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.

But 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.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

When in Rome... 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.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Kampot, Cambodia

Kampot is an oh-so-quiet riverside town in southern Cambodia, just two hours from the Vietnamese border. It’s a perfect place to transition into a new country – slow and peaceful and welcoming. A two-block town center hosts about a dozen bars and restaurants, mostly run by checked-out expats. The majority of visitors stay just outside of town, in one of the handful of extraordinarily chilled out, rustic riverfront accommodations.

We stayed in a bamboo hut at Samon Village, mainly because their large wooden deck offered no shortage of lounge chairs and hammocks from which to soak up the area’s relaxed vibe. Motorbike adventures and rock climbing offered a few good reasons to tear ourselves away, as long as we came back in time for a sunset kayak.

For photos of our visit to Kampot, click HERE.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

First Impressions: Cambodia

It is chill here. The streets are dusty and quiet. Tuk tuk drivers are napping in hammocks that they've hung in the back of their vehicles. Dogs snooze in the shade, unmoved by occasional fly pestering them. A tumbleweed rolling across town would not feel out of place. It's probably because we've arrived via a fairly remote border crossing, beneath the maze of the Mekong Delta, into the tiny riverside village of Kampot. I'm sure the more common arrival city of Phnom Penh is a chaotic mess of a place. But here, life is reeeeal slow.

The travelers here are cool. Way cooler than us. Their beards have seen more than we have in the 10 months since we left home. Ambling around town in their loose fitting layers, leaving a trail of hash smoke in their wake, they are the detached calm that most travelers merely pretend to be. But not in an obnoxious way. They exude good vibes, and we're meeting some great folks.

It's a little bit lawless. You get the sense you can do anything you want here, and no one will bat an eye. It feels both liberating, and a little dangerous. Bartenders openly rolling joints on the bar. Businesses opening and closing on a whim. The ability to borrow a motorbike from just about anybody. The lack of shoes on, well, anyone. Folks sleeping, well, everywhere. Do what you want, when you want, cause nobody cares.

The people are extraordinarily friendly. We thought the folks in Vietnam were nice. We'd been told they just get better and better as you make your way through Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar. And we can already see what they mean. Every person we pass greets us with a genuine smile. We are bombarded with enthusiastic hellos from every kid we see. People are warm and kind and we feel really welcome. They are happy to joke around with us, which is a rare thing when language and culture pose a barrier. 

So far, Cambodia gets a thumbs up. And we're curious to see how the rest of the country will shape our impression of it.