(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)
What an amazing adventure you had! I hope with time the memories will weigh even more towards the wonderful.
Posted by: Juhli | May 20, 2014 at 10:31 AM
How awesome! Love your candidness. And the pictures! You are making me feel better about how cranky I get with the stresses of travel. I've decided four-day trips are the best... Unless I'm in Hawaii. Then two weeks still isn't enough. :0) Glad you are back safe and sound, with only a chigger bite rash for your trouble!
Posted by: Angela | May 20, 2014 at 10:55 AM
Yippee! I have now visited Asia,via your blog.I don't have to actually go.I am a reluctant traveler.I consider myself an educated, open minded and interesting person, but I have just never had that huge travel big people seem to have..I have enjoyed Hawaii, many Carribean islands, A Tall Ship cruise with girlfriends, a lot of cities in the USA, Costa Rica, Belize.. I like beaches.But we've done all that a few times over again.I am now kinda happy to explore Arizona, my home state, and maybe rent a mt. cabin in New Mexico and visit Northern California (WAY North..)
Asia? China? Europe? Just probably not. but I don't feel lesser for that decision.
Your posts are always fun to read!! thanks for sharing...
Posted by: Madeline | May 20, 2014 at 03:29 PM
Enjoyed reading of your trip to Cambodia and Laos. Loved the photo of the monks.
We travelled through Vietnam and Cambodia in February this year and loved it. Such a different experience from travel in Europe or US/Canada. Friendly people, beautiful countryside and an insight into a very different lifestyle left a lasting impression for us.
The heat, yep, can get pretty draining by the arvo but we would have had less humidity as it was the dry season. I guess we also have pretty hot summers here in South Australia so a little conditioned.
We had a bet each way on our trip, with a week of biking and trekking in Vietnam (personal tour by Phat Tire Ventures) followed by a week or so on a fancy Mekong River Cruise. Loved both parts of the trip but very different experiences. All the local guides were just amazing. As you mentioned, their personal stories were just incredible and often sad.
We are thinking of doing another trip to either Burma or Laos. How did you find travel in Laos vs Cambodia?
Posted by: Gouldee07.wordpress.com | May 20, 2014 at 08:01 PM
I heard they just declared martial law in Thailand, so I guess you got out of there just in time. Anyway, a great adventure. I esp. like the Tuk-tuk.
Posted by: Tom Sightings | May 21, 2014 at 05:35 AM
Tom: Yes, we just missed that and an earthquake by a couple days!
Gouldee: So you know exactly what I'm talking about regarding Cambodia--definitely the highlight. Traveling in Laos was just as easy as Cambodia. Two couples on our bike trip had been to Burma and really loved that too so I don't think you can go wrong. Just don't go in April!
Madeline: Asia was never really on my list. But since friends were asking us to join them in Thailand, it just seemed like a smart thing to expand the trip. I'm glad I did, it was interesting. But it will probably be awhile before we would go back--Vietnam is the most likely candidate since we only got a little taste of Hanoi and really liked it.
Angela: Believe me we were often cranky! It was a tough trip. Like I said, fun and tough at the same time though.
Juhli: Well the photos help with that. I have almost 500 and they are really quite amazing. Especially as viewed from the temperature controlled comfort of my own living room!
Posted by: Retired Syd | May 22, 2014 at 08:50 AM
Beautiful photos it seems that it's a forte of yours. Do you have to take antimalarial drug still and did you run into any expats while there? Welcome back:)
Posted by: fred doe | May 22, 2014 at 09:07 AM
Fred: I didn't meet any expats--just locals and fellow travelers. We had to get a couple shots before we went but no antimalarial drugs for the spots we were visiting. (We were just supposed to wear repellent with DEET. Of course I missed a couple days--one resulted in those chigger bites!)
Posted by: Retired Syd | May 22, 2014 at 09:27 AM
Love Asia. Will never return :)
We said living in Hong Kong in July was like sticking a wet vac into your lungs and putting it in reverse. I grew up in Phoenix, but have never been so miserably hot in my life.
Laos and Cambodia were way to dangerous when we were there. Thank you for the pictures! Saigon was one of the best cities we have ever spent time in. Put it mon your list if you return.
Don't worry, misery fades and become humorous. The memories, especially of the people, never leave you.
Posted by: Jan | May 22, 2014 at 08:57 PM
Jan: You hit it on the head "misery fades and becomes humorous." Once you survive it it's in you, isn't it?
Posted by: Retired Syd | May 22, 2014 at 09:22 PM
Awesome! Sounds like one of those "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger" kind of trips. Asia's not on my bucket list - can you go to the Norwegian fjords next? Or at least before I do and report back? It's cool there... :-)
Posted by: Jacq | June 01, 2014 at 08:23 PM
Jacq: Actually, I would like to go to Norway at some point. Good idea! Hey, looks like you just started new blog--I'll go check it out.
Posted by: Retired Syd | June 02, 2014 at 07:58 AM
My mother's family is Scandihoovian by way of North Dakota, and it's much more interesting to think of going to Norway than to Fargo, ND (been there done that to visit the cousins - no wood chippers involved - lol). Am so out of touch with writing, it's embarrassing. Hope to get it back soon though (if I ever had it). Practice, practice.
Posted by: Jacq | June 04, 2014 at 05:16 PM
Your pictures are beautiful and you look like you had a fabulous time. Really enjoyed the pictures- especially "cooling off". What a perfect picture for a wonderful vacation.
Posted by: Karen Gilbert | June 05, 2014 at 08:57 AM
I just discovered your blog about a week ago. Your trip to Southeast Asia sounds like one of those special lifetime experiences. I got the sense that the tour you were on is not as tried and true as my recent trip to Italy. I have the impression that you were able get "cultural inspiration/appreciation" which is not always the case on the typical tour. Italy seemed to be a tourist mecca. Your travel log revealed the reflective nature of your experience. Thank you for sharing.
The photos were beautiful!
Posted by: Carol Washko | July 09, 2014 at 07:57 AM