If you can carry a 30-40 pound backpack to and from transit stations and you’re not shy to ask questions or for directions, then yes, the travel portion should be easy. You already quit your job, left your home, sold and stored your things, and said goodbye to your friends. Everyone’s well wishes, travel stories, itinerary questions, and jealous teasings have already given you the energy to start the journey in what you feel is your right state of mind. You met interesting travelers, befriended many locals, saw amazing things, read books you thought you would never have time to, and have funny stories about that time you got ripped off by a taxi driver, again. Continue reading
Leaving Phnom Pehn was tough, it was the best of times bundled up with one big depressing afternoon. Yet off in the distance there was a dream, the dream of Kampot green pepper crab. That was the reason for our (Shane, Arielle, A&E) 5 hour journey from Phnom Pehn to Kampot and Kep. The three night stay was all about food; really really good food. The freshly plucked green peppercorns, still on their stem, fried with other unexplainable goodness, and either crab or shrimp, made for an incredible meal. Actually, everything we had, the soups, rice, and seafood, were meals we couldn’t exactly compare with anywhere else on earth. Kep was 100% worth the effort, even if you don’t like to get your hands dirty plucking flesh out of shells. Kampot, also had some good stuff to offer, surprisingly, the best pizza we’ve had in Southeast Asia, and THE BEST ribs in Cambodia (the guy just won a cook off in the capital). The town was sleepy, the streets were empty, had dozens of abandoned homes from bad times past, and the rain barely stopped falling, but E & I would still go back in a heartbeat. Cambodians are just some of the nicest people we’ve met on our trip. But wait, there’s more!
We went out until about 4:30AM our first night and ate breakfast at about noon. Erika and I met up with Shane and Arielle again for some fun and food in Phnom Penh with the goal of reaching Kep or Kampot to unwind and have some crab. But mostly just for crab, green pepper crab. Apart from being a bit bleary eyed we were looking forward to the day. Sunny (Sunn Ny), our taxi driver from the other day found us right away and after some quick negotiating (he’s a realist), we were off to a shooting range. We heard rumors, stories, and thought why not give it a try and shoot big guns you couldn’t shoot back home. Erika and I have lived in Idaho and Arizona, and had the opportunity to shoot all sorts of big hunting and hand guns, but neither of us has a big comfort level with them, even if we hold them with confidence. But wait, there’s more!
After a lovely 5 hour ride in a half empty bus with leg room (yeah!), we were told the bus wasn’t going any further. All of us jumped out of the bus to see why it had stopped. As we stood there in the rain we saw that the road twisted up ahead and was flooded as far as we could see. The town of Thom Kong Lo lay just 45 minutes away and beyond that Kong Lor cave; the whole reason for our visit to this part of Central Laos. A 7.5km-long subterranean tunnel, 30m wide and between 20 and 100m high, located in the National Protected Area Forest Area of Hinboun Mountain (the cave was formed by the Nam Hinboun river), this seemed like the perfect place to get just a bit more off the beaten path. But wait, there’s more!
The sky parted in two, one side overcast, the other a stirring mess of charcoal ominously getting closer. The winds picked up, and right away we knew we had to return our bikes or be stuck walking in what looked like a serious shower. We raced, I returned mine, and it turns out Erika had forgotten her bike lock key. She heads back and I started to jog a three block French colonial stretch of Luang Prabang. I get to the corner of our street, only 100 meters from our place, when I hear a commotion and see people running in all directions. Just half a street down you could see the rain pummeling people racing towards cover. Anyone caught for just five seconds in the open would be soaked. But wait, there’s more!
Waking up at Inle Lake a month ago, I admired the view as I made my way to Shane and Arielle for breakfast. With a nod I said, “Good morning,” and we start chatting about the previous evening as a hostess sets a cup of coffee in front of me. In Myanmar sugar doesn’t help mask the luke warm cup of dirt water, nor does the room temperature milk help. I take a sip of coffee and my brain does a double take. What? It’s been so long, I let out an, “Awww my goodness,” and Arielle, anticipating this moment, clearly not having taken her eyes off my face exclaims, “Yes! It’s real coffee right! I was waiting for you to take your first sip!” We’re both seriously happy. But wait, there’s more!
We were picked up from our hotel and then driven 1 hour outside of the city to meet up with our minibus which was coming in from Pai. The van was almost full when it arrived which meant we got the leftover seats, including the middle seat next to the driver. But wait, there’s more!
Arriving in the Bangkok airport, we all felt like we were coming home. We had joined up again with Arielle and Shane as they were on our flight, and were all happy to be back in a country we knew. Our stay in Bangkok only held one true mission, our visa for Vietnam. So we checked into the Marriott, again, said hello to all the staff that we recognized, filled out our paperwork and got our visas, got laundry done, and managed to have one fantastic meal (see traveler’s tip for the name) before we headed north for Chiang Mai. But wait, there’s more!
Beautiful didn’t cut it for me. I needed a new word to describe what I was seeing and nothing that I could come up with was working. We were staying in a hut on stilts in the middle of Inle Lake. Every time a boat went by the whole hut swayed, ever so slightly. While we were in the middle of the lake on a map, it didn’t feel that way as there were islands and floating gardens all around us. But wait, there’s more!
After a bumpy six hour bus ride on dirt roads and the occasional pot holed paved road, through river beds and streams (that’s right, through), past dusty villages, past people walking seemingly in the middle of nowhere, and across what looked like high desert, we arrived in Mandalay. We step off the bus to a dozen or so animated and desperate looking taxi drivers and baggage handlers. They jokey for position around the door of the bus looking each departing passenger in the eyes with hands in the air yelling, “taxi,” and other unintelligible words. Our feet stomp onto the dirt road below where a dust cloud from previous foot falls and commotion is already head high. Disoriented from the dozens of buses parked at odd angles, while waving away the dust cloud and fumes, we begin to acknowledge the heat when suddenly, rain begins to fall lightly. We quickly arrange a taxi with no haggling because of the Belgian couple who offered to split it with us. A small blue Lego looking 1960s Mazda pickup truck pulls up and the four of us cram into the covered truck bed when the rain stops. Welcome to Mandalay. But wait, there’s more!