Six hour bus ride from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh left at 0730. The bus and bus station should be familiar to anyone who’s taken, say, the “Chinatown buses” in the U.S. like Fung Wah or Lucky Star. Same Same. The last bus ride we took on this trip was from Delhi to Jaipur, and despite the fact that we were riding through utter pandemonium, it too was Same Same. One thing we remember on the bus in India was an elementary school-aged girl a few rows back that was puking and retching for hours before we had a mid-trip break. When the bus stopped, she skipped across the parking lot to get some greasy street-cart food with her family and chowed down before getting back on the bus. A few minutes after the bus got going again, she was back to puking and dry heaving. I did think at the time that it was strangely fortuitous that, unmedicated, I didn’t seem to have any motion sickness issues on that bus ride. Anyhow, the India bus did come back to memory when today a cute little asian boy maybe four years old, dressed in a little button up SE asian outfit, started puking his brains out as soon as the bus got going. Like the Indian girl, he wasn’t crying or causing any trouble, just puking and puking and puking. His mom would rub this menthol stuff on him and lay him flat across the seat. I’m pretty sure all of that made it worse for him. A little while later, another kid a few rows back starts with the puking and retching. This was just in first couple hours. Martha and I managed to nap off and on through this before we stopped for lunch. There was a very busy restaurant that all the buses were stopped at…. so, you know, busy is good and all, and we grabbed a couple greasy, noodly plates of deliciousness to go (with Diet Coke, of course). Ok, so then we got going again with half the bus munching on take out food for lunch. Martha and I finished our grub and Martha zonked right out to sleep. I napped a little, but having slept better earlier I really wasn’t as tired. I mention this because I was the only one to see the ensuing spectacle that progressed. Before lunch, we had two kids steadily puking on the bus. After lunch, the number crept up to six. There were a couple clusters where two siblings were both puking. It was really a lot of damn vomiting. At one point, the bus abruptly pulled over to a roadside stand and a lady up front goes charging out holding her (maybe three-year-old) boy at arms length. He had puked all over himself and she carried him out to the roadside food stand while the bus idled and everyone watched through the windows. Then, they stripped the boy down and hosed him off with a water hose. Yikes. When I told Martha the story later she said “Why didn’t you wake me up?” lol…. Martha had been worried earlier in the ride, as she was sure that pretty soon I was gonna be joining them in the vomit-fest. I definitely have a history of motion sickness, but somehow it just wasn’t bothering me. I mean, here we are cruising at highway speed on a bumpy dirt road, careening around motorcycles and pedestrians, multiple kids are visibly and audibly puking around me, and I just chowed a takeout plate of Khmer stir-fried noodles and vegetables. And yet somehow, I was doing fine. Before our trip, Martha made sure to pack Zofran ODT, Meclizine, and even “Queaze-Ease” vapor inhalers. She was sure I’d be getting sick. I figured as much myself. The emetogenic totality of the ride today though got me to thinking about it a bit. I mean, this trip, so far, has seen planes, trains, and automobiles…. and tuk-tuks, motorbikes, boats, canoes, and even camels. And yet, no motion sickness. Who knows, maybe the altitude sickness in Mexico caused enough brain swelling to set things straight for me. If that’s the case I’m definitely not complaining. I was more than happy to enjoy my fried noodles today and take a nap comfortably.
Arrived to Phnom Penh without issues. Checked in at our hotel, which is really an oasis. It’s incredible. Martha will put up a review in a few days in our “accommodations” section. The place is called “The Pavilion” and it stays booked up for very good reason. Anyhow, we got settled in here mid-afternoon and basically, we made a run to the post office to mail home some goodies (becoming kind of a once per country thing), and then we checked out the central market a bit. Phnom Penh definitely has a big city feel to it compared to anything we’ve seen in Cambodia yet. I can see how this place (for maybe some visitors, particularly if you haven’t planned or researched well) might earn the moniker “Scambodia.” Really though, it’s no different. It’s a big city and a tourist destination. You have aggressive tuk-tuk drivers and shopkeepers trying to hustle tourists with really inflated prices, and you have some occasional beggars. Not too bad though. Overall, for a city this crowded and busy it’s reasonably clean and feels fairly safe to walk the streets. The police presence is pretty visible.
We grabbed dinner near the central market and picked up some fruit to sample for the evening. We tried to get a sampling of all the stuff we’ve been seeing around and/or eating regularly that you can’t get or would have a hard time getting back home. I took a few pics of the different fruit we got today, and I’ll close with a little writeup on that…
Martha said she remembered hearing an interview with some guy on NPR where he’s asked his favorite fruit. He said “mangosteen” and she was like “what a little brat.” Mangosteen has only been commercially available in the United States since 2007. When it was first introduced commercially, it was $45 a pound and only at a few select groceries in NYC. It can’t be grown anywhere in the U.S., and it has to be treated with radiation or something for bugs before it can be sold there. Anyhow, they’re ubiquitous here, and will set you back maybe $0.50-0.80 per kilogram. Very cheap. After we tried these things, we immediately understood why someone would name them as their favorite. I’ve become “that guy” now because they have definitely, by a large margin, become my favorite. They displaced starfruit, which was my prior favorite. Sorry starfruit, you’re now number three, behind mangosteen and soursop. Mangosteen wins on all counts. Flavor is delicate and lightly sweet, very gently perfumed, not at all a strong flavor. Don’t have an easy comparison on flavor… a touch of sour & sweet like pineapple, with a light sweetness like just a good red apple, and maybe a slightly exotic flavor like lychee. Something like that. It’s very unique though. It’s extremely juicy, check. The texture is just right, not tough, and not sickeningly mushy. And finally, it wins on access to the good stuff. There usually only one seed in the middle, and it only takes a couple seconds to get to the fruit. No annoying peeling or seeds or fibrous husks to sort through. Love them!
Our hotel had a little tray of fruit for us when we returned from the market, which was very nice. Well, except that we already had a ton of fruit. But two more mangosteens? Hell yes! I can eat a whole bag of them. And while I’m here I’ll pretend I’m living large with $45 a pound fruit. The other fruit at the bottom of the picture below is rambutan, a cousin of lychee with a very similar taste and texture. The seed in the middle usually flakes off a little bit of crunchiness into the fruit when you’re eating it though, and I have to say I don’t care for that too much. Otherwise they’re good.
Another fruit we’ve been seeing and just tried today is called the Custard Apple, or Noi-Na. It was a little difficult to find out the name until we found one labeled at a grocery store. This fruit has a strong exotic flavor and scent. It’s very sweet, almost sickly so. Martha didn’t care for it but I liked it. The texture is maybe like a really ripe apple blended with a lychee or something. Actually, the texture might be more like a really ripe pear. It falls apart easy when very ripe, but it has a little bit of a gelled kind of texture. It has seeds throughout like a watermelon. Just peel off the outside and chomp away, avoiding seeds. Pretty good.
I’ve had regular (white) dragonfruit plenty of times, and it’s definitely one of my favorites. It’s great chilled, just cut in half and spoon out the deliciousness. It’s definitely available back home. Years ago I only remember seeing it in asian stores, but I’m pretty sure it’s found it’s way into Whole Foods and Publix and such. I’ve never seen the “pink” variety though, so we had to try it. As you can see, the flesh is pink rather than white. As for the taste, it’s maybe a little juicier and a little sweeter. The juice that comes from it is dark red and much more syrupy and sweet than the white variety. I’d definitely prefer this one, but of course the white is still good too.
I think this is available in the U.S., but I don’t remember seeing it and I’ve never tried it. Martha says she has though. It’s basically a giant grapefruit, differences being that the peel is still green when ripe, they’re bigger (gigantic), and they don’t have the bitter taste that you can get with grapefruits. I didn’t think it was as juicy, and it was a pain to peel. Actually, forget peeling just go at it with a knife.
Never seen this fruit anywhere until this trip. Had to do a little searching to figure out what it was. Before, we would just say “What the hell is that snake egg looking fruit?” Well, it’s called a salacca and it’s native to Indonesia, and it comes from some kind of palm tree or something. Spiky thin skin that’s easily peeled off. The inside has two pieces of fruit, each with one or two seeds. It has a very tart taste. It’s sweet and sour, but weighted a little more towards sour. Kinda juicy, but not at all messy. Has a nice tropical taste. This is a fruit to check out if you see it anywhere.
Finally, there’s another fruit common in SE Asia that isn’t routinely in U.S. supermarkets. You can find it in asian stores, but, well…. you may not want to. The “fruit” is Durian, and it has a bit of a reputation. Andrew Zimmern, the “Bizarre Foods” guy, mentioned on a show that Durian was one of the foods that he just couldn’t stomach, and that guy eats some pretty far out there stuff. He referred to it as “his arch nemesis.” Well, you see this stuff in the fruit stands at all the markets here, and if we’re trying to sample the local fruits, no sampling would be complete without this one. Martha had tried it before and had a healthy fear of it. I was coming cold and had no reference for it. All I knew is that it really, really stinks, and that it’s not allowed on many airlines, public transit, and in hospitals. It’s supposed to be a smell that is quite offensive to a great many people. My thought was that it’s a fruit… a natural, unaltered fruit. I mean, something like natto (fermented soybeans), is foul because man goes and takes something perfectly delicious like a soybean and rots it until it becomes some horrific frankenfood. A ripe fruit couldn’t be too foul, right? Well, right and wrong. We both got a decent tasting of the stuff. Martha definitely hates the stuff, hands down. She does a good job pretending though so gave a good show of having a couple bites and acting like it was the most delicious thing ever. Me, well, I have mixed feelings about it. First, the smell. At first, I was just smelling like a REALLY ripe fruit. Like an overripe cantaloupe. After you cut into it though you start smelling some other notes….. Onions? Garlic? Yeah, ripe melon and garlic and onions? It’s not really a good smell. But then you take a bite and it doesn’t taste anything like that. It has a very sweet, creamy taste that is honestly pretty good. But then, just after you’ve swallowed it and are thinking the stuff is not too bad, there’s the aftertaste. It’s back to slightly rotten garlic and onions. Not so good. An acquired taste? Maybe. I could make a show of feigning enjoyment if I was offered the stuff, but I gotta say this isn’t something I would be seeking out otherwise. It’s definitely a unique fruit for sure.
Tomorrow is a full day around Phnom Penh. Hopefully manage an update in the evening.