So Near, And Yet, So Far

 Home for the whole week, and ah, you must be thinking I am feasting and eating and harvesting a nice big round belly. But really, what am I eating?

 Mom's yummy chicken chop, with broccoli and mixed peas on the side?
Nope, that's not in my stomach.

 Mum's yummy chicken chop drenched in tomato gravy with mushrooms.
Not quite.

 Mum's yummy home-made rendang?
Nope T___T

Or maybe Mum's herb fried rice or even tuna fried rice with pumpkins?

No wor. What the heck have I been eating if I've been home for almost a week now? 

- Watery porridge

-Watery porridge with small mouthful of mushed chicken strips

- Watery porridge with small bits of fish flakes

- Watery porridge with seaweed soup

- Canned mushroom soup

- Watery porridge


Got my wisdom tooth extracted via dental surgery. It's not exactly giving me problems but dentist advised to take it out as it's a matter of sooner or later. And I'm telling you, I might not have felt the pain on the dentist's chair but after the anaesthetic effects are gone, my whole left jaw swelled to as big as my fist. Nah I'm exaggerating. 

 Random lily in the garden. 

I felt like hitting myself in the head for being in the epicentre of where good food are conjured from nothing but I can only consume baby food. Argh! Even Pickles food is beginning to look yummy....

 Tree on the field that crashed onto the road after a windy night. Hmm... should I post up a shot of the lonesome tooth? :D

And now I have a squarish left, and an oval right. Worst of all, I'm cranky when I'm hungry!

Khmer Civilisation: Of Tonle Sap, Craftsmen & The Last Dinner

I remembered vaguely waking up at 6 in the morning to loud thunderstorm with the wind howling and rattling the glass panes. I then went back to sleep. Woke up two hours later and the thunderstorm was reduced to a drizzle, showered and headed down for breakfast. Was already sick with the overload of meat so I headed for the porridge section (boo!) and settled that with more toasted croissants. 

Conditions for the day was perfect. A cool breeze playing with our hair and the sun was only able to peek through a blanket of clouds. Syok! Highlight of the day is the largest freshwater lake in SEA!

Along the way, Hok stopped at one of the villages and pointed out the lotus farms to us. These houses (or rather huts) are pretty close to the Tonle Sap Lake. As the lake grows up to four times its size during the monsoon season, the huts nearby had to be float-able or built on high stilts to survive the high water levels.

Some of these huts are so small to begin with but they are sometimes occupied by as many as 5-10 people.

The overnight rain really made all the difference. For the first time ever, we were able to frolick under the sun without breaking sweat! No sweaty pits = syok! Anyways, Hok dropped us off at the jetty where we climbed into a boat (entry $10, boat ride $2) and told us that he will see us in two hour's time. 

First impression: This lake is darn polluted!

A muddy brown shade, this lake provides the bulk of Cambodia's catch. The water level is pretty low, being a dry season and all, so we encountered quite a bit of a 'traffic jam' on the river towards the lake!

Boats have to be navigated in a single file (you can't really risk overtaking another boat because your boat could get stuck on the shallow riverbed). Initially we were wondering why the heck our boat is so slow before noticing these signboards.

We sort of speculated and agreed that the one on the left means boats shall not leave a trail of waves behind and the one on the right are for boats to travel in a single file. lol. We would probably fail in getting a license to operate a boat here. Though I doubt you need one to operate one.

 A boat in front of us got stuck. The boatman gets out, drags a long pole from the rooftop of the boat and stabs the riverbed with the pole and pushes the boat away. It is that shallow.

Got a bit of a surprise when a small boat gets near to ours and this man jumps in to sell canned soda drinks. Talk about boat-to-boat salesman!

Close to forty minutes later, we approached the lake (it probably should have been a short ride, but these boats can't overtake nor spill waves) before spotting floating settlements in the distance. Our boatman tells us that plenty of illegal immigrant Vietnamese live on the lake.

Shot from TY that I find to be really cute and picturesque.
Got every other type of floating building here.

   Got church.

Got workshop oso.

Think you can't quite have pets if you live in a floating house? Think again! Can get a goose as a pet! Great as a swimming partner or served on the dinner plate.
Don't quite like feathers? No problem. Can keep dogs too! Great as a companion or served on the dinner plate.

But seriously, there's practically everything to meet your daily needs here. We saw a few grocery-floating-shops, a floating school... well, you get the picture. I jokingly told the others, who knows, we might come across a large vessel with a signboard that says 'Lucky Mall'. Hehe.... But of all things, the one thought that bugged me most was, where they get their drinking water from. I mean, it's a lake and all so water flow would be very limited... Ah well, I wouldn't be ordering drinks out here then.

 Our boatman dropped us off at this massive floating tourist shop/restaurant/crocodile farm. Just as soon as we were docked to the platform, a swarm of locals with their fruits-laden sampans came pestering us to buy their goods. 

Pretending not to understand them, we followed our boatman to a section of the platform where crocodiles are reared, albeit at a small scale.


Climbing on top of the boat deck, we were rewarded with a bird's eye view of the Tonle Sap lake. That is, before a wave of Chinese tourists crowded on the deck, forcing me to descend back to the lower deck lol.

The furling Cambodian flag against a cloudy morning.

I was super unlucky lor. At that point, I badly wanted to go to the loo but the toilets on the platform was under construction! Lol... Good thing I'm still young and able to tahan lol. Anyways, there wasn't anything much more interesting to look at other than more souvenirs so we found our boat and made our way back to the jetty.

Another local woman with her infant trying to sell us some things...

Another forty minutes of slow boat ride later, we met up with Hok again and he brought us back to the Siem Reap city for us to shop at the local Old Market.

Wet market.

I think Old Market sells some of the souvenirs at a cheaper rate than the night market that we've been to. Or perhaps my haggling skills have somewhat improved and could get local crafts cheaper towards the last days of my stay here? -__-

Hok promised to bring us to a restaurant which he claims, to serve one of the best meals in Siem Reap, though more expensive. 

And we soon found out why. The place has a pretty nice ambience, rattan chairs, palm-leaves-woven mat and cutleries holder, the works. The place mostly caters to tourists and prices are not exactly exorbitant but definitely we paid a bit more than where we have dined so far. 

Again, Hok did the ordering for us but did not join, citing the restaurant already provides meals for guides.

Our food took a loooong time to arrive. But at least the service there was good. Waiters are attentive (not the type you have to jiggle your chicken wings arms at them before they finally notice the flapping) and are eager to please.

Clockwise from top, ginger soup with pork slices, steamed fish with kerabu on top, a sort of sour pineapple soup with coconut milk chicken and of course the amok. I particularly enjoyed the amok here and the ginger soup, but other than that, I think Hok has exaggerated! The best is still the local place we went, delicious and dirt cheap to boot!

Wanting to sample more of Cambodian desserts, we ordered this sweet potato with sago and coconut milk. If our meal took an eternity to arrive, our dessert took approximately a hundred light years to show up. Not kidding!

Sweet and yummy. Not the bill though. The lunch costs us close to $37, including drinks. The most expensive meal so far, but this being a touristy place, can't really blame them.

Because our dessert took a hundred light years to arrive, we had to skip our silk factory tour (boohoo!) and headed for Artisan d'Angkor instead. Artisan d'Angkor is where commercial scultpures, bas reliefs, paintings and such were crafted and sold. The artisan is also involved in restoration work on the ancient temples around Siem Reap.

Interesting still are the people behind the arts and crafts of the products. Some are blind, or deaf and some are handicapped. But they are trained under the watchful eyes of the trainers, or teachers they call them, to trace, sculpt, mold precisely. When the products are completed, they are sent to their 'teachers' where their works are scrutinized and  QC'ed before being displayed for the masses to purchase.

After the short tour, we surveyed the souvenir shop (no pictures allowed) and let our jaws drop at the exorbitant prices each sculptures fetch. Some go as high as five-figure USD! Quite content with that we could forage from the local markets, we left empty-handed.

Next stop, Khmer massage!!! Been looking forward to this after many, many hours of climbing, hiking and walking. The girls who acted as our masseuse are all very young, they look like they're still in high school. But when I asked, they said they are already 18, or 20. Hmm... maybe they just want to stay out of trouble? Either way, the massage was heavenly.... They even applied cooling cucumber mask on my face before the session began. Blissful. There was also a hint of Thai massage (you know, the stretching and pulling part) but one thing that differs is that the Khmer massage does not require you to undress because no oil was applied.

A 2-hour massage costs $15, I call that a good deal. Right after, Ev asked for a tour to the killing fields where records of the Khmer Rouge were kept in a sort of museum. It was already dark so we didn't take pictures but listening to the violence of the communists who torture and brainwashed the people of Cambodian back then was eerie enough.

It was only a short trip to the killing fields and soon after, Hok sent us back to the hotel for a quick shower before dinner at another 'real' local restaurant. 

Hok brought us to another dodgy-looking restaurant. This time the restaurant is really dark with the exception of a few dimly-lighted bulbs here and there. We were again greeted by young Cambodian girls lined up at the entrance. I later found out that the dark environment is preferred by male Cambodians who want the companions of the young girls.

Dinner was a bit of a letdown after the superb one the previous night :( Mixed vegetables dish with seafood was the only one I enjoyed.

Steamed fish with mango condiment. It was really dark that we can hardly see what we are eating! To tell you the truth, the first real glimpse of what we had that night was through TY's photo shots. lol.

Fried kampung chicken... real tough meat!

And finally... the must-have soup dish. This one tasted very weird to me. Hok says this soup has duck pieces in it and we were also provided with a basketful of raw vegetables and mushrooms to mix together with the soup. Imagine my apprehension when the soup served was not steamboat style with a heat source, but in a bowl and we are supposed to mix them up with raw greens? Lol... Couldn't stomach more than a few bites....

Dinner was relatively cheap too, though I can't remember how much it was now. But definitely under $20. Dead tired, all of us trudged back to our hotel rooms to start packing for our flight back home... well, with the exception of a couple in the group who partied the night away and ended with major hangover -.-

Early flight the next day, and Hok picked us up at 6:30am. Had enough time for breakfast at the hotel before lugging our backpacks into the car.

Our funny shots on our temple passes.

I miss Cambodia already! ;)

Khmer Civilisation: Temple Burnout Liaw

Dragged myself out of bed at the ungodly hour of 4:15am. Didn't even bother to bathe, just briefly washed my face, changed and met with the others at the lobby. Hok was still in his PJs or house clothes or something hehehe. Nobody talked much on the way there, it was still very dark outside... But I was prepared! Have my insect repellent at an arm's reach. Ha!

Hok handed me the extra handphone that he has and also a torchlight (if you notice, there are no streetlamps or lanterns or any sort of electricity-powered devices around the temples) and told us to give him a call when we were done, which should be around 7am.

It was pitch dark all the way in, I think the scariest part was crossing the bridge over the moat. Like, what if some random tourist was still having a hangover and couldn't see or walk straight ended up falling 5 meters down into the moat. Hmm...

There was already a small group of people parked by the pond in front of the Angkor Wat. We found a good spot and waited.

And waited.... Until I had to pee, Ev accompanied me to a nearby WC (thank goodness they have them nearby. Cannot imagine if I have to squat by a tree and relief myself T__T). Unlike the other toilets located nearby temples, where you only need to show your temple pass for free use of the toilets, here I had to pay a few hundred riels (which amounts to less than 50 Malaysian cents I think). On the way back, we spotted  these two buck-teeth dogs stuffed into a basket hehehe.

Pickles' long lost cousins.

Because it rained the day before, we were actually confident that we will be getting a good sunrise that morning. To our disappointment, after more than an hour's wait, this is the best shot of the sunrise we could get....

 I mean it's not bad la, but it's not awesome! TY said he's gonna come back again the next day before we realized that we are already on the third day of the three-day-pass. Too bad.

Nevertheless it was still a great effort for all of us to gamely wake up on time (albeit grudgily), rather than to miss it all out and stay in bed, eh? Great group of travelmates :)

So anyways, it was about 6:45 and we were ready to leave. I called Hok with his phone and he took a while to pick up. I think he went back to doze hehehe. Got back to the hotel and had our breakfast there. I tried the noodles this time and it wasn't bad at all. More toasted croissants and bacon :D Oh got free flow of fruits also, white-fleshed dragon fruit, bananas, papayas and pineapples.

After breakfast, got back up to shower and for more temples again today.....

Cowboy town.

Today's highlight was to visit the Banteay Srei, a popular temple but is located about 45 minutes from Siem Reap town. But 20 minutes later, Hok brought us to another temple called Banteay Samre. The temple complex has some pretty interesting features to it.

Ok I am running out of adjectives to describe the temples. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.

 Nice.... grass.

 Uh. Nice tower.

Don't these look just like Hallowe'en pumpkins? The others just rolled their eyes at me when I innocently suggest what I see in my mind. Such great friends.
Nice bricks.

Overall, there are great photo ops in Banteay Samre, but after so many temples in one go, you'll start feeling they look almost the same... batu batu batu... I mean there are genuinely nice temples, but Banteay Samre doesn't pop out to be any extraordinary from the rest.

So after 40 minutes or so in Banteay Samre, we hopped back into Hok's Camry and continued our drive up North (or was it Northeast?). We were getting deeper into the outskirts and without warning, Hok pulled the car over by a local village house.

And just like that he walked over to these group of locals working, and started taking pointing and talking to us, all the while none of these people batted an eyelid lol. I suppose they are used to it. These people are in the process of making palm sugar, one of the main commodities here.

It's just like our sea coconut here. These can be eaten raw too. The locals take the juice out of the palm fruits  which are filled into bamboo vessels. Then boil them over fire until the liquid evaporates, leaving a sticky substance.

The sticky substance are scooped out and filled into little round moulds made from palm leaves, wait till they are dry, and then they're done. We tried some, they are really sweet! Tastes a lot like our gula merah here :) Bought quite a few to bring back, after all, they are all-natural, all-organic! Also bought a coaster made of palm leaves (I know- of all things to get hehe) for my room lah.

Another 10-15 minutes later, we reach Banteay Srei.

My favourite temple in all of Siem Reap!

Banteay Srei, or 'Citadel of Woman' is built using pink sandstones, giving the temple its distinctive reddish-pink hues. Call us unlucky but such as we are about to start our tour on Banteay Srei, two buses full of Chinese tourists spilled into the entrance lol! They are loud and rude -.- We had to let them get a head start before we can view the temple in peace.

The carvings on the walls and around the temples are done in minute detail. The most elaborately decorated one I have ever seen so far. 
While we were waiting for the slow TY to slowly inch through the place, we saw a mindless tourist climbing over the barrier and in the process, reducing a few hundreds-years-old sandstone rubble into .... dust. The equally mindless boyfriend some more can happily take photos of her vandalising a heritage.
Don't you just love the beautiful and intricate carvings of the temple? Such work... on the pillars, archways... lovely. The temple is on the miniature side. I can't imagine who can go through the little doorways except for dwarfs and 5 year old kids. 

Numerous landmine victims playing music at the end of the temple. It certainly adds a nice touch to the whole experience of visiting the temple. Donations are encouraged, and this is one of the cases where I don't mind donating. At least these people are actually doing something to earn the money. Not some able-bodied person just begging for money without effort.

Don't ask.

Lol.Squatting in what little shade I can find :p

Syok right the carvings?

Our tour around Banteay Srei took more time than expected (if we were to follow according to the itinerary, we would have completed two other destinations by the same hour) and thus make do with lunch at a nearby restaurant.

Clockwise from, uh, that yellow thing on the top right corner: Coconut cream soup (this was what I jotted down, but frankly I can't remember what it's like, so must have been pretty forgettable), sour fish soup with lemongrass (not bad), sweet and sour pork (the best among the rest. fresh and filling), and lastly fried chicken with french fries on the side (kampung chicken again!! sibeh chewy).

When we were done with lunch, it was easily 2pm by then. Hok drove us to a mine museum. This museum was set up by an ex-Khmer Rouge child soldier called Aki Ra. We paid $2 to enter the museum and the staff played a 30-minute long documentary about the founder of the museum. It was quite a sad one to watch. Countless Cambodian kids have become victims of landmines and losing their limbs in the attack. These kids are taken in by Aki Ra and his wife Hourt. They provided shelter, food and also sent these kids to school.

 In the documentary, we watched in horror when Aki Ra deactivates or de-mines explosives. He would use sticks, or even parangs to hack at the casing before performing a controlled explosion.

The documentary serves to remind us that the war is only a part of the problem to the people. The aftermath of the war will linger long after and creates a bitter reminder to the victims of landmines. I am once again, reminded of how fortunate I am. These people, seemingly in another world, have gone through so much, so young in their live :(

Respect for this Aki Ra fella. He's a definition to one with a heart of gold.

I'm almost guilty to write up on what we did right after the mine museum. Like super contradicting. But I assure you no living thing is harmed in the process. Unless you consider paper to be alive.

About 10 minutes' drive away from the mine museum, is a commercial shooting range. The place carries an impressive range of weapons like M16, AK47, U-ZI and K-50s, just to name a few. Prices are pretty hefty too... We finally settled on the M16. 30 rounds of shots will set us back by $50!

To tell you the truth I was scared shit hehehe.... Heard plenty of horror stories about the kickbacks  that can bruise you and all, but to my disappointment, we were only shooting training bullets! Sort of like shooting blanks la. So.... a bit the potong stim, but at the very least, that's one experience I've added under my belt : Firing M16s in Cambodia ;) LOL.

Shoot d then must do ganas ganas shot.

The shooting range and the mine museum were the two destinations we would have completed before lunch had we not spend too much time at Banteay Srei lol.... Then, it was already around 4:30pm. As much as we wanted to take a cool shower, we discarded the idea to fully utilize our time here. And so, it was the time for Phnom Bakheng.

This temple was built atop a hill. It's very popular for sunset ops. Although it was still pretty early for sunset (the sun sets at around 6:30pm here), Hok wanted us to get up there early so we can get a nice spot for photographs as the crowd up to Phnom Bakheng is usually large.

It took us 10 minutes to climb up the hill at a steady pace. I wasn't expecting much from this site, as I am quite contented with Angkor Wat and Banteay Srei, but I was pleasantly surprised.


Numerous renovations still ongoing....

Steep, steep climb upwards! Steepest I may say.

The view from top of Phnom Bakheng is awesome!! On one side, we were able to catch the Angkor Wat, on another, the West Baray (a reservoir) then can also see the DHL hot air balloon (not the fancy type that you go in, then set sail. It's just a stationary balloon, only moves up or down. Some more costs something like $10 I think.

Spot any historic building on the top pic?

Just right in the middle of the picture, in the between the trees!

 The symbolic Angkor Wat, complete with the ugly green nettings in its full glorious display. Hmm.... come to think of it, my camera zoom not bad also eh ? Lol. This is one of the pictures in minority taken from my camera ;)

The group of tourist behind me is just a small number from the total people that made their way up by the time the sun is almost setting. We settled down on one edge of the temple top, with excellent view of the West Baray and the oncoming sunset. When it got to around 5:45pm, my goodness! It was getting way congested up here. The people behind us starting inching closer and closer. Wouldn't have been so bad if there was a bit of breeze but the air was stagnant, and uncomfortably warm. Some more got some ants from dunno which lubang bit me! A few times!

By the way, because of the number of tourists to Phnom Bakheng, it is one of the temples at risk of damage. When we later related our experience to Hok, he says that there is normally about 300-400 people during off-peak season. Come peak season, the number can go up to 1000! Siao! Can crumble liao kot.

One of the best shot I looted from TY's cam. We couldn't get a nice sunset shot as the sky wasn't clear enough :(  The sun evaded us yet again....

Sun doing peek-a-boo.

Soon as it was about 6:15pm, a few of the temples guides started to call for everyone to descend the temple. Huge crowd leaving, really pening. Had to wait for the slow ones up front :@. Completely sticky, grimy, and stinky later, (again, I bet Hok had a lot of trouble not to wrinkle his nose too obviously) we were driven back to the hotel to freshen up.

Sharp at 7, Hok collected us from the hotel and this time, he will bring us to a restaurant largely frequented by the locals. When we arrived at the restaurant, I had a few bits of mild surprises. First, two rows of young Cambodian girls all dressed up line the entrance and greeted us. Secondly, the restaurant was set outdoors and barely any lighting! How to eat la if I can't see a thing? Got kacuak also I won't know then how?

Luckily though, we had the option to either dine outside (where it's all dark and possibly can eat kacuak) or there are a few mini huts where wall fans and ceiling lights are attached. Huts it is!

Hok isn't camera shy, that's for sure :p

This place.... though dodgy, serves the best food! Salivating just thinking of them right now. Hok was very apologetic that this place doesn't serve soup lol! We told him that we didn't mind. Funny guy.

Fried rice. A little on the oily side but nobody's complaining. Drooolllll........... See even the fried rice also contains plenty of fiber.

A sort of squid kerabu, with daun kaduk. Double thumbs up!
I think I can flood the floor with saliva... :D

A sort of spicy chicken. Very much like kong po chicken hehehe but this is way better. Chicken pieces are perfectly caramelised....

Fried chicken. Kampung chicken again. Meh.

Chicken pieces cooked with julienned ginger and spring onions. This is also sedap leh. Pretty much all sedap lah.

Grilled and stir fried corns kernel. The taste is quite good but I was a wee bit disappointed with the texture of the corn. I was expecting juicy ones but these were a bit 'lau hong' for lack of better description lol. 

 Even better still, was the bill. In addition to a couple of large Angkor beers and a Coke (courtesy of ZX who was falling sick) , I would have stabbed the price somewhere between $25-30. When the bill arrived, Ev who was sitting beside Hok (normally Hok checks our bill before we pay) peered over and informed us it looked like $66. Eyes bulged, we thought, nah cannot be, some more we're eating at a local restaurant! Lol. Anyways, because the restaurant caters for the local, the figure on the bill was in Riels. R66,300, which came to about $16.50! What a steal! That's close to RM50 for a large meal to feed five adults, inclusive of beer. I'm falling in love with this city :D

This entry is starting to feel cheong hei to me... okla after dinner, picked up some more bottled water and aspirin for the gin na before ended up in Pub Street again because of u know who... Same old story.... Day 4 has some pretty interesting sights.... the Tonle Sap :D

The Georgian Adventure - Hike to Chalaadi Glacier

Our third, and last hike in Svaneti. There are so many more places to hike and explore around Georgia, it was a hard decision to premature...