Monthly Archives: September 2013

The Ingredients For A Mind-Blowing Hike

There are two kinds of people in the world. Camping people and non-camping people. I swear. Think about it. Are you a “camping person”? Is your best friend a “camping person”? I have met people who would rather get a speeding ticket than spend an evening in a tent. And non-camping people, well, they talk about camping like it is sent straight from the realm of satan to punish humankind. You never hear a non-camping person say, “It’s not that bad, but I prefer hotels. But I could go either way, really.”

What do hear is, “Last time I went camping, man, I was swept away in a monsoon, broke my iPhone, and sprained a muscle in my back. Never again.”

Or, “Oh, God! Camping? You all are crazy. Camping is the worst. Like, really. I feel bad for you that you subject yourself to bug bites, sunburn, and no respite from the elements. Have fun.”

Or, “Have you seen Deliverance? No thanks.”

They view “camping people” as mentally-unstable fools, searching for a Shangri-La they will never find.

Or, whacky NPR-listeners, hammock-swingers, plaid-wearers, pack-out-your-own-poo-in-a-bio-degradable-bag campers.

But maybe I’m wrong. But I like to think of the division this way—it’s mildly amusing to me. For a more complete list of the “types of campers”, click here.

You’re probably wondering, “Kim, what does this have to do with Cambodia?” If you remember the end of my last post, I promised you the secret to a mind-blowing hike. You see, as I am of the “I sincerely enjoy camping” type, I connect camping and hiking with the similar traits.

So, if you love camping, and equally love hiking, you are in for a vicarious treat.

If you hate camping and hiking, prepare yourself to enter the world of Alfred Hitchcock and his many horrors.

I’m not going to lie, this hike was brutal. Brutal in a way I have never experienced before. Normally, people classify a difficult hike by the following:

– elevation gained/lost

– rain/snow

– difficulty of terrain

– trail condition

– length

–  your personal physical fitness

Well, when Sean and I chose to hike in Koh Kong, I had to throw all that criteria out the window.

What classifies a difficult hike in Cambodia?

– leeches

– leeches

– complete absence of a trail 

– spiders

– crawling on all fours 

– wading through water

– leeches

– suffocating humidity

– leeches

– leeches

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We were clearly underprepared. Our shipment from Kuwait hasn’t arrived yet, so we were tramping through the forest in our beach gear. The guys at the lodge told me to wear socks. I didn’t get it. They said, “Oh, socks and sandals. Perfect. The best prevention for leeches.”

I thought—You’re kidding.

They then proceeded to take this picture of us, saying, “You need a ‘before’ photo.” 

I thought—It’s a small hike, guys. Five hours. Get over it.

I have never been more wrong.

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To begin, we start climbing up a 45 degree angle. Maybe 60. Needless to say, it was hand-over-foot. It was slide-back-down-with-every-step. I felt like Prince Charming, climbing Rapunzel’s tower through a ravine of twisted vines, if you took him out of a fairy-tale and put him into Dante’s Inferno.


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And then began the leeches. Sean took this picture at our first resting place when he removed his socks and shoes. The leeches aren’t like American leeches—these guys are thin, wiry things that jump on you with such tenacity that they are impossible to prevent.The rise up from the forest floor, wave their body around in the air, searching for carbon dioxide, temperature, and movement. When they smell these three things, I kid you not, they crawl at you at a scarily quick speed. Once they’re on your skin, the sucker on, and you have to pull them off. But when you pull them off, they attach to your other hand. Then you convulse into a hand-flinging-and-whining frenzy, trying to get this possessed leech off your body. There were countless times on the hike that Sean just stopped turning around when I would cry out, “Oh! No! Agh! Oh! Ee! Ow! Agh! No! No! No! Stop it!” It became a usual occurrence. Sean would calmly pull them off, calling out, “Sixteen.” “Seventeen.” Whatever tally he was at. Why is he bleeding so profusely in the above photo? You see, when leeches bite you, they inject an anti-coagulant into your bloody that allows your blood to flow freely. Leeches can then suck up to fifteen times their body weight in blood.

The shocker, if it hasn’t come already, is the sheer number of leeches that attached to us on the hike.

By the end, I had 32 leeches.

Sean had 33.

We started counting after we had gotten four bites in the first ten minutes of the hike. It really detracted from our ability to relax. But it made us hike faster…

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However, I’d hate to underscore the beauty of the Cambodian jungle. (This could probably be  better classified as a bamboo forest.) We saw oodles of wild mushrooms.
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More wild mushrooms.

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My favorite of the mushrooms we found.
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At one point we came to a riverbed that we could walk up. Leech city.

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Here I am, lost in the jungle ahead of Sean.  You can’t stop long to take a picture because the leeches will crawl up to you and attach themselves.

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Then this guy showed up. He was monstrous. The size of your whole hand—fingers included. I didn’t want to stop for the picture, in case he had hidden jumping abilities.

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Finally, we got to resting place number one. The bend in the river. It was a sanctuary of peace. There were no leeches! We could lay out, swim, relax, and play around on the rocks.


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This first resting place was a bend in the river with the perfect swimming hole. It was as if God had opened up the heavens.
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It was a beautiful place to play. We were able to breathe deeply again, out of the suffocating heat of the jungle.
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Here is  a leech I found on the bottom of my shoe, as we were gearing up to head back out on our hike. Nasty creatures. Right now, in this photo, he is doing that “smelling for a body” thing I was talking about. Then he would inch-worm himself around, until he found his victim. Ugh.

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Then we came to places where we had to wade through water. My shoes became a wet sponge. I was delirious by this point.

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As we reached our final destination, I was hot, hungry, tired, and out of water. But was it worth it?

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Totally.

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We found a shaded grotto in the waterfall and froze time for about an hour.

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Then, I guess the hike WASN’T as rough as I’m making it out to be, as a boat met us at the waterfall to take us home. Our friends opted out of the hike (they’d been here before) and took the boat up the river to meet us at the falls.

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Saying goodbye to the Tatai Waterfalls…

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Biscuit had quite a relaxing day.

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Along the river on the way back, we marveled at the thick of the jungle.

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We could now fathom the density of the forest. We crawled through it, swam in it, tramped under it, really got to know it inside and out. It was beautiful.

Then it was time to head home. We loaded up into Anna and Chino’s car and began the drive back to Phnom Penh. But like I said, an adventure is not an adventure without….

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Car problems.

Alas, everyone was a great sport, and after a few card games on the side of the road, everybody was mobile again.

It was the trip of a lifetime, and all in a mere three days.

If you ever plan to hike the Cambodian jungle, send me an email. I’ll give you some pointers.

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Categories: Cambodia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Rainbow Lodge: Long Weekend, Part Two

Hello lovely readers!

Last time we left off,  Sean and I were boarding a boat to head up the river from Tatai to our lodge in the rainforest. (Flashback: It was our three-day weekend at the end of August. We had just driven through beautiful rolling hills, and are now in the coastal Southwest of Cambodia.)

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Sean snapped a quick photo of me boarding the boat. Careful balance is a must!

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As the boat roared off, we were swept into another world. The wind in our hair, the cool water lapping at our fingertips, the bobbing of the shallow boat as we all swayed back and forth, it was a “Wow, Cambodia” moment. (To avoid any confusion, that is Biscuit, the Chihuahua. It is Russ and Sasha’s dog, not ours!)

I really felt like we were in a film. After coming out of the populous capital of Phnom Penh, where there are people and motos flowing through the streets, it seemed like we were on some exotic vacation far from home. It was all rainforest as far as the eye could see.

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Turning off the motor, we coasted up to the jetty of The Rainbow Lodge. It is located in the South Cardamom Protected Preserve, one of the most pristine rain forests in Southeast Asia. It is said that there are tigers, elephants, and crocodiles, but I have never heard of any being seen. What did we see? Some gnarly spiders, unbelievable mushrooms, and lots, LOTS of bamboo. This jetty became my favorite place at the lodge—the gateway to the water park that is this gorgeous river. The lodge had free flippers (snorkeling fins), kayaks, and life jackets for you to borrow so that you can surf up and down as far as you please. The flippers were my favorite; I felt like a freshwater mermaid…

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Once we got off the boat, we headed up the hill to the lodge….
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Everything was made out of wood, which was a lovely change from the concrete and asphalt of the city. It felt like the structures themselves rose right out of the forest. This was the social area, where you could read, eat, drink, or relax.

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Dinner, which was included in the price of the lodge, was just divine.  (I swear they didn’t pay me to write this review.)

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I snuck away from dinner to take a photo of the magic.

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The next morning we awoke to the beautiful view outside of our bungalow window. If you look closely, you can see the river through the trees. It seems far away, but is really only a short walk. Like I said, no one in sight!

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Each of us (three couples) had our own private bungalow. It was so quiet and peaceful, I would love to go back.


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Morning sunlight.

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A view from our bungalow in the crisp morning air.

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Breakfast. Amazing, locally grown coffee, in a french press!

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One of the days we took the kayaks up river to find a waterfall we had heard about. On the other side of the river, a local woman took her boat downstream.

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At the helm of the boat, on top of the world.

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We found the waterfall! It was hidden up a creek through the thick of the jungle. We were able to climb around the on the rocks, take a mini-waterfall-shower, and even take a great photo using our ten-second timer. (You would never know Sean had knee surgery only three months ago, the way he was scrambling around!) Also, major shout-out to Sasha, who is a gorgeous Momma-to-be in her bikini!

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After the rumpus, we got back in our boats to paddle home. They say there are tons of snakes in the jungle, so I made sure to inspect our kayak extra thoroughly. (We had a recreational kayak, not a sit on top like Chino and Sasha’s. Recreational kayaks scream snake hide-out!)

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Before we got back to the lodge, we stopped at a place in the river where the rocks made for a good docking place. We took one final swim and played fetch with Kampot for a while.

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Back at the lodge, we were some tired doggies! This picture is for my sister—it’s the “Wandering Buffalo”. We each picked up these rubber buffs in Wall, South Dakota this summer. I promised to photograph him in a variety of interesting places…

You may think that this marks the end of our adventure in the jungle, but an adventure is not an adventure without which of the following:

A. A mind-blowing hike
B. Machetes
C. Car Trouble
D. Raging Waterfalls
E. All of the above

I hope you picked E. Check back soon for the scoop!

Categories: Cambodia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Kim And Sean’s Big Adventure To The Coast: Part One

I have been chomping at the bit to share our most recent adventure with you. As teachers, we work the basic 9-5 (or more like 6-5) job, Monday through Friday. When the weekend rolls around, we’re normally too knackered (a word I’ve adopted from our Kiwi friends here) to do anything but lay around the pool and catch up with our friends. When we got our first three-day weekend, we were set on venturing out of the city. I love Phnom Penh, it’s awesome, but there is so much more of Cambodia to see.

In Kuwait, there was Kuwait City, and that was pretty much it. I never felt like I was cheating myself on the weekends because I was doing all that there was to do, and I was loving it. Here, there is so much vast, untrammeled beautiful places, that they whisper to me in my sleep, taunting me.

When we accepted this job, I began to Google and fall in love with the Cardamom mountains.

We were planning on catching a bus to the coast, but our friends offered us a ride in their car to head out into the mountains to a lodge on the coast. (Yes, you can do both “mountains” and “coast” in one weekend!)

So, we all packed into their Mitsubishi Pajero and headed to Koh Kong.

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It’s a four-and-a-half hour drive, and really got stunningly beautiful about halfway through. If you look at the map above, you can see all of the environmentally-protected areas. I never knew Cambodia had so many reserves and parks myself until we got here.

The most popular part of the coast is Sihanoukville, which is near Ream National Park on the above map. To get to Sihanoukville it’s about a two and a half hour drive. The Cardamom Mountains, where we were going, take up the left-hand side of the country along the Thai border. Koh Kong is a small town along the border, and the lodge we were staying in was a twenty-minute drive inland. We were meeting another couple there, who also work at the school.

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Our friends Chino and Anna have a lovely puppy named Kampot. I am kind of falling in love with him and his goofiness.

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Cambodian countryside.

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We took a bathroom break on the long drive at a small roadside cafe. I love Cambodia’s calico sky.

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We found a new litter of puppies at the cafe. They were such cute little things! I want to get a dog so badly, but know it would be tough on both us and the doggy due to all the travel we do. I think I’ll just offer to babysit Kampot as much as possible!

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As we rolled into the Koh Kong area, Chino and Anna pulled off the road and told us we would be able to spot the lodge in the forest. I was confused about what they meant, but, lo and behold, we saw the teeny bungalows peeking out of the wilderness! You can only access the lodge by boat, but I will talk more about our arrival later…

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The pull out where we spotted the lodge. We are loving Cambodia.

Before we headed up the river to the lodge, we decided to get lunch. We had been driving since 8am, and it was around noon. We drove up to the coast and took a dirt road along one of the tributary rivers to a place called the “Crab Chack” (… or “shack” to us Western landlubbers). We had heard about how divine the seafood along the coast was, but I truly had no conception of what we were about to experience.

IMG_6716The Crab Shack was a little hideaway on the coast with hammocks, tables, and a few tourists sipping beer alongside the locals.

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You could walk along the beach, where Anna and Sasha looked at the beach glass. I was on a sensory overload. I didn’t know where to turn or what to do, it was all too much to soak in. I kept telling Anna and Sasha that I felt like I was on some tropical vacation that I would have to leave in a week and never see again, but then realized that I will be living here… for quite a while.

Then the food came.

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And what a feast it was. Anna told us to order the prawns with garlic. Each plate was heaped with the largest prawns I had ever seen. You would then create a dip made of fresh crushed Cambodian pepper and squeezed lime. The pot at the top of the photo held rice, which made it a symphony of flavors and textures in your mouth.

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I had never had such prawns in my life. They were so meaty, it was mouthfuls of shrimp. Never before in my life did I ever think I’d say, “Wow, that was a delicious mouthful of meaty, tender, juicy shrimp.” No tartar sauce needed here, folks.

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While we were eating, Sean spotted quite a beastly arachnid above our table.

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Here he tried to take another picture of the spider, but instead got a great shot of the atmosphere and mood of our lunch. Love the guy in the back.

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I was sad to leave the Crab Shack, but know that we will be back.


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Then it was time to head to the lodge… but this step of the journey must wait for another day. As it was our first ‘big journey’ out of the city, we took 300 pictures in 3 days. We were a little out of control. Instead of cramming all the pictures into one long post about the weekend as a whole, I thought you’d enjoy shorter, more focused posts to keep it interesting and palatable.

Check back in a few days to see where this boat takes us!

Categories: Cambodia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Our First Month In Phnom Penh

As of last week, we have officially been living in Cambodia for one month. Wahoo! What do I think of it? Well, I must say, this is a really good life. Laugh at me if you will, but honest, it’s a life of color, of love, of friends, of community, of culture that overflows into the streets and into your heart. Sean and I had a lot to get used to, it’s a lot different than Kuwait! Let’s take a quick second to address some of the big ones—and I don’t mean the fact that Cambodia is overflowing with green space, water, and libations—those are obvious. I’m talking about the little lifestyle changes we could never have anticipated. Trust me, I anticipated the libations!

To begin, the commute to and from school. In Kuwait, we lived one sand-lot away from our school, so we could run to our classroom whenever we needed to. School permeated our lives much more. Here, we have a van that runs to and from the school for us, which is really nice. It adds a half-hour commute each way, but—and you’ve never heard me say this before—we were spoiled in Kuwait. However, we like to have the distance and to live in a neighborhood with it’s own cafes, shops, and secret spots. Plus, we got to select our own apartment here, which ended up being quite nice as you saw in my previous blog post.

Another big difference between Kuwait and Cambodia are the grocery stores. In Kuwait I felt that I was always a stone’s throw away from a grocery store overflowing with both Western and Middle Eastern food. Here, it’s a bit different. There are a few Western grocery stores throughout the city, but none within comfortable walking distance for me. Further, the prices can be extravagant. I found a pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream for $15. Cheese can be up to $10 a pound. Same with butter.  (Are you sensing that they don’t use many dairy products here?) As a result, I have had to undergo a major cooking mental shift. I now frequent the markets twice a week, purchasing all of my fruits and vegetables from the vendors there. (This really is only because I am very frugal and love a challenge.) I occasionally buy Sean a box of Kraft Mac & Cheese, but I am really trying my hand at stir-frys, rice-heavy dishes, and mild curries. They are certainly tasty, but I do miss the hummus and pita bread!

To add on to the issue of cost, that has to be the biggest difference between the two countries. You can live like royalty in Cambodia for pennies in comparison to Kuwait. I feel like this could go unsaid, though, so I’ll keep it short. Delicious local plates cost you $1, as does avocado smoothies, beer, deserts, you name it. I can hop on the back of a moto for $2 and get from one end of the city to the other. We thought we’d save the same amount of money as we did in Kuwait living here because it is so cheap, but we do so many more activities on a daily basis! It is so enjoyable to go out for dinner multiple times a week, knowing we will never spend over $10 between the two of us. And there’s the plethora of delicious street food and drinks. Why settle for a boring glass of water when there’s 50 cent iced coffee? There’s always live music playing somewhere, a happy hour going on, or a new restaurant to check out.

All right, those were the big ones on my mind, but I will bring up other striking differences as they come to me. For today’s post, I wanted to show you a selection of photos from our first month in Cambodia. The food, the sights, the streets, the animals, the people. Let’s get started!

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We live near Wat Toul Tom Poung. Wat means “temple”, and Toul Tom Poung is the neighborhood we live in. This is a street that I walk down a lot which runs alongside the temple.
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Everything is so publicly adorned here. I love it! (Again, at Wat Toul Tom Poung.)

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You can enter the wats and walk around as long as you are respectfully dressed and modest in your behavior. I was bored one Sunday afternoon so I went inside to snap some pictures.

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I love that trees are so incorporated into buddhist shrines. I find it strikingly beautiful.

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Another part of Wat Toul Tom Poung.

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I hope to learn more about Buddhism and Hinduism so that I can better appreciate all of the temples here in Cambodia.

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One evening Sean and I went to the riverside. We don’t venture there often as it is fairly far away, and we have a surplus of wonderful activities and places to visit closer to us. I do want to spend an afternoon and an evening strolling down the promenade and visiting all the shops. The river on the left-hand side of this photo is the Tonle Sap river. The Mekong River and the Tonle Sap converge here along the riverside of Phnom Penh.

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As I said, we have a surplus of places to relax without needing to go to the riverside—would you believe this is at our school? Northbridge is also a housing community as well as a school, so there is a swimming pool and a restaurant and bar on the grounds. It is relaxing to spend a Friday afternoon with a cold drink and a swim in the pool before going home.

Now I’d like to begin my showcase of Cambodian food… you know it’s not a blog post without pictures of food…

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This photo was taken at the Central Market, named Psar Thmei in Khmer. I have had sweetened sticky rice in banana leaves before, so I quickly bought one as a snack. However, about half-way through I found a red paste in the center. Sean swears it was meat but I still maintain it was red beans (like kidney beans). Suffice to say, I could only stomach one more nibble after we encountered the dubious center.

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Sean’s “safe meal” in Asia has always been white rice and grilled chicken. There really are no hidden ingredients in white rice and grilled chicken. They still put a small salad on the side here, along with a delicious pickled plate, which I happily devoured for him. This was in a food court near Psar Thmei.
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I am not proud of this meal. It was rather unpleasant, in ways that I still cannot explain. The shrimp, noodles, vegetables, and broth were good, but there were the long strips that seemed too meat-like to me. The girl swore they were fish, but I just couldn’t figure out what animal they came from. Anytime I can’t tell which animal something is from, that always disturbs me. As you can see, I really wanted to try all the pastes and sauces! I am sure this tray would look really hilarious to any Cambodian with the menagerie of toppings I had.

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The main reason I wasn’t a fan of the soup was the “blood”. As I told the woman, “No meat, only fish”, she handed me the soup with this triangular dark blob floating in the center. When I asked the woman what it was, she smiled and said, “Blood.” I was going to ask her to remove it, but then thought Sean would like to try it, so I just flipped it into a small bowl on the side of the tray. Sean did try it, and said it tasted rather gritty. After asking around the next day, we found out that it certainly was congealed blood.

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Another happy hour with cribbage and cold drinks. This is the Korner Kafe, next to our house.

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I loved this meal. It was at a nicer Khmer place, but the bill still only came to $8. I had stir-fried vegetables and Sean had grilled chicken. It was delicious, and the atmosphere was lovely!

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I may have been complaining about grocery shopping here, but I am being picky. You really can get ANYTHING in Phnom Penh. Sean wanted to try a small place called Cafe Yejj near our house, which was classified as a bistro. I got a delicious eggplant salad (above). It certainly was a change from all the fried rice!
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Sean happy to have a Philly cheesesteak in Cafe Yejj.

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Another local cafe for dinner. I had a massive bowl of tom yum (a shrimp curry soup), and Sean had “barbecue pork ribs”. He wasn’t a huge fan… it was literally chunks of rib bone that you gnaw on while eating the vegetables. I would go back for the tom yum!

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Remember how I said you can get anything? We stopped at a lovely ice cream shop on the riverside with our friends, Charlie and Mie. It had a giant comfy couch for you to recline on and forget all your stress while you relish your ice cream.

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Ah, the live music. This was a quiet showing of The Cambodian Space Project at the Alley Cat Cafe. We loved them, and hope to go see them live again in the future! I also liked the Alley Cat Cafe as it had a selection of Tex-Mex and burgers which Sean loved.

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Yes, Cambodia has cockroaches. Lots of them.

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And geckos. Lots of them.

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And rain. Lots of rain.

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I went to a Vietnamese grocery store near our house and discovered “Vegan Shredded Meat Fluff”.  What could I cook with this?

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When my dad comes to visit I want to cook him these vegetarian pig ears. Think he’ll notice the difference?

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This certainly never happened in Kuwait—while grocery shopping a man handed me his “feng shui and face reading” card.

All right. I am going to spoil your eyeballs right now. This is my favorite part of the city: the sunrises and sunsets.

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Sunrise from our apartment window.

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Sunrise.

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Sunset.

29The best sunset here so far.

So, in short, we love Cambodia. It has so much to offer, and I feel like I have barely seen .001% of it in the month we’ve been here. Drop me a comment below if there is a specific topic you’d like me to write a blog on. This post was pretty scattered; I’d love to do a topic-based blog post if you have an idea!

I hope to post again soon about our recent weekend trip to Koh Kong—it included waterfalls, rivers, kayaking, hiking, delicious food, and the best lodge I’ve stayed at in a long time. Take care, and see you again soon!

Categories: Cambodia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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