(Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia)
Wow, that vacation sucked the life out of me. I have now recovered just enough energy to wade back into blogging. For those of you that don’t like to travel anymore, I totally understand. There are so many things that are hard about traveling, especially when you add the heat and humidity of Southeast Asia in April.
Let's talk heat. People always think I am crazy to go to New York in August. The heat! The humidity! Picture that right now in your head. Now multiply that heat and humidity by a gazillion, take away the air conditioned shops and restaurants lining Manhattan’s swanky avenues and stick that whole image in a third world country. And really, you still have no idea.
It took 23 hours to get to get to Bangkok. And Doug’s luggage did not arrive with us. We had each packed some carry-on luggage with necessities to get us through a few days of our trip—biking clothes, swimsuit, going-to-dinner outfit, and walking-around-town outfit. For exactly this reason. But still, not the best way to start our adventure. Between jet lag and worry, neither of us slept that first night.
The next morning, Thai Airways called to tell us they had located Doug's luggage! It missed our connection in Beijing. It would be arriving on the very next flight. Unfortunately that flight would be arriving after we departed for Cambodia.
When we arrived in Cambodia that night, our pre-arranged ride from the airport to the hotel never showed up. Did I mention that it was really hot? We tried to call the hotel, but our cell phones didn’t work. We eventually got it all worked out. Eventually. The following morning, Doug was reunited with his luggage and we spent the day floating in the pool.
(The pool at the Raffles, Siem Reap)
That afternoon we strolled around Siem Reap to get a feel for the city. It took us six blocks to work up the courage to cross to the river-side of the busy street. There are no stop signs, stoplights or crosswalks. The way you cross the street is to simply step off the curb and walk at a steady pace across the street. The sea of motorbikes, tuk-tuks, cars, and trucks fills in around you. Somehow you wind up on the other side of the street not dead.
(Tuk-tuk in Laos)
Ok, so you’re hot, you are breathing air that is thick with exhaust and humidity, and you are happy just to have crossed the street alive. So now let’s add a bike to the mix—we were on a bicycle tour, remember?
(Cycling in Laos)
By the end of the trip, I was so thankful to be healthy and in one piece. Half the group had either fallen ill (short-lived but intense--all requiring antibiotics) or had suffered a bicycle accident (mostly minor, although one required stitches.) Actually, I didn’t walk away totally unscathed. On a hike into the temples one day, I got a bad case of chigger bites. The resulting rash on my ankles and hands was an itchy reminder of that excursion for the remainder of our trip.
(Making Doggy friends all over the world, here at Ta Phrom-Siem Reap, Cambodia)
So it's true that half the fun of a trip is planning it, and the other half is looking back on it. And I am looking back on it with fondness, even though we were miserable practically every minute of every day. It's hard to explain but I had fun and was miserable at the same time. It was hot and it was exhausting, but I truly appreciated the experience. Doug, not so much. So far he just remembers the miserable part.
In Cambodia it was the people that impressed me so much. Every person we met was so generous in sharing their personal life stories with us, all of them marred by the violent history of life under the Khmer Rouge. How fortunate we are in the U.S. to complain of the types of things we consider hardships. Really.
(Family in passing tuk-tuk, Siem Reap, Cambodia)
In Laos, it was the calm, spiritual feel of Luang Prabang that enchanted me. In Hanoi, I was charmed by the French colonial influence on the city’s architecture and ambiance. And in Thailand, it was being surrounded by the familiar faces of friends that made the unfamiliar surroundings most enjoyable. And the food--everywhere the food was delicious. I ate as much as I wanted, much of it fried, and came home three pounds lighter!
(Early morning with the monks in Luang Prabang, Laos)
I have never felt so removed from my life on a trip before. Travel usually wakes my brain up in a way that hanging out at home never does--this trip even more so. I came home with a greater appreciation for my own life circumstances, a lower tolerance for the noise that passes as political discourse here, and a clearer idea of commitments I want to keep and those that I’m ready to let go of. Oh, and a resolution to never complain about our own weather ever again!
(Cooling off in Koh Samui)