Belated Blog Action Day

My friend’s sister and her adorable daughter in Banteay Meanchey province, Cambodia.

Ok I’m two days late for posting on Blog Action Day on the topic of inequality. When I read the announcement of the topic “inequality.” The very first thing that came into my head was, “women.”

I’ve been fortunate to grow up in Vancouver, Canada where, for the most part, I haven’t felt deprived of opportunities because I’m a woman. Yes of course there is still discrimination on Canada in terms of pay and I have been underestimated at times because I’m a girl.

I grew up mostly playing with boys because I enjoyed sports. When I was 10, almost all of the girls would chat during our school breaks while the boys played football or rugby. I always thought that was much more fun than just talking. Guys would often be embarrassed when I would kick their ass they their friends would tease them that they got beat by a “girl.” To which I would then reply, “Girls are good too.”

I always believed in women’s rights to choose any career they want, have the freedom to live a lifestyle they choose, study whatever they’d like and have the choice to not get married or have kids if they so please. And after living in Asia for a year and being in my home island-country Mauritius in Southeast Africa, I have never felt more passionately about empowering women and wanting every woman to have equal rights to men around the world.

After spending time in cities and remote villages in Laos and Cambodia, my blood boils when I see and hear so many stories of women who have no say when they get married, particularly when they are only 13 to 20 years old. In Laos, women often stop their schooling once they are married and have no say in their marriage or lives. They are slaves to the country’s customs.

In Cambodia, one of my friends works incredibly hard for her money and to support her family to the point where she has no savings for herself. But she really wanted to buy a sexy 125 cc motorcycle. But in Cambodia, “good Cambodian girls” don’t ride motorcycles because they look like a “gangster” or it’s not ladylike. She told me how so many people discouraged her from buying it and I told her, “That is even more reason for you to get it. Show them you can get it.” She said, “I work hard for me money and I want to buy it for myself.”

I’m very happy that she has been sporting her bike the past year. When people like her start to willingly dismiss old mentalities, this is where change happens.

Communities would absolutely crumble without all of the work women do for the house, children and their families. They give so selflessly, whether it’s voluntary or not, and expect very little in return. And what’s sad, however, is often women themselves pass on these old customs to their children and the cycle of inequality continues. The women demand so little of their husbands to help around the house instead of spending most of their time drinking, smoking and waiting to be served.

However, it’s interesting being in Siem Reap and seeing what’s happening in Cambodia with this next generation. Some of my female friends are incredibly driven and value education and they will pass that on to their own children. This is where change happens.

I’m not trying to sound like a man-hater because I’m not. I have been so grateful to meet the unique, unfortunately, a minority of men, who do domestic work, cook for their families and take good care of their kids. I’ve met many genuine and gentle men who have such great characters and are great models for how men should be and act around women.

So my wish for women and men around the world is that they are able to go to school, determine their own destiny, stand up freely against injustice and be able to choose the life they want to live.

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My necklace is the bomb…literally

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While my friend was visiting Laos recently, she kindly bought this necklace for me. I loved the design and I didn’t immediately realized the inspiring story behind this beautifully crafted jewelry in the shape of a dove.

People who reside in Ban Na Phia village were taught how to use the very bombs that destroyed their lives during war into spoons and bracelets. Their crafts generate income and transform what used to be a deadly weapon into a symbol of peace.

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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.

Post-traveler’s depression

Peaceful breakfast in the Mae Hong Song mountain in northern Thailand during our 600 km motto journey.

After meeting many travelers last year around Asia and speaking with my closest friends, every single one of them have a hard time transitioning back to their home countries. I’m talking about the people who have been exploring parts of the world for more than a few months, not two-week holidays.

Being able to travel is a huge privilege and it is most definitely not to be taken for granted, especially when most people you meet can barely afford to leave their own cities. So I realize me even talking about this is a problem of a minority of us.

My friend Sopheak generously invited me to her home town to stay with her family in Banteay Meanchey in northern Cambodia. Travel rule: when people invite you to their homes from their hearts, go. It will be among the most meaningful experiences of your journey.

I’m not trying to be condescending with people who don’t do long term travel or a experience a huge life transformation. All I’m saying is it’s hard to connect with people the same way. It’s like people who have a passion for World Cup can’t connect with me the same way because I’m not that interested in soccer as much as many other people. So for them to talk to me about it, I couldn’t contribute much to the conversation and share the same excitement.

After you have these incredible experiences, what often makes the transition back to our home countries is not being able to express your experiences with similar types of travelers and most things seem the same after you’ve gone through so many meaningful experiences. When we meet similar types of travelers, we understand each other and listen to their stories all day.

I met Cheap in Koh Chang island in south Thailand. For just under $2 US a night, you can stay in his self-built bamboo house by the beach, join him anytime for a jam session and cook with him. One night he just made a huge BBQ for everyone who was passing by his place.

When we were on Mindful Farm, a meditation farm in northern Thailand, I met the most amazing and open group of travelers from around the world. We would share stories about some of our experiences throughout the day and soaked in their unique experiences. You will begin traveling with other people you met after a day or a few and meet up somewhere else in the world the same year, which I’ve done twice.

On the farm, I met a Jewish couple planning to live in a collective community in Isreal who also happen to happen to know two gay couples in California who are both raising a beautiful daughter together. I also met a traveling family from Switzerland. The parents took their kids out of school for a year so they could travel the world together while the mom home schools them. Their 9-year-old daughter formed a strong bond with the farmer’s 2-year-old daughter and they were inseparable for the three weeks they were on the farm. Where else could you have these experiences if you don’t leave the walls of your home?

I met my two adopted families in Marinduque island in the Philippines. They were extremely hospitable with us, showed us around the island and told us to let them know next time we come by so they can prepare properly for our visit and stay at their home.

I met a woman from the UK on a two-day elephant tour in Laos and she lived in Bangkok for a few years. She wasn’t looking forward going back to the UK at all and we both got annoyed when people asked us, “How was your trip?” after having a year or more of having diverse experiences. She said, “After going through so much, to say ‘amazing’ just doesn’t do the experience justice.”

One of my friends has been able to build her life so she can work while she travels. She is from the U.S. originally but spends more of the year working on projects in Laos and Cambodia. She said, “Every time I go back to New York, it’s the same thing. No one wants to hear your stories. They’ll give you ten minutes and then tune out. Then they’ll go back to complaining about their mortgage and problems with the neighbours.”

This is the best bathroom I’ve seen in my life. This club bathroom in Bangkok had a live jazz band for people who wanted to enjoy some music after doing their business. There were very comfortable couches and they played great music! And no it didn’t smell.

When you’re in another country and open to new cultures and experiences, the spontaneity of connections and all the different types of people you meet gives you a high. When we explore, every day is a new adventure and change becomes the new normal. When you have grown so much and share some of the experience with people who think the entire world is dangerous and judge you with their eyes for not working full-time instead, it’s very disheartening.

Another annoying thing with speaking with some narrow-minded non-travelers is  is when they think they know how a place or how a certain group of people are when they have never left their home town. They believe most people in the world want to steal from you or will attack you, particularly poor countries. Most people who haven’t traveled outside of their hotels are surprised when I tell them I felt much safer in most parts of Asia than parts of Vancouver or that I felt very comfortable stay in the poorest villages in Cambodia because people take care of you when you are friends with them. You never know what a place is like until you step foot in it and see for yourself.

These are my awesome friends I became close to while I was in Siem Reap. This is our Cambodian wedding photo shoot. You can go to a studio and they dress you up Cambodian-style.

Every time I have gone to a new place I’ve been forced to never assume anything about a place or its people and every place has its on complex history and situation. To oversimplify a country  or its people to say, “It’s dangerous there” or “People will attack you.” is offensive and is an unrealistic perspective of the world.

This wonderful homestay guesthouse is in Huay Xai in northern Laos. The American couple who founded this guesthouse works with women to empower them by teaching them life skills and family planning. The women and their kids live at the guesthouse and travelers support the project just by staying at this guesthouse. For a few US dollars, you can have as much as you want to eat of the meals they cook the nights you stay.

A few days ago I went to a wonderful beach wedding in Mauritius, Africa. It’s been 4 months since I’ve stopped traveling around on my own and have been living with family. By chance, I met a woman at my table who has been to many country and travels the same way I do, which is often going to non-touristy areas and connecting with locals.  She was on a work assignment in the third poorest country in the world and told me about the wedding she went to that was organized where people pull out chairs, no one dresses up and just dance and celebrate together. She felt very safe where she was and connected with families there. We spent most of our dinner swapping travel stories and my brain felt alive again.

After seeing many places, you start to compare things to your home country from the weather to the friendliness of the people around you. And traveler’s often find their new homes and discover that home is not necessarily the place you grew up the longest but where your heart is most content.

No matter where we are in the world, if we are unsatisfied, it is no one else’s responsibility but ours to make the changes in our life that will make you happy. Now that we’ve have discovered what makes us happy, it’s up to us to not get trapped in an unfulfilling routine and live to other people’s version of a “proper” life. We are the drivers of our own life and if you need to make your life work so you can be in another country for awhile, then do it.

Laos cost summary

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Laos was the first country I visited after living nine months in Cambodia, so I was starting fresh again in a new country. I had to learn some basics of the language, how to get around, minimize being a scam victim and connect with local people.

I spent the first two weeks in Luang Prabang then went up to Huay Xai in Norhern Laos for an overpriced ziplining tour, which pushed up my overall cost. I was lucky to be introduced to local people in Luang Prabang to explore the city, dance and enjoy food together.

All of these costs are in US dollars.

Accommodation in Luang Prabang 

  • 7 days accommodation at a more expensive guesthouse in Luang Prabang: $15.00
  • Hostels in Luang Prabang close to the river: $7.00 per night
  • Two nights in Daauw Home in Huay Xai (recommended): $7.00 a night

Transportation

  • Bike rentals per day: $2.00
  • Small boat rides across the Mekong River:  $0.50.
  • Overpriced rides across the Mekong River: $2.50

Food

  • Street sandwhiches and BBQ fish: $1.00 to $2.00
  • Delicious restaurant food including fish and pizza baguettes: $3.00 to 7.00

Activities

  • Two nights at Elephant Village camp (I don’t recommend doing this): $120.00
  • Three-day ziplining tour with The Gibbon Experience (I don’t recommend this either): $300

Total cost for 2.5 weeks in Laos: $771.00

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.

Kuang Si waterfalls in Laos

Kuang Si waterfalls is a popular sight among visitors who come to Luang Prabang. It is about 29 km from the city center and there is also a bear sanctuary on the walk to the falls. The bears are rescued from poachers who often hunt them for Chinese medicine. Kuang Si is the most beautiful waterfalls I’ve seen so far and its turquoise colour is gorgeous. If you cycle, there are some pretty steep hills on the way.

Getting there and tips to have a good experience at the falls (currencies in USD)

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Rescued bears

From Luang Prabang’s city center, people can get to the falls by bicycle if you’re feeling fit or want to get fit, rent a motto for the day ($15 o $20) or hire a tuk tuk for about $20 and the entry fee is $2.

Tip: many of the agencies around town have set departures at 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Try and avoid going with these groups because the waterfalls are best in the morning when it’s quiet. One of my friends simply walked by Joma cafe or the agencies and asked people if they want to share a tuk tuk and was able to get enough people. So they each paid $2 each for both ways.

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Just chillin’ on a hammock

 

At the falls

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You have two options to walk up towards the falls, but the trekking side on the right has leeches as my friend encountered. They took a wrong turn in the jungle and what should have been a 10-minute walk up ended up taking 2.5 hours! They ran into a man with a rifle who guided them back down the right way. You can stick to a guided path on the left side of the falls, but aside from getting some good exercise for 10 minutes, you actually can’t see the falls from the top.

When you’re walking around forested area around Laos, keep checking for small leeches. Nothing to be afraid of, just pick them off as you go. I got a small bite, but didn’t get sick.

And don’t forget to do the rope swing into the water! Don’t worry it’s deep enough, you’re not going to land on rock.

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Once you’re done with the falls, you can have a delicious meal a the small shops by the main entrance. While it may llook simple, the BBQ fish in Luang Prabang is always packed with flavour and better than most fish I’ve had in restaurants.

Enjoy your visit!
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