Preah Vihear to reopen
Labels: Preah Vihear
Cambodia - Temples, Books, Films and ruminations...by Andy Brouwer
Labels: Preah Vihear
As dusk settles over the temples and the hordes of tourists take their buses back into town, the time has come for me to ride out to a local Khmer restaurant in the Angkor park and buy a ban chao picnic. There is nothing more beautiful than Angkor Wat at this time of the evening, when the orange glow of the day fades into nighttime.
Ban chao is a traditional Khmer fast food that you can eat in or take away. A large yellow pancake filled with bean sprouts and chopped pork or prawns, it is served with salad leaves, which you should wrap around pieces of the pancake before dipping the little package in the delicious accompanying peanut sauce. Because I am not accomplished at this kind of dining and tend to make a mess, I need a ready supply of tissues!
The food is tasty, but it needs to be said that it's the setting that makes it. After ordering my vegetarian version of ban chao, I head to the edge of the moat outside Angkor Wat. Gathered here are Khmer families, all with the same things in mind-eating ban chao and catching up on the weekly gossip. Each group sits on one of the large rented mats that line the temple walls on both sides of the causeway in the evening. As darkness falls, the picnickers light candles that are sold by industrious children. Sometimes, I might bargain for the rental of mats and candles, but it depends on how bold I'm feeling and how wily the kids are that day.
As the row of mats gets busier, the number of candles flickering in the dark increases. The atmosphere is relaxed and happy, but for me the main pleasure is to sit amongst Khmer families and to escape the foreign restaurants and bars that can dominate Siem Reap. Better yet, all this takes place against the backdrop of Angkor Wat, changing color from purple to red to green as the floodlights illuminate the massive towers against a blackening sky.
After dinner, the only thing left to do is to gather up my plastic boxes and bags and then pay the owner of the mats. By this time, the stream of bright lights from the tourist buses has long since died down, and their thundering engines are replaced with the noise of frogs, insects, and of course much laughter from those who remain, faces glowing by candlelight.
FACT FILE: Finding ban chao
Take the tarmac road directly opposite the main steps to the Angkor Wat causeway across the moat. You know you are on the right road because it has an obelisk in the middle. You will pass some toilets and an open templelike building on the right about 50 meters from the obelisk. Walk down the road approximately 150 meters. You will see two restaurants on the right-hand side. Rachel prefers the first restaurant, Ban Chao. It has a tattered blue Khmer sign outside it. If you cannot read Khmer, check to make sure that the restaurant next door is called Somnang Kohdot. The pancakes are incredibly cheap, and you can buy soft drinks and beer to take with you too. All the food is packaged for a takeaway, including vegetables and peanut sauce. You can request your pancakes without meat.
Keeping it legal
Rachel has not had any problems with going into the outer temple area in the day or night without a ticket, but you may get stopped and even fined if you actually go into the temples themselves. Stay on the public roads around the temples and you should have no problems-this includes the restaurant and picnic areas. Remember that it gets dark quickly here, so try not to leave it too late to sort out a mat and candles for a picnic-tricky in the pitch black.
Labels: To Cambodia With Love
Labels: Winds of Angkor
Labels: To Cambodia With Love
The motodop stops in front of a row of dusty wooden shops, all selling pirated CDs and DVDs. He announces, "Psar Tuol Tom Pong." Immediately, the smell of fried food beckons me in, making my mouth water and my stomach expand in anticipation. I enter the market, walking quickly past booths selling factory-second Gap T-shirts, blue and white ceramic plates and bowls, bicycle tires, and strange, silver looping wire contraptions that hang from the ceiling like metallic animal innards.
I duck, sidestep, and march my way through the maze of stalls, ignoring the vendors' calls, until in front of me I see my destination, the market's food court-a vision of heaven for those of us who call ourselves foodies. Like vaporous hands, its smell floats toward me and hooks its fingers into my nostrils, pulling me forward. I eye the many stands hungrily. Spread across their tables are rows and rows of pots and plates full of crispy brown egg rolls, red sizzling chicken teriyaki, golden fried dough, hot red curry, cool cucumber salad, and yellow crepes, all making my taste buds stand at attention on my tongue.
Fighting the urge to plant my butt down at every table, I head to the stall where a pleasant looking middle-aged woman stands frying chive rice cakes in a giant skillet. I sit at her booth. We greet each other. I am a regular, and I order for one.
Chive cakes come in two shapes, round and square. For the square cakes, the rice batter and chives are mixed together, while the round one is made with an outer rice cake wrapping and filled with fresh green chives mixed with garlic and salt. Personally, I prefer the round chive cakes for their crispy shell and juicy chives inside, and I watch as the woman silently scoops two brown, crispy cakes with her silver spatula, drops them on a plastic flower plate, and hands it to me. Immediately, another customer calls her attention away.
The temperature at the booth is oppressive, and instantly I go from glowing to sweating like a pig. I watch as Meang hovers over the hot stove, one hand on her hip. The other grips the handle of the heavy spatula. When she adds a ladle of oil to the skillet, it splatters and sizzles, causing bright orange flames to nip at her skin. I am astounded that her face barely glistens as she pushes the round cakes into an upside-down arc, which reminds me of the connected rings of the Olympic symbol.
Most cakes are automatically served with a Khmer sweet-and-sour sauce. I don't have a sweet tooth, so I like my cakes with soy sauce, hot sauce, and vinegar. I turn away from Meang to add a spoonful of each to my order. I take two plastic chopsticks and split open my cakes, letting the steam burst forth with the fresh aroma of sweet chives and garlic. The first bite turns on the faucet in my nostrils, the second opens the pores in my face and skull, and the third burns the roof of my mouth so that I am hissing and sucking for air as my body empties itself of moisture. But a smile forms on my lips as I chew and swallow, wiping my dripping nose and lips in between each bite.
Once I clean my plate, I give Meang my 50 cents, thank her, and leave, satisfied. Along with immersing myself in authentic flavor, eating at a local stall like Meang's is perhaps the simplest form of paying it forward, and the most appetizing. I love knowing that my money will stay in country and help her provide for herself and her family. To me, it's a win-win situation for everyone.
FACT FILE: Chive rice cakes in the Russian Market
While chive rice cakes (nom kachay) are sold in most outdoor Khmer markets in the "food court" from eleven-ish in the morning to two-ish in the afternoon, at Psar Tuol Tom Pong, Meang's stall is the only one selling these cakes. To prepare, she and her family wake up every morning around three to make her cakes. For the day, they will make approximately four hundred each of both the round and square cakes. They use only fresh ingredients. Because they serve many foreign customers, the daughters know a bit of English. Chive cakes are best eaten at the stall when they are still hot and crispy. They generally sell for 800 to 1000 riel. Psar Tuol Tom Pong, also called the Russian Market because of the customers who shopped there in the 1990s, is known by all the tuk-tuk drivers and motodops in Phnom Penh.
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Labels: Kompong Thom Provincial Museum
Around the same time as I first came to Cambodia in 1994, I watched a memorable documentary that focused on the fledgling revival of Cambodian classical dance. It featured one of the survivors of the Khmer Rouge regime, which killed nine out of every ten of the country's dancers-hence the film's title, The Tenth Dancer. The survivor's name was Em Theay, and it was clear that she was a remarkable woman. Little did I know that years later I would meet her and discover that she was an even more exceptional individual than I first thought.
I was acting as the local fixer for a documentary about Cambodia, thirty years after the end of Pol Pot's iron-fisted rule. We'd interviewed Vann Nath, the famous painter of Tuol Sleng prison, and now it was the turn of the living icon of Cambodian royal court dance. Dressed in her finest clothes, her toothless grin spreading from ear to ear, Em Theay arrived with her eldest daughter, also a leading classical dancer. She was seventy-eight years old, and the prospect of talking about dance-her lifeblood for so many decades-was something she was eagerly anticipating.
With the help of a translator, Em Theay launched into the story of her life, a tale of funny moments interspersed with the sadness of the Pol Pot years and the subsequent struggles to resurrect her beloved dance traditions. She was chosen to dance at the age of seven by Queen Kossamak, for whom her parents worked as domestic servants. She grew up in the Royal Palace and was a dancer and singer in the King's Royal Ballet until the Khmer Rouge took over her country. At that time she was forty-three and was sent to live in Battambang, where her talents did not go unnoticed-her captors encouraged her to sing and dance as well as work in the fields.
In 1975, when the Khmer Rouge came to power, twelve of Em Theay's eighteen children were alive. By the end of the Khmer Rouge period in the late '70s, seven more had died and only five were left. Her spirit unbroken, Em Theay returned to Phnom Penh, where her knowledge and skills of the traditional arts were put to use as a teacher at the National Dance Company and the Royal University of Fine Arts until a few years ago.
She told her moving story with such grace and dignity that it was impossible for those present not to feel the emotion of the moment, and as I listened in awe, I quickly wiped away the tears before anyone could see. But laughter is never far from Em Theay's lips. She even surprised the cameraman on a couple of occasions by springing up from her chair to demonstrate the wealth of postures and movements that she knew by heart and had passed on to countless students over the years, including her own children and grandchildren. As she finished her tale with more of her amusing stories about her students, I found myself unsure whether to laugh or cry. She ended the session by sitting on the floor and handing me countless photographs of her family and some of herself, yellowing with age, but obviously precious items and memories. Clearly, her desire to pass on the secrets of the royal court dance has been undiminished by time.
In March 2009 Em Theay and her daughter lost everything in a house fire. Irreplaceable documents of dance and family history - her treasured notebooks, which contained the record of many important sacred songs and dances, along with those yellowing photographs, which she kept hidden from the Khmer Rouge on pain of death - were gone forever. A benefit concert and a screening of The Tenth Dancer have raised much-needed funds to assist her. While such support helps, nothing can be done to retrieve her invaluable possessions. Yet she continues on, undaunted. Her life has been - and still is - an incredible journey. She is not only a true survivor, she is also a vital link to Cambodia's glorious past.
Fact File: The Tenth Dancer
Sally Ingleton's 1993 documentary is a testament to the resilience of Em Theay and the rest of the Cambodia classical dancers and their dedication to resurrecting this vital link to Cambodia's past.
How do I describe my love of Cambodia? I'm not the world's greatest wordsmith, so I'll keep it simple. In 1994 I came to this country for five of the most exhilarating, nerve-jangling, and frightening days of my life - and that was it. I was hooked, completely, by a country and a people who've subsequently enriched my life to a degree I never thought possible. Those five days sparked a passion that grew with each of my annual visits, culminating in my migration here three years ago. I truly feel at home, I belong, I love every day of my life here, and I want to share my passion for this country with everyone. To Cambodia With Love is the perfect vehicle to do just that.
Fortunately, you don't have to read my inadequate prose to understand the essence of Cambodia. I've joined forces with more than sixty contributors who know this country as well as I do - better in many instances - and who I'm convinced will inspire you to come and see for yourself why this beautiful land is so alluring. Whether it's acclaimed memoirist Loung Ung eating chive rice cakes in the Russian Market in Phnom Penh, journalist Karen Coates exploring a bird sanctuary in Preah Vihear Province, pioneering guidebook author Ray Zepp riding a traditional norry along countryside railway tracks, or scholar and Angkor historian Dawn Rooney explaining her favorite time to visit Cambodia's most celebrated temple, there are essays to feed your obsession if you're already hooked, or spark a love that will continue to grow after your Cambodian baptism.
I urge you to discover and unearth Cambodia's secrets, some of which you will find within these pages, others you must find for yourself-and you will, I assure you. Wander amongst the crowded maze of its markets, absorb the slow pace of village life in a rural landscape where few travelers venture, discover the unique lifestyle along the Mekong River, and above all, appreciate a culture and setting that spawned the incredible temples of Angkor, the jewel in Cambodia's crown. Fifteen years ago, I was blessed to see the Angkor temples without the crowds, to experience sunrise over the pineapple towers of Angkor Wat in glorious solitude, and for that I will be eternally grateful. Though the secret of Angkor is now well and truly out in the open - it is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the world - there are still many opportunities to grasp your own special memories and lock them away forever, as I have ... beginning with a few suggestions in this book.
I know it's a bit of a tired cliché that it's the people of this and that country that make it such a wonderful place, but the truth is, they really do. Cambodia is no different. After weathering decades of bloodshed and civil war, poverty, and instability, the Khmer have proved their incredible resilience, and their smile remains as bewitching as it has throughout time. The friendships I've developed over the years will last forever. No one will leave Cambodia without a large chunk of admiration and fondness for the people they encounter. You have my guarantee.
This is not a definitive guide to Cambodia. Far from it. It is about inspiration, discovery, sharing, and above all else, a love and a respect for a country that has changed my life forever, as I hope it will change yours.
Editor, To Cambodia With Love
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