Cambodia: Where to Stay and What to EatSunday, March 03, 2013
In between trekking through temples and visiting historic sights, my travel buddy Mica and I squeezed in some quality R&R in Cambodia. The country has developed rapidly in the past few years, and beautiful boutique resorts and hotels have popped up to help accomodate the 2 million tourists that pass through its borders every year. We got to stay in some lovely places, thanks to the travel sleuthing skills of Mica's hubby and our unofficial travel agent, Jon (we should all be so lucky as to snag a man like him!). We also got to try some memorable eats, from the traditional Cambodian fish amok to the more adventurous deep-fried tarantula. Below, the highlights.
Navutu Dreams Resort & Spa served as our base for exploring Siem Reap, and what a lovely home away from home it was. Located away from the main tourist drag, Navutu was an oasis we could retire to at the end of a long day of trekking through dusty temples, and relax with a complimentary foot massage and happy hour passion fruit caipiroskas.
While in Siem Reap, we made sure we sampled the local fare. Our guide took us to a spot that probably qualifies as a tourist trap, but after experiencing food poisoning at a Cambodian restaurant of our own choosing, I was happy to follow our guide's suggestions. It was interesting to try the fish amok, a coconut milk-curried fish flavored with kroeung, a paste of Cambodian herbs and spices, and mixed with noni leaves. The flavors were new to me—a heady mix of turmeric, ginger and lemongrass with a slightly sweet undertone. I prefer a spicier curry but it was nice to try something new. I couldn't get enough of the Cambodia mango salad—tall piles of julienned green mangoes and carrots, tossed with lime and fish sauce, and topped with crushed peanuts, basil, and seafood.
On the road from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh we had one of our favorite meals. The driver we had hired to drive us, in heart-stopping Gran Turismo-style, stopped at Prey Pros Rest Area so we could take a quick lunch. It was touristy but very picturesque, with thatched huts on stilts and a view of the Prey Pros River. We had a lovely green mango salad with dried fish and copious amounts of Thai basil and chili. The vegetable fried rice and morning glory sauteed with garlic and chili were also delicious.
In the Cambodian capital, White Mansion Hotel was our beautiful base. Once the US Embassy in Phnom Penh, it is a beautiful structure with Roman columns, high ceilings and intricate moulding. It is located near the Royal Palace and the Silver Pagoda, and is a quick tuk tuk ride to most of the restaurants we sought out. The hotel cafe makes a delicious loc lac, a stir fried beef dish that's a close relative of the Vietnamese bo luc lac likely brought to Cambodia by the French colonists.
Our most memorable meal in Phnom Penh was at Romdeng, a restaurant that takes kids off the streets to train them in restaurant service and give them an alternate future. Funny enough, the most delicious thing we had here were the fried tarantulas. It was disconcerting to bite into them at first, but once we got going, we agreed that the tarantulas tasted very much like soft shell crabs. I would have them again.
The best part of my trip to Cambodia, however, was the wonderful company I kept. I was lucky enough to have one of my very best friends, Mica, to go on this trip with—just us girls! At this stage in life, when most of my friends have settled down with their husbands and started building families, it was a treat to be able to "borrow" my friend for a great adventure through the Khmer empire. One of the great benefits of life as a singleton, I've found, is that I can look back on years of adventure and marvel at the range of wonderful people I've been able to share amazing moments with. It's not everyone's cup of tea, but for me at least, this is one of the best parts of my happily ever after.