Mom and Dad did it again.
They spoiled us rotten. To celebrate our last hurrah as an entire Campbell clan in Asia, they flew us all to Malaysia where we spent three wonderful days together.
There were, as often happens while traveling, a few surprises along the way. The first was our hotel in Bukit Tinggi. We felt like we'd been dropped in the middle of a Bavarian village - until an Asian carnival started up at 9am the next morning complete with flea market, midway games, and loud music.
What a fabulous weekend! We feasted, we celebrated and we laughed (there is always plenty to giggle about when you're surrounded by a bizarre and fantastical mix of Eurasian splendour.) And mostly we just loved being together.
One of the best ways to see Cambodia is by bicycle. Cars or buses restrict you to main roads and there is no interaction with the environment. Motorbike is second best but dangerous. Bicycling takes you down small paths, allows you to ford streams and ride is small boats.
In the last few weeks we have done several trips and many more are in planning. First we went with Christie, Chris, and Rob to Chi Phat ecotourism area where we biked in the Cardamom mountains over plains and through jungle with stops at waterfalls for cliff jumping and swimming. Click HERE for route.
Next I went alone with my buddy, Tim, on an ambitious trek from Kirirom to Kampot through the Elephant mountains. Click HERE for route. We eventually ran out of time but spent a couple days on logging roads and camping in the forest (even hearing gunshots at night :0
Our friends Ryan and Daphne moved to Prey Veng city which is 90km by road, 60km by bicycle trail. This route, accessible only in the dry season took us past very remote villages where people use small boats for half the year since the water comes up high on their stilted houses. Click HERE for route.
For our five year anniversary, we decided to take wedding pictures all over again - Cambodian Style. We are not joking. These are what everyone gets for wedding pictures.
Please pay particular attention to my eyebrows. No, they are not large caterpillars above my eyes, they are just thickly drawn in with pencil. This whole, wonderfully fun and fantastic affair took three hours and included three different outfits with matching hairdos (yes, hair pieces were involved) and accessories.
During Khmer New Year holiday, we traveled with friends and family to Bali with a stopover in KL.
In February and March we had not one but TWO fantastic visits from family. Wayne and Sheila and Rob, Christie and Chris all came to visit us in Phnom Penh. We love sharing our favourite adventures with the people we love.
This weekend, 9 of us biked 180km round trip to some temple ruins (Angkor Borei) in southern Cambodia. It was an amazing adventure - such a great way to see Cambodia from a completely different, slower, perspective. Of course, when you set off the beaten path in this Kingdom of Wonder, you really never know what adventures you're going to run into...during this trip, we began to expect the unexpected...
After a breakfast feast at Kamworks where we'd spent the night, the crew set off for a Saturday of cycling. All was going smoothly until the trail we were following ended and we found ourselves unexpectedly needing to cross a small river. Luckily there was a wooden raft/ferry to get us across. Unfortunately, there was no motor on the ferry. There was, however, a long rope hanging between two posts - one on each side of the river. Seriously, once people have piled onto the ferry, the raft owner uses the rope to pull the boat, people and cargo across the river. So, as Cambodians have done for decades, we piled all of our bikes on the raft and got on (leaving hardly any more space).
Being the kind foreigners that we are, we thought we would help the raft guy out. Everyone grabbed a bit of rope and started to heave us across the river.
Except, the current picked up and the boat started to float a bit downstream. As helpful as we tried to be, our big barang bodies got in the way of the rope and once we were halfway across the river, the rope got caught on a few of us whities and sent the boat operator INTO the river - still hanging onto the rope for dear live.
Now we were in a conundrum as the boat started floating downstream away from the boat. (Raft man is still hanging on in the middle of the river). It was so ridiculous and unbelievable all of us started laughing. Paralyzed by laughter! To save the day and the raft, three in our group jumped in the river and started to paddle the boat back to towards the rope. Once we rescued the raft guy, we allowed him to do what he does best - navigate across the river - without our "help".
After so much excitement in one day, we hardly expected what would happen on Sunday. After a long ride along the railroad tracks in desperate search for a bamboo train (construction on the Cambodian railroad is making them much less frequent), we finally found what we were looking for! A very nice man in a very small village happened to have a bamboo train in his house (his bed perhaps?). He and his friends extracted all the pieces from his home and within minutes, we'd piled all of our gear (with centimetres to spare) and were chugging along at 15km/hour down Cambodia's railroad towards Phnom Penh.
It's very likely we could have cycled faster. The railway is in such bad condition we had to stop and heave the train across sections of track that had broken apart. Then, the inevitable happened. We came face to face with another bamboo train coming from the opposite direction. What happens then? The negotiations started. Luckily we were bigger. We won the, but helped the other train dismantle, carry it around ours, and reassemble. The second time this happened, we gave up. Close enough to our destination, we bid goodbye to the bamboo train and finished cycling back to Phnom Penh.
It never ceases to amaze us the adventures you can find when you leave the house for a weekend!
Finally, a suitable group came together with the common ambition to try out a dog restaurant in Phnom Penh. We had already begun working eachother up to the event at lunch, when at a different restaurant there was a beef dish with 'insect sauce' complete with ants and wasps. This dish was actually quite tasty despite the unusual crunch.
The same evening the dog restaurant street was hopping with excitement (a culturally male only event). We were easily offered a table and as many bottles of 25 cent local red rice wine as we wanted. This was nice because the wine was tasty and became a familiar comfort to fall back on when presented with a variety of new dishes and tastes. The barbecued dog on a stick ended up being our favourite - we ordered a second plate. The curried dog was a little tough and dog scalp meat a little dry.
As common in many local restaurants, 'appetizer' vendors circled in and out of the area offering various local snacks. Being in the adventurous mood, we couldn't pass up the fried frogs on a stick and one bag each of fried beetles and crickets. These were surprisingly flavourful.
It was about this time that the ingredients to our fall back comfort item, the red rice wine, was revealed to us. I was told that it is common to add a fruit or herb to color the normally clear drink. This being dog central, they used the ingredients on hand.
Ever since we arrived in Phnom Penh, I started to notice a trend. Khmer women (young and old) wearing two-piece matching pyjamas at all times of the day and night.
It is an unusual trend. They aren't particularly attractive garments. And with a plethora of great threads to buy in the market it's always amazed me how popular these matchies actually are. So, it's been my goal, for almost as long as we've been in Phnom Penh, to at least them and see what the rage is all about.
So, my friend Bethany and I, having recently procured a pair of Matchies each, took the opportunity last Saturday to experience Cambodian Pyjamas for ourselves.
We had a blast. We ran errands, wen to the market, fed an elephant and ate lunch at a tea room. We answered questions bewildered foreigners asked us and we shared knowing smiles with many Cambodians. Ultimately we came to a few conclusions: Matchies are actually quite ugly, they are not built for the ample white bottom (we were paranoid of splitting our pants open all day), and they are really, really hot - a lot hotter than one would expect.
So while the day was fun, we'll be sticking to Western clothes from now on!
We've been talking about this for a few weeks now since the completion of Phnom Penh's first sky scraper but today Dan and I finally put our plan into action. We wanted to try and get to the top of the (Canadia) tower despite the front doors only recently opening to the public street.
To evade security, we decided to dress up business style and walk directly into the tower like we belonged there. This is exactly what we did and although it took a while to find the elevator, we eventually got in and selected the top floor (29). The doors opened at the top and we were startled to discover that the floor was completely under construction. Later we had to take the stairs down because buttons weren't installed yet to call back the elevator for the return journey.
It took little effort from here to climb a couple more flights to the top floor (33rd) and also the find the future public viewing area. We took in the views, indulged in a victory cigar and congratulated ourselves for likely being the first of the public to make the ascension.
This gave us the confidence we needed to next try our charm at Phnom Penh's premier casino, Naga World. This was less successful as our attire didn't generate the same level of respect. We ended up eating street noodles in front of the establishment where we concluded that it was more our style anyway.