SOUTH EAST ASIA – Sep 2010
Part 1 – SINGAPORE & JOHOR BAHRU
With our son (Deej) and his wife (Gen) enjoying a laid-back lifestyle in Kampot, Cambodia, for the next 6 months, it’s a no brainer to make the place our choice for a holiday destination this year. Combine the experience of visiting this historical country with the opportunity of visiting my brother in Singapore for Aidilfitri (Muslim celebration after the fasting month of Ramadan) for the first time in 30 years, joining in Deej’s 37th birthday celebration in Kampot and throw in the fact that there would be no kitchen duties for me for THREE weeks’ I could feel it in my waters that this would be a super-duper holiday indeed! It took my MOTH next to no time to organize all things related to an overseas holiday which left us with plenty of time to watch the clock and cross off the days on the calendar. Finally, our departure day arrived. Nina drove us to Melbourne International Airport to board an Emirates flight on the afternoon of Sep 2nd.
We landed at Changi International Airport just before midnight to be warmly greeted by my lovely neice Aisyah and her friend Richard who drove us to the Ibis Singapore on Bencoolen where we had booked in for the first four nights of our stay. Our time in Singapore literally flew by with visits to various eating establishments, from the famous Muthu’s Curry Restaurant in Race Course Rd in the Little India district to little specialty restaurants known only to local foodies like Aisyah and Richard. In between eating, shopping and going to the money changers at regular intervals, we managed to fit in visits to the Singapore Zoo in Mandai and knowing my penchant for bird photos, Aisyah and Richard also took us to Jurong Bird Park.
Our first day was spent at the Singapore Zoo where, with our respective cameras in hand, we snapped a few, er… well, ok, a couple of hundred photos, of various animals and colourful feathered creatures during the day and returned for the Night Safari to watch the Thumbuakar Tribe (from Borneo) as they performed their nightly spectacular fire-eating, fire-breathing stunts. [‘Thumbuakar’ is the Westernised spelling of the Indonesian word ‘tambuakar’, the name of Sabah’s swamp ghost.] As a part of the Night Safari, we went to the amphitheatre for the 30-minutes’ “Creatures Of The Night” show where nocturnal animals performed along with their trainers. During the show, I almost crapped in my pants when they pulled open the ‘trap door’ from under my feet to reveal a huge reticulated python which took 4 men to pick up! Show over, we joined the crowd like sheep going through a dipping process as we slowly meandered through the turnstile like a giant conga line to get on the night safari 45-minutes’ battery-operated train carriage tour. What a fascinating experience it was as we were able to observe many, many nocturnal animals going about their nightly activities through the use of special lighting techniques from the comfort of our carriage with full running commentary from our tour guide. To ensure that I wouldn’t faint from lack of nourishment, we were taken from the zoo to Zam Zam Restaurant in North Bridge Road, opposite the Sultan Mosque for a hearty meal of Murtabak (an Indian savoury pancake filled with spiced minced meat, eggs and diced onions) and Briyani (Indian rice dish) accompanied by yes, more curry… It is only fair to say that by the end of our first day, we were all curried out…
The highlight of our second day in Singapore was visiting Jurong Bird Park where once again, our cameras were put to work. Jurong Bird Park is currently the world’s largest bird park in terms of number of birds with over 8,000 birds of 600 species, (including 29 endangered species) in a beautifully landscaped area of over 200,000 square metres. Upon entry, we immediately headed for the “Birds n Buddies Show” to watch the antics of talented birds from mimicking cockatoos and ping-pong ball-playing macaws to a multi-lingual singing parrot at the amphitheatre. Showtime over, we walked to the “World of Darkness” to see owls and night herons in their nocturnal surroundings. We continued on our tour of the park, from the African Wetlands to the African Waterfall Aviary, which is nationally claimed as being the world’s largest walk-in aviary, featuring Jurong Falls, the world’s tallest man-made waterfalll at 30 metres (approx. 100ft) high. No visit to the bird park is complete without taking in the 3,000 square metres Lory Loft with over 1,000 free-flying lorikeets happily drinking special nectar mix offered by visitors. More photos were snapped as we went on to admire the stunningly beautiful scarlet ibis and many more equally beautiful feathered creatures. At the end of the Bird Park visit, our thoughts turned once again to appeasing our bellies, so it was off to the East Coast Lagoon Hawker Centre where we hovered like vultures waiting for a table to be vacated before laying claim to it. We sat down to feed our faces with 45 sticks of satays, chili mud crab served with mini deep fried bread rolls, crispy fried baby squid and a plate of Chinese Rojak [salad of bite-sized pieces of pineapple, cucumber, jicama (Chinese turnip), fried bean-curd and ‘eu char kway’ (deep-fried dough sticks) freshly mixed in chili, dark prawn paste and sugar mixture, sprinkled with chopped peanuts]. For thirst quenchers, I had a SGD2 huge green coconut while the MOTH enjoyed a large bottle of Tiger beer for SGD5. Getting our desserts entailed a drive to the red light district of Geylang where the best durians are sold – durians for Aisyah, Richard and me and mangosteens for the MOTH who strongly resisted the temptation to try the southeast Asian “king of fruits”. Afterwards, Richard took us for a leisurely drive-by of the Geylang lanes to check out the ladies of the night on parade before dropping us back at the Hotel Bencoolen.
Father’s Day was celebrated with dinner at my brother’s place at his insistence as he has become rather introverted over the years and feels uncomfortable dining out. The day started out with a spot of jewellry shopping before heading off to Tampines for a lunch of the best Indian Rojak this side of the globe, according to our expert foodie, Aisyah. [Indian Rojak consists of a variety of savoury fried fritters, bean-curds, boiled potatoes, cuttlefish, hard boiled eggs, etc, served with a thick and spicy chili sweet potato sauce.] I also indulged in a huge bowl of Bubur Cha Cha (Nyonya dessert of coconut milk with sweet potatoes, yam (taro) and tapioca pearls). My MOTH chose to have a plate of Fried Bee Hoon (thin rice vermicelli) ‘ la Indian which he polished off with gusto. It was then off to Changi Village to say ‘G’day’ to my old friend, Jeremy, proprietor of Hock Lee Shoes. After an icy cold beer, my MOTH gave in to temptation and indulged in the purchase of a couple of pairs of super-comfortable footwear. A few sips of fresh sugar cane juice later, I, too, succumbed and bought myself a handbag. A trip to the money changer at Suntec City Mall was necessary to convert AU$ to MYR (Malaysian Ringgit) in preparation for our few days stay in Johor Bahru, the next sector of our holiday. We got to my brother’s place half an hour before Deej and Gen’s arrival from Batam Island where they had been holidaying before they fly back to Kampot in the morning. We sat down to a scrumptious spread lovingly prepared by my Brother who happens to be a great cook. A couple of hours of reminiscing later, Deej, Gen, the MOTH and I left to share a taxi to our respective hotels.
Just before lunch-time the next day Aisyah and Richard got us on a brisk short walk from the Ibis to Mackenzie Rex Restaurant in Princep Street with the promise of a feed of halal white chicken rice while the MOTH settled for bee hoon hor fan with seafood. ‘You’ve gotta try some bean curd, and the best eu char kway, Auntie,’ Richard insisted so off we trotted down a couple of alleyways to enjoy a lunch-time dessert. Before the bean curd had time to get intimate with the chicken rice in my belly, we were back at the Ibis to grab our bags before the late check-out time of 2pm expired. With the help of Aisyah and Richard, we found our way to the Rochor Road Singapore/Johor Bahru taxi and bus interchange on foot.
There was no problem with finding a taxi (SGD40) and an hour and a half later, we arrived at the Puteri Pan Pacific Johor Bahru to check into our room before traipsing off to the nearest mall where we purchased mooncakes, 2 pairs of Lacoste’ thongs (no, not the bum-hugging kind, these are thongs for our feet) and a few trinkets. We then decided it was time to revitalize ourselves so we headed straight to the Old Town Coffee shop for a delicious iced “kopi-0” (black coffee) each, with a serve of kaya toast for our afternoon tea. You couldn’t half-tell that the Chinese Autumn Festival was about to begin as assorted moon-cake stalls occupied one half of the huge ground floor area. As the Chinese festival also coincided with the Muslim Aidilfitri this year, the other half of the area was chock-a-block full of stalls selling festive outfits and fashion accessories for the Muslim shoppers.
After depositing our purchases in our room, we got the concierge to get us a taxi that would take us to Taman Sri Tebrau Hawker Centre. We arrived at our destination just before 7.30pm and made a bee-line for Stall 59. With watering mouths we watched our seafood meal being picked, cleaned, chopped and cooked to our order right before our very eyes. I was on my third drool-soaked tissue before we all stopped salivating and got stuck into yummy crispy oat king prawns, crispy oat crayfish, chili mud-crabs, a plate of mini fried bread rolls for dunking in the chili crab sauce, BBQ skate (sting ray flaps) and sambal kangkong (water convulvulus) for our vegetable dish. All these tucker were washed down with fresh sugar cane juice for the three of us and an icy-cold Tiger beer for the MOTH. A 7MYR taxi ride later saw us back at the Puteri Pacific where we said goodbye to Aisyah and Richard so they could make their way back across the Causeway to Singapore.
The next morning, after breakfast, we sauntered over to the concierge to make enquires regarding a tour of Johor Bahru. However, our initial desire to do a spot of sight-seeing died within minutes of speaking with him. For example, a trip to the historical town of Kota Tinggi, situated approximately 42kms north-east of JB, would cost 80MYR in taxi fare each way, with an additional 35MYR for every hour or part thereof charged as ‘waiting fee’. My MOTH gasped upon hearing the info and his hand immediately went into his pocket – I sensed the whitening knuckles as he tightened his hold on his wallet… He was visibly relieved when I opted for a shopping spree instead! So off we trotted to the City Square Shopping Centre where we spent some considerable time looking for a luggage shop. While having a look-see session in one shop, an American bloke and his Filipina wife struck up a conversation with us and just as I started to feel my feet beginning to take root, we managed to make a polite exit. I think the bloke who lived locally was hungry for a conversation with a fellow “orang putih” (White Man)… We continued with our luggage hunt and finally got lucky in the third store where after some haggling, 400MYR changed hands and we came away with a matching pair of suitcases to replace the one that was damaged en route from Melbourne to Singapore. We lugged our purchases back to our hotel room and returned to City Square for lunch and a bit more shopping before heading back to our room for a short siesta. [The worst part of our ‘walkabouts’ was to get past the obnoxiously odorous drains as quickly as our legs could carry us, while we held our breaths to the point of almost losing consciousness.]
My MOTH was the only Caucasian at the Ramadan ‘breaking of fast’ fancy buffet at the Puteri Pan Pacific (75MYR per adult, 35MYR per child, complimentary for hotel guests.) so he stood out like a sore thumb… After eating to our hearts’ content from the excellent fare on offer (exotic salads, mouth-watering satays, murtabak, wide range of seafood, countless selection of Asian dishes and various scrumptious desserts), we retired to our room as quickly as we could, just so we could unbutton our pants and breathe easier. What a feast!
We awoke to a gloomy-looking morning with rain clouds fast gathering on the horizon. After another complimentary breakfast, we returned to our room and surfed the ‘net to kill some time until the stores at Plaza Kotaraya open their doors for trading. I purchased a pretty “Free Size” top yesterday without trying it on in the store and found it to be too figure-hugging for my liking when I put it on back in the hotel room. ‘No worries,’ I thought, ‘it shouldn’t be a problem in exchanging it or getting a refund, if all else fails.’ Oh how wrong I was! Upon reaching the store, I went to the register to explain my return and this was what transpired… “Oh, this one, no bigger size… all free-size should fit-lah!” My protest was met with a rather nonchalant, “Can change for something else, same price.” (They don’t do refunds!) So began a hasty look around for something else that I could get instead. “Aha! This will do,” I exclaimed, as I darted off to the fitting room, just to be sure. Unfortunately, the top I had selected was 4MYR cheaper and therefore I was met with, “No, sorry-ah, cannot exchange this one-ah, can get something same price,”. The salesgirl then disappeared to return with her supervisor as I don’t think she speaks English very well and she could see that I was getting a tad irritable’ I couldn’t frickin’ believe it! I explained that I was not interested in getting the 4MYR difference and was quite prepared to forfeit it. A few ums and ahs later, the supervisor grudgingly gave the all clear and the problem was finally resolved. Man, all that hoo-hah over 4MYR. Sheeesh!
When we made our way to exit the building, we were dismayed to see it was bucketing down! Hmmm… now what could we do while waiting for the rain to ease? I know, get my hair washed! The MOTH was quite happy to wander around the shops while I received the best shampoo, complete with a most relaxing 10 minutes of full head massage, for the princely sum of 16MYR (AU$5.20)! So pleased was I that I gave her 2MYR tip which made her eyes light up as tipping is uncommon in this neck of the woods. Once again, we headed for the entrance… the rain had eased a little and lacking the patience to wait any longer, we made our way in between the raindrops to City Square Shopping Centre for lunch and yes, more shopping! (Thank goodness the downpour had washed away most of the stench that had attacked our nostrils the last few times that we had to take the route to and from the shops.)
After shopping and lunch at Kenny Rogers Roasters, we checked out all five floors of stores retailing mainly clothing, shoes (many, many shoes), gazillion handbags and food. (I have a sneaking suspicion that the local folks like nothing more than putting on nice clothes before spending most of their time walking around (thus the numerous shoe stores), carrying lots of money (explains the many bags stores) to indulge in their favourite past-time of throwing food down their throats in the many restaurants and food stalls…) From there, we headed back to our hotel room for an afternoon siesta until we were awakened by the Muslim call to evening prayers from the little Indian mosque near the hotel which signalled the break of fasting for the day. Our last dinner in JB consisted of KFC special Ramadan treat of Hot n Spicy Shrimps and chicken meal deal with mashed potatoes, coleslaw and rose essence drink at 11.20MYR each. With satisfied tummies, we returned to our room to shower and pack our suitcases, in preparation for our return trip to Singapore tomorrow.
For our final breakfast in Johor Bahru, we decided on a KFC breakfast – Chicken porridge and coffee for me and KFC ‘Riser’ (chicken fillet, scrambled egg and sauce in an oval sesame seed bun) and coffee for the MOTH (total of 10.25MYR). A bit after 11am we dragged our luggage downstairs to the foyer to check out and walked to the JB-Singapore interchange depot, a mere block away from the hotel. It wasn’t long before a Singapore Comfort taxi arrived at the terminal to drop off passengers from Singapore so after confirming that we would be dropped off at our preferred destination (Grand Mercure Roxy) on the East Coast for SGD40, we jumped in and practically sailed through both checkpoints of the Causeway.
In summary, our Johor Bahru trip was a little disappointing as we had expected to be able to indulge in a sightseeing tour of JB and surrounds but on the bright side, the shopping was great and choosing to stay at the Puteri Pan Pacific hotel turned out to be an excellent decision on our part. We couldn’t fault the services provided – the staff were helpful, courteous and super prompt. The meals were superb and all these added up to making our JB stay a memorable one, after all.
As a result of the speedy hassle-free ride back, we arrived at the Roxy a lot earlier than we had planned so had to kick our heels until our room was ready at 2pm. Our luggage was taken away to the storeroom so we were free to wander over to Parkway Parade across the road. Finally we got our key so we raced up to our 8th floor room closely followed by the porter with our luggage. To ensure that we wouldn’t collapse from starvation, Aisyah and Richard appeared as if by magic to take us to lunch at a Nasi Padang stall, Hajjah Mona, where our tastebuds were treated to super-delicious Malay food. Then it was off to do a spot of shopping before heading off to the East Coast Village Food Centre for, you guessed it, more food – we indulged in chili crab, small fried bread rolls, shark’s fin soup, BBQ skate, crispy fried baby squid, satays and sea snails in chili sauce with Richard finding just enough room in his belly for a plate of Duck Rice. After some time spent chin-wagging while munching on yummy durian puffs, we finally decided to call it a night.
Today (Sep 10th) is Aidilfitri. We had breakfast with Aisyah before doing some last minute shopping for two smaller bags for stuff we would need for the next sector of our holiday (Cambodia). We managed to cram our luggage in Richard’s car and arrived at my brother’s place just as he was leaving for noon prayers at the mosque. Hari Raya greetings were exchanged and we were told to help ourselves to the food he had prepared for us before he hurried off. We sorted out and repacked our stuff with the intention of leaving our main suitcases at my brother’s place until our return from Cambodia. After sampling brother’s cooking of what he remembered as being the favourite desserts of my childhood, we left to take our travelling bags back to the Grand Mercure Roxy before another eating session – this time it was a bowl of delicious Penang Laksa at Katong Laksa. (By now it is almost impossible to tell if I am merely swollen from being unaccustomed to the tropical heat or just plain fat from all the food I had consumed in such a short time!)
After lunch, we went for a drive to check out the last 3 addresses that I had stayed at in the 70s and 80s. Afterwards, Richard made a stop at The Changi Chapel and Museum where we spent almost an hour reading the horrors suffered by the POWs and the locals under Japanese rule during WW2. Unfortunately, no cameras and video recordings are allowed so I couldn’t capture the history through photos. It was a sobering and sad experience as we quietly read the stories that accompanied the shocking photos’ A quick glance at our watches told us we were running a wee bit behind time so we scurried out of there to hurry back to Brother’s place.
It was no surprise to be greeted by the aroma of Brother’s home-cooking as soon as we stepped into the apartment! Soon after our arrival, my nephew, Ridhwan, and his family arrived for their Hari Raya visit. After dinner and a few family photos, we took our leave and headed off for’ yes, more food! Richard tempted me with the promise of the best Cheng Tng (a light refreshing dessert soup with longans, barley, agar-agar strips, lotus seeds and a sweet syrup, served hot or cold) this side of the island! Finally, I managed to convince Aisyah and Richard that there was absolutely no other local dish that I had a craving for… They then drop the MOTH & me back at the Grand Mercure Roxy Hotel in Marine Parade. We received a message from Deej that there would be a car with an English-speaking chauffeur waiting for us at the airport in Phnom Penh. Tomorrow, our Cambodia adventure begins!
SOUTH EAST ASIA – Sep 2010
Part 2 – CAMBODIA – Kampot, Kep & Sihanoukville
An uneventful 1′ hour flight from Singapore Changi Airport to Phnom Penh International Airport saw us being waved nonchalantly through the Khmer customs and walking out of the terminal to a horde of Khmer taxi drivers desperate for fares. I spotted a vertically challenged Khmer dude holding a huge sign with our names on it and figured he must have been sent by Deej to pick us up. We got into the Camry taxi and headed out of the airport, destination: Kampot. Just as well I don’t have a weak heart otherwise I could have easily collapsed from the shock of sitting in the taxi as our driver nonchalantly weaved his way against oncoming traffic amidst vigorous tooting of horns from various modes of transport coming from all directions! Finally we got on to the right side of the road but my huge sigh of relief was short-lived as I watched the chaotic but strangely organized driving etiquette of the Khmer road users continued on all the way to Kampot.
During the two-and-a-half hours’ ‘interesting’ drive, I experienced a culture shock like you wouldn’t believe – it was as I imagined what Singapore would have been like in the 1940s’ We passed a village a little out of Phnom Penh and I was amazed to see both sides of the main road lined with countless bakeries. We drove through many road works in various stages of progress along the National Highway No. 3, passing countless paddy fields on both sides with waterways teeming with water convolvulus, water-lilies and hyacinths. Little lopsided stalls by the road-side sell young coconuts, dried cuttlefish, baguettes and unusual looking local snacks that would have attracted the interest of ‘Bizarre Foods’ presenter, Andrew Zimmern. Gigantic ceramic pots which serve as water ‘tanks’ are transported in lots of three or four, precariously placed on a narrow open trailer hooked up by a tow-bar to the back of a motor-bike, nonchalantly ridden by sun-baked scrawny-looking Khmer men. We drove past wee little towns bustling with morning shoppers doing their daily marketing, buying meat from roadside butchers who randomly hacked away at the carcasses hanging from hooks under the blazing sun, generously coated with plumes of dust from nearby roadworks and in the presence of the ever-friendly flies. Local modes of transportation consist of Hi-Ace type vans with passengers very tightly packed like sardines inside with a minimum of two passengers hanging on out the back and about half a dozen sitting on top’ Another mode of transport is the motor-remorque (long open trailers with bench seats attached to a motorbike) ‘ the passengers sit patiently and wait until the driver is satisfied that his trailer is completely packed with no room to move before he starts his engine. I think the operators work on a ratio of 10 drops of fuel per passenger’ The slightly better-off folks will spend a bit more to travel in the Camry taxis with a minimum of 4 passengers in the back and at least 3 in the front with the driver. Finally, there’s the tuk-tuk – small 125cc motor-bikes with a carriage-style roofed trailer attached, designed to carry 4 to 6 passengers. These tuk-tuks are very popular with the tourists.
We finally arrived at the RikiTikiTavi Guesthouse in Kampot. Cost of taxi service was US$40. We were shown to our room by a sweet petite Khmer young lady named Rumdoul (after the fragrant national flower of Cambodia) who manages the guesthouse during the Expatriate owners’ absence. Upon learning that we are Deej’s parents, she decided to play a little prank on us by telling us that there was someone (not Deej) waiting to see us in the restaurant upstairs. While wondering who it could be, we hastily changed into shorts and T-shirts before heading upstairs to meet this ‘someone’. It turned out to be Deej and Gen after all! We were then introduced to the rest of the staff before sitting down to a late breakfast.
After that, Deej drove us in his Toyota Camry (nicknamed ‘Cameron’) to his home by the river for a tour of the compound before we went for a little drive. Failing to find the rambutans I wanted (out of season), Deej drove on to Utopia Guesthouse overlooking the Kampot River for our first taste of the local fare (Prawns in garlic and Lok Lak Chicken). From there it was off to the market to get some fresh tropical fruit before heading back to Rikitiki for the happy hour (2 for 1) session. Gen and I then wandered 2 doors down for an hour-long massage (legs, head, shoulders and back) for a mere US$6 each. Dinner was enjoyed at Wunderbah (US$19, for the four of us, inclusive of wine and fresh fruit juice). We parted company after dinner and looked forward to a sightseeing session with a river boat cruise booked for 3pm.
Today’s sightseeing started off with a tuk-tuk drive with Deej to check out Elephant Cave (Phnom Chhnork cave). It started out as a fairly tame ride down the main street of Kampot, continuing on the major highway until we reached the turn-off to the cave. That was when Dina’s (our tuk-tuk driver) expertise came to the fore ‘ he expertly maneuvered his tuk-tuk along the unpaved dirt road full of huge potholes without incident. In between clutching the hand rail of the tuk-tuk to prevent myself from being tossed out, I managed to click my camera a couple of times, err’ a few dozen times, to capture scenes of paddy fields and quaint attap farm houses with pigs, chickens, buffalos and the odd dog or two. We cheerily reciprocated with ‘sues dei’ (Khmer for ‘hello’ pronounced ‘sue-saw-day’ ) when the local kids raced out of their homes to cheerily yell out, ‘Hello!’ at the top of their voices. We finally arrived at the bottom of the hillside where Elephant Cave is. About half a dozen local kids had followed us on their pushbikes a few metres before our destination and all eagerly volunteered to be our guides. One kid offered to keep an eye on the tuk-tuk, a couple decided to just hang around while the remaining three decided that they will be our guides, come hell or high water.
It was stinking hot but we soldiered on following the walking track to the base of the hill to where wild monkeys were cavorting happily among the branches. We paid US$1 each to the keeper of the cave and proceeded to climb up 103 steps to Elephant Cave. After my puffing and wheezing had eased slightly, I snapped a few, err…. several photos before we made our way back down the hill’ We got back to Kampot in time for lunch before our date with Bart the Boatman who took us on a fantastic 3 hours’ cruise which included a swimming stop and a most interesting ride through nipa palm-lined waterways. We got back just after sunset as the swallows flew home to their nests under the old bridge.
Back to Rikitiki for happy hour drinks before the guys head off down the road for a couple of beers while Gen and I once again made a beeline for the massage parlour before joining our men for dinner of Sunday roast lamb – NZ lamb roasted in Kampot! We parted company after dinner – it was back to Rikitiki for the MOTH and me for a refreshing shower before settling in to watch a documentary entitled ‘Cambodia/Kampuchea’ by James Gerrand.
After breakfast and a quick trip to the jeweller’s stall in the market to get a couple of jewellery items hand-made, we convened at Deej & Gen’s to be introduced to their landlord (Chinn) and his wife, Ung. Upon learning that I like young coconuts, Chinn immediately got Dina to climb up one of his coconut trees to cut off a whole bunch of young coconuts for me to enjoy. Within minutes, I was drinking the best tasting young coconut ever! After Dina’s departure, I headed into the kitchen to show Synat how to cook fried bee hoon with water convolvulus and sliced chicken. We must have been ravenous as the wokful of noodles was consumed within minutes.
After lunch, Gen drove the MOTH and me back to Rikitiki for the MOTH to watch motor-racing on cable TV while I went walkabout in search of a beauty salon for a facial. I had no trouble finding the beauty salon and after an impromptu impersonation of Marcel Marceau, I managed to get my message across. I enjoyed a most relaxing hour-long facial treatment for US$5 before making my way back to Rikitiki. Deej and Gen arrived soon after to take us to Traeuy Kaoh Wat on Fish Isle. A monk, obviously keen to practice his English with us, proceeded to tell us his life story and also about Buddhism’ There we stood in the middle of the wat and man, was he well and truly wound up! Finally, we managed to leave without appearing rude and we headed off to Bodhi Villa for afternoon drinks and dinner before we were dropped off back at Rikitiki.
Today it was off to a pepper plantation at Phnom Voar. We left the plantation with a bag of black peppercorns and went on to Kampong Trach Cave and Kiriseila Pagoda, near a gemstone cave which unfortunately is not easily accessible. As soon as our car pulled up at the cave checkpoint where we paid US$1 a head entrance fee, a gazillion kids appeared from out of nowhere to be our guides and despite our refusal, the persistent little tykes jumped on their pushbikes and followed us all the way to the cave. It was a rather irritating experience trying to take photos of Buddha statues and cave formations while little heads kept popping up at random intervals. We very quickly lost interest and left shortly afterwards to Deej & Gen’s for lunch of yummy Fish Amok (a semi-spicy coconut milk based fish dish containing garlic, onions, turmeric, lemon grass with a mild hint of chillies) cooked by Synat, the housemaid.
After lunch, Gen opted for a siesta while Deej accompanied the MOTH and me to the market where our eyes and noses barely stood up to the challenge of the heat-ripened odours of rotting fish guts, prawn shells, various dried seafood, seaweeds, etc’ I purchased a few sapodillas before we left the market scene behind us and headed back to Rikitiki for a refreshing shower before refreshments while waiting for Gen to join us for dinner. Tomorrow we will head for Kep where the MOTH and I will be staying for a couple of days before returning to Kampot to celebrate Deej’s birthday.
As soon as breakfast was over, I wandered down the side street and after another Marcel Marceau miming routine, I sat down for a manicure and pedicure which took care of two hours of the morning for the princely sum of US$1! Back to Rikitiki I raced to join the MOTH and it wasn’t long before Deej and Gen arrived to take us to Kep for a couple of nights’ stay at the Veranda Natural Resort where we had booked accommodation at ‘The Residence’ suite. Deej drove us in Cameron into Kep but our suite at the Veranda wasn’t ready, so we left our bags at the reception and headed down to the waterfront restaurant called Kimly for a hearty lunch of pepper crabs freshly taken from one of the many crab baskets that were floating gently to and fro in the ebbing tide and other equally delicious seafood. From there we had a brief drive around Kep before checking in at the Veranda. Deej and Gen drove back to Kampot to await the arrival of my Singaporean niece, Aisyah and a couple of their mates who were coming from Battambang.
‘The Residence’ suite was awesome! It was HUGE with every creature comfort catered for! After admiring the views from our private terrace, we went downstairs to check out the amenities – a large swimming pool, a restaurant serving food in a huge dining veranda with WiFi access, a fully stocked bar, a bakery and an ice creamery! Back upstairs for a siesta before booking a tuk-tuk for a sightseeing tour of the area. A polite Khmer guy named [email protected] showed up after a bit of a wait and he suggested a little tour which included catching the sunset before bringing us back to the Veranda for the princely sum of US$8. The tour was worth every cent, especially the final stop at a seaside park to see the statue of King Khorn with a beautiful sunset as a backdrop. We gave him US$2 tip and he was so happy that he gave us his contact number, should we need his services again.
We then chilled out in the restaurant/bar area where the MOTH enjoyed his couple of beers while I sipped my Margarita. A mutual decision was made to have our dinner there before retiring for the night and as we were both feeling rather peckish, we ordered a plateful of French fries served with aioli (garlic mayo) while waiting for our main meal of seafood pizza. Well, our pizzas arrived soon after and they were super huge! There was no way either of us would be able to finish them so we arranged for the second pizza to be sent up to our suite for a midnight snack. Tomorrow, Deej and Co. will meet up with us at the jetty for a long-tail boat trip to Koh Tonsay (Rabbit Island).
After a scrumptious complimentary buffet breakfast, we went back upstairs for a morning siesta until 11.30am when a phone call to [email protected] soon got us to the Rabbit Island long boat jetty to meet up with the rest of the “gang” for our boat ride to Koh Tonsay (Rabbit Island). We had to take two boats (US$20 return trip per boat) and a slightly bumpy boat ride later saw us enjoying a refreshing swim after placing our lunch order at the beach restaurant on the island. After a yummy seafood lunch, we decided to call it a day as it looked like a storm was brewing and the boatmen were starting to get a tad twitchy.
An unfortunate incident when attempting to get into the long boat saw me taking an impromtu swim before a quick ‘rescue’ effort by my MOTH. From the jetty, we headed back to the Veranda where the young ‘uns enjoyed a few drinks by the poolside while I showered and changed. After pre-dinner drinks, our belly worms began to growl for something more substantial, so off we set in two vehicles to get to Kimly by the sea for our lavish seafood dinner. Dinner over, we parted company with the young ‘uns who returned to Kampot.
The next morning, after breakfast, the MOTH checked his phone to see a cute message from [email protected] wishing us well and a return message of thanks together with a request for a trip back to Kampot soon had him appearing at The Veranda. Our bags were loaded into the tuk-tuk and off we went. He stopped to show us where he lives – in a wee little house on a fairly large block of land which belongs to a widowed friend who couldn’t manage the fruit plantation so, in return for a rent-free house, [email protected] and his wife would pick the fruit and sell them in the nearby market with profits going to their widowed friend. He explained that his two kids (6yo boy and 5yo girl) were on their own in the house as his wife was in the market selling fruit. I had earlier packed up the uneaten seafood pizza so I offered it to [email protected], who delightedly accepted it.
We had a great tuk-tuk trip back to Kampot with [email protected] ever obligingly stopping whenever asked, so we could take photos of the local scenery. Feeling extra generous, we doubled the usual US$10 fare and in return, we were heaped with Buddha’s blessings’. After arrival at Rikitiki, we met up with Aisyah upstairs while she was enjoying a late breakfast. To kill some time, we went for a leisurely walk to the market with Aisyah. I don’t think Aisyah was too impressed with the stench of the market, especially in seafood section so we didn’t linger for too long’ The MOTH and I bought a couple of Oxford Khmer/English dictionaries at a little book-store (which I nicknamed “Officeworks”) outside the market as a present to Rumdoul, who is studying for a degree in business management in the tourism industry and goes around with a tattered dictionary which she constantly refers to like a bible. Needless to say, Ramdoul was speechless with delight…
Dark clouds were gathering fast as we waited impatiently for Deej to arrive to take us to his house for lunch, after which, we went to the gazebo by the river at the back of the house and before we could blink, their landlady came racing out with her granddaughter with 4 rolled up mats for us to sit on while we took in the river views. Her husband soon appeared and insisted that we should try some summer rolls (fresh shrimp rolls) and dumplings with the special dipping chilli fish sauce from a passing vendor. Delicious! Afterwards, Gen stayed back for a little siesta while Deej took us for a walk on the old disused railway bridge where we spent 20 minutes waiting for the Cham Khmer (Muslim Khmer) fishermen to go out in their boats after their late afternoon prayers. We then continued walking to Rikitiki while perspiring like hogs in the very humid condition left by the downpour earlier.
After a quick shower and change of clothes, we got into Dina’s tuk-tuk to get to Bodhi Villa. We enjoyed a fine dining experience with thin sliced potato chips, vegies sticks with a hummus dip and super yummy beef spring rolls. This was quickly followed by a chicken curry and a beef curry served with rice and hot crusty bagettes. Drinks all around and after presents were opened and the 3 birthday cakes cut, (rainbow cake from Dina, chocolate cake and a cheesecake from Gen), the band started playing. The joint was soon rocking but we oldies decided to call it a night at about 11pm. Dina brought us back to Rikitiki before heading back to Bodhi Villa to give more rides to those who have had enough. For us old farts, sleep beckoned’
Aisyah and I went for a full body massage at the Khmer Lady Massage (US$6 each) after a quick trip to the market to pick up my jewellery. Back to Rikitiki to learn from a phone call that birthday boy Deej had stayed up till 3am at Bodhi Villa drinking shots from all his mates after Gen left for home at midnight! Nursing a massive hangover, Deej only got out of bed 4 times…to throw up! Gen arrived at Rikitiki to farewell Aisyah who left by taxi for a night in Phnom Penh to catch an early flight back to Singapore tomorrow morning. The MOTH and I spent the afternoon with Gen at the rapids at Prek Thnout Community Based Ecotourism reserve (US$3pp entry fee and 75cts for parking). There were quite a few people there who had come to indulge in fully-clothed swimming sessions in the rapids before socialising happily in the picnic huts along the stream.
That done, we returned to their place and hung around the gazebo and again watched the Cham Khmer (Muslim Khmer) fishermen to go out in their boats right on 5pm, while waiting to see if Deej felt well enough to have dinner with us. Unfortunately, he was still feeling a bit under the weather so he missed out on a delicious dinner with us at Blissful, an ex-pat backpacker-type restaurant that Gen took us to. Tomorrow, we will check out of Rikitiki to go to Sihanoukville with Deej and Gen to spend the day and a night there before they take us to Phnom Penh for an early morning flight to Singapore on the 21st.
Soon after our arrival in Sihanoukville, we checked into the Beach Club Resort in Tola St (US$25 [off peak rate, buffet breakfast @ US$4pp]). After s short power nap, we joined Deej and Gen by the poolside and a bit later, the four of us sauntered down to Ochheuteal Beach. [The name Ochheuteal Beach comes from the name of the small river at the southern end of the beach. In Khmer, Chheuteal is a type of tree. The creek is called O-Chheuteal and the beach is named after the creek.] We decided to have our afternoon drinks at Kaya Shack, one of many, many beachfront restaurant shacks desperate for business in the off-peak tourist season. One drink led to another as we waved away about 200 masseurs, bling vendors, youths selling sunglasses, maidens selling fresh fruit, fried mantra shrimps, cooked sand crabs, various Khmer hawker foods and beggars galore. What a relaxing experience it was to lie back on the beach chair and sip on a Mai Tai while getting a leg massage and pumice treatment on my feet (US$8)…
We continued our happy hour drinking until sunset and as if on cue, our bellies began to rumble for a re-fuel so we paid for our drinks (US$21) with the intention of checking out another restaurant shack. Feeling a bit on the lazy side, it didn’t take much for us to be convinced to stay and dine there instead. We sat down to a candlelit dinner of a seafood platter for 2 (US$12) and a whole barbecued fish for Deej and Gen to share (US$6). With our full bellies, we walked leisurely back to our rooms at the Beach Club Resort and re-grouped 10 mins later to walk to the night market near the Golden Lions Traffic Circle. Not at all what I was expecting – visions of souvenir shopping very quickly disappeared as we set eyes on some bizarre foods on offer – deep fried crickets, bbqed snakes, fried grubs, crispy fried frogs, bbqed chicken wing tips, chicken feet, snails and so on – the kind of bizarre foods that would have Andrew Zimmen licking his chops! Photo session over, we made our way back to the Beach Club Resort. We called it a night and will meet at 8.30 in the morning for breakfast.
Thought we’d lash out and have breakfast at the elite Independence Hotel..Got there and checked out the buffet spread at US$12 but opted out when we found out that 70% of the food there had some form of pork product. So back in the car to head off to Sakal Bungalows at Independence Beach for a Western breakfast (total cost was US$15.25]. On the way back to Beach Club Resort, Deej stopped at a section of the road that had a roadside stall selling water, bananas and peanuts so tourists like us can buy food to feed the many monkeys there. We gladly parted with 4000 riels (US1) for a small bunch of bananas and a small packet of shelled peanuts to hand-feed our furry friends. Came back to check out of the Beach Club Resort to get on our way to Phnom Penh. We stopped for late lunch at a modern restaurant ‘Yi Sang-Ppsez’, not far from the city. Total cost was US$26 with a complimentary mini moon-cake each.
We drove through the city in peak hour traffic and I was very, very impressed by Deej’s driving skills in Cambodian traffic – I just hope he does not bring it home to Australia. We finally found our way to the Feeling Home Guesthouse, checked in and reconvened half an hour later for a spot of shopping at the Shopping Center Sorya Ltd. Deej felt like Vietnamese Pho (Beef Noodle Soup) so we jumped into a tuk tuk but Deej lost his sense of direction and we got off in the wrong street. Oops! Not to worry, the night was still young so we walked right around the block, nervously following Deej and Gen as they casually cross the busy streets almost as well as the locals. Wouldn’t you know it, when we got there, the establishment was shut for renovations. Well, no choice but to walk for another block to find another restaurant that has Pho on its menu. Aha! Found it! High fives all around as we eagerly entered. We chuckled over the dishes on offer in the extensive menu – a few penis dishes and funny misspelt English translation of local dishes. After a complimentary dessert of banana with sago in coconut milk, we had a leisurely stroll back to our guesthouse. Tonight’s dinner cost US$16.80. We said our goodbyes as we will be leaving early tomorrow morning and declined Deej’s offer to drive us to the airport. Arranged for a wake-up call for 7am and for a taxi to take us to airport at 7.30am (US$10 fare).
We thanked our lucky stars we decided against taking a tuk-tuk to the airport as we would probably have arrived at the airport a lot greyer! The morning peak hour traffic was horrendous to put it mildly – motorbikes, bicycles, tuk-tuk, taxis, motor cars, pick up trucks, vans and vendors pushing or pulling their food carts went in every which way in the most disorganized manner I have ever seen. Motorists drove with one hand on the steering wheel and the other permanently fixed on the horn! FINALLY, we were able to breathe a sigh of relief as we turned into the Phnom Penh International Airport…
The last three days of our holiday were spent with my family in Singapore, eating, shopping, more eating, more shopping and yet more eating… What a fantastic three weeks’ holiday – one we’ll reminisce about while we sit in our rocking chairs in our future years.