Food, Glorious Food

A Singapore Photo Diary
(Last in a series)

This city knows how to eat. One wouldn’t go out of options regardless of the budget. In every housing estate or community, in almost every street corner, you will find hawker stalls. Singaporeans take great pride in them and is very much part of the local culture. It is deeply rooted in this country’s history.

You could almost certainly find a selection of Chinese, Malay and Indian fare as these are the major cultures that have shaped this country.

We tried eating at the local hawker area in the community where my friend lives. It has a food court-like setting with an open view of the street and is located in the ground level of one of the buildings of this residential block, which is a typical setting for this type of housing community. Other usual places are street corners, parks, even MRT stations.

I couldn’t help but notice how, even in the city, we don’t seem to be too far away from nature. I’ve noticed there are different types of trees lining the streets and some type of exotic birds finding home in them. There were a few I have seen who patiently waited for diners to finish eating so they could swoop down on the table and snatch some food. They don’t seem to me like the maya variety I often see in the Philippines. The ones here seem to don a different shade of color. It could possibly be the same specie under a different category or a different specie altogether, I’m not sure.

In Chinatown, there’s a lane aptly called Chinatown Food Street. It’s row full of restaurants and food stalls.

Chinatown is also a shopping mecca. Everything from souvenirs to electronics, apparel to jewelry, to all kinds of knick-knacks, you can find. And while you’re at it, you can enjoy Singaporean architecture like their traditional-style shophouses. To keep up with the theme of the place, local hybrid shophouses were also built.

The idea of trying new cuisine excited my taste buds. My mouth started watering. All these onslaught to the senses – the sight, the smell, not to mention the heat, made me feel a little heady. With so many choices, I had a hard time picking.

We ended up with Chinese. Because it’s Chinatown, after all.

That afternoon, we went to Sentosa – one of Singapore’s latest attractions. Well, “fairly” latest, I would say. The city seems to always have something new in the pipeline that the word “latest” tends to have a shorter lifespan here, with newer and newer attractions springing up (at least until recently) in a space of a few months.

I was surprised to see a huge Merlion standing tall in the park. I may not have seen the original one by the bay but this is the next best thing, for sure. I was happy to have found a Merlion, to say the least – and a huge one at that. Later on however, I learned that this Merlion was demolished in September 2019 to make way for a new project. It’s kind of sad learning about the news. Good thing I was able to take a photo of it, as keepsake (of sorts).

Did you know that this Merlion has an observation deck in its mouth? I didn’t.

Mandatory photo with Universal Studios’ iconic globe in the background. Because why not.

Oh, and there’s a beach called Palawan. I don’t feel so far away from the Philippines now ๐Ÿ™‚

Given the heat however, this day has proven to be a little unbearable for outdoors, so we decided to cut our trip short and just went back to the VivoCity mall to cool down and prepared to go back to the hotel.

Before going to the hotel though, we decided to buy from the local Indian hawker stall just around the corner near where we were staying. We have been curious, or should I say ‘I’, have been curious to try Indian fare (for a change). I love the “carinderia” feel of the Indian stalls. They don’t scrimp on the servings too.

Some roti-and-chicken curry-with-basmati-rice goodness (and a Spartan feel to boot)

This has been an interesting experience, so far. I was having fun, for sure. But there are also some realizations. One is that everywhere you go (and I don’t mean just here in Singapore but anywhere in the world, I guess), people always seem to long for some Utopian pipe dream. The cab driver I talked to on the way to the airport on my flight back, opened up about certain issues they have with how things are being run in the country. He asked how I find Singapore. My answer was pretty standard: clean, modern, orderly. And then he started complaining about how they do nothing but work. Work, work, work all the time and not really enjoying other pleasures like vacations outside the country. He also mentioned about not enjoying the same level of health care on a par with other developed countries. And surprisingly, problem with the housing system.

Whoa?! For a moment there I felt I was thrown for a loop. Who would have thought, for example, that wealthy Singapore – known for its subsidies under HDB, have issues with housing? C’mon. I don’t have my own house myself, for crying out loud. How are you even complaining?? (just kidding). No, inequity and social inequality are real. I can totally relate. And the gap is only getting ever wider.

I mean, often when the media touches on these topics, it’s in a matter-of-factly (if not trivial) manner, usually in the context of economic health. Hearing it first-hand though from a local, gives the issue a face, laying bare the cost of progress in front of my eyes – a flipside to the coin not a lot of people know about. Ultimately, one has to question whether or not it’s worth the trade-offs. Only time will tell.

Not to take lightly of his predicament, I asked if he told the government his grievances. ‘Maybe there’s an amicable solution’, I said. Funny thing is that I couldn’t remember what his answer was now.

Speaking of funny, this guy (who is probably in his, I don’t know 50’s?) loves 80’s music and was fanboy-ing about Whitney Houston (yeah, you heard that right). He’s curious about the type of music the younger generation is listening to nowadays. I said: ‘I think it’s EDM. You know, DJs and stuff?’ (like I know, right?)

Thinking of my own personal grievances, my parting words to him were: “Well, other places are far worse, you know?”, thinking it might give him some consolation. I’m not very sure of that now, in hindsight.

Whew! Some story, huh? Anyways, prior to this I met up with a friend for dinner – a former colleague who is now based in SG. She introduced me to this famous hawker place called Newton Food Centre where some of the scenes in the movie Crazy, Rich Asians were shot.

We started off with some local beer, of course.

I tried Southeast Asian fare this time – Malay/Indo, and I loved it! I think because it’s closer to my Filipino palate, that’s why.

It’s an explosion of flavors – spicy, sweet, tangy. We had barbecued chicken wings, satay with peanut sauce, kangkong (I think it was, or maybe some other vegetable, I’m not sure), and oh, the stingray… it’s a revelation. Some sugarcane juice (which is big here) for refreshment.

And there it is. The final part to my Singapore adventure series. I couldn’t believe it took almost a year to finish (my goodness). Now I can delete some of the photos from my phone which has been clamoring for some space.

Here are the previous posts in this series you might find interesting:

Summit 2019 โ€“ Singapore
Singapore, Day 2 โ€“ Home Ideas & Swedish Meatballs
Singapore, Day 3 โ€“ Icons of the Little Red Dot

I don’t really travel much so this has been a welcome break from my usual routine. It was made even better, of course, by spending it with old friends. I am now feeling excited for Summit 2020.

Singapore, Day 3 โ€“ Icons of the Little Red Dot

3rd in a series

Previously in this series:

Summit 2019 โ€“ Singapore

Singapore, Day 2 โ€“ Home Ideas & Swedish Meatballs

We went to the Bugis area in the morning to do more shopping and to buy some souvenirs. We also went to the Mustafa Centre located near Little India. This is a good place to buy large packs of chocolates that are not usually found back home, in the Philippines.

Late afternoon we went to the Marina Bay area. A local “uncle” was peddling Wall’s ice cream at the Esplanade Park. Given the hot weather, we didn’t think twice buying. Average maximum temperatures in Singapore (usually within the first two quarters of the year) range from 30-31 degrees Celsius*. This day was no exception. We thought it a good idea to cool down with some ice cream sandwich.

*This trip was about seven-or-so months ago as of this writing. Hence, the reference to the usually hotter weather months.

We made our way over to the other side of the Anderson Bridge, passing by the refurbished Victoria Theatre & Concert Hall (on the right side) on the way up and with the view of the Esplanade to the left from the bridge itself.

Victoria Theatre & Concert Hall
View of the Esplanade from the Anderson Bridge

At the end of the bridge is Singapore‘s first Starbucks Give-back store and its 100th.

At the Fullerton Road facing the direction of the Central Business District, stood before me one of Singapore‘s most famous and iconic landmarks, The Fullerton (in the foreground). A one time post office building, hospital, administrative office, etc., it was refurbished to be a hotel and opened officially as such in 2001. I remember there were proposals before to do the same for the Manila Post Office. It’s not a far-fetched idea if you ask me.

We were really just stone’s throw away from the Marina Bay from where we were standing. ‘Just a few moments now’, I thought to myself, ‘and I will see the Merlion’.

Alas! The iconic mythical creature was nowhere to be found. Apparently, at the time, it was being renovated. I took a selfie but it doesn’t feel complete without it. Now I have an excuse to go back ๐Ÿ˜‚.

Na-excite. Na-disappoint. Nag selfie. (beh)

If it’s any consolation though, just behind where the Merlion once stood gloriously, is its small replica. This will do for now.

Across the bay is one of Singapore‘s latest attractions – the Marina Bay Sands.

We made our way to the direction of the Esplanade which was easily distinguished by its durian shape. Durian is that famous Southeast Asian fruit with a hard, spiky shell and with a strong odor and taste that could easily put anyone on the fence whether to like it or not. People can have opinions about it just as strongly as the fruit’s characteristics are, it seems.

Entrance to the Esplanade

Philippines represent! The Philippine Madrigal Singers were scheduled to have a concert here.

What do you make of this art installation below? It’s called Insignificant Meaningful.

Thai artist Torlarp Larpjaroensook utilized everyday, ordinary objects symbolic of the different Asian cultures, reminding us of the syncretic nature of our societies – lunch boxes, thermos flasks, vases, plates and bowls made from materials like ceramic, enamel and wood. These found objects from daily life are charged with meaning as they tell the past, present and future stories of those who owned and used them. Viewed as a single ensemble, it becomes a timeless metaphor for human migration.

I found this LED magnetic frame in one of the stores inside the Esplanade. It glows in the dark! Which reminds me, we just watched the Avengers movie the night before at the Tampines mall. I would have bought this if I were a true, blue Avengers/Marvel junkie.

We went to Bugis afterwards to meet up with a friend, do more shopping and have dinner.

It’s always a nice thing catching up with old friends, having good conversations and sharing laughter with each other, especially over good food.

As if we haven’t been indulging ourselves enough, we even had to go to the InterContinental to have some coffee and tea (hmmm ๐Ÿค” … somebody’s taking the ‘Crazy, Rich Asians’ water, huh? ๐Ÿ’ฆ Maybe a tad too much? ๐Ÿ˜…)

The Lobby Lounge of the InterContinental Singapore

Some night cap it was. A day well spent meeting the icons of the city and catching up with old friends. Happy times, indeed! ๐Ÿ˜๐Ÿ’ฏ๐Ÿ‡ธ๐Ÿ‡ฌ

My 7,107 | Apulit Island, Palawan

Welcome to Paradise
(Last in a series)

Previously in this series:

Keeping Paradise – Saving the country’s last frontier

It rained heavily in Lio during our tree-planting activity. Although it stopped when we started making our way to the town of Taytay, it seemed like the gloomy weather tried to catch up with us in Apulit. It was overcast when we arrived. Dark clouds loomed over the horizon.

We were greeted with refreshments and what seemed like some local song and dance by the staff. The feeling of isolation was palpable – away from all the hustle and bustle of city life. Noticeable too was the lush greenery.

The buffet table was all set and ready. And since we were behind schedule, we had our lunch late.

We headed to our assigned cottages afterwards. They are quite unique and interesting in their design, I must say. It fuses contemporary with the local, using thatched roofs, for example, and other native materials and design, as fixture and ornamentation.

Another interesting thing is that these cottages are literally standing above water. They are built on stilts and are connected to land by bridge way. It’s an ingenious way of adding character to the place, don’t you think? It would have been just another cottage if not so designed.

In some cottages, like the one we had the opportunity to stay at, called loft water cottage, the living room area opens to an amazing view of the sea with easy access to the water via the stairs linked to the veranda. These cottages are an attraction unto itself.

Loft water cottage

After we’ve rested a bit and freshened up, we gathered at the conference area to attend a briefing on the environment. It was held in this huge cabana-like structure or hut, in the photo below. This is along the beach near the clubhouse.

It can’t be stressed hard enough how important education and awareness are in dealing with the challenges of climate change. Of course, this has to be coupled with concrete actions. I give props to everyone involved in this endeavor. I would say overall, sustainability and environmental protection are front and center in this resort group’s business culture and is an integral part of its DNA. This is a step towards the right direction and something other businesses should emulate. It’s a plus in my book so, good job!

We had dinner afterwards. As a matter of fact, besides the activities and the picture-perfect surroundings, food in this article has its fair share of the spotlight, maybe even more ๐Ÿ˜‹

It was an exhausting day for me since I haven’t slept the night before and was only able to grab some snooze for about an hour during the flight. So, I never planned to do any other (social) activity after dinner and decided to just go back to the room, rest a bit, watch cable and sleep. The sleeping part however, didn’t work quite well as expected. I got preoccupied with curating photos and updating posts on social media. Urgh! (I know, right?) It’s antithesis of the very reason/s people go to (and in great lengths, I might add) such secluded places – to relax, to unwind, to get away from it all. Well, not this night, I didn’t. And I only had myself to blame, of course.

The morning after was breakfast. I always look forward to breakfasts in these occasions because I anticipate bacon to be served. And, bacon there was. Nice!

I would say that this day was the highlight of our trip, the second day. We went to an island called Isla Blanca which has one of the best views of active coral reef systems. In fact, they say El Nido and surrounding areas have the best dive spots, bar none.

We didn’t do professional diving but rather snorkeling. Unfortunately, the camera I’m using does not have the capability of taking underwater shots, so I borrowed some from a colleague of mine, Rose. Below are some of the clips of what she took. The first one was in the waters off the main island of Apulit while the second one, by the looks of it, was probably around Isla Blanca.

I couldn’t have passed this experience up since I haven’t done snorkeling over deep water before, with lively coral reef systems underneath. I thought to myself: “I need to make this work”. This despite my fear of deep water. Fastened tightly to a trusty lifesaver and with the help of a swim buddy, I was able to make it. This is definitely a feat considering the fact that I don’t know how to swim ๐Ÿ˜ฑ๐Ÿ’ฆ. Yeah (shocking). Textbook ‘swimming’, I mean.

Oh, well. Another check box ticked off my bucket list, woot!

It was a fun and memorable experience. We didn’t want to leave just yet but we had to go back to the resort for lunch.

The elevated maruya was a hit! It’s a Filipino dessert made of banana slices dipped in batter and then deep-fried. This one was made extra special with caramel sauce on top dusted with confectioner’s sugar.

There were lots of activities for everyone. In fact, there wasn’t enough time for any one person to experience everything in half a day so the group split and went wherever which way they wanted. For the sports enthusiasts, there’s rock climbing, rappelling, kayaking, paddle boarding; for nature lovers, there’s another snorkeling activity on a different island (or lagoon, I think it was); to those who just want to chill, there’s the infinity pool or the beach.

There’s also a bar where one can get some booze while playing billiards. I was supposed to go rock climbing but there’s a long line waiting so we just went kayaking instead, me and my other colleague. We lounged at the pool afterwards.

The whole group was scheduled to go on a sunset cruise later in the day but it got cancelled due to weather. I just took a picture of the sunset from the veranda although the light was diffused by the clouds. Stylized by Google, the photo was made pretty using AI.

Dinner was special that night. We had it at the beach under moonlight.

…and with all the works

We were supposed to float lanterns on the water but the tide was low at the time which meant sharp rocks at the bottom were exposed to the surface. This did not make for a conducive environment for such activity, so we skipped that part and just proceeded with the videoke sessions. My goodness, there were some crazy talents out there.

In the morning it dawned on me – this is last day in paradise. I would have wished to stay longer. I thought to myself, “I will miss these awesome views”.

Some of my colleagues went cliff diving. Me?… Dang! I was here for breakfast ๐Ÿ˜‹๐Ÿ˜‚.

There’s only limited time between check-out and before the arrival of our boat, so we were surprised to have been served still a, what they say is “mini” but really a not-so-‘mini’, lunch ๐Ÿ˜….

Thank you El Nido Resorts for the excellent and wonderful service! I was never so full in these two-or-so days of my life ๐Ÿ˜…๐Ÿ‘

The boats finally arrived so we scurried to the port.

A few moments out, I looked back again and was treated to this view.

Isn’t she a beauty?

One can only appreciate what nature has given us. We owe it to ourselves and future generations to take care of and be good stewards of this gift.

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 was 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.

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 yesterdayโ€™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, โ€˜donโ€™t spread the word just yetโ€™, fearing this piece of paradise would not last long enough once people get wind. But part of me is also saying, โ€˜how could you not share such beauty?โ€™ Urgh! Iโ€™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 Americaโ€™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 ๐Ÿ˜Š๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ’ฏ๐Ÿถ

Isn’t he the sweetest thing? Aaawww…

After check-out we transferred to Riverside Liwa again for lunch. I couldn’t be more excited, actually. We are having a boodle fight! ๐Ÿ˜€

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? ๐Ÿ˜€

It’s amusing to see our Dutch friends try their hands on… well, literally hands on the food (no pun intended) ๐Ÿ˜๐Ÿ‘

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 โ€“ one moment itโ€™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 couldnโ€™t wait to experience the tropics โ€“ 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 Liwa. 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! ๐Ÿ˜€

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? ๐Ÿ˜€

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 ๐Ÿ˜Š

Singapore, Day 2 โ€“ Home Ideas & Swedish Meatballs

2nd in a series

Previously in this series:

Summit 2019 โ€“ 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, โ€œWhatโ€™s up with that Philippines ?? โ€

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.

Thereโ€™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 itโ€™s more on the healthier side. It noticeably uses minimal sodium and sugar. The ingredients too are probably mostly organic, if not all.

Itโ€™s delicious, donโ€™t get me wrong. Itโ€™s just that itโ€™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 itโ€™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). ๐Ÿ˜€

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 ๐Ÿ˜€

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.

Summit 2019 โ€“ Singapore

1st in a series

Can I just say? I couldnโ€™t be more excited with this trip.

Itโ€™s been a long time since I had this kind of adventure/get-together with some of my favorite people from way back โ€“ from my call center days to my stint in a well-known GDS (excuse my jargon). Itโ€™s a different kind of feeling being with people you are in the same wavelength with, right? Oh, happy days ๐Ÿ˜€

My friends have been on this so-called โ€œsummitโ€ for quite a while now โ€“ sort of like an inside thing they came up with to describe this yearly affair of getting together in a different city each time. I didnโ€™t know about this so-called โ€œSummitโ€ until I got to THE actual โ€œSummitโ€ itself. It was only then that I’ve learned about it.

I was jealous. I want in.

The arrival of “delegates” ๐Ÿ˜€

I like the idea of being with them in a different city every year. I mean, with all of life’s stresses? Pfft! This couldn’t have been a more well-deserved break. At least I know it will. And I know itโ€™s going to be for all of our future trips, I claim.

So, Singapore. Where do I even begin? There’s a lot to process.

Well, where better else to start than with one of our favorite things to do, if not THE most favorite thing we love to do – EATING!!! (you are free to dispute me here guys… if you can).

Multi-cultural Singapore is a foodie’s paradise. Not far from the hotel where we stayed at is a famous restaurant that sells Singaporean chili crab – the No Sign Board Seafood Restaurant in Geylang. Not sure though if this is the exact same branch Anthony Bourdain went to in his trip(s) here.

We didn’t pass up trying the Singaporean chili crab, of course. Thank goodness it didn’t disappoint. It was quite the messy affair but it’s all worth it. Although you can opt to use utensils, eating it with bare hands would have been better. It just adds a different dimension to the experience. Thinking about it now makes me salivate.

Equally interesting and satisfying are the fried mantou buns that pair best with the chili crab. We went crazy for the mantous!

We also tried the cereal-coated deep-fried prawns together with yang chow rice, which, I would have to say is sort of like the de facto Filipino barkada’s pigout staple as a side (…or main) – the yang chow, I mean. A true-blooded Filipino would have it either way. Because, you know, we love rice like that.

The movie Crazy, Rich Asians has just been shown fairly recently at the time. And maybe in keeping up with this theme, the morning after we decided to first visit the place where the wedding scene was shot, purportedly. I maybe wrong.

The place is called CHIJMES – a 19th-century structure which was a former convent and school, that now houses restaurants, bars and an events space.

View from the back of the CHIJMES

Another reason why we were all in Singapore that week is because it is T’s birthday week. It seemed like stars aligned so we could all meet together in SG for this special occasion – she being based here for work and others coincidentally are in the city partly on business. I, for my part, have been wanting to go to Singapore for the longest time. So, there – mission accomplished ๐Ÿ™‚

Here we are goofing around at the CHIJMES. This was on the day of T’s birthday.

A short walk from the CHIJMES is the Bugis shopping district. It has a combination of shopping malls, restaurants, nightspots and regulated back-alley roadside vendors, or what we call in the Philippines as tiangge. This is one of the go-to places for souvenirs.

Oh and look! There’s a Manila Street in Bugis.

We spent hours shopping and scouting for discounts, hoping to score good deals. I’m not really so much into shopping but some of my friends are, which is great because Singapore is a shopping haven. It pretty much has everything anyone would ever want.

All this activity, the going to and fro between shops within the district, made us hungry. We took a break and had late lunch in one of the food courts. You probably recognize this Singaporean staple below. Normally for breakfast, this kopi & toast combo is easily recognizable with its soft-boiled egg mixed with soy sauce.

We were discussing where to go to next. Our itinerary is jam-packed and we thought we may not have enough time to visit every one of them given the limited time we have. To make the most of it, we thought it best to first visit Singapore‘s latest attraction – The Jewel at Changi.

It’s amazing how Singapore constantly reinvents itself. There is always something new to do and see. This latest project is a nature-themed mixed-use development that connects three of the city’s airport terminals.

Its centerpiece is the world’s tallest indoor waterfall called Rain Vortex, surrounded by a terraced forest setting – the Shiseido Forest Valley.

The Rain Vortex

Consistently awarded Best Airport in the World for 7 consecutive years since 2013 by Skytrax, Changi isn’t one to be outdone. It’s definitely not resting on its laurels.

Just recently it has unveiled its newest terminal – T4, which is touted to be the world’s first fully-automated airport. This, they say, is a game-changer. I had the opportunity to experience T4 on my flight back to Manila.

T4 departure lobby

We’ve noticed automated counters inside the Jewel, too. In its bid to revolutionize travel and to even further make visiting and transiting Singapore a more pleasurable and seamless experience, they have options for early check-in in these counters for specific airlines for now. I’m pretty sure there are plans to roll out the same for all carriers in the future.

Automated check-in counters and baggage drop-offs at the Jewel

Last on our itinerary for the day is the Light & Sound Show at the Marina Bay Sands.

Can I just say? The view of the Marina Bay is killer! A postcard-pretty snapshot of an exquisite and vibrant city. The city of the future.

It excites me to know what other treasures this city-state offers. That’s something you will find out on the next post.

For now, I’m leaving you with an amazing light and sound show I was able to record the entire 13 or so minutes of.

Enjoy! ๐Ÿ˜€

The Ancient City of Angkor – A Cautionary Tale

2nd in a series on Siem Reap

Previously in this series:

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

Truth be told, I don’t know anything much about Cambodia before this trip. So are most of the people I talked to. Stories circulating online show others being so clueless they don’t know they are dressing inappropriately – some go shirtless, or worse, naked!

Ok, maybe itโ€™s because of the heat, but still, it underscores the fact how little they know about the place and what these ancient structures mean to the local people. They think Siem Reap is just another exotic Southeast Asian beach town. Donโ€™t get me wrong, Cambodia has beaches, but Siem Reap (where the concentration of the ancient temples are) is 280 miles from the nearest seashore. 

I surmise most Filipinos are introduced to Cambodian history some time during middle school. This is where we’ve probably heard of Angkor Wat the first time. However, as is true with most of the things we learn in school, we only remember them by rote (only because we need to pass the subject) but not really getting the import of what was taught (more often than not, I suppose). Not only until later in life and until it fits into one’s scheme of things, does one able to make sense of these things.

Cambodia, for a long time, isn’t really the kind of destination Filipinos are very familiar with. Except recently, it isn’t in the Filipino tourist’s radar. Not even in the OFW’s radar. I mean, I don’t hear OFW’s saying: “Oh, I work in Cambodia very often. In fact, nada.

I think the one time it made an impression on me as an exciting destination was when it came out in the first Tomb Raider movie. A very smart move to break into popular culture, I would say. It has effectively put Cambodia back on the map.

The image of giant trees growing on top of ancient temple walls, with huge roots exposed, left a strong impression. There’s an otherworldly feel to it. It’s become iconic now.

This is a departure from the bad image the country has suffered for years under the Pol Pot regime – one of gruesome violence and genocide. Almost every Cambodian alive today has some loved one or relative, who fell victim to the atrocities. Truly a dark chapter in this country’s history.

Some people may not be too keen on studying history, hence, must have felt on the fence regarding this trip. I get that. But just like anything else in life that is good for us, like a healthy diet and exercise, itโ€™s something we should develop a liking for, for our own good. It takes discipline.

Also, because our modern global civilization is faced with a similar crisis the ancients did, the repercussions of which we haven’t fully realized. We need all the help we can get to overcome it. Any precedence in history that could be of any value would be a good start to even get a bit of a clue on what’s the best way to deal with this problem.

And so, although I donโ€™t know much about Cambodia, I approached it with an open mind. I was an empty cup willing to learn, and boy, did I realize a lot of things. Just the magnificence of it all โ€“ the splendor, the scale, the engineering marvel, especially at a time when (complex) machinery was unheard of โ€“ took my breath away. Mind you, this vast area dotted with numerous temple sites was once a vibrant metropolis (or whatever the equivalent of it is in ancient times). This, in fact, was once the worldโ€™s largest city before the Industrial Age – a world heritage that merits our admiration and appreciation. A gift to humanity.

There are three temple sites we visited that are in relatively close proximity to each other (satellite view below).

First is Ta Prohm, where part of the Tomb Raider movie was filmed. Iโ€™m sure youโ€™ve become familiar with this image by now, thanks to the movie.

โ€œFounded by the Khmer King Jayavarman VII as a Mahayana Buddhist monastery and university, it was built in the Bayon style largely in the late 12th and early 13th centuries and originally called Rajavihara. Unlike most Angkorian temples, Ta Prohm is in much the same condition in which it was found – the photogenic and atmospheric combination of trees growing out of the ruins and the jungle surroundings have made it one of Angkor’s most popular temples with visitorsโ€ โ€“ Wikipedia

All this traveling back in time, at the same time being surrounded by magnificent ancient architecture, makes one feel like going on an adventure – Indiana Jones level ๐Ÿ™‚ And to kick it off, we were given a group activity โ€“ a treasure hunt of sorts. We are to find a bas relief of an apsara head partially hidden behind some huge temple block ruins, overgrown with tree roots. We were just given a picture of how it looks like facing the image and then had to find the actual location for ourselves. Given the huge area we need to scour and the seemingly similar features of a lot of the places in the temple grounds, it seemed like an insurmountable task to accomplish. However, persistence and team work paid off and has won the day. Surely no task is so great with a clear vision and game plan, and a strong team spirit ๐Ÿ™‚

Do you see in this photo where the apsara is hiding?

Apsaras seem to be the first ones to greet us upon entering our first temple – Ta Prohm. They serve as good introduction to Cambodian culture and history. In fact, they play a prominent part in the whole Angkorian culture and architectural theme of the day. Below are the apsaras stationed at the wall near the entrance.

Apsara (in Hindu mythology) is a celestial nymph, typically the consort of a gandharva or heavenly musician. In the Cambodian culture, Khmer female figures that are dancing or are poised to dance are considered apsaras; female figures, depicted individually or in groups, who are standing still and facing forward in the manner of temple guardians or custodians are called devatas.” – Wikipedia

Here are some of the other areas inside the temple grounds. As expected, it’s teeming with tourists ๐Ÿ™‚

Next stop is the Bayon Temple, also known as Angkor Thom.

“Built in the late 12th or early 13th century as the state temple of the Mahayana Buddhist King Jayavarman VII, the Bayon stands at the centre of Jayavarman’s capital, Angkor Thom. Following Jayavarman’s death, it was modified and augmented by later Hindu and Theravada Buddhist kings in accordance with their own religious preferences” – Wikipedia

It goes on to say that the JSA, the main conservatory body in charge of the conservation and preservation of the site, describes the temple as “the most striking expression of the baroque style” of Khmer architecture, as contrasted with the classical style of Angkor Wat.

This is where I got lost for a time, having been separated from the group. Was having a hard time finding my pass and so the group went ahead without me. By the time I was allowed to get in, the group is nowhere to be found. So I just made my way to the top and explored Bayon by myself.

Been exploring corridors and galleries on the lower levels and got few surprises here and there. Turned a corner and found “treasures” like this.

I wonder what it’s like being a Buddhist.

Made my way the to the top and found gigantic statues (towers) of Avalokiteshvara faces, a bodhisattva. This is actually a Bayon temple signature. Hence, its other title – ‘the face temple‘.

Bodhisattvas are enlightened beings who are destined to become buddhas but postpone that final state in order to help humanity.

Another striking feature of Bayon is its adornment of 1.2 kms of extraordinary bas-reliefs incorporating more than 11,000 figures.

I wouldn’t be delving much into the details and stories behind these bas-reliefs but I highly suggest you search and read up on their background. It’s full of history and lots of interesting stories to tell. It’s like taking a peek into the soul of a proud kingdom – its glorious past, its people, its kings, its tales and legends; its everyday life; the mundane and the otherworldly; its idiosyncrasies and all.

Lonely Planet was on point when it said : “There is still much mystery associated with Bayon โ€“ such as its exact function and symbolism โ€“ and this seems only appropriate for a monument whose signature is an enigmatic smiling face”.

By this time, I was already able to catch up with the group.

Our final temple to visit is no other than the grandest and most majestic of them all – Angkor Wat. But before that, we first went to a restaurant outside the temple grounds as we all have been wanting to eat and take a break from all the walking and climbing, under a terribly hot weather.

Here are some of the food we devoured. I didn’t get the names of everything but some of them include: chicken with Khmer spice, deep-fried fish, fried egg, sauteed fried pork with eggplant, stir-fried veggies. I may not have gotten all the names correctly but you get the idea, right? No need to be all fussy about it ๐Ÿ™‚

And so we entered the Angkor Wat temple grounds. ‘Massive’ is an understatement. We had to cross a body of water which seemed like some natural waterway, a river or something, but in reality is a gigantic man-made moat that surrounds the complex.

We noticed monkeys roaming around freely. There are those who seem to be welcoming us on the other end of the pontoon bridge, seated on stairwells and on railings.

Angkor Wat is โ€œone of the largest religious monuments in the world, on a site measuring 162.6 hectares. It was built by the Khmer King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century in Yaล›odharapura (present-day Angkor), the capital of the Khmer Empire, as his state temple and eventual mausoleumโ€ – Wikipedia

Angkor Wat was gradually transformed into a Buddhist temple towards the end of the 12th century. Coming from a predominantly Catholic country, this is a sight to behold. I feel like finding new religion ๐Ÿ˜€

Though damage is minimal, Angkor Wat has not been spared the effects of modern warfare. In fact, before entering, our guide showed us bullet holes left by a shoot-out between the Khmer Rouge and Vietnamese forces in the late ’70’s. This photo, in particular, shows bullet still left inside one of the walls of this ancient structure.

Even more destructive than the war itself though, were the rampant looting of the archaeological finds, by art thieves working out of Thailand. One could not help but notice the numerous headless statues and figures, as a consequence of this looting.

“Breaking from the Shaiva tradition of previous kings, Angkor Wat was instead dedicated to Vishnu. As the best-preserved temple at the site, it is the only one to have remained a significant religious centre since its foundation” – Wikipedia

Statue of god Vishnu

Once again, monkeys roam careless and free ๐Ÿ˜€

Angkor Wat is at the top of the high classical style of Khmer architecture. It has become a symbol of Cambodia and is the country’s prime attraction for visitors.

Before entering the temple itself, we gathered in front of, what looked like a depression on the earth with a small lake-like structure at the bottom, to have our group and individual photos taken. This is a popular spot where people can take picture-perfect photos because of the reflection created by the water, for added drama.

Angkor Wat combines two basic plans of Khmer temple architecture: the temple-mountain and the later galleried temple. It is designed to represent Mount Meru, home of the devas in Hindu mythology.

The magnificence, the splendor, the scale of this ancient wonder. I was in awe.

The temple is admired for the grandeur and harmony of the architecture, its extensive bas-reliefs, and for the numerous devatas adorning its walls.

“The temple stands on a terrace raised higher than the city. It is made of three rectangular galleries rising to a central tower, each level higher than the last. Each gallery has a gopura at each of the points, and the two inner galleries each have towers at their corners, forming a quincunx with the central tower. Connecting the outer gallery to the second enclosure on the west side is a cruciform cloister called Preah Poan (the “Hall of a Thousand Gods”). The four small courtyards marked out by the cloister may originally have been filled with water. North and south of the cloister are libraries” – Wikipedia

The steep stairway symbolizes the difficulty of reaching heaven

“One of these temples, a rival to that of Solomon, and erected by some ancient Michelangelo, might take an honorable place beside our most beautiful buildings. It is grander than anything left to us by Greece or Rome…”

Henri Mouhot, 19th-century French naturalist and explorer

Yes, we romanticize how magnificent the structures are and how ingenious the engineering that was used to build them, but I don’t think people really understand the enormity and scale of this project even if I say it repeatedly and candidly. So, let’s put it in perspective, shall we?

The Khmer Empire ruled over a vast area of Southeast Asia, even larger than what modern Cambodia is today.

Its capital city is Angkor. At the time, before the advent of the Industrial Revolution, it was the world’s largest urban center. And in order to support such huge population, the Khmer built water management systems like huge reservoirs, canals, channels and dikes. They made good use of the resources that are available in season such as the monsoon. Water can be abundant in one season and scarce the next. This ingenious solution of efficiently utilizing a precious resource secured them a regular harvest.

For a long time, it has been a mystery how the society collapsed after about 200-300 years after its peak. There have been lots of theories, of course. Recently, however, a new one surfaced (and this is a real kicker). It states that environmental factors, otherwise known as ‘climate change‘ could have played a huge role in its demise. The ‘freaky’ weather patterns, like floods and droughts, overwhelmed those water management systems. And when I say freaky, I mean those that are not within the parameters of what is considered regular or normal. Basically, weather phenomenon that are off the charts.

We often hear about once in a 100-year type of flooding or drought, or heavy rainfall, right? They do happen as part of the natural cycles of the earth. What’s scary about our time though, is that our brand of climate change is self-inflicted. We create the causes for our own demise. And there’s no precedence of it anywhere in history. The CO2 levels and other pollutants we put in the air are staggering. Nowhere in recorded history has there been this much level of CO2 in the atmosphere. Scientists fear reaching a tipping point where we face the risk of a runaway weather, in which we wouldn’t have any control over nor could we predict with a much better certainty how the weather is going to behave.

Now who says history is not relevant to us today? We may have come a long way as a species but we surely have not learned from the errors of the past, or at least not have been as vigilant as we should have. The ancient ruins of Angkor are a poignant reminder of how even with the best technology and advancements, humans are no match to nature. We could very well suffer the same fate as the ancient Khmer people if we don’t change our ways.

So often we fail to value the natural world because of our greed. We treat it like a commodity, an unlimited resource. We need to realize that it is to our best interest to work with it and not against it.

Here’s to hoping things would work for the better. And soon.

Special thanks to Real World Adventure for arranging our tour of the temples.

To Vox for this video, where screen grabs of the maps of Southeast Asia were taken.

Find them on Facebook:
@realwordadvanture
@Vox

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. 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, 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-coloredย 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.

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