Delicious Cambodian Meals and Bokor National Park

On our last day in Siem Reap, Dad, Grandpa, and I had dinner at HAVEN.

  • I ate the fish amok, which was the #1 fish amok that I’ve eaten in Cambodia so far. It was perfectly curried and coconut-scented, with just enough lemongrass, ginger, and chili to add flavour without overwhelming the delicate fish. Best of all, the amount of rice paired perfectly with the amount of amok.
  • Grandpa’s lok lac included vegetables, a fried egg, and plenty of peppery sliced beef.
  • Dad enjoyed the calamari with lime aioli, as well as a bacon cheeseburger with fries.
  • For dessert, I loved the banana bread with coconut crumble and mango-passionfruit ice cream, which I swapped with Dad’s caramel ice cream.

The next day, we had breakfast in Phnom Penh since we took a night bus. We ate in Raffles Hotel, where we had the breakfast buffet. I ate mango yogurt x2 and two blueberry muffins, along with two delicious Cambodian baguette sandwiches with fish pate, fresh dragonfruit, cheddar cheese, banana bread, and a very tasty slice of toasted rye with butter and papaya jam.

Before we knew it, we arrived in Kampot, which was a 30-minute tuktuk ride to our hotel in Kep. Our hotel was truly a tropical resort, with too many palm trees to count and two sparkling pools.

On our first day, we spent time at the Kep National Park. We walked for around 25 minutes before turning around to walk back down the hill. Despite completing just a small amount of the trail, we were rewarded with a lovely view.

That day, we liked our dinner at The Sailing Club. The photos did not turn out as expected since it was quite dark, but it was incredibly tasty nonetheless.

  • spicy Khmer chicken noodle soup
  • garlic baguette
  • crab cakes with spicy aioli and fresh vegetables
  • fresh white fish with vegetables and spicy garlic coconut sauce, steamed jasmine rice – this was mine, and it was hands down one of the top three savoury things I’ve ever eaten. The flavourful coconut sauce on the tender, flaky fish, paired with plenty of gently-sautéed vegetables and rice was heavenly.
  • cheeseburger for Dad (unpictured)
  • crispy fried banana with coconut ice cream and caramel sauce

The next day, we loved our brunch at La Baraka. We started with drinks, as usual, and I ordered tea with milk and sugar. Our meals arrived shortly after:

  • shrimp fried noodles in a pineapple for Grandpa
  • Croque Madame with fries for Dad (I tried some of his Croque Madame, and it was delicately fried and loaded with flavour from the ham and cheese enveloped within)
  • two fried eggs, bacon, salad, bread, and pineapple juice for me
  • garlic bread to share
  • dessert of chocolate fondant with vanilla ice cream

Next, we went to Bokor National Park. It was a 90-minute drive from our resort in Kep. We had the opportunity to explore the legendary buildings from Cambodia’s colonial days, but were sad to miss the waterfall which is only “active” during rainy season.

I learned: Established by the French as a hill station in 1925, Bokor has been abandoned twice, during World War II and the Khmer Rouge period. The area including Bokor ‘mountain’ was established as a national park in 1993, with its 1,500 square kilometres spanning four Cambodian provinces. Despite substantial illegal logging, it’s home to leopard cats, gibbons, hornbills, civets and sunbears.

The Old French Palace was hauntingly beautiful, built by French settlers before 1920 for French social elites in Cambodia.

Renovators did add a wonderful curving road to the top of the hill, making Bokor much easier to access.

Today is our last day in Kep, or Cambodia for that matter, and I will really miss this incredible country. Soon, we are heading back to Taipei for a couple days and then flying to Macau for a short period of time.

Now, Dad and I are off to visit the Kampong Trach caves and I look forward to updating with more soon.

Exploring Angkor’s Grand Circuit

On Wednesday night, Dad, Grandpa, and I dined at The Sugar Palm, where we savoured the following Cambodian specialties:

  • fried prawn fritters with tamarind dip
  • prohok ktis (traditional fermented river fish with pork and spices), served with raw vegetables for dipping
  • coconut curried fish soup with green beans
  • Khmer red chicken curry with sweet potatoes, eggplants, onions, and Kampot peppercorns
  • fish amok soufflé

My dessert was equally delicious: fried banana fritters with vanilla ice cream. It was the perfect hot and cold, crispy and creamy way to end the meal.

On Thursday morning, Dad and I explored the hotel and our Siem Reap neighbourhood. After looking at the koi in our hotel, we headed to the old market, where we found vendors selling dried fish, household appliances, pencilboxes, clothing, perfumes, peppercorns, silk scarves, essential oils, and soap. We were tempted to purchase some jasmine-scented soap and pencil cases, to bring back to Canada as gifts.

The rest of the morning involved plenty of lounging around and relaxing. It was nice to do so, after waking up naturally to sunlight – especially since we’d woken at 4:00 AM the morning before to explore Angkor Wat during sunrise. All three of us loved the modern decorations and exquisite accents in Riversoul Residence.

We enjoyed breakfast at the hotel.

  • English Breakfast for Dad involved two slices of toast, scrambled eggs and bacon, mushrooms, English sausage, cheesy potato hash browns, butter and jam. He also had some iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk.
  • My Jackfruit Pockets had a vegan fusion flatbread with shredded jackfruit, passionfruit dressing, and a pumpkin hash. On the side, I ordered a raisin pancake topped with cream cheese (for some reason, came with maple syrup instead). I loved the Earl Grey tea that I had on the side with milk and sugar.
  • Grandpa liked his Kui Teiv, a southeast Asian noodle soup with bok choy, fish, and Asian condiments.

After brunch, I was eager to hop onto a tuktuk and head back to Angkor Archaeological Park to do another day of exploring. This time, we completed the Grand Circuit, passing Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom to visit some smaller, but equally mesmerizing, temples and monuments. The Grand Circuit is an extension of the shorter Small Circuit loop, taking in a few more key sites.

According to Travelfish: The main temples of the Grand Circuit are: Preah KhanNeak PeanTa SomEast Mebon and Pre Rup. This handful should help form the focus of your Grand Circuit tour, being the most interesting historically and visually with a variety of architecture. They also tend to be the only ones the tour companies take in or that tuk tuk drivers would think to stop at on the circuit.

The twisting, tendril-like tree trunks in one temple reminded me of the famous tree of Ta Prohm, though this one had much fewer tourists and just as many photo opps.

We thought this backdrop looked just like a painting. It was exhilarating, and I was struck by the stillness of the lake and picturesque vibrant colours of the surrounding jungle.

One temple, called Neak Pean (“entwined serpents” in Khmer) involved a walk on a long bridge before reaching a monument surrounded by a pond. Researchers believe this temple symbolizes a mythical Himalayan lake with magical, medicinal waters.

Neak Pean was originally designed for medical purposes (the ancients believed that going into these pools would balance the elements in the bather, thus curing disease); it is one of the many hospitals that Jayavarman VII built. It is based on the ancient Hindu belief of balance. Four connected pools represent Water, Earth, Fire and Wind.

Pre Rup was one of the most memorable temples for me. The views were breathtaking, and I wish photos could do it justice. Pre Rup, built with brick and other materials to give it a reddish hue, is a Hindu temple made in 961-962. The name Pre Rup means “turn the body”, which is significant because funerals were held at this temple, and ashes were rotated in different directions throughout the funeral.

The view from the top of Pre Rup was phenomenal, and I loved exploring each nook and cranny of the pagodas. Many, many questions arose, such as:

  • where did all the stones come from?
  • how were the stones carved without modern technology?
  • why does each carving look nearly identical?
  • what caused some structures to topple over, while others remain perfectly intact?
  • how many workers contributed to building these structures?
  • what was the purpose of countless door frames?
  • why did some of the small bricks have round indentations?
  • how were the stones carried up the stairs without cranes or other modern construction pieces?

It was truly an awe-inspiring experience to stand atop the temple and reflect on the fact that many centuries ago, Khmer kings and their guards, members of the royal family, and ancient monks spent their lives in these buildings. This peek into the ancient world was exhilarating and made me realize that I would love to visit more and more historical world heritage sites in the future.

Now we are in Kep, after a 6-hour night bus from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh, a 2-hour layover (buffet breakfast was involved!), and a 3-hour bus from Phnom Penh to Kampot, then a 30-minute tuktuk ride to Kep.

Glad to finally be in Kep and explore southern Cambodia’s small, peaceful, scenic village.

Angkor Archaeological Park

Yesterday, I got to check off an item from my bucket list.

✓ visit Angkor Wat!

Angkor Wat is actually one of many structures in Angkor Archaeological Park, which involves many other magnificent remains. The park is in north Cambodia, about 6.5 hours from Phnom Penh, the capital. Angkor Thom and the Bayon Temple are also famous. While Angkor Wat is the grandest temple of the Angkor Archaeological Park, Angkor Thom is the ancient capital.

We woke up at 4:00 AM, hopped on a tuktuk at 4:30 AM, bought tickets, and arrived at the park by 5:30 AM for the sunrise. There was a massive rainfall, and all of us got soaked before finding cover in the blackness, but even our wet clothes and shoes didn’t distract from the overwhelming historic beauty of Angkor Wat.

Angkor Archaeological Park is over 400 square kilometres of subtropical forest, featuring the stunning remnants of the capital of the Khmer Empire of the 9th to 15th centuries. It is the largest pre-industrial city in world history. Around 25 years ago, Angkor Archaeological Park became a UNESCO World Heritage site. I felt so honoured and amazed to get a glimpse into these legendary temples.

The Angkor Archaeological Park itself has no accommodation and very few facilities (no bathrooms near the temples), so tourists stay in a nearby town called Siem Reap, which is 6 km to the south. I was surprised to find that Angkor Archaeological Park is truly located within a jungle, with monkeys, hogs, wild dogs, and centipedes (?) swarming the area.

Interesting note that I discovered with some reading: the word ‘wat’ means temple in Khmer (Cambodian language). The structure, however, doesn’t quite look like a temple. Researchers believe that it is a temple where Lord Vishnu was worshipped, and later became a tomb for the Khmer (Cambodian) king.

The remains of the Bayon Temple were my favourite. It was richly decorated, and most likely built during the 12th or 13th century for a Buddhist king.

Another structure, Ta Prohm, is famous because trees have interlaced themselves with the stonework, resulting in strange, but marvellous, beauty. One website describes Ta Prohm as “a stunning display of the embrace between nature and the human handiwork”, and I couldn’t say it better myself.

Ta Prohm is world-renowned, and immensely popular, because of the wood-stone combination, and because of various scenes in Angelina Jolie’s Tomb Raider. I found the sides of the Ta Prohm complex quiet and magnificent, with unstable bits of rubble and stone debris. Many sections have been blocked off, since they are at risk of collapsing.

For lunch, we dined at Sister Srey Café, which I adored.

  • Grandpa had the creamy pumpkin soup with bread to start, and then grilled mackerel with steamed jasmine rice and sauteed spinach
  • Dad enjoyed savoury stuffed French toast with cream cheese, bacon, and tomato chutney. To drink, he had two caramel milkshakes
  • I loved my corn fritters (surprisingly, both vegan and gluten-free!), topped generously with feta cheese and served with a poached egg, smoked salmon, and tomato chutney

For dessert, Grandpa had some chocolate ice cream while I enjoyed an amazing carrot cake with cream cheese icing and plenty of walnuts. This was tender, spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg, and had great texture and crumb. I do wish, however, that there was more cream cheese icing.

Then, it was back to our hotel for a much-needed break from all the walking!

Tapas, Buffet, and a Seven-Course Meal

Good evening from Siem Reap on this warm Tuesday, January 9.

Recently:

  • Seline often sends me screenshots of conversations that she has with Mom. I thought this one was particularly sweet, and it made me reminisce the wonderful time we spent at Sunshine Coast during both 2015 and 2016
  • Spiders at ROMDENG, a restaurant in Phnom Penh – I chickened out 😥
  • Dad and Grandpa on a tuktuk this morning; it was in the high 30s temperature-wise

The Wat Langka temple was timelessly beautiful and impactful. We also had the opportunity to see the Independence Monument (second photo), and buy new sneakers for Grandpa from the local Adidas store, since his old ones broke on the train ride from Taipei to Taoyuan (the city in Taiwan where the airport is located).

For brunch after the temple exploration, we enjoyed another meal at Daughters of Cambodia. They are truly so lovely for their great cause (everything goes towards helping girls forced into the sex trafficking trade in Cambodia, to learn skills like cooking, massage, sewing, and more).

  • Dad had the baguette BLT, which had bacon, cucumber, spinach, and tomato with an onion chutney
  • Grandpa enjoyed corn chowder and a fish burger with fries
  • I loved my creamy parsley pumpkin soup and cheesy garlic baguette

We purchased a few things from Daughters of Cambodia; namely, some little coloured pouches with powerful words in the Khmer language such as ‘dream’, ‘pray’, and ‘believe’. Grandpa will give these to his family doctor, teacher, and dentist.

We spent the afternoon lounging around the hotel pool. Grandpa was happy with his fresh coconut water. It’s astonishing how much larger these coconuts are, compared to the ones he’s enjoyed in Macau, and even back home in Vancouver.

For dinner, we went to a restaurant called Friends, which is part of a greater company called TREE. TREE is a series of training restaurants that invest profits in students who train there. Money goes towards social programs that help them become skilled, productive, healthy and happy young workers with secure future careers. They not only provide high-quality service and food, but also help young people in developing countries (most are orphans, former street children, or other marginalized, at-risk groups) develop skills that they need to be employable in the hospitality industry. The training that runs here helps build confidence and skills, so students graduate with better futures. 10/10 for sustainability and impact, in my book.

For the tapas, Friends recommends ordering one or two per person. Since the three of us went, we decided to order five. These were some of my favourites (okay, I ended up listing them all):

  • Crispy zucchini and cheddar fritters with Thai Sriracha mayonnaise
  • Fish cakes with garlic, leeks, roasted red pepper puree (these were unbelievably good)
  • Burmese chicken curry with crispy noodles, smoked chili, pickled mustard greens (super spicy, but incredible flavour)

  • Crusty bread with EVOO and dukkah spice

  • Ricotta gnocchi with spinach and corn (I truly loved these, and my dad, who typically doesn’t like gnocchi, enjoyed them!)

For dessert:

  • white chocolate ice cream for Dad and Grandpa (I had a taste, and it had a superb white chocolate aftertaste, unlike some white chocolate ice creams which are simply excessively sweet)
  • black sticky rice pudding with coconut ice cream, caramelized pineapple, and roasted peanuts

The next day – this morning – was a little hectic because we had to clean out the hotel room and check out before a long bus ride to Siem Reap. I was a little sad to say goodbye to our lovely hotel room.

Breakfast buffet in our hotel.

I enjoyed:

  • a cheese omelet
  • two Cambodian sandwiches with ham, cucumber, and spicy mayo (I didn’t think I would like this, but I wholeheartedly enjoyed it. The bold flavours stood up to the fresh baguette, and everything seemed to work well)
  • baked beans
  • chive potatoes
  • fresh passionfruit and dragonfruit
  • banana bread
  • blueberry muffin (crumbled over the plain yogurt)
  • dragonfruit custard danish (surprisingly delicious for a not-crispy Viennoiserie! I wanted another.)
  • plain yogurt
  • mango yogurt with vanilla cream swirl
  • toasted wholemeal bread with butter and pineapple-papaya marmalade (it’s been a while since I’ve enjoyed toast, plain and simple, with butter and jam – this was absolutely delightful)
  • raisin custard danish
  • apple cinnamon muffin (crumbled over the mango yogurt)

Both my stomach and my heart were incredibly full as we boarded the Giant Ibis bus at around 9:45 AM for our 6.5 hour trip to Siem Reap.

The views were unlike anything I’d seen before. One thing that stood out to me was the houses that were built on stilts. Most houses between Phnom Penh (capital of Cambodia) and Siem Reap (North Cambodia) were on stilts, with hammocks and shelves and tables underneath for shade.

The bus stopped three times, with two of the three stops being rest stops for bathroom breaks, and one for a 30-minute lunch break.

Lunch at the Banyan Tree restaurant had a number of options, which was a pleasant surprise since I’d assumed very few options for a food place in the middle of sand and palm trees.

When we arrived at around 3:30, we boarded a tuktuk with all three of our suitcases and two backpacks to go to our hotel, the Riversoul Residence. Riversoul is about fifteen minutes from Angkor Wat, which is why we chose it. It is modern and beautiful in a unique, complementary-colours kind of way, but I do miss the traditional nature and French influence of our first hotel, Raffles in Phnom Penh.

I was amazed by the lack of people in the hotel; it was very empty when we checked in, and my dad attributed this to the fact that the Riversoul Residence is fairly new.

Check out that swimming pool and those lawn chairs which are styled to look like boats!

We took a 10-minute walk to the old market of Siem Reap, which was close to our dinner restaurant, EMBASSY.

EMBASSY has a set menu for each month of the year. They serve French food with a Cambodian twist, using fresh, seasonal, local ingredients from Siem Reap and the surrounding area. All of the stems, leaves, flowers, and garnishes were completely edible. We really did devour every drop.

The three of us ate this seven-course meal:

  1. AMUSE BOUCHE – steamed Chreau village tomato with minced shrimp stuffing
  2. APPETIZER – Kampot scallop with ground toasted rice, kaffir lime leaf, galangal, lemongrass, passionfruit sauce
  3. SOUP – traditional Kdat Soup with turmeric paste, green bass leaf, black chicken (by far my favourite dish of the day, since it was rich, hearty, with a beautiful blend of textures and unique, yet familiarly comforting ingredients)
  4. SORBET – soursop fruit sorbet with fermented black sticky rice and alcohol drizzle
  5. MAIN COURSE 1 – grilled Tonle Sap fish with soybean pickle, ginger, green onion
  6. MAIN COURSE 2 – pork shank from Takeo province, slow-cooked in sugar palm caramel, mushroom sauce, mashed potatoes with coconut milk (also delicious – the meat was very tender and mildly sweet, with great unami flavour from the mushroom gravy)
  7. DESSERT – cashew mousse with red dragonfruit ice cream (the cashew mousse part was spectacular. You can truly taste the cashew, and I appreciated the crispy, chewy, and sweet brown sugar crumble that complemented the nutty mousse)

It was delicious, and now I am dead from deliciousness and excitement for tomorrow, because we’re going to see Angkor Archeological Park!

I Thought I Saw a Spider, But…

This afternoon, we visited Wat Phnom, a Buddhist temple. It was built in 1372, and stands nearly 30m tall. It is the tallest religious structure in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. In fact, Wat Phnom is the central point of Phnom Penh. We are lucky that Wat Phnom was so close to our hotel; it was a roughly 10-minute walk in.

I learned that the sanctuary itself was rebuilt several times in the 19th century and again in 1926. The interior has an altar complex with a large bronze seated Buddha surrounded by other statues, flowers, candles and items of devotion and worship.

There were plenty of great photo opportunities.

We didn’t walk into the temple since no photos were allowed, and it was very busy/crowded and smoky with the burning of incense.

I don’t typically wear sunglasses, but the sun is ridiculously bright here and I’d hate to have squinty eyes in all my photos. Dad’s becoming a really good photographer and I really appreciate having him here for all these candid shots. 😎

Grandpa and I lounged around the pool again in the afternoon. When we come back tomorrow, he would like to drink fresh coconut water from a coconut, which we can order from the bar.

In the evening, we took a tuktuk to Khmer Surin, an authentic Cambodian restaurant.

Here, we enjoyed:

  • fish amok (Goby fish in banana leaf)
  • pineapple fried rice in a pineapple – this was my favourite part
  • deep-fried seafood and vegetables with sweet chili sauce
  • spicy chicken green curry
  • sour lime coconut soup with mushrooms and shrimp
  • chewy tapioca balls in coconut cream
  • mango ice cream
  • coconut ice cream in hot chocolate sauce

When we got home, I washed my hands in the bathroom and noticed something on the ground that, upon first glance, I’d assumed was a spider. It wasn’t – it was actually a teeny, tiny baby gecko!

What a peculiar and cute way to end the day. I really think those little geckos are too cute.

Plans for Tomorrow

  • Russian Market
  • Wat Langka
  • Independence Monument
  • Statue of King Father Norodum Sihanouk
  • Cambodia-Vietnam Friendship Monument
  • Wat Ounalom
  • Poolside Grandpa gets coconut drink

Lunch and Dinner Restaurants for Tomorrow

  • Romdeng
  • Friends

Have a beautiful, lovely afternoon, everyone 🙂

I Needed Ice Cream

Hello! It’s now 8:03 AM on Sunday, January 7. It’s been an incredible first week of 2018 so far, and it’s just getting better and better.

Last night, Grandpa and I went for a walk – but not before the waistband of his PJs broke and we had to stitch it up with a makeshift needle made of a bent bobby pin and a bandaid. It was fun to improvise this creation.

Afterwards, Grandpa showed me his diary. Since he’s learning English, he writes entirely in English. It’s truly so impressive, and he’s so humble about it.

Dad and I went for a walk to the Tonle Sap, a river that eventually becomes the Mekong river. I learned that the low tide level of the river in Cambodia is lower than the high tide out at sea, and the flow of the Mekong inverts in Vietnam and up to Phnom Penh. The flat Mekong delta in Vietnam is prone to flooding near the Cambodian border.

We liked the Sisowath Quay a lot, and it was fascinating to see all the different boats and guess what they were used for.

Afterwards, Dad took a bit of a nap while Grandpa and I went for a little walk. We explored the pool, the fitness centre, the massage clinic, and both cafes. It was very enjoyable to watch the sun set.

For dinner, we dined at a restaurant called Khéma. Khéma is a French restaurant on Pasteur Street. I ordered the lobster bisque, which had a piece of crab ravioli underneath, as well as a cheese gratin. Grandpa loved his cheesy French onion soup. We were lucky to receive a complimentary plate with pate and sausage.

Dad liked his carbonara, which had thick-sliced bacon and a rosemary garnish. Grandpa’s spaghetti bolognese was, according to him, typical. My mozzarella and spinach cannelloni was quite tasty, too.

For dessert, I had the chocolate fondant, AKA molten chocolate lava cake. There was so little vanilla ice cream, and I needed more to go with the rest of the chocolate cake, so I ordered an extra scoop. I am, in case you haven’t noticed, in love with hot chocolate desserts and cold vanilla ice cream. This was a beautiful way to end the day.

This is the view outside our hotel. The blue skies and grassy knolls are beautiful.

Brunch at Feel Good Cafe consisted of:

  • potato, pepper, onion, and cheese omelet for me, with tomato relish and baguette bread
  • Dad had scrambled eggs with potato hash and bacon
  • Grandpa ate fish and rice porridge with some veggies and garnishes

After the meal, I savoured this hot cheesecake tart. It was divine and reminded me of a different, but equally delicious, version of the cheesecake tarts I devoured when living in Toronto last year.

The brunch came to just over $20 USD, including drinks.

Then we returned home so I could plan a few things, check out the maps, and consider doing a trades course with Dad and Grandpa and some local professionals via Backstreet Academy.

Keep updated for more! The next few days are sure to be exciting – then we’re off to Angkor Wat, which is in the city of Siem Reap.