Singapore Adventure

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Cambodia Favorites: He Said
by jima

Favorite temple: The Bayon. A crumbling pile of rubble from a distance, the Bayon is transformed when you draw near. Enormous, tranquil faces grin from almost every vertical surface. They spy on you through carved doorways, boldly confront you as you round each new corner, and laugh together behind your back. You wander mesmerized through this compact temple and can't quite believe you thought it mere stones.

Favorite non-temple activity: The Pchum Benh carnival we stumbled across near the floating village of Chong Kneas. We strolled through the crowds, marveling at the similarities to our childhood hometown summer festivals: a clanky rusty ferris wheel that no American would go near, win-a-stuffed-animal booths manned by unkempt carnies, guys wearing Buffs t-shirts and Berkeley ballcaps, endless food stalls selling... ummm... Okay, so the similarities only went so far.

Favorite food: Someone already stole the hands-down favorite, amok, for this category, so I'll opt for a distant but delicious second, the Khmer Kitchen's "pumpkin piece in oven". I'm not a person who usually appreciates gourd-based dishes, but as this restaurant was touted as the most authentic Khmer food in town and pumpkin is common in their cuisine, we decided to give it a try and were astonished to like it! No, really! Pretty much a good, old-fashioned, midwestern (US, that is) hot dish, it was baked in a metal bowl, with onions and cheese and eggs and God-knows-what-else. We finished every last bite but passed on the pumpkin and potato pudding dessert.

Favorite street food: Snake. Stuffed, coiled, skewered, and roasted over an open flame. As Venitha pointed out, it's probably not that bad - just roasted meat, right? - but you do have to wonder where they're getting all the snakes. And then we crossed the road to walk on the side away from the river.

Favorite purchase: My new coffee mug! I don't think Cambodia is particularly known for its pottery, but this mug is a great remembrance of the beautiful and colorful dragonflies we saw everywhere.

Favorite quote: "The sugar cane was all cut off below my waist." Kim Rieng, our excellent guide, was born in early April 1975, just a week before the Khmer Rouge captured Phnom Penh. It's amazing that he's alive, let alone that he's a responsible, friendly, well-educated adult. His tales of his childhood first under the and then during the Vietnamese occupation/civil war, were moving, disturbing, and awe-inspiring. The quote above was how he ended his description of the morning after he spent a harrowing night in a sugarcane field while troops battled with machine guns over his prone body.

Favorite "I did not know that" fact: The Khmer empire at its peak was vast, ruling much of present-day Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, and Thailand. Of course, this golden age was about 1000 years ago, but that only makes the grandiose and exquisitely-adorned temples all the more impressive.