Three months, four countries and a new home…

A very apt poster in Singapore

Since I last blogged I’ve taken eleven flights.

No I haven’t traded places (and other halves) with Victoria Beckham. And I haven’t scored a gig as a jet-setting, high-flying travel journo (yet). I’ve just come home, headed off to find a new home, then headed back again a few times to make sure the old home was still there.

How talented is my Dad?! Khmer-style script and everything

For those who aren’t privy to my all-too-often Facebook updates, Marko and I have left Siem Reap for the less-tuk-tuks-more-taxis streets of London (via stop-offs in Singapore and Dublin along the way).

The last few weeks have been choca with gut-wrenching goodbyes, jubilant hellos, then more of those pesky goodbyes again.

Leaving Siem Reap was like breaking up with a boyfriend you know it’s time to break up with; you know it’s the right thing to do, but you’re going to have a cry about it anyway. I plan to do a more comprehensive eulogy of my time in Cambodia soon, but for now, as with any amicable break-up, I left a little piece of my heart there, and I still miss it every day.

Next we get to the rebound fling; Singapore. Big, bold, rich, shiny and beautiful, can you think of any better traits a rebound could muster? The only problem was I fell a little too hard for the place, I loved the glossiness of it all, the people were friendly, the vibe was multi-cultural; it somehow feels like the centre of the world, yet no place specific all at the same time. The perfect rendezvous between Asia and Europe.

I was only home a few hours and we were out digging potatoes. How Irish?

The most incredible peas from my oul fella’s allotment

Then we got back to Dublin, back to the warm bosom of friends and family, back to the familiar and back to the downright lovely. Seeing as I’ve started this analogy, I guess I better continue. Arriving to Dublin is like getting back with the safe ex, the one you know it would be grand to get married and have kids with, your life would be happy, but would it be exciting? I love Dublin, it’s home and someday, I hope I’ll live there again. But at the moment, Marko and me, we’re still getting around.

Back with my buds

Is there really anything more wonderful than wine, cheese and chats with old friends?

Which brings me on to the new love our our lives, London. The next chapter in our great adventure. It may only be an hour from Dublin, but after a year in Cambodia, it still feels like a world away.


Our first night in the new flat

It’s looking a little better, 15 boxes, three Ikea visits and a lot of flatpacking later, it’s nearly ready.

Old friends, new city – our London posse





This day last year an airplane spit us out in Bangkok. We weren’t sure how we felt about Asia. It was hot, it was sticky and I saw a rat within my first ten minutes. It took all the strength I could muster (which was a lot cos I’d been carrying some really heavy luggage) not to hightail it back to the airport. Let’s just say there were more than a few tears shed in a skybar that was full of screaming kids, smelled like popcorn and charged for the view in the price of a cocktail.

Arriving in Siem Reap was the first time I knew we’d made the right decision. Like so many people who pass through and never leave, it instantly felt like home. (I swear that has nothing to do with the $1 tacos we discovered on our first night in town). A large part of that was down to the blooming wonderful people we’ve met here.

While we’ve still another few while to go yet, this week sees us say farewell to our little gang of pals that have been with us since the start. Mike, Nat, Lucy, Richard and Miranda have been an enduring force of drinking buddies, mani-pedi partners, sounding boards and cheerleaders.

Among floods and mossie bites, homesickness and culture shock they were the dollop of familiarity we needed; a constant reminder of why we we’re all here, and why a dash to the airport was never an option.

I have little doubt that our paths will cross again, but until then guys…thanks for the memories.

Playing Dress-up

So our incredible, gorgeous, wonderful friend Julie came all the way to Cambodia to visit us. We had an amazing time visiting temples at Angkor, fist-pumping in Phnom Penh, shopping in the markets, mani-pedi-ing up a storm and climbing a particularly cumbersome mountain on a particularly rough morning. One of the highlights however was when Julie and I joined my Cambo pal Miranda and her mate Rachel from London to get all dolled-up, Khmer wedding style, and photograph the evidence. This was the result, as published in last Friday’s Phnom Penh Post

Our before shots...

...and then after.

Yesterday I got poked in the eye, stabbed in the back and pulled by the hair. And I paid for the pleasure. No, I didn’t join a fight club, I got dolled up; Khmer wedding style.

For a foreigner living in Cambodia, the Khmer wedding is a mystifying phenomenon, from the pink traffic-blocking marquees and the early morning chanting, to the never-ending supply of Angkor beer and the generosity of envelope-stuffing gift-givers.

But the thing that enthrals me most is the bride. Her 3am start make-up ritual, the powder, the lashes, the lipstick, that hair. The reams of costume changes, pinks, oranges, yellows and blues, and then the crowning glory (quite literally in some cases), the bling; gilded sashes, heavy belts, earrings, necklaces, bangles, bracelets and tiaras. More is most definitely more.

So it was with this fascination and genuine curiosity that I and three of my friends decided to join the latest sweep of tourists and expats who go to photo-studios to get Khmer-style makeovers.

But we didn’t do it to make fun of the Khmer way of doing things. If anything we did it to learn and understand more about it, to check out the ritual first-hand and see how the heck they wear so much make-up without looking like a melted candle.

As we entered the dressing room the first thing that caught my eye was a silver tin foil-like dress Lady Gaga would struggle to pull off. I was afraid.

Me with Miss Tennessee 1994...who was pale enough not to need the talc-to-the-face treatment.

But before we could choose our outfits it was time to sit in the make-up chair. First came the foundation. My eight months in Cambodia have given me a sun-kissed tint I’m rather chuffed with, but that was gone within minutes under a layer of thick white powder. It’s not the most pleasant experience to be caked in powder while simultaneously breaking into a sweat.

I went to scratch my nose, but was swiftly scolded by my makeover magician.

Next came the rouge cheeks, the pink eyes and the brown lipstick. Every make-up tip I’ve ever read in a beauty magazine was banished with the swish of a make-up brush. Heavy liner was applied to my eyes and then came the spidery false lashes followed by several licks of mascara.

I looked up and before me was a person that resembled someone who maybe sort-of used to look like me. While my friends had more complementary shades, I think my reddish hue hair had thrown the heavy-handed make-up artist, so she’d decided to just have fun with my face as a palette instead. The worst was yet to come.

While a stunning Khmer girl beside us had her hair back-combed, crimped and clipped for her real pre-wedding shoot, we, as barangs, understandably received a swifter treatment. Fake hair was applied. Out came all manner of pieces, from giant buns to curly ponies. The blond and brown curly one was mine. Like I said, I had reddish hair, and it’s straight too. A quiff was coiffed, a wig clipped and a tiara, rather painfully, stuck to my head.

Myself and the gorgeous Princess Miranda

Back we went to the Lady Gaga dream dressing room. The silver dress was surrounded by an array of fabulously crafted, jewel encrusted gowns and bodices in every colour imaginable. We were asked to select a corset-style top; I went for blue but was daunted by the size. I don’t think I had a waist that small for my real communion, and I’ve little hope of having it for my fake wedding.

Luckily with a little pin pricking and a lot of pulling, the bodice went on, though not before the girl had a squeeze of my comparably ample chest and said “La-aw na”: very good. The beautiful matching sarong took a while to put together and I was really mesmerised by the skill involved in tying it and creating a ruffle effect on the front.

Then came the best part for my inner magpie; the blingification. I already had a tiara, but more hair accessories were added. Then came a whopper neck piece, an upper-arm adornment (not flattering for those of us with bingo wings),
Apsara-style wrist bracelets, and chunky gold, jewelled sash and belt. Rap superstars don’t rock this much ice.

Here we are rocking some wicked witch footwear

Up I tottered in my pointy shoes and after an hour later of preening, I was ready for my close up.

Now my close friends would tell you that I’m incredibly particular about my clothes. I don’t like having my make-up done and I am terribly fussy about people being at my hair. So up until this point I was really surprising myself.

But what my close friends would also tell you, is that, more than all of this, I don’t like getting my picture taken. Especially when it’s in a posed studio session, and especially when I can’t look at the screen and choose to either press delete or make it my Facebook profile pic. I’m a self-conscious person: stick me in front of a camera with an unflattering dress, and I’m unlikely to shine.

All my mam's "sit up straight" badgering finally came in handy.

We were moulded into various poses by the pedantic photographer who cocked our heads awkwardly and positioned our hands just-so, sometimes sitting, sometimes standing, sometimes holding urns or each other. It didn’t matter that I
wasn’t loose for the camera. In fact in this case, the stiffer the better. A slight giggle and it was camera down, while our poses were twisted and altered again.

Standing in a line, with my pals lined up in a pretty row, I felt more drag queen than beauty queen. Ever seen that show Toddlers and Tiaras? Well I looked like that, gone wrong.

The Duchess, The Princess, The Beauty Queen and Me, the eh, Drag Queen.

All in all we had a great time playing dolls for the afternoon. In two days I’ll get the pictures, the grey screen will be replaced by a beach or maybe a palace and the photo-shopping will blast me beyond recognition. I also have a new-found respect for Cambodian wedding parties, the changing, the make-up, the heat. Prancing around in the big white gown now seems a dawdle and I’ll never moan about being a bog standard one-dress bridesmaid again.

I jest, I moan and I guffaw in the mirror, but in truth it was fun, enlightening and painless. Well, aside from the eye poking, back stabbing and hair pulling of course.

This one has to be my favourite.

Cambo Catch-Up

The Old Market area in Siem Reap

So my buds on Facebook and Twitter are kept well abreast of daily musings, drab details and frequent photo uploads of life here in Cambodia. Thus the blog, which was supposed to be a Dear Diary-type, permanent record of my time here, gets sadly neglected. As I vow for the seventeenth time to be a better blogger, here’s a pictorial catch-up of all that’s been going on over the past month or so. I could have written more words, but as we all know, I’m in the wrong profession, reading is for chumps and people prefer books with lots of pictures…

So this month…

...The Phnom Penh post set up a mini-supplement, here's the first issue featuring my interview with the might Cambojam.

...Marko's parents came to visit and we had an incredible time. Battambang was the best part because we got to hurtle down the tracks on this hunk of junk.

...We also brought them to Phnom Kulen which was really spectacular. I got in under the little waterfall but was way too chicken to take a shower in this.

...We also nabbed swell seats for the Giant Puppet Parade, which was incredible. Me thinks the Dublin parade could learn a lot from these kids, they built the floats in just three weeks.

...Speaking of kids, I'm just obsessed with Cambodian ones, they're just the best. So happy, so spirited and so smart; no wonder Angelina stuck one in her suitcase.

...We had some swish events, one was the Eric Raisina fashion show at Hotel De La Paix, a rather extravagant affair, and not the kind of thing I expected to be attending in Siem Reap. This is Marko and I getting a tuk tuk for the occasion.

...We celebrated St. Patrick's Day at an I Heart Cambodia party.

...But managed to sneak in some cheeky beers.

...And rather ironically saw our first snake.

...I didn't eat the snake, but I did have this cricket. Unfortunately his roachy mate got me back karmically today by creeping up on me during lunch and putting me off my food. I deserved it.

...Has been whopper hot. People say it's the hottest March in yonks and it's set to get worse in April. I've been improving my tan, but mostly just earning more freckles.

...I've been missing my family and pals at home tonnes, Skyping up a storm (though not quite enough) and plotting potential visits from some of them before the year is out. (Pic; Taken at Christmas by Sarahlee.)

...Biggest news of all, we've decided to move to London in September. We don't have jobs yet, so if anyone would like to give me one, I'm cheap, I'm enthusiastic and I'm available. That's all any employer wants, right?

But enough about me…how are you?

P.S. Click the links for more about the Giant Puppet Parade, bamboo train and the Eric Raisina Emotions show.

Media Bashing

I’m having a bit of a love/hate relationship with my chosen profession lately. From the Leveson Enquiry in the UK to the Kate Fitzgerald scandal and “Magda” mess in Ireland, media bashing has become something of an international sport, and justifiably so.

At a time when citizen journalism is on the rise, websites like Storyful and obviously Twitter are creating news faster than journalists can open a word doc, old media is becoming somewhat redundant. Of course there’s still a place for traditional media – this isn’t another one of those debates – online content is often churned out, unsubstantiated and biased (and with frequent spelling mistakes and shady editing if this blog and my Twitter feed are anything to go by). But going by recent revelations, newspaper articles are often churned out, unsubstantiated and biased too. Old media, if it wants to keep it’s tagline as the “writer of history”, needs to tell people more than they can be told from a Google search or hashtag. Twitter, Facebook and the internet in general are fantastic news sources, for journalists as well as media consumers, but the journalists are obliged to go a little further.

The thing I’ve always loved most about being a journalist (aside from the occasional freebies, and being able to show my Mam what I did at work, rather like a five-year-old coming home from school with a painting) is that is gives me a licence to knock on doors. To call people up and say “Hey, what’s going on.”

I don’t mean this in the brash-hack-calling-to-the-door-of-a-murder-victim’s-family kind of calling, I mean when there’s an event, a new business, an interesting organisation or a fascinating person, my job requires I dig a little deeper. I always liked knowing things first, I always liked finding out more and I always liked spreading the word, all traits that come in pretty handy with this line of work. This week for example, I spent a morning with a women who changes the lives of impoverished children yet counts royalty among her friends, I also got to root around a rice mill, and see how rice can be sustainably created to protect wildlife. Citizen journalists can tell the story as it appears from out front, journalists are often given a key to look inside – of course, many do a bit of pilfering while they’re in there.

I recently felt the brunt of the media-bashing contingent. I was the bashee if you will. I wrote a story, which I still stand over, about the Siem Reap Expats and Locals Facebook page. Trivial content you may think, but in a small town, where everyone knows each other, people are understandably protective of how they are perceived. I had led the story with the topical issue of a 1000 Member Party the page was hosting. As a balance to that, I wrote about how the page often took nasty turns, frequent spats were becoming increasingly personal, a page that’s very essence was community spirit, seemed to be somewhat lacking. I sent the story off, and it was chosen for the cover of the magazine – my first cover – so far so wonderful.

The day the paper came out, the words “Anti-Social Network” were emblazoned on the cover, “Facebook Face-Off” was the headline. The spat was played up, the party played down. None of the story was false or inaccurate, but it was certainly less diplomatic than I would have presented it myself. I like to write positive angled stories, but I know, they’re not always the most interesting. The piece got a lot of buzz, more than anything I’ve written about the new businesses and fascinating people here in town.

I understood why some people got annoyed. I got why the people involved in the story were let down. But others were so nasty (ahem* thus proving the point of the story) that I literally spent a weekend in hiding, mortified that my name was being bandied about as some kind of unqualified, inexperienced intern who was under the thumb of the editor and didn’t have a clue what my job was about.

The problem was, they didn’t have a clue what my job was about. Everyone was talking about the nasty online arguments, yet they figured the newspaper shouldn’t have relayed that chatter in print, that it should have a higher brow than the people reading it. Needless to say it was character building. My editor gave me a pep talk. I’m not here to write what people want me to write, my job is to write what’s actually happening, what people are talking about, he told me.

But you see, I’m the kind of person who likes people to like me. People-pleasing I know, isn’t the most appealing of traits, I’d rather be a feisty individual who didn’t care what people thought about me, but my spine is rather lacking in that department.

So I’m torn on what to write about, torn between pleasing readers, interviewees, my editor and myself.

In this instance, people were quick to jump on the media bashing bandwagon. It’s an umbrella excuse for people who don’t agree with what they’re reading. The media needs to be accountable, but people also have to read between the lines and consume critically. While much media is advertiser driven, and management (mogul) driven, they also give the public what they want – there’s a reason why the Daily Mail is the world’s most popular news site.

People call for something that’s well-edited, articulate and accountable, yet they’re consuming the sensationalism, the news with mass appeal. I have a great want to tell “real” stories, to write about about “real” people. The thing is I’m not sure there’s a huge market.

I sent pitches to no less than 15 newspapers when Cambodia was flooded, Bangkok was making headlines, why weren’t we? Every single one that responded asked me about the Irish death-toll, whether Western industry was effected; no one would care until perhaps the factories in Phnom Penh could no longer ship their H&M jumpers, maybe then we’d have a problem.

This has turned into a rather long-winded, round-about, thought-hashing post, and despite all my years of training in writing structure, I’m not quite sure it has an ending. I blame Siem Reap and it’s dang paradoxical nature. On one hand there’s art galleries and cocktails, long brunches and quirky boutiques. Then on the other there’s incredible people doing amazing things, and inspirational survivors working with wonderful organisations. Living in Siem Reap has made me both enjoy the good life and crave a little more sophistication yet feel a severe obligation to rough it, to tell these harrowing or uplifting tales. Do I comply with the tabloidisation, or be a radical gonzo?

It’s kind of like that job meme that’s doing the rounds right now – anyone else the the journo one is crap? – except the differing perspectives are mostly just my own.

I’m currently in a semi-disillusioned, semi-zealous limbo, caught between knowing what I want to write about and not being sure how, but enjoying the licence I have to knock on doors and be nosey until I find out.

(Pic from here)

Cambodian Craftiness

The Angkor Handicraft Festival came to town a few weeks ago, so being obsessed with all things sweet, handmade and Etsy-esque, I of course went, twice. Cambodia has some amazing handicrafts organisations, many of whom work with local people, empowering them to learn a craft and make a sustainable living for themselves, while also re-introducing traditional techniques and art forms. Sometimes living in Cambodia, where everything is so cheap, you forget the amount of work that goes into each and every thing we buy – whether it’s a sandwich or a dress, someone had to sow the seeds, reap the crops, process them into materials and put the product together. I don’t often think about that, so it was nice to be reminded and see some of these processes in action.

Sorry for the delay in sticking these up, my internet died, then my computer died, then my internet died again.

Beautiful stonework

I think this was made of bronze

I love how the dried rice and lotus as used for display

Clay tea-light holders

I don't really know what this is for, but I like it

Coconut beads

Local textiles

A Mekong Quilts mobile

Leaf art

And this little piggy...

Lacquered elephants from Thean's House

Desk duck

A whale of a time

Crafty keyrings

I love these Goel Communuty teddies

Is it a bear or is it a cat?

The owl and the octopus...

Paper-shredder purses

A woman from Grace Gecko making a purse from water hyacinth reeds

The finished product

Skinny silk worms

Fatter silk worms

Boiling silk worms

And finally some silk voila

Some of the organisations included in the pics:
Artisans Association of Cambodia
Mekong Quilts
Il Nodo
Grace Gecko
Theam’s House
Artisan’s d’Angkor
Senteurs d’Angkor

An Irish Christmas and a Cambo New Year

How do I love three? Ireland v Cambodia

So we’ve been back in Siem Reap for about ten days. It was odd coming back because it wasn’t odd. Like arriving back in Dublin in December, it felt like we’d never left, like we were coming home. I instantly went back to enjoying sunshine, eating curry and cycling my bike as swiftly as I snapped back to working layers, eating cheese and driving on the left in Ireland.

At the moment Marko and I are pondering our next plan of attack, deciding where the adventure will take us next. I’m pushing for Burkina Faso, he’s egging-on Boston, but we both have a bit of a draw to London too. As unexotic as it seems after a year in South East Asia, I think it would be nice to be closer to home for a while, somewhere I can speak the language. At the same time it’s one of the most exciting cities in the world and there could be amazing career prospects.

Luckily we don’t have to make a decision just yet (and all suggestions are welcome) but in the mean time here and the pros and pros (I’m not a fan of cons) of life in Ireland versus live in the Kingdom…

Irish Pros
1. I can understand (almost) everyone when they speak.
2. I can get (almost) everyone’s sense of humour.
3. You don’t have to shake out the toilet roll every time you use it, for fear of what might bite you in the rear end if you don’t.
4. Milk tastes like milk.
5. Cheese.
6. Ovens. And their ability to melt above cheese and bake cake.
7. Superquinn sausages.
8. Tayto and Cadburys (I’m sensing a food theme emerge).
9. Penneys and other stores where the adults clothes don’t come in children’s sizes.
10. The radio.
11. High heels.
12. Nights out – they’re just not the same without the aforementioned heels.
13. No mossie bites.
14. The utter lack of things crawling on me.
15. The utter lack of paranoia about even scarier things that could crawl on me.
16. Wine abundance – you can get it here, but the beer is so cheap, and so are we.
17. Duvets.
18. Being able to just call people up for a chat without fear of it being 3am.
19. Taking deep breaths of air – particularly of the sea or mountain variety.
20. Scarves, cardigans, tights, jackets – I’m a bit fan of loading up on layers.
21. Sandwiches (back to food).
22. Make-up and the ability to wear it without looking like a waxwork that stood too close to a bonfire.
23. Calling to our parents when we’re too broke to cook dinner.
24. Long evenings that stay bright ’til 11.
25. Being able to see my family and best friends whenever I want to.

Cambo Pros
1. I have a constant reminder of what the sun looks like.
2. Even when it rains, you know you’ll be dry again in minutes.
3. Monks. Still a novelty every time I see one.
4. Children. Kids in Cambodia scream hello when you pass. Kids in Ireland scream abuse.
5. The beer is really good, and only costs 50c.
6. The cocktails are really good and only cost $2.50
7. The curry is really good and only costs $3.00
8. Everything is really cheap.
9. Getting to wear flip flops every day.
10. Drinking sugarcane juice from a bag.
11. We have a swimming pool. And it’s hot enough to use it.
12. We can go out for dinner whenever we want.
13. We live ten minutes away from some of the most incredible temples in the world. (And ten minutes away from monkeys.)
14. Everybody smiles and nobody talks about the recession.
15. I can get mani-pedis and massages for less than a tenner. Not those kind of massages.
16. It feels like we’re on holiday most of the time.
17. We get to meet awesome people and make incredible friends.
18. We are constantly amused by Asian oddities. (Today our supermarket cashier made us enter a lucky dip. We won a bag of crisps. )
19. I have no idea what’s in fashion at the moment, and I love it.
20. I haven’t applied fake tan in seven months.
21. I take Friday afternoons off, because I can.
22. Happy hour is legal.
23. Happy hour lasts all day.
24. I cycle almost everywhere and there’s no wrong side of the road.
24. I get to have “holy crap” moments. Every time I realise I live in Cambodia.

P.S. My blog has just reached 2000 views (can I get a woop woop?). I know at least 1990 of them are my parents, but for the other ten you you thanks for reading. I know I’ve been patchy with the upkeep and shady with the writing, but I’m getting the hang of it now so the only way is up. Right?

Pic from thebigharumph on Etsy.

Before Sunset*

So we’ve been lucky enough to be having some incredible sunsets lately (and one sunrise – I don’t usually see that time of the morning). I’m not sure if it’s our proximity to the equator (there’s no 4pm to 11pm nightfall extremes here), the time of year aka “Winter”, or the fact that it’s been dry for the first time since we arrived in Asia, but dusk at the moment is a rather spectacular affair.

It’s only now that I realise why Asian sunsets are so renowned and why many bars, restaurants and hotels here market their sunset status. Our tribal hut in Kampot boasted two balconies (for sunset and sunrise) while the rooftop and balcony bars of Phnom Penh’s buzzing Sisowath Quay are crammed by 5.30pm with hoards of tourists hoping to catch the closing of the day. (The Quay actually faces East though, so perhaps they should market it as a moonrise location instead.)

While I could get all poetic about the caliber of Cambodian sunsets, no one wants that. Plus, with all the ramblings about amber hues and autumn skies there are in the world, words never quite seem to capture the sense of calm you get from watching a burning ball of orange turn the sky all manner of shades from cerise pink to pale lilac before darkness descends. (Okay, so that was a pretty transparent attempt at wordyness.)

Anywho, throughout all this loveliness, we’ve been making at stab at snapping the sky in all its glory. Maybe these pictures will do the Great Cambodian Sunset even a shred justice…

Here I am, taking in the sunset from Natalie's Siem Reap balcony

I think this sky looks like heaven. Well, what heaven looks like when someone paints heaven. Does that make sense?

This picture is Marko's handywork from aboard a boat on the Tonle Sap

Sunset over a paddy field in Kampot

Before sunrise*...

Nearly there...

Here comes the sun (do do do do)

The view from bed in our Kampot tribal hut

Oh dear, I very nearly forgot these ones. Sunrise from inside Angkor Wat. Absolutely magic.

Despite promising no poetry, seeing as we’re in “The Orient”, I’ll leave you with a Haiku I stumbled across:
Asian Sunset by Sonny (parents with a sense of humour) Rainshine

Pollen from saffron
blossoms and pink silktree blooms
tinge the western sky.

Eh...My attempt at being arty. Along with the Haiku of course.

* P.S. Anyone else love those films? I don’t know if I prefer Before Sunset or Before Sunrise more. Just me then? Okay.

This Little Piggy Went To The Market

Bad news: I’m a pants blogger. Good news; it’s because I am getting lots of paid work, so unfortunately the blog has had to take a back seat for a while. As I grow steadily better at the ‘ol time management though, I’ll hopefully master doing both.

In the meantime, here’s a picture post with some snaps from Psar Leur, I can’t remember what the name means but something like “main market”. It’s the biggest market in Siem Reap and sells absolutely everything from bread and vegetables to gold and fabric or shampoo and toys. It’s ma-hoo-sive. I absolutely love going to the markets here because despite the smell (just avoid the meat section) it’s the best place to really soak in Cambodia. Living in a nice apartment, online all day, mostly eating and drinking in places surrounded by other Westerners, it’s easy to forget where you are.

My favourite moments here are the ones where I look up and think, “Jesus, I’m in frickin Cambodia.”

Narrow walkway at the back of Psar Leur

Baby mandarins, absolutely gorgeous and about 75c for half a kilo (and that's the "barang" (Westerner) price)

"Fresh" has a whole new meaning; these chickens are tied down but still alive

...And here's some they made earlier

This is how a tin of Heinz looks in Cambodia

Locally made baskets

Swapping some English for Khmer with a pair of lovely gents from a fabric stall

My button obsession had a bit of a meltdown with this one

Beads; Cambodians love a bit of bling

I think these are bird feeders, lots of Khmer houses have them hanging up outside

Mushrooms, lentils, and what looks like jerky

This place has everything

The Khmer version of a butcher's shop

Live crabs

This slippery fish made a last leap for freedom. Alas, he was swiftly caught again and chucked back into a bucket with his pals

Fish laid out in the sun to dry

Piles of rice; the price of which has soared since recent flooding

Baby bananas, you can't seem to get the full sized variety here

Pumpkins; smooth and orange is out, green and wrinkled is in

The lovely stall I got scammed at - somehow paid a dollar for a carrot and an onion

And all that is just outside, here's what the inside of the massive building looks like

So comfy and only a dollar a pop...really have to work out a way of sending some to Ireland

Carnivorous Feast *veggies look away now

The other week I ate five different meats for dinner. Oddly the chicken was a bit gross.

After months of passing them in every second tourist restaurant in town, we figured we’d try out the traditional Khmer Degustation Barbecue. A metal steam plate is placed over hot coals in the center of the table, there is stock around the sides in which you cook noodles and vegetables, while the meat is cooked on a raised part in the centre.

It all starts with a hole in the table

Pork fat in the middle - gross but delish

We choose to dine at the aptly named Cambodian BBQ on The Alley. It’s a bit swankier than the other barbecue joints, but the food always smells good as you pass, and it’s always pretty busy which tends to be a good sign, even in a tourist town like Siem Reap.

For about $15 we chose five meats and got all we could eat of the noodles, steamed rice and vegetables. We went for snake, crocodile, ostrich and then beef and chicken -just in case the rest didn’t go down so well. There was also the option of goat, frog, pork, prawns and squid – being so far from the sea though, we tend to stay away from seafood around town (especially the generic “river fish”, if you saw the colour of the river, you’d know what I mean; kind of like the Liffey minus the trolleys).

All-you-can-eat crunchy veg

Dipping sauces on the side

Accompaniments boiling in the broth

A waiter comes over first to help you get started. He chucks the noodles and vegetables to cook in the stock then asked us which meat we’d like to try first. We opted for the croc. Though giving it was flooding and there were lots of rumours of crocodiles escaping from the many farms around town, I was a little worried that this was the definition of bad karma. But hey, you have to try these things at least once, even if it does get you comeuppance-attacked on the way home.

He dutifully dipped each piece in some egg-yolk and left it to sizzle over the coals.

The crocodile before I chowed down

The crocodile was really tasty, a pink meat it had a bit of a bacon hue (though that might be attributed to the mound of pork fat it was cooking in) it was tender, not gamey-tasting at all, definitely something I’d try again.

We went for the chicken next, just to break things up, unfortunately it wasn’t the best part of the bird – but we’ll put that down to more elaborate fare being the restaurant’s specialty.

Next up was the Ostrich. Cambodia doesn’t strike me as an Ostrich-suitable habitat though, so I’m not sure how “native” this one was. Nonetheless, it was delicious, I think my favourite of the night; I was expecting something like turkey, but the red meat is like a really nicely marinaded piece of fillet beef, tender, light, but packed with flavour.

I didn't know birds could have red meat

We decided we’d finish with the beef, just in case the snake was awful and we needed to get the taste out of our mouths. But in fact it wasn’t so awful. The closest thing I can pair it to is a chewy pork chop. Though by the time we’d reached our fourth and fifth meats, we were on our own. The waiter had abandoned us, and given we’d never cooked snake before, it may have been overdone. Some parts were quite tasty, others too elasticated to eat. Perhaps snake is like squid, it needs to be cooked just right or the texture and taste are ruined?

This was the one that got to me the most though, the one I could actually picture as a living creature, slithering about. Picturing my dinner in a field is something I, as a guilty meat-eater, try exceedingly hard not to do. Lamb anyone?

Snake...looks good enough to eat

All in all it was a pretty awesome dinner. While it was pricey by local standards I loved the novelty of watching it cook and I’m sure we’ll head back if we have visitors throughout the year. I also think those kind of meals are great for helping you digest, as there’s a gap between each “course”.

For me trying new food, as much as I enjoy expanding my palate, is more about the bragging rights than anything else. I can now scratch snake, ostrich, crocodile and beetle* off the bucket list. Next up tarantula, and by the end of the year, I might have been ballsy enough to sample one of the fertilised duck eggs they sell all over town.

More off my culinary bucket list

Can you spot the fried intestine with ants? Maybe some day...

*I ate one of these suckers at the Baray a couple of months ago, feel itchy just thinking about it, but it was actually pretty good.

One Cambodian dish I won’t be trying is dog. I know it’s an animal like all others, but I hope to own one some day, and I want to be able to look it in the eye.