Siem Reap, Cambodia: Save the Best for Last

Sorry for the delay in posting, my 32-hour travel day and my health got in the way, but I will get to that later!

After our arrival in Siem Reap, we met our tour guide, Sophak (which we remembered since it rhymes with Tupac the rapper, but he did not find this amusing nor did he have any idea what we were talking about). On our way to the hotel, we pulled over to see the beautiful sunset. Cambodia probably had the clearest sky of all the countries we have been to so far!

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Our hotel, the Victoria Angkor Resort, had gorgeous grounds and an amazing patio and swimming pool. Sophak told us this was a 5-star hotel but once we saw our room, we realized that this was probably not the case. Not to say the hotel wasn’t very nice but the rooms were definitely not 5-star but the hotel pool and surroundings were amazing.

The next morning on January 2nd, we spent the majority of our day looking at the amazing temples around Siem Reap. There is of course a ton of history I could go into but the remarkable part of the temples of Angkor are their beauty and intricate detail so I will leave most of the further research for you to Google on your own time!

We began our day exploring the ancient city of Angkor Thom, which translates to Great City. The city was established by King Jayavarman VII during the late 12th Century of the Khmer empire. Before we entered the city, we once again saw some more elephants! These elephants looked darker and a bit different than the ones we saw in Thailand. We asked Sophak why that was and he told us that they were actually painted darker for the tourists. So strange! We also got to see our first monkey in Cambodia. Although many people were petting the small monkey, that is a quick way to get some strange diseases so I held back my urges.

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The walk up to the city Angkor Thom was spectacular. The pathway to the ancient city was lined with statues. Some of which had been restored but others which were still decapitated.

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The center of Angkor Thom featured a very famous temple, Bayon. Bayon is known for its massive stone faces on each of the towers of the Buddhist temple. This is one of the sites I was looking forward to when going to SE Asia. The detail and the size of the faces were truly amazing especially since they were made in the late 12th century.

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As we were walking around the grounds, I kept noticing such beautiful children trying to sell us souvenirs or just playing around the temples while their mothers sold the goods. The children of Cambodia were beautiful but we learned that they were only in school for half of a day and the other half some children tried to come sell goods to tourists to earn money. Sophak told us that we should ignore the children trying to sell us to us because by giving them money, we were teaching them that they could make a living without school and by just coming to the tourist areas everyday. That made sense to us but it was still so difficult to ignore these beautiful children. It reminded me of my time working at a school in Guatemala and made me want to do something to help children in other countries that can barely afford to go to school. Here is one image that really struck me while we were walking around. Throughout the rest of this post I will continue to post a few image of children that I found particularly touching.

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Here are some more images from Angkor Thom from the temple of Baphuon, which was built in the 11th century and dedicated to the Hindu God Shiva, as well as the Terrace of Elephants, which was used by King Jayavarman VII as a platform address the public and his army.

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We left Angkor Thom and went to have lunch to escape the heat of the Cambodian sun. I ordered the traditional Cambodian dish, Fish Amok, which was served in a coconut and tasted similar to curry. It was delicious! I also ordered fresh coconut juice to go along with it. This was definitely one of my favorite lunches on the trip!

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That afternoon, we went to the largest religious temple in the entire world, Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat was built by the Khmer King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century first as a Hindu temple and then transferred into a Buddhist complex. The temple was extraordinary and a highlight of the entire trip. Every detail and bas-relief on the temple walls must have taken hundreds of people years to build. With that said, our tour guide loved to talk about each tiny detail of the temple walls. We got over that fairly quickly since we are the fast-paced, not detail-oriented type of travelers. We had to teach him to hurry along so we could just enjoy the beauty of the temple.

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What an incredible site to see! We also got to see more wild monkey but these monkeys were adults. These two idiot boys were chasing this one monkey around and we saw the animal get very angry and clench its teeth and then actually chase after them. It was pretty freaky. Eventually as we were walking down the path leaving Angkor Wat, there was a woman drinking a can of Coca Cola. A monkey actually leaped up to jump and grab the can out of her hand. I would have screamed at the top of my lungs and freaked out but this woman was very smart and just threw the can onto the ground. That smart little monkey was very happy with himself.

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We were done around 3pm and got to lay by our hotel pool until we sat down for dinner at our hotel. Our strict rule-following tour guide told us we had to eat the buffet dinner at the restaurant, Koulen, where we were seeing a show that evening but we made the executive decision that the $12 was cheap enough for us to just see the show and not also eat the crappy buffet, and that getting our tan on sounded a lot more appealing! Well, we should have realized earlier that in general, we just do not appreciate things like cultural dance (especially from our tribal experience in Kuranda, Australia a few years back). The show was a cultural Cambodian dance of the female spirit, Aspara. Some people may have enjoyed it but we would have preferred more time shopping or lying by the pool.

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After our disappointing show, we went to another night market in another city. I got these amazing charcoal rubs from the walls of Angkor Wat that I absolutely love. I can’t wait to hang them up in my room. We decided that we should actually live a little and stay up past our bedtime since it was our last night in Southeast Asia so we went to a bar to hear some fun live music. It was a blast! After about two beers, we of course ended up stopping for hour-long $5 foot massages before heading to the hotel to go to bed. We had to end our trip with another foot massage, right?!

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Our last day in Siem Reap finally came, I could not believe the trip was finally coming to an end! We began our trip with a drive to the temple Banteay Srei which was built in the10th century and dedicated to the Hindu god, Shiva. The intricacy in the carvings was unlike any other temple we have seen.

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After this temple, we went on to the “Tomb Raider” temple or as Auntie Missy thought Sophak was saying the “Terminator” temple. I told her he meant the movie with Angelina Jolie not the Arnold movie! This temple called Ta Prohm was unbelievable cool because the trees from the jungle surrounding the temple are actually growing out of the ruins, creating a very Indiana Jones feel to the temple.

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After our visit to Ta Prohm, we headed back to the hotel to lay out at the pool again for a few hours before heading to the airport. The next flight was another short flight on Cambodian Angkor Air to Bangkok to begin my 32-hour journey home. I started sneezing and feeling sick before we even got to the airport

Once we arrived in Bangkok, I felt even worse than before. I am very lucky that my cold did not come on until the final day of the trip but I knew the long trip home would be even longer now that I was feeling under the weather. The second we got to the Bangkok airport hotel, I went straight to sleep. By the way, the Novotel hotel near the airport was so nice. We were both joking about how this hotel had a nicer bathroom, bed and more outlets than some of the hotels we stayed in, and this was just an airport hotel! Pretty ironic!

The next morning, we got up early and go on our flight to Hong Kong and then to Los Angeles. After lots of broken sleep, I made it home to my bed. Peter picked me up from the airport in LA with beautiful flowers, what an amazing boyfriend I have! Since then, I have been pretty much sleeping the entire time. I have to go back to work tomorrow but will post a final trip summary when I am feeling a bit better.

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Ha Noi, Vietnam (with a not-so-quick stop in Laos)

En route to Hanoi, Vietnam, we had a layover in Laos. Well, the Luang Prabang Airport is basically one tiny room that doesn’t even sell bottled water! During our three hour layover which turned into four hours, we decided to drink some Laotian beer and eat an entire can of Salt and Seaweed Pringles instead (yes, those exist and they are delicious!) I watched a movie and endured the foreign country airport boredom until we finally got on our airplane  to Hanoi.

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I ended up sitting next to a woman from Los Angeles on the flight who had been traveling alone for over 3 weeks. I could not imagine doing that but it was very interesting hearing about her life story. I am jealous that I am not brave enough to do something like that!

Finally, we arrived in Hanoi late at night and were greeted by our Hanoi tour guide, Vin. Vin spoke great English and told us what to expect of our time in Vietnam. One of the craziest parts of Vietnam is the driving. There is one motorized bike for every two people in Vietnam, causing a ton of air pollution. Everyone over the age of 18 drives a bike and there are NO stoplights, NO cross walks and NO lanes. Driving is a free for all where you just honk when you want to warn someone to move over. It is so scary. He warned us that when we cross the street, to just keep going at a slow and steady pace and the drivers will navigate around you. The ride to the hotel was a bit scary but once you realize that is just the way people drive around Vietnam, we got more used to it.

This morning (Saturday), we met our tour guide early so we could be the first in line at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. The Mausoleum is a memorial of the great communist leader and actually houses his embalmed body. Every year between September and November, his body is sent to Russia to be restored. Luckily, we were able to actually see his body which was a very special experience. Here is a photograph of the outside of building that we went into since we are unable to take photographs inside:

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We continued to walk around the beautiful grounds to view the government offices as well as the home Ho Chi Minh lived in while he was alive.

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In the park, we visited the famous One Pillar Pagoda. The buddhist temple is from the Emperor of Indochina, Ly Thai Tong, who had wished for a son and prayed to buddha to one. Eventually, he met a woman who bore him a son and because of that, he made a temple dedicated to him. Many Buddhist women come here in hopes of being able to become pregnant. I made sure to ask Vin that visiting the temple didn’t mean that we would become pregnant!! He assured us that is was ok.

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After we were done with this portion of the walking tour, we took the car over to the Temple of Literature. The grounds here were beautiful and the inside of the temple had a large status of Confucius. There was actually a University graduation going on while we were there which was very cool to see. All of the top students in Vietnam are honored there so they hold many graduations and photographs for school children to inspire them to become better students.

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Next, we headed to the Old Quarter in Hanoi. Here is where we first endured our street crossing abilities. We were naturals! At first, I thought I was going to die but you eventually get the hang of it and become more confident when you walk. We went with Vin to the top of a cafe called City View that had a beautiful view of the all of Hanoi. Here is a view of a busy intersection from the cafe. This does not do the traffic justice but you can see the lack of traffic signs and the free for all of traffic. You can also see how foggy the sky is from all the pollution.

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Afterwards, we separated from Vin and went off shopping around the Old Quarter. Since I did not prepare for the cold of Hanoi, I purchased a fake North Face jacket, a scarf and gloves to be sure I was prepared for the cold on our Halong Bay cruise tomorrow. I can’t believe I actually bought a knock-off North Face jacket but it is actually decent quality and you can’t even tell!

Next, we visited the Hoa Lo Prison a.k.a. the Hanoi Hilton from the Vietnam War. Well, here they actually call the war the American War. The prison museum had actual cells to view that the inmates during the French occupation were kept in. The museum was mostly about the French colonialism in Vietnam prior to the American War, but there was a small section of the museum that featured information about when the Vietnamese captured American Soldiers and held them there. The most fascinating part about the museum was the video they showed of the American POWs at the Hanoi Hilton. They made it sound like they allowed them to play basketball, learn about Vietnamese culture and treated them very well while they were in the prison. It really makes you realize how different countries interpret and tell their sides of history differently. Of course, I don’t blame them for capturing American soldiers after we bombed their cities and killed innocent people during the war, but to say the American prisoners were treated very well during their entire stay at the Hanoi Hilton seems a little off to me! I am looking forward to learning more about their side of the American War in Saigon at the War Remnants Museum.

Here are the current and original entrances to the “Hanoi Hilton”:

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After the museum, we went to Cafe Pho Co per a recommendation from my friend, Nathalia. This cafe was literally down an alley in the back of a shop in the Old Quarter. You actually enter through someone’s house and climb up a twisted staircase to a cafe that looks over the Hoan Kiem Lake in the center of the city. I ordered their famous Egg Coffee which was delicious!

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After our coffee break, we realized we had pretty much seen everything we wanted to in Hanoi. It was so hard to believe but I guess us ADD, warp-speed travelers really could do it in one day! In typical Missy and Lindsey fashion, we got another foot massage at a random place in the Old Quarter. I don’t know what I am going to do when I am back in America and have to pay more than $10 for an hour long massage!

Finally it was time for drinks so we walked past a beautiful park along the river to the famous Sofitel Metropole Hotel.

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We decided to spoil ourselves (or should I say for Auntie Missy to keep spoiling me!) and order a flight of wine which included champagne, white and red wine. It was delicious and complimented the bread and tuna tartar we also ordered. The hotel was very beautiful, especially when adorned with christmas lights.

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After our flight, we headed to famous Quan An Ngon for dinner. The restaurant features communal tables and several mini-kitchens that each cook a different type of Vietnamese cuisine. It was delicious and definitely a must if you are ever in Hanoi!

Now we are off to bed since we have to be up at 6:30am to drive five hours to get on our overnight cruise in Ha Long Bay. Can’t wait to finally see the beautiful water and UNESCO World Heritage Site in person!

LAX – Hong Kong: Welcome to Asia

I cannot believe the trip is finally here.  I am seated in the extended legroom premium economy cabin on Cathay Pacific,  thanks to my amazing Auntie Missy.  It was it’s own class and the seats reclined more than any other airline I have ever been on.  I got a bit nervous when I young boy took the aisle seat next to be but he ended up being quiet and enjoying his video games the entire time,  a perfect airplane companion,  especially since he was half the size of a  normal person.  They even served premium economy champagne and free wine… Night night world!

I did stay up for the lunch service,  as you all know I am never one to miss a meal,  even a crappy airline one!  Then I watched my first screener of the trip, The Butler,  which I thought was a great  movie,  but very strange to see Oprah acting.  Then went to sleep for 4 hours until they served dinner. Thank God for being a vegetarian because the quinoa they served me was far better looking than the beef my seat neighbor was eating. After dinner,  I slept for the remaining of the flight so it went by pretty quickly!

Once I got off my flight,  I found Auntie Missy’s gate to greet her when she walked off the plane.  It felt like the good old days when Gaga or my mom would come to my gate to greet me,  instead of having to stand after security.

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After anxiously waiting with no one to text, she finally walked off the plane.  At least she was the first one off since fancy Auntie Miss flew first class.  Needless to say she certainly got a bit more beauty sleep than I!

Since Auntie Missy got me a new pair of sunglasses for my birthday which I had yet to pick out,  we ventured over to the tax free sunglass hut and found me  a new pair of shades!!  Although the $1,000+ price tags where at first alarming,  have no fear, they were in Hong Kong Dollars! Check em out (ignore the greasy hair and extremely pale post-17 hour flight skin?)
And yes,  of course I am having another glass of pinot at the lounge!
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Disclamer: I only put the sunglasses on at 9:40pm in the Hong Kong airport to show all you lovely people.  I do not think I am that cool to be able to rock sunglasses at night.

Now we are both sitting in the Cathay Pacific Airport lounge for the next two hours… At least this lounge is way nicer than any American lounge.  Not the worst place to be stuck. I am very sleepy and just want to get to Bangkok already,  but our flight is delayed 50 minutes!

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Looking forward to getting to the hotel around 2am and passing out before our first day of adventure in Bangkok.  Goodnight!  Or should I say good morning since you are all waking up! Xo

Dublin, Ireland -> Boston, MA USA

Here we are at the Dublin airport once again! This time, we are heading back to Boston, Massachusetts, USA!! I can’t believe it has been 36 days since we left for Europe. During that short time I have visited 10 different countries and seen 19 different cities. The trip has finally come to an end and I am so grateful for having this amazing opportunity. It was great seeing cities such as Barcelona, Amsterdam and Prague again while also exploring new cities like Geneva, Berlin and Florence. Of course the only thing I can think about is my next adventure, although I know the time has come for me to settle into the “Real World” and start my career. (Auntie Missy and I will be planning a new adventure in the next 2-4 years so I have something to look forward to!!)

Thank you to all my family and friends who supported my adventurous spirit as I begged my Mom and Michael to go on this trip. It was worth every minute!

My blog will now go on hold until the next adventure… (T.B.D)

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