Category Archives: Southeast Asia

In Search of: An Ultra-Light Flight in Cambodia

Remember when I traveled through Cambodia? It seems like a lifetime ago, but really it’s only been two years. So much has changed since then (like my entire life). One thing that hasn’t changed is the absolute sense of wonder I get from even thinking about that country. Seriously. I want to go back. I want to find someone that’s willing to rent a scooter and drive through the countryside of Cambodia with me for a few weeks (seeing as how scootering through the countryside has the potential for all sorts of “adventure,” I figure it’s safest to have a partner on such a trip). I get giddy just thinking about the possibilities. The people. The food. The jungles. The serenity. AMAZING. Really and truly — one of my favorite places in the world.

Anyhow, I’m getting sidetracked. Because what I really want to share is how I faced one of my (many) fears when I visited that country all by myself: flying! As much as I love to travel, if you know me at all, you know I’m a scaredy-cat when it comes to getting on a plane. I pretty much always think I’m going to die. So when I saw a brochure at my guesthouse for an ultra-light flight company, I thought the obvious thing — I’ve GOT to do that! Who wouldn’t want to fly over the temples of Angkor Wat!?! So I booked a flight and got ready for yet another adventure.

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The company was owned by a British man. He’d moved to Cambodia after the place captured his heart too. His son happened to be on break from university and visiting Cambodia while I was there. As I waited for the pilot to return from an earlier flight, I chatted the son up about his summer adventures doing just what I hope to do one day — scootering through the countryside. Bliss. (His stories managed to further convince me of my need to take on this adventure one day.)

And then the moment came when it was my turn to take flight over the temples of Angkor Wat. I was nervous. I was wondering what the hell convinced me this was a good idea. I was a bit shaky. I talked with the pilot quite a bit before hopping on that tiny thing he called a plane. He convinced me it was safe — he’d been flying these particular planes for 9 years or so. He’d never had an issue. People have flown them around the world. I must say, chatting with a pilot is a lovely way to reduce the fear. I was good to go. As the plane went up, my heart tumbled a bit. Butterflies were hopping around in there. But then the calm of the open air and the peacefulness of the day overtook my worries. And I was totally at ease. It was a miracle.

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All-in-all, I spent about 45 minutes in the air, flying over the temples. It was fantastic. When the flight was over and we returned to land, I was actually disappointed it was over! I attempted to take pictures, which was somewhat difficult due to my less than stellar point and shoot camera. But, whatevs. I captured the adventure, and each time I see one of those photos, so many memories flood my mind.

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If ever one day you find yourself in Siem Reap, wandering the temples of Angkor Wat, I highly recommend staying a few extra days. SkyVenture, the company I did my flight with, is a great company — they’re all about safety and won’t take you up if there’s even a hint of bad weather. And although the temples are simply spectacular and a must see, there is so much more to the area. If you do an ultralight flight, chat it up with the people at SkyVenture — they can suggest all kinds of awesome stuff to see. Win-win, I tell you.

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In Search of: Quad Bikes in Cambodia

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While in Cambodia, I had a few “firsts.”  Make that about 10,000 firsts.  But there were a couple that really stood out to me.  One of those was learning to ride a quad bike.  When you’re traveling alone for the first time and you decide to try something brand new and you’re pretty nervous and wondering if you might make a fool of yourself — well, you can understand why this was a big deal to me.  That, and riding through villages outside Siem Reap was phenomenal.  It was a side of Cambodia I’d seen little of.  Quiet.  Fairly untouched by tourism.  Life went on as it always had.  People fed their livestock and worked in their fields.  Women chatted while wandering down dirt paths.  Smiling kids heard us drive by and ran outside to wave and say hello.  It was a bit magical.

There was a group of people scheduled to ride at the same time as me, but they were experienced riders.  And for some reason, they simply wanted to race through the countryside, seeing how fast they could go.  The owner of the company thus decided to pair me with my own guide, and I received a private tour.  My guide was incredibly sweet and patient.  It took a few minutes to really get comfortable on the bike (those things have some power).  But then I was simply mesmerized by the landscape and felt the need to stop every few feet to soak it in and take pictures.  My guide didn’t mind at all.  In fact, I think he preferred it — I could tell he loved his hometown.

If you’re ever in Siem Reap to see the great temples of Angkor, I highly recommend getting out to see the countryside.  You can rent a bicycle if you don’t mind the scorching heat and meander down dirt paths of the villages at your own pace.  Or you could choose something with a bit of an edge and hop on a quad.  Quad Adventure Cambodia is a great company (as evidenced by the many top reviews on TripAdvisor), and I highly recommend it.

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In Search of: Randomness and More Temples in the Jungle

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I find myself in a bit of a conundrum.  I’m in the middle of telling stories about summer in Southeast Asia, yet I just returned from an amazing trip in Peru, and now I’ve started storytelling about that trip also.  Do I continue talking Thailand, Cambodia and Laos?  Or do I skip ahead and tell the striking diversity I have begun to uncover in Latin America?  Hells bells.  I don’t know.

For now, I’ll continue where I left off in Cambodia.  Once I get more pictures ready, I’ll throw a corkscrew in the whole thing and just start randomly telling stories from other locales.  Because that’s how I roll, all random and shit.

Where was I last we spoke about SE Asia?  Ah, yes.  Angkor Wat.  Cue humidity, blazing sun and a smashing good time!  (Obviously I think I’m British now.)

So.  Remember I told you I stayed at a place in Siem Reap called the Golden Mango Inn?  Lovely place.  Really, really lovely.  Every time I walked past the front desk, they asked if they could help with anything.  One staff member in particular was so, so nice.  For the life of me, I can’t remember his name.  He arranged for me to have a bike at 4am when I decided I wanted to cycle to the ruins to catch the sunrise.  He was my wake up call.  He made sure the kitchen opened super early so I wouldn’t arrive at Angkor without eating.  He packed snacks for my bike ride — and then proceeded to worry about me biking on my own so early in the morning.  That’s actually funny.  I assure you, the 4am bike ride was MUCH safer than the afternoon bike ride on my way home, at which point I had to dodge the insane Siem Reap traffic going in every direction (none of which seemed to be heading the correct way).  The good news is, I survived to tell the story.

The Inn was phenomenal.  And that particular day was unforgettable.  I watched the sunrise at Angkor, then cycled through the park for over eight hours.  It was hot and humid and slightly unbearable at times.  But it was also an experience few people have.  Yes.  There are several bikers at Angkor at any given moment, but most don’t go as far or as long as I did.  Most don’t ride alongside kids biking to and from school.  Most don’t stop to chat with villagers that suspect they’re slightly crazy for taking such a long ride.  Granted, most don’t hit a ditch and go flying into the middle of the road either.  But, hey, it was an experience, right?  And the two school boys riding in front of me seemed rather entertained (if not slightly bewildered) by the whole ordeal.  The fact is, I would go back and do it again in a heartbeat.  Except I would take it even slower and soak in every single second.

Few things in the world can outdo cycling through ancient ruins amongst a beautiful, monkey-filled forest in Cambodia.

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In Search of: Angkor Wat, A Long Time Coming

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There was a time not so long ago I’d never heard of Angkor Wat.  I’m almost embarrassed to say that.  But it’s true.  I remember the precise moment I learned of it.  I was watching a TV show.  For the life of me, I can’t remember the name of the show, but I know it was nearly ten years ago.  (At the time, I was in my 20’s.  I should have at least heard of the place!)  The show followed a newlywed couple on their travels, as they’d won the ultimate honeymoon — a trip around the world.  One episode, they woke up at sunrise to visit a place called Angkor Wat.  Wow!  I was enamored.  And from that moment, I knew I had to visit.

The Angkor Archeological Park stretches over 400 square kilometers and is the home to several capitals of the Khmer Empire from the 9th to 15th centuries.  It’s full of ruins and temple complexes and pristine forest and monkeys.  I was also surprised to discover that many people still live in the lands of the park, often making a living through rice farming or selling souvenirs to tourists.  The park is a pretty astounding place.

My trip from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, the city closest to Angkor Archeological Park, was fairly uneventful.  For the first time since beginning my trip, my bus arrived on time!  (This was pretty significant and super exciting.)  I made arrangements to stay at a guesthouse called the Golden Mango Inn.  A tuk-tuk driver from the Inn named Song picked me up at the bus terminal.  I kid you not, this was the sweetest man I met in all of my travels.  If you’re ever at the Golden Mango, request Song as your driver.  He’s wonderful.

From the moment I arrived at the Golden Mango, I was beyond happy with my choice.  It was the nicest guesthouse of all my stays throughout Southeast Asia, and the food at the restaurant was muy yummy.  Not to mention the staff.  They were so considerate and thoughtful.

My first full day in Siem Reap, I decided to hire a tuk-tuk driver (I chose Song again) to do the Grand Circuit of the ruins, which is farther out.  I knew I would be bicycling the ruins the next day, so I wanted to save the shorter, smaller circuit for then.  From the moment I spotted my first temple, I was like a kid in a candy store.  I wandered through deserted hallways, climbed steep, narrow stairs and soaked in the sights.  I learned to use the tiny tripod with my camera quite well, and many a tourist stared at me, somewhat awkward, as I smiled and jumped and posed for seemingly no one.

I loved every minute of it.

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In Search of: Cambodia’s Capital, Phnom Penh

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During my trip, I spent a few days in Phnom Penh.  In all honesty, I’m not a huge fan of urban travel.  I prefer to skip the cities in favor of the country.  Rural areas, relishing the outdoors — that’s my cup of tea.  But a chance to soak in the flavor of Cambodia’s capital city was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up, especially since I knew someone that lived there.

I’m glad I didn’t skip it.  The city was fascinating.  And the people — they were some of the sweetest I met in my travels (of course, I find myself saying this about pretty much every destination in Southeast Asia).  Although not pictured, I did in fact visit the Killing Fields and the Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide.  I am choosing not to share those pictures.  Although I found the history of this beautiful country ravaged by genocide and a brutal regime, I found the present situation to be anything but.  The city was vibrant and full of life.

It was in Phnom Penh that I bartered for my first pair of hippie pants at the Russian Market (you know, those free flowing, gaucho-type pants I wouldn’t dare wear anywhere else but that I secretly love and seriously hope come back in style).  This was also where I discovered the $4 pedicure with foot and leg massage (you can’t get better than that!) and the craziest transportation contraptions I’ve ever seen (Need to haul a refrigerator across town?  No problem.  Throw it on the back of my moped!).  Coincidentally, this was also the location I finally tossed out my fear of riding on the back of a moped taxi.  If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em — right?  Oh, and it was in Phnom Penh that I ate bugs!  Red ants, to be precise.  Good times, I tell you.  Good times.

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