Thursday, January 31, 2013

Wares Of Psar Toul Tom Poung

The Russian Market, or Psar Toul Tom Poung, in Phnom Penh, is easily one of my favourite spots in the city. Most of us could not resist a visit on our return to PP, and I included it on my trip around to the sights of the city.

Just as I remembered it, this is a market of aisles and aisles of wares - I started where the clothing is on offer, many brand name clothes made in the outskirts of PP in the sweatshops.

Moving through, there is a section for fabric, with raw silk being a specialty of this Cambodian market. Stalls aplenty on either side of the aisle, with every pattern you can imagine (and some that you would rather not have seen!). But great for purchasing and having one of the ladies on the inner area of the market make it into a garment from one you want copied, or even just have a picture of.

This was also a market we used to buy homewares from, such as plates and bowl, and ornamental pieces. Lamps seem to be a popular stall, as well as wooden wares.

Paintings, and every souvenir possible, can also be found deep within the market. On one side of the outer layer of stalls can be found rows of silver jewelry and then electronics and fake copies of CDs and DVDs.

There is a row of restaurant stalls right in the middle, and then the further end of the market has hardware supplies and vehicle odds and ends. Really, anything you need can be found here, with some patience and perseverance!

It is still very much a maze once you start getting into the grid of the inner aisles, so easy to get lost...and find yourself buying something that you didn't mean to!

One of the key spots to visit in PP, the Russian Market is something to be experienced. Just make sure you go armed with your bargaining skills!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Sailing Club in Kep

Not far from our stay in Kep, was the beautiful Sailing Club. The perfect spot for sunset drinks, and dinner!

Right on the water, the Sailing Club features the pier, which allows you to travel out to surround yourself with the water, and look back on the Kep coast area.

The colours of sunset in this part of the world were just incredible.

Back on the shore, we took up a table to the side of the old restored fisherman's house for cocktails before dinner.

Our large group enjoyed the happy hour drinks, with many of the cocktails having a local fruit take on a regular mix.

As the light faded, we moved to ordering dinner, which was pretty awesome too. A mix of Cambodia dishes and a few Western selections, the little kitchen here has something for everyone.

We enjoyed this visit so much, we returned for a final lunch in Kep on our last day, sitting on the verandah of the house, overhanging the ocean.

Such a piece of bliss down here on the water, tucked away from the hustle of the one main street and the markets, great food, amazing view, and awesome cocktails!

Our stay down in Kep was really magical, and this place only added to that experience! So pretty!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Our 10 Year AYAD Reunion

Landing in Phnom Penh after my stopover in Kuala Lumpur, I was greeted at the airport by a taxi driver holding a sign up with my name on it. How exciting! That has never happened before, and it was such a treat, and so easy for an arrival. Thanks Evie!

Getting to Circa 51 in PP, I joined Jane, Dom and Evie for drinks and catch ups. Amy joined us, after just starting a new role in PP, and we headed out for dinner at the Russian restaurant Irena's. This was followed by drinks at an old favourite, Rubies Wine Bar, and ended with karaoke at a place called The Rock. Private rooms in a massive complex, this was a very funny and crazy end to a big night.

The next day 8 of us, including Sarah, Dan and Rachel, and Majid,, plus little Maya travelled down to Kep for 2 nights of blissful relaxation.

Returning to PP, we greeted a couple more arrivals in Nick and Vince, and had Amy rejoin us after work. Dinner on the terrace at Circa 51

Friday night was our big night together, which started with a sunset river cruise. Borin joined us also for this, which was very special.

Taking a boat almost to ourselves, we took in the sights and the stories from the last 10 years. Seeing the skyline of PP from the river, and the changes we could spot, as darkness fell was really cool, and a pretty awesome way to hang out together.

Touching back on our old traditions, we then made it to the Elephant Bar at Raffles for happy hour cocktails. This was followed by dinner, and then ended with drinks on a rooftop bar - which was a totally new experience in the new, modern Phnom Penh!

There is already talk of returning for our 20 year reunion, within this group of Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development group, back at Intake 8. Catching up with the group, it was so amazing to hear of all the things and places we have been up to since our work in Cambodia. Seriously inspiring.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

A Tour Around The PP Sights

Returning the Phnom Penh last week, I was keen to get a look at the old, and new sights, with a mini tour around the city. I took a tuk tuk for a big lap of some of the key places, and walked to a few other old haunts.

One of the main differences to strike me when getting around the city is the change in transport from primarily motos 10 years ago, to cars now. Also, there is height in the skyline now! With many, many new shiny developments on the go.

As I rode past the slums in the south of the city, these appeared the same. Just now surrounded by new developments of big hotels and proposed office blocks.

After a wander through Psar Toul Tom Poung (the Russian Market), which is the same as always, and amazing, I visited Wat Phnom at the top of the city, which I actually had not done before.  This active temple and stupor used to be the highest point of the city. Now, from the surrounds you can see the new buildings of PP being built blocks away.

From here, I visited the iconic Central Market, which also looked the same from my time here 10 years ago, albeit cleaner and a little fresher after it's recent refurbishment.

Walking through the arms of the market into the central dome area, I experienced the smells and sights of the foods, fabrics, toys, tools, and then the electronics and watches on display in glass cabinets under the dome.

Just a couple of blocks from Central Market is the new, tallest building, underconstruction. This new development has a funky curved front, and is reportedly going to be an office block. Next to this is the new, finished building that we nicknamed the 'perfume bottle' after spotting it from the river at night.

These modern new buildings have altered the skyline of Phnom Penh completely, which used to only feature the Royal Palace, and the Independence Monument from some streets. Now the 'perfume bottle' stands out, with the towering new development sure to be a feature upon completion. Getting around PP, there are also signs and beginnings of more and more new buildings. PP is changing indeed.

Visiting at this time, just months after the death of the former King Norodom Sihanouk, it was evident at every street that this is a country still very much in mourning. The former King will be laid to rest following his funeral at the end of this month.

Throughout the city his likeness is displayed, with black mourning curtains on each sign. There are groups of mourners outside the Palace everyday, and people selling black ribbons and King memorabilia. A very meaningful time to have visited the city again.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Project 52: Thursday Evening

After dinner on Thursday night I returned to my room before popping back up to the penthouse to hang out with the others, here in Bangkok.  This is the view from my room from that time.

This post is part of Project 52 with Jess from FuShMuSh.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Paradise In Kep

After arriving back into Cambodia last week for our 10 year reunion, and following a fun night out in Phnom Penh, 8 of us plus little Maya made the trip down to the coast and the town of Kep. A four plus hour trip in a mini-van, and then we arrived in paradise!

We had Villa Romonea to ourselves, an amazing retreat to relax and catch up with one another.

Built in the late 1960s by a Khmer family of the area, the house has some incredible history. Stefan told us the story of the house and it's survival and phases soon after we arrived, and we were in awe of the place.

Built with the shape of a dragon in mind, the features including the head and tail, the scales on the back of the dragon, and even the gills, were pointed out to us. All lovingly restored to it's glory just 6 years ago.

During the war and Khmer Rouge occupation, this house was one of the few that was looked after and cleaned by the KR - because they used it to store their fishery supplies. Heavily guarded in a time of deprivation for the rest of the people, Stefan showed us photos of the state of the building when the new, current owners took it on.

The house, and the setting in front of the Bokor mountains and sitting watching out to sea and Vietnam, is stunningly beautiful.

Of course, the infinity pool and decking, was gorgeous, and the area we lounged and ate and drink, read and swam, and talked.

The attention to detail in the restoration, and the fittings as an accommodation option in the small town of Kep, was impressive. The staff took care of our group's needs, and we had food delivered from a local restaurant for the first night.

An amazing, unforgettable way to come together as a group and spend time with each other.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Contrasts of Kampung Baru in KL

Inspired by Yomadic's post, I went for a wander around the village of Kampung Baru in Kuala Lumpur to check out the authentic Malay style of living, right here in the city.

Just one stop away on the train from the ultra-modern KLCC and it's endless maze of shopping and lights, this village has it's own stores and local restaurants, it's places of worship, and school. It was quiet in the middle of the day, with only a handful of people about the narrow streets.

The ramshakled houses and stores, and the stalls and markets, are a treat to see after all the steel and lights and windows of the rest of the city. All with the imposing Petronas Towers in the background.

As I walked through I was approached by a couple of locals at different points, keen to help me find my way to the station, thinking that I was lost. They clearly don't get many tourists among these streets, as they go about their usual life in this pocket of KL.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Why So Serious?

It’s 5 years since Heath Ledger was found dead, today. 5 years. I remember the day so clearly, with a couple of people calling for debriefing that morning, as we had heard the news, and were stunned.

A young Aussie actor, so talented and such a reportedly amazing work ethic about how he had gone about establishing his career and name in the industry. Such a sad loss, still.

This work of Heath’s most haunting roles, The Joker in The Dark Knight, was found earlier this month along Hosier Lane in Melbourne. So impressive, and equally disturbing.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Hmong Women in Sapa

The hillside village of Sapa, in the Northwest corner of Vietnam, was another highlight of my sidetrips whilst I was volunteering in Cambodia 10 years ago.

I took an overnight train from Hanoi, spent the day there, and returned on the train the following night, which was all my time in the area allowed for. Just a taste of this area of Vietnam, where the border to China was so close.

The characters, interactions and dress of the women of this village captured my heart the most, walking through the main street and seeing school girls walking to school, and then watching the women at work as they tried to sell their homemade wares at the market stalls. These Hmong women were dressed in their distinctive hilltribe colours and fabric patterns, in vivid blues and reds, and carried much of their wares on their back.

After experiencing the heat and humidity of Cambodia for the months before, the cold of Sapa was a shock to me, and I was so ill-prepared. Towards the end of the afternoon, having wandered through the village, the market and the stores along the main street, one of the women of one of the stores took pity on me, and I remember spending time huddled near her pot-bellied heater in her store, trying to keep warm. I wonder what she must have thought of this silly Westerner suffering the cold, as she went about her job. There were cute and shy attempts at interaction through this time before I could return to the station and the train, and back to Hanoi and the humidity.

This post is part of a series marking 10 years since I travelled to Cambodia to work as a volunteer. Hanoi and Sapa was one of my side trips.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Project 52: Thursday Afternoon

This week as part of our 10 year Cambodia reunion, we found paradise! We travelled down to Kep, and stayed in a gorgeous, gorgeous villa. The perfect catch up. On Thursday afternoon we spent more time by the infinity pool, catching up with each others lives, and taking in this view, as well as marveling about the house we were staying in. I will tell you more about it in another post in a few days....

This post is part of Project 52 with Jess from FuShMuSh.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Big M in Kuala Lumpur

The sight of the twin buildings of the Petronas Towers is the iconic view of Kuala Lumpur; the view that confirms that you are in KL rather than any other big city in the world.

The night I arrived, I popped down to the KLCC to take in the view of the buildings from their foot. Here, hundreds of Malaysians and tourists alike had gathered around the pool in front of the buildings and the mammoth shopping centre, to watch the fountains and coloured light show.

I took in the view of the buildings from the pool edge, meant to be in the form of an "M" for Malaysia, with the bridge spanning across at floor 41 and 42.

I went back the next day to take in the view in the sunlight and blue sky - the detail and the balls at the top seem to twinkle in the sun, making the pillars of modernity seem pretty and enchanting.

With the idea of watching the sunset sink behind the Towers, and with yTravel Blog's view recommendation in mind, I found my way through the underground system from KLCC over to the Traders Hotel at the end of the day, and rode the elevator to the 33rd floor and the SkyBar.

I took a seat by the window to keep the Towers in view, and ordered a drink, as the clouds rolled in from the mountains to my right, and the sun tried to show it's sinking colours to the left.

This colour show, and the spectacular storm that ensued, gave me a totally different view of the Towers, occasionally disappearing from view all together through the heavy rain.

Ordering another drink to wait out the storm, and delighting in the bar with the hotel pool right through the middle, the sky then cleared and produced a perfectly clear view of the Petronas Towers once more, all lit up for the night.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Monk Procession At Dawn

One of the most talked about features of the little Laotian town of Luang Prabang is the procession of monks through the streets at dawn, collecting offerings and their food for the day ahead from the locals. It is certainly a sight worth getting up before the sun for!

I remember setting an alarm, and leaving my guesthouse room when it was still dark, not really sure if this was But it happens everyday, and is easy to find in the central streets. I tiptoed through the front entrance room of the guesthouse where the family who run it were sleeping, and made my way to the area I had been advised would be a good spot to view the procession.

Standing out on the streets with a few other people around here and there, but otherwise deserted streets, there was a slight wave of doubt again about what exactly I was doing out of bed at such an hour.

As the procession appeared and snaked it’s way along the streets, more and more locals appeared and placed something in the monk’s urns. Such a solemn and enchanting process to watch.

The behaviour of other Westerners during this ritual procession of magenta and saffron is the lowlight of this experience. People angling in, impeding the path of the procession, all on the quest for a photo, is embarrassing and shameful. Travellers really need to remember they are visitors to such an area, and that this ritual is part of life here in Laos, not a show put on for tourists’ photos.

My photos, scanned from print 10 years later, are not very good, but are the lasting mementos of that visit nonetheless.

This post is part of a series marking 10 years since I travelled to Cambodia to work as a volunteer. Laos was one of my side trips.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Kuala Lumpur

Picking KL for my stopover on the way to my return to SE Asia was a toss up, but spending a full day yesterday exploring the sights, I was pleased with my choice.

I made my way over to the Merdeka Square (or Peace Square), and admired the gorgeous Sultan Adbul Samad Building on the edge of the square.

Originally built as past of the British rule government, hence the Big Ben clock, following Malaysian independence the style and purpose of the building was changed. It is now the high court.

The building sits on the edge of the square, which is surrounded by impressive buildings. One of these is the Kuala Lumpur City Gallery, which has free entry.

I popped in for a break from the heat, but managed to take in the history of the city. They also have a room upstairs with a miniature model of the city, present and future, which gives you a great birds eye view, and also allows you to see the vision of the current buildings in construction. The world's second tallest building is part of the way to it's completion, which you can see below - the modern second tower on the right.

The Merdeka Square also has the Royal Selangor Club on it's other edge - and a concrete cricket pitch in the middle of the grassy square. Here is where the colonialists played cricket! Imagine!

From here, I walked around the back of the Sultan Adbul Samad Building to take in the view of Jamek Mosque, which is currently closed for renovations. Back to the train station, I got another train token to explore another area of the city.

Looking for the National Mosque, I thought that I had spotted it from the station, only to discover that the beautiful white buildings with it's domes and towers to be the KL Railway Station. Impressive!

The building across from this, the KTM Building, was equally grand and impressive, apparently combining British and Moorish architecture. Although there are no clues from the outside about what this building's business is.

By the time to did find the National Mosque, with it's modern take on it's features, it was prayer time and not open to non-Muslim tourists. I contemplated waiting it out, and I had read that you would be provided with appropriate clothing to be able to enter, but the heat and the lure of a cool break inside somewhere won me over. The view of the structures from the open entrance was intriguing, and so reverent.

At the end of my day exploring KL, I ventured back to Chinatown and the Jalan Petaling Market for dinner, picking an assortment of skewers, which were cooked up for me while I waited at the tables behind the stall. Delicious! 
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