Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Phnom Penh: Market Tour and Cooking Class

We took Scuba Steve's advice and scheduled a Khmer cooking class at Linna Culinary School, taught by the lovely Vong Linna, who teaches Khmer cooking to tourists, but also teaches professional courses in Western and other cuisines, as well as food safety to Cambodians.

We had a great time, thanks, Steve!

First, the market tour... Vong Linna was very excited about showing us everything at this bustling and crowded morning market.  It was one long lane of vendors, some with tables, some just selling goods off of a tarp on the ground.

These poor chickens have no idea what fate holds for them in the near future:

I imagine they will soon end up thusly:

Anyone for pork?

Dried fish and lots of it, much probably fished from Tonle Sap, where we had kayaked a few days prior.  Vong Linna told us that whatever fish was not sold fresh on the first day after it was caught was then sold dried:

This honey vendor, my favorite sight of the tour, was wandering the length of the market, selling her goods.  Her honeycomb looks like it was clipped right off of a tree branch, doesn't it?  No fancy bee hives for her.  Plus, the honeycomb comes complete with bees still in it!:

This sorta gives you a sense of how crowded the market was... sorta:

More fish and seafood:

Ok, onto the cooking part of the class.  Vong Linna showed us how to make fresh summer rolls, so we rolled and ate a few to tide us over until the rest of our meal was complete:

Then we headed down for the main event, beef lok lak and Khmer pumpkin soup!  Below are the ingredients for the Khmer pumpkin soup:

Tony and Emily, deep in concentration as they prepped their mise en place:

Me, rocking the mortar and pestle like a boss:

Tim, also showing 'em how it's done with the M&P:

The boys face off in the soup challenge:

Emily assists the chef de cuisine:

In goes the pumpkin:

Keep stirring!

Vong Linna shows me and Tony how to properly flip the beef lok lak:

Finishing off the sauce:

The final result!!! My favorite part was actually the dipping sauce for the beef lok lak... freshly ground Kampot peppercorn plus salt and lime juice... amazing and the perfect acidic complement to the rich lok lak sauce:

Tony and Emily giving their best blue steel with their lovely finished meal:

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Phnom Penh: Royal Palace

After taking in the myriad temples and fascinating floating villages of Siem Reap, we bopped down to Phnom Penh for a few days.  Our first stop, right around the corner from our hotel, was the Royal Palace grounds.

We hired a guide to give us a little history on the palace and royal family.  The guide provided us with some pretty salacious factoids and even added his own color commentary about the current king, Norodom Sihamoni: he started out the tour by saying, and I quote, "You know what they say about men who are bachelors and love ballet." Ummmm... ok.  He also said something about the king having little power and being a ceremonial rubber stamp. These types of comments are in pretty sharp contrast to attitudes about royalty we see in Thailand: complete devotion/adoration.  Pretty interesting!

Anyway, the royal palace serves as the residence of the king and has been occupied since the 1860s. The building above and below is the throne hall, which is used for ceremonies and receiving guests:

The palace walls and victory gate were quite pretty:

This building below, visible from outside the palace walls, is the moonlight pavilion, an open-air stage for classical Khmer dance performances. 

This structure below is the Hor Samran Phirun, which is the building where the king's elephants were historically kept... kinda like an elephant garage or stable.  The balcony on the right is the platform from which the king would climb on the back of the elephant for processions:

The building below is the actual working offices of the royal council:

Cool gate:

There was a troupe of monkeys on the royal palace grounds:

Not pictured because it was undergoing conservation, but pretty interesting nonetheless, is the out-of-place Napoleon III Pavilion, which was gifted by Napoleon to the Cambodian king in 1876.  Our tour guide suggested that the pavilion was basically a thank you gift for the king handing over the keys to the kingdom to the French in the form of a protectorate.

This is the Silver Pagoda, which is the royal temple.  Currently it houses an insane amount of gold and jewels, mainly in the form of thousands of Buddha statues.  It's a bit overwhelming.

One of the many shrines to honor/house the ashes of deceased members of the royal family:

After our tour of the palace grounds, we headed out for a walk around the area, towards the river.  These beautiful lotus flowers were for sale for offerings at a riverside shrine:

Phnom Penh traffic, with the palace grounds in the background:

A cold drink to fend off the heat:

The pretty square in front of the palace.  Lots of people hanging out, including many monks in bright orange robes:

The moonlight pavilion from outside the palace walls:

Coconut water seller:

A pretty sunset from the roof of the nearby Foreign Correspondents Club:

Friday, April 18, 2014

Songkran 2014, Part 2

Later on Sunday evening, after our daytime Songkran playing, we headed back out into the fray.  This time we grabbed a tuk tuk to the Silom area, one of the biggest Songkran waterfight areas in Bangkok.  

The scene at Silom is a bit hard to describe and my video doesn't really help elucidate much, but here's an attempt: pure craziness.  People, water, wet chalk: everywhere.  Absolutely everywhere.  Blocks and blocks of wet, soggy, chalky people spread across a 6 lane road, all having fun, dancing, cheering, smooshing wet chalk on each others faces, squirting each other with water guns, pouring cups/buckets/whathaveyou of water on each other (that water ranged from creepily warm to searingly ice cold).  So much fun!

Here's our arrival on one of Silom's side streets... a few sprays of water and chalky faces here and there at first, followed by the overwhelming sight of all those people on the main drag:

Here's what I mean about people smooshing chalk on each others faces... people bought little bags of chalk pellets along with a small bucket, mixed the pellets with water and then walked around (or stood still as others passed by) and gently touched the faces of the other people, usually saying "Happy New Year" or "Happy Songkran." I read somewhere that the chalk custom is derived from the chalk blessings that monks put on houses, shop windows, and the ceilings of taxis.

Anywho, here's the chalk application... we think a lot of dudes were targeting this girl in front of us because she was cute:

Here are some shots of Tim and Mr. Ben, all chalked up:

And a video selfie:

After all of that chalking, everything was covered in a slick wet paste of sorts... motorbikes, people, the ground...

More craziness, including firehoses, strange guys on motorcycles popping wheelies and getting cheers from the crowd...

There were some characters out that night, including big fat guy dressed up like a baby as well as a two person, baton-throwing parade making its way through the alleys:

And, finally, a stroll down Patpong alley, one of Bangkok's girly bar/red light districts.  It was pretty much just Songkran shenanigans, there, too, as opposed to the type of shenanigans that normal happen in that area.  Also: you can catch a glimpse of Mr. Ben filling up his water gun resevoir at a very sketchy barrel partially full of water of unknown origins.  Gross. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Songkran 2014, Part 1

First off, a Songkran greeting: 

Second, Songkran selfies:

Thirdly, our experience during the day on Sunday at the designated waterfight area in front of one of Bangkok's big malls, Central World.  Craziness!

We had a lot of fun getting soaked and soaking others at this Songkran party (see below), but compared to the shenanigans later in the evening, this was quite tame.  No chalk, no booze... just water and fun!

We definitely had fun later in the evening, too, at one of the other major Songkran sites closer to home, Silom, but I am having trouble getting my video to upload.  Consider it coming soon(ish)!