Has it really been over a month since I last wrote? This Friday, I will have officially been in Cambodia for two months – and I know that’s not long, but time has absolutely flown by.
This past weekend was Khmer New Year, and after a quick Google search I found out that that Cambodians sometimes count the year based on the Bhuddist calendar – which would make this year 2560 BE (Buddha Era). Just to be clear, I was in Nepal last April when they also celebrated the New Year, welcoming in 2072. So in the past year, I’ve celebrated 2072, 2016 and 2560. Not too shabby.
The new year celebrations lasted over 5 days and consisted of Khmer dancing, really great music, getting soaked by water guns, being covered in baby powder, and – my favourite – fireworks over the river. It’s a tradition for children to throw water at you as you’re riding past on your bicycle or moto and sometimes, they’ll even put baby powder on your cheeks.
So, picture this. Me. Just riding back from work – with my laptop might I add – and getting relentlessly soaked with 5 buckets of water being poured over me at once. Some of the water is ice cold and refreshing, while the rest has become acclimatized to the 40-degree heat.
But it’s all in good fun, and I had a really great time celebrating Khmer New Year with my friends in Battambang.
Battambang, oh how I love this city. It lacks the hustle and bustle of Phnom Penh and the flocks of tourists in Siem Reap. It has a quiet charm that pulls you in with its quirky restaurants and friendly residents. Not to mention all its pagodas and statues.
I’ve tried so many new things here that I never would have done back in Canada – soccer (I’m not much coordinated for this), Khmer dancing (see previous note), and Khmer cooking.
Khmer cooking has to be my absolute favourite. There are a few restaurants to take cooking classes at – so my friends and I opted for one called ‘Nary’s Kitchen’ (which I heard was the ‘original cooking class of Battambang’). We paid ten dollars to cook a 4-course meal, along with a trip to the market to see where to buy the vegetables. Going to the market was especially helpful for me because I do a lot of cooking in my apartment and it can sometimes be difficult to navigate your way around the market where there are vegetables, next to live eels, next to hanging chickens – it’s a diverse place.
The first dish we made was called fish amok, which is fish in a blend of spices and coconut milk. It’s served in a cute little leaf bowl. The second dish we made was beef (or in my case tofu) lok lak, which again, is an amazing sauce that covers the tofu. It also had a bit of a kick to it. We then made spring rolls, and all I can say is: yum. For dessert we made bananas in tapioca and coconut milk, which was also delicious.
We also went to Cambodia’s notorious (ly bad) one and only vineyard. We read things about the vineyard before we went, knowing that it was famous for producing not so great wine. And all the guidebooks said: don’t make a special trip out there. What did we do? We made a special trip. It’s about 45 minutes outside the city and on a tuk tuk, it’s really quite a nice ride. We were half expecting to see miles of grapes, but apparently they grow their grapes in different locations and only have some at the main tasting room. It was.. umm.. interesting. Probably unlike any wine I’ve ever tasted. I give them a lot of credit for growing grapes in Cambodia with the hot climate – their grape juice was quite good!
In other news, I am taking my vacation next week. Visa and flight to Myanmar: check! I’m very excited, it’s a place I’ve always wanted to visit. Tanner also arrives in less than 24 hours – and I already have a Cambodian beer cooling in the fridge for his arrival!