Posts Tagged With: Hiking

Walking with Elephants

Happy February! Please forgive me for not posting in the past month. We’ve been absolutely crazy busy with visitors and traveling. My aunt and her friends flew over from Wisconsin for two weeks, and my dad and sister are here with us now. I love having guests visit—when else do I get an excuse to show off one of my favorite countries, visit my favorite restaurants, and play tourist on a school night?

In terms of the blog, the Go Pro is a blessing and a curse. It’s a curse in the sense that we take a lot less photos now, so have less to work with when writing a blog. On the other hand, it’s a total blessing when you have so many hours of absolutely perfect film footage that you don’t even know where to start.

That’s a bit how our photos of Mondulkiri were. Sean took great photos, but even more video. This weekend he took the best of the best and made a stellar film about our trip. I hope you enjoy. I fell in love with the elephants all over again, and groaned at the sight of our poor car being towed by a tree limb behind a van. (Our timing belt broke, and how else do you tow a car 200 miles in Cambodia? Hail a passing van, find a stick and some rope, and cross your fingers.) Take a look, and if you can, watch it in HD.

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Door County, Wisconsin

While my blog normally covers all things exotic and foreign, it is all a matter of perspective.

For all of my non-American readers, today you will experience the exotic culture and geography of the Upper-Midwestern United States. A part of America that is so familiar to me, I can close my eyes and recreate each of the five senses purely from memory alone. We all have places like this—my friends in Ethiopia can taste shiro and injera, and smell the wild baboons in the Simien mountains. My friends in Cambodia can feel the salt of the Gulf of Thailand on their skin and the taste of tangy prahok in their mouth. Similarly, Sean and I can hear the call of the hermit thrush, taste of cheese curds, and imagine the waves of Lake Michigan lapping the rocky shore.

Here is Door County in early June.

DCIM101GOPROThe Holiday Music Motel, a vintage throw-back in Sturgeon Bay. One of the best hotels I’ve stayed at in the US so far. Absolutely fantastic breakfast in a ‘serve yourself’ diner setting.

 

DCIM101GOPROI felt like I was either in my grandmother’s kitchen or a church basement for a Friday night fish-fry. (If you’re from Wisconsin, that sentence makes perfect sense.)

 

DCIM101GOPROOn the shores of Lake Michigan, at Whitefish Dunes State Park.

 

DCIM101GOPROOne of Sean’s favorite places in Door County, Cave Point County Park.

 

DCIM101GOPROPerched on the rocky ledges of Cave Point.

 

DCIM101GOPRODoor County is famous for its lighthouses. This one is located in Peninsula State Park, one of the most popular State Parks in Wisconsin.

 

DCIM101GOPROOn top of Eagle Tower, with Horseshoe Island in the background.

 

DCIM101GOPROHorseshoe Island.

 

DCIM101GOPROHiking the Eagle Trail. Was it difficult? Not so much. Beautiful? Absolutely.

 

Screen Shot 2014-06-23 at 10.37.14 PMSean goes spelunking in the caves along the Eagle Trail.

 

DCIM101GOPROIn Sister Bay, Wisconsin, there is a famous restaurant that has goats grazing on their roof. We, unfortunately, visited on a day that they were mowing the lawn. No goats, but certainly an entertaining photograph!

 

Screen Shot 2014-06-23 at 10.33.48 PMWe then visited The Ridges Sanctuary State Natural Area in Bailey’s Harbor. It was recommended for being particularly beautiful and remote, with an active bald eagle nest. As you can see in the above photo (which is actually a screen capture from a video), I became a mosquito-fighting phantom, covering every part of my body from the ridiculously vicious mosquitos that were there!

 

DCIM101GOPROInside The Ridges there is an old homestead from the early 1900’s.

 

Screen Shot 2014-06-23 at 10.31.41 PMWe were the only people for miles around. It was a fairy land.

 

Screen Shot 2014-06-23 at 10.30.15 PMThen we popped out on the shores of Lake Michigan once again. I never get tired of this view.

 

DCIM101GOPROOn our way home, we found yet another lighthouse. Door County never ceases in its simple beauty.

 

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How To Have Fun In Kep Without Really Trying

I am majorly behind on my blog. As I force myself to move in chronological order with my posts, I am still writing about events from January. That’s bad. Although, as belated as it may be, late blog posts have two hidden benefits:

1. It means I have been enjoying life in Cambodia so much that I haven’t had time to write.
2. I get to relive the memories from a few months back over again.

So, when my dad and sister were here in mid-January, I took a long weekend and we went down to Kep together. For Sean and I, Kep is our weekend getaway. Only two and a half hours outside of the city, you can be there in time for happy hour on Friday, and get back home on Sunday with enough time to relax and watch a movie before bed.

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Kep has many hidden secrets, and just as many not-so-hidden ones. It’s pretty easy to enjoy a weekend in Kep. Here’s how…

IMG_0317Go on a treasure hunt for all the unique statues around the city. Off the top of my head, I can count at least five.

IMG_0362Drive the—almost—empty roads that traverse the rolling hills. Snap photos of over-loaded motos.

IMG_0331Head down to the coast and watch the boats at the crab market.

IMG_0333Experience the culinary delight that is fresh-grilled seafood.

IMG_0350Count the number of different types of seafood you can identify.

IMG_0352Sample the seafood. It’s less than a dollar for a grilled squid on a skewer.

IMG_0336Witness the hustle and bustle of crab sales at the market.

IMG_0348Try to spot the biggest crab.

IMG_0345Watch the crab get steamed in assembly-line style.

IMG_2313Take a breather from the crab market, and head over to the Sailing Club for the perfect happy hour sunset. (Bonus Activity: Jump off their jetty after dark and swim with phosphorescent plankton!)

IMG_2286Ride horses through the Kep mountains.

IMG_2337Trek to Sunset Rock for the best view of the city.

Kep really is the ideal weekend trip. You’ve just got to bring along your swimsuit, your smile, and your camera.

 

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Koh Ta Kiev: Our first Cambodian Island

I confess: It took us a long time to make it to the Cambodian islands. It’s not that we didn’t want to go, it was simply that there has been so much to do. We traveled to Laos, Koh Kong, the hills, the rivers, oodles of places, but not a single island. Once we knew we had friends coming, we reserved our first island trip for them.

Our friend had recommended we go to Koh Ta Kiev (pronounced Koh Tah “Q” in Khmer). She loved the bungalows there, and said it was really quiet and underdeveloped. Since our friends were coming from the dusty desert metropolis that is Kuwait, we thought it sounded perfect.

We left Phnom Penh in the early morning, and got to Sihanoukville by around 10:30am.

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The circle outlines the port town of Sihanoukville as well as the sprinkling of islands that one can visit with ease. (The big one, Phu Quoc, is actually Vietnamese. You have to enter Vietnam—with a $65 visa for Americans—and backtrack across the water to get to Phu Quoc. It’s probably easier to fly from Ho Chi Minh City. But I  digress.)
IMG_9699On the beach at Sihanoukville. Otres Beach, to be exact. Abby and Sean enjoyed brunch on the white sand, while we waited for our boat to whisk us away to the island of Koh Tah Kiev (and away from underclad men in Speedos).
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The boat was the size of three canoes and as noisy as three hundred lawn mowers. As the shoreline faded into the distance, we peered into the horizon in search of the island.

IMG_9716We stayed at Ten 103 Treehouse, a series of bungalows spread throughout the jungle. Each bungalow overlooks the ocean, and is open air. I shot this photo right before sunset. Can you spot Sean reading in the hammock?

IMG_9703The view the next morning from inside the bungalow.

Koh Ta Kiev was incredibly quiet and undeveloped. You could walk along the desert beaches, and only stumbled upon a handful of other people—and we were there during the high season! It’s a small island, so you can cross the jungle on small footpaths for a view out the other side.

The swimming was good, too.

IMG_9717…for the most part. You couldn’t really swim directly off the bungalows due to the sea urchins. Abby took this photo, which I unfortunately did not get to witness myself. I still cannot work out how this guy handles those things…

IMG_9719The jungle was thick, and hung over the white sand foot path.

IMG_9820 copy Sean and had a blast exploring the island. We were there for three nights, which was the perfect amount of time to lose yourself in the rhythm of the waves and the glow of the stars.

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But if there’s one thing I’ve learned about Cambodia, it is this: You are never alone. Ever. Even when you think you’re on a desert island, you spot a man carrying bananas. Or monks playing volleyball. Or cows. The first two didn’t surprise us too much, but the cows cruising the coast, that was surprising.

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We had heard that one side of the island had a nice cove and a rocky shoreline. After about an hour of exploration, we stumbled upon it. Like I said, you are never alone, even in paradise. The husband and wife sorted their fish and sipped their tea, taking a break from the day’s work. As much as I like to have nature as my private playground, I love the moments when I remember that I am a visitor in someone else’s seemingly normal life. A life to me that seems so exotic. How exotic must I seem to them?

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On our way back from the cove, we found a swing with a view…

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And at night we feasted by candlelight.

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I did find my own private paradise, if only for an hour. One evening around sunset, I walked to “Naked Beach” by myself. Sean, Abby, and Kyle were reading, and I was feeling antsy. Naked Beach didn’t have a single development on it—maybe that’s why it’s called Naked Beach? Balancing my camera on a rock, I took a timed photo of myself. The water was so warm, and so clear and blue! I had my snorkle gear, so bobbed around in the waves until the sun sunk below the trees…

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Sean took this great panorama of the bungalows. The water had great snorkeling, and the beaches were perfect. We’ve got to go back. IMG_9988 copy

But with so many other Cambodian islands to discover, it may be a while before we can say Sua S’dye to Koh Ta Kiev again.

I’ll leave you with a quotation that has guided me in my travels, and will hopefully continue to lead us to more islands like Koh Ta Kiev…

“Love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction.”

– Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

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Christmas At Angkor Wat

Normally people dream of escaping to exotic, distant locations for their winter holidays. Palm trees swaying overhead, an iced drink in their hand, and pathways of foreign land to explore.

We dreamt it. And we didn’t have to board a plane to do it. We played host this year to friends and family who came to visit. We saved Angkor Wat until we had company—it’d be awesome to visit twice, but it’s one of those non-negotiables when you have family passing through, so we figured we’ll be up there more than once.

Our friends Kyle and Abby flew out from Kuwait, where we worked with them last year. Abby taught middle school with me last year, and Kyle teaches in the high school. My dad and sister flew out after the new year, and stayed for January. But that’s too many stories for one blog.

When Abby and Kyle arrived we headed straight up to Siem Reap. I promised Sean three days of temple-touring, and I promised Abby and Kyle an exotic vacation with ample beer, tank tops, and swimming pools. It wasn’t hard to satisfy everyone.

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Our first stop in Siem Reap was Phare, the Cambodian circus. It was amazing! Based out of Battambang, Phare helps kids from poor homes enroll in a fine arts school that teaches them art, dance, music, and the like. If they decide they want to be professional, then they join Phare in Siem Reap, and could even travel to other parts of Cambodia after that. It was like Cirque Du Soleil combined with a great music and storytelling.

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The next morning we headed straight for the temples. It was overcast the three days we were there, but we finally managed a hint of blue sky for a photo in front of Angkor Wat.

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The storytelling walls surrounding the main temple complex. A jumble of arms, legs, and spears. IMG_8961

A baby monkey asks permission to play with his friends. His mother’s stern reply disheartens his eager plans.

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Baby monkey receives consolation from aunt and uncle monkey. He can play with his friends when he gets a little bit older. For now, just entertain the tourists, little guy.

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We climbed all over these temples! This is still in Angkor Wat, the main temple complex.

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Sean imagines he is the great Angkorian king, looking out over his kingdom.

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Kyle doesn’t have to work hard to imagine he is king, he receives worship from the Angkorian goddesses, Abby and Kim. Sean is reduced from Angkorian king to photographer.


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After our game of make-believe, we took a break for lunch. Abby claims these were the best fried noodles she had in Cambodia, and she ate a lot of fried noodles! In the parking lot of Angkor Wat. It was tough to decide which vendor to pick, but we went with the one who said, “I give you half-off on anything on the menu.” You can’t go wrong with a competitive salesperson.

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After Angkor Wat, we drove out to Angkor Thom, which is pretty much the headquarters of the ancient empire. It is a huge complex that stretches nine square kilometers. You can drive your car between towering trees, stop anywhere you like, and climb around ruins.

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Bayon was a temple full of mystique—how many smiling faces can you spot? (Hint: There’s more than you think!)

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After Bayon, we played hopscotch around some temples scattered in a field. Abby’s hopscotch techniques had great form. Maybe I should start ‘temple hopscotch’ as an after-school activity… We’d get to take lots of field trips.

IMG_9123As the sun sunk lower in the sky, the views got more and more beautiful. (Note to self: Always travel with photogenic friends.)

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We are ready to make our next album. We’ve got the picture for the cover right here.

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Angkor Wat is yet another place outside of America that you can literally climb over all of the ruins pretty much undisturbed.

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Sean and Kyle were feeling a bit like our tour guides at this point. Now if only I could get them to talk in cool accents.

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We find a modern-day shrine, and Abby sits pretty. (Did you know it’s sacrilegious to be photographed with your back facing the Buddha? I tried to tell her, but she is a natural-born rebel… Can’t you see it in her eyes?)

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And then we found elephants. And pensive mahouts.

At this point, the sun was setting on our first day, so we headed back into town for dinner and a night out. The next day we got up early and began out next adventure…

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Early morning at East Mebon temple.

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Abby and I playing inside East Mebon. I wonder who used to pass through that doorway…

These pictures all speak for themselves, don’t they? If a picture is worth a thousand words, then these have to be multiplied by the thousands of years and stories they contain.

I’ve got one more post about Siem Reap and Angkor Wat for you, and then we headed down to the Cambodian coast. I think I could start a business, “Tours By Kim”. I need a catchier name, though. I think I’ll just stick to friends, family, and my husband. They keep my hands pretty full as it is.

Check back soon for more on Angkor Wat!

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Top Ten Travel Highlights of 2013

Happy New Year! I can’t believe it’s 2014 already. Since we’ve moved abroad, Sean and I have rang in the new year in Jordan, Egypt, and now Cambodia. As amazing as it is to keep looking forward to new adventures, it is equally important to reflect on all we’ve experienced. 2013 was pretty awesome. We moved from Kuwait to Cambodia. We celebrated our second year of marriage. Sean had knee surgery. I had wrist surgery. Sean tried pufferfish. I started eating chicken again. We watched Breaking Bad. But I digress.

Anyways, here are our travel highlights of 2013. There’s not really any particular order; it was near impossible to prioritize such perfect memories…  I hope you enjoy!

 2013 Travel Highlights

10. Playing disc golf with my family over the summer (Wisconsin)547901_4009921418603_1670924733_n

 

9. My last vegetarian thali at Banana Leaf (Kuwait)img_2404

 

8. Climbing Kep Mountain (Cambodia)10

 

7. Learning to speak Khmer (Cambodia)1185019_10201246178628688_1713916646_n

 

6. Eating giant prawns on the Koh Kong coast (Cambodia)img_6725

 

5. Becoming addicted to shiro and injera (Ethiopia)img_4913

 

4. Smoking shisha with my mother and the head of the Ministry of Communication (Kuwait)img_4726_2

 

3. Hiking five nights on The Beaten Path trail (Montana)15

 

2. Petting baboons in the Simien Mountains (Ethiopia)img_5656

 

1. Standing under the raging waterfall of Tad Yeang—Can you spot me? (Laos)img_7795-version-2

 

 

 

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Cambodia’s Hidden Secret

Merry Christmas, everyone! I hope you are enjoying your holidays wherever you are. Here in Cambodia, it’s been freezing. There has been a record-breaking cold spell for the past week, and it has become sweatshirt weather. Normally we only wear a t-shirt and shorts, but this past week has been in the 60’s, when normally it’s the 80’s. It’s not quite below zero, but a big enough change for us!

We stuck around Cambodia this holiday season; we have two sets of visitors here. (First our friends Abby and Kyle from Kuwait, then my Dad and sister from America. My mom will come later—again with my dad—at spring break.) As a consequence, I am able to type this blog post with a cup of coffee and a blanket wrapped around my shoulders, in the comfort of my own apartment. It’s mega tourist season right now in Cambodia. While the weather is perfect for travel, everywhere you go in Cambodia is now full with tourists. However, I discovered one of Cambodia’s hidden places a few weeks back. This is one of those quiet, secret, beautiful places, that you hope never changes. It’s a little town called Kep, located on the Gulf of Thailand just three hours south of Phnom Penh.

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Where Kampot has “Bokor Mountain National Park”, Kep has “Kep National Park” which contains Kep mountain. We had heard stories that you could hike around the mountain, but I wasn’t expecting this type of signage….
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We felt like we were in a National Park in the United States! There were at least ten different hiking routes you could take around the mountain. Each was sign posted with elevation, distance, and sights along the way.

 

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As we began to climb up the side of Kep mountain, I immediately fell in love. Kep not only has rolling hills that slide right up to the coast, it has a beautiful shoreline that stretches on for miles, with small islands dotting the horizon. It felt like Hawaii!

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We found a few creatures on our hike… This was the husk of a bug, just stuck on a tree.

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This guy did a whole photo shoot for us; we were snapping photos for at least ten minutes, and he didn’t move a muscle!

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We were determined to find the summit of Kep Mountain. We think we did…?

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After the summit, we had decided to make a loop to get back to the trailhead. We took the “jungle hike” trail on the way down. Without a doubt, it was the toughest hike we’ve done so far in Cambodia. The trail began to drop off over large boulders, sticks, fallen logs, and streams of water. We had to use the ropes that were tied onto the side of the trail to lower ourselves down. I think going up that side would have been fine, but trying to maneuver backwards down a slippery jungle mountain is no fun!

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But we weren’t without our rewards.

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We emerged on the other side, with sweeping views of Kep’s countryside.

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It reminded me of both Maui and Sri Lanka.

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Then we found this massive guy on the trail! Luckily, I have never seen this type of bug before, and hope I don’t have to again. He was as long (or longer than) my forearm.

After our hike, we met up with our friends who also went to Kep for the long weekend. They told us about their favorite seafood place, as Kep is famous for seafood, caught right off the shore.
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I got the crab with Kampot pepper. I am getting hungry just looking back at this picture!

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We had crab, shrimp, octopus, and squid. It was a feast fit for a king. (Or a Chihuahua?)

After lunch, we were all feeling a bit adventurous. So, we decided to look for a small beach we saw on the map, supposedly hidden from the main area in Kep.

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After much driving, the only thing we had found was a lot of red dirt on our cars, and suntans on our faces. We asked a few people, who eventually pointed us in the right direction. However, this was exactly the type of trip where the journey was just as beautiful as the destination. I loved the Kep countryside!
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We found the beach at dusk. Just enough time to walk along the shore, hunt for shells, and watch the sun sink lower in the sky.

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We were happy we endured the off-roading and mis-directions; we found an incredible sunset!

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Back at our lodge the next morning, Sean found two critters near the bathroom.

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This spider was hanging out on the wall of the bathroom! It was larger than my palm!

 

Sadly, we had to head back to the city of Phnom Penh the next morning. It was a four-day weekend, and we had school the next day.

I left the coast knowing that I will return to Kep— or in my eyes—Cambodia’s secret. It is a small town, with unbelievable shore line, mountains, sweeping views, seafood, and endless trails to get lost between the palm trees and fragrant flowers.

We will be taking our family back to Kep when they come visit, and I can’t wait to share it with them. We just finished a trip to Siem Reap to see the temples of Angkor Wat, which I will blog about soon. I am really behind with the blogging; there is so much in Cambodia to see and do, I can’t keep it with it all. What a great problem to have, huh?

Enjoy your holiday season, and your new year, and I will write again as soon as I can.

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Bokor Mountain, Kampot

We love Cambodia. We find more and more to love every day. A few weeks ago, we found Bokor Mountain.

As you drive South from Phnom Penh, you begin to enter rolling hills. Pretty soon you come across taller hills, oddly shaped hills, hills with temples on top, hills begging you to explore them. It’s all part of the Elephant Mountains, a small mountain range in Southeastern Cambodia. The tallest mountain of them all is 3,547 feet.

And its name is Bokor Mountain.

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Sean did an amazing job shooting all these panoramas; click on them to open in a new tab. It’s better to see them on a bigger screen to get all the amazing detail.

These are all shot from the top of Bokor Mountain. You can see the ocean, and islands off in the distance. This part of the ocean is known as the Gulf of Thailand.

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Bokor, in Khmer, means cow hump. (Pronounced: Bo-Ko.) You know what I mean; those cows you see in the countryside of certain countries with the massive hump on their back. It is apparently incredibly delicious. Sean has been dying to try it ever since he saw his first cow with that massive chunk of meat rolling between its shoulders…

I’m pretty sure the type of cow see in Cambodia is a zebu, check it out here. They live primarly in this region, and are known for their massive hump between their shoulders, or in Khmer, their bokor.

While doing my research, I stumbled on a fascinating article about the Kouprey, Cambodia’s national animal. It is a species of cattle found only in Cambodia. I had no idea! They are a “wild, forest-dwelling bovine species” in the jungles of northern Cambodia. They are seldom seen anymore due to deforestation and hunting. They weren’t even discovered until 1937! Learn more about the kouprey here.

Anyways, back to our trip to Bokor Mountain…

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You can drive to the top of the mountain and hike around from there. If you look at the left side of the above picture, you can see all sorts of cars and people on picnics. We were there during a holiday, so it was a bit crowded. But that didn’t make it any less beautiful.

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This is the statue of Lok Yeay Mao, also at the top of the mountain. Lok is the most formal version of Mr. or Mrs. You use Lok when speaking to someone of extreme status (like royalty, or someone in a government role). Yeay Mao is an ancient hero and divinity for the Buddhists in Cambodia. She is seen as the protector of travelers. One legend says that she used to be married to Ta Krohom-Koh, literally “Grandpa Red Neck“. (I’m not kidding.) They used to live in the forests, and her husband left her alone once and a tiger devoured her. Another legend has it that she was married to a powerful warrior, and when he died, she took control of his armies and became very powerful. I choose to believe the second story.

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Never miss an opportunity to have someone take your picture! We never have enough photos of us together.

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Near the statue of Lok Yeay Mao there is an abandoned building with some awesome graffiti. I later found out these abandoned buildings were part of the old King Sihanouk’s residence.  So much history on this one mountain!

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If you driver further along the mountain road, you come across an old French church. The French built it during the twenties when they wanted to have a French community at the top of the mountain.

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It’s abandoned now, but makes for an amazing place to explore…


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Inside the church.
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Speaking of abandoned things, the most popular artifact is the abandoned hotel. It was also built by the French in the twenties, but was never finished. It is in excellent condition, and you can explore every hallways and rooftop. There are no railings, security guards, or caution signs, so explore at your own risk!

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Explore we did. This is the view from the top of the abandoned hotel.

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The architecture was really neat, as was how well it is preserved. It was almost eerie…

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Then we found Popokvil Waterfall. IMG_8534

These guys live life on the wild side. They must have amazing balancing skills, because I would have fallen over the edge minutes ago.

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One of the steps of the falls. It was tough to get it all in a picture; they rolled on for quite a ways!


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A Cambodian phenomenon: The amount of people you can fit on one moto.

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Another view from Bokor. That is the town of Kampot off to the left. Isn’t it gorgeous?

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Then we checked in to our guesthouse… or ‘nature lodge’ I suppose. It was thatched huts on stilts in the middle of rice paddies.

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The view from the balcony of our hut. That’s Bokor Mountain. How massive! You could spend a week explore every inch of its plateau.

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Then we headed into the town of Kampot for dinner. I loved the colonial-looking architecture…

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Sunset over the river in Kampot.

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When I woke up in the morning, I saw a woman heading to work…

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I wanted to get a shot the next morning of where we parked our car. We were skeptical when we saw that we had to park here and walk through the woods to get the bungalows. It was the first time I’ve seen a mosque since outside Kuwait!

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Sean in trusty Champee. The sign pointing towards Ganesha, where we stayed.

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The road was absolutely terrible. There were times that it felt more like a swamp than a dirt path!

Genesha4The rice paddies in front of Bokor Mountain.

Kampot is a beautiful place.

…but then we found Kep.

Check back soon for the rest of our weekend adventure!

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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!

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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.

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

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Felt like we were in the movies.
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The modern pagoda is in the background… while I stand under towering ancient temples.
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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.)

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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.

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

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And then we saw the view.

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And the monkey.

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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.

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

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

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

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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…

 

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

Hiking In Laos On The Bolaven Plateau

I didn’t have to think hard about the title for this blog post. Most of the time I sit for five, ten, sometimes fifteen minutes, trying to come up the best, eye-catching title. I want anyone browsing the web to stop in their tracks and think, “Wow, I’ve GOT to read that!” Even if I turned someone small and everyday, like finding an Indian restaurant in Kuwait, into an adventure into the bowels of the Middle East. It’s all about creativity and perspective.

It wasn’t hard today. Why? Because “Hiking In Laos On The Bolaven Plateau” is just awesome. And it’s what we did. Kind of like “Going To The Moon Tomorrow”. How can you make going to the moon sound even more awesome than it already is?

So, we went hiking in Laos on the Bolaven Plateau.

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Photo courtesy of Anna.  She let me steal a few of her amazing ones to add to the blog.

After we left the 4,000 islands area (see last post), we drove north to a town called Pakse. Pakse is kind of the hub for the Bolaven plateau; once you head up into the hills, there isn’t a whole lot in terms of facilities. We stopped in Pakse to get lunch and run a few errands. We also found these street snacks, which ended up tasting very strange.  Delicious, but strange. They’re made with coconut flour, so taste tropical, but the inside doesn’t fully cook, so it always has a crunchy outside and jelly interior. The jelly is what gets me. Regardless, we bought a couple and mopped up the grease that dribble down our chins.

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Pakse is located on the Mekong river, which runs all the way down to Phnom Penh, and out into the Gulf of Thailand. Our trip literally followed the Mekong river all the way north. As we left Pakse, we drove to Tad Lo in the north of the plateau. The average elevation for the Bolaven is at around 4,000 ft—much different than our elevation in Phnom Penh, which is only 39 feet above sea level!
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Photo courtesy of Anna.

We stayed at Tad Lo Lodge, a beautiful place right next to Tad Lo waterfall.These were our bungalows.
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We woke up to a breakfast of fresh fruit, omelets, french bread, and coffee. You can see Tad Lo falls in the background. I could have relaxed on that patio for days!

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The main building of Tad Lo lodge.

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We started our hike the next morning. Our plan was to hike up the river to Tad Suong, which was reported to be the most beautiful falls of them all. We slathered on our sunscreen, packed our bags, and struck out for adventure.

A cautionary note: We were following a distinct trail for much of the hike. When we weren’t on a trail, we were walking in farmer’s fields. Never, ever go off trail in Laos or Cambodia. The countrysides are still riddled with unexploded ordinances—Cambodia from the Khmer Rouge and Laos from the Vietnam war. We never saw any bombs or problems, but we were warned in every tourist office. Please, if you go, tread wisely!
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The first set of falls we came to were Tad Hang. We were so excited to get to Tad Suong, we just stopped for a few pictures here then kept going.
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Tad Hang.

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Photo courtesy of Anna.

We had to go through two local villages on our hike. The people were so friendly; they always smiled and said hello. When we asked, “Tad Suong?” they smiled and pointed us in the right direction.

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Trekking through the farm fields of the Bolaven. Sean took this photo as he was walking farther away from us at one point. I am in the front and Anna is in the back.

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We found coffee plants! Coffee production is a large export on the Bolaven. And of course, I brought a few bags home.

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We were finally in eyesight of Tad Suong. Isn’t it gorgeous?

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I found the happiest woman in the world inside this hut. She was roasting and shucking corn, looking out over a gorgeous view of waterfalls and mountains. She seemed so at peace with the world. I would have loved to sat with her for a while.
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But we had to go on. This was the only real river crossing we had to do, and I left my shoes on to do it. You never know what’s in that muddy water!

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We finally reached Tad Suong! Our goal was to climb to the top of the falls, but we couldn’t find the trail. We knew the view from the top was going to be wonderful, but we couldn’t figure out how to get there.

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I stopped for a minute to consider our options, then I decided to push on…

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When I got bit by a massive spider. Okay, I never saw the spider, but the bite hurt! I thought, in my wise and composed condition, that I only had 24 hours to live. At this point in the hike, I called it quits, and suggested (in more or less words) that we head back to the lodge so someone could look at my bite.

Long story short, the bite was fine. It probably was a spider, but the men at the lodge said I would be fine. And I was. But from now on, I will certainly think twice about climbing through the guts of a rainforest!

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On our way back, Kampot was overheating, so Anna was a lovely mother and carried him a bit of the way.

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On our way back to the lodge, on the other side of Tad Hang.

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When we found an elephant.

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Amazing.

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Photo courtesy of Anna.

The lodge we stayed at had two resident elephants. They would hang out in the forest around the lodge near the waterfalls.

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When we finally made it back to the lodge, we laughed at how dirty we were! Even Kampot’s little paws were a muddy mess. Further, the sole completely came off Anna’s hiking boots. She hiked the whole way back without a sole on one foot!

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We had such a great time. Sean tried to snap a photo above his head of us relaxing on the balcony at the lodge. I love this photo because you can almost picture yourself there, laughing at our adventures.

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Time to clean the mud off our legs and our shoes…

There’s one small thing I forgot to mention. Remember how we wanted to get to the top of Tad Suong? Well, there is actually a road to the top. We just wanted to make an adventure out of it. That’s why the turning around part was so easy; we just resolved to take the car to the top once we got back to the lodge.

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It was only a twenty minute drive from the lodge. What a view!
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Looking down Tad Suong.

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I love Laos.

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Once we got back, Sean and Chino serenaded us with some music. It was a wild day, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world!

Up next: No more spider bites, but many more waterfalls! Stay tuned!

Categories: Laos | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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