A Travellerspoint blog

"Fancy traveler"

Some thoughts on travel styles and differing opinions

semi-overcast 84 °F

I've been meaning to write some blogs about different thoughts I'm having about the world in general, but I keep spending my time recounting my days so I don't forget. Blogging takes some time! I known it'll be worth it in the end though, and I have to remind myself that I have plenty of time to take couple of hours here and there to just sit and write.

One thing I've been thinking about and wanting to share/sort of rant about is different travel styles. I've met a decent number of other travelers at this point, and have seen a range of opinions about how one "should" travel. Most of these people are very willing to give you their opinion of what you're doing wrong, even the people who coordinate this travel opportunity. Here are a couple of the different types of people I've met so far:

1) The extreme budget traveler.
They must stay in the cheapest hostel they can find, after which they will absolutely complain about the conditions. A hostel isn't worth it unless they pay THEM to stay there. I had someone tell me I was a "fancy traveler" because I stayed in a hostel that cost $9 a night. This also happened to be a man who didn't think the experience of traveling was any different for a woman, and didn't understand why you would want to stay somewhere a little nicer for the safety factor. The extreme budget traveler loves south east Asia because they can haggle for everything, and spend almost nothing for an amazing experience. They don't care where their money goes or who it supports, as long as it's cheap cheap cheap for them.

2) The street food obsessed.
This person refuses to eat from anything resembling a restaurant, regardless of who runs it or what cause it might support. They scoff at the idea of spending $3 on a meal rather than $1. To them street food resembles the most authentic food you can eat in any community. They also happen to have multiple stories of food poisoning, and insist that it was the water that caused it. Street food in south east Asia is pretty delicious as long as you're careful, but I fail to see the problem with eating from a locally owned restaurant with the same type of caution? I know cultures are different, but if they did this in Portland, they would think that a bacon-wrapped corn dog is 'authentic' food.

3) The live-like-a-local pusher.
This person takes engaging with the culture to the extreme. You must only do homestays! You should go live with a Hmong family in a hut for a week, then you'll finally be an expert on the culture! Oh, you stayed in a hostel??. How could you possibly understand the culture that way? Oh, you went to museums and dance shows? Such an unauthentic tourist trap. Like... WTF? Why do we think we have to circumvent the methods by which a community CHOOSES to share its culture with us? No one comes to the states and says "I just REALLY want to go live in a homeless camp while I'm there, y'know, to really understand the poor people." If someone said they wanted to come visit and stay on a reservation and live in a teepee so they would know everything about the indigenous culture, we would think they were a rude, colossal idiot. Communities say "here is a museum where we describe to you what we believe and what our customs are." And then we say "You must be a liar, we have to go investigate for ourself. And for SOME reason it must be about engaging with poverty so we can pat ourselves on the back later." I completely understand not staying in a fancy resort and never leaving the pool and then claiming that you know a place. But why everyone is so obsessed with judging how authentic or true your cultural experience was if you didn't get 16 parasites and lose a couple teeth is confusing and frustrating to me.

4) The new-thing-every-day crazy person.
This person spends no more than 2 nights in any one place, zipping around from experience to experience. First of all, I have no idea how anyone has the energy for this, and secondly, why is it so common for this person to spend both of those nights as drunk as possible? They tend to be 19-25 years old and have zero interest in knowing the history of the areas where they are traveling. I met several girls who had no idea anything had ever happened in Cambodia. Reading the wiki page for a country doesn't seem like TOO much trouble, right? I do understand that everyone has different time and budget constraints, so more than anything I'm just amazed at people who can keep up with this pace/lifestyle. I have had a couple of people push me on my own style, though -- "You don't' even like to party a LITTLE?!!" Not when it's 90 degrees, child, because getting drunk in that weather makes you feel like SHIT when you're over 25. You'll see....

I'm sure I'll meet others, but that's the main group so far. I'm writing about it for two....three reasons. One, because I'm curious what other people think. Two, because I want to record my own opinions early on so I can see how my own mind changes. And three, because I really needed to vent about it because some of these people are super irritating.

Now back to your regularly scheduled programming of silly blogs about adventures.

Posted by NinjaLlama 18:05 Archived in Thailand Tagged deep_thoughts Comments (0)

Happy goodbyes and angry hellos

Saying goodbye and the day Jen stopped taking shit in Phnom Penh

sunny 91 °F

So, after thinking it through, I decided to stay in Kampot for a couple extra days, including moving into my own room for a little privacy and to get away from a creepy but seemingly harmless dude in my dorm. I spent a good part of the day just chilling, working on a puzzle (I regret nothing!) and hanging out. It was kind of nice to have a day where I could do nothing and not feel guilty about it and not have it negatively impact my next several days. It just...was.

That evening two women arrived and we went out to dinner. The Italian guy in our dorm tagged along as well. He was nice but sooo Italian. He talked over everyone else and he was the best at this and the most of that and blah blah blahhhhhh. Despite his Italian-ness, we still had a great dinner. We went to this place I found called Thai Fire, which was also just a 2 minute walk from our hostel. It's owned and staffed by a couple; he is from the south in the US and she is from Laos but lived in Thailand for a really long time. She is the chef and he is the...entertainment. When we arrived he was already kind of drunk, which was kind of amazing. The table we sat down at was an old door with a piece of glass over it, and their cat immediately jumped on the table and made itself at home right in front of me. We ordered something called the "whole fish," and it was exactly that. And it was DELICIOUS. The girl I was sharing with was daring and ate the eyeball and some fins, but that was a little too far for me personally. (I had already eaten swamp water peanuts this week, I did my adventurous bit) We also got free shots called the Hawaiian Hillbilly, which were pretty yummy. I have no idea how my companions felt about our time here, but I F&*#ing loved it. The food was seriously amazing, and I loved how real and sincere these people were. At one point the guy got out his banjo and played for us. It just felt like this beautiful blend of home and Southeast Asia and it really solidified the degree to which I loved Kampot.

The next day I officially moved into my own room, and promptly slept half the day. I didn't think I was sleep deprived, but I guess I needed some rest. And that... was pretty much that day. Aside from some more time with a puzzle. Again, I regret nothing.

Yesterday I explored Kampot on foot, wandering to find the lily pond, which was pretty awesome. Then I found the famous durian roundabout in the middle of town. It was bright as crap outside, so I took a pic but it's not awesome. I couldn't see the screen, so sorry. Apparently Kampot is super proud of their durians, which is hilarious and adorable. If you don't know, durian is a fruit that is banned from many airports/hotels/business/mail/etc. because it smells AWFUL. Apparently it tastes pretty good in spite of this, but I couldn't seem to find anywhere in town that I could try just a tiny bit. Everyone kept trying to sell me an entire durian (about the size of a bowling ball), which was a bit too much commitment for me. (Again, swamp water peanuts...)

I found lots of other interesting things in town, including a dirty sign proclaiming Kampot as the recipient of the Clean City Award, a wedding celebration in the middle of the road, several boat restaurants/lounges, and a store called Dorsu. I bought a tshirt here -- they buy fabric remnants from factories, and then use fair trade locally to make super soft, pretty cute tshirt and dresses and things. The prices are obviously more than an Old Navy shirt, but you know the sourcing is ethical and it supports the local economy. Again, just trying to be smart about where I spend my money and less concerned about spending as little as possible.

After all this adventure in the 90 degree sun I was exhausted, so I returned to my hostel for a little nap and some more puzzle time. I finally finished that puzzle. There are two pieces missing from the box.

Later that day I was pretty hungry, so I wandered back into town again. The clouds had rolled in, so it was a much nicer time to be out and about. I went and got a $7 pedicure at this adorable spa, and confirmed that although it's so lovely to have someone pamper you, I can't feel anything but awkward to have someone else sitting below me tending to my feet. The power dynamic is just so uncomfortable for me, even when I leave a 50% tip. After my pedicure, I promptly stubbed my toe on the way to the restaurant and messed it up, so that probably served me right. I went to dinner at a slightly pricier restaurant by Cambodian standards, and finally tried lok lak, beef cubes marinated in deliciousness and served with rice, a fried egg and some pickled veggies (at least at this restaurant. The beef is the main part that's always consistent). Apparently this dish is french-inspired, and came to Cambodia via Vietnam, but the Cambodians have claimed it as their own and it's now one of those dishes claimed as authentic cuisine. It was delicious, so it works for me. I'll have to try it's ancestor when I'm in Vietnam! I also got a strawberry cider, which basically tasted like happy juice and went great with my meal. This big splurge meal cost a whopping ten dollars

Today I had to leave happy Kampot and go back to the dumpster fire known as Phnom Penh. Random bus thoughts/observations:
-Gas here costs 75 cents a liter. So about 2.85 a gallon. I've been meaning to do that math for days.
-Gas stations have permanent signs that say "Clean Toilet" as one of the key attractions to stop there. Not just toilet, CLEAN toilet.
-There is a place in Phnom Penh called "Smile Hollywood Dental Clinic." #thingsthatshouldbeappealingbutaren't

Immediately after getting off the bus in Phnom Penh I was accosted by tuktuk drivers. I was already pretty grumpy about having to come back here, so I went into this interaction feeling feisty. One of the drivers asked if I needed a tuktuk, and I said maybe, and asked how much it would be to get to my hostel. He said five dollars. FIVE. F&^#$ing DOLLARS. To go a distance I could walk in maybe 15 minutes. F&*# that guy. I laughed and countered with one dollar, a more appropriate price. He turned to his fellow drivers and said something and they all laughed but seemed to be happy and not judgy about it. He then came back with 4 dollars as an offer, and I went full bitchy mode and just said "I can walk around the corner and get a tuktuk for less. I can walk to the hostel, even. I know where I'm going." Again they all laughed together and he said "ok, ok, ok, two dollars." So two dollars it was.

Upon arriving at my hostel, I checked in and got to my room, and then checked the surroundings. I discovered some pretty tell-tale signs of bed bugs, and asked to move to a different room. I checked the mattress here and AGAIN found signs of bedbugs. I went and told the staff and they said "no no no, that's not bed bugs." Um... okay. So I left. I lost my money but whatever, it was like 10 dollars and it's not worth 10 dollars for me to get bedbugs with 7 months of travel ahead of me. I was also pissed at this point because F&*# Phnom Penh, and I'd be damned if I was taking another tuktuk, so I carried all my shit several blocks in the heat to another hostel I had read about with much better reviews. They got me a double bed for the price of a single in an all female dorm in this beautiful hostel, for less than the rate online, which is glorious. I also got a welcome drink that tasted like heaven, so I plunked myself down on the couch and wrote a F^&#ing review of the other hostel, so other people could avoid the day I just had.

I had wanted to go to the traditional dance show, but by the time I managed to get myself together and look up tickets they were already sold out for the night. They only perform Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday during May, so I lost my chance to go. I'm bummed, but...oh well! This is why I didn't set my heart on anything specific for this trip, so I can't really be disappointed in any devastating way. Instead I went and got dinner at this place called Connecting Hands Cafe. The cafe is part of a not for profit charity that offers young women who have escaped lives of enslavement and abuse from the human trafficking world with the opportunity to learn on the job and gain additional educational opportunities, including learning English. A restaurant run by women, for women with a good cause at its core, especially related to abuse? You have to know feisty Jen was all about this. The food was soooo good and the women working there were wonderful. Yay something good in Phnom Penh!

Tomorrow is hopefully my last day in the city, and I cannot WAIT to move on to Thailand. Also, I just synced my fitness tracker and I took 28,672 steps on May 18. So that happened.

Posted by NinjaLlama 17:12 Archived in Cambodia Tagged adventure_time Comments (0)

Reckless Abandon

sunny 88 °F

So much happens in a day here that it's hard to keep up. I have to keep taking days off to catch up on photos and blogging and planning. One day of fun, one day of calm.

Wednesday night (for me) I did something unlike me and went out to dinner with my new friend from Poland at night, setting off on my own at dusk. I was nervous to walk around by myself at night, but of course it was totally fine. Things I thought were scary but actually weren't:
-People honk here for everything, and I was worried when I heard someone honking their way up the street behind me. When I turned to see what was happening I saw a little girl on the front of her dad's motorbike, probably 3 years old?, just honking the horn for fun while they rode down the street.
-As I was walking along the riverfront I felt something fall on the back of my neck from the trees above me, and I lost my shit thinking it was a bug or spider. It was a twig.

I finally found my friend and we walked up along dark and empty streets to the night market. Absolutely nothing scary happened, reaffirming that this town is quite safe. The night market had not come alive yet, so there were only a few stands open. The options were mostly just clothing and food. My friend decided she wanted to try this random dish she saw, and managed to buy some despite them not speaking any English. She had no idea what the food was and just went ahead and tried it. Fascinating. She offered me a little bit and I went for it, and it was actually delicious. We still have no idea what it was, though. We sat on the waterfront and chatted for awhile about all sorts of things, and then went back to the town center area to her favorite restaurant and got some food. Then I walked home by myself again, and it was fine. I was definitely careful and aware, though.

Thursday I got up and had no idea what I was doing. I decided to stay an extra night at least, and organized a day tour with that same friend. We got a tuktuk for the day, driven by a nice old man who spoke only a little English. He smiled a lot and drove really carefully, and we had a wonderful day together. It's rare to see an older man here in Cambodia, and we were curious about his history but didn't dare ask.

Our tour started with a stop at the Salt Fields. They basically bring in salt water and evaporate it to make their salt. They have salt for you to taste test, which is basically Laura's worst nightmare and also definitely just tastes like salt so I'm not sure why it's exciting. We walked around looking at the process, tools, and fields. It was interesting but not mind-blowing. They also told us how it was all natural, chemical-free, organic, etc. Which... of course it is? It's salt. The ironic bit is that there's trash all over around the edges of the fields, just like everywhere in Cambodia. Allllll natural. Totally good for you.

Also, randomly, she said salt is good to use to wash your hair??? I've never heard anything like this before. Not sure I want to gamble on that truth.

After the salt fields we headed off to the Phnom Chhngork Cave (let me know how to pronounce that if YOU can figure it out). The road to get there was a hot mess of mud and rocks, and it was fascinating to watch our tuktuk driver navigate this. We were definitely going through a more rural area, with rice paddies everywhere and pigs and cows and chickens and dogs running all around. Little kids here screamed hello and waved frantically at us as we went by, which was completely adorable. We finally arrived at the cave, and immediately two teenage guys asked if we wanted a tour guide or to rent a headlamp. We politely said no to both, and one of these little shits started mocking us, repeating our polite declination in a high pitched voice. WTF. We paid our $1 entry fee, saw the cave, and realized there's no freaking way you need either a tour guide or a headlamp, so we definitely made the right choice. The cave itself has a Hindu temple shrine inside, which is pretty neat. There were bats flying around and chirping up above us and I silently took a moment to thank myself for getting the rabies vaccine.

We made our way back out to the tuktuk, and AGAIN this little butt face sat there mocking us. My friend commented that maybe that's just how his voice sounds (obviously it isn't), and it made me laugh out loud, which had the pleasant side effect of shutting this kid up, since he suddenly didn't like being made fun of himself.

We headed off toward the Secret Lake, and along the way marveled at all the plants we saw -- mangos, pumpkins, etc. Our tuktuk driver clearly realized we were enjoying this, so he kept pointing other things out to us. At one point he pulled over and pointed and said "peanuts!" And indeed, he went and pulled up a plant and there were some freaking peanuts right there. He rinsed them off in the dirty swamp water and handed them to us to eat. We went ahead and rinsed them off with some clean drinking water instead, but I'm not going to lie to you, I definitely ate them. They tasted like peas, and I don't seem to have cholera yet so I think it's OK. You peel the shell off, so technically I wasn't breaking the travel nurse lady's rules...right? After that our tour guide pointed out every single plant he saw and pulled over for us to take pictures (we felt obligated because he was so excited) -- jackfruit, durian, chilis, sugarcane...it was all pretty interesting. So many things grow here! I'm obviously most jealous about the mango trees. I would die to have these delicious mangos that you can just pluck off a tree in your backyard. *sigh*

We saw Secret Lake, which was pretty but also just looked like a lake. It is man-made and kind of smells. I went down to touch the water, and it was the temperature of a lukewarm bath. Yikes.

Then we were off to the Kampot Pepper Plantation, the main focus of the trip. We had a refreshing coconut while we waited for our tour -- this was my first coconut of the trip. It was pretty refreshing, though I'm not sure why people lose their minds over it. I'm pretty sure that one guy who lost his mind on Naked and Afraid because he had to eat lots of coconuts was being such a whiner though. Coconuts can definitely get you by.

We went on a tour with a big group of other girls, and saw the rows of pepper plants, learned about the different kinds of pepper, and even tasted some long pepper off the vine (yep, I tried it, but only one tinnnny little bit and that was plenty hot). We smelled all the different kinds of pepper and learned about how the plantation gives back to the community by paying for education of students in the area up until the university level. Supposedly Kampot has the "world's best pepper." I have no way to confirm or deny this, but it was a pretty fun experience. We saw/smelled/learned about green, red, black, white, long, and pearl pepper. It would have been fun to bring some home, but I can't imagine carrying pepper around for the next 7 months. I'm already googling Cambodian food in Seattle so I can make everyone try it.

Our next stop was the coastal town of Kep, famous for its crab market. I kind of wanted to get some crab to eat here, but A) it was really expensive and B) my friend was telling me that they've actually been over-harvesting this area and the crab populations are declining at a dangerous rate. I'm trying really hard to have only a positive impact with where I spend my money here in Cambodia, so instead we walked down to the main part of town and ate at a local "restaurant" on the beachfront. I got some fish tacos here because I still wanted something seafood-y. I was a little nervous because this was a very local spot, but they were amazing. My friend got some dish with squid in it because she's more adventurous than I am. All in all it was a great time, and on our walk back to the tuktuk we saw some monkeys digging through the trash bins like they owned the place. Just another day in Cambodia....

We finally made it back to town and dropped my friend off at her hostel. On the way to my hostel, the tuktuk ran out of gas, so I just walked back the rest of the way. I was completely exhausted after this long day, and barely managed to take a shower and write down some notes to remember before I fell asleep. One of the guys in my dorm offered for me to go out with his friends when he was LEAVING at 9 PM, and I sort of laughed in his face. Nooo thank you sir, I will be sleeping now.

He also is heading south to the islands soon, and offered to travel together. I've been struggling a lot with what to do next, and really thought I wanted someone to offer me exactly that, a travel buddy to get from point A to point B. When he asked, though, I realized that I really didn't want to. My first stop in Thailand is going to be the beaches/ocean, and it feels silly to do them here also. Plus, it's hot as crap and most places don't have AC down there, which sounds awful. So many travelers here are just sprinting from thing to thing, seeing all the same things for a day or two before moving on. I'm pretty sure that's not the point of this trip, and I'm also feeling the need to slow down and spend a few days planning what I'm doing in Thailand. This planning on the fly thing doesn't really work for me, but I gave it a chance. I'll probably end up somewhere in the middle.

I think I might just stay put in Kampot for the next couple of days and wander around, plan, read, etc. Staying here saves me a lot of money, and then maybe I can justify spending money on the wildlife tour where you go visit an animal rescue center and see all the critters. It's pricy, but also occupies a whole day, which is a good way for me to spend time. The goals of my trip were animals, public health/sustainability, and history, and as long as my activities reflect that I don't need to worry about what other travelers are doing.

Just to recap, things I consumed:
-Mystery night market food
-Dirty peanuts washed with swamp water
-Coconut through a straw
-Pepper off the vine
-Fish tacos on the coast

Posted by NinjaLlama 05:57 Archived in Cambodia Tagged adventure_time Comments (0)

New friends and fireflies

storm 84 °F

I did so many things yesterday! I was gone from 8 AM to 10 PM, and then slept a million hours. Today I'm just relaxing, catching up photos and blog, chatting, etc.

Yesterday I booked a tour to Bokor National Park. I was the first to get in the van and was a little sad that maybe it was just me, but don't you worry, we went and picked up 9 other people. I was delighted to find 8 of them were women, and knew it would be a good day.

I'm meeting so many solo females, it's crazy. Actually, most of the people I'm meeting are solo, I've just been surprised how many of them are women. We headed up the mountain and all chatted with each other. The moment you get a few minutes up the mountain the temperature drops 10 degrees, and we opened all the windows and watched the jungle go by. You literally drive up into the clouds, which is super fun, and then of course it started raining, which was a welcome sight for me, as I've been hot for so many days on end I've forgotten what temperature fluctuations feel like. There were these random stone steps leading up into the jungle all over the place, and I'm still unclear whether they were used during construction or if people actually walk up this mountain on foot.

Our tour guide was awesome and really knowledgeable. He had salt and pepper hair and one silver tooth and was really honest with his tour guiding, telling us all about the history of this place. Our first stop was Bokor Hill Station.

Other people were complaining about the fog and mist rather than sunshine, but A) it kept everything way cooler, which was amazing, and B) I felt that it added a little bit of mystery to the places we saw which was a nice vibe. Anyway, the history of Bokor Mountain and all the things that are here of course is horrible, as is the history of most of Cambodia. I'm blown away by how terrible everyone has been to the Cambodians throughout history. Bokor Hill Station was built by the French as a fancy resort where tourists could come and stay. None of the local Cambodians could afford to stay here, but don't you worry, during the 7 years it took to build the road and construct the hotel, over 1000 Cambodians who were forced to do the construction died from a combination of hunger, disease, and abuse. Seriously, French people should stop feeling so smug all the time because this is horrible. The French had to leave during World War 2, and again during the Khmer Rouge. The Khmer Rouge took over the mountain as a military base, and threw Cambodians off the cliffs to save on bullets. Our tour guide has a neighbor who survived this, and he's 84 years old now. He survived being thrown. Off. A. Cliff.

After the Vietnamese ousted the Khmer Rouge, they decided they were just going to harvest timber here, which I *think* is still occurring. Seriously, I wish everyone would just fuck off and leave Cambodia alone. Our tour guide also said that they don't teach the history of Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge to their students in school, which I thought was bananas. How many generations until no one knows what happened here? It's bad enough that I never learned anything about this important part of history when I was in school...

After Bokor Hill Station, we went and saw the Old Church, also built by the French. Our tour guide called it "the most beautiful church in Cambodia." Hmm.

On this tour I was wearing my long travel pants, a tshirt, and my waterproof hiking shoes. I felt a little silly because everyone else was wearing short shorts and tank tops and flip flops, but it was around this part of the trip that I stopped feeling silly at all (yet again). It started to pour and I whipped out my rain jacket. It got really cold and I was totally fine. We had to walk through some mud and I just strolled right through. I accidentally stepped on an old piece of glass, and it didn't even penetrate so much as a centimeter into my shoe. Yet again I was very happy to be smart instead of fashionable.

Our next stop was the old pagoda, which was pretty cool. I don't really know much about it, but it was fun to look around. I also saw some flowers that were super cute that I couldn't identify.

Next we went and had lunch at a waterfall in the area. It was really pretty, but the water was also a gross brown color. I also encountered my first squat toilet, and managed not to hurt myself or fall over. Reallllly do not prefer it, though. There was a sign indicating a fee for littering of 10,000 riehls, which is basically $2.50. Isn't the fee for littering in Oregon like $800 or something??

Next we went and saw the king's old residence and kitchen, and the "lady Buddha," which is actually a giant statue of Lok Yeay Mao. The statue was huuuge, and gorgeous. Many people left offerings and said prayers, and it's said that the statue was moved up onto the hill so that she may look out over Kampot and protect the citizens, travelers, and farmers. The king's residence was interesting, but very dilapidated. There was some beautiful graffiti on the walls, which is an interesting conflict because really it's disrespectful of the place, but also really nice art. Not sure how I feel about it.

On the way back down the hill we saw the huge casino built by the Chinese (yet another country taking from Cambodia). It's a big gross monstrosity and I don't understand at all. Apparently it's empty most of the year, but once or twice a year it gets filled up with people who just come to gamble and live the high life. Ugh.

We got dropped off back in town for a few hours, and had to find our way to the docks for the sunset boat cruise. Our boat was meeting near the old bridge, which was partially destroyed by bombs during the war and rebuilt, which you can tell when you see it.

I walked over and met a few other girls I recognized from the tour group. We weren't sure which boat we were supposed to get on, so I called my hostel to make sure we didn't get on a random boat and disappear forever. Look at me, being the problem solver in the group. These river cruise boats are amazing. They are basically just a platform built on top of three pontoon-like boats. Boats on top of boats. I hung out with a wonderful girl from Argentina and another woman from Poland, and we became fast friends. We sat on the front of the boat and watched the evening descend while we glided along the river. At one point the boat stopped and we all went to the roof to watch the sunset. It wasn't super colorful, but still pretty in its own way. As we sat watching the sun go down, the jungle started screaming. I have no idea if it was cicadas (do they have those here??) or frogs, or something I don't even know about. We sat and chatted and then the boat started on its way back. Part way back the boat stopped and went near the riverbank and turned off all the lights and we watched fireflies light up the trees. I saw fireflies!!!! It was so amazing and now i absolutely have to see them again when I get home. It was so magical and wonderful. On the way back to town we saw what we assumed were bats skimming the water for bugs. At one point we went under a bridge and our boat drivers warned us from below, and we all had to lay down as we went underneath, as there was only about two feet of clearance. The city was all lit up and looked beautiful.

After the cruise dropped us off, a few girls and I went to get some food at a local restaurant. I got spring rolls, but they had this ridiculous menu of pizza that made me laugh - there were like 30 different pizzas. As if pizza is the big draw to Cambodia... They also had "Fofu" on the menu, which we can only assume is actually Tofu. One of the girls walked me back to my hostel, because I was a little worried about going back in the dark. It actually felt pretty safe though, which made me happy.

Today I am relaxing mostly since yesterday was so busy. I think I'm going to do a tour of Kep and the Pepper farm with my friend from Poland and my friend from Austria. I'm not sure what I'll do after that! I love it here, but I still have a week in Cambodia. I can't decide if I want to just hang out here or if I should go explore somewhere else. Hmmmmm I guess I will have to decide eventually. Here's a picture of my amazing breakfast this morning. I was so excited to see that these pancakes are basically a bunch of hearts, so I immediately cut them up into the heart shapes before I ate them.

One of my friends in the hostel shared this song with me. It's a super popular hit here in Cambodia, and you hear it playing EVERYWHERE. Be warned though, it's.... not for everyone.

Posted by NinjaLlama 22:39 Archived in Cambodia Tagged adventure_time Comments (0)

Kampot save my soul

Small towns for the win

semi-overcast 88 °F

Well, I've arrived in Kampot, my new favorite place ever. I didn't realize the town is about the same population size as Helena, but as we rolled into town on the tiny bus it immediately felt more like Siem Reap in the comfort level. The bus ride was about 3.5 hours in a 15 seat minibus, where our luggage was unceremoniously heaped in a pile next to the driver. You have a straight shot view to the front of the bus, which is a terrible idea because then you have to actually watch the driver weave in and out of traffic like a madman. I wound up sitting next to a guy who is also from Seattle, and we chatted the whole way down. I can't think of a pseudonym for him, so I'll call him... "Shmeeve". I immediately assumed he was a party boy drinking his way around SE Asia, but he actually travels in a similar style to me, though he's moving at a much faster pace. He got rid of all his belongings, and hopes to not return; he's planning to try and find a job somewhere so he can stay abroad and keep traveling. I've met a few people like this, and I find it fascinating. Personally I'm leaning more into the travel thing, but I know I'm going to be SO FREAKING EXCITED to go home. I love home.

Anyway, he hadn't booked a place to stay yet, so while we were on the bus he booked a bunk in the same dorm as me, so we shared a tuktuk to the hostel. He's 6'6", and does NOT get harassed by the tuktuk people like I do, so it was kind of nice to check out a little and let him handle that part of our travel. We talked a little on the bus about our different experiences, and he's of course never felt uncomfortable at all while traveling, but at least he realized it's very different when you have two X chromosomes. It pisses me off a little bit that our experiences have to be so different, and it bothers me when other travelers don't get why you're scared of this or why you have to be cautious about that. Life is just different for a big tall white guy, in so many ways.

The hostel where we're staying is awesome, and has three floors. The dorm leaves a little something to be desired, but it has AC at night and is clean and safe enough so it works. There are a handful of private rooms and a rooftop with lovely seats and a small bar. Cocktails are $2 from 5-7 PM, so after we checked in I had my first drink of the trip, a pretty good indication of how much better I feel here. I never did get to see any celebrations or fireworks in Phnom Penh for the king's birthday, but they're having a whole street fair here, and Shmeeve wanted to go check it out. I was a little bit nervous about going out and about at night, but three steps into the street and I realized this is NOT Phnom Penh and everything is fine. I just followed Shmeeve through the crowds, as they seemed to part just for him, and everyone stared at him as he went by. Apparently being that tall is quite the sight here. I thought the market stalls would have crafts and food like a fair back home, but it turns out you can buy pretty much anything you can imagine here. Do you need costco-sized shampoo? Get it here! Would you like to buy a mattress? You can do that here! Do you need shoes, fake purses or random plastic baskets? We've got ya. You also can buy all kinds of mystery street meat and goodies. I couldn't find anything that I could figure out how to order, and I'm not quite on board with street food yet (though I did have some in Siem Reap, but I watched them cook it right in front of me), so we went to a random restaurant for dinner instead. They had a few fun carnival-like games. They had that same awful dart and balloon concept game, which no one can EVER win, but we sure tried. They also have this game where you use a tennis ball and try to knock only one of two empty soda cans off a tiny pedestal. Apparently it's actually pretty hard -- I didn't try it but Shmeeve failed at it twice. I decided to save my dollars. There's also a completely ridiculous karaoke stage with a crowd the size of Edgefield just hanging out, eating street food and watching people pretend to sing songs. It's an interesting mix of local popular songs and American pop - I definitely heard some Taylor Swift in there.

Today I got up and planned to do nothing. I had a freaking amazing delicious breakfast, and took my time munching on it. While I was sitting on the patio eating, I started chatting with an older couple from Australia. They were really nice (shush Trey), but wow they were very Australian. They were so loud and crass and crazy. At one point they were talking about all the meth they used to use, and I just quietly ate my fruit. They started asking about my travels, and said that if I end up in Melbourne they would make sure I was taken care of, which was really sweet. I mentioned that I was going to New Zealand, and they immediately started trying to figure out who they know that could give me advice or places I could stay. Nice folks, those loud and crazy Australians.

I met another nice guy from Austria, whose name I...still...don't know. Oops. Let's call him...Michael because I think that might be it but if it's not then it's a great pseudonym. He was heading out today on a motorbike to explore the area and offered to let me go with him. I don't know how to ride a motorbike, and wasn't super keen on wandering out into the world by myself with a stranger just yet (remember the Philippines story), so I declined. Instead I spent the morning reading a book, chatting with some people, and generally laying around relaxing. I have no regrets. Around lunch time he returned and asked if I wanted to go find some food with him. I almost said no, but then reconsidered. It was day time, we were only going a few blocks, and he had successfully make a motorbike trip without crashing so he couldn't be that bad at it. Don't worry mom, he let me wear the helmet. So I zipped down the road on the back of his motorbike, and we found a restaurant for lunch and weirdly both ordered Indian food. No place like Cambodia for a samosa, right? It was delicious, anyway. We chatted about lots of things and then came back to the hostel. I survived my first SE Asia motorbike journey. I'm sure he drove more carefully so I wouldn't freak out.

I've been really pleasantly happy to discover the solo guys I've met traveling. They've both been wonderful and have looked after me and never been weird about anything, though it probably helps that I wear a fake wedding ring and immediately mention my relationship, just to be extra clear. Anyway, nice guys for the win.

Tonight I came up to the rooftop and watched the GLORIOUS sunset over Bokor mountain. Crappy techno music is playing in the background out on the streets, random horns are honking, and you can hear people having fun and living their lives. I like Kampot, and I will stay here until I feel like I need to leave. It feels like home but not home, same same but different. Just enough like the things I know and love that I feel comfortable and at ease to explore and start to be myself a little bit more. I've also gotten pretty good at dodging the tiny geckos that are literally everywhere.

One last point I feel the need to mention: I have the smallest bag of any traveler I've met so far. By half. This is the first time in my life I've ever been the person with the least amount of stuff, and I honestly have already identified a few items I feel like I could do without and might send home with people. So I guess 4 months of packing DID have some benefit. Unfortunately I just can't buy any souvenirs, so hopefully no one was expecting them...

Posted by NinjaLlama 04:08 Archived in Cambodia Tagged adventure_time Comments (0)

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