August 23, 2010 - Posted by Erin in Culture, Food and wine, Travel, Travels in Asia

Sure, right, Cambodia you’ve been in Cambodia, but why have I not heard more about you? How come questions like “have you seen the Coliseum and eaten pasta in Italy?” aren’t followed up by “or have you seen the temples and stuffed your face silly in Siem Reap?” Why aren’t Cambodian restaurants (serving what is called Khmer cuisine) as ubiquitous as Chinese, or even Thai?? I feel like I’ve been deceived. I suppose I should snap out of my Cambodian-cuisine-coma though and first take you all back to the other stops on my trip. While I sit here on the beach of Koh Phangan Island in Thailand (translation: paradise), however, I find that my mind is a mush of sticky rice and curry after the last couple of weeks in Laos, Cambodia, and now my latest stop here In the Gulf of Thailand.

There was our first stop after visiting Vietnam – Laos. Outside of knowing that Laos was tragically labeled as being the most bombed country in the world (more bombs were dropped there during the Vietnam-US war than all those dropped in World War II – this was largely as a result of its location on the Ho Chi Minh trail), I admittedly didn’t really know what to expect. So when we arrived in the small mountain town of Luang Prabang, with my senses buzzing and my ears still ringing from all the horn honking, I was pleasantly surprised by the what a tranquil and humble place it was and by the sudden change of pace. With one small main drag lined with charming buildings frozen in time, the town was simple but welcoming. It reminded me of a Country Western town, except instead of cowboys roaming the streets you had monks, instead of cacti there were palm trees, instead of carriages you had tuk tuks, and instead of chickens running around everywhere you had….well, chickens actually. Our days there were filled with far more tranquil activities than in Vietnam – a long boat ride on the Mekong River, walks through small villages, bike rides through the town, early morning rice offerings to monks, and visits to chant-filled temples. The highlight was actually our visit to the Museum of Ethnology, a little gem of a museum housed in a small old French colonial home nestled in one of the village’s neighborhoods. Not only was the visit incredibly insightful in terms of understanding the complex heritage and origins of the Lao people, but the building and location lent itself to what felt like an entirely authentic experience. The small cafe on the house’s patio provided us a front row seat to the backstreets of the town. We found ourselves sipping on our coffee as we played games of hide-and-go-seek with the local kids all while enjoying the view of the city just beyond the roof tops.

Laos definitely proved to be a good mental and physical break between Vietnam and Cambodia. Arriving in Cambodia, I was enthused to see the famous Angkor Wat temple, but had little idea of the what other surprises were in store for me. Before my love affair with Cambodia began, however, we were taken to our peculiar little hotel outside the main city center, where we gave each other sideways looks pondering how we ended up in such odd lodging (which shall remain nameless, but let’s just say I felt like I was in an oriental furniture warehouse that had been taken over by a jungle). When we discovered that we were in no way centrally located, we decided to seek out other accommodations. By some stroke of luck we ended up in the city center at the Hotel de la Paix and were upgraded to a junior suite where they treated us like Cambodian kings and queens. The trip took a decidedly fantastic turn back in the awesome direction that it was already going.

That day we were met by our guide Pol, who I’m now certain is one of the smartest people on the planet, and potentially equally as hilarious. While I only probably understood some 50% of what he said, that half of the information was probably all that my brain was capable of absorbing anyway. I spent my days there seesawing between being completely hypnotized by the ethereal stone temples, and tearful laughter at Pol’s jokes about five star bathrooms, stories about his dogs Angelina Jolie and Coca Cola, and various cross-the-road-jokes about monkeys and millipedes.

Then there was the food…oh the food! From hole in the wall restaurants to fancy modern cuisine, it just didn’t seem possible to eat something that wasn’t orgasmic! The food has the curry flavors of Thai food, but is a bit more mild and sweet such that your mouth doesn’t get a full workout just trying to manage the spice. Our particular favorite dish was the amok, which can be served with fish, or meat, or shoot why not ice cream…just a suggestion.

Our journey has come to its final stop here in Thailand on the island of Koh Phangnan, near Koh Samui (which, relative to Koh Phangan, is all hustle and bustle). We’ve spent the last days kayaking, wake boarding and scuba diving…oh, and just doing nothing while soaking up the sun by the pool, on the beach, or in our own little private pool area. The island here is spectacular – secluded enough that the beaches aren’t blanketed with boatloads of people, and populated enough such that you actually have something to do during a several day stay. The Rasananda Resort, where we’ve been staying, has been phenomenal and is a place I absolutely recommend if you are looking for a top notch trip to paradise, and who isn’t?

Apparently all good things must come to an end though (why? WHY!?!???). Now it’s back to reality where I will brainstorm ways to recreate Cambodian food and pineapple smoothies, which I can enjoy at our imaginary beach lounge (our balcony). I do hope Jacobo won’t mind being the towel boy.