Archive | December, 2013

CAMBODIA – Phnom Penh

13 Dec

Phnom Penh [p-nom pen], a city whose name took me a while to pronounce properly, let alone write correctly!  The Cambodian capital appeared chaotic, intriguing while surprisingly modern to us, with its many hip cafes and enormous variety of fantastic local street markets, food halls, and expat-run restaurants (like in Toronto, you can eat any cuisine in Phnom Penh).

IMG_1482

Skyline of Phnom Penh

For food, we followed the suggestions of my Facebook friend Gabrielle Yetter, who has been living in Cambo for 3 years now. She had all the best insights on what to eat and do!  For example, she suggested one of her favorites, the Chinese Noodle House  – where you eat noodles and dumplings from dough that is freshly made and spun on site (see picture).  For $3.00, you receive a plate of 12 steamed vegetable dumplings and fried green beans with mushrooms and tons of garlic.  The very best!

IMG_1518

Fresh Noodles being made at the Chinese Noodle House in Phnom Penh

And when we met Gabrielle’s friends Phillip and Katarina at El Mundo Café (on the Riverfront for a wonderfully, insightful chat, Emile had the very best “broodje Kroket” he had ever tasted (Dutch fried meatball on bread) and I must say, this Dutch Café owner knows a thing or two about kroketten as even this Dutchie thought is was a really good one! 

IMG_1517

Emile with a delicious “Broodje Kroket” – Dutch fried meatball on bread

And many of the cafes and restaurants line the Mekong River in PP as it is such a wonderful location.  The riverfront is the spot where the Cambodians hang out – starting around 5 pm they join in exercise classes and/or sit all along the river enjoying its cool breeze.  The boys and I took a lovely river cruise down the Mekong, just as the sun was setting (so we had the pleasure of admiring a gorgeous sky!), where we witnessed how the boat people lived on the river, in self made sheds and boats.

IMG_1459

Boat Village on the Mekong River in Phnom Penh

It was quite hard to witness such poverty (eye-opening for Emile & Filou), but at the same time extremely heart-warming, as what we also saw where little girls swinging in hammocks singing happily, boys their age having the best of fun sliding down a ledge & jumping into the river, and the Cambodian people (adults and children alike), greeting us with their warm smiles.

IMG_1507

The boys with the sweet boat owner’s son 

IMG_1485

Fishermen on the Mekong River in Phnom Penh

And while we enjoyed our 2 hours on the river, Anthony decided to take in some history and visited the former torture and detention centre, now the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (necessary to do this country justice but a bit too gruesome for the kids!).  “The four years’ rule of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge from 1975 to 1979, were responsible for the deaths of one in five people in Cambodia, through execution, starvation, or forced labour. Countless others were simply swept away from their villages without leaving a trace behind” (as quoted from Somaly Man’s book, “the Road of Lost Innocence” – the true story of a Cambodian heroine who fled sexual slavery and now devotes her life to rescuing others).

Image

Message of Hope & Justice at the Genocide Museum

We also did a quick tour of the Russian Market and the Central Market, locations mostly geared towards souvenir hunters (and therefore not particularly of interest to us, although fun to see what is being sold at what incredibly low price!).

More of interest was the visit that Filou and I took of Wat Phnom.  Seen by the people of Phnom Penh, as the spiritual heart of the city. This temple, located on top of a small hill in the centre of town is a lovely place of worship with gorgeous ceilings.  I took a quick peak and then Filou played a bit in the adjacent play park where he met some lovely Cambodian kids to have some fun with.

IMG_1541

IMG_1538

Wat Phnom, the spiritual heart of Phnom Penh

IMG_1545

Filou with a mighty Cobra, made out of bamboo – in the park surrounding Wat Phnom 

IMG_1555

Three sweet girls that kept waving at me..they loved that I wanted to take their picture!

IMG_1551

Nap time in the park

Kid’s City

A few hours were spent at a super fun, multilevel entertainment centre for kids.

Each floor of Kid City’s complex ((www.kidcityasia.com) houses a different activity to keep the kids entertained (climbing wall, skating rink, laser tag, science gallery & discovery, jungle gym etc.); a deal at about $8.00/hr as the complex is air-conditioned, has WIFI and coffee for the parents!

Emile and Filou particularly liked the climbing walls; about 12 different, colourful climbing structures to test their endurance!

IMG_1561

Filou being a monkey and trying to fly

Our last day in Phnom Penh, while Anthony was giving a keynote presentation at the European Chamber of Commerce Cambodia – Green Business Forum (www.eurocham-cambodia.org), the kids and I, once again, called our very sweet, tuktuk driver Mr. Key (a gentle man who knew his way around the city and adored the boys).

IMG_2206

The boys with Mr. Key, our lovely tuktuk driver in Phnom Penh

He took us to the beautiful Royal Palace, with its famous Silver Pagoda.  Here, the kids saw monkeys, turtles and huge fish up close, played local musical instruments with the experts, and saw Cambodia’s first King on a Horse!

IMG_2159

IMG_2164

At the grounds of the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh

IMG_2192

Our monkey friend, coming up close…

IMG_2194

Filou learning to play a very melodic, local musical instrument

That night, I finally got to meet the lovely lady who made our stay in Cambodia so very fabulous  – my Facebook friend Gabrielle Yetter.   Not only did we read her wonderful book called “The definite Guide to moving to South-East Asia: Cambodia” http://www.amazon.com/Definitive-Guide-Moving-SouthEast-Asia-ebook/dp/B00BX5FWJU, we also followed her many insightful tips on where to stay & eat, what to see & do. She and her husband Frank met us at a nice Italian place for dinner and it was like we were old friends. The night was the perfect ending to our wonderful stay in the nation’s capital.

IMG_2204

A toast with my new Facebook Friend, Gabrielle Yetter 

Cambodia – Jungle Trekking in Koh Kong

7 Dec

Koh Kong is the most Southwestern province of Cambodia and has a long undeveloped coastline and a mountainous, forested and largely inaccessible interior. Tourism to this area is still relatively new and we were excited to be among its newest explorers!

In the province’s capital, Koh Kong City, we found a little paradise in the Oasis Bungalow Resort (http://oasisresort.netkhmer.com) – a small complex of five, very spacious hut bungalows.  This very calm resort has the most beautiful infinity pool overlooking the gorgeous Cardamon Mountains.  Its owner, Jason Webb, a passionate Irish expat with strong views about Cambodian life, and plentiful energy to entertain the kids (showing them the many creatures living on the premises – especially large geckos and frogs), kept us dutifully informed and entertained.

IMG_2011

The infinity pool the Oasis Bungalow Resort in Koh Kong, overlooking the jungle

IMG_2137

Jason Webb, the spirited owner of the Oasis Bungalow Resort

Visiting Koh Kong is not complete without a jungle trek, and so we booked our full day of Cardamon Mountain explorations.  We were picked up by a tuktuk and transported to the dock for our Long Tail boat ride, taking us deep into the mountainous region. The hour-long boat ride was a fun one; we had to ensure we were all sitting still not to capsize the structure – one move from someone on one side of the boat had to quickly be compensated by someone on the other side (we has some very close calls)!  The views were magnificent – we saw large, white herons fly fast & low over the water and thoroughly enjoyed the many sounds of the various jungle species (apparently the mountains are home to 450 types of bird species as well as Siamese crocodiles, Asian elephants, Indochinese tigers, clouded leopards, Malayan sun bears, white bellied rats etc.– none of which we sadly or… should I say gladly, encountered on our trek!)

IMG_2038

IMG_2120 

Our Long Tail boat

The start of our jungle trek was quite steep as we made our way high up into the mountains, through very dense forest. Our guide always walked ahead of us with his incredible large, sharp and primitive looking knife. He quickly cut away any bamboo or menacing branches in our path and used his knife to make spear-like, bamboo walking sticks for the kids.  After about 40 minutes of hiking, we reached a beautiful viewpoint – giving us a bird’s eye view of the elegantly flowing river we had just crossed and the vast region of surrounding, lush jungle.

IMG_2049

Viewpoint over the Cardamon Mountains

IMG_2096

IMG_2043

Filou in Bamboo Jungle

Our trail continued and we eventually reached a gorge and arrived at some beautiful waterfalls. It was here that we paused for an extended time to have lunch and a swim. A section of these waterfalls were a natural waterslide, and of course the boys had to give this a try. Sliding down in the rushing water over many a slippery rock gave them lots of giggles and slightly sore behinds, but they loved it! The cool flowing water also helped to rinse off the blood from their legs and ankles – caused by the many small leaches that had attached themselves and caused what Filou called a “mini blood bath” on his leg (nothing too serious but this was the real jungle after all)!

IMG_2115

Our legs attacked by the jungle leaches

Trying to keep up with the climbing skill of our boys, I tempted to mount a large, very slippery rock that would lead me to the top of the waterfall.  Unfortunately, I am not quite as monkey-like as my sons and slipped with my leg into a deep groove and scraped it going all the way down!  Our smiley guide was quick to my rescue! When I first looked at my foot and saw a bone sticking out, I thought this was the end of Cambodia and we were heading to Thailand for medical treatment, but putting my legs into the cold running water of the waterfall helped the swelling go down quickly – and it was not as bad as I thought!  However, our lovely guide leader was now completely focused on me – rubbing Tiger balm all over my scrapes & bruises and providing his very strong, steady arm all the way during our trek back.

IMG_2081

Cooling sore legs in cold, streaming waterfall water

IMG_2086

Of course, we gave him an extra little tip for his kindness – something he deserved but might have also helped to save an extra animal or two. You ask why? Well, the population in the Cardamon Mountain Ranges is small and very poor. It has always threatened the biological diversity of the region due to illegal logging, wildlife poaching and forest fires, caused by slash-and-burn agriculture. Jason told us that our jungle trekking guide was one of those animal poachers – but that since he has learned to make a living from tourism, his activities have decreased (not completely gone yet, as he still goes out when the tourism season is slowing down!).  He seemed like a very genuine, caring man, and we hope he can stay on the right path to protect the beautiful environment he is living in!

IMG_2039

Our jungle trekking guide 

IMG_2111

Perfect ending to a perfect day of jungle trekking

So we survived the jungle of Cambodia (without getting Malaria!) and had a great time!  As well, the boys learned the skill of playing pool.  Using the high quality pool table at Oasis, Emile practiced “sans cesse” and was able to beat his Papa, challenged several of the other resort guests and won….. So now, he’s ready for the master of all – his grandfather. So get ready Jichan!

IMG_2135

Emile the pool shark!

So it was Koh Kong, that made us into jungle trekkers and pool sharks…Now, we are ready for some culture as we move onto Siem Reap to visit the most magnificent of temples.