Monday, June 28, 2010

Siem Reap

This city can evoke the feeling of "love at first sight" the moment the tuk tuk driver turns onto main street. It is quite a bit slower paced then Phnom Penh and not as many motorbike dodging in and out of traffic. The French influence is evident at every turn from the architecture to the little crepe stores and carts at every corner.

We got in and found a most reasonable priced guesthouse and quickly made our way to the main street to check it out as dusk was upon us and the town became alive. We chose to eat at the Red amazing place with great food and where Dan and I and the "Tomb Raider"; a drink named after Angelina Jolie since she was here to film that movie and ate at the Red Piano. It was Contreau, lime juice and tonic and it was delightful. We had a perfect place to sit on the balcony that overooked the street and we could just get caught up in the enchantment of this little town. Another noteworthy place is one we frequented quite a lot called the Blue Pumpkin. It had amazing food, but the real attraction is the gelato they served! Our weakness was the cinnamon flavor with Dutch cookies in it! It was amazing!

Other than the amazing food we tried in this town (Indian, Mexican and Italian) we also spent a great deal of time in the markets. It was incredible the amount of stalls that were filled with handmade goods, dvds and clothes. We became bonified shoppers in this city and came out with numerous amounts of merchandise for birthday and christmas gifts for our friends and family back home. Our bartering became exceptional and we got the best deals for such amazing stuff! I won't go into detail since these gifts have yet to be given but just you wait! We also all bought another singlet...our staple clothing attire for SE Asia...and I think it is my favorite one so far!

In the night markets we also met our lovely Swedish friends to all try out a fish massage. We met this girls on the bus to Siem Reap and had taken up the habit of meeting for supper and decided to try this little fish massage together! They are absolutely lovely girls with the sweetest disposition and talked amazing english so we didn't have any problems trying to speak swedish! Back to the fish pool. This is a pool that is filled with hundreds of little fish that eat your dead skin. It's like a pedicure from fish! They are everywhere and curiosity was killing me whether it worked or not. So together, we five girls, paid the $3 dollars for 20 minutes to stick our feet in the pool. I was actually scared at the beginning to put my feet in, nerves or something...not sure. But finally I lowered them and instantly the fish nibbled on my feet. To describe the feeling as interesting is putting it mildly. The little bits tickled and felt so uncomfortable. It didn't hurt yet no where near relaxing...we are glad we tried it and won't do it again...our feet weren't perfect from the greedy little fish...we must need more than 20 minutes!

It was a sad day to leave this city, I'm sure we all could have stayed many more days and explore the temples, eat more amazing food and shop until all our money was spent but Thailand was calling three Canadian girls to the islands and we have to listen! Love you! B

Monday, May 31, 2010

The story behind the Tuk Tuk drivers...

There are millions of buggies hooked onto motorbikes in the streets of any city in SE Asia. The pilot of these are everyday, hard working men who navigate the streets and bring tourists to the exact destinations...sometimes to places in between to get an extra dollar...but in the end they do their job.

They are more than the job, than a driver, than another face and we got to meet two men who gave endless hours to being a Tuk Tuk driver.

The first was a sweet man who was willing to be our driver for the whole time we were in city of Phnom Penh. He became our morning driver and was so eager to take us to many sites. He was compassionate and honest. He took us to an orphange and drove us around to a candy store and rice post to get us the desired gifts to the children. He had lived through the terrible reign of the KR and in his eyes you saw the pain of the past as well as the tenacity to make the best of the future. He was a father and a husband and I am sure that his wife was very much proud of his work to bring in a few American dollars.

The second driver (the man in the white shirt) was much like out guardian and protector. Being our afternoon driver, he took us to markets, watch shops and the best Indian restaurant! He would make sure we were safe and held onto our bags as bikers sped by to not be victims of theft. He was my favorite because his story was so compelling. He has a hard working father of three children and worked endless hours to put his oldest son into a private school to give him as much opportunity as possible to be something. He told us "I don't want my son to be like me, so I will give him what I didn't have". He paid $30 dollars (American) to put his son in school and we spend $30 on supper. The inner strength and drive that these men had to make a better life for their families and the pride they had for their beat-up Tuk Tuks touched each of us. In these two men we say the beautiful spirit of Cambodia.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


Today we stumbled back to our guesthouse sleep-deprived, dirty, sweaty, exhausted, dehydrated but it was all worth it. In all my experience traveling, today found me blown away like no other... We spent the day walking amongst the ruins of the most stunning and diverse buildings in something you think you'd only see on the set 'Tomb Raider' or 'Indiana Jones', which is appropriate since 'Tomb Raider' was actually filmed in the ruins of one of the temples here. The temples of Angkor Wat.

Between the 9th and 13th century the Cambodian leaders strove to outdo and better their ancestors' temples in size, quality, design and detail. This "my temple is better than your temple" competition left hundreds of stone temples that still remain. It would take weeks to thoroughly explore the temples but we gave ourselves only one day so we paid our $20 entrance fee, got our fancy photo pass and had an 11-hr marathon temple-viewing day. For $17 we hired our v. own personal tuk-tuk driver that picked us up at 5 am so we could make like a proper tourist and make it to Angkor Wat for sunrise. The only problem with taking a tuk-tuk throughout the day is that everyone else did too; finding your specific tuk-tuk driver amongst the hundreds of tuk-tuks is a task worthy for any "Amazing Race" speed bump; needles in haystacks are easier to find.

Amazing, breath-taking temples and ruins aside, the best thing about Angkor Wat is the

accessibility of it all. If we were touring the same exact place in Europe or N. America we would be milling around the ruins on a carefully laid out sidewalk and would be forbidden to touch anything. Not so here where we were able to escape the massive crowds by roaming free through the temple ruins; free to explore, crawl, investigate and meander all throughout these crumbling giants.

The people we met while exploring are just as notable as the temples themselves. The life of the souvenir peddlers is long, hard and heartbreaking. Children as young as 4-5 yrs are already working and school-aged kids go to school in the morning, if at all, and then spend the rest of their day pushing postcards, bracelets, water etc to every tourist they see. They glom to you and once you lock eyes, you're done for. "Hello, where you from" is their intro and if you make the mistake of answering they respond by spewing facts about your country.

Example: "Ah, Canada! Capital: Ottawa, large city: Toronto, v. cold, 10 provinces..." Salesmen back home have things they could learn from these kids in regards to persistence. These kids will stay as long as it takes and say whatever it takes. They even usually know 4 languages so they can barter to all tourists. Our favorite selling line was from a little boy who was trying to sell Britt a bracelet for her boyfriend. When he found out that she doesn't, in fact, have a boyfriend he quipped, "that's because you don't my bracelet. You buy, then you find husband." Our second favorite was a little girl who said, "if you don't come back and buy from me... I'll cry!"

The peddlers were EVERYWHERE, even when we climbed 50 m up into a temple, there they were, at the top, just waiting for you. But I learned a trick at the end of the day. Respond to them in Spanish, that's one language they don't know at all. They get confused and move on. Hurrah!

But the best part of the day almost didn't happen. It was the middle of the afternoon and we were beat and ready to head back but our tuk-tuk driver had other plans and convinced us to take in just one more temple. Begrudgingly I trudged through the ruins of Baphuon, wishing I was back in my hotel, but then we saw him. A monk. In the picture-perfect temple ruins. It was a dream come true for a monk-obsessed tourist like me. I was like a star-struck groupie and quickly ran up to him to mumble a request for a picture.

Once again, I was surprised by a monk because not only did he agree but he whipped out a camera from some unseen robe pocket for his own photo request! His name was Richard and his traveling buddy was Ty (pronounced "Tea"); we had a photo shoot, swapped emails and walked away on cloud nine. It was a perfect ending to an amazing day.

I cannot believe that I've never heard of this amazing wonder before I travelled to South East Asia but if you are heading to South East Asia you cannot miss this. Put a big star next to Angkor Wat on your itinerary and you will not be disappointed.



Phnom Penh: Cambodia’s Beautiful Capitol City & the Pearl of Asia

Straight from the LP (Lonely Planet): “Many cities are captivating, but Phnom Penh is unique in its capacity to both charm and chill to the bone. The glamorous ‘Pearl of Asia’ has been to hell and back.”

It’s not an easy walk down history lane, but we chose to spend our first day checking out the haunting killing fields. Choeung Ek (The Killing Fields), 15 kilometres (9 mi) away from the city, where the Khmer Rouge marched prisoners from Tuol Sleng to be murdered and buried in shallow pits, is also now a memorial to those who were killed by the regime. Monuments and memorials to the genocide during the Khmer Rouge era in the 1970s exist throughout the city, but we only visited the killing fields. It’s a lot to take in, especially when you stop & think about how recent the madness erupted. How cruel humans can be to each other, and their children. The Khmer Rouge between mid 1975 to December 1978 executed approx. 17,000 men, women & children here. This was only 30 years ago! It makes those bright Cambodian smiles even more impacting, when you stop and consider the hell they’ve been through as individuals, families and as a nation.

We had our friendly Tuk-Tuk driver hang out with us for the day, Wooty. He drove us from the fields, and helped us plan our next day’s explorations & visits. I have to say, trying to dress modestly as a tourist in this city (with no cool sea breeze) is tough! We were dripping in sweat (I refuse to be a lady and use the word perspire- we were dripping!) with Thai fisherman pants (we refer to them as anti-rape pants) and T’s. Phew! And then you look around and all the men are dressed so classy- with long sleeved button-up shirts and pants! Jeesh, it would take me years to acclimatize.

Would you like a BUDGET for the day? Although the currency here is in U.S. dollars, Cambodia is a great place to stretch your dollar out:

    • - Tuk Tuk to Choeung Ek $1.50
    • - Breakfast (Omelette, Baguette, & Fruitshake) $4.00
    • - Internet $1.50
    • - Entrance to Killing Fields $2.00
    • - Spring Rolls & h20 (lunch) $2.25
    • - Splurge of Indian food dinner $4.00
    • - Tuk-Tuk to dinner $2.00
    • - 1 hr. Thai massage $5.00
    • - h20 $0.25
    • - Accomadation @ OK Guesthouse $5.00


TOTAL: $29.00

There you have it! This country still has great needs, and it’s amazing to see how far your money can go when you do give! We didn’t do any aid work or volunteering this trip, but we did spend a day at an orphanage in Phnom Penh. We stopped at a rice supply shop with our Tuk-Tuk driver, and bought a massive bag of rice for $30 (U.S.). We visited the Lighthouse Orphanage ( : got a tour from the director, met some of the 107 kids they provide a home for, and watched as a Korean missionary taught a very ambitious group of children Taekwondo. They just blessed our hearts, and planted a little seed in each of us to want to return & volunteer at an orphanage here one day. Hopefully! When we discovered that this massive bag of rice we bought would disappear in just a day with all those hungry mouths, it screamed a need for donations & volunteers. 107 kids, 3 meals a day, 7 days a week. Wowzers. Bless you! d.

To Cambodia we go...!!!

In lenient Laos-style, it was a slow start to get our boat off of 4000 Islands, back onto the mainland, and then wait for our bus to begin the 11 hr. journey to Phnom Penh (with a few stops and drop-offs along the way). Apparently entering Cambodia via the north, from Laos, is the least common entrance point- lucky for us! By procrastinating, and not getting our Cambodian visas ahead of time, we actually saved ourselves some dolla’s (the currency is in US funds in Cambodia, not nearly as fun as Laos Kip). It was a breeze to get our awesome-looking visas and crossover into new territory! Not only are we continuously adding new stamps and visas to our passports, we are also adding new ways to say ‘Thank you’ to our list. Thailand was” Kap-une-Cow” (phonetically), Laos was ‘Cup Chai” (cute!), and now Cambodian is “Aw-koon”. The first meal I had on the side of the road in Cambodia was a mystery veggie/beef (?) soup that tasted amazing, perhaps more so because it had been 7 hrs. since we last ate. But I never could find that awesome soup again while we were traveling Cambodia. Must have been a secret recipe!

First things I noticed on our bus ride through the Cambodian countryside:

1) Cambodia is full of litter, and the rural areas seemed much more impoverished than anything we’d seen in Thailand or Laos.

2) Anorexic-looking cattle roamed freely. It’s almost like a Teret’s-like action for driver’s to use their loud horns. Constantly honking at cattle near the main roads, one becomes accustomed to the sound of that horn, like background music of some sort. Sadly, we passed a dead cow that had been hit by another bus on the road, it broke my heart to see the poor farmers standing around and staring at their dead livestock.

3) Flannel PJ’s are not only daytime clothing but a fashion statement here!!! I’m not kidding ladies- imagine the day-long comfort! These Cambodian girls have got it figured out. So out of the norm for us. My favorite was seeing a granny with long-sleeved, flannel Hello-Kitty jimmies on while serving us soup.

4) Cambodia became prettier the farther south we drove with all it’s lush vegetation

5) Cambodian people beam with smiles from ear to ear. They’ll steal your heart in minutes. The friendliest people, as a generalized country, we’ve met in all our travels

6) Males here are forward! Juxtapose them to the nearly stoic Laos men, and it feels like you’re among creepy Italian guys in a Naples train station. Really they’re not that bad, but it feels like it after guys don’t harass a group of girls in Laos, like most other places.

We spent our first night in Cambodia at the first guesthouse that had availability. When we saw guesthouse/hotel staff sleeping in the foyer, it made us feel guilty to have everything we’re blessed with. Not only here, but also back at home. These people work hard all day, and are thankful for a place to lay their head at night. Much Love! d.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

4000 Islands: Nothing to do but Relax

On our way to Si Phan Don (4000 Islands) in the v. southern tip of Laos, we discovered the wonder that is known as the overnight sleeper bus. We had heard whisperings and rumors of a bus with beds on it but we chalked it up to backpacker urban legends and didn't dare hope we would find ourselves on one, one day. But when we walked up to our bus station at 8 p.m, exhausted after 48 hrs of battling sickness,. and saw beds peeking behind the curtains on our awaiting bus, it felt like Christmas morning. Brittany and I giggled ourselves to sleep from sheer delightedness lying in our top bunk bed.

Two major traveling decisions were made during our stay on the islands. The first was the realization that we were trying to do and see too much with our time/money restraints so we had to make cuts. Much to Britt's chagrin, the whole of Vietnam was axed from our itinerary so we could take our time through Cambodia and then the islands of southern Thailand. The other decision meant that we were saying good-bye to our English gentleman, Grant. Lucky guy has a longer time allowance for travel so we had to split ways so we could do our highlights tour of SE Asia and he could take his time through Laos and Vietnam... We'll miss you! xoxo

Si Phan Don is a archipelago of sandbars and rocky islets in the Mekong River. There are three main islands, the largest being Don Khong, 18 km long and 8km wide. We had been wanting to leave the backpacker party zone of Vang Vien and experience rural life; wish granted. Arriving to the 4000 Islands in the v. southern tip of Laos was the perfect antithesis to spending time in Vang Vien. There are no bars, all-nighters, big groups of backpacker partyers or noise at all. In fact, even electricity is a new comer to the islands, having arrived just in 2008 (other than Don Khong, who has had electricity since 2000). Dirt roads and bikes are the norm and the locals still do their bathing and washing in the river. You might as well throw away your watch when you arrive because time just lazes by with no deadlines or rush of any kind. I was struck by the beauty of the simplicity of the locals life. It is undeniable that they do not have all the extravagances of a western life but there is a peace and calm about rural life that can be missing from the fast-paced life back home.

Thanks to continuing sickness and a blazing hot day, we were feeling drained so it's a mini-miracle that we were able to muster up enough energy to rent sweet, hot-pink granny bikes complete with a basket.. in fact, it was only missing tassles from the handle-bars and then it would have been an uncanny knock-off of 6-yr-old me's dream bike (and for only $1 for a whole day!) and tackle touring the smaller islands of Don Det & Don Khon. But seriously... Granny bikes with baskets do not get enough love... If I lived somewhere with no hills whatsoever I would be rocking a granny bike. Sadly, the west-side hill would kick my granny-bike riding butt so for now it's just a dream.

By the time we collapsed in our beds at the end of the day we had visited two waterfalls, including the largest falls in SE Asia, the Khone Phapeng Falls, and spotted the rare Irrawady fresh-water dolphins (not pink and ugly as I had assumed, but rather quite dolphin looking) and enjoyed delicious fresh spring rolls for $1. We could not have been more excited for our awaiting cold shower.

xx V


We had a very short view of this capitol city mainly due to the fact that the 'sickness of the stomach" had finally gotten the upperhand and took all three of us down with it. Fortunately we were in a clean guesthouse that had AC and our own private bathroom :)

Let me give you a little written picture of this city. After being in the countryside and smaller towns it was quite odd to find ourselves in a city with highways and much more traffic (bikes, cars, tuk tuks and the tour buses!) It was a short drive to the city and we got in early which was new for us and a blessing because we found not many rooms available. We had become accustomed to getting off in a town and getting a driver to take us to a guesthouse or many guesthouses with the luck of finding one in short amount of time. Not so in Ventiane. We went from place to place, I might add carrying our backpacks, and continued to get the shake of the heads and "no rooms here" remark. Finally we found a place that was a little higher in price then we had been paying (about $8 Canadian dollars a night...I know it is pretty pricey but we were desperate). We dumped our belongings as Grant and Ben found a cheaper place down the road. Ben is an American Valena sat beside on the bus trip to the city and became our fifth member for the time being. We decided to explore the city and we rented pedal bikes for $1/day to see the sights and get a real experience of being on the roads. It was fun and quite interesting watching out for the dodging traffic whilst we pedaled along looking at the temples, monuments and other sights.

Our golden find was this amazing little cafe a block from our guesthouse that was called New Moon. It was our first taste of really fresh veggies, wraps, pitas and had the most calming atmosphere that we literally parked there for two days. We made use of their book exchange, the delicious freshly squeezed juices, their lounging seats and the AC. I think they must have thought we were the weirdest people because if we did leave it was for a short time only to return within the hour and take our "usual" seat back!

On one of these exursions, We decided to take charge of our sick bodies and take a Tuk Tuk to a chemist (pharmacist). It was incredible all of the options a customer could have. No prescriptions necessary and as nurses we couldn't believe what just anyone on the street could pick up. From pain medication to vitamins, this Cambodian chemist had it all and could sell it to you for a cheap cheap price. With our loot in hand we made our way back to New Moon cafe to find relief in the AC. We stayed there until we headed on an overnight bus (with beautiful beds on it complete with pillows and blankets) to the 4000 Islands. Love from us all. B