Holiday in Cambodia



Leave it up to the Americans (in this case, at the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh) to bring in that special Christmas cheer. And to top it all off? Why Alvin and the Chipmunks singing "Please Christmas Don't Be Late", of course.
Friday December 8 2006File under: travel, Cambodia

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An Open Letter to My Fellow Travellers

Dear Fellow Traveller,

It sure is amazing that we're here, eh? To be in Phnom Phen, halfway around the world, getting to experience this totally different culture: We really are so lucky. I hope you share that sense of amazement with me. In addition to seeing this oh so different culture, it has been great meeting you, my fellow travellers. For sharing your travel histories, as well as information about your home countries and lives, I want to say thank you.

I do, however, have some beef. I share it with you not only to get it off my chest, but also in hopes that you will listen and consider what I have to say. After all, my experience travelling is affected by what you do, both from direct interactions, and in indirect ways (how a community welcomes travellers greatly depends on how previous travellers have acted in the past).

For starters, the Lonely Planet is a guide book, not a rule book. The next time I hear "but the Book says...", I think I might go insane. I have nothing against Lonely Planet. Its information about schedules, activities, accommodations, and maps has been helpful in the past. But it has also been dead wrong. So do me a favor, dear traveller: pass a day (or two or three) without carrying around the Book. Choose an accommodation based on the look and feel of the place, rather than words written by someone else over a year ago. Take a chance on a place that wasn't included in the "things to do" list. But most of all, please stop quoting the suggestions and cautions from the LP as ones of your own or those of your friends. If it is in the LP, it is not insider information.

Secondly, if you choose to take advantage of nothing else of the culture here but the cheap beer prices, please keep quiet and try not to do anything stupid. Since we keep exactly opposite schedules, I suspect I will never meet you, which is all for the best, I guess. But please have the courtesy to realize that some people are here for more than the $.50 Anchors or the $3.00 buckets, and act accordingly. Cultural exchange is a two way street, and please don't litter it with your vomit and curse words.

That said, I know I speak to only a percentage of you travellers. We all have our own reasons for being here and our own agendas. I will do my best to respect yours if you return the favor.

Cordially,
Wren
Thursday December 7 2006File under: open letter, travel

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The Big Old Angkor Post

So I've spent the last few days exploring the ancient area I am calling Angkor. You would think after a couple days exposed to loads of information on the place, I would at least know what it is called. Well, there are a bunch of temples (Angkor Wat, Bayon, etc.) that are organized into cities (Angkor Thom, etc.) But for the purposes of this, we will call it all Angkor.

I decided to do Angkor slowly, rather than rush through it like many tourists who seem to all follow the same itenerary from some book. I bought a three day pass (for $40) with plans of not necessarily doing 3 full days, but having that option. It turned out to be a great plan. I went up at around 9:00 each morning, and spent the day looking at various temples, enjoying lunch, and reading.

One day, I rented a bicyle and rode the 12 or so kilometers up to the temples. After heading out to some of the less visited, less restored temples and trying (but failing) for
a geocache, I'd say I rode a good 20 miles at least. (Probably a good thing to burn off all those calories from my ice cream habit.)

Needless to say, the experience was awesome. There was so much to see, from the completely restored temples to awesome carvings to long undisturbed temples. Yet again, something so long looked forward to doesn't disappoint in the least. Yeehaw!
Tuesday December 5 2006File under: travel, Cambodia

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Cirque du Khmer

Isn't it just like me to find the circus folk where ever I go? Well sure enough, in the biggest little city in Cambodia (Battambang), I've found one. The story behind this one goes like this (I think): A dude started a school dedicated to bringing more art to Cambodian life. It was funded by NGOs and the like. It took a hiatus during the whole civil war thing, but afterwards, it was back to action. Since then, it has grown to be almost financially independent with the proceeds of the various arts (painting, circus, music, etc.) partially going back to the students and their families in hope of convincing the families that school is worth sending your kids to.

I arrived early to get a good seat and was immediately swarmed by children. In an attempt to entertain them until the show started, I busted out all my tricks (pulled my thumb off, made a flute from my hands, snapped in various ways, disappearing quarter, etc.). This just pulled in a larger crowd, and some of the kids didn't even want to give up my show when the real show started. Anyway, it was a great cultural experience. Who would have thought d-list magic tricks could forge such an international bond?

Coming soon: The temples of Angkor. How excited am I? This excited.
Monday December 4 2006File under: juggling, travel

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Cheap(ish) flights to Europe

Each December, SAS Airlines offers special deals on flights to Europe. There are loads of restrictions, and the price seems to get worse and worse each year, but it still prolly the best deal around. Their schtick is everyday, the deal is on for only one city. If you miss your city of choice, you miss the deal. Basically, it is $199 each way from Seattle (or $175 from D.C., NYC, or Chicago) with some taxes tacked on. Generally, the restrictions are that you have to travel in the cold months (Jan - March, I think), and you can only stay 30 days or so.

Jeff and Amanda used the deal to go to Madrid in 2002 and Lara and I mimicked their trip in 2003. Each year, it has been a fun diversion for me to check what city they are offering. I thought I might share. As compensation, if anyone takes the deal, I expect a postcard.

So the link is: http://christmas.campaign.scandinavian.net/us/ (or click here for the non-flash site.)

Oh, and thanks to Saxtor for doing the legwork on this one. Yet again he rises to the call of the Interchallenge.
Saturday December 2 2006File under: travel, links

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Bamboo Train

Battambang, Cambodia is the country's second largest city, I'm told. You wouldn't think it, though. The main streets in town are named No. 1, 2, and 3, and there is hardly a building over 3 stories. As far as "cities" go, I'll take it.

The downside to a small, off-the-beaten path city is that diversions are few and far between. (I've been spending an inordinate amount of time in internet cafes here, both keeping cool, and filling up the time.) But one thing that is unique to this area is the bamboo trains. These are cobbled together bamboo platforms balanced atop train axels hooked up to an engine. They can be easily disassembled in the case of an oncoming real train or to pass each other en route. It is really a great use of the otherwise seldom used tracks.

Having heard so much about these, I had to see them. I hired a moto driver from my hotel to take me. We meandered through villages and rice fields with him providing helpful tidbits along the way (Battambang rice is supposed to be the best in the country!). When we got to the "station", they built us a car, and me, my driver, and the taxi all loaded up. The ride took 20 minutes over some pretty rusticrailway lines. It was great. Halfway through the trip, we had to stop because there was another "train" on the tracks. It turns out, they were filming a movie. So I sat and ate some fresh coconut ice cream as they finished up their shot and carried their train from the tracks. It was really a great way to see something unique and to see the wonderful Cambodian countryside.
Friday December 1 2006File under: travel, Cambodia

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The big book of SE Asian Transportation


If I ever wrote a book about automotive transportation in southeast Asia, I think I might call it Following the Horn. I thought up this title as my bus was barrelling through morning Phnom Phen traffic with the horn blaring about 80% of the time. I've spent a lot of time listening to how the driviers (whether bus, taxi, or moto) use their horn. They use it to say "move!", "I'm right behind you", "It's safe to pass me", "It's not safe to pass me", "You're going too slow", "Thank you", and just about anything else. Different drivers use it to different degrees, but enivitably, you feel like you are truly being led through traffic by your vehicle's horn.

The more I think about it, the more fun it would be to write a book like this. You could have a chapter named Hello Moto about the prevalence of motos, esp. moto taxis and their overaggressive drivers. Now that's what I call carpooling would be a chapter containing images of some of the most overloaded cars, trucks, and motorbikes that you have ever seen. The pictures for the chapter called The 100cc Family Car would be great, yet somewhat disturbing to mothers of young children. Necessary Daredevil would recount how transportation in SE Asia is often an at-your-own-risk type affair. Even crossing the street is a stunt worthy of Superdave.

Maybe it would have to be mostly a picture book. Which means this post shouldn't be a pictureless post. But it is, because I ain't no Ansel Adams. (Heck, I ain't even a Josh Root.)
Thursday November 30 2006File under: travel, transportation

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Cambodian first impressions

Cambodia, so far, has been a refreshing change from Thailand. Many things are the same (the climate, the prices (more or less), and the disregard of traffic "laws"), but many things are different, both for good and bad.

On the good side, things are less touristy here. I hate to say that, because it sounds so elitist, but it truly enhances my experience of the place. It is easy to find places that are like I imagine they would be if Sihanoukville wasn't a main tourist destination for Cambodia (which isn't saying much, as Cambodia isn't quite the tourist destination). Take for example this: Ryan and I were walking back from the beach, me with my juggling clubs in hand. Street kids are always pointing to the clubs with a questioning look on their face, and when I toss them up a time or two, their faces light up. Anyway, this time, I was doing just that when a rather jolly (read:drunk) looking fellow comes out of a back yard and beckons (read:drags) us into his back yard to put on a show for his friends. We oblige, naturally (for what juggler can turn down a captive, appreciative audience). Needless to say, they are extremely excited. The main guy comes out with drinks for us, which we beg off, but we do position him between us while we pass clubs around him. So fun. Things like this seem like it would happen less frequently in Thailand, or at least the touristy parts.

On the downside, Cambodia, or at least the parts I have seen so far, are poor. There are beggers everywhere, and the business people are a bit more aggressive, esp. the moto drivers. It is sad to come out of a store to 10 kids with their hands outstrecthed and a desperate look on their face. We had dinner the other evening at an outdoor place, and there was a kid that sat watching us eat the whole time. We've had many a discussion on this topic. We can never come to conclusions on what to do, how to feel, etc. etc. But whatever the case, it sure is a bring down.

Both the good and the bad is what makes it the experience that it is, and for that I am greatful. I'm looking forward to much more of each in the coming weeks.
Monday November 27 2006File under: Cambodia, travel

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Funny Money

Funny Money

One of the curiosities about travel - sometimes it is fun, sometimes it is maddening - is the money. Conversion rates, deciphering the value of a bill, making sure you have enough to get you to the next country, but not too much, so you don't lose money on the transfer back, etc. etc. And then there is the actual notes; I'm just totally enamored by just about all paper money I see, not because of its value, but because of what it says about the culture.

This money-aspect of travel was really punctuation while crossing the Cambodian border yesterday morning. The Cambodian currency unit is the riel, with an approximate conversion rate of 4,000 to the US dollar. The US dollar is widely accepted, though, and often prices are even quoted in it. Well, in anticipation of this, I converted the remainder of my Thai baht (except a few choice bills for my collection) into US dollars. When we got to the border, the border police refused to accept dollars for the [exorbitant] visa fee. So it was back to an ATM to get out baht.

The motos that met us off the ferry to give us a ride into town (Sihanoukville) quotes prices in baht. We then tried to covert that to dollars, because we had no baht. Since we didn't have correct change in dollars, we converted the amount to riels, which we picked up at a roadside money changer. All in all, it makes for some interesting commerce.

So having traveled for the past 10 weeks, I'm getting quite the stack of foriegn currency. In my wallet, currently, I have 6 different currencies: US dollar, Thai baht, Cambodian riel, Chinese yuan, Hong Kong dollar, and Macau pataca. But don't get any ideas. The sum total of all these is prolly no more than $50.

Yes, I realize this is a very pertainent post, it coming on the heels of National Buy Nothing Day and all.

Sunday November 26 2006File under: travel, Cambodia

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Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving: a time to give thanks, and a time to eat. We'll start in reverse order here, with the food.

We invited some Canadians to join us for the big feast, being as Americans are few and far between over this way. It was a most enjoyable dinner. The menu included spring rolls, vietnamese "summer" rolls, red coconut curry with chicken, pineapple curry with seafood, fried veggies with chicken, lots of rice, pineapple chicken kebabs, fried rice with seafood, a coconut fruit shake, and a mixed fruit shake. There might have been some other stuff in there too. I don't exactly remember. (Oh and all for about $4 a person.) I'll miss the post-feast burritos with the stuffing and potatoes and such from home, but I can't complain.

And now for the thanks: Every moment I look around me, I realize how much I have to be thankful for. But for the purposes of this blog, I will be brief. On my trip, I have had the pleasure of traveling with so many good friends from home; Andrew, Per, Myke, Shane, Trista, Andy, Jodie, and Ryan. Throughout my travels, I've met some great people, as well; Racheal, Mark, Andrea, the Dutch Girls (whose name I could never pronounce, couldn't even begin to spell, so I immediately forgot), Esther and Paul, Aussie Dave, Abi, Michelle and Brenda, Pingping, Bruce and Betsy, and Kathy. So to all that have helped make this trip so great, I offer a heartfelt thanks.

I would also like to offer my utmost appreciation to you, the readers of BdW. Being able to share my adventures with you has made everything I've done that much better. Getting your comments, questions, suggestions, experiences, and encouragement has made it almost like you were all here with me.

So, file this Thanksgiving under "Awesome". (Oh, I also kayaked out to a nearby island and got an elite geocache!) Anyway, I hope you and yours have a wonderful day with lots of food, friends, and family.
Thursday November 23 2006File under: Thailand, holidays

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