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The noodle maker

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La Mien noodles are the signature dish at Phnom Penh’s Noodle House. The chef makes them from scratch every time someone orders this dish.

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Even though it’s great fun to watch how these noodles are made, the dish itself tastes a little bland. It clearly needs some more spices or sauce.

What I recommend instead are the vegetarian Dim Sum at $ 2.50 and the Red Peanut Curry at $ 3.50 at Noodle House. Both of these are excellent.

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Written by Thorsten

October 25, 2011 at 9:49 am

Asleep in Phnom Penh

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Written by Thorsten

October 22, 2011 at 7:43 am

A ride on Cambodia’s bamboo train

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Bamboo train in Battambang, CambodiaThe bamboo railway isn’t exactly the Orient Express, a French TGV or a German ICE train. It’s basically a wooden bed frame on wheels, powered by something like a lawnmower motor. These contraptions are held together by nothing but the force of gravity. You clearly see that about 2′ 15″  into the youtube clip I’ve added at the bottom of this post.

Bamboo trains can reach speeds of up to 40 km/h – pretty scary, if you ask me, but also a lot of fun as long as no one gets hurt.

The bamboo trains have been running in Cambodia since the 1980s. Those were the days just after the defeat of the Khmer Rouge. The country’s roads were mined or in disrepair, trains didn’t run any more and air travel wasn’t affordable for the average Cambodian.

Bamboo train, Battambang, CambodiaSo the people of the country made good use of the old unused railway tracks and created their own form of transport: the Bamboo railway.

In the beginning, these “norries”, as the locals call them, were pushed with long poles – pretty much like the gondolas in Venice. Now, they’re propelled by motors.

The problem for the conductor of these “trains” is that all of Cambodia’s railway connections are single-track lines. So if someone comes from the other direction, either one party gets off the tracks or there’s an ugly crash.

In the days when the official railroads connected Cambodia’s major cities, train schedules prevented such incidents. But when the bamboo trains started, they didn’t run according to schedule: everyone just used the tracks whenever and wherever he wanted.

So if two “norries” were going in opposite directions on the same track, one of them had to give way and let the other pass. Originally, the one that carried the heavier loads would stay on the track. Bamboo train in Battambang, CambodiaThe lighter one would quickly be taken apart and its wheels taken off the tracks so that the heavily laden one could pass.

These days, the bamboo trains run mostly for tourists on a short stretch near Battambang. This piece of track is 3.7 kilometers long and it takes about an hour to go out and come back.

The ride is a lot of fun, especially every time you have to stop because there’s traffic from the other direction and you have to get off the tracks. Or when cows are grazing on the tracks and need gentle persuasion to move out of the way.

But it’s uncertain, how much longer these Cambodian “thrill rides” will be running. There are plans to reactivate the country’s railway system. And once real trains are back on these tracks, the bamboo trains will have to give way to diesel locomotives permanently.

Written by Thorsten

October 16, 2011 at 4:30 pm

Feeding the ancestors on Cambodia’s Pchum Ben holiday

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Pchum Ben festival at Phnom Penh's Wat OunalomFor the past 15 days, Cambodians have gotten up in the dark hours of morning and taken offerings of food and money to the buddhist pagodas. They’ve been “feeding their ancestors”.

During the 15-day Pchum Ben festival, the spirits of the dead acestors are said to walk the earth. So this is a good time for Cambodians to get on their good side by offering them food and saying prayers for them.

The offerings are supposed to help the deceased pass on to a better life. According to Khmer belief, people who don’t follow the practices of Pchum Ben will be cursed by their angry ancestors.

Today, Thursday, September 7th, is the fifteenth and final day of this year’s Pchum Ben festival. It’s the day when Cambodians travel to their home provinces to pray at the temples and pagodas where their ancestors were cremated.

Written by Thorsten

October 7, 2010 at 7:40 am

Posted in asia, travel

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Is Australia part of Europe?

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Phnom Penh street sceneOne day, our Cambodian driver asked us, whether Australia was part of Europe. At first, I thought I’d misunderstood him and answered that Austria was, but Australia wasn’t.

“Oh,” he said, “that’s a shame. Then I got that one wrong on my test.”

It seemed he’d written a geography test at his university, in which he had to list European countries.

Next he wanted to know whether France and England were in Europe. “Yes,” I said. He was glad that he got these two right.

“And how about the United States?” Surely they were part of Europe?

I was stunned by the question.

“No, sorry,” I said, “the U.S. isn’t part of Europe.”

“But then what about Egypt? That’s part of Europe, right?”

“No, sorry.”

Our driver was heartbroken that he’d made so many mistakes on his geography test.

Looking at it from his point of view…

At first, I was mildly shocked by our driver’s concept of Europe and the rest of the world. But then I remembered, that not everyone knows how to read a map. Certainly not everyone in Cambodia.

Since I had the good fortune of growing up in the West, map-reading is a skill that I learned in geography class and from my parents.

Cambodian village sceneBut if you grow up in some remote Cambodian village, you’re pretty far removed from globes, maps and learning about other parts of the world.

And looking at it from our Cambodian driver’s point of view, most foreigners must look alike. What difference does it make to him if one of them is from the U.S. and another says he’s from Italy, Germany, France – or Australia.

All those places are so far removed from the daily lives of the average Cambodian.  His (or her) life in the Cambodian backwaters circles largely around the family, the village, and maybe the province.

He (or she) will never have a chance to visit far-away countries.

So who cares whether those foreign countries are east or west, north or south of Cambodia.

Or whether they’re part of Europe or not.

Written by Thorsten

October 21, 2009 at 8:54 pm

Posted in asia, observations

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Drinking and driving in Phnom Penh

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traffic cops and Asahi beerI’m confused. I always thought you weren’t supposed to drink and drive.

But then what’s the message these traffic cops in Phnom Penh are sending out? Their guard house clearly displays an advertisement for beer.

It’s sponsored by Asahi breweries. The company is based in Japan and just trying to get a foot in the door in other Asian countries.

Aaccording to the company website, Asahi’s corporate philosophy is:

The Asahi Breweries Group aims to satisfy its customers with the highest levels of quality and integrity, while contributing to the promotion of healthy living and the enrichment of society worldwide.

Ah, so that’s what all this is about: not drinking and driving, but “…the promotion of healthy living“.

In that case: cheers, officer!

Written by Thorsten

October 13, 2009 at 1:52 pm

Oktoberfest in Phnom Penh – it’s Munich on the Mekong

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Oktoberfest in Phnom PenhI’ve never been to Munich’s Oktoberfest.

Somehow the combination of binge drinking, oom-pah music and big-busted waitresses in dirndl-dresses always failed to intrigue me.

So I was unprepared for what I experienced last night, when I attended the Oktoberfest in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh – of all places.

Oom-pah music in Phnom PenhImagine an authentic Bavarian band playing German beer-drinking music and Alpine yodelling songs to a crowd largely made up of Asians.

The locals seemed to enjoy it, but most of them didn’t have a clue what the singer was trying to tell them when he repeatedly shouted “oans, zwoa, gsuffa!” (rough translation: drink, drink, drink!).

dirndl and fish-net stockingsOne thing I loved was how Asia’s Tiger brewery decked local waitresses out in very loose interpretations of Bavarian dirndl dresses.

waitress posingI don’t know if the fish-net stockings are what a Bavarian matron would wear to church on Sundays…

The food was surprisingly authentic, though. The organisers must have had a tough time trying to find Sauerkraut, Weisswurst (a special kind of Bavarian sausage that is boiled, not grilled) and Apfelstrudel (an Alpine interpretation of apple pie) in Cambodia.

Overall, Phnom Penh’s Oktoberfest was bizarre, but fun. Munich on the Mekong.

And for those in Phnom Penh who can’t get enough of German Gemütlichkeit, there’s good news: the Cambodian capital is home to not one, but two Oktoberfests. One’s at the Cambodiana Hotel, the other at the Sunway.

Written by Thorsten

October 10, 2009 at 4:42 am

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