Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Mmm... a taste of India

I haven't posted any information about Indian food yet but the time has come my friends. Bighead and I always go on a bit of a rampage in search of it. Everywhere.

Cambodia has come up trumps (behind India itself of course) in this particular department. Phuket also has some great restaurants but none have out done this one. Yet.

Sher-e-Punjab is my all time favourite Indian restaurant. It's on Street 130, Phnom Penh (at the Riverside end). We've eaten there just about every day. All the dishes are completely different, both in flavour and look, the Malai Kofta is to die for.
Paneer Tikka Masala and Malai Kofta

The price is right, the flavour is right, the staff are right, the setting is right. The only thing that's not right is that they don't have any mango pickle, however, I am willingly to forgive this oversight cause these guys sure cook a mean feed!

Non Vegetarian Thali

Tasty Condiments

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Siem Reap to Phnom Penh : By Bus

The drivers here seem to be a little more reckless than in other Asian countries I've been to. I've seen about five near road accidents and one actual one since arriving in Cambodia.

On the way to the bus, our tuk tuk was travelling too closely behind the car in front so of course when the car braked suddenly, so did he. We didn't hit the car but the scooter buckled and the brakes stopped working. After sitting in the middle of the main road for a while, Bighead jumped out and helped push the tuk tuk to the side of the road. We ended up having to unload and jump in another tuk tuk to get to the bus on time, leaving the poor guy to sort it out himself.

The Mekong 'limousine' bus was much better than Angkor Express. Cleaner and more comfortable, although I believe each bus differs slightly so it's luck of the draw. The air con was working well and good suspension made the bumpy road bearable. Every so often the bus would bounce around so much that it would start to make this loud grinding noise above the back wheels. It would also shudder violently for short periods. I managed to read my book through all of this so I was happy enough.

About 40 minutes out of Phnom Penh the poor old bus finally gave out and chugged dramatically to a halt. I think the driver thought that if he just gunned it, he might be able to make it. Alas, we all tumbled out into the stinking hot afternoon and watched as the driver disappeared under the bus, to later emerge defeated and covered in grease.
The whole village (or at least it seemed) came out to watch. A lot of the local passengers began making calls for rescue. There was a scramble for luggage as others decided to flag down shared minibuses. It was all quite exciting for the first five minutes. After a while, we were told that another bus would arrive in 20 minutes so we decided to wait it out. It was hot and sticky by the road side, it was getting dark and the mozzies were arriving in full force. The view of the Mekong river across the road with locals gathering at its edge sure was something special though.
After about an hour, the bus that had supposedly had difficulty finding us, finally arrived (there's only one road so I'm not sure how this happened). As we climbed aboard we were greeted with that indescribable full body wave of euphoria that can only be felt the moment you pass from extreme humidity into a glorious, icy cool air conditioned space. Aaaaaah, the relief.

You'll know exactly the feeling (and moment) I'm talking about if you've ever been in tropical heat and had the luxury of air conditioning. It's best if you've been in the heat for too long when every molecule within, forces you towards a safe place. A mall or shop, any place will do so long as it has an air conditioning unit that's right above the door. As it pelts out its constant stream of loveliness and you walk your overheating body through it, it envelops you. Wraps you up in happiness until you feel you might float away. That's what I'm talking about. That moment (and feeling) has to be one of the most pleasurable, possibly even making all that hot sticky heat worth while!

So it wasn't the luckiest of days... or was it?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Siem Reap

Siem Reap is a cool little town, the old market is quaint and easily walkable outside of the mid day heat. We ended up spending a large chunk of the first day trying to find a mid range hotel with a decentwifi connection (one that would load a page in less than four minutes). No luck.

Some of the roads were a little bouncy...

We're not really in to traipsing around temples all day (let alone in extreme temperatures) so we planned to only spend a couple of hours visiting Angkor Wat and Ta Phrom. At 5:30am the crowds were already beginning to thicken and the touts were closing in. I was asked if I wanted tea, coffee or breakfast about 10 times in 10 minutes. Unfortunately the sunrise was a bit of afizzer so after wondering around for a bit we headed to Ta Phrom.

Somewhere between Angkor Wat and Ta Phrom I lost the park entry tickets. I think someone pinched them out of my back pocket, perhaps mistaking them for money. Who knows but we were still able to drive around the area, which we enjoyed just as much as being able to walk around Angkor Wat.

We tried to get into TaPhrom because it was the temple I wanted to see the most but they weren't having it. In hindsight, I reckon the best way to see the sites would be in a helicopter.

In the Old Market area of Siem Reap we found this funky vegetarian restaurant which we were quite excited about. The space was well furnished and it had some really nice finishing touches;
such as a funky little pepper grinder boxy thing, hand crafted cutlery and icy cold towels.




The kebabs were tasty and fresh, especially with the pepper sauce (although a tad over priced).
Bighead's green mango salad was a bit of a let down but the rest of the menu sounded like it would be worth exploring.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Phnom Penh to Siem Reap : By Bus

So it seems to me that just about the whole of Cambodia is submerged in water. The view from the bus was mainly one whopping great big flat rice paddy...
interrupted by stilt houses...
sugar palms...
haystacks...
small villages with road side stalls...and temples.

The bus itself, was not all I had hoped it to be but by all means it was definitely not the worse ride I've ever been on. We were lucky to have to whole back seat to ourselves, even if it meant the seats coming off every time we went over a pot hole! Next time we'll remember to take one of the 'limousine' buses.

It was cool to see the locals going about their daily lives, the animals roaming in the paddies and the children cooling off in the ponds as the day came to an end. I also enjoyed watching the hustle and bustle of buyers and sellers at the road side market where we stopped for snacks.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Frogs Legs and Elephants

The preferred mode of transport here is the tuk tuk; slightly different in style from the Thai ones. The passenger carriage is towed behind on a motorbike, rather than in one complete unit. Still just as smelly and loud though!
On Sunday afternoon, a short tuk tuk ride found us sitting on the edge of lovely green park in central Phnom Penh.

On the table before me, sprawled out on a plate, lay a local delicacy. Deep Fried Frog. It wasn’t my fault, MJ made me do it. There was no confusion over what they were, the darling little guys almost looked cute with their little arms and legs. Nawh... I actually loved the little frogs and their croaky wee songs in Bali so it was slightly uncomfortable for me.
Perhaps if I thought of it as pay back for this, although maybe it should have been a Balinese frog I was about to eat. Oh I don’t know I can’t really justify it, I just had to try one… or three.

MJ whipped up the dipping sauce like a pro. You come here often? Ultra tasty. Chilli, lime, black pepper and salt. I was a bit of a wimp and could only bring myself to eat the legs. They were surprisingly meaty and pretty tasty, especially combined with the sauce. Yum. Kinda like a cross between chicken and fish.

On our way home we spotted this guy on his way home.
I've got to get going and pack up for our bus trip to Siem Reap. I can’t remember the last time I went on a bus. How exciting!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Yuck

I was woken many times last night. First by the thumping music coming from several different bars on the street below, second by the heaviest rain and loudest thunder I've ever heard in my life, third by the air con crackling away in a rather bizarre manner, and fourth by a very scary gurgling sound coming from the toilet.

I could handle the first three but the fourth, I must say was a bit of a worry. I got up to check it out and sure enough the toilet water was bubbling up the bowl instead of going down. And the smell... oh... it was horrendous (reminiscent of the little boys toilets at school, where yes, I did have to poke my head in the door on the odd occasion to tell off the scallywags hiding inside).

There wasn't much I could do about it so I put the lid down, climbed back into bed and hoped for the best.I had visions of the bathroom filling up with sewage and seeping out into the bedroom onto my lovely new suitcase. And then I fell asleep.

In the morning it all looked clean and clear, although the smell was still fairly whiffy. As I stepped on the bathmat to hop in the shower I suddenly realised where most of the smell was coming from. The towel was soaked. Not as clean and clear as I'd first hoped then. Ewwww...

By the sound of that rain last night, I wasn't surprised to learn that this is in fact a fairly common occurrence here in Cambodia.

I'm now lying happily on the bed in a lovely clean room a few stories up. Hopefully tonight's sleep will be better!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

From the Balcony

Hit the town last night (a little too hard). Had a great time but have been paying for it all day today.

Went out for a delish Cambodian meal at a restaurant right on the river. Chowed down on several scummy dishes including a fish amok (national dish) which is made with melt in your mouth fish fillet pieces baked with coconut cream in a banana leaf.

Plans are to shoot up to Siem Reap maybe Monday/Tuesday. Looking forward to seeing some more of the country and I hear it's a cool little town.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Holy shit what a dusty bastard!

Cambodian customs was exciting! A hodge podge of baffling procedures, which thankfully we came out of with visa in hand and money in pocket (most of). We were greeted outside by a familiar face (MJ) holding a 'Bighead and Samesame' sign. Love your work.

It truly is a luxury to arrive in a strange country and be greeted by someone you know, who's in the know (if ya know what I mean). I don't think we've had the pleasure before, so leaving the airport was a 'haggle free' breeze this time round.

Phnom Penh has a real edge to it. It's energetic, dirty, dusty, smelly, loud and sure has a shit load of scooters. I'm diggin it. We're both quite excited about the range of different food available and the architecture is really cool too, a mish mash of different styles.
MJ took us in for the night and after a delicious home cooked meal (akun), we popped out for a walk, stopping at a local bar for a beer. Wow, a bit of a culture shock for old Samesame I'm tellin ya. They sure have a lot of staff working in the bars and they're really friendly.

We zipped all over town this morning looking for a room, eventually finding one just around the corner from MJ's. Our room overlooks the point where the three rivers merge (Sap, Mekong, and Bassac). They're massive and flow really quickly. I like standing on the balcony and taking in the view below.
Seeing the locals hanging out by the river and children playing in the water.Wondering if the load on this boat is regulation??


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

May Kaidee's Cooking Class

I don't really have anything to compare it with considering it's the only cooking class I've ever done. However, I had a great time, albeit a bit slapstick. The dishes were so easy to cook (I wish I had someone to prepare all my ingredients and clear away all my mess every time I cooked!).

May is genuinely kind, loads of fun, full of energy, and has a passion for life and business that I find inspiring. She sure knows how to make a mean pumpkin hummus too!

Snippets of song and dance made their way into the class throughout the afternoon, performed only by May I might add. We called them her May Kaidee jingles because each song was like a mini promotion for her and the restaurant.

We were shown how to make a green chilli paste before cooking about 10 other dishes from her menu. It's amazing the masterpieces you can create from such simple ingredients.
Issan Vegetable Stirfry with Vegetarian Sausage

The best thing about it was that we got to eat everything we cooked, including her famous black sticky rice with mango and banana. Devine. Doesn't the name just make your mouth water?


We're off to Phnom Penh, Cambodia this afternoon. A whole new country, very exciting!



Tuesday, October 14, 2008

For Huia

I hear that you've been waiting patiently to see some elephants from Thailand. I've been spending far too much time eating yummy food and scuba diving to have a chance to go tramping in the jungle. After all, this is the best place to see them.

Last time I came to Thailand I was lucky enough to see a wild elephant bull in the jungle one day. He was really smelly! You could smell him from 1km away.Around the city of Bangkok they have a very rare kind of green elephant. These guys are not as shy as the wild ones so you can get really close.Here are some hard working elephants. The first group are on their way home for the day with their riders. The others are having a break in the shade and are tyed to a post with a very short rope. This means that they can hardly move. Each of these elephants has to carry tourists around everywhere in the hot sun and they also must do whatever their rider's say.
I think the wild one is the best even though he was smelly. What do you think?

Monday, October 13, 2008

Man I Love Bangkok!

See if you can guess the first place we went after securing a room for the night...

Yep! May Kaidee's for lunch. Alloi mak maa!

May (which is pronounced 'Mai') also offers cooking classes at her restaurant. Her and her staff are the bubbliest bunch of people, she also seems to have a bit of an empire going which is great for everyone involved.

I've been nagging Bighead for sometime now to do a Thai cooking class somewhere and seen as though we have a few days spare, we've booked in for tomorrow afternoon.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Most Beautiful Thing

We ended up with a bit of a raw deal regarding the boat journey to Koh Phi Phi. When I booked the tickets, I’d asked the dude how long the trip would take. He paused, just for a millisecond, before telling me it would take one hour. So I wasn’t particularly surprised when the trip ended up taking two, as his ever-so-tiny pause had sewn a seed of doubt in my mind as to whether he was being completely honest with me. However, that wouldn’t have been so bad if the boat had been in the least bit comfortable. No air-conditioning or cushioned seats to be seen! Aren’t we flashpackers now? How could this happen? Check out the life jackets… Anyway, I couldn’t whinge because we were on our way to one of the most beautiful islands ever.

It’s difficult to explain how gorgeous the island is. I can’t even really show you with pictures (although I’ll try) as they just don't do it justice. It certainly is one of those places that needs to be visited in person in order to fully appreciate its natural beauty.

Seeing the sheer size of the surrounding mountains and the way they shoot straight up into the sky from the ocean is a sight that will remain with me forever. When you combine an awe inspiring view like that with beaches lined by jungle, stunning crystal clear bays, great diving and very few vehicles, I reckon it could just about be called paradise (if you shut out the extremely pushy touts, one million speed boats, and over-the-top resorts).
After the ferry trip from hell (I’m exaggerating, but it was pretty bad), being harassed by touts the moment we set foot on the creaky old jetty, and nearly causing an all out brawl between them and our hotel porters (it’s complicated), we finally made it safely to our room. Later that night at Papaya Restaurant (good value tasty food), I couldn't help but photograph this clever little guy. He knows where it's at!On Saturday, we took a two dive trip with Hippo Divers. We had an awesome day and two really enjoyable dives. The scenery all around us was stunning. Hippo Divers provided a great service with yummy food and friendly, professional staff. The visibility on the first dive was better than the second, but we were still lucky enough to see loads of sort after species, including a reasonable sized shark, several turtles, two octopus lovers (they were holding tentacles), sea snakes, scorpion fish and loads of others that I won’t bore you with. It was very cool and some of the best diving we’ve had on the trip so far.
Dive Site #1 - Bida Nok

Dive Site #2 - Palong West

Phi Phi Leh

While all the delightful action packed travel was taking place, other decisions were being made. We're now in Krabi Town, on our way to Bangkok. We’d always planned to include Cambodia in our travels and have decided that now is as good a time as any. Might as well do it before ‘settling down’ in Phuket. Do they have mango sticky rice in Cambo?

So it was a bit of a whirl wind tour to Phi Phi this time round but we've promised to go back soon. I’m still shocked that I was able to leave such a beautiful place.