Posts Tagged With: expat

Long weekend in Phuket

Monday is a national holiday, so Sean and I have been enjoying a three-day weekend together. Contrary to what we expected, we actually spend very little time at the beach here on the island! Take a look at a few snapshots from this weekend to see how we generally relax. (Hint: It largely revolves around food and the dog!)

It hasn’t quite felt like Christmas season even though it’s only three weeks away. That changed when our friend Amanda threw a lovely Christmas party on Friday night. We put on our red shirts, brought some egg nog, and had fun dancing the night away!

Saturday marked a recent trend in Sean’s hobbies which is attending our local ukulele group. It’s held at Anthem Wakepark and a few teachers along with other friends get together and play music. I’m working on learning the cajón but end up playing with the dogs! They’re doing Christmas music next week so I think I’ll be a vocalist.

While it’s not going to win any photography contests, this picture from out the car window as we drove home Saturday night was too good not to post. Half of Phuket feels like a tourist hub, but the backroads, oh the glorious backroads! Just a few water buffalos, storks, and palm trees….

Dinner on Saturday night was at Kruvit Raft House. We’d driven past hundreds of times but never thought to try it out. The restaurant is situated around a small lake and half of it is floating on the lake itself. We chose a bamboo hut and ordered fried rice with crab and mango salad. There were massive chunks of crab which was really surprising. I’d definitely go back!

Sunday morning was pretty rainy, so we didn’t leave the house until noon. We found a noodle shop on our way to the park that was absolutely packed with people. The dry noodle dish in the foreground was my favorite; while I couldn’t identify everything in the bowl, that didn’t stop me from slurping it down!

After filling our bellies, we headed to King Rama IX park. It’s a pretty large park in the center of the island with plenty of paths for walking. Summit liked the dinosaurs. 

With the end of the rainy season finally here I think we’ll be spending more time at the beach. But honestly, I really love the side of Phuket we’ve explored so far!

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Categories: Misc | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Scenery of Phuket 

Living on a tropical island is pretty beautiful. Most of my blog posts are centered around a specific event or location, but I’ve been accumulating so many random photos of daily life that it’s time I post them all at once. I hope you enjoy!

This is one of the banana trees growing in our yard. We snapped this picture right as sun set; you can see the small bananas growing each with an individual flower. You can actually cut off the large red blossom and make really delicious banana flower salad, but I think we’ll keep it on the branch for aesthetic appeal.
The view out of bedroom window, looking across one of the many valleys of Kathu. I used to think I wanted to live near the beach, but now I prefer the cool temperatures of the clouds as they build up around the hills!

We had some friends over for lunch today, so I ran to the market to pick up lettuce and tomatos. Of course there are hundreds of grocery stores where I can get Kraft macaroni and cheese and Reese’s peanut butter cups, but I prefer the atmosphere of the local market for my fresh produce. Not to mention you can buy cloves of garlic that have already been peeled!

Seemingly part of an elegant and vibrant market, this is actually a deserted tourist destination near my house. It’s called the floating market and has little shops selling trinkets and t-shirts. 

Oh boy, this was a surprise. We went to Patong beach on Wednesday hoping for a quiet patch of sand to watch the sun go down. Little did we know that November marks the beginning of high season. Our once sparse beach was totally packed, and it’s not even Christmas.

…and we saw our first cruise ship. 

The road I drive to school every morning. (Yes, it took a while to get used to left-hand driving. I still hit the windshield wipers when I’m trying to signal…)

And finally, one of my favorite photos from this month. Sean and Summit (our dog) on Laem Ka beach. Even though tab been a long rainy season we’ve still found our afternoons of sunshine! 

Categories: Thailand | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

How to get a Thai driving license if you’re American

If you’re an American living in Thailand and would like to get a Thai driving license, I’ve got a few quick and dirty tips for you.

A Thai driving license is important in the following scenarios:

  • You want to fly domestically without your passport
  • You get in a car accident
  • You’re stopped by the police
  • You need proof of identification
  • You want to pay the ‘local’ price at tourist attractions

Since we just got a new car, it was only natural to go through the process to get a Thai driving license. The biggest tip I can possibly give you is this:

Get an international driving license from AAA in the United States.

If you get an international license, it’s just a 45-minute visit at the department of land transport to “convert” it into a Thai license. We live in Phuket, so I’m not sure how busy it is in Bangkok or Chiang Mai,  but this morning we arrived at 8:15 and left with a Thai license in hand at 8:59. If you show up in Thailand WITHOUT an international license, you’re looking at a 2-3 day process and the stuff nightmares of made of.

Okay, that was an exaggeration. But you will have to do the following if you do NOT have an international driving license:

  • Vision test
  • Color blind test
  • Reflex test
  • Depth perception test
  • Watch a four-hour video
  • Take a 30 question test
  • Undergo the “technical” driving course, complete with parallel parking and laser sensors that beep if you cross a line, Mission Impossible style.

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather pay $20 to AAA to get it done in 45 minutes.

Either way, if you have an international license or not, you’ll still need the following things:

  • copy of passport
  • copy of visa
  • medical certificate from past 30 days (any clinic can do this for 200-300 baht)
  • copy of work permit
  • copy of residency permit if you’re not working (ask your landlord for help with this)
  • copy of international driving license
  • Around 400 baht for the whole process

I recommend that you show up the day before you aim to go and show the nice lady at the front your documents. She can clarify which pages were incorrectly photocopied, of which you will most likely have a couple. You can then go home and make new copies that suit her request and come back the next morning at 8am feeling confident and ready to hit the gas.

Honestly? Good luck, and happy driving!

Categories: Thailand | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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. 

Categories: Thailand | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Camping in Cambodia: A Trip to Kirirom

In America, June signals the start of camping season. People get out their coolers, tank tops, and bug spray. Living in Cambodia, it’s camping season all year round. The weather remains at a balmy ninety degrees, there are always mosquitos, and there’s always use for a cooler. So, back in March, we loaded up our cars and took to the hills for a weekend of camping in Cambodia. (Note: Many photos are compliments of the lovely Anna Sudra.)

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I know, it’s the last place you expected to see pine trees, right? Normally Southeast Asia brings to mind palm trees and white sand beaches.

Not in Kirirom. Screen Shot 2015-06-18 at 10.33.51 PM

Kirirom National Park is about two hours outside of the city along highway 4 and has an elevation of about 2,200 feet. Compared to the rest of the country which lies barely above sea level, Kirirom is home to a vast pine forest and cool evening temperatures. The perfect camping spot.

To get there, however—like the rest of the country—is quite a journey.

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Once we turned off highway 4, the road turned to dirt and potholes. Not to mention bridges on the brink of collapse. Cambodia is definitely more set up for motorcycles than cars.

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Climbing higher into the forest, families in wooden shacks selling porcupine needles, pinecones, and firewood dotted the roadway.

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Kirirom National Park is not exactly the stereotypical “National Park” that exists in many countries. In Cambodia, national parks are sometimes quite developed on the inside. This one has a hotel in the center, an active pagoda, and a few families selling things throughout. You can’t buy property in the park. Anyone who lives there I assume has been grandfathered in. However, even the national parks of Cambodia are for sale to the highest bidder, which is why there is a hotel now in the center of Kirirom. (Similar to the giant casino that rests atop Bokor Mountain National Park…)

Before the Khmer rouge, there were a few hotels and cottage-style homes on the mountain. There’s currently a small tea plantation and visitor center. It makes a great stopping point if you’re traveling to Sihanoukville.

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This plant naturally grows on trees all over the forests of Cambodia. (I’ve seen it before in Ratanakiri, Mondulkiri, and now Kirirom.) When I was hiking in Mondulkiri, the guide said it is good luck to see one of these plants for your wedding, but it is illegal to harvest and sell them. However, I saw them for sale all over Kirirom. I tried a number of Google searches and haven’t found an explanation. If you know about this cultural phenomenon, post in the comments below!

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The view from the lookout near the highest point in Kirirom.

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Once we got to our campsite we had lunch and set up the tents. Our campsite was not part of a regulated campground, but rather a clearing at the end of a deserted road. Because that’s how you make your own fun in Cambodia!

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As the sunk sank into the clouds and our campfire started up, we had our own little paradise.

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You couldn’t hear anything but bird calls and the wind.

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In the morning we drove to the visitor center.  Again I saw more local forested products for sale, which I recall reading were illegal. Looking back, I can’t find the articles that give me more information. I think the brown things are dried mushrooms, and the wood on the right is scented local wood. (It smelled delicious.) Unfortunately, I don’t think either of these things were sustainably harvested, but I hope I’m wrong…

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Having fun at the visitor center.

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Our last stop of the day was at a tiny waterfall off the main road.   10653673_10152670349147102_9136605122980195175_n

It felt great to rinse off the campfire smoke.

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Relaxing by the waterfall before heading back into the noisy city.

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Did I mention that it was my birthday? Chino and I are born a week apart, so we celebrated our birthday with a weekend filled of fun in the forest. Anna was sweet (as always) and baked us a cake. Nothing goes better with a waterfall swim than a chocolate brownie!

Add Kirirom to your agenda the next time you visit Cambodia! Just don’t forget to bring a flashlight.

Categories: Cambodia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Koh Rong, Cambodia’s Survivor Island

Cambodia’s islands are a place of mystery. In comparison to the Thai islands, they’re pretty much distant specks on the map. As I’ve said before, Cambodia is most famous for Angkor Wat and the Killing Fields. But once you’ve visited the Cambodian islands, it’s tough to stay away.

The most popular port for getting to most of the islands is the city of Sihanoukville, or “Kampong Som” in Khmer. If you look at the map below, you’ll see that Cambodia has two tiny peninsulas that jut out along the coast.  The left peninsula consists of Koh Kong and Botum Sakor National Park. The right peninsula has Sihanoukville and Ream National Park. This past January, we took a long weekend and headed down to the coast for a dip in the Gulf of Thailand.

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The town of Sihanoukville isn’t much in itself; the layout is rather disjointed and scattered across a series of hills. The beauty of the area reveals itself when you step onto the sprawling white sand beaches.

We arrived at the port in the morning, and were planning on catching a boat out to Koh Rong at around noon.

In the meantime, I snapped a photo of the ephemeral graffiti scene that seems to be making its way across Cambodia…

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Our destination was the island of Koh Rong. Screen Shot 2015-04-26 at 6.44.28 PM

The journey to Koh Rong used to take a minimum of two hours. As you’d imagine, this greatly dissuaded us from visiting; there’s nothing worse than spending two hours leap-frogging over waves with an outboard motor under the penetrating sunshine.

Luckily, Koh Rong has a speedboat business now that cuts the trip down to forty-five minutes.

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Packed full of Khmer and foreigners alike, we held onto our lifejackets and started our journey.

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Now, a bit about the title of this post. To those who read local news, I like to think that Koh Rong is known as “Cambodia’s Survivor Island”. In 2013, the French version of Survivor, titled “Koh Lanta”, was filmed on Koh Rong. (Koh Lanta is actually an island in Thailand, but it wasn’t filmed there. Perhaps the producers thought that Koh Lanta sounded more romantic than Koh Rong?)

Here’s where it gets eerie. First, one of the contestants died from a heart attack during the filming of the show. Then, the television show’s resident doctor was found dead ten days later, having committed suicide in his bungalow. He left a note expressing his guilt over the heart attack of the contestant days prior. (To read more, click here.)

As if that’s not enough, the American television show Survivor is currently being filmed on the island as we speak. No joke. As stated in The Cambodia Daily, filming began this spring and is expected to conclude in July.

But to be clear, Koh Rong is not as remote as primetime television may lead you to believe.

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It is one of the more touristy islands of Cambodia. From the snorkeling and dive companies to new restaurants that pop up daily with fried rice and banana pancakes, some say that Koh Rong is a backpacker’s paradise.

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We did expect it to be full of tourists, but I didn’t quite anticipate how crowded the little stretch of beach would be. Since there’s no roads on Koh Rong, all the shops and bungalows open right onto the beach. This leads for a continual stream of bikini-clad tourists and pounding bass long into the night.

They’ve even got a pharmacy for tourists right at the pier once you get off the boat. Need some stitches? They’ve got you covered. What about typhoid? Ear cleaning? Or how about just some basic “cleaning stuff”? And while you’re at it, why not a blood test?

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We didn’t want to stay on this part of the island. Luckily, we didn’t have to.

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I booked our time at Pura Vita resort, a tiny series of bungalows on a secluded stretch of the island. Pura Vita means “pure life” in Italian, and is well-reviewed for being a clean and comfortable place far away from the hustle and decadence of the main part of the island. We were picked up by our hotel and jetted off across the bay and around the corner, to a truly quiet stretch of the island.

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And it was perfect.

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There was no one here except for some morning joggers, the other guests at our hotel, and our lovely host, Vanny. In her mid fifties, Vanny is a Cambodian woman who fled the country during the Khmer Rouge and grew up in Canada with her family. She ran a restaurant for most of her life, but had a dream to return to where she was born. So, with her kids enrolled in college, she bought a patch of land on the island, and started pursuing her dream. If you ever visit Koh Rong, definitely stay at Pura Vita and have a cup of coffee with Vanny. She’s great.

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We spent our days watching the waves, swimming, and walking along the gorgeous 7 kilometer long beach.

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And, sometimes, I did feel like we were on the set of Survivor. 13

As idyllic as it was, we were curious about that rag-tag stretch of restaurants by the pier. So, we spent one afternoon walking from our stretch of beach across the island over to the main area.

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Even though it got a bit more touristy, it was still equally as beautiful.

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As we settled into lunch, we ordered our meals and some smoothies to quench our thirst. Little did we know that you got “One free beer with every meal.” (You can actually see the chalkboard advertisement behind my sister in the above photo.) It was definitely one of those “Only in Southeast Asia…” moments.

And of course, a trip to an island isn’t complete without some swimming.

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The water was perfect. The sand was soft. The sun was warm. The air was clean. The palms were swaying. And we were in love.

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Will I go back to Koh Rong? Absolutely. But not to stay at the main port, nor as a contestant on a reality television show. I think I like the “pura vita” just fine. 

Categories: Cambodia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

You Know You’re In Southeast Asia When…

There are quite a few things that smack you in the face when you’re visiting Southeast Asia. Things that make you think, “Whoa. I’m really here.” Things you’ve never seen anywhere else. Today’s blog post is devoted to a few of those things.

Number One: Monks. Everywhere. 
This was shot outside my apartment on a Saturday morning a few months back. Monks walk down our street to receive their daily alms. (Check out this great article published 16 years ago titled “Wats going wrong: monks in Phnom Penh”)
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Number Two: Hilarious misspellings.

Fried crap stick, anyone?

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Number Three: Weddings that take up half the street. 

Cambodians love parties, and there’s nothing better than a Cambodian wedding. The most common kind in the city are giant white tents pitched in the middle of the street and all traffic is diverted for at least three days. Here’s the kicker: all of the flowers you see in the photo below are real. Let that soak in for a second. The trends are changing here in Cambodia, and people are paying up to $10,000 for floral arrangements for their wedding. Not to mention the cost of the security guards to make sure a Range Rover doesn’t ram through the side of your tent on your special day. Check out this article published by AsiaLife which explains the skyrocketing cost of weddings in Cambodia that can easily run families a half a million dollars. IMG_5055

Number Four: Cambodian BBQ.
This is a true phenomenon of Southeast Asia. You grill a variety of meats over a live fire on your table top, and all the juices flow into a moat where you slowly construct the world’s most delicious soup. IMG_2790
Add a large group of friends and a few hours of conversation, and you’ve got the perfect evening.

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Number Five:
 The Mekong river.  IMG_5282

Starting in China and ending in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam, it is the twelfth longest river in the world.

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From houses to house boats to floating bed and breakfasts, the Mekong is the roaring neighbor in the backyard of Phnom Penh.IMG_5323IMG_2859

For $15 an hour, you can hire out a private boat and cruise the Mekong for sunset.

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Number Six: The night markets.      IMG_5156

Psar Reatrey, which means “night market” in Khmer, is mainly aimed at tourists, but who can stay away from the glowing lights and low-priced butt pads? (No, seriously. Look at the left-hand side of the photo below.)IMG_5157

Number Seven: Street food.
It’s hard to walk the streets of Phnom Penh and not be tempted by some strange culinary delight you’ve never experienced before. I thought I’d seen it all, then I found ice cream in deep-fried alphabet letters. IMG_5158

Number Eight: The bugs.IMG_5167

Deep fried bugs are a delicacy in Cambodia. Just bring along a friend who tries them a split second before you do. IMG_5168

Categories: Cambodia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Saturday At Central Market

I have a confession.

I may pride myself on the upkeep of Angkor’s Away, but I actually have  a silent partner. I write the words, I frame the posts, I generate the ideas… but I take none of the photos.

You can pretty much count on Sean as the photographer for Angkor’s Away. Almost all of the time. Without him, this blog would be imageless stories.

Now that you have some background, I can tell you a story. Since we got the GoPro, we have barely taken any pictures. The GoPro captures such amazing video footage, that I bring it everywhere. It’s a weird transition—I used to carry a camera and snap photos as we went about our day. But with the GoPro, you turn it on, hold it in your hand, and pretty much forget about it. Then, we look back through the footage and take screen shots of the pictures we like the most.

We just finished up our first school year here in Cambodia. We have officially lived in Phnom Penh for eleven months. So, the weekend before we left, I headed up to Central Market, with the goal to take some photos of my own.

DCIM101GOPROThe corner of Central Market. A cyclo driver cleaning his carriage, getting ready for a busy day.

 

Screen Shot 2014-05-31 at 8.24.44 AMThe alleys near Central Market.

 

Screen Shot 2014-05-31 at 8.23.20 AMA family ready to sit down to breakfast, and a woman going about her daily business.

DCIM101GOPROCentral Market. It was built in 1937, and was said to be the “largest market in Asia” at the time. It was designed in Art Deco style by French artist Louis Chauchon.

 

DCIM101GOPROOranges for sale. Our oranges are green here, but they still taste just as good!

 

DCIM101GOPROSkewers of __________, frying in oil, ready for sale.

 

DCIM101GOPROThese ladies were really cute. They were selling fresh honeycomb! Some even still had bees sitting on them. They didn’t want me to take their picture, they wanted me to buy their honey.

 

Screen Shot 2014-05-31 at 8.18.50 AMA popular walk-way along Central Market.

 

Screen Shot 2014-05-31 at 8.19.45 AMMangos, mangos, everywhere!

 

Screen Shot 2014-05-31 at 8.22.53 AMThe main dome of Central Market. Jewelry, sunglasses, and watches are in the central dome. It has a really cool feel.

 

Screen Shot 2014-05-31 at 8.25.44 AMDid I say we have a lot of mangos in Cambodia?

 

DCIM101GOPROAfter Central Market, I stopped by one of my favorite smoothie ladies on my way home. On the corner by the National Museum, “Davy’s Shake Shack” whips up some of the most delicious fruit smoothies I have had in a while. My favorite is passion fruit, mango, coconut.

Screen Shot 2014-05-31 at 8.16.57 AMAnd so I sat with my smoothie and took in the view. What a great way to end a trip to the hustling and bustling Central Market.

 

And that’s it! Year #1 in Cambodia is finished! I didn’t want to say this, but I am actually sitting in Seoul Airport as I type this. The year is really over. But, don’t worry, this is still so much to see! I have another amazing video to show you from our explorations in Thailand, and there is also the undiscovered wilds of Wisconsin… and probably some photos of cheese curds and good beer. If it isn’t consumed too quickly.

 

Check back soon!

Categories: Cambodia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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