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!
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.
Everything is so publicly adorned here. I love it! (Again, at Wat Toul Tom Poung.)
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.
I love that trees are so incorporated into buddhist shrines. I find it strikingly beautiful.
Another part of Wat Toul Tom Poung.
I hope to learn more about Buddhism and Hinduism so that I can better appreciate all of the temples here in Cambodia.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
Another happy hour with cribbage and cold drinks. This is the Korner Kafe, next to our house.
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!
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!
Sean happy to have a Philly cheesesteak in Cafe Yejj.
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!
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.
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.
Yes, Cambodia has cockroaches. Lots of them.
And geckos. Lots of them.
And rain. Lots of rain.
I went to a Vietnamese grocery store near our house and discovered “Vegan Shredded Meat Fluff”. What could I cook with this?
When my dad comes to visit I want to cook him these vegetarian pig ears. Think he’ll notice the difference?
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.
Sunrise from our apartment window.
The 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!