Life lately and upcoming travels: March 2015 Edition

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In my monthly round-ups, I am looking back at my travels over the past four weeks, what went well and what didn’t, what’s new with, what’s next for me and the most popular posts of the last month.

Where I’ve been

This month didn’t go as planned – I wasn’t allowed to travel to Indonesia, spent more time in Thailand than I had originally planned, and unexpectedly found myself in Cambodia! Let’s start with the good, before we get to the bad and the ugly.

I started the month traveling with someone and am finishing the month traveling with someone – and was supposed to travel with another friend in between, but that didn’t happen. More on that whole fiasco in a bit. The best part of the month was playing tour guide and showing off some of my favorite places in Thailand. I love showing people how easy and inexpensive independent travel can be and this trip was no different. Almost everything was smooth sailing, except for a horrible case of food poisoning in Bangkok that knocked me out for more than one entire day.

March 2015 Travels
Clockwise, starting u.l.: Siem Reap & Shokha Beach, Cambodia, Koh Chang and Bangkok, Thailand

I started the month in Chiang Mai, moved on to Bangkok where I ended up being stuck for over a week, followed by a whirlwind tour of my favorite places in Cambodia (Siem Reap, Phnom Penh, Kampot, Otres Beach), and returned to Bangkok via Koh Chang, an island that I’ve been meaning to check out for a while. I stayed in Lonely Beach in Koh Chang (which turned out to be anything but lonely!) and loved my days on the island, making me wish I would’ve had more time there, but my friend was waiting to be picked up at the airport in Bangkok. I’ll be back to explore more of Koh Chang for sure. Returning to Cambodia was such a treat – I had been skeptical if I would still love it as much as I did the first time around, but I had nothing to worry about. My deep love for Cambodia was the same, and I might even have fallen more in love with the country during this visit, if that’s possible at all.March 2015 Cambodia and Thailand

What went well

Work & travel balance
Even though I traveled A LOT this month, I got a huge amount of work done. Whenever I was in transit, I used the time to write, no matter if I was on a bus, ferry, plane, or minivan.

Digital nomad offices March 2015
Some of the offices I had the pleasure to work in this month

Making time to relax
I’ve had the hardest time over the past few months allowing myself to relax. I kept going, going, going or working till late into the night – this month I actually managed to read book and allowed myself some beach time. It felt glorious.sunset reading koh chang

Revisiting Cambodia
As I already said – I loved being back in Cambodia, despite not having any plans to go there in the first place. I don’t think I could’ve chosen a better place to get over the debacle that kept me from going to Indonesia. And after spending a couple of weeks in Cambodia, I can only say that it still is one of my favorite countries in the world and I found myself walking around with a big smile on my face every single day there. I didn’t do much except for wandering the towns I stopped at, had good food, cycled through the countryside and visited the PHARE Circus in Siem Reap (pictured below), a wonderful non-profit organization that helps local artists to develop successful circus careers. I’ll be writing more about Phare shortly.cambodia 2015

What went wrong

Not visiting Indonesia
My biggest travel fail in years. And I was supposed to meet a good friend there to celebrate her birthday together (she’d flown all the way from Germany to spend her vacation with me) – I still feel horrible for standing her up.

Why did I not go?

The passport fiasco
I was at the AirAsia check-in desk at Don Mueang Airport in Bangkok, ready to check in for my flight to Denpasar, Bali. I didn’t even realize at first that the clerk had cancelled my ticket after saying ‘Indonesia might not let you in. Passport damaged’. But when he handed me a receipt which stated my flight details and had ‘cancelled’ handwritten in large letters on it, it began to dawn on me that he was for real. ‘No!’, I yelled at him, ‘I have to get on this plane! Someone’s waiting for me in Indonesia!’ All I got from him was a stern look and the request to move out of the way so that the next customer could proceed. Long story short- after a frustrating talk with the supervisor, Thai immigration inspecting the state of my passport and some shed tears, I was on my way to the German embassy to have my passport replaced, which means in my case a temporary passport that makes it incredibly difficult to travel around, since it is not biometric. I have to apply for a visa for pretty much any place I’d like to travel to. Even if my friend would have been in Bali longer I wouldn’t have made it there in time to see her, and so my Indonesia plans are put on hold for now.

Let’s talk about my passport for a minute: yes, it is probably more used than after passports, after nearly five years of traveling full-time with me, but I also want to point out that I’d taken 13 flights this year already, including in Europe, and was never told that my passport might be an issue to enter a country. As soon as I get my new passport though I will buy a passport holder, that’s for sure. (You’d do the same after being yelled at by a German government official for being careless with an official travel document, trust me.)

Please note that the corners were cut off by the embassy to mark it invalid, that wasn’t me. If you still think that my old passport was in a horrible state, feel free to yell at me in the comments.

Food poisoning
This was the third time on my travels that I didn’t get food poisoning from a dodgy street food cart but from a fancy establishment! This time it happened at the Grand Central VIP movie theater, where 700 baht buy you not only a movie ticket for a smaller, more intimate movie theater with reclining seats, blankets and waiting service throughout the movie (unlimited refills on popcorn and soft drinks), but also access to a fancy lounge with a buffet 1 hour before the movie starts. In theory, the perfect way to spoil yourself after touring Thailand and before a day of exploring Ayutthaya – in reality though, for me the day ended over the toilet, throwing up all the food I had at the buffet, and with a seriously upset stomach. Cycling around the ruins of Ayutthaya the next day? Unthinkable.

kampot food
Pictured is not the food that caused me to nearly die, but a delicious vegetarian Cambodian amok. Enjoyed without any uncomfortable side effects.

Power-less in Cambodia
Picture this: you are in a sweltering heat of 100F /38C, and the only reason you survive is thanks to the air conditioned cafes around town. The power goes out. No air conditioning, no fans, nothing. That’s what happened to me in Siem Reap, just as I was about to eat dinner. It turned out to be the sweatiest meal of my life – my clothes were soaking wet by the time I finished my meal. Luckily I found a restaurant with a generator so that they could run their fans but once they closed, I had to return to my hotel which was still without power. So were my laptop, iPod and iPhone. The room was like a sauna. The entire street was pitch black. Just as I was about to die (no, I am not being overly dramatic here at all), the power came back on. ‘Welcome to the third world’, read the text my friend Carla sent me in reply to me outlining the misery I had gone through the previous night.

siem reap market
I took this photo on said day in Siem Reap’s market. Meat eaters: can you explain to me how fresh meat doesn’t go bad in over 100F/38C temperatures without being cooled?

Drama in Bangkok
After an embarrassing breakdown in Bangkok at the beginning of the month (we’re talking about a full-on drama scene in front of hotel staff, other guests and my temporary globetrottergirl) because of another WiFi incident and a consequently nearly missed deadline for a freelance article I was ready to give up this nomadic life. I couldn’t understand how I ended up in a hotel where the WiFi didn’t work again (the same happened last month!) – in no less than three different rooms, and in Bangkok of all places. Clearly, some higher power was telling me that this whole digital nomad life wasn’t for me?

Bangkok 2015
Other than the WiFi incident, my stay in Bangkok was rather pleasant and involved local markets, cats and penises. No worries – I’ll tell you more about it soon.

Lessons learned

From the aforementioned incident I can only say: my own fault for waiting until the very last minute to submit my article. Don’t wait until the very end to deliver on work commitments. You might think I would have learned that by now, but clearly, I always need some sort of drama in my life.

From the passport fiasco: take better care of my passport, obviously. While I might not care about what condition it is in, the immigration officials in this world do.

Don’t travel on a tourist shuttle
I don’t even know why I booked a direct transfer from Sihanoukville, Cambodia to Koh Chang, Thailand. I’ve not used a single tourist shuttle since I got to Asia, always traveling independently from place to place, using public transportation. I ended up taking twice as long and paid nearly double of what it would have cost me to organize my own transportation, and ended up still changing from a bus at the border into a minivan into a shared pickup truck onto a ferry into a taxi – exactly what I would’ve done independently, but as I said, for half the money and without hour-long waits for the vans to fill up.

koh chang monkeys
Monkeys on Koh Chang. I am fairly sure they didn’t arrive by tourist shuttle.

Lessons taught

I thought I should include this category this month because traveling with other people has had me teach them a few lessons actually, including:

  • How not to get ripped off by Bangkok cab drivers
  • How to find the best deals for hotels
  • How to find out if a hotel is really as decent as it looks in the pictures
  • How to find out what’s the right fare for tuktuks, cabs and other transportation that is not clearly stated on official fare signs
  • How to find cheap flights around south east Asia

If you’d like to know more about any of these things, leave a comment and I will turn it into a full post.

bangkok royal palace
The Royal Palace in Bangkok – visited without being scammed by tuktuk drivers or taxi drivers.

What’s next for me

Another month, another visitor! My friend was dying to spend her birthday on a beach, so why not come and see me in Thailand, right? ☺️

I am spending another ten days in Thailand before my Asia stint comes to full circle in Hong Kong mid-April. I am getting ready for my return to the U.S. which I’ve already hinted on in this article last month, but since I’m still in the planning stages of my exact whereabouts for the first few weeks (guess what – it’s NOT New York!), I’ll wait till next month to share the details with you. Now I only have to keep my fingers crossed for my new passport to be ready in time for me to catch my flight – I have about ten days in Germany at the end of April to apply for a new passport, have the details on my plane ticket changed (it was issued to my old passport number) and get a new ESTA visa waiver. Wish me luck that I’ll be sending my next update as I am on my way to the U.S.!

ao nang boats
Ao Nang, Thailand, where I am writing this. I still have a few more days in this beautiful part of the country.

Best posts of the month

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Polaroid of the week: Lazy beach day in Cambodia

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polaroid of the week cambodia sihanoukville sokha beachI spent the majority of the past week on the beaches of Cambodia. After enduring the relentless heat that takes over Cambodia in March (and even increases in April), it was time to finally hit the coast. And it was the perfect way to enjoy the last few days in one of my favorite countries in the world as my time in Cambodia was coming to an end already.

During my whirlwind tour of Cambodia, I was happy to discover that the people were still just as friendly as I had remembered them, the food was still as delicious, and the beaches were just as gorgeous as I recalled them. Otres Beach remains my favorite, and I didn’t spend much time in Sihanoukville (I did spend long enough there to check out Shoka Beach, pictured above), and rented a bungalow in Otres, about five kilometers outside of town.

The most active thing I did this week were long walks along the beach, the rest of the time was spent lazing in sun chairs, either writing or reading my book (first time in months that I am indulging in the luxury of reading! I missed it so much, and I couldn’t be happier now that I seem to manage my time better) – and simply enjoying being by the ocean. And I don’t think there’s anything better than a daily sunset ritual that involves $0.75 beers and chill out music in the background.

Cambodia, it’s been great seeing you again and I am already looking forward to my next visit!

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Polaroid of the week: Country life in Cambodia

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polaroid of the week cambodia kampot country roadThis week, I’ve slowly worked my way south to Cambodia’s coast. I couldn’t resist stopping in Kampot for a couple of days before hitting the beaches around Sihanoukville. I fell in love with this sleepy little river town when I first came here in 2012 and was curious to see how it had changed since then. And while the town itself hasn’t changed much, with the exception of a few new guesthouses popping up around town, it has become much more popular with tourists, it seems. Three years ago, it seemed like most guesthouses only had a few guests and the town always seemed empty, but this time around, I had a hard time even finding a place to sleep, because everywhere was fully booked. The bars and restaurants along the riverfront were much fuller than they were during my first visit – Kampot has definitely established itself as a firm stop on Cambodia’s traveler trail, it seems.

Once you cross the river though, it is still as sleepy as it used to be, with almost no tourists, and a very simple life in the countryside. Wooden houses on stilts, as they are typical in rural Cambodia, dot the dry, brownish fields, which are in desperate need of some rain after months of the dry season. Farmers make their way home on rickety, old bicycles, mothers sleep in hammocks while their babies play with the multitude of puppies and chickies. I love riding my bicycle along the dusty red country roads, children waving at me, teenage girls giggling as I ride by, shyly greeting me ‘hello’. I love the slow pace of life here, and it makes me slow down automatically, as well. Now I am looking forward to a few very slow days on the beach.

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Polaroid of the week: Back in Cambodia

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polaroid of the week cambodia siem reap templeThis week’s Polaroid is coming to you from Cambodia! If you’ve read my travel plans for March you might recall that they did not include any plans to visit Cambodia, and I am supposed to be in Indonesia right now, not in Siem Reap, close to the ancient temples of Angkor Wat.

However, sometimes things don’t go according to plan, and when I wanted to check into my flight to Bali last week, I was told I couldn’t get on the plane because of the state my passport was in. My jaw dropped. I had taken four flights within Thailand over the past few weeks and five flights in the Philippines (and from there to Thailand!), and no official ever mentioned that I might have problems being allowed into a country with my passport. I have to admit that it does look more … used… than your average passport, but I am still shocked that I wasn’t allowed on a plane because of it – a first in all my years of travel.

I will talk more about the whole dilemma in my monthly roundup but long story short, I wasn’t able to meet my friend in Indonesia which I am devastated about, and I was only able to get a temporary passport which limits my travels considerably.

But back to Cambodia and why I am here. I will meet a friend in Thailand at the end of the month but my 30-day Thai visa would have expired by then. In order to get a new two-week visa I needed to leave the country and when I realized that, I didn’t even need to think about where to go – Right away, I googled how to get to Cambodia from Bangkok and was on a bus to the border as soon as my new passport had been issued.

Now that I’m here, I can’t believe that I was not going to visit Cambodia on this trip, a country I fell for head over heels on my first trip, and which still mesmerizes me this time around. I wasn’t sure how I would feel about it three years after my first visit but I was happy to discover that I still love it just as much as I did back in 2012, and I am super excited to revisit old favorites and some new places before I meet my friend in Bangkok in a couple of weeks.

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Our Top 5 Favorite Destinations of 2012

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What a year! we really outdid ourselves in 2012, traveling to India, Singapore, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, the U.S., Mexico, Costa Rica, Buenos Aires and now Santiago de Chile. We are putting together lists of our ‘top five favorites’ to help you with some inspiration for where to go in 2013. Earlier this month we looked back at our favorite beaches of 2012and now our favorite overall destinations of the year. We hope you get some ideas for your own travels. As always, we are happy to answer any questions in the comments about your trip planning for 2013.

5. Arenal, Costa Rica

I thought we knew Costa Rica up and down, except for the Osa Peninsula, which is a truly off-the-grid adventure deserving of its own dedicated trip.  That’s why, after our housesit on a small Costa Rican beach this year, we didn’t plan to travel much. We slipped in a short stint at one of our favorite nearby beaches, Samara, and headed to La Fortuna to see Arenal Volcano, which neither of us had been to yet. In a rare move for Central American travel, we rented a car and drove from the Pacific coast,through national parks and jungles, curved and swiveled around Lake Arenal and arrived in town, thinking the gorgeous ride would be the highlight of our stay. We couldn’t have been more wrong. We love everything about the set up in Arenal. Even though it hasn’t erupted in years, the volcano is an imposing figure you can’t miss from anywhere in town. At a certain point on the road out of town, practically every hotel has hot springs and we spent a day at the best choice of them all, Tabacon Grand Spa. There are massive waterfalls and a full range of day hikes around the volcano, depending on your level of fitness. Restaurants in town are overpriced tourist traps, but we opted to eat in the typical Costa Rican ‘sodas’ which offer great value for money and the healthiest option in town, a vegetarian casado.
Arenal La Fortuna Costa Rica

4. Kampot, Cambodia

This little city is not the first place you’ll hear about in Cambodia – that would be the ancient kingdom of Angkor Wat outside of Siem Reap. You would probably also hear about Phnom Penh, the country’s capital and the beautiful coastline of the Sihanoukville area (which we named one of the Top 5 favorite beaches we visited year). Somewhere further down the list is the sleepy city of Kampot, famous for its production of both salt and pepper. Kampot Pepper is served on the table of the finest restaurants in Paris, we were told on a day tour which brought us out to the salt fields, the pepper fields, a fishing village,and a gorgeous hike in the countryside. Everything in this quiet, riverside town is accessible by bicycle and the restaurant scene is surprisingly developed – we had easily the best coffee of our time in Cambodia right here in Kampot.
Kampot Cambodia

3. Mexico City, Mexico

We have spent quality time in Mexico City before, including two weeks in 2010, but there is a specific reason why it makes our list tin 2012. Mexico City has what only the greatest of all cities have, and that is the ability to be all things to all people and yet completely different with every single visit. We returned to Mexico City in August for a long weekend and managed to pound the pavement for hours on end and not retrace our old stomping grounds and favorite spots from our trip in 2010. We spent one day at an art market in San Angel, another in the suburb of Ciudad Satélite, where we stayed at the beautiful Casa Roa Bed & Breakfast,and another on a walking tour of the San Rafael neighborhood. Two months later, we ended up back in the city during a 12 hour layover, so with limited time we headed straight to the Centro Historico and scarfed down our favorite tacos on Calle Uruguay and hit up Dani’s favorite La Ideal bakery for some fresh pastries. As we walked through the streets back to the modern, efficient airport bus that evening, we couldn’t help but notice the smiles. For being such a big city in a country with such a dangerous reputation, the capital is packed with families, lovers, artists, businessmen and women, police, protestors, market vendors and tourists all going about their days and we loved every chance we had this year of dipping into Mexico City life.
Mexico City

2. Chiang Mai, Thailand

Popular with tourists and expats of all kinds, this northern Thai city has the magical ability to make its visitors adapt to its pace and style, which is a far cry from buzzing, booming Bangkok. Both within the brick square mile of its more touristy city walls and out into the more local neighborhoods, Chiang Mai incorporates all the things we love about Thailand without most of the mess we disliked in the capital and down on some of the overrun islands. For example, the city is practically littered with ornate, peaceful Buddhist temples and monks in their orange robes constantly sweep past on motorbikes and bicycles, in tuk tuks and on foot, always with a smile that feels both insanely exotic and totally normal at the same time. And yet, Chiang Mai is also stocked with modern coffee shops, really fun walking markets, super fast internet, fashionable locals and online entrepreneeurs from all walks of life. Most of all, we ate like Kings in Chiang Mai. Organic, healthy food at under $4 a meal, fruit smoothies for under a dollar…yes, we most definitely miss Chiang Mai…
Chiang Mai Thailand

1. Buenos Aires, Argentina

Buenos Aires takes the top spot by a landslide, miles beyond anywhere else we visited this year. If you remember, I wasn’t even that impressed with the city when we landed there in November, as it reminded me of anywhere I’d already loved in Europe – Lisbon, Barcelona, Paris. So, it may have taken a little while for Buenos Aires to win us over. It didn’t do so overwhelmingly, or all at once. Instead, it seeped in slowly…the romance, the food, the culture, the architecture, the street art, the hot-blooded protestors, the complicated history and complex politics of ‘isms’ and ‘ists’, the dinners at 11pm, even (and I swore I wouldn’t say this, but I am) the accent that makes ‘playa’ into ‘plaisha’, the rolling Italian speech rythyms and the hand gestures to match. The city isn’t perfect, with garbage on the streets, corrupt politicians, and rates of inflation we’ll never understand, but that only adds to the intrigue. Loving Buenos Aires was unexpected, but knowing it exists settles our wandering souls just a bit. Buenos Aires is our number one pick because it is the only place we say that you really have to go, a place where you could spend a year and not scratch the surface. It is definitely the city we visited in 2012 we could see ourselves returning to multiple times throughout our lives.
buenos aires argentina

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Our Top 5 Favorite Beaches of 2012

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This year will go down in history as the year of the beach for the two of us!

All those days in the office before we started traveling long-term, our thoughts would drift to what it would be like to live on the beach and wake up to the crashing of waves on the shore, the sound of seagulls and being barefoot through the sand. Well in 2012 we certainly got our wish in a year that saw us living over five months on the beach. We spend longer stints in Mexico and Costa Rica, and took trips to the sandy shores of Singapore, Malaysia, India and our number one spot that often gets overlooked by its famous neighbor Thailand.

Read on for our five favorite beach experiences of 2012:

5. Varkala, India

While we didn’t see what all the hype was about on the beaches of Goa and Kerala, we did fall for the cliffs of Varkala, about an hour north of Trivandrum in the far south of India. What the laid-back village lacks in culture is easily made up for by walking the paths along the gorgeous cliffs, looking out over the wide beaches below. There are plenty of hotels and restaurants for every traveler’s budget, and the sunsets here were breathtaking.

Varkala Beach India4. Samara, Costa Rica

Long-time readers will know that Samara has been a favorite beach of ours since we first ended up there on whim back in 2011. This October we were lucky enough to return for a few days and were excited to find that this Costa Rican beach hasn’t lost any of its charm. Although the waves of  Samara are perfect for newbie surfers, the long stretch of sandy beach feels empty even in the high season, with restaurants and hotels well hidden behind the palm trees that line the shore. In a country so popular with international tourists, Samara is one of the few secret spots that combines a great selection of accommodation and relatively few tourists.

Samara Beach Costa Rica3. Langkawi, Malaysia

We had never even heard of Langkawi, an island off the Malaysian coast in the Andaman Sea, but somehow we found ourselves promising a Canadian expat we would go there when she so passionately insisted we visit the favorite part of her adopted country. We ended up spending a week there, and Cenang Beach was by far our favorite beach on the island. Powdery, soft white sand, clear and shallow water, palm trees and incredible sunsets. This is really the perfect vacation island for travelers from near and far.

Langkawi Malaysia2. Mahahual, Mexico

Odds are, you have never heard of Mahahual, unless maybe you have taken a short Caribbean cruise. A popular cruise port once or twice a week in high season, Mahahual is otherwise a small, relaxed fishing town on the Yucatan peninsula with incredibly warm, turquoise water. This was the closest place from the remote beach house we housesat this past summer, and we found every excuse to make the trip. Making sure not to be there on ‘cruise ship day’ we would lay in the rows of empty sun chairs lined up along the beach, working on our tans and sipping cool Mexican beer. Heaven on Earth!

Mahahual Mexico1. Otres Beach and Koh Rong, Cambodia

Cambodia takes the crown for our favorite beach in 2012! There are actually TWO beaches here that tie for first: Otres Beach, on the mainland, and Long Beach on the little known island of Koh Rong. Just a quick tuk-tuk ride from the popular beach town of Sihanoukville, a trip to Otres Beach means avoiding the touts selling tourist trinkets, and focusing on what is important: relaxing in your sun chair with a cool coconut, staring out at sea. The few restaurants and bars here are of better quality than in town and somehow it feels like the sunsets are, too!

Otres Beach Sihanoukville CambodiaFor those of you who are serious about your deserted beaches, Koh Rong’s Long Beach was an amazing experience. The small island two hours off the coast of Sihanoukville only has a handful of guest houses and not much to offer in the way of diversion, but with the seven mile stretch of crystal clear water on the other side of the island, we could have cared less. We were particularly unimpressed with the side of the island where the port is and even considered leaving a day early, until we were told about a path that leads over to the other side of the island. It is an hour-long hike across an entirely untamed islands, which included much tripping, a bit of falling, profuse sweating, more swearing and a 75m descent straight down by clinging to a rope that mysteriously appears the minute you need it to finish the way down. Walking out into the clearest water we have ever seen, however, made the hike entirely worth it. Of course, we found out later you can rent a boat, round-trip, for $25 to take you and ten of your closest friends from the port on a 15-minute ride around to the otherwise deserted Long Beach. But we preferred working hard to reach our absolute favorite beach of 2012!

Koh Rong CambodiaNow we want to know from you – what is the best beach you visited in 2012? Better yet where is your favorite beach in the world?

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A bizarre bamboo train ride in Battambang

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As in many of the dusty, provincial cities just off the trail in South East Asia, Battambang has several tourist activities, which can be covered on a one-day tuk-tuk tour and we already had certain images conjured up about this bamboo experience from other travelers we had met on the road, guidebooks and other travel blogs. We first heard about it over on Alex in Wanderland’s post: A Weekend in Battambang.

bamboo train cambodiaWe knew there would be a single track used to transport goods years ago and I pictured an old-fashioned train made out of bamboo, or maybe the tracks would be bamboo, too. Maybe out in the Cambodian countryside we would find another piece of evidence in favor of the world’s most eco-friendly and sustainable building material. Either way, other travelers we had met made it seem like a really fun, possibly ‘awesome’, rustic experience not to be missed. (Check out the video at the end and let us know if you would take part.)

bamboo train cambodia tracksThe next day, our guide drove us in a motorized tuk-tuk on a main road out of town, then onto a smaller road which eroded into a bumpy dirt road and eventually pulled up next a couple of falling down tourist stands.

We were hastily herded to the track. In the distance, the sun bounced off the steel in a way that revealed weathered metal forming a warped line of track. Looking down, a flat contraption made of simple wood planks was the ‘train’ and the only bamboo was a woven netting we would sit on to keep us from falling through to the track below. The mechanism was just set down on two steel pulleys. It was not bolted down or even tied together with a piece of string. This is because it would be taken apart and put held together several times throughout the next hour.

bamboo train wheelsThis wasn’t the first time we found ourselves confronted with a strange and definitely unsafe oddity but thought we would be enjoying the sprawling Cambodian countryside slowly as if on a flying carpet on wheels, past vast forests of palm trees and open spaces of farm land, watching families of white cows grazing and endlessly swatting flies with their wiry bald tails.

cambodia countrysideInstead, we were nudged by the police officer for our $5 each, told to sit down and face forward and before we even glimpsed our ‘conductor’, the ‘train’ was speeding down the track faster than we could have imagined possible. We whipped our heads round to see a young guy in a straw hat, a red T-shirt and stylish skinny jeans with a cigarette hanging out of a disinterested smirk.

bamboo train driverForget the countryside! Our knuckles had now turned white gripping the only piece of second-rate timber in front of us and I began calculating… If bamboo train A is traveling at 100mph in one direction and train B is traveling at the same speed in the other direction, how many bones would be broken if we all crashed?

cambodia bamboo train trackLuckily we had arrived early and not one train passed us coming the other direction all the way to the end. Unluckily, this meant miraculously flying over gaps in the tracks and thundering over broken bridges for fifteen minutes and reached the end of the track wind-whipped and relieved, only to find more rickety stalls selling typical Cambodian handicrafts and fruit and beer.

cambodia bamboo train end stationYes, we were thirsty. Yes we can buy something for $1.
But everything about this felt so wrong.

These people live deep in the countryside in shacks surrounding a track used only for tourists, their entire income dependent on selling useless goods to foreigners.

Instead we accepted a ten-minute tour of the nearby rice factory from a nine year old girl with perfect English and honest eyes. She explained how the rice is milled and showed how the sacks were separated into the stocks that feed the people and those for the livestock. At school they don’t learn English, she told us, and she learned just from talking to foreigners here at the end of the Bamboo train track. She left a big impression on us and we gave her a tip instead of buying beer (at 9am!).

cambodia rice factoryThere were now half a dozen bamboo trains lined up and tall, white people mulling around the shacks and two sat drinking Angkor beers. Our cart was now at the back of the line (there is no order to this) and as we waited for everyone to finish I decided I would film the trip back.

cambodia bamboo trainThe way back was much more bizarre.

This time several trains came toward us and we rarely reached full speed. Instead, we all took turns dismounting and taking apart our ‘train’ off the track for the others to pass. First conductors lifted the top part off and then each of the pulleys was lifted off the track while all the tourists, Europeans, Americans and a few Asians waited amused on the side of the tracks. We passed a mix of well-dressed, older tourists and young backpackers.

No matter the age, we all shared one thing in common.

cambodia bamboo train touristsIt wasn’t just us with cameras out. All the tourists were documenting the bamboo train experience with their video cameras, iPhones, iPads, iPods and DSLR cameras, some with lenses as big as paparazzi lenses. Dani and I were no longer documenting the bizarre train experience.

Instead, we could not get over the tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of technology that filled this stretch of track.

This gap-filled warped track.

The $5 ride.

The $1 beers at the end of it.

cambodia bamboo train touristWhat about the $15 price of hiring a guide for the entire day, or the ‘For Rent’ sign on a newly built apartment building in the center of Battambang. Written in English and aimed at foreigners, monthly rent was set at $70 per month.

And here we all were, collectively totting around gear that can film, photograph, even edit and upload to the internet like some sort of technology trade show and not one of us is a filmmaker.

cambodia bamboo train touristWhat I could stop thinking about was how this scene, a once-in-a-lifetime experience for us, is a seven-day-a-week operation. Every day those involved see well-dressed foreigners with enough technology to build an entire village even at cut-rate resale price, some of whom don’t even buy that $1 scarf or bottle of water.

cambodia bamboo trainWe bought nothing, our lack of purchase based on general principle.

But what is the principle again?

In Cambodia, no matter where we went, locals smiled at us, ran out of their houses just to wave as we passed by. How do they not hate us? The bigger question, though, is why everyone else seemed so okay with this bamboo train experience.

Why did no one mention this awful irony of a railroad system no longer used for shipping commerce now charging $5 to send rich foreigners with enough money to rebuild the city down a track on a rickety bamboo train to make $1 purchases at the end of it?

Would we have gone anyway? What good is withholding the $10 they made from us that day on the bamboo train?

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Photo essay: The markets of Cambodia

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Come join us for a visual tour of Cambodia’s markets…

If you have been reading GlobetrotterGirls for a while, you know that we are huge fans of hitting up the local markets in every country we visit. There is no better way to describe a Cambodian market than Loung Ung does it in her incredible book on her life in the Khmer Rouge work camps, First They Killed My Father.

‘I am in a Cambodian market where a pile of fish flaps on the dirt floor next to a mound of beef intestines, tripe, and chicken feet. A seller squats next to her goods, her mouth talking incessantly, praising the quality of her products or sharing a yummy recipe on how to cook them. When a deal has been struck, she wraps the goods in a lotus or banana leaf and gives it to her customer. Then, with a wave of her hand, a black cloud of flies levitates and scatters, waiting for her hand to settle down before their eventual return. The smell of her fish, tripe, and chicken feet hovers in the humid air and floats fifty feet away to the people sitting on stools eating their fried chive cakes, pork dumplings, and shrimp patties. Boiling pots of noodle soups, yellow curry, pork-blood rice congee, and pans of hot oil filled with crunchy spring rolls sit on a makeshift oven.

Crackling and browning in another oven are skewers of frog kabobs roasted to a crispy brown. The aroma of the soups and frogs hops over to another customer as she feels the firmness of a pink dragon fruit. From there, she inspects the wiry red rambutans, jack fruit, and durian before she pops a purple grape into her mouth. Drawn by songs of the dessert sellers, she finishes her shopping and sits down for a cool glass of mango fruit shake. As she sips her drink, the pungent smells of dried fish, squid, soups, frogs, fruits, meat, and fish seep into her clothes, skin, and hair.’

South East Asia’s markets were some of the most interesting markets we have ever seen – the street food, tropical fruits that we had not known prior to visiting the region, and other interesting goods. Cambodia was no exception and we found something interesting in every market we went to.

Let’s start with the fruit and vegetables sections – because they are usually the most colorful stalls!

phnom penh central market vegetables
battambang market fruit

phnom penh central market mangosWe were in Cambodia for mango season, and they truly were the best mangoes we had in our time in South East Asia – sweet and juicy… delicious!

phnom penh central market mangosteensWe had discovered mangosteens in Thailand, a juicy fruit with a thick, reddish-purple colored rind and a juicy, soft opaque white core. Over time, they have become some of our favorite fruits in Asia. You have to squeeze the thick rind a little bit, and the fruit will break open in the middle. They are unlike any other fruit we’ve ever had!

phnom penh central market duriansDurians are very popular in Cambodia – Cambodians LOVE them! We do not love them at all, instead we tend to agree with travel writer Richard Sterling though, who described the taste of this unique fruit as follows: ‘pig-shit, turpentine and onions, garnished with a gym sock.’
durian seller battambangThe taste of the Durian has been compared to things like stale vomit, skunk spray, and sewage – by Westerners of course. In most of South East Asia durian is handled as an expensive specialty and you will find durian ice cream, durian chocolate pralines and other durian goodies everywhere.

phnom penh durian vendorWe love all the melons and of course we eat more bananas than most monkeys!

phnom penh central market water melonsBananas are, like in all of South East Asia, only finger-sized, and much sweeter than the ones we are used to in Europe or North America.

tiny bananas south east asiaAnd there are definitely enough melons for everyone!

battambang market melonsThe same goes for coconuts – they are everywhere!

coconut vendor battambangAnother fruit we had not known before we got to South East Asia is the rambutan – a small, hairy fruit with a juicy core similar to a lychee.

battambang market rambutanTangy tamarind is also widely available, but we prefer tamarind juice to the fruit itself.

battambang market tamarindOf course you can buy rice in any of the markets, the price ranging from 2700 ($0.65) to 5000 Riel ($1.22) per kilo, depending on the kind of rice.

phnom penh central market riceThe former French protectorate still loves the baguettes, which you find on the streets, similar to Laos, also once controlled by the French.

phnom penh central market baguette vendorA common snack is sticky rice with red beans, roasted in a bamboo stick. These are filling, travel-friendly and also pretty fun to eat.

battambang market sticky riceSince most of the towns in Cambodia are either close to a river or close to the ocean, you always find fresh fish in the markets.

battambang market fish…or dried fish, hugely popular in this country.

phnom penh central market dried fishAnd then there’s chicken of course – freshly slaughtered and disemboweled. Looks more like science class than dinner to us.

phnom penh central market chickens
phnom penh market chicken vendorMost kinds of birds, as long as you can catch ’em and cook ’em, can be seen hanging upside down in the markets.

phnom penh central market birds
cambodia fried birdsDucks are also very popular everywhere…

battambang market ducksShopping for more than food in Cambodian markets

The clothes section was particularly interesting – we have seen belly-reducing underwear and push-up bras of course, but until we came to Phnom Penh, we had never seen panties to make your butt look bootylicious…

phnom penh central market pantiesAnd these flip flops are pretty creative…

funky keyboard flipflop phnom penhAnother section of the markets is dedicated to flowers – you can buy beautiful flower bouquets or lotus flowers which are usually given to Buddha when visiting the temple..

phnom penh central market flower bouquetSpeaking of which – there is even a small Buddha shrine in the market to pay your respects.

phnom penh central market buddha shrineLotus flowers are not only used for its beautiful blossoms though – their fruits are edible and sold everywhere. We didn’t like the flavor though.

phnom penh central market lotus flowersWhile sweets were rare in the markets, Cambodians still get their sugar fix – with sugar cane juice, freshly made while you are waiting.

phnom penh central market sugar cane lady
phnom penh central market sugar cane juiceLike neighboring Thailand and Laos, you also can get fried crickets in Cambodia.

cambodia fried cricketsPhnom Penh’s Central Market is located in a beautiful market yellow market hall with a high, round ceiling. One of the cleanest and most organized markets we’ve seen in South East Asia.

phnom penh central market ceilingNot everyone has a market stall though, so you see some of the vending ladies walking around with big baskets on their head in which they have the food they sell.

phnom penh market fish lady
phnom phen market fruit ladyAnother way to carry your goods are two baskets, connected by a long wooden stick, carried on your shoulder.

battambang vendorOutside of every market, the barbers set up their shops: basically a chair and a mirror and they are ready to go!

phnom penh barber shopSome people just like to come and hang out outside the markets, like these guys playing a round of chess (their wives are probably selling fruit inside!)

phnom penh chess playersOf course there are shoe shiners in the markets…

phnom penh shoe shine stallCyclo taxis are the preferred method to get you shopping home from the market…

phnom penh cyclo taxiNo matter how hot it is, the market ladies always tend to wear long sleeves!
battambang market vegetable vendor
battambang market mango vendor
battambang market vegetables
phnom penh central market chicken ladies

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A comprehensive guide to Kampot, Cambodia

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Kampot is a small river-side town in the South of Cambodia, not far from the beaches of the south coast. It might feel sleepy, but the change in the air is palpable: a new tourist market hall is being built, boutique hotels are moving in, the riverside promenade has gotten a makeover, crumbling buildings in the old French quarter are being restored. In Kampot, it feels like half the town is under construction. We absolutely loved Kampot, as a great place to kick back for a few days, enjoy good food and cheap cocktails in one of the riverside restaurants and discover where to famous Kampot pepper comes from.

Our GlobetrotterGirls Comprehensive Guide to Kampot, Cambodia

Click the links to skip to a particular section, or read the whole guide in one go!

kampot river sunset

Where to stay in Kampot

A few years ago, accommodation in Kampot concentrated mainly around the so-called ‘guesthouse street’ a few blocks away from the river front, but recently a few more Khmer hotels opened closer to the river and a few boutique hotels have gone in to restored colonial houses in the former French quarter. Gone are the days when budget hotels ruled Kampot, there are now mid-range and high-end accommodation now that Kampot’s popularity is growing beyond the backpacker community.

Paris Guesthouse
This new, clean hotel in the mid-town area has AC or fan rooms, hot/cold water, en-suite bathrooms, cable TV, desk and chair for $7 – $15 a night.

A charming, though hard to pronounce, boutique hotel right on the riverfront, Rikitikitavi has free wifi, a restaurant with a great menu and nice views over the river and rooms for $35 – $45

Le Soleil d’Or
New boutique hotel in a beautifully restored French-colonial building just one block from the river, we didn’t see rooms here, but they are in prime location right in the center of town for $35 – $45

kampot french-colonial buildingLa Java Bleue
Another boutique hotel in a French-colonial building, one block from the river and one block from the main park. $35 – $45 

Bokor Mountain Lodge
Located right at the riverfront in an old colonial building, the Bolor Mountain Lodge has nice rooms and the restaurant downstairs has a large, varied menu. Rooms run $30 – $45 – Book here

A new-ish hotel on guesthouse road, all of the spacious, clean rooms come with hot shower, free wi-fi. $6 – 7 (fan room), $13 – 15 (AC room) – Book here

One of the original guesthouses on Guesthouse Street, Blissful remains a favorite among backpackers. Nice garden restaurant & bar, free wi-fi.$5 (double, private bath), $4 (double, shared bath), $2 (dorm bed)

Pepper Guesthouse
Nice guesthouse on the Guesthouse Street, basic accommodation, restaurant on-site, bicycle rentals. $8 (Fan), $15 (AC).

Orchid Guesthouse
On Guesthouse Street, we like the feel of this colonial villa with a big yard. $5 (Fan), $15 (AC), $8 (bungalow), $15 (private bungalow, AC) – Book here

Kampot Guesthouse
On Guesthouse Street, spacious & spotless rooms in a big building, restaurant on-site $6 (Fan), $15 (AC)

The Columns
Boutique hotel in the center of Kampot, in a nicely restored French-colonial building. $35 – $49 – book here

kampot french-colonial houses

Borey Bokor
Nice hotel with swimming pool, bath, cable TV and wi-fi. All rooms come with hot water and AC-option. Their sister hotel Borey Bokor II is similar, but without swimming pool. $15 – $40 – book here

Cozy Elephant
At the far end of the main park in Kampot, basic rooms, free wi-fi, free bicycle rental. On-site restaurant.  $3 – 12 (rooms), $2.50 (dorms)

Champey Sor
New Khmer-run hotel two blocks from the river, hot shower, cable TV, Fan or AC rooms available, free wi-fi. We stayed here, didn’t love it/didn’t hate it. From $15 – book here

Mea Culpa
Guesthouse 500m south of the town center, nice garden setting. Nice rooms with AC, TV and DVD player, hot water. Complimentary tea & coffee. Patio restaurant (pizzas from wood-fired oven)  $20 – $25

Natural Bungalows
Stylish bungalows 1km north of the town center, right at the river on a sandy beach. All bungalows have AC, bungalow, king-size beds, cable TV and hot water. Free wi-fi and breakfast included in the room rate. Restaurant and bar on-site. $13 – $68 Book here

cambodia mango tree

Riverside accommodation just outside of Kampot

Villa Vedici (2km upstream)
New, small riverside hotel with swimming pool and riverside terrace, offers river cruises and kayak trips. All rooms have cable TV & DVD player, fridge, safe and wi-fi.  $25 – Book here

Ganesha Eco-Resort (4km upstream)
Family-run eco-resort right by the river, free-wifi and bicycle rental. Canoes & motorbikes can be rented, and there is an on-site restaurant. $7 – $49 – Book here

Bodhi Villa (2km upstream)
Riverside bungalows, rooftop and treehouse bungalows, restaurant & bar, chill room with movies, pool table, dorms . $4 – $8

Check out the most up-to-date list of the ever growing number of guesthouses and hotels in Kampot on!

What to do in Kampot

Kampot can easily be explored in a couple of days, but there are plenty of day trips to keep you busy for 4-5 days of more.

Countryside Tour
Kampot is world famous for its Kampot pepper and there are various tour operators who offer countryside tours that include a stop at a pepper farm. Other stops (on all the tours) are a fishing village, a cave with a truly ancient Indian Buddha shrine and the salt fields around Kampot. Orchid Tours (on Guesthouse Road) offers the same tour with an additional visit to Rabbit Island. The rustic island is just off the coast of Kep and there are options to have lunch either on the island or in the town of Kep. This all-day tour costs more than the other pepper/salt/countryside tours, but well worth it. You can also hire local tuktuk drivers for independent tours of the same items (negotiate the stops and price).

cambodia pepperSunset River Cruise
The views over the Elephant Mountains from the river are superb, especially at sunset. Several boats go out for a sunset cruise every night for around $8.

Rent a bicycle & explore the area
We did this and absolutely loved it! Several guesthouses offer bicycle rentals (Pepper Guesthouse, The Cozy Elephant) for $1 per day and even though Kampot is a walkable city, renting a bicycle allows you to explore beyond the old French-colonial quarter, ride along the river, or cross one of the bridges and get a glimpse of the lives of the Muslim fishermen who live on the other side of the river. Entirely rural and absolutely charming, riding slowly past little stores and out onto deep red dirt roads is a great way to spend the afternoon.

Get a massage
There are several massage studios along the riverfront. Many are good, including massages by the blind (common in Cambodia). It’s usually around $5 for a one-hour full-body massage.

Take a day trip to Kep
The seaside resort of Kep is 25 kilometers east of Kampot – it takes about 40 minutes by car or tuktuk to get there. Kep is famous for its excellent seafood, so it is well worth visiting the little town for lunch. Many people enjoy relaxing afternoons at the beach there, but it is not exactly a great beach town. We preferred taking the boat over to Rabbit Island for a more tropical feeling on the islands palm tree lined beach.

rabbit island beach cambodiaVisit Bokor National Park
Bokor National Park is a big nature reserve about 1.5 hours from Kampot, with an abandoned hotel casino on top of the mountain. From up here, there are fantastic views over the jungle and the ocean. The buildings remain from the time of the French regiment in Cambodia, and plans have been made to build a new casino there. Bokor National Park is a fantastic place to hike and to spot wildlife (including tigers, if you are very lucky), a beautiful hike is the 5km trail to the Popokvil Waterfall. All-day tours leave from Kampot for about $10 including lunch (or hire a tuktuk and negotiate a day rate).

Enjoy live music
For such a sleepy little city, there is a great music scene in Kampot. Bokor Mountain Lodge has live music on Sundays from 5pm and Art Bar Craze,a trendy bar just off the river, has live music on Saturdays.

Where to eat in Kampot

Kampot is full of good restaurants in all price ranges, offering everything from Khmer (Cambodian) and Asian cuisine to Western fare or Italian cuisine.

Bokor Mountain Lodge
Riverside restaurant, wide range of Western dishes (pizza, pasta, burgers, potato wedges $2.75, hummus & pita $2.50, good salads), free wi-fi, Happy Hour.

Café Espresso
Hands down the best coffee in all of Cambodia, Cafe Espresso is a coffee-lover’s paradise. This recently opened coffee shop with specialty coffees and a small, homemade food menu (quesadillas, breakfasts, home-made baked beans, French Toast, salads) and free wi-fi. Open daily from 8am – 6pm.

kampot cafe espressoABC Bar (Art Bar Craze)
Small bar right by the new market hall, Happy Hour 6 – 8pm, Draft beer $075, Ice cream with liquor $2.00. French-style food, hummus $1.50, eggplant $1.75. Live music on Saturdays. Art exhibition. Open from 2pm. Wednesdays closed.

Once we found this place, we ate here again and again! This riverside restaurant upstairs from the hotel by the same name has Happy Hour 5 – 7pm, breakfasts, sandwiches and a creative menu with French-colonial Khmer dishes and delicious dishes such as chicken yogurt wraps, satay skewers, eggplant & parmigiana, bruschetta, kebab, ribs, veggie burritos and Dani’s favorite – kuree krahom (vegetarian Khmer curry).

This trendy riverfront bar with pool table, full bar with great international cocktails, Western and Asian dishes like cheap cheese platter, pasta, burgers, salads for $2.75, spring rolls, veggie sticks & dip and breakfast. Free wi-fi. Happy Hour 5 – 7pm. Mondays closed.

Sisters II
This is the second restaurant of Sisters I & III in nearby Sihanoukville, and there is no question why it expanded. The wide range of inexpensive cakes (carrot cake, lemon merengue, chocolate pie, banana bread, apple pie), also good breakfast. Located on the road that leads from the riverfront (Bokor Mountain Lodge) to the 2000 monument.

Epic Arts Café
Great selection of light meals and very vegetarian-friendly. Couscous & chickpea salad, eggplant rolls with couscous on the side, fruit shakes, baked goods, coffee. Free wifi. All profits go to help Kampot’s deaf & disabled community. Open daily from 8am – 6pm.

kampot eggplant rollsPizza 36
Best selection of pizzas in Kampot, free delivery available. Also serve sandwiches and bruschetta,  burgers and drinks. The menu includes creative pizzas such as a Hibernating Bear, Khmer Siciliana (with local dried fish), The Olive-r Twist (black, green and stuffed pimiento olives), Spicy Thai chicken pizza, mashed potato and bacon pie, upside down pizza (loads of ingredients, cheese and tomato sauce on top). Also: margherita sandwiches, P.L.T. sandwich (with Pepperoni), garlic bread, onion rings & thick-cut chips. On the road that leads from the riverfront ( Bokor Mountain Lodge) to the 2000 monument.

Other restaurants include:
Mea Culpa (nice patio restaurant at Mea Culpa guesthouse 500 meters south of the town center. Khmer dishes as well as international cuisine, and pizza from a wood-fired oven; free wifi)

Blissful (at the Blissful guesthouse, large menu with Western, Khmer and Asian dishes, Sunday roast and good breakfasts, Happy Hour 4 – 8pm, free wi-fi)

Where to find free wi-fi in Kampot

Wi-fi is available in almost all guesthouses and a number of restaurants in town. However, some of them don’t have plugs, so here are a few options where you can use your laptop.

Café Espresso
As mentioned above, this place has the best coffee in town and really reliable wi-fi so definitely be prepared to get some serious work done! There are also plenty of plugs to stay connected.

kampot cafe espresso coffee

Epic Arts Café
This is a really nice cafe in the middle of town, and as we mentioned above, all profits go to the deaf and disabled community in Kampot. The wi-fi here works great and the environment is welcoming.

Other places with wi-fi include:

  • Vongmany Restaurant (east of the river on the main road)
  • Sunset restaurant (at Sunset guesthouse)
  • La Java Bleue (corner cafe and rooftop terrace in the center of town)
  • Rikitikitavi (excellent food and river views, but no plugs)
  • Sisters II (fresh baked goods, breakfast and Western dishes)
  • Wunderbar (right on the riverfront, but it can be loud)
  • Bokor Mountain Lodge (right on the riverfront, but only some plugs inside)
  • Frangipani (right on the riverfront)
  • Bar Red (late night restaurant / bar; also has rooms)

Have you recently been to Kampot? Let us know how our guide holds up against the test of time. Let us know about great new guesthouses/cafes/wi-fi spots that pop up and also if a place on our list has slipped and is no longer worth the recommendation!  


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Day 701 to Day 800: The Tops and Flops

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In our Reflections post yesterday we talked about the last 100 days, which we spent in Cambodia, Singapore, Malaysia, India, the U.S. and Mexico. We talked about how this last stretch has been nothing short of an adventure, and unlike any other time on the road yet. In this most recent post in our Tops and Flops series, we cover what have been the very highest of highs and lowest of lows…

Top travel moments

Cruising the backwaters of Kerala, India
We had been looking forward to this for months and the experience did not disappoint. The backwaters are essentially a water system of rivers, canals and lakes covering a massive area of land in Kerala and the flat waters allow houseboats to glide calmly on top of the water. The prices are so affordable that with Jaime and Val we rented a houseboat, complete with a captain and a chef for three days and watched Indian life go by. Locals bathed, washed and swam in the water, and we sat mesmerized by just how many palm trees our line of vision could hold out here at once. Plus, our chef stuffed us with the best Indian food we’ve ever had (see Top Food Moments).

kerala backwatersCocktails on top of Marina Bay Sands, Singapore
We don’t often splurge on expensive restaurants or cocktails, but I just knew I had to have a Singapore Sling in Singapore. Edna told us not to have it at the Raffles Hotel (the birthplace of the cocktail, and where everyone else heads for it) because apparently nowadays theirs is a pre-made mix and so I decided to have it at the Skybar on top of the Marina Bay Sands instead. Atop this architectural marvel bathed in the most spectacular sunset, we toasted as we watched the city turn in to a sea of lights below.

views from marina bay sandsFavorite places

After falling head over heels for the dusty Cambodian countryside, we didn’t expect to love the urban feel of Singapore, but we loved it from the minute our plane landed. Expecting a restricted, bland mega-city, instead we were charmed by the eclectic mix of cultures, architecture and food in the city. Even though the financial district is filled with modern skyscrapers, neighborhoods like Kampong Glam, Chinatown or Little India still retain their traditional feel. In fact, there was so much to see between the markets, food and different neighborhoods we could have spent a few weeks there! With the ease of transportation, getting around the city is so easy – and we can’t wait to get back and explore even more.

singaporeTucson, Arizona
It felt great to be back in Tucson! Our first time here came over two years ago in June 2010, when we were just two months in to this trip. A housesit brought us here, and the same homeowners asked us back this time around. Aside from loving the house, pool and the dog, we just love the South West and Tucson in particular. We love the saguaros, the desert-scape, the sunsets, discovering little cafes and great Mexican restaurants and visit nearby towns like Bisbee and Tombstone.

Tucson, ArizonaHampi, India
Unfortunately Jessica’s injuries kept her from joining our trip to Hampi, but this turned out to be my favorite place in India so far. I loved everything – the people we met there, the colorful little village, the impressive temples, the monkeys, the food and the unique scenery unlike anywhere else we had been in India.

hampi indiaMost disappointing place(s)

The beaches of Goa
We always thought Goa would be paradise: white sand, palm-lined beaches and Indian food. Instead, we found the sort of typical tourist beach towns set along stretches of beach that were nothing more than average with several places with a strong undertow and pounding waves. Several people actually die on these beaches every year. While we want to go back to India, we wouldn’t waste our time in Goa.

cow at the beach in palolemWorst travel moments

Getting rammed by a cow in India
Without a doubt, her encounter with a cow in Goa was by far the worst travel moment Jess experienced in the last 100 days. The bruises were bad, the torn back muscles and bruised hipbones were worse, but roughly about 50 days and thousands of miles later, she has almost fully recovered.

Flying Air India in general, plus arriving in the U.S. without our luggage
We booked our India – Tucson flights with Air India. Two weeks before our flight, a massive Air India strike saw daily cancellations in the dozens. After hours on the phone, luckily our flights were changed but not cancelled. However, instead of a direct Delhi to Chicago leg of the flight, our plane made a stop in Frankfurt, Germany but we weren’t allowed to get off. We spent over 20 hours inside the plane and when we disembarked in Chicago, our luggage did not arrive with us. We continued on to Tucson sans luggage and spent two days whining about all of the great things we could have lost with the luggage. Air India called and we finally got our bags, but we learned a good lesson about what is a carry-on must in the future. We also learned that except for the great in-flight vegetarian food, we wouldn’t ever fly Air India again.

flyingTop travel mishaps

Taking a train without reserved seats in India
Whatever you do, do NOT spontaneously hop on a train if you’re traveling any sort of long distance in India. In India pre-booking sleeper class is entirely necessary to guarantee a seat in a part of the train that treats you like a human being. Val and I tried to reserve tickets for the 14-hour ride from Alleppey, Kerala to Gokarna, Karnataka, but all the seats were reserved. We were stuck with Second Class. How bad could it be, we thought? It was bad…really bad. Second class actually means that you are treated like a second-class citizen, similarly to cattle or other livestock. There is leaning, pressing, pushing, definitely standing. Six or more people sit where four should, and even people crawl up to sit above on racks meant for luggage. There are so many possibilities for disaster – the luggage rack could (and in most cases is about to) fall, the windows have bars and with the hundreds of extra passengers per car, how would anyone make it to the door alive? After hours of standing, an incredibly friendly Muslim family offered us their seats and we finally sat down, but the experience was so awful that the four of us got off eight hours early and spent two nights in a town none of us had planned to visit just to recover from it all.

indian trainTravel recommendations

Use foursquare to explore a place
We are big fans of foursquare (check out our GlobetrotterGirls Foursquare here), an app that lets you ‘check in’ virtually in all the places you visit – be it the hairdresser, dentist, restaurant, museum or hotel. Say you want to avoid possible stalkers, that’s fine, you can still use the app to explore tips for places around you, which restaurants are most popular on any given evening, etc. During our housesit last month, we found a ton of independent coffee shops in Tucson through foursquare that we wouldn’t have found otherwise, including dog-friendly cafes to bring the dog we were looking after. Once you choose a spot, the tips are even more helpful at giving ideas about what dishes to order or which to absolutely stay away from.

tucson cappuccino at cartel coffee labTop food moments

Homemade Keralan food on the houseboat in Kerala
Renting a houseboat and cruising through the backwaters was one of our favorite travel moments, and the food definitely contributed to that. In a cramped little kitchen, our private chef worked foodie miracles four times a day. We woke up to a delicious Keralan breakfast, and spent the next few hours basically waiting for lunch, which was the largest meal of the day. Rice, poppadoms, curries, and several local dishes filled the table each day. After a homemade afternoon snack with tea and coffee, dinner was rice, chapattis, and at least two curries, often made with coconut and fruits – like pineapple curry and mango curry. The homemade chapatti (bread) was the best we’ve had anywhere in India.

Keralan food on the houseboat in IndiaJessica’s homemade Huevos Rancheros
Having a kitchen is quite possibly the best part of any housesit for us, and I couldn’t wait for Jess to make me my favorite breakfast, Huevos Rancheros (fried eggs with salsa served on tortillas, usually with a side of refried beans, guacamole and rice). Whenever we are in the U.S. or Mexico I order this dish as often as possible, but I have finally realized that Jess makes the best Huevos Rancheros ever, hands down. We also made salad everyday, baked cookies on a whim, made lasagna and experimented with a Mexican-style enchilada lasagna and had yogurt parfaits everyday for breakfast, when we didn’t have Huevos Rancheros.

homemade Huevos RancherosIf you made it all the way down here, you might be interested in our previous Tops and Flops as well:

Our Tops and Flops of 700 days of travel: Thailand, Malaysia and Cambodia
Our Tops and Flops of 600 days of travel: United States, Thailand, Laos
Our Tops and Flops of 500 days of travel: Portugal, Canada, USA
Our Tops and Flops of 400 days of travel: Panama, Germany, Italy, Spain
Our Tops and Flops of 300 days of travel: Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica
Our Tops and Flops of 200 days of travel: Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and El Salvador
Our Tops and Flops of 100 days of travel: Las Vegas, California, Arizona, Mexico

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