Party in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Following my relaxing day in Siem Reap, my friends, Dean and Edwin, and I decided it was time for a change of scenery. We talked it over and choose our next location, Phnom Penh, which is the capital of Cambodia.

One thing that I love about staying at hostels is how easy it is to make a change of scenery. You simply walk up to the reception desk, ask them about transportation to a location, and they will help you book it. That being said, there are limitations. I’m not totally sure they can book flights, but I know they can help with buses, taxis, and trains.

Mad Monkey Siem Reap did just that for us. We simply asked about buses to Phnom Penh and before we knew it, we were booked on an afternoon bus.

Let’s talk about this bus journey. According to the website, 12go.asia, the drive should only take about 6 hours. Well, welcome to Southeast Asia. Our drive ended up taking about 7-8 hours. It included making EXTRA stops, turning off the A/C and rolling down the windows because our van kept OVER HEATING. In addition, a lady had been car sick the ENTIRE ride and was making very nasty noises. Let’s just say, we couldn’t stop laughing. It was quite entertaining but also extremely gross.

If you thought that was enough entertainment for the ride, it’s not over. When we were less than 3 km away from our final destination, our van COMPLETELY DIED. Seriously, right in the middle of a major round-a-bout. It was just another adventurous component to our journey across Cambodia.

After we exited our van and hailed down a tuk-tuk, we made it Mad Monkey Hostel Phnom Penh. That’s right, we decided to stay at another Mad Monkey hostel.

Mad Monkey Phnom Penh

Mad Monkey Hostels would be what you could call a chain hostel. In fact, their are several hostels, Mad Monkey included, that have locations throughout Southeast Asia. One benefit is that when you stay at these chains, you learned a lot about how the company is ran and the expectations of the hostels. It was a pretty easy decision to make, to be honest. I know what I’m getting whenever I stay at a Mad Monkey Hostel.

Once we arrived at Mad Monkey, we did the normal routine of checking in. Except we couldn’t stop laughing and talking about our bus journey adventure. At the time of check-in, there was another traveler checking in at the same time. He just happened to be in the bus directly behind us when our van completely blocked traffic. The four of us couldn’t stop laughing and talking about our very eventful journey. The party started right here and then, in the lobby of Mad Monkey Phnom Penh.

We headed up to our 12-bed dorm, and immediately upon entering, the three of us just felt at home. We walked into our dorm to our fellow dormmates having a mini-party! Within 5 minutes upon entering, the guy from the lobby, Dean, walked into our room. It was fait. We becaming one giant group of friends almost immediately! It was the absolutely greatest dorm room I have ever stayed in during all of my travels.

For the two nights we stayed in Phnom Penh, we didn’t really do much sightseeing. I had done quite a bit of online research, I didn’t really find many points of interest to me. So, I choose to just veg out for a couple of days.

My routine was pretty simple. During the day, I’d hangout near the pool and talk with hostel friends. At night, I would hangout with my dormmates and go out with the hostel. I can say this. Phnom Penh has a pretty decent party scene. It wasn’t the BEST I’ve been to in the few countries I’ve been to in SEA, but it was still good. I couldn’t even tell you where we went, but it was walking distance from Mad Monkey. It’s always a perk having the hostel close by to where you go out.

The Killing Fields

It’s not like I did NOTHING i. One of the thing Phnom Penh is known for is the genocide center or killing fields.

Before traveling to Cambodia, I could not have told you anything about these fields. I truly didn’t have ANY clue about Cambodia as a whole, except for Angkor Wat. Thankfully, staying in hostels mean you get opportunities to talk with fellow travelers who have traveled to where you are staying. Many of which recommend the killing fields when in Phnom Penh.

Another friend, who I meet in Siem Reap, happened to be overlapping with me in Phnom Penh before we depart in different directions. We both decided to venture to the Choeung Ek Genocide Center together.

Choeung Ek is the location of a former Killing Field, which is one of many sites the Khmer Rouge used to execute over one million people. It is also mass grave of the victims killed during this regime between 1975 and 1979. Four years is what it took for this horror story of over 1 million Cambodians and foreigners killed by this regime.

It was an extremely somber morning listening to the history of the Khmer Rouge and the terror they instilled on Cambodians. It is still extremely hard to put into words, the feeling I felt wandering this sight of nearly 9,000 humans.

This dark moment in Cambodia’s history still haunts them today. It was only 40 years ago that many were in fear of their life. Throughout the country, landmines are still being located and people are still dying from them. My thoughts are that any traveler, who plans to spend time in and around Cambodia, should learn about this block of time in their history and should try to make a trip to Phnom Penh to visit Choeung Ek.

To the Next City

After the morning at the killing field, I met back up with my two guys friends and together, we ventured further south via bus to the city of Kampot. Stay tuned as my Cambodian Adventure continues…

***7 Months Later I realized I barely took ANY photos during my time here. oops***

Fall Equinox at Angkor Wat | Siem Reap, Cambodia

While in Siem Reap, I found out that twice a year, the sun rises directly behind the middle tower at Angkor Wat. This sunrise occurs in March and September, which corresponds with the Spring and Fall Equinox. I just happened to be exploring Angkor Wat at this exact time in March. Talk about a special sunrise.

Fall Equinox Angkor

The rumor was that this event was going to occur Friday, March 22nd. Laura and I just happened to be planning our third and final day at Angkor Wat. We weren’t necessarily planning a sunrise visit, but when we heard this “rumor,” we knew we had to go. Plus, there were a few other temples on our list that we wanted to visit/re-visit too.

The day before with spoke with Morl about another day with his services and our plan. He agreed.

One thing I forget to mention was that in addition to his tuk-tuk service, Morl offers photography services. I opted in for both services, even though I enjoy taking my photos. Reason: it’s sometimes nice to have candid shots of myself.

At 4:45 am, the three of us were heading towards Angkor Wat. Having a local guide, like Morl, during the sunrise, was highly beneficial. Not only did he have a plethora of knowledge, he knew the best location to watch the sunrise.

By the time we arrived, Angkor Wat was already getting widely busy. We weren’t the only ones hoping for that perfect sunrise. Thankfully, Morl suggested we hang back by the entrance to get the best shot.

Fall Equinox Angkor

We were all saddened when the sun began to rise slightly, off-centered from the middle tower. It wasn’t the “perfectly centered” sunrise we hoped for, but it was close enough. Plus, when we walked to the left side of the entrance, we were able to stage a perfectly centered sunrise. This was going to be my last Angkor Wat sunrise, so I didn’t mind a little staging. After all, it was close enough.

Now, if you read my first Angkor Wat blog, then you’d have read about my experience at Ta Prohm. Outside of the main temple, I was most excited about this temple, and my first visit was far from perfect. Thankfully, Laura felt the same way. We both knew we wanted to return when it wasn’t so busy.

Return to Ta Prohm

Ta Prohm

After a short time watching the sunrise, we headed back to Ta Prohm. Morl told us that if we go first thing, it might not be super busy and he was right. We were able to experience an authentic feel of Ta Prohm and the massive trees protruding from the ancient temple.

Morl, being the amazing photographer he is, knew the special tricks to be able to capture the perfect shots. It’s one of those phone tricks that I ALWAYS forget about- panorama mode. Let’s say, returning to Ta Prohm was 100% worth it.

Banteay Srei

Other than the sunrise, Laura and I wanted to visit Banteay Srei. This 10th-century temple is located roughly 25 km northeast of Angkor Wat and built primarily out of red sandstone. Banteay Srei temple’s history is unique, as it is the only significant temple not built by a king. The translation of Banteay Srei is “Citadel of the Women” and built in honor of the Hindu god, Śiva. It’s basically one badass women’s temple.

The drive out to Banteay Srei is very peaceful. You pass through several small villages, rice fields, and another major “thing to do” in Siem Reap, the Cambodian Landmine Museum.

Cambodian Landmine Museum

Did you know Cambodia is one of the most heavily mined countries in the world? According to the Cambodia Landmine Museum website, this is because of a long line of major conflicts including the Khmer Rouge regime and American bombings. In fact, there are still Cambodians injured and killed each year from landmines.Did you know Cambodia is one of the most heavily mined country in the world? According to the Cambodia Landmine Museum website,

This museum teaches and educates visitors about the history of landmines and the clearing of them throughout the country. It goes into particular detail about one Khmer man.

Unfortunately, I was unable to make it to this museum but spoke with several backpackers who spoke highly of the museum.

Night Life and Pub Street

After touring Banteay Srei, both Laura and I were “templed” out. Three days at Angkor is a lot but needed to be able to see everything it has to offer. We both decided to head back into Siem Reap and just chill at the hostel. I, however, had plans to switch hostels to meet up with friends I had met previously in Pai.

Onederz was a great hostel for the few early mornings at Angkor due to the quietness component. I did meet a few people in the lounge, but I was ready for a change.

If you know me, you know that I am a very social human. I had heard from other travelers that Siem Reap has a very active nightlife. I was itching to go out and experience it.

My friends booked at a known party hostel, Mad Monkey, and I wanted to be with them for the last few days in Siem Reap. One of the many benefits of Mad Monkey is the social aspect, and it didn’t disappoint.

I walked into several people hanging out in the pool, which quickly turned into mini pool party. This pool party continued even after my friends and I went out to dinner. When we returned, the party had migrated to the rooftop bar, which was the pre-game spot for the PUB CRAWL.

Mad Monkey Siem Reap hosts many pub crawl throughout the week (as do many of the other MM). It’s by far, the best way to meet feel travelers and experience the night life. Obviously, my friends and I joined in on the pub crawl and hit up Pub Street for some nightlife entertainment.

Pub Street is the main street for restaurants, souvenirs, and bars. It’s a place where you can eat a scorpion and was it down with a cheap beer. It’s a place where you can stay out late and listen to music. Basically, it’s the social central of Siem Reap and it’s worth the visit.

Things to Do in Siem Reap, Cambodia

After two days of super early mornings and temples, I knew I needed a break. I wasn’t done exploring Angkor Wat (Day 1 /day 2), but I didn’t take a break, the history and temples would have been lost on me.

If you know me, then you know I love being active. Whether it’s playing volleyball, hiking, kayaking, or bicycling, I want to be outside, enjoying nature and sightseeing.

When researching “Things to Do in Siem Reap,” I was looking for something non-temple related. Thanks to the knowledge from a travel facebook group I am in, South East Asia Backpacker Community, I found a bicycle tour. Not just any bicycle tour though. This particular company is the pride and joy of one young man struggling to survive. Through hard work and perseverance, this young man created a business plan and developed “Butterfly Tours.”

Butterfly Tours

In seven years, Butterfly Tours expanded covering three cities in Cambodia and is now jointly owned by more than 10 Cambodian. It is a locally-run company whose primary focus is to support Cambodians and led by Cambodian students. Butterfly Tours is the type of company I try to find and support when I travel. I am a firm believer in “supporting local and small businesses,” and upon further research, I was able to find the perfect tour to fit into my schedule.

I decided on the half-day “Off the Beaten Track” bicycle tour through the back roads of Siem Reap. But don’t stress if bicycling isn’t your thing. They also offer scooter tours and Asura Journey tours (car/van), so you have options.

This particular tour offers both morning and afternoon start times and costs around 27-30 USD. I chose the morning session strictly because it was the dry season (March). Dry season equals sunshine and hot temperatures, and the last thing I wanted to do was spend another afternoon in the heat.

By 7:30 am, I was in the tuk-tuk on my way to the Butterfly Tours office to meet my guide. This tour will run whether or not you are the only person signed up. On the particular day that I booked, I ended up being the only one. Meaning, I got a personalized one-on-one experience through the backroads of Siem Reap.

By 7:45 am, my guide and I were on our bikes, heading to a small village market for some food tasting. One thing I tried was a palm fruit-coconut milk dessert. If you don’t know what palm fruit it, I’ll try to describe it in 3 words: jelly, flavorless, and slimy. Sounds appetizing, huh?

We continued with a short ride to a food cart where we grab a local style of sandwich for breakfast. We took our breakfast-to-go and rode our bikes through rice paddy fields. Well, sort-of rice paddies. I mentioned it was the dry season, so rethe wasn’t much of paddies as there were tumbleweeds and cows. By the way, the sandwich was DELICIOUS, though I still don’t know what I ate HA.

things to do Siem Reap visit a rice paddy

We rode along a dirt road for about 20 minutes before arriving at our next destination, wicker basket weaving. This excursion took place at a family home with several ladies who were working on their front porch and rapidly, I might add; it was difficult to follow. This was probably my favorite experience on this tour. I don’t think I ever paid attention to the extensive details and patience that went into basket weaving. But watching these ladies work was fascinating. They even gave me the chance to try my hand out basket weaving. I was slow, but overall not that bad, if I do say so myself.

things to do Siem Reap visit a rice wine distillery

From basket weaving, we rode another 20 minutes to a family-run rice wine distillery. Here, I learned a lot about how this family makes their wine using large mental boilers, clay pots, and a large cement cistern-style filtration container. Their daughter explained to me, in English, how much rice is needed per batch, how long each batch takes to distill, and how much each jug is worth. She mentioned that nothing gets left behind. The leftover rice is what she uses as feed for the pigs she and her brother raise to sell at the market.

clay pots

The sun was starting to get hot at this point, but the tour wasn’t over yet. After the rice wine distillery, we rode to our last location, a piggy bank factory. Here, I learned about the entire process of piggy bank making; the gathering of the clay, the making of the models, the kiln for baking, and the decorating phase. This factory had a variety of styles of banks, including turtles, pumpkins, and __ to name a few. It was eye-opening at how much time and effort went into each of these piggy banks.

It was closing in on 11:00 am, and the sun was in full effect. I could tell that the ride home from the factory was going to be a toasty one. During the ride home, he made a pitstop at a local sugar cane drink cart, where we both drank the sweet beverage. It was refreshing and satisfying drink. A perfect finale to an amazing morning.

My day didn’t end here. My third installment of my rabies shot vaccination was due. The staff at Onederz Hostel were beyond helpful, and provided me with several possibly locations. You see, at this point, the rabies vaccination was in short supply, so not every clinic had them available. Thankfully, one of the locations had it available for 60 USD and it was a quick and painless experience. The doctor even spoke perfect English.

Asana Old Wooden House Cocktail Class

The remaining portion of my afternoon was uneventful. I spent most of it lounging in the hostel, organizing photos, taking notes/journaling (I’m the worst), and socializing. At about 6 o’clock, I set out to another non-Angkor adventure, a Khmer Cocktail Class at Asana Old Wooden House.

When I travel, I occasionally look for non-active type activities. Upon several google searches (I originally thought maybe a cooking class), I stumbled across this 1.5 hour cocktail class for 15 USD and knew I just had to do it.

I arrive a little early for the class, which allowed me a few minutes to wander the old wooden house and watch my bartender/teacher set up. I was the only one signed up for the class. This gave me another one-on-one personalized experience.

The class started off with a little learning session about the ingredients used for several of the cocktails and a tasting of Sombais’ infused rice spirit. Following the learning session, my bartender slowly walked me through the process of creating three different Khmer style cocktails.

The first cocktail created was the Ginger Mojito, made with white and dark rum, freshly crushed ginger, lime, and fresh mint tea leaves. Tamarind Sauce was the second cocktail on the menu. It was made with white rum, fresh tamarind juice, rice paddy leaves, and kaffir lime leaves. The third cocktail was my choice and I chose a cocktail called Little Sweet. This cocktail is made with gin, wild ginger, sugarcane juice and turmeric, garnished with tamarind root and lime. This activity was worth every dollar and it was so peaceful being alone learning about the Khmer cocktails.

I ended my night with a one hour food massage, MUCH NEEDED, and ice cream rolls. Laura and I had plans for the next morning with one final sunrise Angkor adventure with Morl. Stay tuned to read about how we spent a third day at Angkor.

Grand Circuit at Angkor Wat | Siem Reap, Cambodia

I have been told that “one day is plenty for Angkor Wat,” especially if you are on a budget.” Thank goodness, I didn’t listen. Although I was on a budget, I chose to purchase the 3-day park pass upfront, just in case, I did want to return. And in all fairness, I know me well enough to know that I was going to want to go back. I can tell you now, with a high level of certainty, that ONE DAY is NOT enough.

This time, however, was going to be different. My new friend, Laura, and I decided to hire a tuk-tuk driver instead of opting for the hostel’s tour. We were able to make contact with my original tuk-tuk driver, Morl, and hire him for the day. (Exchanging contacts with him was one of the best things to come from Siem Reap. We’re even still friends and will be using him again come October!)

Exchanging numbers with Morl was one of the BEST things to have happened during my week in Siem Reap. It not only gave us the freedom we both wanted but allowed us to create our own “tour” experience by selecting which temples to visit.

Angkor Wat is WAY more than just a sunrise. Before I visited, I didn’t know much outside of the main temple and that it was an ancient city, and I limited my research before avoid spoiling the adventure.

As mentioned in the last Siem Reap blog, there are commonly two “drives/tours,” you could follow during your visit. On my first visit, I did the Sunrise Petit Circuit tour, which consists of the temples in the inner circle. This time, Laura and I decided to do the Grand Tour, or outer loop, with the sunrise AND sunset option.

When you hire a tuk-tuk driver, it allows you freedom to choose what you want to do and where you want to visit. It’s always good to have a general idea and discuss it with your driver ahead of time. For us, we both knew we wanted another sunrise, AND we wanted to see the sunset at Angkor Wat.

When Laura and I were in the initial stages of planning our day, we were sure where we could do sunrise. We did Angkor Wat the day before, so we asked Morl for his recommendation. He mentioned Srah Srang. I had no idea what this was, but he explained that it was the king’s pool. So, at 5 am the next day, Morl was at Onederz Hostel to pick up Laura and me for sunrise at Srah Srang.

There was a striking difference between the “famous sunrise at Angkor Wat,” and this peaceful, non-crowded, quiet sunrise over a beautiful water reservoir. I think, in total, I may have only counted 10-12 other people at this location. The sunrise at Srah Srang is how a sunrise should be experienced, in my opinion.

One thing I remember when talking to my hostel-mates was about “how to beat the crowds at the temples?” After the nightmare feel of Ta Prohm, Laura and I both knew we wanted to beat the crowd. One tiny piece of advice they had for us, “Do the circuit BACKWARDS!” Simple as that.

Typically, the circuit begins by leaving Angkor Thom’s North Gate heading towards Preah Khan (Banteay Prei). It continues to Neak Pean, Ta Som, East Mebon and ends at Pre Rup. Instead, we started our journey at Pre Rup. Since we went there first, we had the entire temple to ourselves. It was so refreshing compared to the day before’s sardine feel.

Grand Circuit: Pre Rup and East Mebon

Pre Rup is a 10th-century Hindu temple, believed to be the sight of funerals. It is built out of combination of brick, laterite, and sandstone, which gives this temple a slight pinkish color. Upon entering the temple, I was staring onto a grand staircase with a small stone “cistern” placed in front. The grand floor plan surrounded me with small towers in every direction. At the top of the stairs stood five towers in a quincunx formation. Each built with their own deities to stand guard. In this formation, one tower is placed in each corner with the final tower in the middle.

This similar style of architecture is also found at East Mabon, our next temple. It is only located only a few minutes from Pre Rup. We also were blessed at this temple to be the only ones, until a family of four showed up. East Mabon is another 10th-century Hindu temple dedicated to the god, Shiva. It was built in honor of the king’s parents, on an island in the middle of the East Baray. The East Baray was once a body of water but has since dried.

According to Wikipedia, “its location reflects Khmer architects’ concern with orientation and cardinal directions. The temple was built on a north-south axis with Rajendravarman’s state temple, Pre Rup, located about 1,200 meters to the south just outside the baray. The East Mebon also lies on an east-west axis with the palace temple Phimeanakas, another creation of Rajendravarman’s reign, located about 6,800 meters due west.”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/East_Mebon

It still fascinates me how much thought and planning went into these now-ancient structures at the time of construction. From the perfect placement of the sun behind Angkor Wat to the placement of East Mebon and relationship to the other temples, the king’s vision was able to come to life and remain centuries later.

Grand Circuit: Ta Som

We continued the Grand Circuit tour and headed towards the next temple, Ta Som. We were met with peaceful silence. These temples have such a different feel to them when you can enjoy them alone and truly soak up the beauty.

Ta Som was built around the end of the 12th-century. It has a similar feel to Ta Prohm, including massive trees growing amongst the ruins. Ta Som was thought to have been destroyed around the 16th century, and for many centuries remained untouched. It’s layout consists of three enclosures each containing a gateway, known as gopuras, and main shrine. Thanks to restoration, it can be easily navigated.

Grand Circuit: Neak Pean and Preah Khan

Neak Pean was next on our tour. This particular Hindu temple is very different from others, not only the overall design, but the entrance from the road to the temple is a wooden bridge. It was thought to have been built sometime in the late 12th to early 13th-century, and according to our driver, Neak Pean was built to help cure diseases. The design of this temple consisted of

“four connected pools represent Water, Earth, Fire, and Wind. Each is connected to the central water source, the main tank, by a stone conduit “presided over by one of Four Great Animals (maha ajaneya pasu) namely Elephant, Bull, Horse, and Lion, corresponding to the north, east, south, and west quarters.” (Wikipedia: Neak Pean)

Preah Khan was then next temple along our tour and was far more untouched than any of the other temples we have visited. Preah Khan was built in the 12th century for the king’s father. Its name translates to “holy sword.” It’s a two-story structure, which differs from the one-story Ta Prohm, built for his mother and a features massive trees intertwined with the ancient ruins. This particular temple has been mostly untouched from restoration due to the difficulty of the growth of vegetation and unknown historical accuracy.

Terrace of the Elephants and Baphuon

After Preah Khan, we passed through the North Gate of Angkor Thom and arrived at the Terrace of the Elephants. This 12th-century structure was built in order of the king to view his army and for ceremonial purposes. It is a perfect place for a mid-day walk, just beware of the monkeys.

We walked the entire length of the terrace, stopping a few times to take in the architecture. We continued onto Baphuon, an 11th-century pyramid style temple built high into the sky. To arrive at Baphuon, you walk on a long, elevated walkway. This walkway ends at the entrance and continues to a set of steep stairs. These stairs are a “must climb.” When you reach the top, the view is breath-taking and one of the best in Angkor.

Laura and I were exhausted at this point of the afternoon. With one final stop at Angkor Thom’s Southgate, we made our way home. However, we were not ready to be finished at Angkor Wat. We asked Morl if he would be willing to return us to the hostel and pick up us late to take us back to Angkor Wat for sunset. He agreed, and we were very grateful.

Angkor Wat at sunset was recommended to us by another traveler. We were told that it was much less crowded and much more enjoyable. They were not wrong. Sunset at Angkor Wat did not disappoint. It was very refreshing to watch the day end without the 10s of thousands of travelers.

As much as I have loved Angkor over the past two days, I was ready for a break. I was ready to explore more of the lovely city of Siem Reap. Stay tuned to find out what I did on my day off from Angkor.

First Experience at Angkor | Siem Reap, Cambodia

I don’t even know where to start when I think back to my week in Siem Reap, Cambodia. During the initial planning phase of my adventure, I only intended in staying three full days. I was told that it would be plenty of time. Instead, I ended up staying for six days and LOVED every second of it! It was plenty of days to see both sides of the city, without one spoiling the other!

I knew I wanted to visit Siem Reap because I really wanted to see Angkor Wat, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I had been told through several travelers that it’s effortless to cross the border between Thailand and Cambodia. It was a no brainer.

I pre-booked my ticket with Giant Ibis through 12go.asia, the best website for booking or researching transportation in Asia. I also decided to apply for my visa ahead of time to save space in my passport. It was honestly SUPER easy in every sense of the way.

border crossing Cambodia

The journey from Bangkok to Siem Reap was estimated to take about 8 hours and took about 9 hours. The bus ride was pretty uneventful with a little confusion at the border. Thankfully, Giant Ibis was there every step of the way.

Arrival into Siem Reap

Siem Reap Cambodia Tuk Tuk

Once I physically arrived into Siem Reap, I jumped in a random tuk-tuk and headed to my hostel, Onederz. This random tuk-tuk ended up being the best thing that happened. . At the hostel, my tuk-tuk driver, Morl, mentioned to me that he offers tuk-tuk rides through Angkor Wat. I honestly didn’t know my plans and wanted to “wing it,” so we exchanged numbers, just in case!

At Onederz Hostel, I ended up meeting a girl, Laura. She decided to go ahead with the hostel’s Petit Tour of Angkor Wat. I usually wouldn’t do a tour, but I wanted to learn more about the majestic Angkor Wat. Plus, it was only $12. So, I joined Laura and the other hostel people on this Petit Tour.

Siem Reap Cambodia Currency

One thing I want to explain before I go forward is the currency of Cambodia. Cambodia’s official currency is the riel. However, the majority of the country uses the US dollar, including ATMs. It was extremely WEIRD going back to the US dollar after being on the Thai baht for seven months. Another thing, Cambodia also doesn’t have coins for their currency since the riel to dollar ratio is 4000:1. Meaning, they’ll give you US dollars for bills, then riels for change. It’s a pretty unique aspect to Cambodia!

The particular tour I did with Onederz Hostel was the Sunrise Tour or Small Circuit tour with a tour guide. You can opt for a tuk-tuk tour without guide for $6, but I thought having a guide would be beneficial for the first time visit.

Angkor Wat Sunrise Siem Reap

Now, there is something you should know about Angkor Wat. It has been said to be one of the most beautiful sunrises in the world. I was not going to miss it.

The Sunrise Tour started with sunrise at the main Angkor Wat temple. Then continued with a walk around the temple and learning a little about the history from our guide. It continues with a drive through the South Gate and on to Angkor Thom’s Bayon Temple. Next, the tour took us to Ta Prohm (think Tomb Raider), and finished at Banteay Kdei. I’ll go into more details later.

Tour and Ticket Options

Angkor Wat Siem Reap

Sunrise tours in Siem Reap typically mean a 4:30/4:45 departure time and this tour wasn’t any different. The primary reason for the SUPER early departure usually depends on if you need a ticket or not. Plus, the sheer volume of tourists visiting sunrise on a single day means traffic.

You can easily and quickly purchase Angkor Wat tickets the day of the sunrise visit. You can also purchase them the day before as long as it is after 5pm. Bonus, you are able to see sunset if you chose the latter option, for free. There are several ticket options for Angkor Wat; a single day entry for $37, a 3-day pass for $62, or a 7-day pass for $72. Something unique about these multiple-day passes is that you do not need to use them on consecutive days. The 3-day pass is valid for 10 days, and the 7-day pass is valid for 30 days. This means you have options for visiting the grounds of Angkor Wat.

Laura and I both opted for the 3-day pass to give us the option for returning to the temples. The tour itself started off strong with a good history of Angkor Wat. There was plenty of time to experience things like climbing a tower for a view or getting blessed by a monk. However, after the first two temples, it started to become nearly impossible to hear the tour guide, and the speed was becoming increasingly fast.

Thankfully, I wasn’t alone in hanging back and ignoring the tour guide. There was another couple who felt very similar to the tour as I did, and the three of us pretty much just took pictures of the majestic temples.

Each temple we visited had a different vibe and look to them. This was based on the century in which they were built, the religious entity who they were built for, and the purpose for the building.

Angkor Wat’s temples were built between the 9th and 13th centuries. They were built as either a Hindu temple for the Hindu god, Vishnu, or a Buddhist temple, for the Khmer Empire. This means Angkor Wat is a beautiful combination of Hinduism and Buddhism and is currently a Buddist place of worship.

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat Sunrise Siem Reap

The largest and main temple on the grounds is Angkor Wat, which faces west and allows the sun to rise directly behind it. This skillful placement is part of why the sunrise at Angkor Wat is one of the most famous sunrises in the world. What’s even more unique, during the equinox, the sun rises in direct alignment with the middle tower. (Without knowing, I was a few days shy of this perfect alignment).

These towers and many throughout the grounds have a particular Lotus flower shape to them. The lotus flower is very symbolic in both Hinduism and Buddhism, meaning divine perfection and purity, respectively. It’s not uncommon to see the symbol of the lotus throughout temples, and Angkor Wat is no exception.

Angkor Wat Siem Reap Cambodia


After we watched the sunrise, our guide took us into the main temple where we learned a little more about the stones, carvings, and design of the temple. I even had the opportunity to be blessed by a monk. It was extremely spiritual.

Bayon Temple

We continued our tour to Bayon, a late 12th-early 13th-century Buddhist temple, known for smiling stone faces. This was the point that Angkor was starting to get ridiculously crowded with tourists. At Bayon, I decided to hang back from the tour guide and truly take in the serenity of the temple(s).

Ta Prohm and Banteay Kdei Temples

Next on the tour was the second most famous temple at the park, Ta Prohm. Ta Prohm is best known for the massive trees that have physically grown through the stone. They have become one with the structures, engulfing much of the temple. Ta Prohm has been nicknamed “The Jungle Temple,” for this reason. It is also the location where parts of Tomb Raider was filmed. Unfortunately, the majestic site was lost to the glob of tourists, and I wasn’t able to enjoy it as much as I was hoping. I felt very rushed and at times, felt like a sardine.

Our final location was Banteay Kdei, another Buddhist temple built in the mid 12th- early 13th-century. At this point of the day (it’s only 1 pm), my brain was slowly fading, and I don’t remember much of the history of this temple. Since we started so early, I was ready to be done. This, I would say, is a con to taking an organized tour vs. hiring a tuk-tuk driver.

Angkor Wat Banteay Kdei

We finally returned to the hostel after an extremely long and hot day exploring Angkor, and I wasn’t up for much the rest of the day. After a short nap, Laura and I met to discussed plans for the next day, and concluded with asking Morl to be our driver/guide for the day! I was ready to be done for the day, but I wasn’t ready to be done with Angkor. Stay tuned for another journey through Angkor Archaeological Park!

Two Friends in Thailand | Phuket to Bangkok

It’s hard to believe how quickly a week vacation went with my friend Chris, but all good thing must come to an end, right? (okay, maybe not always)

Thankfully, it wasn’t quite over. We were all set to fly from Phuket to Bangkok in the afternoon. Chris’s return flight to America, however, was not until Sunday afternoon. So, technically, we had another day and a half, which between the two of us, was plenty of time to do a few more things!

We did allow ourselves to sleep-in Saturday morning, which was much needed before we wandered Patong Beach to find breakfast. After breakfast, we ended up finding smoothies and a fish massage place. . You know, those big tanks of tiny fish that you put your feet into and the tiny fish eat the dead skin. That’s what we decided to do on our last day in Phuket, fish massages.

It was one of the strangest feelings, and I don’t even know how to explain it. It’s like a mix between a pedicure, tickling sensation, and mini, painless pinches over your entire foot.

We originally paid for 15 minutes, but the guy allowed us to stay for like 30 minutes. It was pretty excessive but it’s Thailand! We told him at least three times that we were done, but he just sat there.

Once we finished, it was time to star gathering our things and wait for our taxi. Not going to lie when I say it was slightly stressful, as our taxi was quite late. Thank goodness Phuket International Airport was a smaller airport and we were only taking a domestic flight.

Returning to Bangkok

The flight back to Bangkok was uneventful, and we quickly found our way to our hostel. When we initially planned this trip, I booked the two of us in a dorm room, but after a few days, I changed to a private room, to allow Chris the ability to spread out and pack easier.

The hostel, Niras Bangkoc Cultural Hostel, was located in the heart of Bangkok and is located across the street from a very famous restaurant. However, I didn’t know that at the time of the booking, but defiantly good to know for future reference.

Our night wasn’t that eventful. It was mostly Chris gathering a few last-minute items and walking around the neighborhood we were staying. The neighborhood was full of beautiful temples, a bit of traffic, and was close to the Giant Swing, a common tourist spot. Honestly, it was a bit underwhelming and uneventful, but I guess I can say we’ve seen it.

Chatuchak Weekend Market

The next day, we woke up with little plans. However, since it was a Sunday, Chatuchak Weekend Market would be open. It’s one of the top things to see in Bangkok, and it’s where Chris and I decided to spend our half day.

Chatuchak Weekend Market is one of the world’s largest weekend markets. It covers nearly 27 acres of land, has well over 15,000 booths, and is the perfect place to gather souvenirs or wander around.

I’ve been before, and since I was at the start of my 6-week backpacking adventure, I wasn’t really in the market for shopping, but it sure was fun watching Chris look around.

Our time quickly came to an end. Before I knew it, Chris and I were in a Grab taxi heading to the airport. Saying goodbye to Chris was hard. It was such a refreshing week spent with a friend who knows me. It also meant that I was about to embark on my longest solo adventure ever.

After Chris left, I only had two things on my to-do list before changing hostels. First thing I needed to do was…get my second anti-rabies shot at a local hospital (SUPER EASY). The second thing I needed to do was to head to a mall and purchase a new GoPro. Mine decided to break while on our Phi Phi Islands boat tour.

Thankfully, regarding my GoPro, I pay for GoPro Plus, which means I can send in my broken GoPro under warranty and get a new one. Unfortunately, I’m in Thailand. This meant I needed to send it home with Chris to the USA to be covered. On the positive side, I GOT TO BUY THE GOPRO 7, which is AMAZING!!! And I did!

My night concluded with me changing hostels, showering, and sleeping. I was heading to Cambodia early the next morning on a bus, and I didn’t want to miss it.

Stay tuned for stories and adventures of my 19th country and second country of Southeast Asia!!!

Two Friends in Thailand | Phi Phi Islands

Today was one of those days where we had no plans on what we wanted to do. I had a semi-rough idea of what we could do, but I didn’t want to set anything in stone, unti I was with Chris.

Together, after a few options were discussed, we decided on another boat day. Except, instead of a sunset cruise, we decided on a sunrise speed boat tour to the Phi Phi Islands. The particular tour we decided on was called The Beach Sea Trips. I’m pretty sure we found at the stand where we rented our motor scooters.

The Phi Phi Islands are kind of a MUST SEE when you come to the west coast of Thailand. They are what most people think of when they think of Thailand. I’m not going to lie when I say, I was really excited about this particular trip! It would be the furthest south I’ve ever been (at this point in time).

As this trip was a sunrise boat trip, it meant another super early morning after a late night. (Remember I was bitten by a monkey and was at the hospital till well close to, maybe even after midnight). Thankfully, Chris is a morning bird and had enough time before our pick up arrived to get us some coffee! (Coffee is a wonderful thing).

The driver drove us to the starting point of the tour at a marina a decent 40-minute drive away. Thankfully, once we arrived and checked in, the company provided breakfast. During breakfast, they went over the itinerary and the safety features, so no significant time was spent on the boat! Always a good perk to a sunrise not trip!

sunrise over the sea

To say we were ready to board the boat is an understatement. I was just tired of standing around and listening to people talk. I wanted to be back on the water in a speed boat, jetting off towards the sun. Don’t get me wrong, I love Thailand, I’ve majorly missed the boat life from the Caribbean.

Koh Phi Phi Ley and Maya Bay Beach

I was so happy when we left the marina and sped off into the sun. We paused for a short while to capture sunrise photos before heading towards the first stop of the day, Maya Bay.

Something you should know. Maya Bay is indefinitely closed after succumbing to over-tourism. Thailand’s government decided that, to bring it back to its beauty, it needs to remain tourist-free. Why the over-tourism? Maya Bay was made famous by the 2000 movie, “The Beach” with Leonardo DiCaprio. It quickly rose to fame as a Thailand island hotspot. Now, you can only witness this beautiful beach from a distance.

After a few minutes, we headed to our next location, Loh Sama Bay. Literally, on the backside of the Koh Phi Phi Ley where Maya Bay is located. This time, we were FINALLY able to jump into the beyond crystal turquoise blue water! That wasn’t all, located in this little reef area behind Maya Beach, were cute and tiny baby reef sharks 🙂

We stayed in this spot for about 30ish minutes. When we were ready to take off, Chris happened to be quite far from the boat and struggling to get back to the boat due to a current. According to Chris, swimming is not his thing. Makes for a great story though!!

The next location on this boat trip turned into an ultimate fail. Apparently, the tide doesn’t always work in favor of the boat. On this particular day, the tide at Pileh Lagoon was just that. The entrance was too shallow for the boat. Even with the motors practically out of the water, the boat was unable to pass over the sand bar. It would have been a great spot for more swimming, but it was just in the plans.

Thankfully, it’s not like this was the end of the boat trip. We had barely just begun. With little hesitation, we continued on our way with a just slow enough to see it, drive by, of a place called Viking Cave.

Monkey Beach

I wish I could tell you more about Viking Cave, but I just don’t have any answers. I was more curious about this Monkey Beach and Monkey Cliff I kept hearing our tour guide mentioning.

Did you read about yesterdays mishap with a monkey? Can you now understand my curiosity? A Monkey Beach with a monkey cliff?

It was pretty much exactly what it sounds like; a beach of monkeys and a cliff of monkeys. It was pretty entertaining watching these monkeys JUMP off the cliff and into the sea, then back up the ropes. It was slightly touristy, and boats were feeding the monkeys bananas. I know it’s not ethical and it does cause monkeys to become aggressive, but I still enjoyed it.

After a few entertaining jumps from the monkeys and soaking up the beautiful island cliffs, we continued to our next location; a beachside restaurant for our lunch. This restaurant is a part of a beach resort located on Laemtong Beach. That’s honestly all I remember. Well, that and that the food was delicious!

Koh Phi Phi Don

After lunch, we headed to Long Beach, located on Koh Phi Phi Don. I’ll explain this to you quickly. Koh Phi Phi Ley is the smaller of the two islands, and Koh Phi Phi Don is the larger island. Okay, let’s continue.

Long Beach is located on the southeast corner of Koh Phi Phi Don, between several resorts. This is where Chris finally got his “James Bond” long boat moment. There were several long boats anchored on the beach right next to each other and was a perfect location for his moment.

Chris and I, being the crazy, non-stop movers we are, decided to grab a beer and take a walk down the beach. It turned into a climb over a rocky corner, down a smaller beach, and over another rocky corner. It was at this point that we noticed the “Viking” sign. Come to find out, this is the location of the Viking Resort, but I did not know that at the time.

It was here where we had a mini-photoshoot on the rocky corner with the picturesque Thailand background, long boats included. I struggled slightly with the rocky shore and may have slipped a couple of times. I never fully fell in, but I had a few close calls.. Chris, being the amazing photographer that he is, captured it ALL on camera.

Bamboo Island

Next, we headed to Bamboo Island, a tiny island located just north of Koh Phi Phi Don. It is home to a beautiful white, sandy beach. Before we made anchor on our final beach of the day, we anchored off the coastline and did some more snorkeling.

This was a huge highlight for me, because…I SAW A ZEBRA SHARK. This was my first and as of now, my only time seeing a zebra shark. Talk about a random wildlife encounter! Chris even got to swim with the shark! Talk about memories in the making!

It was finally time to head to our final stop along our Phi Phi tour, Bamboo Beach. Chris, at this point, had one more item he wanted to check off his list. He wanted to drink a coconut on a beach. Thanks to our fellow boatmates, they gave us one of their coconuts, as they didn’t like it! You could say our boating day around the Phi Phi Islands have been an utter success!!

The best part was that our day didn’t end with the boat trip. When we returned to the marina, it was only about 3 pm. We were spent and knew we needed to rest before heading out on the town.

Our night was a pretty simple night. One thing we knew for certain was that we needed to complete our week in paradise with one final Thai massage. After all, Chris’s first experience wasn’t a true Thai massage. But this one was. There were moments during our massages, where the masseuses and myself were laughing because of the noises Chris was making.

I will say this, a Thai massage is nothing like the typical massage you might think of in America. It’s not relaxing AT ALL. I could totally understand where Chris was coming from, but it was still kind of funny. It wase the perfect end to our amazing week in Phuket.

We still have one half day left in Phuket before our flight the next day, so stay tuned for one final post on my time in Thailand with my good friend Chris!

Two Friends in Thailand | Big Buddha and Phang Nga Bay, Phuket

We woke up extremely early on our 5th day. Reason? We still had a few more hours left with our scooters, and we wanted to see the sunrise, but not just any regular sunrise. We wanted to see the sun come up at the famous Phuket landmark, The Great Buddha of Phuket, also known as Big Buddha.

Big Buddha is a beautifully built, 18-meter tall statue located high on a mountain facing east, towards Ao Chalong Bay. Although parts of the grounds are still under construction, you can see why Big Buddha is a popular destination for locals and tours alike.

Because Chris and I are both morning people (when I want to be, I should clarify), we jetted off towards Big Buddha during the wee hours of the morning. I think it was something like 4:45-5am. It only took us about 30 minutes to drive our scooters to the location, and about 10 of those minutes were spent driving around and up the mountain, arriving before the sky started to light up.

It wasn’t very crowded when we arrived, so I was able to search out a place to attempt to capture a timelapse of the sunrise with my GoPro. (This is an essential part to the story). Everything was going perfect. The sun started to wake, the sky was turning beautiful colors, and everything was quiet. That was until the monkeys appeared.

Monkeys are known to be ruthless little creatures and scavengers on the hunt for food. In my case, one monkey was heading right towards me and getting a little aggressive. Then it started towards my GoPro. NOT GOING TO HAPPEN. So, I grabbed my GoPro, which of course, pissed this monkey off. Next thing I know, the monkey jumped on my back and attempted to bite me. It all happened so fast that I honestly couldn’t tell if he made contact with me or not, as he tried to bite my upper back between my shoulder blades. Two ladies, who were nearby, saw this event take place and were kind enough look on my back for any signs of bite marks. Sure enough, the little bugger broke the skin; not deep enough to cause bleeding, but he did break it.

Now, I know what you might be thinking. Why did I reach for my GoPro? Monkeys are known to be carriers, though not frequent, for rabies, and I put myself at risk by going after my GoPro. GoPros are not cheap, and I knew if this monkey got it, it would be gone forever. So, I took a chance.

I told Chris what happened with the monkey and texted my mom, who I am sure LOVED getting that text message. The three of us went back and forth about the rabies vaccination and ultimately decided it would be stupid not to get the shots. It’s just not worth the risk EVER.

Unfortunately, Chris and I had a prebooked boat tour for the afternoon and knew we would not have enough time to go to the hospital before the tour. I understand this probably isn’t the smartest thing, but I wasn’t worried and didn’t want to miss out on Pha Nang Bay, so we postponed getting the vaccination until after the tour.

At this point, it is now 7 am. We were both starting to get hungry, and both in desperate need of coffee. What I didn’t mention from yesterday, was that Chris and I stumbled across this random coffee shop on our drive home from sunset. We were curious about it, so we decided that we needed to make a visit before returning to Patong.

Yes Coffee, we found, was established to support underprivileged people in Thailand. It is more than just a roastery. It is also a school, which provides Burmese migrant children with education and currently has about 50 students and employs three teachers. Talk about a hidden gem of Phuket. Stumbling across this coffee shop was, for me, a major highlight of the trip. I genuinely love supporting businesses like Yes Coffee.

With the time of the tour creeping close and our time with the scooters about to expire, we headed back to Patong and our hostel. We had enough time to change into our suits and gather our things before we headed out towards the marina for our tour.

Now, something you should know about Chris is that he is an incredibly active man, so when looking for tours, I knew I needed to find something more than just sitting on a boat. With all the research I conducted, this tour, John Gray Sea Canoe “Hong by Starlight” was rated exceptionally well. I knew it would be an excellent way to see the beautiful Phang Nga Bay, which I really wanted to see because this bay has what seems like hundreds of tiny islands clustered together creating a breathtaking scene. I couldn’t let either of us leave Phuket or Thailand without seeing this site, so this was the tour I decided we needed to experience.

Okay, back to the day. It didn’t take us long after our arrival to the marina before we boarded the double-decker boat. The main level is a full kitchen because shortly after we left the port and on our way towards the Hong Islands, we were served a delicious lunch with a beautiful selection of Thai food.

Something exceptional about this company is that one guide is assigned to each kayak and they paddle the sea canoe

“through “Tidal Nape” Sea Caves literally inside Phang Nga Bay’s marine limestone karstic islands into “Hongs “(Thai for “Room”)”

https://www.johngray-seacanoe.com/trips/thailand/day-trips/hong-by-starlight.html

Our first sea canoe adventure took us through a tight cave, requiring us to lay completely flat, before opening to an extremely shallow mangrove lagoon. We were even giving the chance to stand in the middle of this lagoon. I mean, really, a once in a lifetime opportunitiy.

We continued to our next location, which was a larger cluster of several islands and lagoons. These lagoons were a bit deeper, and after our first time through with the guide, we were given a chance to go back alone and explore. Chris took the paddle and guided our sea canoe back to the lagoons. This was another major highlight for both of us because once we headed back, we found ourselves alone in the middle of an island in the middle of Phang Nga Bay in Thailand. It was so beautiful and peaceful. Truly a special moment shared with two friends.

The next adventure, which was another reason I selected this tour, included making our own krathong with the help of our guide. A krathong, which is a floating flower offering/basket that is a part of a spiritual ceremony which pays respect to the water spirits during a festival called Loi Krathong. I had the opportunity to participate in the festival in November, and I thoroughly enjoyed the cultural symbolism of the festival and felt that Chris would too. So, after we finished creating our krathong, and after eating a delicious dinner while watching the sunset, our guide lead us through a dark cave with bioluminescence. The cave ended in a beautiful lagoon, where we found our own quiet corner, lit our krathong, and released it into the water, making our wish.

Unfortunately, these quiet, special moments can’t last forever, and it was time we started heading back into port. It was quite late by the time we finally arrived back to our hostel and knew we had another super early sunrise wake up the next day, so we quickly headed to bed.

Stay tuned for the next blog, where Chris and I take another boating adventure to the Phi Phi Islands!!

Two Friends in Thailand | Scooters Around Phuket Island

We had another peaceful morning in the dorm, as our dorm-mates did not arrive home until close to 6 am in the morning. We, mostly me, decided to sleep in a bit this particular morning since we knew we were going to have sunrise-early mornings over the next couple of days.

Our hostel, Bearpacker Hostel in Patong, had been EXTREMELY helpful with any questions we asked about “what to do” in Phuket and guided us to the decision of motor scooter rentals for the day. They were able to provide us with a motor scooter rental place near the hostel. The rental place charges 300 baht per day, which is roughly $10, and we knew we’d only really need the scooter for one day. We had another excursion per booked for Thursday and Wednesday was kind of our only free exploration day!

As I mentioned early, we had a late start to our morning but still managed to get out of Patong before noon. If you don’t know anything about Phuket then let me tell you this, Phuket is a decently sized island with very few main roads and Patong, where we were staying, is a beach town on the island but is not the main city of the island. That city is called Phuket City, or in Thai, Amphoe Mueang Phuket. Amphoe Mueang indicates the primary city of a province or island, Amphoe means the second largest city, and ban means a suburb or neighborhood of that specific location. For us, we knew our first destination of our “Tour de Phuket Motor-scooter Adventure” needed to be the main city to explore the historic “Old City of Phuket City.”

Chris, I must say, was quite the natural scooter driver! He didn’t hesitate to jump on his own bike and follow me as we headed eastbound on a hectic road. I didn’t really know where our final destination was going to be, but we had an area in mind. It didn’t take us very long to arrive into the Old City, and after driving for a tiny bit, we found a cute coffee shop called Old Phuket Coffee “Coffee Station” and decided to park and have something to drink.

I was kind of a lousy tour guide at this point because I honestly didn’t do much research on things to do in the Old City and wasn’t totally sure of what we should do. Thankfully, Chris is a pretty easy going guy, so he was up for just wandering and wandering we did.

After a while, we decided it was time to take off to another location, and this location I knew about beforehand. If you know anything about me, you’ll know I love a good beer or liquor tasting. I love learning about how each distillery or brewery makes their products and if there is anything special about these products. In Phuket, there just happens to be a unique rum distillery located in another neighborhood that I thought would be a fun destination. At the time I told Chris about it, I didn’t know just how unique it was,. I honestly thought it would just be fun to say we’ve toured a rum distillery in Thailand.

Chalong Bay Rum Distillery, located in Chalong Bay, makes their rum from sugarcane, which differs from other rums distilled. Most rum is made from molasses, including the rums made in the Caribbean. In fact, they told us that less than 5% of all white rum is made directly from sugarcane and that Thailand, which has over 200 types of sugarcane, is the 4th largest producer.

Did you know sugarcane actually originated in southeast Asia and was exported to the French Caribbean by Christopher Columbus? MIND BLOWN. I had NO IDEA. I’ve even been to rum distilleries before, but never knew this piece of information. It was quite a fantastic experience at Chalong Bay Rum Distillery learning about how uniquely special it was and getting my first taste of Thailand sugarcane white rum. We even got to try their famous mojito and 4 different flavored rums. Totally worth the visit!

From the rum distillery, we headed south towards an area called “Fit Street.” Why? Well, a friend of a friend of a friend of mine from Arizona actually coaches CrossFit at one of the big gyms in Chalong, and I thought it would be fun to see how these Muay Thai gyms run. Holy smokes, I was NOT prepared for what I witnessed. Her particular gym, Tiger Muay Thai, was MASSIVE. It was quite the sight to see how many people are training for mixed martial arts, Muay Thai and CrossFit all in the same area! Joy was a perfect tour guide to her gym, and I’m so thankful with her kindness to two complete strangers.

Since Joy lived in Phuket, she was also an excellent resource for things to do, and at this point of the evening, we were closing in on sunset. Joy was able to provide us with a few places we could go to watch the sunset along the western coastline.

One of the places she mentioned, which I’ve read about from other sources, was Promthep Cape. We thought it sounded like a great place to go, so we jumped back on our bikes and headed southwest to this cape. It was extremely populated with easily over 100+ humans, and unfortunately, the sunset was not that great…or, so we thought.

We ended up leaving the cape because of how non-climatic the sunset had been and began driving back north towards Patong with Chris in the lead. All of a sudden, Chris turns into a beach parking lot. This is one of those totally Mapless Adventures. It wasn’t a very large beach, but it had these beautiful rock formations. Once we arrived at this random beach (later found out it was called Yanui Beach), the sunset turned the sky into beautiful shades of pink and purple. Absolutely breathtaking. Of course, a mini photoshoot occurred with me totally not understanding what Chris was trying to tell me, and well the pictures speak for themselves.

After sunset, we continued on our way, driving through Kata Beach and Karon Beach before returning to Bearpacker Hostel. We both decided it was better to keep the bikes for the next morning even though we had a tour because our tour wasn’t until 11:30 and that was plenty of time to see the sunrise at another popular location.

Our night didn’t end here. Once we returned from our motor scooter adventure, we headed out for dinner and decided tonight was a perfect night for a Thai massage. We chose a place close to the market near our hostel, but unfortunately, Chris’s first experience with a Thai massage wasn’t very traditional. I was a bit sad because I was really hoping he’d get a great experience. It just meant we would need to get another one before the week was over.

As per usual, our night ended reasonably late even though we had another early, early morning for sunrise, but thankfully our dorm-mates went out partying, so we had the place to ourselves.

Stay tuned for our next day’s adventure, which I will call “MONKEY.” You won’t want to miss this travel story!

Two Friends in Thailand | Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, Phuket

Homesick is a real thing, and although I don’t get homesick often, it hits me hard when it does. So when one of my good friends, Chris, texted me saying he was thinking of stopping in Thailand for a week on his way home from his Nepal trip, most of the homesickness disappeared! It turned in to excitement! Excitement for not just planning a whole week vacation but also for getting to show off this amazing country I call home now, to a good friend, who has been ever so supportive in all of my crazy, Mapless Adventures!!!

One thing Chris told me was all he wanted to do was see elephants and to go ahead a plan the trip, which is quite a big responsibility and I really didn’t know where to start! I needed a little help from him, so I asked him to decide on beaches or mountains. This helped us determine the entry and exit point (which ended up being Bangkok regardless).

He mentioned he hasn’t really done a “beach” vacation, so after endless research (I’m a sucker for research), I decided on Phuket Island, in the city Patong. I understand Patong has a reputation for party and nightlife, but I choose the location simply because of the location! It was very central and not too far from anything! Once the city/location was selected the rest of the planning was pretty easy!

I felt like a kid at a candy store, waiting for his arrival in Bangkok! And practically burst into tears when I saw him walk out of the arrival area. I kind of felt bad for him as he was dressed for cold weather, and Thailand was anything but cold. He arrived in the late evening, so we didn’t do much that first night (our flight to Phuket was early the next morning), mostly just talked and looked at pictures from his Nepal adventure and I loved every minute of it!

Our journey from Bangkok to Phuket was pretty uneventful. The flight was about 1.5 hours, and then the taxi was for about an hour to our hostel. Once we arrived at our hostel, we got settled in then ventured out for Chris’s first authentic Thai food experience- Pad Thai! We ate at a place called No. 9, which was super popular and for a good reason. It was delicious! After lunch, we honestly didn’t do a whole lot the rest of the day. We mostly just wandered the streets of Patong, experiencing our first crazy Bangla Road heckling for “ping pong” shows, which obviously we DID NOT do. We had our elephant experience early the next morning, so we called it a relatively “early” night.

The next morning, it was time for elephants! I hadn’t done this before nor had Chris, so it was a first for both of us. We decided on the full day excursion with Elephant Jungle Sanctuary Phuket, which includes feeding, jungle hike, poo paper, kayaking, bathing with the elephants, and two meals. Seemed like a pretty good deal!

The morning part with the elephants was something special. We learned general information about the Asian elephant, we learned about their food and diet, and we got a chance to feed them corn, bananas, and sugar cane. There were quite a bit of people both on full day and half day excursions, and only 5 elephants, so a little chaotic. I did actually feel bad for the elephants, though. We did learn about the elephants’ backstories on how they came to be at EJS, and it broke my heart. Several came from logging camps, others came from riding camps, and one came from a hotel, where she was required to “dance” (which meant shake her head and sway her body) and was beaten if she didn’t.

Elephant Jungle Sanctuary was able to save two new elephants 3-days and the day before our visit. These elephants had two very different personalities. The one who came the day before was kind and gentle. The other female elephant had such badly broken spirit and couldn’t be around humans as it was aggressive. It had to be habilitated to learn how to be free from the abuse and riding.

It was heartbreaking to hear her story, but she was one of the elephants who we got to walk with in the jungle, and that was special. Chris and I spent our time during the hike with this precious elephant. I think we both enjoyed watching her get to be an elephant again in the jungle, pulling in trees and plants, scratching her body against a tree and just walking.

When we got back from the trek, it was water time. Chris held the hose for the two elephants to drink, and when it was Grandma’s turn (83year old elephant), she ran away so quickly when Chris attempted to rinse her off. We did get to witness a first with the newest elephant, named Aom Ngung. She got to experience the shower, and you can see the pure happiness in her eyes!

The mid-day break was a bit strange. To start, It was a two-hours long. It started out with lunch, which was delicious. It also included a 45-minute poo paper arts and crafts with a brief explanation of the process. I was hoping to get my hands dirty and attempt to make my own paper, as was Chris but whatever. We still made it fun, and the people in our group were easy to talk too.

Then the kayaking. Oh, the kayaking. It was kayaking, in the middle of a hot sunny day, in basically a swamp. Not to mention, there was no dock or stairs or platform or anything to help us get on or off the kayak. Kind of a complete waste of time, but whatever.

We were then shuttled to another one of the camps (they have 3 or 4) for the afternoon session. We joined with another decent sized group of tourists with 5 elephants.

It started with the “mud bath,” which was an odd experience, but the elephants seemed to enjoy as almost all were splashing themselves with mud.

It was off to the swimming hole next, which none of the elephants even hesitated to get into the water. They immediately dunked their bodies into the water. They kept spitting water and dunking their heads. It was quite a sight to see. Although our time at EJS was not perfect, and slightly a let down on some things, the time we spent with elephants was pretty special!

Our time with the elephants was completed, and it was time to head back into town. Once we returned, we showered then headed to find food. It was at dinner that we decided on our “free day’s” excursion, which we decided on scooters. After dinner, it was off to sleep. This actually became our norm for the trip: return from an excursion, shower, head out on the town for food, go back to the hostel, and go to bed. The best part was that as Chris and I headed to bed (every night of our trip in fact), our dorm mates were heading out on the town. Actually benefitted us in the long run as we were kind of able to get good night sleeps.

TO BE CONTINUED…because of the number of excursions and adventures Chris and I went on, I broke this trip into multiple blogs to make for a better reading experience!

****Disclaimer: I know this isn’t going to make everyone who reads this happy. There is so much information: good, bad, correct, incorrect, false, and accurate information, going around about ethical animal travels and excursions. It’s tough to know what to think without truly experiencing it. I will not ride elephants, that much is clear, and I have my own opinions on the elephant excursion matter. I do live here in Thailand and hear, see, and learn A LOT about it, but I’m not going to get into it. I’m not one for cyberbullying, trolling, and cyber arguments, so I’m not going to get into it. I felt that our experience, although far from perfect, was insightful, and was special. Please keep your negative comments to yourself. This is a personal blog on personal experiences. Thank you.****

A Piece of Pai

Back in December, on a long weekend, a few of my fellow foreign teacher friends attempted to travel to a small town in the northwest corner of Thailand. This small town is a popular travel destination for many westerners, and we were all intrigued to visit. However, those plans did not happen according to plan. Welcome to the life of a traveling English teacher in a foreign country.

Thankfully, as the school year ended, I knew I’d have a little gap before my friend from America was here for a week visit, and it was the perfect opportunity to take the crazy route from Lampang to the town of Pai. Haven’t heard of Pai? That’s okay. Let me summarize it for you…one word…TURNS.

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What My First Semester of Teaching Has Taught Me

The date was October 16th, 2018 and I was fresh off the mini-bus from Chiang Mai to Lampang. Little did I know what was going to be in store for me when I arrived at my high school English Department office. But then again, isn’t that was life and travel is really about, expect the unexpected?!

I’m not going to sit here ramble on about how, “I’m a different person than I was six months ago” or “my life has changed so much in six months”, because in all reality, if these statements weren’t true, I didn’t do this whole live and work-abroad thing correctly. Isn’t it sort of a given fact that these statements hold true?!

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My Reality of Teaching English in Thailand

When I decided I was going to take a complete 180 from my career as a Speech Language Pathologist and move halfway around the world to teach English, I immediately began to scour the internet.

  • What clothes do I pack for Thailand?
  • What shoes do I bring?
  • Are there novelties from America I should bring with me?
  • Travel essentials for Thailand?
  • Where is better to live? North vs. South? City vs. country?

You get the idea.

However, one research topic that was challenging for me to search for was “teaching/teachers in Thailand.” Don’t get me wrong, I did find many posts, stories, and information about the Thailand School system, both positive and negative, but it was a hard topic actually to want to search.

Why???

Honestly, everyone’s experience is their own. It is this way with traveling too. Not everyone is going to love a particular location, not everyone is going to enjoy teaching English, and not everyone is going to like their school placement or the town they are placed into, and I just didn’t want to move to Thailand with any preconceived notion. I wanted to come in “sort of” blind, I guess you could say!

I dI did speak with a few people who’ve made this life-changing move and read one or two blog posts, but overall, I kept my research to a minimum.

When I first moved here to take the TESOL course in Chiang Mai, I wasn’t expecting to learn much. My job as a Speech Language Pathologist is focused heavily on teaching language and communication to children, usually as a first language, but occasionally students who are ELL. So, for me, the TESOL certificate was more or less a formality…TESOL certificate= more money.

Can I tell you I learned something new from the course… I guess I kind of did. I’ve never taught a full class of students, especially not a whole class of 40-50 students all with varying levels of English proficiencies, so the course helped me learn more about classroom management.

Many of the management techniques are ones I use on a regular basis, but it’s easier when you only have 1-4 students at a time, so it was helpful practicing during English camp before taking on an actual classroom.

What I have learned since I started teaching is that Thai students will talk NON-STOP in class and are ALWAYS on their phones. Even when I tell them I will take their phones and do, it doesn’t stop them. And honestly, most days it is not worth the fight between the 30-50 students in each class and me. The students also tend to do other classwork, NON-STOP during English class. This isn’t anything I take personally and have just accepted the fact that no matter how hard I try, there will be students completing homework. I mean I get it. These poor students have so many assignments and projects that need to be completed on a daily basis, that sometimes they just can’t get it all done.

Was I prepared for this factor? Absolutely not. There is not much I can do to stop the talking, the cell phone usage or the completing homework, and that has been something I’ve had to learn to adjust too. Now, my smaller classes and the classes with higher English proficiency are a little easier to manage, but the general rule of thumb, cell phones, talking and homework will happen during class, and I have begun to learn to accept it as best I can.

My secret weapon to try and minimize the chatter during class are two soft toy dice. These inexpensive, plush toys come to class with me every day and when they talk excessively, and after I repeatedly ask them to be quiet, I throw the dice to two students and make them talk to each other in Q & A format. It’s one of my greatest tools and very entertaining for me to watch the students plot who they will throw it too next. And by plot, I literally mean, plot! It’s the most enjoyable thing to watch them try and find someone who isn’t paying attention or plot to throw it to a boy and a girl, who are sometimes dating each other (or like each other, I’m assuming). There have been many times my students have hit each other in the head both purposefully and accidentally (the dices bounce).

In addition to management, it was helpful to learn how to teach “practical usage” of the English language, meaning focus more on conversational skills and functional purpose. Here in Thailand, many of the Thai English teachers focus heavily on grammar, while native English teachers usually focus on speaking English in a conversation style manner. However, let me emphasize, every school is VERY different in how they want their native English speakers to teach. Some schools have a strict style of teaching, including a curriculum, and as teachers, you must learn exactly what your school asks of you.

For me, I’ve been fortunate with a school, which gives me a lot of free reign in my classes and curriculum. I do have a general outline of what my Thai co-teachers are teaching, but I can generally teach what I want to teach and use whatever style works for me!

In regards to teaching style, the way the TESOL course taught seemed more directed towards younger children; present the vocabulary words with pictures, have Q & A sticks for practice, then play games for speaking. Since I am placed at the Mattayom level and teach 15 to 17-year-olds, I have had to slightly adjust the way I teach to support language growth and language function.

I still have a selected theme, a group of vocabulary words and try to incorporate questions and answers into each class; however, I give the students opportunities to guess the vocabulary words and or definition of each word to support memory recall and comprehension (very speech pathologist of me). I also try and get the students to figure out a full- sentence answer on their own. I tend to incorporate worksheets that follow a question-answer style vs. playing games. This allows them to have to speak to several students each time and practice conversation style English or at least I try to have them practice conversational English. In reality, the students copy each other in WHATEVER I have them do in class. It’s just my reality!

Why?!? They really, really, really don’t like getting things wrong, their English isn’t very proficient, and/or they just don’t understand what is going on in class, and all of that is okay. That is my reality as a native English speaking teacher. These things happen and I have to learn to adjust things based on each class, simplify the lesson, change the activity, change the vocabulary or terminology on the fly, and realize not every student is going to understand. Many students rely on what I have written on the board during the activities to “read” what they are supposed to say and that’s okay.

I do have the occasional 2-3 classes that finish everything I ask of them in 30-35 minutes, and I have to wing things because of a higher English proficiency, but in general, I have to keep things simple. And when in doubt…I throw the dice around the room (and I haven’t laughed harder or had more fun in my classes then the times the dice are out)!

Now don’t get me wrong, do try and incorporate games into class, but with older students and only 50 minutes (reality 45 minutes on a good day), the games don’t usually work out, and they don’t usually happen in English. Again, my reality!

It has been quite an adventure learning to teach English to high schoolers and vastly different from my job as a Speech Pathologist in St Thomas, where I was working primarily with preschool-3rd graders. I have learned how to have fun again with teaching language and less on the paperwork/legality aspect that my career holds. This has been the break I needed mentally, and my stress levels have reduced significantly. I can’t say I don’t miss my career, because, in all honesty, I genuinely do! I miss the little buggers I use to work with, I miss their smiles and their hugs, but my mental health needed this extended break, and I’m happy with where I am at and teaching English!

Lampang, Thailand: My Home

Moving to Thailand with a recruitment company, like Greenheart Travel, has its benefits. One of them, by far, is the amount of information they provide to you about budgeting, living abroad, and previous teacher-placement locations. For me, this was hugely important because I love doing research.

I didn’t know much about Thailand’s regions prior to my departure so it was nice to be provided with a list of different cities that I had the possibility of being placed. It also gave me a chance to narrow down where I might want to be placed to let Xplore Asia know more about my preferences. (They sent out a questionaire about a month prior to my arrival)

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Royal Caribbean Day 7: Day at Sea

Our final day on the Adventure of the Seas. After we set sail from Barbados, we knew it was going to be a long 36 hours aboard the ship, but we also knew it was going to be a good time with good friends.

As per usual, our day started with breakfast, but thankfully, it wasn’t as early as the past five days, so we were able to sleep in just a little. Darren and I knew there was ONE thing we had on our list for the day….POOL!

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Royal Caribbean Day 7: Day at Sea

Our final day on the Adventure of the Seas. After we set sail from Barbados, we knew it was going to be a long 36 hours aboard the ship, but we also knew it was going to be a good time with good friends.

As per usual, our day started with breakfast, but thankfully, it wasn’t as early as the past five days, so we were able to sleep in just a little. Darren and I knew there was ONE thing we had on our list for the day….POOL!

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Royal Caribbean Day 6: Barbados

Day 6: Bridgetown, Barbados

Date: 26 April 2018
Port: Bridgetown, Barbados
Time on Island: 8am-4:30pm
Distance between St. Lucia to Barbados: 174.60 km or 94.28 nautical miles (5108.49 miles

Barbados, our final island and final port before our return to Puerto Rico…also the day I have been dreading. It means our Southern Caribbean Cruise is coming to an end. I know all travels and vacations come to an end but it’s been such an amazing past 5 day that I’m not ready for it to end. BUT…at the same time, I’m ready to explore another new island in the Caribbean!

Like many of the other islands, I didn’t know much about Barbados, except that there was a popular cave attraction. We weren’t totally sure if we wanted to include this in our day, but in the end we voted it would be something cool to see. Because of that, Darren and I decided on a half day tour, that included the cave, would be a good idea. It was tough for us to narrow down the exact tour we wanted, as many of them included the cave. Initially, we thought maybe a cave/rum tour would be fun, but ultimately, we chose a tour that showed a little more of Barbados.

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Royal Caribbean Day 5: St. Lucia

Day 5: Castries, St. Lucia

Date: 25 April 2018
Port: Pointe Seraphine, Castries, St. Lucia
Time on Island: 9am-5:30pm
Distance between Antigua to St. Lucia: 363.65 km or 196.36 nautical miles (225.96 miles)

The morning started just like every other morning on the ship. We got up, showered, got ready, and then headed to the buffet for breakfast. Following breakfast, Darren and I headed to the deck and take in the beautiful scene of the island of St. Lucia. Standing on the deck every morning was one of my favorite things to do on the ship. That first glance of this island and the others is something I’m never going to forget. We would do it every morning, but St. Lucia was my all time favorite.

Similarly to St. Marteen and St. Kitts, Darren and I pre-booked an island tour. I’ve found people either love tours or dislike them, but me personally, I don’t do well just sitting on beaches all day, especially since at this point I was living on a Caribbean island and had the chance to go to a beach all the time, so exploring the islands was something I really wanted to do.

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Royal Caribbean Day 4: Antigua

Day 4: St. John’s, Antigua

Date: 24 April 2018
Port: St. John’s, Antigua and Barbuda
Time on Island: 8am-4:30pm
Distance between St. Kitts and Antigua: 104.17 km or 56.25 nautical miles (64.73 miles)

Antigua was our only port that we didn’t prebook any tours and neither of us were mad at that fact. We were ready for a relaxing, anything can happen sort of day and the more time we spent talking with people on our cruise the more we realized how easy it was going to be to see the island without a tour. Thankfully, Karen and Richard didn’t prebook anything either so, of course, we decided to spend the entire day together.

We started our morning with the usual buffet breakfast and coffee before heading to the lower deck to disembark. Like the other two ports, Antigua greeted us with the traditional sounds of steel pans! I don’t think I’ll ever get sick of steel pan or Soca music so I welcomed the beautiful music as we walked along the platform to the port shops. 

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Royal Caribbean Day 3: St. Kitts

Day 3: Basseterre, St. Kitts

Date: 23 April 2018
Port: Port Zante, Basseterre, St. Kitts
Time on Island: 8am-4:30pm
Distance between St. Maarten and St. Kitts: 88.15 km or 47.60 nautical miles (54.77 miles)

Our next port was St. Kitts and Nevis, capital and port city, Basseterre. I honestly didn’t know much about St. Kitts, so I was quite excited for this port. Darren had pre-booked another half day tour excursion of the island that would take us around majority of the island with several stops. One reason we decided for tours, was for the history aspect. I love learning and having a tour guide who has in-depth knowledge of a place makes experience the islands that much better. One of the things I was most excited about with St. Kitts, was getting to see foliage again after eight long months because of the hurricanes. St. Kitts was an island that was not directly affected from Irma or Maria.

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One Swirl After Another

It took 3 hours of hard labor and some neighborly support to finally clear our drive. However, it didn’t really matter. The island was still under a 24 hour curfew, for good reason, of course. We were just annihilated by Hurricane Irma about 15 hours prior, so the day afterwards wasn’t much fun. We were safe, little damage to our apartment itself, and thankfully we still have phone service (which was a rarity and quite frankly didn’t really matter since only about 1/8th of the island had it- if that).

It took about 36 hours before we risked leaving the comfort of our apartment. Though none of us wanted to risk driving, so we decided to walk. We climbed the mountain to check on our friends apartment. We assisted with some minor clean up there before we made the trek into town.

This is where I’m still at a loss for words. Read more

When Family Visits the Island(s)

I have waited for this week to come since my family booked their flights nearly 3 months prior. It’s hard to live so far away from family at times but one of the best part is being able to show them a new part of me and a new country.

This wasn’t just a normal family trip however. This was my younger brother’s FIRST EVER time off the continental United States, and it would be his FIRST time receiving a PASSPORT STAMP.  I mean he’s 26 years old and has only ever traveled within the US and Mexico, so this older sister was beyond stoked. Alright, I get that you might not understand why this is a big deal, but I LOVE being able share travel adventures with my favorite people in the world!

I was eager for my parents too, Read more

Island Hopping the British Virgin Islands

Life in the Caribbean has taken off in a full sprint. In January, I ventured to another country and visited the British Virgin Islands for the very first time. Since then, I’ve been two more times and it’s ONLY the beginning of March. Three passport stamps in 3 months. Pretty sure that’s a new record for me, granted it is the SAME passport stamp, but a stamp is a stamp right?!?! However, with each additional stamp came with a new island, so it’s totally appropriate to count them.

Do you know anything about the BVIs? Read more