Keeping Paradise

Saving the country’s last frontier
(1st in a series)

This isn’t my first time to Palawan but I still get excited every time. Who wouldn’t? It’s a special place.

This time around it’s Apulit, which, according to our guide means castaway. Frankly, I wouldn’t mind being one if it means waking up to this view every day.

It’s actually a back-to-back weekend getaway for me. Fresh from our Liwliwa escapade the week before, this seemed to be the icing on top of the cake.

Part of the El Nido Resorts group, Apulit is just one of the other resorts in the area being maintained by the Ayala‘s – one of the Philippines‘ richest and most influential families. The others being Pangulasian, Lagen and Miniloc. It’s formerly known as Club Noah Isabelle, a little trivia I learned from Monique, the company’s environment representative while on a chit-chat with her on our boat ride to the town of Taytay on the way back.

The latest resort the Ayala’s are developing is Lio. It even has its own airport – an effort to make the resorts more accessible to the people by creating a vital corridor linking the properties. Our first breakfast in Palawan is in Lio, at Casa Kalaw.

With the development however, is the focus on sustainability. Don’t get me wrong, the very first time I was in El Nido was probably about 5 or 6 years back, in Pangulasian, and the resort is already on it doing the sustainability thing. However, because of the seeming apathy from governments and big businesses about the worsening climate crisis, this mantra has gotten louder and has become a more pressing issue now more than ever.

It only makes sense that stakeholders ensure a healthy and vibrant ecosystem, and that any development have the least or zero impact to the environment. With pristine, paradise-like environment as its main draw, one can say that the industry’s survival hinges on nature itself. It is, therefore, to the best interest of everyone – businesses, tourists, local communitiesto take care of the environment. It’s a huge challenge, for sure, but I admire the effort to really commit to the advocacy.

Climate change is a hot topic nowadays and yet, still, maybe not hot enough to make huge strides on a policy level. It is up to ordinary people and especially those who have money and influence to spearhead these movements. Everyone can do something in his or her own little way but especially if there is a concerted effort from all sectors can we only make a deep and lasting impact.

Hence, I applaud the effort being done to engage everyone in this. Part of our activity is to plant trees in certain areas of the mountain where we also hiked to the top of and where there’s a newly-built viewing deck.

I love the fact that this tree-planting activity is not just ‘planting for planting’s sake’ but that there is a lot of research that went into as well. It considers the types of plants or trees to be planted which are basically those that are endemic to the area. This activity would have been a defeated purpose if otherwise. In fact, I probably would have opted out had it been any different.

It was a quick breakfast in Lio as we had to prepare for the long drive to the dock in Taytay, our jump off point to Apulit.

We were learning a lot from our guide. Taytay is an old town, he says. It even has an old Spanish fort built near the docks, it being Queen Isabelle‘s favorite pit stop back in the day in her visits to this area en route to Puerto Princesa. The fort was built through forced labor (polo y servicio) by Filipinos.

We also passed by cliffs where, according to our guide, eggs from a certain specie of bird are harvested to make nido soup. Have not tasted one myself but I assume it’s good. Probably expensive because of its rarity and the difficulty of sourcing the main ingredient.

Upon arrival, we had some small snacks and refreshments. This, while waiting for the boat ride.

So, are you ready to see paradise? Details in the next article coming soon.

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Inspiration Meets Fun at Liwliwa Beach, Zambales

2nd of 2 parts

I maybe wrong but depending on who you talk to or which online reference you are checking, liwliwa in Ilocano could mean delight, inspiration or recreational fun. Ilocano refers to both the dialect and the people of this particular region where Zambales province is located.

Whatever the case, any of those adjectives mentioned at the outset would perfectly fit Liwliwa. It is all of that.

If you think yesterday’s spectacle of the sunset is bomb enough, think again. I, myself, did not expect this view. I mean, look at this.

A part of me is saying, ‘don’t spread the word just yet’, fearing this piece of paradise would not last long enough once people get wind. But part of me is also saying, ‘how could you not share such beauty?’ Urgh! I’m torn.

One has to be in awe and deep appreciation knowing this beauty in front of us is a product of a tragic event from decades ago. This part of the country was almost erased from the map by a powerful volcanic eruption of a mountain called Pinatubo who laid dormant for hundreds of years, the effects of which were felt worldwide and for years later.

Global temperature dropped and a more-than-the-usual clear glow of sunsets and sunrises were observed in different places. So powerful, in fact, it wiped out two of America’s largest bases this side of the Pacific (the Subic Naval Base in Zambales and Clark Air Base in Pampanga), prompting their eventual turnover to the Philippine government.

I wish for this place to have good management and care so as not to go the way of Boracay – the now poster child for anything that could go wrong to a perfect island by overcrowding and lack of strong, effective regulation.

It was almost lunch time so we went back to the resort to prepare for check-out, the Kapitan’s Liwa.

I wouldn’t let this article pass without having to mention one of our newfound friends – this cute labrador called Whiskey.

Being part of the owners’ family, he is a mainstay at the resort. He does a good job entertaining guests 😊👍💯🐶

Isn’t he the sweetest thing? Aaawww…

After check-out we transferred to Riverside again for lunch. I couldn’t be more excited, actually. We are having a boodle fight! 😀

There’s nothing more fulfilling and satisfying to me than using my own bare hands for eating, especially if served with Filipino food. Oh, delicious. We had ginataang sitaw at kalabasa, pinaupong manok and lumpiang shanghai.

So, are you drooling yet? 😀

It’s amusing to see our Dutch friends try their hands on… well, literally hands on the food (no pun intended) 😁👍

Afterwards, we were toured around the premises.

The owners planted coconuts and other types of plants which provide different kinds of practical uses – as source of food, shade, even aesthetics. This tree stump, for example, as simple as it looks, add interesting character to the place especially with mushrooms growing around its trunk.

You can paddleboard your way to the beach via the river

I love how this place is so in touch with nature. There is never a more pressing time for us to go sustainable given the climate crisis we are facing. It is my fervent hope that places like this remain for future generations to enjoy.

My 7,107 | Liwliwa Beach, Zambales

1st of 2 parts

Everybody knows how unpredictable the weather can be – one moment it’s all bright and sunny, and then rainy and gloomy the next. All the weather forecasts I checked online painted a not-so-good weather condition for the weekend which did not bode well for our planned getaway to the beach.

Our friends from the Netherlands couldn’t wait to experience the tropics – the sun, the beach and, well, everything in between. You can understand how relieved we were that this trip went on smoothly, let alone materialize at all, the bad weather forecast notwithstanding. The conditions were surprisingly cooperative. We did encounter some challenges but nothing we weren’t able to overcome nor anything that could have dampened our spirits.

We made sure it was a fun experience.

We arrived at the Riverside. One need not guess why it’s called that, yes? For obvious reason. A river runs through the property. It couldn’t be more straightforward. We even had to cross a bridge made of bamboo to reach the other side.

If there’s anything these inventive signposts below tell us, is that the owner(s) of this property are passionate about one thing, for sure – surfing.

It felt like entering some chill, peaceful village – the kind of atmosphere often associated with surfer/hippie culture. One would notice how indigenous and natural elements were incorporated in the design of the accommodations, giving it a traditional Filipino vibe. These huts you see with thatched roofs are called bahay kubo in the vernacular. Aren’t they nice to look at? These huts do a good job sheltering people from the tropical heat.

Noticeably too, are the people’s love for pets. All around you will see cats, dogs….

… and goats! 😀

You just find them everywhere here.

Another noticeable part of the landscape are the trees. Pine-like trees called agoho or agoo are abundant here. Not sure if these were planted here on purpose or have grown naturally after the place was covered by volcanic ash brought about by the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo decades ago, some time in the early 90’s. This beach in fact did not exist back then. It was naturally created by the enormous volume of ash dumped by the volcano, as well as sediments washed by the river from upstream.

We arrived in time for lunch. We decided to eat at Tadhana, which means destiny. Food was good. The fruit shakes especially, were a hit. You can even play sungka while waiting for your food to be served. Sungka is a traditional Filipino tabletop game.

The Philippines’ unofficial national dish, adobo can be cooked in many different ways. As many as there are different dialects spoken in the entire archipelago, it seems.
Got myself a strawberry banana shake. Refreshingly good.

Off to the beach we headed afterwards. Thankfully, it did not disappoint. We went around late noon so that the sun’s heat wouldn’t be too harsh. We weren’t minding how time flies, so I guess we were having fun, yes? 😀

Nature though, has a way of ending the day quite nicely for us. We were treated to a spectacular view of the sunset, as if bidding us farewell till the next day.

What an awesome sight!

The squad

We capped the night off with booze, card games (any kind of game we could think of, actually), some silliness and then more … at one point beside a bonfire by the river.

All in all, it was fun. The long drive was worth it. We all retired to bed feeling beat ready to be recharged for the next day 😊

Singapore, Day 2 – Home Ideas & Swedish Meatballs

2nd in a series

Previously in this series:

Summit 2019 – Singapore

Well, what can I say? My first IKEA ever!

While PH is still in eager anticipation of its very first IKEA store, Singapore already has two to date. I say, “What’s up with that Philippines ?? ”

If anything, I can only describe it as humongous.

The one we visited was the store in Tampines. We took the shuttle and arrived in time for brunch, or thereabouts.

There’s already a long line at the counter when we arrived and the huge dining area is already packed with hungry souls. It isn’t this much people we traveled with at the shuttle service coming here so I guess the others came in earlier from other hop-on points, or have used other mode(s) of transport.

I’m loving the idea of a multi-layered tray cart

A friend suggested that I try the Swedish meatballs and one of the cakes, so I did. I got myself a chocolate cake with crunchy caramel.

Now, what I like about Swedish food (if this is in fact representative of authentic Swedish food), which I am trying for the first time, by the way, is that it’s more on the healthier side. It noticeably uses minimal sodium and sugar. The ingredients too are probably mostly organic, if not all.

It’s delicious, don’t get me wrong. It’s just that it’s not as seasoned as much as we are used to with our own dishes. Filipino food, as we all know, is BIG on flavor. Like it’s all savory, sweet (or both) in our world, right?

This focus on providing healthy alternatives is actually a good thing. With the increasing number of cases of degenerative, lifestyle diseases like diabetes and cancer, we do well to be more mindful of the food we eat. We ought to go easy on sodium, sugar, rice and all other bad carbs, and add more of the different veggies instead.

This flat lay though. Hands down.

After that filling and satisfying meal, we are now ready to explore this giant of a maze where it seems like anything and everything you would ever need for an ideal home could be found – from linens, to decor, to furnitures, to all sorts of knick-knacks, you name it. You literally need to follow the arrows on the floor so as not to get lost.

The thing that strikes me the most is the fact that customers are actually encouraged to try the couch and the bed to check how comfortable it is to their liking. Something that’s very different from what we are used to in the Philippines where you would often see signs that say “Thank you for not sitting” or not lying on the bed, or something to that effect.

As a matter of fact, I found myself some nice spot in some (er, not-so-discreet) corner where I had to doze off. I couldn’t help it. For that brief moment, I was the epitome of the saying “masandal, tulog”.

You should cut me some slack, guys. I have very punishing work schedule.

If it’s any consolation, I’m not alone in this. As you can see here, R too has found herself some cozy spot for some snooze.

And this here is the difference (quite literally) between sitting-pretty (left) and sleeping-pretty (right). 😀

If anything, I guess you can call this a testament to IKEA‘s high-quality and comfort, right? Because really, “you’ll doze off in no time”.

Haha! Did you see what I did there? Some segue, huh? And no, I did not just pull-off some tagline 😀

We were feeling pretty beat that day, we hadn’t really made anything out of our itinerary for after. So we just prepared to go back to the hotel. We decided to have some snack first on the way (albeit a bit heavy) and a few more shopping.

The mall we passed by adjacent to the train station has a food court with purveyors selling laksa. Toast Box (where we decided to eat), used to have a branch in Manila at Robinsons Place, but it was short-lived. It didn’t quite took off after its launch. The menu might have needed some tweaking, I surmise.

But this laksa right here? It’s good. Nothing bad to say.

We went back to the hotel afterwards.

By the way, I think our choice of hotel couldn’t be more perfect. We recommend it to anyone whose budget is somewhere in the mid-range. Hotel 81 Premier Star is what it is, of the Hotel 81 chain.

The hotel’s lobby

The rooms are clean and has this minimalist Japanese zen vibe. It’s pretty much stripped down to just the basic necessities (to bring down cost and maximize space), but not sacrificing aesthetics, functionality and comfort. It’s still complete with everything you would practically need but without the frills.

If Mt. Fuji and cherry blossoms aren’t a dead giveaway enough to its vibe, I don’t know what.

Siem Reap | A Taste of the Gastronomical and the Strange

3rd and last of a series

Previously in this series:

Of Back Roads and Red Dirt | A Primer to the Cambodian Countryside

The Ancient City of Angkor – a Cautionary Tale

Yesterday was exhausting. We spent the whole day touring the ancient sites of Ta Prohm, Bayon, and Angkor Wat. Though it was undoubtedly an amazing, one-of-a-kind experience – one filled with awe and wonder, it was also exhausting, what with the long walks and the heat.

This however, did not deter us from spending the night partying in Pub Street – the center of Siem Reap‘s nightlife.

Before that, we decided to stuff ourselves crazy with food – glorious food! We had dinner at the Asian Square restaurant near the Art Center Night Market.

Asian Square restaurant

We ate to our hearts’ content. Well, at least, I did. I’m adventurous like that when it comes to food.

Pound Green Papaya Salad
Deep-fried Fish Cake with Stir-Fried Mixed Vegetables

Speaking of adventurous, there’s something I did I think would be worthy of that description – all in the name of fulfilling some bucket list. A random act of adventurism, I guess you can call it.

We were looking for a nice place we can party when we saw this lady selling some kind of street food that kind of looked unusual (to us) – some critter most people back home would probably freak out upon seeing, let alone eat – scorpions and snakes!

I mustered the courage to eat them. If anything, I would say, it was a revelation. The scorpion was crunchy and tasty, and the snake reminds me of a typical Filipino street food called isaw, or grilled chicken intestine. There are parts of the snake that’s close to being burnt that have crisped up, that actually tasted like “chicharron” (pork rind or deep-fried chicken skin).

The idea of these critters used as food has got some interesting history behind it, one that’s borne out of necessity and survival. During the Pol Pot regime, people had to escape the atrocities by hiding in the jungles. They survived by making do with what was available in their surroundings. Thanks to these critters they were able to get their nourishment.

Truly, one can never underestimate the value of nature, and the human spirit in overcoming adversity.

Such resilience these Cambodians exemplified, yes?

And what an experience this has been for me, personally. Couldn’t be more random 😅

By now we were able to find a place to party. The thumping and the booming were heard even from afar. It called and tempted, and we heeded with practically no resistance. Man, we partied like crazy! 😛

Haven’t partied this hard for a long time, actually – got drunk, loosened up, got my groove on.

Booze a’flowin’, thanks to Gen 😁👍.

Good times, indeed. Especially because I’m spending it with some of my most favorite people. It just made the experience much more fun!

I got back to the hotel wasted.

The day after is “free” day so we get to do whatever we want since there is no formal itinerary planned out for us by the travel operator.

As always, we start the day with breakfast. We never miss breakfast. This one below I had on top of a wooden deck (or bridge, I guess it is) over a koi pond.

And if there is dinner provided for by the hotel, we would be more than happy to devour 😁 No need to ask us twice, for sure. Such was the case when they provided for our dinner on the last day before heading to the airport. Here are some of the pics.

Fresh Vegetable Spring Roll
Beef Lok Lak
Key Lime Pie. This one’s a hit 👍

Breakfasts are a combination of continental and local Cambodian dishes.

There is this soup similar to pho, the name of which escapes me now. Anyone who knows what this is, feel free to sound off in the comments section. It was delicious.

Any of you know the name of the pho-like soup on the left?

There’s also breakfast staples like toasts, coffee, sausages, omelets, rice, etc.

We spent our free day shopping and below are some of my haul. Looking at all of these now, it brought back to me how amazing Cambodia is – its history, its culture, its people; and how amazing this whole experience was overall.

Afterwards, we ate lunch at Pub Street and decided to have Tex Mex. Because, why not? No, really, we’re just hankering for something familiar 😁. Boy, we were full after. This was at Cafe Latino.

We went back to the hotel to prepare our luggage as our flight leaves in the evening.

Before I end this series however, I want to share something I want you to try to figure out what happened exactly. If it’s even something that can be explained by reason or logic.

I slept late on my first night in Siem Reap. I was still up early morning hours of the 2nd day – wee hours. I just finished ironing my clothes and took a shower afterwards.

I was in front of the mirror patting myself dry with towel when suddenly I heard some rustling – some kind of footsteps, coming from the back door, like someone is approaching. I immediately rushed to the door, afraid I might have left it unlocked.

There are different possible scenarios playing in my head at that time:

1. Whoever it is on the other side is probably oblivious of the fact that there ARE people who are checked-in and so would have entered by mistake.

2. Some maintenance or security guy doing rounds checking if doors are properly locked or maybe to check if the water tank or pipes are working fine. At one point I thought I heard some faint clanking, as if someone’s working the pipes.

3. A break in (with the purpose of hurting people or stealing). You know, the stuff of nightmares. This would’ve scared the s#@! out of me.

So, I don’t know. The first option is quite far-fetched. The second option seems off. It doesn’t seem normal for hotel staff to be doing this especially in the middle of the night.

The other strange thing is that the backdoor opens to just a small, sort of like semi-enclosed patio adjoined to a wall which pretty much draws the property’s boundaries – perimeter wall, I guess is what you call it. Beyond that, supposedly, is the neighbor. I’ve learned of this when I checked after the sun was up. There’s no sign of a “water tank”, either. At least not anywhere I can see in the immediate vicinity.

On either side of the patio are walls separating the other rooms. So it’s unlikely to be a prank pulled off by my colleagues from the other rooms. I don’t think anyone would go to great lengths, scaling walls and stuff, for that.

What I know for sure is that someone did try to open the back door – I saw the door handle turn with my own two eyes. I was looking at it up close, ready to deal with the “supposed” intruder, in case of forceful entry. Luckily, my colleague (roommate) was able to lock the door using the bottom lock before going to bed.

I was waiting with bated breath as to what would happen next. I’m expecting a knock, at least, or someone calling anyone from the inside. In my head, I was imagining my worst case scenario – a banging on the door. I’m preparing myself for a loud scream and some martial arts action 😛 (not that I know any martial arts, haha!). I’d probably just run as fast as I can, and in my towel 😀

But, yeah. Nothing. Nada.

Things couldn’t have gotten any more odd, actually. Remember the clanking sound? After that, the shower turned on briefly by itself and then turned back off again. I didn’t see the lever or the shower handle move.

Afterwards, I heard some kind of buzz in the front yard. In fact, I might have heard the door pushed lightly, like someone trying to enter. But not like banging, or something. By this time, my imagination was already running wild. I thought someone might be entering from the front door. Again, my concern was that the door might have been left unlocked so I immediately ran to the front while asking, in an alarming voice, my colleague (who was already sleeping at the time) if the door was locked. He was inadvertently awoken because of this.

No one was outside, apparently.

I don’t know. Maybe my mind is playing tricks on me. What do you think?

What’s more peculiar is that my other colleagues from the other rooms experienced something similar at around the same time, they say. Others have other strange things happen to them as well. Coincidence, you think? You be the judge.

On a lighter note, I would like to commend the hotel staff for doing a great job accommodating us. They’ve been very attentive and hospitable.

To all the friendly staff of La Residence Blanc D’Angkor, thank you 🙏😀 for making our stay memorable.

This wraps up my Siem Reap experience. It’s been a fun and exciting (and sometimes strange) three (or is it four?) days. Lots of lessons learned. Definitely something I would treasure for life. 😊🇰🇭

Of Back Roads and Red Dirt | A Primer to the Cambodian Countryside

1st in a series on Siem Reap

It’s a sunny day. Judging by what the previous groups who have been here before have told us, we only expect the weather to get even hotter as the day drags on. That’s actually a better prospect than when it rains, right? So I guess no one’s really complaining.

Immediately I notice how red the soil is (something I’ve noticed to be characteristic of the landscape here).

We were asked to assemble for a briefing to discuss the do’s and don’ts, the basics in biking, which gear is for what, and stuff. It was impressed upon us that this is not an individual race. Hence, we need to help each other out in order for the whole team to finish fast. Any member of the team struggling should be helped out. Now that’s something worthy of emulation in real life, don’t you think?

We are to finish a 12-km stretch of rough/dirt roads, with pit stops along the way for when we need to recharge – drink to quench our thirst, eat, relax, take selfies/groupfies, or just be silly with one another.

Some thirst quencher this Aquarius is

Despite the heat and exhaustion, one can admire the scenic view of the Cambodian countryside, complemented by a soft breeze generated by one’s own motion against the tepid air. I can only appreciate the simplicity of life here. Time suddenly stood still.

Photo courtesy of Rohjean Alberto, with Erene Araojo on the bike.

At the finish line, we were treated to the sight of an elaborately decorated Buddhist structure known as pagoda. Pictured below is the Phreah (Preah) Dak pagoda. It’s also a functioning monastery for monks so it’s alternatively called the Wat Phreah Dak.

Wat Phreah (Preah) Dak or the Phreah (Preah) Dak pagoda

I notice a lot of these interesting, colorful structures with spires in the temple grounds. Wonder what these are?

Colorful stupas

As explained by our tour guide Sip, these are known as stupas. They basically are tombstones that houses cremated ashes of deceased Buddhists. The more elaborate and bigger in size the stupas are, the richer the person (or the family of the person) who died who affords it. The deep colors represent peace.

Cambodia is 97% Buddhist, who believes in reincarnation. Death is merely a phase, a doorway to another existence – a rebirth. The remaining percent are Hindus, Muslims and animists, and a sprinkling of some Christian denominations. It’s interesting that in some of the villages we passed by in our route, we notice houses built in the second storey but nothing on the ground. The reason being that people believe spirits occupy the ground level. Humans would do well not to disturb them, I guess. This belief in spirits both benevolent and malevolent are strongly-entrenched in some areas that it’s common to see small, deeply-colored spirit houses (for spirits of dead ancestors) and local version of scarecrows (to repel evil ones) posted in front of homes. (I’m literally having goosebumps writing this, so enough already 😐 )

Let’s move on.

Now all this activity is making us hungry. So, we next headed off for lunch. But wait. As the tradition goes nowadays, it seems, we first had to learn how to cook our own food. Chef Khan Van Chhay demonstrated how to create spring rolls! I’m not sure if Cambodians traditionally would have their spring rolls deep-fried, but we definitely thought of it as a welcome gesture that he had it cooked that way, as an homage to our Filipino culture.

We even had a contest of who finishes cooking first with the most number of rolls passing quality check, to be pitted against the other groups. It was a fun activity and, suffice it to say, we’ve made some pretty bomb spring rolls (holler! 😀 )

Afterwards, we were treated to a parade of Cambodian dishes, plus the spring rolls we just made.

I appreciate the fact that they are big on veggies and salads, although the taste doesn’t always sit well with a lot of my peers. It’s an acquired taste, I suppose. I am definitely sensing some cilantro, star anise, in most dishes. There are some I probably haven’t heard of and have been trying for the first time, or just something we are not used to eating. I’ve been tasting everything because I’m adventurous like that when it comes to food.

We headed off next to a small house that has some shack where traditional rice noodles are made. It seems like creating rice noodles is as tedious as planting rice itself – from the pounding to the mixing, to the cooking, to the washing. Maybe I will just skip to the eating part, yeah? 🙂

They’ve been using some curious contraptions where the noodle-makers literally had to ride on top in order to function, like when pounding the mixture, wherein someone literally has to step on the lever on the other end (much like how a see-saw would work), doing it repeatedly in a particular rhythm, so that the person on the other end could fold the mixture in sync with the steps. Otherwise, that person could get injured. It takes skill and a great deal of caution especially if you are on the receiving end of the pounding machine. Kung sa atin pa, “buwis-buhay”, “putol a-kamay” 🙂

Or, when pressing the goo out of the perforated container/thingamajig to be dropped on to the huge cauldron below with simmering water, where it has to be done gently but with much weight, such that the person doing it literally had to sit or ride over the lever using his full body weight but careful enough not to crush the precious cargo. The idea is to press slowly and gently in order to create long, continuous strands. It’s literally what you call, a “tough, balancing act” 😀

If anything however, it makes for good exercise since you partly might also need to lift your own body weight in order to strike that “balance”. There’s a bar or beam above which you can hold on to, to lift yourself up in case you need to relieve the pressure on the “soon-to-be” noodles.

Our jolly tour guide Sip, all smiles and looking all proud at the rice noodles 🙂

Remember Chef Khan Van Chhay? Well, he’s here again to demonstrate how to cook a traditional Cambodian rice noodle dish called somlor brorheur (pronounced somlor brahar). And to assist him is Mrs Team Hup. I couldn’t find any reference to her online but I’m guessing she is the owner of the house and maybe one of the few people who is keeping the tradition of rice noodle-making alive.

She was featured in the Cambodia Chefs magazine.


Chef Khan Van Chhay (left) and Mrs Team Hup (middle) at work. And Sip, well, being his usual self 🙂

Presenting, somlor brorheur.

Somlor brorheur is a curry-based rice noodle soup. If I’m not mistaken, I think it has water hyacinth and lotus flowers (?) as ingredients.

Next stop is a traditional Cambodian farming village. But in order to get there, we have quite an unusual ride waiting for us at the jump-off.

Water buffaloes! 🙂

Ain’t no Grab ride, but one can only appreciate their tenacity and subservience. Seeing them at work is a little heartbreaking, actually.

When we arrived at the village, we were welcomed by the local kids with a song and were given some neatly rolled cold towels so we could freshen up by wiping it on our face and hands. With the extreme tropical heat, nothing feels better than a nice cold towel! 😀

As you may have guessed, we are in a rice farming village for a reason. There’s a traditional Filipino song that goes: “Magtanim ay di biro. Maghapo’ng nakayuko”. It translates loosely to: “Planting (rice) is not easy. Everyday you are in a stooped position”, which basically signifies backbreaking work. This day wouldn’t go by without us having to experience this as this is pretty much the lifeline of all Asian cultures. Rice is such a ubiquity. One can say that the foundation of Asian civilizations stood on the back of this lowly member of the grass family, feeding millions, serving as catalyst for growth.

And so, plant rice we shall, barefooted and all 🙂 To the rice paddies we go!

My colleagues getting ‘down and dirty’, quite literally 😛

After that one-of-a-kind experience (it’s not everyday you see a city-dweller planting rice, yes?), we were asked to go back to the village since it’s already starting to rain. We washed our feet in the communal wash area where water is still pumped from the ground, just like in the old days. We were then treated to some refreshments (my favorite is the “buko” or coconut juice) and some traditional Cambodian song and dance.

It really was an exhausting day – fun, but exhausting. I think most of us dozed off at the bus on the way back to the hotel. And just when you thought you could finally go to your room and indulge yourself in some nice, warm shower, drop to your bed and sleep to your heart’s content, lo and behold, Sip just had to burst your bubble by announcing another activity. And just like that, your anticipated R&R was thrown out the window 😀

We headed back to the hotel, the La Residence Blanc D’Angkor, to freshen up and change.

We had dinner at the Phare Cafe, where one of the items on the menu is the famous fish amok. As usual, there’s always the salad, and for dessert we had some (I think) caramelized banana with rum and grated coconut. There’s a Filipino dessert which is interestingly similar. We call it minatamis na saging.

We capped the night off with a spectacular performance from the Phare Cambodian Circus. No, not that kind of circus. No animal was harmed or even involved in any of its production. It’s all display of acrobatic skills – part-theater/part-acrobat. And it’s for a good cause, too. It’s helping Cambodian youths stay out of the streets, giving them better opportunity by making better use of their skills and talents. Should you ever go to Siem Reap, do watch their show. It’s amazing! 🙂

I’m leaving you with some of the photos of that night. Stay tuned for part 2 of this series on Siem Reap. Enjoy! 😀

Special thanks to Cambodia Cycling and Real World Adventure for arranging our cycling adventures of the countryside and our sampling of the local culture.

To La Residence Blanc D'Angkor for our accommodation. Their friendly, caring and attentive staff made our stay enjoyable.

Find them on Facebook:
@CambodiaCycling
@realwordadvanture
@residenceblancangkor

Leaving our Hearts in the Snow

3rd in a series

Previously in this series:

Yuzawa – The Little Snow Country to the North

Japan | A Gastronomical Experience that Satiates

“Time flies when you are having fun”. So goes the saying. Couldn’t be truer than now, our last day in Yuzawa. The past two days have been a whirlwind. It’s been nothing but a plethora of different new things to the senses – from the weather, to the food, to the culture. It really is one for the books.

But wait, the fun isn’t over yet. We cannot leave Snow Country without having to experience winter activities it’s famous for, right?

So, as is the usual routine, we wake up early to have breakfast at GaiA (that cute, little cabin at the edge of the woods).

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Today however, we woke up a bit earlier than usual so we could maximize time.

Props to Yuki for cooking all of our delicious meals during our stay at the inn – the soup that was served upon our arrival (which I call the welcome soup), two of the breakfasts we had at gaiA, and the packed breakfast we had at the bus on the way back to Tokyo. She is such a sweet and nice gal, who had been nothing but patient and understanding to us 🙂 She probably find some of our customs weird but has managed to accommodate us still. For example, I don’t think it’s common for Japanese to put sugar in coffee (if they even drink coffee regularly at all). Doesn’t seem like it. So when I asked for sugar for the group, she was kind of surprised that one small pack is not enough. It had to be a small bowl for everyone 🙂

These are the meals she made for us for our breakfast for the past two days. All of these are organic, by the way.

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Today’s breakfast – eggs, sausage, salad and pumpkin soup

I particularly liked the set with the baked salmon. Delicious! Proof that going organic doesn’t mean taste had to be sacrificed.

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Country-style breakfast of baked-salmon, Japanese-style eggroll, fried veggies with dashi soup , and miso soup. All organic. Yum! 🙂

I also like the ‘hippie-dippie/new age/people-of-the-earth’ vibe of the place and the kind of lifestyle espoused by Yuki herself. Not something I expected.

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I guess it would be nice also to put the spotlight on The Vintage Backcountry Inn Arimaya – our accommodation for the past three days.

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It’s a traditional ryokan, so everything you see here are antique, save for some modern amenities like TV & WiFi.

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“Built in 1908 without a single nail, the original structure is a(n) exemplar of the exquisite traditional Japanese kominka construction”

There were just some modifications done with the heating, plumbing and lavatories to keep up with modern standards. But you get to sleep on a traditional Japanese futon and tatami mats. Also, please take time to read the house’s history and how it was built in the about section of its page on Airbnb. You’d appreciate it more.

Now we proceed to our first destination – ski!

We went to the ski rental first to get some boots. The boots had to be clipped tight. So tight in fact one could get sore feet and legs afterwards. We then proceeded to the ski area which is really just around the corner – the Yuzawa Kogen Ski Resort.

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Since none of us have any experience with ski, or any of the winter sports for that matter, we were first taught just the basics – the essential gears needed and how to put them on; some warm-up exercises; the basic techniques of sliding and stopping, and how to get up after falling. Also, how to move your way to the top of the hill and how to, sort of, put on the “breaks” while sliding down.

Me saying it like this makes it sound easy, right? Wait till you try it, haha!

I’ve fallen a couple of times and it was really hard for me to get up without having to resort to the “shortcut” – that of releasing the locks from the boots 🙂 The proper techniques (there are two of them) both require that you carry your weight through the use of the poles. Good luck with that, really 😉

I was also challenged going up the hill. Gravity always win pulling me down. Ski blades are extremely slippery, you know. Anyhow, it was an experience.

By this time we are feeling hungry already. We went to this beautiful place with the mountains as backdrop and had grilled meat, or what is called yakiniku, under a covered or roofed space outdoors, much like a gazebo, if not one already.

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It’s like having your typical picnic, only it’s in the snow. There’s lots of meat to be cooked and they are so delicious. I don’t know how we managed to devour all of them up. Hungry much, I guess? 😛

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After that wonderful lunch, next activity is riding a snowmobile from ski-doo.

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This one’s easy. Anyone who wants to satisfy their need for speed can try it here. Everyone gets to try one round with instructor and one round by himself. Lucky if you get picked to drive for the race afterwards.

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It was an activity-filled afternoon. What we’ve learned and what we’ve been practicing for would be put to the test later with the mini-“Winter Olympics”, of sorts.

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I wouldn’t be delving too much though, with the nitty-gritty of the games and of the other activities, so as to keep the element of surprise for the other groups who are yet to experience it 🙂 All I can say is be ready with your wit and brawn. You will need them. Good luck! 😀

As you can imagine, we were all exhausted by the end of the day. Nothing could be more joyful and nourishing than a nice meal like this below.

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The main entrée to the left, which are thin slices of pork with some type of (what I understand) is a miso mixture at the bottom, and was cooked right in front of us, on our tables, with some special leaf for aroma, is super! It tastes really good. As we say in the vernacular, we were all “galit-galit” 😀

Not sure where we had the meal exactly, although below is the signage at the entrance. My online references direct me to the Yuzawa New Otani. I couldn’t be sure, though. The itinerary says closing dinner at a typical izakaya, or watering hole.

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But of course, this being our last day in Yuzawa, I wouldn’t miss the opportunity getting pampered in what I think is the most quintessential of our Japanese experience – the onsen. People can go to Japan but they may not always experience this, let alone the Snow Country.

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And that pretty much sums up my Yuzawa experience. Delightful! 🙂