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A tad off the beaten path: Battambang, Cambodia

Instead of just going straight to Siem Reap from Phnom Penh, we decided to take a detour through Battambang, a smaller city to the northwest that is less visited than the big cities, but still has many attraction and tourist aimed hotels and restaurants. 2 big things stood out to make me really enjoy the time we spent here.

1. The general feeling of community and local life, and

2. the natural beauty of the landscape and earthly attractions, as well as the general aesthetic of the city.

We started off two days here by renting bicycles and riding around to our heart’s content exploring. We rode by the riverside walk, where young and old participated in open dance classes, through lush streets where multiple colorful weddings were taking place and through quieter suburbs among schools and houses. This was a most memorable bike (67)photo (68)photo (69)photo (70)photo (71)

The next day we hopped around (via tuk-tuk) to all the ‘must-see’ destinations. We started at the bamboo train, where we boarded a wood palette on the tracks and raced along through the countryside, passing farms and the occasional local wandering in a pond. Our bumpy ride was shared with some local men who were just along for fun. Although still used now for shorter distances, the bamboo train had been used during harsher times to travel safely at night with goods and supplies.P1070258P1070259P1070257photo (77)

From here we made our way to ‘Cambodia’s only winery’ where the wine was…tart…to say the least… But the brandy and ginger juice they also prepared was sweet and delicious.P1070266

Our lovely chauffeur

Our lovely chauffeur

We travelled on barren dirt roads with a speedier tuk-tuk kicking up dust in our faces, seemingly in the middle of nowhere to our final destination of the day, the killing caves and temples of Phnom Sampeau and the bat cave. It took us about an hour to march up the steep winding roads of the little mountain to the cave and statues surrounding, to the magnificent temple at the very top, and then back down a looong stone staircase to the foot of the mountain where we would await the bats’ exit. A tour contrasting sadness and beauty, dark and light.P1070277P1070297P1070284P1070294P1070299

Returning to the foot of the mountain, we awaited the bats’ nightly show, their exit from the ominous hole in the rock. At around 6pm, they began to trickle out. Their screeches were heard overhead and their hungry bodies spotted soaring into the night as they transformed into one giant black looming swarm that made it’s way like a snake across the dimming sky. As we putted back toward the city, we could still see the mass of millions moving across in search of (76)

The rest of our night was spent riding through the streets and eating fresh roasted corn under the light of the full moon, capping off a beautiful little adventure.P1070251

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Recipe: Cambodian inspired Fresh Spring Rolls

In my previous post Tastes of Cambodia: An authentic Khmer cooking class, I described in detail the delectable dishes we cooked up from scratch using natural, flavorful, nutrient dense ingredients. Here is the recipe for the amazing fresh spring rolls (adapted slightly) This recipe includes meat, but to make completely vegetarian and vegan, just omit fish sauce (and of course shrimp), and perhaps substitute with low sodium soy sauce or other Asian style sauce of your choice (hoisin?) Also if not using shrimp, perhaps substitute with tofu or brown rice! Fresh, healthy, and a perfect summer lunch or appetizer!photo (63)



1/4 cup finely chopped onion

3/4 cup shrimp, chopped (the little ones, not prawns)

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 tbsp. olive oil

pinch of sea salt

pinch of black pepper

1tsp cane or palm sugar

2 tbsp. fish sauce

1/2 medium carrot, sliced into matchsticks

cucumber, sliced into matchsticks

3 large lettuce leaves

rice papers

Dipping sauce:

2 cups water

2 tbsp. fish sauce

3 teaspoon cane or palm sugar

1/2 tsp salt

1 clove garlic

1 chili

1 shallot

juice of two limes

2 tbsp. crushed peanuts

To begin, finely chop onion  and garlic, and slice cucumber and carrot. Cut or tear lettuce leaves into pieces about half the size of rice papers. Remove the white middle of lettuce or it may tear the rice paper. Heat oil on medium heat and brown garlic, then add shrimp, salt, pepper, sugar and fish sauce. Cook for about two minutes, then add onion and cook for 3 more minutes. . Allow to cool.

For sauce:

Boil water, then add fish sauce, sugar, and salt. Simmer for 2 minutes and remove from heat. Allow to cool. Finely chop the garlic, chili and shallot and mix with lime juice. Add to cool sauce with crushed peanuts.

Rollin’ it all up:

In a shallow dish of water, soak rice papers individually as you go for about 10 seconds or until it starts to feel soft and malleable, but not too fragile. (I find it helps to remove them when they feel just a tad stiff still, to prevent tearing.) Place on plate and lay lettuce on the side closest to you. Add portion of meat mixture, along with carrot and cucumber. Fold bottom of paper to the middle and try to gently squeeze back into itself to form a tight roll. Fold both sides in and continue to roll. Dab on a little sesame oil to prevent them from sticking to the plate. Continue with remaining meat and vegetable to produce about 4-5 large rolls. Serve with dipping sauce. Enjoy a taste of Southeast Asian at home!

*Note: It’s best to prepare the sauce first so it has time to cool, maybe even put it in the fridge.

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Tastes of Cambodia: An authentic Khmer cooking class (Recipes to come!)

During our stay in Siem Reap, we were lucky to come across a highly recommended authentic cooking class offered at one of the city’s popular bar- restaurants, Temple Bar.

Our 4 hour class included a tour of the Old Market, where our teacher shared her knowledge of the natural ingredients we’d be using as well as any others we may be curious about. We also received a souvenir T-shirt, recipe sheet, and of course instruction on how to prepare the fresh, flavorful and healthy dishes we were about to create.

The oj was just for drinking, and apparently posing.

The oj was just for drinking, and apparently posing.

We each (my travel bud and I) had our choice out of 3 mains, appetizers and desserts to select from to build our 3 course feast. We both started with fresh spring rolls, a favorite of mine that I often make at home! But these were special.  We finely chopped the ingredients (these ones included meat) seasoned, and sautéed as our chef instructed. The next step was loading the rice paper babies up with the spicy meat mixture and fresh veggies, delicately rolled them into tight packages of goodness and served (to ourselves) with the sweet and sour dipping sauce we had also prepared from scratch. photo (63)

Taste test.

Taste test.

I’ll toot my own horn on this one, they were probably the best fresh spring rolls I’ve ever had. Cooked with time, care and love, the flavours of the spices and textures of the vegetables all combined made these massive rolls a winner.

Next we moved on to the main (which we had to have room for!). I chose a traditional Khmer curry.

This was my favorite dish to prepare as it contained heaps of vegetables, utilized one of my favorite tools: a mortar and pestle, and featured a tantalizing curry paste we made from SCRATCH!

As a long time user of various pastes and powders, this was amazingly rewarding.

All of the nutritious spices were chopped finely and ground along with shrimp paste and chili oil into a rich saffron colored lump of magic. Into the pan it went along with the veg and a generous couple ladles of creamy coconut milk. The result was just as delicious as it looked and smelled. As long as you have the spice paste pre-made, this is a super healthy meal that could be prepared more quickly than it seems!

And there was rice.. so much food...

And there was rice.. so much food…

Before starting the main, we had begun to prepare our dessert, a Pumpkin Sago Pudding, which simmered to tenderness while we cooked. It was a combination of palm sugar, coconut milk, tapioca pearls and pumpkin cubes. A simple and tasty dessert that gets some vegetables in there!

We left stuffed, proud of our creations and thankful to the chef who taught us the ways of traditional Khmer cooking in a fun hands-on class. This was a perfect way to further explore a rich culture and adopt new knowledge of using the beautiful foods the earth provides to craft healthful works of art. Definitely recommended! And if you can’t get there yet, the three recipes featured here are soon to come!

Did you find this post helpful? Have you ever taken a cooking class abroad? How was the experience and what did you make?

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Ancient ruins to the year 2013: Exploring Siem Reap

Putting around in a tuk-tuk (with a very friendly and cooperative driver) we hopped from hostel to hotel facing repeated rejection, even from some of the most expensive accommodations that might have been our last resort. Apparently this is to be expected when arriving to the gateway city to the Angkor temples, Siem Reap, the day before New Year’s Eve. But alas as the good luck gods would have it, we stumbled upon a good priced hotel within close range of the city centre. Phewf. The famed Angkor Wat awaited in the distance, and as soon as we found ourselves checking into a hotel room, we also had a tuk-tuk driver ready to pick us up bright and early at 5:30am the next day.

Not so bright though. Leaving our hotel in the wee hours, daylight had definitely not come and the early morning was unnecessarily cold. We huddled like amateurs in the back of the open vehicle as we sped along the dark highway to the ruins. Along with hundreds of other tourists we marched through the darkness across a long bridge and through an enormous gate to the presently invisible Angkor Wat. We couldn’t see a thing. As inklings of light started trickling into the sky we made our way to a smaller stone structure as the landscape became increasingly illuminated and perched ourselves atop a wall to prepare for the spectacle we were all here for. The sun began to rise over the ancient Khmer ruins, creating a misty silhouette and revealing the immensity of the structures that stood before us. (I’m going to try to not kill you with pictures, it’s hard to decide on specific ones after being shutter happy.)


Imagine crisp air and birdsong…time travel is possible.



Angkor across the pond. Recognize this from Tomb Raider?;) Only it’s real.

Birds sang in the trees around the complex, and as we watched in awe, I found myself transported back in time, to where a thriving civilization had once lived. We continued to explore the largest of the Angkor temples awestruck by the size and beauty of the architecture. P1070315P1070319P1070323P1070325P1070335P1070344

The air was warming slightly and we moved onto the next temples in our 6 temple tour. We travelled between them by tuk-tuk, but when i go again I think biking would be my first choice. As long as you have snacks and water, I feel it’d be more fun and intimate.







Dinosaur roots

Dinosaur roots

Can you believe these amazing roots?

Can you believe these amazing roots?

P1070458P1070467P1070490I would describe every temple in detail but it would ultimately not do the experience justice. One of the cool things about our visit was that all the ruins seemed so different. Each had a different feel and energy, it’s crumbling walls telling stories that you can’t read in a book. I felt like Indiana Jones.


After 6 hours of exploring the complex (a short amount of time to many!) we tiredly climbed back into our tuk-tuk and headed back to Siem Reap.

Like I mentioned before, it was New Year’s Eve, so after a long power nap, we ventured out into the commotion of the city centre where the main ‘pub street’ was crawling with locals and tourists ready to welcome the new year. Every restaurant was packed, bars were lively early, foot massage parlours were swamped and the closed off street was crammed and noisy. We ended up at X bar, a cool rooftop place with a halfpipe. We celebrated with an awesome Cambodian couple we’d met there, who also happened to run a newly opened not-for-profit english school just outside of town. (more info to come)

Indian food clearly makes me happy.

Indian food clearly makes me happy.

P1070506426647_474186255962412_760138445_nThe celebration was amazing and went out with a bang. Literally. While (barely) riding my bicycle back to our hotel, I managed to wind up on the pavement, only to be rescued and safely delivered home by two kind young Cambodian boys on a moped. One even rode my bike back for me. Their selfless kindness got me back safe and sound with only a couple bloody knees.

Needless to say, the next day called for extreme relaxation. We enjoyed a fresh breakfast at Peace Cafe, a vegetarian restaurant we frequented. It’s healthy and appetizing menu was alluring, and perfectly complemented by it’s outdoor lounge area with bamboo chairs in the shade of lush trees. There was also a yoga studio upstairs where we took a class from a smiling expat from India. Awesome teacher.

Our less belligerent nights here were spent browsing the city’s night market (of course) and indulging in lengthy foot massages. The laughing masseuses really make you feel like you deserve one, and once you see the price it’s hard to turn down.

It seemed there were 3 separate night markets, and the 3rd we came across had been the one we’d read about previously. It was in fact marked by a large sign with neon red letters, Angkor Night Market. This unique bazaar was a colorful labyrinth of beautiful silk and the traditional Khmer checkered scarves, packaged spices and dried fruits, silver jewelry, hammocks and Cambodian made recycled bags and wallets etc. It featured a cute bar and ‘food court’ at the back with candlelit picnic tables, where I enjoyed a delicious greek salad in the dreamy light of the candles, lanterns and the giant moon.

While the other two markets sold similar goods, this one was more pleasant to stroll through as a nighttime activity. In contrast to these souvenir filled hubs, the Old Market in the middle of the city is more visited by locals where you can find the freshest fruits, vegetables and spices used by all the restaurants in the surrounding area. And of course the meat section, where you smell it before you see it in most Southeast-Asian markets. We took a tour here learning the names of these beautiful ingredients before cooking up a storm in an authentic Khmer cooking class at Temple Bar! (Post on this coming soon!)

For our last couple nights we stayed at Siem Reap Hostel, which required booking in advance, but was worth it for the classic backpacker atmosphere and POOL. A pool is always worth it. Not to mention the pool table, yoga studio and patio movie room where we watched Tomb Raider (going with the Angkor theme) and waited for a 2am departure back to the land of smiles where our whole journey began, Thailand.

Keep exploring.

Keep exploring.

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Cambodia: Island hopping and city streets

We exited the 12 seater mini bus with passports in hand, and walked stiffly across the reddish dust at the Cambodian border. We hailed from Vietnam, where we had just spent the last 4 days eating squid and fresh fish on Phu Quoc Island in the South. I pictured rice field upon rice field, remnants of an ancient civilization, cute huts surrounded by lush green jungle, and tons of cows. Which is what I got. Partly. What I didn’t expect though, were some of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever discovered, a huge bustling city full of extremes, and a feeling of belonging in a country that is not my own. We started our tour of the kingdom in Sihanoukville, a coastal city, where we spent a couple of relaxing days on Otres Beach before escaping the party scene of Serendipity Beach to Koh Rong. And was it ever a good decision. With only a few accomodations to choose from, this tiny island had it all. White sand, crystal clear waters, morning yoga by an eccentric Italian lady, jungle bungalows, and let’s not forget the multiple beach BBQs held every night. As the island runs on generators, this was definitely the best way to eat. I certainly had my share of fresh barracuda!

On the other side of the island, a pristine and pretty much untouched strip of beach awaited new hammock dwellers, who could arrive by foot via a jungle trail over the island, or by boat, but for ten dollars. Needless to say, we chose the overland route which (despite the signs advertising the various venomous inhabitants of the island), was a beautiful mini-trek of only 40 minutes, complete with a little bushwacking in denser areas of vegetation. Well worth the hike.P1070212

After a mere 4(?) days in this special sanctuary, I unfortunately was forced to leave. I ran out of money and there are no ATMs. Whoops. We had spent our days swimming, reading, snorkelling, napping, doing yoga, and nights wandering the beach with wine, eating fish and dancing with locals under millions of brightly shining stars. P1070226

We returned to Sihanoukville with a peaceful state of mind, then hopped a boat again, this time to Bamboo Island. All I’d heard was that it was tiny. And it was. We arrived to find a couple broken down bungalows on the edge of the jungle, an awkward restaurant and a calm red sanded beach. We swam all day, and after a few humorous experiences at the restaurant, retreated to our little shack, where we made a nice bonfire out of dry coconut husks. Refreshing and simple it was, on a barely inhabited island on the infamous December 21st, sipping 3 dollar wine from a bean can. The little fire would have lasted longer if it weren’t for the sounds in the woods, the eerie blue light downshore and the mysterious silhouette of a midnight kayaker approaching that light. The next day, we smiled and said our thank-yous to the owners, then caught the first boat we could.

From the sleepy seaside city of Sihanoukville, we departed to the country’s capital, Phnom Penh. Much larger and more modern than I imagined, the busy streets were lined with overflowing shops, big outlet stores, little cafes, markets and people. Our hostel was in one of the more ‘wealthy areas’ which we didn’t notice too much until we started adventuring, seeing how a few blocks could mean the difference between estates and shacks. Phnom Penh was full of hidden gems of restaraunts, shops and things to do. From the buzzing night market by the river to numerous eateries, bars and clubs of every calibre, there was certainly no shortage of places to check out. We enjoyed Christmas in Cambodia at the hostel, watching festive movies and sharing a dinner of garbage can roasted turkey. On a darker note, Phnom Penh was also where we visited the killing fields, where an informative e-tour gave us shocking insight into the country’s recent past. Heartbreaking and disturbing, it invoked in me a compassion for the resilient Khmer people, and left a lasting impression I don’t think anyone could forget. As a lot of people had said this was a place I could skip going to altogether, and not being a huge fan of big cities myself, Phnom Penh turned out to be pleasantly surprising in it’s diverse culture and energy, and also got us ready to get back to the beach!


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