Monday, August 31, 2015

Cambodia, Sihanoukville: Final Post

Sihanoukville is the main beach area of Cambodia, due east of Thailand's north Gulf, and described by some sources as what Thai beaches were like ten years ago. My stretch of beach was called Otres 2, and I have to say it was spectacular, and perfect for wading and swimming. While it rained in the mornings on a couple of my four days, the afternoons were nice and a bit of cloudiness enhances a sunset, I always think.

I mainly stayed at a place called Secret Garden Resort, where the bungalows are named, not numbered. I stayed in Fern.

I arrived at Sihanoukville a day early, due to travel arrangements (I have to say tourist transportation in Cambodia needs a lot of developing) and stayed at a newly-finished place called Seabreeze.

While I'm on hotel rooms, here is the room I had in Kampot at Rikitikitavi, including a private smoking patio. I stayed in six hotels during my stay, and smoking was not allowed in the rooms of any of them.

Here is a shot of my room in Phnom Penh at Longlin House, which ran only $15 per day including aircon and hot water.

I mentioned travel troubles in the country, and indeed my whole trip started in an inauspicious way when, immediately on take-off from Incheon, the airplane cabin filled with white smoke. This resulted in a brief period of considerable concern, and not just on my part, which was relieved when I realized it was condensation of the extremely humid air in Korea in late August.

Since the riverboat I had planned to take to cover much of the route from Siem Reap to Sihanoukville wasn't running, as the river was too low, I had to fly by way of a twin-engine prop plane, an Italian-built ATR-72.

Well, here ends my series of posts on my summer vacation in Cambodia. Seven posts, 150 pictures, ending with the one below just to round things off. Cambodia is an imperfect democracy, a very poor country, but a rich land nonetheless--in natural beauty, amazing history, and lovely people.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Cambodia: Food and Drink

As is typical when I travel, I made sure to take a cooking class, and as is typical with such cooking classes, we began at the local market. This one was in Siem Reap, and was a standard Asian market, with freshly butchered meat, fresh local produce, bulk dried goods and prepared foods.

Journal: "Cooking class at Le Tigre de Papier was fun, but frankly not the best. On the other hand, for $17.25 including a mango shake, you can't expect the moon. There were six of us, including a Chinese girl and three generations from Switzerland--two sweet, well-behaved children, their mother and grandmaman. Everyone made some different dishes, so it was nice seeing the variety; however, that meant a lot of down time as other people got the instructor's attention. I made a spicy shrimp salad that wasn't spicy, and beef lam lok, with thin slices of a fairly tough cut--flank, I think. Too much oyster sauce, too."

Later on, I had lam lok at Rikitikitavi in Kampot, this time served with a traditional fried egg, as well as Kampot pepper sauce. It was better, but not amazingly so:

Quite a bit of Khmer cooking is remarkably similar to Thai cuisine, as you might expect. Here is a curry i had at one of the restaurants in the Angkor temples area:

As you might further expect in Cambodia, seafood figures strongly in the diet. Some fabulous prawns in Kep, at a restaurant recommended by Cha (probably for a kickback, but that's to be expected), and fresh grilled red snapper at the resort in Sihanoukville:

Siem Reap is basically a tourist town in support of the temples, and it has its own, rather more low-key version of Bangkok's Khaosan Road, called Pub Street.

I later learned that "Khmer traditional food" may be a code for "contains cannabis", as pot has long been an ingredient used in food here. From various people, I heard that every home is allowed to have two plants for culinary use, though I don't know this for a fact. To the best of my knowledge, none of my food was specially "treated".

Cambodia has a population of 15 million people, and a large number of local beers for such a small population. The ones you'll see most are Anchor and Angkor (note the the pull tab):

Cambodia beer is also commonly seen, though my favorite was Kingdom, which has a blonde flavor to it:

Additionally, I found a dark stout called Black Panther, Ganzberg (German brewmaster, German quality, but produced in Phnom Penh), one called Klang, and finally, Crown.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Cambodia, Kampot: Tuk-tuk Tour

I took a five-hour tour of the Kampot area with a guide named Cha, who was informative and kind. The tour cost $25 (100,000 riel) not including a tip.

I really only got interested in Kampot when talking to a French/Australian couple I shared a cab with from the airport at Sihanoukville. They wanted to go to the Kampot pepper farms. I had had some Kampot peppered ham in Siem Reap so I shortened my stay in Phnom Penh a bit to detour to Kampot.

I did due diligence in the LP, picked a hotel--frankly, in large part for its name, Rikitikitavi, one of my favorite Rudyard Kipling tales--and hired a tuk-tuk immediately upon arrival. The first stop I wanted to see was a relatively inaccessible shrine called Phnom Chhngok, which has 203 stairs, about 180 of therm going up, leading to a cave.

Dripping water has formed a stalagmite recognized as a linga. Various other rock formations and sediment stains are deemed to look like elephants, a crocodile and a pig. The elephant I can get, but t takes more imagination than I have to see the pig, even if you pump up the brightness.

There is a nice view of the countryside from atop the steps.

Speaking of the countryside, most of what we did on the tour was ride around it. And that was fine, because it was lovely, mostly rice paddies and sugar palms.

There was a time when no Parisian bistro or restaurant would open its doors for business without a supply of Kampot peppers in the larder. Sadly, the Khmer Rouge infested this area even long after their ouster (even until the late 1990s), so the peppers are only now coming back, as it takes four or five years for a plant to produce.

Journal: "I admit complete ignorance about black pepper plants, though it has been erased today: they are vines that grow very tall, and take about four years to mature into productive plants. The corns grow on strings and take about eight months to be ready to harvest, though when you harvest them determines how spicy they are: remove the skin from the green ones and you have white peppercorns. The Kampot variety is mild yet aromatic..."

The Kampot region is mainly agricultural, and a lot of our trail was alongside irrigation ditches stemming from a dammed lake called "Hidden Lake" even if it is anything but. Eventually we made our way to Kep, which is a seaside area east of Kampot. I had some nice prawns there and visited the "Crab market", where I didn't actually see any crabs--I suspect they had all been snapped up so to speak by the dozen or two restaurants down the street.

You can see that the weather was brilliant but it turned rainy in the evening. I still managed a nice bar crawl, and I think Kampot is a lovely place deserving of more time than I gave it.