Posts Tagged With: sunset

You Know You’re In Southeast Asia When…

There are quite a few things that smack you in the face when you’re visiting Southeast Asia. Things that make you think, “Whoa. I’m really here.” Things you’ve never seen anywhere else. Today’s blog post is devoted to a few of those things.

Number One: Monks. Everywhere. 
This was shot outside my apartment on a Saturday morning a few months back. Monks walk down our street to receive their daily alms. (Check out this great article published 16 years ago titled “Wats going wrong: monks in Phnom Penh”)
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Number Two: Hilarious misspellings.

Fried crap stick, anyone?

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Number Three: Weddings that take up half the street. 

Cambodians love parties, and there’s nothing better than a Cambodian wedding. The most common kind in the city are giant white tents pitched in the middle of the street and all traffic is diverted for at least three days. Here’s the kicker: all of the flowers you see in the photo below are real. Let that soak in for a second. The trends are changing here in Cambodia, and people are paying up to $10,000 for floral arrangements for their wedding. Not to mention the cost of the security guards to make sure a Range Rover doesn’t ram through the side of your tent on your special day. Check out this article published by AsiaLife which explains the skyrocketing cost of weddings in Cambodia that can easily run families a half a million dollars. IMG_5055

Number Four: Cambodian BBQ.
This is a true phenomenon of Southeast Asia. You grill a variety of meats over a live fire on your table top, and all the juices flow into a moat where you slowly construct the world’s most delicious soup. IMG_2790
Add a large group of friends and a few hours of conversation, and you’ve got the perfect evening.

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Number Five:
 The Mekong river.  IMG_5282

Starting in China and ending in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam, it is the twelfth longest river in the world.

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From houses to house boats to floating bed and breakfasts, the Mekong is the roaring neighbor in the backyard of Phnom Penh.IMG_5323IMG_2859

For $15 an hour, you can hire out a private boat and cruise the Mekong for sunset.

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Number Six: The night markets.      IMG_5156

Psar Reatrey, which means “night market” in Khmer, is mainly aimed at tourists, but who can stay away from the glowing lights and low-priced butt pads? (No, seriously. Look at the left-hand side of the photo below.)IMG_5157

Number Seven: Street food.
It’s hard to walk the streets of Phnom Penh and not be tempted by some strange culinary delight you’ve never experienced before. I thought I’d seen it all, then I found ice cream in deep-fried alphabet letters. IMG_5158

Number Eight: The bugs.IMG_5167

Deep fried bugs are a delicacy in Cambodia. Just bring along a friend who tries them a split second before you do. IMG_5168

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

Visiting Cambodia, Part One (Kep & Kampot)

Have you ever done something so many times that it becomes second nature? You don’t even think twice about doing it? Take, for example, the way you brew your coffee in the morning. Or your drive to work. These things seem obviously simple to you. Until someone else enters your life, and views these things from a lens that completely blows your mind.

Going home to Wisconsin for Christmas, getting lunch at the local cafe is so routine for my father, they start making his salad before he walks in the door. For me, it was a flurry for colors, smells, and tastes I never experience the other 364 days of the year. Not to mention the excessive amount of cheese that is present on every Wisconsin plate.

So it is with Cambodia. When my friends and family come visit, they are amazed by things that I view as my day-to-day life. Take, for example, dodging motos when crossing the street. Or ordering lemon when you want lime. (Don’t ask.)

My aunt and her friends visited this past month, and it was a total blast. We had so much fun exploring Cambodia, and I love any excuse to play tourist. My aunt is one of the best photographers I know, so I asked to steal some of her photos for my blog. (Seriously, she gets one of her photos in her annual work calendar every year!)

So, here you go. Cambodia from another pair of eyes.

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The view from my rooftop in the Russian Market neighborhood. If you’ve ever been here, you can see White Linen Boutique Guesthouse in the bottom center. (The lavender colored building.)

 

 

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Walking through the Russian Market.

 

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The meat venders of the Russian Market.

 

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Fruit outside the Russian Market. (As if you needed any more evidence that the Russian Market is one of the best in Phnom Penh!)

 

IMG_4718Sunset over the Kampot river, a two hour drive from my school. It makes for the perfect weekend getaway.

IMG_4741The famous Saraman curry at Rikitikitavi in Kampot. Saraman curry is a special Cambodian curry that is not easy to come by. It is very, very rich and very flavorful. The primary ingredients are dry roasted coconut, shallots, garlic, cinnamon, and a lot of yum.

 

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My friend Anna snuck down to Kampot with us for a weekend. We woke up nice and early to get a yoga session in with the sunrise. Little did I know, my aunt snapped a great photo!

 

IMG_4791Eating breakfast off the balcony at Greenhouse in Kampot.

 

IMG_4801Downtown Kampot.

 

IMG_4813Downtown Kampot.

 

IMG_4818The famous Durian statue in downtown Kampot.

 

IMG_4838Walking along the Kep coastline. What a contrast.

 

IMG_4847Monkeys along the Kep coastline.

 

IMG_4851Monkeys along the Kep coast.

IMG_4860More monkeys.

IMG_4888Buying snacks in Kep.

 

IMG_4902My favorite hotel in Kep, the Kep Lodge.

 

IMG_4954Ordering squid in Kep.

 

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Browsing the crab market.

 

IMG_4982On the drive home from Kep, we passed at least thirty busses carrying young women. Sadly, we deduced they were being taken home from their factory shifts. Check the label of your shirt right now. Does it say, “Made in Cambodia”?

 

IMG_5023Passing a family of five on a moto.

 

IMG_5024Beautiful smiles.

 

I love all these pictures for so many reasons. My aunt takes a fantastic photograph, and it is a reminder of how beautiful this country is that I have come to call home.

Check back soon for the next blog, in which I give you yet another tour of Phnom Penh!

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

Phnom Penh Evening Walking Tour

Happy new year! I hope you are having a good start to 2015. Here in Phnom Penh, things couldn’t be better. With the weather hovering around 75 degrees and a drop in humidity, it is absolutely idyllic outside. There’s a slight breeze at all times, the sky is clear, and the streets are begging to be walked.

So, Sean and I decided to spend our Friday night making a small walking tour of Phnom Penh.

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We parked our car at Independence Monument at the bottom of the map. Normally, Sean doesn’t enjoy walking in Phnom Penh because there’s a serious lack of sidewalks, which amounts to having to dodge motos, bicycles, dogs, and potholes constantly. However, our friend lives downtown and says she loves to walk her dog around the parks in the center of the city. Sean and I decided to see how far we could get, of course with dinner and a few card games mixed in.

The map above is the route we ended up taking, which, for scale purposes, came out to be a 2.5 mile loop. I would absolutely recommend you print out a copy of this map the next time you’re thinking of going on an evening walk in Phnom Penh. It was fantastic!

Here are some photos from our stroll, presented in the order that we came across them in our loop.

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After parking our car, we found a great silhouette of Independence Monument and the King Sihanouk memorial.

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The park was bursting with people exercising! Apparently 5pm on a Friday evening is not only the time to work out, but also the time to find out how much you can indulge over the weekend. We saw at least three people sitting with a scale, ready to weigh you for a small fee. How could I resist? Turns out, it was the best ten cents I spent all day! (Unless she rigged the scale to always give its patrons good news…)

IMG_2380If there’s one thing to be said about Cambodians, it’s that they love games. From cards to soccer to badminton, they love hanging out and playing games with each other. There’s even a game that involves throwing your sandals back and forth down the street, which I still haven’t quite figured out yet. These guys in the photo above are playing a game that involves using your feet to loft a heavy-duty shuttlecock back and forth between each other.

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And of course, perhaps other than games, Cambodians love sitting outside with each other and snacking. Food is at the heart of their culture, which makes Cambodia’s culture dear to my heart.

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Another exercising phenomenon is that of the group cardio dance classes. All you have to do is show up at dawn or dusk to an open area in the city, and you’ll find a stereo, a dance instructor, and a bunch of men and women ready to get their groove on.

What follows next is a series of photos around the north end of Wat Bottom park and the Royal Palace. There’s no other way to caption each of these photos except to say that they’re stunning, so I will let the pictures speak for themselves.

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As sun began to set, Sean and I looked for a place to take a break and play cards. The riverside is famous with tourists for its string of endless restaurants, massage parlors, and promenade free from traffic for walking and socializing. While we never actually eat dinner on the riverside, we love to have a drink and watch the sunset from one of the many rooftop bars.

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This place was a great pick, as it was five stories high—three stories beyond the height of the popular FCC—and completely deserted. The name? Starry Place. It’s located across from the FCC and above Touk. We had fantastic views across the Tonle Sap, and found out that the Sokha hotel is actually now complete! (The giant, brightly lit building.) I hope to go over there some time this month and check out the views from their roof.

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This place, Starry Night, was pretty eclectic in terms of decoration. It is certainly not a polished, highly trafficked tourist hot spot. Which, obviously, is why we loved it. (And the hundreds of plants with Christmas lights!)

After the riverside, we walked back towards street 178 for dinner at Tamarind. They also have a lovely rooftop terrace, which, in 70 degree weather, I wished I had a sweater!

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Sean had his usual three-cheese pasta, and I had a greek salad. (Which turned out to be the absolute best greek salad I’ve had in the city!)

I hope you take the time to get out and enjoy this lovely weather. If you’re reading this in a colder climate, crank up the heat, make yourself a pineapple smoothie, and ask your loved one to give you a foot massage. Your imagination can do the rest!

Stay tuned for a blog about the new Sokha hotel!

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Mondulkiri

Happy Thanksgiving! Or, if you don’t live in America, happy winter! Or, if you live in the Southern hemisphere, happy summer!

The weather here in Phnom Penh is moving along predictably as usual. The Water Festival, Pchum Ben, marked the end of the rainy season. Unbelievably perfect timing, it rained every day up until Water Festival, and once the festival arrived, the daily rains stopped and it hasn’t rained since. Now we enter the cool season, where the temperature drops just enough to justify a long-sleeved shirt or a pair of pants. The Cambodians, on the other hand, get out their winter jackets and hats and gloves. None of it makes any sense, though, when you look at the monthly averages and see that July is normally 90 degrees Fahrenheit, whereas December drops just one degree to 89. It’s pool and smoothie time all year long!

That is, however, unless you go to Mondulkiri.

mondulkiri-mapLocated in the Northeastern corner of Cambodia, Mondulkiri is the most sparsely populated region of the country. It is also the highest, with elevations ranging from 600-3,000 feet! That makes for a beautiful, Swiss-like land with rolling hills, pine trees, and chilly temperatures!

 

We had a five-day weekend holiday for Water Festival, and we had friends visiting from out of town. Together we drove the 240 miles from Phnom Penh into the hill country.

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Our first stop was Sen Monorom waterfall. A small falls, but with a crazy swimming pool at the bottom. There was just enough current to force you to kick your feet to stay in one place, but not enough to pull you down stream. Sean wanted to jump so badly, but all the logs in the water made it pretty obvious that he shouldn’t.

We had heard the sunsets were beautiful in Mondulkiri, so our first night we went sunset hunting.
DCIM102GOPROLook how empty the background is! There is nothing but rolling hills and beautiful nature.
DCIM102GOPROOur car was loving the smooth, red dirt roads. And we loved our car.
4Not only did we find the sunset, but we found the most beautiful hill to set up a small camp for the night.

DCIM102GOPROWe didn’t sleep there, but built a small fire and watched the moon rise.There was no one around for miles! It was one of my favorite moments of the trip.

But the main reason everyone heads to Mondulkiri, is the elephants. DCIM102GOPRONative to the area, there are still wild elephants roaming the forest. However, due to reasons such as logging, poaching, and even tribal traditions, there are less than 50 wild elephants left.

 

DCIM102GOPRONow you can visit Mondulkiri’s elephants through a bunch of tour companies. I booked with Mondulkiri Project, which provides a sanctuary for overworked elephants. Instead of riding them, we trekked with the elephants through the forest, fed them bananas, and hugged them every chance we got.

DCIM102GOPROI really loved this style of elephant interaction as opposed to riding them. When you ride elephants, you are on a different visual plane; you don’t get up close and personal with them. When you can interact with them at eye level, you really get a feel for their individual personality. They were the world’s happiest elephants!

DCIM102GOPROThis is Sophie, and she was my favorite. Sophie was 33 years old—mind you that they can live to 100.
10The goal of Mondulkiri Project is to help these elephants live a peaceful, healthy life. They are not overworked like some of the tourist camps you see. You could tell by their demeanor that they were happier than most elephants you see with a chain around their legs and a basket on their back. These elephants could walk wherever they wanted, and we just followed them!

DCIM102GOPROWe had so much fun feeding them bananas and getting up close and personal!

12Like I said it was trekking, so we then left the elephants in the forest and hiked to a swimming hole. The bridge we had to cross was pretty precarious…

13When we got to the swimming hole after lunch,  we found the mahout and the male elephant waiting.  That mahout was born in a local village, and his father was also a mahout. He has spent his entire life around elephants.

DCIM102GOPROAnd then we swam. Swimming with an elephant is the most indescribable feeling… you are in water that is waaaaay over your head, with a beast that could easily crush you. What do you do? You tread water and hang on to his scruffy hide, giving him a back rub.

14 After our swim, we had another couple hours to hang out one-on-one with the ellies in their natural habitat.

15It was amazing, the sun slowly setting, and us all alone walking slowly behind Sophie as she searched for snacks.

16When it was time to leave, they loaded us into the back of their trusty Toyota HiLux and carted us out of the jungle.

17The elephants are rivaled by the spectacular scenery in which they live.
DCIM102GOPROOn our next day, we headed to Bou Sra Falls. It is the tallest waterfall in Cambodia, and to our frustration, also the busiest.

So what did we do? Search for our own, secret waterfall.

19Here we are, preparing to cross the top of the waterfall, then hike down the other side to the second tier of the falls, which is rumored to be even more beautiful than the popular tier. We just had to figure out how to cross the river. Notice how close some of those people are to the edge of the falls…

DCIM102GOPROAnd our waterfall hunt was a success. When we got to the lower tier of the falls, we were the only people there.

21It was absolutely stunning. The waterfall was absolutely giant, and we had it all to ourselves.

The day we had to leave, we packed up our car and headed down out of the hills back into the flood plains of the Mekong.

Until… we had car troubles.

As Sean was driving, the engine just stopped being responsive. Our car slowly and silently decelerated, and we drifted over to the side of the road.

Turns out, our timing belt broke.

200 miles outside of Phnom Penh. In the middle of nowhere.

So, we did what any sensible Cambodian would do.

Found a branch, flagged down a bus, and towed our 1999 CRV back to Phnom Penh.

22It was unlike anything I’ve ever done before. By the time we got back to the city, eight hours had passed, we were now being pulled by a Toyota Camry, the Camry had overheated five times, the stick broke twice, we replaced the stick once, and we celebrated our return with pizza and a hot shower.

23But in terms of an experience, the weekend was unbeatable.

 

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How to Spend Friday Night In Phnom Penh

It’s Sunday afternoon, and I am relaxing with a steaming hot cup of tea and reflecting on the weekend. The market has been visited, the pool has been swum, the yoga has been flexed, and—like any Sunday afternoon—the laundry has been washed.

As it is the middle of October, and the rest of the world is on the pumpkin spice craze, I want to take a minute to boast a bit about Southeast Asia.

I can eat pumpkin year round. And I do.

I get pumpkin smoothies.

Pumpkin tea.

Pumpkin curry.

Pumpkin muffins.

Pumpkin pancakes.

Pumpkin egg rolls.

Pumpkin custard.

Pumpkin ice cream.

Cambodia loves pumpkin. They don’t season it with nutmeg and cinnamon, but rather treat it as a melon or gourd, which can take on a variety of complex flavors. My favorite method of pumpkin consumption is the pumpkin smoothie, and Sean’s is chicken-pumpkin egg rolls from Sesame Noodle Bar. We are on the pumpkin bandwagon as much as you are, but we are rockin’ the pumpkin craze 365 days a year.

Moving on, this weekend was pretty great. It was nothing out of the ordinary, but I made sure I brought my camera out with me so I’d have something to share with you.

But first… a picture of a Kampot sunset:

IMG_2002This was snapped last weekend as we drove down to Kampot for a short getaway. I didn’t have another blog to fit it into, so I thought it would be a nice kick-off to this one.

Anyways, Sean and I went out last night for dinner and some live music. Our friend Chino is in a band, and they’re getting pretty popular here in Phnom Penh.

I had read about a Chinese place that had good food, so we headed up Monivong to check them out.

IMG_2330The name of the restaurant is Jiang Ren Su Jia, and is near Central Market on Monivong. The place was downright CHINESE, man. Everything in there screamed China: the customers, the walls, the menu, the food, the pictures, the tea. Sean was not amused of my tourist-photography, but I had to document our visit to share with you.

IMG_2329We got in a little over our heads with food. Everything on the menu was between $2-5, so we thought the portions were going to be small. Starting by the teapot and working clockwise we have roasted eggplant with chiles, peanuts, pork and chive dumplings, sweet and sour chicken, heavenly chili oil in a saucer, and crispy spring onion pancakes.

The verdict? I loved it. Sean wouldn’t go back. So I suppose that’s 50/50, right? Which means you’ll just have to try it for yourself to find out.

After dinner we headed over to the Foreign Correspondent Club’s property, The Mansion.

The-mansionA historical gem, The Mansion is a relic from the French colonial era of Cambodia. It was built in the early 1900’s, and was a private residence for 60 years. Imagine strolling those halls in your bathrobe! When the Khmer Rouge took over, they looted the place, but left it standing and intact. It currently hosts live parties and an evening cocktail hour, but the Foreign Correspondent’s Club is looking to sell it.

Here’s another photo from the Khmer Times article about the sale1406223532If you find yourself in Phnom Penh any time soon, you absolutely have to visit. Who knows what the future of this building may be, but for now, it’s a piece of living history.
Our friend’s band, Bacano, is a Latin Rock band here in Phnom Penh. Check out an article on them here, and here’s their Facebook page. In case you’re wondering, the word bacano is a Colombian term for something very good, cool, or nice.

IMG_2336Here’s a few shots of them from last night at The Mansion. Normally the bands play outside, but there torrential rain so they moved the event into the dark and mysterious cavern of The Mansion itself.
IMG_2338They’ve got an amazing mix of culture in their band. Starting from left to right, the guitarist is Russian/Chilean/Swedish, the bassist is Cambodian, the singer/guitarist is Colombian, the female drummer is Filipino, and the guy on the djembe is Pakistani.

IMG_2344Everybody was rocking out by the end of the night.

So, there you have it. A typical weekend evening in Phnom Penh. Good food, good company, good music.

 

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Christmas At Angkor Wat

Normally people dream of escaping to exotic, distant locations for their winter holidays. Palm trees swaying overhead, an iced drink in their hand, and pathways of foreign land to explore.

We dreamt it. And we didn’t have to board a plane to do it. We played host this year to friends and family who came to visit. We saved Angkor Wat until we had company—it’d be awesome to visit twice, but it’s one of those non-negotiables when you have family passing through, so we figured we’ll be up there more than once.

Our friends Kyle and Abby flew out from Kuwait, where we worked with them last year. Abby taught middle school with me last year, and Kyle teaches in the high school. My dad and sister flew out after the new year, and stayed for January. But that’s too many stories for one blog.

When Abby and Kyle arrived we headed straight up to Siem Reap. I promised Sean three days of temple-touring, and I promised Abby and Kyle an exotic vacation with ample beer, tank tops, and swimming pools. It wasn’t hard to satisfy everyone.

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Our first stop in Siem Reap was Phare, the Cambodian circus. It was amazing! Based out of Battambang, Phare helps kids from poor homes enroll in a fine arts school that teaches them art, dance, music, and the like. If they decide they want to be professional, then they join Phare in Siem Reap, and could even travel to other parts of Cambodia after that. It was like Cirque Du Soleil combined with a great music and storytelling.

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The next morning we headed straight for the temples. It was overcast the three days we were there, but we finally managed a hint of blue sky for a photo in front of Angkor Wat.

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The storytelling walls surrounding the main temple complex. A jumble of arms, legs, and spears. IMG_8961

A baby monkey asks permission to play with his friends. His mother’s stern reply disheartens his eager plans.

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Baby monkey receives consolation from aunt and uncle monkey. He can play with his friends when he gets a little bit older. For now, just entertain the tourists, little guy.

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We climbed all over these temples! This is still in Angkor Wat, the main temple complex.

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Sean imagines he is the great Angkorian king, looking out over his kingdom.

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Kyle doesn’t have to work hard to imagine he is king, he receives worship from the Angkorian goddesses, Abby and Kim. Sean is reduced from Angkorian king to photographer.


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After our game of make-believe, we took a break for lunch. Abby claims these were the best fried noodles she had in Cambodia, and she ate a lot of fried noodles! In the parking lot of Angkor Wat. It was tough to decide which vendor to pick, but we went with the one who said, “I give you half-off on anything on the menu.” You can’t go wrong with a competitive salesperson.

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After Angkor Wat, we drove out to Angkor Thom, which is pretty much the headquarters of the ancient empire. It is a huge complex that stretches nine square kilometers. You can drive your car between towering trees, stop anywhere you like, and climb around ruins.

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Bayon was a temple full of mystique—how many smiling faces can you spot? (Hint: There’s more than you think!)

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After Bayon, we played hopscotch around some temples scattered in a field. Abby’s hopscotch techniques had great form. Maybe I should start ‘temple hopscotch’ as an after-school activity… We’d get to take lots of field trips.

IMG_9123As the sun sunk lower in the sky, the views got more and more beautiful. (Note to self: Always travel with photogenic friends.)

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We are ready to make our next album. We’ve got the picture for the cover right here.

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Angkor Wat is yet another place outside of America that you can literally climb over all of the ruins pretty much undisturbed.

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Sean and Kyle were feeling a bit like our tour guides at this point. Now if only I could get them to talk in cool accents.

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We find a modern-day shrine, and Abby sits pretty. (Did you know it’s sacrilegious to be photographed with your back facing the Buddha? I tried to tell her, but she is a natural-born rebel… Can’t you see it in her eyes?)

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And then we found elephants. And pensive mahouts.

At this point, the sun was setting on our first day, so we headed back into town for dinner and a night out. The next day we got up early and began out next adventure…

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Early morning at East Mebon temple.

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Abby and I playing inside East Mebon. I wonder who used to pass through that doorway…

These pictures all speak for themselves, don’t they? If a picture is worth a thousand words, then these have to be multiplied by the thousands of years and stories they contain.

I’ve got one more post about Siem Reap and Angkor Wat for you, and then we headed down to the Cambodian coast. I think I could start a business, “Tours By Kim”. I need a catchier name, though. I think I’ll just stick to friends, family, and my husband. They keep my hands pretty full as it is.

Check back soon for more on Angkor Wat!

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