In this [Re]wind I will detail my last few days in Australia (the importance of rest days), how to hit the three largest cities in Cambodia in 7 days, a ridiculously embarrassing story, and my short stay in Vietnam.
Left Cairns for Coolangatta, and it was an early morning!
The morning went smoothly, but I flew Jet Star for the first time and it was the only budget airline that actually cared how much my baggage weighed and it cost me. *womp womp*
In Coolangatta it took me quite a while to work out how to get to my hostel (I was walking) and I was hungry. Insert angry emoji here.
After arriving I schemed with the lady at reception how to get to a Starbucks Australia mug. I took my on-a-napkin style map and off I went! I found it pretty easily and ordered my Starbucks drink and Australia cup and was like vamos ala playa!
I made the hour journey back to my hostel and went for a 20 minute run, then stretched and did laundry before eating dominoes for dinner. I charged my electronics and remembered that I was lactose intolerant (hi dominoes) and prepped for a good sleep.
One of the most important things I’ve found with crazy traveling is having rest days! So this was my go with the flow, rest day. I slept until 9, getting a solid 10 hours of sleep. Rolled out of bed and went for a run. Decided I would go to the city for a bit and grab lunch in town. Had the most delectable Mexican tacos and a delicious chai tea.
Then I went for a stroll.
That basically concluded my trip to Australia. Later that evening I jumped on a flight and headed to Cambodia.
Finally arrived in Phnom Penh. Ran through the airport and got a visa for $30 and got through immigration in maybe 7 minutes total.
Happily reunited with Stacey and we immediately went to where she was living, at the Harpswell Foundation, and dropped off my bags. I met some of the students she mentors then we hopped in a tuk tuk and drove out to the Killing Fields.
Pol Pot came to power in the 1970s and instructed the Khmer Rouge to perform mass genocide killing all intellectuals and teachers, women and children suspected of threatening the new regime. If one member of a family was suspected of something an entire family was killed totaling around 3 million.
After doing an audio tour that was very informative and deeply moving I caught a tuk tuk to the other side of town to meet up with a fellow Fulbrighter.
We ate at a fabulous Indian place called “Mount Everest” and chatted about the differences and similarities between Taiwan and Cambodia.
Then I went to Tosleng, the prison where the Khmer Rouge tortured unbelievable amounts of people who they claimed were in the CIA or threatening the new regime.
After wandering around for an hour or so I went to meet Stacey at Daughters. Daughters is an organization that works to teach girls viable ways to provide for themselves; they teach them to sew, how to waitress, how to make earrings, etc. I got a vanilla latte and we got cookie dough egg rolls which were pretty much the best thing I’ve ever eaten in my life.
Then we went to a bar called the Riverhouse for happy hour and I had a couple ginger mojito for a total of $5. It was glorious. We were looking across the Mekong River chatting and catching up as the sun went down.
Then we went to Friends, a Khmer-style tapas place, for dinner. Most of their proceeds go to help orphans and orphanages in sustainable ways. We had a green mango salad and some fish in banana leaves with amok sauce which was fabulous. This is when I realized that Khmer style food is maybe my favorite in the entire world.
Then we headed back to the hotel because I was going to go full zombie mode if I didn’t get to sleep.
Woke up WIDE AWAKE ANNA-FROM-FROZEN-STYLE at 6 am due to jet lag so I skyped my family then Stacey and I caught our “Giant Ibis” bus to Sihanoukville. Sihanoukville is a beach town about 6 hours away from Phnom Penh. We hit the beach asap and settled in for some quality Vitamin D. There were people hawking bracelets and grilled squid along the boardwalk and after we sat down children and women kept coming to us to see if we would buy a bracelet or if we wanted a pedicure or manicure.
It felt very aggressive.
Anyway after a while we struck up a conversation with the people next to us and it turned out that one of the guys was going to dj at at a bar later. We added that to our list of things to do. Walking around that day we received 6 flyers for free drinks at various bars.
We figured it would be a long night so we made sure to eat a great dinner. We went to Sandam, Friends’ sister restaurant and had delicious Khmer food. After stuffing our faces with noms we basically danced all night and had the best time.
Woke up and struggled to the dock in time to get our “11” o’clock boat ride to Koh Rong. We actually didn’t leave until 12:30. I’ve never been so uncomfortable as watching people get onto that boat. It was a clear case of *OMG these are not safe boating practices* Stacey really wasn’t feeling well and we were kind of losing it b/c there was a storm about to blow through.
We finally set out and the ride there was ridiculous (terrifying) but we finally clambered off the boat and we were on Koh Rong! We found a bungalow for the night and took a nap.
After our little recharge we went on our “bioluminescent plankton” tour. We hopped on a small boat and headed out after the sunset to see this special phenomena. By wiggling around in the water the plankton lit up and it was magical.
We played for a while in the plankton then headed back to Koh Rong. We went to a local bar for dinner and I ordered Tom yam soup but ended up getting some really delicious red curry. I’ve never been so excited to get the wrong order. Then we went to a big party in the woods. We chatted with a whole bunch of people we had taken the boat over with and danced for a bit but then there was a huge tropical rainstorm so we went to bed.
Woke up and grabbed crepes and smoothies for breakfast. #iloveasia
We hopped on the boat at 10:00 to go back to Sihanoukville and it was a much calmer boat ride than on the way to Koh Rong.
We got back and grabbed Khmer food lucnh. I got seafood amok and lime mint tea and died it was so tasty. Then we hopped on the bus!
When we finally made it Phnom Penh we scarfed down some food and we went to a massage place where they employ blind masseuses. For $7 we got a full body massage for an hour. It was heavenly and when it finished we were both so unbelievably out of it.
So we got a tuk tuk and headed to our hostel. I decided to quickly write down a Khmer-English dictionary b/c I would be leaving Stacey the next day for Angkor Wat.
A Khmer-English Dictionary
Thank you- r kohn
How much- teh lai pawn man
Six- prahm moi
Check- kut loyi
Hello- so soum
Where is- (place) now ai Na
Help or police- Jew ay
No- ah tei
I don’t know- ak dang
Please- sum toe
Even having this limited vocabulary proved to be so useful!
I needed to pack for the next day and get ready to sleep but I literally couldn’t do anything I was so tired.
Finally I was able to get my stuff together, shower, and I was in bed by 11.
Hopped on my Giant Ibis bus to head to Siem Riep.
I sat next to a really cool Australian woman named Julia and we talked for like 3 hours and had lunch together.
After lunch I ended up passing out for a while and we got to Siem Riep at 3:30.
My hotel was legit 2 minutes from the bus place so I was able to check in, buy a couple pair of elephant pants ,and get to Angkor Wat by 4:45. Ideally, I wanted to get to Phnom Bahkeng to see the sunset so I hustled into Angkor Wat, and then practically ran up a giant hill to the line and I just nervously waited. I barely made the cut for those who got to go in but it was worth it. It was gorgeous.
I stayed up there until 6:30 when they told us there wouldn’t really be a sunset due to the clouds.
Anyway I made it back to my driver, this cool guy named Tola, and headed back to the hotel. He kept asking if I wanted to see a show or go to town but I was like, nah I want to sleep.
I got back and ordered red curry, which was of course delicious, and skyped Tori for like an hour. Then I slowwwwwly got ready for the next day. I swear it has never taken me this long to do something productive.
Anyway, I was in bed reading by 10:30, but def didn’t fall asleep until nearly midnight. Someone was ktv’ing down the way and he was ktv’ing all night like his life depended on it.
Today was technically my last full day of travel insurance which was good because my tuk tuk driver had offered to take me on a motorcylce instead of a tuk tuk so I could go to a couple extra temples. I said yes. I wasn’t even thinking about risks or danger b/c for 12 usd it seemed like such a good move. So when he picked me up at 4:45 am to see the sunrise at Angkor Wat I hopped on his Moto, half asleep, and away we went. I got to Angkor Wat right before everyone else and scored a seat right on the water.
After taking probably 100 photos I decided to get some different shots and get into the actual temple before everyone else did.
I got to the back of the complex and saw a set of stairs to the area that was only open from 7:30–4:30, but a guy was trying to get people to go up for $5….This is the place to go in Angkor Wat, because you get the best views. So of course I doled out my dolla bills.
Then I made my way out of Angkor wat, found my driver and we started the long haul to Bantaey Srei, or the women’s temple. This place was gorgeous. I spent about half an hour picking around taking photos and soaking in the warmth of the sun. At one point I bent down to take a photo and thought I felt a rip, but I will get to that later.
I made my way back to my driver and we sped back towards the other temples, the next one I went to was the one in the movie Tomb Raiders. It was really neat.
I exited the tomb raider temple and waded through tuk tuks trying to find my driver.
a funny story…
I noticed as I found Tola that the drivers he was sitting around were watching me. Not in a creepy way, but in a something-is-wrong-with-you way. So Tola came over and got on his bike and then a Khmer man came over a few feet away from us and was looking at me with some serious side-eye. I asked my driver what he was saying about me and I thought Tola said something about me being tan. So I good-naturedly said “yah, lots of Americans like to be tan.” Tola corrected me and told me something was wrong with my pants. By that time I had gotten on the bike and had a sinking feeling. Low and behold my elephant pants were completely ripped open at the crotch so who knows what kind of show I gave the tuk tuk drivers while boarding Tola’s moto. #whoops So hilarious and so embarrassing. Then I found myself paying $7 for large flowy elephant pants. Ain’t nobody got time for my pants to rip again.
Anyway then I went to Bayon temple, which was the centre of the ancient city, and is known for the well preserved faces throughout the temple.
I got back to my hotel and showered, checked out, grabbed lunch from the restaurant, and headed to Giant Ibis for my 7 hour drive back.
Later I met up with Stacey and we had a really laid back evening, getting to bed for some good sleep.
Stacey and I slept until like 9:30 and got up, had free coffee at the hostel, and headed out for the day. We tried to find bubble tea, but failed, and ended up just going to Daughters for brunch. I was starving so I got pumpkin soup and fancy vege feta salad.
Then we stopped by outside the royal palace and took a few photos.
Afterwards, we went upstairs and got smoothies and cookie dough egg rolls. We spent the rest of the afternoon shopping and then it was time to go. We got a tuk tuk for $7 and dropped Stacey off close to her place. It was so hard to say goodbye but I was so happy to have spent time with her. Then I was at the airport and waiting to head off to Hanoi.
The person who checked me in was so kind and gave me a seat on the exit aisle. I sat next to a really cool guy from Thailand who writes tour guide books for a living. We chatted literally the entire flight. A woman I had seen while Stacey and I were getting pedicures was also on my flight and we decided we would split a cab when we got to Hanoi b/c we were both staying in the same area.
So after getting my $45 visa in Vietnam around 9 pm we hopped in a cab and headed towards old quarter. Then the sketchiest thing happened. I had said “meter” to the taxi man who was driving us and he had nodded his head and turned it on but after we had driven for 5 minutes he slowed WAY down on the highway and tried to say $25 USD for the trip. I had read online that it should be $15 and wasn’t having it. He literally called an english speaking friend to talk to me. After arguing with him for 5 minutes I was like, whatever, we will pay $25. Then the cab driver had the audacity to stop and get gas in the middle of our ride. I literally could have hit someone (mostly b/c I was so tired). Anyway, I made it to my hotel and checked in, took a bath and went to bed.
Woke up at 8 am and snoozed a bit before actually getting out of bed. Grabbed breakfast at my hotel, Amanda Hanoi Hotel, and then headed out to see the things on my to do list. I wanted to see: Hoan Kiem Lake, the Opera House, an old gate, and Starbucks to get a Vietnam Starbucks cup.
Then I scurried to my hotel, jumped in my cab and headed to the airport. I got to the airport VERY early, and eventually found out the plane was delayed. I was totally out of it and ended up taking a cat nap on some chairs. Eventually we boarded the plane but I was honestly in a very grumpy mood.
a “first” in language practice
Eventually the guy sitting next to me was trying to communicate something, but I realized he was Vietnamese and spoke no English, but could speak Chinese. He was the first person I spoke Chinese to that didn’t know any English. Super interesting.
Then I was able to charge my electronics and grab ibuprofen before boarding the plan.
12.5 hours later I landed in L.A., half asleep and ecstatic to be in the U.S., and about 6 hours later I was home!
So ends my 3 week journey across several continents and countries. I’ve never “lived” so much in such a little time. I’ve told my parents, I need to re-work my bucketlist b/c I crossed so many things off in SouthEast Asia. I would highly recommend traveling to these countries. They were so hospitable and accessible even to someone without the language skills. Never be afraid to go somewhere new and get outside your comfort zone. You will surely be rewarded!