Tasty Foods

joylani 130pxAs with Laos (where I started getting sick again), I am a little bit leary of street food in Cambodia—especially after a bus stop in a town where the toilet consisted of an enclosed cement slab (waste to be rinsed off through a hole between the wall and floor i.e. not even a hole for it to go into).  I mean, if that was the sanitation in a town, I hate to think about how some of the street food is prepared and stored.  It’s a shame, because I’m sure the food is great.  But at least we’ve been able to eat enough tasty things from restaurants to keep my tummy happy.

            The culinary goodness started with our first night in Ban Lung.  A restaurant across the street from our hotel had been recommended by the Belgian guy, an ex-ngo worker who was familiar with the place.  It turned out to be a great recommendation and a perfect place to get used to the food of a new country, mostly because the first time we ate there the food was really good.  After that, Matt and I both felt “safe” ordering unfamiliar items on the menu.  Well, actually, I must confess I kept ordering the same thing—the fried chicken with tamarind sauce because it was really good.  But between the two of us eating several meals there over our short 2 day stay, we were able to try a few new things.  You see, sometimes it can be hard to “break in” to eating new foods when I don’t know what stuff is, the staff can’t describe the food (descriptive food words aren’t exactly the most important English vocabulary to master), and despite wanting to try something new, I’m usually REALLY hungry and don’t want my order to turn out gross because we’re on a budget and I feel bad leaving it uneaten.   Anyways, the fried chicken with tamarind sauce was a thin piece of chicken patted in flour, quickly fried to cook, then sliced and covered in tamarind sauce topped with green onions, cilantro, etc.  The tamarind sauce was reminiscent of sweet and sour sauce, only it had more tang and less sweet than its “Chinese” counterpart with which I am more familiar.  I liked the flavor of tamarind and assume it’s a more natural way of achieving such a nice flavor with out having to use ketchup, vinegar and loads of sugar.  But who knows, I’m not really sure what they put into that sauce. 

As far as the other good foods we ate, there were a few good pumpkin dishes—soup (coconut based broth with other fresh flavors) and curry.  Another favorite was a ramekin filled with a warming baked sweet potato combo—sort of similar to a quiche, but just egg and no cheese.  Loc lak has turned out to be the most frequently ordered dish.  It mostly consists of lots of beef, eaten on rice and with a fried egg on top.  It is thinly sliced and stir fried in a light brownish sauce which adds some tang and flavor, but the best part is the little side dish of ground pepper and lime juice.  Stir the pepper and juice together (maybe they added another special ingredient, I’m not sure) and dip the meat in—so tender and flavorful, it’s excellent!

On the other hand, one dish that I liked but that wasn’t particularly flavorful was taro spring rolls, ordered from our hotel in Phnom Penh, Narin 2.  Basically they were just a light phyllo-type wrapper filled with some mashed taro and fried.  It was a bit bland, but the texture was nice and dipping the rolls in chili sauce made up for the missing flavor (as a good chili sauce should).  I think taro is generally only flavorful when fermented as poi or iced out with loads of sugar as in drinks and bun fillings.  But I have fondness for taro, I think because of my grandfather.  He was fond of gardening, or at least throwing papaya seeds out on the dirt and watering the seedlings as they grew into trees.  There was also a large mango tree in the back yard, and I think some other items growing around, though I don’t remember what. Among other things, he had a small patch of taro growing outside his house and told me how to make poi from the root.  After he died my auntie made the most delicious lau lau from the leaves of his taro plants.  So taro reminds me of my grandfather and my Chinese side, and I like ordering it when I can.

As far as fruits go, I’ve tried a few new ones so far.  Longgan and rambutan are both lychee-type fruits.  Longgan are round, plain, and brown colored on the outside while the rambutan is red and spiky (think if a koosh ball were a fruit).  With both, once the outside skin is peeled back, the inside is almost a bit transparent and white in color.  The taste is fruity goodness: mellow and slightly floral.  Bananas aren’t a new fruit, but Matt and I have tried a couple of new varieties since we got here.  Both are small—like the apple bananas you can find at home.  The ones we got in Ban Lung were stumpy and about the same thickness of a “regular” banana (a la Safeway style).  Unpleasantly, these bananas had little black bb-sized seeds in the last bite.  More enjoyable and flavorful were these little petite bananas we got in Siem Reap.  They’re cute little finger-length bananas, gone in a few bites.  They have a creamy yellow flesh and almost buttery flavor, buttery for a banana anyways.  I also tried an unripe mango.  It was nice and crunchy, obviously more tart, but still with that strong mango essence.  I prefer the ripe ones still. 

That’s all on the new food for now.  But, lastly, I would like to answer a food question asked a while back by our good friend, faithful reader, and fellow eater, Anuj.  Hi Anuj.  The question involves the “pregnant egg” or, in layman’s terms, hardboiled fertilized egg.  So if you’re not interested, just don’t scroll down any further. 

Our buddy Anuj eating a Pork Belly's sandwich

This is Anuj

This is Anuj’s question: Great details describing the food, Joylani. Very vivid… Haha. Do you have any idea what the baby bird is supposed to taste like, if at all different? It is just as nutritious?This video is all I had to join you on your duck embryo adventures: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RXucin9iIaE

Answer:  Well, Anuj, upon seeing a rather large looking yolk with early stage feathers (that was after a lot of embryonic fluid drained out), I didn’t actually try the egg myself.  However, I heard from another tourist who tried one at a less developed stage that it tastes like bloody egg yolk, kind of like eating an egg with a raw canker sore.  If you are interested in trying one of these eggs, don’t let that description put you off.  I’ve seen many an eater enjoying their egg.  Just be sure to: 1.) use a little spoon 2.) add a little of the salt and pepper they give you, and 3.) for goodness sake, don’t fully remove the shell.  No one who’s anyone does.  A little hole will do.  I would assume that at a more developed egg tastes like a chicken and egg together, with a little crunch.  While McDonalds won’t be using this to save time making an Egg McMuffin anytime soon, you might be able to make one yourself.  Unless PETA has a problem with it.  Anyways, does anyone know if you can cook such an egg in the US?  I ask because I am pretty sure cooking/eating dog is illegal in the States, at least in some places.  But I don’t know about fertilized eggs.

Please let me know if you have any more questions.  Remember folks, no question is a stupid question unless it isn’t asked.  In which case you are stupid and not the question, because you are the one who doesn’t know the answer.

The Udvar-Hazy museum will now close…

Or buddy Anuj proudly presenting his company's wares

Phnom Penh



164_6445-4.JPGI’ve rarely met anyone who’s traveled to Cambodia and liked it. Angkor aside, most friends and travelers I talk to haven’t had great things to say about the country, usually remarking that Khmers are sketchy or a little off at the least. And the reviews of Phnom Penh have been even worse; dangerous, eerie, and everyone is missing limbs. Like Cambodia though, I actually like Phnom Penh. Either Joylani and I have really opposite tastes from most people we talk to (unlikely since our tastes differ quite a bit) or peoples’ descriptions set our expectations unrealistically low. Arriving yesterday afternoon, we found Phnom Penh wasn’t the seedy town we had been expecting. Compared to the rest of the country, it is incredibly modern. Lots of new buildings, upscale hotels and restaurants, tons of internet cafes, supermarkets, electronics stores, and streets clogged with bicycles and motos. The streets were the most chaotic since India- it was nice to see the masses of life again.

            Today we did sort of a walking tour of the city. Our first stop was educational, but extremely depressing. We walked a couple kilometers south of our guesthouse to a school in the midst of a residential and commercial area. The school was actually converted to a prison used for torture and extermination by the Khmer Rouge when they took the city in 1975. In 1980, just one year after the liberation of PP by the Vietnamese, it was converted to a museum. There was a lot in the museum that I don’t want to think about, much less talk about, so I’ll just a give some basic information.



The school consists of several three story buildings around a central courtyard. All the windows had steel bars or barbed wire to keep victims in the converted classrooms. Victims were kept at Toul Sleng to be interrogated before being executed. The two estimates I have seen are: of 14,000 total prisoners (over the course of 4 years), a dozen survived or of 20,000 prisoners, 7 survived. Either way, if you were taken to Toul Sleng, you were going to die. Many died from bullets or trauma to the head, some were beaten or tortured to death.



Some of the classrooms were sleeping quarters, where victims were forced to sleep on the bare floor shackled together. Other classrooms were torture chambers, where victims were tortured.



After seeing the miserable conditions that these people spent their last weeks or months in, we entered a gallery full of victims mugshots. The Khmer Rouge photographed many of their victims, but we also saw many photos of the children and adolescents they used for guards and torturers. Hundreds of black-and-white photographs stared at us from the exhibit. We also saw some paintings depicting the disgusting and horrific events that occurred there, some shelves of skulls with fractures or bullet holes, one exhibit telling the stories of some of the prisoners (as told by family members) and one exhibit documenting surviving guards stories. We learned that many of the victims at Toul Sleng had at one time been Khmer Rouge, but had arrested and executed for any number of trumped up/paranoid reasons. And many of the guards talked about Toul Sleng was horrible, but they don’t regret it because they would have been tortured and executed if they had disobeyed any orders. The constant fear of being killed, accused, or suspected of anything was horrible. The whole place was horrible. Unlike any Toul Sleng prisoner, we walked out of the school yard and through the quite neighborhood, both quite depressed.  

            We headed off to the rest of the cities sites, which proved to be unimpressive. We briefly visited the Russian Market and then across town to the Royal Palace, residence of the king, but it was closed. Next door was the National Museum, but that was kind of a let down. After months of seeing Buddhas of all shapes and sizes from a myriad of different centuries and just arriving from Angkor, the National Museum had nothing amazing. It was a long walk back to our guesthouse, especially as we’re officially in Cambodia’s hot season now. Phnom Penh doesn’t seem like it has much to see (some genocidal attractions and a few monuments), but it is any city to like. It has good food, its easy to get around, and it has consumer goods/services of a city, which is a lot more than I can say for the last capitol we were in.

Angkor: (Matt’s Account of) Day 3


164_6445-4.JPGRelative to our last two days, today was mellow. We had two unsuccessful museum attempts. First, we discovered our 3-day Angkor tickets were invalid for the brand new Angkor museum. The tickets were super expensive and after over 20 hours of seeing Angkor’s ruins, we didn’t feel too compelled to shell out a lot of cash to see (we assumed) the same stuff behind glass. So we tried to walk to the landmine museum to learn about Cambodia’s landmine problem. After walking a few kilometers, we asked directions and learned that they had changed locations last year; it was now 50 kilometers away. 0 for 2, we headed back to our guesthouse. We spent the day in town, something we haven’t really done since arriving in Siem Reap. Our passes expired today, so we spent late afternoon until sunset at our favorite temple, Preah Khan. It was a mellow day. We didn’t see all that we originally had thought, but I was glad to glimpse all the sights one last time and finish our day at Preah Khan.

Angkor: (Joylani’s Accounts of) Day 2 and Day 3


joylani 130pxLike Matt mentioned, one of my favorite things I saw yesterday were the wall carvings depicting everyday life. I can’t remember if I read it on an info board or just overheard a guide mention it (on occasion we stand within earshot of other people’s guides for some brief tidbits of information), but somehow I found out that there was a depiction of women BBQing fish at Bayon, and I was determined to find it. When I did find it, not only was there a sense of accomplishment, but also delight to discover that the way they BBQed those fish so long ago looks the same as it does today! North of the Bayon temple there is a long wall with elephants carved over it, the Terrace of Elephants. This had interesting carvings, plus it was nice to walk along something rather than climb up and down for a change. We saw a snake slither from the grass up along the rock wall. It was amazing to watch, both of us wondered, “how is it doing that?” Something such as a snake moving along rock does not sound amazing, but to see it in front of you move over a surface which it does not seem to actually touch is a marvel. No wonder it is written in the book of Proverbs: There are three things that are too amazing for me…the way of a snake on a rock (30:18).


snake on stone


Matt at Angkor Wat


Reliefs of people BBQing animals and selling sticks of meat- just like today!


checking out the reliefs on the Terrace of Elephants


yup, that’s Matt

Overall yesterday felt a little bit more relaxed than the first day, as we knew whatever we didn’t have time for we could see today—a day for which we had no set plans. Matt and I took our time meandering through some of the structures, and others we just took a quick look at. However, despite not being rushed as we completed the “mini tour” of the more centrally located structures, I found myself growing weary of seeing yet another temple. So today we took it easy, and after some failed attempts at visiting a couple museums (one was way more expensive than it was worth, though the lobby was pretty impressive, and the other had moved to another location), we spent most of the day resting from the previous two days and getting some “errands” done on-line. The day ended perfectly as we casually decided to go hangout at our favorite temple before the sun went down. Perhaps on one of your own travels you have experienced the “Well, as long as we’re here we should…” syndrome. But sometimes that isn’t fun. Our final day of ticket-validity we felt no pressure to go see more ruins. And it was great. After two full days of pushing through the ruins (it was a little tiring but definitely enjoyable), a mellow revisit to Preah Khan was a perfect way to cap off our time at the temples of Angkor.


My concluding thoughts on the temples of Angkor is that: yes, it really is one of those places you should see, if you’re into that type of thing (ruins, that is…you know, impressively large structures made from oafishly big rocks, these ones with intricate carvings) and Angkor Wat is really really huge. Angkor was one of the few places that I actually was looking forward to exploring before the trip started (many of the other places I only learned about after starting the trip), and it has definitely met all my expectations for greatness.

Angkor: (Matt’s Account of) Day 2


164_6445-4.JPGThoroughly exhausted from our 13 hours of ruins yesterday, we left a bit later today, at 7:30. Today we saw the major sights. We began at Angkor Wat. I was glad we didn’t attempt the sunrise again, because this morning was overcast as well. There were still a million people there though, as Angkor Wat is the most famous attraction in Angkor. There were so many people, I even met someone I know from home. Traveling, we haven’t met anyone coincidentally for over 7 months, so I was pretty surprised when I heard someone say, “Matt Shibata?!” Anyways, we spent several hours exploring Angkor Wat. It is a large walled temple, set within the grassy grounds of a larger outer wall, which in turn is surrounded by a wide moat. Everything about the place is impressive, from the reliefwork on all the exterior walls to the inscriptions to the sheer size and scale of the place. I can’t even attempt to describe its grandeur. The highlight for me were the hundreds of meters of baas reliefs carved on the hallway walls of the temple. All the way around, they depicted Hindu mythology, Buddhist stories, as well as actual historical events. It was absolutely amazing, although again, photos do it absolutely no justice.


our transport the past couple of days


an interesting shot w/ a deep depth-of-field showing several walls at Angkor Wat


closeup of just a few inches of the reliefs at Angkor Wat


the reliefs tell continuous stories for hundreds of meters


Big huge architecture was somewhat impressive too :)

From Angkor Wat, we drove to the center of massive Angkor Thom to Bayon. Most famous for its hundred-plus meters of intricate baas relief and 216 gigantic faces, Bayon was very impressive. Dozens of towers surround a central one and nearly every tower has a half dozen large faces (supposedly king Jayavarman VII). Joylani enjoyed seeing everyday scenes on the relief walls, like women grilling meat and seeing Khmer depictions of Chinese immigrants. From Bayon, we walked to nearby Baphuon, a large pyramidal temple, although it was closed for restoration so I don’t know much more about it. After lunch, we perused the impressive Terrace of Elephants, which is basically a large wall with relief-work decorating the sides and elephant statues “guarding” the stairways leading to the top of the wall.


Bayon, a central temple with 216 faces of the king


Joylani with one of the 216 huge faces


dozens of meters of reliefs here too

We then drove to a myriad of other temples, but after seeing so much in the morning, we were kind of temple and ruined out by this afternoon. The two worth mentioning were Ta Keo, just because it was a super high temple and it was super scary climbing up and back down the gigantic stone steps- think ladder instead of stairs. Although never completed, I’d say it achieved its purpose of representing mythical Mt. Meru. The other notable was the famous Ta Prohm, of Tomb Raider fame. It’s the counterpart to my favorite of yesterday, Preah Khan, as King Jayavarman VII dedicated this similar temple to his mother (Preah Khan was dedicated to his father). It is a highlight for many visitors, but Ta Prohm was just ruins without the artistic remnants of many other temples. Crumbling structures, fallen walls, and a tree growing out of the building that people stand in line to take a photo with. Although less than the 13 hours we spent seeing the ruins yesterday, we were still out exploring for 9 hours today. Additionally, it was probably about the same amount of walking and climbing, as we drove a lot less today. Regardless we are beat. Everything we’ve seen has been amazing though.


Joylani with the elephants at Terrace of the Elephants


Ta Prohm is all ruins…


Ta Keo- tall, never-completed, and interesting


saw so many temples today, I forgot where this is…but like almost everything we saw, its cool

Angkor: Day 1


us 150px

Matt wrote this post in normal font and Joylani added in italics.

We awoke at 4:45am this morning. At 5am, our driver picked us up and we drove to Angkor Wat (the most famous of the Angkor temples; the iconic triple-spired temple that graces the Cambodia flag, Angkor Beer (not to be confused with the only other widely-sold beer in Cambodia, Anchor Beer), and a gazillion touristy souvenir items) to catch the sunrise. At 5am a driver, not the one we hired the night before, was there to pick us up. Apparently he was the [business] uncle of the other driver whose moto had broken down. Likely story. Luckily it didn’t matter too much to us, a moto is a moto, and off we putt-putted in the morning darkness. Even at that early hour, hordes of people joined us to watch the sunrise. We sat on a ledge on one the gate’s walls and waited for the sun to spill light across the sky and onto the ruins. The sunrise never came, as it was overcast, and so we settled for a slow illumination of the morning. We walked around a bit, long enough to realize Angkor Wat is huge and we should save our exploration for tomorrow. The plan was to do a circuit of some of the outer, less touristed sights today and see the major attractions tomorrow. Quite literally throwing a damper on our plans though was the rain. Rain began to pour down as we ran across the bridge over the moat from the temple to our waiting driver. It was around 7:30 or so by this time and the rain was heavy, but we decided to continue according to plan. Only we hadn’t planned on the rain, so we had to buy something to help keep us dry. Two ponchos would suffice. Matt’s was blue, “So this is what it feels like to wear a dress,” he said as he pulled the plastic down over his shorts. The poncho I wore was pink, and made for someone whose arms are 6” shorter than mine. We looked hot. Our driver zipped up the rain shields on our carriage and off we went to the most distant of our destination, Kbal Spean: the river of 1000 lingas.

After two hours of muddy unpaved roads, we parked at Kbal Spean. “Ready to hike?” Joylani asked me. “Hike? What are you talking about?” “Yea, we have to hike 30 minutes to the temples here,” she replied. I had not researched the temples beforehand (as Joylani had), so this hiking business was news to me. Still raining, and cold after two hours in the tuk-tuk, I wasn’t inclined to do any hiking. I wasn’t inclined to contract any more leeches, but the ranger assured us there were none. But we’d driven all the way out here, so we set off up a forested hill. I could feel and hear the water dripping off the trees the entire 30 minutes up the hill. But when we finally arrived at a clearing, I realized the rain had stopped, even though water was still dripping from the canopy above. Matt was sad that he no longer had a legitimate reason to wear his blue poncho. A stream ran though the clearing and Joylani noticed some of the stones had carvings on them. We made it to a little river place. It was still early, and the rain had just stopped. Only one other pair of tourists was there when we arrived. The rocks in the water were carved! It was beautiful. A thin layer of water flowed smoothly over the carvings. We hadn’t known what to expect; it was a deserted moment of discovery. Nature had really taken over here, as the stream ran over beautiful reliefs and religious artwork. The stream flowed over the ruins and eventually became a waterfall dropping off an old artistic wall. We wandered around all the visible paths for a while, expecting to find a large structure hidden in the jungle somewhere. Apparently the riverbed carvings and lingas were it. Even without a larger structure, we were satisfied. Without the rain to distract, we noticed all the lingas on the hike down. For the uninformed, lingas are phallic symbols. You may have noticed all the pillars in our photos from Champasak- yup, lingas. On the hike down here, the lingas were represented as large boulders placed on top of smaller rocks, making them look more like mushrooms than their intended figure. Anyways, after a hike down linga lane, and a few jokes about Hawaii’s governor, we hopped back in our carriage and set off again. Luckily our driver had flaps he could roll down for us to keep us dry, since it began raining again.


After an hour’s drive, we came to Bantereay Srey, a small cluster of temples with some of the best preserved intricate artwork in all of Angkor. We got there and began exploring. The rain clouds were moving south, and we had driven back into the showers. Despite making it tough for Matt to take photos (each shot had to be taken from under an accessible doorway or window overhang which was hard to find in the midst of the ruins), the rain darkened the stones and the grey sky added a mournful gloominess as we marveled at the work of a past civilization. It was amazing, but I was kind of bummed because the rain was preventing me from taking any photos. We decided to look for an umbrella so that Matt could take more shots, or at least have a bite to eat at one of the numerous restaurants in the parking lot and wait to see if the storm would pass. But just when I was about to buy an umbrella, the rain stopped. So we reentered and I happily began snapping away.


Bantereay Srey and raingeared tourists


Poncho’d Joylani and some awesome carvings


Joylani looking over the railing of an ancient bridge

After lunch, we visited: Mebon, Ta Som, and Neak Pean. I’ll spare you descriptions of all these, but try to include some interesting photos. The last temple we saw today was Preah Khan, which was my favorite. Both of our favorite. King Jayavarman VII built it for his father and it eventually became a Buddhist university. It was a large complex, with inticately designed outer walls as well as inner passageways. It was awesome because it was large and contained a lot to explore, plus it has a good balance of being in good condition and “ruins.” By this I mean that its neither restored to perfection, nor totally ruined that the only attraction is to see fallen walls and trees growing out of it. Carved details were everywhere—dancers above the doorways, flowers and trees along the walls, and delicate borders around just about everything. It is a good-sized structure, with surprises down each passageway as we didn’t know which one would lead to seemingly untouched carvings, restored areas, or jenga-like boulders that had toppled over. There were few other tourist making it a more 1-on-1 adventure as we silently explored the ruins. Perhaps the most stunning feature of Preah Khan was a large tree growing over one of the outer walls. It was actually kind of magical when we looked to the left of the path and saw it in front of us. One of the trunks had been damaged in a storm, but it was still a sight that filled us with wonder. After exploring for a couple hours and taking some great photos in the evening light, we stopped at Angkor Wat on our way back for the sunset. We finally arrived back at our guesthouse at 6pm, 13 hours after we’d left. It was a long day. And the ruins had surpassed our expectations.

all the following photos are from Preah Khan










And these last two are from Angkor Wat:



Angkor: Introduction


“Angkor is not orchestral; it is monumental. It is an epic poem which makes its effect, like the Odyssey and Paradise Lost, by the grandeur of its structures as well as by the beauty of the details. Angkor is an epic in rectangular form imposed upon the Cambodian jungle.     -Arnold Toynbee, East to West

us 150pxWe have written a four post series on Angkor, so we’ll give a bit of an introduction. Historically, the temples of Angkor were built between the 9th and 13th centuries, the earlier ones being Hindu and the later ones being a mix of Hindu and Buddhist. The temples are huge and spread out, so the temples of Angkor are not a single sight nor can they be walked; the largest, Angkor Thom is enclosed in a square wall, with each side measuring 3km! Not just large, they’re spread out over a large area. While most are within 10 kilometers of Siem Reap (translates to destruction of Siam (Thailand)), where we’re staying, some are 40, 50, and 60 kilometers away. While biking is an option, it is really hot, so we hired a moto driver to pull us around in cart (very similar to a tuk-tuk). Given the things we’ve seen and heard about Angkor Wat, from textbooks to documentaries to fellow travelers, Angkor had a lot to live up to. Yet, despite the high expectations we had, Angkor still blew us away. As far as ruins go, Angkor’s temples are the most impressive I have ever seen. So we’ll try to utilize more photos than words in these posts, but remember they fall far short of the real deal.

First Impressions of Cambodia


164_6445-4.JPGHere’s a few of my initial observations and impressions of Cambodia:

People carry anything and everything on the back of motorcycles, from human passengers to huge pigs to industrial building materials. And I’m still not sure how many dozens of chickens and geese the average scooter can carry.

Motorcycles carry loads that should be carried in pickups, while pickups carry loads that would fill a delivery truck.

Unless an ATM has a huge VISA or MasterCard sign, it won’t take your card. ATMs also dispense dollars.


Gas is either sold in Johnnie Walker bottles or pumped out of 55-gallon drums.

There are way too many moto and tuk-tuk drivers. The most used phrase in this country has to be: “tuk-tuk?”

Cambodian currency, riel is used almost exclusively as change for dollars. Almost everything is quoted and paid with in dollars. The only difference from the US? Riel instead of cents.

Cambodia has big fields of farmland, rather than the small sustenance plots that cover Lao.

Billboard and poster campaigns reveal some of Cambodia’s problems: Dengue, bird-flu, guns, HIV/AIDS, slash-and-burn agriculture, and physical violence.

Relative to Thailand and Lao, people speak more English. Speaking of those two places, Cambodia is in the middle developmentally and crazy as a consequence. Its neither efficient and fully developed, nor peacefully undeveloped. Also, the Cambodian flag flies alone. No Buddhist flag next to it like Thailand or Communist flag like Lao.

Many women wear matching pajama tops and bottoms- in public. Its kind of weird, because it looks like most of the women just got out of bed.

For the first time in SEA, crossing the street is an adventure.

Horse or ox-carts are just as common as cars, although bicycles and scooters rule the roads here.

Ban Lung


164_6445-4.JPGBan Lung was a last-minute addition to our itinerary, but the past two days have proven it to be a good decision. It’s not on the main highway that runs from the border to Phnom Penh, but at the end of dirt road four hours off the highway. It is an incredibly dusty place as all the roads except one are dirt. Trucks and motorcycles are continually spewing exhaust and kicking red dust up into the air. Many people wear surgical masks around town, while others occasionally lift their scarves or hands to cover their nose and mouth. And despite being a small place, its definitely crazier than anywhere in Lao- the market is insane, the town is crowded, and people, bicycles, and motorcycles are everywhere. It really feels to good to be a happening place again. Plus, the Khmer people are great. Everyone we’ve met so far has been friendly, nice, treated us fairly, and spoken better English than Lao or Thailand.


can you see Joylani?
Yesterday we hired a motorcycle to take us to Ta Kieng, a waterfall about 10km away. It took a lot longer than it 10km usually takes, since the roads were so bad; sometimes we were just bouncing up and down and back and forth as we rode over tons of bumpy rocks and holes. At some points, we were riding on a balance-beam of road between meter-deep potholes on either side. When we couldn’t drive any further, we hopped off a walked a couple hundred meters to the falls, where the tame stream picked up speed and roared down into large clearing below. We descended some nearby stairs into the bowl of rock. Down there, it was shady, misty, and cool, which didn’t exactly make me want to go swimming. But then I saw some vines across the pool. So we walked back around the waterfall to the other side where I had a couple gos at swinging from the rocks into the pool.


Joylani cannonballing into the lake
After lunch in town, we got another moto that took us to Boeng Yeak Lom, a crater lake 5km east of town. It was amazing. A circle of crystal clear water surrounded by jungle all the way around. It’s a actually been made into a park that is administered by the local tribe, so its well taken care of. Lots of families and groups of kids were picnicking or swimming. There were two docks on the lake, each with wide wooden steps descending into the water. I preferred jumping off the railings though, rather than slowly descending the steps. The water was the perfect temperature- cool, but not cold. It was super clear too, as I look down and see my feet clearly as I tread water. We spent a few hours there and liked it so much that we spent all of today there too- swimming, talking, and hiking around the rim of the crater. Ban Lung is definitely out of our way, but we’ve been plenty rewarded for coming and its been a great first impression of Cambodia.


the market

The Hunting Lodge


joylani 130pxIt was a bit of a beast getting into Cambodia. We entered through a seldom used border crossing between Laos and Cambodia, the only transportation available was through a company with heavily inflated prices. It was somewhat frustrating to not be able to hire local transportation on our own, but mostly I was just happy to have made it to Cambodia. By the time we made it to our first destination, near-border town Stung Treng, we had assembled a group of fellow travelers to hire a van to get to our final destination, thus avoiding having to take a bus the next morning. (One of the crew was an older Belgian man bearing a resemblance to a certain Jim Cramer with a similar eccentric personality.) It was great to be able to make it all the way from Laos to our first planned destination in Cambodia all in one day.

After a few hours on a very dusty road, we arrived in Ban Lung. Since no one in the van had been here before except for the Belgian (an ex-NGO worker who’d lived in Cambodia), we all accepted his lodging recommendation and ended up staying at the same guesthouse. It was surprisingly large and consisted of several building spread out in a walled complex. I looked at a few different rooms in different parts of the hotel complex. Although none of them seemed too impressive, the place was decent and we decided to stay. Just as we thought we thought we were getting one type of room, the hotel lady sent us to look at yet another room on the bottom floor of another building. It was huge—more like a small apartment than a hotel room with an entry room, kitchen area, bathroom, and super large bedroom. At the same price as the smaller, obviously inferior rooms ($5), we decided to definitely take this one.


We affectionately came to call our room “the hunting lodge.” As you can see from the photo, the walls and ceiling were completely covered in darkly stained wood panels. Wooden deer heads adorned the walls, along with a few knives—hunting implements perhaps? We thought the décor was a little bit strange, but the antlers were very useful as a place to hang our wet clothes.