Travel Show & Tell: Siem Reap, Cambodia

Saturday, June 29, 2013

 (Day 29  of the blogging blitz. If you’ve just joined us, I’m on a mission to get that ol’ blogging mojo back by attempting to post daily for 30 days.)

(This is an autopost, we are off travelling, back soon!)

My knowledge about Cambodia was (is) seriously dismal. Before we went there, I knew nothing about the food, the people or the culture. Embarrassingly, the words that sprung to mind whenever I heard Cambodia mentioned was “war”, “Angkor Wat” and “Angelina Jolie”. (I apologise for my ignorance).

 Travelling by tuk-tuk  brings smiles to faces

Let’s just say I was surprised and completely blown away by our visit here.

Of course, the Angkor Wat temple complex was amazing and worth the visit. After all, tourists the world over flock to this UNESCO world heritage site everyday. Yes, it is popular, so be prepared for about a gabillion people to walk through your photos.

But what stuck with me the most after our visit was the general ingenuity, resilience and good-naturedness of the local people in Siem Reap. A hefty dose of eating helped warm the heart too.

"Battery" powered fan
We got straight into the eating on our first day there, thanks to the “Street Food Tour”  organised by the place we stayed at. (The Rivergarden). The tour is more suited to adults, and luckily we were travelling with friends, so the kids stayed back with the daddies while the ladies hit the food.

 Deep fried chive snacks

 No, wasn't game enough to eat this

After a quick tour of the local market place and some snacks, we were taken to a local hangout called “Sixty Street/ Sixty Road”. Rows of stalls selling food, clothes and toys line the street, and all manner of amusements can be found. Locals bring their own mats and picnic by the roadside, but for those who want to buy their food at the stalls, mats can be rented for a small fee.

Game made of balloons poked through holes in boards. The player throws darts to pop the balloon.

As mentioned, this is a local hangout, so the food is not for the fainthearted. Alongside the more run-of-the-mill looking noodles and such, you can also find a barbecued frog or two, or cooked beetles and grubs. We sampled some water bugs and crickets, and they were rather tasty. Salty, chewy, crunchy and quite moreish. But the legs were quite off-putting so we didn’t eat a whole bunch of them.

But we didn’t just do street food. Usually we plan to include one indulgent meal outing when we travel. This time it was to Kroya, a modern Khmer restaurant situated in the Shinta Mani resort. (Mr. Kitchen Hand had visited the restaurant 6 years ago when it was under a different hotel). We loved the funky fitout and the comfy Khmer swings, although people who like to display their world-weary traveller credentials by “hating on” all things trendy should probably give this place a miss.

The food was delicious too, but I know too little about Khmer cuisine to pass judgement. We personally enjoyed the meal and the service was excellent. From what I can gather, Khmer food seems to share quite a few flavour similarities with neighbouring Thailand (e.g. the use of lemongrass, tumeric and galangal), but the flavours aren’t as spicy or punchy (when I say spicy I mean lots of chilli). There seems to be a bit of Chinese influence in the dishes as well.

While a meal at Kroya does seem over the top given the extreme poverty that much of the local people have to endure, we felt a little less guilty to learn of the existence of the Shintamani foundation , which helps provide education and healthcare services. Hopefully our tourism dollars end up in the right place. (We were told by our guide at Angkor that a lot of tourism money flows straight out of the country again as many tour companies and hotels are foreign owned).

It was a real eye-opening visit and I’m definitely up for learning more about Cambodia. Hope you enjoyed taking a little visit with me.

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