Thursday, November 8, 2012

2012, Day 313 - On the road again

Today was a travel day; we left Phnom Penh this morning bright and early for Battambang.  We were picked up at our hotel and then went to collect Francene before hitting the road.  Mr. Pech Mony is our driver and guide and he was ready to allow us to stop along the way for pictures and exploration, perfect for a gaggle of photographers and two patient non-photographers.  We are very fortunate because Mony had the pleasure of being the guide for both Bill and Hillary Clinton; Bill after he left office and Hillary in her capacity as Secretary of State.

As we wended our way out of Phnom Penh we passed a large waterfront community.  Mony explained that they are predominantly fishermen and while most of Cambodia is Buddhist they are Muslim.  To drive the point home we drove past mosque after mosque.  Their homes are built on stilts and hang over the river from which their livelihood derives.

Soon we were outside the outskirts of Phnom Penh and into the countryside.  Buildings were replaced by fields of tall green and yellow rice.  Some was being harvested, the earliest of the crop, while others still have weeks to go before they're ready.  The fields are dotted with sugar palms and in the distance there are mountains topped with temples and pagodas.  Suddenly Mony pointed out the right side of the van and asked if we wanted to stop.  When we saw what he saw we all said yes and as we exited the van we found a rice paddy with dozens on water buffalo grazing.  It was beautiful and rather iconic Asia.

So we harassed the wildlife for a little bit and received some information about the local flora (those nifty sensitivity plants the close when you touch them are natives) and then hopped back into the van.  It was another hour before we made a second stop to stretch our legs and see another market.  Yes, we all love markets.  Here we learned about betel nuts.  They are a mild stimulant with a taste that is supposed to be peppery; before chewed they are wrapped in a betel leaf and flavored with what was described as "snail slime" and boiled "cow shit."  That may be a totally accurate description but it was a white sort of liquidy paste.  It doesn't sound appetizing but I supposed some people must find it delicious.  Oh, and it stains your mouth red and apparently strengthens your teeth.  I think that woman could chew through rocks if the color of her teeth were any indication...

We continued walking and at the end of the market discovered a proper floating village.  Probably over a dozen houseboats were anchored about a hundred feet into the river.  Their roofs were dotted with TV antenna and long boats were shuttling school children back and forth.  Sadly it was getting really hot out under the sun so we didn't stay too long and we were getting hungry so it was time to find some lunch.

Choices for the sole vegetarian were a little limited so I had morning glory (water spinach or ong choy) and rice.  It was well seasoned and a little bit spicy but not totally filling.  After filling our bellies we were back on the road.  Having stopped so many times it was decided that we could make one more stop to see where they make pottery.

It wasn't too far from where we ate and just a little way off the highway up red clay roads to their home and workshop.  They were working under a corrugated roof with open sides making traditional clay stoves, shaping them, making cut outs to add wood, and then tearing apart old tin cans to make buckets to protect them as they are transported to the market to be sold.  We could hear the constant sounds of hammering as they added little wire rims under the end of the tin shells.  This was certainly a family endeavor, all the children were helping during some part of the process except for the youngest who were napping or playing with bits of leftover clay.

After saying our goodbyes we climbed back into our trusty chariot and booked it for Battambang.  Battambang is the second biggest city in Cambodia and is known for their colonial French architecture and the beauty of the rice paddies we drove past on our way into town.  The sun was low in the sky when we arrived at our new hotel, a lovely collections of bungalows surrounding a large pool and surrounded by tropical vegetation.  It didn't take us long to dump our luggage and get on the internet to find a place to have dinner.  We decided to try a place called Khmer Delight because they had all kinds of local and western choices on the menu figuring there should be something for everyone.

I don't really recall what the others ate but Francene and I started by splitting a sweet potato and coconut cream soup.  It was well seasoned with kaffir lime, garlic, and bits of ginger in a curry base; thick and hearty just like we expected.  We moved on to mixed vegetables in a light garlic sauce that was their vegetarian dinner special.  How could anyone complain when the sauce has big chunks of garlic floating with the rest of your veggies?  Finally, we finished with red curry vegetables; it was very well balanced and only lacked a bit of heat, otherwise it would have been perfect.  I was shocked to see we clears our plates, three generous servings and not a bit was left.  And the cost for this veritable feast?  Less than five dollars!

Stuffed and happy we called our tuk tuk driver and he collected us so we could shower and get to bed early!

Canon 1D X, Canon 70-200/f2.8L IS Mark II
200mm, f4, 1/640 sec @ 100 ISO

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