Elapsed Travel-log: (Way Belated) Vegan Eats & Thoughts from Phnom Penh, Cambodia

I don’t really know how to put this into words, which is why I haven’t for so long, but briefly experiencing Cambodia in late 2011 had a huge effect on my mind and heart. I won’t go into detail on the country and region’s devastating recent history with the Khmer Rouge in the twentieth century, which everyone should be aware of and horrified that it actually happened, but I will say that there are very few places I’ve visited that have had such a pull on my emotions. The same pull made me want to stay put, find a place a stay, and watch the seasons change.

Lucky me. On connecting & traveling outside your comfort zone…

It was a similar gut pull, in different ways, that I experienced the first time I walked across the Boston Common and Public Gardens as a high school senior visiting a potential college. I felt it again when I arrived in a small village in The Netherlands to study for a semester (in a Medieval castle, no less), where my classmates and I were told to explore the rest of Europe outside of the actual classrooms. One weekend, that pull combined with the chill air in Stockholm, and then tucked itself away until I started to visit the morning farmers markets in Portland, and then, years later, returned in Cambodia, with the connection one likely experiences while marveling at Angkor Wat, and simply sitting by myself on Otres Beach, calmly watching the shoreline unfold.

Otres: one of the quieter areas of Sihanoukville

Stuck/Inspiration

Since moving to Portland in 2004, my travel bug found itself reduced to working trade shows and conferences on the West Coast, wandering when I could outside of them (which was the highlight of my job, of course), and saving up for the semi-annual visits to see my siblings in New York City. I love New York and spending this time with my tiny family, but have never seen myself living there as an adult. Maybe that will change (hey, you never know), maybe it will continue.  And as much as I adored Portland, I was also keeping up with a corporate day job routine that was slowly driving me bonkers, and I would probably still be there, full of rage, if not for my weeks in SE Asia. I had saved up for nearly two years, putting aside my home state visits, to attend a college friend’s beautiful wedding. I didn’t plan much in advance, but decided if I was going to travel so far across the globe, I may as well attempt to get some time off, and really travel.

For the first time in years, I was outside my cultural comfort zone, and for much of, by myself. One thing I had learned from my stay in Europe that it was fine to enjoy a meal by oneself. I never would have considered that before, and I’ve continued to do so, with a hopefully good book at my side, on a regular basis. There’s nothing like traveling alone to experience the world, because only time and place combined can say when a city or street at that moment beckons again. It’s silly and cliche, but I had forgotten how much of the backpacker philosophy remained from my European adventures at 20 (and the fun of wearing the same shirt three days in a row), though I admit, I’m a wee bit more flashpacker nowadays, if I can afford to.

I encourage everyone ‘stuck’ or not, to take a break from your routines and experience something and somewhere far away from home if you can, for even the smallest new perspective. Why, I have become one of those people who insist that traveling (and moving) can ‘change your life’, but really, anything can. I found myself with a new way of viewing my own point in life and how I wanted to spend my days.

All deep thoughts aside, I’m not going to share any great tips on the best places to see around Phnom Penh or anything, simply some photos and vegan dining options, letting this post serve its purpose: because food is culture and says so much about a region and the people who live there, and Cambodia left such an impression on me.

So, head over to the Wikitravel Phnom Penh travel guide to get started if you’re heading there.

Downtown. 

This photo doesn’t represent it well, but I’ve never seen traffic make so little and yet so much sense at the same time.

Inside Orussey Market

Phnom Penh, Cambodia (and a blogging hiatus)

Phnom Penh is the largest city in the Kingdom of Cambodia, and as its central capital, serves as one the primary points of transportation to other parts of the tender, developing but struggling country, particularly for tourists. I had two multi-day stays there in my brief tour of the country, and will return one day soon enough to learn even more about the culture and flavors that make it what it is. I’ve largely kept my photos to myself, because it was largely a much-needed time for myself, by myself.  I wasn’t traveling to document and blog it up, I was just traveling. I wanted a break, because it had become so much of my norm for so long. However, with my friend and VVC-cohort Janessa arriving in Phom Penh recently on her round-the-world tour, my jealousy of her travels kicked into over-drive, and I decided to look back. And here we are.

The cities I visited were Phnom Penh, Siem Reap (here’s my post on Peace Cafe’s cooking school from last year’s MoFo encouragemnt — and if you’re in town, please do yourself a favor and dine more than once at Chamkar) and around Sihanoukville, and rarely had far to go or much to spend for vegan food). Happy Cow remains a great resource and there were Buddhist, Indian and other vegetarian options in every city I visited, and every now and then I’d even spot ‘vegan’ on a menu.

Even with assistance, I couldn’t find my way to K’Nay, which seemed to be the most-talked about vegan-friendly spot, but I made it to many other fine vegan meals within the city, and endless young coconuts that just made my days better.

You’ll have to excuse me for not remembering quite when and where all these dishes took place. Just know that the memories and flavors remain on my mind. There were afternoons I had fruit and coconut water for lunch I didn’t think to photograph. No matter, I continue to daydream about rambutan, mangosteen and vegetarian amoks…

Delayed no more: Jess’ Vegan Eats in Phnom Penh

Updated to include Peace Cafe’s Vegetarian Amok from their cooking class (While in Siem Reap, I wanted this post to show off a really great looking amok):

The delicious vegetarian stall inside Orussey Market

With my month-long trip coming to a close, it was in Cambodia I decided to do a bit of shopping for friends and family, and decided on this marketplace because I had read about a vegetarian stall online. My first meal was so good I decided to stop by again on my second stay in Phnom Penh, and whenever I eagerly approached to order, I noticed I was not the only one who looked gleeful upon finding the ‘vegetarian’ sign, as tourists and locals alike lined the small counter seating area.

One of the best meals of my trip, from the vegetarian stall at Orussey Market

Glee

Vegetarian Amok with green beans, peppers & tofu and a dragonfruit shake, The Vegetarian (formerly Treez when I had visited, because while it takes me two years to share this experience, I’ve clearly been keeping up with the Cambodian vegetarian dining scene)

Tropical fruit shakes and creamy, aromatic amoks…I couldn’t get enough.

Fresh coconut juice. Ditto.

( Yet another) The Vegetarian. 

There’s a considerable amount of vegetarians restaurants with this straightforward name so I won’t assume this is the restaurant that the one above merged with, though it likely could be, because this one did seem quite popular.

I recall that these were Tom Yam noodles, freshly fried springrolls and iced beverage (tea?)

It’s getting a little Loving Hut in here

IBIS Rice sticker inside the restaurant

Miao Xiang Xi

I had read this restaurant on Happy Cow, and decided to go because I dig some vegetarian Chinese food and faux meat, and the menu definitely seemed to deliver on that promise. Plus, when have I ever been eating Chinese food closer to China!?

Fun fact: this was the only restaurant I dined at that didn’t accept US dollars.

Dumplings and cola: hit-the-spot dining

Surprisingly, I just couldn’t decide on an entree…

Elsewhere…

Rambutan daiquiri and roasted peanuts with sugar

Fresh mango juice & cambodian whiskey on Christmas Eve, Mekong River Restaurant

Not pictured: another lovely vegetarian amok at a nearby cafe for dinner.

Tip: When ordering a vegetarian amok, remember to remove the egg for a vegan version.

As it says

It lives up to the hype.

Another tip, if you choose to indulge: Make sure to ask if they cook with oil or butter! And break out your stash of nooch.

Fitness on the square

Produce setup

Fresh limemade and Italian espresso. After weeks of instant coffee, this was a revelation.

Late December wedding festivities

Farmland,  Choeung Ek

Dropping off my bags at some guesthouse or another in Phnom Penh. Relevant to veganism: Our Hen House tote

The view outside my guesthouse. 

I actually treated myself to a nice hotel along the riverfront on Christmas Eve and day with a rooftop breakfast buffet, at the Ohana (then known as Hotel Castle). I’ll admit that this was not the first time I found myself spending the the holiday by myself, it remained a special day (and included some skyping with my siblings and J. Legume, which was very early on in our budding relationship).

Passionfruit and rambutans, etc.

My favorite perk of hotel buffets in SE Asia is by far, the fresh fruit and juices.

From the Ohana rooftop

Along the Mekong

Mango, bag, stick, salt (and quite the bold nail polish choice)

Til we meet again, or I decide to dig up the rest of the photos…

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9 thoughts on “Elapsed Travel-log: (Way Belated) Vegan Eats & Thoughts from Phnom Penh, Cambodia

  1. Beautifully written. I’m jonsing to get out of North America, because it’s been far too long. And I’ve always been interested in traveling by myself—at least once. Thanks for the inspiration!

  2. Wow, these photos are beautiful. I would love to go to Cambodia (or anywhere outside of the states really). So many delicious foods too…those noodles and spring roll dish look like my kinda jam! As do the dumplings and the limeade. Ok, now I’m super hungry. My dad is Cambodian and it seemed that a lot of the dishes he ate when I was growing up were heavy on the meat so it’s great to know there are vegan options there.

  3. Thanks for this post, Jess! I’m totally travel-phobic, but reading stuff like this makes me feel a inspired to get unafraid.

  4. Pingback: Hiatus, Hiatus Part I: Bangkok, May Kaidee and The Search for Mr. Yim | Get Sconed!

  5. Oh my god, love this post! How is it possible I miss Cambodia already?! I’m still so close. Cambodia is definitely something so special. I’m glad you get to share it with Jules this time around.

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