Angkor Wat – The Crown Jewel of Cambodia

I needed a day off after my epic grand tour bike ride, I made it my mission to find a pool for sun and relaxation. Starting my day at a cute café for some coffee and breakfast turned out to be just the right place to find a pool. See, when you’re traveling sometimes you just have to ask in order to receive. I asked for a pool and Sadie, a guest at a boutique hotel, appeared at the cute café for breakfast just minutes after my arrival. Sadie and I hit it off right away, it wasn’t long before we were basking in the sun at the Golden Banana pool sharing our life stories and travel tails. After a dip in the pool we continued our decedent day in the town of Siem Reap with massages, a leisurely lunch and a bit of retail therapy. If you’re ever in Siem Reap and you want to eat somewhere that they are not only serving delicious food but helping adult orphans with vocational training try Haven.        http://www.havencambodia.com/en/about-haven/

For day two of my three-day pass I decided to wake-up before the roosters, share a tuk tuk with Sadie and catch the sunrise at the infamous Angkor Wat Temple. Angkor Wat is the largest Hindu Temple in the world, now Buddhist, it has remained a religious center since it was built. Pretty freakin’ impressive since it was built in the 12th century; I’d say it’s the crowning jewel of Cambodia seeing as it’s on their flag! The sun came up behind the heavy clouds and didn’t give us much to ooh and ahh as far as a sunrises are concerned so we checked out the inside of the temple grounds. After the anti-climactic start of the day I was blown away by the magnitude of how well the temple has been preserved over the centuries. The engineering and construction of the grand complex overwhelmed my attention; every corner we turned I was impressed a little more with the intricacy of the details, the massive scale and the sheer grandeur.

Before getting temple overload we hopped over to another impressive temple, Bayon. Incredible in it’s own right; the curious smiling stone faces tower over the Buddhist temple complex.  We were lucky enough to catch a few touring monks as they snapped photos of one another amongst the temple; their orange robes creating a striking image against the weathered stones. Not one to be shy, and loving the color orange, I jumped at the opportunity to have my portrait with the three robed monks. Before leaving Bayon, with incense in hand, Sadie and I bowed to a Buddha for luck and the monk at the door tied a red string bracelet around our wrists thanking us for our donations.

After a delicious lunch in town and a snooze by the pool we hired another tuk-tuk for some afternoon temple action. The gods had something else planned as we drove into the ominous black clouds looming over the temples. Our afternoon of temple site seeing was cut short before it had a chance to begin when the small drops of rain turned into a torrential downpour soaking our skinny tuk-tuk driver; accepting defeat we headed back to town laughing hysterically. Our brief affair ended as Sadie and I parted ways; she was heading home to California and I was continuing on my journey. On my own once again I did what anyone would do – I had another foot massage, had a fresh coconut shake and found some street food before heading to bed.

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Angkor Wat, Cambodia: Coconut delirium an epic ride

I arrived in Siem Reap ready to visit some of the most famous religious temples in the world. A little overzealous, I thought it would be fun to rent a bicycle and see some of the smaller temples in the area on my first of three days; this was foreplay, building up to seeing the grand daddy, Angkor Wat. I started the hot and humid ride by taking the wrong turn and having to double back to the ticket office – not normally a big deal but when it’s hot and humid any extra km makes a difference.

Before reaching the first temple I stopped for a dollar coconut, there was no coconut meat inside – I was kind of bummed but I continued on the ride determined not to let the lack of meat put a damper on my first morning. I bought a mango for a dollar then stopped and bought some mystery fruit on the side of the road for another dollar. Please note – most transactions seem to be one US dollar, no matter if it’s one mango or ten mystery fruits, luckily the atm’s even give money in US dollars because I was fresh out by the time I arrived in Cambodia. I saw one small temple, then another slightly larger one and managed to get by without buying any books, typical Khmer scarves, or other things for a dollar. Mid-morning I stopped by a lake and to snack on my mango and mystery fruit when two schoolgirls came over and wanted to chat; people in Cambodia love to practice their English, I was happy to have some company and hopefully unravel the mystery fruit. Through our conversation, during their lunch break, they kept opening new fruits trying them and pronouncing them sweet. I thought even the “sweet” ones had the foulest taste so I gave the appreciative girls the rest of my mystery fruit and ventured on to see more on the. I have to admit the stone and rock temples eventually all started to look alike in my glassy eyed state, so I caved and bought one of the books.

Between the temple with the big tree jutting out of the stone wall and the temple with the four elephants it occurred to me that riding an old beater bike on partially dirt roads with Chaco sandals, jean shorts and a very warm water bottle in the basket was nothing like riding on my nice road bike, on real roads with comfy diaper bike shorts. My mind began to wander on the long stretches; I had a relationship epiphany and laughed out loud when I thought about all the things I had done and seen on my trip so far and here I was cranking along on this shitty bike in the middle of the Cambodian jungle. Determined as I was to see 2 or 3 more temples, after another coconut I realized I was exhausted from riding and hiking around. By the time I got to the last temple on the epic route it occurred to me that it was a big temple, so without a second thought (in a very unjodi-like fashion) I turned around and started heading home. The only problem was that the sun was beginning to set and there were a lot of nice photo opportunities that I couldn’t pass up; I stopped for another coconut, took a few more photos…yes, I think I had at least 5 coconuts in one day.

Long past dusk my legs turned on their last ounce of energy before the coconut delirium completely set in and I collapsed with temples on my mind in a foot massage chair. Don’t worry, on Pub Street foot massages are only $1 for 10 minutes and they deliver cold beers right to your seat!

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186 days

Thousands of photos

9 Countries:                                                                                                                                       (UK, South Africa, Turkey, Israel, Jordan, India, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam)

Countless airplanes, buses, trains, boats, taxis, auto-rickshaws, cycle-rickshaws, bike-rickshaws, tuk-tuks, bicycles, motorcycles and steps in my own shoes

Amazing new friends from all over the world

Memories & stories to last a life-time

4 tubes of toothpaste

3 pairs of sunglasses

2 trips to the doctor (1 dentist & 1 doctor)

A suspected case of bedbugs, too many mosquito bites & the itch to travel more…

Basically?     One hell of a trip!

I’m home, although home seems relative. I arrived back to the States a few days ago, the re-entry has been somewhat jarring. My parents gave me some not-so-good news about their health and if that wasn’t enough I was bit by a dog, in the face, and had to have 8 stitches. Yes, being in Colorado has been more precarious then gallivanting in third world countries but at least I didn’t have to ask if the needles were clean or for someone to translate that I’m allergic to penicillin.

As one wise woman said “when you are on the dance floor, just go on dancing!” Please stay tuned, more stories and photos from around SE Asia.

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My last days in India…Ooty, Mysore, Chennai

My last few days in India were a complete shit show full of countless bus rides, a severe case of butt-o-sis (a chronic form of butt aching that comes from sitting too long) and bartering.

With my two new Dutch friends, Loek and Bart, I decided to make the journey to Ooty. You should know the only reason to go to Ooty is to take a ride on the 100+ year old toy train. Our journey went down as one of the most hectic experiences I had in my 7-weeks in India. We took 4 buses in one day, I sat shotgun in two of the four where I almost went deaf from the driver frequently blowing his horn and I stomped on my imaginary co-pilot brake more than once because we were so close to oncoming traffic. Some how we made it to the train station in one piece only to find out there were a limited amount of tickets for the antique toy train (that runs once a day) and that the tickets were sold out. Luckily for us it’s India and they had an extra secret stash of tickets that would be doled out on a first come first serve basis the next morning around 5am. With mixed information we got rooms at the flea-bag motel across the tracks, had some deliciously cheap food, explored the local area and went to bed early. At 4:15am we got first place in line for the tickets and at 7am we were seated in the train on the left but right side; the left side of the train was where all the scenery took place from waterfalls to views of the surrounding tea plantations. The steam engine clickety clacked up the hill for 6 hours, stopping approximately every hour along the way to refill the water and refill our chai. Ooty was nothing special, we killed the day riding around seeing everything and nothing. 

Ooty to My-sore-ass (a.k.a Mysore) was another day filled with treacherous bus rides. Unfortunately I only had one day in Mysore and one half of the day was spent trying to figure out how I was going to get from Mysore to Chennai. My flight from India left from Chennai and there was nothing I could do but be on time for the flight. Our rickshaw driver rushed me to the bus station after finding out there were no seats on the train and shoved my form in front of several people; I was “lucky” enough to get the last seat on the last overnight bus. I saw the beautiful palace of Mysore, drove a rickshaw, made an incense stick and hovered over a table waiting for a group to finish so I could enjoy my last authentic Indian meal.  

One man distributed the shiny banana leaves followed by a large heap of white rice; then the buckets with curries in red, yellow and orange were slung around the restaurant. I thought back to before my seven-week journey – masala, turmeric and curry were foods that were as foreign to me as snake charmers and saris. As I shoveled the last morsels of rice into my mouth I realized how the banana leaf meal seemed to embody everything I’d come to know as far as Indian was concerned.

Arriving at the crack of dawn with no plan of action, in a grimy city, ranked one of the worst cities in India to visit, is let’s face it – not ideal. In an overnight bus haze I traded my new friend, Alex from the bus, a day of sightseeing around Chennai for a day of sightseeing in New York. After dumping my big bag at the airport we cruised out of town beating the morning traffic.  Alex showed me some of the beautiful temples and other sites outside of the city along the coast in Mahabalipuram. Although the heat was hovering at the 100 Fahrenheit with I’m sure 100 percent humidity Alex helped me turn a potentially dreadful day into one of the most surprisingly interesting days.

I can’t say I have a burning to desire to return to India next week but I can say my experience was amazing. I’ll Never Do It Again…eh, I’ll be back – just don’t ask me to take any local or overnight buses!

 

 

 

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“I love Munnar” – Munnar, India

Munnar has a fairytale like quality, getting there however is far from waving a simple wand. For many hours it’s Space Mountain at Disneyland; the trip is long, over many windy roads and on a “government” bus.  A government bus is: cheap, no a/c, hard seats, held together with tape and one crazy driver who often forgets he is carrying human cargo. I sat next to the window and watched as the bus sped up to make the hairpin turns all along wailing the horn to alert any oncoming traffic; we played chicken with other buses coming so close on the treacherously narrow roads that one bus would eventually have to pull far off into the miniscule shoulder leaving just enough space to reach out and high five the other passengers. As we zipped by the blooming jacaranda, smothered in bright lavender flowers hanging precariously over the sides of the road, I cringed and sunk into my seat more than once praying that we wouldn’t go careening over the edge down into the rolling hills covered in rows and rows of green tea leaves. At the bus station I befriended two Dutch boys and two young Israeli’s and we made the quest together: over the hills, through the tea fields and made some interesting stops in between.

Traveling with perfect strangers can be an experience all in itself. After a long day on the bus, a quick trek into the fields and a few drinks my perfect strangers were no longer strangers but amusing entertainment. “I LOVE MUNNAR” was a common theme being declared frequently and loudly causing us to almost be ejected from one of the three guesthouses in town.

I opened my shades to the purple and pink mist filled mountains in the distance; our one-day in Munnar was an eccentric India day. Munnar is a town high in the hills of Southern India, an escape from the intense heat and humidity of the South, flourishing tea plants covers its rolling hills. The motley crew hired a tuk tuk driver and off we went to explore Munnar. We paid a few rupees at ‘Top Station’ for a spectacular view of the mountains, trekked through a few quiet villages, crossed an uninspiring concrete bridge overlooking a lake, watched woman harvest the top leaves of the tea plants and my favorite – echo point. Echo point epitomizes the ridiculousness sometimes found in India. Our tuk tuk driver excitedly dropped us off amongst the makeshift shops lining the road, we looked around perplexed – we certainly weren’t in the market for plastic tchatzch? But then we heard it, the screaming and yelling from below.  We made our way closer and through the rubbish we saw the hoards of people filling their lungs and yelling what we could only imagine were high school team cheers, messages of I love you and other short quips only to be met seconds later with the echoed response from a magical distance. We were stunned and brought to tears of laughter as we realized that echo point was actually a popular tourist attraction. When in Rome – the five of us sent our own message “I love Munnar” into the abyss and piled into our tuk tuk.

The shimmering green hills were transformed as the sun began to set and the luminescent full moon came over the hills. We used the steep local paths to admire the panorama and the light of the moon to find our way to sleep. Our time was short and sweet but I will forever love Munnar…. love Munnar….love Munnar…

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Kochi, India – A wandering Jew in search of a synagogue

As a shrimp eating, cheeseburger loving, more spiritual than religious wandering Jew… I was on a hunt for a synagogue in India – seemed like the perfect plan while in the neighborhood. Cochin is a quaint little town in the state of Kerala and by the time I arrived it was hot – real hot and real humid – and I was, in hindsight, most likely starting to get sick from something I had eaten.

My first afternoon I spent wandering around the little town as the sun was setting, sweating my ass off and wondering what there was to see other than a synagogue. While I was watching the fisherman use ancient fish nets I heard, “lady, hey lady want to try?” Um, yes – of course I want to try, you obviously don’t know who you’re asking. The fishermen welcomed me aboard their boat, showed me the ropes (no pun intended) and then let me have a go. They sang their song, did most of the work and came up with a few small fish. After a while, when the novelty wore off and I was finished taking photos they subtly showed me the tip jar – of course, it’s India nothings for free!

Later that evening when I was again just wandering the streets this random guy asked if I was American? I didn’t think my outfit screamed American, but without much discussion I agreed to go with him (another American) to see some festival that he had heard rumors about. It turned out to be a great night, we were the only foreigners among hundreds, possibly thousands of Indians celebrating something. From what we gathered, it was a birthday for Shiva (one of the many gods). In the sandy lot men twirled with large, colorful headdresses to the beat of drums and scratchy music blasted from nearby speakers. It was kind of crazy, we found ourselves in this amazing festival, not understanding what we were celebrating, surrounded by colors, statues the size of small houses, flickering lights and being attacked by little kids as well as drunk teenagers.

My cultural tour continued at the Kathakali performance. Yes, I’ll admit the air-conditioned performance space was a huge draw but it turned out to be a very unique show. The first hour and a half or so I sat and watched as three hairy Indian men transformed themselves into a demon woman, a seductive “beautiful” woman and a king. The piece was an excerpt from a longer play, which was fine with me because there were no words; the actors use over exaggerated facial expressions, movements with their eyes, special sign language and screeching bursts of noise to act out the play.

Jew Town, I swear it’s called this, is the old part of Cochin. I spent the day looking in antique shops, watching woman sift through rocks to retrieve peppercorns, poking my nose in large storage areas holding garlic and ginger, taking photos of random fat babies, sweating, taking leisurely breaks at cafes and of course I saw the synagogue. Paradesi synagogue was built in 1568 (Paradesi literally means foreigners in Hindi); the synagogue, not surprisingly, has very very strict rules – you’re not allowed to take photos, have any bags, wear shoes or complain! The charming synagogue is a small, one room building tiled in blue and white from China and lit by several Belgium chandeliers tucked back at the end of a road – I was in and out in under ½ an hour and trust me when I say I read everything.

Feeling off I unfortunately didn’t sample any of the amazing seafood which I hear is really good there, I mean I helped catch some after all.  After only two quick days I was ready to escape the heat and humidity and move on to my next destination further inland and higher in elevation.

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Bangkok: Same Same but different

A city that most just pass through on their way from point a to point b. Bangkok is a place for a day or two: see the giant lying Buddha and the heavily gilded palace, enjoy cheap street food, see the infamous sex shows and a jumping off point to greater destinations in South East Asia.

I lost and found myself in a city so similar yet so different from all I know. A whirlwind of emotions, vistas, friends, thoughts… I began on this journey only imagining myself seeing, doing, eating, photographing – little did I know that it would that and so much more. Expecting the unexpected is a hard notion but armed with a little common sense and experience I left, six months ago, the comfort of my home, my family and my friends ready for the challenge. Now I sit overlooking an unfamiliar skyline, in an unfamiliar home with a heavy feeling in my heart yet with more sense of power than I ever could have ever anticipated. Many long bus rides, many long train rides, many amazing experiences, many hours of thinking and an unexpected encounter and a few small words has brought me to where I am right now – raw and exposed. In two weeks I will be back in the comfort of my home, with my family and my friends same same, but different.

Bangkok was my point a to point b, but somewhere in between I learned more than I could have expected about life, love, trust, happiness and friendship.  I owe a great deal to many people in my life, those I’ve known forever and those I’ve only just met. Life isn’t just about getting from point a to point b, it’s discovering point a – seeing what’s in between and eventually getting to point b through all the ups and downs.

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Heaven in Hampi, India

Love, love LOVED Hampi!

I arrived in Hampi dazed after a very hot, all day train with some Brits and a big German. The German and I shared a rickshaw through the bumpy roads past the typical local temples, the low fields and occasional farmer; we were happy to be in the back shaded by the blazing afternoon sun.  On the horizon, as we closed in on the small village, we could see the hills rising into mountains. Soon the small mountains, a palette of red mixed with purples and dark pinks, filled our vision. We approached a dusty and crowded one lane street the large pyramid shaped temple loomed over the locals selling everything from bananas on the palm to ankle bracelets.  Our rickshaw driver stopped just above the steep decent down to the Tungabhadra river dotted with large stones and crumbling temples. Crossing the river was like going from Midtown Manhattan to Brooklyn – everything slowed down ten paces and the quiet surroundings took over. I stayed on this side of the river for a few days and found it to have an easy pace. There weren’t any cars on the slow side of the river only a small dirt road, occasionally painted with a variety of symbols, and about a dozen or so small guesthouses and places to eat. The view on the other side of the street was the red stone mountains in the distance and a lush rice paddy and palm trees sprouting high above. I found a hut that was tucked away off the road and overlooked the soft green field. From my deck I watched the hills turn a brilliant orange as the sun rose into the sky and later watched in the afternoon as the sun lit up the green carpet leaving only deep shadows from the palms.

On my second day the big German and I planned a rickshaw tour to see the highlight of Hampi; hundreds of stone temples built around the area. The temples are intricately carved, have large stone pillars and huge monolithic gods. We started our tour very early and even caught a glimpse of Lakshmi, the main temple elephant, being bathed in the river. We climbed around the rocks and temples for hours, eventually the heat of the day was overwhelming; after multiple liters of water we succumbed to the sun god and enjoyed a leisurely lunch overlooking the river.

I hiked through the rocky hills, visiting temples high above the villages and enjoyed yoga, reading and cool drinks in the shade. On my last evening I hiked with a new friend to the Monkey Temple just outside the village. The temple really does have monkeys lurking at every corner, some were a little scarier than others baring their teeth and screeching as we passed.  As far as the eye could see the mountains, made of large and small boulders, spread throughout creating a magnetic vision. With the sounds of a didgeridoo we watched as the sun dipped below the rocks and the sky twirled in color.

The marvelous temples, the colors, the contrast of the red mountains and the green rice fields, the river, the musical pillars, the elephant blessings and the sunsets of Hampi will forever hold a special place in my heart.

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Spring Break 2012 – Goa, India

What to say about Goa? It’s beaches, in India. But what does that really mean?

To me Goa is: Cows on the beach, little Vagator (my beach), woman selling sarongs, children selling bracelets, trance parties, cheap drugs (so I hear), yoga at dawn when the beach was blissfully quiet, tourists riding motorbikes everywhere (most not knowing wtf they are doing), woman selling fruit on the beach, LOT’s of Russians, markets on Saturday night, helping two gay men sell their crazy clothes at the night market & getting paid in wine, trash of course, scams, geckos in my sink, copious amounts of Kingfisher, beautiful sunsets, dreadlocks, government elections, beach parties, mosquitos the size of small dogs, 11pm curfews, Indian men who LOVE to stare at white girls in bikinis, a church with a saint who supposedly still has his skin after 200 years, long swims while keeping one eye on my bag, did I mention trance parties….yep, that’s pretty much Goa.

Apparently I was in Goa at one of the worst times, they were having elections a week after I left. The bars and clubs all had strict curfews that the corrupt government was enforcing for a month before the elections. This was to prevent votes being bought with beers and other such things. All this meant, for me anyway, was I couldn’t untz untz untz the night away at some rave type party with music that is meant to take you to the moon. The only problem, I wasn’t partaking in going to the moon enhancers so the trance parties were only good for superb people watching and some dancing. Yes, Elaine – my dancing alter ego was in full force. Trust me, no one was paying any attention to me!

What can I say…if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

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Part III: The American Princess in Mumbai, The “real” world

Sometimes on vacation, or extended vacation in my case, we forget that the earth keeps spinning and people keep working. Since Shubham, aka Boom, and I met in Graduate school (New York University, Construction Management) it was only appropriate that I take a tour of his jobsites. Luckily for me it was just a tour because it was India HOT, high 80’s in February. We did a quick walkthrough, I gave my two cents, then we had a cold coconut and some bananas to refresh ourselves before heading to the next site. The only difference I could find  from sites I’ve visited in the US was that there was definitely a guy wearing sandals and there were multiple temples for various gods scattered throughout. The second site wasn’t nearly as exciting; it’s just a lot for now. It’s in the planning phase, there is currently dirt being pushed around and buffalo grazing in the nearby pond.

Besides work, the real world of Mumbai was filled with: Bollywood movies, Jodi Breakers was my choice.  Even though I could only read between the non-existent lines I knew it was terrible (I only wanted to see it because the title contained my name , Jodi = couple in Hindi), late night clubbing, being highly opinionated about how the girls were wearing skirts barely covering their booties, discussions with Shubham’s mom about life and other such things, eating lots of strange new foods and playing with the new puppy Pocco.

My second reality check was the day I decided to take the local subway downtown; Shubham’s sister, Dwani, thought it was important to take the train and feel the real Mumbai. I tooled around the downtown, seeing all the main attractions from the infamous Taj Hotel, that was bombed, to the streets of Colabra. Going into downtown was fine, no problems, it was mid-day and the train was quiet. It was coming back when I had the real taste of the madness. I got on the train, the ladies only car, at the first stop downtown when the train was relatively empty. Each stop, as expected, got more and more crowded. Shubham told me stories of how there was a subway mafia that either didn’t let people on or didn’t let people off at certain stops during certain times of the day. I have to admit, I really couldn’t remember if it was people getting off or on or which stop this nonsense started. I was more concerned with not passing my stop and the fact that it was getting so crowded, woman were practically sitting on my lap. After living in NY for seven and a half years, I’d like to think of myself as a veteran New York City subway rider, but this paled in comparison to rush hour in New York. I’m not sure if it was that I didn’t know exactly when my stop was coming up or the fact that I was a mashed potato wedged in between an old woman, a young girl and a baby overhead but I started to get a little nervous about my exit strategy. I had made a mental note of the stop right before mine; when we left that stop I started to make motions of standing up and before I moved one full cheek off the seat another body thrust me up and into the crowd. As I made my way to the doors, which are always open, I started to feel the train slow and could see that we were approaching my stop. I started to push a little more aggressively, I could finally feel the air from the open door but before I knew what was happening the people on the platform started pushing their way onto the train before it had even fully stopped. My fight or flight senses kicked into full gear, I was using every ounce of strength to push myself off the train as they were yelling to get on. I was so close to the people below me that I could feel the determination in their eyes and the anger in the voices. As they yelled I yelled back and pushed even harder. Eventually, I managed to land on the platform, my heart racing like I’d just finished a triathlon and my knuckles bleeding. I stood there for almost a minute in complete disbelief, I had just witnessed first hand the Mumbai train mafia and it wasn’t pretty!

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