Hello Bangkok, goodbye South East Asia.

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We left Cambodia on the bus to Bangkok, it was quite an experience.

We’ve had an amazing time in South East Asia, and are really quite sad to be leaving what is probably our favourite part of the world. We have been lucky to experience some great things in the past weeks, and are looking forward to moving on; but with regret at skimming the surface of Cambodia, and not getting to Indonesia. We’re going to try to travel there as soon as we’ve replenished our funds.

We’ve had such wonderful experiences, indulged in food and culture, and met great people. We’re also excited for the next chapter and new challenges.

We planned to get back to Bangkok a day earlier than our flight, partly in case of any unforeseen problems, and partly to hang out in Bangkok again. We’ve both seen plenty of this city, so we’ decided to spend our day slightly differently and went shopping. I had pretty much worn my trainers out traipsing around Asia, and I left my baseball cap somewhere so I thought best to replace these in Asia, rather than Australia to preserve some funds.

We headed to the MBK centre, a shopping centre the size of a small city. The plan was a quick march around MBK, head home for a nap via Chinatown & then go across town to a food market the local students love. Easy?

We left MBK nine hours later.

MBK has eight floors, around two thousand retail outlets, and probably over one hundred restaurants and food areas. As well as this it has arcades and a cinema. It’s immense.

So after we casually wandered around two floors and around three hundred shops we decided to get something to eat. This is a pretty hard task for indecisive people like us.

We settled on Shabu Shi, a Japanese sushi train style restaurant with individual hot pots on your tables! The conveyor belt has little plates of meat, fish and vegetables which you grab and throw into your hotpot. Jess was particularly skilled at hotpot cooking, as she continually forgot she had squid or prawns in her stock and cooked them to resemble small rubber lumps.

They also had Sushi and Tempura, all for a set price ‘eat-what-you-can-in-ninety-minutes’ agreement. Particularly good for gluttonous eaters like us who skipped breakfast. It was fun to play ‘guess what i’m putting in my hotpot’, although the fish on the bone, wasn’t so enjoyable when it came to eating, and the plastic pork sheets still resembled cling film after they had been cooked.  All part of the fun, I guess…

We wandered around several hundred more shops, bought a few bits and pieces, haggled for the fun of it, and drank iced coffees until we ventured onto the seventh floor, and found the cinema.

We had a very memorable cinema experience in India, at the Raj Mandir and wanted to see what it was like here too.

We saw Skyfall, I know it’s not a Thai film, but I LOVE Bond films, and It came out a week after we left the UK, which was particularly annoying.  We got VIP tickets as it was the only showing that day, which bought us comfy chairs, blankets and a cinema that only sat around fifty. To be honest, it was mostly westerners at the showing, but rather bizarrely we had to stand for the Kings Anthem. The monarchy is a big deal here, and after Googling I’m astounded to find out people get arrested for not standing! (sorry, it’s the Daily Mail website..)

We finally ambled out of MBK and into another large market, there was so much food, but we were just so full of hotpot we couldn’t face eating any of it. We then wandered towards music, where we strangely found a girl singing the longest song possibly ever recorded (we left after fifteen minutes and she was still going..) several girating teenage girls on the stage and a handful of half naked Thai boys dancing in front. I love this country.

It was a good day, we bought loads of stuff we probably don’t need, ate like kings and most importantly I got some fantastic pictures for my freaky mannequins collection. Next stop Sydney.

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cambodian street food : Amok (fish curry)

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Amok is one of the most well-known dishes of Cambodia. It’s tradionally made using fish steamed in a coconut leaf, although it is available in meaty forms too. We tried amok with pork, as we had been spoilt with fish all up the Vietnamese coast. It’s a Khmer curry, made with coconut, ginger, lemongrass and garlic.

It could be comparable to a Green Thai Curry, although it’s quite a different dish, it doesn’t have the aggressively spicy chilli flavours or the fish sauce punch;  but it can be similar in texture and appearance.

On another note, Cambodia’s national beer ‘Angkor’ with the excellent strapline “My country, my beer” is, like most South East Asian beers, quite light and enjoyable. A beer always tastes better when it’s sunny though, right?

We didn’t really get the chance to try too much Cambodian food. We spent three nights in Siem Reap on the way to Bangkok to catch our onward flight, we ate a lot of barbecue after long days at Angkor. Next time, I’ll be coming back.

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Siem Reap and the Angkor temple complex : Ta Prohm, Preah Khan, Banteay Shrei, Banteay Samre & Ta Som

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Angkor Wat is a massive site, and the town of Siem Reap is almost entirely supported by the tourism generated from the Angkor complex. Tourism supports the hoteliers, bars, restaurants, guides, drivers; and those employed directly by the park as security, sweepers and ticket inspectors. It’s great for the local economy; and the economy of Cambodia as a whole.

In order to see the site properly you have several choices, drivers, tuk-tuks, moto taxis, and bicycles. Some people even attempt to hike around, but seeing as the site is three kilometres from Siem Reap, covering an area of over four hundred square kilometres and some sites are over twenty five kilometres from town, it makes it a hard slog, especially in thirty degree heat.

We hired a Tuk-tuk driver for our time in the city and he was great, he knew about the sites, spoke good English and recommended us things

I’ve already posted about Angkor Wat, and Angkor Thom which you can see here. This post focuses more on the temples further away, and generally not as popular, except Ta Prohm, which is incredibly popular.

Ta Prohm, is with the exception of Angkor Wat itself possibly the most recognisable site due to the Tomb Raider film series. It was left to ruin and the trees took over and turned it into the most enchanting, fantasy spectacle. This was the sort of place you wished you could play in as a kid. Unfortunately, due to the years of trees taking over and roots winning battles against buildings, it’s looking a bit unstable. Lots of support pillars and tension wires are holding very old bits of stone together.

Banteay Shrei and Banteay Sambre are both located further afield in the complex several kilometres from the main attractions. As such they are a bit smaller, but with the added bonus of being quieter and less tour groups.

Ta Som, like Ta Prohm and to an extent Preah khan, was left untouched. It features a beautifully overgrown doorway where a tree has snaked all around, giving it a fantastical atmosphere; another of the many highlights of nature overtaking the man-made structures.

Preah Khan, is without a doubt my absolute favourite place in the Angkor complex. Its vast, and has great big open spaces where you can imagine everyday life going on, but it also has little hidden away corners, where you can pretend you’ve stumble upon as yet undiscovered ruins.  It’s also pretty quiet compared with Bayon, Ta Prohm and Angkor wat. There’s a whole new level of amazingness at Preah Khan when all you can hear is the birds.

Siem Reap and the Angkor temple complex: Angkor Wat & Angkor Thom.

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We flew from Ho Chi Minh City to Siem Reap, as we had ended up spending too much time in Vietnam enjoying the middle areas of the country and its relaxed beach culture. It was a quick flight, and it ended up buying us an extra day in the Angkor temple complex; pretty much the only thing we felt we absolutely couldn’t miss out on in Cambodia. We’ve already decided we’re going to plan another trip to Vietnam as we decided to leave Ha Long Bay for another time (the weather was so grey, and I would have been so disappointed had it been overcast and not the beautiful blue images we’ve seen in magazines and photographs) so perhaps we can revisit Cambodia too.

Firstly, a little historical context. The Angkor temple complex dates from around about the ninth century, when the king of the time declared independence and created what was to become the Khmer empire. Over the passing of time, war, rebellion, and such like happened and inevitably there were conflicts, death and overthrowing of monarchies – standard historical stuff.

The changing of rulers meant new structures within the Angkor complex, and embellishments on existing ones. Jayavarman VII, is worth a mention. In his thirty odd year rule (from 1181) he was a hero prince who drove away the Cham forces (modern day southern Vietnam) from Angkor. He was also Buddhist, not Hindu like his predecessors and built much of the modern day Angkor site, including a lot of the well-known sites of Angkor such as Bayon, Ta Phrohm & Preah Khan.

In more recent history, the French colonised modern day Vietnam & Cambodia as French Indochina and spent many decades developing and clearing the Angkor sites until political instability and rise of the Khmer Rouge forced a stop. Since the 1990’s the popularity of the site as a tourist attraction has increased and as such, renovations and investments have increased.

That was brief and not very historical but you get the point, lots of groups had a part to play in creating what is the largest historical site in the world. Although it can never be verified some historians argue that up to one million people may have lived in the Angkor region during its peak.

The extended site is absolutely massive, the superlatives are endless and you can easily spend a week here just exploring.  We spent three days here, and I’ve broken the temples down into two posts. This post covers Angkor Wat & Angkor Thom area. The other post is viewable here, and covers Ta Prohm, Preah Khan, Banteay Shrei, Banteay Samre & Ta Som.  There are literally hundreds of other sites with the complex.

Angkor Wat, is the generalised name quite often used to refer to the entire site, but is in fact the centre piece of the Angkor temple complex and the largest religious monument in the world.

Angkor Thom, is the collected area including Bayon temple, Baphuon, Phimeanakas, and the terraces of the Elephant King, and Lepers respectively.

Tickets!

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Vietnamese street food : Chao ga (chicken congee)

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Chao is basically meat porridge, also referred to as congee. It’s a fairly thick broth of chicken (ga) stock and rice. The rice is cooked out so that the starch is released and creates a thickened soup, which is enriched with the chicken meat and stock. It’s topped with fresh herbs.

It’s traditionally a bit of a winter food which is often made when feeling a bit under the weather, a comfort food and like a lot of other countries a go-to chicken soup to cure sickness. The flavour can be adjusted to personal preference using the vinegars and spices on the table.

A side that is popular with congees and other soups, such as Phở – banh gio chao quay, or just quay. A fried doughnut-like breadstick popular all over South-East Asia and also known as Chinese crullers & youtiao. They are a crispy crunchy, if a bit greasy addition to a soup or congee.

Some useful phrases 

Sin chow – hello
Mot – one
Hai – two
Gam urn – thank you
Tra da – iced tea, a popular and cheap drink to accompany meals and usually available at hole in the wall restaurants

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