Happy Lunar New Year! May the Piggy Year bring you OINKS of happiness, peace, and health.
Over the New Year holidays, I went to Siem Reap in Cambodia and want to share my experience with you. If you have been there, share your top tips or recommendations below. Siem Reap was a new place for me and having this little break from Shanghai gave me permission and space to breathe, reflect, taste another culture, and enjoy being a complete stranger.
Ok, so here are my top tips:
I arrived in Siem Reap in the evening of 29 January with tons of other tourists all eager to see the ancient ruins. Before I left the airport, I had to get a visa on arrival which cost $30. The whole process can be time consuming so be ready to spend at least an hour going through immigration. Alternatively, prior to your trip, you could apply for an e-Visa, which costs an extra $5 but will save you the hassle at the airport.
Once you’re in Siem Reap it’s not too challenging to get around the city; you can walk, cycle, rent a motorbike or choose to travel by tuk-tuk. If you choose tuk-tuk, contact Mr. Why Not, his What’s App number is +855 69328893. I won’t explain the reason behind his name you will just need to ask about it when you meet him. Not only will he take care of you, by providing cold water, fruit and local specialties, but he will also share the history of Angkor Wat so you won’t need to pay for an additional tour guide. I can’t speak highly enough of him, truly the best tuk-tuk driver and a guide in Siem Reap so please tip him generously!
The peak travel season for Siem Reap is from November until February as these months are dry and cooler. However, at the start of February, when I was there, the days were incredibly dry and hot, around 32 C degrees. So best to schedule your temple visits in the morning between 6am and 10am and then in the evening from 4pm onwards. Also, this time of the year is very dry so if you’re looking to see lush green colours or to spend time in the countryside then best to schedule your visit for November instead.
Cambodia is rooted in Buddhism so remember that when you are visiting the temples you need to cover your shoulders and wear long-ish trousers or dresses (covering your knees).
There are plenty of choices, but I stayed at the Green Leaf Boutique Hotel which has a beautiful pool, free morning yoga classes, fresh coconuts for $2, and NIA dance classes with Debbie-Lee for an additional $6. Debbie is an incredible teacher and dancer. She also teaches in Rolok Fitness Centre which isn’t too far from the hotel. If you’re in Siem Reap, NIA dance with Debbie is a MUST you will dance your heart out!
Constructed in the 12th & 13th century the temples are not only a source of awe but also a reminder of an advanced civilization of the Khmer Empire that in the past ruled much of today’s Cambodia as well as parts of Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar. For visiting the temples get the three-day pass, which cost $62. My favourite by far was Bayon temple - I fell in love with the magic of that place. Also, the nearby sunset alongside the river was breathtaking. If you’re visiting the temples in the hottest hours of the day between 11am and 3 pm, then keep hydrated by drinking plenty of water with good quality Himalayan salt added to it and treat yourself to a fresh young coconut from one of the colourful fruit stands which are dotted around everywhere. Don't forget to bring your own stainless steel straw! You can read about the benefits of eating coconut products here.
When you’re in Siem Reap, you can’t miss out on an oil massage. I would highly recommend Khmer Relief Spa. The masseuses are very professional, the ambience beautiful and the location is perfect, strategically located near the Pub Street. I chose jasmine oil for my massage which smelled divine. As you know, I’m an essential oil junkie, (read more here), so this part was important to me. The experience started with my feet being cleaned with sea salt and lemon, then I was led to my own room. I simply loved the 90 min massage! The Cambodian massage lady was very professional I felt very relaxed during and afterwards. When the massage was over they gifted me with fresh mango and tea. I also tried Lemongrass Garden which, although very good, was not as good as Khmer Relief Spa, in my opinion.
CHILL OUT SPOTS
Vibe cafe was my favourite place to hang out between 11am and 3pm when the weather outside was scorching hot. If you’re on a tight budget though, be warned, as this place is on the pricey side for southeast Asia. My fave spot was the comfortable sofa space where I would lie down, read my book and sip on their in-house kombucha. Try their Raw Zucchini pasta with cashew cheese & raw cheesecake - delish! This place truly made the most out of their vegetables without compromising on the flavour. Anybody who loves veggies, nuts and seeds will find this place simply heavenly.
ARTillary Cafe is another place worth visiting. Again beautiful food, especially their almond bliss balls. Also if you have any food restrictions such as no gluten, no nuts, no processed sugar etc. the staff will help you choose the best option from the menu. They also have small cards written in both English and Khmer language that show different food restrictions. It’s worth taking one if you’re planning to eat out in town at a local place and you’re allergic to gluten for example.
Green-Go Vegan Garden (the upstairs area) is a perfect place to hang out with friends after sundown. I didn’t really eat there as most of the menu choices where pretty unhealthy (pizza, sandwiches, pasta...) but I did have a fresh coconut which was delish!
Watching the 8pm performance of the Phare Cambodian Circus is a must. To be honest I’m not sure why they call it a circus as there are no animals or clowns involved and it’s more of an acrobatic show with a great storyline, energy, and acrobatic stunts. Make sure you don’t miss it! The cheapest ticket is $18.
Also, every Saturday at 6:30 there is a contemporary dance performance by all-female New Cambodian Artists (NCA) group for $15. What makes this performance different from Western styles is the combination of Apsara, the Cambodian classical dance. Through dance, the three Cambodian women are not only striving to empower women by sending a message of female strength and solidarity, but also promote the awareness of Khmer culture. I loved the performance!
I attended a cooking class at the Peace Cafe. The class started at 1pm and lasted for around 2 hours. The cost was $20 and included all the ingredients, printed copies of the recipes and a massive feast afterward.
Fresh Spring Rolls and Dipping Sauce
Tangy Green Papaya Salad
Vegetarian Tofu Amok
Although I’m not vegan or vegetarian I did my cooking classes in this place so that I could then replicate the recipes at home for my veggie friends. However, if you’re looking for a more authentic cooking experience, with more flavours to the dishes, and less sugar, then Siem Reap Countryside Class is probably a better option.
Here are some substitutes if you want to make these dishes at home:
Instead of tofu use sea bass, sole fillet or free range chicken
Instead of soy sauce use gluten free fish sauce or coconut aminos
Instead of palm sugar use coconut sugar or raw unprocessed honey or medjool dates
Instead of green papaya use a mixture of carrots, white radish, and zucchini
Instead of powder vegetable stock use any homemade stock
Instead of noni leaves use bok choy
What I love about traditional Khmer food is that it’s naturally free from gluten and dairy and coconut milk is a staple in its cooking. My favourite Cambodian dish by far is Fish Amok and here is a recipe that you can try with the ingredients all available in Shanghai.
Fish Amok, serves 2 people
A small handful of bitter greens such as pak choi or bok choi or kale
4 Kaffier lime leaves
3 stalks lemongrass, outer leaves, and base removed
a baby-finger-sized piece of galangal, peeled & chopped
a small piece of turmeric, peeled & chopped
2 small red chilli peppers
1 shallot, peeled
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1 to 2 tsp coconut sugar (can replace it with honey)
1/2 tsp shrimp paste
juice of 2 small limes
1 egg, beaten
approx 2 tsp fish sauce or coconut aminos, adjust to your desired level of saltiness
1 tbsp coconut oil for frying
1/2 cup full-fat coconut milk (Real Thai is a great brand)
400 g fish, in large chunks (any firm, white, non-bony fish will do)
1/4 cup homemade vegetable, chicken or fish stock
1/4 cup water
Step 1 - Make a paste
Put strips of lime leaves, lemongrass, galangal, turmeric, chili peppers, lime juice, shallot, and garlic in the food processor and process until they become a paste. Stir in the coconut sugar and fish paste. For the best results, make this at least 1 day in advance.
Beat the egg, add the fish sauce and a couple teaspoons of your paste - this will give your amok a silkier texture.
Heat a wok, pot or a large deep frying pan over medium heat. Add coconut oil. Once hot, add the remaining paste and stir. After a minute or two, your kitchen will fill with a deliciously intense smell.
Once this happens, stir in half the coconut cream. When it boils, add the fish. After a minute or two, add the remaining coconut cream and the egg mixture and stir. Thin to desired texture with the chicken stock and water. Heat on low until the fish is cooked through. The stir in your greens and cook until wilted, about 3 minutes.
Spoon into bowls and serve with cauliflower rice on the side.
Also, if you missed my previous article on intentions and setting goals for 2019, click here to read it now. For more resources on wellness & health you might want to check out my previous posts:
To your wellbeing!
P.S. Another two clients graduated at the beginning of February which means there are two new spots for those of you who are ready to make a commitment and work with a coach. I find that free information is a great start, but it's personalised support and accountability that really make the difference. Find out more by visiting my website www.thriveinshanghai.com.
AND HERE IS FEEDBACK FROM ONE OF MY RECENT CLIENTS - JESPER, FROM HIS HEALTH JOURNEY WITH ME:
1. What were your most impactful RESULTS?
- Clearer mind, focus on what’s important and finding a path towards improvement through nutrition
- Weight loss (lighter than I’ve been in 10+ years)
2. What HABITS are you going to take away with you?
- Healthier and mindful eating patterns
3. Did you achieve the goals you were looking for?
- I surely did achieve my goals. I have successfully built a foundation from where I can grow.
4. What specific part of the program did you like best?
- Overcoming challenges and successfully doing what I set out to do.
5. Is there any other feedback that you would like to add?
- You are awesome! Because of you I have been able to positively improve and change my life. You are a guide, you are the good wolf inside of one's head that shows you the better path to becoming your best self. Only positive things to say about mine and Anja's journey with you.