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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Cambodia 1.12 - Part 3: Sei, Khmer Kitchen, U & Me Spa & Photo Album



After the sunset, we went back to the tuk tuk meeting point.
Our driver, Bunlong was playing some kind of game with other tuk tuk drivers.
They formed a circle, kicked an object back and forth to keep it in the air.
Hans joined them after awhile.  We later learned from Bunlong that the game was called "Sei". 

video


As the sky got darker, We asked Bunlong to take us back downtown.
Having read many good reviews about Khmer Kitchen, it was the first restaurant I wanted to try.
When we got to the restaurant, Bunlong offered to wait for us while we had dinner.
We sent him home.

We ordered some signature Cambodian dishes: Cashew milkshake, Angkor beer, Khmer style chicken soup, Lok Lak with beef (Beef was a bit tough), and Amok Fish (Hans' favorite).
The Cambodian dishes were similar to Thai in terms of seasonings and ingredients. The food was good, but it did not have the "WOW" factor I was hoping for. 

After dinner, we walked around the old market & night market.  Many restaurants, bars, shops, and spas were geared towards tourists.  You could hear languages spoken from all parts of the world walking on the streets. However, I did not feel that Siem Reap was overly touristy that it lost its local charm.

We were getting tired.  A foot massage seemed like a good call especially given the price here: $5 to $8 an hour; a friction of what we pay in New York.

There were plenty of spas in Siem Reap. We randomly walked into "U & ME SPA".
The massage was heavenly, just what we needed.  We were content, relaxed, and sleepy.  Time to call it a night!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Cambodia 1.12 - Part 2: Banteay Kdei, Sras Srang, Pre Rup



After the run in with Samantha Brown, it was still early before sunset. 
We stopped by Banteay Kdei and Sras Srang.
Unfortunately, I couldn't say much about them as I really did not do a lot of homework on the history & architecture of Angkor prior to this trip.

I usually have a very hard time absorbing the history aspects of the country that I am about to visit despite my best intent. (Food & entertainment, on the other hand, is a different story.)
I always feel that history makes more sense and becomes more relateable to me after I set foot in the country. So, without knowing much about the temples, we walked around and simply admired their sheer beauty.

After Banteay Kdei, we still had plenty of time before sunset at Pre Rup.  Hans and I walked towards the roadside souvenir vendors for a quick look.  Kids ran towards us selling all sorts of things.  I have read about kids selling stuff around the temples online, and was prepared.  We shook our heads, said "No, Thank you."  and kept on walking.  At one point, Hans was walking ahead of me, two older girls approached us and started a conversation.

"Where are you from?" The girl asked.
"Taiwan." I said.
"Taiwan, capital city - Taipei." The girl said right away.
"Very good!" I was impressed.

The girl that I spoke to wore a school uniform and hair back in a ponytail.  She had a pretty face and didn't look older than 10 or 11.  
I noticed that she was wearing black eye liners and thought to myself, "she was too young to wear makeup like that". 
I began to relax, thinking a friendly conversation was harmless.

We exchanged our names.  I was surprised to learn that she was already 15 years old.  
She asked me to buy one of the bracelets that she made.  After I declined, she handed one bracelet to me and said it was a gift for me.

"No, I can't take it." I was uncomfortable taking a gift from this little girl.
"It's okay.  It's a gift for you. If you don't take it, that means you don't like me." Ouch! The guilt trip!
I went over to the girl's shop trying to see if there is anything I would like to buy from her.
Nothing.
I told the little girl that I would buy the bracelet from her.  She refused.
"Man... She is really putting me on the spot." I thought.

I held the bracelet in my hand and saw Hans holding the same bracelet in his hand with the other girl he talked to. 
Haha, yep, the bracelets were the bait and we were hooked!

Hans and I ended up buying two bottles of water from the girls for one dollar each, despite the fact that we could have free water from our tuk tuk driver and you could get a dozen of bottles of water for one dollar in the market.

Walking back to the tuk tuk, our driver had a puzzled look on his face.
"You know I have prepared water for you, right?" Bunlong said.
"Ya, we know." I smiled.
Back on our tuk tuk on the way to Pre Rup, Hans and I recapped our conversations with the girls.  The conversations were identical.
I took the bracelet off my wrist and said to Hans,
"Let's hide the bracelets before other kids spot them and know that we are suckers."
We both burst out laughing.
Brilliant though. You gotta give it to those girls.


By the time we arrived at Pre Rup at 5 PM, it was time for the sunset.  Pre Rup is one of the temple-mountains.  The stairs to the top of the tower were steep and narrow, and I was climbing to the top on all four.  When we got to the top, there were already plenty of people who took the best photo spots waiting for the sunset.  Sunset at Pre Rup overlooked the countryside.

Once the sun went down, we did not linger for long.  Climbing down those stairs in the dark would not be fun for me.



Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Cambodia 1.12 - Part 1: Ta Prohm & Samantha Brown




View Cambodia Day 1 in a larger map

After arriving in Taiwan for two days, we took a early morning non-stop chartered flight from Taiwan to Cambodia.
The direct flight was 3 hours. It was only 11 AM when we arrived in Siem Reap.
Going through the custom, I was a bit nervous because of the stories I read about how custom officials would ask tourists for tips.
However, the whole process of applying for a visa and going through customs was pretty easy.
We did not experience any officials acting in an unprofessional manner.

We had pre-arranged transportation before the trip. By the time we came out of customs, our tuk tuk driver,
Bunlong, was already holding a sign with my name waiting for us.
The weather was warm and dry, just what we were looking for to escape from the harsh east coast winter.
We peeled off our winter clothing, sat in the back of the tuk tuk and enjoyed the breeze and unfamiliar scenery.
It is the first Asia country Hans visited other than Taiwan, and it's been a long while since I visited an underdeveloped country.
We were excited to explore what was in front of us.


After arriving at the Le Meridian, we asked Bunlong to come back at 2:30 PM. The General Manager of the Le Meridian spent quite some time to give us a very thorough introduction of Siem Reap and Angkor Park. All the transportation and itinerary could be arranged by the hotel. It was quite nice to receive this kind of personal attention from the hotel.  Siem Reap seems to be the kind of destination that you could just arrive at the airport without any plan, and everything could be easily figured out from there.

Le Meridian Angkor is a solid 5 star hotel. The staff was friendly. The hotel room was spacious and clean. Complimentary bottles of water and small snacks were provided daily. I was mostly impressed with the TV channels in the hotel. There were UK, US, India, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, German, and local channels.


After a quick rest, we were at the lobby meeting Bunlong again. Within 5 minutes, we were at the Angkor Park ticket booth getting our 3 day passes. The first temple to visit was Ta Prohm, famous for appearing in the movie "Tomb Raider". The temple was left in it's original state from when the Europeans discovered it in the late 19th century. The state of the ruin was what's so appealing to many visitors about this temple. I was mesmerized by the silk cotton trees. The tree trunks had this beautiful silver glow that gave the trees an elegant appeal. The intricacy between the temple ruin and tree roots was visually dramatic, both harmonious and conflicting.

On our way out of Ta Prohm at the west entrance, we saw some people setting up camera equipments. I said to Hans, "wow, that's some serious photography." Upon walking closer, I noticed a small framed blond woman among the group looking very much like a travel show host from Travel Channel, whose show both Hans and I love to watch. I was almost certain it was her and called out her name, "Samantha Brown?" She smiled and said yes! I was too excited to think of anything else much to say! I could not believe my luck! She briefly chit-chatted with us and went back to talk to her filming crew. Hans and I stood nearby and I pressed Hans to ask Sammy for a picture together. I need to have a picture as a proof that I actually ran into her on my first day in Angkor Park!!! Just the encounter alone was worth the trip for me!

Seeing us lingering around, Sammy must have figured out what we were after and graciously offered to have her photo taken with us. Perhaps she wanted to get rid of us so we would not be in her shot.
Either way, I was happy.

Samantha Brown was there to film the new season of her "Passport to Asia" series, which will air in June this year.
I know I will be watching. :)


Monday, January 25, 2010

Cambodia -- Prelude



For years, I have always told Hans that we should explore other parts of Asia when we visit my family in Taiwan. 
It just seems to be such a waste not to utilize Taiwan's central location as a hub to visit other Asian countries 
when we already travel 18 hours to Taiwan. 

Being a creature of habits, Hans was not keen on the idea. 
After maybe the 7th trip to Taiwan in 15 years, Hans reluctantly gave in. 
Naturally, it seems all white men have some degrees of fascination to Vietnam; it was the country he picked. 

While doing research on Vietnam, I asked my sister for suggestions since she briefly worked in Vietnam for 6 months. 
During our conversation, my sister casually mentioned that Cambodia could be a side trip. 

Out of curiosity, I googled Cambodia, and came across images of Angkor Park. 
As soon as I saw the pictures, I was sold. 





I have to see these amazing ancient temples with my own eyes.

Vietnam will just have to wait.......



Friday, January 8, 2010

Dim Sum Go Go -- Chinatown



I probably have Dim Sum a handful of times a year in New York.
In the past, I always went to the traditional Dim Sum place like Golden Unicorn and Jing Feng in Chinatown.  They were loud, crowd, and frankly quite stressful.


Couple weeks ago, I tried Dim Sum Go Go.
This is how Dim Sum is served in Taiwan in the recent years.
There are no pushing carts with steaming food.  Dim Sums are made to order in the kitchen.


Roast Pork Pie (top left) -- My favorite dim sum dish. This one is far superior than ones I tried at all other dim sum places in Chinatown.The pork had perfect balance of savory & sweet taste covered by the flaky pastry with black sesame sprinkled on top. YUM....
Turnip Cake (top right)-- A Dim Sum meal is not completed without classic turnip cake.
It's a safe and familiar flavor from childhood. 
Shrimp & mango rolls (bottom)-- Never seen this dish on other dim sum place's menu. It sounded better than it tasted though.


Shrimp Dumplings (top) -- One of H's favorite.
Chives & Shrimp Dumplings (bottom right) -- I think I liked it, but I honestly can't remember.
Shiu Mai (bottom left) -- Another signature dim sum dish.


Snow Pea Leaf Dumplings (top right) -- It is forgettable.
Chicken Feet with black bean sauce (top right) -- I had better ones at Jing Feng.
Jade Dumplings (bottom) -- Forgot how it tasted, but it was pretty to look at. :)


Sesame Balls -- Dessert!


Overall, Dim Sum Go Go has some interesting dishes although I would not necessary say the food was better cross the board.
It depends on what you are in the mood for:
If you like the hustling and bustling, go to the traditional dim sum places.
If you want to have a relaxing conversation without too much distraction, Dim Sum Go Go is the place for you.