Cambodia: What to do, What to see, What to eat? Kampot!

Cambodia: things to do Kampot

When travelling through South East Asia it is easy to stick to the main tourist attractions and big cities – they are a tourist attraction for a reason after all! If you are strapped for time in a country jam-packed full of interesting things to do and see like Cambodia, stepping away from the tourist hordes is even more difficult. Kampot near the Vietnamese border is a little town that isn’t quite off the “beaten track” but it’s not on the main tourist route either and is a great way to see something a little different.

Falling off the “beaten track” in Kampot is the perfect way to finish my four-part series on a sample of things to do and see in Cambodia. But if sleepy rural towns are not your thing check out the earlier posts:

PART 4: Kampot

Kampot is nestled up on the Vietnamese border, surrounded by farmland and mountains.  It is a great place to base yourself if you wish to explore Bokor national park.  The town itself is still heavily influenced by the French colonial architecture, combined with the many bakeries that dot the town you would be forgiven for thinking you had somehow stepped into the south of France.

Make sure you look before you cross the road

Make sure you look before you cross the road

How Long: Kampot is a sleepy town, with limited things to do a few days here is usually enough.  If however you want to base yourself some where quiet where you can still easily travel to the other major attractions in Cambodia then this is a great town for a longer stay.

Beware: Cambodia is one of the most heavily mined countries in the world – and I am not referring to gold mining.  During the Khmer Rouge land mines were buried throughout various places in the countryside, killing tens of thousands over the years.  When in any rural area in Cambodia be careful not to stray off the road – there are still huge efforts to clear the country of these horrific bombs but it will still take many more years and a lot more money to give the country the all clear – caution if the key to maintaining your limbs.

Cambodia: things to do Kampot

Things to do:

Bokor National Park is one of the countries largest protected areas and contains many animals and birds that are on the verge of being extinct – including the tiger. You can do one day or multiple day tours from Kampot. The ruins in the centre have a somewhat eerie feel to them as the jungle slowly creeps out to reclaim them.

Explore the local countryside by hiring a tuk tuk or moto driver for the day. Ask them to take you to some of the places that they think are important in the ares, such as the famous Kampot pepper farms which is regarded as one of the finest peppers in the world and a staple on most five-star restaurant tables.

Cambodia: things to do Kampot

Ancient bat filled caves are just a short moto ride from the town.  The climb up to the caves is one of the highlights as you are able to look out at the vast region of fields and mountains below you.  The caves themselves contain ancient shrines and loads of bats – wouldn’t recommend using flash photography in there.

Take a breath while you enjoy a coffee or a meal in one of the many amazing restaurants that line the river bank. Spend some time just collecting your thoughts and admiring the sun setting over the mountains and the eye-popping steel bridge.

Kep is a ghost town just near Kampot. It was once a thriving holiday resort built by the French, but war and famine meant that it was all but deserted until recently.  A new tourist trade is slowly taking hold here. But it is even more sleepy than Kampot so I would recommend just doing a day trip there.  Walking along the seafront that is lined with huge beautiful and opulent white French buildings is simultaneously amazing and creepy as the place feels so lonely and sad.

Cambodia: things to do Kampot

Cambodia is a country that has so much to offer travellers of all interests – from the ancient ruins of Angkor Wat, to the heartbreak of the Killing Fields, to beach time in Sihanoukville but if you want to see a little piece of Cambodia that isn’t a tourist attraction head down to Kampot.

Cambodia: things to do Kampot

South East Asia is a region packed with things to do and see but at times it can be stressful (such as when you accidentally wash your passport) and daunting, sometimes you need to remember to take a deep breath and go with the flow. Once you relax you will create memories that will last a life time as the region is full of history, culture, shopping, amazing food and some of the friendliest people in the world. But if you need a little help working out this amazing region click here for 25 tips on how to survive South East Asia

 

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Cambodia: What to do, What to see, What to eat? Sihanoukville!

Cambodia: Things to do Sihanoukville

On a trip to Cambodia you can be mistaken for thinking that it’s all temples and history lessons, yet there is so much more to this beautiful country.  With so many amazing things to do and see it is easy to feel overwhelmed.  This is a four-part series on just a small sample of the amazing things your can experience in Cambodia.  Once you have poured your soul out in Phnom Penh or stubbed your toe on too many ancient ruins in Siem Reap head down to the coastal city of Sihanoukville for some down time.

PART 3: Sihanoukville

The small coastal town of Sihanoukville has really taken off as one of the must visit places in Cambodia and its no surprise with its laid-back atmosphere. The town is sprawled out over a small peninsular but the most popular area is Serendipity Beach.  The roads and infrastructure are still a work in progress but this just adds to the charm and fun of the place. If you are in need of a beach escape this is the place to go! NOTE: Make sure you research what the weather will be like as it does have a rainy season and a hot season.

Cambodia: Things to do Sihanoukville

How Long: Depends on how much time you want to spend on a beach? There are also some great day trips to be done from Sihanoukville so factor in a couple of extra days on top of your lounging to do these.

Beware: There you are walking down the street, minding your own business when suddenly you hear “You want a smoke?” “You buy Marijuana?” “Hash for you?” coming out of the darkness.  Don’t be fooled by the laid-back feel of the place, drugs are illegal and having them on your person is grounds for arrest. Also there are rumours that some of those oh so friendly drug pedlars are in fact undercover cops who will exert bribes after arresting you.  Be sensible and think twice about what a Cambodian jail would be like.

Things to do:

Beach time is generally the number one thought on most people’s minds when they come to sunny Sihanoukville. However the main beach Serendipity has been divided up by the bars that line the shore front, if you sit in one of the many luxurious reclining chairs be prepared to pay for it.  You can walk down the beach to where the bars run out and set up your towel for a good old-fashioned sun bake.

Cambodia: Things to do Sihanoukville

Island hopping is a great way to spend a day feeling like you are doing something when really you are just lolling on different beaches.  You can book a one day tour at most of the tour agencies in town which usually includes some snorkelling, lunch on a nearly deserted island, more snorkelling and maybe another deserted island for some more swimming. Pack sunscreen!

Massages are an even better way to relax than lying on the beach with a cocktail in hand.  With the whole town geared up for relaxation it’s not heard to find a place for a deep relaxing massage.

Happy hour bar hopping is the cheapest and best way to get to know the Sihanoukville nightlife.  At nearly every hour of the evening a different bar will have a happy hour going.  During the day work out which one has the earliest and start there – ending at the one with the latest. NOTE: As mentioned previously the infrastructure isn’t very developed, including street lights, if you are pub hoping to a new place go with a friend as there are many dark alleyways which may not be the safest place for a drunk traveller.

Feeling hungry or need a place to stay? Hit up Mick and Craig’s an institution of Sihanoukville, for affordable food in a clean and homely restaurant. If you are there over christmas they do a great roast turkey dinner.

Ream National Park is another great day trip that you can do from Sihanoukville.  A great way to see the countries natural landscape filled with jungles, mangrove swamps and beaches.  Most tours involve a boat trip down the river to the sea, where you might see flying fish and if you are REALLY lucky – dolphins (I wasn’t lucky), a jungle trek and some beach time to finish up.

Cambodia: Things to do Sihanoukville

Make yourself pretty by getting a pedicure and manicure.  For the low price of $2 you can spend half an hour having your hands and toes preened leaving you feeling sparkly and fancy!

Did you say all you can eat Indian? Head to Tajmahal Indian Restaurant for some of the best Indian you will ever have.  On the night I was there they had a buffet and for the equivalent of $5 you could eat as much as you like! I am not sure if this is a regular thing they offer but it was absolutely amazing. I went back for thirds and fourths… which was a great way to line the stomach for the happy hour pub crawl that happened later. If it isn’t a regular thing I would still recommend it – because it was absolutely heavenly!

Make sure you leave some time for this gem of a beach town as Siem Reap is great for temples, Phnom Penh is full of political history and heart renting tales, but head to Sihanoukville for some sun, sea and cocktails!

Cambodia: Things to do Sihanoukville

Cambodia: What to do, What to see, What to eat? Phnom Penh!

Cambodia: Things to do Phnom PenhCambodia the small palm tree filled country in the middle of South East Asia, full of happy  people, ancient wonders and rivers.  A place that has captivated everyone from your average soul-searching backpacker to the Hollywood Icon Angelina Jolie.  If you are travelling in the region it is a place where taking it slow to absorb everything is a must.

This is the second blog post in a four-part series on things to do, places to see and morsels to sample while exploring this laid-back nation. Part one featured Siem Reap – the launch pad to the ancient capital of the Khmer Empire.

PART 2: Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh is a city that is throwing all of its energy into finding a way to recover from the atrocities of its past.  There is a strange feel about the city, it doesn’t have the comfort and ease of Siem Reap, nor does it have the excitement and energy of Ho Chi Minh – it is hectic, intense, full of colour and the people are friendly and welcoming.

I had a somewhat traumatic time during my stay. I had somehow washed my passport (this is my biggest embarrassment as a backpacker) and so needed to visit the Australian Embassy to get a new one, I also had to visit the Vietnamese Embassy to get new visas for the next stage of our trip.  When I wasn’t standing in lines waiting to speak to someone through a tiny window about how stupid I had been (way to compound the humiliation – explain washing your passport to half a dozen officials) I was able to explore the city but when your passport is not in use you tend to feel stressed.

Cambodia: Things to do Phnom Penh

Cambodia: Things to do Phnom Penh

History is the key in a city like Phnom Penh.  So much of what you do and see is affected by its recent history.  Not reading up on the Khmer Rouge before you go would be like visiting Berlin and not knowing about why the Berlin Wall was erected – and torn down. Spend some time reading books like When the War was Over by Elizabeth Becker, The Gate by Francois Bizot or watch the movie The Killing Fields.

How Long: You could spend as a little as two days in Phnom Penh if history isn’t your thing. I would recommend at LEAST four days as some of the “sights” are rather emotional and if you are like me you may need time for reflection before moving on to the next item on the list.

Things to Do:

The Royal Palace is shrouded with gold gilded roofs and awash with lily ponds, it is an oasis of colour and peace in the middle of the city.  Take your time wandering through the many opulent buildings to absorb the serenity that will take you over the longer you stay within this walled palace. It is also the home of the Silver Pagoda – whose floor is covered with five tons of silver. Napoleon even had a house built here in the French style of the time, but he never stayed in it.  NOTE: Dress respectfully, covering shoulders and legs.

Cambodia: Things to do Phnom Penh

Tuol Sleng Museam was once upon a time, a highschool, it then became a political prison during the Khmer Rouge dictatorship and it is now a museum.  This is where the Khmer Rouge tortured and killed any who they considered a threat to their regime, including several international reporters and photographers. The most compelling room contains the pictures of hundreds of victims who passed through this prison – standing in a room that was once used for torture and looking around at the faces of those who experienced it is overwhelming.

A local bite to eat can be had at the main market in the centre of town – which is also known as the Russian Market. It is full of great souvenirs, clothes for every occasion and a great fresh food market.  Just to the side of the fresh food market are several stalls that are set up to serve lunch – sit at the stall and chat to the owner and other customers as you slurp down a giant bowl of noodle soup. NOTE: Make a note of opening times and days to not miss out

Cambodia: Things to do Phnom Penh

The Killing Fields are by far one of the most emotionally involved places I have ever been.  Located just outside of town you will need to hire a moto driver or catch one of the local buses to get there. I strongly suggest taking advantage of the free guide service that is offered (it is free but please remember to tip, we walked round with another couple who at the end just walked away without tipping – so we tipped double as our guide had been excellent and very attentive to our questions). During the Khmer Rouge regime hundreds of people were killed in this place and others like it throughout Cambodia – their bodies were unceremoniously dumped in these giant mass graves. They can not be identified and returned to their families, instead a giant mausoleum of human skulls has been erected behind glass (photography is not prohibited, and due to the huge number its easy to become detached but please be sensitive)

The Foreign Correspondence Club is one of my favourite places in Phnom Penh.  It is situated right up against the river and the decor inside has been lovingly cared for through the years protecting the giant wood bar. The food is somewhat expensive, but if you are a little homesick you can get some quite good renditions of western food and alcohol. This has always been a place where foreign press would meet and connect – their home away from home and, still is. The walls are adorned with the stories of the famous journalists and photographers who have passed through.

Feeling like a curry? Head to Mount Everest – for some deliciously authentic, well priced, huge portioned indian food. It is also one of the oldest indian restaurants in Phnom Penh.

It is easy to wallow in the dark past of a city like Phnom Penh, but spend ten minutes walking the streets and talking to the people and you will see that despite all of the darkness they are a beautiful resilient people who are working hard at healing the past.

Cambodia: Things to do Phnom Penh

Cambodia: What to do, What to see, What to eat? Siem Reap!

Things to do in Cambodia, Siem Reap and Angkor Wat

Cambodia is universally known as one of the friendliest countries in the world. Full of laughing children, cheeky monkeys and breathtaking views, combined with it’s rich history and ancient architecture, Cambodia becomes a must visit country for all travellers.

As you can rightfully imagine there is so much to see and do, therefore this post is part one of a four-part series on things to do in Cambodia. Stay tuned in the next few weeks for what to do in Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville and Kampot!

PART 1: Siem Reap and Angkor Wat

Cambodia: Things to do Siem Reap and Angkor Wat

Some information: Siem Reap is the launching pad for tourists to explore the giant Angkor Wat temple complex. Angkor Wat was the capital or the Khmer Empire up until the 13th century and it contains many more temples and ancient artefacts in the 400km area than just the iconic Angkor Wat. These ancient temples were lost to the world as border conflicts infused the region, until during the French Occupation the temples were “rediscovered” and protected (I imagine that the local people never lost these spectacular buildings).

How Long: There is a lot to do in Siem Reap and the surrounding area so I would Things to do in Cambodia, Siem Reap and Angkor Watrecommend an extra day or two on top of what you plan on spending at the temples. You need to buy a tourist pass before you enter the Angkor Wat complex. I recommend the three-day pass, as it gives you time to see what you want and come and go as you need. If you are pushed for time you can buy a one day pass and just see the big temples.  There is also the option of a five-day pass – this would be best for ancient history enthusiasts only, as no matter how spectacular the temples are they soon become confused in your mind after a few days.

Beware: There are many scams that are in effect in the area. Some involve your moto driver dropping you off in the middle of the countryside where you will wait long enough to become panicked before a bus comes along and charges you a huge amount of money to take you back to town. On the bus from Phnom Penh there are companies that will drop you off at a specific guest house and tell you that all others are full – I suggest booking your accommodation in advance to avoid this. There are many children who beg around the temples, they are very poor and so will snatch up your bag if you leave it unattended. Like everywhere, be sensible and follow your gut but also be polite.

Things to Do:

Angkor Wat is spectacular in half-light, I recommend sunrise as opposed to sunset as there are less crowds and once you have finish at Angkor you can wander around the rest of the temples near by without the hordes of people ruining your photos or spiritual contemplation.

So many temples, there are three circuits of temples. Circuit one can be walked around and contains the big ones such as Angkor Wat and the Bayon temple. Hire bikes and cycle through Big Temple Circuit, where you will discover loads of little artefacts that you might miss as you whizz past in a moto. Outer Circuit is best explored in a moto with a driver who knows some history about the temples – your guest house should be able to recommend a good driver.

Feeling hungry? A great way to experience the amazing food of Cambodia is to do a cooking class. You will be taken through the markets and shown what ingredients to pick, then taught how to make more food than you can possibly consume (take the left overs back to your home for a midnight feast). My choice is Tigre De Papier.

Things to do in Cambodia, Siem Reap and Angkor Wat

Swimming is a great way to wash away the tension you may have built up from cycling through all of those temples, not to mention a great way to cool down in the humid oppressive heat. You can pay just $5 to most of the major hotels to use their pool and towels for the day.

Still hungry? Give back by eating or drinking for a cause.  Places like the Butterflies Garden Restaurant are a great place to grab a coffee, cake or lunch while supporting Things to do in Cambodia, Siem Reap and Angkor Wat
causes such as reviving the traditional Cambodian performing arts.

Tomb Raider was filmed at the Ta Prohm Temple, so not only is it a movie set but it is one of the most magical and intact temples in the complex. Spend sometime getting in touch with your inner Lara Croft as your scramble over the ruins.

Psar Chaa is the market to go to if you are planning on doing any souvenir shopping. It dominates the old quarter most evenings and it has everything from silver jewellery, slogan T-shirts, place-mats and chopsticks to finely carved furniture and woven rugs. If your feet are a little callused from all that temple walking, stick your feet in a fish tank and have the amphibians eat all the dead skin off your soles.

Cocktail hour is done with style in Siem Reap where a bubbling nightlife ripples through Cambodia: Things to do Siem Reapthe two main tourist streets.  Pub hop from Temple Club to Funky Monkey tasting the rich array of cocktails that can be bought by the jug. Some places even offer a free T-shirt if you buy two jugs!

Siem Reap has so much to offer that you can easily spend a couple of weeks in this laid-back lazy town, just soaking up the history and a few cocktails. The people are constantly helpful and friendly – service is always done with a smile (if a little laid-back). You will fall in love with the people as much as you do the temples.

Final Tip – Educate Yourself: Cambodia has a very chequered past filled with conflict, however, I am not going to delve into that in this post – there is just too much to be said.  If your education, like mine has a few holes in it where this country is concerned then I suggest reading up on the Khmer Rouge, the French Occupation and the Khmer Empire before you get there (seriously when I arrived in Cambodia and learnt all about the history of the area I was shocked that they hadn’t taught us this during school).  In learning about these many complicated aspects of Cambodia’s history you will greatly enhance your whole trip. 

Plate of Deep Fried Tarantulas - a local specialty

Plate of Deep Fried Tarantulas – a local specialty

 

25 Tips for Surviving South East Asia with your Sanity

Heading for a trip to South East Asia and not sure what to expect? Trying to get your head around all the stories (good and bad) to work out what to do? See below for a list of 25 tips on how to survive one of the most exciting, random and colourful regions in the world.

Night Noodle Markets

  1. “Thai time” is anytime except the specified time – no point getting angry that the bus is six hours late, pull up a piece of curb and get used to the wait.
  2. If you pay the actual price for ANYTHING – you’re being ripped off.  Having said that, sometimes think about what that last dollar you are haggling over means to you and what it will mean to the other person.

    Markets Luang Parbang

    Markets Luang Parbang

  3. A “little hot” means – very very hot, so hot your eyes will water and your lips will go numb. Chili eating contests are fun… just make sure you have a large beer handy to numb the pain.
  4. Prepare yourself for food poising so bad that you will wish you were dead – it will happen at least once.
  5. Don’t think about what the black stuff that soon covers your feet in sandals or thongs is as you tramp the city streets actually is.
  6. Embrace the taste of pancakes and fruit shakes. They are amazing!
  7. Sitting in a “friends bar” is the best way to cure a bucket hangover. Let the antics of Joey and Phoebe wash away the pain of the night before (Koh Phangan and Vang Vieng have the best ones complete with fruit shakes and pancakes)
  8. It is impossible to have only 1 bucket…Motos Saigon
  9. Have a few drinks with your fellow backpacker before you agree to spend the next few days travelling with them.
  10. Motos are fun… and dangerous – pack Band-Aids… lots of Band-Aids
  11. Try to acclimatise yourself to the hot weather by not using air con; don’t be disappointed if you don’t succeed.
  12. It is impossible to drown out the Cambodian/Vietnamese pop played on the local buses with your iPod.
  13. Don’t expect Western food to taste anything like you have ever tasted before – give it up otherwise your taste buds will hate you

    Cooking School Cambodia

    Cooking School Cambodia

  14. The longer you travel the less you use the hand sanitizer as you realise that it really makes no difference except in your head.
  15. Take a cooking class or three – best way to experience the local food, meet people and spend a pleasant evening.
  16. Don’t trust monkeys – they are cute and devious
  17. All material possessions are replaceable – repeat this to yourself as you realise something of yours has been stolen.
  18. Fire dancing is best left to the professionals if you care about your arm hair and dignity
  19. Nobody can get an audience moving and grooving like a Thai cover band.
  20. Careful when taking off your thongs (flip flops) when entering most shops and restaurants, someone else may mistake them as theirs and you will leave with mismatched thongs
  21. It is inevitable that your bus will break down… On a hill.Monkey Batu Caves
  22. Prepare to argue with other travelers about whether that girl, is in fact – a guy.
  23. All the good temples are at the top of hundreds of stairs… your thighs will burn baby burn!
  24. You will plot the DJ’s death once he has played the same song 6 times in the last two hours
  25. You are having the time of your life – don’t sweat the little things!
Paradise found: Langkawi

Paradise found: Langkawi

Searching for the Perfect Bite

Mexican food of a decent quality has finally arrived in Australia – that’s not to say that it is anywhere near the quality of real Mexican food – or for that matter American Mexican food, but it is a step up from the homemade Old El Paso Burrito kits that for so long was the only Mexican experience that Australian families could have.

Now there are various degrees of Mexican food, from Mad Mex to El Poco’s, flooding into Sydney. I for one am glad; something was needed to break up the Italian V Thai food deadlock that we have been in for ages.  Yet every time I do try to enjoy a nice enchilada I am disappointed – left waiting for that moment of satisfaction, or that perfect bite.  I am not saying I don’t enjoy it, but that it never meets the expectations that I have so heftily built for Mexican food.

As I sit here and eat my Friday Burrito (Tex Mex Steak with extra Sour Cream and the Medium Sauce) I am pondering what makes this burrito yet another one in the unsatisfying list.  What made all of those great Mexican Food moments so much better? Was it the food itself or was it the level of hunger or the level of expectation, was it the location, or the people I was with?

Taco Salad – Oregon, USA

My first couple of days in America and I was staying with a friend who I had met while she was living in Australia for university, she had complained constantly throughout her three years here about the lack Mexican Food.  I had already tried an American Cheeseburger and been disappointed (it just didn’t live up to the hype), the famous American breakfast (not a fan of the fatty, crispy bacon covered in maple syrup) and hadn’t been blown away by the deep-fried overload of the famous Donut.  It is reasonable to say that I didn’t have very high expectations for my first taste of American Mexican food.  The restaurant – Mucho Gusto – didn’t look that extra ordinary… in fact I made a mental note not to eat anything that even briefly touched the table top.

My friend spent ten minutes trying to explain how the whole system worked and how to order – in the end to make life easier for myself I told her to order me whatever she was having – but with extra cheese! Carefully, but with a speed that can only be gained with constant repetition, the attendant pulled together my Taco Salad, at every stage she asked me to choose between several options, and then had a good laugh at my flabbergasted expression.  After scrambling with the mono coloured money and filling up my giant coke (not even I, a coke-a-cola expert, could have finished the whole thing) we sat up on some high benches to eat.

Carefully I filled up a fork with a little of everything – Chicken, Salsa, Beans, Taco, Rice, Cheese, Sour Cream, Guacamole, More Cheese, Corn, a Different Salsa, Lettuce – and placed it in my mouth.  My friend sat opposite me, not eating but watching my face.  That first bite was one of those perfect bites – where if the whole meal could taste like that you would never stop eating.  I finished off the Taco Salad before my friend was even halfway through.

Tortilla Soup – Tijuana, Mexico

While living in San Diego I did the traditional hop across the border to Tijuana for the day.  My friends and I spent the day wandering around the market and looking at stores, I spent ten minutes helping a mate bargain down a hammock – he was about to pay the asking price! Remembering all of the horror stories that I had been told, I carefully avoid the alleyways and the police.

Around four we decide margaritas were needed and probably some food, we walked down the high street looking at all of the restaurants and bars which were only just opening up in preparation of the night-time trade. At the end of the main street was a giant tent with the words “Tequila Festival” written across it – what could be better? – only one small problem, it’s closed between 2 and 6pm.  Instead we end up in a roof top restaurant that is beautifully covered in Mosaic tiles.  Still sweating from the heat we order margaritas with relish – one of my friends has a freak out about whether the ice in the margarita will give her Tijuana Belly (similar to Bali Belly), another friend offers her a stomach settler that he bought off someone in the previously mentioned alleyways.

Roof top Restaurant Tijuana

The menu is vast, and being new to Mexican food, very confusing.  My Canadian friend and I decided to split an enchilada and, being daring, order whatever the waiter recommends – he recommended the Tortilla Soup – which caused a raised eyebrow, how can you have a tortilla in a soup?

The enchilada came out first, we ploughed into it, demolishing half in moments, but I can honestly say that I don’t remember any of it – I could have been eating cardboard for all I know.  Then he bought out the giant bowl of Tortilla Soup – it was massive and hot!  With trepidation we dipped in our spoons, at the bottom there was some melted cheese, I dug some out and slurped it down.  Naturally the boiling hot cheese burnt my mouth, but not enough to hide the amazing taste.  It was astonishing how so many levels of flavours could be contained in a single mouthful.  My friend and I made startled and delighted eye contact before diving in again – disregarding my burnt tongue I practically lapped at the bowl.  Sadly we were unable to finish it due to previously gorging on the Enchilada.  To this day I am scared to try another Tortilla Soup as I know nothing will ever be as delicious as that one – why taint the memory.

Enchilada – Siam Reap, Cambodia

Now I know what you are thinking – why would I choose to eat Mexican food when I am surrounded by amazing south-east Asian cuisine, well as anyone who has been on the road for a while can attest, you get to a point where you crave something, anything, that is like the food that you get at home, and although Mexican isn’t very common in Australia the whole mixing, cheese, carbs, lettuce and spicy meat is – just through other genres.  It was these arguments that lead me and my travelling companion to the giant Mexican restaurant in the centre of Siam Reap.

Throughout South East Asia there are loads of western food knock offs – ever had a pizza where the base is made out of bread dough, the tomato paste is ketchup, and the cheese is Krafts Plastic Singles – you would be right in sticking the amazing local cuisine.

Sitting down at a table we were a little nervous, but then the owner who was the only one working at that time of day (3pm in the afternoon) came out to serve us, he was Californian – no doubt about it – I can’t tell most American accents apart but I can always tell when someone is from California, they always seem more relaxed or “Chill” than everyone else. As he took our orders he told us about how his parents owned a Mexican restaurant back in California and how after College he did a trip through South East Asia and fell in love with Siam Reap… and just stayed… opening up his own Mexican restaurant. Our prospects looked up!

We sat there on the watching the street and sipping our Tiger beers, tourists who walked by gave us filthy looks and muttered about eating western food – we in turn looked down our noses at them, they obviously hadn’t been travelling as long or as rough as us.  The owner was cooking our meal personally – he literally had no staff on for another few hours.

When finally my enchilada and taco came out they looked amazing – exactly like a photo in a cook book.  The sauce coating the enchilada was still bubbling slightly and the dish was too hot for me to touch. One glance showed that it was real cheese – a rare delicacy.  While I waited for it to cool down I picked up the taco – every item was the perfect portion, neither too much lettuce nor too much chicken, the salsa didn’t drip down my arm and the shell didn’t break away.  It was gone in 30 seconds… max! The Enchilada was similarly amazing – but it was the sauce that blew away my tastes buds.  As I was literally using my fingers to wipe down the last drips of sauce left in the bowl the owner came over to chat – he was a friendly guy.  Apparently the sauce wasn’t very authentic American Mexican because he had to substitute some of the herbs and spices to what was local – this was in fact Cambodian Mexican and it was brilliant.

California Burrito – 2am, San Diego, USA

This is the most amazing thing in the world at 2am – any other time, it’s just horrid.  I have wondered what makes this particular burrito more amazing at 2am, I don’t believe as many do that this is only good after a few drinks, as I have eaten one completely sober at 2am and still found it amazing.  Maybe it is the cooks that work the late shift, or maybe it is the darkness that emphasises the taste buds, or it could be that the ingredients have matured to a perfect taste by this time.

I think for you to really appreciate the California Burrito I have to describe it: first off there is the tortilla which, as I remember it, was always slightly sweaty, it had the same feeling of when you put your hands into wet Ski Cloves.  On top of that is the Carne Asada (or something that is pretending to be steak)– which if you eat it before 2am smells like feet, however by 2am it has stagnated to a lovely braised beef which falls apart with each bite and is so nicely spiced that you lick the juices off your fingers with relish. Then there is the usual guacamole, salsa and cheese followed by the piece-de-résistance: French fires.  These golden fingered jewels are a great replacement for the usual beans and rice, the combination of the mushy potato and the crispy outer shell add a whole other dimension to the burrito.

However what you need to top off this heart attack in a tortilla is the Hot Sauce – and nothing but the Super-Hot Sauce will suffice.  Each globby mouthful is then burned away leaving the palette fresh and eagerly expecting the next bite.

I can honestly say that there is nothing more satisfying than a 2am California Burrito.

In reviewing these moments of Mexican food glory I am still stumped as to how to have repeat satisfaction and instead have come to the conclusion that I will play the odds – the more I eat Mexican Food the higher the chances of finding another perfect bite.