Cambodia: Battambang

It’s frustrating when the stars do not align all the time.  We wanted to go to Battambang for a cooking class and the circus, but the class wasn’t scheduled to prepare the dish on the day we could go and the circus wasn’t performing.  So, we rearranged our future travel and ultimately reversed course just to make it work.  Could have been a HUGE mistake, but it turned out better than expected.

When we hadn’t heard back from the cooking class the night we arrived, we ate at the Smokin’ Pot restaurant just so we could talk to the owner.  He was riding away on his moto as we walked in.  Luckily, we caught him in time and confirmed for the following morning.

We had no idea it would be a private cooking lesson.  Good thing we were only a few minutes late because I can’t start the day without my Thai/Cambodian/SE Asia coffee which  includes a little coffee, a lot of condensed milk and a ton of ice in a cup with to-go bag handles.

Two Iced Coffees and

Robie, our instructor, owns The Smokin’ Pot restaurant and teaches cooking.  He loves Khmer food and pretty much openly dislikes tourists and customers.  He has a raw, uncensored personality that we appreciated…giving us the “hard” truth about life in Cambodia, the restaurant business and especially dealing with travelers.  A few of his more pointed observations include: French people will wait hours as long as the food is good, Americans prefer crappy food over long wait times and never serve a German a dish that is missing an ingredient listed in the description.

We chose three recipes from his menu to prepare and headed to the market for ingredients.  Robie described the local ingredients in addition to shopping for the restaurant’s dinner menu.  We watched women butcher fish alive as the animals flailed about.

Weighing Fish

Others dissected pigs.


He had his favorite vendors, but in reality, we spread the money out among several families selling goods.

What we didn’t understand initially, was that when we chose three dishes, we were each making our own (not to share).  So after we prepared the amok, we still had a spicy basil dish AND a lemongrass soup to cook and consume.  When Robie offered to add the savory-cancer crystals, MSG, “for taste” we opted out, but they seemed to play a big role in many dishes across South East Asia.  We waddled home with our new cookbook and a great appreciation for locals who can put up feeding (sometimes difficult) tourists from around the world.

Our next stop was the circus (more affectionately referred to as Joshua’s heaven).  His obsession could not have started in gymnastics–he never participated as a child.  He had never scene a Cirque d’ Soleil show until we went during our USA roadtrip.  I do have a confession to make though…I have openly supported this passion.  For a Valentine’s Day one year, I purchased him private gymnastics lessons.  I followed it up by taking him to see UCLA win the Women’s NCAA championship later that year (in Gainesville, Florida).

He would say that it has to do with the strength and flexibility demonstrated…maximizing the body’s potential.  He looks forward to having children just to have an excuse to go to father/child gymnastics lessons and gymnastic-themed birthday parties.  I’m not sure if its endearing or weird.

Either way, we ended up at the Phare Ponleu Selpak Circus in Battambang.

Circus Practice

The idea is actually amazing.  Use performing arts to rebuild an education community devastated by the Khmer Rouge.  They now have over 1,500 students who in addition to core studies have access to: music, acrobatics, painting, etc.  Students and graduated professionals perform multiple shows each week for tourists.  Ticket sales generate funds for the school and donations are taken to help individual students as they pursue professional careers with companies like Cirque du Soleil.  The attitudes and abilities of the performers were enough to make this such a memorable experience for both of us as were the wide-eyed Cambodia children sitting in the front rows mimicking the older performers every move.

Battambang Circus Circus Performers

Shooting Arrows

And Joshua is back to practicing his handstands.

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