This post is out of order and only has one theme: Scott taking photos around the world. While he photographed some of the world’s prettiest places, I had to practice being patient while I waited for him and in the process I took a ridiculous amount of photos of Scott taking photos. Also, if you haven’t noticed in some of the other posts his photos are REALLY good. Without further commentary, here are my favorites of Scott taking pictures in cool places. You may need to give this post a minute to load!
Occasionally plans are made, wheels are set in motion and plane tickets are purchased that later make you stop and wonder ‘what the hell were we thinking?’. Granted, this doesn’t happen very often, but we’ve certainly come to realize the tendency to overestimate our travel stamina is very real.
A few weeks of bouncing through English speaking countries, complete with all of the accoutrements of life back home, left us feeling refreshed and a bit overly confident. India was our next big destination and everything we’d heard made it sound like New Delhi would stand as a significant contrast to the winding mountain roads of New Zealand and the laid-back vibe of Australia.
Maybe it was the cheap New Zealand wine or the fresh mountain air but somewhere along the side of the road in Queenstown we figured that the best plan of attack for India was to arrive on the heels of a twelve hour layover in Malaysia and a redeye flight. These plans must have been forgotten shortly after they were made because Shelby seemed just as surprised as I was when we pulled up the itinerary on our second to last day in Melbourne
Me: ‘Oh shit, did you remember that we’ve got a redeye flight and a 12 hour layover in Kuala Lumpur?’
I suppose ‘buy the ticket, take the ride’ holds true regardless of whether or not you remember buying the ticket.
Overnight flights always sound great in theory. The rationalization usually goes something like this: “It’s the cheapest flight and we’ll save money on a nights accommodations. On top of that, we’ll sleep the entire flight and wake up ready to go. We’re brilliant!”
And like most plans that sound great in theory, reality has a peculiar habit of getting in the way: “Wow! Look at all of these onboard movies! Free booze?! Don’t mind if I do – I’ll have seven please. Hmm, I should really get some sleep instead of watching a third movie.” Finally, follow seven glasses of cheap red wine with an acrobatic effort that would make a professional contortionist take notice in an attempt to find the minimum level of sleep inducing comfort.
Reality’s grasp was as tight as ever on this flight. Throw in a mild bout of Burger King induced food poisoning for Shelby and we stumbled in the Kuala Lumpur airport looking like we might have arrived on camelback.
Fortunately for us, the war against fatigue and stomach pain in Malaysia is best waged with a healthy dose of Nasi Lamak and Roti. Served up at street stalls along the outskirts of the highly developed metropolis people typically associate with Kuala Lumpur, these local dishes are a sure fire way to jump start the body. And, in a testament to how far we’ve come as travelers, two cups of absurdly bitter Malaysian coffee was all it took to get us out of the airport terminal and onto the express train to Kuala Lumpur’s street food mecca of Kampung Baru.
Kampung Baru is a hold out neighborhood – a reminant of the past that’s turned a cold shoulder on the land hungry developers eager to sell studio apartments by the dozen. The people of this small enclave seem to have fought hard to retain their culture against the backdrop of ‘modern progress’ and if a vibrant street food scene is any indication then they’re fighting a winning battle.
A four minute walk from the Kampung Baru KLI station and we found ourselves chasing down the smell of sizzling meat and simmering curries. First on our menu for the day was Nasi Lamak. Nasi, as we first discovered in Indonesia, roughly translates to mixed rice. With Nasi Lamak the rice is cooked in coconut milk and served on a banana leaf with a variety of toppings that you choose by pointing to various heaps of meat and pots of boiling stews. For our personalized rendition of the dish we choose a mixture of chicken rendang, dried anchovies, and sambal topped with a few slices of fresh tomato and cucumber. Smiles were beginning to break through the fatigue.
Next up on the breakfast menu was Roti Canai which is a flat bread, cooked on the spot and mixed with a variety fresh veggies or meat. This dish also comes with a side of traditional curries for dipping. We choose two Roti Canai’s – one with onion and cheese and another with peppers, onions and egg. A strong start considering it was only 9:00 AM.
We spent the better part of the next hour wandering through the surrounding tents and street stalls, sampling small bites and taking in the sites and smells of a street that still clings to Malaysian village life of the early 1900’s.
A short one stop metro ride is all it takes to find yourself in a downtown that feels as though it should be much further removed from the tranquil, tree lined streets of Kampung Baru. Now filled with suit donning businessmen (and ladies), Kuala Lumpur’s main streets have been transformed over the last 150 years from small village to modern, bustling city. Our second stop for the day was one of the cities most defining features – the Petronas Towers.
The Petronas Towers were completed in 1996 and, for a short period of time, stood as the two tallest buildings in the world. At this point in our travels we’d laid eyes on two of the former tallest buildings in the world (Shanghai Tower and Taipei 101) so it seemed fitting that we cross another one of these superstructures off the list. Unfortunately, like most of these impressive buildings, the cost of an elevator ride to the top is the equivalent of two nice meals, so we decided that a tour of the lobby would have to suffice.
While impressive from the outside, the lobby of the Petronas Towers proved to be somewhat of a disappointment and we were quickly on our way toward Merdeka Square and Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown.
The buildings of Merdeka Square were originally constructed in the 1880’s by the British and were used as government offices during their occupation. In 1957, when Malaysia declared independence from the British, the square saw the Malaysian flag hoisted for the first time. At the square we read a bit about the history of Malaysian independence, I took a few quick photos of the surrounding skyline and Shelby did an on camera interview for a few Malaysian college kids before we retreated to the shaded city streets leading to Chinatown.
Malaysian cuisine seems to barrow heavily from both the Indian and Chinese influences. We’d experienced some of the Indian influence for breakfast so our goal in Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown was to seek out a few dishes rumored to be modern Malay classics with strong Chinese roots.
A few Malaysian food blogs pointed us toward Kim Lian Kee as the spot for two of these dishes – Claypot Loh Shu Fun and Hokkien Mee. Kim Lian Kee is perched on the second floor of an old building above a sea of fake Rolex and Gucci handbag vendors . The restaurant itself and the cast of characters in the dinning room seemed to resonate with a unique mix of grunge and age that led us to believe we’d just found a hidden gem. Unfortunately, killer ambiance doesn’t always translate to stellar food.
Malaysian Black Hokkien Mee is a noodle dish with thick long noodles and seafood in a dark gelatinous sauce. Claypot Loh Shu Fun is served in a similar sauce but with shorter rolled noodles known as rat tail noodles and a raw egg cracked on top. On the surface, both of these dishes look like you’re in for a kick to the face of flavor – an umami explosion. But, to our surprise, these two dishes were surprisingly bland. A healthy dose of soy sauce and Chinese hot sauces came to the rescue and added a bit of depth the mostly flavorless dish. You win some, you lose some.
With a belly full of rat tail noodles, we weaved our way back through the crowded Chinatown streets toward the metro station. Kuala Lumpur’s metro system is surprisingly effiecient and we were only one long express stop away from the airport. We were a long way out from the days finish line – another flight stood between us and the chaotic streets of New Dehli – but as we watched the city’s skyline disappear in the distance, I couldn’t help but think we’d made the right call in stopping in Kuala Lumpur.
The city of Kuala Lumpur is alive with character. We found a unique mix of culture, both new and old, a healthy dose of great food and some very friendly people. All of this and we barely scratched the surface during our twelve hour stop in Malaysia.
We drove away from our home in Denver almost 7 months ago. In these past 7 months we have visited 23 countries (and counting) in a few different parts of the world. There have been times of pure excitement and exhilaration, but also times of fear and doubt. We have learned a lot about the world and other cultures, but we have also learned the value of home. We miss our favorite brewery up the road and running into Target when we need shampoo. Here are a few of the things we miss most:
Phloyd & Leo
Oh, I miss these furry kids of ours so much. They aren’t so good at picking up the phone to let us know how things are. Jen (my sister-in-law) and Karoon (my future brother-in-law) are taking such good care of them and the Snapchats remind us of that all the time. We are so thankful for them loving our animals like their own, but damn…we miss them so much our hearts hurt! The dog and the cat also decided to become best friends since we have been gone which gives us all of the feels.
Friends & Family
This one is a give in, but it had to be acknowledged. We are used to living across the country from our families, but being across the world from them and in completely different time zones has been really hard. We missed Thanksgiving and Christmas — we never spend these holidays without our families and I am not sure if we will ever choose to be away for the holidays ever again. We have also missed birthdays, celebrations, baby showers and weddings. Facetime, text, and calls are great ways to keep in touch but it is not the same as being there for the important moments.
There is nothing like crawling into your bed and resting your head on your pillow. Everything is just the way you like it and it is one of my happy places. We have slept in beds of all shapes and sizes — some are great, some are terrible. All I know is I cannot wait to sleep in my own bed once again! Especially my pillow and the presence of a top sheet (it is the perfect layer but it has not caught on other parts in the world). To date we have slept in 63 beds.
I am not a huge coffee drinker, but I do love to make a cup of coffee from my Keurig, add some french vanilla International Delight, and go on with my morning! I don’t always drink the whole cup but there is something about having my coffee in the morning that makes me ready to face the day.
Scott on the other hand is addicted to coffee. Black, dark roasted, drip coffee if he had his way. There is coffee all over the world, but it is rarely just the way he likes it. Depending on where we are in the world there is espresso, Vietnamese coffee (always sweet), poorly made coffee, and Nescafe powdered coffee. We are always on the hunt for coffee that Scott enjoys, but sometimes I feel like we spent a portion of everyday trying to get the man some caffeine in his system! We have had some fantastic coffee, but we have also had absolutely horrrible coffee too.
Not Living Out of a Suitcase
We are tired of packing and unpacking. My bag slightly explodes when we get somewhere and there is no way around it. We miss having clothing options that are different than the usual 3 things we always wear everyday. We have purchased some new clothes along the way, but since we are living out of a carry-on size bag there are only so many options you can carry.
I have photo evidence of the whole we wear the same outfits all the time thing. The two photos were taken almost 4 months apart on different continents. We are wearing the EXACT same clothes. I will not be able to get rid of all of these items promptly upon our arrival back home.
There have been occasions we are in apartments with kitchens, hostels with shared cooking spaces, and living in a van with a mini-kitchen attached. We have done a bit of cooking, but for the most part it has been limited. If we were to buy all the things needed to cook a meal (oil, salt, spices, ingredients) we would go broke. Sometimes these kitchens lack really obvious and necessary items for cooking a meal such as a knife or a pan. It is way cheaper in most places to just eat out and you also get to eat the local cuisine, which is one of the main reasons we love to travel.
In Asia we stayed in some apartments that were equipped to cook a meal. On a few occasions we would go to get groceries and there would be meat that has been sitting out in the open (not on ice) for hours. This was a bit scary and I could not talk myself into buying and cooking this for dinner. Most likely I eat the exact same meat at a restaurant, but ignorance can be bliss. New Zealand and Australia we were able to cook a bit and visit the grocery store. They were much like the stores we are used to back home and they made us miss grocery shopping and cooking most of our meals.
I love eating salad more than most people. It is refreshing, crisp, and I rarely ever get tired of eating salad (there are so many different forms how could I ever get bored?). Asia is not a good place to eat salad. A good rule of thumb is to eat only foods that have been cooked as the heat kills any germs or bacteria. The water used to wash lettuce is generally not water I should be consuming and in most places salad has not been on the approved list of safe things to eat. I have had some unwashed vegetables and been fine, but a giant bowl of salad seems like I am just tempting fate. Fortunately this situation has improved since we have spent time in Europe and Argentina, but people just don’t understand salad as a meal. It just isn’t a thing. A serious desire to eat salad was never something I anticipated, but I cannot wait to eat all the salad I could ever dream of when we get back.
Cell Phone Service
Every country we go to we have to buy a new SIM card in order to be able to use our phones while we are out (we really like being able to look up places and use Google Maps). It is not always cheap and it is always a battle for us to use as little data as possible. We can sometimes get in-country call time or texting, but this is not always the case. When locals need to contact us for any reason we generally have a hard time. Usually calls, texts, and other communications to home are saved for when we have Wi-fi and even then we are at the mercy of an unknown wi-fi connection. Sometimes we have great internet and sometimes we can barely book our next place. There have been several instances where we need to use our cell phone numbers to receive a bank access code or password to a wi-fi…we never get these codes. In cases where we have to call a support desk in another country (or the US) we have to use Skype to call, but we need a good wi-fi connection to do this. We carry one of my old cell phones with an in country SIM card. We travel with three phones and none of them work at all times. These are all first world problems, but we miss having our phones fully functional at all times and being able to pick up the phone to make a call when we need to.
I don’t even like to drive so I never expected this to make my list. Driving a car provides you with a freedom to go anywhere you want, whenever you want — you aren’t restricted to anyone else’s plans, a bus schedule, or a specific route. We have had the opportunity to drive in South Korea, Australia and New Zealand on this trip and we have loved the freedom it gave us!
Payday is the best day. Just as the balance in your bank account starts to feel really sad and empty by the end of the month a sum of money is deposited into your bank account. It is magical! I won’t get into the sad feeling that paying bills causes shortly after payday, but we miss payday! It has been a great half a year of fun-employment, but our savings account does not think it is the greatest thing to have ever happened.
Side note: It will also be great to not have to convert how much something actually is all the time. I look forward to the day when $20 is actually $20 and not 455,000 Vietnamese Dong, 314 Argentine Pesos, or 73 Qatar Riyels.
We live in one of the premier craft beer cities in America. We miss the perfectly hopped IPAs, floral pale ales, or a session-able saison. Every country has their beer of choice, but for us Tsingtao, Saigon, Angkor, Sapporo, Chang, Singha (I could keep going…) just don’t satisfy us the way a craft beer does! We have had some craft beers on this trip in Thailand, Japan, Korea, Australia, New Zealand, and Vietnam but they are usually way more money than we can comfortably spend and it is a rare treat.
This is a big one. We have ZERO routine. Sometimes we start to make some semblance of a routine and then we continue on our way to another country, city, or apartment. As soon as we figure a place out it is time to move onto the next. It can be exhausting not to have a routine. I expect no sympathy, but it has been one of the hardest parts of this trip.
Routine was one of the things that drove my desire to go on a trip like this. The daily monotony of waking up, going to work, coming home, cooking dinner, and going to sleep felt as if it was the same story on repeat everyday. Being away from this routine has made me want that routine and monotony all the more. Don’t get me wrong — as soon as I am gainfully employed again and have a routine I am sure I will long for the freedom I have now. The grass is always greener. The thing that will be different is my perspective. This year has been such an adventure, but so is every year. Next year might not be filled with seeing the Wonders of the World, eating exotic foods, and getting our passport stamped — but I can guarantee that it will be filled with exciting adventures too (even if some of those adventures involve getting a day job).
We miss home. When we get home we will miss traveling — maybe when we return home we will have to write another post about the things we miss about traveling 🙂
We decided to head to the Middle East for a few days before heading out of Asia. It has been bittersweet leaving Asia, but I am more than ready to move on to other parts of the world. The Middle East was never on our list of possible locations, but after hearing such good things about Dubai we decided to see what we could do. We were able to get a flight that gave us an overnight/all day layover in Doha, Qatar and then three days in Dubai, UAE. This worked well for us since there are so many flights to Europe from Dubai (and we are going on a Euro-trip — which has already happened now, but at the time of writing this was an accurate statement)! As always, all of the really good pictures featured in this post were taken by Scott and the rest I must claim as my own.
Our trip through the Middle East was brief, just skimming the surface. We would have loved to make it to Oman, other parts of the UAE (United Arab Emirates), and Kuwait. Honestly, we were not entirely sure what to expect and how we would feel about this region so this time we settled for a brief introduction. I really regret that we did not spend more time exploring this region of the world. There is so much negative press about the Middle East. And yes, there are parts of the Middle East are dangerous and full of political unrest, but there are also parts that aren’t. It has been enriching to experience cultures far from what we know and we are so glad we made it to the Gulf.
The most interesting part for me was to observe a cultures so deeply rooted in Islam — this could be seen everywhere from the Islamic call to prayers blaring on the loud speakers throughout the day, shop days/hours open, and the completely different style of dress than what we are used to seeing. Islam is one of the most misunderstood religions in the world, especially for people living in the Western world. I believe that an understanding and appreciation of other cultures, beliefs, and customs only makes the world a better and stronger place. On a completely unrelated and less serious note, it was so damn hot outside! We were there in the most mild part of the year and I was melting in the desert sun (it did not help that I made sure to wear clothes that covered my knees, elbows, and shoulders most of the time). I cannot imagine how hot this region is in the summertime, nor do I want to experience the extreme heat for myself — this former Texan just cannot handle it.
As we are booking flights there was a 24 hour layover in Doha….uh, so where is that? After a bit of research we decided to go for it – it is safe, there are some cool things to see and it was a bonus location we did not have to buy a ticket to see. Doha is a really cool city full of beautiful buildings, museums, markets (souks), and really good food. Doha will be hosting the World Cup in 2022 so I am sure we will be hearing more and more about Qatar in the next few years.
We arrived at 10 am trying to see the souk before the long lunch break that occurs daily. The souk was supposed to reopen at 4, but we had to be heading to the airport around then so the morning was our one shot. We get there and everything was shut down. Apparently Friday is the worst day to explore Muslim countries as a lot of people go to pray in the morning/afternoon. All of the restaurants were open so we decided to sit on the patio, people watch, eat (so much hummus!), and do as the locals do and smoke some shisha (hookah – it is tobacco, not drugs). A few shops opened up by the time we were leaving so we were able to pick up a magnet, our one souvenir that we buy from every place we go. Although the souk was less lively than usual we still really enjoyed our time here.
The Museum of Islamic Art
We showed up at the Museum of Islamic Art not having any clue what to expect. I had seen it on every list of things to do in Doha so we figured why not. The museum building was designed by I.M. Pei and it is incredibly beautiful (inside and out) – if the entire museum would have just been this building I would have been happy just standing there looking at it. Lucky for us though there was a lot of art, tiles, bowls, rugs, and so many different items to be seen. It was one of the nicest and well-put together museums I have ever been too – also, admission was free! There was even an exhibit about Mohammad Ali and we thought it was pretty cool to see all the memorabilia.
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Eighty percent (80%)of the people who live in Dubai are not from the UAE. There is nowhere else in the world with that kind of statistic. There are people from all over the world, but many people in Dubai we met were from India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, and Bangladesh. It was interesting to learn more about this city that was seemingly born overnight. There is so much wealth in this city and it is visible…every few seconds another Bentley, Rolls Royce, Aston Martin, or McLaren drives by. It is a city that is excessive, unnecessary, and really beautiful.
Dubai is a vertical city – we would go for walks trying to find street food and there seemed to be none around. It is hard to explain, but everything we know about cities with their life on the streets seemed to be non-existent in Dubai. There was one day we were exploring the souks and were in desperate need for food. We popped into a local hotel to ask where the nearby food was and they responded that there was none around. I asked where the workers of the souk ate and he mentioned something about a cafeteria, but there was maybe one restaurant in a half-mile area. Most cities have street food vendors on just about every street corner, but Dubai seemed to have none of this. We didn’t starve and there are a ton of places to eat (Shake Shack was one of our favorites), but we struggled to locate the local, quick, and cheap food scene we usually thrive on as budget travelers.
The tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa, is located in Dubai and we could not get over it. The building stands at 2,772 feet and was constructed in just 5 years. We went up to the 125th floor to check out the view of Dubai from above – you are super high up from the observation deck and the building goes up many more floors from there. You can even pay more and head up to the 148th floor if you really want the full experience.
The building is located next to the largest mall in the world (by land area) and the entire area is excessive and so very…Dubai. We spent a few hours wandering around the Dubai Mall looking at waterfalls, aquariums, shopping, and then exploring the surrounding areas. Much like the Bellagio in Las Vegas there is a fountain show that occurs every half hour in front of the Burj Khalifa and afterwards the building is lit up with different colors and patterns.
My belated birthday present (after many other failed attempts at excursions) was in the form of a desert safari. It was quite touristy, but we embraced being super tourists and had a fantastic time! We took a Landcruiser fit with a roll cage into the desert and rode over all the sand dunes – it was exhilarating and terrifying all at once. We asked after the fact if anyone ever crashes and he said usually it happens once per week. It really should not be surprising considering how fast we went over some of those sand dunes, but I was happy to not know about this risk until afterwards. We did a lot of things: dinner in the desert, rode a camel, learned about falcons, smoked shisha, and ran up as many sand dunes I could manage. We had a fabulous evening in the desert and we made some friends along the way!
The last morning in Dubai we went to check out all of the souks! The gold market and spice markets are some of the most recommended things to do in Dubai. We found these markets to be full of pushy, almost aggressive, vendors and could hardly get out of there fast enough. The spice market smelled amazing and was beautiful, but the vendors pulling on your arm and physically preventing you from walking was far too much for us.
Our favorite of the souks was the fish market (if you have read this blog at all you will know this is no surprise). The fish market is not at all geared towards selling things to tourists, although they sure did try to get us to buy everything. In addition to selling fish/seafood here they also have a meat section, produce section, and a row of vendors selling dried dates. The people working the market were incredibly friendly to us, were receptive to us taking pictures and asking questions, and were insistent on us holding their seafood and taking photos with them. It was one of our favorite spots in Dubai!
Total Number of Nights: 4
Currency: $1 USD = 3.64 Qatar Riyels = 3.67 United Arab Emirates Dirham
Number of Miles Traveled: 4,000 (including our flight from Vietnam)
Number of Miles Walked: 28 miles (average of 7 miles per day)
Steps Taken: 60,335 steps (average of about 15,100 per day)
Transportation Used: Taxi, Uber, hotel van, and plane
Type of Accommodations: Hotel (2)
Number of Beds: 2
After India we had planned to be moving on from Asia, but instead we headed back to SE Asia, specifically Vietnam, to meet up with our friends Andreas and Ellen. It was awesome to be able to see them and experience Vietnam with them! We ate at tiny tables, fell in love with Vietnamese coffee, admired the lanterns in Hoi An, drank too many beers, and ate an unthinkable amount of pho.
Before this trip I had read really mixed things about Vietnam. People either love it or hate it. Some people mentioned that they felt as everyone looked at them like an open wallet (which might be true, but I feel like that is the case everywhere in SE Asia) while others felt like as Americans they were treated poorly (especially in the north). We had an amazing time catching up with friends, learning more about the Vietnam war, and exploring this incredible country! We did not make it to the north and will have to return back to that part of the country on a future trip.
Hoi An and Ho Chi Mihn City (Saigon)
Things We Liked
Food (pho! Shellfish!), tiny tables/chairs at restaurants (although uncomfortable), friends, history there, learning about the war, easy to get around, street food, Vietnamese coffee, inexpensive everything, and craft beer.
Vietnam felt so calm and clean (at least compared to India), but it still had enough chaos — we love large Asian city chaos, especially Scott.
Things We Disliked
Motorbikes, playing frogger to cross the street, hot weather, motorbikes on the sidewalks, and bad internet connections.
There is nothing like eating a steaming hot bowl of pho in a tiny chair located on the sidewalk in 90+ degree heat.
1. Catching Up with Friends
We met up with our friends Andreas and Ellen in Vietnam…it is amazing to see friends across the world and get to experience new places together! We get a bit homesick at times and it has been incredible to see people we care about all over the globe. Vietnam could have been a complete dump and we still would have loved it since they were there (really though – Vietnam is awesome). We biked to the beach, ate pho, visited museums, drank beer, wandered aimlessly, and swapped India stories (they had just come from there as well). It was wonderful.
2. Learning about the War (Independence Palace and War Remnants Museum)
Learning about the Vietnam War (which in Vietnam is referred to as the American War, Resistance War Against America, or the US War of Aggression) was really fascinating to us as Americans. It is our history too and to learn about it from the other side of things was a bit hard to hear at times (and maybe a tad bit one-sided), but very educational. We visited the War Remnants Museum and Independence Palace, the place where the war officially ended in Saigon. Side note: it is really interesting to see that most of the planes and tanks they have are US military equipment. It makes sense, but I suppose I never really put much thought into it.
Saigon has the most motorbikes I have ever seen. Everyone rides them – even Uber has a motorbike option. We got used to crossing the streets dodging motorbikes and playing a game of Frogger to cross every intersection. What I did not get used to is the motorbikes driving on the sidewalk. We have seen this a few other countries, but nowhere else has it annoyed me more. Perhaps I would have felt differently if I was on a motorbike, but I was not sorry to say goodbye to the scooters when it was time to go.
The Case of the Missing Shoes
The place we were staying in Saigon was a guesthouse with 5 rooms. They asked us to remove our shoes when you enter the lobby and leave your shoes in the shoe rack next to the front door. It was a bit odd to have to go shoeless in the elevator, but we followed the request with no complaints.
One morning we were headed out we got to the shoe rack to find that Scott’s shoes were not there. We figured they must be on another rack somewhere so we asked the girl working there and were met with a look of panic. The shoes were missing. We left them with a picture of what they looked like and went on with our day. When we returned in the afternoon all of the staff had been watching security videos of the front area and could not figure out when they went missing. They apologized a million times, offered to reimburse us the cost of the shoes, and were so nice about the whole incident. We tried to be understanding as possible as we know nobody wants to steal a pair of shoes – we are sure the guy who checked out that morning took them by mistake, but they were gone for good.
Handmade in Hoi An
Hoi An is famous for their lanterns and their custom tailors. Walking around the city you find shop after shop offering custom suits, dresses, shirts…whatever you can dream of they can make it and return a completed product in 1-3 days. Obviously, we couldn’t leave without getting Scott a suit and Andreas joined in on the fun by ordering a sport coat. The whole process took 3 days. The first day you are able to choose the color, fabrics, and cut of the suit that you want. They took some measurements and within a day they had a preliminary suit. We returned two more times to make sure that their clothes were going to fit just perfect!
The Cu Chi Tunnels are a must see when passing through Saigon (so we hear). They are a day trip away from the city, but it is not overly expensive or hard to make the journey to see the series of tunnels that were used during the Vietnam War. We were in Saigon for 8 nights and did not manage to make it there. We have no excuses why we did not go, but we are bummed that we missed out.
Total Number of Nights: 12
Currency: $1 USD = 22,500 Vietnamese Dong
Number of Miles Traveled: 3,250 miles (including our flight from India)
Number of Miles Walked: 72 miles (average of 6 miles per day)
Steps Taken: 154,932 steps (average of about 12,900 per day)
Transportation Used: Taxi and plane
Type of Accommodations: Hotel (1), Airbnb aparment (2)
Number of Beds: 3
It is impossible for me to convey all of my thoughts on our time in India in this post. It is the first place where I feel that pictures don’t capture the true essence of this country or our experience here. In our 17 days through India we were only able to get to know such a small part of this country – even if we had more time I am not sure if I could ever fully grasp the vastness of this place.
There are 1.3 billion people that live in India – in a space 1/3 of the size of the US. The terrains vary from mountainous in the Himalayas to deserts and plains. There is no common language spoken throughout the country, but instead there are over 22 official languages. In addition to these official languages, there are 1,652 recognized languages spoken in India (only 150 of these languages have a sizable speaking population). India is a spiritual place with many religions being practiced across the country such as Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, and Jainism. The food, culture, and languages vary as well. India is comprised of 29 states and it is overwhelming to try to understand all the differences.
Our time in India can be looked at as two separate parts: our time in Delhi and our time in Kerala. We spent 6 days in Delhi before heading south to Kerala to meet up with Scott’s sister, Jennifer, and her fiancé, Karoon. We had been looking forward to seeing them in India our entire trip and it was amazing to be able to travel with them and Karoon’s family (which is now our family too – marriage has a pretty cool way of joining families). Our experience in India would have been completely different if we had not met up with the Mackencherys and we are so grateful they welcomed us into the family as one of their own.
India tested our patience. It could be exhilarating and terrifying all at once. India can be raw, intense, overwhelming and chaotic – it is also beautiful, full of kindness, eye-opening, and oh so colorful. I cannot un-see some of the things I saw, but I’m not sure I would ever want to. My perspective of the world has been changed forever and India holds a special place in my heart. We both really loved our time in India. It was possibly one of the hardest places we have traveled so far, but the positives far outweighed the negatives. We really loved our time in this incredible country.
Delhi, Agra, Cochin, Ballussery, Ottapalam, Calicut, Vayittiri, Alleppey
Things We Liked
Traveling with family, food, not having to plan accommodations or logistics for a while, head wobbling, Kerala and the South, houseboats, New Years Eve, being with locals/people who knew the language (!), hospitality, and the Delhi Holiday Inn (it was like no other Holiday Inn I have ever seen).
The food was one of the best cuisines we have experienced. I never got tired of Indian food and I can’t wait to find all the good places back in Denver when we get home!
Things We Disliked
Trash, dirtiness, trash fires, pollution, serious fog, Delhi, con-artists all over Delhi, constantly being on our toes, hard beds, worrying about getting sick, moving around a lot, Christmas away from home, getting sick (a virus not Delhi belly – miraculously we avoided stomach problems in India), and less than ideal showers.
Many of the things that we disliked about India are specific to our time in Delhi – we just really had a hard time liking that place.
As mentioned above we traveled with Jennifer (my sister-in-law), Karoon (my soon to be brother-in-law), and Karoon’s family (the Mackencherys). Traveling with them around India was by far one of the most genuine and authentic experiences we have had to date. Their family opened up their homes, fed us, and shared their lives with us. We were blown away with the generosity we were shown and we are so appreciative! Special thanks to Shermi and Suresh for being so amazing to us.
2. Taj Mahal
Our main objective in traveling to Delhi was to make our way to the famed Taj Mahal. We aborted our plans to take the train and opted for a private driver to take us to Agra and back. Unfortunately the dense Delhi fog that happens this time of year made an appearance the day we drove to Agra and it was terrifying. You could not see more than 5 feet in any direction. I wrote about our experience in detail at the Taj Mahal in another post found here.
The Mackencherys rented a houseboat in Allepey and we cruised through the Kerala backwaters. It was one of the first days we spent in Kerala and it was a great introduction into such a beautiful place and a stark contrast to our chaotic city experience in Delhi. We had so much fun this day enjoying the scenery, playing games, eating/drinking well, and watching the boats cruise past. This day was very long with nearly 8 hours (9 hours? Who knows!) spent in a mini-bus with little air conditioning, but the boat was so fun I have forgotten all about that! It was a highlight of our time in India.
Delhi was our first stop in India. At this point, we have been a lot of places – many with high levels of poverty – and maybe we underestimated the culture shock we would experience. Obviously we are on a budget and our trip to India was no exception (although maybe it should have been the exception). We were dropped off at our hotel in the middle of the city centre and in the midst of chaos at 1 am. If we had not been so tired we might have put up a fight about this place…dirty/stained sheets on the bed and excessive noise waking us up every 30 minutes (it sounded like a construction site existed one floor above our room).
Walking was near impossible in the city and I felt infinitely safer in an auto-rickshaw (tuk-tuk) than on my own two feet. It felt as everyone was trying to scam us and we have never felt so on edge. It was uncomfortable, unpleasant and I will never return to Delhi again. It did not help that I had a virus and was sick our entire time in Delhi. After several days in the budget hotel we checked into the Holiday Inn as a Christmas present to ourselves. We spent two days at the hotel recovering from sickness, getting past culture shock, and celebrating Christmas away from home.
I am incredibly grateful this was not my entire experience in India. India is so much more than our experience in Delhi (and I wish we could redo Delhi because it is probably unfair to view Delhi the way we do). India is such a big and diverse country I can hardly wrap my head around it. We headed south and our experience could not have been any more different. I do not regret our time in Delhi as it was one of the most eye-opening and humbling experiences from our trip, but I am certainly glad I do not have to go back either!
There have been a lot of countries that we have complained about the amount of trash everywhere. India took this to an entirely new level. Trash littered every street/open space you saw and every few steps there was another trash fire.
In the US we are able to put our trash on the street and then it disappears to places most of us don’t like to think too hard about. Burning trash in India is a common practice. This causes a wide range of problems including the introduction of dangerous particulates and toxins in the air and causes many health issues. It was hard to see trash and trash fires everywhere you went.
Partying with the Indians
There was a small party at Karoon’s grandparents house (a housewarming of sorts – renovations on the house had recently been completed) and we were invited! Jen and I were outfitted in Salwar Khameez and the guys in lungis. Apparently Scott looked as if he had been born to wear a lungi as he was complimented on his appearance so many times — unfortunately as he was learning to tie his longer version of the lungi into the short version Scott’s Iphone fell out of his shirt pocket and shattered upon hitting the ground. The driveway was covered with huge, beautiful colored tents and they were really stunning. A traditional lunch was served on banana leaves, people sat down in shifts to eat, and of course the proper way was to eat with our hands (we were well practiced at this point). The party was over as quickly as it started and it was wonderful to be included in the fun.
We rang in the New Year in India and it was one of my favorite NYE nights I have ever had. Usually I feel like NYE is so overrated because there is so much pressure to find the best event, dress up and have the greatest night. It ends up costing a ton of money and isn’t my favorite. This year was so low key and it tuned our perfect. It started with the guys heading to the “liquor store” — the state of Kerala is dry so alcohol is not easy to come by. I wasn’t there so I can’t talk about the liquor store too much, but I am sure Scott could write an entire blog post about what that was like. They had to wait in a line to get up to a fenced off area where they keep the hooch. Upon arrival home everyone changed and showered before they felt clean again. I hear it was very memorable.
We sat on the porch for hours drinking, talking, and trying to find a countdown to use. We finally ate some dinner just after 12:30 am and then went to bed. It was the most low key night and it was perfect in my mind. Cheers to a great 2016 and we are looking forward to what next year brings as well!
A professional photographer was brought in to do family photos. We were in them and we were welcomed into open arms into the photo session — we even have a nice prom style photo to keep forever! The pictures are our favorites and hopefully one day I get the digital copies (I have a few pictures of a pictures that are not terrible). After we were in the family photo we were sure they would take one without the random, not so random white kids (at least Scott and I), but we are in them and I love them. Thanks for welcoming us into the family — we are forever thankful.
Total Number of Nights: 17
Languages: Malayalam, Hindi, and English
Currency: $1 USD = 67.8 Indian Rupee (INR)
Number of Miles Traveled: 8,200 (including our flight Melbourne and Malaysia)
Number of Miles Walked: 83.8 miles (average of 6 miles per day)
Steps Taken: 180,246 steps (average of about 12,875 per day)
Transportation Used: Car, houseboat, tuk-tuk (auto rickshaw), taxi, Uber, van
Type of Accommodations: Hotel (5), house (2 places—4 beds), plane — overnight flight (1)
Number of Beds: 10 (!) – the most beds in one country to date
We arrived in Delhi with one goal in mind – to make it to the Taj Mahal. The Taj Mahal is the famous ivory-white masoleum completed in 1653. Before arriving in India we did some research, consulted a lot of travel blogs, and crafted a plan for seeing the Taj Mahal. We would take the train to Agra in the morning (location of the Taj), see the Taj Mahal, stay the night in Agra, and take the train back to Delhi the next morning. Other travelers have had a good experience with trains in India and they are relatively safe when compared to driving the same route since the roads are not great in India (this news story a month before we arrived did not totally make us comfortable (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-38041755), but we were ready for the adventure nonetheless! Side note: All of the good photos in this blog were taken by Scott and all the rest were taken by my phone 🙂
To Train or Not to Train and the Great Delhi Fog
The Indian train system is really confusing and tickets tend to sell out in advance…naturally even with this knowledge we did not plan ahead. The online ticketing system is the most frustrating thing we have ever used (props to Scott for trying so hard) and we ended up needing to make a visit to the Delhi Train Station either way. We ended up with round-trip tickets to Agra 3rd class for the next day. We would have liked to go 1st or 2nd class, but we are no divas! We started to do some thinking and more research…maybe we aren’t as adventurous as some of these travel bloggers. We aren’t total divas, but we also value our space, safety, and relative comfort. Maybe we made a mistake. As we started to backtrack, I also started to feel sicker by the minute. It was really terrible timing to come down with a virus. Our train tickets ended up going unused and we hired a driver to take us to Agra to see the sites and then drive us back to Delhi. I had read that this time of year there could be VERY dense fog and it can delay trains, planes, and cars. Of course I assumed that it would not be a problem for us.
Our driver picked us up at 6 am sharp. He told us the drive should take 2.5-4 hours depending on the fog. This was the first red flag, but I continued to think that the journey would be like any other. Around 30 minutes into our trip we experienced the dense, thick Delhi fog that occurs this time of year. It was terrifying. You could not see anything. All the cars put on their flashers to drive through, but you could only see about 5 feet in any direction. The fog was unlike anything I have ever experienced. I was ready to ask the driver to pull over and wait it out the next few hours, but he insisted that he did this all the time and reassured us that he knew was he was doing (our driver was awesome!). After 4 hours of intense anxiety (maybe I was the only one panicking, but that is besides the point) we had arrived in Agra and were at the Taj Mahal!
As we walked up to the Taj Mahal, it looked like a backdrop to a movie and it hardly looked real. Even with the hoards of people when we arrived it was really incredible. Entering the Taj Mahal was overwhelming so we were very thankful we had a guide to help us get tickets and navigate the security lines. There is a line for Indians and a line for foreigners — the foreigners line was much shorter than the line for Indians, but the tickets cost about 25 times more. This causes a bit of frustration among backpackers in India, but it is what it is. We did get to skip the line to get into the Taj Mahal that all of the Indians had to wait in, were given free shoe covers, and a free water bottle. The Indian tourists did not have any of these luxuries. It did make us feel a bit bad skipping the lines, but we did pay an outrageous amount in comparison to the Indian tourists.
Our guide told us that it was unusually crowded the day we went and there was people everywhere. If this trip has taught me anything it would be some serious patience. Also, our guide turned out to be a very enthusiastic Iphone photographer who would not let us leave without taking all of the perfect shots. At times he even told others to move out of the way so he could get the shot…it was a bit embarrassing, but I glad that we don’t have only a selfie (they just aren’t as good as a real photo).
We put on our shoe coverings to be able to actually walk into the Taj Mahal since no shoes are allowed. It was unexpected that for a building that looks so big from the outside that it is surprisingly small inside — it is basically just two tombs inside. That is all. Although it was not big it was awesome to walk inside and be able to look at all the details such as carvings and all of the white marble inlaid with semi-precious stones.
In addition to the Taj Mahal, we also made it to the Agra Fort (which admittedly I had never heard of until we went). It is an amazing red sandstone fort built in 1573 and it is beautiful in an entirely different way. I am glad we made the stop here, but I was equally glad to be getting back on the road for Delhi. We arrived back at our hotel around 9 pm – it was a really long day.
The Taj Mahal was stunning. I am so grateful we had the opportunity to see it in person. I am also grateful we did not have to brave the Indian train system, especially while I was sick. Will I ever go back? Probably not. Some things should just be left at once in a lifetime and for me this is one of those things.
Indonesia is a country comprised of 17,000 islands. We barely scratched the surface in our visit there, but we loved our time exploring as much as we possibly could. Scott and I flew into Bali where we spent a day or two before taking a boat to a little island called Gili Air. It was much needed time to relax and to try and get over the virus I had caught in Korea. After a few days we headed back to Bali (Ubud in particular) to meet up with one of my best friends, Lauren. We spent 3 nights in Ubud drinking fresh juice and doing yoga before heading off to a new island, Nusa Lembogan.
Our time in Indonesia was a great mix of relaxation and adventure. I also think that it might be one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to and I am so thankful our travels took us to Indonesia. We found paradise!
Kuta Beach, Gili Air, Ubud, Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan (we took our bicycles over to this smaller island for a day trip)
Things We Liked
Beautiful scenery, traveling with Lauren, surfing, seeing sea turtles (!), free breakfast everywhere, cheap, yoga, chill vibe, fresh juice, and biking. Also, the beach! The beaches were absolutely stunning.
Things We Disliked
Trash everywhere, Kuta Beach, difficult transportation, aggressive vendors, no sidewalks, living in luxury when people have so little, bugs that bite (especially when they like to bite just me), lack of ATMs on islands, and uncomfortable/potentially unsafe boat rides to the islands.
1. Surfs Up!
Scott, Lauren and I decided to give surfing a try…we are so glad we did as it is so fun! We took a lesson with Newbro Surf School and our instructor Robot taught us the basics while we were still on land. We took a boat out to the break in the waves and rode the waves for the next few hours. We were all able to get the hang of it and we had so much fun! We all need some more practice, but we would all gladly get on a board again.
2. All the Outdoor Activities
There was so much to do in Bali and the surrounding islands. In Gili Air, we went snorkeling where we saw beautiful reefs and even a sea turtle. We did a stand up paddle boarding tour at sunset. We met up with Lauren and the adventures just kept coming! We did yoga, we took a surf lesson, explored trails, and we went mountain biking a few times (a few of the times it was quite by accident, but awesome nonetheless).
3. The Islands
We really liked Bali. It is a large island and it isn’t necessarily easy to get around from place to place. We only hit the usual places tourists hit, Ubud and Kuta. I would have liked to see more of Bali, but for me I loved all the smaller islands we visited on our trip in Indonesia.
Gili Air is one of three islands that make up the Gili Islands (Gili Trawagaran is the largest, known for being a party island, Gili Meno is tiny and there is not much there, and Gili Air is supposed to be a perfect mix of these two islands…so Scott and I knew this was just where we wanted to be.) The only activities on the island are snorkeling, stand up paddle boarding, diving, yoga, and walking around. The island was small enough where you could walk anywhere in about an hour and there were no motorized vehicles on the entire island. It was peaceful and was just what I was looking for at the time.
Nusa Lembongan was totally opposite of Gili Air, but in the best way possible. There was so much to do there and you could stay there for a while and never get bored. The island is much bigger than Gili Air and most people get around by motorbike. All of us decided the safer, and maybe more fun option would be to rent bikes and explore the island. Everywhere we would go there would be another beautiful place and it never got old. We even rode our bikes over to Nusa Ceningan which is much smaller, but equally beautiful.
1. Getting Sick in Paradise
While I actually got sick in South Korea and traveled to Indonesia with a bad virus, I was sick for the first week of our time in Indonesia. Thankfully it was before Lauren arrived in Indonesia so I was able to rest and try to get completely better before she arrived, but really I would have preferred to have not been sick at all.
2. Presidential Election
I am not getting political here, but I will say it was a tough day for us. I will just leave it at that.
Total Number of Nights: 13
Languages: Bahasa Indonesian and Balinese
Currency: $1 USD = 13,375 Indonesian Rupiah (IDR)
Number of Miles Traveled: 4,275 (including our flight from South Korea)
Number of Miles Walked: 83.8 miles (average of 6 miles per day)
Steps Taken: 180,246 steps (average of about 12,875 per day)
Transportation Used: boat, taxi, and van
Type of Accommodations: Hotel (3), guesthouse (1), plane — overnight flight (1)
Number of Beds: 5
I am hopelessly behind on recaps and blogging in general. We spend the end of October and beginning of November in South Korea. It is now Christmas time….woops. Better late than never I think!
Arriving in South Korea we were tired. A quick-paced trip through Japan and our inability to rest while in exciting cities finally caught up with us. I had hit a wall.
I have learned that sometimes it has nothing to do with a place, but about what you need in a place at the moment. Seoul is everything I love about a city, but I just needed something else at the moment. I was craving nature, small towns, and somewhere away from Asia. Scott didn’t share my sentiments and Korea was one of his favorite places.
We met up with my cousin, Tara, on this leg of the trip! It was awesome to spend some time with her, push her out of her comfort zone (she tried so many strange foods and we were so proud!), and to learn about Korean culture from our resident expert on all things Korean. We had a great time and it made me so happy that she loved Korea so much that she extended her stay an additional two weeks after we left.
We know we will be back one day with our full energy and excitement because we really, really enjoyed this country. We liked the historic sites, the food, the culture, and all that soju.
Seoul, Jeju Island
Things We Liked
Kimchi, ease of transportation, traveling with family, craft beer scene, seeing friends, banchan (free sides with every meal), Korean BBQ, renting cars, HAIRCUTS, cheap booze, and seafood.
A side note – it was fall in South Korea and it was amazing to see the trees change colors, celebrate Halloween, and feel crispness in the air. We loved having a bit of fall to break up our perpetual summer.
Things We Disliked
Expensive food, political unrest, cold soup (I make an exception only for gazpacho), cancelled DMZ tours, cold weather (although refreshing at times), and getting sick.
1. Noryanjin Fish Market
We love fish markets. If a city has a fish market you can bet we will make an appearance. The Noryanjin Fish Market in Seoul is our favorite so far. The market is open 24 hours a day and has endless types of seafood for sale. Hidden restaurants also surround the market. None of these restaurants serve their own food…they just cook what you purchase at the market and serve it to you with the appropriate sides (kimchi obviously). We decided to go to the market for dinner and pick out our own food. It was totally overwhelming and we never quite knew what was happening (knowing how to speak Korean would have been super helpful).
Here is how it works:
-You walk around from stall to stall scoping what type of seafood looks good
-You haggle for a price you are happy with or you go to another stall
-Purchase your seafood
-If you bought a live fish or sashimi they may grab the fish from the tank and kill it right in front of you before chopping it up….I passed on that and chose sashimi that was already cut (this might have not been as fresh but I was willing to take my chances)
-They put whatever you purchased in a bag (potentially still living depending on what you bought)
-A runner walks you up to a nearby restaurant where they cook your food for you and provide you with sides (for free) and alcohol for purchase
We settled on some shrimp, abalone, live octopus sashimi (it wiggles as it sits on the plate and as you put it in your mouth), and a huge plate of assorted fish sashimi. It was a one of a kind dining experience and we would go back in a heartbeat!
2. Road Trippin’ Jeju Island
We forgot how much freedom there is to have your own set of wheels. We rented a car in Jeju Island, as it is really the only way to see the sites on the island (and my American friend living in Seoul assured me we could handle driving). It was refreshing not to take a bus, taxi, or metro for a while! My cousin probably thought we were strange by how excited we were to have our own transportation, but after months of relying on public transportation it was AWESOME. We just couldn’t shut up about how cool it was to have so much freedom.
Jeju Island is a popular vacation spot for South Koreans and I can totally see why. First, with $15 round trip flights it is affordable to fly there for the weekend. The island is fairly big and there are a lot of beautiful places to explore such as waterfalls, cliffs, lava tube caves and volcanoes. We checked out as many spots as we could and braved the cold for a few mini-hikes. In addition, themed museums are big on the island (Teddy Bear Museum, Puzzle Museum, Sex Museum to name a few). We stuck to exploring the outdoors mostly, although we did make a pit stop at the Haeoyeo Museum to learn about the female divers of Jeju Island.
1. My Birthday
I hesitated to include this bullet point for fear of making anybody feel bad. Scott and Tara did everything perfectly on my birthday…they treated me well, took me bowling (my game has gone downhill), found Korean craft brew, and best of all found some delicious tacos and margaritas to drink! It was a perfect day with some of my favorite people!
During my birthday I may have received 3 “happy birthday!” messages because when you are in a time zone that is 15 hours ahead your birthday happens at a different time than it does in the USA. Travel can be really isolating at times and a birthday makes that perfectly clear since they are a day usually spent surrounding by friends and family.
I woke up the day after my birthday with my inbox flooding with birthday greetings. It was awesome! Thanks for the love. It was a tough day for me and it was great to have a reminder of how many people care about me.
2. Getting Sick
The entire time I was in Korea I felt slightly under the weather. It was not until the last day or two in Korea that I was full-blown sick. This came at the worst time as we also had one of the longest travel days clocking in around 30 hours to get to Bali, Indonesia. Obviously the perfect cure for a bad virus is to sleep on an airport couch in between two 5.5 hour flights!
3. Cancelled DMZ Tour
We (Scott and I — my cousin opted out of this tour for the record) signed up to tour the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), the democratic buffer zone between North and South Korea. The DMZ is the most fortified border in the entire world. We wanted to take a tour of the DMZ, but also the Joint Security Area where negotiations between the two nations take place. It might sound unwise to go here, but it is actually a huge tourist destination and is relatively safe (as long as you follow all the instructions and don’t do anything really stupid). We were very picky with our tour operator and chose the one that works with the USO because the US Military makes us feel safer.
A few days before our scheduled tour we received an email saying that our tour was cancelled, but they could waitlist us for the tours in the next few days. We put our name on the list and hoped for the best, but no dice. We hope we get the chance one day to go to the DMZ, but for now my parents can rest easy that there are no journeys to North Korea in our future.
Side note: We have noticed a trend sweeping Asia….to wear the exact same outfit as your significant other. Some couples go so far as wearing the same exact shoes. How romantic! I have loved spotting all the couples in their matching outfits and I get a big kick out of it.
I can’t tell you that Scott and I jumped on board (yet), but I did finally got photo proof of this trend. I present you with the following couple:
Total Number of Nights: 14
Currency: $1 USD = 1,136 South Korean Won
Number of Miles Traveled: 1,700 miles (including our flight from Japan)
Number of Miles Walked: 93.6 miles (average of 6.7 miles per day)
Steps Taken: 201,314 steps (average of about 14,280 per day)
Transportation Used: subway, airport train, plane (Seoul to Jeju Island), rental car (!)
Type of Accommodations: Hotel (1), Apartment (2), airport couch (1)
Number of Beds: 4
After China, we headed to Thailand to spend some quality time seeing temples and enjoying the beach. While this did happen, it did not happen quite as we thought. We spend 12 nights in Chiang Mai and decided to leave Thailand for a 9-day adventure in Cambodia. Our main purpose of coming to Cambodia was to check out Angkor Wat, a temple complex and the largest religious monument in the world. We arrived in Siem Reap (by plane skipping the long journey by train/bus from Chiang Mai as it really was not that much more expensive) with only one purpose: to check out the temples!
Angkor Wat at Sunrise
Any amount of research about Angkor Wat leads you to believe that sunrise cannot be missed. We have not come all this way to miss out on something so iconic, so we dragged our sleepy selves out of bed and our cheery tuk-tuk driver was waiting for us at our hotel at 4:45 am sharp. If you know us at all you would know that we are not huge fans of being woken up before the sun rises, ever. After a brief stop at the ticket office (and $40 later) our driver pulled up at Angkor Wat. Following the mass amounts of people (in complete darkness) we found the temple and found our spot at the reflection pool to watch the sunrise. There were crowds of people and every second there was another person asking, “Lady, breakfast for you? Coffee for you? Lady, what do you need?” It was hard to even get a picture without someone’s head or arm in it. The clouds blocked a view of the sun coming up and we were not even sure when the sun rose. It just happened…this experience was far from magical to us.
It was incredible to see Angkor Wat and the temple itself is absolutely stunning and impressive. I would say Angkor Wat and the other surrounding temples are worth a trip to Cambodia alone. For us, the sunrise there was overrated. If I were to do it over, I would find a temple nobody goes to at sunrise and enjoy the solitude (even if this meant giving up the iconic sunrise at Angkor photo). Maybe we were just grumpy from waking up so early. Maybe it was the fact it was so cloudy you could not see the sunrise well. Maybe it was that we had a downpour 1 minute after the sun rose and got soaked (we thought we could ride it out under a tree because we were smart and brought rain jackets…we couldn’t and we stayed under that tree about 10 minutes too long. Lesson learned!). Whatever the reason was we would have chosen to either sleep in or go see sunrise somewhere peaceful.
Tomb Raiding at Ta Phrom
Our favorite temple was also the most crowded (and the only temple we ran into tour groups everywhere). Ta Phrom is famous for being in Tomb Raider with Angelina Jolie. While we have never seen the movie we get why they used this temple! We thought it was stunning. The trees growing out of the ruins and the temple itself seems as if it is being swallowed by the jungle. There is moss on everything and portions of the temple were left unrestored making for some stunning visuals. There are corridors that remain impassable due to carved stones laying in the middle of them. It adds to the mysterious feel to this temple. This was the most crowded place we went to all day (well, besides the sunrise at Angkor Wat) and we still loved it. Usually crowds make us grumpy so that is saying a lot!
We only spent one day at Angkor Wat exploring the temples. Although you can buy a 1-day, 3-day, or 7-day pass we settled on just the 1-day pass hoping that would be enough. One full day was enough for us to see everything we wanted to see and any more than that it might have started to feel like we were seeing the same thing over and over again. We saw enough temples that we could not remember all their names and we started to confuse everything. I would say that we could have done two days, but only if we would have seen half the number of temples we did per day. We were templed out after one day and glad we could just explore Siem Reap the next day instead of touring more temples.
Temples by Tuk-Tuk
The best way to get around Angkor Wat is to hire a tuk-tuk driver for the day. We had read that for between $15-$20 USD you could hire a tuk-tuk driver and they would stay with you the whole day. After reading some really negative experiences about hiring tuk-tuks (crazy drivers, drivers who did not show up…) we were nervous we would not have a good experience. One of the travel blogs I read occasionally posted about the best tuk-tuk driver in Siem Reap and how to get a hold of hire for hire. We thought, why not? We sent an email and he got back to us almost immediately.
We had such an awesome day getting to know Sok and learning about his life in Cambodia. Sometimes as you travel it is hard to have genuine interactions and learn about what normal life is like in a place, but we were able to learn so much from Sok! There are thousands of registered tuk-tuk drivers in Siem Reap alone and competition is fierce for work. We had such a positive experience at Angkor Wat and we can attribute some of that to our awesome tuk-tuk driver. If you are ever going to Siem Reap we would highly recommend reaching out to Sok (his contact info can be found at this link).
Scott has been taking awesome pictures on this trip and we are both doing a terrible job of sharing them. So in addition to the ones from above (minus the selfies and the few of both of us taken by a bystander) here are a few more: