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southeast asia

Siem Reap: Temples and Countryside

After arriving in Siem Reap Monday night and settling into the hotel, our local guide had arranged for us to have dinner in the home of a local who runs a school for children in the town who cannot afford to go to school otherwise. After a delicious meal (amok and curry!), we were able to visit with several students who live nearby who wanted a chance to practice their English. I spoke with some high school students who had pretty developed English skills, and they told me knowing English is really important to get a good job here.

 

The next morning, we left at 4:30am to head to Angkor Wat for the sunrise. It was absolutely beautiful. Even though it was slightly overcast, the way the light reflected off the temple and changed the colors of the reflection in the water was still breathtaking. 

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Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world. It was built as a Hindu temple in the 12th century and was later converted to a Buddhist temple. It took 35 years to build! Our guide, Bunni, did a great job of explaining all of the history behind the architecture. Bunni also shared with me he was never able to attend college because of the Cambodian genocide (the genocide was targeted toward educated people), but his daughter is now in college. He was absolutely fantastic and great at taking pano shots on the iPhone!

My favorite part of Angkor Wat was climbing the very steep and narrow staircase to Bakan, or the highest level of the temple which represents heaven. To enter Angkor Wat, I had to cover my shoulders with a scarf. However, to enter Bakan I had to cover up even more with a tunic I bought for $3 on the side of the street, and remove my hat. Bunni said that to visit Bakan, you were only allowed to think positive thoughts and had to leave all negative thoughts behind. This was amazing experience! 

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This is me thinking only positive thoughts while visiting Bakan!

 

After watching the sunrise and touring Angkor Wat, we went on to the temples at Ta Prohm and Bayon. Ta Prohm and Bayon were also beautiful. Ta Prohm is the temple where Tomb Raider was filmed and the trees are growing over the temple. Bayon is the temple most famous for its stone faces. They were both also built in the 12th century and combine Hindu and Buddhist elements. 

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One of Bunni’s really cool pano shots at Ta Prohm!
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Ta Prohm
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Bayon
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Bayon

In the afternoon, I relaxed by the pool for a bit then joined in on a “quad bike” ride through the Siem Reap countryside. In the US, we call these four-wheelers. By a stroke of good fortune, it was raining, so we hit lots and lots of mud! I also made some small jumps and almost slid off the bike a few times…so much fun! This was definitely a full circle moment for me. In Alabama, this is called mud riding, and the world seemed a little smaller to me as I flew through the mud puddles around Siem Reap. 🙂 It was also very interesting to see the agriculture and some rural areas outside of the city.13221163_10207550233926478_6044351994766734191_o (1)

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Hailey and I were the fastest 2!!

 

Siem Reap has been charming and informative…next stop is Phnom Penh!

A Brief Stay in Bangkok and Crossing into Cambodia

The trip to Bangkok went smoothly Sunday morning. I was able to visit the post office in the airport and send some postcards and a small box full of things I decided I didn’t need back to the U.S. I shipped the box to my cousin for safe-keeping (thanks Valerie!) until I get back to the US for only 1,450 baht (about 40 USD). My backpack feels so much lighter already, and now I won’t feel guilty about buying things! 🙂

 

Once in Bangkok, I took a car to my hotel (arranged through the group I am traveling with, G Adventures) and checked in. I was very excited to see the hotel was pretty nice…although I’d only stayed in a hostel 3 nights in Chiang Mai, I realized how much I like having space and privacy! I will be in hotels for the rest of SE Asia, and then will be in hostels the rest of the summer, I am now thinking I may have to treat myself to a hotel every now and then later in the summer as the budget allows! Instead of sightseeing, I decided to relax by the pool for the afternoon, which was an excellent decision.IMG_7596.JPG

 

Around 6pm, Alexa (roommate from Germany, also traveling solo!) and I met up with the rest of our travel group, where we met a third solo female traveler (from Australia). The six other people in the group are from Canada and Britain. Just as it was in Africa, I am the only American in our group…evidence that Americans need to travel more! 🙂

 

After meeting up, we all went to dinner and then took tuk-tuks to Khaosan Road.  This is where it got interesting! Khaosan Road is ridiculous! It is like the Thai version of Bourbon Street in New Orleans or Beale Street in Memphis. Perhaps it was a little touristy and over the top, but I absolutely loved it. After a lot of dancing, people-watching and experimenting with food (Alexa and Jemma tried scorpion! I observed…), we headed back to the hotel to get some rest.

 

In Chiang Mai, people told me I would not like Bangkok because it was dirty, hot, and too busy. Ironically, these are exactly the reasons I liked it so much! It’s definitely on the gritty side, like NYC :-), but I really enjoyed it.  I do feel a little guilty for chosing the pool over seeing temples or the Grand Palace, but I will just have to catch those next time. 🙂
This morning, we drove from Bangkok to cross the border into Cambodia at Poipet. While walking the 10 minute stretch across the border, it immediately struck me how much poorer Cambodia is than Thailand. Thailand is very developed and luxurious compared to Cambodia. I also learned that no education is free in Cambodia–not even primary school. (In Thailand, primary school is free but nothing else.) I have only been here for an hour and am already floored by what I am seeing and learning.

 

On the way to Siem Reap, we stopped at a roadside restaurant and I had my first Cambodian meal–fish amok with an Angkor beer. Very on point and so delicious! Tomorrow, it’s on to Angkor Wat!

So It Begins: Memphis to Thailand

I’ve finally arrived to my first overseas destination in Northern Thailand! I will be spending a few days here solo before heading to Bangkok on Sunday to meet up with a group. I arrived after layovers in Chicago, Vancouver, and Shanghai, for a total of 35 hours of travel time. Yes, Memphis → Chicago→ Vancouver→ Shanghai→ Chiang Mai. Crazy, but I did it!  

Surprisingly, the Memphis airport was the busiest I have ever seen it on Tuesday afternoon. It usually takes less than 15 minutes to check in and get through security. It took about 45 minutes on Tuesday. Fortunately, I made it to my gate just fine with about 10 minutes to spare. My dad saw me off at the airport. I am so glad I was able to spend time with him this week, as well as with my mom, other family members, and friends over the last few weeks before the leaving the U.S.–it meant so much to me!

Once I arrived in Vancouver, I realized quickly that the Canadian version of TSA is so strict! Even though all of my shampoos and conditioners were in small bottles, they said I had too many bottles, so I had to throw some away. I didn’t want to be “that girl,” but I really wanted to explain to him how picky I am about my hair products, and I needed to take all of these with me to last for 3 months! However, I kept my mouth shut and sadly threw several away in order to be in compliance. I was annoyed then, but now I realize it’s pretty hilarious I had so many tiny bottles in my backpack. Also, my backpack is a little lighter now!

In Vancouver, I boarded a 12 hour flight with China Eastern to Shanghai. Unfortunately, I had looked up China Eastern on Yelp the night before, and was thoroughly freaked out by what I read. It seemed all of the reviews talked about how horrible the airline was, regarding everything from the manners of the crew to leg space to food to safety. One reviewer even talked about how his flight had been in freefall multiple times, and he thought he was going to die as he and the other passengers screamed the whole flight! Needless to say, this made me even more nervous.

However, the flight could not have been smoother. We flew over Alaska, the Bering Strait, and Russia, barely crossing the Pacific (This was important to me, as I get nervous about flying over large bodies of water. If you have to emergency land, where do you go?!) We even flew around the edge of North Korea (!) and landed in Shanghai ahead of schedule. The layover in Shanghai airport was very relaxing, as I accessed the free wifi to text and FaceTime with friends and family and found a Starbucks for a “just like home” coffee fix! The only downside is that I was unable to check both my Gmail and Facebook, as the Chinese government has blocked both. I also wasn’t able to use Google for the same reason. I’ll never take these sites for granted again!

 

Once I finally arrived in Chiang Mai, I hired a tuk-tuk (basically a motorcycle taxi) outside of the airport to take me to my hostel. I was able to bargain with him to reduce the price from 200 baht to 160 baht! He swore he knew where my hostel was, but it was only after 45 minutes of riding around and stopping to ask 6 people that we ultimately found it. I am not complaining though…the ride was fun and I was able to get a good first look around Chiang Mai! The first night in Thailand was a complete whirlwind, mostly due to extreme tiredness and adrenaline. I made friends with a group of Canadians at my hostel, and we went to dinner and then to a “disco” (just a bar really…but it’s fun to call it a disco!) I’m excited to see what the next few days in Chiang Mai hold!!

 

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Tuk-tuk selfie (no shame!) Delirious and excited after 35 hours of travel!
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Asking directions (again). I didn’t think we would ever get there…everyone was extremely nice and tried to be very helpful though!

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