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“I Have No Idea What I’m Doing” – Cambodia, Thailand, and Homeward Bound

Cambodia, oh where do I begin? How, how did 6 days go by so fast? The very first thing I did when I got off the plane was look up. Stars. Finally! I couldn’t stop smiling. I hopped in for my first tuk tuk experience and I could not stop giggling as he drove. For those of you who don’t know what a tuk tuk is, it’s a scooter with like a small carriage hooked to the back. It’s probably my favourite mode of transportation now. If I didn’t live in a country with snow half the year, I’d make one.

I had booked all 6 nights at a new hostel called Tipsy Turtle. As I got there the one owner said, so where are you from? I said, Canada… Saskatchewan. He said the other owner was from Red Deer, Alberta. In fact, we had mutual friends. What a small world. From there on, the Canadians just kept flocking in.

The hostel had their grand opening while I was there and it was like a mish mash of some of the coolest, most laid back travellers I’ve ever met. I got to speak Japanese with a few people, tried out my Italian with one guy as well, and shared Canadian prairie jokes with a group of girls from Alberta. 

I splurged and got the 3 day pass to the Angkor temples. Another bucket list item. On the first day, I shared a tuk tuk with a girl from India and we went all day around the main temples. To be completely honest, Angkor Wat itself was a bit disappointing. The pictures are better than the real thing, however, the less popular temples were absolutely amazing! 

As we watched the sun set that night over the temples, a group of high school kids approached me for a picture. I immediately could tell they were from Japan and I started speaking in Japanese. Their faces showed a cross between shock and amazement. I had my Japanese baseball hat with me and so I put it on and they couldn’t stop giggling and taking pictures. One brave boy who could speak some English talked to me for a while, telling me he wanted to study abroad. In front of his friends (who were shyly watching from a safe distance) he asked for a hug, I said sure. As he hugged me his friends went craaaaazy! Laughing and shouting. So I turned to them in my best Japanese and mockingly said “yabai” which means like ‘risky’ or ‘exciting’. This made them lose it again and the teacher was even cracking up and thanking me for talking with them. It was just as funny for me as it was for them. 

Unfortunately on our way home that night, we got mugged outside our hostel. It was scary and stressful, but neither of us were hurt. A guy on a motorbike cut the purse strap as he drove by and stole everything from my friend, but nothing from me. We screamed and yelled and some locals came running to help, but by that time it was too late and he was long gone. As wonderful as places are, you can never forget how carful you really have to be with your belongings. Travelling alone, it’s always something to be aware of, but I’ve never actually had this situation happen before. I guess there has to be a first for everything. I’m just glad everyone came out unharmed. 

I took a bicycle for my second day at the temples, which I definitely recommend to anyone if you feel you can physically do it, and go to the less known temples for the best photo opps. I even had a street fight with a monkey… that sounds way more badass than I mean it to be. Basically a monkey wouldn’t get off the road (also a wild pig…) and me, being stubborn, wouldn’t give in. So we had a stare down as I got dangerously close to running him over with my bicycle, but he finally gave in a I felt victorious as I peddled on. 

My third Temple day I woke up at 4:30 with 2 Canadian guys and a guy from Hong Kong and we went out to catch the sunrise in a tuk tuk. It was beautiful, but by noon we were exhausted and headed back to the hostel.

Before I went to Cambodia, I read a blog about the different charitable organizations and eating sustainable products. Cambodia is definitely still recovering from their devastating history, but there are so many organizations that have sprung up to help give back to the community. I made it my mission to try and hit as many of these as possible. I mean, a girls gotta eat, may as well give back to the community while doing it. 

Over 5 days, I managed to make it to New Leaf Eatery, Sister Srey, Blue Pumpkin, and Genevives. They were amazing! They each had a different charity to support or reason to give back, and I was happy to support them all and see local people coming together to make a difference for their future. I also hit the fair trade market, giving fair market opportunities to disabled people in the community. I met one of the artists who was in a wheelchair and he showed me his work. He was so proud of what he had done, and I found his paintings so unique I bought some for myself. 

I really wanted to see New Hope Restaurant, but after biking around for an hour through a very rough area, I had to give up. Although the experience was not wasted. I got to have a look at how people outside the city centre actually live. It was the most poverty I’ve ever seen, but the smiles and waves as I rode through, made my heart so happy. Small children running beside me on my bike, yelling “hello!” While laughing and smiling. I think it’s very possible I’m one of the first white people they’ve ever seen, from the looks on their faces, they had no idea why I was there, but they were happy to see me. 

Things I learned from Cambodia:

  •  you can make use out of everything
  •  $1 can go a long way
  •  “Lady” is the most well known English word
  •  A smile is a beautiful thing and the resilience I saw here has made me be more grateful for what I have in my life.
  •  6 days is so short

So I made my way to Thailand. Guys, I am not joking when I say I had no idea what I was doing. Maybe I gave off the impression (to my parents.. cough cough) that I was totally okay, ya no problem, I’m a travel guru, I know what I’m doing. Well, in reality, I had absolutely zero plans. So I got on a bus from the airport to Au Nang. On the bus I met a guy from France and that started it all. I met a ton of people all sort of on the same travel agenda. We met up, separated, and met up again several times during my week there and I’m grateful for their part in my travels, though short, it was sweet. 

I made it to Railay Beach with a Scottish guy who coincidentally had also just come from a year working holiday in Japan. It was super cloudy and we decided it was a good day to try and rock climb. Those of you who know me from home, know I have a bit of a shoulder problem at the moment and don’t have the ability to pull or lift with my right arm. So, climbing was interesting to begin with. 

We tried climbing to find the “blue lagoon”. It was crazy muddy. The red mud that just sticks to you and slides everywhere. Using a combo of ropes and tree roots to climb, we made it up in about 20 minutes, but then this lagoon was nowhere in sight. We were then told no, no now you’ve got another climb down to the lagoon. As we started climbing down an even steeper cliff, a wild monkey started jumping from tree to tree overhead. Sounds exciting, but those little guys are demons. So we tried to avoid drawing any attention to ourselves. 

As we got to the bottom of this one we looked down and (straight down with just a rope) was the lagoon. Getting down wouldn’t be the problem, but with my arm getting back up was a bit iffy. At that point it started pouring rain and the mud started running everywhere so we decided to play it safe and head back before things got unbearable. It took probably 45 minutes of slipping, sliding, and clinging onto any sturdy tree roots you could get your hands onto, before we got to safe ground again, but we were so happy we did it. Huge highlight of my Thailand trip.

I then headed to the famous Phi Phi Islands. I’m not really a beach person or a big party person so not sure why I thought this would be a good idea, but yolo I guess. First night on the island we realized how much of a party place this was. I’m telling you, lights flashing, music blaring, fire dancers, and booze as far as the eyes could see. So after a day out on the beach, we decided to give this party a try. It was crazy. From a limbo competition (which I got 3rd place in thank you), to a light up giant jump rope, to a game of musical chairs that I apparently missed, all along the beach. I pretty much have nothing else to say about that night other than a fanny pack is a great investment. 

The next day I was super sick (obviously thinking I was hungover) but it just persisted all day. Turned out to be sunstroke, and I had a really rough two days spent between my bed and the bathroom ( which had no toilet paper and a wild rooster that would run through randomly screaming all day and night). I had to get out of the sun and off the island, so I got the next ferry to Krabi town. 

As soon as I got there, I noticed everyone lining the streets wearing black. I assumed it was something to do with he Kings passing, so I sat on a nearby bench to watch. A police officer came over and told me to kneel down as the Royal Family passed. I weaselled my way in to sit with a Thai family and they showed me what to do with my hands as the new King passed. In a wave like fashion, the crowd of people waved flags and yelled something in Thai (I later found out to be “long live the king”) as he drove by. It was a really interesting historical event to be part of. 

Once I got settled in Krabi the sickness got worse, and I basically spent the rest of my trip like this. I managed to pull myself together for two outings in Krabi. The first, I made the hike up the 1200 and some stairs at Tiger Cave Temple to watch the sun set. It was totally worth it. The giant golden Buddha paired with the panoramic view as the sun lowered over the sea and the hills was the best sunset I’ve seen on my trip (apart from Mt. Fuji). I managed to get in with a really cool group of people to hike down with, and stay safe with. Monkeys are crazy everywhere here and they immediately attacked my bag and found my crackers I had with me. I let them have them. There ain’t no way I’m fitting a monkey for a pack of 50 cent wafers. 

My second outing was on my last day. My roommate and I got our butts out of the city and went on a kayaking tour through the mangrove trees and limestone caves. It was absolutely fantastic. We could see monkeys, crabs, fish, mud gliders, and lizards in their natural homes. Our guide was amazing and had learned a combination of words in many different languages. He even spoke to me in Japanese for a bit, and by the end of the trip, he was calling me teacher, and told me I can come back for free kayaking anytime if I teach him more English. He was a gem. 

Things I learned in Thailand:

  • It’s hot. 
  • I suck at bartering 
  • There are tiny invisible things in the ocean (jellyfish) that sting you and I can’t deal with it (damn the jellyfish… damn alllll the jellyfish)
  • Most bathrooms don’t have toilet paper
  • You will forget what it’s like to have a solid bowl movement…

Finally, it came. The day to leave. So after 8 countries, 17 flights, 5 jobs, and 422 days, I prepared to set foot on home soil again. Or should I say home snow. I’m incredibly grateful, amazed, overwhelmed, and touched by all the experiences I’ve had, the people I’ve met, and the things I got to try. The pictures I have don’t do justice to what my eyes have really seen. My feet have walked through 6 seasons, touched down on 12 countries, and wore through an uncountable amount of shoes. I have learned languages, cultures, and life lessons along the way. I have taken trains, planes, cars, motorbikes, busses, ferries, long boats, kayaks, tuk tuks, taxis, hiked, and rode in the back of a truck. 

Am I excited to come home? Of course! Will i miss this life? Absolutely, but I won’t be settling for good quite yet. Don’t bother asking me what I’m doing next, because I honestly have no clue what even tomorrow holds. All I’m focused on is hugging my parents, kissing my grandma, laughing with my sister, gossiping with my friends, and and doing some much needed laundry. 

Please be patient with me as I come home. After 47 hours of travel across so many time zones, I’ll have some trouble adjusting to life back in Saskatchewan. Return culture shock is a big thing, and I’m trying to prepare myself for it. I’ll be really emotional for a while until I can get myself on my Canadian feet again and I’ll need all the help I can get. I want to see each and every one of you, but please be patient with me. Your support and encouragement over these past months have meant the world to me and have kept me following my dreams. I can’t begin to say thank you enough.

For the last time …
Your Armstrong Abroad

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#GoDo – Meet Jack

One night over the Christmas holidays, while all of my friends were celebrating with their families or back home for the break, I ended up at a pub by myself in some attempt to get myself out of the house. That night changed the remainder of my time in Italy. I met so many amazing people that night who, in such a short time, became a really great group of friends to me. That night I met Jack. If I had to describe Jack in two words it would be ‘bright eyed’. Jack is the most caring, open, honest, eager, and genuine young chap I have met in a long time, possibly ever. He once told me that I had inspired him more in the 6 days we knew each other, than anyone before. That’s something I’ll never forget. He was my companion for a week and I was lucky enough to be able to ring in the new year with my new friend. Ladies, he’s single, a British soldier, AND he’s coming to Canada (wink, wink). It is my please as my first #GoDo, to introduce you to Jack.

  
Introduce yourself: Hi! I’m Jack! I come from a small village in Yorkshire, England.”

Where have you all been in the world? “I’ve been to many amazing places in the world, mostly due to my work as a soldier: Scotland, Wales, France, Germany, Austria, Spain, Italy, Kenya, Cyprus, Greece, Vatican city (yup technically it’s a country), Belgium, Holland, Turkey, and The US”

Why do you travel? “I want to travel Because… To me, life is all about the experiences that you have, the variety of the things that you do, and the people that you meet. 

There’s so much world out there to find! And so little life in which to do it, I just feel that travelling opens your heart, and your mind and makes you a better, more fulfilled, more interesting person.”

What’s your craziest experience while travelling that you’d be willing to share? “Craziest experience…. Mmmm. I guess work ones don’t count (driving a tank on the public roads is pretty crazy) but travel wise… Meeting a Californian girl in a Rome nightclub, and realizing that we were EXACTLY the same age, to within like, a few minutes of each other… At the time that felt pretty crazy.”

What advice or tip could you give to people wanting to travel? “My tip? Hmm.. my experience is somewhat limited so far, but it has to be this: Talk to everyone! You meet so many interesting people who, more than likely, are just like you; looking to expand their horizons. You see a girl at the bar on her own.. Just go and talk to her. You’re standing in the que for a historic building, ask the people around you where they are from. I’ve made so many random friends by just not being afraid to say ‘hi’ and break that first later of social ice that most people are afraid of stepping onto.”

“I hope my travels take me, well, everywhere! I don’t really have an aim, I like it to be unplanned and just let things happen. As long as you have the right attitude and approach, I’m pretty sure I’ll enjoy it”

#GoDo1

Do You Speak The Greek?

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Were down to single digits in the countdown to Canada ladies and gentlemen! In fact, I can count the sleeps on one hand. I am so adjusted to everything European, it is going to be so difficult to adjust to home again. Please be patient with me upon my arrival. I will most likely wake at a normal time, but when it comes to lunch, I will probably not eat it until 2 o’clock. Lunch will possibly be followed by a half hour siesta (think I should put that on my resume?), and I won’t start preparing dinner until at least 7 or 7:30. I am going to want some form of bread every day and probably won’t have butter in my fridge (sorry Wendy). Some words in my English vocabulary have been permanently replaced by words in other languages, particularly Italian (duh). I’m not attempting to be one of those kids who go away for a few weeks and return thinking they have the world in their hands now, it’s just become habit because frankly, some words just sound so much better in a different language. If you are with me when I start using these strange words, feel free to ask for clarification. Everyone could use a few Italian words in their vocabulary. In fact, if you learn a few random words in Italian, you can really impress people, and when someone asks you, “say something beautiful to me in Italian” (because you’ve obviously told them your cool friend Jody went to Italy and taught you some language) you can reply confidently, “per che il cattivo cavolo salta arcobaleni” ….. Literal translation: “because the bad cabbage jumps over rainbows”. Seems legit, they’ll never know…

Since I wrote last time, oh what an interesting week I have had. After getting to Madrid I checked into my hostel, which was basically set up like a hospital with five cots right next to each other, no where to lock up any of your belongings, and a really weird “vibe”. To keep unpleasant details to a minimum, I will sum up my experience there by saying that I slept with my important items in my underwear, avoided all contact with the guy in the next bed for fear of being the product of “Taken 3” without Liam Neeson to save me, and didn’t shower for three days to avoid contracting any possible diseases I didn’t already have from the bed itself. Hostel aside, I was actually able to meet up with two girls who I met through work in Italy and went boating, toured some museum (shows my enthusiasm there), and attended a Flamenco dance. That part, that part was nice. I was so glad to see them once more and very happy to be a part of their holidays as well.

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After the two girls left, I RAN out of my hostel, but really Had no where to go. Thankfully I had met some guys from France when I was in Barcelona, and they happened to be in Madrid and told me there was room at their hostel. I ran there and told the reception I would take absolutely anything they had. Turns out this was the Madrid hostel from the group “World Famous Hostels” and it was awesome! I was so relieved when I got there. When I got into my room I met some awesome Canadians, well no, the first thing I did was shower, then I met some awesome Canadians. We walked around Madrid, met up with my French friends, and had a night filled with tons of funny memories including a limbo competition, the ceiling giving out and the disco ball falling right on my head, and exchanging some epic dance moves. But everyone has their own travel schedule, and they left several days before I was suppose to catch my flight to Greece. I was suppose to meet up with another travel friend, but unfortunately that fell through. I was very sad that I would be alone for the next five days, as I was not really fond of Madrid. However, everything happens for a reason, and after much dilemma I decided I hadn’t really done anything spontaneous on this trip yet. So, I booked a flight, slept at the airport, and hopped on the next plane to follow the Canadians to the Canary Islands near Morocco. You only live once, right? (Refusing to abbreviate that. Choosing to hold onto my dignity here a little)

The islands were amazing! I stayed at a little hostel right off the beach, went boogie boarding and also tested my balance and skills, or lack there of, at surfing! Who would have thought I would go surfing on this trip. It was so much fun and the water was so warm, but so, so dang salty. Finally, after about 40 hours of not sleeping, I crashed. After the Canadians left, I went with other new friends to a surf competition (sadly I was not a participant, as I could barely move I was so sore), and then again went boogie boarding. My only regret is that I couldn’t stay longer. I hardly took any pictures because we just went and went and went. Man have the last few days been, for lack of a better word, cool.

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As excited as I am to be on my way to Greece, and still very sore, I am starting to get excited about coming home too. I have started a mental list of the little things I am looking forward to: body lotion, homemade muffins, not sleeping in bunk beds, not having to fly again for a while, salad, having a different pair of shoes, having more than 3 shirts, being able to hug someone for more than five seconds without it being weird, going to the gym, not having to think in 24hour time, not being scared to pick up my own vegetables at the grocery store for fear of being scowled at when I ‘do it wrong’, and, as much as I have become accustomed to coffee here, I am still excited to have a good ol Tim’s!

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It’s impossible to make a list of things I am looking forward to without also thinking about the things I am NOT looking forward to: my feet having to be clean all the time… this just doesn’t happen here; wearing make up again and doing my hair, I thoroughly enjoy not having to care about what I look like; the chance that there is going to be a snow storm when I arrive, having to live in reality again, driving in traffic, poorly made wine, poorly made croissants, poorly made cheese, basically anything made poorly or not as fresh as here.

Well, after panicing about missing my flight to Greece, I made it. And yes, this was written over two days. After getting to the Athens airport late, I finally made it through security (after having my “liquids” taken away at security because I was stupid and in my panic forgot to put them in my other bag). By this time I had changed time zones so many times I had no clue what time it was, but I boarded a tiny plane, at what they told me was 5:45am, with probably 50 other people. I was pretty sure the plane was made from paper mâché, but was so tired that I got on anyways. The flight was AMAZING. A solid 25 minutes of low flying (my favourite) over the Greek islands, landing in Mykonos just as the sun was rising over the ocean. The airport was basically a small gymnasium, but I didn’t mind, I was just so excited to be in my final destination.

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Let me tell you about Greece, because everyone should go. First of all, the pictures are accurate; white houses, blue shutters, friendly people, crystal clear ocean, and cats everywhere. Hola! Apparently Mykonos is the party island, but to be honest, I’m so exhausted that all I want is to be on my own relaxing, eating great food, and taking some great pictures. I literally don’t want to do anything and I’m okay with that. I walked all day and saw all the famous sights, good thing because it’s storming today. I finished off my day with the most amazing sunset I’ve ever seen in my life, followed by a dinner of typical chicken pita with tzaziki and baklava for dessert while laying in bed watching Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants, which, let’s be honest, is the reason I wanted to come to Greece in the first place. As my room continues to shake from the thunder today, I am pretty sure I will be doing nothing before boarding my ferry tomorrow to Santorini. Oh! And to answer my earlier question…. Yes, it is still called a Greek salad (or typical salad) here. Speaking of which, I’m going to get one for supper.

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Shout out to home: Happy Belated Birthday to the thing I am MOST excited about seeing when I get home. Wish I could have been there to celebrate with you Tyler, see you in four sleeps my love.

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Soon to be no more,
Your Italian Armstrong