Monthly Archives: March 2014

An Afternoon In Phnom Penh, With New Eyes

 

Hi everyone! I can’t believe how fast this year has gone. It is almost April… we have spent eight months in Cambodia. In some ways, it feels like we have just arrived. In other ways, I feel like we’ve been here for years.

It is almost Khmer New Year, which spans from April 13 – 16. We have a week off school, and will be spending some time soaking up the beauty of the Cambodian & Thailand coast. But before we get there, I’ve got to share a few more special moments from our daily life with you.

This batch of photos comes from my dad‘s camera. (Thanks, Dad!)When he was visiting back in January, we had a blast exploring Phnom Penh together. Even though I had been living here for only six months, I had already viewed so much of my surroundings as “normal”. When my Dad came, however, he was astounded by the slightest things! He took lots of photos, asked lots of questions, and enjoyed every moment.

I invite you to view an afternoon in Phnom Penh, as seen from new eyes.

IMG_2079Weddings. Birthdays. Funerals. In Phnom Penh, a celebration normally means a giant traffic jam, as all events are held inside huge tents that are constructed in the middle of the street. As I was frustratingly inching my way through traffic, my dad snapped a great photo of the entry to the tent. Looks like a great party! The women wear beautiful dresses, and spend lots of time making their hair and make-up perfect. Sean and I are going to a celebration next weekend, held by a Cambodian friend of ours in his village. I will be sure to take pictures for you!

 

IMG_2090We got lunch at my favorite counter in the Russian Market. They are fresh noodles, salad, coconut milk, a tangy vinegar sauce, and slices of taro-filled egg rolls! It is truly divine. My dad washed it all down with a fresh-squeezed orange juice.


IMG_2127As our food journey continued, we came across a street vendor I had never seen before. We ordered two of his sweet treats, which turned out to be circular pancakes with different fillings.

 

IMG_2129And then we got smoothies. You can never have enough smoothies. These were from the top floor of Sorya Mall. You’ve got to take a break from the heat and slip into the A/C of the mall!

IMG_2098Back in the markets, we had another round of street food. These are gelatinous fried balls, filled with a coconut milk mixture. You dip them in a tangy-spicy sauce. I absolutely love them. My sister and I were staring with such intent as they had just come out of the deep-frier. You couldn’t touch them—they were so hot they could scald your skin.

IMG_2112Inside Central Market (Psar Thmei), my sister scouts for earrings. I took her to my favorite vendor. It’s funny how when you make friends with a seller, and give them repeat business, the price automatically drops from $8 to $2.
IMG_2116If you know what these are, please leave a comment! They looked like snakes in water. They were writhing all over each other.

IMG_2118Typical produce vendors in the market. This is where I generally buy all of my fruits and veggies.

IMG_2124A woman selling her jackfruit. (Which tastes like bubblegum!)

IMG_2125Bugs for sale. Really. Lots and lots of bugs.

 

IMG_2102To polish off our day of wonder and gluttony, we headed to get some Cambodian BBQ. It was our first time there, and we had no idea how to work the grills. We tried our best, and had quite the feast!

We actually went back to the Cambodian BBQ a week ago with our friends, Anna and Chris. Anna snapped a much better photo of us that actually shows you what the Cambodian BBQ is supposed to look like:

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Look at all that meat! And all those vegetables. Yum, yum, yum!

There is so much that is great about Cambodia. But I really love the food. (Except maybe the edible bugs and snakes. Maybe…)

 

 

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

The Goldilocks Guide To Massage In Phnom Penh

We all know the story of Goldilocks. The famous “Goldilocks Principle” can be applied to a vast number of situations. It is that search for something that is neither too extreme nor too tame, neither too much or too little, but “just right”.

Southeast Asia is famous for massage. In Phnom Penh, you can find massage parlors averaging about one every two blocks. When we were on the beach, my sister and I thirsted for a massage every afternoon. Generally, you can expect to pay between $7-10 in the city for an hour massage. In the local places, the prices drop down to $2.50, and in the luxury hotels, they can rise to $50. Your basic Cambodian massage is much different than any massage you will receive in the States. For example, your massage is not complete until you’ve been hoisted into the air on the shins of your masseuse:

khmer(Photo courtesy of Champei Spa on Tripadvisor.)

This position is also signature in a traditional Khmer massage:

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(Photo courtesy of Lotus Blanc Resort.)

The Khmer massage involves a lot of partner stretches and movements that use the masseuse’s body as a hinge. In a Khmer massage, you are always fully clothed in loose, cotton pants and tunic that they provide.

This weekend, I tried out my third place here in the city. Having been to three separate parlors, with three VERY different experiences, I can say that I now have the Goldilocks Principle for massage in Phnom Penh.

Location #1: East West Healing Massage

East West Healing Massage, on street 53 in BKK, was recommended to me by our school nurse. She told me she didn’t like “wimpy” massages. I told her I couldn’t agree more. She said that East West REALLY massaged you deeply, and that you would certainly thank them afterwards.

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(Photo courtesy of  Holistic Health and Me.)

I arrived at East West, and they asked me if I wanted Khmer, Chinese, or Vietnamese massage. As they were a Chinese parlor (I deduced this only by the artwork and signs on the walls…) I asked for the Chinese massage. I was pretty sure our school nurse gets the Chinese massage, so I decided to go for it.

To be brief, I was glad I was face-down for much of the massage, so that the women could not see the expression of sheer agony on my face. I was actually gripping the legs of the massage table, which were conveniently (or purposefully?) within reach. This woman was INTENSE. The picture above is the best likening I can find that captures the experience. Every movement on my back was as hard, fast, and penetrating as her muscles could muster. And it wasn’t just simple pressure points—she would find a tendon, and then with her elbows she would twang the muscle back and forth like she was in a fiddling competition. She would press her thumbs into my veins to stop the blood flow to my hand, then swing my arm around in a circle like a rag-doll having a seizure. She would oscillate my shoulder/wrist/ankles back and forth, hearing the crunching of bones and cartilage between every push and pull. I don’t think she was satisfied until my cartilage was dislodged from the area and floating freely around my circulatory system. With every grip, every stab, every contorted manipulation, muscles were begging for mercy. Up until that day, I never thought it was possible to break a sweat during a massage.

East West Healing Massage? Goldilocks Says: Too Hard!

Next up, we have:

Location #2: One Day Spa & Beauty Salon

 One is in my neighborhood, and was one of the first parlors I visited in Cambodia. Near the Russian Market, they pride themselves on giving struggling women dependable and positive employment.

the one(One on Facebook.)

At One, I have had a back/neck/shoulder massage as well as a 90-minute traditional Khmer massage. To begin, their ambiance is fantastic. Cozy, dimly lit rooms, scented candles, and smooth acoustic music filtering through the air. All of their employees are very sweet and polite as well. I always feel very comfortable at One. However, whenever I am having a massage, I am waiting for that spine-tingling-“aaah” moment, but it never seems to come. They are very delicate and smooth in their movements, but leave me always wanting a little bit more. It’s hard to describe in words, but they consistently seem too gentle for my liking. My sister, on the other hand, loved One. She loved the light pressure massage, as opposed to anything heavier or more forceful, which she had in Thailand. For me, it is too easy to start daydreaming during the massage—I need a massage that is gentle enough not to cause pain, but strong enough to give me a sensation I cannot get by massaging my legs or my head myself.

One Day Spa? Goldilocks Says: Too Soft!

 

Lastly, I happily present to you:

Location #3: Seeing Hands Massage Center

 Located near Wat Phnom, all of the masseuses at this parlor have visual impairments. I would say 90% of them are completely blind. The other 10% have visual impairments of different sorts. Luckily for them, they found a professional that fits their skills perfectly. To massage the human body, one can “see” in many different ways.

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(Photo courtesy of http://slowboat.teamworkz.asia)

THIS was the ideal massage. Set in an older building, it is a much different atmosphere than the other two parlors. This had a communal setting; you walk in, pay in advance, and head upstairs to the massage room. You enter a room and see ten massage tables set up with people getting massages all in the same room. They hand you your cotton clothes, and you changes behind a curtain and put your personal items in a locker. Then, you lie down on a bed, and wait. Eventually, you feel someone approach you, and touch you from your feet up until your head. He smiled and said, “Hello”, as he touched the four corners of the table to get his bearings. Then, he draped the massage sheet over my body (as all massages here do), and began to give me the best, firmest, most controlled, most effective, most professional massage I have had in Cambodia. This guy knew where to massage, how hard, and for how long. He really made it an art! Luckily, they have all of their employee’s pictures at the front desk, so I plan on asking for the same guy when I go back next time. It was a GREAT massage: perfect in every way. No contortions, and plenty of, “Aaah, that’s the spot” moments.

Seeing Hands Massage Center? Goldilocks Says: Just Right!

 

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Elephant Trekking & Time Travel In Thailand

 

Koh Chang is an island for all people. If you want to lose yourself in weeks of lying on the sand, book in hand, soaking up the beauty of pure relaxation, you’ve come to the right island. If you want to clamber up waterfalls, explore the rugged mountainsides, or, even, trek with elephants, you’ve DEFINITELY come to the right island.

There is so much to do on Koh Chang! After the snorkling, the waterfall, and the plentiful beaches, we decided it was time to get up close and personal with the “other” locals of Koh Chang: The elephants.

IMG_2043There are many elephant trekking groups on Koh Chang. You see elephant “pastures” all over the island. You can book a variety of trips; we spent a half-day with these spectacular mammals.

 

IMG_2010We set out from the paradise of our hotel early in the morning. We had an ocean to swim in and Thai food to eat before we visited the elephants.

 

IMG_0164I tried the Thai version of my favorite Cambodian dishes, bok lahong. Believe it or not, everything in the above picture goes into this salad dish. In Khmer, bok lahong means “pounded papaya”, as it is a salad of unripe papaya sliced with the veggies above, and tossed with the most delectable, savory peanut-lime dressing. In Thai it is som tam, which literally translates to “sour pounded”. Whatever you call it, it is DELICIOUS!  (Check out that woman’s upper-body strength; you can tell she is a “pounded papaya” professional!)

After lunch, we stumbled upon something I’d never seen through all my travels…

IMG_0166…a business for time travel information. (Now you should be asking yourself, “Where is Kim writing this from?” But that’s a story for another blog…)

 

And then it was time to visit the elephants.
IMG_0172Sean was on one, my sister and I on another, and my dad walked halfway and rode the way back.

 

IMG_0187He had fun being at leg-level with the elephants as much as he did riding them. Together we headed into the forest of Koh Chang.

 

IMG_0215Then they told us, “You can give the elephants a bath.” We didn’t know that meant actually swimming with the elephants.

 

IMG_0229But it did. Lots and lots of swimming and snout-spraying.

 

IMG_0245As I make a complete fool of myself in the above picture, my sister has the shot of the lifetime. We were just floundering around in the water with these things; sometimes the elephants would completely submerge themselves underwater. You just had to guess where they would come up.


IMG_2049The view of an elephant from the driver’s seat.

Then we headed out of the forest, the sun drying our swimsuits as we plodded to and fro on the giant beasts.

And what does one do after a full day of riding and swimming with elephants?

IMG_2015Why, get a back massage, of course.

IMG_0170We polished off our final day in Koh Chang with a final dip in the ocean. What a day it was.

 

Categories: Thailand | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Toto, We’re Not In Cambodia Anymore

 

When my Dad and sister said they were coming to visit, Sean and I faced a dilemma. Where do we take them? It was our winter break, and we wanted to go far enough away given all the time we had, but we also wanted to show my family the parts of Southeast Asia we know and love.

So we decided on Koh Chang, Thailand. An island on the Cambodian border; close enough to home, but still exotically different.

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We drove through the beautiful forests of Southwestern Cambodia, and then crossed the border into Thailand.

Unfortunately, we had to leave our car at the border. The border guards would not accept one of our registration papers, which we feared would happen. It is a temporary document, the official one is still in processing. After a few minutes of frustration, we accepted the fact, and hopped in the back of a songthaew.

 

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My Dad and sister were gracefully flexible – they loved the adventure! We took the songthaew from the border to the ferry dock, which only took about an hour.  We had been lazy leaving Koh Kong (remember, it’s paradise!), so it was getting late by the time we took the ferry to Koh Chang.

 

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Which meant we got to enjoy an incredibly sunset as the island loomed in the foreground. As we got closer, I couldn’t believe how mountainous it seemed!

 

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The next morning we sat in awe of the incredible view from our hotel, Oasis. Can you spot the islands?

 

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The view of Oasis as you approach from the main road. It was set on a hill, which gave you incredible views and a sense of being in an incredible rainforest.
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Our bungalow. Their basic rooms are something like $9 a night. This place was heaven.
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Once we got our bearings and filled our bellies with pad thai and coffee, we headed to the beach. Lonely Beach, to be exact. When we got there, we were greeted with white sand, gin-clear waters, and beach front massages. Bliss.
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We spent the better part of our days savoring this view.

As much as Koh Chang is famous for its beaches, it also has a variety of adventure opportunities. The whole interior of the island is a national park. The only development exists around the island’s perimeter. Once you head inland, all you’ll see is monkeys, waterfalls, and vines.
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We visited Klong Plu waterfall, and swam in its emerald pools.

IMG_1993To get to Klong Plu, you hike through the jungle for twenty minutes or so, and pop out at the base of the falls. It was a popular spot. December is the start of the dry season, so when we saw the falls in January, they weren’t as full as they would be in October. I can only imagine how wild it must be in the rainy season! Looks like we’ll have to go back.

IMG_0030On our third day we booked a snorkeling cruise. The owners of our hotel recommended BB Divers, which is Belgian run. We had a few choices: the cheapest snorkel trip was with a different company, and you’d be on a boat with about 50 people. For a bit more money you’d be on a boat with thirty, and for something like $3 more, you’re on a boat with ten. We chose the boat with 10, which was run by BB Divers.
IMG_0040It was, hands down, the best snorkel trip of my life. Absolutely stunning water, excellent equipment, and fantastic staff. The reefs were beautiful, but all of the iridescent fish were what sticks in my memory the strongest. You swam through entire schools of fish!
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We docked near Koh Rang and snorkeled for a few hours, then had lunch on the boat. (Do I even need to add that the food was excellent, too? Or will you stop believing me at some point…)
IMG_0108My sister decided to jump from the roof of the boat. No one rushed to stop her… or jump themselves. Not even me.

 

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The afternoon swam by in a series of laughs, splashes, and smiles. Before we knew it, Koh Chang grew larger on the horizon, and it was time to head back to the hotel.
IMG_0130As we sat there drinking our bottles of Chang  and watching the sun set, we shared a moment that could have lasted forever.

But we knew that tomorrow was another day to have fun.

See you next time for more on Koh Chang!

Categories: Thailand | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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