Must-go restaurants in Battambang

DSC_0812

I’ve been to Battambang City in the north of Cambodia a few times and for a quiet little town, I’ve been very surprised by how delicious some of their restaurants are. Even the $0.50 iced condensed milk coffee is tastier than any one I’ve had in Siem Reap at the local market.

It’s easy to find the most popular restaurants in Battambang but if you only have a day or two, I strongly recommend saving one or a few meals for Eden Cafe and Flavors of India.

Eden Cafe

Eden Cafe is connected to a local organization that focuses on investing in the futures of Khmer people by empowering them with new skills and creating jobs. The cafe has a modern design where people can enjoy a delicious meal, air-con and fast Wi-Fi while supporting the work of a fantastic organization.

The prices are a bit higher with the average price being US $5.00 per dish, but if you don’t eat a lot the portions are generous and can easily be shared between two people.

I’ve had the fettucini alfredo meal three times during my last two trips in Battambang, that’s how good it was. It’s simple but it is the perfect comfort food.

This is the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had in Cambodia and is probably the best in Cambodia. I’m picky about hot chocolate and they make the perfect creamy, marshmellow texture at the top of the drink.

I thought I would branch out from my fettucini alfredo and try the Huevos Rancheros (Black Bean, Egg, Salsa, Tortilla, Sour Cream, Bacon) for breakfast. A lot of times Mexican food is either a hit or miss in any country, so I’m always a bit skeptical. But this was a great meal and all of the ingredients blended well together to create a great flavour.

The Cobb salad dressing was good and big enough to feed two people.


Flavors of India

Flavors of India is a chain that began in Phnom Penh but has locations in Battambang and Siem Reap. I don’t find the Indian food that great or memorable in Siem Reap. I’ve gone to Flavors of India twice in Battambang and the flavors were always delicious and their chai tea is one of the best I’ve ever tasted of all the countries I’ve visited.

The best deal is their sets, which includes a naan bread, jasmine rice, dhaal, and two curries. One set is definitely enough to share between two people and if you try a naan bread with your curries, order a garlic naan.

DSC_0714

Advertisements

Snacking by the airport for fun

Beautiful sunset drive to the airport from the centre of Siem Reap city.

People often ask me what my favorite country was to visit outside Canada and I am very biased because I’ve spent three years in Siem Reap and had the time to discover all the places tourists never have time to see, develop lifelong friendships with the wonderful people here and always discovering new hidden gems. I’m not sure what my answer would be if I had lived a few years in Bali, Laos or Chiang Mai.

Hanging right outside the airport gates with Konnitha and her daughter Hannah.

The benefit of living in a new place for a long time is there is always something new to discover, especially if you mainly have local friends and every day can be a surprise if you have an open mind and heart during your stay.

After I finished a 5-hour bike ride in the Angkor complex, which seems to have an endless number of routes, my best friend Konnitha asked me if I wanted to drive with her and her 2-year-old daughter Hannah around the Angkor area and hang out by the airport to watch the planes.

The people who have opened up food stalls right outside the airport gates as more people are spending time watching the planes land and fly.

“You can hang out by the airport?” I asked Konnitha.

“Yes, you can buy snacks to eat and watch the planes. More and more food sellers are setting up their business by the airport because people come to watch the planes every day,” Konnitha said.

Me being a touristy passenger.

So we went on a beautiful drive during sunset around the Angkor complex, bought some snacks to munch on and sat on a mat just outside the airport with Hannah. We saw two planes fly by and it was just a beautiful and unique way to pass the evening.

There is no way I would ever find out you can do this if I didn’t have local friends.

Our 5-hour biking adventure in the Angkor jungles

2I’m incredibly lucky to not only be living in Siem Reap, just 8 km away from the Angkor Wat complex, but having amazing Khmer (Cambodian) friends who often lead us through beautiful bike rides in the jungle.

I haven’t paid the US $20 entry fee to get into the Angkor complex most of the times I’ve gone because most people can get in the area, not the temples, if you come in through the jungle, often by bike.

6

We planned to meet at 7 a.m. at our friend Dara’s restaurant for breakfast and he got his staff to prepare rice soup for us. When I asked how much the bill was he said, “No problem, we just enjoy together.” Such typical Cambodian hospitality.

I recruited two Western people I met to join the ride. The day before I warned them, “I’ll be honest with you, for the ride tomorrow, I don’t know if we’ll ride 20 km or 60 km in the day. All I know is we’re meeting at 7 a.m. and I’m just going to follow them.”

7

We were about 10 people in our group and no one really knew the way through the jungle routes, but Dara seemed to know where he was going. The weather was perfect and we went on beautiful routes around the complex and had a wonderful lunch at one of Dara’s friends’ restaurants. He was nice to give us 50% off of the menu items.

The Cambodian food was delicious and was well-deserved after riding for so long. All of our Cambodian friends have much more stamina than us and could keep riding for a long time. This kind of guided bike ride would cost someone at least US $60 a day to join a tour.

The whole day was beautiful, adventured and filled with fantastic company. One thing I noticed after spending 2.5 years in Cambodia is Khmer people are very patient and flexible when there is someone in the group who is a bit delayed or need to stop for something, many Western people, including myself, would get easily annoyed and impatient. But they are so even tempered and easygoing.

10
4

812

My friends’ visit to Siem Reap

My friend Eunice (white shirt) came to visit with her husband Nate (red shirt). The newlyweds loved the food of my favourite street restaurant Phai San BBQ.

My great friend Eunice from Vancouver came with her husband Nate to Siem Reap in July to visit me.

I have been friends with Eunice for a few years now and I felt horrible for missing their wedding in May because I was leading a group trip that month. So I was very happy that they took the time during their holiday to come to Cambodia for the first time.

They joined me at my favourite weekly hangout watching the ladyboys at Station Wine Bar in Siem Reap.

To be honest, I didn’t know how our connection would be after I’ve been away from Vancouver for 2.5 years and I saw her just one time in September when I went back to visit friends and family.

Every traveler I’ve spoken with has had a hard time adjusting back to their home country and I felt the strong connection I once had with some friends was lost when I went back to visit.

We saw a traditional dance show on their first night in town.

I was a bit nervous because Eunice had never been to a developing country before and they had just spent time in Singapore with their family, a completely different environment and place from Cambodia. I thought they may be uncomfortable in Siem Reap and have to adjust to so many differences from Vancouver and Singapore.

But it ended up being an amazing time with them and I’m so happy they enjoyed it. They were extremely easygoing, very polite with my friends and just went with the flow. We went to see a traditional dance show, eat at my favourite street food restaurants, see a ladyboy show, and traveled to Phnom Penh together.

At my favourite pool in Siem Reap exclusively for hotel guests. They got full VIP treatment. Thanks to my wonderful Cambodian friend for giving us access.

The day before we went to Phnom Penh, my friend was so kind to let us use the four-star hotel pool that is normally reserved for their guests who pay US $85 to US $220 a night. But because it was about to rain, not many people were swimming and we enjoyed a poolside cocktail, tea and enjoyed swimming in the rain.

They met my friends in Phnom Penh at night and we ended our second night in Phnom Penh with a beautiful view of the river.

I’ve appreciated and loved everyone who has made time to visit me and experience my world in Siem Reap.

 

Taking full advantage of a drink at the poolside bar.

Feeling fresh after our US $2 Cambodian hair wash, head massage and straightening.

Eunice and Nate met my friend and number 1 tuk tuk driver Somroeun and his family the day they returned back in Singapore.

Nate and Eunice looking glamorous again at a post-wedding dinner celebration in Singapore with their family.

My wish for all women every day

One of my good Cambodian friends works at a well-known hotel and she is one of the most giving and hard-working people I’ve met. She works almost every day of the week managing the hotel, dealing with customers (often crappy ones too), taking care of her niece and supporting her other siblings and the family, some of whom don’t work at all. She barely has enough money to keep for herself because she takes care of everyone else.

This is unfortunately a very common story for both women and men, but women predominantly.

One day, this friend wanted to buy a nice motorcycle for herself and it cost a bit over US $1000. But in Cambodia, most women don’t ride manual motorcycles, it’s usually the men. Almost all of the women ride scooters. People, including women, told me friend, “This is not good for lady, you should get a smaller motto. It’s better for you.”

Glad she got it anyway despite people telling her not to. It’s women like her that will slowly change the perception of women can and can’t do.

After being in Asia for 2 years, I’ve had the honour of meeting women who have gone against their families’ wishes to educate themselves, go against society’s expectations of what it is to be a “proper” woman and women who work every day to raise and take care of their families without any complaints.

I have met so many strong women in every country I have travelled to and know many strong women in my family and friends and I admire all of them.

My wish is that all women, and men too, have the opportunity to be educated, to get paid fairly for the work they do, to have the freedom to choose who they marry or if they want to marry at all.

Happy women’s day.

Fine fusion cuisine from the Khmer twin chefs

The talented chefs Pol Kimsan (left) and Sok Kimsan (right).

Siem Reap is a food heaven where visitors, locals and expats can try everything from traditional Cambodian food, Indian food to fine French cuisine.

I was very happy I was introduced to two very talented Khmer (Cambodian) women who have worked their way up to become executive chefs at Embassy restaurant, one of the nine restaurants in the Angkor W Group of Restaurants.

P1140858

Pol Kimsan and Sok Kimsan have humble backgrounds and have worked hard to integrate their experience working at hotels, restaurants and Michelin Star training in France to create a unique fine dining experience at Embassy.

They first met when they worked at the five-star Victoria Hotel in Siem Reap and have been together through the development of their skills, food experimentation and running the Embassy kitchen.

P1140874

I went with friends to experience their five-course menu and was very impressed with the incredible and unique flavours they created. We listened to a personal introduction of each dish by staff before indulging in each of them.

I feel honoured to have had a chance to sit with these inspiring women so they could tell me about their journey first-hand.

Pol Kimsan

Pol Kimsan moved from Kampot to Siem Reap in 2002 and studied at Paul DuBrule hospitality training school for nine months. Her mentors and former colleagues pushed her to challenge herself and her skills.

“I’m from Kampot in the countryside and when I finished high school, I didn’t know what to do and applied to be a teacher. I came to Siem Reap because people said there are lots of tourists. So my uncle brought me here and sent me to Paul DuBrule school where I studied kitchen.

I came and learned English for one year and it was very difficult for me. I got a lot of experience when I trained at the hotel.

After I finished school, I came to work at Victoria Hotel cold kitchen to make things like salad. When I studied, I wanted to be bakery chef because around the world, women chefs cannot become an executive chef. My family is from the countryside so they don’t have a strong opinion on it or know what it is to be an executive chef.

The executive chef at Victoria told me to learn more about cooking food and transferred me from cold kitchen to hot kitchen and I learned a lot from him. When I work with him, I can follow everything that he taught me and he pushed me to make French food.

After I resigned at the hotel, I became the head chef at Champey and controlled the kitchen for another restaurant and got a lot of experience from the owner.

He is one of my mentors and he thought that me and Sok could create our own menu.”

P1140869

How did you choose which dishes would make the menu?

The restaurant opened on December 6, 2014 and we invited 15 customers from different backgrounds to try our food. We wanted to keep the traditional Cambodian flavours but with a Western twist. We tried different things but we just had to finally make decisions on the menu.

What message do you have for this next generation of Cambodian women?

We want to grow the young generation of cooks. We want Cambodian women to be a chef like the man.

Sok Kimsan

Sok Kimsan’s culinary skills were developed in Sala Bai training school and she also spent two years at the Grand Hyatt in Dubai. Her family grew up in the Siem Reap province.

Before I did not think I would be a chef. I never wanted to be a chef when I was young. But everybody said if you are a cook it’s better.

I just started learning at Sala Bai and I learned myself. They showed us many kinds of skills, provided training at the hotel and a cooking show in the kitchen. We worked in many difference places to get experience.

I was working in Dubai for two years at Grand Hyatt. It’s good for business but I prefer to live in Cambodia and came back in 2008.

P1140877

What message do you have for this next generation of Cambodian women?

My boss is very kind and it is only him to push and he pushed me when my family didn’t. I try to share my experience and teach what I know for the new generation and I tell them to work hard. They have to have confidence in themselves. I want women to be leaders. Women have many ideas.

Both women are part of the chef Association, which aims to promote Khmer food and encourage more Cambodians to go abroad and gain ideas.

When you are in Siem Reap, experience the twins’ fantastic fusion of flavours for yourself and the culmination of all of their culinary experience will be reflected in their food and presentation.

P1140886

P1140862

P1140873

 

The incredibly polite and considerate kids in Cambodia

meesa

Since I’ve been in Cambodia for a year and a half, one of the biggest differences I notice between Cambodian youth and those in Western countries is the level of consideration they have for other people and responsibility in the home.

I usually take a nap at my Cambodian colleagues’ house. When I arrived at her house two days ago, her energetic and playful seven-year-old sister who was the only person at home. She was eating on a bench and I just started to lie down on the best beside her. I heard her immediately go into her house, get me a pillow and ran to get another chair for herself so I could sleep on the whole bench. I was very impressed.

Today I also went to an NGO school located 12 km outside of the Siem Reap city-centre. I was prepared to sit on the floor with my computer and as soon as I walked in the room, a 12-year-old girl ran out to get me not one, but two chairs. She said, “One for you and one for your computer.”

I run into a lot of Western expats, whether I want to or not, in town and many would barely have the consideration to get up to get you a chair or do something to help a new visitor or a guest. I was very impressed with my friend’s sister who is much more polite than most Western adults I’ve come across in Asia.

When tourists or expats visit people in rural villages, they’re often surprised how well-behaved many of the children are. Many don’t have a chance to live out a full childhood because they have to help their parents clean the house, pick up their siblings from school, cook around their school schedule, if they even go to school at all.

I keep learning to shut up when I complain about working long hours at times because some Cambodian friends tell me that they wake up at 6:00 a.m. to drop their sister to school before starting their 8-hour work day then going to university for three hours where their teacher may or may not show up because they drank too much the night before. They don’t tell me this to make me feel bad; my friends are just open about their lives. I’ve heard too many “poor” me stories from expats who didn’t get the perfect massage or not having air conditioning.

When I visit my friends’ hometowns in the villages, I’ve seen 11-year-olds who know how to cut and clean fish, young kids helping set up the tables before a meal and kids sweeping and watering plants happily at their schools. They are extremely modest and rarely ask for much from their family, mostly because they can’t. But they know how to use their imaginations and play well with each other.