Thursday, February 26, 2009

Mmmm, Nature

Today was great. I started the day with mulberry wheat pancakes from a restaurant that is owned by a local organic farm and then met up with a group and went caving then tubing down the Nam Song river. The river is surrounded by huge rocky bluffs that are absolutely breathtaking. The first portion of the tubing is where all of the "frat bars" are which all have zip line rope swings (which look super fun, but the boyfriend of a girl I was with dislocated his shoulder on one yesterday so I opted out) and swarms of drunks, but after we passed those by I was completely at peace in a truly stunning setting. Can't complain at all about letting a light current float you down a river on a hot day. Ended the day with a chocolate and banana pancake crepe from a street vendor and am plumb tuckered out. I've decided to stay here for another day as sitting beside the river tomorrow with a book sounds like an excellent idea. And, the sunset today makes me yearn for another tomorrow. Fratville conquered, I guess (look how open minded I am ;)).

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Yay for Laos! I arrived here on Tuesday via a somewhat shady flight on Lao Airlines and landed in perhaps the most basic airport I have ever seen. The "security" dude was reading a magazine and didn't look at the screen while my bag went down the security conveyor belt at all. Rad. So, everyone says that Laotians are super chilled out and now I get it. Relative to Cambodia, this place is a dream come true - no major pollution, motorists that seem to abide by rules, sales folk that understand the phrase "no thanks"... Everyone that I have met so far has been supremely friendly. I spent about 24 hrs in the capitol of Vientine. I got to see an AMAZING sunset over the Mekong River, eat a Laotian specialty of a grilled fillet of fish that is covered in salt and seasoned with lemongrass, and ride a bike to see lots of lovely Buddhist temples. Ultimately there aren't that many sights in Vientine so I felt like it was time to leave after a solid 24 hrs of exploring. I arrived in Vang Vieng (which is about 4 hrs north) this evening. This place is a bit nuts - I have yet to see it in the daytime, but the main attraction is the river that runs through town that is surrounded by limestone bluffs. The reason it's nuts is because the town has turned into a haven for backpackers and pretty much everything here caters to that culture. "Chill out" bars that show reruns of Friends, The Simpsons, etc. "Happy shakes" laced with drugs, and tons of cheap accommodation. Anyway, the scene here is pretty much my version of hell with hundreds of drunk 21 yrs olds wandering around drinking cocktails from buckets etc. Like one gigantic frat party! Ha, look how old and jaded I am :). That aside, I'm looking forward to my day on the river tomorrow. Going kayaking and tubing through some caves. Considering a rock climbing tour too if I can deal with fratville for another night. It really is bizarre to think I'm in Laos while in this uber-backpacker town.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Siem Reap, Cambodia (Gateway to Angkor Wat)

I've spent the last few days in Siem Reap which is the town that is the leaping off point for visiting the Angkor Wat temples. It was a joy to leave Phenom Phen to bus through the lovely and mellow Cambodian countryside. Passed by lots of corn fields, coconut trees, emaciated cows, happy Cambodian children, etc. Siem Reap is about 6 hours away on the bus, and somehow I ended up on a bus for locals instead tourists and got to chat with my seatmate who is a native Cambodian who works at a 5-star hotel in Siem Reap. He definitely shared some fascinating insights in the Cambodian culture, way of life etc. So far the people here seem to be incredibly friendly and upbeat in spite of their often difficult situations. Life is certainly tough here for residents. It took me virtually the full 6 hours on the bus to read and understand the political history section of my Lonely Planet book. The politics of this country are crazy, with some leaders who claim they favor democracy when they really have commuist ideologies and are insanely corrupt. I can't even begin to summarize what I read, but all I can say is that this country has been through a lot and I hope that democracy can truly come to this country for good.

Anyway, Siem Reap still has the Cambodian flavor of motorcycles and tuk-tuks aplenty, street vendors, etc., but the city really caters to tourism. You have no trouble finding a cappuccino or french fries here (though I haven't seen a McDonalds which makes me happy!). Since it's so hot here, I decided to suck it up and pay $25 / night for an awesome guesthouse with a pool. The place is called the Golden Banana and the hotel is a little slice of paradise in my opinion. Super nice staff, lovely bungalows, foliage, etc. I visited the Angkor Wat ruins by bicycle yesterday, which was awesome and definitely an adventure! It takes a lot of guts to brave the roads here (even just to cross the street on foot)! Today I hired a tour guide and did the "big circuit" of temples via tuk-tuk. The history is fascinating and the temples are all so intricately carved that it's mind-blowing. I opted to go for sunrise this morning and was at the site from about 5:30 am-noon, which was a nice way to sort-of avoid the hordes of tourists.

Anyway, I'm off to see some local dance shortly and to check one more local cuisine off my list (I've tried a little bit of everything food wise so far and it's really similar to Thai / Chinese food). I fly to Vientienne in Laos tomorrow!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Phenom Phen - Street Signs...???

Ok, this post is a question that goes out to anyone that's ever been to this city. Where in the world are the street signs? I'm not sure if they forgot to give me my decoder glasses along with my tourist visa, but I seriously have no clue if the streets are labeled in some way and I just haven't been able to figure it out...? Obviously, this lack of street signage is awesome for a person like me who has zero sense of direction to begin with! Jenn and I were actually talking about how the GPS software for Cambodia is rated poorly, and, well, now I can understand why!

On another note, I just had a rad coffee with sweetened consensed milk. I think I stumbled into the restaurant in a mall where the rich Camboidans hang out (yes, they exist). The experience was comical.

Day 1 - Phenom Phen

So, wow, today and yesterday (which have definitely blurred together for me) have been a whirlwind. I guess while I endured the 17 hour flight it didn't seem to be going at whirlwind speed, but overall it wasn't too bad. Lots of hollering babies and some crazy turbulence, but fortunately my ear plugs and serious fatigue served me well and I slept for most of the flight. I have to say that China Airlines was pretty decent, aside from bad food (to be expected) and poor movie screen set-ups. Anyway, it's currently 7 pm in Phenom Phen and I arrived at 10 am this morning. I was obviously in no mood to be seated any longer, so I immediately found some lodging and started trekking about this crazy city. Yes, crazy it is. I had been told about the poverty and lawlessness, but I guess it's a whole different thing to experience it for yourself. Tons of homeless children missing eyes, arms, feet, begging for money. Motorcycles zipping down the streets with no apparent pattern. Solicitors aplenty. Exhaust that makes your eyes burn. And, by golly, it's hot here! Like, sweat through your clothes in 20 min hot. Anyway, I can't say that I've fallen in love with Phenom Phen, but I am happy to be experiencing it. It's a trip to be in the real "3rd world" if you will, replete with all of the things that come along with an economy that still hasn't gotten the hang of western ways and suffers from major governmental corruption. Now that it's nighttime, the city has taken on more of an unimposing feeling in my opinion. Families are out playing badminton since it's a bit cooler, the moto salesmen seem to be a little less aggressive, or maybe it's just cause I had a few $1 beers at an awesome happy hour spot on the river. So, what other awesome things did I get to do today, you may be wondering? Well, I got a half kilo of delicious lychees from a street vendor, I got a $6 hour long massage, and I got to see legions of Cambodians do an aerobics routine in front of the city's opulent royal palace. So, yeah, the adventure has begun! I'm beelining out of Phenom Phen tomorrow and am headed to Siem Reap which is where Angkor Watt is. I've really been affected by the in-your-face poverty here, and will be back in Phenom Phen for my return flight and will perhaps be able able to better handle the realities of life here then....

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Is this thing on?

Alright, here goes. The beginning of my first blog ever. For good reason I suppose. To document my experiences on this trip to Asia. My escape to a world of adventure and to avoid hearing more day-to-day grim news about the recession. Hold onto yer' hats I say, and get ready for a mind-blowing insight into my world. Ha ha, riiiight. Well, welcome to my blog. Blog.