Nhà hàng Ngon, Ho Chi Minh, 2013

nha hang ngon sign

The tubers we had after our bunker crawl at Củ Chi was simply not enough to sustain us for the rest of the day. We hopped back on the tour bus and eagerly poured out onto the sidewalk, ready to be led to lunch at Nhà hàng Ngon.

reflection pool

Nhà hàng Ngon is a charming Vietnamese restaurant housed in what used to be a French villa. You enter through a leafy arch of trees and shrub-lined paths. Fairy lights sway gently in the warm air.

dining terrace

The building is painted in a warm, canary yellow with tailored, white borders accentuating the arches. Seating ranges between cafeteria-style–with rows on rows of tables–to elevated terraces with cloth canopies draped overhead. A courtyard with reflection pool sits in the center of the restaurant.

woks and spices

Along the perimeter of the restaurant are the food stalls where dishes are made to order. You are handed a small piece of paper, which is stamped when you place an order at the food stall. Sort of like dim sum, but instead of carts of food coming to you, you walk around and shop for the food you want.

making spring rolls

While the options were bountiful, it was largely vegetarian-unfriendly. Plenty of grilled seafood and skewered meats to go around, however. There was even escargot!

skewers, escargot, stuffed cake things

We were seated on the second floor–my mom and I had our own “vegetarian” table. our first dish was some tofu Gỏi cuốn [summer rolls] stuffed with carrots, vermicelli, lemongrass, and scallions. A peanut dipping sauce came on the side.

summer roll

Next was a plate of steamed vegetables: okra, carrots, squash, string beans, broccoli and cauliflower. No seasoning, just plain vegetables.

plain veggies

Then came the bowl of yellow curry with mushroom, eggplant, basil, mint, tofu, and some stewed veggie skewered “meats”. And a baguette for dipping into the curry, of course. This was an exciting departure from the plate of veggies; however, the curry was a tad salty. The baguette was warm and fresh, but dry.  Whether this was done purposefully so they could complement each other, I do not know.

curry and banh mi

Rotating waiters would drift by the table to refill your beautifully refreshing glass of iced lemongrass tea. Sweet just the right amount.

veggie pho

I never expected to see so much use of faux meat in vegetarian Vietnamese cuisine. Our next dish was vegetable pho. There were veggie fish balls, konjac, fried bean curd sheets, fried tofu cubes, an assortment of veggies–pickled and fresh–, and some shallots and scallions to top it off. The soup was flavorful enough (but had an MSG taste to it), and the noodles were pretty good.

three color dessert

For dessert we had Chè Ba Màu, or “Three Color Dessert”. A drink with pudding as its base, with green jelly, grass jelly, and some coconut jelly layered on top of each other. A wash of slightly sweetened coconut milk tops off the icy drink. This was so delicious and refreshing! Loved the variety of textures you work through as you scoop out the different jellies and beans and pudding.

Overall I really enjoyed my meal at Nhà hàng Ngon. In all honesty I can’t say there was a dish that stood out or that I can remember absolutely, but I still look fondly back on this meal as one of the most enjoyable I had in Vietnam.

Củ Chi Tunnels, Vietnam, 2013

The Củ Chi tunnels are part of a vast network of tunnels that run underneath Vietnam and were the Viet Cong’s base of operations for the Tết Offensive in 1968. Củ Chi specifically runs 75-miles long in total. The tunnels were critical to the Viet Cong’s resistance to American forces, and was used by the Viet Cong not only as supply routes, living quarters, and for communication, but also as hiding spots during combat.

fruit trees

Papaya, mango, cashew, and jackfruit (clockwise from top left)

We were greeted by a surprisingly thriving fruit garden that lay between the parking lot and the entrance to the tunnel grounds. Generously-bosomed papaya trees bowed to the weight of their fruit; mangoes bobbled precariously overhead; and jackfruits the size of newborns coyly grazed our heads with their spikes. We even got to see a cashew tree! Apparently cashew nuts are seeds of the cashew apple (a pseudo-fruit) that grow on the exterior of the apple.

underground hut

Our first stop was an underground hut, where we were shown a short 15-20 minute video of the history of the tunnels. On the left wall was a model of the tunnels: living quarters, kitchens, and escape routes. Many of the tunnels had an escape exit that led to a body of water (usually a river), so that soldiers could easily raft down the river if the tunnels were ever bombed or otherwise compromised. American forces typically didn’t expect this, and many Viet Cong were able to escape this way.

cuchi_trap

A demo of the hidden entrances to the tunnels. Really amazing how people manage to fit in these and find the entrances. One of the squishier members of our group decided to give it a shot and got stuck for a little trying to get out! Only light baggage allowed ;).

The tunnels had plenty of trap doors and strategic air filtration systems that were able to deter attempts to flush the entrance with gas, water, or hot tar. Walk over the wrong patch of ground and you could meet a grisly (and rather medieval death), as shown below.

death traps

Chickens roamed the cafeteria area freely. There was also a shooting range to practice in, if you so desired! I thought about doing it, but the rounds were rather expensive — about $20 for 5-10 bullets(??).

chickens and shooting (but not together)

Can you find the baby chick?

We also walked past tents demonstrating daily chores of people working in the Viet Cong.To make banh trang (rice paper), you ground rice and mix it with water so that it becomes a slurry. The batter is then spread onto a cloth stretched over a pot of boiling water. Cover with a bamboo lid and let it steam for about 30-45 seconds. A rolling pin (of sorts) is then used to lift and transfer the rice sheet to a cooling “rack”–a long, woven board of bamboo.

rice paper

There was another tent where we got to see how old materials–namely rubber taken from tires of destroyed jeeps–were repurposed to make sandals because they’re water resistant and don’t slip.

shoemaker

Many Viet Cong actually led double lives. Scarves disguised the identities of “normal” women who worked in rice fields but then tunneled into headquarters at night to fight in Viet Cong attacks.

the fighting bunkerAnd then it was our turn to experience tunnel life. We went down “The Fighting Bunker”, a dark and dank hole that no one should have to subject themselves to living in. The air–well, there really was no air–was so stale, so humid, and basically all CO2. There was no way to move or walk about. We had to army crawl our way to get from one room to another, and to the end of the tunnel. While this tunnel was less than a hundred meters (maybe not even 50m), the several minutes it took to inchworm our way on elbows and knees was exhausting.

We were congratulated on successfully navigating the tunnel with a highly-anticipated meal, Viet Cong-style. On the menu was a single item: a starchy, dry, potato-like root (I forget what it’s called). It was like eating flour. Dip in crushed peanuts for protein and fat intake. On a generous day, treat yourself to some freshly-roasted cashews.

starch and protein

So concluded our tour of the Củ Chi tunnels. Tunnel life is fascinating, rough, and dangerous. I left with so much appreciation for what I have thankfully not had to go through (hopefully ever). Visiting Củ Chi is absolutely something you should experience if you are ever in Vietnam.

Life in Saigon, Ho Chi Minh, 2013

Breakfast was early–we had a long day ahead of us! The Sheraton’s buffet was everyone’s dream except ours. There was a dearth of vegetarian options, mostly limited to fruit and salad. It was also packed at 7am. In Chinese we say it’s like a 菜市場 [cai shi chang], or street market: Chinese grandmas and grandpas shoving their way through a pulsing crowd, with handfuls of leek and bok choy in hand yelling at everyone and everything. So if you want breakfast without a line, get to the door before breakfast opens up.

sheraton breakfast

I managed to snag 2 slices of passionfruit, some jackfruit, star fruit, some pomelo, and red guava! Fruits I wish we could find as easily (and cheaply) in the US. I can only eat apples, bananas, and oranges so many times every day. When I was growing up, my mom made me eat a banana literally every day; when I hit high school, I felt like I was old enough to tell her no. And I didn’t have a banana for all 4 years of high school, until I got to college and had no other options.

We couldn’t have the pho, the rice, or any of the other (mostly seafood) dishes. But the banh mi station was our saving grace. French baguette, a crispy fried egg, and some pickled veggies. Slather sweet, sour, and spicy sauce on top. It wasn’t the best banh mi I’ve had, but it was good enough to tide me over for the morning.

Saigon on a hazy morning

Saigon on a hazy morning

Most Vietnamese eat a much simpler breakfast: coffee and pho. Street vendors can make $100/day just from selling coffee alone. This was evidenced by the tiny woman with a coffee cart right across from the hotel–it was early rush hour, and she already had a queue of at least 10 people. (I wanted a picture, but she kept glaring my way…).

Rent in Ho Chi Minh can get really expensive; it’s no better than what we see in NYC or SF, topping out at $3,000/month. Utilities average $100/month. The average Vietnamese takes home only around $500-700/month.

morning traffic

Morning traffic

Currently, the written Vietnamese language uses the roman alphabet, totaling 24 letters with the exception of W and Z. Its earliest form used Chinese characters, but evolved to using the alphabet after French occupation. Traditional Chinese was taught using Taiwanese textbooks before that, because Vietnam had (or has?) a peaceful relationship with Taiwan.

catching up

Catching up with friends

Spoken Vietnamese is a mix of Cantonese and French. And like China, they follow the Lunar calendar and hand out red envelopes on New Year’s. Students get 2 weeks of break for New Year’s, and workers get 9 days!

Vietnamese history totals 4,000 years. When the Chinese Communist party took over in 1975 and united southern and northern Vietnam, they also stripped everyone of their money. Businessmen, scientists, and chefs all fled. Refugees had to pay upwards of 20-30,000 VND to escape, an extraordinary amount at the time.

Businessmen melted all their gold, molded it into chains, and painted it black to disguise their wealth so that they could escape safely.

trash and phones

Trash collection next to a mobile phone store

Our tour guide, Wang, told us that he actually came from a very wealthy family that owned a prep school before the takeover. His brother escaped by rickshaw to Hong Kong, spending 40 nights on the sea before he reached land. He luckily had no encounters with the widely-feared Thai pirates that would smuggle and rape refugees.

A short side story on my family history

When my grandma was escaping from the Communists, she and my grandpa fled from Zhejiang Province [浙江省] in China to Guangzhou, where all the ferries to Taiwan would depart from the mainland. By the time they arrived, there was only one ferry left and it had already started to move away from the dock. My grandma was a few months pregnant with my aunt (the oldest and only) at the time. My grandpa jumped first as the ferry chugged further away; my grandma leapt and her feet scraped the edges of the ferry, but my grandpa caught her in time. And that’s how my mom’s family first settled their roots in Taiwan.

Anyone could be a spy for the government in those days; it was impossible to successfully get out. Wang’s mother paid a smuggler to take him to Thailand, but the guy took the money and left Wang stranded in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge’s reign. He was a teen at the time, and it took him 6 months to find a way out of Cambodia. A soap trader took him under his wing and made him tan on the deck of the ship every day so that he would look less Vietnamese.

roadside shack

A shack off the side of the road

Even more incredible was that Wang’s mother sewed gold and money into his underwear: enough to buy 3, three-storied houses. A lot of cash. It was very heavy, and Southeast Asia’s steamy climate is unforgiving. But Wang said he couldn’t risk taking the underwear off–and so he wore the same piece of underwear. For weeks. Until he reached Thailand.

He then used the money to get into the trading business, and eventually make his way back to Vietnam to raise a family. Many Vietnamese soldiers, on the other hand, bought their way back by marrying rich Cambodians and abandoning their marriages after taking the money.

early morning fishing

The daily catch

It is no wonder that with so many wars, that it has taken Vietnam so long to recover. There aren’t even highways in Vietnam yet, just local (and typically one-way or one-lane) roads. (Fun fact: the first time toilets came to Vietnam (before 1975), people actually used it as a fish tank or to wash vegetables!)

Amazing what you can learn on a bus trip. Our primary and secondary education in the US simply glosses over the ramifications of wars we forcefully waged on other countries. I was looking out the window as Wang was telling his story: each frame of passing scenery unfolding generations of struggle unknown and forgotten by us, but in which others continue to live.

Song Ngu Seafood, Ho Chi Minh, 2013

We landed in Ho Chi Minh just in time for a late dinner. Our tour bus picked us up from the airport to take us to our first meal in Saigon. We arrived at Song Ngu Seafood Restaurant, one of the more expensive and surprisingly few seafood restaurants in Vietnam. Song Ngu has been around 20 years and has created a menu advertising not only traditional seafood recipes, but also a fusion of Japanese, Chinese, Thai, and Malaysian.

song ngu sign

I had no idea that this was a restaurant frequented by businessmen, well-off travelers, and the Vietnamese upper-middle class; I think it was the neon signs glowing in an otherwise dark street, like a Vegas liquor store beckoning, that threw me off. Female servers greeted us in áo dàithe Vietnamese national costume. A tight silk tunic splits at the rib cage to highlight the smallness of the woman’s waist, and is worn over pants. The men wore áo, or tunics, as well.

My mom and I eagerly waited for our vegetarian meal. It’s always interesting to see how chefs fiddle with the menu to accommodate vegetarians. We were first served deep fried lotus seeds as our appetizer. It came on a woven plate with a banana leaf to absorb some of the oil (I’m guessing?). This might have been one of the best discoveries on this trip. These things were so addicting. I think we finished the entire plate before any other dish arrived…

fried lotus seeds

Next was a noodle salad reminiscent of Thai green papaya salad: with cilantro, ground peanut, deep fried shallots, and some red chilies.

noodle salad

A small bowl of soup came after. I was skeptical at first because of the fishcake-like things, but my mom taste tested it and assured me it was konjac. It was very thick and lightly-flavored, and unfortunately not all that memorable.

"fish" soup

And then came the spring rolls :D.You can’t ever really go wrong with spring rolls. Deep-fried goodness stuffed with crisp, fresh veggies, (veggie) meat, and the occasional vermicelli. The spring rolls came with a side of veggies: cucumber, pineapple (!), basil, and lettuce. There was a plate of deep fried tofu cubes as well, with thick, dark soy sauce. Neither of us were sure what the “correct” way to eat the 3 dishes was, so we just made up our own way of eating it. Fried food is always delicious. Especially topped off with some Tiger beer.

spring rolls and tofu

The carnivores had a much more luxurious feast by far. Cua rang me–sauteed crab in tamarind sauce; crispy grouper; fresh clams in coconut milk. One of their dishes was “Drunken Tiger Prawns”: enormous and fresh prawns are cooked tableside by lighting the entire bowl on fire with alcohol. I’m sure there’s a joke about the consequences of drinking somewhere in there, but I’m too lazy to come up with one.

drunken prawns

An unamused, solemn-faced band serenaded us on zithers, with the Dan Nguyet–two-string guitar, also known as the “moon lute” due to its shape–as accompaniment.

zither band

Our entree was a claypot of mushrooms, bok choy, tofu, carrots, cilantro, and more ground peanuts. While I enjoyed the abundance of veggies, I couldn’t help but feel that our vegetarian meal was so plain in comparison. But of course it’s always good to have food to eat regardless :).

veggie claypot

So concluded our “seafood” feast. We headed back to the Sheraton Saigon Hotel for the night. I was surprised to see Christmas lights and a giant Christmas tree in the hotel lobby: perhaps a vestige of French influence.

sheraton saigon

Last Day in Siem Reap, 2013

As we finished our tour of Ta Prohm and headed back along the forested path to our bus, Steven suddenly brought our group to a screeching halt by a cluster of unassuming bushes. He excitedly picked off one of the leaves and peeled it apart at its midrib to reveal a sticky, clear mucus stretched between the two halves. He explained to us that he and all the other kids in the village used to spend their playtime staring into these leaf-juice-bubbles like a telescope or using them as magnifying glasses.

steven's leaf

Growing up in the middle-class suburbs of LA, I found it fascinating that kids could get so much enjoyment out of a leaf. It was humbling–made me realize how (and I really hate this word because of its overuse in social media, but here it is) privileged I was. My playtime as a kid was lazing around in front of the TV, watching Scooby-Doo and Pokemon marathons, or playing Zoo Tycoon on my computer. Not to say that playing outdoors is inferior in any way; it’s just that I had greater access and freedom to do different things. Go hiking? Sure. Play house with my Beanie Babies? Totally. Go to the movies? Yeah, why not.

band of tro players

A cheery band serenaded us on the tro as we said our goodbyes to Angkor Wat.

A boy and his cow.

A boy and his cow.

Our time in Cambodia wouldn’t be complete without a delicious lunch–a light cucumber roll with picked bean sprouts and carrots, paired with sweet and sour sauce; red curry vegetables with a dollop of coconut cream to go with rice [“bai bai” in Khmer]; a delicious sesame roll; and a mini fruit platter of papaya, pineapple, dragon fruit, and and mango to boot.

last lunch in siem reap

I practically rolled out the door with such a filling lunch. Thankfully, our tour had arranged for us an hour-long massage for this very purpose.

massage parlor

Refreshed and no longer feeling the weight of a pot of curry and rice, we headed to the airport. Siem Reap airport is wildly busy for such a small hub–make sure you have enough time before your flight! Even though there were only 5 families in our group, it took the check-in counter more than an hour to get us all through.

siem reap airport

Goodbye, leah hai, Cambodia! How unfortunately quick 3 days passed, and how unforgettably magical was my experience here.

siem reap sunset

Ta Prohm, 2013

tree rising from rubble

The legs of the jungle, like the legs of a giant octopus, slither into the abandoned orifices–windows, doors, arches–of a decaying Buddhist monastery.

a scene out of tomb raider

It ensnares the sandstone columns, driving its roots deep into the veins of sanctuary walls. Ta Prohm.

entrance to ta prohm

Ta Prohm was constructed in 1186 AD and dedicated to the mother of King Jayavarman VII. Sanskrit inscriptions provide statistics on the temple’s wealth–housing 80,000 workers, 2,700 officials, and 615 dances. It was home to 500kg of gold, copious amounts of diamonds, pearls, precious stones, and silks.  (This all turned out to be an exaggeration of the actual numbers, in order to honor the king).

carvings and collapsed hallways

Its abandonment over the centuries left it susceptible to looting, and many of its relics are lost. Our guide, Steve, pointed out that many of the carvings, interestingly enough, were of dinosaurs (see the stegosaurus-like animal 2nd down). The Khmers may have known about dinosaurs for longer than we have!

central pavillion

Fig, banyan, and kapok trees parade their embellished home: hermit crabs of the forest. This is the central pavillion (I believe), where one must fend off pushy tourists for your share of this captivating stranglehold of stone terraces and flora. The impasse of centuries.

snapshots of ta prohm

 

collapsing arch

Angkor Thom, 2013

After our sunrise photoshoot, we met up with the rest of our group by the parking lot to head over to Angkor Thom [“thom” meaning “big”, so the larger of the Angkor temples and the capital of Jayavarman VII’s empire].

women cooking by Angkor Wat

A tent was already setup by the trees by local women, who tossed fresh vegetables sizzling in fiery woks and stirred soup bubbling in cast iron pots.

our tuk tuk

Our tuk tuks were embroidered with a tapestry of kaleidoscope fabrics.

We set out on the dirt road, bouncing along to the beat of the rocks underneath our wheels. The lake we passed was blooming with pink waterlilies; how I wish I could join the women taking pictures!

women by waterlilies

Those opting for a better view traveled via elephant carriage.

travel by elephant carriage

We hopped off at Bayon, which sits at the center of the capital, the official state temple. Stone faces on the towers smiled gently down at us from, literally, every corner. A friendly reminder that the gods were always watching.

bayon architecture

There are 216 of these faces in Bayon, and it is hypothesized that they depict Jayavarman II himself. The other hypothesis is that the faces are of the bodhisattva of compassion, Lokesvara. Either explanation would fit, given that Khmer monarch traditionally saw themselves as a devaraja [“god-king”].

Sandstone friezes depicting everyday life in Angkor streamed across the walls. Most typical was a procession scene of elephants, mothers and children, and festivities or armies.

my mom and i having some fun at bayon

Kissed by the gods!

Bayon, with its rusting exterior and crumbling corners, is a scene straight out of an Indiana Jones movie. There is a haunting other-worldliness that transcends the hustle and bustle of clicking cameras, waving tour flags, and bobbing visors.

Pieces of Bayon

The Comforts of Home

end of route 66 in santa monicaIt’s strange to think of home as somewhere I travel to now, as opposed to returning to. No longer can I count on being home for the holidays–I must first find my way back by way of hours of ticket price comparison, scheduling around work, and allocating vacation days.

I was told before graduating from college that wherever my job is, is where I’ll end up. For the foreseeable forever. And as much as I’ve tried to make Boston familiar to me, it remains wholly unfamiliar. To be frustratingly out of step and not in rhythm; not too unlike my uncoordinated self exasperatingly stomping on the arrows in DDR [dance dance revolution–I think I’m just dating myself here] because, I just…can’t…get this right?!

Perhaps it’s graduation goggles–I had been waiting to escape the West Coast all my pubescent life, and getting into Tufts was a blessing–or perhaps I have finally come to appreciate what was once mine and is no longer. It’s likely both. The clichés write themselves.

the borders of LA from above

Is it odd that butterflies fill my stomach and I hold my breath in heavy anticipation for all of the 6 hour flight, to somewhere I already know so intimately? I love descending upon the 30-mile galaxy of street lights, traffic stops, and the glow of suburbia.

I miss the 4-lane freeways, single homes, the sight of Chinese billboards selling McDonald’s meals. The traffic will forever be atrocious.

To be home is to sip from a hot cup of nostalgia and wear over-sized sweats from high school PE. To roll out of bed and spend the next half hour sinking into the soft, white carpet, staring mindlessly at the patchwork quilt of postcards, tchotchkes, and ticket stubs haphazardly taped onto walls.

souvenir timeline

I miss thumbing through my bookcase, which has everything including a volume of Rurouni Kenshin manga–in Chinese, because my parents didn’t allow anime or manga growing up and I sneakily bought one when they were browsing a Chinese bookstore back in 6th grade–and  the progression of ever darker literature from required reading lists. A copy of Good Omens sits perpendicular to the lineup, the newcomer. I finished that on last year’s flight home.

beanies_books

To play jenga with foodstuffs in the fridge: frozen mochi bread from Taiwan; a box of white grape chocolate from Hokkaido; a palette of jams from Kona; the jungle of reused butter, yogurt, and takeout containers that typically contain no butter, yogurt, or takeout. Eat mom’s cooking. Go pick a juicy kumquat from our tree by the front door.

I miss the sound of chatterbox Taiwanese talk show hosts and salivating at the food being showcased, which always come from “the best scallion pancake place in Taipei ever!!!”. I miss being able to walk around the corner and buy stinky tofu from the 99 Ranch food court, eat a casual meal at Din Tai Fung, and slurp through a bowl of 八寶冰 [ba bao bing, or “Eight Treasure Shaved Ice”].

food at home

Home is family, decades-long friendships, food. Home is the every day beauty of mai tai sunsets against the purple majesty of the San Gabriel Mountains. Home is where I dust off old memories, and leave new ones behind to look back on, this time next year.

Sunrise at Angkor Wat, 2013

a dark angkor watA small number of us shuffled bleary-eyed at the dark hours of 4 AM onto the bus, and back to Angkor Wat. We were going to catch the sunrise — one that, when lucky, is supposedly so vivid that it’s as if the sky were “an exploding volcano of ruby red magma” (Steven’s description).

tourists in the wingsWe weren’t the only ones. It was cold, in the high 30’s, low 40’s. We puffed small clouds of condensation, alongside dozens of other eager, amateur and professional photographers waiting in the wings for their next Instagram or 500px hit.

colors started filling the skyThe waning moon faded into gradients of blue and purple that began to color the sky, the silhouette of Angkor Wat traced in the background. Wrinkles of clouds folded in the peachy colors of sunrise.

angkor full sunriseIt had been an hour at this point, and slowly, but surely, the rounded head of the sun began to peek over the horizon. Inch by inch, it ascended.

my mom and IAlthough we weren’t able to see the “volcano”, we left Angkor Wat no less fulfilled. A perfectly still moat captured the sky.

reflections in the water

Siem Reap, 2013: the streets and nightlife

Snail cart

Snails were a common snack sold on the streets of Siem Reap. Wheeled carts overflowed with giant trays of snails parked alongside the roads, enough to pave a road with. The snails came cooked, and you could take home a small bag of chili sauce to go with them.

spice store

Storefronts of colorful spices and dried fruits could fill a library.

cherimoya cart

And one of my favorite fruits–cherimoya, or 釋迦 [shi jia]. Beautiful, custard-like deliciousness. Mmm. The cart owner patiently waited as Steven entertained our group with this fascinating fruit that you can’t find in the States.

a mid-morning nap

It seems like the most common form of transportation is these motorbike-carriage-things. Not sure if it’s because we’re in a touristy area or not.

sausage store

This fantastic array of sausages.

Dinner was back at the Sofitel–a rather standard buffet and underwhelming in comparison to their breakfast. The Cambodian desserts were delicious though!

khao dome and other dessertsI picked out some Khao Dome — coconut sticky rice filled with plantain and wrapped in banana leaves — and this coconut jelly with a gingko nut (can’t quite remember anymore?) center, also wrapped in a banana leaf. Couldn’t find the name of this dessert.

We were then treated to a private showing of the Aspara Dance. I was hoping we would be able to sit outside with the tealights and by the water, as I saw the night before. A treat nonetheless, considering  that this beautiful tradition was nearly wiped out by the Khmer Rouge, with 90% of artists and intellectuals eliminated during their regime.

apsara danceThe costumes of the Apsara are based on the devatas depicted in the bas-reliefs of Angkor Wat. Delicate steps ticked in time with palms and fingers gracefully drawing out a story, arms pulling in and pushing out like soft waves breaking ashore. A mesmerizing performance, although I wish I understood more.

pub streetOur night ended by hitting Pub Street and getting at taste of Siem Reap nightlife. Neon lights laced the river and the viewing decks lining it. Every restaurant was bubbling with tourists gaily clinking bottles of beer.

souvenirs, silk, shirtsMy mom and I spent the better half of the hour we were allotted to explore, at the bazaar of beautiful Cambodian scarves and embroidery. Dozens of these stands ran along the avenue at the riverfront, like a fortress. It was all so cheap — 3 scarves for $10 USD!