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