We like pretty

I grew up in a country, and in a time, where products were mostly designed for utility, and how they looked was secondary. In 1980s Bombay, we used to fetishize images of cars and gadgets that we glimpsed on the pages of foreign magazines. Even in the 1990s and early 2000s companies like Nokia or Dell would produce a utilitarian model for the mass and a “posh” model for those who would pay more. In the late 1990s, when I started traveling, I often heard from people that companies like Apple would never succeed in Asia, as the price point is too high, and most audiences did not care for the design. 

The other day I was in Phnom Penh, near Soriya Mall and I spotted a shop selling a slick plastic cases - not for phones - but for household cooking gas cylinders!!.  

Introducing Kimchi Dosa

It is said that Koreans form one of the biggest expatriate community in India. But what’s the point if we still have not combined the greatest frood from the two countries. As someone who was born in India but has Korean stomach, I decided to myself undertake this responsibility. Presenting the kimchi dosa.

Here is the humble dosa, a staple South Indian food. And Cabbage Kimchi from our Korea.

Combine the two and you get healthy and crunchy Kimchi Dosa.

Takadanobaba, the Little Myanmar of Tokyo

In Tokyo, if you miss Burmese food, the best place to go is Takadanobaba. This neighbourhood is where a lot of people from Myanmar live in Tokyo. Hence, there are many Burmese restaurants and shops here. This area is not as dense as Singapore’s Peninsula Plaza but you can still find good Myanmar food within 10 minutes walk out of the station.

Takadanobaba is on the Yamanote line. If you are heading to Shin Okubo to explore the Korean town, you can include Takadanobaba in your trip (it is the next station). Once you are in Takadanobaba, take the Waseda exit. 

As soon as you are out you will see the dark Tak 11 building. When you exit the station, the building is just across the street. This building has many restaurants and shops from Myanmar. I visited a Shan food restaurant on the ground floor. Even managed to score some free dessert. To the left of this Tak 11 building (when you face it), there is a small lane. This lane has some more Burmese restaurants. Towards end of the row of shops, you will find Shwe Myanmar. There is one more in the building just before it. And they have Mohinga, the favourite dish many in Myanmar. 


Good Day Books, a delightful little English bookshop in Tokyo

We love small independent bookstores. And this one is special as I find that they have a dedicated espionage section. This bookstore is centrally located just a couple of minutes walk from Gotanda station. I was happy to find a 1960s travelogue on Russia. 

Walking direction from Gotanda Station. Keep walking along the train line towards Meguro and you will see the building. 


Kotaraya Complex in Kuala Lumpur – The place to go when you miss the Philippines

Want to try some Halo Halo? This is the nearby shopping mall on Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock. You will see this building while crossing over the the Burma Town from Chinatown. On the upper floors of this building, you will find shops and eateries from the Philippines. It is not as big as Singapore’s Lucky Plaza (no Jollybee too) but you can find Halo Halo here. It cost RM 5. Note the mobile company ad behind. This company sells subscription to view on demand content on mobile for many expat communities. The top floor of the building has some 1990s style gaming arcades and a food court that serves food from some South East Asian countries.


Address of the building and link to map

Kompleks Kotaraya , 3-70A Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock City Centre 50000 Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

https://www.google.com/maps/place/Kompleks+Kotaraya/@3.144887,101.696493,17z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m2!3m1!1s0x31cc49d176670423:0xb20b5391903b889a


Time travel via outdated travel guides

While some may celebrate the current state of travel  – with the nets and webs and the convenience of maps on mobile telephones, I miss the days when the world was young. The days, when closer to the equator,  we were told to avoid taking photos in the noon lest we overexpose the camera films – the days when you wrote postcards in Herat, and send a telegram when you needed something urgent.  One of the ways I recreate the magic is by trawling used book shops for old travel guides.

Rangoon and Calcutta were the favorite cities for book hunters – home to large used books stores where the owners seem to know where exactly a particular book is. Now those cities have changed their names and they would rather sell pirated DVDs. Here is one of last remaining joint for book lovers  in Asia –  Junk bookstore in Kuala Lumpur.

Two floors of treasure for us to dig in. The owners seem to know the books and often they will be able to tell you where the books on a particular topic are.

My find this time round is a travel guide from 1974 – almost as old as me. The days when you could bus from Iran to Afghanistan, on to Pakistan, across India and to Nepal. And you had to buy a pass for alcohol consumption for India. And when our Djakarta was so compact. And back when Cholon was the budget accommodation hub of Saigon, not the evil Phạm Ngũ Lão. Anyways, if you are looking for some time travel, here is the address of the bookshop. It is not too far from the central market and the Chinatown area.

Exploring the Little Myanmar in Kuala Lumpur

Very close to the Central Market (and Chinatown) in Kuala Lumpur there is a Myanmar enclave. The enclave has grown over the years to entertain and feed the vibrant Myanmar community in Kuala Lumpur. The place is about 5 to 10 minutes walk from the street market at Chinatown. Just walk along Jalan Petaling until you reach Lebuh Pudu. By now, you will already start seeing the signs in Burmese script. I always hike up to this neighbourhood to get some Shan noodles and mohinga. There are several smaller Burmese restaurants up the staircases, but usually these speak no English. However, there are two restaurants on this street at the ground level, where you can use some English. The New Gantawin has English menu. My favorite here is the noodles from Shan state. Added attraction of this place is that the staff are clad in Burmese attire, complete with Thanaka paste on the face. The DVD player at the far end plays pop hits from Myanmar. Even with the English menu, chances are that you would be the only non-Myanmar person here. But do not be shy or afraid, the folks here are nice and will let you be.

I will mention the old Gantawin, just in case the New Gantawin is full. This restaurant is on the junction of Leboh Pudu and Lorong Pudu. Here, there is no English menu, but if you do find yourself here, just confidently look at the staff, and ask for Mohinga – the rice noodle soup. Ask for the Burmese tea (close to the Indian sweet milk tea) if want to spend some more time people watching. Though this neighbourhood is called Little Burma by some, it is more like a combination of Bangladesh, Nepal and Burma. Walking around here, you will find some Bangladeshi and Nepalese shops and eateries too. There is a Rambo mini-market – just in case you are planning to stock up on supplies to take down a small country. If you end up at the Nepalese restaurant, ask them for momo – Nepalese dumplings. I must add that the people working in these eateries are nice bunch and many of the younger guys enjoy talking to tourists, and are happy to give you extra serving of curry, if you compliment them on the food. Not many tourists know about this place so it is likely that you would be the only outsider here.


Some things to try

Explore the nearby building called Bangunan Cahaya Suria (google map link), this place has a Burmese Biryani Restaurant called Zayyar.   Also check out the nearby KotaRaya Complex for dessert and food from the Philippines.

Check out this link for more insights into Myanmar immigrants living in Malaysia and couple more recommendations. The Food Detective: A Burmese Food Tour http://poskod.my/features/food-detective-burmese-food-tour/


Naughty Big Data Engines

So I powered up the Android phone after many days. It had many updates. After updating, I stumbled to the Play store. The Play store had some recommendations for me.

The top item was a naughty book. Now you may think, I was searching for something naughty on this phone. Honestly, the only thing I searched for on this phone was a Podcast called “New Books in Anthropology”.

Not sure how Google interpolated from innocuous podcast to these books. I wonder if everyone gets to see such naughty books – just so that we get into the habit of downloading ebooks.

Down the page, curiously, another recommended book was on big data. Would we get tired of webs second guessing our intent?  Would we long for serendipity?

Phnom Penh guide

Phnom Penh is one of the coolest cities in Asia.  There are cheap accommodation, liberal visas, internet everywhere and plenty of intrigue – It is said that after Thailand got difficult with visas, Phnom Penh is where the spies, wannabe science fiction writers and other such people have relocated to.

Airlines and getting there

If you are in South East Asia, the best way to get to Phnom Penh is via the budget airlines. You can get these for around 150to 200 USD. AirAsia (from Malaysia and Thailand), Tiger and JetStar Asia (from Singapore). From Vietnam, a cross border bus is cheaper. 

Visas

Visitors from Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore, Lao PDR and Vietnam do not need a visa. Most others can get it from the airport at arrival. You will see the visa counter as you alight from the boarding area. Just pick up the visa form (usually they will hand out the form along with customs declaration form in the plane, if not then the forms are available at the visa counter), fill the form, attach your photo and submit at the counter. The fees is 25 USD. This visa is good for one month. If you do not have a photo, they will scan the photo that is on your passport and use it (for a small fee).

You can also apply for the evisa beforehand (keep a buffer of 4 days). You will have to fill an online form and upload a photograph. Keep your credit card ready for online payment. The visa will be sent to you via email. Remember to take 2 printouts of the evisa. You will show one when you enter and the other one when you exit. The evisa costs USD 25 and it is processed in 4 days or less.  This is the evisa website http://evisa.mfaic.gov.kh/.  Apply only at this site and not at some links you get after Googling. I have used evisa several times over the years and it works well. I will recommend evisa over visa on arrival. as the visa on arrival sticker takes up one whole page. E-visa is recommended for travelers from developing countries crossing into Cambodia from Thailand.

In your plane or bus, the crew will handout the arrival card and the customs form. Fill both there. You need to fill in the address in Cambodia. Just fill in any of the hotels you are planning to stay in.  

After getting your visa (or if you have evisa), just walk to the immigration counter . Here they will stamp the visa, scan your fingerprints and welcome you to Cambodia. After this you head to baggage belts and the customs, pass them the customs declaration form and exit.

Buying a SIM card

As soon as you exit the customs at the airport, you will see the mobile phone counters. You can buy data enabled SIM cards for 5 to 10 USD. Metfone and Cellcard seems to have the best speeds and they sell nano SIM cards too. I would recommend getting the SIM card at the airport as they staff at the counter speak better English compared to smaller shops in the city. They will also scan your passport before selling you the SIM. 

Traveling from the airport to the city or your hotel

Travel to the city centre will cost you around 10USD by taxi.  If you are traveling alone and light, you can take a motor bike taxi (moto) or cyclo (tuktuk) for around 5 to 6 USD. Just walk out of the airport, the moto-taxi people will find you. It is always a good idea to ask your hotel for a nearby landmark as moto or taxi people may not know where the hotel is.  If you have a local SIM card, it may be easier to call the hotel and ask them to explain the directs to your transport guy. Uber is also available in Phnom Penh. As of November 2017, Uber drivers are not allowed to come inside the airport, The Uber driver may send you an message to come outside the airport. 


Accommodation in Phnom Penh

Our favourite source of looking up hotels and guesthouses in Phnom Penh is the online guide published by Canby.  http://www.canbypublications.com/phnompenh/pphotels.htm


You can find good hostels and hotels from 10 USD and upwards depending on the features you want. 

The riverfront area in Phnom Penh has many reasonably priced guesthouses. Go to riverfront if you like partying and staying up late.  If you prefer inexpensive stay, I recommend One Stop Hostel by the riverside.


Boeung Keng Kang (BKK1) neighbourhood has some hotels and trendy cafes and bars. This is a good place to get some work done (at Kiriya or Namu cafe).  Blue Dog Cafe here has dormitory stays if you are looking for a budget place  and still want to be in a posh neighbourhood. See http://www.canbypublications.com/maps/phnompenhbkk1.htm


Ly Yoak Lay (Street 172) has several hotels of all range, some good restaurants and cafe/pubs. It is kind of hidden away so it is less noisy compared to the riverside. I sometimes just walk up this street, ask the guesthouse to see the room and if I like it, I take it. In Cambodia, it is perfectly fine to get them to show the room. Silver River, Angkor Mithona, Laughing Fatman, Hometown Inn, Sundance are all the places I have stayed at and they are good. 


See this map https://www.google.com/maps/search/Hotels+at+Ly+Yoak+Lay,+Phnom+Penh/@11.5669866,104.927964,18z/data=!3m1!4b1

Hotels will do your laundry for 2to 3 USD. Cambodia is the most advanced country in the world when it comes to Internet. All guesthouses and restaurants have wifi. However, before accepting a room, make sure that you can get a strong wifi signal in the room that you like.


Money and costs 

You can get by on 15 to 20 USD/day (excluding accommodation). You can use ATMs to withdraw money in USD. So you do not need to carry many moneys on you. US currency is in wide circulation and if you are brining in US$, get small denominations.  When people return you US dollars change, check if a  currency note is torn or if it has cellophane tape running around it – request for another currency note as it is hard to spend this money at another place. 1 USD is approximately 4000 Cambodian Riels. Change below 1 USD will be returned in Riel.  Another thing to note is that if you are not used to US dollars in your daily transaction back home, the currency notes are all the same size so be careful when you pay at night – double check the denominations. 

For local transport, you can use inexpensive motos (motorbike taxis) and tuktuks. From the riverside to the centre of the city should cost you 1 to 1.5 USD on moto. Of course, these folks will ask your for 5 dollars at first. Just smile and politely offer your price. You can also use Uber or a local ride hailing app called Pass App. 

If you want to buy an inexpensive and easy to pack souvenir, I will recommend the KRAMA – Cambodian scarf. You can buy at the Central Market.  Cambodian coffee is also good. 

Food

Phnom Penh has a great local and international food at reasonable price. It is also safe to eat on the street as long as you see the shop has good number of patrons. You can get good Chinese and Indian food too. 

It is not uncommon to find famous people from all over Asia in Phnom Penh cafes. 

List of halal restaurants in Phnom Penh: http://www.zabihah.com/sp.php?k=type+%28optional%29&l=Phnom+Penh

List of vegetarian and vegan eating in Phnom Penh: http://www.happycow.net/asia/cambodia/phnom_penh/

24 hours food – All the party neighbourhood –  Street 130 and adjoining streets by the river and the streets near Soriya Mall and Apocalypse now have food and drinks all night long. 


More on food from New York Times

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/09/travel/in-cambodias-capital-an-infusion-of-flavor.html?_r=0


There are several 24 hour convenience stores and many of them accept cards for payment. 


Language

Most shops and younger local people will speak some English.  Menus and general information on signs are in English in addition to Khmer.  The locals are kind, curious and enjoy talking. 


Power plug

This is the type of plug used in Cambodia ( Type C). Usually the power points in Cambodia can accept US (but make sure that your gadget can handle 240 Volts) and Japanese plugs too. Bigger hotels have plugs that support other regions too. You can also borrow Android or iPhone chargers at some cafes (Kiriya Cafe).


Social stuff

Facebook and Wechat are popular social networks. And almost everyone and their cat is on Facebook. The technorati are very active on Twitter. All events have an hashtag, if you have a questions, just post it on twitter with your event’s hashtag. Someone will answer soon.  Interesting people to follow on Twitter – @Kounila, @chantra , @john_weeks, @ChrisInCambo, @tharum, @thulrithy,  @ramanasorn,  @Sophary,  @Vantharith,  @jensendarren, @sithen, @melinachan, @meanlux, @viirak (I am missing a lot more, will add them as I remember the handle)

http://www.cambodiadaily.com/ is the local paper of note, 

http://wheninphnompenh.com/ – Food and travel reviews by locals

http://globalvoicesonline.org/-/world/east-asia/cambodia/  –  happenings and news covered by locals

Social, art events – http://www.ladypenh.com/


Weather 

It is going to be hot. It is going to humid near the river.  The city averages 25 C to 33 C. See http://www.bbc.com/weather/1821306  

Cotton linen clothes are the best. 


Safety etc. 

As in a big city, take care of your belongings. I have been to Phnom Penh like 30 odd times and I have never encountered any violent crime. Late in the night, try to take to motorbike or Uber or a Pass App ride back to you hotel. 


The Matsuri (local festivals) in Japan

One fun adventure in Japan is to visit a Matsuri – local festivals usually around a shrine. Chances are that wherever you are staying, perhaps a couple of stations away, a Matsuri is happening. They usually run for a night to couple of nights. There is lot of local food and some fun games. The best way to find a local Matsuri in Tokyo is to look up the web http://www.gotokyo.org/eventlist/en/list

You can walk past the stalls and just point at the food you want to eat.  Snacks usually cost  100 JPY for a stick of grilled meat to 500 JPY for a pack of Yaki Soba. Drink cost around 100 JPY for soft drink to 200 JPY for beer.