DSC_0632This would be so illegal in Canada but I wish we had a vibrant street food culture like many places around Asia.

I first spotted this pizza shop on a tuk tuk (motorized taxi) around Siem Reap, Cambodia when I was bicycling. The fire caught my attention and I went closer until I realized it was a woodfire oven right at the back of a scooter.

The pizza chef is originally from Phnom Penh and many people stop for pizza as he goes around town. Once you place your order, they make it fresh on the spot for you.

I always spotted him when I wasn’t looking for him and when I tried to find the tuk tuk pizza, I couldn’t find him. My good friend and I promised that if we passed him on the way back home, we would stop for a pizza. It was pretty good for a fresh, street pizza.

But because he is business savvy, you can take his business card and they do free delivery.

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Must-go restaurants in Battambang

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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Back to Back Cambodian weddings

The happy newlyweds.

 

I know I should probably be writing about my New Year’s Even in Siem Reap but I have been and will continue to be very busy with my new job with a travel company for the next 10 weeks. I still have to upload pictures then I’ll do a late post.

The last two weeks have been filled with back to back dinners with friends, reunions and consecutive Cambodian wedding parties. I love the openness of Cambodian weddings. One of my friends asked her cousin to give me a formal invitation so that was very sweet. I’ve really enjoying spending time and getting to know their families.

My very sweet friend Mara who got her cousins to invite me.

I went to the smaller pre-wedding party at the house which was really fun. We ate Cambodian food, there is as usual an unlimited supply of beer and soft drinks, karaoke and dancing.

Every time I go over my friend’s place, they are extremely hospitable in typical Cambodian fashion and offer to share their food and ask if I’ve eaten. I was really impressed with my friend too, I know she was so busy helping them prepare for many things, but when she saw that my ice was low on my drink she refilled it for me. Wow, talk about being a great host.

Girls just wanna have fun. Cambodians love karaoke. 

Last year I went to three Cambodian wedding parties in total and three weeks ago I went to three in a weekend. Her cousin’s wedding had the best food of all the weddings I went to and was at a restaurant. It was a fantastic time and I got to meet more nice people.

Great way to spend a Monday night.

Mara’s fun, intelligent and adorable daughter.

This is not soda, it’s duck’s blood. The real Cambodian food.

Pictures from the wedding party

There were at least 700 people at the restaurant of the wedding dinner. I don’t think I’ve ever been to such a big restaurant in Cambodia.

 

 

Getting ready to dance.

 

A mega Cambodian salad.

 

Happy happy

 

Beautifully cooked fish.

 

My first apartment guests in Siem Reap

Old friends and new friends eating omelet and baguette. 

I just moved to a simple apartment in Siem Reap and wanted at least a place that was big enough to host at least a few guests. I’m off Wat Bo, one of the major roads that runs parallel to the Siem Reap River.

I go out a lot of late nights either for dinners at people’s houses, dancing or at restaurants, so I needed to make sure I chose a place where I feel very safe coming home late night. The latest I’ve come back so far is 4:00 a.m. and I’ve had no problems and feel very comfortable cycling back each time.

I was very happy to cook dinner for my Khmer (Cambodian) friends who have come over so far. My friends have cooked for me at their places many times, even when I’ve come last-minute and it’s been great to be able to open up my space for other people to come.

I love my area because it’s mostly Cambodian families so I always see kids playing in the courtyard and my neighbours are very friendly and say hello. In the first week I moved in, my neighbour said I can use any of his kitchenware anytime if I’m short on something and has been very helpful. Him and his friend have invited me a few times to join them for meals.

This is my friend’s friend whom I just met the night she came over with her adorable little sister. I’m happy that she said her sister felt comfortable in my place, which she often isn’t in new spaces.

Ready for cake.

Phai San BBQ: My favourite street restaurant in Siem Reap

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I first met my friends Phai and San, who are married, in 2013 when their restaurant was next to 9 other restaurants by Sivatha Road in SIem Reap. After ignoring all of the people who were hollaring for tourists to eat at their restaurants, my friend and I finally caved and decided to try Phai San. And we have been good friends ever since.

Not only is all of their food delicious at amazing prices (between $1.25 to $3.00 US), the couple is extremely generous and hospitable with their staff and guests. Phai San also happens to make my favourite stir-fried vegetable yellow noodle and I find it tastier than anywhere else I’ve been around Cambodia.

I was surprised when Phai told me that even when he is not making a profit, he pays his staff double the average Cambodian salary because he wants to give them a fair wage. He said, “One of my staff is having baby, so I want to pay her more.” When they invited me to their home town south of Cambodia, of course I didn’t expect them to pay any of my costs. But they offered to pay for my boat ride to San’s village, which I was very touched by. I spent three days with their family who hosted me so generously.

I’m always happy to support local Cambodian businesses that provide great service, delicious food and are run by very honourable people. If you’ve had a good experience at their restaurant, please write a review on Trip Advisor.

Day out with my Khmer family

Family day out.

I landed in Siem Reap a few days ago and I’ll be starting a new job with a travel company. I’m staying temporarily with my adopted Khmer (Cambodian) family until I get my own place.

I always encourage people to live in a different country for at least a few months because it’s an unforgettable experience to go out to places in the community and the country with local people. You find new favourite places to eat, hang out and go to hidden gems that only the local people would know about.

I arrived at midnight this past Tuesday and many Cambodian people are on holiday for most of the week because of Pchum Ben, one of Cambodia’s most important religious festivals that honours their ancestors. So my Khmer family invited me to join them to go to Tra Kot village, about 40 km outside of Siem Reap.

The drive was quite far into the rice fields and it was packed with kids swimming in the water, food, and people hanging by the hammocks. I always love watching families and friends enjoy time out together and eating together. Going out and eating out in Vancouver, Canada is expensive so that’s why I appreciate many places around Asia where going out is affordable for many people, not just people with high incomes.

It was a perfect way to spend my first day in Siem Reap as I got over my jetlag.

This is my beautiful friend Konnitha and her 1.5-year-old Hannah.

Konnitha’s father and Hannah.

This is a Cambodian chicken and cost $12 US.

I rode at the back of the truck with Gaga, Konnitha’s lovely 14-year-old sister who often helps me cook at home. We had a lot of wind in our faces on our way back home but in a hot country, that is always welcome.

This is a common view throughout the country of the rice fields and flat land.

These are the kinds of homes that most Cambodians live in throughout the country’s villages.

 

Lessons from our 360 km bike ride around Delicious Mauritius

Joseph and I took a detour from the coastal road on the beach to avoid riding up a mega hill.

During the five months I was in my home island-country of Mauritius in Africa, I was incredibly lucky to find out that my cousin Joseph likes adventurous activities. Out of the 300+ members in our family, he is the only one who likes to ride bicycles and do long hikes. When I say ride bicycles, I don’t just mean leisurely rides through open farms and fields. I mean riding on the roads, through the forest and new routes he’s never been on before.

Since I found out he liked biking, we have been going on bike rides almost every week. He bikes every day to work and back a huge hill that takes 10 minutes to go up, so his stamina is incredible and a hell of a lot better than mine!

The beautiful waters in northern Mauritius.

During our first ride together, we did 70 km ride and a huge climb on a big hill. Two weeks later, while we were doing a leisurely ride on the south coast and while we were starting to pack our bikes, Joseph said, “I’ve always wanted to do the tour of Mauritius.” I excitedly replied and said, “If I had known you earlier, I was looking for someone or a group of people to do the tour of Mauritius for my birth as a fundraiser bike ride! If you have time next week, let’s do it before I leave the country.” He immediately said yes and believed we could do it in two days. We decided to do the ride just five days before we actually began.

Joseph prepped our 5:30 a.m. breakfast ingredients so we would be well fueled on day one of two of our 360 km bike ride.

Our goal

Our goal was to cycle 360 km along the coastal roads of Mauritius in two days. Joseph was awesome and planned all of our break stops to make sure we were on track and where we should be every hour.

I loved the look on people’s faces whenever we told them we were cycling around the whole island. I never get tired of it. When they asked why we were doing it he said in French, “Because we’re crazy.”

The kindness of Mauritians

The man on the right was nice enough to stop, lend us a screwdriver to change a flat tire and wait patiently until we were done before he continued on his way.

Unfortunately crime has gone up the past decade in Mauritius and many people I know on the island are fearful at times to the point where they don’t really trust many people. Their fear infected me for the first two weeks to the point where I was suspicious of people’s genuinely kind gestures like when I was lost sometimes and they walked with me to show me where I needed to go.

But over the five months I was in Mauritius, the people I didn’t know kept being kind to me the way other local people were in every country I’ve been in. I know there are a lot of people in Mauritius you can’t trust and people get screwed over a lot by their own friends. But I seem to attract positive people so instead of just looking at the negative sides, I didn’t let excessive fears shield me from experiencing the kindness of helpful Mauritians.

Many of my relatives were worried about us riding around the island but Joseph and I both know there are kind people along the way and weren’t worried about being attacked in any way. On the contrary, the people in the smaller villages we rode through are very kind, honest and it felt much safer than being in the cities.

We road along the windy south part of the island that slowed our pace, but we kept pushing on.

Joseph’s friend joined us for the first few hours of our ride and had to go back to his home for a meeting. He unfortunately had a flat tire in the first two hours we were riding and Joseph had most of the tools except for a screwdriver. So Joseph stopped a motorcycle that was passing by and the driver was so nice to stop, lend us the tool we needed and waited patiently.

Whenever we’ve cycled in the past, I feel a warmness among people in the villages. When we stopped at a woman’s restaurant, people brought our food with smiles and kindly set up the tables for us.

The most important tool is positive energy

These are the tallest coconut trees I saw during our ride.

I know this sounds really cheesy but it’s true. We could have the best bikes, all the food we need and all the tools. But all of that wouldn’t have mattered if we didn’t have the strong belief that we could meet our goal throughout our trip, even when we had delays or when I was extremely exhausted.

I’m not nearly as fit as Joseph and we took so many breaks because I had to stop a lot, especially after some longer hills. But Joseph’s constant positive energy throughout our whole trip played a huge factor in us being able to meet our goal. He never once complained anytime we had a flat tire, took the wrong route or bad weather conditions.

As we stopped at Le Morne mountain where we saw a group of kids learning about the runaway slaves who used the mountain as a shelter through the 18th and early years of the 19th centuries. They formed settlements in the cave.

On the second day, we started riding when my body felt like it was at 60% energy than normal after riding for 11 hours of riding the day before. But after awhile, my body just kept going on for some time and it’s fascinating how much our bodies can push on after it hits a certain point.

People talk a lot about this physical and mental point when they run and they can just keep going for a long time. It’s easy to get in a reflective state when you’re bicycling when you hear nothing but the sound of wind, your pedals in rotation, and complete silence.

This is one of several sculptures that are displayed at the base of Le Morne.

Whenever we had a delay like his friend having a flat tire or we had to take an alternate route that set us back by two hours, Joseph would just turn to me and say, “This is part of the adventure. It’s a good experience. At least you can tell people the Tour of Mauritius is not easy. If there is no spice, you will have nothing to write about on your blog.”

My biggest personal challenge was at the end of the first day when we had to cycle another 2 hours than we had originally planned and rode over a continuous hill in an area called Albion. I haven’t pushed my body that far since I did a 500 km bike ride across Cambodia in 2009.

Before we began that hill, we had already been cycling for seven hours and my body was ready to push for one more hour to get to our final stop in Flic en Flac in the west. But I was beyond exhausted and just couldn’t push anymore at one point. I told Joseph, “I don’t know if I can make it to the end I think I’ll have to walk up all of the hills.”

Selfie in motion.

Joseph didn’t look annoyed. Instead he was extremely encouraging and said, “We’ll stop here, I’ll get you a soft drink. Right now you just need energy. You didn’t finish your whole plate of noodles, but I did so you just need energy. I am confident you can do it.” After I drank the soft drink I did surprisingly have a lot more energy than I did five minutes earlier when my body was going to crash.

Joseph had a lot of breaks because he would always wait for me a the top of the hill until I caught up. But never looked irritated and he always pushed me at the perfect time. After I had my minute-long breaks, he said, “Ok, ready to go?” He was never overly pushy at all but he made sure we both kept up the pace with enough breaks.

We pushed on slowly but surely and I was surprised how revived I felt. We were finally rewarded with a 3 km ride downhill, which was an amazing way to end the day.

My bike just chillin’.

One the second day we already had a two-hour delay in the first of our eight legs that we had to finish. Joseph was worried, but I said, “No worries we’ll be able to make it, we’re keeping a great pace.” We would have made it only if there were no other major delays like a flat tire. So it was my turn the second day to keep positive energy so throughout the two days we complemented teach other very well.

Our Tour of Mauritius reminded me of when I traveled and you just have to have good faith and an open mind to be prepared for setbacks. But don’t expect them to happen then you may subconsciously create that future.

Positive energy and encouragement will make you realize your potential. You can see obstacles as a barrier to your goal or as something you are determined to overcome so you become stronger.

I couldn’t believe Joseph slept at 10:00 p.m. after riding 11 hours and got up at 4:30 a.m. the next day. Because he was up, he prepared our breakfast, teas and snacks for the day for both of us while I was trying to squeeze in every minute of sleep I could get. Lazy. 

Having enough food fuel 

Joseph made sure that we both ate well throughout the ride and had a good breakfast and lunch. When we ride, we don’t get that hungry often, but of course we needed energy so he made sure we ate something small every hour like a chocolate bar. After my exhaustion peaks on the first day, even though I don’t usually like soft drinks, I made sure I drank one every two hours just to keep my energy up.

Finding creative solutions 

After a two-hour delay on our first of eight legs on day two, we finally arrived at the beach so we could walk three kilometers to get to the coastal road in order to avoid a huge hill climb. 

Travelers and people who live on few resources tend to be more creative and are often in situations where they have to find creative solutions to their problems. Many of my Cambodian friends are street smart. They don’t have big U-Hauls like we do in North America so they know how to use ropes and layer everything on a big wooden wagon to be able to transport the same amount of stuff. When my motto broke down, I was going to push the bike to the mechanic but my friend told me to just sit on my bike and he pulled me with one hand while he rode his motto.

When you’re traveling, you have to find out how to get around without speaking the local language or finding things you need. You learn to use images to communicate or make friends with locals who can take to where you need to go.

This was our lunch on our first day: octopus and fish curry on noodles. I was only able to eat half of the plate, which quite possibly contributed to my near downfall on the huge hill we had to climb on the end of the day. I should have eaten the whole plate for energy.

It appears as though people in Westernized cultures have forgotten how to talk to each other or seem extremely hesitant to talk to someone they don’t know. Joseph and I very similar in that we just ask for directions and are never afraid of getting lost whereas many people would freak out at the thought of being lost.

On our second day of the ride, we missed the dirt road on the map that was supposed to take us to the main road so we wouldn’t have to climb the big hill. Our backup plan was to get to the beach through the hotel and walk to the main road, but that didn’t work out because there were renovations and the whole beach was fenced off.

Stuffing ourselves with an Italian dinner after 11 hours of cycling on day one.

So finally Joseph asked a security guard to give us permission to get to the beach through the hotel because by that point, we were already two hours behind and with any more delays, we wouldn’t have made it to the end on time. The guard happened to do the Tour of Mauritius by bicycle himself and he said, “I can’t let you in but there is a small path that will lead to the beach just up ahead if you go through the trees.” We we went and made our little trek with our bikes until we made it to the beach.

Joseph said, “Even if we don’t make it by 5:00 p.m. we will keep riding until we finish. It’s not good if came all this way not to make it to the end.” His friends were taking his car down and were going to accompany us through the last part of the ride.

Slower pace wins the race

The winds blowing hard at the trees in southern Mauritius.

Joseph has been cycling a long time and on a daily basis so he knows what technique is best to reserve his energy. Sometimes I would stand up on my bike for the harder hills or not pedal for a few seconds and just let the bike to go reserve my energy.

But even if I was ahead for a bit, it wasn’t long until Joseph would steadily catch up to me and pass me. I kept thinking of the rabbit and the turtle story. Guess who was the rabbit? He said, “You have to pedal consistently at about one revolution per second and adjust your gears accordingly.”

 The final destination

We encountered almost all weathers during the two days: rain, wind and sun. If there was snow, that would be a first in Mauritius.

We were on the 12th hour of our ride and for some reason I got a burst of energy and could keep going, even up the hills. Joseph’s friends who we went hiking with in the past followed us in the truck for the last few kilometers of our tour.  It was nice to have the support of his friends of what we were doing because many other people just think we’re crazy.

When we finally did it, I got so much in a present state that even when we finished the ride it didn’t really hit me that we cycled around all of Mauritius and I was still very much in the moment. A few times in the ride I asked myself, “Why do you put your body through this torture every now and then when you could be very comfortable exercising at home or a more leisurely bike.” For me, it comes down to discovering my potential and personal satisfaction.

This is the first time I’ve ever seen fried noodles presented like this. This was Joseph’s dinner on the first day of our tour.

Joseph’s next ambitious goal is to do the Tour of Mauritius in one day! But I believe with his stamina he could do it. While we were riding he had already planned out how many kilometers he would need to cover in an hour in his head and said that he could do it in 13 hours.

And now he knows the routes and where we took wrong turns. I was really happy when he said, “I think I will take your idea and do a fundraiser when do the tour. People have done the Tour of Mauritius but I’m not sure how many people have done it in one day. That will get attention.” It was really sweet when he told me, “When I do the tour I will think of you and miss you. Whenever I take a break I’ll be on a hill and looking behind to see if you are coming.”

Joseph has been very easy to travel and cycle with because we are both easygoing, open-minded, adventurous, unafraid of getting lost, social with new people and have the same determination to try an ambitious goal just to see if we can do it. One of the world’s great snowboarders Travis Rice said, “You don’t know your full potential until we push ourselves to find it.”

So go out and discover your potential. 

 

 

How long food takes to grow in Marinduque, Philippines

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It’s been a great experience learning about farming and gaining a much greater understanding of how long our food takes to grow naturally. I’ve grown up getting my food from stores and markets in Canada so it’s easy to be so disconnected from our food and the people who grow our food.

I have a much greater appreciation for the work of farmers after spending time in villages in Cambodia, farms in Thailand and one farm in Marinduque, Philippines. My friend and I spent 8 days in Marinduque island with my friend’s brother, whose family owns a big piece of land. They have rain about six months of the year and it’s dry season the rest of the year. Of course the amount of time food takes to grow depends on weather.

Given that Marinduque gets about 6 months of rain in the year and sun for the other half, here is approximately how long their food takes to grow:

Squash: 40 days

Tumeric: 1 year

Coconut tree: 7 years

Pechay: 1 month

Okra: 40 days

Cucumber: 2 months

Garlic: 1 month

One pineapple: 1 year!

 

6 days couch surfing in Palawan

 

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Our incredible couch surfing hosts Earl (the only dude in the picture) and Lia (middle).

I am now a huge advocate for couch surfing (CS) and definitely plan to be a host to travelers whenever I get my own place. My experiences surfing in Indonesia, Thailand and Philippines have been nothing less than incredible. Couch surfing is the best way to connect with local people if you’re in a city for a short period of time.

While my friend and I were in Manila, we were messaging a bunch of CS hosts to see if we could stay with someone and also hang out with people. To my surprise, a young girl named Lia who lives in Palawan messaged me first when she saw a post that we were couch surfing in her city. She said she didn’t have a place to host us but she could give us a tour around the city. This was impressive considering 9.8 times out of 10, I’m the one who messages people first.

Pristine beach. It’s not as nice as Nagtabon beach.

What impressed me even more was the day before we arrived in Palawan, she called me to ask if we wanted her to make a reservation for us for an underground river tour, which was said to be one of the must-see sights on the island. So we were told anyway.

Meeting Lia

Lia painted this in high school. Wow.

Before we actually met Lia, who quickly became our wonderful friend, she was so considerate to call and ask us if it was ok if two other couch surfers joined the city tour she was going go give us. To do an actual paid tour of the places we went would have been 600 pesos (about $13 US).

We first met her at a coffee shop and got to know each other. I could tell right away she was very friendly and wanted to make sure we had a good time. We had no idea how long she would have stayed with us for the day, but our day was open and we appreciated any time she gave to show us around.

A beautiful sunset at Nagtabon beach.

The more I got to know her the more I was fascinated with her many skills and interests. She is a petroleum engineering student and also runs her own business, R&L Customized Shop, selling custom-made products and crafts.

I asked her how many girls there are in her engineering field and she said, “One out of every 10 students are girls. But I’m close to my friends and they don’t treat me any different. I don’t get any special treatment because I’m a girl.”

We were only the second group of people she was providing full day city tour for by herself and I couldn’t believe she was giving four full day tours in one week with other travelers! She is an incredibly generous, intelligent and very mature person. On top of all of these great qualities, she is a wicked pool player.

Lia’s City Tour

I clearly took too long to get ready.

Lia spent 10 hours with us the first day, I was surprised. She took us to the a vegetarian restaurant, Cathedral, war memorial, Baker’s Hill, a viewpoint, bay walk and finally a restaurant until 10 p.m. I couldn’t believe she was going to give this tour to a few more groups in a week spending the whole day with people. She has her own business so her time was flexible. But to give so much of her time and energy is so generous. We felt so lucky to be on her city tour with Lia on a sunny day. One of our friends went on the paid city tour and it was quite boring and they were sitting in a van on a rainy day.

We found our Shrek family.

I wanted to eat vat a vegetarian restaurant so she took us to one place and met Danius and Roman, two CS guys from Lithuania. After we ate, Lia took us to a few places around the city and stayed with us right until dinner. During dinner Lia was adorable and told us that she was a bit nervous meeting us for the first time because we have a different culture. I told her it’s admirable that she pushed herself to give a city tour to travelers on her own. She told us, “If I had time, I would have picked you up at the airport.” She went to pick up another couch surfer another day. Top notch hospitality. 

Needless to say, we bought some baked goodies.

Non-stop fun

Venga Boys ladyboy show. Great value: buy a drink and enjoy the entire show.

Since we met Lia, we met other fantastic couch surfers. Every day was an unplanned adventure. We cooked together, went to a few beaches, saw a ladyboy show, went out dancing at a local club and went for local karaoke together. This was such an easy group to hang out with and we also hung out with two guys who were staying at another Couchsurfing host’s home.

Earl, Lia’s Filipino friend, was also very kind to spend time with us every day since we met. He helped us whenever we had questions and is a very good help and cook in the kitchen. Compared to many 23-year-olds in Canada, he is extremely mature, considerate and articulate.

Beautiful burning sky.

On one of the nights, Lia and Earl took us to a local karaoke place and we pretty much had the place to ourselves. I have never been to a karaoke place with only one microphone and you have to sing in front of everyone. Thankfully it was mostly our friends and just four other Filipina girls. But of course, after you listen to an incredible Filipina girl singing, you pretty much don’t want to follow that up!

We hung out here after a full day tour with Lia before we went to dinner.

One of the days we went out, we checked out a ladyboy show and it was the very firs time the Lithuanian guys had seen a show like this. And just their luck, of the 150 people in the room, the ladyboys chose to pick on them. In front of everyone, the ladyboy said, “You are so cute like a lollipop. Do you like boys or girls?” Our friend was so caught off guard he didn’t even answer and was laughing uncomfortably.

Our awesome couch surfing group.

After the ladyboy show, we all went to the local dance place that Yunis and I checked out earlier. It looked kind of shady from the outside but Yunis and I wanted to see what it was like. There weren’t many people but we enjoyed the music enough to have fun on our own.

The highlight of the night though was when we met this very flamboyant 20-year-old gay boy on the dance floor. He was absolutely fun and hilarious. He kept saying to us, “I am miss Philippines 2014” and kept looking at our friends and said, “dannnnnnce!”  with a strong Filipino accent. When my friend told him, “You must do yoga you are so flexible,” he replied, “No, it’s all natural.”

Our energetic and hilarious Filipino gay friend we met on the dance floor. Totally highlight of our night.

Trying duck embryo for the first time

Yes, that’s right, duck embryo is a very popular food in the Philippines as well as Cambodia. It’s called, “balut” in Tagalog. Because Lia was kind to us, we couldn’t’ say no to her when she insisted that we try balut. She purposely waited until it was night so we wouldn’t have to look at what we were eating, and that was definitely for the best.

Pristine Beach

The kids who were so friendly to chat and play with my friend and I. They live close to the beach and returned back to their families after spending some time with us.

One day we were at the beach for the day and there were a few young kids between 9 and 12 began talking to my friend and I. They asked what our names were, laughed and played with us for some time until they had to go back home.

Our Couchsurfing friend Roman started chatting with a 20-year-old boy who was an elementary school teacher. He said very wisely, “Anyone can be a teacher by profession but not by heart.” He because a teacher at first because his mom wanted him to follow that profession then he grew to love it. 21 teacher meesa

While we were in the shade, we met a fun Finnish girl named Ira who was very adventurous. She traveled to India alone and was going around Asia for a few months. She said many Finnish people are shy at first and aren’t so adventurous. She is not a typical Finnish person. She came back to town for lunch with us and hung out with us every day until she had to leave. We would later discover what an amazing singer she is.

Nagtabon beach

Nagtabon beach is considered the best beach in Palawan by the locals.

We were told Nagtabon is one of the nicest beaches in Palawan so we decided to spend our day there. We had a hard time finding enough scooters for everyone to get to Nagtabon, about an hour away, so Earl and Lia arranged to share a van to take 11 of us to the beach. She got a discount price for us. Locals are always have the best hookups.

Oliver is building a small resort and uses solar power.

Nagtabon was nice and quiet and we shared food for lunch. It was a perfect way to spend the day with the group. Earl had a friend who was building a resort on the beach that was five stories high. The top of the building had a beautiful view of the beach and surrounding areas. His friend was nice to offer us as many shots as we wanted when we were visiting his place. He also gave two of us a short boat ride. You could rarely have an experience like this if you come on your own with a group of backpackers.

Calm waters.

While most of us were in our happy place, we ended our time at the beach by watching Ira, riding the resort owner’s white horse on the beach during sunset. What an incredible way to ride a horse for the very first time!

Ira’s new horse friend.

Cooking at Lia’s

Eggplant, spaghetti, fish, mashed potatoes and other yummies.

Lia was nice to open up her home to us so we could cook a meal for her and Earl who have been doing so much for us. Earl helped Zu, my friend, and I shop at the local market. Zu noticed that the vendors were staring at Earl and Lia because they were hanging out with us Westerners. I guess not many foreign people spend much time shopping at the local markets.

Zu noticed that vendors were quite confused trying to figure me out because I looked like a local Filipina girl but was wearing Western backpacker clothes like the white people they are used to seeing.

Earl: wannabe musician, cook, weightlifter and couch surfing assistant host.

We just needed Lia and Earl to help us shop for the ingredients and just wanted them to relax once we got home. But because they have high standards of hosting in their blood, they helped us with most of the cooking and also contributed a soup dish and grilled eggplant.

In all, we ate spaghetti, mashed potatoes, grilled eggplant and soup. It was a fantastic meal. In all it cost about $4 US for a few of us to make all of that food. After that massive meal, Lia let me take a hot shower and sleep on her bed to take a rest during the afternoon.

Last day

We were so comfortable in Palawan that we lost track of what day we were leaving and we realized the day before our flight that we only had one more full day when we told our friends we had a few more days on the island. So we invited people at our Couchsurfing host Jon’s place to cook together one last time.

Jon was so nice to open up his home for us. I really appreciate our friends making time to cook and eat with us one last time before we left. I always believe that the best gift you can give to someone is your timeAnd the friends we have made in the Philippines spend time with us from their hearts.

We had an amazing last night with our wonderful friends at Jonathan’s bamboo house.

Me and two other friends split the cost of cooking for 10 people, including our friends where we were staying. Earl and Lia helped us shop at the market one more time and we all went to Jon’s house together. As usual, Lia and Earl helped us with most of the cooking and we shared a delicious meal.

After dinner, we had a memorable jam session and Jon and Ira also sang a beautiful duet. It couldn’t have been a more perfect way to end our night there.

Flexing with Earl at Nagtabon beach.

It was still early in the night so a few of uswent to the café to check the internet for a bit. We told Earl and Lia they didn’t have to stay, especially if they had school or work the next day. But they said, “No it’s ok. It’s your last night.”

So while we were checking our email at Magnut café, we had one more karaoke session and Lia and Ira shared their beautiful voices one more time. Lia was so sweet and gave each of us a customized gift from her company. On our last nightI texted her, “I wasn’t sure if we should come to the Philippines because I was tired of moving around. But you’ve mad our trip very worthwhile I will keep your gift forever.”

Our last sunset in Palawan.