Monthly Archives: May 2012

Cooking up a tropical storm in Hoi An

The trend of my blog thus far is to do a post per city. However I did a cooking class in Hoi An today and just had to share! There are so many cooking classes to choose from in Hoi An, with every restaurant and hotel seeming to offer one. However I decided to go with Van from Green Bamboo Cooking School, because she is highly rated on trip advisor and you cook in her own home with a small group (maximum 8 people). She has only been in business for about 1 1/2 years, but has had really positive reviews and because it is her business, she is very passionate about it. She also had a huge menu that you got to choose a dish from – which was great if there was one thing in particular you really wanted to learn to cook. I thought this was the most genuine of the classes and would be the most hands on. And boy it was.

We chose one dish each, I opted for fish in clay pot and el shrimp with lemon grass and chilli – both things we can make at home. However upon being picked up by the lovely Van, we were told that no one else was joining us – El and I were the only attendees. Private cooking class! And even better, we got to choose two more dishes. The final four ended up being:

  • Fish in clay pot (with garlic, chilli, ginger, tamarind and lemon grass);
  • Shrimps with chilli and lemon grass;
  • Cau lau, a Hoi An speciality, which involves noodles, herbs, bean sprouts, pork, fried noodle chips and an amazing marinade sauce that the pork is cooked in; and
  • A mixed salad of green mango, green papaya, banana blossom and lotus stem, with this beautiful yet simple dressing (lime, fish sauce, chili and garlic!)

Our day began with a trip to the central market, to buy all our ingredients. We wore the Vietnamese hats and followed Van as she navigated the small paths. We tasted all these fruits that we hadn’t tried, the most surprising was this fruit that looked like small potatoes but was actually really sweet inside. She showed us all the herbs and told us their names, and all the weird local fruits. We learnt about different types of chilli and garlic and bought fresh tamarind, which looks just like ginger!

Fresh vegetables for sale!

Women selling herbs at the market in Hoi An

We also tasted and bought banana blossom, one of the weirdest things I have ever seen. Before bananas grow, they cut down the big bunch (where the bananas would blossom), take out the leaves between the blossoms and then slice them super thin. For my salad, we also bought green mango and green papaya. Last foreign salad ingredient was lotus stem, which is a clear short stick, but if you look down the stem of it, it is hollowed out like a flower. Amazing. The market itself was so bustling, and everything was so fresh. The Vietnamese go shopping everyday for ingredients, and the meat is there only in the morning. Killed fresh that day. We bought all our meat there as well as our fruit and vegetables. Van knew where to go for the meat, and how to tell whether it was fresh or had been sitting there a while. She was really great, and answered all our questions. We even tried ‘che’, this sweet soup served on ice. The woman had about 6 different pots of different things, including sweet corn, lentils and beans, and poured a spoonful of each on ice. I was very skeptical, but it was actually delicious and I basically finished my glass!! Will be going back for some more tomorrow!

Banana blossom – for the green papaya salad

Lotus stem – for the green papaya salad

This is where we got our fish for the fish claypot

Duck eggs

A natural soap – you cook a handful in water, then drain it, and then have to wash your hair in the bucket of it, then wash it out – it takes a long time, but is a natural shampoo that many of the older generation in Vietnam still use

My first ‘che’ – a sweet mixed soup on ice, at the Central Market in Hoi An

After our market visit, we drove to Van’s house and got to work. The great thing about her class was that we actually did all the work – we prepared everything and cooked it all. Luckily, we didn’t have to clean up, but we did all the chopping and cutting, and I even cut all the fish out of the bones – got quite good at it by the end. Had nice little shaped pieces of fish, without any bones in it whatsoever!! We split the dishes so El and I had two each, and carried each out from beginning until end. She was there the whole time telling us what to do and helping us along the way. We got to cook with huge chopsticks, and I even got to use two pairs to toss the salad. One of my other favorite things was this little grater device, which you use to get the long thin strands of carrot, cucumber, papaya, mango, whatever! I always wondered how they got the strands like that, and now I know. And Van gave us one each to take home – brilliant!

Grated green mango and the magic grater!!

Hard at work in the kitchen of Green Bamboo Cooking School

Dipping sauce and salad dressing

Cooking my beautiful fish claypot

Sauteing the prawns in garlic, chilli and lemon grass

Soon it was all done, and we had four HUGE plates of food to share between the three of us. We really shouldn’t have eaten breakfast…

My beautiful creation

The mixed salad – green mango, green papaya, lotus stem, banana blossom, red cabbage, carrot, prawns, fried shallots, peanuts and the delicious spicy dressing

Prawns in chilli and lemon grass

Mmm fish claypot

Cau Lau

After all the amazing food, Van packed some up for us to take back to the hotel for dinner – although it is currently 7:45pm as I write this and I am still not hungry! It was a great meal, the food was absolutely sublime and full of fresh flavors. And I can’t believe we cooked it! I love to cook and I consider myself quite good, but this tasted and looked like restaurant quality. It made me want to stay in Vietnam even more, to never leave, and to just eat Vietnamese food every day. Van herself was wonderful company, and she had a beautiful home. It was a really special experience to cook in someone’s house and really get to know them, rather than simply learn to cook a few dishes in a sterile environment It really was such an amazing experience, and I am so glad I found her class online. We learnt so much, and even got a cookbook to take home so we can replicate some of the dishes. Some of them I won’t be able to make again – like the salad, due to lack of ingredients in New Zealand – but the pork in the cau lau, the prawns and the fish claypot I am sure I can make at home. Or at least try to – we can’t get fresh lemon grass in New Zealand, so lemon grass in a jar will have to do.

Passionfruit and a jelly made out of ginseng leaves – they are cooked and the water is drained, and when it cools it becomes gelatinous and is served with sugar on top!!

After eating we even found room for the jelly green thing – the ginseng leaf. It was very weird, but I decided it wasn’t too bad. It needed sugar though, and as I ate my way through it, I ran out of sugar. I was determined though to eat it all – so the last few bites were not overly enjoyable as the sugar had disappeared! It was just like jelly but oddly the taste made you want to chew it. It tasted just like tea – not green tea, not ginseng tea, just normal (Dilmah, in my case) tea. Just cold and in jelly form. I am glad I tried it, but I won’t be rushing out to eat it again!

Ready to eat!

The art of travel in Vietnam – in and out of Hue in 30 hours

We met two girls from LA on our cruise in Halong Bay who joked about the variety of transport you take in Vietnam to get to your destination. We have now added overnight train and sleeper bus to our list. We arrived in Hoi An two days ago, which for the 4 hour journey took 4 need of transport: a van from our hotel to the ‘bus station’, by foot for 2 blocks from the ‘bus station’ to the bus, a bus with bunk seats that reclined in a bed like fashion but your feet in a cubby, where we had to remove our shoes before boarding, and a shuttle from our hotel’s sister to our hotel. It is all an experience.

To reach Hue (where we were before Hoi An), we took a 13 hour train. Trains here are nothing like trains I have experienced before. I took several trains in France in January, and I long for those. The comfort, cleanliness and peacefulness of TGV trains. Pure heaven in comparison to our recent 13 hours on the SE1 overnight train. 13 hours is plenty of time to sleep, right? The train departed at 7pm and arrived at 8am, so we thought we would be able to have a huge rest! We also figured out what our train ticket meant and what beds were ours. However we realized that you can’t safely assume anything here. Before we even left the station, we made an enemy in our cabin. Or rather, I made an enemy. When we got to our room, a woman was lying in one of our beds, motioning for us to take her upper berth bed. I specifically asked for two lower beds, so we could be close to our bags to protect them (as I’ve heard stories), and because of my knee. I am so glad we did. After arguing and pointing at my knee and our ticket, and then just putting my bag on that bed, she gave in. And clumsily climbed up to her bed, through no use of a ladder, rather one foot step on the wall. Not the easiest way to get up or down from a bunk. And she made it look so difficult (due to her weight, wanting to make a big deal out of it or it actually being difficult) to climb up.

However we were not murdered in our sleep and our bags were not stolen. We were kindly awoken at 5am when they got up, opened the curtains, the door, and pushed my legs over to sit on my bed. But we survived, limbs and possessions all accounted for, just rather tired. The train was so noisy, and it started and stopped and jerked like the Cambodian buses did. The beds are small and the cabins incredibly cold. Some men had a bottle of vodka in their cabin which I think is key – drink and pass out so the noise and movement of the train doesn’t bother you and constantly wake you.

We quickly recovered upon arriving at our hotel at 8:30am, because we were given a full breakfast! And coffee! Did I mention coffee!! I am slightly addicted to Vietnamese coffee…it is coffee with condensed milk, and I like it with ice. So good. I even bought sachets to make it in our hotel rooms that have electric kettles. We then checked in, showered, and set off to enjoy our mere 30 hours in Hue.

We explored the Citadel, the Hue forbidden city. It was impressive, but so much has been destroyed by natural disasters and the Vietnam War that it was rather disappointing. Many things were inaccessible, being renovated, or incomplete. Lots of the paint was fading and chipped, but the history was interesting. It was also incredibly quiet and peaceful, so was a change from all other tourist attractions we have visited so far. The best part, as many can probably guess, was lunch. The receptionist recommended a local restaurant, Hong Mai (110 Dinh Tien Hoang) near the citadel for authentic Hue food. Upon arriving, we sat down (again, in child size seats and tables) and asked for a menu. She pointed at photos on the wall and said there was no menu. We nodded and went ahead with it. Soon a variety of plates appeared on the table. A bowl of chili peppers and raw garlic, a plate of lettuce and herbs, and another with grated cabbage, carrot and cucumber. This bowl of brown grey slop came out, and a plate with sausages on skewers. After a moment, we asked what to do as we had no idea!! The woman quickly showed us, that you take the spring roll type papers, put the various fillings in, the sausage, roll it as pull the stick out, then put some slop in your bowl and dip. Simple! And so delicious!! For dinner that night we sampled some Hue specialities at “Confetti”. Our waiter had a cute light pink bow tie on asks the table cloths and napkins were all pink! My kind of place. We had this amazing rice shrimp and pork in banana leaf, and prawns in a clay pot.

The accompaniments

The kebabs on sugarcane

Loading it all up

All rolled up

Prawns with chili and lemongrass in a claypot at Confetti mmmm

Banh nam – the pork and shrimp and po noodle wrapped in banana leaf. It doesn’t look fantastic in the photo, but it tasted AH-mazing

Day 2 of Hue involved a motorbike ride to tombs and a pagoda. Riding motorbikes in Hue was such a different experience than our motorbike ride to Prambanan in Yogyakarta. For one, the roads were less hectic. Everyone still honks, but unlike Hanoi where you never had more than 3 seconds without a honk, I counted to over 30 in Hue! The ride was beautiful, with rice paddies and forests. So many trees, it was so surreal. We even drove on small dirt roads through rice paddies up and down hills through tiny areas people lives in. A real adventure. Our drivers, Tien and Kianc (can’t remember exact spelling!!) were friendly and talkative, making it more like a tour rather than paying for mere transport. Tien had just started up the motorbike tour company (go here for info!)  and was really keen to make sure we enjoyed ourselves. We even exchanged email addresses! Kianc, Tien’s cousin, had a bit of a crush on El so will see if he tries to find her on fb as well.

The first tomb, of Khai Dinh was very large and overwhelming. It felt cold and moms monument like, almost ordering people to remember and mourn him. It took 11 years to complete, and he was apparently unpopular up until his death due to his heavy taxation on peasants to finance the construction of his tomb. I find it such a waste that so much wealth was spent on a tomb for a dead emperor. Think of the people at the time and how that money could benefit everything, rather than go towards a gold 1:1 statue of him.

Part of Khai Dinh’s tomb

Khai Dinh’s stone minions

The second tomb, of Tu Duc was much nicer. It was set in amongst nature, with several parts to it, and a beautiful pond full of water lillies. Tu Duc built it whilst still alive, and his family lived there – his 104 wives, yet no children. There was a housing area for his “minor wives” alongside a housing area for his concubines. And a temple dedicated to his mother. He was buried next to his first wife and adopted son, and his eulogy/biography stone was written by himself, in a self-critical way. It is the largest biography inscription in SE Asia apparently. I really enjoyed this tomb because it felt more like a park, in amongst the trees, with a nice path to walk, and a pavilion overlooking the pond where he used to go and write poetry. Less selfish than the first tomb. The funny thing though is he was selfish – the tombs have stone statues of 1 elephant, 1 horse and men to serve him in the afterlife. However Tu Duc was short, so he made all the statues short too! El and I were basically a head taller than them!

Tu Duc’s tomb – the water lily pond

At Tu Duc’s Tomb

Tu Duc – much less menacing and dark than the first tomb

Our last visit was to the Thien Mu Pagoda, meaning heavenly lady. The literal translation according to Tien is near to the sky, with Thien meaning sky. Due to no entrance fee, Tien was able to take us around and tell us all about the pagoda. It was a beautiful and spiritual place, right next to a local graveyard. Tien also took lots of photos of us – after noticing my nice shiny camera, he stopped at an incense store on the way back to town from Tu Duc’s tomb, saying it was a great photo op. He then had us pose by the incense, and got us Vietnamese hats to pose in as well.

Tien and me on the motorbike

Multi colored incense – they all smell the same, sandlewood or cinnamon, but just different colors!

Us in Vietnamese hats by the incense

At the Pagoda

Me with the laughing buddha – he is meant to give me good luck apparently!!

It was an absolutely hilarious yet wonderful experience. I actually received an email from him today wishing us well on our journeys. Just another reason why I love it here – the generosity and genuineness of the people. They have such kind hearts and really open up to you. Apart from the woman on our train of course! They want to show you Vietnam and all say 2 weeks is too short. We need two weeks in each town apparently!! Lucky for Hoi An, our original 3 day trip may become 5. We have only been here a day but love it already. Hue and Hoi An are both just so magical and quiet, especially in comparison to Hanoi, and the other big places we have been like Jakarta, Singapore and KL. I think I am already planning my next visit to Vietnam…just quietly!

Our food adventures with locals in Hanoi

Our first encounter with a Vietnamese in Hanoi didn’t make me feel positive about the country.We got a taxi from the airport to our hostel, Hanoi Hostel, and were driven to another hotel. The door opened and a man appeared with a printed off piece of paper, yelling at me ‘Welcome to Hanoi Hostel, please come in!’. I knew something was up from the moment this man started shouting, holding a piece of paper with “HANOI HOSTEL” on it. That and the fact that the name of the hotel wasn’t Hanoi Hostel. El was ready to accept this and get out of the car. However I wasn’t buying it. “This isn’t it”, I said. He replied with “It is, it is, it is upstairs. We have two locations, my boss send me to get you!” I asked what street we were on. “Hang Ma Hang Ma!”. This is despite the shop signs all saying another street. I demanded they take us to Hanoi Hostel. “This is it!” I got out, walked to the travel agent next door, and when I asked “This isn’t Hang Ma street is it?” The reply was merely “No”. When I walked back out, the man knew it was over. I called his bluff. Back in the taxi we went, to drive around the corner to our actual hostel. We paid, got out, got our bags, and left the trunk open. The scumbag can deal with that.

Apart from that experience, Hanoi is weirdly magical. We have met such friendly locals and city has such charm about it. The little coffee/tea shop across the road from our hostel does a fantastic strawberry iced tea, and you sit on the roadside in chairs that look like old wicker chairs but are in fact plastic, and watch the traffic go by, like in Paris. The buildings still retain a French feel to them, baguette are for sale on the side of the road, alongside exotic fruits and fish in plastic containers. At night the city comes even more to life with people selling dried squid, crab, spring rolls and these donut balls out of a basket, offering them to people walking, in bars and even restaurants! The traffic is crazy, but people mainly go about their business. They don’t berate you and try to sell you things, and we haven’t experienced anyone trying to rip us off yet, save for the taxi experience on day one.

For many who know me, and know how my world revolves around good food, it comes as no surprise then that I especially love the small roadside restaurants that exist on every street corner, where a variety of dishes are served to customers having beer from a keg and sitting on small child size plastic stools. We visited such a restaurant on our first day in Hanoi, wanting some authentic Vietnamese food. Upon sitting down however, we saw the large and comprehensive menu, all in Vietnamese and none of which we understood (see photo below!). Our receipt says “Bia Hoi 97 Phung Hung”, not sure whether that is the restaurant name, the street, or both! We sat down in the small tiny children’s chairs and a tiny table, and we then realized the ENTIRE menu was in Vietnamese. And that El and I knew nothing about Vietnamese food. Uhhhh….soup? Noodles? The waitress replied with “Bia?” meaning “Beer?”. We nodded, and then reevaluated.

The very confusing Vietnamese menu

After my Lonely Planet Vietnamese iPod app didn’t help, I got up and wandered to the other table full of Vietnamese, to look at what they were eating. We soon began talking, and a very nice man asked what we wanted. We decided on fried noodles, which he ordered for us. Alongside two more beers, on him. Lo and behold, fried noodles with vegetables appeared! And they were DELICIOUS. When we finished, he came back over, and ordered us fried rice, his favorite. This very interesting fried rice came over, with more beers. The rice had a sweet yet meat tasting diced up thing in it that we thought was candied capsicum but then tasted like pork….it was delicious either way. The rice was hard and sweet, nothing like any fried rice I’d ever tasted. He then brought over some fried tofu, with mint leaves and a soy and chili dipping sauce. A Hanoi specialty. I could live off of that.

He then came over for a chat, and more beers. Turns out he works in the movie industry, in distribution (his words) and upon googling him, he is directing a new film very soon! After about 3 hours here, we decided it was time to retire, and head back to our hostel, after saying goodbye and welcome. He paid for all our drinks and the tofu, and even gave us his change as a souvenir of Vietnam, telling us how colorful it was and what beautiful pictures were on it. He also wrote down the three meals we had, so we have at least three things we can order here when we are faced with another completely foreign menu.

  • Mỳ saò – fried noodles
  • Cơm zang – fried rice
  • Dâu phu zań – fried tofu with the dipping sauce

    The fried rice with mystery candied meat in it

This friendliness continued throughout our stay. When we returned from Halong Bay, we went to the more touristy area of Hanoi for dinner. After sharing some beers with an English guy (33 cents each) , it started raining so we began to work our way back to the hostel bar by bar. In our next bar, a Vietnamese girl enjoying a cocktail asked how old I was. Apparently I look 19, not 23. After a bit of chatting, we exchanged numbers and she agreed to take us for lunch so we could try “nem”, the most amazing thing that we HAD to try.

And believe it or not, she rang me and we met up! We went to “House of Nam” and El and I nervously awaited to see what her and Tom had ordered for us. Turns out, nem is like fried spring rolls, but better. You get a dipping sauce, cold noodles that are the same material as po but different, coriander and bean sprouts, and you mix it all. And it was amazing. Luna told us what to do, put it in our plates and awaited our reactions. Delicious!! We also got fresh spring rolls, and nem filled with this sweet rice. And we added three more things to our list of Vietnamese foods:

  • Nem
  • Nem xôi
  • Phơ cuõń

    What was left of the rice filled ‘nam’ by the time I decided to take photos!

We then went and had lemon tea and sunflower seeds on the side of the road, cracking the seed pods with our teeth, sucking the seed out and putting the discarded portion on the side-walk. Something we never would have experience otherwise. It was absolutely fantastic and made me love the city even more. The fact that we were in Hanoi for a mere two days, and met three amazing people who were so warm and welcoming, who wanted to communicate and share Vietnam with us, and want us to return to visit them, it just shows how amazing the city is.

It is a big city, but it has so much heart to it. The people working at the hostel were friendly and chatty and went out of their way to make us feel at home. The reactions of shop keepers and waitresses when you said “thank you” in Vietnamese was happiness, gratitude and surprise at the fact that we wanted to learn their language and make the effort. And I really want to. There is so much to see here and so much more to learn. These are going to be a busy 2 weeks…

Donuts that Tom bought for us to try – the sweet glazed ones have some filling that I couldn’t quite figure out!

Photos of Siem Reap, Angkor Wat, floating village and silk farm

Below are the shots I took in Siem Reap, including Angkor Wat, the silk farm and Kampong Phluk, the floating village we went to.  Angkor Wat at sunrise was the first time I really played around with the digital settings on my digital SLR. We left the hotel at 4:45, arrived around 5am, and left around 6:45. So plenty of time to play with the settings and get it just right, including manual focus – as you can see from the photos, I had a bit of fun! I really narrowed down the photos as I took hundreds that day of all the temples, and they all look the same after a while. So I just have a snapshot of them below:


Other temples in the day


Kampong Phluk

Silk Farm

Photos of Yogyakarta, Borobudur and Prambanan

If you have been following my blog, you will have noticed the change from posts full of photos to a lack of photos. This is due to buying a beautiful digital SLR right before my trip and wanting to play with it lots and lots, and leaving my laptop behind in Jakarta (hence no photos post-Jakarta!).

So here I update my blog with beautiful photos of Yogyakarta, seeing as my post relating to Yogyakarta lacked photos of our experience. Soon other locations will follow, however the Internet in Hanoi is rather slow, even slower than in Cambodia surprisingly. Hopefully people can access this – Facebook is blocked by Vietnam ISP providers, so fingers crossed the automatic post to my FB profile still works!!

The photos start at Yogyakarta, lead to Prambanan, then our sunrise tour of Borobudur, and finish off with some shots of the gamelan and the wayang kulit show back in Yogya. I didn’t take too many of those, because I used to play the gamelan for over 5 years, so it wasn’t as thrilling to me as it was to El!

Mr Golden Stone, our guitar playing tuk tuk driver in Phnom Penh

I apologise that my blog is about a week late, but I really want to keep it per city/country, rather than a rambling update. That way it will hopefully be helpful to other fellow travellers in the future, as I found so many blogs helpful in preparing for our trip.

Our second visit in Phnom Penh really was just pure madness. Only fitting, as we did stay at the Mad Monkey. After surviving another crazy bus ride in which we swerved and lurched and honked our way through the traffic, we arrived back in Phnom Penh and as despite the rain, decided to walk to our hostel. I’d had enough of tuk tuk drivers trying to rip us off and I knew it would inevitably happen at the bus station, so off we ventured. However in Phnom Penh and lots of Asian cities in general, street signs are not their best strength. So upon stopping ad reluctantly asking a tuk tuk driver if our street was still yet to come, he offered us a free ride! And that began our two days of Mr Golden Stone, that and hearing “El, Jen!” hollered at us as he drove past at 2am the next morning.

Yes 2am. In actuality it was 5am when we got home. 2 am was when we left bar number 1, Top Banana, when they turned the lights off. I mean all the lights. But never fear, off to Love Bar we went, with a business card and a map. So easy to find! Or not so easy for our three motos. They drove around and around and mine kept separating from the other two. The initial thrill of being on a motorbike in the calm evening streets of Phnom Penh disappated and I found myself worried that I would be mugged as I was separated from everyone else. Finally after asking a few people, he found the bar. Good for him – but where were Liam and El?? I told him I wasn’t paying till they arrived, and made friends with the guard who translated for me. Finally they turned up, Liam paid his driver who took off…leaving the other two to share $1 ($2 for 3 drivers). They wanted $1 each. The guard said that we didn’t have to pay and probably shouldn’t, so we didn’t, and inside we went, to enjoy chilli cocktails and smoke machines.

On a more sombre note, we awoke the next morning to drive out to the killing fields. As depressing as it sounds, the S-21 genocide museum and the killing fields were the reason I wanted to visit Phnom Penh. What we didn’t realise until we arrived was that Phnom Penh is so much more, and you could spend a long time there. We met amazing people, at our hostels, bars and restaurants, locals and tourists alike. It really is a special place, despite their tourist attractions being so depressing. In contrast to S-21, where there are lots of things to read, the killing fields have an audiotape for you to listen to, with numbers around so you know what to listen to. It was incredibly interesting and horrifying what happened there. It is basically a huge area of grass, water, and a big memorial shrine. But the things that happened there…I still cannot comprehend how people did that. And did that to their own people.

I was already shocked after S-21, the fact that children were brought there, and so many people were tortured in horrendous ways. But to learn that if one family member was killed, the remainder were, that was too much. The belief was that to mow the grass, you had to kill the seeds. Get rid of everything. So there was a killing tree where babies were thrown against and beaten to death. The Khmer Rouge were heartless and some are yet to face trial and pay for what they did.The sad thing though is that all the perpetrators at the lower level, the soldiers and guards, were around 15 years old! They were victims themselves, and they only did it because they were afraid of being killed. It is hard to know how to view that and what to make of it.

I managed to hold back tears the entire time, apart from when music was involved. Part of the audiobook was a composed symphony piece, which was hauntingly beautiful. I found it so well composed and it really captured what I felt the killing fields would have been liked. The second time I let tears fall was when we were inside the memorial pagoda, where all the skulls are kept, and a group of monks came inside and started chanting. We were inside, and they were chanting in harmony, singing almost, holding their hands against the glass where the skulls were, with it reverbirating inside the tall pagoda. Wow. It was not the most positive day, but it was very educating and sombre and made you really think about life more. Mr Stone then opened up to us and talked about who he had lost to the Khmer Rouge, and how it has set back Cambodia by over 20 years. They basically did restart and year 0, whether they like it or not, and so many people have nothing. Money is made through corruption, like most places in South East Asia, but it is sad to see there is no middle class, and people work so hard yet go nowhere.

I took barely any photos in Phnom Penh, but I had to take photos of the Pagoda because it does represent hope and being able to turn something so horrible and depressing into something beautiful for people to come to and remember.

The memorial stupa at Choeung Ek that houses the remains of those found in the fields

Cranes inside the stupa/pagoda, from a Japanese high school

Our awesome guitar playing tuk tuk driver – Mr Golden Stone. Find him around Top Banana in the southern part of Phnom Penh.

Two days of rain at Otres Beach

I decided that after all our sightseeing, early morning excursions and visit to S-21 (the genocide museum/old prison on Phnom Penh) that we needed a break and to chill for a bit. Sihanoukville is only 5 hours by bus from Phnom Penh and is apparently beautiful. So off we went to stay at a guesthouse on beach, the farthest and least developed of the beaches, for two days of recharging, relaxation and chill out time before hectic Vietnam.

Our bus ride was interesting, with lots of swerving and quick sudden braking, followed by some off road action by our side of the bus. Despite the chaos that is Jakarta roads, I think I feel more secure in a vehicle there. There are no road rules, but people are at least courteous. Here, bigger vehicles will honk (signaling that they are passing you) and then overtake you regardless of oncoming traffic. They will drive in the middle of the road until a car driving the opposite direction might hit them. And when things seem dangerous they dont slow down, they swerve, break, and make the ride very uncomfortable. This explains why I didn’t sleep on the bus today. It was a nicer road than the one from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh but I was scared we would have a crash!!

Once we arrived however, we were scammed by tuk tuk drivers in the rain at the bus stop. Initially offering $16, I got them down to $10, knowing it should only cost $5. But they wouldn’t budge, and it was raining and my knee hurt too much to walk a km to find a reasonable price. We finally arrived at our guesthouse, cutely named “Wish You Were Here”, an ventured across the road for lunch at Richies. All the restaurants and bars at Otres beach are right on the beach. You on the ocean, and can sit ‘indoors’ (undercover) or on the beach and feel the sand between your toes. We opted for the latter everyone, even in the rain. The great thing was that everyone was so chilled out and relaxed. Restaurant owners were chatty and friendly, and both Richies and Sunshine Restaurant became our two favorite hang outs in our 2 days there.

Despite the rain on day 1, day 2 was beautiful and hot and we got our tan on. And day 3 rained so we caught the 8:15 am bus back to Phnom Penh rather than a later one. When it rains, electricity can cut out there, and we decided if it was raining in both Otres and Phnom Penh, Phnom Penh could have more things to do.

Back to reality, although I have a feeling the sand will be ingrained in my backpack through the trip, as it was hard not to get sand on your clothes, your bed and yourself! That can be my souvenir from Cambodia, sand to remind me of calming relaxing and beautiful Otres. Currently so under developed that a beach front bar costs only $27,000 (USD) to buy. In years to come when it is taken over by resorts, we can remember the red dirt roads, the cows just chilling, and the small stretch of ships and bungalow guest houses. A little hidden slice of paradise!