Wednesday, July 22, 2015

WE'RE HOMEOWNERS!!!

170 square feet. Two bed. One bath. Open floorplan. Location. Location. Location.


Way back in November, we had an idea. And today, we took the first step towards making that idea a reality. Stay tuned for some serious US adventures!


Saturday, May 23, 2015

We’re starting to seriously panic about the price of entry to return to the US. Cell phone plans. Health insurance. A computer. A car?? Hair appointments. Dentist appointments. Clothes and shoes that haven’t been worn every day for ten months. Living in the US, California especially, is freaking EXPENSIVE!!

Our perspective on finances changes so much whenever we travel. We’ve grown accustomed to spending no more than $2 on a meal. To not having any bills. To paying someone $3 to do all of our laundry for us. I was reading the menu of a new restaurant I want to try in LA, and noticed that not a single glass of wine was under $15. FIFTEEN DOLLARS!! That would pay for a hotel room in Vietnam. A nice one!

People often ask how we afford to travel like this. And the short answer is, we save aggressively and spend prudently. We travel to really affordable places where our monthly budget is a fraction of what it is at home. We think carefully about every purchase and make sure it’s meaningful and worth it before we splurge. We stick to our guns and don’t make exceptions for every special circumstance (cause trust me, there are lots of them!)

But somehow, within weeks of living in LA, I know that a $15 glass of wine will feel normal again. Phone bills will be paid without a second thought. Appointments and shopping trips just a swipe of a little piece of plastic.

As our arrival in the states grows closer, we are really hoping to carry a little more of this mindfulness home with us. That we’ll seek out and appreciate the cheap and free things to do in LA, just like we would if we were travelers there. That the line between wants and needs will be almost as clear as it is on the road. After I buy my new iPhone, that is.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Persistence. Perfection. Poor Planning.

Angkor. The magnificent remains of the Khmer Empire (often referred to by the name of its most famous temple, Angkor Wat). The filming location of Indiana Jones and Tomb Raider movies. One of the most important archaeological sites in Southeast Asia. The largest religious monument in the world, stretching over some 150 square miles in the Cambodian jungle. And at the top of my bucket list for the past several years.

Our ticket allowed entry on any three days within one week. On our first of these visits, we checked off the item on every tourist’s itinerary: Watching the sunrise over Angkor Wat. Our tuk tuk driver picked us up from our guesthouse at 4:45am. We’d chosen him days earlier because we liked his smile, his festive tunes, and the bounty of LED lanterns swaying ferociously from his tiny roof with every bump in the road.


We sped down the dark roads under the blanket of night, air already thick with humidity of the day to come. Music blaring, passing other tuk tuks, hearts racing as the time was finally upon us. We arrived amidst a sea of others and raced across the long moat into the temple, our path illuminated only by the dancing beams of flashlights, unable to catch a glimpse of the imposing outer walls we were about to penetrate. Once through the main gate, the whisper of dawn began to reveal the outline of a magnificent temple within, and we took our seats amongst the crowd to witness what we’d come all this way for.


Now, it’s tough to be present and in the long-awaited moment when hundreds of people are competing with you for the perfect shot. But we got a few nonetheless, and when the sun's rays finally ascended above the temple, we took a seat nearby to eat the breakfast picnic we’d packed the night before. Sunrise over Agkor Wat: Check.




We’d paid our driver just $20 for a full day tour, so we proceeded to be whisked around the complex, stopping at various sites of interest along the way. It was packed. And hot. An inferno unlike anything we’ve felt in most places in the world. Record high temperatures, we later learned. Each time we returned to the tuk tuk from exploring yet another temple, Mr. Saan offered us a fresh bottle of water and cool cloth to wipe our sweat. The piles of old stones began to blur into one another, a haze of history under an unrelenting sun. But we were determined to see all that we came for, heat stroke be dammed.











By noon, we had completed our circuit. The hotel's not-quite-cool-enough pool offered a reward for our persistence.

On the second visit, we took a different approach. Go to where the least amount of people will be, and avoid the sun altogether. Another 4:45am pick-up, but this time we ventured deeper into the jungle to Bayon Temple. With every surface covered in giant serene faces, it was a magical and eerie place to watch night turn to day. We were literally the only two people out there, secluded and enveloped by the sounds and smells of the surrounding jungle.







Once the sky was lit to a soft powder blue, we sped off to my favorite of Angkor’s temples, Ta Prohm. One of the few in the complex where nature has been left uninterrupted to take it’s course, the crumbling walls have been consumed in places by ancient tree roots. A beautiful reminder of the power of mother earth, and a rugged place where you can actually feel the years that have passed since the fall of the Khmer empire. We had seen this site on our first day's visit, but being one of just a few people there - while everyone else was miles away at Angkor Wat - was a truly magical experience.






We returned home for a mid-day swim and snooze, following by another swim and lunch. We finally had this Angkor thing figured out! That evening, we returned to watch the sun set at Angkor Wat, catching it in a different light and from the reverse view of our first visit. Day 2, absolute perfection.







The very last day that our passes were valid, we skipped the sunrise and opted for a sleep in, another swim, and some $1.50 margaritas at our favorite Mexican joint in town instead. Just two more items lingered on our wish list: Exploring a temple I was denied access to prior (for wearing a tank top), and watching the sun set from high atop the hill of Phnom Bakheng temple.

As the afternoon drifted on over frozen beverages, we realized we may have waited too long to contact our favorite tuk tuk driver. By the time we reached him, the sun hung low in the sky, and we nervously awaited his postponed arrival while debating whether we should go with one of the dozens of other guys parked on the street beside us. But we loved our driver! And wanted to stay loyal to him! I guess we better order another.


Our guy finally arrived and we rushed to Phnom Bakheng, with just a half hour to spare before we had to make our way tot the famous sunset spot. We parked and sprinted to the gates in my long sleeved shirt, but I was denied again, this time for wearing shorts. WHAT?! The sign didn’t say anything about shorts! Upon further investigation, it turned out that shorts were okay, they just had to be longer than my shorts. Between you and me, I think this is a ploy for the nearby vendors to sell their wares, but that’s neither here nor there. I sulked back to the tuk tuk where Reece, never missing a chivalrous opportunity, offered to trade shorts with me. This way I could at least run up and get the photo I wanted before our time here came to a close. 

We struggled (and failed) to find a private place, so we covered up as best we could with a towel and dropped our pants. All the while considering whether showing a bare ass in front of the temple was any less offensive than wearing shorts inside it. In my rush, I fell and sliced up my knee on thousand-year-old rubble. The pleasant margarita buzz had evolved into a hot and hazy sleepiness. So far, things were not going as planned.


I finally limped across the pavilion, inside the main gates, and up the stairs to the viewpoint I sought. Oh, so many stairs. Oh, so hot. For a moment, I actually felt like I might pass out. No shade in which to seek relief. No supportive husband by my side. No stop to the pounding in my head. It was a miserable rush but I got the shot. You can see the overwhelming excitement on my face.






Now it was time for the grand finale. A short hike to the top of a hill where we could sit upon ancient ruins and watch the sun dip into the distant horizon, across Cambodia’s lush landscape, while contemplating life and counting our many blessings... And being pushed and shoved by a swarm of other tourists trying to capture the same moment of peace. We had to wait in a line to even get up the stairs to see the view, where we stood around idley searching for a place to rest our sore bums.



Did I mention Reece was still wearing my shorts??


Ultimately, it was so crowded that it wasn’t even worth waiting around for the sun to go down. We took our time strolling down the hill back to our waiting driver, pausing to appreciate the orange sky for a moment away from the hoards. Our final day may have been poorly planned, but we couldn’t have asked for a more well-rounded Angkor experience.



For more photos of our Angkor Wat experience, click HERE.


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

When in Rome...

...you should do whatever it is Romanians do. When in Cambodia, you should see a Khmer boxing match.

Clutching a worn flyer, we motioned to the tuk tuk driver where we wished to go. It wasn’t a long ride, about 15 minutes to the outskirts of town. We were dropped off in a dirt lot, and approached a small window to pay our entrance fee. Once through the chain-link gate, I was immediately struck by the smell of tiger balm in the air. Restless boxers paced about, awaiting their next fight. An announcer’s voice boomed through a set of speakers, and ecstatic cheers emanated from the entrance to the tarp covered stadium.

We entered shyly and climbed the wooden bleachers to find an open spot amongst the crowd. A rhythmic percussion amped up the lively spectators, and it wasn’t long before I noticed it was not a radio, but rather live drummers booming from the sidelines. Boxers shifted their weight from one foot to the next in time with the music, swaying as hypnotically as snake charmers. Then, like snakes, they’d strike with a quickness and strength that took my breath away. We were worried it may be a cheesy show, more of a tourist attraction than an actual fight. But these fights were real - impacts echoing across the ring, kicks nearly shattering shins, blood splattering from opponent’s faces. The pulsing beat went on, picking up pace with the increased aggression and excitement.

We drowned cans of local brew in the sweltering heat. Shouted and cheered and grimaced along with the captivated crowd. Amidst it all, it dawned on me that we were the people in those travel shows we're so addicted to. Down a dirt road in Cambodia, surrounded by shouting local men placing anxious bets, watching the local champion defend his title, air thick with humidity and sweat. This was one of those moments that would fit right into an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown. I could just see the camera pan across the frenzied crowd, the slow-mo shot of a landing punch, the pounding soundtrack driving the action. Time seemed to slow down around me as I breathed it all in, engaging each of my senses, memorizing the moment.

Six bouts and as many cold beers later, the event was over. We poured into the street with the buzzing throng, competing for the attention of tuk tuk drivers to take us to the nearest local watering hole. Since that’s where everybody else was going. And after all, when in Rome…





Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Otres Beach, Cambodia

It doesn’t get much closer to the beach than this.


Indigo Bungalows on Otres Beach. Just one of the dozens of simple, thatched roof bungalows that line this stretch of fine white sand on Cambodia’s southern coast. It’s a place where you go to watch the sunset over the Gulf of Thailand. To stroll from one beach bar to the next. To disconnect from the rest of the planet. We stayed here for just a few nights before the Angkor Wat itch called us to Siem Reap. And we were painfully negligent in our photo-taking. Nevertheless, for a few pics of our time in Otres, click HERE.