Monday, February 13, 2017

We made the trip to Kampot, Cambodia and this is what we learned.

  • I am still afraid of flying. As many times as I've been on an airplane, something still scares me. In this particular instance, I think it was flying out of and into small airports. Although our plane was relatively large (Boeing A-330), I still feared something. Was it because it wasn't a full flight? Was the plane underweight? Was it balanced? Are small airports even on the radar? Etc, etc, etc. 
  • Cambodia is a country in the group of countries previously known as Indochina. The term refers to the land between India and China, now referred to as Southeast Asia. It includes Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Malaysia. 
  • English is well spoken here also. Some still speak French, and many also speak Mandarin. I have to imagine that's due to the history of this area with French and Chinese influence.
  • The USD is widely accepted but their own currency the Cambodia Riel is also still around. You don't even have to exchange your money. Literally every place takes USD. Is that because of tourism? Is the dollar that strong that it can basically take over a country's use of their own currency?

Poor, but honest. 

As poor as people are here they still can find some kind of work. We didn't see any homeless people. Everyone had some kind of job, whether selling fruits or cheap snacks on the side of the road or driving a tuk-tuk. For example, our tuk-tuk driver worked hard for his money. We negotiated for a sunrise viewing in Angkor Wat and rides to 4 temples. That's about 9 hours of work, not to mention waking up well before dawn. And we were able to pay only $16 USD. Our haggling started at $20, that was his price. We countered with $15 and didn't budge. The driver went from $18 to $17 and we finally settled on his final offer of $16. Even for a single greenback negotiations persisted. The people are poor but honest and hard-working.

Sihanoukville (the little town we flew into today) is a lot poorer than I expected. I see shacks and tin roofs and garbage. But amongst it all are casinos and hotels and construction of all sorts. There is a huge disparity in income here. I even see a Lexus and Audi around next to modified cars used as tuk tuks.

Carolyn and I decided to skip Sihanoukville as it sounded like a party / beach town.

Stranger Danger?
Yesterday's thoughts and notes from during the day.

When you're traveling sometimes you have to go against the very first rule we were taught as children when venturing out into the world. Back home we know it best as "stranger danger." If not for the educational purposes of learning from others on the road or finding out how to get from point A to B, then that rule might remain unbroken. But travel life has taught me that strangers can and will be helpful in every aspect of globetrotting.

We just got in a car with someone who we completely do not know. We don't even know if we're supposed to trust this man. Our shuttle bus driver helped us find him in a parking lot across from an open air market. We are looking to get ourselves from Sihanoukville to Kampot, Cambodia. If you map it out, that's a 1.5 hour journey but the reality is closer to 2hrs. And this late in the afternoon there are very limited legitimate mini buses from town to town, the option we were hoping for. There are also no more flights coming in (we were probably the last) so that makes it even harder to find sharing situations. But we found this guy. He is not a taxi. There are no markings on his 2000s Toyota Camry (at least the car could be reliable). And he's not wearing a uniform. He seems to be an ordinary guy trying to make an extra dollar. Who after some hard bargaining was willing to take us for $20 (normally $30-40). He was able to get someone to share the ride so here we are in a car going to Kampot with a driver we don't know and another passenger who is a complete stranger.

My eyes are peeled the entire time. If I could have removed one and attached it to the back of my head, I would. However, the middle aged man and the guy who seems to possibly know this driver seem to be fairly decent people.

Sidenote: use of the car horn is rampant. But it's used properly each time. As a warning to drivers you are approaching from behind and to signal impending danger.

After the fact.

We made it. Safe. With our luggage. And we were delivered right to the front door of our guesthouse. We paid the man $20, thanked him, and wished him well.

Strangers aren't so bad after all. What do you think?

Salt & Pepper

Kampot is a town with a reach beyond its borders.  Two of the most basic ingredients in cooking are salt and pepper. In a single day, we were able to see the origin of both here in Kampot. First, pepper.

And when I say pepper, I don't mean bell; I mean peppercorns. I'm talking about the spice in your mills at your dining room table. But wait, peppercorns come in different colors you say. Yes! They do. But did you know that black, white, green, and red peppercorns come from the same plant? Peppercorns grown on a vine about 12-13ft tall.

The natural color of peppercorns is green. These are the fresh peppers. Cambodian cuisine uses the fresh green pepper in some of their cooking, the full peppercorn. It is slightly spicy and a bit tangy (to me) when you bite into it.

Red peppercorns are vine ripe peppers. This is a natural color. The processing involves boiling them, followed by sun drying. This gives it the more dark red or reddish brown coloring.

Black and white pepper comes from the processing of the green peppercorns. When boiled then dried, the green turns to black. And for white, the green pepper is boiled, stored, then run through streaming water to remove the "husk." The remaining color is white. This is dried and you have your white peppercorns.

That's the generic idea. I'm sure there's more to it, obviously. But isn't it interesting that it's all one plant? And all the work from start to finish is manual labor. We learned this from our free tour at La Plantation.

Now salt, another labor intensive process, once nature does it's work. What do I mean? First, ocean/sea water is let into pools. Once filled, these pools are closed off and allowed to evaporate under the heat of the sun. This leaves salt crystals in the pools, which are raked into piles each and every afternoon. The piles are then carried by woven basket into a storage warehouse alongside the pools and in a later process (which obviously we did not see) are shipped out to be cleaned, iodized, packaged, and shipped. Apparently salt is what Kampot is more well known for. Where is your salt from?

Great experience all wrapped up in a single day of motorbiking around Kampot. I'm impressed by the laborers and the process of it all. I'm so happy to have been able to witness the origins of 2 of the most basic ingredients used in our every day lives.

Kep, Cambodia

It was a day trip for us. We hopped on our motorbike and zipped down to the town of Kep, a seaside town well known for their crab market. It looks so easy, but we know it's hard work to fish for crab. We heard that there has been overfishing of these crustaceans and find it sad that one day this little town will lose a huge part of their livelihood.

If you know us, it's safe to assume that we tasted the famous crabs. They were delicious, sweet, and so easy to shell. Don't be mistaken by their size. Although they look small, these crabs pack a good amount of meat.

Simultaneous feelings of the polar opposite nature

Foreigners of a foreign country affect me in 2 ways. In other words, I feel polar opposite ways in each situation when I see people not native to a particular land.

  1. I feel like they are all tourists and too many tourists are invading the area and wash out the traditional cultural aspects of that locale. I feel like the locals cater to the tourists (myself included) too much, and we miss out on the natural state of their being. That is why we try to get off the beaten path, to see what it's like rurally rather than in the cities that have been over commercialized and touristified. But I also feel...
  2. comfortable amongst the foreigners because I am one. I can associate with the possible feelings they are having. I can relate to their travel mishaps or joys. I can communicate with them easily. Most travelers can speak English. I can share my story easier and know that they will reciprocate. I'm not saying locals will not or cannot fulfill any of these situations, but it comes quicker for me with foreigners. I believe it would take time to gain trust and comfort with a local but with a fellow traveler, there's something that just clicks. They get it.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

I didn't think I'd be amazed,...

...but Angkor Wat is amazing! Siem Reap is as I imagined it. Dusty. Hot. Jungle-like. But I never imagined Angkor Wat to be as majestic as it is.

Did you know that Angkor Wat was originally constructed as a Hindu temple for the God Vishnu for the Khmer Empire? Then it was transformed into a Buddhist temple in the 12th century. That should make it doubly holy, right?

Sunrise - we woke up with 1000s of others to be here at 4:30AM to secure a spot at the reflection pond's edge for the prized photo of sunrise over Angkor Wat. It was completely worth the wait.

Up until our arrival here, I thought I was just visiting another tourist attraction that needed to be seen, another check mark on the bucket list. Flying into Siem Reap on purpose, staying for 2 days, and then leaving for our next siteseeing adventure for 3 days and then onward was what I was looking forward to. I think partly because I'm so excited to see Vietnam, our next destination.

Buddhism is now the prominent religion here. But Hinduism is still around.

Locals ride anything with 2 wheels. Bicycles, tuk tuks, motorbikes, mopeds.
Our tuk tuk driver taking us through Angkor Archaeological Park's forestry and jungle like atmosphere.

Street food vendors around Pub Street in Siem Reap

Night life

But wow! Siem Reap is a great little town. And Angkor Wat is a magnificent "temple city." I haven't had this feeling about a place since we visited the Moai on Easter Island. I felt awestruck, disbelief, wonder, and amazement. The intricacy of the temples' design is unreal. The grandiose structures, the lack of modern tools to create, the layout, the imagination of the artists are all things that cannot be described by words nor detailed by photographs. Virtually any design or artwork on the stone was carved by hand. It's extraordinary!

Our first afternoon at Angkor Wat

Look at the color of the stone after all these years.

The detail and artistry of the temples are surreal.

Every corner, every angle, every visible space has design. 
It's all about the details.

And it's not just 2D. These are 3D.

Then you go around to see the other temples in the area (Ta Prohm, Ta Keo, Bayon, Angkor Thom - to name a few) and they're ALL different! It's not like the repetitive nature of, say, Egyptian pyramids or Thai temples or other religious structures. Each and every temple here has its own character. You have to see them all individually because seeing one certainly doesn't mean you've seen them all. You could be here for days or weeks.

The ruins at Ta Prohm

Trees have taken over the temple. 

This is the tree in the Tomb Raider Temple or Ta Prohm.

Trees grow when seeds fall into the cracks of the temple and sprout from there. The roots then begin to grow downward as they normally would. 

One of the statues looks so real. 

Bayon Temple - has smiling faces on every tower of the temple.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Random Thoughts, Then KL

Thoughts and observations about our first few Asian nations: 
  • I'd be interested to see Jakarta, Indonesia one day to see how much different it is than Bali. I know it's a big city, but I'd also like to see how it compares with the other Asian cities we've visited.
  • I was not surprised by how well English is spoken in Singapore, but I'm very surprised at how good it is in Malaysia, both Malacca and Kuala Lumpur. Even the radio was all in English. It must be all the European influences of it's history. Even Indonesia's English was good (specifically Bali) but that's because it's a tourist hot spot. 
  • Singapore has fantastic food! They have 22 Michelin starred restaurants and a few on the World's 50 Best. Check out our photos and eating adventures on Instagram @ DrunkEats
  • Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia all had very similar food preparations. Even the names of their dishes were similar. (ie. mie goreng is a noodle dish of similar prep in each country) 
  • Some words in Malaysian are similar to words in Cebuano / Filipino. For example, "lelaki" in Malaysian means "male." In Cebuano or Filipino it's "lalake" or "lalaki." 
  • Many Malaysians and Indonesians look similar to Filipinos. Often times, they are confused for one another. 
  • There are many Muslim Asians in Malaysia. Maybe there are many also in Indonesia but we were at the beaches all the time, so we'd probably never have seen them there. Also, the island of Bali is one of the few places in Indonesia that is Hindu predominantly. What do you think about that DDrumpf? Are you going to start deporting those people or banning them from the United States? 
  • Local people (in any of the 3 nations) do not sweat even though it's uncomfortably hot and humid. Maybe their bodies are just accustomed to this type of weather. 
  • Malaysia is often the forgotten country of Asia (just my opinion). Maybe it's because their food is similar to others or their people look like Filipinos. Maybe it's because their neighbors (Thailand to the North and Singapore to the South) are so much more popular in cuisine and tourism. I'm not sure I can put a finger on it, but I think I can understand why. 
  • In the automobiles, we're back to steering on the left and driving on the right side of the road. It's been a while. The last time we experienced this, we were in Chile at the beginning of December. New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia, and Singapore all steer on the right and drive on the left side of the road. 

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (aka KL)

We were warned not to take a taxi because they’re notorious for being cheats. But that’s what we did. After a short 2-hour bus ride up from Malacca, we ventured a taxi ride from a man who at the onset of the conversation was belligerent and rude. I knew we would be in for it. This older man didn’t help put our luggage into the car. Then after we got in the car he started to speed off without putting on the meter. In his heavily accented English, he tried to say that he would give us a good price and not to worry. But we were not having that. We demanded that he put the meter on, to which he scoffed and became immediately angry. We argued for a quick few seconds that seemed to last minutes until he put the meter on begrudgingly. He complained that we were checking our GPS to make sure he was going the right way because we didn’t trust him and asked us if we had money. To put him in his place we asked him if he had any money and if he wanted any of ours because we know he doesn’t have any money. Because yes, we have money to pay and yes, we’re checking the GPS because yes, we don’t trust your rude ass. And if you want our money, then do what you’re supposed to do. Drive and put the meter on. End rant. He drops us off and doesn’t stop the meter when we get out to take our bags, so we are sure to pay exactly what we saw the meter at when we arrived. The man still refuses to assist with our bags, but had the audacity to ask for 1RM more for the luggage (as if he helped with it at all). How rude (Michelle Tanner voice). Carolyn told him to calm down, leave, and go pray for his life to be better. Haha.

Since then, we’ve had nothing but good experiences in Kuala Lumpur. The rest of the people have been friendly. The Bukit Bintang area of KL is a happening neighborhood. The night market of Jalan Alor is sure to whet your appetite. We've eaten quite a bit here for very cheap. Literally a meal cost us 30RM, which is less than $8USD for 3 people. Changkat Bukit Bintang is sure to lure you into a bar or club. We popped into The Whisky Bar that had a wide variety of labels from all around the world. And then we spent the rest of our evening at quiz night at the local Irish Pub. And the massage alley could easily convince you to rest your feet and stretch your back. But keep this in mind. Negotiate everything. We didn't get any massages though.

We passed through the Central Market, walked down Petaling Street, and strolled through Chinatown. But all of these places seemed so much like others we've visited in the past. A brief glance is all we needed to satisfy our checklist.

We learned that Uber is super cheap here and more reputable and trustworthy than any taxi. So we took an Uber ride to and from the Batu Caves. It so happens to be the Hindu feast of Thaipusam coming up this 9 February so people are making somewhat of a pilgrimage to see the holy site. Devout Hindus are walking barefoot while carrying jugs of milk up 272 steps into the caves to offer to the gods. It’s certainly a sight to see especially with the giant golden Hindu statue standing at the foot of the caves.

Devout Hindu with jug of milk on her head making her way up the 272 steps. 

The foot of the Batu Caves where the celebrations for Thaipusam have begun.

Grab a bite to eat or find some local souvenirs. This market has everything you are looking for in Kuala Lumpur.

Me, Carolyn, & Mike at the base of the Petronas Towers

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Did you miss reading my blog? We're still alive and well!

Wow! It's been nearly 2 weeks since my last post! So many things to catch up on. Where do I begin?

Short List:
- We’re relaxed.
- Many sites have been seen.
- More friends have joined us on the road.
- We’re full of food.
- But we’ve sweat it all out.
- And we’re dark.

The Gili Islands

Four of the eight days we spend in Indonesia were spend on these tiny little islands part of Lombok. It's about an hour and a half choppy fast ferry ride east of the island of Bali. But of course first, we needed to get to the port which is around an hour and a half from Ubud. For all that traveling, we rewarded ourselves with more relaxation (as if 4 days in Ubud wasn't enough).

The swing at The Exile. We met the owner and spoke to him at length. He was the first to put up a swing and everyone copied him. It was put up originally for his kids when they were young. It is now a tourist attraction. 

Two days on Gili Trawangan (aka Gili T) allowed us a glimpse of a laid back daytime and a socially active nightlife. The most popular of the 3 islands (T, Meno, Air), Gili T is the jumpoff for many activities. It was here that we embarked on a half-day glass bottom boat ride to go snorkeling. Carolyn worked her magic negotiating, and we made 2 new friends along the way who joined us for the tour. All together, we paid 700,000 IDR ($52USD) making it $26USD for each couple. Good job babe! It was on this trip that we got to swim with turtles, see more coral life, and other colorful fish.

Snorkeled with this guy.

Side note: I was really surprised at how much coral had been dying / died and washed up on shore. It's a bit sad to see and painful to step on. Climate change is real.

A 7-minute fast boat ride to Gili Meno took us to our 2nd of the 3 islands, and this is where we took the remainder of the 2 days. Knowing what laid ahead of us after leaving Indonesia, we took this time to really relax without any activity. Aside from the brief swim in crystal clear blue waters, the extent of our movement was walking 30 seconds to the beach and ordering fruit drinks.


It’s only a 2-hour flight from Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia to Singapore, which is a major transportation hub in Asia. Changi International Airport has consistently been rated the best airport in the world year after year. It is enormous. There are heaps of shops; it’s impeccably clean; it’s super safe and efficient. And the city of Singapore itself is no different than it’s representative airport.

It’s here that we met a few of our friends who are also traveling the world or working around the globe. And that’s how time escaped us.

Blocking the entrance to a speakeasy at 28 Hong Kong Street.

When we’re traveling with people we know so well, it’s easy to eat really well also. And Singapore makes that extremely simple. Although the city is known to be the most expensive in the world, food can be very inexpensive. And that’s important to backpackers like us.

In search of wonderful food, we also passed by many sites by walking through all the neighborhoods. Chinatown. Little India. The Arab quarters. And all the rest of the streets in Singapore. The city is small, so it’s easily walkable.

Happy Chinese New Year! It's the year of the Rooster.

Arab Street in the Arab Quarter.

Sultan Mosque in the Arab Quarter

A decorative Hindu temple in Little India.

We ate at 4 or 5 different markets (ie. Chinatown Complex, Maxwell Road, Old Airport Road) and in as many as 20+ hawker food stalls that were pocket change cheap. We once treated ourselves to an expensive fine-dining meal, and it was well worth it. And tried many things in between. Together with friends we roamed the nightlife neighborhoods, chatted for hours in speakeasy bars, or shared meals at plastic tables and stools. And we saw the sites in between every meal, snack, or drinking affair.

Singapore was fun for so many reasons. We had good company. The food was fantastic. And the city was inviting. Maybe we should have our long-haul layovers in Singapore from now on…

View of the port from the Marina Bay Sands rooftop

A little birdie perched on Carolyn's finger as we were gazing over the Gardens by the Bay.

Merlion - half mermaid, half lion. It is widely used as the mascot of Singapore.

The Singapore Flyer is like the London Eye.

We visited the National Orchid Garden at the Singapore Botanic Gardens. I'm pretty sure my parents would have liked this place. We enjoyed the Cool House where we found relief from the heat and humidity. 

Fountain of Wealth at Suntec City. A symbol of wealth and life, the Fountain Of Wealth is recognized since 1998 by the Guinness Book Of World Records as the World's Largest Fountain. The bronze ring of the fountain is designed based on the Hindu Mandala, meaning universe and is a symbolic representation of the oneness in spirit and unity and further symbolizes the equality and harmony of all races and religions in Singapore.

View from the infinity pool at the top of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel

Malacca, Malaysia

A short bus ride away from Singapore, Malacca feels like a sleepy town. But I think the people are just hiding from the daytime heat. At night, the town comes alive (even on a Sunday) for the Jonker Walk Night Market. It’s here where you can find almost everyone from town, be it tourist or local. Plenty of goods / services / and edibles are sold from clothing to trinkets and knick-knacks to massages and local food.

Red Square or Dutch Square 

Catch a ride on a themed trishaw, a combination rickshaw and tricycle.

Jonker Walk in the middle of the day is full of pedestrians and cars. By night, it's a street fair and food market. 

The ruins of St. Paul's Church atop St. Paul's Hill.

The town itself is known for the historical landmarks and cultural museums all around the city. A rich history from a mix of Dutch, British, Portuguese, Indian and Chinese gives the character of the city’s people. English is well-spoken all around. People look like they’ve come from half-way around the world, when they’re really locals. You can’t tell tourist from Malacca-raised. There are a handful of places of worship within stone’s throw of each other which further supports the diversity in the community.

A huge stage at the foot of Jonker Walk where locals participate in karaoke and sing the night away. 

We're finishing up our last couple of nights here in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I'll have more photos to share in a few days.