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***

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 | 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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