Visiting Cambodia was amazing. I got to run a race with temples in the background, I got to eat some amazing food and I got to see a country that I’ve wanted to check out for a while.
I also got sick.
It started suddenly. I arrived in Thailand and my stomach was feeling a little off but not too bad. But then that night the fever, vomiting and diarrhea started – and wouldn’t stop. Sometimes both were happen ing at the same time. The next morning was even worse. The fever was still there and my stomach still wasn’t up to eating. In addition, my muscles felt like I ran a marathon. I was physically exhausted, and the back of my legs also felt like I had massive bruises on them, yet I couldn’t see anything.
Day three, I still wasn’t better, and the pain in the back of my legs was worse. However, now giant mystery red welts had shown up. Did I go to the doctor? No. I decided to try to sleep it off as I was still so tired and having hot and cold flashes.
mystery red welts that really, really hurt
Day five, the fever was finally gone and so was the pain in my legs. The welts? Well, they were still there, but they were changing. The skin on top of them was peeling off and underneath was a weird bruise. They looked like reverse sunburn.
It was now I decided to go to the doctor as this was beyond weird. The good news was that I was now back in Switzerland where I know everything is clean. The bad news was that I don’t speak the language very well and it turned out the doctor had never seen anything like it. I tried to explain that this started in Cambodia and that I thought it was food poisoning or the flu. The doctor brought in two other doctors. It was a mystery – but it definitely was not the flu and I didn’t get these bruises from the bad food.
The welts now peeling
After an hour of prodding and looking up things in books and online, they concluded some sort of spider or bug had bitten me and all the symptoms were my body’s way of killing off the poison. They said they looked like they were starting to heal and weren’t infected.
Basically, because I had no idea what had bitten me, they couldn’t do much except give me some lotion to make them less crusty.
Deadly bug bites. Stuff you don’t think about when traveling.
Curry, lemongrass, spicy broths and seafood…I’m drooling already. The food in Thailand is so flavorful. The last time I went, I decided to learn how to make some of my favorite things.
My culinary journey began with a visit to the local market with the chef from the Anantara Hua Hin Resort in Thailand.
Taking me around the tables, she explained what each of the spices were (they look different fresh than they do ground up and put in a jar like you would find in the US) and the different types of fish that were indigenous of the area. Sea bass and prawns were both ingredients that I would need that day.
She also showed me the different types of curry and how they buy it. For some reason, I didn’t expect curry to come in a past that you buy by the ounce. I always thought it was powdered. She asked the person selling to the let me smell each of them so I can see the differences between them all and how each of them would compliment certain dishes.
From there we went back to the resort to start cooking. On the menu were Green Papaya Salad, Spicy Prawn Soup and Steamed Sea Bass, and this wasn’t one for those “watch the chef” do it journeys. They actually let me cut, dice and even de-vein my jumbo shrimp for the courses. For me the hardest part with removing the seeds from the little chilies and mincing everything together.
Everything was made from scratch including the broth. And the number of ingredients that went into everything was an interesting learning experience. All ingredients were fresh and in most cases it was the combination of sugar, fish oil and different chilies, onions and lime juice that transformed the dish from bland to amazing.
It also didn’t take much to make a dish too spicy to enjoy (lesson learned – little green chilies are killer spicy).
It was truly a great experience and half day of learning.
One of my favorite trips to date has been Thailand. I spent a week in the Golden Triangle last year and the energy in Bangkok is fantastic. There’s just something about this country that I love. It may be the people, the food, the weather, the tropical plants…or maybe it’s the elephants. Whatever it is, Thailand always leaves me in awe. (read my blog post on Thailand's Golden Triangle)
This time I thought I would try the Hua Hin District. It’s about 200 km South of Bangkok but it takes 3 hours to get from the Bangkok airport to the area. Although it took nearly 4 when I arrived as the traffic was crazy. But it’s worth the long ride, and the scenery along the highway isn’t the best, once you get off them and towards the coast, you will be blown away by the beauty.
The beaches in this area are absolutely enchanting. I stayed at the Anantara Hua Hin Resort in early December, which I was told is good time to go as the hotel rates are inexpensive at that time as the holiday crowd hasn’t arrived yet.
All you can tell from the photos, the resort was lovely and the perfect place for me to unwind and rejuvenate myself for 3 days before going back to work. It was so beautiful that it was sad to say goodbye to this view from my balcony. But I'm sure I will be back to Thailand one day.
I admit except for running the Angkor Wat half marathon, I really didn’t have any concrete plans on what I wanted to do in Cambodia. But I figured while I was there, I should go visit the capital Phnom Penh and check it out.
It’s about a 6 to 8 hour drive from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh mostly because the roads are full of holes so you can’t speed along at 100 km an hour like in can in other places. But the drive is interesting as you pass through a bunch of villages and get to see some of the landscape. A really cheap why to do it is on the sleepy bus. The bus picks you up at 10 pm in Siem Reap and you arrive at 8 am in Phnom Penh. The cost was around $15 a person and we saw a lot of backpackers doing the trip that way.
But my friend and I took a more luxurious way. We asked the hotel how much it would be to hire a car to drive us there and the cost was $75. We thought about it and considering we would be recovering from running the race, the car had air conditioning and could stop whenever we wanted if we needed bathroom breaks or photo moments, we figured splitting the cost between two people was more than worth it.
The choice was the right one. The driver let us know when we were coming up to villages that had clean restrooms. And I one of the best soups of the whole trip at a little café he knew along the way.
Plus, when we got to this one area of the country, a little town called Skuon, where they have these giant black spiders that they fry and eat, he pulled into a market so I could see them.
The spiders are bred in holes in the ground and the spider-getter reaches into the hole and snatches them out. They were big and the live ones were more than a little scary. But still I was fascinated and had to get a close up of them. Did I eat one? I was tempted, but then figured they were out in the sun all day and probably not the freshest choice – and I was really trying to be safe and not get food poisoning too early in the trip. Turns out, it didn’t matter. I got sick anyway, but more that in a later blog.
Anyway, back to Phnom Penh. Let me start by saying that it takes a couple of days to get used to it. Siem Reap is cute and touristy with just enough exoticness to make you feel like you ventured out on your own.
Phnom Penh is fast-paced, crowded, noisy, smelly and everything a city of 2.2 million in a hot tropical country is expected to be. They use their sidewalks for selling stuff, but walking on the street is an adventure as there are so many mopeds and motorbikes, you feel like you are in a video game.
Crossing the street as pedestrian is a feat in its own. You can spot the expats in their big SUVs and we were amazed at how they could park those things in city made for bikes and Tuk-Tuks. Someone told us they are a hazard as you can’t see around them when on a moped and after being there for a few days I had to agree.
Traffic rules and passing lanes seem to be made based on “space”. In other words, if you think you can fit, then you can go. So passing happens on the left, on the right, and anywhere in between. What totally amazed me was how many people they could fit on their little motor bikes and the stuff they carried with them. I saw someone with live chickens. I saw someone with stuff strapped on the back, front and on their head. It was fun just watching them and seeing what would drive by next.
One thing I can say is that if you look, you can find anything and everything in Phnom Penh – from gourmet restaurants to sex-for-hire bars. And they may be located within a few feet of each other. Narrow dirty alleys are really streets and there are people everywhere. People are creative with their businesses. We saw a guy set up a chair in a little side alley and give people haircuts and shaves. Hotels, food and massages were a little more expensive than in Siem Reap, but still very reasonable compared to Western prices.
By day 3 we had the city under control. We even found an aerial yoga class held in a little building that was taught by an Australian expat. The cool thing, is once you find one expat, they can give you tips about the city that only an insider knows. She let us know which hotels you could visit during the day and for fee or for a drink, you could hang by the pool to escape the heat.
Phnom Penh is bizarre combination of poor and rich, modern and traditional, and all of these things are mixed together in a way that works for them. It’s really worth a visit.