Home for the holidays

It’s weird being home after 2 years in Asia. It’s weird because people inconsiderately continued to live their lives while I was gone. I have been back for two months now and often I have to ask questions about people and places- thank god my sister queued me into what Twin Peaks was before I suggested dinner there (For others uninformed like I was, it’s like a mountain themed Hooters). It’s like knowing and not knowing my life. Same, same but different as they say in Thailand. If we could travel to an alternate universe I’d bet it’d be like this where everything is just slightly off. My friend Beth is still Beth but now Beth has a kid, and microbreweries seem to have taken over Denver.

I guess my muddled moments of feeling at home in a stranger’s house makes sense as this year has been an amazing cacophony of events. 2013 was living abroad and tropical adventures and long awaited homecomings. I ended a life and started a life. Now re-rooting after ten countries and two years I wonder which changed more, my hometown or me.

Living in China was an experience. That’s what I say when someone asks me about my life in Asia because it’s hard to know how else to describe it. I have stories from China, and stories from travel and it’s fun to tell those stories at parties but it’s sometimes hard to really reconnect to the events I’m describing. Sometimes it feels like stories from the good old, way back days; not my life from earlier this year. My life in Asia and here are so different that it was easy for my mind to compartmentalize the experiences into then and now, and yet sometimes they do bleed over.

I think I’ve been thoroughly China-ed in ways I’m only starting to understand. Like now I kind of miss squat toilets for number one and the western toilets, just looming there with speckles of bodily fluid painting their cold, white exteriors, look like the last place I want to park my rear. Or sometimes I forget that unlike in Asia, in Colorado English isn’t a secret language known only to a very small percentage of the population so I have to remember to bite my tongue in public since now the public understands me.

I don’t quite know how China will affect me in the future because I don’t quite know where my life will go in the future. For now I’m happy to step away from this blog, and reflect on my adventure in the orient. Stay tuned in 2014 for any future epiphanies.

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Angkor Wat

angkor pano 2

The most magical part of Angkor Wat is the fact that someone like me is allowed to go there. Centuries years ago these temples connected gods and kings, I can’t imagine what they’d say to see me standing here; probably get the hell out.

I think there are two types of tourists who visit Angkor Wat. Those that are satisfied in a day, and those who could make good use of a year long pass. I am the latter. The structures, the scope, the grandiose intricacies all humble me as much as they interest me. Visiting Angkor Wat feels in a way like time travel. Standing on the lava stones transports me back through the cycles of civilization to a once mighty empire; an empire so changed that it now stands as ruins beneath my humble feet. (An even more poignant thought considering my government recently shutdown back home.)

In total we spent three days exploring the ruins at Angkor Wat; twice by tuk-tuk and once by bike. We didn’t see anywhere close to everything, the area is so vast I don’t think you can ever see everything. At one point on all three visits we had to surrender and say, “That’s the last temple of the day; we can’t see everything.”

panoOur second day by tuk-tuk was my favorite day in Angkor Wat. On day one we were so inexperienced yet excited that we tried to go to too many temples, climbed too many stone staircases and tired ourselves out completely. Thus we learned what not to do on our second day.

For our second tuk-tuk voyage through Angkor Wat we selected our three favorite areas and spent our time and energy there. On that day our itinerary started in the grand Angkor Wat followed by the faces of Bayon. From Bayon we walked along the Elephant Terrace to an area where 40 tiny, identical stalls serve lunch. After eating we hit Ta Prohm completing an abbreviated form of what is called the small circuit through Angkor Wat.

phrom 3 carving detail

Day three in Angkor Wat was drastically different than the first two because we did it by bike. It’s been a good five years since I’ve propelled myself using peddle power, and on that day I made up for my half decade of absence. We attempted what is called the grand circuit not realizing that by the end of our trip we’d rack up over 25 miles. (Well maybe Josh knew but didn’t tell me because I’d say he’ll no).


The grand loop connects the less visited and smaller temples around Angkor Wat. It also covers some of the most beautiful terrain in northern Cambodia especially during rainy season when the green fields of rice are full and shaded only by occasion palm trees.

greenery pano

Rainy season also made Neak Pean an unforgettable experience. This temple on a manmade island in a manmade reservoir floods during heavy rain. On our visit walking the semi-submerged walkway to Neak Pean was as amazing as the temple itself.

neakThis third day on the bike might have been my favorite day at Angkor Wat was it not for the ride back to our guesthouse in Siem Reap. Cruising around the temples all day is fine and dandy, but once you’ve reached your daily temple quota and decide to head home those last few miles become excruciating. Then to add to the throbbing in my thighs and numbness in my butt a rain storm hit. I’ve never wanted windshield wipers on my glasses so badly. When we finally got back to our guesthouse I was tired, wet and my ass was officially pissed at me (a grudge it held all the next day).

Perhaps next time we can try another mode of transportation; I did see elephant rides, a hot air balloon and a helicopter all of which I’d love to try. I wager each one would put a whole new spin on this wonderfully old place.

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Massage me twice please


Massages in Siem Reap start at $6 for an hour. $6 for an hour! I could say that sentence a million times and every time it’d give me that surprising feeling of instant joy. $6 an hour!  When Josh and I saw that price on the advertisement in our hotel we order two and within half an hour two Khmer masseuses were at our room ready for a full rub down.

Admittedly this was my first in-room massage so I was unsure of protocol. Do we undress; is it creepy if I keep my eyes open and watch; when do we pay upfront or after? Eventually the four of us awkwardly worked out the details and soon I was on my back, on my bed, fully clothed getting a Khmer massage. Khmers massages are like Thai massages in they pull and stretch you, but they don’t pop or crack as much and I find them much less painful and therefor much more enjoyable. At one point during that first massage I accidentally rolled over on the remote turning the TV to what I think was a Cambodian soap opera. It gave the moment a weird vibe, but both the masseuses seemed to enjoy it so we went with it. After an hour of relaxation my masseuse said, “ok lady,” then excused herself to go use the restroom; Josh’s masseuse soon followed. When they came back we paid them $12, thanked them and that was it. It was wonderful. We had several more massages during our time in Cambodia. One of my favorites was a foot massage which used white tiger balm instead of lotion or oil. They say travel teaches you as much about yourself as your destination and that wonderful, massage lady taught me that I love tiger balm between my toes and that Cambodia is the go to place for massages in SE Asia.

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5 ways to tell how long a traveler has been on the road

Traveling for 5 months we’ve met hundreds of fellow travelers. Some have been on the road for 2 weeks some for 18 months. Here’s how you tell how long travelers have been on the road:

  1. Missed matched matching. The more miss-matched the clothing the longer the traveler has been on the road. Travel destroys clothes, adds new pieces to a limited wardrobe, and teaches that in the end clothes are clothes so longs as they serve their primary duty.
  2. Comfiness. Those miss-matched clothes are also going to be comfortable. Anyone in heels is not traveling for more than a few weeks.
  3. Date and time. The quicker a traveler can tell you the date and time the shorter their trip has been.
  4. Whateverness. The longer on the road the more flexible travelers become. Onions when you asked for no onions, whatever pick them off. Missed the train, whatever there’ll be another. It takes a lot to shake a traveler who has been on the road for more than 3 months, but those under three weeks bitch about every obstacle.
  5. The smell: After three solid weeks of travel the wayfarer’s funk settles in. It starts with a whiff of BO and wonderment about who smells. Then it comes again, stronger, closer and you realize  it’s you (maybe you should have showered this morning instead of reading in the hammock). As the trip continues new smells are added to the body odor like splashes of whiskey on your shorts from a raucous night on Pub Street, a little seaside fish funk leaching out of a beach towel from Koh Thmei or even the acquired smells from other travelers sharing small spaces in cheap hostels. The longer the travelers has been going the stronger and  more complex the odor and the less they care about emitting it.
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Happy Cambodia

happy herb

I wasn’t really sure what it meant when we saw a sign for Happy Herb’s Pizza. I mean I know what it means to me, but does it refer to the same smokable in Cambodia? “Happy” places are everywhere even in our Lonely Planet guide book. But is it for real? Marijuana is strictly speaking illegal, so how can establishments, lots of establishments, offer happiness? Happy Herb’s has happy pizzas and very happy pizzas and their competition goes as far as ecstatic pizzas.There are happy shakes and happy burgers at happy establishments from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh to Sihanouk Ville and each happy does look and taste and seem like bud, low-grade bush bud but bud none the less. Legality, questionable. Availability, reasonable. Open tolerance, unbelievable.

happy pizza

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Traffic is crazy in Phnom Penh. I am amazed I haven’t died yet.


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Royal Palace in Phnom Penh

It’s golden walls stretch along the waterfront as the crests of its roof slice the growing, modern skyline. It took us a few tries to get into the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh (stupid dress code fail on our first attempt) so I really appreciated our visit on a cloudy morning in October. The gardens were beautiful and the detail of the architecture amazing; I just wish a few more of the buildings were open to the public.

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Three things really stuck with me after our  tour of the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh. One, there is perhaps the coolest trees in the world growing there; two there are so many fracken diamonds (or replicas of diamonds) in that place; and three elephant saddles are cool.

The trees that I overheard a tour guide calling Buddha trees have large spiked vines growing out of the trunk with big pink flowers that bloom then fall in a single day.


The Silver Pagoda on the royal grounds housed bright, yellow gold and diamonds behind glass cases with locks the same size as the one I have on my suitcase and security guards wearing sandals. It was a bipolar tour of wealth and ruin I’ve never seen in a national museum.

Our last stop during our Royal Palace visit was at the Elephant Room where all the different elephant saddles the King uses (present and past) are kept. I had no idea, but apparently I’m very keen on elephant saddles. I’ve never wanted to be on an elephant so badly in my whole life.


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The best coffee in Phnom Penh


After touring around Phnom Penh our friend V said, “Do you guys want to get the best iced coffee in PP?”  So I asked, “Is it really the best coffee?” because I feel  sometimes people throw around the”best of” title. He said “yes” so I said “prove it” and  off we went at the speed of tuk-tuk to the Russian Market. We made our way to booth 257 where placards and personal testaments decorated a small booth and we knew we had reached the Shangri-La of iced coffee.  A small, happy man greeted us then set about the arduous and semi-secretive process of making the best coffee.

For $1.99 we got a tall, dark glass of java from Mr.  Bounnareth whose smile was as ingrained as his wrinkles. Instead of half&half or creamer the dairy product married to this Cambodia drink is condensed milk which is wickedly good so I added a large dose of the sweet milky goo. Then a quick stir and a big gulp and I think my pupils  enlarged almost instantaneous. I wouldn’t have called this drink iced coffee, I would have called it iced crack. Actually it was more like iced espresso on meth. Personally i think one of the most important factors of good coffee is that it be good and strong (decafs just makes no sense to me), so on that factor alone I’d have to agree with the “best of” title awarded to my afternoon beverage. If the “best of” title was based on nicest of owner, then I’d also agree to Mr. Bounnareth getting it.


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National Museum in Phnom Penh

We’re staying near the riverfront in Phnom Penh a block and a half away from the National Museum. From our balcony I can see the tips of the red shingled structure poking above the trees. This area of Phnom Penh is flush with the traditional wats and building styles that make the skyline decidedly pointy. It was these spires that inspired an afternoon trip to the museum.


Originally we wanted to go to the National Museum after the Royal Palace since they are located close to each other, but we didn’t meet dress code restriction for the Royal Palace so the museum became our single destination for the day. The dramatic rust red color and looming architecture made it easy to find which I appreciate. It was kind of sad when the ticket office couldn’t break a fifty to cover our $10 admission because it’d be nice to think that museums were a top grossing attraction but instead we had to go for lunch to break our bill. We dined at a small Khmer restaurant just down Street 178. We tried a soup I’d described as ultra thick fish and vegetable stock frothed and and served with crispy baguette croutons. It reminded me of a Khmer interpretation of French onion soup  the way the croutons made a crust soaking up the soup below. We also ordered a chicken baguette sandwich because French influence lingers in the architecture and the bread here, and naturally two fruit shakes because it’s crazy not to. Then after lunch we walked back to the National Museum to try again.

The large, square layout gives visitors a linear tour where four left turns took us through Cambodian history and back to the front door. Artifacts line the rooms on wooden shelves around an inner courtyard with coy ponds and serene peacefulness. Special focus is given to Angkor artifacts from the famed Angkor Wat to the north which were amazing. The establishment did suffer from a lack of air movement making it hot and sticky. It could have used a few more fans, however the rooms with the high powered fans had walls covered in lizard guts and insect splats like a windshield so really no fan rooms though hotter were a bit nicer.

It was an amazing museum to visit and the architecture has as much to do with that as the artifacts stored within.


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A country with no sidewalks

DSC03939I’m convinced the heat makes walking unpopular in Cambodia; nobody seems to do it. Everyone is on wheels: bikes, scooters, tuk-tuks, and cars. Walking is so unpopular sidewalks have been reassigned new duties. In Phnom Penh sidewalks are places for food stands, store overflow and gasoline stands (which consist of liquor cans filled with gas sold from racks then funneled into gas tanks). Sidewalks also serve as half parking lots, like half the car on the sidewalk and half on the street.

Even on lengths of obstacle-free pavement there are still hazards because sidewalks are also uneven. There are ledges and holes and bumps and tiny mounds of metal that clutter the sidewalk; though it only seems to be the tourists who trip on the obstacles. As a klutzy person I’m at at war with the sidewalks, and the sidewalks are most certainly winning.


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