Cycling the Angkor Wat wall

I love joining the weekly bike rides in Siem Reap. Every Saturday morning at 8:00 a.m., anyone can join the group in front of the Grasshopper Adventure‘s office close to river and across Peace Cafe. Different people take turns leading the ride, which usually lasts between two to three hours depending how far people go. Whether 2 or 20 people join, the group goes rain or shine.

Going along the walls of the Angkor Wat area is one of my favourite routes and we did just that last weekend. During the rainy season from May to November, sometimes we go on some pretty muddy treks and have to carry our bicycles across the water. But that’s all part of the adventure.

The cheapest places I’ve found for a mountain bike rental for a whole day is $3 US at a bike shop on Sivatha Road within a block of X bar on the same side towards the direction of the roundabout. To avoid handing my passport, I just tell them that my passport is in Phnom Penh on a Visa extension. But they’re trustworthy, I wouldn’t worry about scams at this shop.

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Lessons from our 360 km bike ride around Delicious Mauritius

Joseph and I took a detour from the coastal road on the beach to avoid riding up a mega hill.

During the five months I was in my home island-country of Mauritius in Africa, I was incredibly lucky to find out that my cousin Joseph likes adventurous activities. Out of the 300+ members in our family, he is the only one who likes to ride bicycles and do long hikes. When I say ride bicycles, I don’t just mean leisurely rides through open farms and fields. I mean riding on the roads, through the forest and new routes he’s never been on before.

Since I found out he liked biking, we have been going on bike rides almost every week. He bikes every day to work and back a huge hill that takes 10 minutes to go up, so his stamina is incredible and a hell of a lot better than mine!

The beautiful waters in northern Mauritius.

During our first ride together, we did 70 km ride and a huge climb on a big hill. Two weeks later, while we were doing a leisurely ride on the south coast and while we were starting to pack our bikes, Joseph said, “I’ve always wanted to do the tour of Mauritius.” I excitedly replied and said, “If I had known you earlier, I was looking for someone or a group of people to do the tour of Mauritius for my birth as a fundraiser bike ride! If you have time next week, let’s do it before I leave the country.” He immediately said yes and believed we could do it in two days. We decided to do the ride just five days before we actually began.

Joseph prepped our 5:30 a.m. breakfast ingredients so we would be well fueled on day one of two of our 360 km bike ride.

Our goal

Our goal was to cycle 360 km along the coastal roads of Mauritius in two days. Joseph was awesome and planned all of our break stops to make sure we were on track and where we should be every hour.

I loved the look on people’s faces whenever we told them we were cycling around the whole island. I never get tired of it. When they asked why we were doing it he said in French, “Because we’re crazy.”

The kindness of Mauritians

The man on the right was nice enough to stop, lend us a screwdriver to change a flat tire and wait patiently until we were done before he continued on his way.

Unfortunately crime has gone up the past decade in Mauritius and many people I know on the island are fearful at times to the point where they don’t really trust many people. Their fear infected me for the first two weeks to the point where I was suspicious of people’s genuinely kind gestures like when I was lost sometimes and they walked with me to show me where I needed to go.

But over the five months I was in Mauritius, the people I didn’t know kept being kind to me the way other local people were in every country I’ve been in. I know there are a lot of people in Mauritius you can’t trust and people get screwed over a lot by their own friends. But I seem to attract positive people so instead of just looking at the negative sides, I didn’t let excessive fears shield me from experiencing the kindness of helpful Mauritians.

Many of my relatives were worried about us riding around the island but Joseph and I both know there are kind people along the way and weren’t worried about being attacked in any way. On the contrary, the people in the smaller villages we rode through are very kind, honest and it felt much safer than being in the cities.

We road along the windy south part of the island that slowed our pace, but we kept pushing on.

Joseph’s friend joined us for the first few hours of our ride and had to go back to his home for a meeting. He unfortunately had a flat tire in the first two hours we were riding and Joseph had most of the tools except for a screwdriver. So Joseph stopped a motorcycle that was passing by and the driver was so nice to stop, lend us the tool we needed and waited patiently.

Whenever we’ve cycled in the past, I feel a warmness among people in the villages. When we stopped at a woman’s restaurant, people brought our food with smiles and kindly set up the tables for us.

The most important tool is positive energy

These are the tallest coconut trees I saw during our ride.

I know this sounds really cheesy but it’s true. We could have the best bikes, all the food we need and all the tools. But all of that wouldn’t have mattered if we didn’t have the strong belief that we could meet our goal throughout our trip, even when we had delays or when I was extremely exhausted.

I’m not nearly as fit as Joseph and we took so many breaks because I had to stop a lot, especially after some longer hills. But Joseph’s constant positive energy throughout our whole trip played a huge factor in us being able to meet our goal. He never once complained anytime we had a flat tire, took the wrong route or bad weather conditions.

As we stopped at Le Morne mountain where we saw a group of kids learning about the runaway slaves who used the mountain as a shelter through the 18th and early years of the 19th centuries. They formed settlements in the cave.

On the second day, we started riding when my body felt like it was at 60% energy than normal after riding for 11 hours of riding the day before. But after awhile, my body just kept going on for some time and it’s fascinating how much our bodies can push on after it hits a certain point.

People talk a lot about this physical and mental point when they run and they can just keep going for a long time. It’s easy to get in a reflective state when you’re bicycling when you hear nothing but the sound of wind, your pedals in rotation, and complete silence.

This is one of several sculptures that are displayed at the base of Le Morne.

Whenever we had a delay like his friend having a flat tire or we had to take an alternate route that set us back by two hours, Joseph would just turn to me and say, “This is part of the adventure. It’s a good experience. At least you can tell people the Tour of Mauritius is not easy. If there is no spice, you will have nothing to write about on your blog.”

My biggest personal challenge was at the end of the first day when we had to cycle another 2 hours than we had originally planned and rode over a continuous hill in an area called Albion. I haven’t pushed my body that far since I did a 500 km bike ride across Cambodia in 2009.

Before we began that hill, we had already been cycling for seven hours and my body was ready to push for one more hour to get to our final stop in Flic en Flac in the west. But I was beyond exhausted and just couldn’t push anymore at one point. I told Joseph, “I don’t know if I can make it to the end I think I’ll have to walk up all of the hills.”

Selfie in motion.

Joseph didn’t look annoyed. Instead he was extremely encouraging and said, “We’ll stop here, I’ll get you a soft drink. Right now you just need energy. You didn’t finish your whole plate of noodles, but I did so you just need energy. I am confident you can do it.” After I drank the soft drink I did surprisingly have a lot more energy than I did five minutes earlier when my body was going to crash.

Joseph had a lot of breaks because he would always wait for me a the top of the hill until I caught up. But never looked irritated and he always pushed me at the perfect time. After I had my minute-long breaks, he said, “Ok, ready to go?” He was never overly pushy at all but he made sure we both kept up the pace with enough breaks.

We pushed on slowly but surely and I was surprised how revived I felt. We were finally rewarded with a 3 km ride downhill, which was an amazing way to end the day.

My bike just chillin’.

One the second day we already had a two-hour delay in the first of our eight legs that we had to finish. Joseph was worried, but I said, “No worries we’ll be able to make it, we’re keeping a great pace.” We would have made it only if there were no other major delays like a flat tire. So it was my turn the second day to keep positive energy so throughout the two days we complemented teach other very well.

Our Tour of Mauritius reminded me of when I traveled and you just have to have good faith and an open mind to be prepared for setbacks. But don’t expect them to happen then you may subconsciously create that future.

Positive energy and encouragement will make you realize your potential. You can see obstacles as a barrier to your goal or as something you are determined to overcome so you become stronger.

I couldn’t believe Joseph slept at 10:00 p.m. after riding 11 hours and got up at 4:30 a.m. the next day. Because he was up, he prepared our breakfast, teas and snacks for the day for both of us while I was trying to squeeze in every minute of sleep I could get. Lazy. 

Having enough food fuel 

Joseph made sure that we both ate well throughout the ride and had a good breakfast and lunch. When we ride, we don’t get that hungry often, but of course we needed energy so he made sure we ate something small every hour like a chocolate bar. After my exhaustion peaks on the first day, even though I don’t usually like soft drinks, I made sure I drank one every two hours just to keep my energy up.

Finding creative solutions 

After a two-hour delay on our first of eight legs on day two, we finally arrived at the beach so we could walk three kilometers to get to the coastal road in order to avoid a huge hill climb. 

Travelers and people who live on few resources tend to be more creative and are often in situations where they have to find creative solutions to their problems. Many of my Cambodian friends are street smart. They don’t have big U-Hauls like we do in North America so they know how to use ropes and layer everything on a big wooden wagon to be able to transport the same amount of stuff. When my motto broke down, I was going to push the bike to the mechanic but my friend told me to just sit on my bike and he pulled me with one hand while he rode his motto.

When you’re traveling, you have to find out how to get around without speaking the local language or finding things you need. You learn to use images to communicate or make friends with locals who can take to where you need to go.

This was our lunch on our first day: octopus and fish curry on noodles. I was only able to eat half of the plate, which quite possibly contributed to my near downfall on the huge hill we had to climb on the end of the day. I should have eaten the whole plate for energy.

It appears as though people in Westernized cultures have forgotten how to talk to each other or seem extremely hesitant to talk to someone they don’t know. Joseph and I very similar in that we just ask for directions and are never afraid of getting lost whereas many people would freak out at the thought of being lost.

On our second day of the ride, we missed the dirt road on the map that was supposed to take us to the main road so we wouldn’t have to climb the big hill. Our backup plan was to get to the beach through the hotel and walk to the main road, but that didn’t work out because there were renovations and the whole beach was fenced off.

Stuffing ourselves with an Italian dinner after 11 hours of cycling on day one.

So finally Joseph asked a security guard to give us permission to get to the beach through the hotel because by that point, we were already two hours behind and with any more delays, we wouldn’t have made it to the end on time. The guard happened to do the Tour of Mauritius by bicycle himself and he said, “I can’t let you in but there is a small path that will lead to the beach just up ahead if you go through the trees.” We we went and made our little trek with our bikes until we made it to the beach.

Joseph said, “Even if we don’t make it by 5:00 p.m. we will keep riding until we finish. It’s not good if came all this way not to make it to the end.” His friends were taking his car down and were going to accompany us through the last part of the ride.

Slower pace wins the race

The winds blowing hard at the trees in southern Mauritius.

Joseph has been cycling a long time and on a daily basis so he knows what technique is best to reserve his energy. Sometimes I would stand up on my bike for the harder hills or not pedal for a few seconds and just let the bike to go reserve my energy.

But even if I was ahead for a bit, it wasn’t long until Joseph would steadily catch up to me and pass me. I kept thinking of the rabbit and the turtle story. Guess who was the rabbit? He said, “You have to pedal consistently at about one revolution per second and adjust your gears accordingly.”

 The final destination

We encountered almost all weathers during the two days: rain, wind and sun. If there was snow, that would be a first in Mauritius.

We were on the 12th hour of our ride and for some reason I got a burst of energy and could keep going, even up the hills. Joseph’s friends who we went hiking with in the past followed us in the truck for the last few kilometers of our tour.  It was nice to have the support of his friends of what we were doing because many other people just think we’re crazy.

When we finally did it, I got so much in a present state that even when we finished the ride it didn’t really hit me that we cycled around all of Mauritius and I was still very much in the moment. A few times in the ride I asked myself, “Why do you put your body through this torture every now and then when you could be very comfortable exercising at home or a more leisurely bike.” For me, it comes down to discovering my potential and personal satisfaction.

This is the first time I’ve ever seen fried noodles presented like this. This was Joseph’s dinner on the first day of our tour.

Joseph’s next ambitious goal is to do the Tour of Mauritius in one day! But I believe with his stamina he could do it. While we were riding he had already planned out how many kilometers he would need to cover in an hour in his head and said that he could do it in 13 hours.

And now he knows the routes and where we took wrong turns. I was really happy when he said, “I think I will take your idea and do a fundraiser when do the tour. People have done the Tour of Mauritius but I’m not sure how many people have done it in one day. That will get attention.” It was really sweet when he told me, “When I do the tour I will think of you and miss you. Whenever I take a break I’ll be on a hill and looking behind to see if you are coming.”

Joseph has been very easy to travel and cycle with because we are both easygoing, open-minded, adventurous, unafraid of getting lost, social with new people and have the same determination to try an ambitious goal just to see if we can do it. One of the world’s great snowboarders Travis Rice said, “You don’t know your full potential until we push ourselves to find it.”

So go out and discover your potential. 

 

 

Life doesn’t stop just because it rains

This is the most adventurous trail I’ve ever done in my life. We were trekking through Black River Gorges in the bush while it was raining most of the day.

I grew up in Vancouver, Canada where it rains most of the year so I’ve gotten used to it. But most people refuse to go out at all as soon as it rains since it’s windy and cold. But in places like Mauritius, an island-country close to South Africa, and Asia, it’s not that cold when it rains and can actually be quite refreshing.

What’s nice about Mauritius is there are microclimates. So if it’s raining in the wet city of Curepipe, it’s often sunny in other parts of this small island. If it’s cloudy in the south, it can be very sunny up north.

I’ve been going cycling with my cool cousin Joseph at least once a week for the past month. Like me, he’ll go out for a ride rain or shine. During our last ride, he told me, “I am not someone who is deterred by obstacles. I like to venture out and go alone. If I always wait for someone to come with me, I will never go.

Ben enjoying the natural water slide in Black River Gorges.

Going out rain or shine

Every time we start, the weather is very cold and wet in Curepipe but we always take a chance and venture out. We’ve been very lucky because the few times we went out with an open mind and moved away from Curepipe, the skies cleared up and we got a perfect breeze as we started our journey. It’s almost like we were rewarded for having an open mind.

The first time Joseph and I cycled 70 km, the rain came at the perfect time after we had been cycling for awhile and we were very hot. The rain was a blessing. When I was at my max tiredness going up a huge hill and there were dark clouds hovering over our heads, I saw a rainbow appear and it reminded me that there is beauty among the darkness and we just have to look for it and focus on that.

I unfortunately didn’t bring my camera to show you pictures of the last bicycle ride, but we started by the airport and ended up having the most scenic ride so far. We stayed along the south coast where the roads were ride, streets were quiet and we heard nothing but the constant waves crashing against the rocks and wind brushing against our skin. As I looked at the waves hitting the rocks, the spectacular turquoise colour manifests itself as it gets closer to the land.

We passed one of many streams in the mountains.

Joseph asked me, “I don’t know the way but we can explore. If we don’t try, we won’t know.” Most Mauritians have never stepped foot on these parts of the island, because you either have to walk among the trees or bicycle. Joseph and I travel in a similar style, which is very hard to find among many Asian families. We like to stay away from tourist spots, venture deep into the land, connect with people in the communities, and are not afraid to venture without a map because you can always ask people around to find your way back.

Yesterday we finished a full day hike at Black River Gorges National Park and it ended up raining a lot and became very slippery. Almost all of us fell at some point, we had to use our hands to pass through the forest trail and all of the mud. But venturing this this path was a lot of fun and definitely the most adventurous hiking route I’ve done in my life.

We can’t predict how the weather or the day will be. But if we always wait for the perfect circumstances, we may never go out and do what we enjoy.

While Joseph and I were climbing the continuous hills after 6 hours of riding, a rainbow appeared as we are heading back home among the dark clouds.

Look for beauty, not negativity

Most of the people I come across both in Canada, Asia and Mauritius live in their routines and the walls of their home. I know we are creatures of habit but in order for people to grow and learn, we need to break out of our walls and see all the beauty the world has to offer and the wonderful people we meet.

I feel very sad for over-sheltered children around the world. I understand the intention of parents to protect their children but as they grow older, the parents are taking away their ability to be self-sufficient, quick on their feet and deal with difficult situations. Some of the brightest and well-mannered kids I’ve met are in the Philippines, Laos and Cambodia, many of whom grew up in the jungle or the farm.

As we live our lives, people often spend most of the time looking at the dark clouds. Go out and look between the clouds and you may find a beautiful rainbow in your day. After all, you can’t have a rainbow without a little rain.

Cycling in Delicious Mauritius

My cool cousin Joseph sailing down the hill east of Mauritius.

I can’t believe I went five months without sitting on a single bicycle since I’ve been in Mauritius until last week. I cycled for years in Vancouver, Canada and almost every day in Cambodia so I was getting antsy to ride.

My family’s not really into outdoor activities until finally I discovered one of my cousin’s husband Joseph used to hike every week in Mauritius for decades and cycles to work every day. For the last month, he’s introduced me to his friend Mukesh who knows all of the hiking and cycling routes in Mauritius like the back of his hand.

I took full advantage of any hills we got and pedaled as quick as I could.

The 70 km ride in the West

Last Saturday I thought Joseph was just free to ride for an hour or two but we ended up doing a 70 km ride from the centre of Mauritius in Curepipe to Bambous in the west then all the way back up the big hill to get back to Curepipe. We rode for six hours.

I haven’t pushed my body physically in such a long time. When you’re not exercising consistently, it can be a big jump. But in my head, I was determined to stay on the bike and push through and not walk the bike up. I discovered that when I look down when I’m pushing up a big hill, my body gets tired much more quickly than when I look up the sky. I forgot how much people can push their bodies to their full potential and the ride reminded me that when we put ourselves in challenging situations in life, it’s an opportunity for us to learn and grow.

An attempted selfie.

Bicycling focuses my mind and puts things more in perspective. I reflect a lot while I’m riding and concentrate on breathing slowly. It is a unique meditation that makes me refocus on the bigger picture that is nature. It’s so easy for our minds to fixate on negative things going on in our lives or negative moments. But when you’re outdoors, you are reminded than those problems are small dots in the big picture and that there are many more positive things to focus on.

We enjoyed a local roti before the long ride up the hill.

While I was pushing through the ride, I kept thinking of what our friend Pi Nan on Mindful Farm told us in Thailand, “We feel sad when we think of negative things on the past. Just focus on your breath and be present. When you are meditating just focus on the present. And remember to smile while you meditate.” Pi Nan was a monk for 20 years before starting his self-sufficient organic farm in northern Thailand.

I’m fascinated by how little food I need to eat while I’m doing full day hikes or bike rides. All we ate was a local roti, a type of Indian bread, with curry and a pineapple on the road.

A pitstop at Les 7 Cascades, a popular place for people to hike and do canyoning (repelling down on a rope by the waterfalls).

Mentally I didn’t give myself the option of stopping, I just kept looking up the sky and didn’t focus on how many more kilometres we had to go. I just kept pedaling towards the sky. My body kept magically gained energy from somewhere. I see how if people don’t have the mental willpower, their bodies will not push through to achieve what they want. Our bodies respond to our minds so if people don’t believe something can be done, then they won’t act.

By the time we finally reached home, I was proud that I managed to bike the whole route without getting off the bike.

The 80+ km ride in the east

I call Joseph’s friend Mukesh Santa Claus because he has a long white beard. But he’s ok with that, I asked him permission.

We did a fantastic ride going from Montagne Blanche in the east of Mauritius then riding along the coast to the south of the island then back up to where we started. There were surprisingly not that many hills on this route, especially compared to the route we did the week before.

On the way to the coast.

It was nice to pass through very small villages and the weather was perfect. It wasn’t too hot and we had a beautiful breeze by the water.

One highlight of the day for me was when a woman we bought snacks from came up to our table 10 minutes after we bought food and she genuinely said, “I’m so sorry sir, I owe you 30 rupees from what you bought.” In a country where many people are trying to scam you, it was really beautiful to see this lovely woman acting so honestly. But every country I’ve been to in Asia where scams are common, there are just as many, if not more, good people who are honest and genuine whether they are rich or poor.

Within minutes after we came back after riding for 7 hours, rain began pouring heavily. We had perfect timing. Even if it rained, we would have gone out somewhere. Life doesn’t stop just because it rains.

When we finally arrived back, Santa Claus’ wife was so kind to prepare farata (an Indian pancake bread) with a curry and soup for us.

Another day, another beautiful ride.

This wonderful woman who we bought cakes from came to our table and returned some change to Santa Claus when she realized she kept an extra $1 US by mistake.

Joseph cut us a sugar cane to eat.

This sugar cane was actually sweet. Sometimes when you suck the sugar cane it’s not that sweet until it’s been processed.

Going off the road through private land.

Santa Claus getting us into another private area where we can see the dam.

Good quality bikes.

A scenic ride away from the coast.

The rain is coming.

A very peaceful rest stop on the east coast.

A local snack called gateau piment, which are chilli cakes made up of split peas, chilli, onions, coriander and cumin.

 

A local snack called channi pourri.

We took two samosas, 5 gateau piments and three chani pourris all for 28 rupees, just under $1 US.

View on the southern coast.

These were the cannons that were used when former colonials battled for the land.

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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.

Guide for your 3-6 day stay in Siem Reap, Cambodia

I’ve met so many traveler’s in Laos and Thailand who are going to Siem Reap, Cambodia for a few days. I feel overwhelmed when they ask me for recommendations of what to do or where to eat because after spending 8 months in the country, there is much to experience beyond temples and food.

But to save you some hassle and research, here are my recommendations to enjoy the lovely town of Siem Reap, including non-tourist activities short-term visitors would likely not know about. This will be an evolving post, so if you have any must-see suggestions to add to this, please email me at marcokokotravels@gmail.com. All of the costs are in US dollars.

You can click on your section of choice:

ACCOMMODATION

Budget ($10.00 or under per night)

Photos of Happy Guest House, Siem Reap

This photo is courtesy of TripAdvisor

I don’t know anyone who has stayed at the following budget guesthouses but they’ve gotten some decent reviews on TripAdvisor.

Mid-range ($13.00 to $40.00 per night)

Photos of Golden Butterfly Villa, Siem Reap

This photos is courtesy of TripAdvisor

I highly recommend Golden Temple Villa  or their other guesthouse Golden Butterfly. Both buildings are within the same block of each other if you have budget for about $13.00 to $25.00 per night. My friend and I lived at Golden Temple Villa for a week and we ended becoming great friends with the staff. The service is fantastic, people are so friendly and you get the following services for free:

  • Bicycles: You can easily get around the centre of Siem Reap on a bike and this will save you tuk tuk money (tuk tuks are small motor taxis)
  • 30-minute Khmer massage
  • Tea, coffee, bananas and wifi
  • Picnic basket to take with you on your day trip to Angkor Wat (only at Golden Butterfly, not Golden Temple Villa)

While it may seem lame to eat at the restaurant of your guesthouse, I have to say, the food is amazing! For the price of $2.25 or just a bit more per dish, you get good quality, Khmer food with good flavor. I’d save a dinner meal to try your guesthouse dinner. You’ll definitely find me there on a regular basis.

Four and five star hotels ($40+)

This photos is courtesy of TripAdvisor

I have not stayed at these hotels but you can find amazing deals at agoda.com. My friend’s mom stayed at a four-star hotel for $40.00 a night when she booked through Agoda and the regular rate is $120.00.

TRANSPORT

Bicycles

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Cycling around Siem Reap

Bicycles is the second cheapest and easiest way of getting around the small city of Siem Reap next to walking. You can find shops and rent bicycles for as low as $1.00 a day. Some guesthouses may provide you with a free bicycle.

Tuk tuk

If you want to get out of the city, you can hire a tuk tuk off the streets. To get within the kilometer or two costs $1.50 to $2.00. Of course if they know you’re a tourist, they’ll try to charge you more at first, but you can do a friendly barter to a lower price. Rides from the Siem Reap airport to the center of town is $5.00.

To save you some hassle though, you can use one of these two tuk tuk drivers who are also my friends. I used them because they always drove for a good price and very punctual, including days that needed a 5 a.m. call. You can ask the guesthouse to make a call to one of these drivers. I’ve also met with them to tell them I am sending people their way and they can charge a fair price.

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Tin Tin (left) and Somroeun (right).

  • Tin Tin’s contact: 017865255 (Cambodian phone number), sotserm@yahoo.com
  • Somroeun’s phone number: 0977528869 (Cambodian phone number), samoeurn2008@yahoo.com

Of course, if you are happy with the service and have the ability to tip at the end, I would encourage it even it’s not a tipping culture. Please tell them Melissa from Canada says hello when you see them, I’d appreciate that.

DAY ACTIVITIES

Free Sombai tasting

Photo courtesy of Sombai

If you have at least an hour and a half to spare in your day, take the time to treat yourself to a free tasting of Sombai, a rice wine that is produced in Siem Reap. This product integrates local spices, fresh fruits and the talents of Cambodian artists who hand-paint the bottles.

Sombai was developed by a woman named Joelle from my native country, Mauritius, and her husband. They took time to fine-tune the ingredients and the packaging and successfully grew the business. Have a drink and enjoy a conversation with this wonderful couple.

Took book a tasting session, call +855 (0) 95 810 890. You can have them talk to your tuk tuk driver to give you directions for the tasting at their welcoming home just a ten-minute drive outside the city centre.

Get your Cambodian wedding photos done

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You don’t recognize me do you?

If you have a few hours to spare to get your hair and make up done (girls specifically), have fun doing the Cambodian wedding photo shoot. Most of the expats who live in Siem Reap do it, but you can get them done at many studios. Most of the costumes are $15.00 per person and $25.00 if you choose to be an Apsara.

Warning: If you are a guy and doing this shoot, know they charge $5.00 every time you change the jacket.

Get your Cambodian hair wash

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Most tourists would never know about the relaxing and refreshing Cambodian hair wash while they’re in Siem Reap. After a day at the temples, bike ride or if you simply want an affordable treat for yourself, you can get a wash, head massage and blow dry that lasts 30 minutes. You can bargain for $2, or more if you have a good experience.

I always go to the salon that is on the same small road as Golden Temple Villa. If you’re coming down Sivatha Road towards the roundabout, turn right where the sign says “Golden Temple Villa.” You will see two salons almost side by side on your left side, go to the second salon with the nail polish on display inside the store. You’ll know not to go to the first one anyway because they will try and charge you $5 and no bargain room.

Baray in the Angkor Wat area (best in dry season between December to May)

IMG_3532You can spend the morning or afternoon hanging out at the hammocks and water at Baray and include this trip as part of your temples day around Angkor Wat.

Many local people hangout by the Baray and you can buy drinks, BBQ, fruits and other merchandise in the area. It will of course be a bit more expensive so you can stock up and buy snacks in town and bring it with you. It costs about $1 US dollar for one spot with three hammocks. It’s a great place to see sunset as well.

King Oudayavarman II built this human-made reservoir one to keep water in rainy season and dry season for the farmers and people who llive nearby.

You can share the cost of a tuk tuk to get there or you can rent a bicycle, go straight down National Road 6 (the way towards Thailand) and cycle 14 km to get there. You will make a right turn at a blue sign and go all the way down until you reach the Baray. If you’re not sure of the way, you can ask people along the way and just say, “Baray?”

Landmine Museum

If you can spare at least two hours in your day, I highly recommend visiting the Landmine Museum where you can learn about Cambodia’s inspiring founder Aki Ra and the organization’s work. He is a former child soldier who spent almost 20 years in war. After the war, he has dedicated his life to clearing as many landmines, unexploded bombs and artillery rounds as he could find. He started working alone and diassembled landmines with his own hands and homemade tools, up to an incredible 300 landmines a day.

He was named one of CNN’s Top 10 Heroes in 2010. Not only has he accomplished a lot,  but he is an extremely modest man. I read an article about him in the museum and when the interviewer asked him what he will do once Cambodia is free of landmines, he said, “I will farm.”

You can take a tuk tuk to get to the museum. See the map here and learn more about the Landmine Relief Fund.

Temple Club cooking class on Pub Street

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As much as I try to avoid very touristy spots while I’m staying longer at a place, the Temple Club cooking class was well worth $10.00 when my friend and I went. Over the course of three hours, we walked through the old market, made spring rolls, several curries, soup, sauces and dessert, which was a lot of food! And we got to take the rest home. You can also sign up for the class through Golden Temple Villa or Golden Butterfly in addition to making a reservation at the restaurant.

Free tour of the Silk Farm

Photos of Angkor Silk Farm, Siem Reap

This photo is courtesy of TripAdvisor

You can take a free shuttle bus daily from Artisans D’Angkor that leaves at 9:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. You can go there (on the same small road as Golden Temple Villa) and sign up for a bus ride. The ride is about 7 km away, the tour lasts for about 30 minutes then you can spend some time looking at all of he products made from the traditional methods of weaving. Getting there and back will be about 2 to 2.5 hours.

NIGHT ACTIVITIES

Cambodian Circus

This nightly show is definitely a must-see performance. By going, you’re supporting this generation of artists, all of whom have come from disadvantaged backgrounds, including orphans and former street children. You can pick up tickets at the venue for $15.00 before the show starts at 7:30 p.m. every day.

Road 60: the local hangout
Road 60If you want to get away from the usual tourists spots, you can take a 15-minute tuk tuk ride to get to a popular Cambodian hangout called Road 60. Two big strips of the road are reserved for street vendors, carnival games, rides and BBQ. I love coming here with my Cambodian friends because not many tourists hang out there and it is a place where local people hang out with their friends and family. Road 60 is open from around 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. every night. Click here for more pictures.

Free ladyboy show at the night market

On Monday to Friday, between 8:45 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. the beautiful ladyboys put on a funny show at the Night Market with the rooftop on Sivatha road. It’s the only market with a rooftop on that road. Walk to the end of the market where the stage is and you can get a massage while you enjoy the show.

Free Apsara Show at Temple Club

If you eat dinner at Golden Temple Club, price ranges from $2.50 to $7.00 per dish, you can see a free traditional Apsara dance show that runs from 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Rosana ladyboy show

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This is the biggest ladyboy production in the city and a good show with costumes, lip-synching and beautiful ladyboys. The price for this show depends where you get the ticket, it can range from $12.00 to $30.00 depending on the agency or contact.

Clubs and Drinks

You can get in for free at the clubs Hip Hop (just over the bridge on the river) and Temple Club. If you want drinks and shots for $1.00, ask around for a place called Angkor Famous around the Pub Street area.

EATING AND DRINKING FOR GOOD CAUSES

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If you want to eat and drink while helping support valuable social programs, there are a range of options!

  • Green Star restaurant serves mostly Khmer food and was set up to support the Green Gecko Project which works with street children in Siem Reap. The project provides an education, skills, security, and health initiatives for former street children and their families.
  • Joe to Go is one of two businesses run by the NGO The Global Child that works with street children in Cambodia to give them and education and life skills.
  • Sala Bai is a hospitality training school for disadvantaged children from the villages around Siem Reap. They train about 100 students a year on hospitality skills including skills like waiting tables, cooking and housekeeping, Sala Baï has a proud record of finding work for every single one of its 700 graduates.
  • Soria Moria Boutique Hotel won a Condé Nast Traveler award for excellence in social and environmental responsibility. For deals at their restaurant, check on their $3.00 buffet breakfasts in the morning, their $1.00 tapas and drinks on Wednesdays, and 50% off their menu every Thursday. If you’re planning to go on Wednesday, though, call to book a reservation because it gets busy quickly. One of many impressive aspects of Soria Moria is all of their employees come from disadvantaged backgrounds and own 51% of the hotel. 14 of their staff have graduated from college thanks to their scholarship program. Check out more articles from Soria Moria.
  • The Haven is a training restaurant for vulnerable young adults from orphanages and safe shelters, as well as underprivileged young adults from very rural poor areas. The food is delicious and the restaurant has a very homey feel to it.

EATING ON A BUDGET ($1.50 to $3.50)

Brown Rice

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My Cambodian friends opened up this fantastic restaurant that serves a variety of Cambodian and Western dishes as well as great cocktails. Brown Rice is a five-minute bicycle ride from the centre of town. You can tell the tuk tuk driver it is 200 metres after Pannasasra University of Cambodia (or just say PUC) if you are driving from Wat Bo road and it will be on the right side of the road. If the driver still has trouble, he can call one of the restaurants’ numbers for directions: 017886422, 0979064300, 092669645, 017370132. Click here to see the map.

Phai San BBQ

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You can find small Khmer restaurants around the city that have great portions and prices. If you’re close to the centre of town, you can find about 10 of these restaurants side by side by the roundabout of Sivatha road on the same street as Golden Temple Villa.

I keep going back to my friends at Phai San BBQ, the second restaurant on your right if you are walking from Golden Temple Villa to Sivatha road. While I can’t comment on the food of the other places so much, Phai San makes fantastic fruit shakes for $1.00 and mix and match your fruits!

RECOMMENDED RESTAURANTS FOR FOOD BETWEEN $2.00 TO $8.00

La Boulangerie

Photos of La Boulangerie-Cafe, Siem Reap

This photo is courtesy of TripAdvisor

I love going to this café to relax with friends, use wifi and their delicious range of food from panninis, shakes and pizza. My friend Davann is Cambodian and he studied culinary school in France for a few years and returned to Cambodia to open this successful café. He makes fresh pastries for hotels as well with his well-trained bakers.

Mie Café

Photos of Mie Cafe, Siem Reap

This Photo is courtesy of TripAdvisor

This restaurant was started by a Cambodian man who began as a dishwasher. He got a scholarship to study in Switzerland and opened this restaurant with high quality food. I haven’t yet tried the desserts but I hear fantastic things about them.

RECOMMENDED FOR FOOD BETWEEN $5.00 to $25.00

  1. Nest Angkor Cafe Bar
Photos of Nest Angkor Cafe Bar, Siem Reap

This photo is courtesy of TripAdvisor

This has one of the best flavours of all the restaurants I’ve tried in Siem Reap. We tried the lasagna, steak, lobster and it was all good all the time.

Le Malraux

Photos of Le Malraux, Siem Reap

This photo is courtesy of TripAdvisor

The food at this restaurant has great flavour.

Goodbye Cambodia, hello Laos

In the morning on the way to yoga by the riverside

I’ve actually been in Luang Prabang, Laos for a few days now but I still have at least 15 posts that I want to write about from Cambodia! I will likely toggle back and forth between the countries if that’s okay.

It’s a weird and a bit of a hard transition for me to go from developing an amazing circle of friends in Siem Reap to flying three hours to a completely new place and in many ways, starting over. I have to meet new people, learn a new language and find go-to people to get what I need. It will be more challenging to have local experiences the way I did in Cambodia because I will be more or less passing through different places. But because I’m traveling for awhile with few hard plans, if I meet someone I click with and they bring me around, I can decide to stay longer if I want to.

Yoga at Utopia by the river
Yoga at Utopia by the river

My biggest fear was becoming a tourist where I am looking up the guided tours to get around, paying triple or more because I don’t have any go-to people for what I need and making too many plans. I was a bit of a tourist today but it’s inevitable when you’re coming to a new place I guess.

I’m still missing Cambodia a lot and I don’t think that feeling will go away soon but I need to try and be present and learn as much about Laos as I can while I’m here. Thanks to my friend, I’ve already met a few amazing and friendly people and we’re going to hang out this weekend for a boat ride, picnic, sunset (if there is one) and more.

My first meal with my friend. The food is amazing in Luang Prabang and I tasted some of the best flavours I’ve had in weeks.

To be honest, I don’t know that much about Laos’ at the moment. Since I have up to a month here, I’m focusing on learning as much of the language, culture and history as I can. I am so grateful I have a friend who’s been here for awhile. She’s given me an orientation for Luang Prabang and I’ll explore other areas from here. I love one-way travel and not having a restricted time limit.

This week, I’m most excited about being part of a Buddhist festival on October 14 where monks roam free from their temples and are presented with gifts from locals. During the evening, people will release banana-leaf boats with candles and flowers on top. Luang Prabang is one of several riverside cities that celebrate the day with boat races along the Mekong. The city will be lit up with lanterns, which many of the people around the country as busy making and monks are also making them at the temples. It will be absolutely beautiful.

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The night market

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Laos tuk tuks