Monthly Archives: May 2014

Graffiti In Phnom Penh

Street art says a lot about a place. Whether it is the fact that it is rampant, absent, honored, or scorned, people always seem to have an opinion on street art and its place in their home.

Phnom Penh has a surprisingly vibrant street art scene. In my grade 9 English class, we were studying controversy, and our central question was, “Graffiti: Vandalism, Art, or Both?” I teamed up with my friend Anna who is the high school Art teacher, and together we planned a field trip to seek out the graffiti around Phnom Penh.

If you live here in the city, check out the Facebook group, Graffiti Cambodia. They’re always posting new places, even with a bit of info about the artists themselves.

However, Anna and I scoured the internet and never found a comprehensive map of where to go.

So we made one ourselves:
MapI numbered the sites we visited 1-7, in the order that we visited them. The pins without a number do have graffiti, but we didn’t visit those on the trip. If you’re familiar with the city, you can see that we started near the intersection of Monireth and 271, then headed down 271, came up Norodom, drove past ISPP, headed in BKK below Sihanouk, went up Monivong, and made a final stop near Bong Kak Lake. Got it? Good.

Now let’s look at some art. (All photos compliments of the lovely and artistic Anna Sudra.)

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Street 430 off Monireth.

 
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Continue straight along street 430. Near Phnom Penh Sports Club.

 

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The motherload of graffiti. A giant open space with at least five pieces by various artists. A vacant lot across from the Malaysian Embassy on Norodom.

 

 

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An alleyway behind ISPP on Norodom. This is actually a series of pieces of the “boy with the butterfly”. It tells a story the whole length of the alley wall.

 

 

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The side of a restaurant and bar, across from Top Banana Guesthouse. There is a whole montage of faces on the second level. Really beautiful.

 

 

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Street 184. Inside Puthisastra University. A compilation by multiple artists: Peap Tarr and Lisa Mam to be sure, along with others I can’t remember.

 
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All the way up near the Bong Kak Lake area. From Monivong, turn left on street 80 before the Start Chas Roundabout. You will be driving alongside the French Embassy on your right. You will then find a giant cache of street art sprouting along the buildings.

 

 

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And before we knew it, it was 3pm and we had to be back at school. What a fantastic day… full of unexpected surprises. I added it to my mental list of the thousands of reasons why I love Cambodia.

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Road Tripping The Cambodian Coast

It was the spring break that wasn’t.

 

Moving abroad, you shed some of the terminology that you used so mindlessly back home.
For us Americans, college became university.
America became The States.
Vacation became holiday.
Bubbler became water fountain. (For me, at least.)
First floor became ground floor.
And, obviously, soccer became football.

Anyways, calling it spring break means nothing when you don’t teach at an American school. In Cambodia, the second week of April celebrates Khmer New Year, which is when we have our week-long break. Khmer New Year coincides with Songkran in Laos and Thailand, Thingyan New Year in Burma, as well as Sinhalese New Year in Sri Lanka. Clearly, calling it anything BUT a “New Year’s break” would get you strange looks in most of Southeast Asia.

I was lucky enough to have my parents visiting, and we took a gorgeous road trip along the Cambodian coast. We spent a few days exploring the wild, pristine landscape of our country before heading into Thailand and visiting Koh Kood.

Also important to note, today marks a significant change in the format of Angkor’s Away (AlohaKuwait for you veteran readers). Sean and I purchased a GoPro. Instead of snapping hundreds of photos, we are now shooting high-quality video in 1080p.

And now you will come to be familiar with one of Sean’s favorite hobbies: video-making. Here is our first GoPro compilation from our trip along the Cambodian Coast. We drove down through Bokor National Park to a teeny tiny island near Koh Sdach, which is the home of the best lodging in Cambodia: Nomad’s Land. It is in an absolutely stunning–and absolutely isolated—archipelago between Sihanoukville and Koh Kong. It is the most beautiful place in Cambodia that I have seen yet.

Then we hopped over to Koh Kong for a lovely paddle down the river, dined on fresh shrimp, and frolicked on the beach as the sun set. Take a look:

I recommend watching it on the highest resolution possible; the snorkeling footage is fantastic.

Beautiful, isn’t it? After our few days in Cambodia, we crossed the border to Thailand. But that’s another video. See you soon!

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Visiting Yoot’s Village: An Hour Out Of Phnom Penh

Happy May! I don’t know what it’s like where you live, but it’s been over 100° every day here in Phnom Penh. Yep, 100°. Humidity, you ask? Isn’t it also humid in Southeast Asia? A simple Google search informs me that humidity is currently at 62%. 

100° Fahrenheit with 62% humidity. If you don’t know much about science—like me—let me fill you in. The hotter the air is, the more water it can contain. As the temperature rises, the humidity will feel worse, even at the same percentage. So, 40% humidity feels a lot worse when the air is 80 degrees than when it’s 45 degrees. Here’s a screenshot of Accuweather’s “Real Feel” for the current weather in Phnom Penh:

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And if that STILL doesn’t make sense, let me explain it this way. Turn on your shower. Crank the heat up as high as it will go. Close the door to your bathroom. Walk away. Enter your bedroom. Put on the following garments: wool socks, sweatpants, turtleneck, snuggie, gloves, scarf, hat. Next, complete fifty-five jumping jacks. After the jumping jacks have been completed, locate your one of the following items: cooking oil, vaseline, Chapstick, or mayonnaise.  Rub selected item all over any exposed parts of your body. (Presumably your face.) After all of the above events, approximately twenty minutes should have passed. Return to your bathroom. Is the shower still cascading steaming water out of the faucet? Has the room become a sauna of mist and heat? Good. Shut the bathroom door. Sit on the floor of the bathroom. Close your eyes. Imagine palm trees.

 

But this blog isn’t all about the current heat situation of Cambodia. It is about the time we visited our friend’s village. It was a special day. Our first village visit, actually. And while the heat can melt my ice cream, it can’t melt my memories. (Thank you, thank you. I perform every Thursday.)

Our friends, Sarah and Yoot, invited us to Yoot’s village, located an hour’s drive outside of Phnom Penh. Yoot’s mother was holding a ceremony for her husband who has passed away. While he had passed away fifteen years ago, they didn’t have the large ceremony for him at that time. Now, even though years later, they held the large celebration on the anniversary of his death. Sean and I were flattered to be invited to go.

IMG_1208When we first arrived, we met friends and family. I handed my gift to the man receiving them, and in doing so received a blessing. The above photo is Yoot and I, about to hand my gift over to the man who was responsible for receiving them. As you can see, the woman in front of me is bowing to accept her post-gift blessing.

Another observation: Sarah asked us to wear a white top and black bottoms. Look how well I fit in!

 

IMG_1213We sat down to dinner shortly after arriving, and relaxed speaking with Sarah and Yoot. Family was everywhere, the sun was shining, and it was beautiful.
IMG_1214Yoot insisted on serving us, even though we asked him to sit and relax with us. He was pretty proud to host us on his home turf. He grew up in the house on the left, with the steps heading out of the photo. He and Sarah live in Phnom Penh and have for quite some time, and he said he loves to visit his home and share it with others. (Sean wanted me to mention how handsome Yoot is. Isn’t he a handsome man?)

 

IMG_1219And OH WOW, the food was fantastic! Truly. Fresh grilled fish, steamed rice, roast duck, sweet porridge, and deep-fried coconut rice for dessert. The fish was grilled to perfection. It was a divine combination of tastes and textures.

 

IMG_1222After dinner, we walked around the village a bit. (I told you we were well-dressed!) Yoot showed us the fish farm, where his family raises fish to sell in the city. They dug the well themselves, irrigated it with a nearby stream, and now have a lucrative fish business. They transport live fish into Phnom Penh every morning, where Yoot’s sister sells them at Orussey Market.

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1526429_627595060660675_801304591_nThe chanting went on all evening, with intervals of music. We knelt on the mats, hands folded in prayer, and took part in the ceremony for Yoot’s father.

 

IMG_1235Sean snapped a few photos of the instruments, which were absolutely fascinating.

IMG_1238And, of course, a Khmer party is not a party without dancing! We finished the evening with a few dances, which ranged from contemporary Khmer artists to American music from this decade. We didn’t want to leave, but we knew we had an hour’s drive back into the city ahead of us.

I can’t wait for another opportunity to visit Yoot’s family and village. It was amazing to get out of the hustle and bustle of the city, talk with lovely people, and relax with friends.

But maybe the temperature will have to drop a bit before we venture out of A/C again…

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Silk Island: Phnom Penh’s Tardis

If you’ve ever watched Doctor Who, you’d know that a Tardis is a time machine. Having sat through hours at my kitchen table hearing, “Exterminate! Exterminate!” or watch a phone booth fly through a psychedelic time tunnel in the opening credits, I have indirectly become well-versed in Doctor Who jargon.

A tardis is the time-traveling machine Doctor Who uses to, well, time travel. I like to think Phnom Penh has her own tardis in a way, and it goes under the guise of Silk Island.

Screen Shot 2014-05-03 at 8.57.13 AMIn Khmer is it called Koh Dach, and is north of the city on the Mekong River. A few Saturdays ago, Sean and I rented bicycles and took them over to Koh Dach for a step back in time.

IMG_0376A mere fifteen minutes outside the absolute chaos of Phnom Penh, you find dirt roads, cattle, palm trees, friendly dogs, and sleepy villages. You really feel like you’ve been transported back in time a decade or three.
IMG_0382We also found an abandoned temple complex, begging to be explored.
IMG_0383Not quite as old as Angkor Wat, but equally as beautiful.

IMG_0389All you could hear was the palm fronds swaying in the breeze, the putter of a distant motorboat, and the calling of birds.

IMG_0394Sean and I were wondering why this building grew to be so deserted. Was it during the Khmer Rouge? For such a beautiful location on the banks of the Mekong, it seems odd to have such a nice place grow so old and out of use.
IMG_0402As we cycled north on the island, we found rice paddies and farmers bent over, deep in their work, donning large hats and long sleeves to shield themselves from the sun. Like I said, you have to look long and hard to find signs of anything city-like on Koh Dach. It is a quiet paradise!

However, Silk Island is also a bit of a tourist destination for its “white sand beach” on the northern tip of the island…

SilkIslandBeachLocals love to visit the island on the weekend and rent out a little hut sitting over the water. They relax in hammocks, sip on a few beers, and have a picnic with their friends and family. It is a great concept—except that it is RIDICULOUSLY crowded. (The above picture is a panorama, which looks great when you open it in another window.) You can even rent an inner tube and float along the Mekong here. As beautiful as it was, maybe we’ll come back when it’s less busy!
IMG_0417Instead, we found a secluded hut tucked away in the trees just next to the beach. Owned by a family, they run a little restaurant on the bank of the river. With only seven or eight huts spread far apart, you can have some really nice privacy. And the food wasn’t bad! If I recall, they even had french fries. (Which Sean orders wherever he is, whatever time of day. You can’t lose a golden opportunity to get fries in SE Asia, he says.)

That’s how we spent our afternoon. You leave your shoes on the ground, spread out a blanket, and have a picnic in the hut. Here, the family brought our food to us, and we dined under the thatched roof. The shade was an oasis from the heat of the day and our sunburnt neck and forearms. Isn’t it lovely!

IMG_0430After our leisurely lunch we hopped back on the bicycles and headed back south. In the photo above, you can see the Phnom Penh skyline across the river.

IMG_0434And then we got on the ferry to go home.

Would I go back to Silk Island? Absolutely! It is a blast to pedal around the dirt roads, have a lovely lunch under the palm trees, and explore some abandoned buildings. It is a great way to spend an afternoon. And if you’re looking for a place to rent your bike, I recommend Vicious Cycle on street 144. Now you have no excuse!

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A Weekend in Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh, HCMC, Saigon. Whatever you call it, this massive city in Southern Vietnam has become a post-war metropolis, tourist destination, and cultural capital. To some Americans, Vietnam evokes images of rice paddies, small children, and the horrors of the 1960’s and 70’s. To others, it is an exotic labyrinth of markets, canals, and mysterious soups waiting to be slurped and Instagrammed.

To me, it is a five-hour bus ride away. And in a simple weekend, the city of distant awe became a real place in my memory and my heart.

Our school in Phnom Penh—along with others in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam—is part of the “Mekong River International Schools Association”. As such, our sports teams all compete with each other, and we travel to the respective schools for the tournaments. There is also a “Cultural Exchange” between the schools and their art programs, which happens once a year. This past February, I was the female supervisor for our schools varsity basketball team at the MRISA 2014 basketball tournament in Ho Chi Minh.

In between watching the games and helping as needed, I was able to slip away and explore the city.

IMG_1006The first place I headed was downtown. The above photo is at the massive roundabout in front of Bến Thành Market. The entrance to the market is below the clock tower on the right. As you can see, there are as many—if not more—motos in Vietnam as in Cambodia.

 

Actually, that reminds me—if you’ve never thought about the size and scope of populations within Southeast Asia, this is a prime time to do so. In the map below, you can see the population densities in our region:

seasiapopdensityLaos is the least populated country in SE Asia, with Cambodia a close second. Vietnam is jam packed all along the coast, and particularly around the Mekong Delta.

 

IMG_1007But you would never have known it, the morning I was out. The streets were quiet in the early morning, lined with trees and paper flowers.

IMG_1009I headed into Bến Thành Market, ready for a coffee and something to eat.

IMG_1010If SE Asia is famous for its iced coffee, then Vietnam is king. They have perfected the iced coffee, with sickeningly sweetened condensed milk, hot, rich coffee, and a chilled glass filled with ice.
IMG_1012Much of the market was similar to Cambodia, especially with the gelatinous deserts.

IMG_1013All the skewers tempted me, with their perfect seasonings and fresh herbs.

IMG_1014But behind the pristine displays of food is a chaotic kitchen!

IMG_1016I walked through the produce area, feeling just as if I was back at home in Phnom Penh.
IMG_1017Although I have never come across fish this delicious in my local market! Look at that! What type of fish do you think it is?

After Bến Thành, I strolled around the streets of the city with an iced coffee and my camera.

IMG_1062A few cages waiting for a bird to make them their home.
IMG_1038As Vietnam is communist, I saw governmental posters all over the city. Sean thought this one was particularly interesting, and it shows all religions coming together under Communism.

IMG_1030More promotional artwork, celebrating the government.

 

IMG_1036Did you know there was a Notre Dame cathedral in Vietnam? In the center of the city is this gigantic basilica, built by the French in the late 1800’s. It is still used to this day, and all of the original material the building is made of was imported from France.

IMG_1040The Saigon Opera House, where regular performances are held.

IMG_1043Ho Chi Minh City’s city hall building.

One man I spoke with described the downtown as the ‘lungs of the city’. And I can see why. With it’s beautiful architecture, flower-lined pathways, and bustle of people, it really felt like an integral part of the greater puzzle that is Saigon.

IMG_1069And for my final meal before the bus pulled out of the station to go home: legendary phở. Pho is becoming more popular in the States, but I’ve never had it myself. A steaming bowl of heavily seasons soup was set before me, alongside a massive pile of fresh herbs, limes, bean sprouts, and chilis. Need I describe how delicious it was?

I can’t wait to return to Vietnam, and see more than the city of Ho Chi Minh. I also want to bring Sean back with me—the country is absolutely massive, and this was a mere weekend.

 

Stay tuned for a blog post on our second adventure to Silk Island, as well as our first village celebration!

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