10 Lessons from Exploring Cambodia with my 90-year-old Grandfather

I kicked off 2018 with a trip to Cambodia with my 90-year-old grandfather. Although I am certainly no travel doctor or gerontologist, I did learn numerous lessons about travelling with a senior that may be beneficial to others planning vacations with grandparents or elderly parents.

To start, let’s clarify the context: my grandfather is quite healthy, living with my grandmother in their quiet apartment in Burnaby, a suburb of Vancouver. While he enjoys walking, my grandfather prefers to avoid hills, and walk only for short periods of time. He has limited mobility in his knees and takes daily vitamins and medication. His vision and hearing aren’t as good as they were a decade ago, and he is used to taking regular naps and having early bedtimes. Nonetheless, my grandpa is curious, loves to learn, and wants to see as much as he can. Fortunately, Grandpa doesn’t have any dietary restrictions, but prioritizes his health by munching on as many fruits, vegetables, and nuts as possible. Since he grew up in rural China and spent most of his life in Taiwan, he speaks perfect Mandarin and has been learning English for his previous four decades.

On the other hand, I grew up in Coquitlam, British Columbia, where I wholeheartedly consider myself Canadian. Moving to Ontario for school meant that I spend only a few weeks per year with my grandparents. I am an organized, though spontaneous (and overly-inquisitive), explorer when it comes to travelling. I like to know exactly where I will eat, and which menu items I’ll order, but at the same time, like to leave room in my schedule for impromptu hikes and photo sessions.

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There are countless reasons to travel with older adults you love, but the hassle often holds people back. Despite the logistical considerations to take into account, travelling with a grandparent or elderly parent is a rewarding, enriching experience. Many special memories were created during our trip to Cambodia, and I gained a valuable appreciation for my grandfather. Most importantly, the time that we spent together was a gift that I will cherish for a lifetime. Here are ten tips that I would offer to anyone travelling with an elderly loved one.

  1. When you have the opportunity to plan the destination for your vacation, find one that suits everyone’s needs. When my grandfather first asked where I’d like to go after our trip to Taiwan, I responded “Cambodia!” in a heartbeat. Looking back, while my experience in the Kingdom of Wonder was truly once-in-a-lifetime, my grandfather faced several challenges, from the bumpy tuktuk rides to the steep staircases in ancient temples. Perhaps it would’ve been equally memorable if I’d chosen a relaxing cruise, which is typically geared towards guests of all ages. Note: consider the terrain of the destination (ideally paved, flat, and even), especially if your companion has knee or hip issues. Additionally, try to stay in one city for at least four days. Grandpa and I spent four days in Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia, and this was just the right amount of time to visit the key tourist attractions, eat at all the restaurants I wanted to try, and spend some afternoons sipping coconut water by the hotel swimming pool. I also found it very valuable to involve my grandfather in the trip planning. As much as I wanted to climb mountains and wade in beaches spontaneously, it was better to hear his ideas and compromise. From my experience in hospitals and senior homes, I know that it is critical for older adults to retain independence; everyone should be actively involved in making decisions. In the end, I found that his priorities, which included time to relax in the hotel, shorter walks, and indoor seating in restaurants, contributed to a better, more restful, experience for myself.
  2. Find a hotel with lots of amenities. Since Grandpa often spent afternoons in the hotel while I checked out local attractions, I knew it was important for the hotel to have elevators, a lounge, swimming pool, or possibly a spa. One of my favourite memories from the trip was getting a traditional Khmer (Cambodian) massage in our Siem Reap hotel with my grandfather. Both of us were tired from exploring ancient temples in the early morning, so following his afternoon nap, I booked a couple’s massage room for us to experience a Cambodian spa treatment. Not only was this a refreshing change from the traditional massage, we had the opportunity to chat while stretching with the lovely therapists.
  3. Travel insurance is essential, regardless of the type of trip, particularly if your grandparent has medical conditions. We completed our travel insurance forms a month before the trip, though it could take even longer if travelers have pre-existing medical conditions. Bring extra prescriptions just in case. I am lucky because Grandpa has always been highly diligent about his medications. If not, however, I would set an alarm on my phone to keep dosages consistent. A few weeks before the trip, we also visited a travel doctor to fill up on travel medications and make sure we were up-to-date on vaccinations.
  4. Pre-plan for dietary restrictions. Each morning, Grandpa likes to have a few scoops of Fiber One and some sunflower seeds, so we made sure to pack enough of those necessities. For myself, I brought homemade muffins and a few peanut butter and chocolate LARABARS to snack on during the long plane rides. Though Grandpa is not picky, he definitely has food-related preferences. For instance, I learned that he adores fresh coconut water (less than forty cents in Cambodia!), hot soup, boneless fish, and vegetables. Eventually, we were able to figure out which restaurants provided tasty and customizable meals that would satisfy both of us.
  5. I learned that nighttime flights can be extremely draining, and are best to avoid. Travel during the right time of day. Seniors may lack the energy they use to have, so early-morning or midnight flights are exhausting. Grandpa and I found that mid-morning, or early-afternoon, departures were the least draining. I have terrible memories of travelling with my dad when I was little – he would insist on arriving at the airport five hours before the flight (I wish this was a joke), and I would sit around while he played games on his cellphone. As a result, I’ve always been very last-minute with airplane rides, normally arriving at the gate minutes before the final boarding call. Grandpa finally cured me of this terrible habit by suggesting we arrive 2.5 hours early to make sure we get through all the lines rush-free, and use the extra time to sit and have a nice meal.
  6. Like most, or maybe all, other parts of life, open communication was essential. I learned to warn Grandpa in advance if there were any long walks, and he often reminded me that he would prefer to take an elevator instead of the stairs. With good communication, no one will be offended if you want to go off on your own. Wherever I am, I like to have some alone time, and so does Grandpa. When I wanted to see the Kampong Trach caves, Grandpa was more than happy to watch TV at the hotel. Similarly, I was totally okay with him doing some morning aerobics while I slept in.
  7. Pack as lightly as possible, and count on doing laundry at the destination. We brought minimal clothing and travel-size everything, knowing that navigating the airport would not be fun with excessive and oversized baggage. Ideally, we’d pack carry-on only, so we wouldn’t have too much luggage to handle. Remind your loved one to bring comfortable shoes that are easy to remove and put back on. When we visited the Independence Monument in Phnom Penh, the heels of both of Grandpa’s running shoes snapped off (yes, both – how does that even happen?). We were very lucky to find a shoe store nearby and fit him with a soft new pair of walking shoes. On a side note, printed maps may actually be helpful! In Cambodia, I was completely lost when Wi-Fi was nowhere to be found, so I was more happy than embarrassed that Grandpa packed an old-fashioned paper map (and was a master at using it).
  8. Three key words: pack activities sparingly. Create plans that allow for freedom and flexibility – you don’t have to do everything together as a group. Instead, try to look for destinations that allow both of you to pursue your own needs and interests, and then reunite for meals. I learned to be more patient and understanding, and rather than rushing Grandpa, I allotted more time to each activity. Essentially, after each round of sightseeing, there should be some time to slow down, eat, or relax to rejuvenate. This tip was especially challenging for me, because I always want to jam-pack each free moment to the second. I discovered that, for the most part, one activity before lunch, and one activity after lunch, is enough. A slower pace, I learned, does not mean that I experience less. Rather, spending more time on each activity resulted in a more fulfilling experience. Avoid a packed schedule to allow time for early bedtimes and potentially naps in the afternoon. My grandfather is accustomed to afternoon naps, so we made sure there was sufficient time on most days, for him to return to the hotel to sleep. For instance, a typical day in Cambodia looked like this:
  • wake up naturally at around 8:00 AM
  • go for a walk in nearby area (beach, market, etc.), and/or relax in the hotel
  • walk or ride a tuktuk to a restaurant for brunch
  • head back to the hotel to drop off Grandpa
  • Grandpa watches TV, then takes a nap, while I go on a hike, explore caves, or visit temples
  • go back to the hotel to relax with Grandpa, and make dinner plans
  • walk or ride a tuktuk to a restaurant for dinner
  • head back to the hotel to rest
  1. Hire drivers if the city does not have good public transportation. I wanted to visit Cambodia primarily to experience the breathtaking Angkor Archaeological Park, a series of impressive monuments that testify to an exceptional ancient civilization. Since Angkor was quite far from Siem Reap, the closest city, we hired tuktuk drivers for the entire day to take us from one region of the park to another. Likewise, airplane rides are tiring and stressful enough; it is often worthwhile to book a driver to help with luggage and pick you up from the airport, then drop you off at your hotel. During long car rides, such as the three-hour ride from Kep in southern Cambodia to the airport in Phnom Penh, I reminded myself to ask the driver to make frequent stops for us to use the restroom, and move around to avoid discomfort from the drive.
  2. Choose activities wisely. Consider museums carefully. While most museums are air-conditioned and chilly, with tile floors, the National Museum of Cambodia was bright and humid. Furthermore, there were many flights of rickety stairs. There are few things that both Grandpa and I enjoy doing, and eating is one of them. Supporting arts, history, and cultural heritage is another. While we were in Cambodia, I made it my goal to find hospitality training restaurants that benefit students in the long-term. For instance, we enjoyed flavourful, delicious Khmer meals at HAVEN in Siem Reap and Friends in Phnom Penh, both of which train street children and orphans to cook (and eventually gain employment) and fund their studies in the meantime. Comparably, our favourite centre, Daughters of Cambodia, rescues young girls from the sex trafficking industry by giving them shelter, physical and mental healthcare, and employment (cooking and baking in the café, massage therapy in the spa, sewing for the souvenir shop, and more). Grandpa loved learning about the great causes behind each of these organizations, and he was always happy to buy souvenirs from them.

Above all, enjoy the peaceful, uneventful moments. On my previous trips to France and Nepal, being a tourist came first, with volunteering coming in as a close second. In Cambodia, however, I learned more about my grandpa than I’d expected. Grandpa often shared stories about his youth in 1950s Taiwan – memories that were triggered by the sandy roads, whirring motorcycles, cheerful street vendors, and stray animals of Cambodia. Initially wary about speaking English to the smiling servers and shopkeepers of Cambodia, Grandpa became bolder and happier. He was so charming to everyone, enjoyed every meal, and laughed lots. He had sufficient sleep, and gasped in delight at tiny details: unique leaves or trucks or characters in the Khmer language. These hilarious, simple, and touching moments were truly unforgettable – even more than the temples I’d photographed or amok dishes I devoured.

If I am ever lucky enough have the opportunity to do so, I would not hesitate to travel with my grandfather again. I wish you all the same: a wonderful trip, full of precious memories, with a grandparent or elderly parent you love.

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The Best Seafood Dishes of Cambodia

For dinner one night, we ate at Kimly Restaurant, a traditional Khmer seafood place near the crab market of Kep. We ordered:

  • prawns with deep-fried garlic
  • coconut milk crab with lemongrass, garlic, and onion
  • vegetable fried rice (no picture)
  • fish amok (no picture)
  • pineapple for dessert
  • caramel ice cream and chocolate ice cream with chocolate cream and Oreo for dessert

 

The next morning, we had a lovely breakfast at The Secret, a restaurant opened by Veranda Resort. It was a 12-minute walk from Le Flamboyant, our resort.

 

  • Dad had the seafood pizza, which had oysters, shrimp, and squid on tomato sauce with mozzarella cheese
  • I ordered the Khmer omelet, which was surprising because it was a fried egg dish with scallions, and raw vegetables on the side, and lots of white rice
  • Grandpa had coconut water and garlic bread with spaghetti bolognese
  • My dessert was a coconut tart with vanilla ice cream

 

Our resort is so lovely. There are a lot of unique tropical plants and flowers that I’ve never seen in Canada. Their colours are so vibrant and pretty.

 

In the afternoon, Dad and I visited the Kampong Trach caves. We were a little disappointed because the caves had dried up. It isn’t rainy season, so the caves, which are typically filled with crystal-esque blue water, was completely dry, with caked mud on the ground. There also should’ve been a waterfall, which we didn’t see either. We also didn’t get to see bats! I love bats, so this was definitely a disappointment.

 

We took a tuktuk to get to the caves, and our kind tuktuk driver allowed us to loop around the way back, giving us the opportunity to see Kep beach, which was full of locals, and the famous Kep Crab Statue. It was pretty cool, though I can definitely see why it’d be underwhelming if you’d come a long way just to see the statue.

 

Here is a skeleton of our time in Kep:

FRIDAY

  • 3:30 Kep National Park
  • 5:30 Sailing Club Restaurant dinner (no reservation)

SATURDAY

  • 11:00 La Baraka
  • 1:00-6:00 Bokor National Park
  • 7:00 Kimly

SUNDAY

  • 11:00 The Secret by Veranda Natural Resort
  • 2:30-5:00 Kampong Trach Caves
  • Kep Crab Statue (20 mins from hotel)
  • Kep Beach (20 mins from hotel)
  • 7:00 Holy Crab

MONDAY

  • 7:45 pickup for airport
  • 7:45-10:45 drive to Phnom Penh airport
  • brunch at the airport
  • 12:45 flight from Phnom Penh to Taipei

Since that was pretty much our whole experience in Cambodia, let’s commemorate with a list of all the tasty traditional things I had the opportunity to eat:

  • coconut milk dessert in the food stands
  • dragonfruit
  • jackfruit
  • prohok ktis (traditional fermented river fish, pork, coconut milk)
  • Cambodian Khmer red curry with baguette bread
  • fish amok (curry in a banana leaf)
  • omelettes
  • tropical sour fruits
  • Cambodian sandwich
  • grilled and fried bananas
  • Num sang khya l’peou (pumpkin custard with coconut milk on top)

And, sadly, a list of things that I didn’t get to try (next time, right?!):

  • bai sach chrouk (grilled sweet pork, broken rice, broth with onions on the side)
  • lok lak (stir-fried beef in brown sauce of oyster/soy/palm sugar)
  • ang dtray meuk: grilled squid
  • kuy teav (pork broth rice noodle soup with garlic, scallions, shrimp, lettuce, etc.),
  • kdam chaa
  • lort cha (stir-fry noodles with greens, bean sprouts, egg)
  • bobor congee
  • samlor korko (pumpkin soup, pork ribs)
  • Ah Ping
  • beef saraman curry
  • kaw (braised chicken or pork, topped with egg, sweet sauce)
  • tai krolap tea
  • lemon tea (tai kdao kroich chhmaa) with sugar
  • mango salad
  • Cha houy teuk (sweet jelly)
  • num banh chok (breakfast, thin noodles with green fish gravy)
  • bread with cream cheese
  • fried crickets

Here we have vegetable fried rice, crab amok (simply the best), onion rings, fish tempura, and clear fish soup. I loved my crab amok so much, and it was quite a generous serving, so I asked for even more steamed jasmine rice after finishing my serving so I could enjoy every drop of the curried, coconutty amok.

 

The next day, we had to take a plane from Phnom Penh back to Taipei. That morning, we left Kep at 7:45 to go to Phnom Penh – it was a three-hour drive to the capital of Cambodia before our flight at 12:45. Since we were early, we had time to eat a delicious breakfast. Here’s what we ate:

  • Dad had the English breakfast with baguette, tomatoes, potatoes, two fried eggs, and sausage, with an iced coffee
  • I liked my salmon eggs benedict with avocado and asparagus, which came with fried potatoes and grilled tomatoes as well (also some Earl Grey tea with milk and sugar)
  • Grandpa had the one-egg breakfast with toast, mushrooms, potatoes, and tomatoes

 

Before we knew it, we were in Taiwan! That night in Taipei, we ate at the local food court which was only a five-minute walk from our hotel. Also, look at that cutest dog ever, which was actually a stray doggie that we saw on the streets of Kep, Cambodia. I’m not a huge animal person but I have to say that this was one of the top three cutest pups I’ve ever seen in my life.

  • Dad had the dried tossed noodles with pork
  • Dad and I shared an oyster omelet, one of Taiwan’s special foods
  • I had the eggplant and braised pork dish, which came with rice, cabbage, and seaweed soup

 

That’s pretty much it! I’m now writing this in the plane on our way from Taipei to Macau. We will be spending five days in Macau, and I’m excited to see the shows, eat good food, walk around, and maybe do some spa treatments or something.

Have a good rest of the week!

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!