Siem Reap <3

I never imagined that I would fall so deeply in love with Siem Reap, but I have. I’m already planning to go back next January, if not sooner. I did expect to be inspired by Angkor Wat and the sheer largeness of it all, and it WAS amazing, to say the very least…but what tugged at my heartstrings and pulled me deep inside, wanting more, were the smiles of the people that live there.

I can’t say that I got to experience too much of the town, so I’m not sure how
the infatuation grew so quickly. I only know that when my wide eyes glanced around at everything I saw as we drive by on our Tuk-Tuk, I wanted to take in every color and every smile from people passing by on motorbikes or bicycles.

Our Tuk-Tuk driver’s name was Gordon. He was so kind and genuine. I’m pretty sure he thought we were ballers because of our hotel choice. On the last day, we decided to do some shopping and instead of taking us to the old market right away, he took us to some high end boutiques that were way out of our price range. It was a kind gesture though.

We had lunch with Gordon on our second day in Siem Reap after touring Angkor Wat. We asked him about his life and he told us he was 31, newly married, with a baby on the way. He is the oldest of 12; his youngest sibling is five years old. Every day, $10 of what he made the day before goes to paying for his siblings education. He has been driving his Tuk-Tuk for five years, and we were his first customers from Chicago. We ended up paying around $45 each for his services for the whole time we were in Siem Reap. It was really only $8 a day, but we hooked him up on the last day because he was the best. If you plan on visiting Siem Reap, let me know and I’ll give you his info.

Today was a very long day. We booked a ticket for a bus from Siem reap to the border of Cambodia and Thailand. The bus was supposed to pick us up at 8, but rolled up around 9:15, completely full. Tosh and I got to sit on plastic chairs in the aisle, while Lucas sat on his bum on the floor in the aisle. You can imagine the irony…the bell hop from our five star hotel rolled our bags out to a discount bus full of backpackers, who I’m sure got a laugh at us going from luxury to the floor of a smelly, hot bus. We got a laugh, so I’m sure they did. A guy from Switzerland that I was wedged next to thought it was pretty hilarious. Oh well, all in the adventure.

So, this portion was supposed to take two hours and instead took four. Once we crossed the border, we were conned into taking a minivan instead of the train. They said it would take three hours, that the van would take us to our hostel, and that it would leave at 1:30. After we paid money, It ended up being a bus that left at 2, that took six hours, and dropped us off at a train station on the other side of town. I got on that bus, mad as hell, but I refocused my energy into thinking good thoughts. There are some Thai people target and scam the hell out of tourists like us, but not all of them are bad. I needed to remind myself that we are new at this and strayed from our original plan, so shame on us. Word for the wise: When traveling in SE Asia, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. We finally landed back on our Soi in Bangkok at 9pm. I am tired and smelly, but full of gratitude for the things I’ve experienced on this trip.

It’s strange to leave a place and then come back two countries later, feeling completely different about it. I loved Bangkok so much when we left and I couldn’t wait to get back. Now all I want is to be back in Siem Reap. I also wonder how I will feel coming home to Chicago, four countries later. I don’t want to think about that right now. Im sure I’ll be full
of love and happy to see my kitty, my friends and my family, but the snow is putting lots of anxiety in me. But again, I don’t want to think about that now, tonight all I want is to get some sleep. I hope I do.

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Journey into Cambodia pt. 2

I’m really sad that wordpress lost the rest of my entry from earlier. I wrote as we drove out of Pnomh Penh into the countryside. I was inspired to write because the country is so beautiful and life in it seems so peaceful. I would have loved to have gotten some sleep, but the roads were bumpy and sleep was not happening. We were getting thrashed about in the back of our bus. The bus ride wasn’t really the luxurious ride we were kind of expecting. We booked our tickets for $25 each, so I’m not sure why we expected anything super nice. The worst part was that we never got a chance to eat. After a week of feeding ourselves every two hours, it was kind of a shock to go a full 14 hours without anything but snacks. Regardless, today was probably my favorite day of the trip thus far. I’m so glad that I wasn’t able to nap. Missing out on the things that I saw today would have been depriving my soul of a delightful surprise.

Cambodia is so beautiful. Green, so very green. Brown and blue houses on stilts in between tall trees. There are bursts of color between the houses; clotheslines strewn with brightly colored clothing. Cows graze in fields and marshes or bathe in ponds. They are everywhere. Almost every other home has a hay hut close by for feeding cattle. Children lay lazily in hammocks with limbs sticking out. Many homes have small ponds in front of them, which were occupied by either cows or pink lotus flowers. I saw so many seas of pink out the window of our bus. There was no way to get a picture, because we were moving surprisingly fast. Every 20 miles or so, we would pass temples, each one more beautiful than the last. Every 30 minutes, we would pass through small towns, each one exactly like the last. Two mobile phone stores, women selling fruit, motorbikes, one bicycle shop, men standing around their motorbikes talking on their mobile phones, and our bus driver beeping his horn at all of the people in front of him. After every town, we would pass a school, where there would be uniformed children playing in the yard and hundreds upon hundreds of bikes. All of them, just like mine. It’s so weird to have gone two years in Chicago without seeing a bike like mine and then see THOUSANDS of them on the streets of Vietnam and Cambodia. So.many.bikes. It makes me so happy! I lost count at 30 bike shops in three hours. People of Portland, beware….Cambodia is putting you to shame in the bicycle department.

I feel so alive here. I’m so looking forward to spending a good amount of time in one place. Our travels have been amazing. Each place bringing me more and more inspiration and taking me more out of myself and connecting me to something so much greater than myself and my life at home. That being said, I think it will be nice to spend some time in one place, maybe get some alone time to reflect on all those things I’ve been experiencing. We decided to “splurge” while we are here, so we are spending the next four nights at a five star hotel. Everything here is gorgeous and so far out of my league at home, but super affordable here. The food is amazing, the pool is bananas, and I can get an hour massage for $20. Everywhere we go, they want American money. Even the ATM’s dispense dollars, which is so weird. I am hoping we get a good tour guide for touring the temples and not someone greedy and aggressive. We had a bad experience with a tuk-tuk driver in Bangkok, so we are overly cautious now.

Anyway, the 12 hours I spent on the bus today have taken their toll on me. It’s time for bed.

Cambodia part one

My alarm went off this morning at 4:45. It felt like I had just fallen asleep. Which might just be the truth. The last time I looked at the clock was 1am. I have not been sleeping well on this journey of ours. I slept well on the island, which I’m grateful for. I’m afraid that if I had not done that, I would be a big grump at this point. Although I was more than sleep deprived this morning, I did not hesitate to get the ball rolling this morning; I was too excited. Today is the part of this trip that I have most been looking forward to. Our 12 hour bus ride to Cambodia.

I’m actually writing this as I sit on the bus. We crossed the border from
Vietnam into Cambodia a couple of hours ago. I’m too inspired now to sit still. I feel like an overly excited child or dog staring out of the window. It’s obvious that I’m in a third world country when we stop in various places to use the facilities. Women with babies beg for dollars, children knock on the window of our bus begging for money and attention, and there are people missing limbs everywhere.

I’ve seen more bikes in the two hours we’ve been in Cambodia than I’ve seen in my entire life. They all look just like the bike I have at home, which gives me an odd sense of comfort. I was really happy that these people, who obviously have very little, have the same thing that brings me so much joy. Then I realized that what is for me a source of entertainment, relaxation, and joy, is for them a necessity; a requirement for survival in this country. I know this is the case, but i still cant help wondering if these people get the same feeling I do when I ride my bike. I hope they do. I also hope seeing all of this makes me appreciate mine more when I get home.

We are currently driving into the capitol of Cambodia, Phnom Penh. We are passing by the Ministry of Land Management and out of the ten cars parked in front, seven of them are Lexus. Wow.

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Just realized that when my wordpress app crashed earlier it lost some of my entry. Super sadface. Stay tuned for more.

Con Son, Vietnam

Today we hopped on propellor plane and flew to the main island of the Con Dao Islands called Con Son. This is the most remote place I’ve ever been to. We’ve been on the island for several hours and I doubt we’ve seen even 100 people. We are staying at the Con Dao Sea Travel resort. We have a bungalow on the beach for about $60 a night. It’s winter here, just like it is in the states; but the temperature is a very lovely 75 degrees and there is a good amount of cloud cover with moments of sunlight here and there.

I’m loving the colors here. So many rich shades of blues and greens. I’m a little sad that there isn’t much sun. I was really looking forward to getting my tan on while we are here, but I’m happy for quiet and relaxation too. Today we wandered down the beach in front of our hotel and took photos of the fishing boats, which are a nice compliment to the colors of the sea and the outlying islands. There are buckets on the beach, that are bright turquoise, which the fisherman use to reach the boats. There are shells and pieces of coral up and down the stretch of the beach. The islands are home to a large coral reef and very few people. We walked through the town, which appears to be deep in preparation stages for the upcoming Chinese New Year. Other than that, there are scattered motorbikes and a few cafes, where they have the most delicious concoction of coffee and condensed milk. By the time we leave Vietnam, I’ll probably have gained 10 lbs from consuming so many of them. They are so yummy! The children that live on the island are super friendly and playful and stopped to say hello from their bicycles while we sat and enjoyed our coffee drinks.

Con Son island is spooky. It makes sense that it would be, given that this is considered the Alcatraz of Asia. It was used as a prison for POW’s in two different wars. I hope it doesn’t rain tomorrow, so we can get out and explore some more, but this time on motorbike.

I’m so loving being here. It’s been so relaxing to sit on our patio and listen to the waves while I read. Lucas and I are kind of hoping for a thunderstorm, because we think it’d be awesome to watch the lightening from our little abode.

Facebook is banned in Vietnam, which is annoying, but also a blessing. I wanted to regulate how much time I spent on the internet throughout the rest of my vacation, so now I am able to. There is WiFi at our hotel, so I’m able to upload photos to Instagram, check my email, and update my blog, but my connection to the outside world is limited to just these things. I’m enjoying it. I can’t remember the last time I was able to be this relaxed! It’s so nice.

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Hello from Ho Chi Minh City

Leaving Bangkok today was a bittersweet affair. I’ve fallen in love with the soi (thai for street) we stayed on. It was home to some of the most delicious food I’ve ever tasted and the evening traffic was just the right amount of chill and camaraderie. We’ll be back there at the tail end of our trip, so that’s good. We decided to stay at the same hostel because it’s convenient and we felt at home there. So, why not? 

Today we spent a good amount of time at the airport, which was fine, because the Bangkok airport is gorgeous! It was definitely the nicest airport I’ve ever been in. We bought full fare tickets on Lufthansa to get to Ho Chi Minh City, which was a new experience. I think it’s the first time I’ve flown as a normal passenger in several years. Much less stressful than the experience of flying standby. Plus, I got to wear flip flops and check my bag. Bonus. Once we got to HCM, we had to wait forever to get our visas on arrival. Once that was all taken care of, we hopped in a cab and found our hotel.

Vietnam is interesting. They prefer US dollars for visas and cabs. There are millions of motorbikes flying around the city with multiple people on them. I saw several different families of four on one bike. There doesn’t seem to be any sort of system in regards to how it all works, but it does. There will be hundreds of them going at each other at a very fast pace and they never collide. Totally insane. For someone who is a little bit nervous riding in cars, it was quite the experience.

Our hotel here is cheap but very nice and located right in the heart of backpacker central. Not quite sure what the street is called but there are hundreds of beautiful nomads wandering around. We had street pho at a place that looked a little scary, but smelled amazing. The ladies cooking were very sweet and happy to oblige when I asked to take their picture. We’ve been offered marijuana by crazy dudes on motorbikes more than once. I bought five pieces of amazing jewelry for $10. I wish I had spent less in Bangkok so I could spend more here. I like the stuff that I’m seeing here a lot more and it’s cheaper. I really, really love this city and I’m sad we won’t get to spend some more time here. Of course I love every place that I go, but there is an electricity to the neighborhood that we are staying in that reminds me of something I’ve only seen in movies or read about in books. I can’t help but think about what my experience would be like if I was still drinking. Of course I wonder if I would be having more fun, if it would be easier to talk to people, if I’d go home happier…but I think that it’s perfectly normal for me to wonder about these things. I just have to remind myself of how ugly it got in my travels abroad when I was drinking and then I am grateful that I’m ending my night here in my hotel with my two friends.

I haven’t really gotten a good night’s sleep yet, so I’m hoping that is something that’s in store for me tonight. We have to catch a cab in nine hours to go back to the airport so we can fly to the Con Dao Islands. We are all really looking forward to some R&R and seclusion in a tropical area. The cities we’ve been in are fantastic, but we are always surrounded by people. I’m a little worried that it’s going to rain every day that we are there, but the boys aren’t worrying too much about that. It helps.

I can’t believe we have so much time left on our trip! I’m so excited to see what’s in store for us when we get to these islands. All I really want is some sleep and a fantastic tan, but I’ll be thrilled with whatever.

Love to All. Xo

Greetings from the land of smiles

Bangkok is a bustling city of cars, motorbikes, and tuktuks. I’m afraid I’m going to get run over. I’m running on a grand total of 6 hrs of sleep in the last 48. It feels so good to be in a new place! I’m sure it will feel so much better tomorrow once I’ve had some sleep.

We are going to a meeting tonight, which I’m stoked for. I am excited for everything we are doing here, but a meeting in Thailand should be pretty sweet.

Only bad news on this front is I’m suffering from an incredibly sore back…guess I’ll go get a massage and see if that helps!

Looking back on 2011. Survey style!

For the last six years, I’ve done a year end survey on my Live Journal that I’ve always enjoyed looking back on. When I went to go do that survey this year, I realized that there was a lot of negativity to that survey. I found it to be a little bit judgmental, of myself and others. Judgement is something I keep a conscious effort of staying away from. Of course it comes to me every now and then, but for the most part, I steer clear. Anyway, browsing the internet today, I came upon this and I liked it very much.

I think it’s a good idea to reflect on a year and see what kind of accomplishments one has made. So I’m gonna try this little survey out instead…

  • What energized me most in 2011?  friends, seeing how working the 12 steps was changing me, work, making money, concerts, riding my bicycle.
  • What relationships brought me the most joy? Why? Having an open, honest relationship with both of the sponsors I had this year was really amazing for me. Watching some of my friends grow was really special as well. I got to see a little bit of my nephew in his first year and that brought me a lot of joy, but I know it will get even more joyful in the upcoming year. My brigayde. Also, I had an army of women on my side in 2011 and I wouldn’t trade the trust I found in that army for anything.
  • Which relationships put me under the most pressure? Why? I put myself under a lot of pressure in situationships I wasn’t ready for. SUPER FUN. Oh well, everything is a lesson.
  • What were the “defining moments” of 2011? WICYPAA was probably the biggest defining moment of the year. That’s when my life in AA became real, and when I say real, I mean FUN. From that magical weekend, I solidified friendships with people that I love. I made a real, honest attempt at trying to be myself around people and not hind behind the mask of alcohol. FUN, FUN…so much fun.  Being on stage with Beirut at Lollapalooza was pretty magical as well. Other defining moments…seeing LCD soundsystem play their last show at MSG, my austin trip with Grace, Nora, and Lauren. My birthday in December. Best birthday ever. Visiting my sister and her family at their house in the same state as mine!!!!!
  • What strengths did I see in myself during 2011? I did not have a single drink in 2011. I tried really, really, really hard not to gossip and did a pretty good job at it. I stopped letting negative people get the best of my positivity. I planted and maintained a garden (with the help of my friends Darren and Lucas) in a city apartment. All summer long, I ate fresh vegetables from my own garden. I started believing in myself.
  • Under which conditions did I see myself thrive? In the company of women who are actively working a program. At work; doing what I do best. Also, in the sunshine on my bicycle.
  • What did I avoid doing that I know I most needed to do? Taking an honest look at my finances and seeing where all my money goes. I thought sobriety would make me rich..turns out, I’m just as bad sober as I was when I was drinking. This is not something to ignore much longer. 2012 = fiscal responsibility….after my vacation of course. Haha.
  • What books and mentors had the greatest impact on me? Why? Ruiz’s “The Mastery of Love” hit me pretty hard. Other than that, 2011 was kind of a stale year for me when it comes to magical reads.
  • Am I closer to my friends and family from my activities last year? I’m closer to my sister than I used to be, I think. I also think more people know “the real me” now than ever before, so I’m gonna go with yes. I have a few relationships in particular that need some work, but I think I did a pretty good job in 2011 at being a better friend and family member.

Here are some of my favorite photos from 2011….Enjoy!