Siem Reap, Cambodia

Back from Christmas dinner, I even have a few photos from today.

We got to the Sofitel Hotel in Siem Reap two days ago.  This is an astounding city, which has sprung full grown in the northeast of the nation within the last 13 years.  It is bursting with beautiful new hotels, restaurants and tourist facilities of all sorts, to take advantage of the temples here, Angkor Wat being only the most prominent.  The hotel, as one would expect from the Sofitel chain, is completely professional, offering a level of service that is difficult to comprehend to people accustomed to what we get from Marriott or Hilton.  Of course, the very low wages here allow them to overstaff in a way no American hotel could possibly afford.

Dinner the first night was accompanied by some entertainment:

Local schoolchildren singing Christmas carols

 

It sounds strange to hear  carols about chestnuts and open fires, Jack Frost, Rudolph the Reindeer and a White Christmas coming from children who have never seen snow, but there don’t seem to be a lot of tropical images in Yuletide music.  I wonder if that will change as the holiday continues it morph from religious to completely secular event?  We had hoped that coming to Asia we wouldn’t be inundated with the usual seasonal musical treacle, but that was not to be.  Santa is everywhere now.

Then there was some local entertainment:

Apsana dancers in traditional costume and pose

 

This morning we went to Angkor Wat, the 1000 year old temple covering almost 1 square mile, and surrounded by a moat. Digging the moat gave them the dirt to elevate the temple; this place is a marvel of engineering and architecture as well as Hindu art.

The temple has an earthly level and a heavenly level.  The designers made the stairs to the heavenly level exceptionally steep and long, to exemplify the difficulty of getting to heaven.  So steep that I declined to make the climb–but Mike and Linda went up (and then had to face the more difficult descent) and took a camera with them:

Angkor Wat, and the surrounding jungle photo©Mike Bandler, 2011

 

The Yellow spot in the distance is a tethered balloon you can ride up, get the view and be winched back to earth. photo©Mike Bandler, 2011

 

More temple, more jungle. photo©Mike Bandler, 2011

 

photo©Mike Bandler, 2011

 

photo©Mike Bandler, 2011

 

We had a lazy afternoon and then went out to our Christmas dinner at The Nest, a very hip eatery on the very busy main drag.  It is one of those buildings with no walls: it is just a “roof” of some material that is tied to a mast and then posts on the sides, swooping and furling like a sail.  You expect to see movies stars and singing sensations dining there, I think they just let us in by accident.

Actually, Don was schmoozing, as is his wont, with the executive director of our hotel and this was the dinner recommendation.  The concierge made the reservation, and we felt like big shots:

i think they were hoping for Trump, not Mamula

 

The food was spectacular, the best we’ve had on this trip:

 

Gail had the gyoza, the Japanese version of the pot sticker. Served with a chili aioli which was HOT.

 

Foodies at home always want their chicken “free range”, and I can’t really taste the difference.  The duck Don and I ordered tonight, though, was indeed free range and was the best I’ve ever had.  Not as tender as you might find from a factory bird, but with a depth and complexity of flavor I never knew a duck could have.   I’d come all the way back here for another one.  Served with barley, which Americans tend to use solely in soup–and that’s a mistake, as it was an excellent side dish, mixed with broccoli.

 

The duck was phenomenol

 

Dessert was mango served with sticky rice–a whole-grain black rice with tons of gluten so it sticks together like peanut butter.  Not much fat, not much added sugar, and yet it was great.

Mango and sticky rice--a great dessert and healthy, too. That just seems wrong, doesn't it?

 

Transportation in this town is by tuk-tuk, a motorized rickshaw pulled by a scooter.  They are all over the place, and dirt cheap, with the standard ride being $2.

Mike and Linda in their tuk-tuk on the neon-lit street.

 

Seated in the tuk-tuk. This doesn't really show much of the town, it's just a great photo of my friends.

 

Tomorrow we get to sleep in, then finally board out boat for the cruise down the Mekong river.  Stay tuned.

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