outside Ta Prohm
Many people have a visit to the famed Angkor Wat as part of their bucket list. I have a Things to Do Before I Die List and it's definitely been on there for some years. When my friend told me he was heading there last month, I was a bit jealous. Then I got an awesome airfare and ended up joining him.

Tuk tuk drivers are always on their toes as salesmen. As I've mentioned in Bangkok to Siem Reap - Train or Bus?, drivers will try very hard to become your driver for the duration of your stay. They will also try to sell you sites as distant as they can. Such was the case with Mr. Song who convinced us to go the floating village an hour away. Having him for the afternoon to do so would cost us $15.

We were a bit miffed to arrive, after bumping over unpaved roads, at a boat dock and told it was another $15 each to see the floating village. We had naively been under the impression he would take us ashore from the village. We later discovered why. The floating village really is floating in the middle of Tonle Sap Lake's shallow shores. 

We know the country as Cambodia, but the history and region are Khmer. What's that? The empire that built Angkor Wat and many other temples through Southeast Asia was the Khmer empire. The empire ran through today's Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam and ran from about the 8th century to the 13th century. Today the term "Khmer" is still used throughout the country. 

When you walk through areas that cater to tourists the restaurants will often have signs saying what foods they serve: Western, Thai, Khmer. The difference between Thai and Khmer food is primarily spiciness. Thai food uses a lot more peppers to get really firey hot in spice level. Khmer food is spicy in terms of flavor versus heat. Thai curry will be hot spicy, Khmer curry would be considered mild and often doesn't have any peppers in it at all.

The two national dishes would be considered Amok and Lok Lak. Amok can be made with any meat or fish and can be described as close to a green curry, but again, without the spicy heat. Lok Lak, usually beef, is served on a bed of lettuce, cucumbers, and tomatoes and dipped in a sauce consisting of lime juice, salt and black Kampot pepper. 

Khmer BBQ pan

My first post on Cambodian food covered national dishes. This post is mostly photos from my visit to the local food market in Siem Reap. First, let me share a video of a roadside snack. I had read about these rice snacks on the internet and so when I saw them on the road to Tonle Sap Lake, I had our tuk tuk driver stop.

This is a chè vendor. It's a dessert made with sweet syrup or pudding and then whatever you want: beans, jellies, tapioca pearls, fruit, etc. 

I've been eating a lot more Asian food this last year. In particular, I've been ordering a lot of ramen and then making a lot of congee at home with my homemade bone broth. I often use a rotisserie chicken for my congee, but pork is my favorite meat and I wanted something with more flavor to top off the congee.

I've tweaked a recipe I found on the internet by adding a few more ingredients and adjusting the amounts. I wanted the pork to be on the saucier side.

Asian-style Pulled Pork

1/2 cup low sodium soy sauce
1 tsp ground allspice
1/3 cup brown or coconut sugar
2 Thai chilis - minced
1 tsp minced ginger
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1 tsp sesame oil
3 lbs pork shoulder

In a slow cooker combine all the ingredients except the pork. Turn the heat on to high for about 5 minutes in order to melt the sugar into the liquids.

Cut the pork shoulder into large chunks. Put into slow cooker and toss to coat with the sauce. Lower the heat to low and cook for 6 hours.

Take two forks and shred the tender pork into pieces, coating and mixing with the sauce that has been created.

Use to top noodles, rice, congee, ramen, or to fill steam buns. 

Many times tourists traveling to Thailand will also venture to Cambodia to see the famed Angkor Wat temples. After all, it's only a 30 minute flight or day's journey away. Had I understood my friend's visa predicament, I would have flown directly into Cambodia, but instead I landed in Bangkok and had to make my way to join him.

The city near Angkor Wat is Siem Reap. You can get a connecting flight there from Bangkok for as little as $50, I'm told, but I opted to take the land journey. This gave me two options - train or bus. In the end I took the bus after my friend had taken the train the day before. Here is what we learned and why I recommend the bus.


My friend's Thai visa ran out and so he needed to be out of the country or pay a fine for overstaying his visa. Therefore, he had to cross to Cambodia on the day that I was flying over from the U.S. and he could not wait for me. He opted to take the train and later discouraged me from taking it myself.

There are two daily trains that leave for the border with Cambodia - at 05:55 in the morning and the afternoon one at 1:05. They start at Hualamphong station in downtown Bangkok and make a few stops as it heads out of the city. In fact, when I was deciding, my hotel concierge was telling me not to go all the way downtown so early in the morning when the train was going to pass by a closer station to my airport hotel anyway. The issue, according to my friend Rod, is seats. He got on at the Hualamphong station and ended up with the last seat. He warned me if I got on at a later station, I risked having to stand for part of the journey, who knows how long.

royal palace phnom penh cambodia
We called it Pigeon Park, in front of Royal Palace, because locals sell corn and feed the pigeons

My trip this month to Cambodia had been a spur-of-the-moment decision. A friend is traveling Southeast Asia and when he said he was going to Angkor Wat, I mentioned it was on my Things to Do Before I Die list. When I found an airfare for as low as $522 round trip, I couldn't pass it up. It's been 30 years since I was last in Asia - 1986. In that time the internet and wi-fi have come into existence as well as dozens of new airlines. It's made travel that much easier and affordable.

tuk tuk siem reap cambodia
with our tuk tuk driver, Mr. Song

I've just returned from two weeks in Cambodia and I was pretty impressed. While it's still a developing country, it has a lot going for it. Cambodians are very friendly people and we had nothing but pleasant encounters with everyone.

They work in US Dollars $$$! Talk about making life so much easier! Most of the time you will find things priced in US Dollars, but if you ask, they'll quickly tell you the dollar equivalent price from their Riel. Because they only work with paper money, you may end up getting change back in a mixture of dollars and riels. For instance, if your bill comes to $8.50 and you give them a $10 bill, you'll get $1 and then 2000 riel in change. Basically, 1000 riel equals a quarter. When coming from the U.S., bring nice, crisp bills. They do not want old, raggedy dollars and I even saw a restaurant argue over accepting a $20 with a rip.