First Impressions of Brisbane, Australia

Before my direct flight to Brisbane (15 hours nonstop from Vancouver!), I had a lovely meal with my family: Mom, Dad, Seline, Grandpa, and Mimi (aunt) and Charles (uncle). My aunt and uncle had just returned from Kathmandu, Nepal, that very day, so I was very lucky to have a meal with them before I jetted off to the southern hemisphere.

I split a Joeys classic with mom: salmon, quinoa, veggies, radish, as well as a great pesto shrimp flatbread. For dessert, I savoured apple galette with maple ice cream, chocolate fondant with vanilla ice cream, and a great caramel parfait with sponge toffee.

Not too long after, I arrived in sunny, beautiful Australia. I was welcomed by Margaret, my mom’s friend from several decades ago, and her friends Bill and Carolyn. Bill and Carolyn greeted me with a delicious vegan lunch, which consisted of noodles, bok choy, vegan “chicken” made of soy and gluten, carrots, and soy sprouts. On the side, we had corn soup, and then large mugs of green tea. What a great way to say hello to Australia!

I had the opportunity to check out my new room (very warm!), unpack both of my suitcases, and then take off for some exploring around the neighbourhood, which is called Toowong.

Brisbane is such a spectacular city. I feel like it has the charm of a quieter town, but the big-city excitement of places like Toronto. On my first night, I went to CIRCA, where I did a few hours of open training at the circus gym. I will share photos soon!

Saturday morning was exquisite. I enjoyed breakfast at The Corner Store Cafe, where I devoured:

  • 1 smoothie with banana, acai berry, coconut water
  • flatbread filled with lamb, hummus, pickled turnips, 2 fried eggs, 2 pieces halloumi

All I have to say is W-O-W. I’m not a huge fan of lamb, but this was hella delicious with the crispy fried halloumi, creamy garlicky hummus, and luscious runny egg yolks.

On Sunday morning, I feasted on a papaya boat topped with coconut vegan yogurt. The vanilla bean flavour in this coconut yogurt was absolutely divine, and I loved how the tanginess of the raspberries contrasted with the creamy flesh of the papaya and rich yogurt. While the vegan yogurt didn’t have the signature sour tang of regular cow’s milk yogurt, it reminded me of coconut whipped cream in the best way possible. I can’t wait to have more later today.

Aside from the deliciousness that is coconut yogurt, I got a Go Card. Although it’s not as convenient as flashing bus drivers a student card (like I do in Waterloo), the Go Card is much better than dealing with cash. Plus, as a student, concession fares!

I had my first aerial straps private lesson on Sunday. It was my first time touching a set of straps, and I had quite the workout. My wrists didn’t like it very much, though… as you’ll see in a moment. These are aerial straps. While I am nowhere near this skilled, I am very determined to improve the skills that I’ve been introduced to, and look forward to increasing my stamina, strength, and, sadly, my pain tolerance.

I was always confused when people talked about having a high pain tolerance for aerial straps, but I get it now. Both of my wrists are bruised, the skin has rubbed off in many places, and yesterday, some areas bled and leaked watery fluid. My fingertips, which you can’t fully see in the picture, also bled quite a bit (due to the amount of pressure in my grip). Then, there’s the muscle aches and pains, though the abrasion is much worse than muscle tension, in my opinion.

After my straps lesson, Margaret and I drove down to the Gold Coast, where we enjoyed a fabulous lunch. I ate:

  • summery smoothie with banana, mango, peach, passionfruit
  • small balsamic salad with grape tomatoes
  • melt on Turkish bread with mozzarella, ham, wild mushrooms

The beaches in Australia are truly something else. I was rendered speechless by the blueness of the waves, the warm breeze, and the soft, fine, powder-like sand. I could wander here for ages!

Sunday passed too quickly, and before I knew it, it was Monday, and I was at school for my first day of Orientation. The University of Queensland is easily one of the most beautiful campuses I’ve been to. I went to the school’s pharmacy, gift shop, and book store. I look forward to picking up one of the hoodies for Seline, who loves hoodies.

Speaking of Seline, the two of us are, again, slightly extremely obsessed with the Maze Runner series by James Dashner. I thought my obsession had been cured (hehehe) after seeing the final film of the trilogy and spieling all my thoughts into a Google Doc, but Seline’s newfound interest in the film caused my addiction to resurface. :’)

Back to Brisbane! Truly, truly, an incredible city. I had the opportunity to visit the museum, which was free (yay), and walk around some quiet streets like Bakery Lane. The Queensland State Library was also beautiful.

That night, I had dinner at Tartufo, an Italian restaurant where I devoured:

  • pasta with smoked mozzarella, Italian sausage, fried eggplant, tomato, basil, parmesan cheese
  • 1 chocolate fondant with mascarpone cheese, Belgian dark chocolate shavings, vanilla gelato
  • English breakfast tea with milk and sugar

Then, it was dark and time to go home. 🌃

Have a gorgeous day!

The Biggest Buffet(s). Ever.

Breakfast at Xin, a buffet on the first floor of our hotel:

  • almond croissant, bolo bao (Hong Kong style pineapple bun), coconut cocktail bun
  • you tiao (oil crullers) with shrimp and scallion rice rolls and sesame sauce
  • sago custard dumpling, vegetables, fried turnip cakes, baked beans, pumpkin glutinous rice ball with lotus cream filling, char siu bao (barbecue pork bun)
  • vegetable and cheese omelet
  • random ticket (3-day pass) from our time in Angkor Archaeological Park in Siem Reap,

I ate all of it and it was awesome in a now-I-can’t-walk and that-was-so-worth-it way.

Macau is lovely because there is always a lot to see (shows and performances!) and do. We love wandering around the hotels, all of which have a unique theme. The Parisian and the Venetian are both beautifully adorned with European-inspired decor.

Another day, we had dinner at Yum Cha, a dim sum restaurant. We ordered some delicious food – I wasn’t expecting it to be so tasty. Along with a mug of sweet Hong Kong style milk tea, I ate:

  • shrimp siu mai
  • wok-fried beef slices with wide noodles (one of my favourite HK foods)
  • tofu rolls with mushrooms and broth
  • prawn dumplings
  • oil crullers wrapped in rice sheets, soy sauce and sesame dip
  • steamed charcoal buns filled with salted egg yolk and cheese (super unique, and loved the sweet and salty nature of the filling)

This was the centrepiece at Studio City, another nearby hotel.

These are some of my favourite photos of Grandpa. ❤

(All taken after I rode a 4D Batman Flight ride… twice. Truly felt like I developed vertigo after that experience!)

The same day, Dad and I had lunch at BRASSERIE, a lovely French restaurant. Dad had the set menu, which included a raclette cheese appetizer, a chicken Cordon Bleu with Comte cheese and French ham, and creme brûlée. My orders were à la carte – a French onion soup, Croque Madame, and creamy chocolate fondant with white cheese sorbet and vanilla cream, with fresh berries.

I love how it’s easy to go from one hotel to another, without having to walk too much outside.

One night, the three of us watched a show called the House of Dancing Water. It was a stunning show with powerful music, an easy-to-follow storyline, and spectacular special effects and stage changes. The athleticism, while not on the level of Cirque du Soleil, were very diverse and featured divers, contortionists, gymnasts, and ballerinas. The stage was incredible, as it morphed from a pool deep enough for 24-metre dives into flat land for floor acrobatics.

Another evening, dinner at Bene. I loved my creamy conglichie pasta in ricotta cheese, with cured pork loin and plenty of black truffle. I topped my plate with so much parmesan cheese after this photo. 🙂

Tiramisu for dessert. Dad and I shared one, and I asked the waiter to serve it on two plates. Dad was kind enough to give me the larger slice of tiramisu and some of his hazelnut gelato.

The following day, we had the biggest buffet breakfast. Ever. It was quite a once-in-a-lifetime experience, as we dined in Cafe 360, a rotating restaurant on the 60th floor of the Macau Tower.

Here we go! Along with a large glass of sweetened milk tea (very tasty)…

Plate 1:

  • Portuguese spinach soup
  • cheese and saffron bun

I liked tearing off chunks of the flavourful, cheesy bread and dunking it into the brothy vegetable soup.

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Plate 2:

  • naan bread, basmati rice, mango chicken vindaloo, homemade pickled lemon, spicy mint sauce
  • cheesy mushroom bread pudding
  • 2 char siu (barbecued pork) pastries
  • salmon fried rice with eel sauce
  • sago sweet dumpling with custard
  • glutinous rice in lotus leaf with chicken
  • Japanese style sautéed vegetables (cabbage, peppers, carrot, black sesame)
  • lentil dahl in small bowl on the side

Plate 3 (revisiting all of my favourites from Plate 2):

  • 2 sago sweet dumplings with custard
  • 2 char siu (barbecued pork) pastries
  • cheesy mushroom bread pudding

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Plate 4 (dessert):

  • serradura/sawdust pudding/Macau pudding (condensed milk pudding with whipped cream and crumbled Marie cookie), topped with coffee biscotti – this was my favourite part, and I’ve never had serradura before. It’s a Portuguese/HK dessert, and I loved the flavour/texture which reminded me a bit of a nutty, less-sweet, pudding-like caramel mousse.
  • Portuguese almond cake
  • hazelnut torte with raspberry jam
  • praline creme brûlée with fresh berries
  • slivered almond, cinnamon bread pudding with vanilla sauce
  • creamy apricot jam with crushed spice cookies
  • pecan pie with walnuts and whipped cream

At the end, I was so full that I could hardly walk. You know when you realize, upon standing up, that you have serious regrets about eating so much? That was me – because I wanted to do the bungee jump!

Okay, maybe I was a little really freaked out by the bungee jump. So I ended up doing the SkyWalk, in which I walked around the outside of the tower with a harness and an instructor who helped take pictures.

It was certainly not as exciting as the bungee jump, but I didn’t throw up all four plates of buffet food, like I would’ve if I did the bungee jump. So, I’d call this a success!

The view, while not comparable to the stunning beaches of Cambodia or rice fields of Nepal, was pretty cool. Everything seemed so still from up high, and the lake practically unmoving. The cars, people, and buildings were minuscule, and it almost looked like one of those decorative model cities.

What a spectacular couple of days. What’s next? Tomorrow, we will be leaving Macau to go back to Taipei, which is a one-hour flight. After a day and a half in Taiwan, we will finally be flying back to Vancouver.

Our trip has been exciting and invigorating, and full of new and unique experiences, but at the same time, I am 99% ready to go home and get back into my regular routine which includes banana oatmeal, walks with my doggie, and hanging out with my sister.

Have a great rest of the weekend!

Night Market + Meals in Macau

Dad and I went to the Raohe Night Market on one of our last days in Taiwan. I tried some of his sugarcane juice (not my favourite – have any of you tried this?!), one incredible deep-fried taro balls filled with roasted shredded dried pork and egg yolk, and one deep-fried taro ball filled with salted egg yolk and red bean (my favourite), and a grilled corn on the cob.

 

I also had some bubble waffles! Dad and I bought one peanut bubble waffle and one cheese bubble waffle. I really liked both, since they were so hot, crispy and chewy, and fresh off the waffle iron. Then, I ate a tasty cheese wheel cake and two steamed rice balls (one sesame, one peanut). I love night markets, and next time I want to try the cheesy potatoes and pineapple buns.

 

The next day, we headed to the airport in the early morning for our flight to Macau. I had some Godiva hot chocolate and pork steamed soup dumplings, which came with shiitake mushroom and chicken soup.

 

It was one of the shortest flights I’ve ever been on – less than two hours.

 

We had the opportunity to wander around Sheraton, our hotel, for a little while. I love how Macau, from what I’ve seen in half a day, is a fusion of China with Portugal. This was surprising to me, but nice to see those great flaky Portuguese custard tarts amidst all the Chinese desserts.

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For dinner today, I was really hungry and got a stomachache after eating so much. First, I had some unpictured bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Our entrees came shortly:

 

  • Dad ate the carbonara, which was placed into a cheese wheel and tasted incredible (I ate a lot)
  • Dad and Grandpa both had the tomato seafood chowder with garlic bread
  • I loved my braised pork and beef ravioli with porcini mushroom sauce and black truffle topping
  • Grandpa enjoyed the seafood spaghetti, and I ate lots of his scallops, salmon, and shrimp
  • For dessert, I ordered two because I still wanted to eat. I had:
    • Hazelnut delight with whipped cream, hazelnut cream, hazelnut gelato, and hazelnut cookies in a parfait (this was so much larger than expected, and I inhaled the entire thing)
    • Apple crumble with almond polenta crispy pieces with vanilla ice cream and cinnamon on top (the cinnamon truly did it for me – I adored this dish and easily ate all of it)

It’s such a shame Dad and Grandpa don’t like sweets – it’s 100% my fault, for having such a sweet tooth, but I always end up with a major stomachache from eating too much!

 

In the morning (Thursday), I woke up at around 7:00, but lounged around in my bed for some time. Afterwards, Dad, Grandpa, and I watched The Amazing Race and American Ninja Warrior on TV for a little while. The athletes in American Ninja Warrior blow me away every time. They make it look so easy!

We had breakfast at Palms, the café/bar downstairs. Grandpa liked his combination congee breakfast, which came with Chinese donuts (crullers) and an Italian sausage sandwich.

I ate a parmesan, thyme, and chili quiche, and Dad had a chocolate donut. I also drank some lovely TWG black tea with milk and sugar, and a mango, milk chocolate, and hazelnut cake. Is there anything better than chocolate cake for breakfast? After an amazing quiche?

In the afternoon, I had a spa treatment. I was very lucky because we had some hotel credit that I got to use up, and I loved the milk bath, massage, hot towel, and body scrub that were included in my treatment. The Shine Spa at the Sheraton Hotel is beautifully-decorated and so ornate.

Afterwards, we went to Din Tai Feng, a restaurant famous for their soup dumplings!

They were all really, really tasty. I had a Hong Kong style milk tea, along with:

  • black truffle and pork soup dumplings
  • plain pork soup dumplings
  • a vegetable and mushroom steamed bun
  • black cloud fungus salad with sweet vinegar

Next up: sweet treats!

  • black sesame steamed bun
  • taro steamed bun
  • red bean paste dumpling with chestnut
  • cold taro sago

That’s it for today. Have a beautiful rest of the week ❤

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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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!