Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Over the river and through the woods

My last few days in Vietnam left me feeling as if I was on a roller coaster ride with no end in sight.

And yes, I do mean that literally. I suppose that's what eight hours in a minivan without air conditioning, jutting in and out and around potholes big enough to swallow a full-size bus will do to you. That, and the fact that every time we hit a pothole (which was about every 30 seconds) I flew out of my seat about two feet forward, wiggling back up just to jettison out again seconds later. It was so ridiculous, it became hilarious. At least I provided entertainment to my fellow Vietnamese passengers.

Instead of the quick and ubiquitous straight shot bus ride from Saigon to Phnom Penh, I decided to do the Mekong River crossing. Though it took longer, as it involved the previously mentioned minibus ride to get over to the Mekong Delta followed by a full day's worth of river travel north, the trade off was well worth it. The scenery that I witnessed during the boat ride showed a quiet, river-centric way of life that kept my eye glued to the camera viewfinder.

My first order of business upon arriving in Phnom Penh was to taste a dish that my older sister has been raving about since she left Cambodia: fish amok. A firm, white-flesh fish is steamed in coconut curry inside of a banana leaf before being spooned over hot long-grain rice and gobbled up. At least, that was how I ate it every time I tried it...which averages out to about once a day.

There are as many versions of fish amok as there are restaurants in Cambodia. Known as the unofficial national dish, it had a place on nearly every menu I saw. And if it wasn't fish amok (my personal favorite), it was available with another protein: tofu, pork, chicken, beef. I sampled my favorite version at the Cambodian cooking class I took in Sihanoukville, which I will share in a later post.

After I got my introduction to fish amok out of the way, I was free to attend to other things of business such as applying for a Laos visa, oh, and visiting some of the many national monuments located in Cambodia's capital.

As luck would have it, the rain followed me all the way to Cambodia, and my first day there, after paying a visit to the Lao Embassy, found me inside the Cambodian National Museum. This was, by far, my favorite museum of the trip. Filled to the brim with ancient Khmer and Angkor statues, it took me hours to get through it all. I also brushed up on my Buddhist and Hindi deity knowledge and fell in love with the graceful Khmer language engraved on tablets centuries old.


Now, as you may have guessed, these blog posts are not happening in real time. Though I'm only up to Cambodia in the posts, I'm actually in Thailand with my good friend Katie, having a lovely time, and a mere week away from coming back to the States (assuming the protests in Bangkok don't wreak too much havoc). I'll definitely be continuing the posts to get you all up to date, but I wanted to take a moment to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving.

I will be in the kitchen myself, taking a Thai cooking course, though I can guarantee that I'll be missing Dad's turkey, Mom's pumpkin pie and everything that comes in between. Have a couple extra bites for me if you can, and maybe a sip or two of champagne to celebrate.

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