Monday 18 February 2013

Wide Angle: Vol. 5

Pin It Ahoy there! Other half and I are traveling through Laos with some of my side of the family, so while we do that, here's a peek at other things that have been going on in my life.

 All photos are from my instagram account. You can follow me here: @theredhead_said

1: A little late to the game on this one, but this is what a Starbucks Christmas cup looks like in China.
2: Juxtaposition Pilsner: this is about the best name for a beer I've seen in many a months (Ontario micro-breweries are also great at naming their beers)
3: The Russian ballet came to Shenzhen, they performed Swan Lake. I couldn't not go.
4: This is what a 10 year anniversary of an international school might look like if you live in China. Lots of lights. Lots of water drums. Lots of music. It was pretty wild.
5 and 6: Number 5 is what Hong Kong looked like the night my parents surprised me before Christmas and number 6 is what it looked like the day I left for Cambodia. Two great views.
7: A care package from home is an amazing treat when you live very far away from it.
8: This is what you need to eat when you eat too much care package. Also, this is an amazing reminder of how beautiful food is, naturally.
9: There's a Mexican place in Shenzhen that used to offer half price fajitas on Wednesday, I was a regular. They don't offer that any more but they do offer giant mojitos on Fridays. I'm a regular again.
10: Pantone colour of the year. Just because.

Friday 8 February 2013

Temple Town: Angkor Wat and Siem Reap, Cambodia

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Phnom Penh is the capital city of Cambodia, and it bustles with the pace of local life.  Siem Reap on the other hand is the boomtown of tourism within the country, and it hustles with the pace of tourism. As the door to Angkor Wat, Siem Reap has developed quickly from sleepy village to destination hot spot. And they've done it right. While days are spent rambling around the ruins of Angkor (and beyond), evenings are spent milling along alley ways and market streets, eating in the restaurants that spill onto the walkways and sipping in the cafes and bars that can be found every few feet.

My photos of the city itself are severely lacking, but the photo above gives you a good idea of the general vibe. While in the area we stayed at the Kool Hotel, which is admittedly a bit out of town, but they do have an excellent pool, fresh coconuts, and a shuttle that will take you to and from the town centre each evening. The atmosphere is relaxing with a dab of luxury, and the price is exceptionally affordable (note: we were traveling with Other Half's dad, which meant accommodation was mostly budget to mid-range, not backpacker).

Food was similar in style to that found in Phnom Penh, but with a large variety of "western" places thrown in to meet the desires of the many travelers. The Alley (shown above) is definitely tops for atmosphere, but my favourite meal was at the Butterflies Garden restaurant across the river from the main cluster of markets and restaurants. I'm still having dreams about their vegetable sandwich.

Inside the main gates of Angkor Wat

The main reason you go to Siem Reap is for the temples. The many, many, temples.  Siem Reap is the door to Angkor Archeological Park (or as many know it: Angkor Wat), one of the worlds most famous, and certainly the largest, temple complexes.  Known most commonly as Angkor Wat, the area actually includes many famous temples including Bayon and Angkor Thom, and expands into the distance for many kilometers.

The most common transportation route for this complex is via the inner or outer ring roads on the back of a tuk tuk. These roads are actually about 15 and 18 Km from start to finish. The park entrance sells muliti-day passes, and trust me, you'll need them. You'll spend just the first day seeing Angkor Wat and a portion of Angkor Thom alone, not yet even touching Rolous, Ta Phrom (Tombraider, anyone?), and my personal favorite, Preah Kahn (and so many more!).

Over 250 faces in Bayon Temple


Angkor Wat itself is a massive and rather unique site.  Built in the 12th century, it is the only temple to face West, which is seem by most as bad luck because you watching the sun set instead of rise, which symbolizes death instead of life. But many believe it was originally built by the king for Vishnu the Hindu God who was best associated with the western orientation. Inside the complex you are allowed through the three layers of the temple, each being more Holy than the last.  Traditionally the first level was for the "common" people, the second level was for the nobles and the third and final level was for the King only. A look out from the highest level affords you a view of the vast Angkor Archeological Park with forest and temples as far as the eye can see.

They say some carpenters spent their entire careers inside one temple

Travelling around the ring roads allows you to truly understand the scale of this space. Temple after temple you begin to feel quite small (purely in a size kind of way - I'm sure you're all wonderful humans) and quite ... new. This place oozes with history and you can't help but get carried away in it. It is awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping, and just plain wow-ing. Seriously, I can't even type eloquently about it the memory is so dumb-founding.

Angkor Wat

An absolute must-see on any trip to South East Asia. It may be a rather exhausting few days, at least at the end of it you can soak your aching legs in the hotel pool, head into the city for some great food and revel in the fact that it's also in this marvelous, friendly, colorful country known as Cambodia. LOVE.

Sunday 3 February 2013

Travel To: Phnom Penh, Cambodia

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While I always enjoy each trip I take, and can always take something great away from it, I don't always fall head-over-heels in love with the place. Sometimes I appreciate the journey for what it is, and admire and explore the local culture (and food!) happily and thoroughly. Sometimes I can see myself going back someday, sometimes I can't. And then sometimes, I'm filled with a feeling of oh-my-goodness-there-is-just-something-about-this-place-that-I-cannot-get-enough-of. The adventure to Cambodia was one of those times.  The sights, the sounds, the smells, the tastes! Yes, please. Cambodia is definitely dream holiday worthy. Definitely.

We started our trip into the country in Phnom Pehn, the capital city, and were greeted with beautifully hot weather, a hilarious mash up of glitzy Christmas decorations, and a warm and friendly atmosphere.  We stayed at the Silver River Hotel, which is basic, but exceptionally welcoming and clean, and offered 50 cent beers at happy hour and free wifi (at all hours). It's certainly not the cheapest room you will find in Phnom Penh, but the biggest benefit to this hotel is its location. It is a minute walk from the national museum, the royal palace, the boardwalk and countless delicious restaurants.

The grounds of the Silver Pagoda - the only part of the palace that was open

As far as eating in Cambodia goes, it's hard to go wrong. Their most common dish, and by far my favourite was the fish amok. A creamy coconut curry with white fish, herbs, and vegetables all steamed together in a banana leaf bowl. Yum.

While we ate at a lot of really great restaurants, my biggest food takeaway and recommendation is a place called Friends. It is located very close to the national museum and royal palace, and is often very busy (with good reason).  The restaurant is actually run by Mith Samlanh a Cambodian NGO that focuses on providing education and skills training to former street youth.  Everyone who works in the restaurant (and their sister store Friends 'n Stuff, along with their other locations in Laos) is a former street youth at various levels in their training. And that's not even what makes this place so great... it helps, but really it's all about the FOOD. And they do not disappoint.  The food is categorized as fusion, and the flavours definitely borrow from a mixture of South East Asian countries.  We dined on leek and mushroom spring rolls with a dill aioli, smoked eggplant dip and a wildly complex flavour mixture of spicy grilled calamari and pomello salad. I was so satisfied with the meal that I immediately walked next door and bought their cookbook. Seriously, go there.

Love the face peeking over top!

elephant friends

Phnom Penh is a large city. It's filled with a lot of people, a lot of sights and a lot of sounds. We found that the major sites took us a bit less time than originally anticipated, but that suited us just fine because it meant we always had time to enjoy a (very cheap) happy hour beer.  We filled our days with the main tourist sites, but were unfortunately not able to visit the majority of the royal palace due to the extended mourning period for the recent passing of the former king (though what we did see was beautiful, and quite elaborate).

Exterior of the Phnom Penh National Museum

The National Museum of Phnom Penh is small but well done, and definitely worth a visit. You can only take photos in the court yard, but it's well worth it as the grounds and architecture of the building is quite stunning.  It provides an excellent insight into the history of this great country, and it's not huge, which means you're not being overloaded all at one time ... anyone else every feel that way in really giant museums?

Exterior of the Phnom Penh National Museum

Courtyard - Phnom Penh National Museum

We also spent some time exploring the two main memorial sites left over from the Khmer Rouge regime of the late 1970's - Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (also known as S-21) and the Killing Fields.

Tuol Sleng is a former high school turned prison and has been left nearly untouched since the day the regime dispersed in 1979. What remains is a haunting display of the gore that took place every day. there were approximately 17,000 prisoners over the 4 years that it was open, and only 7 survived.  In the grounds you are able to see everything from the instruments for torture to the minute cells that were constructed in the former classrooms. It makes for a melancholy morning, but it also helps put the country's modern history in perspective.

Part of the grave for the last 14 victims - found onsite, presumed killed
the day regime abandoned the prison

Hallway leading to detention cells

The upper floors were covered with barbed wire to prevent prisoners from committing suicide

standard cell.

The cells - inside former high school classrooms

After the gloom of Tuol Sleng, you may want to continue your education in the history of the Khmer Rouge and head over to the Killing Fields, an exceptionally well done and emotive exhibition of what was essentially a mass execution site.  The entire grounds is led by an audio tour, which means if you aren't wearing your head phones it is eerily quite - the air is thick with respect and remorse for the many (millions) of lives lost. Even with fairly extensive digs to release the bodies from the mass graves, the ground keepers still find pieces of bone, teeth, and clothing drift to the surface after heavy rain and winds.

Offerings for lives lost.
The memorial tower - filled floor to ceiling with the bones of victims
found in the mass graves

While not all the sites within Phnom Penh are of the cheeriest nature, they are really well done, really affordable (I don't think we ever paid more than $3 a person), and really, really, worth a visit.  Phnom Penh was our first taste of this country and is essentially where my love affair with Cambodia began. The city left me eager for much, much more. And more I got! Next post: Siem Reap!


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