Stories from Southeast Asia

The past few weeks have been extremely interesting and busy and I am glad to be finally writing a blog post. We are currently in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. We have spent the last two weeks biking and exploring many amazing places and meeting some very kind people. Although this is the second time in Cambodia for my parents, they have noticed that it is quite different now and things have changed a lot. One of the most noticeable changes is the fact that they have paved roads now. We started off riding for three days on rough, vigorous, bumpy dirt roads through the country side of the north west. Since then we have spent a bit more time riding on the highways as they are very smooth. It’s interesting as a lot of the roads here have been built by the Chinese government. Although the highways are smooth, straight, and flat, they can be quite chaotic and even compare to some of the roads in India! There have been some close calls, but we have now created more hand signals to alert ourselves of different vehicles around us while we ride. The highways also tend to be very developed and it feels like we rarely get a ‘peaceful moment.’ These are many of the reasons that we chose to try the dirt at the start as we thought it would be a more interesting and enjoyable experience. Thankfully, we were right.

Within the first few days we camped at a primary school one night, a Buddhist Wat another, and a local guest house the third. At the primary school, one of the teachers taught us a few different Khmer words such as how to count to five, hello/goodbye, and thank you. It’s always nice to see people smile after you thank them in their native language. As for the Buddhist Wat, we were welcomed by a very nice monk named Rithy. We had asked if we could camp, and he ended up letting us stay inside the monk housing where all the other monks slept. Throughout the evening, he showed us around the pagoda and told us about his life as a monk. It was very interesting to hear about their culture and traditions. Although it is the monk’s tradition to not eat after noon, he ordered some local Khmer food and joined us for dinner that night, even though he didn’t eat. The evening was very enjoyable and Tarn even helped teach an English lesson to some of the monk’s that were learning English. The night was quiet and peaceful until 4:30 AM in the morning, when the loudspeakers started playing Buddhist music that continued for the next three hours. I don’t want to phrase this in a way that is disrespectful, but the Buddhist music that was played over those loudspeakers was some of the loudest and most obnoxious music I have ever heard in my life. We spent the morning doing our best to pack up and prepare breakfast, but it was definitely quite the alarming and most abrupt wakeup call so far on the trip.

Although the music was quite unbearable, we have continued to camp at temples as the monks have been extremely welcoming and open towards us. To add, it is super easy to camp there as there are washrooms with a place to take a dunk shower, clean water that we can drink from, and the majority of our time there is very peaceful and relaxing. I go to bed with my hopes high for a quiet and peaceful wake up, and thankfully, the music hasn’t been at all of the Wats. Overall, it has been really interesting to learn about the Buddhist culture to better understand their traditions and beliefs. We have seen monks throughout Thailand and Cambodia as they are very recognizable by their saffron robes and the occasional umbrella and/or bowl. When they are seen with a bowl, they are actually doing what is called the ‘alms round,’ which is a practice of going around and collecting food from the local people.

After our first few days of rough rides on the dirt roads, we arrived to Battembang, where we found a luxurious guest house that surprisingly only cost $7 a night. It was a really cool place as the entire bottom floor was used as a lounge that was situated right next to a pool. Right next to the pool there were a bunch of hammocks that hung from a wooden trellis. To add, there was a pool table that Markos and I played a few games at. It was one of the nicest places we have stayed at for the price we paid. We spent a day there so we could find out the situation with the river boat that we took the following day. The boat ride was really fun and it was super interesting to see all of the floating houses. I took lots of photos and even set up my GoPro on the front of the boat for a time-lapse for a portion of the seven-hour boat ride. The floating houses and shacks on stilts made the ride a little less boring and Markos and I spent the last portion of the ride chilling on the roof of the boat.

All of Cambodia has been really interesting, yet the one part that has really intrigued and amazed me so far were the temples of Angkor Wat. They were the most extraordinary temples I have ever seen and it was an excellent place to take tons of photos. I have posted many of these on the photography page, and even featured one of my favorite photos on the shout-out I used for the people on my email list. We had an incredible time in Siem Reap while we visited the temples and it was exciting to be at one of the wonders of the world. Angkor Wat was one of the locations that Markos really wanted to go to during our bike trip, and it was fun to say that we had arrived. One of my favorite temples was Angkor Thom, which was covered in stone faces that made up a gigantic, amazing temple. We also did some single-track riding through the jungle as we rode from temple to temple. I really liked that part as it felt like we were mountain biking through the deep jungle. Plus, we would just be riding and then all of a sudden there would be a stone temple hidden back in the woods, empty of tourists. That was one thing that was a little annoying about the temples: the amount of tourists that were there. Sometimes I would wait and wait just so that I could get a photo with few to no people in it. I guess I wasn’t the only one and that’s why it was tough to get some of the shots I did. Anyways, Angkor Wat was definitely a highlight of the trip and it was a place that truly amazed me with its grandness, beauty and overall design.

From Siem Reap, we rode north to visit another part of the Angkor Wat temple complex. We went on a 2km hike up to some carvings that were beneath a river that was barely trickling through due to the fact that it is the winter season here. There was also a beautiful waterfall that was surrounded by hundreds of butterflies. I got one shot of the butterflies that I really like and I’ve posted that on the photography page. It is a close up of a bunch of yellow butterflies. There were a few that were a super pretty purple color covered with little white dots, but they were so fast and rarely landed so it was very difficult to get a good picture of them. I managed to get a few, but they’re a little blurry as you have to zoom in to see the full butterfly. We stayed at a health center close to the hike as that was the only place that we were able to find before it got too late, and it happened to be a more interesting night than we had presumed. There was a loud party going on a few hundred meters down the road for Chinese New Year, and at around 7:00 PM a police man showed up. He asked to see our passports and told us that he wanted to make sure we were safe as it was his responsibility to keep everybody in the town safe. Unexpectedly, he ended up sleeping in a hammock next to our tents for the evening and although it was unusual to have our own personal ‘guard’ for the night, it was interesting to talk to him and spend the night under the supervision of a Cambodian Policeman.

We then rode towards Phnom Penh where we are staying with one of my parent’s friends, Maria, and her roommate Kila. It has been a while since we have had an actual rest day and it is nice to finally get some business done and rest for a little bit. Yesterday, we went out and did some necessary errands such as finding new guitar strings, new tires and getting our visas for Laos. One of my guitar strings stretched out a week or so ago and so I had to get it replaced. To be honest, I haven’t been playing my guitar as much as I would like to, but after replacing the string last night, I have played a few times and am looking forward to bringing it out a little more. As for the new tires, by dad has been having some serious issues with flat tires throughout the past couple weeks. He was using one of the same tires that we used on our one-year trip in 2009-2010 to Mexico City, and by now these tires have gotten over 15,000 km of usage. They have become extremely thin, and the tubes get punctured easily. Over the past two weeks, the tandem has had just under a dozen flat tires and we have spent quite a bit of time on the side of the road, fixing flats. Therefore, it was essential that we found some new tires and we were able to find some at a bike shop yesterday afternoon. Although they are painted bright yellow and they aren’t the exact type of tire we want, dad likes knowing that he has new tires, but still stated this morning, “I hope that I can go a week without a flat.”

To finish, I wanted to talk about some of the new things that we have had the opportunity to see in the past two weeks of Cambodia. We have been a little sad as we haven’t been able to get BBQ chicken on the side of the road like in Thailand, and instead the BBQ’d animals have been replaced by rats. Fat, huge, barbequed rats. At first, we weren’t sure what animal they were, yet after learning more from the locals and noticing the tails that dangle off the grill, we were certain that they were rats. There are many other things that we actually have tried, such as pig-head sandwiches and Chinese dumplings that we have liked a lot. One of the main differences between Cambodia and the past two countries we have been in is that they have bread here. We are glad to see baguettes and pastries once again and have been consuming quite a bit of bread recently. I hope to update the blog more often in the following weeks, but I know that I have been extremely busy with school, travelling through Cambodia and playing guitar and it may continue to be the same way. I will keep my best to update the blog whenever I can. Enjoy the dozens of photos that I have added to the photography page!

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