Thursday, April 4, 2013

Never too late for Nepal

It's been a while since my last post.  At the urging of a coworker, I started a post tonight. It's been almost a year since I decided to leave my crap job in search of something better.  I posted about Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. It was a great trip which lead to another trip in SE Asia only a month later.

After learning about the horrific past of Cambodia, it was good to come home and enjoy and celebrate my Uncle and his wedding.

I then sporadically decided to go back to SE Asia.  I knew it was last minute and I knew it would be expensive. I also knew I wasn't ready for anything else at the time and didn't want to live a completely responsible life.  I bought a ticket to Nepal and then scheduled around that adventure. In short, it was awesome...I went to Nepal, back to Thailand (which gave me so much perspective) and then to Bali. There was never truly enough time in any one place.  I'll definitely have to schedule more trips to these incredible places.

Let's start with Nepal.  This will all really be a vague reflection considering how much time I've allowed to elapse but I'm sure the memories will start flooding back as soon as I post a couple pictures.'s a great country. The visa was cheap for 15 days and people were friendly. I met back up with Jenny and we explored.  It was a dirty city. I was disgusted at how the river was treated but then again, it's hard to have a good system with such little money.

I was amazed at the prayer flags and the vastness of the structures all within Kathmandu. I learned a lot about their culture and their faiths. I feel like my ambiguous look really helped me out. Nepal is a combination of people - not quite Indian or not quite Mongolian.  I fit in nicely since I'm not quite Chinese.

Of course there was shopping, which was structured around bargaining. I knew what I wanted from Nepal besides the beauty, trekking, food and culture and that was jewelry.  It was hard to recognize the good stuff and it took time and some kind people to show me the way. I also learned how to cross crazy busy streets, navigate streets with no road side and get lost in the middle of the night.

I actually traveled to Nepal during monsoon season.  It was hot and humid, so of course the local beer was in order. We had a beer from a rooftop bar and watched as the people passed below.  Jenny and I made it to freak street, which wasn't quite freaky where we met some Germans that had traveled to Nepal and ended up staying for years.  Let's just say there are a lot of European nomads on this street and in Nepal, in general.  

We traveled to a World Heritage Site. I didn't get pictures of the people because they believe the cameras will steal their souls. I obliged and instead took a picture of this amazing door.  If you love doors then I think you will love the one of this old woman.  It's absolutely stunning. 

We met up with our travel group and the adventure began...on a one lane highway...with trucks going into and leaving India...which can be randomly stopped for indefinite periods of time so politics can be discussed...Luckily, our wait was only 1 hour before the preaching was over and we were on our way. 

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Fast Track through Vietnam

After Cambodia, I made my way with the group to Southern Vietnam.  It was a cool place. I think I'd like to make my way up north and along the coast. We stayed in a small town near the Mekong Delta.  I got my first ride on a motorbike and couldn't be happier.  My driver was awesome.  He was half Vietnamese, half Chinese (yesss my half Chinese brother!). We raced up a hill in the area. Literally, we raced up the hill :)  I learned that his father fought in the Vietnam war and he had the opportunity to move to the US but his mother wanted to stay in Vietnam.  He still wants to move to the US one day.

She's working it on the water!

Yup, we will win this race!

We didn't stay in this area much.  We had a casual walk through the market.  It had a lot of dried fish. mmmMMmmm and some buns.  Oh, how I love the steamed buns filled with deliciousness.  (Side note: I tried to make these once at home.  They were ok. I gotta find out all the secrets from the street vendors)  We took a nice ride on a boat and visited the people living on the water.  They are mostly Muslim which I was very surprised by.

From this small town, we moved to Saigon.  I wasn't super enthused. I felt like people were very aggressive.  I was grabbed a number of times in the market.  I'm pretty sure I was cussed out. It was really busy.  I was almost hit by a motorbike or two.  Those were the downsides.  The upside: I was asked if I was Vietnamese (haha again with the ethnicity that no one can place).  The food was good.  I was glad to try the Pho in the area. MmmMMmm I had soursop for the first time too.  It was delightful.  I also got to learn a bit about the Vietnam war from the Vietnam perspective...well I guess there are two.  There are those people that fought with the US and feel resentful or grateful for them and then there was the current communist Vietnam side of the whole thing.

I got to see the tunnels that the soldiers lived in.

Children were even born in these tunnels.  I also got to shoot an AK47 - holla!

The end of my time in Vietnam left a sour taste in my mouth with a charge from the hotel and an argument that ensued. I'd like to go back and really appreciate Vietnam since so many people say they love it. Eh...

Oh ya, so while I was abroad, I tried to extend my trip.  The group was going through Northern Vietnam, Laos, and Northern Thailand. I had a wedding to attend (Wedding in the Woods - it was awesome!). So, while I was abroad, I was talked into going to Nepal.  You might think, ok Nepal in 2013 or later...well later was going to be the beginning of July. Shout out to Jackie from STA travel that was able to arrange everything so quickly. Ya, so I left Vietnam knowing I'd return to the area in 2 weeks. <---yes, sometimes I'm slightly crazy!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Beach Living in Cambodia

Everyone talks about the beauty of the Thai beaches but this Cambodia beach town rivals those Thai beaches.  The town of Sihanoukville is located on the Gulf of Thailand.  It was a nice reprieve from the heat and humidity.  Unfortunately, it's monsoon season, so the sun comes and go, along with the rain.

The town was quaint. It was geared towards tourists. I'm not a huge touristy person and set off for a beach about 20 minutes outside of the town. The water was the perfect temperature.  The waves and the force of the water was fierce.  Some of us frolicked and ordered some drinks to chill out.

The next day was another beach day.  I ordered breakfast and watched the waves and enjoyed the sun. Since this area is so touristy, a number of people try to sell you things.  It's also off season, so the bargains are better, right??  Haha - well, not for me!  The kids are pretty intense.  They really want to sell you bracelets. I didn't want any bracelets.  This one little girl was getting very comfortable.  She was sitting on the lounge and hugging, in an effort to sell a bracelet.  I even got a bracelet for free. Another kid came by, who had an amazing personality and I met the night before.  He called himself Beyonce. I started talking to him and the other girl got very very mad and left.

After she left another little boy approached. He took the knife off my plate and put it to his wrists.  He said he was going to kill himself.  I said no. He continued to his neck then his stomach.  Agh! Who is this kid?!  Why is this a selling tactic and who taught you this?! The icing on the cake?? He then went to grab my boob! AHHH! WHO ARE YOU!? Needless to say, I told him to move along and never come back.

The little girl came back.  She tried to sell to my friend.  I told her not to because she was cussing me out earlier.  As she walked away again, she went to swipe at my head!

It was a nice place, but the kids were out of control.  I was glad to move on and did not get the best impression of Cambodia from this area. 

The Killing Fields

I knew today was going to be a very tough day.  I didn't know much about the killing fields and the prisons.  I didn't know the reasons and how many were affected, but I knew a lot of innocent people were murdered.

Our guide was fantastic. He was passionate about the telling the stories of those that had passed. We visited S-21 (below).  It was once a high school in the heart of Phnom Penh, Cambodia.  The high school was once the place for learning and development and was abruptly changed into a torture facility.  

A holding cell for prisoners.  They were chained to the floor. 

A torture room.  The floor is brown. It was stained from the all the blood of its victims. 

Pol Pot murdered all the educated people and their families.  He didn't even want a genetic line to survive if someone within that family was an engineer, teacher or doctor.  The result of this focused execution is an uneducated country today.  No one was safe.  It was also so disturbing to find out that he brainwashed the youth of the country to become the executioners. Our guide told us a story of a female solider.  She was forced to kill. Her first kill was placed in front of her.  She had to bludgeon the person over the head.  The face was covered.  As soon as the kill was complete the cover was removed.  She had just killed her mother.

Most of the child soldiers were not held responsible for their actions.  They all claimed to be brainwashed. They live among the people today, sometimes 1 or 2 will revisit the prison to talk and his/her experiences. The only people that were prosecuted were the people at the top and even then, it's been difficult to do. 

The soldiers didn't use guns.  The guns would make too much noise.  Instead, they used to the serrated side of this plant (see below) or a metal object.  Most of the skulls recovered have a skull depression caused by the bludgeoning.  All bodies were covered with chemicals so the surrounding communities couldn't smell the dead and it wouldn't raise suspicions. 

Used as a killing tool. 

Skulls placed in a monument to the dead.

Pol Pot killed everyone. He even killed foreign diplomats and babies. The terror didn't come to a close until the Vietnamese liberated Cambodia.  The Vietnamese ruled Cambodia for 10 years after liberation. There was no currency, no calendars.  People didn't know if family were dead or alive.  My guide was a product on forced marriage and he doesn't even know exactly how old he is today.  He picked his birthday.  He only knows he was born in the winter months. 

While I was visiting S-21, I was fortunate enough to meet 2 of the 7 survivors.  One was a mechanic and the other was an artist. They have no finger prints and are practically deaf due to electric shock to the ears.  I seriously don't know how they can return to such a horrible place. 

The surviving artist

The surviving mechanic

The Cambodian people have come a long way.  Within the last couple of years, the country has gotten paved roads and air con in the buses.  Even with such a recent tragedy, the people are always smiling. I really appreciated my time learning about their past and really trying to educate myself on things that happen outside the US bubble.  

Saturday, August 4, 2012

same same but different

Sorry for the delay. I had some last minute travel adventures that will eventually surface on this blog...

Cambodian highlights... Angkor Wat or was it Angkor What?!

Angkor Wat is an engineering marvel. I really have to say that I went into Cambodia ignorant.  I didn't know a lot about the culture or the history.  It's history is extremely rich and, at one point, it was the biggest empire in the world before the Industrial revolution.  The Khmer empire was amazing and Angkor Wat is a testament to it's glory.  The marvel that is Angkor Wat and one of the largest temples in the world. It is built on sand....that's right sand! For those that know, sand expands and contracts with water.  Cambodia has 2 main seasons, monsoon (or rainy) and dry (very very dry). It's amazing that it was able to be used as the foundation of such a large structure.  To compensate for the expansion and contraction of the sand, the Khmer engineers utilized a moat. The moat circumference is about 5k. The moat keeps the sand with a constant amount of moisture and the structure won't buckle with the changing moisture.

Another interesting fact, is the king at the time was only 14 years old.  It is the Khmer belief that the structure has to be finished before the king dies or it will be bad luck.  The building will stop. This huge structure was built in 37 years. If you consider the technology at the time and the grandeur of the structure, the feat is incredible. There are comparable structures in Europe around that same time that took 200-400 years. Amazing. I'm amazed.

It's worth it to wake up early and see sunrise at Angkor Wat. I got a good spot next to the lake where you can take pictures of the Wat and its reflection in the lake. I woke up at 4am.  We were at the gates by 5am. The sunrise was around 6am. It was worth it.  It seemed like a small city.  It was so vast and everything was so intricate.  Our guide was soft spoken and unfortunately for him, it was hot and it was early.   The carving was amazing and it was once all painted in gold.

It would have been amazing to be here when it was first constructed and to see the light hit the gold painted on the walls.  We had to wait until 7:30am to actually go to the temple, so we took some pictures and had some fun.

(Just a note: wear a t-shirt - a scarf covering your shoulders won't cover it)

Angkor Wat was definitely the highlight of the day.  Later we visited a number of other temples, including one that was used to film Laura Croft TombRaider.  The day ended as early as it began.  It was so hot we didn't do much after all the touring in the morning and tomorrow we were off to the capital of Cambodia. 

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Coconut Shake

The fresh fruit juices and shakes of SE Asia are so refreshing and so very tasty.

I happened upon a stall in Vietnam that was making a coconut shake (ordered by Jenny) and learned how to recreate the deliciousness.

1 young coconut (important for it to be a young coconut versus a brown older coconut - the meat isn't as soft)
Condensed milk


1. Create opening to drain the coconut water into cup to be used later
2. Place 2 cups ice into a blender
3. Place 1 cup coconut water into blender
4. Open the coconut (use a sharp knife or wrap the coconut in a bag and hit with a weight)
5. Scrap the coconut meat into the blender
6. Add 3-4 tablespoons of condensed milk
7. Add 1-2 tablespoons of sugar
8. Blend

ENJOY!! (for a kick, add some rum)

Hello Cambodia!

The journey from Thailand to Cambodia started early. We took a bus to a gas station.  At the gas station a number of the travelers I was with applied for their Cambodia Visa.  I kind of wish I had done this at the border, too.  I purchased an E-Visa.  It was $25 online through the Cambodia website and only took 3-4 days to get the appropriate print out to stick in my passport.  However, it doesn't LOOK awesome. The normal Visa they will place in your passport and it looks all official and has all the nice stamps on it. It is also permanent.  Mine is just stapled into the passport. Boo.

Welcome to Cambodia!

We crossed the border on foot.  There is a market on the Thai side where people sell used clothing. The Cambodian side; however, has a huge CASINO!  Woo for gambling.  We also saw these baskets piled higher than the building being pushing through the border by 10 men.  It was quite a site, and something that a picture really can't capture. After going through border patrol, we hopped on a bus and to Siem Reap we traveled.

It's truly amazing what they can fit on things!

For lunch, I had my first taste of Cambodian delight.  It was a fish amok and it was delicious.  It was just too bad that it was soooo hot and humid and I was eating something soooo hot. Delicious but I think I could have also gone for an ice cream.  We arrived in Siem Reap.  It was really interesting seeing the dirt roads in the city...after all, it was a city and one of the largest in Cambodia. The accommodation were much nicer than I was expecting.  Shortly after arriving, I definitely needed a shower. Oh how I love you shower.

Fish Amok Mmmm

That night we headed to an organization that raises money to send kids to school. It costs $0.75 a day to send a kid to school.  It's a lot for parents in the area so a lot of children sell postcards or other nick knacks on the side of the road instead.  We got a tour of the rice patties and surrounding area.  The cutest kids joined us for the tour.  They were also such hams, posing for pictures and just being plain cute. The lady that ran the organization treated us to a traditional Cambodian style meal.  It was so delicious. I could have licked the plates. I really really wanted to lick the plates.  We then got about an hour to talk to the children.  It was the best.  Their English was so good and I was very impressed. I wanted to stay longer and talk to the kids but we had to head back because the next day we were going to be up at 4am to see the sunrise over Angkor Wat.

Cutest kids in the rice fields

But!! Before that, Jenny, Laura, Anne and I decided to get a food massage :) The heat and humidity and travel really did a number on our feet.  My feet were pretty swollen and it was nice to get a good foot massage in the comfort of my own room with some really wonderful people.  We also knew that the next day was going to be extremely long and wanted to "prepare" ourselves :)  The foot massages were awesome and the hotel was so awesome for scheduling last, 1 hr was only $6!! Man! Can't beat that! Can I have a massage twice a day please?!

Laura (left) and Jenny (right) getting amazing foot massages!