Browsing Date

February 2012

Cambodia, Phnom Penh February 27, 2012

Accidental Balut

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Since we were moving so fast on our South East Asia trip, my brother and I never really have the time to learn what the local dishes are called. But we do love street food.

Faced with an intelligible menu (or worse – no menu), what to do?

Eating on the streets of Phnom Penh

Dinner between Street 258 and 266, Phnom Penh

A popular street food scene in Phnom Penh is fried ‘stuff-on-a-skewer’. In the evening, students and workers alike order these by the basketful and eat them sitting on little stools by little tables on the sidewalk. The ‘stuff’ can be anything: meatballs, imitation crab, sausage, tofu, etc. They’re all bite-sized. You point to what you want, and they’ll fry it on the spot.

Perfect! No menu needed and let the finger do the talking!

I sent out my brother (or more like his finger) to choose. When our plate arrived, there was something a little off about the meatballs on it.

‘What’s that?’

‘I don’t know’ – my brother shrugged after taking a closer look. ‘I don’t think I ordered that’.

Balut in Cambodia

I got my head close and poked around with my chopstick trying to figure out the stuffing inside. Certain features became clear. Rather unfortunately. Features that resembled too much like… Oh geez! That was when I noticed there are some wet, black feathers stuck in my chopstick.


Now in an alternate universe, I’d squeal with delight, stuff the thing in my mouth, and say things like

‘Oh boy’ – crunch, crunch – ‘I’ve always wanted to eat a balut, a fertilized chicken egg with a fully-formed chicken embryo inside. What a local delicacy! What a treat!’

In this universe, that would never happen.

I’d jump off planes and bridges – but when it comes to adventurous eating, I’m a big chicken (no pun intended). I especially have a thing about eating whole animals… well, whole. No oysters or soft-shell crabs for me. Definitely no chick embryos that already have feathers on them.

So, in this universe, the only squealing I did was to ask my brother to get the balut pieces off the plate. And oh – can I get another pair of chopsticks, please?

There are certain things that still don’t sound good enough to eat – even deep fried.

So, if you’re in Phnom Penh – join the locals on their evening stuff-on-a-stick venture (the stretch in front of Pencil Supermarket between Street 258 and 266 seems to be popular) – just keep an eye out for these baluts. Of course, what you do after you spot them is up to you.

So I wonder – is ‘balut’ vegetarian?

Cambodia, Siem Reap February 7, 2012

Kampong Phluk – A Cambodian floating village

Siem Reap, Cambodia

After having seen the main temples of Angkor, we decided to find out what else Siem Reap has to offer besides temples.

Kampong Phloek, about 1 hr tuk-tuk ride away from Siem Reap, is often described as a floating village. And it sort of does float in metaphorical sense, but not in a way one would presumably think.

The houses of this kampong (kampong means ‘village’) are built on stilts as 2-story high. On rainy season when the water level is high, the stilts are covered in water giving the impression that the houses are floating.

On dry season, when we went, the stilts are exposed. Which, we think, makes it even look more impressive. The houses seemed to soar way high over our heads.

Kampong Phluk, Cambodia

I always feel a little awkward during these ‘voyeuristic’ type of excursions. But I can see the appeal as well: It’s fascinating seeing other people do the same things we’d do ourselves back home: doing laundry, dishes, etc but in a completely different setting – in this case, a watery setting.

Instead of a car, each house had a wooden boat parked in front. Instead of a garden, they’d have floating potted plants. Doing laundry and dishes, and taking a shower involved climbing down a rickety set of ladders (or done on a canoe!).

Cambodia Floating Village

And of course you get to see things you don’t normally see back home either, like pigs raised on a floating platform.

Floating pig pen, Kampong Phluk, Cambodia

Floating pig pen, Kampong Phluk, Cambodia

A woman in Kampong Phluk, Cambodia

For $20 a person, you can probably see a floating village for a lot cheaper somewhere else in Asia. But if you’re templed out in Angkor and looking for a breezy way to spend half a day – Kampong Phluk is worth the 1.5 hr spine-pumping trip.

Going to Kampong Phluk? Get there early!

I began to wonder why this attractive village didn’t seem to get any visitors. The only other boats we saw in the village were those carrying the villagers. But the answer came soon enough.

On the way back we passed boat after boat carrying tourists. Non stop. We left Siem Reap at 7 in the morning which made us one of the first boats to pass through and we were taking the lack of crowd for granted.

I’m so glad we got there early.

How to get to Kampung Phluk: Any guesthouse in Siem Reap can arrange a visit there for $20 a person (cheaper with a bigger group). It will be just your group. You can get there indepedently by renting a tuk-tuk yourself, and as long as the driver knows where Kampung Phluk is, he can help you with entrance tickets and getting a boat. The boat and the tuk-tuk alone will cost around $35 per visit – regardless of the # of people.
Cambodia, Siem Reap February 6, 2012

Angkor Wat and Friends – Hot, Hotter, and Beautiful

Siem Reap, Cambodia

Even at 7 am, you could already tell it was going to be another hot day in Siem Reap. The crowded but pretty affair of sunset over Angkor Wat was finally over. We were admiring the bas-relief on the walls inside the massive complex of Angkor Wat.

There was barely a breeze and the humidity was choking. The hallways were stuffy with dead air and people were hurrying through them to the open air courtyards found within Angkor Wat itself.

Angkor Wat at sunrise

We were thinking, ‘Can’t wait to get outside and find some Thai iced tea!’

Oh, wait!

We kept forgetting that we weren’t in Thailand anymore. Crazy to think that around this time yesterday we were just leaving Bangkok on the way to Thailand – Cambodia border.

Siem Reap, the gateway town to Angkor temples, seems to be built solely to cater to tourists. The dusty streets are lined with hotels, guesthouses, travel agencies, and restaurants offering 50 cent draft beer. Siem Reap is small enough that tuk-tuks and bikes provide the only means for visitors to get around.

Siem Reap around the Old Market

Siem Reap around the Old Market

Around 5 pm the streets around the Old Market were swamped with foreigners, red faced from a day out in the temples. They come on bicycles, on foot, filling the streets in huge numbers. I’ve never seen so many foreigners in such a small area before often it seems that we easily outnumber the locals.

But for such a touristy town, most of the Cambodians we met were friendly and helpful even if they barely speak any English. They patiently tried to understand what we try to say (in mimes or drawings) and laughed good-humoredly at our attempt at bargaining (or in some cases, our attempt at drawing).

I asked our tuk-tuk driver how he manages to be so friendly having to deal with tourists constantly for a living.

‘Yes!’ – he nodded his head vigorously with a big grin on his face. It’s an unsolved mystery.

The Angkor Temples

Angkor Wat might be the biggest, but Bayon gets the award for the freakiest. Bayon temple, just down the street from Angkor Wat, is famous for its many eerie and massive stone faces carved onto the many towers that jut upwards from the temple.

If we were there on our own, I think it would’ve been a little freaky being followed by these faces where ever you walk.

Bayon Temple at Angkor, Cambodia

Bayon Temple at Angkor, Cambodia

But we were far from being the only the ones there that day. Bayon was simply overrun with visitors. Each step meant getting in the way of somebody else. Everyone was sweating because of the heat and every touch left a sweaty palm print behind.

The crowd at Bayon temple, Cambodia

The crowd at Bayon temple, Cambodia

We admitted defeat after Bayon and retreated to our hotel to wait out the worst of the day’s heat. This turned out to be the best decision we’d made. On the way back to the hotel, we passed the other temples on the circuit and each one’s parking lot was jammed packed with tour buses and tuk-tuks.

It was madness!

In the late afternoon, we set out to see Ta Phrohm – or the ‘Tomb Raider’ temple as the little kids selling postcard like to remind us.

Ta Phrohm quickly became our favorite. Late in the afternoon when most of the crowdes were gone and the weather was more bearable, Ta Phrohm was just simply the most atmospheric of all the three we saw.

Ta Phrohm has all of these giant trees whose roots are slowly but surely overtaking the crumbling ruins. Trees live here. There’s moss on the rock walls and jungle around the complex. I can see why they filmed ‘Tomb Raider’ here.

The place just feels eerie and old.

Whatever the means, avoiding the crowd at Angkor temples is worth the effort (either by coming in late in the afternoon, or doing the circuit the opposite way). It is definitely the way to fully enjoy these amazing structures.

Ta Phrohm, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Ta Phrohm, Cambodia

Children selling souvenirs in Ta Phrohm

Children selling souvenirs in Ta Phrohm

Angkor temples are beautiful but we’re glad we only got a one day pass to the Park. At the end of the a sight seeing day, we were pretty templed out even though we barely scratched the surface of what Siem Reap has to offer.

The thing to do after a hot day of temple sight seeing? Join the throng of travelers on the streets around the Old Market to hunt for 50 cent beer and fruit shakes! A delicious way to end the day.

Cambodian beer, Siem Reap, Cambodia