A chronicle of Alison and Ron's trip around the world in 2009-2010.


"Not all those who wander are lost"
- Tolkien

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Nha Trang, Vietnam

We took a daytime bus, an 11 hour ride, to Nha Trang on the central eastern coast of Vietnam. Other than an unannounced bus change in Mui Ne, the ride was comfortable and painless. Known as the best beach town in the country, we were looking to escape the bustle of HCMC. The beach wasn’t as impressive, nor as clean as those in Thailand, with rubber bands, plastic grocery sacks, and other slimy kitchen-drawer contents sticking to you like urban seaweed. At least the waves were more exciting, and the sun was still a-shining, and the sand was fluffy underfoot.

We stayed at the Ha Van Hotel right in the heart of the action. The hotel was lovely, with a veritable plethora of breakfast choices at their rooftop restaurant: banana crepes, cheese omelette, eggs with bacon, and fruit n yogurt. At night, the space morphs into a bar that serves up vile cocktails. We went for our “welcome” drink and was assured we could order anything on the drink menu by two separate staff members. One gin fizz ruined by sour lime juice and one sorry excuse for a long island later, we were presented with the bill. Even after calling downstairs and explaining the situation we were SOL. Oh well. We eventually did get our welcome drink and learned our lesson that anyone can feign misunderstanding due to language issues, but it will rarely work out in your favor. Our bright, clean balcony room was plush and lifted our spirits from Ron’s apartment crises.

If we were in need of a drinking establishment, there was always the bar across the street beckoning “Why Not?” that served our favorite buckets of booze. Their rendition included red bull, pineapple juice, and whiskey. Mmm sweet concoctions inducing short term memory loss...indeed, why not?

One of the famous local attractions of the city is the Thap Ba Hot Springs where we could take a communal mud bath, soak in a heart-shaped mineral tub, and lounge around the pools all day for a measly $12 a piece. I had visions of wallowing in a deep mud bath, but it was more like muddy water or a Yoohoo© consistency than the thick mud of my imagination. Since Tet was over, it wasn’t all that busy, and we were lucky to get our own tub. I had never been in a mud bath so it was an unnatural experience to be smeared with mud all over my body, in my hair, between my toes. My skin glowed, from the rich nutrients, for days afterwards. Ron didn‘t dare bring his camera, so you will have to just pretend this is us.

After several hours of soaks and dips in the various tubs and pools, we went for our first massage in Vietnam. Performed by two pint-sized girls, it was not the best massage I’ve had by any means, but there was an element of novelty when she leapt up onto my back, steadying herself by a mounted bar overhead, and walked up my spine. Thankfully, I could walk myself right on out of there 45 minutes later, so no harm, no foul.

We rode the longest sea crossing cable car in the world over 3 kilometers to Vin Pearl island, where we cavorted at another amusement park in Vietnam. Ron and I share a love for acting like kids and have frequented 8 amusement parks around the world since we began dating. (I’m sure our future children will love this about us.) The water slides were steep and scary as usual, made even more so because all the floor was made of steel grating. This is murder on the soft undersides of your feet, not that I noticed. I had to face my most petrifying fear of walking on see-through ground, first up several stories of transparent stairs where I clung onto the banister for dear life, to the platform at least 100 feet up which I raced across fighting back the vertigo. Good thing there were no lines. The fear of the ride down was no match for the walk up, and soon I was looking for alternate ways to while away the afternoon.

The wave pool was tumultuous and fun, as was the lazy river that seemed miles long with one stretch through a spooky cave. It was a poor-mans Pirates of the Caribbean, only you weren’t in a boat but a deflatable inner tube, floating by the odd element of danger and other sharp objects in the water. The waterpark edged against a beautiful sandy beach where we built sand castles on the shore and read our books. Also, included in the ticket price was all the rides at the adventure park, so we rode their compact rollercoaster 5-6 times, watched monkeys ride bicycles in a circus show, walked under sharks and stingrays at the aquarium, smashed into each others bumper cars, and played every game in the coin-free arcade. The trip back on the cable car felt like another ride, as we swayed on the cable high over the ocean, the lights twinkling and reflecting off the depths we hope we wouldn’t topple into.

Nha Trang has some of the best diving spots in Vietnam, so we didn’t want to miss out on a snorkel trip. The scuba shops didn’t really want snorkelers along unless they couldn’t fill the more expensive scuba slots. The other option was the much publicized party boat, offered by Mamma Linh, sure to be jam-packed with twenty somethings dancing to annoying music along with a floating bar, which we ended up learning was one dude in a buoy serving watered down wine. By chance one day, we spotted a sign that said something to the effect of “This is a real snorkeling trip if you want to snorkel, this is not a party boat” so naturally we signed up on the spot. It was $13/each at Vu’s Tour Adventure and we were not disappointed. It was a fabulous day of snorkeling at two different popular coral reefs around Mun and Mot islands. The full day excursion included a sumptuous buffet-style lunch with banana-leaf bowls full of shrimp, grilled fish, spring rolls, noodles, rice. A real spread of local cuisine. We gorged to our hearts content and leapt back into the water, a little less buoyant, but excited to explore the underwater world that awaited us.

We went to dinner with a Canadian couple, Robyn and Eric, that we met on the snorkel trip. They took us to a street side restaurant (which by day doubled as a car wash) that served Bo Ne which is beef grilled with onions and a spicy red sauce next to an egg that cooks itself on the hot caste iron skillet its served atop. You then mix it all up, spoon it into a baguette, and voila! steak and egg surprise. I nicknamed it “The Lisa Bonet“, since a catchy name would both help me remember how to pronounce it and slightly comfort me with a reference to The Cosby Show, that all-American institution of our youth.

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Saturday, February 20, 2010

Hole in our Big Red Balloon

Also known as, a swift kick in the gut. Ron got deflating news today that pricked a tiny hole in our big red balloon. His tenant of his condo in San Francisco is not renewing her lease and is moving out in 12 days. Arghhhh!

We have been thrown unwillingly head-first back into the “real world”. Trying to make international phone calls on Skype, enlist help from two time zones away, find leases and photos and hard drives, post advertisements on Craig list, you-name-it. It’s seriously crimping our style, but now more than ever, the lure of home is calling. It’s one thing to travel away from reality when everything is in order, it’s quite another to try and conduct business or make major life decisions on the road. Stay tuned on the unfolding saga...

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Chuc Mung Nam Moi!

That is “Happy New Year!” in Vietnamese. Once again, we’ve unwittingly stumbled upon a major national observance. It is the Chinese New Year on February 14th this year that marks the beginning of what is called Tet. Where families reunite all over the country and then go on vacation. It has stopped us dead in our tracks in Ho Chi Minh City for the near future. For several days all businesses shut down and for the next week travel and hotels are triple the cost. Just our luck. So we have decided to stay put in the capital city, still known to the locals as Saigon.

Since we had only one day to sight-see before Tet began, we did a walking tour that included the Reunification Palace, where a tank crashed the gates in 1975 portending the fall of Saigon to the North Vietnamese Army. The entire palace is preserved as it was in that era of history and walking the hallways is like going back in time. The cool sixties style offices and meeting rooms are overshadowed by the basement, turned war room, where retro phones sit atop metal desks and ancient electronics are stacked. Ron was in a photo candy store.

On the way back from browsing at the famous Ben Thanh Market we saw a beggar in the street. So often, we ignore all the panhandlers, quicken our pace, pretending to be engrossed in conversation like we can’t be bothered. But this man was filthy, limbless, his face severely burnt almost melted away. In our effort to not look we both did, and then stopped 15 feet afterwards. Ron said, “If there is ever a person that could use a little help…”. I asked him if he wanted to go back, but he said he couldn’t. It was that disturbing. When you are faced with someone dealing with total physical wreckage you are humbled in your gratefulness for your fortune, yet frozen by dread and utter repulsion. Like you can’t get far enough away fast enough.

If this trip has taught me anything it is to not hesitate. Don’t delay on your life. Do the things you always wanted to, and do the things that you think you should do, if not for anything but your own sense of peace for never living in a world full of “what ifs“. I decided to go back. I gave him 100,000 dong, what is equivalent to about 5 bucks, and I looked him straight in the eye and smiled. He smiled back and we connected for a split second in what I can only describe as a pure exchange between two human beings. I wished him a happy new year, and was gone, but it’s one of those moments that I won’t soon forget.

We were lucky to meet up with our pals Jay & Corina again before they headed off to Japan. We celebrated the new year (again) and struggled through the massive crowds to see the fireworks display over the river.

My favorite are the sparkling gold ones that twinkle into a million pieces of glitter The blasts were so close overhead that ash floated from above, singeing off your eyelashes. We walked back to our hotel, the un-notable Red Sun, in a sea of people, moving like a leisurely lava flow through the wide boulevards.

To escape the heat and pass the days in the virtual ghost town of Saigon, we went to Dam Sen Waterpark for some fun in the sun. The waterslides were wildly steep and fast, and nothing short of dangerous. It was the first time I actually felt afraid at a waterpark. There were slides I just wouldn’t do. One, we nicknamed “The Vomitron” involved a precipitous descent in a tube, ending in a conical sphere where you would spin around inside from centrifugal force before being ejected out the bottom into a pool below. It was almost obscene. Being squeezed out the underside into the water, like a giraffe giving birth. But funny, was watching all the Vietnamese (there were only a handful of foreigners at the park) get up disoriented and dizzy, stumbling drunkenly towards the ladder out of the pool. And thankfully off the The Vomitron. Jay was the bravest, taking on slides that made the rest of us shrink away. More my speed, was lazing in the lazy river, although crowded and boisterous with all the locals on holiday, it was an experience to be at a theme park overseas. Overall, it was a thoroughly splendid day.

Although we sampled a lot of interesting Vietnamese food wrapped in lettuce leaves and topped with questionable sauces, we really craved a really good hamburger. I googled the area, and lo and behold, there was a joint called Black Cat that claimed the “best burger in the world”. An hour later, and we were salivating over the menu. Expectedly, Ron wanted to try and eat the The Big Cheese burger, a whopping 500 grams of beef served on a bun the size of a dinner plate. Instead of the usual, free meal if you finish it, the only reward for ingesting this artery clogger was a picture on the wall. At $13.95, the upside did not outweigh the heartburn. I ordered the Zurich burger and it actually was the best burger in the world. I’m not kidding! I mmm’ed after each delectable bite of beef patty, cheddar cheese, carmelized onions, and barbeque sauce enveloped harmoniously by an onion roll. Needless to say, we went back a couple days later for a repeat. Unfortunately the rapture was not replicated.

Crossing the street here is an exercise in blind faith and narrow escape by motorbike collision. There are over 3 million scooters in Saigon, one for every man, woman and child over 15. Imagine a city with hundreds of scooters whizzing by in both directions (and random vectors) between you and the other side of the street. Our natural inclination was to head to the nearest traffic light and crosswalk. Although rare in their occurrence, they do exist, but to laughable effect. Green does not mean go. There is no such thing as right of way. And you, a mere pedestrian, will get run over if you haven’t your wits about you at all times. In these parts, the size of your ride determines who rules the road. First come buses and trucks, then cars, scooters, cyclos, bicycles and lastly poor Ron and Alison, haplessly stranded on the wrong side of the road.

The first time we crossed, we latched on to two locals, shadowing their every movement. I crushed Ron’s hand as we inched forward into the chaotic flow of traffic. Every step or so, we’d stop for a rushing blur of bikes to pass, before our next tentative footfall. The dizzying lights and proximity of metal, made you feel like you were inadvertently trapped in one of those circus attraction cages of death. What seemed like an hour in only a matter of minutes, we were out of the pandemonium and in to a pleasant looking park bedecked by acres of glorious flowers for the new year. A bushel of which Ron bought me for Valentine’s Day. The hotel gave us a plastic bucket to put them in, not exactly a silver vase from the W, but it was the sweetest surprise.

This is the year of the Tiger, which influences major changes and social upheaval. I can’t imagine this next year bringing any more change then we have been experiencing but we’ll see. There’s always tomorrow and another near miss with the deadly SCOOTER.

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

How to eat a tarantula

The short answer to this is...quickly and with your eyes closed. We promised we would and we didn’t want to disappoint our viewing audience. It took place at Romdeng in Phnom Penh on a humid Tuesday night. My hand was shaking as I held the fuzzy, hairy, and (not just for the rhyming effect) scary little critter for the first time. I shivered to the core with the willies. But I persisted, dunking its spindly legs into a lime ginger dipping sauce and then into my uncooperative mouth. Ewww.

It was crunchy, yet chewy, with a oddly distinctive beef flavor not repulsive but not appetizing either, since the picture in my minds eye of a tarantula in my mouth was creeeeeeeepy beyond creepiness. It’s leg caught between my teeth. I closed my mouth and chewed. Telling myself: don’t puke, don’t puke.

Ron was much braver. Biting into the tarantulas head like it was a deep fried onion ring instead of a red-eyed, thick-bodied, hairy-legged spider. The waiter told us they get them alive and kicking from nearby villages, and do the dirty work in the back kitchen. A wooden toothpick through their beating heart makes a vampires killing, before defanging them and throwing them in a hot oily pan.

I’m glad I did it, but that’s probably the cliff’s edge of my adventurous eating. We tried to order a beef dish stir fried with fire ants but they were out of lemongrass. Outta lemongrass! How can you be out of lemongrass?! That’s like being out of olive oil or onions. Inconceivable. Instead we ordered noodle salad with coriander rolls and tamarind pork spare ribs with pumpkin curry. I have to say that it was the best meal we’ve had in Cambodia. Even with two vodka tonics, for liquid courage, the meal was only twenty bucks. Gotta love the crazy food in SE Asia!

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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Temples of Angkor

With a 7 day temple pass in hand we gallivanted around a half dozen or so other temples around Angkor. What follows are the highlights.

Angkor Thom is a massive temple complex covering nine square kilometers, built in the late 12th century as capital city of Jayavarman VII’s empire. The gates have long banisters with decorated ends sculpted into a naga, a multi-headed serpent depicted in an epic struggle called “churning the sea of milk”, which really creates a lovely visual in my imagination. The story is full of vengeful gods, long fought battles for immortality, and the eventual victory of good over evil. Quite a soap opera.

Bayon is one of the most widely recognized and photographed temples in the world, displaying an impressive array of 216 identical stone faces carved in rock. There are competing theories on the meaning of the faces. Some say that the king, Jayavarman VII, had them carved in his likeness or that they represent Avalokitesvara, the bodhisattva of compassion. Since the humble, Jay the 7th thought himself a god-king, both of these theories could in fact coexist quite nicely. We came in the very early morning and had the temple almost to ourselves to explore.

Most tourists (upwards of several hundred) hit Phnom Bakeng, a hilltop temple for the sunset over Angkor Wat below. We opted to go at high noon, and although fully exposed to the angry sun, we were again alone with the ruins. We have successfully avoided the herds by visiting the temples extremely early or late or at off-times.

The real draw of Ta Keo is working up the nerve to climb it’s frightingly steep staircase for a view from the top. Or, more accurately, it’s climbing up and not worrying about the vertigo on the return trip down. With no handrail in sight, it is not a place for acrophobics. After a tentative start and second thoughts, Ron conquered his fears and scaled the stairs bravely like a little mountain goat.

Ta Prohm is the temple most known for a towering, gnarly rooted tree, made famous by Angelina Jolie and her ridiculously bad British accent in Tomb Raider. Everywhere nature crept in around the edges. Roots outstretched like alien tentacles rising towards the sky.

Beng Mealea is a real adventurers temple, some 77 km outside of Siem Reap, accessible by private hired car. Where Ta Prohm has tamed the encroaching wilds, Beng Melea has succumbed fully. Massive trees have upended walls, roots strangled windows and doorways in a suffocating embrace, like the entire temple is simultaneously being lifted into the air and devoured by the jaws of the jungle. Through the ravages of time, the roofs of galleries have collapsed into piles of hefty sugar cube-like stones, that you can clamber over and explore like a real tomb raider. The twists and turns through the rubble is not a clear path, so the provided guide (for a small donated tip) helps you around the temple. At one point we saw a sign warning about mines and although we were reassured that the area had been swept, we found ourselves walking in our guides every footprint from there on out.

Banteay Srei is known as the jewel of Khmer Art and is a small, elaborately decorated temple built out of red sandstone. Beautiful in the early sunrise, irresistibly charming, and one of our favorites.

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Friday, February 5, 2010

Angkor What??

There was a slight chill in the air, as the tuk-tuk rode through the darkness towards the infamous temple of Angkor Wat. At 5am the roads were silent and nearly desolate except for a neat line of bobbing headlights. We had not seen this terrain before by day so we were filled with anticipation. Our imaginations filling in magnificent landscapes where our eyes could see nothing at all. When we arrived at the bridge across the grand moat stretching 190m wide, the temple itself was still shrouded in a black blanket.

Eerier still was the fact we forgot our flashlights and had to stumble into the depths of the hulking stone structure, hanging on to any faint light cast by fellow visitors ahead. I thought, isn’t this the way to see this for the first time? Like Henri Mahout, the French explorers who stumbled upon it in the 19th century. Uninitiated for the mysteries that laid ahead. Just naked curiosity and a sense of adventure.

We walked into the inner courtyard towards the center and sat on the steps of the northeast library (not so named for holding books). Overlooking a lotus pond, we waited patiently for the sunset to illuminate our view, as we nibbled on bacon and egg sandwiches. We could make out the spires of the main temple, as it grew lighter and lighter, like watching a picture underwater, come nearer to the surface and finally become clear.

The first thing we saw was…. a big, giant green tarp surrounding the base of the temple. Yes, folks, Angkor Wat was under construction. We have what Ron calls the “curse of the crane”. We can‘t count how many of the most famous places we‘ve visited that are under maintenance (sometimes permanently). Couldn’t they have at least used a gray tarp? I’m not asking for some faux stonework, just something to camouflage the ugly plastic green look. See, I feel vaguely qualified after all this travel to be a consultant for world heritage sites, efficient ticketing and queuing systems, and hotel and restaurant management. Maybe it’s time to switch careers. Anyone need some unsolicited advice? I have truckloads full of it.

I won’t go into a lot of the history of Angkor Wat, but it was built in the 12th century as the king’s temple (dedicated to Vishnu) and the capital city under the ruler Suryavarman I. At its peak it housed nearly a million people within the outer walls (enclosing 203 acres) and surrounding areas. It is considered by many to be the 8th wonder of the world and I can see why, between the magnificent scale and abounding Khmer art and architecture. Most noteworthy, was the outer wall of the central structure housing large scale Bas relief depicting Hindu stories about Ramayana and Mahabharata.

In a lot of Khmer art, and surely at Angkor Wat, you see many beautiful dancing figures called apsaras or devatas, which are female guardian spirits.

A sad, yet all too frequent, sight to behold: a headless Buddha.

Ron and I went back another afternoon about a week later, and it was far hotter and more crowded than our early morning excursion. Funny enough, I saw a local family at Angkor Wat with a Macy’s bag and I had to snap a picture. How did it get halfway around the world?

We wanted to go up the steep stairs to the highest point in the central tower, but unfortunately I picked the wrong day to wear a tank top so no entrance for me. Oops. Next time….

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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Home is where the <3 is…

We have been on the road exactly 8 months today. Can you believe it?! I find myself often in a contradictory state where it seems like we just left, and in parallel it feels like I’ve been living like this forever. My life in San Francisco was a movie I watched once that gets hazier and hazier. The characters get flatter. The plot loses its hold.

Even though we are now fully living day to day out of our backpacks (which brings its own rewards and pitfalls), nevertheless we still miss the small and seemingly unending comforts of home.

Things like:
Our furry kitties sleeping on the bed with us
Brushing our teeth using tap water
Showers with a curtain over a stall or even a tub (dare, the thought)
Good plumbing
Fluffy toilet paper
Fluffy scrambled eggs
A morning bagel with cream cheese
Strong, fresh brewed coffee
A good hamburger without pieces of gristle in it
Grocery shopping at Whole Foods
Cooking our own dinners
The microwave
A little wardrobe variety
Washer n dryers

Pleasant smelling clothes
Steady electrical current
TV’s larger than 13” with good reception
Giant computer monitors (our laptop screen is painfully small!)
Having a variety of creative outlets
Safe, iced drinks
Britta water filters
Tempurpedic pillows
Down comforters
Sidewalks
Traffic Lights

The little details that outline our lives don’t necessarily bring us joy but they certainly remind us of what we truly have to be grateful for. I thought back to a day after work last year, when Ron picked me up in his Subaru. I clicked across the sidewalk in my green patent high heeled shoes to his car. We debated for 10 minutes on where we should eat dinner and settled for Lulu’s nearby. Being a busy night, we spent half an hour at the bar next door waiting for a table, sipping two rounds of $8 Maker’s Manhattans.

Did I appreciate at the time, that snippet of my life? Of working a great job in cute shoes, going to an amazing restaurant with my equally amazing boyfriend, and not once looking at the prices? Sad to say, but not really. I had to be 7875 miles away to realize just what type of life I had. How I appreciate it now more than I did then. How even after that realization, I’m certain more than ever that this was the right decision to up and travel the world. And how I can’t even really appreciate the breadth or depth of what I’m doing right now until I reflect back on it later. I’ve changed in ways you wouldn’t think. I’ve changed in ways I can’t describe. I’ve changed in ways that have not yet manifested.

I’m like a goldfish in a tank that can’t define the purpose of the water until I’ve been flung across the living room onto the carpet. Ever feel that way? You only “get it” in hindsight?

Well, one thing is for sure, after all these months away, all the different countries and cultures and sights: I miss home.

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Monday, February 1, 2010

Siem Reap, Cambodia

As one would expect, we spent many a morning touring the temples around Angkor Wat which is the main attraction of Siem Reap and indeed Cambodia. I promise to write soon about their grandeur in detail, when I can give them their proper blog space and corresponding photo opportunities.

The city of Siem Reap is vibrant and bustling yet maintains a small-town, if not quaint, feeling. The main tourist street and cornerstone of nightlife is Pub Street, and it is home to many popular restaurants placed strategically between bars offering 2 for 1 cocktails and cheap beer. After which there are no doubt hundreds of tuk-tuk drivers all vying for your business to drive you home after your swervy night out. They have certainly worked out how to cater to the millions of tourists flowing through here in a constantly increasing stream.

After trying several restaurants, our vote for Khmer food was at Temple, a restaurant off the alleyway bedecked in orange and advertised with the simplest tagline: “Traditional Khmer Cuisine“. It was also pleasantly unpretentious and reasonably priced so we became something of regulars.

Khmer food is pretty tasty, less spicy than Thai (some say “subtle“ or worse, bland) and extremely well priced. Even in smaller restaurants you can get dishes for $2-3, and less at the street vendors. Naturally, I was bonkers for the fresh spring rolls, always my favorite appetizer. And for a light, crunchy lunch or dinner, the banana flower salad was a novel taste. One of the most traditional dishes is Amok that comes with fish (usually) or chicken or beef. We found a few types, one with more sauce (my Mom’s requirement) and another drier version, both served up in a cute banana leaf bowl. The beer of the land is not surprisingly called “Ankgor” and runs for fifty cents per draught, which is splendid after a hot day at the temples.

Lined along Pub Street with all the other massage parlors is a unique offering called “The Fish Massage”. This entails dunking your bare feet into a huge tank of starving fish who then proceed to nibble away voraciously on your dead skin like it was their last meal on earth. And you have to pay for this wacky spa treatment, some $3 for 20 minutes. Ok, so I did it because my Mom dared me, and she did it because I dared her right back. And this is how we found ourselves, giggling uncontrollably with our feet in a giant tank of fish. I have to admit it was ticklish (and a little creepy) at first, but loads of fun and afterwards my feet were smoother than a baby’s bottom. Better than a $50 spa pedicure any day. And au naturelle!

It made me think for a split second of bringing this back to the States, until I thought about the waiver forms and the sanitary issues, the impending lawsuits and the Peta fanatics crying mistreatment of our little finned friends. The thought vanished into vapor where all the “wouldn’t that be cool” ideas go when you are touring the third world, a veritable Disneyland of dangerous ideas. Back in the US where we are cordoned off from danger by velvet ropes, under the watchful eye of rent-a-cops and video surveillance cameras, forever burdened by the fine print, cautionary language, and the moronically obvious safety warnings that tells us that, yes, coffee is indeed a hot liquid substance and no, its not a good idea to blow dry your hair in the bathtub. In our effort to protect everyone from everything, we have lost the ability of everyday life to kill off the stupid. Poor ole Darwin is rolling in his grave. And on top of it all, we’ve become hopelessly un-fun. Boring, really. Okay, okay, rant /off. I really enjoyed the Dr. Fish Massage, it made me squeal with delight.

The next day, on (my Mom’s) Ron’s birthday, we had a special night out at The Apsara Theater. First they served us a 3 course meal from our table on the balcony, and we celebrated with a sparkling bottle of champagne, toasting the birthday boy.

Soon the show began, and we had great seats overlooking the stage where we saw five separate styles of Khmer classical dance. The glittering Aspara dancers had slowly subtle and graceful movements, most notably with their hand gestures called kbach. Some were quite painful to behold, as they bent their fingers backwards far past normal. Like ballet, they train from an early age to gain super-human flexibility.

The last day my parents spent in Siam Reap was a Mothers-Daughters day. We had not had that much alone time so we enjoyed touring the city, chauffeured in our own private chariot.

First we went to Artisans D’Angkor a business that trains and employs villagers to work as weavers, sculptors, and metalworkers to reproduce classic Khmer artifacts. We didn’t buy much but enjoyed the tour of the workshops full of artists absorbed in their craft.

We went shopping for souvenirs at the Old Market and amazingly I couldn’t find anything to buy! Even with a free delivery home, I think I’ve successfully snuffed out my ingrained consumerist bent. A beneficial side effect of our world journey.

We had lunch at Café de le Paix and I had a make your own salad with chicken breast, black olive, blue cheese, and honey mustard dressing (on the side). What a treat! Next, we couldn’t pass up Gin Daisy’s served to us in bed, in the spacious modern interior of Hotel de le Paix. We laughed and gabbed like girlfriends would drinking mischievously in the afternoon.

The day wouldn’t have been complete without some massages. Just off Pub street, we stopped in one of the ubiquitous massage spots for a $6 foot massage. Ahhh, bliss!

Before we knew it, the day was over as was the visit. It went way too fast! It was amazing sharing our travel journey with my parents. We packed a lot in to two weeks: from beachcombing, cooking lessons, and snorkeling trips on a secluded island in Thailand, to corrupt overland border crossings taking us to the national museum and royal palace of Phnom Penh and then to the ancient wonders of Angkor Wat and her surrounding temples. Not to mention the food: the fresh spring rolls, fish amok, and fifty cent Angkor draughts. Followed by dozens of massages (fish or otherwise), dazzling aspara dancers, and crazy tuk-tuk rides. Lots of great memories. Sending our love to our new travel partners-in-crime: Mom and Ron!

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