Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Round the world: Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Where we were

Compared to the identikit shiny, newness of the Asian cities we've visited so far, Phnom Penh was a bit of a shock.  It seemed we were finally and definitely in 'foreignia'; no recognisable shops, no malls, alien aesthetics.  Arriving at night after a surprisingly pleasant and comfortable coach journey from Siem Reap, the bus station was crowded with aggressive tuktuk drivers and unwelcoming stares.  But, while it never quite lost its aggressive edge, over the week we started to see why so many people have fallen in love with this beautifully messy city and why you should always step outside the tourist traps.

Where we stayed

La Rose Boutique, a very new establishment towards the nicer end of town.  Opened in November 2012, you're advised to get in quick while their prices are low, because this is definitely a place on the up and up.   If you can't stay, you should at least go to the restaurant for some of the best food we've had all trip.  The lovely hotel manager arranged a sampler of Cambodia's best dishes for our first night and oh my it was good.  Seriously, seriously good.

On the receiving end of another free upgrade (thanks, universe), we found ourselves in a spa room - double bed, huge bath and separate waterfall shower and our very own massage table.  The hotel has a gorgeously decorated spa on the first floor open to guests and non-guests alike.

Best of all though were the staff, an army of sweet, smiling and funny girls, some of whom were employed through a local charity helping former street children, all of whom were nothing but attentive and helpful.  We didn't hardly have to ask for anything before it was done.  After all my 'DIY is best' sentiment in former travel experiences, these guys made me realise how much nicer it is to ask for assistance when you need it.

What I read

'Wolf Hall' - Hilary Mantell.  Finally got around to this award winning novel and I can safely assert that I see what all the fuss is about.  The third person, present tense narrative from inside Cromwell's head is so clever.  To take a tale for which we all know the end and make it seem like anything could happen is the sort of skill that makes me realise I will probably never write a novel, because there'd be no point if it couldn't be as good as this.

What I listened to

Nothing of note.  A rare occurrence!

What we nommed

The aforementioned delicious 'Cambodian food for beginners' at La Rose's restaurant.  Fish amok, crispy noodle salads and rice porridge were the highlights.

NYE drinks at the Foreign Correspondents Club, a bastion of colonial elegance along the Mekong River.

An excellent pizza with even more excellent company at Nike's Pizza, courtesy of the gorgeous Our Dear Lady Expatriate's Ashley and her lovely man, John.  The pizza was yummy, but more importantly it gave us a chance to see the city through the eyes of people who live and work there.  There was a whole side of town we never would've found without their input.  Cheers guys!

Cocktails at the historically elegant Raffles Hotel Le Royal's Elephant Bar.  Relaxed, welcoming and wildly expensive, it was worth the near-death-experience of crossing the road to get to it.

A fresh and zesty noodle salad at the Boddhi Tree, another charity run affair which helps street kids to learn to chef and waiter/ress.

Homemade ice cream at the Blue Pumpkin on the riverfront.

A green tea and banana smoothie concoction at Cafe Yejj.

What we did

Walked the main length of the Mekong riverfront.  It's a bit of a tourist heavy area supposedly, but didn't feel it as we dodged exercise classes, barefoot football matches (ouch) and food carts.  It was peaceful at sunset, at least compared to the other side of the street, and the photography exhibitions were really interesting.

Got buddha sculpture overload at the National Museum. Just as well they have a lush courtyard to recover you senses in then.

Spent lots of time pointing and gesturing at tuktuk drivers most of whom are out of towners and thus have no better idea where you're going than you do. In fact perhaps less, because you can read a map. Thankfully the western male reluctance to ask for directions doesn't exist and we got everywhere we wanted to eventually and in good humour.

Laughed at ourselves as, wanting to buy some kit for our upcoming Nepal trip, we asked to go to the only mall in the Lonely Planet, expecting something similar to KL and instead found a shiny building exterior full of market stalls, not glossy boutiques.

Were disappointed by the Russian Market.  There was literally nothing there that we would ever want to buy.  And it all looked like it needed a good clean.

Thankfully found the NGO run shops, like Friends, to be reasonably priced and full of innovative, desirable creations.  Bought lots of gifts.

Wandered the lawn outside the Palace soaking up the boisterous evening atmosphere.

Got sickened and depressed at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, a school where the Khmer Rouge tortured and killed an enormous number of people.  They took photographs of every victim, now chillingly displayed on large boards in each room.  I can't really articulate any more than that.  My mind goes to blanks and whys and what the hell is wrong with people's.  I had to go eat ice cream in the sunshine.

Cheered ourselves up with a half day couples spa treatment back at the hotel.  Facial, lengthy full body massage, mani-pedi, foot bath...  I'm going to be so sad when I get back to a land in which these things are prohibitively expensive.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Words are pegs: John Stuart Mill on marriage and equality

"What marriage may be in the case of two persons of cultivated faculties, identical in opinions and purposes, between whom there exists that best kind of equality, similarity of powers and capacities with reciprocal superiority in them--so that each can enjoy the luxury of looking up to the other, and can have alternately the pleasure of leading and of being led in the path of development--I will not attempt to describe. To those who can conceive it, there is no need; to those who cannot, it would appear the dream of an enthusiast.

But I maintain, with the profoundest conviction, that this, and this only, is the ideal marriage; and that all opinions, customs, and institutions which favour any other notion of it, or turn the conceptions and aspirations connected with it into any other direction, by whatever pretences they may be coloured, are relics of primitive barbarism. The moral regeneration of mankind will only really commence, when the most fundamental of the social relations is placed under the rule of equal justice, and when human beings learn to cultivate their strongest sympathy with an equal in rights and in cultivation."

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Music Glue: Annapurna Earworms - Tracks to trek to

Annapurna Earworms

We just completed a ten day trek in the Nepal Himalayas (more on that later) with nothing but our own wheezing breaths for accompaniment.  There's very little electricity available, so no iPhone charging and mostly you actually do need to be aware of your surroundings, particularly our guide calling, "No! Other right!"

So these were the tracks in my internal jukebox. You'll notice twin themes of cold and lack of oxygen. Not an accident, that.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Round the world: Siem Reap, Cambodia

Where we were

The city adjacent to Angor Wat and its surrounding temples.  I'm ashamed to say I hadn't heard of it till we decided to go see the famous site and realised that was where we'd have to fly into and stay.

Cambodia had not been on our itinerary, but once we realised that the original plan would have had us in Bangkok for the triple whammy of Christmas and New Year's Full Moon Parties we took the lovely Ashley of Our Dear Lady Expatriate's advice and booked the flights.

Unfortunately for me and our joyful Christmas in luxury plans I got on the train in Penang feeling a little headachey and got off eight hours later with a raging fever that only grew as we slept in the hideous airport hotel in Kuala Lumpur.  Having been horribly sick on the plane (I'm so sorry, man in 12C) and fearing I'd be quarantined, we arrived at the hotel just in time for me to curl up whimpering on the lobby sofa while Greg got reception to call their Doctor.  I had somehow contracted Typhoid.  Merry Christmas, me!

Where we stayed

The Ree Hotel, a 4 1/2 * of faded opulence a few kilometres outside the city centre that we got as a bargain deal through Agoda.

The bargain got even more bargainous as, having been lambasted by Doctor Ly for leaving me in the lobby for 30 minutes as our room was not ready, the abashed staff led us to a ginormous corner suite room complete with lounge, bedroom and two bathrooms.

It made the fact I didn't leave the hotel for 5 days a little easier to bear at least and the staff were beyond accommodating from this point on.

What I read

Nothing at all. That's how ill I was.

What I listened to

See above

What I consumed

Lots of nice soups via room service.  Tiny bread rolls.  Plantains to get my potassium levels back up.  6 litres of fluid via a drip.  Enormous amounts of IV antibiotics, sleeping pills and painkillers.  A little tiny bit of the Christmas Eve Gala Dinner that the hotel kindly brought up to our room since we couldn't attend.

What I did

Slept, whimpered, needlessly apologised to Greg, slept some more.

Had my first ever blood test.  Was not quite as horrendous as I'd imagined largely due to the Doctor taking advantage of the language barrier to lie to me about whether a needle was involved until it was too late for me to complain.

Called home and worried everyone.

Called home when the fever was down and reassured everyone.

And a few days later...

Saw Angkor Wat and many other temples, best of which was the Indiana Jones style Ta Prohm, on a days tuktuk tour.   They did all start to blend into one after the first few hours, but the sheer size of Angkor Wat really staggered me.  It really was a whole town back in the day.

Wandered very slowly around the night markets and through the restaurants of Pub Street buying gifts for friends back home.

Rejoiced, weakly, that if nothing else at least I'd lost the 5lbs I gained in America.  Yay.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Music Glue: High on a Hill - Kate Rusby

In my head more than any other song this trip. Old skool but I love it.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Timesuck Sunday: Big business and government in bed or everything is way way more shit than you think

Britain's answer to Noam Chomsky briefly highlights the links between DfID and large scale agribusiness. Always knew the 'development' in DfID needed sarcastic quote marks.  Full report here.

Naomi Wolfe on the FBI working hand in water cannon with corporations to crush Occupy.  Full report here.

Government bodies and big pharma (as predicted) go after the lovely Ben Goldacre post-Bad Pharma, rather than deal with the issues he addressed.

Friday, 11 January 2013

Round the world travel: Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia

Where we are

A little island off the West coast of the Malaysian mainland with the honour of being an UNESCO World Heritage site for its unique blend of cultural and historical buildings.  I've wanted to go here since reading a Guardian article in the Travel section one Saturday morning a few years ago.  The idea of wandering around a colonial town that had been restored and re-patriated to its location intrigued me.  What we found was even better; a great and proper melting pot of Malay, Indian, British and Chinese all holding their own culture high, but coexisting happily and proud of their Peranakan nature.

Where we stayed

The Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion aka The Blue House, an award winning reconstruction of Mr Cheong's base, home of his 'favourite seventh wife' according to the complimentary tour we took during our stay.

It was beautiful from the outside (and very, very blue), covered in enamel frescoes and stained glass windows.  Inside it was organised in accordance with Mr Cheong's personal Feng Shui, which whether or not you believe in it, did make it very ordered and symmetrical in a pleasing way.

Our room was named Nanyang, each of the thrity-odd rooms has its own name and decoration scheme to match.  We had straw hats on the walls and giant maps of colonial Malaysia.  The room felt like a bizarre mix between what I imagine of an Emperor's bedroom and my old boarding school apartment (as staff not pupil).  Looking at the pictures of Mr Cheong in his robes in one and top hat and tails in the other, I don't think the blend was incidental.

What I read

The paper every morning on my Guardian Anywhere app since we finally had access to consistent wifi and somewhere to lounge post breakfast.  Then I got sad about the state of the world and downloaded some chicklit so terrible I'm not even going to admit to having read it.

What I listened to

Boat To Row's EP 'Higham Hill'.  A cure for sadness in all its folky adorableness.

What we ate

EVERYTHING!!!  People come to Penang to eat, which we didn't know until we arrived, but since we were doing pretty well elsewhere at wandering around eating it just got really out of hand here.  There aren't enough superlatives even in my considerable arsenal for just how yummy everything was.  As our tour guide pointed out, there are no tourist restaurants in Geourgetown only local ones with tourists in them, if you're not good, you shut down. Fast.

Katsu curry and udon noodles at Red Garden Night Market.  Wagamamas is now going to be sad by comparison.  Also it doesn't have loud karaoke and bustling family gatherings. More sad points.

Banana and plum lassis at Amelie, a teeny gypsy caravan of a cafe whose door is nearly obscured by its own greenery.

A beautiful three course meal overlooking the beach at Thirty Two, set within another gorgeously restored mansion.

The 'best brownies in Malaysia' and Penang white coffee sitting at a street table in Mike's Place, where (possibly) the eponymous Mike made us laugh with his comments on Greg's drinking and the US presidential race.

One of the best Indians I've ever eaten at Kashmir, a packed and noisy affair presided over by a sunglasses-at-night bossy patriarch and a team of fairly useless waiters.  The tandoori chicken was so good I can see why repeat customers forgive the terrible service.

Kopis and Nasi Lemak for lunch at 32 Light Street.  I wish I knew how to make Kopi when we get home, but google has not been forthcoming.

A weird jasmine tea from Jing-Si Books and Cafe.  They lured us in with the promise of books and coffee and then proceeded to launch into an 11am prayer service.  Turns out they're a Buddhist charity sect who learned canvassing techniques from some friendly Catholic nuns.  Half expected my atheist heart would burst into flames.  Except I didn't, because I don't believe in that stuff.

Gorgeous creamy porridge and fat french toast every morning at the hotel.  Washed down with excellent coffee and fresh squeezed juice.

What we did

Tried to walk off some of the calories with the '5 cultures on 2 feet' walking tour - from the Colonial district of courts and forts, to Chinatown temples and the noisy, colourful Little India finishing in the brightly painted, restored Straits Collection houses of Lebuh Armenia, where the clan chiefs used to live.

Wandered in the heat through the functioning Clan Jetties built out over the water.

Got a lesson in Penang history at the Penang Museum.  It was odd, humbling and interesting to read colonial history from the other side.

Realised that a few boards of information go a long way in historical sites' interest as they were sorely lacking from Fort Cornwallis.  

Walked all the way along the sea front to the new Gurney Plaza and saw the last showing of Skyfall.  This was more like I'd been led Malaysian cinema going to be - people chatting, actually answering their phones and having a conversation, eating actual hot dinner foodstuffs and generally not paying alot of attention to the film at all.

Sat on the day beds in the hotel's beautiful courtyard, stroking the mega fluffy house cat and pretending to be wealthy Malay business people.

I'm ashamed to say that was it.  Aaaalllll the rest of the 5 days we were eating. Or wandering around looking for places to eat next.    

Follow this to my flicker page for more snaps. Take that rubbish internet!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...