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Month: October 2016

Cambodia Recap

Cambodia Recap

On a whim we decided to buy a cheap flight over to Cambodia with one goal in mind…to check out the famed Angkor Wat. We spent some time exploring temples, discovering undeveloped beaches and learning about the horrifying past of Cambodia. Our time was mixed with extremely beautiful places, constant reminders of poverty, lessons about humanity, and we feel that we have left Cambodia with a new perspective. Out of all of the places we have been so far on this trip it was the most raw.

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Cities Visited

Siem Reap, Phnom Pehn, Otres Beach (outside of Sihanoukville)

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 Things We Liked

Angkor Wat, cheap beer ($0.50-$1), friendly people, nice beaches, no currency conversions (they use USD mainly), ease of travel, and very little language barrier

Things We Disliked

Tourists everywhere, bus rides (no road rules whatsoever and so many Cambodian karaoke videos), incessant selling of goods/services, lack of Khmer food scene (so much western food), and trash everywhere.

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Highlights

1. Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat is a collection of ancient temples outside of Siem Reap and exploring here was exactly why we chose to make the trip to Cambodia. We spent a full day exploring the ancient temples and they never got old (even as we were dodging rain/mud for most of the morning). It was an absolute highlight of our trip so far! We will post more on Angkor Wat in a future post (and more pictures since we have SO many).

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2. Otres Beach  

After our 10 hour *slightly terrifying* bus ride down to the coast from Siem Reap, we were really hoping that it was worth it. Otres Beach (Otres 2 to be exact) was exactly what we were looking for. We arrived at our beach bungalow in complete darkness to dirt roads, a highly undeveloped area, and a lot of mosquitoes. The next morning when we woke up we were totally surprised to find our beach paradise! Although it was rainy season and we experienced our fair share of rain and clouds, we enjoyed some rest and relaxation on the beach. It was refreshing to be in an area where there is absolutely nothing to do but to kick off your shoes and relax for a while. We have heard that Cambodian beaches are what Thai beaches were 20 years ago before development and resorts were everywhere.dsc_0972-1

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Hardest Experiences

1. Killing Fields/Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

During the late 1970s, Cambodia experienced one of the worst genocides to have ever happened at the hands of their government at the time, the Khmer Rouge, led by Pol Pot. It is thought that between 1.5 and 3 million people (roughly 25% of the population in Cambodia) lost their lives for no reason at all the short span of 3 years, 8 months, and 20 days.We spent the day visiting Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, the site of a former high school turned into one of the most notorious prisons (S-21), and at one of the most well known killing fields at Choeung Ek, best known as simply The Killing Fields. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATo read more about the Cambodian Genocide click here or to read more about the places we visited click here. I honestly can’t write a post about our day spent at these places. Many other people have and they are a touching tribute to these places, but I don’t have the words to do it justice.

While we were grateful to learn about Cambodia’s past, we were equally horrified by what happened here and to see what humanity can do to one another. At the end of the audio tour at The Killing Fields the narrator said these words that won’t ever leave me:

“This was hardly the first case of genocide. We never thought it could happen here. But it did. And the thing is, it can happen anywhere…Tragically, it will probably happen again. So for your sake, remember us – and remember our past as you look to your future.”

2. Poverty

Processed with Snapseed.In our travels there have been many places that have evident poverty on this trip, but Cambodia’s poverty was the most palpable so far. It was a reminder about how incredibly fortunate we are. As we traveled 10 hours by bus down to the south of Cambodia, we were able look out the window and see a snapshot of life for many in this country. The scenery we passed along the way varied from basic houses to dilapidated shacks. This bus ride and our week here as a whole was eye opening and made us think about our lives differently. Why do I have so much when others have so little?

The hardest part of this is that this poverty exists all over the world, even in our own backyard. Cambodia is not even the poorest country in the world, not even close. It isn’t even the poorest country I have been to, but it still made us feel pretty shitty that we are fortunate enough to be traveling the world when some people haven’t even made it to the beach on the other side of Cambodia.

Tuk-Tuk Drivers

Our entire time in Cambodia we were asked if we wanted to buy a t-shirt, pants, bracelets, massages, pedicures….this happened as we are eating dinner in restaurants, seeing the iconic temples of Angkor Wat, or relaxing on the beach. Nowhere was exempt from touts. It wore us down.“Tuk-tuk for you? Where are you going? Maybe later? Maybe tomorrow?” We walk 5 more steps and get the same thing. Again. And Again. As much as we wanted to be annoyed we also tried to keep in mind that all of these people are just trying to make a living. Unfortunately, they have found that pestering tourists is the way to go about this. They even sell t-shirts that say “No tuk-tuk today” which is pretty amusing until someone tries to sell you that shirt over and over. Its a vicious cycle.dsc_0689We did hire a few tuk-tuk drivers while in Cambodia and this gave us the opportunity to not only get to where we wanted to go, but to also to learn from them about their lives in Cambodia. Life can be difficult in Cambodia and most people are working long hours just to get by with enough to feed their families and/or send their kids to school. It was humbling to learn about and we are thankful for our interactions with the people we did. These are some of my favorite moments from the entire trip. Special thanks to Sok and Nara for making our time getting around Cambodia so special!

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The Stats

Total Number of Nights: 8

Languages: Khmer

Currency: $1 USD = 4,000 Riel (KHR) = $1 USD (US dollars are the main form of currency we used here, although since there are no coins they use Riels for anything under $1. It was weird to go to an ATM and get USD back. Also, so nice not to have to convert currencies in our heads at restaurants!)

Number of Miles Traveled:  720 miles (including our flight from Thailand)

Number of Miles Walked:  38.4 miles (average of 4.8 miles per day)

Steps Taken:  82,613 steps (average of about 10,300 per day)

Transportation Used: tuk-tuk, bus, mini-bus

Type of Accommodations: Hotel (2), bungalow (1)

Number of Beds: 3

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Thailand Recap

Thailand Recap

Thailand was a place we couldn’t wait to visit and was on the list from day 1. We have heard from so many friends about the beautiful beaches, friendly people, great food, and laid back vibe (also, I had a quick visit here a few years back and loved every minute). After our difficulties in China we knew it was just what we needed. We flew into Chiang Mai planning to spend a few days there before taking the overnight train to Bangkok and eventually ending with some beach time on the islands in the south. Instead, we spent 12 nights in Chiang Mai before we flew to Cambodia. We felt as if we needed a more dramatic change of scenery…we were ready to experience a country totally opposite of the modern (and huge) cities we have seen and that we love so much, especially since we are heading to Japan and South Korea in a few weeks.

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Wat Phra Singh

Chiang Mai was the smallest city we have been to so far. It was refreshing not to be in a huge city with millions of people. We ate delicious Thai food, a bit of western food, spoiled ourselves with cheap massages, and decided we liked it in Chiang Mai. We stayed 12 nights and enjoyed relaxing in our beautiful Airbnb apartment. After a few days we considered moving elsewhere to explore more of northern Thailand, but we didn’t.We were tired coming from China and Chiang Mai was a place for us to recharge. We are making a deliberate effort to not change locations every couple of days when possible…you get to experience places more fully if you stick around for a while. Our vacations in the future will consist of moving every few days trying to see everything. This trip is different. We aren’t going to see everything and that is okay. We rather experience each place fully and see far fewer places than burn out because we were moving too fast!

After our week plus in Cambodia we headed to Bangkok, Thailand for 3 nights. Our thoughts on Cambodia will be shared in a recap as well (coming soon). We loved Bangkok and feel like we barely scratched the surface. As soon as we started to grasp what the city was like and how to get around it was time to leave for Japan. We cannot wait to make it back there in a few months to see more of the city!

Cities Visited

Chiang Mai, Bangkok

Things We Liked

Food, an abundance of beautiful temples, khao soi (northern Thai noodle dish), $4 massages, laid back vibe, elephants, cheap everything, Bangkok, and comforts of home were not hard to find (craft beer, excellent burgers…)

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Khao soi
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Wat Chedi Luang – not taken with a selfie stick (that would be embarrassing)

Things We Disliked

A lot of tourists/backpackers, lack of sidewalks/crosswalks, Bangkok traffic, bad coffee, and Bangkok taxi drivers (nobody seemed to want to take us anywhere, especially not with the meter)

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Highlights

1. Elephant Nature Park

img_4377Interacting with elephants is high on most people’s to-do lists when in Thailand. Who doesn’t love elephants? Any amount of research about elephants in Thailand will lead you to information about the abuse of elephants in southeast Asia. The last thing I wanted to do was to contribute to this abuse so I was content to not interact with elephants. Thanks to some friends’ recommendations and some serious Tripadvisor research we decided to go to Elephant Nature Park outside of Chiang Mai.

The park was founded in 1990’s and has since rescued a lot of elephants from a life of abuse at riding camps, performing shows, and illegal logging. Many of the elephants here have disabilities and/or are very old. All of the proceeds they use to care for the existing elephants at the park and to rescue, or buy, more elephants from situations of abuse. We chose to spend our day at a nearby park that used to make money by offering elephant rides before partnering with Elephant Nature Park. Now the elephants get spoiled with bananas, watermelons, long walks, and mud baths – they seem so happy! The elephants are free to roam all day (and really could run away if they would like but why would you give up a good gig?). It was awesome to learn about each of the elephants’ stories and learn about the way elephants interact, as they are very intelligent and very social. We feel privileged we could learn so much about them and had the best day here!

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2. Thai Cooking Class

We both love cooking and have missed getting our hands dirty in the kitchen on this trip. We have yet to have a kitchen at any of the places we have stayed so we eat out every meal. Our day started with a trip to the market to get ingredients and then a day full of preparing/cooking so much food! On the menu for the day was:

  • Khao soi – the most famous dish in Chiang Mai
  • Papaya salad
  • Tom-yum soup (a favorite of mine)
  • Stir-fried chicken cashew nut — there was so much fire when cooking this
  • Mango sticky rice

I am sure making these dishes (and finding all the ingredients) in our normal life will be a lot more difficult than it was in class, but we felt like professionals and that we could easily do this at home! We enjoyed everything we ate and cannot wait to cook up some Thai food upon our return back home. (Side note: If you are ever in Chiang Mai and want to learn to cook…go to Nimman Cooking School! It was awesome.)

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Where is the Spice?

It is no secret that we love spicy food. We were very much looking forward to getting our hands on some spicy food in Thailand. We dreamed of the level of spiciness that makes your nose run uncontrollably and eyes water.

Every single time we ordered we would emphasize that we love spicy food and to make it really hot, but every time we were sorely disappointed. It seems as if enough foreigners have complained about their food being too spicy that they tone it down as soon as they see you regardless of what you say you can handle. Some things had a bit of spice to it, but no more than a mild at any Thai restaurant in the USA. Maybe we were doing it wrong. We can’t be entirely sure, but next time in Thailand we will find a way to make it happen.

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The Stats

Total Number of Nights: 13

Languages: Thai

Currency: $1 USD = 34.9 Thai Baht (THB)

Number of Miles Traveled:  1,250 miles (including our flight from China)

Number of Miles Walked:  99.4 miles (average of 7.6 miles per day)

Steps Taken:  213,685 steps (average of about 16,437 per day)

Transportation Used: tuk-tuk, songathaew (shared taxi), taxi

Type of Accommodations: Apartment (1), hostel (1)

Number of Beds: 2

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Scott floating down the river dodging the crocs (we randomly went river rafting for 30 minutes after our day with the elephants)
China Recap

China Recap

My first visit to China was 6 years ago with my parents. It was the first place I had ever traveled to outside of the USA/Canada (well, besides an all-inclusive resort in Mexico) and upon my arrival in Beijing I was excited, overwhelmed and completely terrified that I had signed up to spend a few months there. China taught me so many lessons about myself and the world around me, but most importantly it taught me what a small part of the world I live in.

“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” – Gustave Flaubert

My parents and I on the Great Wall of China
My parents and I on the Great Wall of China – 2010

After my visit to China, I was hooked on traveling. My dreams shifted and I had a desire to explore as many places I could and to understand cultures unfamiliar and different to my own. As the years went on and a big RTW trip evolved into a real plan, China was immediately on the list. Before leaving the US we submitted our Chinese visa paperwork and passports to a questionable office in Aurora, Colorado (due to a lack of Chinese consulates remotely close to Denver), gave them  our money, and hoped for the best. A few weeks later we had passports and Chinese visas in hand…we were ready to take on China!

China did not go as planned for us. We experienced incredible highs and the lowest of lows. We were constantly challenged as we traveled here. I am so glad we made it to China on this trip, but I was equally as excited to leave. Scott on the other hand doesn’t share this sentiment…he feels as if we barely scratched the surface and that there is so much more to see. Maybe he will write about his thoughts and feelings, but for now here is our recap!dsc_0125

Cities Visited

Shanghai, Beijing

Things We Liked

The Great Wall, the Shanghai skyline, dumplings, Shanghai vs. Beijing soccer game (or football, whatever you want to call it), Forbidden City, and seeing friends/family.

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Things We Disliked

Dirtiness, constant littering, language barrier, lack of Google, weird pool rules (required swim caps), pollution, cultural differences (no personal space, people cutting in line, not helpful…), and slow internet. In general, everything seemed to be difficult for us in China and we were often frustrated.

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Lost in the Crowd at the Forbidden City

Tastes So…Numb

We had Sichuan food a few times while in China. This type of cooking often uses Sichuan peppercorn, sometimes called Chinese coriander. They are a bit spicy, very flavorful, but most of all….they make your tongue numb! The tongue tingling was strange and a bit unpleasant to us at times.

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Highlights

1. The Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China is worth a trip to China. We were on a mission to avoid the hoards of tourists you see pictures of on the Great Wall so we hired a driver to take us to a wild section of the wall, Huanghuacheng. We were picked up at 6:30 am and by 8 we were hiking the Great Wall. This portion of the wall is not fully restored and parts of it are crumbling which made for a slow hike (with a bit of scrambling). It was an incredible day that we will never forget. We will write a whole post on The Great Wall and our experience there (coming soon)!
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2. Shanghai by Night with My Dad

One of the highlights of our trip was seeing my Dad in Shanghai for one evening. I wrote more on his quick departure in the lowlights section. We met up with my Dad after he was done with work for the day and went to dinner at a nice place nearby our hotel. We drank fresh brewed IPAs (my Dad was not super impressed, but for us it was magical), ate a bunch of food, and caught up. It was while we were at dinner we realized this might be the only night we all have together in Shanghai. In order to make the most of the time we had, we hopped in a taxi headed to the rooftop bar at the Hyatt, Vue Bar, that overlooks the Shanghai skyline and the Bund. The views were AMAZING and it was an incredible experience to be there with my Dad.

The rest of the evening took us to Xiantandi and across the street from our hotel to have a few more beers and catch up as much as possible. We stayed up way too late and you could not wipe the smile off my face!

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3. Our 1st Wedding Anniversary

It does not feel like a year since our wedding already. The past year went by so fast! On the morning of our one year anniversary we woke up on the overnight sleeper train and had just arrived in Beijing! Although the train was more comfortable than we expected, we knew we wanted to spoil ourselves for the two nights o to celebrate our first wedding anniversary! We checked into the Renaissance Bejing Wangfujing Hotel and never wanted to leave! We even busted out our nicest of clothes (look out) and on the night of our anniversary we had the concierge make us a reservation at Duck de Chine where we wined and dined on the Beijing specialty, peking duck. It was a fabulous evening and we can’t wait for what year 2 of being married has in store for us!

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Lowlights

1. My Dad’s Early Departure from Shanghai

My Dad was able to work out his schedule so that we was able to be in Shanghai for a business trip at the same time we were planning on going to China. We would have 9 glorious days together in China! After a few weeks on the road by ourselves, we were very much looking forward to seeing a familiar face. As my Dad was on the long flight from the USA, my Mom was hospitalized with acute renal failure (among other things). At the time of hospitalization it was not immediately clear what was going on or how sick she was. Upon landing in China my Dad learned this news. My Mom was alone in Cleveland…and pretty much everyone they know in Cleveland was out of town for labor day weekend (and all of our family lives in Texas). We all wished we could be with my Mom at that moment and it was completely heartbreaking that we were all halfway across the world. Scott and I arrived in China Monday afternoon, spent one evening with my Dad, and sent him to be home with my sick momma Tuesday morning.

I am so happy he left to be with her. It was 100% what needed to happen. It hurt my heart that I could not be there with her. It also was really crappy that hanging out with my Dad did not happen as we planned it. I know my Mom was hurt that she “ruined everyone’s good time,” which made me sad. We could barely drag ourselves out of bed the morning my Dad left and we pouted for a full day. It was the lowest moment of our entire trip.

Thankfully, my Mom was released from the hospital several (long) days later and my Dad was there to hold her hand through it. She absolutely needed him more than we did. Scott and I learned that things don’t always go as planned and we grew from this experience. We adapted to our new situation and ended up having a great time in Shanghai!

 2. Our First Airbnb Fail

Airbnb has been our preferred choice for accommodations. Hotels and hostels are great, but we have loved the comfort of our own apartment with a bit more space. I had used Airbnb a dozen times in previous travels and we had used it several times since starting our trip and have been pleased every single time. Our luck ran out in Beijing….

We arrived at our apartment through a questionable alley to a building we probably never would have chosen. We aren’t picky and as long as the apartment is nice enough, we can overlook a lot of things. All of the reviews for this place were great so we were confident in our choice. The real problem began after we arrived inside the apartment and realized the level of dirtiness in the apartment. We would put on shoes when walking around the apartment, the bathroom looked as if it had not been cleaned in a year, the kitchen was not a place for food, and there were bugs everywhere (dead and alive). We tried to play it off as “not that bad” and went out for dinner. When we got back to our apartment later that night we were looking into activities to do for the rest of our time in Beijing. I got bit by several bugs just sitting on the couch for 30 minutes and we decided that was the last straw.

Scott spent the next few hours talking to Airbnb requesting a refund and looking for a new place to stay. The problem was made worse by the fact that our internet was slow and unreliable. Scott was using Skype to call Airbnb support and the internet would cut out and drop the call. In normal circumstances this would not be a huge deal, but since we had no call-back number and no access to email they had no way of reaching us (The Great Firewall is amazingly good at blocking Google even with the use of a VPN). It was already very late at night so we stayed there one night and booked it out of there as quick as we could the next morning!

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We would have chosen sleeping on the overnight train over this Airbnb any night…

The Stats

Total Number of Nights: 13

Languages: Chinese

Currency: $1 USD = 6.68 Chinese Yuan Renminbi (CNY)

Number of Miles Traveled: 1,283 miles (including our flight from Taiwan)

Number of Miles Walked: 113.4 miles (average of 8.7 miles per day)

Steps Taken: 243,934 steps (average of about 18,764 per day)

Transportation Used: train (high speed overnight train), plane, metro/subway, Uber, and taxi

Type of Accommodations: Apartment (2), hotel (3)

Number of Beds: 5

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