Category Archives: Southeast Asia

In Search of: A Little Village Outside of Kampot, Cambodia

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One of the best things about my little river retreat in Kampot, Cambodia was the red dirt paths.  Meandering down the roads led me away from the guest house and into a rural village area.  I walked under the shade of trees as girls rode past on bicycles, a man worked in his the rice field and women chatted at a roadside fruit stand.  The cows stared at me as I stared at the chickens quite literally crossing the road.  It was a slice of heaven.

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In Search of: Cambodia, A Country That Captured My Heart

Let me tell you about my friend, Cori.  We met sitting next to each other at a writer’s conference in Orange County, California.  She was in town from Cambodia, visiting her dad.  We shared a few laughs and a common bond over the struggles of wanting to write something prolific (nah, forget prolific, I think we’d both settle for something pretty good).

Someone in our conference session collected emails and started an online writing group.  The group soon fizzled, but Cori and I connected on Facebook and thus stayed in touch.  We commented on status updates and pictures.  We emailed occasionally about writing and travel.

And then one day I showed up in Thailand, and she said, “You’re in Thailand? You absolutely must come to Cambodia!”  Okay.  Perhaps those weren’t her exact words, but I’m fairly sure they were something to that effect.  And just like that, I was off on a whirlwind trip to another country.  It’s amazing how a shared Facebook bond can connect two would-be strangers from halfway across the world.

While in Phnom Penh, Cori opened her home to me (and her washing machine).  It was like being welcomed home.  She treated me as an old friend, and I learned a hell of a lot about hospitality from this woman.  I won’t forget it.  For that (and much more), Cambodia ended up being one of the absolute highlights of Southeast Asia.  I’d go back in a heartbeat.  As a matter of fact, I certainly hope I do.  That country captured my heart.

When I arrived at Cori’s, she wasn’t planning to stay in town long.  She had plans with her daughter to drive to a town called Kampot.  Just outside of Kampot was a guesthouse/river lodge that Cori had stayed at a few years before.  She made no promises as to its current condition, but recalled a restful river retreat.  They invited me along.

Les Manguiers, the river lodge, turned out to be phenomenal.  It was the perfect mix of relaxation and recreation.  There was yummy food (and, coincidentally, the mango shakes were beyond fabulous).  There were bikes, kayaks, sun decks, hammocks, a Tarzan river rope and walking trails.  I’m fairly sure I could move in if the situation presented itself.  Seriously, if you’re ever in Cambodia, go to Les Manguiers, the little retreat along the river.  You won’t regret it.

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In Search of: A Friend in Cambodia

After leaving Ko Chang, I hopped on a bus and headed to Cambodia.  A friend of mine lives in Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capitol, and the plan was to spend a few days there and figure out the rest upon arrival.

The bus ride through Cambodia was entertaining, per usual.  We stopped at a rest stop to grab some food and use the toilet.  As I waited inside the bus, I watched this cow scavenging for scraps from food stalls.  She was quite the character.  The shop keepers kept shooing her away, and she kept returning to eat banana peels and whatever else she could get her paws on.

The traffic in Cambodia was beyond anything I had seen in Thailand or Laos.  It was insanity. The most accurate description I heard was that it was like water.  You had to go with the flow of the mass of mopeds and cars or you would end up in a wreck.  I wish I had a good picture of the traffic, as this doesn’t even begin to show the craziness I witnessed.  For one, these people are all driving on the correct side of the road!

Coincidentally, when I headed to Cambodia my friend had actually headed to Bangkok.  She made arrangements with her neighbor to let me in the house.  She would be back the next day.  Of course, my bus was several hours late, and we arrived rather late at night.  Aside from an address I couldn’t pronounce and the street map I couldn’t open on the computer at the internet cafe, I had no idea where she lived.  Instead of spending the night at Cori’s house, I opted to join two girls I met on the bus.  We searched for a decent guesthouse, ended up in what could only be referred to as a brothel, then finally found a “mini” suite.  And when I say mini, I do mean mini.  When we walked into the guesthouse and asked if they had rooms available, the man at the desk looked us up and down and declared, “Yes.  I think you’ll fit.”  We burst into laughter and decided we must at least see the rooms.  And although I had to duck to get in the door, it turned out to be a pretty nice abode.  We booked rooms for the night.

After, we headed to dinner at a great little restaurant on the riverfront, and I tried my first Cambodian food.  Yummy!

I took the advice on this sign at the restaurant to heart.  I ate an awesome meal of vegetable amok, then headed back to my room to sleep off that long bus ride.

And it’s a good thing I got a good night’s sleep, because finding Cori’s house the next day ended up being an adventure in itself!

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In Search of: An Island Escape

It’s been too long since the last installment of my Southeast Asia trip.  Shall we carry on?  Last I recall, we spoke about about the day I kayaked down a breathtaking river in Laos.  It’s still one of my fondest memories.  But, alas, Southeast Asia is not all rainbows and puppy dogs.  I took a wrong turn on occasion.  Which is where this next story leads us.

After a week in Luang Prabang, I decided to return to Bangkok.  I could have stayed there forever.  Honestly, I’m not sure why I headed back so soon.  But it was my first solo part of the trip; perhaps I was lonely.

Unwilling to risk another 32 hour bus ride, I risked my life on this little prop plane instead.  (Yes, to the average person, it’s not so dangerous.  But to a girl afraid of getting on even the biggest, fastest jet in the sky — slightly terrifying.  Let’s just say, I fondly refer to prop planes as death traps.)

They handed us umbrellas to carry to the plane as we walked along the tarmac.  Lao airlines surpassed my expectations — certainly better than any American airline I’ve flown on in recent years.  And I didn’t end up being scared at all.  As a matter of fact, I’m quite proud of the progress I’ve made in the “fear of flying” department.

After a weekend in Bangkok, I decided it was time for a little island fun.  I searched the guidebook and decided on an island on the gulf coast called Ko Chang.  The book described it as “off the beaten path”, and a little R&R seemed precisely what I needed.

I packed my bags and hopped on the back of a motorcycle taxi, heading toward the bus station.

Arriving in Ko Chang, I wasn’t sure what to think.  The area was sort of dirty, and the taxi ride to my guesthouse didn’t help the situation.  Miles upon miles of closed up shops.  I knew it wasn’t tourist season, but the way in which the place seemed like a ghost town was sort of eery.

The guest house, however, was exactly as described by the guidebook.  Rustic little bungalows sat next to a lagoon.  It was peaceful and charming and really very simple.  Exactly what I ordered.

The guesthouse was called the Blue Lagoon Bungalows.  I loved how I felt like I was camping yet without giving up basic necessities.  Like beds.  And hot showers.  The place was so quiet I was nearly sure I was the only guest.  Which, in some ways, was absolutely perfect.  Though in others, well, let’s just say — many scenes from horror movies start in a near abandoned hotel.

The wall of one side of the bungalow completely folded out.  A large porch wrapped around and a grass hammock hung over the water allowing for the most amazing sunset view.  I took a number of naps while lounging in that hammock. 

I also took many walks down this path to the beach.  It was so peaceful and quiet.  Definitely a good place for reflecting.

The beach had the potential to be absolutely gorgeous.  The water was warm as a bathtub, the waves rolled in gently enough to swim, and the sand was soft.  The palms trees were picture perfect.  And the wooden swings tied to random trees were pretty much to die for.  Unfortunately, the beach washed up trash with each wave.  There was so much evidence of human contact, it was sad.  There were light bulbs, old shoes, juice containers.  You name it, it was on the beach.  It’s terribly sad how people can ruin such a perfect paradise.

Tree houses like this one dotted the beach.  I remember thinking of my grandma when I took a picture of this one.  I’m not sure why.  Maybe because she’s a painter, and the rainbow colors seem art-worthy.  Of course, my picture is rather lacking.  But you get the idea.

So that was my trip to Ko Chang.  There was also a lovely lady named Diana that practiced her English with me each time I ate at her restaurant.  She was so sweet and soft spoken.  She smiled and waved each time I passed and always offered me food, even if the restaurant was closed.

I suppose Ko Chang wasn’t so bad after all.  We’ll skip the angry British man and his crying Thai girlfriend.  We’ll skip the debacle at the travel agency and the reason I decided to leave rather hastily.  Instead, I prefer to remember the peaceful tranquility of a lonely island in a time when I needed to take care of me and spend some time alone.  Funny how hindsight changes your outlook.  Perhaps Ko Chang really was all rainbows and puppy dogs after all.

Also posted in Thailand Tagged , |

In Search of: A Kayaking Adventure

With a river like this literally steps outside my door, I simply couldn’t resist a possible river adventure.  And seeing as how number 2 on my bucket list had sort of been taunting me for months, I knew there was no time like the present.  Kayaking it was.

I signed up for a day-long kayaking trip with a guide and three others.  My new friends were all men.  It would seem not a lot of women were interested in trudging through knee-deep mud while pulling a surprisingly heavy kayak behind them.  And although I got one nasty spider bite on my foot before launching into the river, I must say — it was pretty freakin’ awesome.

Our first stop was at a village only accessible by water.  The village was surprisingly untouched by modernity and absolutely amazing.  Chickens wandering the roads, children climbing in trees, women cooking in homes with dirt floors.  The people were incredibly sweet and so welcoming.  But between my camera battery issues and not wanting to exploit the sweet people, I didn’t take any pictures.  No worries though; I won’t forget them.

After the village, we stopped at a waterfall for lunch.  We swam, we ate delicious Laos food, and we wandered.  In a word, it was perfection.  And although each prior day in Luang Prabang had been filled with rain, this day started perfectly sunshine filled.

And then I climbed a tree over the river, further covering myself in mud!

I wandered off down the path to see what I could see, which turned out to be lots of lush scenery and forest.  Of course, my new-found friends didn’t exactly appreciate me wandering off alone without mentioning where I was going.  But as you can see, all’s well that ends well.

After a couple of hours lounging by the falls, we set out back down the river.  It started to rain and suddenly seemed as if the world washed away.  It was just me, my guide and my three new friends.  Rapids caught two of them and flipped them over for a moment of excitement.  But other than that, the kayaking was serene.  And the day was quite perfect.

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