The incredibly polite and considerate kids in Cambodia

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Since I’ve been in Cambodia for a year and a half, one of the biggest differences I notice between Cambodian youth and those in Western countries is the level of consideration they have for other people and responsibility in the home.

I usually take a nap at my Cambodian colleagues’ house. When I arrived at her house two days ago, her energetic and playful seven-year-old sister who was the only person at home. She was eating on a bench and I just started to lie down on the best beside her. I heard her immediately go into her house, get me a pillow and ran to get another chair for herself so I could sleep on the whole bench. I was very impressed.

Today I also went to an NGO school located 12 km outside of the Siem Reap city-centre. I was prepared to sit on the floor with my computer and as soon as I walked in the room, a 12-year-old girl ran out to get me not one, but two chairs. She said, “One for you and one for your computer.”

I run into a lot of Western expats, whether I want to or not, in town and many would barely have the consideration to get up to get you a chair or do something to help a new visitor or a guest. I was very impressed with my friend’s sister who is much more polite than most Western adults I’ve come across in Asia.

When tourists or expats visit people in rural villages, they’re often surprised how well-behaved many of the children are. Many don’t have a chance to live out a full childhood because they have to help their parents clean the house, pick up their siblings from school, cook around their school schedule, if they even go to school at all.

I keep learning to shut up when I complain about working long hours at times because some Cambodian friends tell me that they wake up at 6:00 a.m. to drop their sister to school before starting their 8-hour work day then going to university for three hours where their teacher may or may not show up because they drank too much the night before. They don’t tell me this to make me feel bad; my friends are just open about their lives. I’ve heard too many “poor” me stories from expats who didn’t get the perfect massage or not having air conditioning.

When I visit my friends’ hometowns in the villages, I’ve seen 11-year-olds who know how to cut and clean fish, young kids helping set up the tables before a meal and kids sweeping and watering plants happily at their schools. They are extremely modest and rarely ask for much from their family, mostly because they can’t. But they know how to use their imaginations and play well with each other.

 

Back to Back Cambodian weddings

The happy newlyweds.

 

I know I should probably be writing about my New Year’s Even in Siem Reap but I have been and will continue to be very busy with my new job with a travel company for the next 10 weeks. I still have to upload pictures then I’ll do a late post.

The last two weeks have been filled with back to back dinners with friends, reunions and consecutive Cambodian wedding parties. I love the openness of Cambodian weddings. One of my friends asked her cousin to give me a formal invitation so that was very sweet. I’ve really enjoying spending time and getting to know their families.

My very sweet friend Mara who got her cousins to invite me.

I went to the smaller pre-wedding party at the house which was really fun. We ate Cambodian food, there is as usual an unlimited supply of beer and soft drinks, karaoke and dancing.

Every time I go over my friend’s place, they are extremely hospitable in typical Cambodian fashion and offer to share their food and ask if I’ve eaten. I was really impressed with my friend too, I know she was so busy helping them prepare for many things, but when she saw that my ice was low on my drink she refilled it for me. Wow, talk about being a great host.

Girls just wanna have fun. Cambodians love karaoke. 

Last year I went to three Cambodian wedding parties in total and three weeks ago I went to three in a weekend. Her cousin’s wedding had the best food of all the weddings I went to and was at a restaurant. It was a fantastic time and I got to meet more nice people.

Great way to spend a Monday night.

Mara’s fun, intelligent and adorable daughter.

This is not soda, it’s duck’s blood. The real Cambodian food.

Pictures from the wedding party

There were at least 700 people at the restaurant of the wedding dinner. I don’t think I’ve ever been to such a big restaurant in Cambodia.

 

 

Getting ready to dance.

 

A mega Cambodian salad.

 

Happy happy

 

Beautifully cooked fish.

 

This generation of inspiring Khmer women

Apologies again for delayed posts, it’s been a crazy two weeks of life transitions, getting a bad cold in a country that is at least 27 degrees on any given day and social obligations.

I’ve met some more inspiring and strong Khmer women on my soccer team that plays games weekly. In many traditional Cambodian households, particularly rural areas of the country, which over 85% of the population lives in rural areas, many Khmer girls and women are expected to become housewives and are often not supported to attend school.

When I joined my first game, we did the usual introductions then one of my friends told me, “I’ve been playing football since I was small. But when I was young my father cut my ball in half because he said women do not play soccer and should learn to clean and cook. But he could not stop me and after a long time, he finally understands he cannot stop me. Women empowerment!”

I learned that this same friend was sponsored to attend a five-day program that uses football to also empower women too, which is amazing. When I first joined football, I wasn’t expecting to as many Khmer people playing as there were. But I’m very happy especially to see more women playing than I expected.

Another one of my teammates told me that her family often discouraged her from going to school and only supported her brothers’ education. But she found her own scholarship that enabled her to go to university. She was the first woman in Cambodia to graduate at the top of her marketing class at her university. Now she earns much more money than most of her male colleagues and uses her extra money to buy good books for her younger siblings.

Another teammate is raising her niece in addition to her own children but she keeps reinforcing the important of working hard and always learning. She provides everything that her niece needs to thrive.

While there may be some NGOs that have some impact with advancing women’s rights, it’s ultimately the women like my friends who will have the biggest influence to change the mentality of the next generation and their siblings to value education and support the empowerment of women.

 

The Jatiluwih rice paddies in Bali, Indonesia

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While I was on Bali island in Indonesia, one of 13,466 islands that make up the country, my friend and I rode our mottos to see the unique Jatiluwih rice paddies, a popular place for foreign visitors. Jati means “really” and luwih means “beautiful.” The rice fields were dug in terraces on the slope of Mount Batukaru around the middle of Bali. When the rice almost reaches harvest time, the colour often varies between green, and dark yellow.

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Indonesia has one of the most stunning landscape and it’s why the motto rides are the best way to explore the country in my opinion. The entrance fee was no more than $2.50 US, about the same price as most temples and sights. Compared to Europe, the value for these places around Asia are much more  beautiful and unique. The Jatiluwih rice fields are definitely worth a visit.

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The dream of Nyomen in Bali

The lovely Nyomen.

I was very happy to meet Nyomen, a staff member at the villa my friend was staying at in Bali, Indonesia. Every time we passed her, she greeted us with the most genuine and warm smile. She doesn’t speak much English and I don’t speak much Indonesian, but I can feel the warmness of her personality. If she didn’t see us for a few days, she would run up and give us a hug whenever we came back.

Nyomen has worked in three villas and is also a mother of two, one of whom is not her biological child, but she so generously took into her family. She grew up in Bali with six other brothers and sisters and now is busy taking care of the family after her work shift is over.

Nyomen’s lifestyle, modesty and unconditional love for her family is typical of many women I have met across Asia. She wakes up early to make breakfast for the children and does a lot of shopping. Husband doesn’t cook but if he has a day off he will go fishing and bring fish back home.

Nyomen makes these beautiful bracelets and sells them. I bought two as a souvenir of her wonderful and generous personality.

Marriage is highly valued across Asia and if people are not married by a certain age, often between 20 to 30, then many people act like it’s the end of the world for you and you have not fulfilled your ultimate mission in life. The families of the bride and groom have to agree with the marriage.

I was curious and asked Nyomen what the common age is for people to marry and she said girls can marry as young as 20 years old and 24 to 27 years old for boys. Sometimes if kids don’t have a job they marry instead.

In today’s Western dating culture, there is so much gaming involved, playing hard to get and often acting like a bad boy/bad girl to attract a partner. So I found the simplicity and genuine affection in Nyomen’s story of how she met her husband very sweet and a great of example of old school romance.

Nyomen’s husband came from the same village as her and they met every day. She said, “We spent a lot of time together and one day my husband said he fell in love with me.” They were not in a relationship for a long time before they got married. She was 20 years old at the time and he was 25 and is now working at a hotel.

I asked her if she wants her kids to marry early and she said, “No, I want my children to go to university, have a good job and then marry. In Bali it’s expensive so I want my kids to be successful and I can help my kids go to university.”

 

Indonesia Cost Summary

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Over the next few weeks I will start posting detailed costs of my time in Indonesia, Laos, Philippines, Taiwan, Cambodia and Thailand. What I spent for 6 weeks in Europe lasted me 10 months in Asia. I wasn’t on a specific budget necessarily and I didn’t hold back on anything I wanted to do including doing my diving license, mutli-day tours, and doing a motorcycling trip.

These places could be done for even cheaper than what I spent because I also treated my friends out regularly and bought extra ingredients to cook for them. My three weeks in Indonesia would have been $371 US if I didn’t do the diving license.

All of the prices will be in US dollars. At the time I was in Indonesia, the exchange rate was on average $1 US=11,500 rupiah.

Accommodation

  • 9 days in Bali: free, at my friend’s villa in Jimbaran
  • Ubud for two nights: $15.00 per person
  • Lombok: $12.00 per person for three nights at Diyah Homestay guesthouse. We happened to arrive when there was a wedding going on and the owners were kind enough to share a few meals with us and invite us to the local ceremony
  • One night accommodation in Yogyakarta at EduHostel: $6.00
  • One night accommodation at a crappy hostel: $5.00

Diving license at Tulamben

  • $400.00 for the license, two nights at the diving resort including all you can eat breakfast and dinners

Adventure and sights

  • $25.00 to go river rafting 12 km through the jungle in Bali that includes an all-you-can-eat buffet
  • $7.00 to watch a variety of traditional dance shows for 2 hours in Ubud’s Kelod centre
  • Most of the temples and sights are about $2.00 for entrance fees and some of the best sights and unique jungle landscape has been in Bali. Often I find in Indonesia the surrounding jungle area is more beautiful than the temple or main sight itself.

Transportation and gas

  • Got around with scooters and ferries. We used my friend’s scooter and I rented a scooter for four days for about $3.50 a day
  • Four-hour overnight ferry ride from Bali to Lombok on scooter was about $11.00
  • Every gas fill for the scooter was about $2.00

Food

  • You can get food for $0.25 when you go to the right places and many meals are $1.50 to $2.00 for a full plate of fried rice, noodles and other types of local food.
  • In Skybar in Kuta, they have all you can eat for $5.00

Total spend for 3 weeks in Indonesia: $771.00

Got a travel story or tip to share?

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I’ve met so many incredible people the past year who have shared inspiring moments, lessons and stories with me during their own travels. If you’d like to share your story to be published here, please email marcokokotravels@gmail.com.

I’m sorry I still have a growing number of posts to publish from my time in the Philippines, Taiwan, Indonesia and my return to Cambodia. The experiences I still have to share include couch surfing in Palawan, living in a driftwood house in Ko Chang island and spending a week learning from a 16-year-old jungle master in Marinduque, Philippines.

Stay tuned!

Our Cambodian wedding photos

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This is such a fun souvenir to make with your friends or family while you’re in Siem Reap. If you have a few hours to spare in your day, you can get Cambodian wedding photos done at several studios around the city. Ladies take about an hour and a half to do makeup and hair Khmer (Cambodian) style.

It’s $15 US for one outfit and $25 US if you choose to dress as an Apsara character (like my friend on the left of the top picture). They don’t do much work on the men but put on the traditional outfit. Be warned, don’t ask to change into several jackets of different colours, because they charge extra for that.

My friends and I went to the studio right across the street of Lucky Mall on Sivatha Road.

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My original face.

My Cambodian face.

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17 most memorable times of 2013

On March 3, 2013, I left my friends, family and jobs to satisfy my curiosity and parts of Asia I’ve never set foot in. I’ve lived in Vancouver, Canada for the 26 of the 28 years I’ve been alive and I felt change was years overdue.

While most people fear change, I have a much bigger fear of not having new experiences after awhile and feeling stagnate. I wanted to take a longer time to travel so my days wouldn’t be rushed and I could have more flexibility have more time to build relationships than simply passing through areas. While I’m very lucky and grateful to have had many unique adventures around North America with fantastic friends, I’ve had the best year of my life in Asia.

I’ve been curious why my friends in Cambodia, Laos and Indonesia have all told me, “Don’t forget us.” I always respond by saying, “How could I ever forget you?!” I wonder if they’ve had people passing through in their lives that they lose touch with their traveling friends.

I initially started this blog to share my experiences with friends and family, but it has evolved to be a living diary of memorable conversations and times I’ve had with the many wonderful people I’ve met. That’s why some of my posts are so long and probably have too much detail that won’t be interesting for some of you to read. My head and heart are often filled with new experiences in a short period of time and it is easy to bury the subtle moments and conversations I’ve had with people. So I write to so that I won’t forget.

These are the most memorable days I’ve had in 2013:

1. Last days with friends, family and colleagues

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My great food-loving and outdoorsy friends in Vancouver, Canada.

I was not expecting the number of going away meals that I had with friends, the university students I worked with, former colleagues and my family. I felt so loved and supported in my journey.

2. Bike ride in Phnom Penh, Harlem Shake and pizza

With Rithy at SmallWorld

I last saw my friend Rithy Thul in 2010 when he led a cross-Cambodia fundraising bike ride. He is an entrepreneur, community-builder and cycling lover.

I went to Phnom Penh the first week I landed in Cambodia to see my friend Rithy Thul, whom I met doing a cross-country cycling fundraiser for the educational NGO PEPY in 2010. I stayed at his enterprise space Small World and in one weekend I:

  • Made pizza with some fantastic university students who had nothing but two gas burners
  • Was part of our version of the Harlem Shake YouTube video
  • Met a couple from Hungary who is cycling around the world (literally!) for their honeymoon
  • Went for a bike ride on the countryside and through train tracks where kids run up to us to say hello
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Learning how to make pizza from scratch. The pizza this student made was better than most pizzas I’ve had in restaurants in Cambodia.

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Sign at Small World

 3. Khmer New Year celebrations

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Enjoying dinner in our friend Tin Tin’s hometown.

Cambodians celebrated Khmer (Cambodian) New Year from April 13-16. I was lucky to spend those days with my friends from Canada, Japan, and America along with Khmer people. One of my closest friends was so generous and flew from Vancouver, Canada to see me for 10 days in Cambodia and we were lucky she just happen to be here during this most festive time in the country.

My friend and I also went to our Khmer friend Tin Tin’s family’s house for dinner about an hour away from Siem Reap. We ate a lovely meal and stayed to dance with his family and the kids in the community.

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Dancing in Tin Tin’s home town.

Of all the festivities, one of the most beautiful memories was when my other friend and I took a tuk tuk late at night to see the Bayon Temple light up at 2:12 a.m. as part of the opening ceremony for Khmer New Year. There were no more than a few hundred Khmer people and we felt like we had the temple all to ourselves as we walked through.

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My friend and I at Bayon temple at 2:30 a.m.

4. Full weekend in Phnom Penh

Taking a swim at Romdeng social enterprise restaurant. We're swimming Khmer style with our clothes on.

Taking a swim at Romdeng social enterprise restaurant. We’re swimming Khmer style with our clothes on.

I went to the city with the perfect girls who were also working in Siem Reap. In one weekend, we:

  • Had breakfast by the riverside
  • Spent the afternoon with our two funny and kind Khmer friends
  • Saw a Khmer play put on by the Cambodia Living Arts, an organization dedicated to reviving and preserving the arts culture after the brutal Khmer Rouge regime killed artists along with other intellectuals
  • Ate at two social enterprises, Romdeng and Daughters of Cambodia and had a beautiful night swim in our clothes at the restaurant
  • Checked out three bars
  • Ended the night dancing

We enjoyed a delicious meal at the Daughters of Cambodia social enterprise cafe.

 5. Days at Golden Temple Villa

My friends at Golden Temple Villa who rushed to get me some lovely gifts when they found out it was my birthday. They gave me a beautiful coffee mug, a bear and beautiful bracelets.

My friend visiting from Canada and I lived at this lovely guesthouse for a week and we quickly became friends with the staff. After only knowing them for a week, I decided to have a birthday lunch at their restaurant and gave them just two hours notice. In those two hours, they rushed to get me small gifts with personalized notes. One of them even apologized for not having time to get me a small gift on time!

In the months I was in Siem Reap, the staff has always been so generous to let me use their Wi-Fi anytime and offered free tea, coffee and snacks. When I thanked my friend who is the manager there and works so hard all the time, she said, “My whole team must take care of you while you are away from your mummy.”

6. Second birthday abroad

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This is only the second time I’ve celebrated my birthday outside of Canada since I was two years old. My biggest fear was being alone on my birthday and I was just happy to be with one or a few people over dinner. I didn’t tell anyone it was my birthday until someone found out because I didn’t want anyone to feel obligated to do something for me. But when people found out they showed up at the social enterprise Soria Moria to celebrate with me and it was a lovely evening. I appreciated new friends making time to be with me.

7. Week with three Cambodian families for the Pchum Ben festival

Picture of San’s family in the Kampong Cham province.

I had a fantastic time spending Pchum Ben, a two-week religious Cambodian festival honouring ancestors, with three Cambodian families over five days. I first went to the Kampong Cham province to visit one friend’s family during flooding season. We took a five-hour bus ride, an hour and a half boat ride on the Mekong River, and a boat taxi in the flooded villages to get to my friend’s home.

I participated in one pagoda ceremony with them, ate with them and laughed with the family. I love being the only foreigner when I visit places because I know it’s away from the places short-term tourists go.

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The wonderful girls who laughed at my pictures with me at the pagoda.

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Taking the boat taxi to get to San’s home in the flooded village.

I spent two days in Banteay Meanchey and my friends showed me around nice parts of their district, offered to pay for my meals and their family was happy to see me for a second time. My friend’s mom was so busy preparing for the celebration and helping with the daughter’s newborn son. But when they found out I was visiting, she spent a lot of time making my favourite dish Amok fish, which was incredibly sweet.

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My friend’s adorable and smart 6-year-old niece. She is at the top of her class in school and speaks quite a few words in English in the Banteay Meanchey province.

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The wonderful girls who took me around Banteay Meanchey.

8. Meeting students in Sronal Commune, Siem Reap

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These are the high school students who come to practice their English in my friend Seng’s village. He volunteers to teach them English every week.

I was very happy to visit my friend Seng and his students in Sronal District, Siem Reap. He volunteers to teach high school students English several times a week and he said I could visit as a guest because they had never had a foreign visitor before. The students were shy at first but when they warmed up to me, some asked me a lot of questions and laughed at my bad Khmer. One student said, “I am very happy you came to my village. You can see my home next time.” I’m looking forward to seeing them again in March 2014.

9. Spending time with my adopted Khmer family

My Khmer family at Pchum Ben, a religious festival honouring their ancestors. How beautiful is this picture?

My Khmer family at Pchum Ben, a religious festival honouring their ancestors. How beautiful is this picture?

I’ve spent a few months living at my friend’s apartment and have fully integrated with their family, whom I call my own now in Cambodia. My favourite times with them is when we eat together, catch up on the day and just laugh. I was a bad influence and introduced Dexter to my friend who would watch with me when she had time. They often tell me, “We really want you to live in Cambodia, think of how you can start a business. You are never alone, you always have family in Cambodia.” **Tear** I’ve been to Cambodia for two rounds now and it’s hardest to leave them every time.

10. Weekend in Bangkok

Friend that I met semi-randomly who ended up hosting me so generously the whole weekend in Bangkok.

Ploy (right), is the friend that I met semi-randomly who ended up hosting me so generously the whole weekend in Bangkok.

Bangkok is one of those places where you can either have a really crappy time or an amazing time depending where you are and who you’re with. My only plan was to just pass through the city and I was getting so fed up with several things. But within the same day, I ended up meeting a new Thai friend named Ploy and friends from Siem Reap who just happened to in Bangkok for the same weekend. My completely unplanned weekend ended up being filled with a bike ride around the quieter part of Bangkok, the largest market I’ve ever been to, dancing and enjoying the unforgettable view at Banyan Tree Hotel, the second highest skybar in the world.

11. Family reunion in Ratanakiri, Cambodia

A Cambodian family feast.

I was very happy to be invited by a friend to see her family in Ratanakiri, east of Cambodia for a few days. We saw my friend’s family farm that grew longbean, pumpkin and other foods, a beautiful lake, two waterfalls, drank Cambodian rice wine, went for karaoke and danced at a club. And we were the only 6 out of 10 people in the club.

12. Meeting local people in Lombok, Indonesia

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The beautiful kids who hung out with us when we took a break from riding our mottos.

This is one of many recurring times that remind me that the best things happen when they are unplanned. My friend was great at not being so concerned about needing a map to get around and we should just drive around the island and stop whenever we felt like it. We met some of the friendliest people wherever we went, particularly the kids who came up to us to sit, talk and laugh with us in the middle of the farm fields.

12. Being pulled into a traditional wedding in Lombok

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A traditional wedding ceremony was hosted at our guesthouse. Hundreds of people accompanied the young couple from one part of the village and ended at our guesthouse.

We stayed at Diyah Homestay guesthouse for a few nights and they apologized to all of their guests in advance for all the music and sounds because there was a wedding that was going to happen the next day. They were so kind and shared meals with all of us, invited us to the ceremony and also dressed us up in traditional clothing to be part of the celebration. We stood in line with many other people with a bowl of fruit baskets to offer the bride and groom.

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The awesome mobile wedding band.

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Thanks to our hosts, I was now properly dressed in traditional clothes and makeup for the ceremony.

13. Fun-filled days in Bali

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We visited the Tirta Empul Temple in central Bali. The spring feeds purification baths, pools and fish ponds that flow to the Tukad Pakerisan River. Various sites throughout the region and many other archaeological relics relate to local myths and legends.

I met up with a friend who was living in Bali for a few months and we just met for two days in Siem Reap around August. I took her up on her invite to visit Bali and thanks to her, we saw an endless stream of beautiful landscape, rice patties, temples, traditional dance performances, jungles and night life.

On day 2 in Bali, we went river rafting in the jungle that included a lunch buffet ($25 US for everything), had dinner at a very local restaurant, went to a surfing fundraiser for an NGO, went to a place with beautiful Latin dancers that involved basic lessons, a gay club with awesome ladyboys and one more club before having dinner number 2 at 7-11, which was instant noodles. And yes, this was all in one day.

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One of the seven traditional dance performances we saw in Ubud, Bali. Indonesia’s varied dance styles are made up of beautiful colours, stories and complex rhythms. I’ve never seen a dance like the ones we saw in Ubud.

Rice terraces in Jatiluwih, Bali

14. My unforgettable couch surfing experience in Yogyakarta

Attempting to make curry at Lalha’s home where I stayed for one night.

I met some fantastic university students through couchsurfing.org and were incredible hosts for the few days I was in Yogyakarta. The first night a group of us hung out, I jokingly requested that Ayumita, a wonderful 19-year-old student who sings at hotels weekly, sing a song just for us. So without hesitation, she went up to the live band and sang Rolling in the Deep for us by Adele.

We spent our last hours together at the town square to make our wishes and rode an LED-covered bicycle playing club music.

The next day, I took a motorcycle ride with one of the friends to the famous Borobudur Temples, we cooked curry together at Lalha’s house, went to a local coffee place with great live music, went to the wishing tree at a local park and took a bicycle for a few laps that was lit up and played club music. I regret not staying longer in Yogyakarta with these wonderful new friends, and it’s my lesson that I should just chance it at the airport and not buy a ticket out of the country.

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Why take a two hour bus with a bunch of tourists when you can catch a ride on one of these with a local person who knows where they’re going?

Why go to a club when you can listen to club music while taking a bike ride with friends in these creative works of art?

15. Reuniting with a close friend in Taiwan

I stayed with one of my closest friends Susan for a week in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. The last time we saw each other was when she came to visit me in Cambodia in April. It was my turn to visit and we were very happy to reconnect.

The only reason I came to Taiwan was to see one of my closest friends from Vancouver, who also came to visit me in Cambodia. I spent a week with Susan, which wasn’t long enough, but we saw some beautiful national parks and neighbouring island, drank the best milk tea I’ve ever had, and spent Christmas day with her classmates and mom eating take out food from a restaurant called Yaletown Bistro (a restaurant in Vancouver).

15. My first Cambodian engagement party

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My friend Lida in her beautiful traditional Khmer dress for the first part of the ceremony.

When I came back to Cambodia for a few weeks after Laos, my friend gave me one day notice to come to her engagement party. The next day I went with her by bus and motto to her family’s home for the weekend. I was happy to stay with her family and see everything that was involved with the preparations, including decorating their house, all the food that was cooked, the many colourful fruit baskets for offering and huge sound speakers for the day’s music.

I enjoyed playing games and dancing with the kids in the village the most that weekend. Even when some of the kids didn’t speak English and my Khmer was very limited, they tried to converse and connect and I’m looking forward to seeing them again for the wedding in March 2014.

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My dancing buddies at the wedding. They totally made my weekend.

16. Hiking, pizza hopping, dancing and lantern wishes in Laos

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Our picnic spot by the Mekong River in Luang Prabang.

It was great hanging out with people who live in Luang Prabang and other foreign visitors. We went on small walks, had a picnic by the Mekong River, danced at a club with a dance floor filled with beer kegs used as tables, and went night bowling at the only place in town that opens past midnight.

My Laos friend Tou was very sweet to bring me an extra lantern she had so I could send a wish to the sky and she also gave me a beautiful silver necklace. I told her that was too big a gift to give me and that wasn’t necessary. She said, “No it looks nice on you, please take it. I have many necklaces.”

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The extra lantern Tou brought for me so I could make a wish and send it to the sky.

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17. Country bike rides in Cambodia

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I always loved going with friends to bike around the villages and rice fields around Cambodia. I mostly did this in Siem Reap and the last ride I did in 2013 was with my great friend Cho who spent the day leading us around the Angkor Wat area. We stopped by for lunch at his cousin’s wedding in his village.

I know 2014 will be filled with more new connections, unexpected events and more adventures. When we try to swim against the currents, we can only go so far until we realize that there is a path that’s already set out out for us. So it’s best to let go, ride the wave see where we end up.

Riding without a destination in Lombok

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Beautiful ride at 6:00 a.m. from the ferry to Kuta, south of Lombok island.

Riding a motto around Indonesia (where possible) is one of the best ways to explore the islands. Lombok island, which is east of Bali, has been such a nice place to take it easy and explore for a few days.

Driving from the ferry to Kuta, Lombok

Ferry from Bali to Lombok island

Inside the ferry from Bali to Lombok island with TVs to entertain their guess from 1:00 a.m. to 5:30 a.m.

There is a ferry at Padang Bai in the East of Bali that leaves every hour all day and all night to Lombok. Three of us took the 1:00 a.m. ferry to save on accommodation and paid 112,000 rupiahs (about $12 US) with our mottos.

We drove about an hour and a half from the ferry to south of the island in an area called Kuta, which was the most beautiful drive I have done by motto in Asia so far.

Compared to the traffic and countless tourists in Bali, Lombok has much less tourists unless you’re in an area called Senggigi and it is very quiet. The roads are nice and smooth, even in the small villages surprisingly and people aren’t driving at 90 km an hour passing each other.

Riding without a plan

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The wonderful kids who kept us company around their home.

While I was in Cambodia for eight months, I was constantly reminded that the best things happen when my days were unplanned. But sometimes my old habits kick in and I have this recurring urge to make sure I am going the right direction and make as few mistakes as possible. So thankfully for me, I’m constantly with locals, travelers or expats (people from other countries who live in Asia) who are pretty easygoing and remind me to just go with the flow and getting lost is not a bad thing.

In Vancouver, getting lost is often a frustrating experience, but often “getting lost” or not knowing exactly where you are often leads to the most unforgettable experience. In Lombok it’s really hard to actually lose your way completely on this small island. Before we started riding, I asked my friend Natalie if we should get a map but she said “Nah, it’s ok, I usually like to go places without a map and just asking people.”

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These are the first people we met when we stopped for a drink. The man on the left taught us a few words in Bahasa Susak, one of the several languages spoken in Lombok.

We originally planned to just spend the day on one of the other small islands and just make stops as we pleased along the way. We first stopped by a local market and I just drank something just to be around local people. As soon as we sat down, people around us start talking to us, even with the language barrier. Thankfully Natalie can speak some Bahasa.

The usual questions both in Bali and Lombok are, “Where you from? Are you married? Where you go? How long you in Indonesia?” Talking with them was a great way to start the day and we learned a few words in Bahasa Sasak, the indigenous language of the people in Lombok.

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The wonderful people who stopped to ask if we needed directions.

Even on this small island, there are several variations of the language across the island. Most people will at least understand, if not speak, Bahasa Indonesia, which is the common language across the country. When I said, “Bremebe kabar” which means “how are you?” in Bahasa Sasak to people just a few km outside of Kuta, many of them gave me blank stares. I’m pretty sure my pronunciation wasn’t that far off. But when I say the same thing in Kuta, everyone understands me.

Natalie and I guessed that some people speak one version of Sasak and others speak Bahasa in other parts of Lombok. It’s very interesting languages can differ so much just 10 km or less between different areas.
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After 30 minutes, we continued riding around and it was so relaxing and beautiful to just ride through the small roads and a variety of landscape. As we drive, we’re very obvious foreign visitors, people smile and say hello. This genuine and warming greeting reminds me a lot of the people, especially children, in Cambodian villages.

We took a break and sat on what we thought was an empty field with no one in sight. Before we know it, a few kids stared at us and started talking to us. Then just a few minutes later, there were 23 kids who surrounded us, laughed and spoke with us. Natalie spoke with many of them in Bahasa. This was definitely the highlight of my day.The kids were so friendly and funny. Unlike Kuta, the rest of the places we went to don’t have many tourists so people were very curious about us.

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We offered some of our snacks to them and I was surprised that all of them refused. Natalie told me in parts of the islands, when one person says “yes” or “no”, the group usually follows together.

We said goodbye the kids and continued driving around. People both in Lombok and Bali always come up to us as soon as we stop somewhere to ask us where we are going and if we need help. It’s so nice of them. On our way to one of the hills, we asked for directions to a few people and they all crowded around to talk to us because we were in a rural area that few travelers would go to. I could have easily spent the rest of the afternoon with them, they had lovely smiles like most people around the island.

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Another new friend we met.

While the local people in Kuta are very kind, particularly our guesthouse family at Dyah Homestay, they seem to be a bit less sociable than the people who are on the other parts of the island where there are less tourists. People in Kuta aren’t unfriendly at all, they don’t engage as much in conversation with us. Maybe because they are so used to having tourists around, and they may be even sick of them. I don’t think many of the tourists who would come to Lombok care to have a good conversation with the local people. Many just surf, smoke, eat, drink and keep to themselves.

When we were almost done riding after a few hours, Natalie asked me, “Do you still want a map?” And I said, “Hell no! We’ve met the most amazing people just riding around.”

Explore without a destination, you never know who you will meet and the surprising things the world will give you.