Food feature: steamed Mekong fish at a river restaurant

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Steamed Mekong fish

This was my second dinner in Luang Prabang and my friend asked if I wanted to take the boat to cross the Mekong River to get to Dyen Sabai restaurant. Beautiful night, a free boat ride provided by the restaurant, yummy food and good company . . . of course I’m in! The night was so beautiful and I couldn’t believe that people could do this every day if they lived in Luang Prabang.

The restaurant atmosphere was calm and there was a good variety of food and drinks on the menu. My friend and I shared the steamed fish in a banana leaf. I’ve had a lot of fish in my life and I can honestly say this was one of the best tasting fish I have ever had. Most steamed fish I’ve had in the past has been bland. The fish had so much flavour that lingered in your mouth long after our meal was done, it was incredible.

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We met a fantastic waiter who took time to chat with us about his ambitions of being an English teacher and teaching his students about hospitality so they can work in the future. He was supporting some of his brothers and sisters’ schooling while he is working and is currently saving up to buy his sister a bike so she doesn’t have to walk the few kilometers to school. He was really inspiring and I thought, “This is why I travel. To meet people like him and learn about people’s lives.”

People in this city really know how to do flavours well. If people are in Luang Prabang, this is definitely a restaurant to check out.

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Boating across the Mekong to get to Dyen Sabai

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Malala nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize

If you haven’t yet heard about Malala Yousafzai, read her story. She has captivated the world with her courage, intelligence and grace while she has been persistently advocating for girls’ education.

Malala is from Pakistan and her public efforts to enhance girls’ rights to an education motivated the Taliban to try and kill her by shooting her in the head. Some doctors even said it was a miracle that she survived.

People are astounded by the answer she gave on The Daily Show when she talked about how she would respond if she came face to face with the Taliban. During her speech to the U.N., she said, “”Let us pick up our books and pens. They are our most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world. Education is the only solution.”

My friend’s promise to Cambodia and her dreams

My friend is one of the funniest people I’ve met in Cambodia and also quite an unusual Khmer (Cambodian) girl because she lives alone (and not with her family like many Khmer girls), studied outside of Cambodia for five years and can speak conversational Mandarin in addition to English and Khmer.

She’s smart, talented and can take fantastic job opportunities with a good salary in another country if she wants to. But she said, “I promised my school that I would do something good for my country. So I should stay in Cambodia before I go somewhere else.” I was really impressed by her dedication to Cambodia, where salaries are often low for many jobs, even for high-skilled ones.

While we were on the rooftop of one of the restaurants, her version of light conversation is asking us where we see ourselves in 10 years time. For herself, she said, “I want to own a small house with several children. I want to have an extra room with a library for children from grade 1 to 6 to read. I want a sustainable income so I can use to travel. And I want to go into space to see the moon and want to see for myself if the earth is really round.”

Whether people dream big or dream small, what ultimately separates the people who achieve their dream from those who don’t is persistence.

Cost of living in Siem Reap, Cambodia

Siem Reap has a full range of prices of food, accommodation and services. People, whether they are Khmer (Cambodian) or an expat (foreigners who live in Cambodia), can live comfortably for $300.00 US to $500.00 a month. Unfortunately, most Khmer people’s salaries are nowhere near that.

Some of my friends work nine hours a day, six days a week to earn $60.00 to $90.00 a month. Some of their jobs include working guest relations at a hotel or a cleaner will earn just $40.00 to $60.00 a month. The lowest price for a room to a rent I have come across is $25.00 per month, so of course that doesn’t leave people much to save.

While it’s nice to have a treat to eat out once in awhile, I’ve enjoying buying at the market with my Cambodian friends and cooking at their house. Just last night we went to a friend’s place and it cost $1.50 to buy enough veggies, eggs and noodles to feed four of us. It is still often cheaper to cook than eat a $1.00 meal every time.

Least costly food (US dollars)

  • Street sandwhich with a fresh baguette: $0.30 without meat, $0.50 with meat
  • A meal of fried noodles off the street: $0.50 to $0.75
  • A full meal of fried rice or fried noodles at a small restuarant: $1.00 to $1.50
  • 1 kg of tomatoes: $1.25
  • A bunch of green beans that can feed 4 people: $0.25
  • A dozen eggs: $1.50
  • A big pack of sliced bread: $1.25
  • Fresh curry spices: $0.25

Eating and drinking out 

  • You can a range of sandwhiches, a curry dish that is good for a meal, tacos on deal nights: $1.50 to $3.00: 
  • Eating a lot of soup and noodles you cook yourself with three other friends: $2.00 per person
  • All you can eat BBQ: $4.00
  • There are places like Soria Moria and Ivy guesthouse that have $1.00 tapas and drinks every week
  • Pizza is a little more expensive, ranging from $5.00 to $13.00

Accommodation and property

  • Rent for a very small room (5 ft x 8 ft): $25.00 a month
  • Rent for a basic bachelor suite just outside the city centre: $40.00 per month ($20.00 if you share with someone)
  • Rent for a bigger suite or one-bedroom apartment: $100.00 to $300.00 per month for a bigger suite. It’s on the higher end if you’re closer to town
  • Rent for a three story house: $600.00 to $800.00 depending house close you are from the centre. But you have a motto or bicycle, three-story houses that are just a 5-minute motto ride from the centre of town are about $400.00 per month. They have a lot of space

I’m very grateful to have the ability to try a full range of food and services. But what I’ve enjoyed the most in Siem Reap is spending time with my Khmer friends in their homes, local hangout places and meeting their families in their home town. That’s when I feel like I’m experiencing the “real Cambodia.”