bolognese sauce
After dinner we weren't quite ready to head back yet so we went a few doors down to the FCC (Foreign Correspondence Club) for some after dinner drinks. It turned out to be a great decision. You go up one set of stairs to get to the bar...then you climb another set to get to a second bar and a live four-piece jazz band (guitar, electric standup bass, drums, clarinet/vocals). The band was good and we were very glad we stopped. Shannon had a glass of red wine (inspired by the vino I enjoyed with dinner), and I had a Singapore Sling (which was tart and delicious). We even went up and danced when a particularly up-tempo song came on. It was getting quite late so we didn't end up seeing the second set and went back to the hostel instead
Sunday, July 10
Today we started with lunch at a place called Khmer Barane (barane meaning "traditional") at the most southern end of the main strip next to the river. It was a lovely restaurant with a big open feel to it. We were hankering for some iced coffee, so we ordered two, and were instantly refreshed. ^_^ We ordered a selection of food, aiming to get apps, 2 mains, with a veggie to split. But everything came all at once! Just fine by us. :) We got "shrimp fritters", which were esentially breaded, deep fried shrimps, which came with a fish sauce and lime dip. Amazing. We also got a plate of morning glory with garlic and oyster sauce, which came wrapped in a jaunty bow of steamed carrot. We split an order of chicken curry stewed with sweet potato (not our North American sweet potato/yam… a white version, which is starchier). It was coconutty, slightly sweet, and delicious. Shannon had ordered a plate of calamari with fresh green peppercorns, and when it came, it had TONS of green pepper, still on the stem.
An aside about Kampot Pepper:
The south of Cambodia was known for ages for it's amazing pepper
Anyhoo… the calamari was delicious, the pepper was crunchy, and hot and floral. Definitely a high-point of our trip to Cambodia so far. We were given two custard apples for dessert, which was really neat. We've never had custard apple before. There were some at the market in Hue, and I've seen them for sale at grocery stores at home, but I'd never eaten one before. The skin peels away relatively easily, and the flesh inside has a custardy texture, and a super-sweet, slightly tart tropical flavour. Worth checking out, if you can find some at home. :)
After a lovely lunch we headed to the National Museum of Cambodia. On the way we managed to happen across the same tuk tuk driver as yesterday (with the CANADA hat) who tried to convince us that 1) It wasn't going to rain later that day, and that, 2) The Royal Palace would be closed today
The National Museum was pretty damned cool and a great place to spend when it's pouring rain outside (which started almost immediately after we went inside...talk about good timing). Unfortunately, absolutely no photography is allowed in the museum so we only have a few pictures of the outside. The majority of the museum's collection was art from Cambodia's "golden age" of Angkor. There are tons of statues of Hindu gods, ancient stelae inscribed in Sanskrit and Old Khmer and artefacts from prehistoric burial sites. We spent an hour or two in there and the rain had long since stopped by the time we left.
Our next stop was the Royal Palace. Sunday is apparently a particularly popular day for locals to go so we had to shuffle along through a sea of people to get to the ticket window. Our progress was slowed a lot by a group of young (late teens, early 20s) Japanese tourists in front of us who weren't dressed appropriately (no short skirts, shorts or bare shoulders) so we had to wait while they argued with the ticket sellers. Eventually we got in and it was spectacular! Huuuge, open spaces between buildings, grass-covered areas, trees, crazy architecture
We headed away from the main building at first and decided to go have a look at the one to the left...not many people around. It turns out that there weren't many people around because no one was allowed in. Ah well, you could still see quite a bit from the outside since the only thing obstructing your view of the inside are the short half-walls (probably would come up to your waist) and the columns holding the roof up. There were paintings on the ceiling inside which, in their layout and composition, are reminiscent of Renaissance ceiling paintings. Pretty cool! We continued to the right and there was a building covered with green mesh behind which you could see a building undergoing restoration. It turns out that it was the Iron House gifted to the Cambodian royalty by Napoleon III, of France. Iron may be a great idea if you want to get someone a nice expensive present (then), but maybe not so great for the recipient if they live in a tropical climate, though...just sayin'. ^_^
Further to the right was the main building, the Royal Palace. Shoes off, of course. And no photography (again, sorry). Huge structure, totally covered in gold and white paint. We were allowed about halfway inside, but we could clearly see the throne, all in gold, raised up about 2m from the floor
Next, we headed way back over to the left again and passed through an arched doorway in a wall to reach the Silver Pagoda (Temple of the Emerald Buddha). You have to pass through a massive gate, and you enter a whole second set of grounds around the temple. Like most places we enter, we avoided the main attraction at first so that we could explore the grounds around it a bit. Trees in pots, huge carved stone monuments, and all around the outside wall was a paint-on-plaster mural (easily half of which was destroyed/badly damaged… the bottom half, so maybe a flood?). We couldn't tell if it was all the same story or not and, unfortunately, my knowledge of Buddhist and Hindu mythology and imagery is woefully inadequate to get the full benefit of something like this. I'm pretty sure, though, that at least part of the painting was of the Ramayana because I recognized one of the stories...er...I think. ^_^
It took a pretty long time to walk the perimeter of the complex and, once we'd found our way back to where we had started, we went into the main temple. Shoes off again and no photography. Almost the entire floor was covered with carpets and rugs, to protect the silver tiles, but you could see some around the edges where they weren't covered
Andrew was hankering for some pub food so we decided on a place called the Green Vespa (so-named because its owner bought a green Vespa on his very first day in Cambodia...he's been here for 7 years).
We each got a drinks (Shannon - Beer Lao Stout: a very dark beer from Laos, Me - $2 bloody mary, and then another, and then a Beer Lao ^_^), and decided on apps of chicken wings with hot sauce and fries, and mains of a 1/2lb cheeseburger for Shannon, and bangers and mash for me
We were stuffed after dinner and enjoyed the long stroll back to our Hostel, along the Tonle Sap river.
Off to bed now! One more day, and we're off to Siem Reap and the amazing Angkor Wat!
Andrew and Shannon
P.s. We're officially down to our last month of travelling! Start the countdown… only 29 days to go!