Cambodia

I'm finally on to the travelling part of my South East Asian adventure! First stop: Cambodia.

Sunrise at Angkor Wat
There are many touristy things to do in Cambodia: Angkor Wat in Siem Reap; the Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng torture prison in Phnom Penh, all of which are popular backpacker attractions. However the place I most enjoyed was a remote hippie haven off the coast of Sihanoukville called Koh Rong.
Away from harassing tuk tuk drivers, identical souvenir stands, and the creepy sexpats that populate most popular areas in SEA, I enjoyed some peace and quiet soaking up the sun on the beach, in paradise. We booked accommodation on the island for only two nights at first, but ended up extending our stay to a week! It's alluring beaches and island way of life charmed us completely. Being isolated from the tourist traps also meant ditching the luxuries of running water, reliable wifi and 24 hour electricity. But getting away from all modern conveniences gave me time to truly relax and reflect after a full-on 6 months of teaching.
Koh Rong


Sunset on Long Beach, Koh Rong

Travelling through Cambodia was an eye opener for me. The disparity of wealth is apparent everywhere you look, with buildings in dire states of disrepair shouldering gated mansions. Streets were lined with small local eateries that lacked any food hygiene standards, and I even saw a dog being spit-roasted to the side of one restaurant (it's safe to say this put me off ordering any meat for a while in Cambodia!) Stick-thin children wearing dirty, scruffy rags are on every street corner and outside each restaurant spouting rehearsed scripts with the aim of guilt-tripping wealthy westerners into buying their knock off merchandise.
However, buying from these underage street vendors does not help them. Their parents have chosen to exploit them in this way; each day the child returns from a successful day of selling, it encourages their parents to continue sending them out on the streets to make a living, instead of sending them to school.

I was impressed to find that there are many restaurant charities set up in Phnom Penh that invest their profits back into educating homeless or orphaned young people in the hospitality trade, employing and training them in a steady job. One example is the popular tapas bar Friends; I really regret not getting a chance to eat here, because their Ethos is really great (check out their website here). Similarly there are restaurants and massage parlours that employ only blind staff, or women who have been victims of the sex trafficking trade prolific in Cambodia.

Whilst travelling, I love to sample lots of different local foods, and I have found the Cambodian cuisine to be surprisingly tasty; it's generally not as spicy as thai food, but is arguably more flavoursome. The Khmer (or Amok) curry is a must-try dish of the region. It's best described as a fusion of Thai and Indian cuisine, with all the ingredients popular In Thai cooking- garlic, lemongrass, ginger and sweet basil, coconut milk- mixed with the earthy tastes of turmeric and fragrant coriander used in Indian cuisine. This soupy curry also has a hint of peanuts in the sauce, which gives it a creamy consistency and satay-like taste. It's loaded with vegetables such as sweet potato, carrots, onions, cauliflower, potatoes, and green beans, and typically comes with chicken (although I'd often get it without any meat at all). The best I had was at the Khmer Kitchen Restaurant in Siem Reap, in the main backpacker area 'Pub Street'.
Khmer vegetable curry

 This is a dish I'll definitely be trying to recreate when I'm back home in dreary England thinking of the Orient!

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