Tag Archives: bourdain

Angkor Wat – Revisited

Hello dear readers! It has been quite some time since I last updated this blog, but have no fear, I am back! June was a very crazy, special, busy, beautiful, tiring and eye-opening month. First, my parents came to visit for two weeks and we headed to Siem Reap, Hanoi and Sapa. Less than a week after they left, five of my girlfriends from Wesleyan came for a 2 and a half week visit. We visited Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, Bangkok, Koh Phi Phi and Phuket. A lot to see in just one month! Definitely too much to fit into one blog entry, so it’s going to take a few entries to fit everything in. I will start with Siem Reap, the first stop on the trip I did with my parents.

“There’s no place else in the world that looks even remotely like Cambodia. You wake up, you always know where you are.” – Anthony Bourdain, March 8th, 2011 via Twitter.

Cambodia is a magical place. I visited twice in the fall of 2010, so I was very excited to go back and have my parents experience it. Tourists visit Siem Reap to see the various ruins of the Khmer Empire, which achieved great power and success between the 9th and 15th centuries. Many refer to the site as “Angkor Wat” because “Angkor” is the name of the area where the Khmer Empire held power, and the most famous temple in the complex is called Angkor Wat (the world’s largest single religious monument).

The trip with my parents was very different from the previous trip I made to Siem Reap. Instead of doing a 6 hour whirlwind tour of the main temples in the complex like I did last fall, we really took our time and visited a bunch of sites that most tourists don’t visit. We also woke up at 4:30am every morning to arrive at the complex by sunrise. Although I wanted to kill my father at the time, who insisted that we must be there at sunrise to take advantage of the lighting, getting an early start turned out to be a great thing. We avoided the massive tour group crowds which start their tours around 10am. One morning we had Ta Prohm, the place where they filmed Tomb Raider, literally all to ourselves. Waking up early also allows you to beat the intense heat which starts late morning and continues through the afternoon. I definitely recommend seeing the temples first thing, so worth waking up at 4 in the morning!

Angkor Wat. It wasn't the best sunrise, but it was still beautiful.

Entrance to Ta Prohm

Inside Ta Prohm

Photo Frames at Ta Keo

Watching the sunrise at Sras Srang Lake. My parents and I were 3 out of the 5 people there. It was so peaceful!

Preah Khan. In 1191, Jayavarman VII dedicatd this temple to his father. It's not one of the main attractions in Angkor Wat, but the temple is massive and there is a lot to explore. At the exit of the temple there is a beautiful lotus pond. Definitely worth seeing!

Wat Prasat Bakong, a short ride away from the main complex.

If you are interested in seeing more pictures of Angkor Wat, let me know. I took close to 500 photos when I was there! My next entry will be about our trek in Sapa. Stay tuned!

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Lunch Lady: Tuesday

The “Lunch Lady”, given said name by http://gastronomyblog.com/, was introduced to me by Ashley, my fellow food enthusiast and eating partner in crime here in Ho Chi Minh City. When we aren’t doing stuff related to English teaching, you are likely to find Ashley and I sending each other links via gchat to websites and blogs we’ve found related to food in HCMC. So after reading about the Lunch Lady on various blogs and seeing Anthony Bourdain visit her on one of his trips to Vietnam, Ashley decided this was a place we had to try out.

From gastronomyblog.com:

“Every morning before the sun rises, Nguyen Thi Thanh rolls out of bed, dons a comfy do bo (Vietnamese pyjamas), hops on her motorbike and heads to Thi Nghe Market. Thanh has been frequenting the same vendors for years, so everyone knows her by name and provides her with the freshest meats, noodles, herbs and vegetables.

Thanh arrives home at 8 am and begins preparing the day’s noodle dish. All of her broths are made from scratch, and she is blessed with a certain touch that somehow allows her soup seasonings to simultaneously suit everyone’s tastes. An hour before noon, the broth is finally perfect, and a crowd of customers gathered under a shady tree near her apartment is ready to dig into a hot bowl of noodles. This well-worn routine has been a part of Thanh’s life for the past decade, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.”

After a thirty minute walk on Tuesday we reached our destination sweaty and thirsty from the humid 90 degree weather. We were shown to a table, bought two bottles of cold water and eagerly awaited what was to come. First came a plate of four spring rolls served to us by Lunch Lady’s sister. They had the usual ingredients (noodles, shrimp, pork, mint) and were served with a delicious peanut sauce. Next came Tuesday’s specialty: Banh Canh. Now I am no food connoisseur so when our bowls of soup came out I had difficulty figuring out what I was actually eating. Luckily, gastronomyblog is way more knowledgeable and can give you guys some insight. Here is what she says about  Tuesday’s dish:

“Tuesdays feature a double punch of banh canh and bun moc. Both dishes are composed of a satisfying collection of meats, deep-fried shallots and a deeply flavourful and deftly salted pork-based broth, but they employ different noodles. The bun moc uses vermicelli rice noodles, while banh canh contains a thick udon-like noodle with a bite. “

This is what the soup looks like when it is served to you.

Banh Canh

And this is what the noodles look like.

Banh Canh Noodles

There are a couple things about this meal that make it stand apart from other soups. First, the broth is excellent. It is extremely rich and has so much flavor but at the same time is very light and drinkable. Secondly, I am a huge fan of Udon Noodles and these were the first thick noodles I’ve had since being in HCMC. You could tell they were extremely fresh for a couple of reasons. One, there was a lady physically making them at the table next to us and two, the texture was unbelievably soft. In addition to the noodles there was a mixture of assorted goodies and also some things I have not yet worked up the courage to eat in the soup. Those white pieces with black dots tasted a lot like fish chips and I liked dunking half of the chip into the broth and leaving the other half dry so there was a mixture of both crunchy and soft. The chicken and shrimp were both delicious but I stayed away from the liver, intestine and gizzards. I’m sure that they add more flavor to the broth but good luck trying to get me to actually eat it. Maybe eventually I’ll work up the courage. MAYBE.

All in all the food was great and it was nice eating outside at miniature tables amongst the locals. One thing that sucks about being a foreigner in Asia is that people know you are not a local and will therefore charge you more. Normally a bowl of soup is supposed to be 13,000VND but we were charged 20,000. Yeah, it sucks. But is it worth it to argue with someone who speaks almost no English over less than fifty cents? Probably not.

Ashley and I will definitely be returning to Lunch Lady on different days of the week so hopefully there will be a new post up soon about another one of her dishes. Stay tuned!

Lunch Ladys Stand

Friend of Lunch Lady making Noodles

The Lunch Lady is located at 23 Hoang Sa. Thi Nghe Canal. Binh Thanh District.

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Sick in Sihanoukville

Man is updating this thing harder than I thought it would be!
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I’ve been getting a lot of comments/questions about the food here. Originally this was supposed to be a food blog and so far there hasn’t really been much about the food here. This is mainly because I am not a fan of Khmer food. I love Cambodia but the one thing about it I would change is the food. In Phnom Penh I was basically eating fried rice and noodles everyday and to be honest…they weren’t even that good! There is very little flavor in Khmer food, ZERO salt and not many ingredients. It’s hard to get a daily serving of vegetables and the flavor of the meat is not one that I like. I got quite a bad case of food poisoning last Thursday in Phnom Penh and spent most of the weekend at Sihanoukville in my hotel room instead of venturing out to the beach. It has now been over a full week and I don’t have a fever anymore and my body is starting to gain back strength but my stomach is still killing me. I can’t wait till this thing is finally gone. You don’t want to know how many different kinds of drugs I’ve been on this past week but NONE of them worked. The other night Hien, a Vietnamese woman who works at LanguageCorps, got me some Chinese herbal medicine wrapped in a piece of paper and the sketchy, unlabled pills I took seemed to cure me for a day but I definitely still have some kind of disease.
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I have now been in Ho Chi Minh City since Sunday night and am very busy taking Vietnamese lessons and getting in a lot of practice teaching. But more on this later…
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Let’s go back to Cambodia. My time there flew by and I do miss it a lot. My housemates just ran into Anthony Bourdain at the Russian Market and I am beyond jealous that I was not there for that. Unfortunately my being sick ruined my last night in Phnom Penh and I didn’t get to enjoy a last night out in the city. But I am already thinking about going back, maybe for the Water Festival in November, so I’ll definitely have more chances to spend time there. Even though I was deathly ill during the beach trip and we got maybe 10 minutes of sunshine the entire weekend, I did have a lot of fun. The LanguageCorps crew spent a lot of time just chilling around the hotel and getting some much deserved rest after a long week. One afternoon when I was feeling OK I went down to the beach with my Khmer friends Dara, Trea and Lana and we kicked a soccer ball around, lounged on couches on the beach and the three of them went into the water. The beach next to our hotel isn’t very touristy so we were the only ones there which was really nice. I can imagine that place being like paradise when the weather is sunny. Our last night at the beach the entire group went out for a barbeque dinner at a restaurant literally 10 feet from the ocean. My stomach was still killing me so I didn’t eat much or drink but we spent the entire night dancing, drinking $2 whiskey buckets (literally buckets you would use to make a sand castle at the beach) and setting off $1 fireworks on the beach. It was a really fun last night with everyone.

Dara helping me set off fireworks on the beach

My housemates in Sihanoukville

The next morning we drove 4 hours back to Phnom Penh and then Dara and I packed my entire room in literally less than 10 minutes because we were catching a bus to Vietnam that afternoon at 2. It was very rushed and I was sad because I didn’t really get to take in the fact that we were leaving Phnom Penh. The bus ride to Vietnam wasn’t too bad but felt like an eternity because we had already spent 4 hours on a bus that morning. We got into Ho Chi Minh at 8:30pm and grabbed a quick dinner and then went to bed. We have Vietnamese classes every morning and then spend the afternoons teaching classes. It’s a lot of work and I go home every night exahusted but it’s definitely better than the classes we were taking in Phnom Penh.

Ho Chi Minh is wild. After being in Phnom Penh for two weeks Saigon seems like New York City and there are motorbikes EVERYWHERE!  It’s a major city and there is so much to do here. The area we have been spending time in (District 1 and District 3) has a lot of shopping, restaurants and bars. I think most foreigners visiting the city hang out around here.  Since I’ve been sick and busy with teaching I haven’t explored much but I plan to do that this weekend. I think it will be a good place to live. I’m going to start taking pictures of the food I’m eating so my next entry will be about food!

traffic in Ho Chi Minh City

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T-minus ONE DAY!

Tomorrow I am going to Newark Liberty International Airport with a one-way ticket to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. After 24+ hours of traveling I will spend two weeks in Phnom Penh participating in a TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) training program through an organization called LanguageCorps. I will then travel by bus to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly known as Saigon) to complete my TESOL training and subsequently look for a teaching gig somewhere in Vietnam. I haven’t been given many details about how all of this is going to work but I’m not too worried (yet) and I’m anxious to see how it’s all going to turn out!

To be honest, I don’t really know much about Vietnam. What knowledge I do have about the country comes from reading the “Asia Pacific” section of the New York Times and watching Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern on the Travel Channel. When I found out I was going to Vietnam I did some Internet research and looked through some books, but the country still seems very foreign to me. Besides the Vietnam War, you don’t learn much about Vietnam in school so I’ll fill you in on some very basic facts that I’ve just learned.

Here is a pretty decent map of Southeast Asia.

The Mekong River, which starts in the Tibetan Plateau and runs through southern China, Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, ends its 2,600-mile run and divides into nine streams composing the Mekong Delta in southern Vietnam where Ho Chi Minh City is located. The city has a tropical climate and the year is divided into two seasons: the rainy season, which lasts from May to November, and the dry season, which lasts from December to April. All throughout the year the weather is warm so there is no real need for me to pack my winter clothes. The other major city in Vietnam is the capital Hanoi and it is located in the north.

The population of Vietnam reaches almost 86 million making it the 13th most populous country in the world. Friends that have traveled to Vietnam warned me about the dense population but after spending time in China, I’m hoping the masses of people won’t be too much for me to handle.

Vietnam has its own distinct culture but is also known for having a lot of influence from France and China. I have heard that Vietnam is one of the best places to travel because it is developed enough that foreigners feel comfortable, yet old Vietnamese culture still has a very strong presence. I guess when I actually get there I can let you all know if this is actually true.

While I’m abroad I want to keep this blog to share with you guys the new experiences I’m going to be having. Most of my entries will focus on food and travel but some entries about my daily life in Vietnam will surely pop up. Leave comments and send me emails…I’m definitely going to miss everyone in America!!!

Love from Princeton,

Amy

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