Posts Tagged With: day trip

Day Trip to Koh Sire 

There aren’t many places you can get off the beathen path in Phuket. The infrastructure, the beaches, the McDonald’s, the massages, the 7-11’s. I’ve heard Phuket referred to as “Disney world” and “Thailand light”.

All of which is fantastic, don’t get me wrong. But sometimes I miss that unpolished side of Southeast Asia; that place of upturned soil and hodgepodge of motorbikes nestled alongside unadulterated natural beauty. Koh Sire straddles the divide of polished Phuket and quietly, stunningly beautiful Thailand. 

Just a few miles east of Phuket town, it’s hard to know you’re on another island. Koh Sire is often overlooked due to the lack of tourist facilities, but that’s exactly why we sought it out. If you find yourself in Phuket, set aside a few hours to check it out – but you’ll need a motorbike or a car. And the trip to the temple is a must. Enjoy the photos. 

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Bicycling Around Phnom Penh


Bon Om Thouk, the water festival. Happening every November, Bon Om Thouk marks the reversal of the flow of the Tonle Sap River. I know, sounds crazy. A three-day festival that draws millions of people to the city from the countryside. Boat races, costumes, parties.

This year, it didn’t happen. We still got off school for the holiday, but the boat races and the celebrations were cancelled. Why? Some say it was due to political instability. Some say it was due to the extensive flooding.

What to do with a five-day weekend? Sean and I wanted to go to an island, but were scared by impending storms. It was the weekend right after Typhoon Haiyan, and Vietnam was getting hit pretty hard. The island we wanted to visit (Koh Rong) is a two-hour boat ride from the mainland. We thought it best to hold off ’till clearer forecasts.

So, we lived like royalty in Phnom Penh, exploring parts of the city we hadn’t made time to visit before. We left the city the second half of the break, but the first half we had a lot of fun being visitors in our own town.

On the first day, we headed down the riverside and rented two bicycles.

The weather was perfect! Bright blue skies mixed with fluffy clouds.

We rented two bicycles from The Vicious Cycle/Grasshopper Adventure Tours. For $7 each, we got first-class Giant mountain bikes with great suspension and tires. Those things were beastly! We felt like we could take on the world… or Cambodia for a day, at least.


We cruised around the riverfront for a while, enjoying how easy it was to zip up and down the promenade.

A regular street in Cambodia, seen from my bicycle.


We stopped at every ‘photo opportunity’… I was nervous in this picture because you aren’t supposed to stand on the grass in the parks. I know! They have concrete paths and nice benches, with perfectly manicured lawns. In every park, you only ever see people on the concrete; it is illegal to walk on the grass! I don’t think you’d ever get a ticket, but I do think people would give you some sideways glances. Sean really wanted me to pose with the elephant, though, so I sprinted into the frame, the scofflaw that I am…


Our plan all along was to get to one of the islands on the Mekong. We got directions from the bike rental place, and headed to the car ferry. It was a busy day; I didn’t know how they could fit everyone on that tiny boat!


But they managed just fine. A twenty motos squished up against Camry bumping a Lexus next to a Toyota Hilux in front of thirty people. And two foreigners with fancy bikes.

We thought we knew exactly where we were going… to the island… We had grandiose plans to go to Koh Dach, or Silk Island.

We couldn’t have been more wrong:


We biked down the riverside, and hopped on a ferry. We ended up in a remote area, thinking it was a seldom-visited island. Nope. Just normal Cambodia outside of the bustling center that is Phnom Penh. We biked around, waiting to find the ferry to the ‘next island’, where we thought Silk Island would be waiting for us. This all could have obviously been avoided had I checked Google Maps.



Regardless, we had fun bicycling Cambodia’s countryside! This phenomenon is often seen, but I haven’t blogged about it yet. Weddings and birthday parties are thrown on the street, outside of the house. You set up the tent and tables in the middle of the street, and anyone passing just moves around your party. Isn’t it convenient? You want to have a party? Why not just throw it in the street? It’s another example of how laid back everyone is here. I love it!


Bicycling the remote wilds of the Cambodian countryside… (Not an island.)


We stumbled on a cock fight! Sean snuck into the melee to see the dueling roosters. I was the only woman there so I hung back and took photos. How many kids in trees can you spot?

And then we found Smango, the bicycle oasis. It is a resort/restaurant our friend told us to look for. Unfortunately our sweet friend also thought she was on Silk Island. Looks like this blog is going to crush many dreams…


But the food at Smango was amazing! Sean had sweet and sour chicken, and I had Banh Chao. I’ve had it before, and I always enjoy it when I order it. It’s a delicious rice milk/coconut pancake filled with bean sprouts, sauteed veggies, and meat if you want it. You then tear pieces off, dip them in a peanut sauce, and wrap it up with cucumber and lettuce leaves. Yum!


Smango had a pool, too, but we were looking forward to getting back to our apartment and taking a dip in our own pool. We had many kilometers left to pedal!


We found a more major road that went through small villages. Can you spy the woman in the background balancing the basket on her head?

Once we decided to head back, we crossed the Japanese Friendship bridge to get back into the city. This bridge crosses the Tonle Sap, which switches directions in November.

We still had a few hours to spend before we returned the bikes, so we headed to Wat Phnom, the major temple in the city.


Not quite sure what she’s selling. If you know, please post in the comments!


Me in front of Wat Phnom. It has a large clock on the grass in front of the temple. Wat means temple, and Phnom means hill. It is the major temple in Phnom Penh.

I really love Wat Phnom because it has a large shaded park all around it. You can stroll thrpugh the park, look at the temple, have a picnic, or watch the sellers. I find it really peaceful!

IMG_8416As the sun got lower in the sky, we made our way back to the riverside to return the bikes. I spotted this building, which screamed French architecture. Cambodia was actually the “French Protectorate of Cambodia” from 1867 to 1953. You can still see a lot of French architecture, and excellent coffee and baguettes are actually more common than you’d think!


After dropping off the bikes, Sean and I headed to a balcony with a view.


Anyone who’s ever been to Phnom Penh has probably been to the yellow building, having the opposite view of this one. The yellow building is the FCC, or Foreign Correspondents Club. It is the historic bar of the city, check out a great article on its history here. They’ve also got a great, half-price happy hour. We chose the bar across the street though, for a change of pace. Which did we like better? You’ll have to visit yourself to decide…

We were lucky we returned our bikes when we did. It looked like a storm was brewing. We savored a cold drink, an order of french fries, and the view over the Mekong river.

It was a great first day to a vacation. However, now we have to go find the real Silk Island….

Categories: Cambodia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Phnom Chisor: Our First Pagoda Visit

Part two of our day off.

You thought we only went to Tonle Bati and then turned around? Not when there is a tall hill beckoning to be climbed! (Or, 436 feet to be exact. The area around Phnom Penh is all at sea level.)

After Tonle Bati we drove to Phnom Chisor, which is a contemporary pagoda as well as ancient Angkorian ruins. We climbed the 412 steps to the top, sweating all the way, unaware of the jaw-dropping experience that awaited us.

It was awesome!


One of the modern pagoda buildings. Buddhist monks live in the pagodas, as well as others who I think of as ‘in-betweeners’, people who are looking for a job in a new place, passing through an area, or at a tough point in their lives. Pagodas are incredibly welcoming and warm places. Check out this great article from The Phnom Penh Post about the life of a boy who came to live in the pagoda.


We were allowed to crawl into every nook and cranny of these ruins!


Felt like we were in the movies.

The modern pagoda is in the background… while I stand under towering ancient temples.

The inside of one of the ancient buildings is being used for Buddhist worship. After three years in different countries, I feel like I’ve got a pretty good grip on when someone is being genuine, or when they’re trying to rip you off. Or, when they’re just being curious. Curious is okay. Friendly is okay. You can spot the ulterior motives pretty easy. So when I peeked into this temple, there were three older Cambodian guys in tank tops and trousers sitting barefoot on the floor burning incense. They stood up, and gestured to me to come in. I shook my head “no”, and smiled. I didn’t want to bother them, and felt like I probably didn’t belong in there anyways. They insisted that I come in, and smiled at me and Sean. I paused, looked at Sean, and took off my shoes. Barefoot, I padded up the ancient steps and ducked through the doorway. Led to the back, I was given a stick of incense to offer to the shrine. I was shown Buddhist prayer flags. I stumbled through saying, “How beautiful!” and “So nice!” in Khmer. (‘Saat nah’ and ‘laaw nah’, in case you’re wondering.)


They walked me away from the shrine, then offered to tie a red string around my wrist. Again, I had this fuzzy feeling inside, so went for it. The man gently wrapped the strand around my wrist, while chanting in a language that was hauntingly foreign. I don’t know if it was Khmer. I don’t know what he was saying. What I do know, is that full minute that I sat there looking at the string before he cut off the final tie, was one of the most humbling moments in my life. I thanked them, smiling profusely, and stood to leave. I later learned that the red string is Buddhist good luck, and they are popular with anyone who frequents the temple in their neighborhood. My boss, an American married to a Cambodian woman, always has three or four around his wrist. My friend is dating a Cambodian guy, whose mother always brings them back for her when she goes to temple. My students wear them. And I, shyly, and proudly, shared in that community.


Exploring more of the complex. We were the only people there.


And then we saw the view.


And the monkey.


One of the men said this is the only monkey in the area, and it lives here at the pagoda. I believe it; monkeys have pretty much been hunted out of population in greater Cambodia.


Another naga. Read my previous post on Tonle Bati to learn about the nagas…


What a great view! We walked around the rim of the hill to gain a full view of the countryside.


There was a clear path the whole way around. I felt so happy to be out there in the trees, the green, the peace.


Only an hour outside of Phnom Penh. Can you believe it?

IMG_8106Rice paddies on the drive home, along with those who tend them.

I am loving Cambodia more and more.

Check back soon, because I still haven’t told you that I went to China…


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Phnom Penh Day Trip: Tonle Bati

We had a day off a few weeks ago, a Tuesday, to be exact. Tuesday is an odd day to have off. It’s not attached to a weekend, and falls right after the first day of a work week. Sean and I were resolved to getting out of the city for a little day trip; to clear our minds of the hustle and bustle of Phnom Penh. Plus, we are dying to see more of what the rest of Cambodia is about.

Our friends told us about a little place called Tonle Bati—a small lake 30 kilometers South of Phnom Penh. It seemed the perfect distance for an afternoon drive, and would certainly get us out of the city. What an adventure it turned out to be!

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Before we left, I must confess, we stopped at USA Donut. For donuts. I’m not kidding. Come on, what’s a road trip without apple fritters on the dashboard and a steaming mug of coffee in your hand? If you live in Phnom Penh and have never been, you’ve got to go. It will change your life. USA Donut is on the corner of streets 302 and 51. And no matter where you live, you have GOT to read this story, published only two weeks ago about the history of Cambodian refugees and donut shops. Completely blew my mind.

Anyways, so we picked up some strawberry donuts, chocolate-sprinkled donuts, and of course, the holy fritters, and headed down to Tonle Bati.


One thing you’ve got to understand: Cambodia is temple-heaven. This place has more temples than Wisconsin has dairy farms. (Maybe not… But both are just as legendary.) Tonle Bati is the name of the lake we headed to, but is also the home to Ta Prohm and Yeay Peau.  Both are Angkorian-era temple complexes, built during the same time (12th century) as many of the temples around Angkor Wat.

The 12th century was 800 years ago. If it all seems too ancient to conceptualize, think about this…

12th Century:
– Second and Third Crusades
– Saladin
– Genghis Khan
– Knights Templar
– St. Francis of Assisi
– The windmill was invented

What makes Ta Prohm and Yeay Peau particularly interesting is that the area has been continually occupied since their creation. Yeay Peau is now part of a contemporary monastery.

I had a friendly shadow all day… but she was not so enthused that I wanted to take so many pictures instead of hang out with her.


So she decided to sneak into the pictures… fair enough.


So this is Ta Prohm. Pretty amazing, huh? We visited during the rainy season, when the flowers were in bloom.


The carvings were left so delicately preserved!


What is fascinating to us is how these temples are used for contemporary Buddhist worship. The whole complex was sprinkled with people in doorways, people praying, people taking lunch breaks, people making offerings. The smell of incense permeates your journey. Sean liked the above shrine as it is a headless wonder…


When we explored the grounds, we found some pretty cool wildlife. This picture isn’t too clear, but hopefully you can make out that the snake is indeed eating a frog!


And this guy is just getting some sun.


Yeay Peau is the ancient temple that is surrounded by a contemporary monastery. I can’t get over all the temples that are built within and around trees here. It is really beautiful and awe-inspiring… especially for someone like me who absolutely loves trees!

IMG_7983There were also a ton of statues in the monastery. Some more cryptic than others. Sometime we need to go with a Buddhist guide who can explain the meaning of them all to us.

IMG_7985I do know, though, that this is a Naga. The Naga, in addition to being our school’s mascot here in Phnom Penh, is a famous deity in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. The Naga is a snake (a king cobra, to be exact), that is believed to have come from the water to protect all of humankind. In Cambodia specifically, legend says that the Cambodian people were “born from the Naga”, due to a wedding between the Naga king’s princess and an Indian Brahmana. Wikipedia actually does a great job breaking down each countries’ beliefs towards the Naga. Check it out here if you’re interested.

IMG_7986 This is the actual temple of Yeay Peau. You can see how they built the contemporary temple around it. An interesting way to both preserve and incorporate!

The monastery was built next to a man-made lake of water for religious purposes.


If our interpretation was correct, these were all female statues.


Can you spot the blue-skinned deity? The temple of Yeay Peau is famous for pregnant mothers, who come for good luck and good blessings for their upcoming birth. If I were to interpret the above picture, I would say that the blue-skinned deity is a Hindu god (Shiva? Lakshmi?) that is carrying a linga, or a phallic object, as a symbol of fertility for the woman in the center. I may be wrong, but what is the purpose of art if not to provoke thought?


Again, more interesting statues around Yeay Peau. I wonder what the story is behind this one? An elephant, a god-looking form, and a colorless woman kneeling before her, receiving some sort of liquid into her bowl. Religion, like history, is full of so many fascinating stories!

IMG_7998Here is the actual lake of Tonle Bati. You can even see more temples on the opposite side.

Another animal spotting…


Tonle Bati is actually more famous for weekend day-trippers looking to lounge along the lake instead of climb around the temples. Sean and I are the odd ones. For a small fee you can rent one of hundreds of wooden floating huts on the shores of the lake. Each hut is owned by a family that will cook for you and set up cushions for you to relax on. Sean and I weren’t in a lounging mood, but we may have to come back on a clear day!

IMG_8018On our walk back to the car, a quick snapshot of the Cambodian countryside.

This is a modern, beautiful Cambodian home in the countryside. I loved the vivid colors!


Before we left, Sean jogged back into Ta Prohm to snap a photo of the reclining Buddha he had forgotten about. Historically, temples weren’t a place of worship, but housed the statue of the deity. The taller the temple, the more important it was. All the homes and buildings around it were made of wood, mud, and leaves. The temple is all that remains… What will we leave behind in 800 years?





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Egypt: The Grand Finale


Happy February! Tonight I aim to bring my blogging of Egypt to a close. It’s been incredibly fun remembering our adventures and straightening out the Egyptian history in my mind, but there’s a lot happening in Kuwait right now that I’d love to share with you, too! Thus, today I will finish Egypt, then talk about our recent adventures.

Our last few days in Luxor were a mix of exploring the town, visiting a few more temples, and checking out some swanky hotels. I would love to go back to Luxor in the future and cruise the Nile in a sailboat for a week. It was so relaxing and beautiful. I could picture Cleopatra sailing through the azure waters being fanned and fed grapes : )


On our final afternoon we relaxed on the roof of a restaurant drinking smoothies and smoking shisha. You can see Luxor temple in the background, then the Nile, and across the Nile is the West Bank and Valley of the Kings. What a view!



Sean and my dad visited Karnak temple together while my sister and I went swimming and caught up on our girl talk. Karnak temple is actually more like a city,

spanning 247 acres. It is considered the “sacred place”, and the main site is the Temple of Amun. Sadly, there are only a few obelisks left there, as most of them were looted and carried off to Europe. (Which Sean and I saw when we visited Rome!)


Another photo from when Sean and my dad visited Karnak temple.


Sean, me, and my dad standing with the statue of Horus at the temple of Edfu. Horus was the patron god of Egypt. Can you believe this gorgeous statue is over two-thousand years old? I can’t even begin to fathom it. (It was constructed in the 200’s BC.)



Art inside the temple of Edfu. You can see the gods Horus (with the falcon head), Toth (with the Ibis head, the god of wisdom), Hathor (with the disc and horns above her head, the goddess of love and beauty), Sekhmet (with the lion head, the god of destruction), and a Pharaoh in the center.


Sean outside the Temple of Edfu.



We took our lunch break at a McDonald’s in Aswan, on our way to the Temple at Philae. I hadn’t seen my sister look so happy our entire trip!



Here I am at the Temple of Isis at Philae. It is an island temple on the massive Lake Nasser. UNESCO saved the temple when the government dammed up the Nile and Lake Nasser was flooded; the water damage to the Temple would have corroded it to nothing in a matter of decades. Luckily, UNESCO moved the entire temple to a higher island in the lake, deconstructing it and rebuilding it piece by piece.


Isis is pretty much the most important female goddess in Egyptian mythology. She is known as the “mother of God”, and is the wife of Osiris (the god of the dead) and the mother of Horus.


Here you can see the Temple of Isis at Philae from the boat we took to get to the island. It was so surreal!


After all those temples and history lessons, it was time for a break! We found the Hilton in Luxor and lounged the day away.



Transportation in Luxor.


I made some friends while walking around the town of Luxor. They were so cute and spunky! I talked to them for a while and luckily had a few chocolates in my bag.



Baking bread in Luxor.



This man was truly amazing. He had a jewelry store that was about as large as a walk-in closet. The gems, which he polished there in front of you, were unlike any I had ever seen before.


We spent a long time looking at his stones and even bought a few.


On my mom’s last day, we booked a Nile cruise with a man we found along the shore of the Nile. He seemed really nice and offered us a good deal. We were glad we chose to go with him, it was a real treat! Emily and I loved lounging on top the boat while we cruised the Nile.


My dad, loving life, on board the boat.


Lunch on the boat. It was fresh-caught fish, cooked on the boat. The rice was made by our captain’s wife, and it was my favorite! It was an unexpected feast.


We stopped the boat to explore a banana plantation. We climbed around an old building for a beautiful view of the Nile from the West bank.


My mom loved the bananas on the plantation! I have to admit, they were delicious, and I had quite a few myself.


My family and I walking around the island.


Our boat captain, Galal. He was fantastic.


My sister in the street by our bed and breakfast in Luxor. Call it dingy, but I love how authentic everything is! In Kuwait everything feels new and fancy. Egypt was the true, romantic Arabia!



My mother and sister were on a quest for perfume. Last year when we were in Jordan they found some perfume that they absolutely loved. While they may not have found the perfect match, they still found some enticing scents!


The entryway of our bed and breakfast, Mara House. I can’t recommend it enough!


Transporting of goods outside of Luxor.


Overall, our trip to Egypt was amazing. It was intense, and I returned home with a completely new understanding of Egyptian culture, both living and historical.

Would I return to Cairo? Absolutely. Luxor? You bet.

The food was excellent, the people were friendly, the history is astounding, the Nile is, well, it’s the Nile. Need I say more?

If you ever get the chance, you should undoubtedly go.

I’ll send you my itinerary : )



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