Our trip is moving faster than planned. Vietnam is here and now, about a month ahead of schedule. We have decided to use our time traveling more wisely and leave Southeast Asia mid-year. This decision opens up a whole new world of possibilities. After Asia, we figure Australia could be a good middle point since we’ll probably never vacation there. Southern wine country and the great barrier reef are on the table. We may trace our ancestry from Turkey and make our way through Eastern Europe visiting family and places on our list to see in our lifetime. Visiting dear friends in Spain and Portugal is a definite, as well as a visit to Morocco to see our friends Tosha & Adam who will be moving there this summer. Latin America offers several intriguing options as well, especially if we can visit late in the year into early 2013 during their summer season. We are open to all possibilities! Any ideas? Please share!
Electrolyte packets (rehydration) have been a life saver in the constant 95+ degree Cambodian heat. Vietnam is much cooler, so we’ll get a much needed break from the heat. Booking.com, TripAdvisor.com and Agoda.com have helped us qualify and book Lonely Planet hotels. We just book one night online, and then decide to extend or negotiate upon arrival and stay. We haven’t had any bad hotel experiences so far…. although spotty wifi can be a pain and our backs’ ache from time to time!
Southeast Asia makes us really appreciate the basic amenities we take for granted in the States. It never seizes to amaze us watching Westerners walk around with toilet paper rolls in hand. We miss the little things like not showering right next to our toilet seat, basic customer service, scam free accommodations and transport, clean water, printed bus schedules and toilet seats. Americans cherish their personal space and care deeply about morals and the common good of their fellow man. Asia, Vietnam in particular, completely disregards both principles and flamboyantly mocks them. They’ll knock you over whether they are passing by on motor or on foot, almost like you are invisible.
We feel lighter and healthier than ever before. We used to stuff ourselves with heavy meats and now eat light tofu/egg centric dishes. It’s been easy to find various veggie options and a few surprisingly good gourmet experiences. Thanks to Katja in Ban Lung, we discovered a great international directory of vegetarian restaurants called Happy Cow. Chakmar in Siem Reap offered a delicious veggie rendition of the Khmer favorite “Amok” dish and yummy tofu specials. Christie also had a flavorful lemongrass tofu dish at a number of restaurants in Vietnam. Stashing a daily supply of nuts and other healthy snacks is a much welcome change. It’s opened up a new world of options uniquely offered here in Southeast Asia. On the bus ride from Ban Lung to Quy Nhon, we stocked up on lemongrass rice cakes, boiled peanuts and sesame squares. We read that the oils from soft peanuts are good for the digestive system. The elimination of soda (replaced by water) from our daily routine has also yielded positive health effects. However, passing up local chilled beers has been a challenge. we are both enjoying the refreshing pleasure a nice cold beer offers…..especially after a hot afternoon of strenuous activity. We’re in vegetarianism for the long haul and hope to maintain these changes upon our return to western civilization! Christie has some vegetarian cooking classes on the horizon during March in both Luang Prabang, Laos and Chiangmai, Thailand.
Cambodia is devastated with a poor education system and the general lack of infrastructure. The government has pocketed billions of dollars in aid money since 1993. Roads are unpaved, dirty and polluted with exhaust and trash. Children are going to school for small periods of time if at all, but struggle between paying to learn or helping their family survive at home. Deforestation and illegal logging are rampant. The people are struggling to find modern Khmer culture between making quick tourism money.
Opposite Burma, police are flamboyantly out in the open cutting side deals with merchants and citizens. They even try to bribe tourists upon arrival at the borders (read Battambang). Underneath all the negativity, we found a glimpse of hope. The Temples of Angkor are guarded carefully and the government seems to care about expanding the temple roadmap. Battambang is growing in popularity as a new route to/from Siem Reap. Business people in the tourism sector are smart and learning to better accommodate the growing number of visitors each year. Visiting all the ancient temples up close was an unforgettable experience, leaving us feeling like we were in a fantasy world thousands of years back.
Ban Lung was very confusing for several reasons. Everywhere you look people are building. A new paved road was even underway downtown. We wondered how the local economy will grow if the government destroys the forests further. We wondered why the favored source of power and phone service are provided by Vietnamese power companies. Why would tourists visit a small town in the middle of no where just to ride down dirt roads to see a few nice waterfalls? Would tourists enjoy continued daily power outages? Maybe the answer is simply that there’s lots of new Vietnam border traffic from illegal logging…..combined with just enough forest life to deceivingly promote eco-tourism. Nevertheless, we had the most rewarding experience in Ban Lung getting to know local Cambodian families and trekking through Rattanakiri jungle with our new friends.
The few families we spent time with were some of the nicest people we’ve met in Southeast Asia. They give the sense of cautious optimism while happy with the bare minimum. Everyone works, eats and sleeps with their family. Home is the workplace and vice versa. Sophat and his family at the Backpacker Pad were genuinely interested in learning from us. We exchanged knowledge for kind accommodations. Paul and Hoarb (aka Jungle Boy) made our jungle trek an experience of a lifetime. They both love what they do and Paul paid careful attention to tips on how to improve his English and people skills….. while sharing his Cambodian knowledge and insight.
The 2013 elections will likely result with the Cambodia People’s Party victorious. One can only pray that international pressure and tourism money continue to give reason for change.
After reading Cambodia’s Curse: The Modern History of a Troubled Land, Brett had many questions about the government’s role in its 3rd world status. The 2013 election is advertised all over Cambodia from Battambang to Siem Reap to Ban Lung. The election has the Cambodia People’s Party “CPP” vs. the opposition Sam Rainsay. While around Cambodia, Brett asked a few citizens about Sam Rainsay’s chances and the status of the new King Norodom Sihamoni. In Cambodia, the king has unification power but not governing power. The new king recently succeeded his father who is now elderly. Sam Rainsay and Prince Norodom Ranariddh (younger brother of new king, and house speaker) have lots of history in Cambodian politics. In 1997, Sam and Prince Ranariddh ran together against Hun Sen and the CPP. They narrowly lost the election, and accused Hun Sen of rigging the election. Our local friends basically said that the people do not believe the new King can keep order if Sam Rainsay wins. We gathered this to mean another coup would take place.
As our Cambodian journey came to an end, we departed for Vietnam with fond memories of timeless Angkor sites, long slow boat rides, yummy Cambodian food, new lifelong friends, and insight into the politics, culture and life of the Khmer people. It’s difficult to comprehend the devastation they’ve endured in the last century. We loved Cambodia and its people and would encourage everyone to visit.