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Cambodia in Pictures

I am really glad that we went to Cambodia…we made some really great memories and got to spend some quality time with our dear friend Zach (who is moving to Jeffrey’s Bay on January 31!!)…it was a whirlwind…I wouldn’t say it was super relaxing…we definitely weren’t spoiled with fancy hotel rooms (they don’t have Holiday Inn so we couldn’t use our points!)…and our stomachs didn’t really agree with some of the food there BUT Cambodia is a beautiful country with beautiful people…incredible suffering and injustice, but incredible warmth and love.

We started our trip with a night in the Capitol-Phnom Penh…it is a crazy crazy city…picture and ant pile…but instead of ants, small motorbikes with three or four people packed on them.  That is what the street looks like.  There is no “right” side of the road, there is no side”walk” because people drive ON them…there is NO yield to pedestrians law…it was crazy, and hot, and dusty…after one night, we were ready to see a new part of the country!  The next morning, we got up early and hopped on a bus to Sihanoukville, a small beach town about 4 hours South…when we arrived, we were really happy with what we found!  It was a far cry from the madness of Phnom Penh…it was gorgeous, slow paced, so fun!

The beaches were full of locals selling food, jewelry, pedicures, threading (the eyebrow plucking technique you see in malls here), you could pretty much buy anything on the beach…one Cambodian “dish” being sold put my century old egg to shame…they sell FERTILIZED EGGS to EAT…yes, little chicken fetuses!  You crack the egg open, pour some sauces in, and then eat the little birdie with a spoon.  Don’t worry- I did not feel compelled to try this (but I did stand and stare in amazement as a 6 year old little girl devoured one!)

After a short but lovely stay at the beach, we took another overnight bus to Siem Reap!  Siem Reap is in Northwestern Cambodia and it has a rich history…it is home to the Angkor Temples.  But, before we went to see the temples, we needed a day to rest and refuel…so we headed to The Blue Pumpkin (Zach had been to Siem Reap before and couldn’t stop talking about this place…and their mango danishes, so we had to try them!)  Try them we did…and we went back every day for danishes and what I would consider the only half way descent cup of coffee that you can find in the entire country of Cambodia!  I don’t know what they put in their coffee but I could literally barely swallow it…kind of the combination of coffee and mud!

After breakfast, we headed to the Farmers Market to look at all of the unique Cambodian foods…

Then, we decided to take another cooking class, to learn about Cambodian cooking and Khmer culture.  This class was really different…not nearly as detailed as Yui’s, but it was a really fun way to spend the afternoon!  We each got to pick an appetizer, a main dish and a dessert to make.  I chose to make spicy shrimp salad…a mixture of shredded carrots, shredded cucumber, basil, mint, cilantro, red pepper, onion and a sweet sauce.  We topped it with steamed shrimp and crushed peanuts.

Gavin and Zach opted for soup…Gavin made potato and Zach made Pumpkin.

For the main dishes, Zach and I both made Chiken Amok and Gavin made beef Lok Lak.  Chicken Amok is Cambodia’s version of curry.  The curry paste is made by grinding lemon grass, garlic, shallots, tumeric, finger root and ginger root in a mortar and pestle…to make the dish, coconut milk, broccoli leaves (the part that normally gets thrown away before the broccoli even makes it to the grocery store!) and chicken get simmered together.  It is served with steamed rice.  Lok Lak is a combination of Oyster sauce, ketchup, soy sauce, sugar and chicken bouillon and beef.  You simply stir fry it together and serve it with rice.

The food was ok…not something I really care to ever make or eat again, but the class was a fun way to spend the afternoon!  The next day, the real fun of Siem Reap began…Angkor!  We started our day at 4:30am with a bike ride about 10K outside of the city to try to make sunrise at Ankgor Wat (a beautiful temple built in the 12th century).  Now, I am really not one for waking up at 4:30 am…but this was TOTALLY worth it!  Starting the morning with a brisk bike ride, and then getting to watch an unbelievably beautiful sunrise was amazing.

A full day of bike riding and exploring temples left us very very hungry…which was perfect, because on the way home from the temples, we found what turned out to be, by far, the best thing that we ate in Cambodia…bonchaio.  It’s kind of like a crepe…and a lettuce wrap…and a taco mixed together.  The foundation is a very thin mixture of rice flour, water and eggs that is poured into an extremely hot wok.  It is cooked and filled with ground pork and shrimp, and then folded like a big taco.  To eat it, you grab a leaf of romaine lettuce, fill it with herbs and tear off a piece of the taco.  Wrap it up and then dip it in an awesome sauce made of sugar, limes, garlic and peanuts.  YUM!


Day three in Chiang Mai was a little less adventurous and a little more lazy.  We started the day with our favorite market and our favorite coffee lady.  More steamed eggs and sticky rice and more fruit.  The perfect start to a day that would later hold the most terribly disgusting thing that I have EVER put in my mouth…and that is saying a lot considering some of my Africa adventures.

The rest of the day, we walked around Chiang Mai…up to a street market, through Chiang Mai’s version of China Town and up and down the beautiful river street…on the way back to our hotel to clean up and check out to head back to Bangkok and then on to Phnom Penh, Cambodia…I stumbled across the “century egg.”  Usually, I wouldn’t have given this a second look- but I am really strong headed, and before we came on this trip I decided that I would try the”thousand year old egg” if I saw one.  On a back street, in a tiny little house, I saw this bright pink “delicacy” staring me in the face and knew that my time had come…I had to try the egg.

Here is a little blurb from wikipedia about the eggs:  Century eggs are made by preserving duck, chicken or quail eggs in a mixture of clay, ash, salt,lime, and rice hulls for several weeks to several months, depending on the method of processing. Through the process, the yolk becomes a dark green and creamy with a smell ofodor of sulphur and ammonia, while the white becomes a dark brown, transparent jelly with little flavor.[citation needed] The transforming agent in the century egg is its alkaline material, which gradually raises the pH of the egg to around 9, 12, or more during the curing process.[1] This chemical process breaks down some of the complex, flavorless proteins and fats, which produces a variety of smaller flavorful compounds.

The eggs are left underground for 100 days, the shell turns bright pink from the chemical reactions, and the eggs are ready to be eaten.  According to the sweet lady I bought mine from “all you need is a little soy sauce.”

So, I bought one, peeled it, and was instantly assaulted by a stink like no other…seriously I can’t even describe it…but I decided to press on (how often do you get to eat congealed brown and blue eggs anyways!?)  I took a little bite of what used to be the white (now clear brown) and honestly, it wasn’t too bad.  So, I pulled my poor sweet husband in to my little taste adventure…I assured him it wasn’t as bad as it looked and gave him half.  We then proceeded to take a bite all the way through, into the heart of the matter…the black and blue completely putrid yolk.  I can NOT describe to you the instant vomit reflex that I was holding back.  I didn’t want to offend the sweet lady…so somehow I said “YUM, thank you!” and Gavin and I ran off, around the corner and gagged, and spit and laughed so hard our stomach’s hurt because when we opened our mouths, our teeth were stained with a nasty blue green film.  Luckily, our saving grace was just around the corner…fresh squeezed passion fruit juice.  We bought one and chugged it down…then we found a diet coke and chugged it too…then we bought wasabi peas in one last ditch effort to get the taste out of our mouths…and it worked!!

After the trauma, we headed back to the hotel, packed our back packs and made the 3 mile trek to the train station for our night train back to Bangkok.  (I took pictures of the train…but recently lost my cell phone so they got lost too!)  The train ride was pretty cool…and the walk to the station gave me a very deep respect for mountain climbers that drag big bags up the side of a mountain…hold cow, my butt and legs burned like the dickens the next day!

The Jungle Book

Day two in Chiang Mai started off with a visit back to our favorite market and our favorite coffee lady and her sweet husband.  We ordered coffees, a fruit smoothy and ate steamed eggs and rice…very yummy!

Then we headed off on our first big adventure…a trek through the Thai jungle!  We started our trek with a stop at the Butterfly/ Botanical Gardens right outside of Chiang Mai.  The orchids and flowers were completely breath taking.  It was so beautiful to see God’s intimacy and attention to detail through the perfect design of each flower and each unique and graceful butterfly.

From there, we headed about an hour North, following the Ping river into a very rural and very beautiful area….the drive in itself was beautiful…but it got even better when we reached our destination…put on the grossest smelling life jacket and helmet, had absolutely no instruction, and went white water rafting back down the river seeing lush, beautiful landscape along the way.  I wouldn’t say the white water rafting was very thrilling (there were like 3 really small rapids) but it was incredibly beautiful and refreshing (the day was SUPER hot and the water was SUPER cold!)

After our rafting adventure, we headed deeper into the forest for the most anticipated (and my favorite) part of the day…ELEPHANT RIDING!!  In South Africa, we have been to Addo Elephant park quite a few times and we love getting to see such huge, powerful, beautiful creatures in such close proximity…but in Addo, the elephants are wild and very intimidating….this was an entirely different experience…a very up close and personal experience!  We got to ride the elephants through the jungle and see gorgeous landscape…but the most impressive thing to me was the gentleness and the agility of the elephants.  These huge creatures gently and effortlessly navigate through thick vegetation,across rivers and up hills…and sitting on their backs is as comfortable and smooth of a ride as an SUV on GA-400!  Looking at the intricacies of the elephant, the tick padding on their feet, the unique “fingerprint” on their ears, the spotted beauty of their skin, the strength of their trunks, I was again reminded of how “in the details” God really is.  It was completely amazing!

After the elephant riding, we were ready for a break and again, really hungry…so we headed to the base for lunch.  Neither of us were expecting much  considering we were in the middle of rural Thailand…but we were very pleasantly surprised by a beautiful buffet lunch of fresh stir fried veggies and tofu, sweet and sour red and green peppers and onions with fresh pineapple, pad Thai noodles and sticky rice.  YUM!  We ate a lot and then got ready for our next adventure…a trip further down the river on a National Geographic style bamboo raft!

The lower part of the river was very slow moving, calm water that weaves through little villages.  We got to climb on the raft and ride about an hour down the river just observing the scenery and getting a taste of life in the more rural areas.  It was a very relaxing mode of transportation!

At the end of our “river cruise” we had one last adventure…an hour long hike to a waterfall!  We started our trek off the side of the road and walked deeper and deeper into the jungle.  We were surrounded on all sides by banana trees, mango trees and coconuts EVERYWHERE!  If I was ever to be stuck in the woods Bear Grills style, this is THE place that I would choose!  The hike was beautiful…but the waterfall was even better.  Our hike lead us to a incredibly tranquil oasis in the jungle…it was relaxing to the maximum…and the best part…there was a lady there with a tiny little cart MAKING FRESH PAPAYA SALAD!

Oh my goodness, what could be better than a beautiful waterfall in the middle of Thailand and fresh papaya salad with crab meat in it!  At this point, I wasn’t even hungry, but you know I was first in line for the salad, and I enjoyed every tangy, sweet bite!  The perfect end to a perfect day of Thai adventures!

After enjoying Bangkok for a few days, we hopped an overnight bus to Chiang Mai…a city located about 9 hours north of Bangkok.  We arrived around 6am after a surprisingly decent nights sleep on the bus and found our way to the Holiday Inn.  We have accumulated a lot of hotel points and decided to cash them in on the trip…and WOW, we are so glad that we did.  The Holiday Inn in Chiang Mai made us feel like royalty….not only was our stay free, they upgraded us to a suite that was basically bigger than any apartment that we have lived in.  We had an unbelievable view over the Ping River and really the entire city.  We were spoiled with fresh fruit baskets, chocolate trays, and fancy drinks through out our stay…what a huge, relaxing blessing!

Once we settled into our new home, we booked a cooking class (probably our favorite part of the trip so far).  We were picked up from our hotel by Yui in a 1960′s VW van and taken to her beautiful home to learn to cook Thai food.  Yui is an excellent chef known throughout Chiang Mai and we were so impressed by not only her teaching methods, but also the care and technique that she puts into each dish.

When we arrived, she gave us the run-down on all of the most important Thai ingredients.  What they are used for, what they should be paired with, and how they should be used to best enhance a dish.  Then we dove straight in to the cooking with the most obvious choice of dishes…Pad Thai!  We each had our own cooking station…so Yui lead us step by step through the proper use of a wok, the proper cutting techniques and took us step by step through making the PERFECT Pad Thai dish.  It had a much different taste than Pad Thai that I have had in the states…the flavors were clean and simple, with just a little added zing from the Thai chili.  After tasting our first dish, we were even more excited for what was to come.

After thoroughly enjoying the Pad Thai, we moved on to another favorite, Tom Yum Soup.  Again, the soup was much easier than it would seam…we started with a basic mushroom broth and then added lots of amazing fresh Thai herbs (that I am really hoping to find in Atlanta), then topped it off with  pranws, mushrooms and some perfectly ripe tomatoes.  The result…a wonderfully soothing, hot and sour soup.  Tom YUM!

After the soup, we moved on to the most challenging dish…Thai curry.  I say it is the most challenging dish because we used home-made red and green curry paste…which has about a million ingredients.  We started with some super creamy coconut milk, followed by garlic and spices, curry paste, onions, Thai green eggplant (think bitter zucchini) and chicken.  Gavin made the green and I made the red so that we could try both.  Once the dishes were finished, Yui brought out a combination of brown, black and purple steamed rice and even though we were quite full, we ate again and it was the richest, creamiest, yummiest Thai curry I have ever had.

After our tummies were about to burst from all of the amazing food, we took a break to head to the local market for a tour and further introduction of Thai veggies, herbs, spices, rices and noodles.  If you know me, you know that one of my favorite places in the world, no matter where in the world I am, is the local market.  I think that these markets are the heart beat of a culture…we spent about an hour walking around, asking questions, trying new fruits and veggies and getting to know the locals (Gavin and I ended up eating every other meal that we consumed in Chiang Mai, right there in that market!)

After our nice market break, we headed back to the house to start our next dishes.  Cashew chicken was next on the list.  Honestly, I wasn’t super excited about this one…it seems pretty boring…but let me tell you, I was eating my words because this one turned out to be my favorite dish.  We started with crispy red peppers, shallots, peppers, garlic and onion, then added the chicken, soy sauce, oyster sauce and fish sauce.  We finished it with the cashews, and fresh green onion.  It took all of 3 minutes to cook, but it was so light and fresh and perfectly crispy…sweet and spicy…so so good!

At this point, I would have been completely satisfied going home because everything was just so good, I felt like we had learned so much, and we were so full…but we still had 2 dishes left.

We moved on to “non-greasy” spring rolls (these weren’t my favorite because they were a little boring but I am glad I learned how to make them!)  We started these rolls with chicken, cabbage, carrots, soy sauce, salt and pepper and then threw in some rice noodles at the last minute.  Then, came the hard part…the rolling technique.  We were given two spring roll wrappers and we scooped filling onto each.  They key to a non-greasy spring roll is the way that you roll it.  It has to be super tight, the same thickness throughout and folded at an exact angle to prevent grease from getting trapped.  Not gonna lie, it took me a good three tries to get it right.  Then we headed for the wok filled with oil and fried our rolls until they were golden brown.  When finished the rolls were beautiful and perfectly crisp (I just thought they needed a little spice)!

The last dish was AMAZING.  Coconut sticky rice with custard and fresh mango.  Though I have loved all of the new fruits that I have tried here in Thailand, mango still holds the keys to my heart….There really isn’t much that taste better to me than a cool, perfectly ripe mango…when you combined this mango with gooey coconut sticky rice and lightly sweetened coconut custard, it makes the perfect dessert….so perfect, that the one picture I took is terrible and makes the dish look pretty unappetizing because we dug in before I thought to take a picture!

There seems to be a China Town in every big city.  Bangkok is no exception and because of our love for dumplings and other delightful dim sum dishes, we decided to venture over to Yarowat Street to explore.  Again, we were completely overwhelmed (that seems to be a theme of our trip) by all that China Town had to offer.  Not only did we find great steamed whole wheat buns and veggie filled dumplings, stores and stores full of children’s toys, jewelry, silks, hair accessories…basically the source for every Dollar General store…we found one of my favorite things in the world, POMEGRANATES…but not just pomegranates, freshly seeded and freshly juiced (literally right there on the street) pomegranates…for $1.50!  I couldn’t believe my eyes…so of course, I ran over and bought some juice…that was perfectly sweet, perfectly chilled, and perfectly suited for a hot Bangkok afternoon.

It is pretty common knowledge that I absolutely love coffee…all kinds.  In South Africa, I fell in love with the rich smoothness of South African coffee.  In Nicaragua and Brazil, I fell in love with the boldness of Central and South American coffee…and now in Thailand, I have completely fallen in love with the nuttiness of Thai coffee…it is seriously amazing and bordering along the lines of addiction!  Thai coffee is not like normal coffee at all.  It is a finely ground bean mixed with a little sesame for extra depth of flavor.  You can get in iced or hot…black, or Thai Style.  I personally like it black and Gavin likes it Thai style…meaning with condensed milk, evaporated milk, and lots of sugar.  We have found all sorts of wonderful road side coffee…and at the Chatuchak market, one very entertaining “barista”!  (video coming as soon as we get better wifi!)
The flight to Bangkok is LONG….and that’s a lot for me to say considering we fly to South Africa 4 times a year!  This flight made the SA flight feel like a cake walk…5 1/3 hours to Seattle…a 2 hour layover.  10 1/2 hours to Tokyo…at 2 hour layover (in a REALLY awesome airport with really yummy dumplings)…a 7 1/2 hour flight to Bangkok…and a 45 minute taxi ride from the hotel.

Needless to say, we were ready to be in Bangkok when we finally arrived!  After a much needed night sleep, we work up ready to go and explore!  I did some research and found a really great “breakfast” market about 2 miles from our hotel…so we started with a walk there, expecting something along the lines of scrambled eggs and rice.  NOT what we found!

Apparently in Thailand, breakfast, lunch and dinner are all basically the same thing…lots of garlic, stir fried veggies, and spicy meats.  We sampled a few things, walked around a bit and then hopped on a train for the ChatuChak Weekend Market.

The market is completely impossible to describe.  There seems to be no beginning and no end, just stuff as far as you can see from every side.  On one street clothes, on another shoes, on another fake designer purses, on another sunglasses, then an entire area dedicated to art and home items…turn the corner and you are surrounded by car parts and license plates…turn the next corner and all you see are fish aquariums…the next streat, live bugs for sale…basically, anything and everything that you can imagine can be found.  After lots of wondering, we found a little restaurant bustling with Thai people and really amazing smelling food….this is the moment that I fell in love with Papaya Salad!

We walked into an alley full of people eating really great looking food, and pointed to it to order as it was being delivered to other people.  We had fried chicken and Papaya Salad.  The salad is fresh and crispy with the perfect mix of sweet, salty and spicy.  It quickly became my go-to meal in Thailand.

After lunch, we walked around the market, completely mesmerized by everything and completely overwhelmed…they had such great things and we didn’t buy anything because we couldn’t take it all in!  After wondering for a few hours, getting some iced coffee (more on this later) and getting lost on back streets, we made our way back to the train and then back to the hotel…then dinner time came and we were craving seafood, so we headed for a sure fire option…the Seafood Market and Restaurant for dinner.

I expected something like the Asian markets in Atlanta- lots of seafood and then a little section of small restaurants, like a food court.  This was NOT anything like that! We walked into a GIANT room, lit with very tacky neon lights and month old Christmas decorations. The entire back of the building was lined with every kind of seafood imaginable! Immediately, a lady with a shopping cart escorted us to the seafood and told us to “shop for dinner.” We found an entire halibut, lump crab meat and prawns and decided to start there. Then, we were lead to the veggie section- we threw in lots of veggies and headed for the check out. We bought our food, just like at the grocery store and then the same lady lead us to a table and left! We had no idea what to do next…then our waiter came and grabbed our cart. He handed us a Thai menu and asked how we wanedt everything cooked- we had NO idea! So, we told him to do what was best and crossed our fingers! About 10 minutes later…this came out…

All in all, it was an AMaZINg meal of super fresh, light seafood and crispy, healthy veggies. It was the most unique dining experience that I have had in quite some time- but one I am really thankful for!

After dinner, we were very full and very tired, so we walked back to the hotel and had a lovely night sleep—a very successful, very fun day in Bangkok!