Journey Home…

I’m currently sitting in the Sukathai Airport, waiting to board the plane that will take us to Bangkok. Our long journey back home has begun.

During our trip, I’ve had these bursts of energy that has my emotions leaning towards a continued road. The question, what if I didn’t return home? continues to circulate my mind. And if I stayed, where would I go? Laos, Myanmar, China…Tibet? Once you begin to travel, the urge to continue pulls at you. But most of me is ready to return home. I want to see Dean, our dogs, and my family/friends. This was my first travel experience…7 countries in 12 weeks. Pretty solid for my first go at this whole traveling thing.

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The Incident with a Foot…

We began our Chiang Mai experience with big plans. Scelena suggested we rent motorbikes and check out the countryside. There are temples to see and botanical gardens to wander. Not to mention the outstanding rural views. However, I was not too keen on the idea. I’ve never driven a scooter. But who wants to be a wimp with only one week of travel time left? Not this girl…so I kept my fears tucked away.

The Incident:

It was a gorgeous day. And I mean gorgeous. The sun was high, birds were singing, and our coffee wasn’t sludge. We sat at our breakfast table, making plans and getting more eager to begin them.

After we finished our two cups of coffee, Scelena gets on the motorbike. And she was instantly unstable. I remember thinking, how will I get on that thing? She turned to me and said she wanted to take it for a practice drive around the driveway, and she’d only be a minute or two. I quietly nodded to her all the while my stomach began to twist. My mommy senses were tingling. But I remained silent. As she turned the corner, I lost vision of her. I didn’t see anything or hear anything. And after a short while, I hear this quiet but urgent, “help.”

Well, damnit. She had fallen.

The owner of the scooter and I ran towards the corner of the driveway. By the time we reached her, she was already standing. Scelena stood there covered in dust. Her foot was bleeding in multiple places. She explained that she was pinned under the scooter, and had to lift it to free herself. It looked as though our plans for the day, and then some, were canceled. She seemed to be more concerned about the bike than herself. She continued to say that it didn’t hurt much, and she would be alright. But she didn’t look great. She was obviously shaken, in shock, and most likely a bit embarrassed.

We decided right then and there, that this motorbike idea was not going to happen. We stumbled back into our room, and began the process of accessing the damage.

Scelena’s foot after the accident:

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After a very tense and painful cleaning and bandaging session with the help of the spa worker at our hotel, I convinced Scelena to take a trip to the hospital (with the help of Tom via Viber). Scelena received VIP treatment there. She skipped long waits, and was instantly taken care of.

After returning from the hospital, the owner of our accommodations, Dolly, said, “if you know English, you get the VIP treatment. No waiting in the long lines. And it’s only 200 baht!”

Scelena in ER getting her foot re-bandaged:

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I’ve been to a hospital in Jamaica, a clinic in Indonesia, and now a hospital in Thailand. And I must say, Thailand wins. Our trip to the ER, cleaning and re-bandaging the wound, x-rays, consultation with the doctor, and medication all cost less that $10usd. And in addition, Scelena also became a member of the hospital. Ha!

Scelena, proudly displaying her new medical card:

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She ended up with a sprain, minor cuts, and some major bruising. Definitely a better outcome than a broken bone. But you can safely say that the incident has crippled her time in Chiang Mai. She most likely will not be able to experience an elephant camp with me, which is a shame. But it hasn’t stomped on her spirits…entirely.

We’ve taken it easier, but still have managed to check out the closest temple to our accommodations.

Wat Phrathat Doi:

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Big Buddha:

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Snakes are scary, especially when they have multiple heads:

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During our Temple walk, we came across this shower head plant and had to snap a photo:

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Scelena showering:

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The Chiang Mai Zoo and Night Safari was a random activity we decided to do because of Scelena’s recent handicap. We figured, a night safari was a tram that takes you on a tour. So, she would just have to sit and look at the animals. We didn’t realize of course, walking would happen more than she’d prefer. It’s a zoo after all. But she was a trooper and in high spirits!

As we were going to enter the park, they had a giraffe feeding area. We thought, why not? We began to enjoy the whole feed the giraffe situation full heartedly. We decided not to pay for the plants, and opted to grab the table scraps that other visitors had dropped from their baskets. We are traveling on a budget after all. After a quick table scrap feeding, I began posing near a giraffe as Scelena snapped some photos. And the bastard decided to lick me. On my face! Those tongues are strong, and not to mention…long. It was quite the shock!

Pre-lick face:

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Post-lick face:

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Oh the fun didn’t stop there. Soon after my face violation, Scelena got licked to. We quickly decided one more photo and we were off. No more giraffe tongues…please.

Scelena feeding a baby giraffe:

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We were able to hold and feed a baby tiger. Yes, that’s what I said! We got to hold an adorable, sweet tiger cub. Such an unexpected treat! I was nearly thanking Scelena for hobbling herself. Otherwise, this adventure to the zoo may have been a miss. The moment happened so fast, but it was worth the 5 bucks.

We are in love:

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Blurry but hilarious. The baby cub gave out a cry, and Scelena was a little startled:

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My albino porcupine friend:

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Scelena didn’t like my albino porcupine friend as much as I did. She felt that this whole cuddle session was just out of character for a porcupine.

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Night Safari hippos showing their warning teeth:

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Night Safari Elephants:

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We awoke the next day to a very sore foot. Scelena had walked more than she should have, and was feeling the aftermath.

We had made plans to go to an all day Thai cooking class, and she nearly backed out due to the pain. But she was able to put on a brave face, and took on the day!

The Thai cooking class turned out to be an amazing experience. Once we arrived and settled within the group, we were off to the market. Now, I don’t like markets. I don’t enjoy the high stress, intense sales, and cramped quarters of a market. But this market was big, airy, and no one was hassling us. Scelena and I both commented that the school most likely used this market for those very reasons. Once there, our teacher discussed the common herbs and spices used in Thai Cooking.

Our teacher discussing the different types of basil:

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Curry spices at the market:

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I bought Scelena an umbrella to use as a walking cane. She makes a crippled foot look easy! She’s such a trooper:

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Putting ingredients in our baskets:

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At the market, with our baskets:

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I have my apron on, my hands are washed, and I’m ready to cook:

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Making curry paste:

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Scelena's tofu pad thai:

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My panang curry, you like??

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My panang curry & cashew chicken:

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My spring rolls:

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Looking like chef rockstars:

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We had SO much fun at the Thai Kitchen Cookery Centre. The teachers there were so kind and spoke English fluently. Our entire group left with our bellies full and our hearts overflowing.

Hey, You in the Backseat…

The rambling thoughts of a very pms-y girl on her way to Hoi An, Vietnam…written as a letter to her travel partner. Happy reading!
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My Dearest Scelena,

Sooooo, isn’t this bus ride just GOD awful? I wish the A/C worked. Or at the very least, ANY air blowing in my general direction would be appreciated.

Oh, hey…is there someone lying on you too?

There is a strong possibility that I might die of heat exhaustion before we arrive at our destination.

Thank goodness, I’m no longer a bed for my cozy neighbor……for now.

The transportation services here have truly humbled me. I will never complain about domestic airline services, public buses with the crazies on 3rd Avenue, or commuting times again. And if ANY of those thoughts do enter my mind, I will graciously remind myself:

– at least no one throws a mat down next to your overnight bus seat and proceeds to sleep face to face with you,

– at least you don’t have to pay for water on a plane (after being forced to discard the water you purchased after security…oh and that the INTERNATIONAL flight only accepts the countries currency that you’re GOING to),

– and those seats in coach are actually quite roomy…don’t ever forget that,

– at least when a mode of transportation is full, it’s the norm to stop adding passengers;

– the air isn’t strong enough to reach you in your reclining position? Well, you’re lucky you have air at all.

Good news! I’m a bed again. I swear I’m a bed to someone as much as you are pushed in the back to move forward. I guess it’s my extra layer of American fat that appeals to my seat neighbors.

Hey, quick question…do you also have the distinct aroma of urine and tofu back there? Interesting combination. Bile is definitely climbing up my throat.

I’m drenched in sweat. Beads are literally dipping off my chin onto my chest. Why doesn’t the window OPEN for me?! AHHH!

I cannot even imagine how horrible your seat is in the very back. No reclining I’m assuming? Mine LOVES to recline. In fact, it refuses to not recline, all the way. I have to sit forward, otherwise I will continuously smack the guy behind me in the face.

On a positive note…nevermind.

WAIT! I have a positive note! My cozy bed partner woke up, and opened the window for us. Thank you LORD! But why does he insist on taking my hat for observation without asking? And listen to his Spotify playlist, full blast, without earbuds? I am actually enjoying the song, “you look lovely in white…” way too comical.

HOLY HELL! He is now picking a scab, and his skin is flying onto me! I think I might scream.

Lovely, just saw public urination as we sit in this traffic jam. What does that make the number? 2,321 men we’ve seen peeing in the streets? I think that’s right.

Oh my GOD, MOVE JUST MOVE. Traffic in this humidity will end me.

Shit. My cozy neighbor has closed the window. And I am now his bed again. What is up with this laying on me thing? My American space bubble has destroyed my ability to travel, I swear.

OMG, get off me! Why haven’t we started moving yet?!

Oh thank GOD. We started moving. No! Why did we stop?!

I feel like Elaine on that Seinfeld episode when the power goes out on the subway.

MOVE JUST MOVE!

I think I might begin laughing hysterically.

Okay, moving…window opened. I’m a bed, but I’m okay with that.

Window closed. And the urine soaked tofu smell has returned. Bile climbing.

Best Regards,

Your one and only travel partner ❤

PS — I'm actually extremely happy that these are my rambling complaints. And they aren't, "GOD, is it 5PM yet?" "My life is wasting away in the cubical."

Life is lovely…it really, really is. I will take these situations any day. The well traveled has a privileged life.

OH MY GOD, did we just run over a dog?! Did we?!

PSS — Oh crap, at least we aren't the travelers who just got on, and have to sit in the aisle on those red, plastic stools. It could ALWAYS be worse! 😉

PSSS — Shit, now the aisle person is using me for a bed as well.

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Goooood Morning Vietnam!

As we wrap up our time in Vietnam, I’m finding myself truly saddened. I really adore this country, and I’m not ready to leave. We haven’t seen it all! It’s just too beautiful to let go. Not only does Vietnam have an extremely impressive landscape, it also contains some of the kindest people we’ve encountered. I just don’t want to say goodbye.

We began our Vietnam tour in motorbike central, Ho Chi Minh City:

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Abiding by the traffic light laws doesn’t really happen here. Any color just means go. Oh, and don’t forget to honk continuously while on the road. Otherwise, you’re doing it wrong.

In order to cross the street, you just need to go when you can. Otherwise, you are standing on the side of the road for eternity. But do keep in mind that when you step out onto that crosswalk, there is a grand possibility you just might die, green walking guy or not.

Can you spot the two ladies walking in this photo? Hint: look for the red shirt…

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While in Ho Chi Minh, Aaron convinced us to check out the market. Now, I’m not much of a fan of markets. And usually need a cocktail (or four) to enter these spaces. Why am I not too keen on them? One: they reek of the fruits and raw meats rotting in the sweltering heat. Two: they are intensely tight quarters with extreme salespeople. And this one, was the worst! This market had women who would grab your arm and not let you go in the order to get that sale.

Scelena and myself putting on a brave face. (UGH, no more markets Jambrosic!)

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Even though the markets can be a little intense with the high pressure sales techniques, the salespeople we encountered on the streets weren’t too bad. Scelena had a great experience while purchasing some killer shades at a smoking (and very secret) price of 100,000 dong, protective case included. Most of them follow you for a while, and give up after a few “no thanks” responses. Other sales techniques? They just put you to work, and then ask you to buy a coconut. But not to worry, you can easily walk away from the coconut. No arm grabbing here, just some smiles and ample time to snap a photo or two.

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Leaving Ho Chi Minh behind, we traveled to Hanoi by plane. On our way to the plane, we were herded onto a cramped bus. So of course I took the opportunity to snap a photo of this cozy spot (the peace sign = necessary).

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After landing in Hanoi, we were greeted by Tom’s (Scelena’s boyfriend) favorite actor…

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He actually loathes his acting skills, and we have had intense conversations about Cage. Yes, he can over act but come on! Even Tom cannot deny the awesomeness of Raising Arizona.

“I’ll be taking these Huggies, and whatever cash you got!”

Once in Hanoi, we were greeted by another beautiful city. I mean, talk about gorgeous!

View from City View Cafe:

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Such beautiful boutique hotels in Hanoi:

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St. Joseph Cathedral:

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Daddy, Daughter stroll down a side street:

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Scelena and myself enjoying Hanoi:

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So, you interested in being a queen for a couple days? If your answer is YES then head over to CatBa and rent yourself a private boat for two nights. Yup, your very own crew and stunning views await you! So what are you waiting for?!

Climb aboard!

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Passing a floating village where our guide Hien lives:

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Relaxing on my bean bag chair & enjoying the spectacular views:

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Happy hour in this place doesn’t suck:

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You Jump, I Jump! We did this a lot…

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Beautiful vistas:

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On our CatBa boating trip, we kayaked quite a bit. Our guide Hien, took us around to see the sites. The water was warm, the weather was perfect (although overcast mostly, it was still in the mid to upper 80s), and the views were outstanding.

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I used my limbo skills to get to a hidden lagoon:

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On our final day on the boat, we awoke at 5:45AM to begin an early morning of biking and hiking.

A lonely fisherman who waved to us as we rode by:

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Scelena and Aaron on their bikes:

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Right outside the village where we began our hike:

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The vista at the top of the trek:

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CatBa, what an adventure!

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Now, in order to get to CatBa from Hanoi, we had quite the venture. First, we got on a bus in Hanoi. Second, we transferred to another bus. Third, a boat ride to CatBa. Fourth, another bus. And fifth, a minivan to the dock where our private boat awaited us with open, de-stressing arms. The whole transportation time took less than 6 hours, so it wasn’t too bad. But knowing we had to do it all again and then some, was something I didn’t really want to think about.

After our full morning of biking and hiking the National Forest, we waved goodbye to our boat crew and hopped into the minivan that began the long ride to SaPa. Then bus. Boat. Bus. Bus. And hooray! Here we are, back in Hanoi! We grabbed a taxi, where we were pretty sure the driver was cracked out, and went to pick up our train tickets. Then, we were off to the train station for our overnight travel to SaPa.

Holy hell that was a long day and night. With barely any sleep on the train, we checked into our hotel in SaPa, showered, ate a lovely breakfast on the hotel terrace, and met up with Gur (our hiking guide for the day) who would trek us around SaPa for the next 6 hours. Oof, I was gonna sleep well that night (and I did).

Sarah helps me down the mountain. I really appreciated that woman:

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At lunch, Aaron was engulfed by these young ladies trying to sell him bracelets. He kept politely refusing but only got the reply, “you buy from me?” in these monotoned, Children of the Corn voices.

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While trekking through on of the villages, we came across a water buffalo just hanging out on the side of the road. We took the photo opportunity:

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Our guides made us these adorable hearts out of the local plant life:

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Loving our hiking adventure in Sapa:

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The Love Trail in SaPa:

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The women of SaPa absolutely LOVED Aaron:

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Leaving SaPa was sad. We all felt that we could stay much longer, but our days on this trip are numbered. We had to say our goodbyes. And so, back to the night train we went! This time, I got more sleep. Exhaustion will help you sleep anywhere, I guess.

And this is where Aaron left us. He had joined us 17 days earlier in Bangkok, and now he had to go home. We hugged over ice cream and french fries (sometimes you just need comfort foods when saying goodbye), and he scampered off to catch his flight. And what of Scelena and me after his departure? No overnight stay in Hanoi for us! Another night train to Hue please. Oh, it’s sold out. Okay, I guess we can try a night bus…

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No. Never again. The night bus was awful. Yes, you have chairs that are of a reclining nature. But they are too short for any normal height. Your legs are constantly bent, which becomes painful after the first 6 hours. Then, there are men with intensely smelly feet next to you. Oh, and don’t forget the constant honking while on the road. And the staff will also put down a mat on the aisle next to your seat around midnight, so you are sleeping face to face with a stranger.

GOD give us strength.

Well, He did…because we survived. Once off the bus in Hue, we motorcycled our way to our hilariously named hotel.

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We decided to take a motorcycle tour of Hue. Which turned out to be really fun!

My motorcycle selfie:

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Enjoying the ride:

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My view, hold on tight!:

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Scelena giving a thumbs up:

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A local woman showing me how to make cinnamon incense:

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We rocked these hats:

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We’re in Hue Vietnam!!:

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And obviously, we rocked these hats too:

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A beautiful pagoda:

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Tomorrow we travel to Hoi An. So, I will leave you with my current view. I’m sipping a cocktail, by the rooftop pool, and enjoying yet another beautiful sunny day in Hue, Vietnam. Sometimes a girl needs a break from traveling. Thank you Hue for supplying exactly that.

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WAR. What Is It Good For? Absolutely Nothing…

I have always had an interest in war. Not really the politics of war, but the people within the struggles of war are what gain my attention. The survivors in particular. It’s amazing what a person can endure in order to just keep living.

When I learned about what happened to Cambodia in the late 70s, the only response I could muster was, “what the fuck?” Excuse my language, but seriously. I knew there was a genocide that sadly took place, but beyond that my knowledge was lacking. I knew of course it was going to be a bloody horror story. And it was. It was shockingly bloody. Shockingly horrific.

For instance, there is a field here where they would bring prisoners of war to kill (appropriately called, The Killing Field). And they brutally murdered them. Bullets were sparse, so guns weren’t the weapons of choice. Blows to the head. Cutting of throats. Suffocation. Grabbing children by the legs and smashing them against trees. I can’t imagine the fear these people must have felt, knowing that they will soon be another lifeless body tossed disrespectfully in the shallow mass grave that laid before them.

Seriously, what…the…fuck.

I cannot believe the brutality that went on. It lasted less than 4 years, but that was enough time to take out 1/3 of the countries population.

We visited S-21, a school turned torture, prison camp. Only a handful of people survived the hardships there. People were starved, only given watery rice. They were tortured with the playground equipment until they passed out…only to be doused in cold water to awake to more torture. And they were beaten savagely to death. Suicide was a better option for some, so barbed-wire was placed on the buildings to keep people from jumping to their deaths. It was a difficult tour.

I haven’t even fully processed what we learned. But what keeps buzzing around in my mind is the date we toured S-21, July 4th. Independence Day…

The Beauty of Corruption…

“It’s a scam.”

Over the past few weeks, that line has passed my lips far too often. So it came to no surprise that I would utter those words over and over again while exiting Thailand.

Trying to get into Cambodia was a tad intense. We decided to go through a tour agency away from Khao San Road, in the hopes that they were less shady. Nope, we just over paid. Doh. After being picked up in a shared minivan at our hotel, we arrived near the boarder. A restaurant/travel agency…ugh, here we go.

Once settled into our pad thai and large Chang, we were encouraged to buy Cambodian Visas at a whooping price of 1300baht (about 40usd). Prior to this, Scelena and I had read that these offered visas were phony, and to get legit visas AT THE BOARDER. So, after much conversation with half of our shared ride, and continuous refusal of purchase; we got into another minivan. We saw signs pointing to the BOARDER. We felt we had beaten them at their own scammy game. We were winning! No, wrong again. We turned away from that BOARDER sign and were taken down a dirt road. We arrived at a building with this sign out front…

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Ugh. We had also read that they would drive you around to try and get you to purchase the phony visas, and it might take all day. Here, they were 1000baht (about 30usd). At this point, Aaron had enough of my refusal. He said, if they are fake…we will only be out a small chunk of cash, and then we can buy real ones AT THE BOARDER. He offered to pay for ours if he was wrong. I, being very stubborn up until this point, gave my passport up for the fake visa.

I’d like to point out, this isn’t that big of a deal for me, really. I don’t like the idea of swindling people (especially travelers who are on a tighter budget), but as I put myself in their shoes, in their life…it helps me get over the scams faster. I live a life that many Thai’s cannot fathom. So whatever…I’m only out a few bucks.

So, with phony visas in hand, we were off to stand in line AT THE BOARDER. And guess what? They aren’t phony visas. They are legit. AT THE BOARDER, the visas cost 800baht (about 25usd). Oh, so if someone had written that information somewhere on the Internet, I would have greatly appreciated it! The entire time, I was under the impression they were FAKE visas being sold. Not legit visas at a higher price. Internet, you failed me. I probably would have given up much earlier, and had spent far less time arguing with Aaron if I had known that the visas were overpriced, real ones! Sigh, oh well. So, having about enough of Thailand for now, we said our goodbyes and entered one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Great.

Cambodia has been darkened by corruption, poverty, and war. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous about going. But my oh my, what a gem she truly is! The people are so kind, smiles and pleasant greetings follow you everywhere you go. And the landscape. The landscape! The countryside is one of the most stunning sites I’ve ever seen. We consistently said, “it’s like this place has already been Instagramed.” I know, such a weird social-tech obsessed comment to say. But honestly, I’ve never seen such colors in all of my life. It really does look like Low-Fi threw up all over the place.

Holy Wats:

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She gave us a blessing:

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Local Painter:

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Aaron & myself:

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The Killing Cave:

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Our train ride:

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Cambodia has our whole hearts.

Now, we are on a river boat about to leave Cambodia for Vietnam. And we find ourselves saddened to leave. Here we have learned valuable lessons and have seen speechless beauty. Thank you Cambodia, for showing us that such breathtaking beauty can be found in the most corrupt of places.

Myself on the River Boat to Vietnam:

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