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.

 

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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.

 

Prison was a “good experience”

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I always run into inspiring, hardworking and passionate people in Cambodia through friends and often by accident. Whether I’m talking to a friend who works at a hotel or someone off the street, in a short time they are very open telling me about their past struggles in a very casual tone. I’m always inspired and surprised by their modesty despite and persistence to push on in life to achieve their goals.

I’ve recently met a quiet, well-mannered and very helpful 22-year-old Cambodian man. When I asked him if he lived with his family he said:

“My father left me when I was a baby. I have never seen his face. My mother has been working in Thailand she is still in Thailand working in a factory. I grew up with my grandma.

When I went to visit my mom, I didn’t have a passport so they put me in prison for two days. They gave me little food and just a bit of rice. It was a good experience.”

Here is when I interrupted him and said, “It was a good experience?! Why is that?” He responded:

“It was a good experience because I learned something. I experience the good and hard times. When I was 14 and 15 I stayed in an orphanage. I learned how to be on my own and do things for myself.

I went to the Paul DuBrule tourism school. Someone I knew paid for my classes and I always wanted to learn. My mom said don’t go to school just work but I wanted to keep studying.

When I was a small boy, I listened to the foreigners and I always wanted to learn English. So I taught myself a lot.

I had a very hard time when I was working in Thailand. I worked from 11 p.m. to 11 a.m. the next day. When I came back to Cambodia I was the only one in my group to get a job after leaving Thailand.

I always feel like I get a second change and third chance. I feel very lucky.”

I told him that is a very inspiring attitude to have despite very difficult times and so many Western people complain about very insignificant things. It’s stories like these that is a huge reality check and make me put things in perspective whenever I feel the temptation to complain about petty things.

He has a very calm energy and doesn’t let his past affect his passion for learning and pushing through life. I hope to meet him again soon.

Day out with my Khmer family

Family day out.

I landed in Siem Reap a few days ago and I’ll be starting a new job with a travel company. I’m staying temporarily with my adopted Khmer (Cambodian) family until I get my own place.

I always encourage people to live in a different country for at least a few months because it’s an unforgettable experience to go out to places in the community and the country with local people. You find new favourite places to eat, hang out and go to hidden gems that only the local people would know about.

I arrived at midnight this past Tuesday and many Cambodian people are on holiday for most of the week because of Pchum Ben, one of Cambodia’s most important religious festivals that honours their ancestors. So my Khmer family invited me to join them to go to Tra Kot village, about 40 km outside of Siem Reap.

The drive was quite far into the rice fields and it was packed with kids swimming in the water, food, and people hanging by the hammocks. I always love watching families and friends enjoy time out together and eating together. Going out and eating out in Vancouver, Canada is expensive so that’s why I appreciate many places around Asia where going out is affordable for many people, not just people with high incomes.

It was a perfect way to spend my first day in Siem Reap as I got over my jetlag.

This is my beautiful friend Konnitha and her 1.5-year-old Hannah.

Konnitha’s father and Hannah.

This is a Cambodian chicken and cost $12 US.

I rode at the back of the truck with Gaga, Konnitha’s lovely 14-year-old sister who often helps me cook at home. We had a lot of wind in our faces on our way back home but in a hot country, that is always welcome.

This is a common view throughout the country of the rice fields and flat land.

These are the kinds of homes that most Cambodians live in throughout the country’s villages.

 

Warm and cold cultures

This is our friend in Ko Chang island in Thailand who built his bamboo house on the beach. His name is pronounced “Cheyap” and in the few days my friend and I stayed with him for $1.75 US a night, he so generously made BBQ for anyone who passed by, hosted jam sessions, and welcomed people to come and hang out. He is so hospitable and open and when he told us how sad he gets when people constantly come and go, I almost shed a year.

I’m back in Vancouver, Canada for one more week before I start my new role as a Marketing Executive for a travel company in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

In the year and a half I’ve traveled in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia and Mauritius (Africa), I’ve experienced the most open people and the coldest people. It’s amazing how you can really feel the openness and warmness of different people no matter where in the world you are by their body language and energy.

The funny and generous woman in the middle is Potae, as she said, “Like potato but without the ‘toe.'” She manages V.R. Guesthouse in Chiang Mai. She manages the guesthouse completely on her own so imagine our surprise when she was busy with other clients, she closed her guesthouse at the risk of missing new guests just so she could drive us 15 minutes out of own to pick up our big backpacks instead of us using our motto. Talk about exceptional service!

In the time I spent in Asia, I learned that I connect much better with the local people than I do with many expats, people from other countries who are temporarily or permanently living in a different country than where they were brought up. I found the local people I met so much more welcoming, helpful and open than many expats I encountered. Don’t get me wrong, I have some very close expat friends in Siem Reap, but they probably make up 5% of the people I hang out regularly with in town.

I was surprised to learn that I actually feel a lot more comfortable sitting around a table with local people while they are speaking their own language that I don’t understand than with a group of cliquey expats who speak English. The energy of many local people is so welcoming that it’s easy to talk to anybody. Expats tend to be more selective about who they hang out with and it often feels like you have to say something to impress them or make yourself worth to be part of their group.

A good example of the contrast between warm and cold culture behaviours was when I went to a Cambodian birthday party and then a Canada Day party the day after in July 2013. I had only been in Cambodia for a few months and when one of my Cambodian friends invited me to her birthday, I brought a cake and was expecting to see maybe 20 people or so. Then when I arrived at her house, there were probably 50 people hanging around inside her house and on the front yard with food and beer. I would have been surprised if they even had time to cut my small cake at any point in the night.

John, the guy at the bottom with the dog, is a master scuba diver, amazing musician, in the navy, has been to Haiti on a U.N. mission and a couch surfing host for the past two years in Palawan, Philippines. He has had over 300 travelers stay at his beautiful bamboo house. My friend and I stayed for a few days and when we asked if we could stay two more nights, he simply texted us back and said, “Sure, stay as long as you want.”

She kindly brought me a plate of food and everyone, 98% Cambodian, was very open and easy to talk to. What I love about the people in the country is even if we don’t speak a common verbal language, they still make an effort to try and speak to people.

When you become friends with local people in Asia, even after knowing you for less than a day, they don’t go the extra mile for you, they will do everything in their ability to make sure you are happy or get what you need. In North American culture, we often feel like we are, “bothering people” or other people make us feel that way. I thought I was a good host but now I’ve learned how much more I can do to help people out or make them feel even more welcome.

The next day, I went a Canada Day “party” at a hotel and it was so North American in the sense that everyone was in their own separate groups and not really interacting with each other. I’m pretty sure there were more people at my friend’s birthday party at her house, which is a much smaller space than the hotel.

Case and point.

Warm-cultured travelers

I was very happy to meet Lalha (right) on couch surfing in Jogyjakarta, Indonesia. She kindly hosted a few of us couch surfers, gave us rides, and spent time with us every night during the few days we were in town. When she couldn’t meet me the first day, she sent her friend to be her representative to hang out with me and offer me a place to stay.

I’m making a distinction between expats and travelers by the way. I’ve made amazing connections with open travelers around Asia and when you move where the winds take you on these adventures, you find people who share your values and curiosity of the world.

When I was in Vancouver, I loved having people at our place every week in our tiny kitchen making food together, meeting new friends and enjoying each other’s company. I told people they didn’t have to arrange a meeting time with me, they could just call me if they were around my area to simply say hi, have tea, shower or if they needed a place to crash. When I hosted people, it didn’t feel like work at all but people kept telling me I was really good at bringing people together and creating community, which I never thought of as being a talent.

When I couch surfed in the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia, I found people who were exactly like me and were even more open with their homes to new people than I was. One couch surfing host in Palawan, Philippines where we stayed had 300 people stay at his place in the last two years alone! In Tacomepai farm and Mindful Farm, I met the most open group of travelers than any other group I interacted with during the year and a half. My friend and I were only staying for a few days, but people spoke with us immediately, shared travel stories, expressed their deep philosophies around the camp fire and making meals together in the mountains.

This is my friend’s Sopheak’s mom in Banteay Meanchey in north Cambodia. I stayed at their house for a few days and even when her mom was extremely busy preparing for a pagoda ceremony and cooking for her newborn grandson, I was so touched when my friend told me that her mom took hours to prepare my favourite fish amok when she found out I was coming. That is hospitality at a whole new level.

Warm and cold cultures in Vancouver

I am extremely fortunate to have grown up in multicultural cities since I was a baby. I was literally colour-blind by people’s ethnicities because people mixing was the norm. When I was in high school and only hung out with one ethnicity on the rare occasion, I felt something was missing and I asked, “Where’s everyone else?”

I have learned a lot about various cultural practices and history just from conversations with my friends and it was such a rich experience to continue to work with different cultures in my professional life as well. I’ve experienced the vibrancy, expressiveness and passion when I interacted with former colleagues from the Philippines, Mexico, Singapore, Ethiopia and other backgrounds. When I spend time with them, I feel much more openness than from many other people who have grown up in Canada.

People outside of Vancouver city, however, are generally friendlier and more open. I don’t know what it is about the city effect that makes people much more cold.

I met a wonderful married couple a few days ago who came from Iran and they have been living, studying and working in Vancouver for the last 10 years. I have only met them three times in the past few years, but I can tell immediately by their energy that they are extremely modest, hardworking and kind.

The husband told me how it is still challenging to connect with people in Canada, he said, “In Iran people speak respectfully with each other and say hi and bye in the morning. When I say hi and bye to my boss and the people I work with, they don’t even answer.” That made me very angry and this breed of people exemplifies the coldest cultures that exist in Vancouver, and it’s often created and sustained by some company cultures, particularly if you work in law or some accounting departments. Would it really be so detrimental to at least have some courtesy to greet your colleagues in the morning?

I was even more angry to learn that his wife, who is an extremely genuine and kind person, encountered repeated bullying at her work. Her husband told me, “She is such a sweet person and we are very warm people I don’t know why this happened.” I told them if the problem can’t be resolved, they have every right to look for another job and not all companies are like this. There are places with more open people and every place has its own culture.

I’ve cherished all of the people who have spent time with me, helped me and given me gifts from their hearts in Vancouver and around the world. We are all responsible for creating community wherever we are and I want to spread the characteristics of warm and open cultures that I’ve been fortunate to experience wherever I go.

 

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. 

 

 

Daauw homestay guesthouse in Huay Xai, Laos

This is where people can relax, buy the women’s handmade crafts and enjoy a wonderful meal.

Now I’m backtracking to October 2013 when I was in Laos. I stayed alone in Huay Xai to do a three-day ziplining tour. I stayed at a random guesthouse the first night I was there. As I walked up to the temple, I saw a sign that pointed to a homestay, which always appeals to me.

When I went, I met the family who runs it. The family is originally from America and they run this wonderful guesthouse in collaboration with other Laos families. They teach the women life skills, women’s rights and sell the women’s handmade products at their Women Empowerment Shop. It’s a beautiful environment they’ve created and all of the revenue from the guesthouse is invested in empowering the families.

These are the daughters of some of the women who participate in the workshops.

In Laos, many women, especially in rural areas, don’t have many rights or a space to express their opinions in their lifetime. They are second class citizens and very submissive to men. The legal marrying age for girls in Laos is 15 years old and they often stop school as soon as they become a wife.

Given the challenges girls and women face in Laos, I was impressed that Daauw Homestay was running these programs for women because these kinds of projects can be controversial among the local people or condemned.

I enjoyed dinner with the founders and other guests.

The couple has an adorable story themselves. The guy was traveling for years and when he only went to the U.S. for a few weeks, that’s where he met his wife and she continued on the journey with him. Now they have three beautiful children who attend a local school and learning Laos.

Because they’re just across the border to Thailand, they have been renewing their visa for years by taking the boat ride across the water every month.

A family’s kids who were playing with Laos kids.

Around dinnertime, I walked back to Daauw Homestay to have dinner with the family. For about $4 US, you could eat as much as you wanted of whatever they were serving that night, which included rice and several stir fried veggies.

I spoke with the family and a few of the other guests who were at the home. While we ate, their children were playing with the children of the Laos women who lived and worked at the guesthouse. It was a beautiful and open environment.

These are some of the beautiful crafts made by the Laos women.

After my 3-day ziplining tour was over, I stayed one night at the guesthouse with a woman who was on my tour. She was from France and was traveling around Asia long term.

We got along well during the tour, she was very easygoing. During our dinner with the family and guests, I chatted with another retired French couple who was traveling in Asia. They were going to make their way down to Siem Reap so I told them a bunch of advice on places to go.

These are some young girls taking one of the classes.

The room was very comfortable and it was about $8 US for the entire room. There was a fan and clean bathroom. It is probably the nicest place to stay in the Huay Xai, which is a very small city, not only because of the cleanliness but the people there who create a welcoming and warm environment.

I love places like Daauw that create an open environment and attract a certain type of guest and it’s an easy place to come alone. I encourage any person to say here if they want a comfortable place to stay, meet wonderful people and also support the women who are gaining valuable life skills.
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DSC_0472 He is one of the founders of Daauw Homestay.