Sunday, 7 July 2013

Cambodia = AMAZEBALLS!

What a worldwind!  Thursday night, the fellows attended the US ambassador's Fourth of July reception at the Ritz Carlton.  It was pretty amazing to be surrounded by almost 1000 fancy, important people.  Deb and I were talking to a Chinese man for awhile who gave us explicit instructions on how to eat Durian, which is a famous, smelly Asian fruit. He told us to go to a specific MRT stop and get ready to splurge (since good durian isn't cheap).  Then, we need to find an Asian man to buy it for us, since the seller wouldn't give their best fruit to foreigners who don't look like they'll appreciate it properly.  We can't mix the durian with beer (or we may die) and we need to finish up eating the King Fruit with a dessert of the Queen Fruit (mangosteen).  At the end of the conversation, he gave us his card "if we ever needed anything"- it turns out he's the executive advisor to the Singapore minister of defense!  Good guy to know and not just for his fruit eating advice!
The event overall was enjoyable and we got to talk to so many interesting people- Paul hopefully got us invited to a New Zealand colonel's mansion for a barbecue.  The food was delicious and highlighted dishes from around the country (Boston Baked beans, New Orleans Jambalaya, New York Cheesecake), free drinks were a-flowing, live jazz, a cheesy digital fireworks show and we got met the ambassador.  When we left, we got goodie bags of "American" treats- I'm not sure I'd pick Hershey's chocolate, soymilk, Sydner's pretzels and Bigelow tea to represent our country but I'm not complaining!  Armed with our patriotic drawstraw flag bags (where boxes of tea would jump out randomly "Katie!  Why is there tea on the table?!?"), we headed to Clarke quay for some dancing to a live band to make the most of being all dressed up.
Us and the US ambassador
Bright and early on Friday morning, Deb, Marie and I boarded the plane to Cambodia.  I had learned about the Ankor Wat temples during an undergraduate Asian Art class so it was one of the destinations I was looking forward to most for that reason.  It's my favorite country this summer but for different reasons than we expected- we expected the temples to take our breath away but we didn't expect the people and the culture to steal our hearts!
After landing in Siem Reap, we headed out almost immediately for a cooks in tuk tuk class.  Our chef for the day accompanied us the local market to teach us about the local ingredients while exposing us to the daily life of the people with skwirmy fish, ladies violently chopping up meat with their bare hands with cute kids running around and people making flower and fruit offerings at typical temple.  The class was phenomenal- the three of us made a banana flower salad, amok and a tapioca-yam pudding for dessert.  We enjoyed our meal poolside and I think we all plan to recreate these khmer dishes back in the US.
Us and our chef with our delicious meal served poolside
Saturday morning, we woke up at 4:30 am to catch sunrise at Angkor Wat.  The sunrise itself was somewhat anti-climatic but the temple was awe-inspiring with its massive three layers of intricate carvings everywhere.  Our tour guide had temple traveling down to a science: he knew all the best places to take pictures and could navigate the crowds- at the first temple, he warned us that a surge of Asians would arrive in fifteen minutes and sure enough, as we walked out, tour groups from every asian nation flooded in waving flags and wearing matching t-shirts.  After that, we headed to Angkor thom through the bridge lined with creatures churning the mystical milk sea.  The bayon temple was probably my favorite with Buddha faces smiling down at you from every angle.  After a delicious lunch of cashew stir-fried veggies, we headed to the La Phrom temple that Angelina Jolie made famous with the Tomb Raider movie.  Gigantic trees tore the temple apart while holding it up with their snaking roots.  Seeing how the jungle overtook this temple, turning much of it to ruin made it easier to understand how some of this complex was hidden until an airplane laser surveying mission discovered more ruins last month.
Morning at Ankor Wat
Us at one of the gates to Ankor Thom
Our tour should have ended there but we asked if we could go to the floating village and our guide happily obliged for no extra charge except for the boat ride ticket.  To get to the launch point, we drove through the most beautiful, lush, green countryside of rice patties, water buffalo and ox carts.  We got our own boat and seemed to be the only people cruising (and I use that word lightly because we got stuck quite a few times) through the lily pads to see floating homes, floating pig pens and even a floating school.  These houses rise and fall with the river and everything they need is here- gas stations, grocery stores, playmates for the kids who were swimming and splashing in the lake and gossip buddies for the women weaving fishing nets.  It was such an amazing tour because these homes are so open that you can see how these people live: fish, nap, play and work.  We stopped by a crocodile farm to hang out with a local family for awhile.  They had the cutest boy who got in a "gunfight" with deb and we were able to play with their newborn puppies.  Deb and I are already planning to go backpacking through Vietnam, Laos and more of Cambodia, hoping to hang out with locals in homestays like this.  You don't need to speak the same language to play, laugh and eat!
Deb on the boat through the floating villages
We came back from a long day but headed out for dinner on Pub Street (50 cent beers!) and we navigated past the people trying to convince us we needed fish spas, $5 for an hour long massage stations and a tuk tuk ride somewhere "no tuk tuk!".  Then we hit up the night market.  Deb is a merciliness bargainer and we returned home laden with silk scarves, hand carved plates, colorful hammocks, hand-painted canvases and the famous Khmer fishing pants.  We tried the famous chocolate banana pancake on our way out, which didnt disappoint.  We returned back to our hostel right before a massive storm which reminded us how lucky we were with the weather all weekend.

By the time Sunday rolled around, we were all so tired that Deb read the word "amazing" as "amazeballs", an exclamation we're going to try to make stick.  Our plans to take it easy changed when we learned we could get a tuk tuk for a half-day tour of workshops and airport delivery for just $7. The tour of the first workshop allowed us to learned about dying and weaving palms into baskets, candle and soap making, spice cultivation and making of more cosmetics.  It ended with a free mug of cinnamon coffee or lemongrass tea, while we enjoyed while chatting with our tour guide who kept stroking our hands, saying we had skin like babies, "big babies".  After that, we headed to the silk farm for a free tour of the production from the growing of the mulberries to retrieving the silk to dying and weaving into the final product.  There was also a mini-museum showcasing some of the famous patterns and common silk goods for Cambodians.  Midway through the tour, we had a tasty snack of a silkworm stripped of its silk straight out of its hot pot.  Yum!
We love tuk tuks!  
So that was our weekend!  Check out the full album of my photos because Cambodia=amazeballs and words do not describe it.  We had a smooth and speedy flight back on Malaysian airlines.  They play a song "Beautiful Malaysia" when we were about to land and I could barely withhold my laughter when the Hispanic guys next to me starting speaking English for the first time to coo "the land where dreams come true" for a private serenade in tune to the music.  Two full work days then it's off to Bali! :)