Cambodia

A Page from Elsewhere: The Elephant Gate

 

Because I miss Cambodia, today I present you with a watercolor of the Elephant Gate near Angkor Wat. Just another crumble of ancient stones in the area, you will definitely pass through this gate if you are visiting the major temples. You may even see elephants walking through, but please do not ride them and encourage the animal tourism trade in Asia. In the past week at the Elephant Nature Park I have learned so much about the way elephants and other animals here are trained and treated for the sake of tourism. You can expect a post soon where I lay out exactly why none of the elephant trekking, fish spas, and other animal attractions are worth your time or money.

 

Best Bites in Siem Reap

Recently, Siem Reap, Cambodia was named the second best travel destination in the world by Trip Advisor. I was staying outside the town for six weeks, thus I thought I could provide some insight to the best places to escape the heat and have a snack.

Sister Srey

Top of the list of hangouts and cafes in Siem Reap is Sister Srey, the boho coffee and lunch place owned by two Aussie sisters. Here you can munch on delicious fresh-baked goods or have a light meal. I must recommend the Tavocado, a.k.a. the best toast I have ever eaten. Whole grain, homemade toast with thick avocado and roasted tomatoes and feta with optional pesto. Brunch heaven. Sister Srey also has a book exchange upstairs and some goods and super cute clothes (with an Australian price tag). This indie-chic cafe is great for a lazy lunch by the river.

Gelato Lab

Another must if you are stopping in town after visiting Angkor Wat. Unbelievably, this shop is the best gelato outside of Italy. Enter the small, but polished setting and order at least two scoops of gelato or sorbetti (no dairy gelato) in a fresh waffle cone. All of the ingredients are fresh, so the fruit sorbettis are a good bet, but the dark chocolate sorbetti and the yogurt (reminiscent of a tangy, Greek yogurt) are some of my favorites. Not to mention the coffee. Honestly, I found the coffee to be the best in Cambodia. So don't forget to put this place on your map!

The Hive

The bar/cafe that is the Hive is a little off the main road. But don't let that discourage you. The atmosphere is cool, but chill and the homemade juices and smoothies out-of-this-world. Basically everything is good here from coffee to giant peanut butter cookies.

Viva

THE Mexican place in town. Definitely touristy, yet dependably delicious and decently priced. Here you can order drinks with an appetizer or a full meal. The food is either western or Khmer style and in large, fresh portions. Let me recommend the Viva pizza, made up of a crispy crust and plenty of taco toppings.

Blue Pumpkin

A very popular hangout is this French -inspired cafe. Best known for the upstairs lounge, equipped with fast wifi, cold air-con, and deep, comfy couches. Perfect place to relax and or get some work done. Sip away at their many beverages, I like the ice-cold lemon juice, and nibble at a desert. Blue Pumpkin can get a little pricey, but what can you expect from a place with so many extras?

Joe to Go

This cafe is also half art gallery, giving it a whimsical, colorful atmosphere. Again you can order from a fusion of local and western food. The Khmer food was better done than the western food, so try a taste of local flavor. Joe's is also a cool spot because it supports Cambodian children and helps to provide them with an education.

 Have you experienced the cafe culture in Siem Reap? Where do you recommend grabbing a treat?

Party like a Cambodian

Fact: Cambodians are party people. They know how to truly celebrate an occasion, be it a wedding, the New Year, or a housewarming party. A Cambodian party can last for days. During my time in that crazy-wonderful country I attended a handful of parties, including a wedding, graduation, and Khmer New Year parties.

I arrived in Siem Reap at prime wedding season. Enter ingredient #1 for a successful Cambodian party: music. It was not uncommon for me to wake up at 3 or 4 in the morning and hear a wedding down the road, speakers as loud as they will go. Traditional Cambodia music twangs between modern, bass-heavy songs. But do not fear, the music is usually turned off between 4 and 6, when everyone is awake again and ready to party.

Thus, I must address the second necessary element to any party in Cambodia: dancing. I quickly realized that Khmer people are born knowing how to dance. If you watch the babies and toddlers at any party, this fact becomes apparent. They are simply built with rhythm in their veins. At a party you will see two types of dancing the bouncing, usual movements to the modern music and the older style of dancing in Cambodia. This consists of dancing in a circle, most often around something like a tree or table with decor, or in the case of New Year's, an offering of food and drink. So as a group, everyone faces one direction and slowly dances around. Certain steps are associated with this type of dancing, like three steps forward and then three back or a rocking back on one foot behind the other, alternating sides. The hands can be pushed forward or in the air repeatedly. For women and girls, the wrists twist and flick in different motions. The most traditional form is for one hand to be in the air and the opposite arm perpendicular, thumbs join the fourth finger, swishing the arms flip motions, hands bending in the air. I can honestly say it can be quite difficult to keep track of, and even harder to look elegant doing. But for the Cambodian people this is simple.

It is important to look the part before attending a party. Dress in nice, clean clothes as the locals do. For New Year's and weddings, females should be wearing makeup and have their hair done in intricate braids. For New Year's you can expect to have your face smeared with white talc powder, again and again. This tradition is somewhat useful as this happens during the hottest part of the year and you will most definitely work up a sweat dancing.

It is worth mentioning that drinking is a part of Cambodian parties, especially weddings. All the parties I went to were through schools with young people so there was no alcohol. At the wedding I went to I arrived relatively late (they had been partying all day long) and so everybody was either very tired or already drunk.

Decorations along the side of the road act like markers for celebrations. Big brightly colored tents are set up in order to shield people from the sun. For Khmer New Year, lights adorn houses along with big stars and a table with an offering.

Lastly, at some of the parties for the kids, graduation and New Year's, there were lots of games. Eating contests started with the usual watermelon eating and progressed to egg or bread. Apples were tied to a stick and competitors had to eat them without using their hands. Sack races and stone throwing games were also played. Very popular was a piñata-like game were a person is blindfolded and turned around before the must smash a clay pot that is hanging above with a large stick. Talc powder, candy and money fall to the ground if they are successful. (I was!)

I highly suggest you attend a Cambodian party if possible. It may be a little difficult to get an invitation, so befriend the locals. If you are lucky someone will extend an invitation or take you with them to crash a party. Many celebrations you can simply walk up to if you smile and use a few Khmer words. Once you arrive, the mood is infectious. Dancing around in a circle, trying not to trip, and sweating horribly, you will be surrounded with grinning Cambodians.