Siem Reap | A Taste of the Gastronomical and the Strange

3rd and last of a series

Previously in this series:

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 ๐Ÿ˜…

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. We partied like crazy, man! ๐Ÿ˜›

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

Booze a’flowin’, thanks to Gen ๐Ÿ˜๐Ÿ‘.

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

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 ๐Ÿ˜ 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 ๐Ÿ‘

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 ๐Ÿ˜. 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 ๐Ÿ˜› (not that I know any martial arts, haha!). I’d probably just run as fast as I can, and in my towel ๐Ÿ˜€

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 ๐Ÿ™๐Ÿ˜€ 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. ๐Ÿ˜Š๐Ÿ‡ฐ๐Ÿ‡ญ

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

1st in a series on Siem Reap

It was 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. Thatโ€™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 Iโ€™ve noticed to be characteristic of the landscape here).

We were asked to assemble for a briefing to discuss the doโ€™s and donโ€™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 thatโ€™s something worthy of emulation in real life, donโ€™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 โ€“ 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 oneโ€™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. 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 ๐Ÿ˜ )

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! Iโ€™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, weโ€™ve made some pretty bomb spring rolls (holler! ๐Ÿ˜€ )

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 doesnโ€™t always sit well with a lot of my peers. Itโ€™s an acquired taste, I suppose. I am definitely sensing some cilantro, star anise, in most dishes. There are some I probably havenโ€™t heard of and have been trying for the first time, or just something we are not used to eating. Iโ€™ve been tasting everything because Iโ€™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? ๐Ÿ™‚

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” ๐Ÿ™‚

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” ๐Ÿ˜€

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 ๐Ÿ™‚

Remember Chef Khan Van Chhay? Well, heโ€™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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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! ๐Ÿ™‚

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! ๐Ÿ˜€

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 ๐Ÿ™‚ To the rice paddies we go!

My colleagues getting ‘down and dirty’, quite literally ๐Ÿ˜›

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 ๐Ÿ˜€

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! ๐Ÿ™‚

I’m leaving you with some of the photos of that night. Stay tuned for part 2 of this series on Siem Reap. Enjoy! ๐Ÿ˜€

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

Vintage Meets Novelty at The Picasso

Coming from a busy morning from an art fair, we decided to go to The Picasso afterwards and watch Wes Anderson films being shown that day. I didn’t really notice if anyone from our group asked where the filmshowing is being held from any of the staff at the lobby (since I was a bit preoccupied), but I was just going with the flow. Next thing I knew we were riding the elevator and ended up in a gallery – the Altro Mondo. I think we assumed it will be held at the gallery since we’ve learned of it from their booth at the art fair. Anyway, it was a pleasant suprise to learn that there is an exhibit ongoing by Melanie Gritzka del Villar. It’s entitled Hanging By A Thread. And here are some of her works.

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The artist has developed a unique technique of transferring printed images onto gel mediums.

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Do stop by and visitย Hanging By A Thread –ย An Art Exhibition of the Works of Melanie Gritzka del Villar

Exhibition Run: 23 March to 24 April 2016, at theย Altro Mondo at The Picasso

After the exhibit, we then proceeded to the hotel’s function room. Being shown at thatย time is Moonrise Kingdom, a coming-of-age film described as “eccentric, pubescent love story”. I was kind of hoping it was The Grand Budapest Hotel. But this one works just fine. I was more concerned about being able to get some rest and shelter from the heat, anyways. Looking back however, I realized we could’ve skipped some of the movies since we were the only ones watching at the time ๐Ÿ˜›

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Somebody’s sitting pretty ๐Ÿ˜›

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