We go Cambodia now!

Saturday, August 31, 2002
We were in Bangkok for a few days and decided instead of heading north right away we would detour to Cambodia to check out Angkor Wat in Siem Reap. It's a huge ancient worshipping site and the jungle temple, Ta Prohm, was used in the movie "Lara Croft" with Angelina Jolie. Of course, they were playing it on DVD at the guesthouse.

Our bus left Bangkok at the crack of dawn and was supposed to take 12 hours to get there. Twenty hours and only 400 kilometers later, at 2:30 in the morning, we arrived. It was so bad, it was funny! The double decker "VIP" bus pulled over to the side of the road many times as it continued to break down, then the air conditioner broke and turned it into a SAUNA. Saunas are great in Finland, but leave little to be desired here in Thailand! We finally arrived at the Cambodian border ten minutes before it closed - since when does a border have banker's hours?? Anyway, we sqeaked by and fortunately did not have to spend the night at the border... we got to spend it on the "road" to Siem Reap. I call it a road because motor vehicles actually do travel down it, but the similarities stop there! Picture a brick road, but the bricks were not laid, they were thrown! It's a considered a road basically because it is not a rice paddy. By the time we arrived we (and our bags) were entirely covered in red dust. The comments made throughout the journey were hilarious! I heard some guy in front of me exclaim, "I fell asleep for a minute there somehow I dreamt I was a basketball!" It made for an interesting adventure. Did I mention it cost $3? The ride back down this road today was not too bad. No major problems except that one of the many bridges had somehow caved in. Apparently this is very common, so when we arrived on the scene they were already fixing it. After just a mere 1 and half hour delay we were back on the road again!

The temples were amazing! Angkor Wat is a UNESCO world heritage site, and was built at about the same time as Notre Dame Cathedral. Some claim it is one of the wonders of the modern world. In corrupt Cambodian fashion though, the government sold the access roads to the temples (which they do still own) to some petrol company. They charge Disneyland prices to get in! Apparently some Japanese company is negotiating a deal to buy these roads and lower the entry prices. Bizarre. Anyway, we hired a tuk-tuk for 3 days to take us around the sites. A tuk-tuk is a taxi cab, but looks kind of like a golf cart, only with 3 wheels, one in front. Some are bikes but most have little mopeds steering them from the front. They say the sound they make is tuk-tuk-tuk...

Some interesting things about Cambodia:
  1. Squat toilets are the norm, as opposed to sit toilets like in the US. It's so uncommon to find "sit toilets" that in one place I went to that actually did have them there was a sign with pictures on it explaining NOT to squat on the toilet!
  2. In Siem Riep there are no gas stations. You fill up your moto or tuk-tuk at little road side "lemonade stands". There's usually a woman running the booth, and it's right in front of her home/treehouse. It might contain up to 10 bottles all on display. For $1 you get a liter of petrol in a coke or sprite bottle... she keeps the bottle for refill.
  3. The currency in Cambodia is the reil. It is hardly used at all due to it's instability. Dollars are used! All prices are quoted in dollars... and if you insist they will take Thai currency. The only reil that is used is for change, so instead of getting back 50 cents, they'll just give you 2000 reil. I never even had to change money.
  4. Little kids touting postcards are very resourceful. They learn lots of English and bits of information from tourists. One little boy came up to Carla and said, "Where you from?". "You from the US? I know your country! It between Canada and Mexico and it have 50 states!"  They also pull this little trick where if you don't buy their postcards they say ok, but if I see you again, you buy postcards and they ask your name. Twenty minutes later, out of nowhere, you hear your name being called! They say, "You promised!!". It's very convincing since they are so cute, but you can only buy so many postcards.
  5. Buddhist monks aren't monks for life, like priests are. It's common for someone to be a monk for just a few years when they are a teenager, like our tuk-tuk driver who still lives with the monks. When I was in the main temple, a young buddhist monk sat down to chat. I think he wanted to practice his English, and he was so curious. When I told him that I was Catholic, he wanted to know how Catholics celebrate the Full Moon. It was diffcult to explain that it doesn't represent ANYTHING for us. He also wanted to know would Americans consider marrying Cambodians.
  6. Staying in a treehouse for 2 days was a novelty. Cambodians who live outside the city live in homes similar to the ones I stayed in, in Turkey. Cambodian homes are high upon stilts for the rainy season, which we experienced last night. When it rains, it pours!
  7. Landmines surround Angkor Wat, and much of the Cambodian countryside. There are many organizations who remove them, but the threat is still there. It is always recommended that you not stray off paths no matter where you are.Went to Khoulen National Park. Hiked up to the riverbed to see the waterfall with carvings underneath the water. They were carved there to bless the water at the mouth of the river.
I'm back in Bangkok for tonight and tomorrow... hopefully we will finally make it up north tomorrow night!

Out with the Pharoahs, In with the Wats!

Saturday, August 24, 2002
Carla and I left Egypt after the 10 hottest days of my life. I am *so* not cut out for desert life!! 135 degrees is just way past my tolerance level. One day was so hot that I had salt stains all over my clothes from sweat. Now THAT is an all time record for me. The ancient ruins of Egypt really are very striking, but by far, it's the most sightseeing I have done on this whole trip and it wears you out! We started with 3 days in Cairo, then took an overnight train to Aswan. Then we spent a day driving through the desert, almost to the Sudan border to glimpse Abu Simbel, complete with convey and all!! We took a felucca for a day and a half up the Nile to Luxor where we saw the Valley of the Kings, and the Temple of Luxor.... among other sights, but those were the highlights. Especially Karnak - we took in a sound and light show. Kind of cheesy, and the utmost of tourist things to do, but we loved it!!

Then we took another overnight train back to Cairo where we took second class seats instead of first on the train.... and it was like the Egyptian family reunion on there! We sat between a family of 8 who was saying goodbye to their extended family that they see only once a year. We thought it was the last rites or something - until we befriended them later in the trip and they explained what was going on. There was so much drama that even the teenage son was crying! It was interesting, but really ensured sleep would be had by none! We said goodbye to Jon in Cairo and hopped our plane to Bangkok, arriving this morning. After 2 days of no sleep... we have seen nothing of this city since we had to catch up on zzz's. In mere moments we are meeting Carla's friend (Meric, her friend from San Diego) at a cafe across the street! Hopefully we will find him there. We are spending the next 3 or 4 weeks with him, traveling through Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. We hope to ride elephants, build bamboo rafts, take a cooking class, and go caving.... and hopefully learn how to say thank you in yet another language!

That's all for the Egypt/Thai installment, cheers!

Walk Like An Egyptian

Saturday, August 17, 2002
Carla, John and I have been in Egypt for 4 nights now... it's sometimes like stepping into a movie here because you can't believe these things really happen. All the women are really dressed head to toe, loudspeakers tout Muslim prayers in Arabic, and little shops are filled with greasy car parts and cushions. The fast food of Egypt is called Kashari - and we love it! It costs about 50 cents and it tastes so good. So far we haven't found much else that we like to eat so we eat that every day!

Oh, I forgot to mention who John is! We met him on a hash weekend in Kutna Hora in the Czech Republic. We got to talking about our trip and that we were headed to Egypt and he had long been planning a trip back here again. So, at the last minute he booked a flight from London and here the three of us are! It's great, he even speaks a bit of Arabic, which comes in handy for actually getting fair prices on things.

Everyone in Egypt speaks at least one or two sentences in English - and everyone speaks to you as you walk by, "Hello, Welcome Cairo", "Egypt Welcome You", "English! how old are you?". It's entertaining. Sometimes, like at the zoo yesterday, little kids want to hold your hand! We arrived this morning into Aswan on an overnight train and are planning to go to Abu Simbel tomorrow and after that head up to Luxor via a 3 day felucca boat up the Nile. The zoo was bizarre; they had everything from endangered species to cages with domesticated pets (dogs) in them. My favorite exhibit was the guinea pigs. It was a guinea pig heaven in there!! Hundreds of them. It reminded me of my first pet who was a guinea pig. His name was Bruce, may he rest in peace.

On our first day in Cairo we headed over to the Egypt Museum. What a place!! They have basically everything that has ever been dug up in Egypt... and more. It's just sort of haphazardly been throw into the place in whatever spot there was room. There's hardly a sign or label anywhere ... but it's amazing all the same. We got to see Ramses II as a mummy and all that other stuff you read about in history class! On the second day we went to the Pyramids... not much to say about that except that it really is awe inspiring. We spent our nights playing backgammon and drinking Turkish coffee at little sidewalk cafes... where only men usually go, so they got a kick out of Carla and I being there. The first night we actually had an *audience* for our low skill backgammon games. By the second night they were a bit more used to us. So much so that there was only one urinal for men along the back wall... nothing for women. And, I always knew that Muslims didn't drink - but it's true!! Even on a sidewalk cafe there is no alcohol served. Everyone drinks mango juice or Turkish coffee - both good alternatives I might add!!!

Alright, off to the market I go to check out the spices....

Istanbul... or is it Constantinople??

Sunday, August 11, 2002
My first random story of the day started when the doorbell rang at 11am this morning. We are staying with our friend Ozge (hi Ozge!) here in Istanbul but she was out at a wedding. Carla is sick in bed with the flu and she is directing me on how to take care of her. Mainly I make thermoflu tea, cut bread and spread nutella... so I am pretty good at this nursing thing and am considering it for a new profession ;)

Okay... back to the story! The doorbell rang and there stood this Turk holding fresh bread. He was trying to hand me the bread. I thought he must have telepathy because I was STARVING and had no idea where to find bread within walking distance and there he was front of me. It was Sunday morning after all... and I thought maybe Turks get fresh bread delivered instead of the Sunday paper! I took it and he kept staring so I figured I probably had to pay him. I held out the equivalent of a dollar hoping it was enough... and lucky me! It cost less than 15 US cents to get that bread. I found out later today that this apartment complex has a grocery delivery service. You call them up and they will deliver anything! But, they are known for delivering to the wrong door... so I ate someone,s bread. Who knew?? I figured my guardian angel had it delivered ;)

Anyway, Carla and I arrived yesterday morning into Istanbul on an overnight bus from Olimpos. Olimpos is this place where me and my 13 friends from the 4 day boat cruise went after the 4 day excursion ended. It is this random little village type place in what seems like the middle of nowhere Turkey. It is the site of the ancient city of Olimpos... you have to walk through the ruins to get to the beach! And what a beach! You can even swim past some more ruins into a cave... which we gladly did. Another lovely part of this little town is where we stayed. It is called Bayram's and each "room" is a little treehouse. The treehouse looks just like the kind you always wanted as a little kid! In the back of my treehouse you could pluck limes, others could reach walnuts or oranges. And, on your way to the bathrooms you could see the chickens running everywhere. It's no coincidence we had eggs for breakfast both mornings!

The main tourist thing to do there in Olimpos (other than the beach and ruins and the treehouses) was visit the flames. There is this spot where methane gas shoots up from the inner somewhere and it has been burning for years. Carla and the rest of the group INSISTED on singing Eternal Flame during the entire little hike up to this spot... and only paused their singing when a tarantula (yes really!) came running out of the rocks. It felt like a scene out of the Brady Bunch. I felt like I needed my tiki... just like Peter.

Before we arrived in Olimpos – we spent 4 days on a boat sailing along the Turkish coast. Let me tell you... the best thing about Turkey is how much you unexpectedly like things. You have no idea where you are headed, or what you will find there, but by God... it will be fun! The 2 crew who ran our boat would just randomly stop and say things like "Sunken City!". What is it? How did it happen, we wondered... they couldn't tell us... so we made up our own story and pointed out places like the local tavern, the town jail, and the general store. We seemed to miraculously arrive at destinations like Butterfly Valley, a waterfall, an ancient castle and endless snorkeling sites. I'm sure it was a planned itinerary... but I just knew nothing about it!!

Okay, another thing I'll have to go on and on about in this email is the ocean fairy dust. I don't exactly know what it is (Carla's theory is phosphorus) but it's like you are Tinkerbell! When Tinkerbell flies about, there is this sparkly cloud that surrounds her, right? When you swim in the ocean on the Turkish coast in the evening – every time you move you are surrounded by fairy dust! It's amazing!!

Lastly, I just want to say hello to all my new friends that I met in Koycegiz and on the boat! You have no idea how much it meant to me to be surrounded by such wonderful people for a whole week! I feel like I've known you all for a lifetime and can't wait til we meet up again. Chris, see you in Sydney! Marnie, Karla and Mark, see you in Vancouver! Karen, Pete and Brigid, see you in London! Boys, see you in Melbourne! Mark, see you in Rio! Carla, see you after your nap ;) It's such a small world and I'm lucky to meet you all not only once... but twice! Being with people like you made the boat and Olimpos feel like another home... and that is a hard thing to recreate. Thanks again and safe travels everyone!

Greetings from Koycegiz, Turkey!

Saturday, August 3, 2002
After 2 weeks we have finally left Greece! The islands were beautiful, the beaches were great and we loved it there. But, the Greeks just don't want you to be there, you really get the feeling sometimes that they just want your euros and they could care less if you enjoy the country or not. Most foreigners living in Greece say the only thing they would change about the country is to get rid of the Greeks and it would be a perfect place to live! One woman actually told me to hurry up and pay and get out of her way she had other stuff to do! Ah well, we loved it anyway.

Turkey has a completely different attitude. They are thrilled you are visiting and they actually have a saying that you are NOT a tourist, you are a guest in their country. It really does seem that way too! We arrived a few days ago from the ferry where we met 4 people that we we will spending a whole week with. 2 Canadians and 2 Australians. We went cycling the first day to a nearby waterfall. Yesterday we took a boat tour around the lake and went to some mud baths, a sulfur spring and swimming in the lake!

We got to witness some real Turkish dancing last night too - they guy who ran the boat tour took the six of us - 5 girls, one guy - to his favorite local bar. Also, we had this cheese at the bar and wanted to take home the leftovers and apparently this is a very uncommon request even though they obliged. But, they had no takeaway containers. So, he let us take the cheese and tonight we are bringing back the plate it's on! It was pretty funny. Now, for those of you who get Carla's email, she claims to have had too much Raki last night - a Turkish drink smilar to Uzo - but just to clarify, it was only one drink!! Don't worry Suzanne, I look out for her!

Tomorrow we are headed to a four day, 3 night boat cruise down the Turkish mediterranean coast. We are going will the 4 others we met on the ferry! We meet most of our new friends on ferries, it's quite the social atmosphere!

Thanks so much to everyone who has written to me, I will respond soon enough but right now I'm going hiking in Feriye!