An Homage to Khmer Street Refreshments

Cambodia in January is hot.  Hot and dry.  Way hot, and way dry.  I’m pretty sure it’s still technically cool season, but it’s hot anyway.  So hot that you sleep naked in your tent, windows wide open to allow maximum breeze, and hope that nobody comes peeping.  So hot that six liters of water a day doesn’t quench your thirst.  So hot that you lose your appetite and can no longer experience the joy of eating.  You ride straight through lunchtime, because you’re too hot to think about food or the energy it would take to digest it.

Still, you know you need to eat something.  Nothing sounds good, but running out of steam, collapsing, and shriveling up on the side of the road like a salted slug sounds even worse.  What to do?

Enjoy some of Cambodia’s incredible instant cool potables, that’s what!

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A quarter of a kilometer across the border; we haven’t had our visas for twenty minutes yet, but Chris is already in need of some high-quality hydration.  Or coconation?

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Coconut water is supposedly an all-natural energy drink, filled with electrolytes and other things that exercise (and simply bothering to exist in this heat) drains from your body.  Plus there’re hundreds of calories’ worth of fatty, tasty jelly/flesh inside to snack on.  Another plus: no trash, as long as you kept your straw from the last one.

Cost: $0.375 – 0.625

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Fresh-pressed sugar cane juice.  In China and Taiwan, I ate plenty of fresh-peeled sugar cane.  Even the drizzle of liquid that you get after biting off a chunk and grinding it between your molars for a few minutes is enough to shock you awake.  When they run it through the machine and do all the work for you, it only takes about ten seconds to gulp down all the sugar contained in two meters of plant.  Not likely to be very good for me, but…can’t be worse than a Coke, can it?

Extra tasty when they squeeze in a bit of orange, pineapple, or lime to add just a little sour kick .

Price: $1 for rookies in the big city, $0.25 cents out in the countryside, $0.125 when you strike it lucky.

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Fruit, ice, and a blender = instant paradise.  I believe I had an apple, dragonfruit, and jackfruit mix.  For my first one.  Second was melon, apple, and jackfruit.  Durian is also a nice, if slightly putrid, option.

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Note my cup down there at 6 o’clock.  Trash free’s the way to be.

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They also add in a spoonful of sugar, a ladle of syrup, and a dollop of condensed milk (essentially runny frosting) into the mix.  I always “forget” to ask them not to put any of that junk in.

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“The works” – jackfruit, chickoo, banana, longan, and carrot.

Price: $0.50-$0.75

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Even better than spotting a vendor with a shady stand on the side of the road is when you’ve found your own shade and the vendor comes to you.  Big orange fridge box on the back of the moto = flag that guy down immediately!  No way of telling what’s inside, but it’s sure to be cold.

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In this case, shaved ice, coconut milk, and an assortment of candied beans and sweet potatoes.  So tasty that Minseong filled up his water bottle with the treat, downed it, cycled ahead while the vendor was still swamped by schoolkids, and then stopped him again for a refill when he passed us 2km down the road.  Nice!  I wonder if we could just pay one of them to keep pace with us all day long.

Cost: $0.25 for my medium cup, $0.50 for Minseong’s liter bottle.

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Slightly less maneuverable, but still mobile.

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Coconut (vegan if not for the condensed milk) ice cream cones at a totally unbelievable, unbeatable price: 250 Riel, or sixteen for a dollar.  I’m talkin’ about $0.0625 each.

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Yes, those are baguettes you see in the window of the cart up there, and yes, you can order an ice cream sub.  At $0.125 each, they cost slightly more, but are definitely worth it since the baguette also entitles you to a load of roast peanuts on top.  Ohhh baby.

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Orange cooler?  Stacks of cones?  Don’t let him get away!

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Ok, the ice cream was a little weird – actually, I think it was made of sticky rice mashed together with crushed ice and coconut milk.  And condensed milk on top, of course.  A little spongy, but still cold and sweet.

Plus, all proceeds go to support a friendly, well-dressed local entrepreneur with killer racquetball glasses doing business via pedal power.  My man!

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It’s easy to imagine that cycling under a barren sky in 40c degree heat would be a little unpleasant.  I say it just makes the little things that much better.  I guarantee I wouldn’t have made the face above had I been seated in an air-conditioned Baskin Robbins somewhere.

Cambodia, you rock!

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