Koh Rong: The Happiest Place in Cambodia

Koh Rong, a tropical island in the Sihanoukville Province of Cambodia, is an extremely attractive destination with its white-sand beaches, jungle full of waterfalls and wildlife, and its weekly parties on Police Beach.  Though the island is about the size of Hong Kong, most of it is undeveloped so it feels like an untouched paradise.  Most of the villages here only stretch for about a mile so everyone recognizes one another and knows each other by name.  I compare a lot of the islands that I’ve traveled to The Legend of Zelda: Windwaker, but this actually felt like an island straight out of an RPG the way it was laid out.  There are tons of places you can freely explore on foot, and you can also take boat taxis to access more remote parts of the island.  Or just stay in the main village and enjoy drinking with the locals every night on the beach!

Similar to Koh Phangan in Thailand, there are Full Moon Parties thrown here that attract a lot of backpackers, but the atmosphere of this island is truly rural and more off-the-grid than any other island I have ever traveled to.  Most of the people I met here had already been to Thailand and were looking for a different experience.  I learned a lot from the observing the life of the villagers here and am extremely excited to share my experience!

Getting to Koh Rong

In order to reach Koh Rong, you must fly or take a bus to Sihanoukville and take a ferry  because there are no airports on the island.  I opted to take an overnight bus from Siem Reap to Sihanoukville that I booked through 12goAsia for $25.  The journey was 10 hours, but I actually slept quite well on the bus because I was exhausted from exploring Angkor Wat and the floating village.

When I first booked this bus, I was expecting to meet some strange people (like those you see riding the MegaBus in America), but I was surprised to see that actually everyone riding this bus was quite normal.  Everyone around me were international backpackers trying to save money, so we opted for the cheaper route.  I even cheersed the guy that was holding a beer beside me with my tiny bottle of wine.  After about an hour, almost everyone was asleep so it was a pleasant ride.

Sihanoukville itself is a strange town full of construction and Chinese-owned casinos.  The roads are absolutely chaotic, and though it has beaches, the ones in Koh Rong are much more beautiful so I would not recommend staying here.  Go straight to Koh Rong and experience life in paradise instead!  The ferry ticket there was only $11 and the ride was about 30 minutes long.  Though the overnight journey took a while, everything I was about to discover on the island would make it worth it.

Staying in a Treehouse

Since the village of Koh Touch is near the weekly Police Beach parties, I opted to book a private room at Treehouse Bungalows.  I paid around $50 a night for this room, but in my opinion, the stay was worth it!  Not only is it quiet and more private than other hostels, but it also has a great view of the beach.  I enjoyed playing music from my balcony and being up in the trees.  There is a wonderful restaurant down below, and a massage place on the beach that I went to nearly every day.  For those looking for cheaper options, please check Hostelworld (some dorms are only $5 per night).

I made a somewhat funny video to commemorate my treehouse stay which you can watch below:

Chasing Sunsets

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Sunset on Long Beach, which I was informed by one of the islanders is the best beach to watch the sunset.

During my first day at Koh Rong I decided to explore the beach nearby my treehouse called 4K beach, and I also hired a motorcycle driver for $30 to take me to some of the other remote beaches.  What amazed me is how truly undeveloped this island is.  Most of the roads are made of dirt and some twist through the jungle, so I would recommend hiring an experienced driver or a boat taxi your first time.  These can easily be found within the village, and the bartenders can also recommend you where to get a cheap ride.  There is also a lot of abandoned property on the island.  I really hope it is put to use someday, because the atmosphere of this island is lovely.

Sweet Dreams Beach was the first place that we ventured to. It was extremely gorgeous with its swimming pool and paved road to the beach.  I saw a few families staying here because this is a safe and relatively quiet location away from the main village:

The next place we went to was Long Beach so I could go swimming and watch the sunset. My driver told me that in the fall season this is the only place where you can clearly watch it, so I was grateful to see this on my first night.  I think this is one of the most beautiful beaches on the island because it is extremely quiet and pristine.

In addition to the beaches that I visited, you can find a fantastic Koh Rong Beach Guide here.  There is also a nearby island called Koh Rong Samloem with a nice vibe that I will be covering in my next post.  Overall I really loved staying on the main Koh Rong island due to all of the nice people that I met and the privacy of my treehouse.

Finding Happiness

Throughout the main village of Koh Touch (and other locations in Cambodia) you will see signs advertising “happy” consumables that you can buy, but also signs reminding you that you cannot buy happiness.  What do these things all mean, and what is happiness to Cambodian people and travelers on this island?

Happiness is Khmer is “សុផមង្គល” (so ph mongkol), but rarely will you see the word written in anything but English.  Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in the world, and many of the country’s people were slaughtered by their own kind or forced into slavery during the rule of the Khmer Rouge.  The country is still rebuilding itself from those times and the devastation from the war is very apparent.  However while traveling here–especially on this island–I saw nothing but smiles from all of the local people.  As a fellow traveler examines in The Happiness Plunge:

“When you live through a genocide, life is kind of like a miracle. And maybe the people here live each day like it’s a miracle.

I suppose when every day is a miracle, you see things you wouldn’t otherwise see – things that make you smile.”

A lot of backpackers come here to escape life and party on the beach to find happiness, as well as consume psychedelics and cannabis to forget their worries, but the miracle of happiness and life that Cambodian people have cannot be replicated by this.  However, staying on this island gives everyone a chance to connect with one another and appreciate nature while learning about the culture of this country.  This feeling cannot be bought because happiness is not a concrete thing or consumable, but it can be shared a celebrated with others and found within yourself.  Though the horrors that Cambodia has faced in the past cannot be erased, we can do our best to pay our respects and look forward to a brighter tomorrow.

Happiness is both a journey and realizing to be thankful for what you have in life.  Whether it takes a happy cookie or a long journey to realize this depends on you.  But if you make it all the way out to Koh Rong, likely you will find happiness in some way or form.  Life here is so different than living in the city or a first-world country.  People have simple lives and because of it they are relatively carefree.  You can learn a lot by simply spending a few days here.  If you are living a high-stress life, then coming here may simply be the cure.

In my next article, I will be writing about the techno rave in the jungle I went to while I was here for my birthday and re-examine happiness once more.  Thank you for reading.

 

Aesthetic Food Finds in Cambodia

As an avid lover of all things that are aesthetic, searching for unique restaurants and trying the most colorful foods around the world is one of my life goals.  Besides the infamous Happy Pizza this country is famous for, here are some of the best foods that I tried in Cambodia:

Siem Reap

Though Siem Reap is mostly famous for Angkor Wat and its other historical monuments, there are actually a surprisingly decent amount of delicious and healthy restaurants around.  My personal favorite was Artillery that had falafel waffles and vegan dragon fruit cake.  They were both amazingly satisfying after a long day of exploring ancient temples and working up an appetite.

I also recommend heading to the Fresh Fruit Factory which is nearby.  They have amazing fruit parfaits and shaved ice you can try with a friendly and welcoming atmosphere:

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My favorite street food that I tried near the night market here was hands down the Strawerry Hokkaido Cheese Toast.  Since I’ve been to Hokkaido twice this year, I felt obligated to try it.  Say cheese~  Surprisingly, I liked the flavor and texture of it.  They also have green tea and other unique flavors here, along with bubble tea.

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Koh Rong

Koh Rong Island is a lot more rural than other areas in Cambodia, but I still managed to find some great food in the small village of Koh Touch!  I tried a falafel wrap from Sky Bar which was extremely fulfilling, and also ate a lot of my meals at the Treehouse Restaurant where I was staying.  I had some delicious seafood noodle soup, muesli with yogurt and fresh fruit, and also some chocolate pancakes with banana.  I was impressed with how fresh the food was and fortunately was able to eat healthy every day while I was here.  They are a number of western-style restaurants that serve pizza and burgers here as well.

Phnom Penh

The capital of Cambodia has no shortage of food options.  My favorite restaurant  was a cozy cafe near the imperial palace called VIBE.  Here I had some delicious avocado flatbread and a delicious chocolate smoothie bowl served out of a coconut.  This gave me a lot of energy for the day so I was very happy to have stumbled upon it.

As far as fast food goes, I found a wonderful cafe called J’ADORE where I had a huge avocado shake and mini prawn burgers.  They were easy to eat and were surprisingly packed with flavor:

Though Cambodia is less-developed than other Asian countries, you can definitely find a restaurant or cafe here that suits your taste, and most food is very affordable.

Aesthetic Dining Experiences in Kyoto, Japan

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Soft mochi and iced green tea at a traditional sweets store in Gion.

Whenever I travel to a new place, I like trying a combination of the local cuisine and the most crazy places that I can find.  Kyoto is known for its tofu, noodles, kaiseki (vegetarian dishes), and of course; matcha sweets (which includes green tea-flavored ice cream, parfaits, and more).  Here is a list I have compiled of the most unique dining experiences I have had in Kyoto:

Gold Ramen at Zundoya

Zundoya is an extremely popular ramen chain in Japan because of their affordable and delicious bowls.  In their Tokyo and and Kyoto branches, they have the option to purchase gold flakes which you can sprinkle on any ramen dish on their menu.  This comes with a hefty extra 5000 yen charge, but was fun to do just for the aesthetic purpose of eating golden ramen.  You can buy these gold flakes at souvenir shops in Kyoto and Kanazawa.  They can be used as a topping for virtually any food due to them being flavorless.

The regular bowls of ramen are also packed with flavor!  The funny thing was I came here after a music workshop with some of my Japanese friends per their recommendation.  That’s when you know it’s a good place to eat!

Kichi Kichi Omurice

Omelette and rice dishes (dubbed omurice) are an extremely popular food combination in Japan, and this restaurant does it best!  When you see the head chef, Yukimura Motokichi, slice a freshly baked omelette and have it perfectly melt over the rice in an almost cinematic fashion, you’ll understand why this restaurant is so popular.

This meal was seriously the best omurice I had ever tasted because the omelettes are cooked to be extremely fluffy.  Since this website is so popular, it is recommended to make a reservation on their website.

Kitten Company Cafe

As the name implies, this cafe has cat-themed sweets, and is extremely vegan-friendly.  I tried their vegan curry, chocolate cake, and kitten cookies.  All of them were scrumptious, and I was delighted to see the curry arranged in the form of a happy cloud!  No reservation is required for this restaurant, but you can see their website here.

Menbaka Fire Ramen

NO RAMEN NO LIFE” is the English slogan that greets you at this ramen restaurant.  I immediately liked the atmosphere the minute I entered.  Menbaka puts a large amount of green onions and pours oil right over the dish before it is served to create an explosive fiery effect.  Just watch the video of me seconds before the fire starts to burn:

The taste of the ramen is quite ordinary; maybe a little more oily but otherwise unnoticeable.  It is worth going to once just to see the fire!  This restaurant does not accept reservations; you must lineup and take a numbered ticket.  You can explore other places in Kyoto while you are waiting, so it’s not so gruesome of a wait.

Green Tea Soba Noodles

Tsujiri Teahouse offers one of the most unique noodle dishes I’ve ever seen in my life: green tea soba and tofu in a white milk-like broth.  Though that doesn’t sound appetizing at first, it actually has a refreshing taste!  I ordered mine chilled and they really hit the spot.  If you are feeling adventurous, this is definitely a good thing to try!  In additional to noodles, there are many parfaits and sweets here.  Next time I come to Kyoto, I’ll be sure to keep my eye out for more unique food like this!

Sweet Twist: A Vintage Ice Cream Store in Shimokitazawa

Trying unique and adorable ice cream stores scattered across Asia has become a huge hobby of mine. As I was thrift shopping for clothes in Shimokitazawa (which has much better selection than the overcrowded Harajuku), I stumbled upon Sweet Twist–a vintage ice cream store selling a variety of soft cream, gelato, and crepes with customizable toppings.

Like most sweets stores in central Tokyo, the store is tiny, but the bright pink exterior and colorful signs advertising a variety of desserts seemed extremely inviting.  Not to mention the fluffy mascot that’s printed on all of the cups is the epitome of cute!

I decided to try the strawberry topped soft cream first. Like the name implies, the ice cream is extremely light tasting and sweet. The strawberry topping tasted much like strawberry chocolate so I really enjoyed the taste. Since the portion size I ordered was small (I regret not doing the 2 scoop option), I decided to try the raspberry gelato as well. They have a variety of flavors like green tea, coconut, chocolate fruits, etc. and you can choose extra toppings for just 50 yen. I liked the ice cream slightly better due to its sweetness, but I imagine everything here is really good!

The interior design with the neon pink flamingo and framed photos of Audrey Hepburn and other nostalgic icons was also a pleasant experience to take in. This neighbor hood has a lot of vintage shops that you should definitely check out if you have the chance.  I will definitely be back here in the future to try more delicious flavor combinations!

A Sacred Beach Getaway to Koh Nang Yuan (Thailand)

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The postcard-worthy view of Koh Nang Yuan in Koh Tao, Thailand.

Koh Tao is yet another popular destination in the Gulf of Thailand due to its colorful coral reefs that make it popular for diving because it attracts a large variety of sea creatures.  In addition to that, there are many beach huts and ocean resorts on the island making it a lively place. “Koh Tao” actually means “Turtle Island”, and you can see that a lot of the islands within it resemble turtles due to their leafy green foliage and surrounding rocks.

I chose to go to Koh Nang Yuan (on the northwest coast of Koh Tao) which is a chain of 3 gorgeous islets that are great for scuba diving.  Once arriving by speedboat, you can reach all of them on-foot by using a sandbar that spans in-between them.  If you climb up a trail from the boardwalk you can see one of the most amazing views in Thailand!  The emerald oceans glisten beautifully from above, and it truly feels like paradise.

In order to reach Koh Tao, I took a speedboat from my resort in Koh Samui.  I booked an affordable tour from Klook in advance, and had more than enough time to go swimming, hiking, and eat a buffet meal that was included in the tour.  Though some articles I’ve read online warn tourists to stay away from Koh Tao due to a series of murders that were found on the island (source: News.au), I did not sense any hostility while I was on this tour, and I think it is more than fine to visit even as a solo traveler as long as you are responsible.

During my trip here, I decided to stay in Tango Bay Resort on Koh Samui (for around $50 per night), because it is conveniently located and there are more activities to do on the island.  I enjoyed staying on Chaweng Beach because it is lively but still feels like a private beach.  My resort came with a private hut, a pool, a delicious restaurant and bar with a happy hour every day, and a beach, so I felt more than welcome!

When I walked into my room, both of the towels were folded like elephants!  It was truly a sight to behold and I couldn’t get over how cute they were.  I was impressed at how beautiful the beach was at night with the lanterns hanging from the trees and reflecting off the ocean.  I saw many people having weddings here and felt luxurious since I came here by myself.  Whether you’re with people or alone, it’s really hard to be sad here.

There are 3 foods that I recommend trying in Thailand: Seafood (any kind), sticky mango rice, and coconut ice cream (ideal if it’s from a real coconut).  I was fortunate that I could have all three on the beach!

It was great to relax here after being trapped in an office for so long.  I can’t stress how important it is to get away from the city and take an island vacation!  It doesn’t have to be expensive because countries like Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, and more are very affordable, and the quality of service is usually quite good.  I hope that everyone reading this is inspired to come here some day!

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That’s all for now–see you next menu, Space Cowboy!

A Magical Time at the Wizarding World: Harry Potter x Fantastic Beasts Café in Tokyo

When I first started teaching in Japan 3 years ago, I was very surprised at how popular Harry Potter was here! Thanks to the Harry Potter attraction at Universal Studios Japan, the world of Hogwarts has captured the hearts of many people. I’ve loved the series since I was young, but I never imagined that I’d be going to a themed café in Shinjuku collaborating with HP and the new Fantastic Beasts movie that just came out!

Though the cafe space was actually quite small because it was located on the 5th floor of the Shinjuku MYLORD department store, it definitely had a magical atmosphere you wouldn’t find elsewhere in Tokyo!

My friend and I waited 2 hours in line to enter on a Sunday afternoon in early December because there was no online reservation system (unlike many other temporary theme cafés here), but we thought it was well worth the wait. Perhaps if you are just here on vacation you might think it’s a waste of time, but we’ve both lived in Tokyo for a while and are used to the long waits.

The cafe included a display case with autographs of Dumbledore’s Army, and also had Dan Folger (who plays Jacob from Fantastic Beasts) on the wall with the text WHO WILL CHANGE THE FUTURE?

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A very charming message indeed! My friend and I decided to try some of the desserts out. Me, being the flashy one, decided to order the Dumbledore Profiteroles with a chibi character print, a syringe filled with chocolate, and a pot of water to pour on the ice to produce a spell-like effect:

 

Maybe it wasn’t as cool as the Sorting Hat, but the creampuffs and fruits were delicious and I definitely felt like I was at the Hogwarts dining table!

Next, we ordered the Newt’s Pancakes that we’re topped with cotton candy and delicious maple syrup!

I have tried a number of fluffy pancakes in Japan before, but this was my first time trying them topped with cotton candy!

As for drinks, I ordered the Slytherin green tea one with whipped cream (even though I’m Gryffindor, I enjoy this flavor more) and my friend ordered the Chupacabra Calpico Milk. These drinks were better than average because they were blended and some of them even contained fruit!

You can see the fill food and drink menu listed below. Since my friend and I both don’t eat meat, we skipped the main dishes but I was very satisfied with both desserts we tried (that cost around 1200 yen).

The themed drinks were all 800 yen, but I think they were worth it! I would have ordered more if I wasn’t induced by a sugar overload!

This Café is available from November 9th 2018 – January 31st 2019. What makes me curious is the food item silhouettes on the first menu that say “Coming Soon”… Perhaps I will have to venture into this Wizarding World once again to see what they are!! This experience is highly recommended.

Eating Mutant Fruit Cakes at Kajitsuen

As a lover of all aesthetic foods (especially sweets), this cake at Kajitsuen immediately caught my eye with it’s beautifully pink-glazed icing stuffed with whipped cream and freshly cut strawberries of all shapes and sizes. From the outside, it looks like a regular frosted cake, but it actually has the same texture as angel food cake (which goes way better with fruit, in my opinion). Not to mention that perfect strawberry on top! It tasted fresh and simply amazing.

The price for cake by the slice was a bit steep compared to other cafés (1200円) but considering how expensive fruit is in Japan, I’d say the quality was worth it.

As you can see, these cakes are beautifully crafted and have a unique mutant-like appearance with the large slices of fruit.

Unfortunately I didn’t have the appetite or the budget to try more than one slice, but if I come back I’m definitely interested in the grape and strawberry green tea flavors.

What I liked about this fruit parlor is it had a large menu of just plain slices fruit, parfaits, pancakes, cakes, and even triangular watermelon!

That is definitely something you don’t see everyday. The other widely known and most famous fruits parlor in Japan is called TAKANO, and here’s a strawberry cake I recently bought from them in comparison:

Though it looks huge from this picture, it was actually quite small! I think TAKANO is a bit more expensive, and though they have a larger selection of fruits and more stores, I would say that the cakes are best at Kajitsuen.

If you love fruit and sweets, then definitely check out a fruits parlor at least once during your trip here!