Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Leave the Attitude but Pack the Humility

The word thank-you is a powerful one. It is a word that stretches across land borders and language barriers and yes while it sounds different in different countries it means the same thing. Showing gratitude for something is not culturally exclusive. So why then is it so difficult for a large number of travelers to show gratitude? To simply say thank-you? To just acknowledge in some way or another that they are happy the tuk tuk driver got them to where they wanted to go, the waitress served them with professionalism or the flight attendant brought them the pillow they asked for? There are even ways to show gratitude without using spoken language. A simple nod of the head or smile are powerful tools when it comes to acknowledging that someone has done something for you.

There are far too many people that believe the world owes them and why should they show gratefulness  towards those who help them out a little. Well honestly unless you've developed a cure for one of life’s many diseases including impoliteness then the world owes you nothing.

If at home you thank the fast-food guy for your hamburger meal or the gas station attendant for pumping your gas or even the border guard for letting you pass without asking you to actually declare how much you're bringing back into the country. Then why not thank the young Cambodian who brought you the steamed fish or the Indonesian guy who drove you around for 19 hours.

Why do people seem to think that a ticket to an exotic place gives them license to be a complete ass. The golden rule of treating others the way you'd like to be treated shouldn't only be meant for your backyard but for anywhere you find yourself. The nicer you are to others the nicer they'll be to you. It's simple!

Remember these things:
* We’re all humans and deserve to be treated as such.
* Traveling to a country with the “Underdeveloped” or “Developing” label doesn’t mean the people are your servants.
* The happiest people you’ll ever meet are the ones without what many of us deem as necessities for a happy fulfilling life.
* If you’re rude to someone and they continue to be kind and polite to you it’s not because it doesn’t bother them, it’s simply because they are a bigger person than you!
* Money does not make you a better person and therefore above everyone around you.

To end I'll borrow a couple lines from a Dickens classic
"What right have you to be merry? What reason do you have to be merry? You're poor enough?"
"What right have you to be dismal? What reason have you to be morose? You're rich enough!"

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Captivatingly Spectacular Siem Reap

Siem Reap has captivated me. I had a feeling it would, after all “OMG, I LOVED it there!” was a common response when I told other travelers where I was going. I can’t even tell you how long this quiet city has been on my MUST SEE list. I’m a sucker for a place with a tumultuous past after all. Now I know what you’re thinking, don’t all places have tumultuous pasts? I suppose in one way or another they do but not all places have seen just how evil human beings are capable of being. Cambodia is a country of phoenix’s, spirits rising from the ashes of despair to rebuild the lives they want for themselves. Some people at home are incapable of that following a bad report card or dentist visit, geez I dwell on the news of a cavity like it’s the end of the world then after think “Oh woe is me I have to get a little needle and sit in the dentist chair for an hour boooowhooo.” Pathetic!

Anyway back to the fabulous place that is Siem Reap and away from the dentist office. If I could wrap this place up and give it as a gift I would. I’d bundle it in banana leaves tied with the ancient vines that curl possessively around the crumbling stone of the Angkor temples and garnish it with the mango that narrowly missed my head as it fell from the tree at my guesthouse. But who would I give it to? Perhaps the friend that needs to be cheered up by the smiling faces of those who are happy you stopped by. Or the friend that seeks adventure by searching ancient ruins for tangerine clad monks. No, no, maybe the friend that wants to be pampered while surrounded by quiet sophistication. Although maybe I’ll just keep it for myself and use the banana leaves to steam some fish amok, let the vines continue their support of the temples and make a shake with that mango!

The temples of Angkor Wat are beautiful, mysterious, eerie and awe-inspiring. There were times I forget that it was 2011 and was practically transported back to the 12th century. Honestly there was one time I looked down at my camera and thought “What the HELL is this thing?” Luckily some old Chinese woman pushed me out of her way and brought me jarringly back to reality. There are huge trees that grow effortlessly around stone structures, their branches and roots twisting and turning acrobatically through cracks and glassless windows. Children run after you asking you to buy bracelets and postcards or rather aggressively suggest you give them candy while counting to 10 in 7 languages. They’re pretty receptive to the words no and thank-you though so they get an A+ for “getting it!” And while we didn’t find monks meditating in any nooks and crannies we did get to witness a mass almsgiving ceremony with about 700 monks taking part. There was orange everywhere I looked and I LOVED IT!

You know a place is great if you’re reminiscing about it while you’re still there! It is so great that it immediately buries itself in your heart and refuses to leave. Like a parasite or an infection… if those things made people happy when they caught them! And even though our guesthouse owner calls me Morgan and it's hotter than inside a dutch oven  I’ve caught Siemreaperson and I’m loving every second of it! 

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Feelings of Love and Hate in Siem Reap

I find myself thinking daily of the things I both love and hate in Siem Reap as I walk down its streets. So I thought I'd share some of these feelings! 
I love the way the tuk tuk drivers in Siem Reap say you’re welcome when you tell them no thank-you after they ask if you need a ride.
I love how people smile just because you waved at them.
 I hate seeing young kids pulling carts, picking up garbage or begging for money. It’s heartbreaking to think these kids will never get to experience the magic of childhood because they’ve been forced into adulthood too early.
I relish in being called beautiful, knowing full well that it’s due to my wretchedly pale skin and not because of anything else.
I truly enjoy being in a place that feels exotic yet has most of the comforts of home. This is not because I NEED said comforts but it’s nice to have them around if I find myself wanting them and let’s be honest there are definitely times when you’re travelling where you think, “If I have to put one more grain of rice, satay skewer or strange root past my lips I’m going to freakin’ lose it!”
I love watching street kids taking a break from their jobs by flinging themselves off the twisted branches of trees, into the Siem Reap River.
I hate saying no to someone who has been the victim of a landmine. However if I didn’t then I’d find myself peddling books and paintings on the streets annoying people.
I love how little kids will run up to you and hold onto your pant leg as they look up into your face with amazement painted across their faces.
I detest automatically feeling sorry for a landmine victim. They lost a limb not their dignity and I feel like that “awe poor you” feeling I get somehow strips them of their dignity whether they realize it or not.
I love seeing buildings that were constructed thousands of years ago and revered to this day by the decedents of those who dreamed them up.
Most of all I love to see how the strength of the human spirit can overcome the most atrocious acts of pure evil. To arrive in Cambodia and know full well what happened here not so long ago and not see broken souls haphazardly drifting from place to place is inspiring. It would be so easy to forgive people for being cold, untrusting or jaded, after all we in the west would see it as human nature. The Cambodian’s have taught me that while the tragedies of the past play a role in our present lives they do not control us. If we allowed such events to dictate our daily lives we’d all be like looming black clouds on the horizon, ready to explode with uncontrollable fury at the hint of sadness.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Angkor Wat

I'm adding to the overflow of pictures from Angkor Wat! Sadly the front of Angkor Wat is undergoing a facelift so my dream pictures did not get taken. Thankfully the temples are impressive enough to still photograph nicely despite the ugly scaffolding and green tarps!

Sunrise at Angkor Wat

Front um... gate(?) at Angkor Wat

Robed stone buddha at one of the temples of Angkor Thom.

The Tomb Raider temple Ta Prohm

Siem Reap

I don't have much to write about as of yet but I figured I'd share some photographs of our Siem Reap experience so far.
Delicious sandwiches at The Singing Tree Cafe
Ruins of Angkor
Pint sized grounds keeper
The beauty of nature wrapping itself around the creation of man.
Real life for the other half of Siem Reaps citizens.
Siem Reap cyclist
Monkey on a spit... anyone hungry?
The kids who seem to be in charge of recycling pick up in the city having some down time.
Brother and sister riding around the streets of Siem Reap
Our favourite mode of transportation! 
Cambodian orphan

Saturday, May 7, 2011

why, Why, WHY... Why Must You Yell?

Screaming children, screaming mothers, screaming fathers… all screaming at each other. If there is anything I have learned in my short time travelling in Laos and Cambodia it is that voice volume is not an issue. Outdoor voices are widely accepted as the norm for indoor spaces.

It’s all well and good though, who am I to say that while standing next to someone you should speak to them in 30 centimetre voices. After all that was just one of many rules back in elementary school and I’ve since broken all of those including DON’T RUN IN THE HALL, muahahaha!

It doesn’t matter if you’re about to enjoy a nice meal with a friend, if someone inside the restaurant needs something from their house a mile down the road they’re going to yell for it. It’s amazing too, that such big noises come out of such small people. I mean they reach the kind of volume that you would expect from Pavarotti or Santa Claus.
In Cambodia so far I haven’t been awoken by the shrill half-a-doodle-do of a rooster that is missing ¼ of its feathers. No, I’ve been brought out of sleep by a small child screaming, “AH! AH!” I have no idea why so I can only assume that he’s either walking down the hall and screaming with joy every time he comes across a line in the tile floor. Or he’s trying to run away from his shadow that won’t stop following him. Either way he’s incredibly loud!

They are the kind of yells and screams that make your teeth ache and ears bleed. If someone were to yell this way at home others would say things like “What the hell are you doing, just text them!” “If you do that again I’m going to get some duck tape and securely fasten your lips together!” “I’m suing you for disturbing my peace!” or “Someone put that kid on a reality show!”

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Cambodia, An Introduction to Chaos

Check out those subtitles! (And anyone who stood, was a terrible fate.)
Anyone who travels owes it to themselves to pick up a book and/or google the place they are about to insert themselves into. By researching you can better equip yourself for madness if it should arise.

Ally and I had been fairly lucky throughout Laos, avoiding madness and headaches most of the way through the country's winding roads and sleepy towns. We avoided madness through the first 3/4 of our journey to Siem Reap as well and I was beginning to think that we were a couple of the lucky ones! BIG mistake! Here's the story...

We purchased a bus ticket while on Don Det and early on Wednesday morning after a sudden early morning mystery illness, we took a boat with several other travellers to the mainland where we waited for a bit for our big bus to arrive. The bus was nice. We scored 2 of the best seats and had a perfect view of the flatscreen T.V that brought us such gems as The Mummy 3, Yip Man 2 (great film!), Evan Almighty and Shaolin (which wins the award for worst English subtitles of all time!). After several hours on the bus we arrived at a rest stop and were told to get our bags off the bus because we'd be taking other transportation to Siem Reap. Someone told us 30minutes which gave us time to grab some dinner before the final leg of our journey. Eventually a minibus showed up and 17 travellers and 17 large rucksacks were shoved into a space that really should only be used for about 10 travellers and 10 medium sized rucksacks. The rest of us sat there watching as the passengers quickly became better acquainted with one another with feelings of dread beginning to boil in the pit of our stomachs.

View from the rooftop bar of Siem Reap.
(Quick side story, one of the girls did not check to see if her bag had come of the bus and was surprised to see that it was not among the pile of bags and instead on the bus bound for Phnom Pehn... lesson ALWAYS check to see where your bag is!)

We were told to hang on for 50 more minutes and our transportation would arrive. 1.5 hours later it did and things were looking AMAZING. It was the kind of bus one expects to board when told the bus is VIP. Wide plush seats with fleece blankets and air conditioning that put all other air conditioning to shame.

What we forgot to do was suppress our excitement because when things seem too good to be true in this part of the world they often are! We weren't on the bus for 5 minutes before a man told 8 of us to get off. He told us that the driver was still eating and there wasn't enough seats so he had to wait for the driver so they could figure it out. None of us were very impressed with this situation. Not enough seats? Last bus to Siem Reap? WTF! So we did what any other defiant Westerner would do, we mentally flipped the guy off and got back on the bus. We'd show these people we weren't there to be taken advantage of. Well soon after we'd taken our seats again the guy got on and began moving people around. He ushered us to the back where an American who had been on the bus for a couple hours already began telling us to relax and not give the people trouble because they were "simple people". He then told us we were acting too much like tourists. Later on Ally would tell him off quite nicely. He was the kind of American that gives the rest a horrible name and it's sad because I've met many intelligent yanks on these travels.
(For a full Ally retelling of the events visit her blog @

Luxury slightly out of our price range!
Anyway it soon became apparent that there were not enough seats on the bus and despite paying twice as much as the people already on the bus I was told to go to the front where the guy told me to sit on the floor right behind the window. So I squeezed myself into a 3 foot space and got "comfortable" for the remainder of the trip. By the time we arrived, I had broken down and decided I was going home. My back was spasming, I couldn't feel my feet because the air con was actually too cold, I had hit my head off of several surfaces while trying to get comfortable and was feeling a bit queasy from the drive. In the end I realized that most of my aggravation had stemmed from the douchebag yank who had been the icing on my bitter wits-end-cake. Clearly I didn't go home that would be ridiculous and so far Siem Reap has made up for the bus journey!

Ally and Charlotte lounging by the pool.
On our first night we met up with Charlotte from Don Det and had a delicious meal on Pub Street. She is the kind of person that feels like an old friend almost immediately and it was sad to say goodbye. But before we did we checked the rooftop bar of some fancy hotel and drank $3 fruit shakes while we lounged by the rooftop pool... feeling completely out of place in our oh so fancy backpacker duds! Again check out Charlotte's blog if you haven't!

Now we have a couple weeks to really get to know Siem Reap and explore Angkor Wat... exciting stuff!!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Chau Laos!

As I sat thinking about how badly I wanted to jump into the Mekong, to allow my feet to dangle where unknown things lurked, a chicken below my bungalow clucked “bokbokbokBOK!” as if taunting me. Under my breath so no one could hear me chastising poultry I said, “I’m not a chicken… you’re a chicken.” And made up my mind, my mind that was full of nothing and everything all at the same time, that I would indeed grace the Mekong with my presence, unknown things be damned!

So the day finally came when Ally and I said, it’s time. We rented a tube for 10,000kip each and met up with our new Aussie friends, Sarah and Chris. We waded into the warm water and awkwardly fell onto our black, sun soaked tubes. At first it seemed like we’d have to do all the work to get down the river but sooner than later the current caught us and away we went. As we floated past our bungalow we called out to our porch dog Grizz to see if he’d react. Well he didn’t just react he followed us down most of the river, crying the entire way! Don’t get attached to animals on your travels the experts say but what about when they get attached to you?

Tubing was more enjoyable than I thought it would be. Before when people would talk about getting into a tube and floating lazily down the river I would sit there thinking but why do that when swimming is so much fun! But now I get it. I get the appeal of lying back chatting to friends and allowing the sun to molest my skin that I didn’t apply enough sunscreen to!

After floating for about an hour we all awkwardly got out of our tubes and headed into a restaurant for some grub before grabbing our tubes and walking back to town. We figured a tuk tuk would come along and we’d be back by 5, (when the tubes were due back) with plenty of time to spare. Yet no tuk tuk would have us, they all drove past going the opposite way showering us in dirt road debris. 2.5k isn’t that far but when you’re thirsty, carrying sun satellites and your skin is beginning to audibly crackle it seems like the end will never come! I am pleased to say that we made it back and after a few days the front of my legs is almost matching the back of my legs again!

Days pass rather slowly in Don Det and while at first relaxation mode is enjoyable cabin fever mode soon takes over and the thought of doing just about anything is more appealing than the thought of another hour of nothing! We were lucky to discover a rather pricey yet very nice bungalow/restaurant with a beautiful view, debit machine and wifi and made it our do nothing but do nothing with wifi “retreat”. We met an English girl named Charlotte and hit it off with her quickly. She’s a writer and was excited to discover other writers… not that I’m much of a writer but I do enjoy it! Anyway check out her blog So days of sitting on our deck and doing nothing turned into sitting at Little Eden, eating expensive yet delicious meals, catching up with news and entertainment from home, making a new friend and playing several rounds of the traveller favourite Shithead. 

The remaining days in Don Det which seemed to never end, were spent writing, reading, swimming (yep I said screw it I’m way too hot I’ll risk being eaten by some mysterious river monster if it means I get to cool down!), meeting new people, researching our Cambodian adventure and surviving the most extreme thunderstorm I’ve ever witnessed.

Laos is a beautiful, mysterious country full of lovely, joyous people and it should not be missed. If you do head over make sure you pack, anti-nausea medication, swimwear, a waterproof camera, books and an open mind. Follow those simple suggestions and your Laos adventure will be brilliant just as mine was

Crash and Bang

We witnessed the biggest thunderstorm of our lives one early morning. It was the kind of thunderstorm that wakes you up, doesn’t let you go back to bed and makes you hold your breath at the hint of every new rumbling while you wait for the inevitable crash of thunder as lightening splits the sky in half. In other words the greatest thunderstorm ever! Naturally waking up early puts you into morning pee mode and well there was no way we were venturing out into the downpour of water and electricity so we did what any country girls would do! And I’ll leave it at that, use your imaginations if you must!

Funnily enough I was having one of those dreams where you include what’s actually going on in the nocturnal. I was dreaming that I was on a 2 level houseboat and was waiting for my mom to get home. I’m not sure where my dad was but probably off doing something awesome. So there I was floating in my house when suddenly a Korean father and his 2 kids showed up. I don’t know why they were there and I forgot to ask them so you’ll have to use your imagination for that as well. Anyway it started to storm really badly and there we were on this 2 level houseboat that was rocking and rolling and then my mom got home. She arrived as if nothing was even happening even though the clouds had turned from normal storm clouds into END OF THE WORLD CLOUDS! All she did was get upset with me for putting Baileys into the chili. “Why’d you put Bailey’s into the chili? Is it because there isn’t any sour cream?” As anyone can tell you Bailey’s is my number 1 sour cream substitute. Then Ally opened the door to let Grizz in because he was whining and we ventured out onto the porch to watch nature’s drama unfold and relieve ou