The Angkor Temples

Siem Reap, Cambodia

Home of the Angkor Wat temple and the Khmer people, Cambodia is a country with a deep history. It is the middle man of Southeast Asia and the country on an SE Asia itinerary you’re probably most likely to get food poisoning in because of its overall poor state.

However, its rich history and humble lifestyle are the reason it sticks out to many travelers. To be honest, I was among those nervous about visiting Cambodia because of the warnings about food and conditions I had heard from others. To my pleasant surprise, though, I haven’t felt unsafe or uncomfortable, and have even felt more welcomed in parts of Cambodia than I did in many parts of Thailand. Granted the guesthouse James and I stayed at was unique in that the owner, Lisa, went out of her way to do anything we needed. But even still I have experienced nothing but wonderful hospitality anywhere I’ve been since arriving. Immediately after landing in Siem Reap, we were greeted by a tuk tuk from our guesthouse who kindly took us to where we needed to be and then we were given ice tea at check-in. It was then I wondered why I had ever been nervous about my visit to Cambodia.

Our visit to Angkor Wat and the Angkor Archaeological Park was incredible. While it was an early morning, starting at 4am, we had the experience of seeing the sunrise at the famous temple. The sunrise was a bit underwhelming since it was cloudy but the temple itself was magnificent. I was in complete awe at how old the structure was, having been built in the 12th century, yet how well preserved it was. The amount of detail still in the walls and rooms still so clearly marked made it feel so alive, despite its age.

We checked out a few other temples in the ancient city of Angkor as well, including the Bayon temple. While not as preserved as Angkor Wat, they each had very distinguishable and unique features. I remember the faces carved in the tall stone at Bayon and how strikingly clear they appeared to me. It was amazing to see how even after the hundreds of years that had passed, the detail of these temples could still make such an impressive impact.

For me, Angkor was a reminder of human potential when we put our minds to something and come together to accomplish it. Despite the hardship of building all of these strong yet intricate structures without any modern day technology,  the ancient people were able to create temples that are ageless and still awe-inspiring to the modern day world.

The rest of my time spent around the city of Siem Reap wasn’t noteworthy, mostly because it is small and mainly consists of tourist shops and restaurants, but it was still an eye-opening experience being able to explore a city so poor, yet so accommodating and proud.


Thai Island Life

Koh Tao, Thailand

Koh Tao, the smallest of the most visited islands off the east coast of Thailand, is best known for its great scuba diving opportunities. I had heard wonderful things about it from people who had traveled to it prior, recommending it over some of the more visited islands such as Koh Pha Ngan.

They were right. Koh Tao was definitely the highlight of my southern Thailand experience. No matter where you wandered to on the island, whether it be a remote bay on the east side or the busy backpacker village of Sairee, the relaxed island feeling and gorgeous views followed you everywhere. Because it was pretty small, it was easy enough to explore a lot of ground by motorbike and very easy to get around. Anything you could want was no more than a ten minute walk away.

It seemed I wasn’t the only one who fell in love with the island as I met a handful of young scuba instructors on my dive boat who all had travel plans to see several places in Southeast Asia, like myself, but loved the island and their scuba diving courses so much that they ditched their plans and realities wherever they were from. Today, they are still living in Koh Tao sharing their knowledge and wisdom with travelers seeking the same kind of passion they feel every day.

Scuba diving in Koh Tao was my favorite thing I did on the island. Not only because it was fitting and of course beautiful, but also because it was Earth Day so I had the  opportunity to help clean the reefs while diving for fun. I was so thrilled to be helping the environment while doing something so cool for myself as well. There’s nothing quite like swimming with the fishies underwater.

As I leave the island, I feel happy knowing that places like it exist and that there are so many people, like you or I, with no Thai background whatsoever, who have made it a comfortable home to enjoy in harmony with the local people.


Landing in Asia

Ao Nang, Thailand

This being the first time I’ve entered a non-Westernized country, I came to Southeast Asia with little little knowledge of what to actually expect but with an open mind to the new culture and customs I am now already learning so much about. Landing in Bangkok first made it a bit of a shock but adapting to the chaos has happened surprisingly quickly.

Bangkok was full of new cultural experiences. Just walking down the street was an adventure. I spent  lot of time just browsing the endless number of street vendors and buildings that looked as if they were thrown on top of each other. I wouldn’t call it pretty but it was fascinating. To experience for the first time a culture without many rules and regulations but with a lot of stuff and a lot of people has been extremely eye-opening.

Although only in Bangkok for one night, I was able to see many of the famous temples and landmarks, such as the King’s Palace, thanks to my tuk tuk driver I found walking aimlessly down the street with my partner, James. He led us to all the main attractions for really cheap and we even ended up booking the rest of our week and a half in Thailand with the tourist agency he insisted we book with to get a discount. Still don’t know how we got pushed into that one but the accommodation has been nice so far and it wasn’t a bad price so I’m ok with it. Plus he also got us a bit of discount on a boat tour through the Bangkok canals which gave us a closer look at the local culture and the floating markets. Guess one thing just leads to another here in SE Asia.

Since Bangkok, we’ve been exploring the region known as Krabi, and staying by the beach in Ao Nang. Krabi seems to have so much variety from majestic temples to emerald pools to beaches with beautiful views of the large rock formations that stick out of the water all around here. Of course I had to go check out the highly talked about and photographed Phi Phi Islands so we joined a boat tour, and got to see all the places I’ve seen so many pictures of. Riding around to Maya Bay and other bay areas surrounded by tall, wide mountain-like rocks and the green-blue water, I was thinking how I was finally experiencing the beautiful Thailand I had in my mind for so long. It definitely met my expectations and also gave me a new look at what these islands are all about. Infested with tourists, yes, but cherished by locals and striking to anyone who is fortunate enough to experience them, big yes.

Today was maybe the biggest adventure I’ve had so far  here because it wasn’t made possible from a booked tour or a “top things to see” post on the Internet but rather from  word-of-mouth, a desire to be adventurous, and some helpful Thai people. In just about half an hour James and I went from lying on the bed in our guesthouse to riding around Krabi on a motorbike looking for the “Tiger Temple” everyone at our last hostel was talking about. It was such a thrill, but also a bit nerve-wracking at first, hopping on the back of the motorbike and taking off to some unknown destination in this chaotic land. Our very friendly receptionist drew a map for us but because all the road signs are in Thai and directions never end up being quite as detailed as I need them to be, we ended up taking several wrong turns and asking several Thai people for clarification along the way. But alas, we made it to Wat Tham Suea (Tiger Cave Temple). We walked 1,237 steps and sweated the whole way up but once we made it, we were so glad we did. Not only was the view over the Krabi region stunning, but there was also an extremely peaceful and magical feeling being that far up with the big Buddha next to me. The scene reminded me of how the Buddhist culture is portrayed in movies – a far away, magical temple surrounded by a striking landscape. I find myself becoming more and more intrigued by the Buddhist religion the more I encounter the Buddha. It seems this new cultural discovery is already having an affect on me.

In just a few days, I’ve already opened my mind up to a completely alternative way of living than what I am used to and have started adapting to the everyday customs that the Thai people practice. I have gotten better at interacting with them, for one, because I have a better understanding of how they communicate. But I also have observed so much of their daily life. From the food markets to the taxis, I am being exposed to so many different ways of doing things and that itself is priceless.