Home sweet home

I spent my last full day in South East Asia back in Bangkok.  It was a day of relaxation and detoxification to bring my trip to a close.  I went and got my last thai massage followed by a one hour facial at a spa on Khaosan Road.  Total cost $23.  Gosh I am going to miss the prices overseas.  I feel broke all over again now that I'm home.  My returning 22 hours of travel was relatively uneventful, praise the lord.

I spent a full 13 hours sleeping shortly after I got home.  And woke up at 7 a.m. yesterday feeling pretty great.  I completed some tasks around the house then decided to go grocery shopping around noon, and the jet lag hit me like a ton of bricks the moment I stepped into the grocery store.  I forced myself to finish my grocery shopping trip and stay awake until about 9:30 at night in an attempt to get back on a regular schedule.

I can't help but think after my return home that nothing I can blog about is quite as interesting as what I've experienced over the last few weeks.  I haven't decided whether I will continue to blog or not but maybe if something in particular inspires me you will see another entry soon.

Hope you enjoyed the last few weeks.


lessons learned from my travels

I haven't posted recently because well I've just been too busy living.  I have had a great last few days in South East Asia.  I will attempt to update in not too lengthy a manner but I must admit this could be a long one.

I arrived in Phnom Penh in the late afternoon.  I can't even remember what day it was because after a couple weeks of traveling I lost track.  I had met a girl in Siem Reap the day before who recommended I stay at a hostel called the top banana.  I was advised it was a great hostel to meet fellow travelers, that it was inexpensive and central to what I would want to do in the city.  I had no idea what I was getting myself into.  The place was full of backpackers, expats, and cambodian natives meshing into a group of the most entertaining people I have met on my travels.

Prior to getting to know these individuals I took a walk around a small part of Phnom Penh.  It was quite a large city.  Very modern, full of expensive cars, high rises and monuments.  Overall it was not so different from many cities I've visited before so I chose not to explore for too long.  I met a traveler from Ireland named Barry and since we were both flying solo we thought we would do our site seeing the next day togehter since we wanted to explore the same areas. 

Group exercises at sunset in the park in the middle of the city

The palace at night

Palling around

The independence monument set on a beautiful city background

I can't say that my first day in Phnom Penh was actually "fun" given the nature of our activities.  It was however very educational and eye opening and well worth while.  For those of you out there who didn't know (like myself) Phnom Penh Cambodia was the site of a horrific mass genocide that is so fresh in the memories of its people that the leaders of the ruling party that carried out such atrocities are still on trial awaiting their fate. 

In the 1970s Cambodia was taken over by the Khmer Rouge, led by a leader most commonly known as Pol Pot.  The city was cleared out in a matter of days. Thousands of people were sent to Tuol Sleng (otherwise known as S 21) to be tortured and live out their days starving crammed into little cells that had been fashioned out of old school classrooms.  Once they were no longer useful to the khmer rouge they were sent to Choeng Ek, or, the killing fields to be bludgeoned to death (so as to not waste money on bullets) and thrown into mass graves.  These people included women and children as well as men of all ages.  The justification for killing young ones was "if you plan to kill the weeds you have to kill the seeds as well".  I would imagine walking through S 21 and the killing fields is similar to what one feels exploring the world war 2 concentration camps in Poland and Germany but its hard to imagine that this happened only 30 years ago.  I brought my camera with me for the day but took very few pictures as I just didn't think these sites could be remembered or the impact portrayed through photographs.  Its an intense feeling to see blood still smeared on the floor of a two by three foot cell and imagine someone was locked in thier for weeks at a time without ever enjoying a full meal or knowing where his family might be.  After seeing what I saw I can only urge everyone to educate themselves on the travesty that was the leadership of the Khmer Rouge and teach others what you have learned.

One of the few picutres I took at Choeng Ek

Exhumed mass graves

Human bones are still surfacing from undergroud.  Everytime it rains new bones work their way to the surface

The monument at Choeng Ek.  Filled with bones and skulls categorized by age and gender

Quite horrifying to think what these people did.

After the intense few weeks I have had in South East Asia I decided a couple days in Phnom Penh enjoying my new friends was in order.  I can't say I really did so much over the last few days that was photo worthy but the memories will stay with me forever.  A lot of time was spent relaxing and chatting with travelers from Australia, Englang, Germany, the U.S., Canada, Holland and just about anywhere you can think of.  Parties were held to simply celebrate and enjoy each others company.  And I can honestly say as much as it isn't my scene at home I went to a drum and bass club and truly enjoyed it.  It was most likely the people I was with and the free atmosphere. 

I had planned to head to the beach in Cambodia before returning to Bangkok and realized that would mean being on a bus every day until I returned to the US.  In the spirit of being free I changed my plans last minute and stayed in Phnom Penh for an extra few days, and I'm glad that I did.  One of the things I hope to take home from my travels with me is a "go with the flow" spirit.  I find I am much more rigid when at home to meet deadlines, do as I had planned, stress out over the small things, and stick to an agenda.  While I will probably never completely let go of these traits (which I don't think is a bad thing) I would like to incorporate a bit more of a "take life as it comes" attitude into my daily living.  Thus far nothing bad has come from mistakes or last minute changes that have been made during my travels.  Only good things and memorable experiences have bloomed.

As I sit enjoying my last breakfast at the new siam guest house I can't help but think how happy I am that I had this experience.  I am not full of regret that I didn't spend more time here.  I am ready to return to life at home, return to work, and see my friends.  I only hope that I can take what I have learned about myself with me and that I will come back a better person with fabulous stories. 


Very poor

Yesterday was another whirl wind.  I woke up early, but thats nothing new, at 7 a.m. and hopped in a tuktuk to head to the floating village.  The ride was nice.  Twenty minutes or so through the parts of Cambodia that you don't see if you just stay right in Siem Reap.  The back roads are nice and you get a true taste of how most Cambodians live. 

I arrived at the dock and ran into a girl who I had met briefly in Bangkok.  She was with a whole group of people from the UK and we planned to boat out to the village together.  However, the men running the boats had a different plan.  For some reason, although it was certainly not gas efficicent, they chose to put me on a boat by myself and put the entire tour group on another boat.  I didn't really understand but I just went with it.  One thing I have learned on my travels is just do what they tell you to do even if you don't understand why they want you to do it.  There is no point in arguing.  If they want you to sit in this seat instead of that seat just do it, even if there is no reason for it.  So I unintentionally got a private boat tour of the floating village.  My guides were two young Cambodians, who looked like they might have the combined age of 30 together.  We slowly drifted through the low river (rainy season has long since passed) and arrived at the lake in about 30 minutes.  My guides didn't speak much English but enough to communicate that the village was a mix of cambodian and vietnamese people who were poor.  The answer to every question I asked was "yes, very poor" with a smile added in.  After my trip to the floating village I met my tuktuk driver and rambled towards the silk farm

Sitting out on the front of the boat
My very young tour guides
A view of a large part of the village

This ride was substantially longer as I had to go back passed Siem Reap to get to the silk farm.  I do however feel it was worth it.  The silk farm was pretty interesting.  I was shown by my very own gratis tour guide every step of the silk making process.  From the silk warm eggs, to the mulberry leaves they are fed to the cocoons and thread process then the weaving of the handmade fabrics.

Baby silk worms

Silk cocoons
Flowers used for dye

dye materials with the silk that they've colored, believe it or not one of those natural dyes is cow poo.  Ew

Extracting raw silk

Mulberry plants that feed the silk worms

A partially woven scarf and the complicated loom that is used
Dyed silk

After my silk farm adventure, and without buying anything from the gift shop because clothes made for little asian women do not fit me, I returned to my hostel, had a quick bit and got dressed for a 2 1/2 hour ATV ride with my travel buddy Amy.  The company was run by a frenchmen who was very serious about the safety rules.  He explained, since we were both going on one ATV, if the person driving hits the break too hard they will eject the passenger.  If the person driving hits a pile of cow poop they will splash the passenger.  If the person driving speeds up to fast they will eject the passenger.  Naturally Amy jumped on the chance to ride first.  But all went smoothly and we each drove for about half the ride.  We were taken to an orphanage outside of town and given a tour by a 13 year old orphan who had better English grammar than myself or Amy.  We donated a few dollars and grabbed the mailing address so I can send some books when I get home.  After, we stopped in a rice paddy to watch the sunset but couldn't see much due to the cloud cover.  It was none the less a very entertaining ride and I have a new love for ATVs. 

Amy and I on our ATV (or quad bike)

All the children ran to the road to wave to us as we drove by

Cambodian cows.  More intimidating then our beasts of burden aren't they

More waving children piled on a motorcycle (or cyclo) as they call it

Ready for sunset and a break from the 4 wheeler

After our ride, covered in grime and dust, we both returned to our respective hotels to shower and met up for dinner in the town for some authentic Khmer barbecue.  We chose 5 meats; chicken, beef, shrimp, squid and crocodile.  It was a very fun meal.  The phrase don't play with your food was not applicable here.  And I have to say I quite enjoyed the crocodile.  It was sort of a cross between chicken and beef.

Anyways, after our entertaining dinner complete with two $0.50 beers I returned to my hotel to pack.  I am now in Phnom Penh where I plan to spend the next day and a half.  I'm off to explore. 


Lara Croft! Tomb raider!

After yesterdays 10 hour (in total) trip next to a fat, agitating, loud and smelly 24 year old Canadian who would not stop hitting on me I have arrived in Siem Reap, Cambodia.  For about twenty minutes or so of the third leg of the journey, the part where I sat in the middle of the back of a tuktuk disguised as an old toyota, I thought we might get caught in a flood.  I have just been narrowly escaping natural disasters all around me (flew through japan after the tsunami, earthquakes in Laos, flooding in southern thailand) I thought my time had run out.  We hit a terrential downpour and the street flooded almost instantly.  The water was rising and moats were starting to form across the roads.  I knew it.  I was going to be stranded in a hooptie with no door handles that had been hotwired to transport us while sitting in between a large british man and a skinny drunk Scot!  My good luck was over!  However, just a short five kilometers down the road it hadn't even rained.  Thank you lord of good fortune.  And as tortorous as the trip may have been it has already been well worth it. 

I met a very cool canadian girl named Amy who is traveling around South East Asia for four months.  We decided to pay a tuktuk for the day to take us everywhere we wanted to go.

We started super early.  We met at 5:00 a.m. to hop in our tuktuk and get to Angkor Wat in time to see the sunrise.  The temple is enormous and quite astonishing.  Although the sunrise wasn't what we had hoped for (due to a cloud cover) I didn't regret our decision.  It was nice and cool in the morning and we spent 3 1/2 exploring temples including Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, and Ta Prohm, where everyone wanted to talk about the tomb raider movie and Angelina Jolie because they shot a good portion of the movie there.

The back of Angkor wat

Me and my new travel buddy Amy

Angkor Thom south gate

A little girl who was very much enjoying saying Hi and Bye in English to us and was eager to pose for pictures

I am lara Croft, except not in that orange dress

Ta Prohm Temple

After our long morning we grabbed breakfast in town.  Satiated from my banana flower salad we took our tuk tuk for a scenic drive out to the river to enjoy the view.  The rest of the day was more or less downtime to rest up for planned activities tomorrow. We decided to go relax at a pool for a few hours, we found a hotel that let us pay three dollars to use their tiny tropical oasis.  It was so refreshing.  It's pretty sweltering and uncomfortable here so the cool water was much appreciated.

We then returned to our respective hotels, changed and met up again to explore pub street, the old market, and grab some dinner.

A couple things I have noticed about Cambodia.  Begging here is a career for all ages.  Its far worse than in Thailand or Vietnam.  Even more heartbreaking, most of the beggars are children sent out by their parents to attempt to collect money.  Its hard not to give them anything cause they look so sad but we were told that the more money they make the less likely they are to be sent to school.  Its like the starving children on the "for just $0.50 a day" commercials.  I think I might start donating when I come home.  Ugh.  Cambodia is far more poor than Thailand or Vietnam and is supposedly less expensive but in Siem Reap everything cost twice as much.  I suppose thats what you get when you spend time at a tourist hot spot. 

I don't know if my blabbering makes sense because I am so exhausted at this point so its off to bed early (since I awoke this morning at 4:30 a.m.).  Tomorrow's agenda- floating village, silk farm, and ATVs (which they call quad bikes here) for a two hour ride around the country side and to watch the sunset from a rice field.  Then its off to Phnom Penh.


Alone on the road

Allison left for the airport last night which means I'm on my own for the next week and a half until I go home.  The thought was daunting at first but I've already come to realize how many lone travelers there are here in South East Asia.

I woke up early this morning to take a van to the floating market just outside of Bangkok.  I met two girls, each of whom were traveling by themselves by the time we had arrived at the market.  The first was a girl named Valerie who had just arrived in Bangkok two nights ago from the bay area.  She was quite interesting.  There was a lot of talk of full moons and the weather being from the earth axis and moon patterns....Yeah.  Haha.  None the less Valerie was very nice and we boated together around the floating market.  Most of what was for sale was tourist goods that I have seen 10 times over around Bangkok but they did have quite a bit of tasty looking food.

My mother has informed me that I take a lot of pictures of food.  To that I say why not?!  The food in South East Asia is colorful and tasty.  It makes for great photos and inspiration for cooking projects when I get home.  So to my dear mommy.....here are more pictures of food I have taken in Thailand and Vietnam.

Salmon in red curry
meat for saleeeee
 and more meat, oooo and note the brains
 They sell all kinds of delicious food on the street in vietnam
 Hanoi beer, delish!
 Five taste chicken
Fruit for sale at the floating market
Delicious crepe with veggies
noodles with beef

And pictures of the floating market.

And...for Allison when you see this.  I finally met a baby elephant!  He was four and its a good thing I had a strong hold on my camera when I approached him because he attempted to take it out of my hand with his trunk and pull it towards his mouth.  Apparently he was hungry.