Mialoi Bombing the Dragon

Yes, you read the title right, and they did literally that...poor, poor dragon! He never even knew what was coming!

This festival/tradition/craziness is still a little hazy for me as to the origin or the whereabouts of this idea, but this is what I've gathered....

It is tradition, sometime during the 2 weeks after Chinese New Year to have a fireworks festival {actually they use fireworks the entire 2 weeks...trust me!...but  they dedicate a specific time to having a festival to use them} in which TONS of firecrackers are set off with the thought that the loud noises will scare away all of the bad spirits and things in your life. [My personal take on this...if the firecrackers didn't scare the bad spirits away NOTHING is going to, and now both the spirits and myself may be permanently deaf....but who's asking me anyways!]

There are 4 different locations around Taiwan that hold these festivals and each is a little different. While some just enjoy throwing the firecrackers, others encourage people to stand where they are throwing them {I swear I can't make this stuff up!}, and others yet use dragons as the main spectacle to throw the fiery noisemakers at. Mialoi, the county right below me, is the latter; hence, the Bombing of the Dragon Festival!

Last Saturday (when I finally got off work...boo to having to teach on a Saturday this week!) I headed down to Mialoi just in time for the festival to really get going. I had ZERO idea what to expect, but was still quite taken aback when I got there! I was less than 2 yards off of the bus when a guy volunteering at the festival deems me as "a beautiful lady" and tosses a light up dragon hat on my head {you only live once right?!} From there, the night continued to get weirder! I met up with my Miaoli friends (Rebecca, RJ, William & his friend) and after grabbing some food from the stands near by, I convinced them it was time to get our party started...donning on the dragon costume time it was!

We got in line, were handed helmets, goggles, ear plugs, face masks, & gloves and then waited our turn...still not sure what exactly to expect. Next thing we know they were ushering us into the center ring, handing us each a long pole that a section of the dragon was attached to and telling us to run...then the firecrackers started...they were trowing BOXES of firecrackers right at us!  Haha I kid you not, I was laughing so hard I could barely run, to say it was an  interesting experience is an understatement!

Once we finished our run it was near time for the actual show of the night to start. The real dragon bombing show was similar to what we did (people holding the dragon while firecrackers are being thrown at them) except their moves were choreographed and the dragon they had was beautiful! Each dance/bombing lasted about 20 minutes {umm hello TONS of firecrackers!} and then there was another dance or performance in between each of the bombings to give them time to clean up and for our ears to stop ringing. When we left around 10pm we had seen countless dragon bombings including an electric light up dragon, a Chinese dance show, a local middle school's Japanese drum student performance, & a Chinese lion/god dance. Needless to say, the dragon bombings were definitely a learning experience, and one of those times I just have to laugh and tell myself "only in Asia!"

Get Your Travel On ~ Guest Take 2!

Wednesday, January 13

So I'm really starting to get the hang of this tour guide deal over here in Taiwan {shameless shout out...I'd love more visitors...you could be NEXT!!} One of my fellow Ashland graduates & sorority sisters & world traveler decided that she needed a little Asia in her life and I was more than happy to help her fill that void  {don't lie, you know you've got it too!}

So, Caitlin hopped her little hiney on a plane in Brazil where she's currently teaching, flew to Ohio to visit her family for a couple weeks, jetted off to Taiwan for 6 days (easier said than done with snow storms back home) and is on her way to Honduras as we speak for a missions trip (I wonder why I love this girl haha!)

She arrived, finally, late Wednesday night, but being unable to take Thursday off work, she traveled around Taipei Thursday on her own before I met her after work. We grabbed dinner at the Shilin Night Market and gave Caitlin her first real dose of real Taiwanese food (sorry Panda Express...I love you, but it's just not the same!) before heading back to my house in Hsinchu...talk about a late night getting home at almost 1am with school the next day!

No visit is complete without random men helping me to start my scooter and then requesting pictures with us afterwards!

Friday I taught and Caitlin made best friends with Jet Lag and Air Mattress at my house haha. After school I was helping with an elementary language competition and Caitlin tagged along for the experience. We sampled some dumplings for dinner, walked around town for a while, and called it a night.

Saturday we got to town on Caitlin's bucket list! First I wanted to check out the polling station new my house to see how things were going with the presidential election here {yes I'm nosy!} We waved hello as we passed (with Caitlin thrown on the back of my scooter) as we headed out of town towards the mangroves. On the way we stopped at the small local temple around the corner from my house as well as a larger one on the outskirts of town  to make sure Caitlin had [visit temple] appropriately checked off her list! Once we had checked out the temples, determined our futures, and breathed in our fair share of incense fumes we headed out a little farther to the mangroves. Caitlin was as mesmerized as I was the first time I found them...I'm telling you guys, these things are beautiful!

After our quick morning tour of my town...and of course some 7-eleven goodies along the way, we went home, grabbed our things and hopped on the train headed for Taipei...more bucket list items awaited us! First stop, Longshan Temple! Although I've been here before, I still love to see this amazing temple and learn a little  more and see a little more each time I visit...definitely a must see in Taipei! After the temple we decided  it was time for dinner {another reason I love this girl...she's always ready to eat!} On our way to dinner we  stumbled upon a shop packed full with decorations for Chinese New Year. Oh my goodness, I had never seen so much red/yellow/monkeys/lanterns shoved  into such a tight space before...a  little overwhelming but still fun to check out!

Longshan Temple - Taipei

We finally made it to our restaurant (I love to walk from place to place in Taipei  when they aren't super far instead of the subway to to get a better look at all of it's nooks and crannies!) and to be honest, it was a pretty crappy experience. Taiwan loves all things cutesy and themed, so what better place than Taipei to build The Modern Toilet?! I'm not joking...they have a restaurant themed around toilets! Their sign is a giant commode, the menus are in the shape of poop, the food comes in its own private toilet, and the included desert...chocolate ice cream in a squatty potty...yep they went there! I'm not sure I've ever  laughed so hard while eating at a restaurant before! Needless to say my  green curry looked quite questionable served in a toilet with a side of fake poop!

After dinner we headed back to Shilin Market for a couple things Caitlin wanted to pick up, and spent our evening checking out the vendors, food stands, and artisans at the market.

Sunday morning we woke up to rain...of  course, the day we had planned to be outside all day it would rain. And not just a few sprinkles here and there, but like the heavens opened up type of rain...just great. Have no fear, 7-eleven is here! A quick dash across the street to good ole' 7-eleven not  only provided us with our breakfast for the day, but also some super attractive rain ponchos and rubber flipflops for myself...now we were ready to roll! We hopped on a tourist bus  in Taipei and headed north to Yehliu Geopark to checkout what the park & rain had to offer us. The weather wasn't near as nice as last time Tina and I went up, but some things surprisingly stood out more in the rain than when it was dry, so it was fun to see it in both types of weather. While we were there the rain decided it was done for a while and it gave us time to head out further on the peninsula than where most people stopped to turn around and we were able  to explore some less visited paths and caves near the tip. OF COURSE as we are ready to catch the bus home the rain begins to come down with a lovely vengeance so we are a tad wet by the time we catch the bus, but we made it back to Taipei safe {and eventually dry!} rode the HSR home (another bucket list item for Caitlin) and crashed hard with the thought of school early the next day.

Monday morning, with the jet lag behind her, Caitlin came to school with me to see what we were all about here in Taiwan (and to help us write letters to our pen pals back home!) After school we headed to the day market in Hsinchu for dinner & Caitlin's first taste of mochi (she was not a fan!) and one last scooter ride before she had to leave Tuesday morning to more  adventures and warmer weather...until next time Caitlin...Taiwan is waiting!

Check out Caitlin's blog and her posts about her time in Taiwan! {I'll be honest, her posts on Taiwan are much better than my one mushed together post...darn you Thailand & winter break!}

Tuesday's Taiwan-isn {Chinese New Year!}

Chinese New Year; oh  boy, where do I even start?!

Before moving to Taiwan I knew it was a holiday, I knew it took place sometime after our new year (January 1) and that it changed dates every year, and I knew there was a lot of  red and yellow stuff and maybe some dragons thrown in there...but that was about it. Holy moly though, I'm pretty sure living here was like the world's best crash course in Chinese New Year! I'm not claiming to be an expert on anything here, but I will admit I sure did ask a heck of a lot of questions about what was going on around me!

What: Chinese New Year (or Lunar New Year) is the celebration of the new year according to the lunar calendar.

When: This year's Chinese New Year took place on February 8, 2016 & we are now in the year of the monkey! {so long 2015 ram!}

Where: Chinese new year is celebrated in many of the Asian countries & territories with strong Chinese populations such as mainland China, Taiwan, Macau, & Hong Kong.

Who: Traditionally the holiday was celebrated by the Chinese people, but today it is celebrated by Chinese people and foreigners alike {who wants to turn down a great celebration!?} The week of Chinese New Year (February 8-12 this year) is officially a national holiday in Taiwan and thus schools, businesses, many stores close for the week's celebrations {along with winter vacation we had 25 days straight with no school!}

How: Here's the big one, how do they celebrate?! The short version...they eat, spend time with their families, give lucky money to the kids, dance, & have fun!

--- --- --- The LONG Version! --- --- ---

The traditional food for families to make during Chinese New Year is hot pot. Hot pot is essentially a pot full of boiling broth that people then put meats and vegetables into to cook themselves before eating (personally I think it is somewhat of a bland meal...but to each their own!). Also many oranges are given and eaten during this time as a gift of an orange is like giving the person a wish for good fortune in the new year (needless to say I have about 50 oranges in my room currently...thanks everyone!)

The children's favorite part of Chinese New Year is receiving "lucky money". Lucky money is any amount of money placed in a red envelope and  usually given to you by an older relative during the New Year. Although I'm not a child I was lucky enough to win a drawing at our staff luncheon and get myself some lucky money...happy day! 

Red envelops everywhere!

Just like we decorate for Christmas in red and green, they deck their halls in red & yellow...EVERYWHERE! Everywhere you turned (homes, stores, malls, restaurants, everywhere!) was decorated. Paper lanterns were hung from above, monkey are still scattered on every flat surface you can find (2016 is the year of the monkey) and spring couplets are hung outside of every homes entrance. Spring couplets were a new one for me. They are essentially a poem of sorts written on 3 large sheets of red paper {some are super fancy looking} and then hung on either side of the doorway with the 3rd piece on the top of the door. A 4th, and much smaller, square piece is then hung like a diamond on the center of the door generally with a single character (word) printed on it. I was given a spring couplet for my apartment, but not having a clue what it said or which one went in which spot....it never got hung up...maybe next year! 

Doorway to my apartment building

Lion dancing was also another big {and totally new for me} event for Chinese New Year. This one still needs some more research to learn about the meaning behind it, but essentially peopled would dress up as lions (I swore they looked like fuzzy dragons though haha) and parade around the streets with people beating big drums. Passerby's would pet the lion and often put money in its mouth...again not 100% sure what exactly was going on haha. 

Oh, and firecrackers, I couldn't possibly forget about those lovely things. I meant who doesn't love the sound of firecrackers going off at 10pm, 10am, and all hours in between...there is no exaggeration here!! My street is currently red from all the firecracker wrappers that are stuck to it!

Today, Monday, February 22, 14 days after Chinese New Year started is the Lantern Festival and officially the end of the Chinese New Year. I don't have high hopes for the monkeys or firecrackers to be disappearing anytime soon, but I am excited to see what the lantern festival brings my way!!

1. Holiday shop  2. Even KFC gets in on the fun! 3. 7-eleven full of New Year gifts

Karen Tribal Village

Thursday, February 4th – Friday, February 5th 

I told you before that when I stumbled upon Panda Tours online that I was in love with their program, what I didn’t know was all the things that I had yet to learn about them and fall more in love with! According to our lose schedule we would be staying at a camp overnight; what they failed to mention is that we would be staying in a Karen tribal camp with local villagers…truly a once in a lifetime experience!!

I’ll back up a little!

We went with Panda Tours on a 2 day trek and elephant training adventure and with our tour included housing for the 6 of us for the night. Our housing, much to my surprise was a bamboo hut with minimal electricity {we had a single lightbulb hanging from our ceiling, that was it} situated in the middle of a small Karen village. I’m sure you’ve seen pictures of the Karen villagers, or other similar tribes, before and they are known my several different names besides their official Karen; long necks, long neck Karen, or often “those people with rings around their necks”.
Staying there for the night provoked many questions and proved to be an amazing learning opportunity for each of us!

The Karen tribes in Thailand are actually Burmese people, from Burma to the north of Thailand, whom have crossed the border (most illegally) to find work and safety in the mountains of Thailand. Because most of these villagers are livening on land illegally in Thailand, the Thai government has the right to send them back to their homelands. Several companies, such as Panda Tours, wanted to help these people and have given a piece of land to these people to build homes on as well as helping with jobs to aid the Karen people in staying in their new home of Thailand. It is very difficult for the villagers to have jobs outside of their small village of 50-60 people and for the children to go to school due to the language barrier. The Karen tribes typically speak a local tribal language as well as Burmese (although I was told many are not even fluent in Burmese) and that IF they speak Thai, it is strictly conversational and difficult to understand.

Because of these language barriers, tour groups such as Panda Tours have not only helped them to secure land to live on, but also employ the village men to take care of the elephants that live on the property as well and have some of the women work with the tour group to help cook meals & clean the hut after a night’s stay. These people are by no means force to stay there or to work with Panda Tours, but are thankful for the opportunity to have a safe place to live while having a way to make living expenses. Much of the remainder of the tribes time is spent hunting, farming, and making meals; the basics for survival in the mountains.

When I travel I love to learn. I want to know what I’m looking at, why it’s there, and what it means to me and others around me. So, naturally when I found myself staying the night in the Karen village, the questions were flowing. Below are both questions I asked as well as answers to comments and questions I have gotten from others about this unique tribe.

  1. Are there others like them? – Yes, there are other tribes around the world that wear rings around their neck, one of the more popular tribes is in Africa.
  2. Why do they wear the rings? – The people of the Karen tribe believe that the rings around their neck and legs make them look more beautiful.
  3. Do they have to wear the rings? – No! They don’t have to wear the rings. Maybe generations back they were forced to, but now it is an option if they desire to have them or not.
  4. Who wears the rings? – Only the women and girls, possibly starting as young as 5 or 6, but usually by 11 or 12. The boys and men never wear the rings.
  5. What else, following their traditions, goes along with the rings around their neck? – Besides rings around their neck, the women also have rings below their knees and above their elbows. Likewise, they sometimes paint gold designs on their faces (I am not 100% sure as to the why on this) and wear brightly colored clothing and headdresses.
  6. How are the rings put on? – The “rings” are actually not rings, but instead 1 long piece of copper that is coiled around their neck. Each year the copper is taken off their necks, knees, & arms and a new one is put on so that the person can continue to grow into their new set of “rings”
  7. Can they hold their head up if someone took the rings off? – Yes!  As mentioned above the rings are replaced every year and made bigger or smaller to adjust to the growing size of the female wearing the rings. They are not meant to harm the wearer, so of course they are safe!
  8. Are their necks really longer? – This is still debated! I have looked up several articles online and some say maybe a little, others say it’s an illusion, while others yet claim that their shoulder blades are pushed down making their necks seem longer than what is typical 

While I was at the village I played with a dozen or so of the children that were living there (because of the language barrier many also don’t attend any schools) as well as buying a hand carved Karen figurine. This figurine as well as several other handmade crafts were sold outside of most of the houses as means of making extra money with the people who come to stay in their village.

Although my time with the Karen tribe was short, it was such a learning experience for me! They are no longer simply “those Indians from National Geographic” but they are boys and girls, men and women, and they have their stories just like the rest of us, they just chose to show theirs a little differently!

Treking Through Thailand

Thursday, February 4th

Oh guys, I couldn’t contain my excitement! Obviously I was beyond pumped to visit all of Thailand (you know how we all have that ONE place we’ve always dreamed of going…yeah, mine was Thailand!!! Maybe this note will help excuse all my school-girl excitement that you’ve had to deal with me having about my trip!...ANYWAYS!) I was beyond pumped to visit Thailand, but this 2 days were one of Tina and I’s most anticipated events! ELEPHANT DAYS!!!

When researching Thailand, one of the first things I looked up was elephant riding. I didn’t have much of an idea exactly of what I wanted (although I knew I needed a camp that treated their animals appropriately) but, when I stumbled upon Panda Tours I instantly stopped looking, they had me hooked that fast {sidenote: they have nothing to do with Pandas…I have no idea where their name came from!} I sent the link to Tina pretty much saying that I was doing this and she was more than welcome to join…but there was no convincing me otherwise haha.

Sooo, back to the present! Thursday morning we woke up at our hotel in Chiang Mai, remember that classy one 2 steps from the boxing ring?!, put our luggage in storage, grabbed our book bags, and waited for…ok we weren’t exactly sure what we were waiting for a car? bus? pickup? airplane? elephant? and to be honest, I’m still not sure what did pick us up lol. In Chiang Mai there are taxis, but then there are also taxi trucks? Essentially it’s a small pickup truck with a bench installed along both sides of the bed and a large cover put over the bed for people to sit underneath….so that’s what picked us up! Six people and tons of waiver forms later, we were on our way…again not exactly sure to where, but we were on our way there!

We drove about 30 minutes before stopping at a small local market where we were encouraged to buy water for the days trek and any other snacks that we might need, ok now 6 people, 2 drivers, and a boat load of water later, we were on our way! About another hours drive later we parked the truck in a small dirt parking lot and were encouraged to use the bathroom before heading up the mountain by foot.

0 plumbing, no electricity, toilet paper no where to be seen...but it didn't smell!

After our *special* experience with the lovely bathroom we headed out. Oh my word guys, the views were SPECTACULAR!!! We were walking up a dirt path along the side of a mountain near-ish the Mynar border for a little over an hour. I’d stop, soak in the view, take some pictures, exclaim that it was even more beautiful than the last time I had stopped, and then repeat it again about 15 minutes later! But really, there is something so amazing about finding yourself in an area that hasn’t been destroyed by a civilization, the farmers, the families, the homes that we saw along the way, they were part of the landscape. They made use of the land that they were given instead of manipulating the land and the jungle to fit the needs that they wanted, and it showed in its beauty. {ok being showed live tarantulas and lectured about the dangers of the deadly green snake & its friend the cobra took away a teensy bit of the beauty, but you get the point!}

Cabbage fields as far as the eye could see, breath taking views, and humble abodes

A little over an hour into our walk we were supposed to stop at a waterfall for lunch, but “it was full” (there were like 3 people in it, but our guide was insistent there was a better one ahead!) so we kept walking… for another hour! So almost 2 ½ hours into our walk, we spot the waterfall (well actually we head it first, but still!) holy surreal! We were in the middle of the jungle of Thailand with a gorgeous waterfall in front of us surrounded by a stream, vines, and all the jungle plants you would never see back home in Ohio! ;) We quickly headed to the bathroom, changed into our swimsuits, and dove right in…hahaha, if only it were that easy! We played a fun game of I’ll hide behind this leaf and rock while you look the other direction as I change {channeling our inner Adam & Eve!} and as far as diving right in…I’m not sure how the air temperature can be 90 and the water temperate closer to -20, but that’s what it felt like! Soaking our toes felt great, anything above the ankle was more like torture! But, we were only there once, so jaiyou {Chinese for stick your feet in the freezing water…or you can do it!}.

As Chai, our guide, whipped up a culinary masterpiece for lunch, the 6 of us took turns trying to get into the water, until Tina and I just went for it! Jump in, freeze your body, swim to the falls, swim back, & now you’re a human ice cube! It was about this time that Chai says lunch is ready…please remember we are a total of about 3-3.5 hour up a mountain at this point with nothing but book bags…he hands us our lunch and our jaws drop! He had not only started a bamboo fire, but also made each of us chicken legs, fried rice, cut up local fruits & apples, and hot tea & coffee in a hand carved bamboo mug…seriously! After our picturesque, waterfall-view lunch, we dried off, changed our clothes, and began heading down the mountain towards camp.

We made it about an hour or so down the mountain though when I decided that we needed some more excitement in our walk {insert Tracy’s graceful fall down the mountain!} yeah, so maybe not so graceful, but at  least I can say a part of me (or my knee) will always be with Chiang Mai! We poured some water on it and I swore I’d be fine…jaiyou…so we continued on towards the 1st waterfall we’d seen to get a closer look. About 5 minutes later I told Chai, I’m trying to not complain about me knee…but umm, it’s bleeding on my sock now…maybe another Kleenex for the next hour ½ walk would be helpful!? Next thing I know Chai is shoving a handful of leaves (he says they are lemon leaves) onto my knee to stop the bleeding, using a tissue as gauze to keep it in place, and tying a fanny pack around the whole shebang to keep it all in place {fast forward to later that night when even a shower didn’t remove most of the dried leaves from my knee, we then turned to a pocket knife disinfected with alcohol to scrape the foliage out…and still no band aids…thank goodness for tissues & fanny packs!}

Thanks Tina for capturing pictures of me at my best!

ANYWAYS! We finally made it down the mountain with no more injuries & made it to our camp for the night {there’s a whole post coming on this soon!} and while dinner was being prepared we showered, had our first meet and greet with the elephants, & I played with the local village kids (who am I to be denied playing with kids!) before hanging out around the campfire and calling it a night around 10, long after the sun had finally set. We settled into our bamboo huts for the night with the sounds of bugs chirping, the fire crackling, and elephants trumpeting outside our huts; and my heart was happy!

First night "meet & greet" and a view of our camp for the night

Slowly Falling in Love With Chiang Mai

Wednesday, February 3

Tuesday night Tina and I flew from Siem Reap, Cambodia to Bangkok, Thailand in just under an hour's time. We landed, grabbed the first cab we found, headed straight for our hotel (conveniently booked less than 2 miles away) showered off our Cambodia dirt and fell fast asleep...ok I say all this like we were lazy...it was past 1am by the time we were in bed!

The next morning we woke up, ate a quick breakfast in the hotel lobby, and jumped on the 10am shuttle ride to the airport...we were headed to Chiang Mai at the northern tip of Thailand! Another puddle jumper, up and down in 50 minutes {as opposed to the overnight, 12 hour, sleeper buses everyone thought we should have taken??} and we were in Chiang Mai!  We found our little hostel (another room to ourselves...score!) grabbed my lonely planet, and we were off; the city was ours to explore for the afternoon!

Although our Lonely Planet walking tour of Bangkok did not go as smoothly as planned, we decided we were in a fresh city and we'd take a fresh start! Armed with a walking map of Chiang Mai we started off on our route and spent the afternoon checking out the unique temples, cafes, and side shops that Chiang Mai had to offer.

[ Side note: having never stepped foot into ANY sort of temple before this past August, I've been on a quest to learn what I can about them while I am here. They may not be of my personal religion or belief system, but the artwork and details that go into these buildings is truly a beautiful work of art. Likewise, I have been shocked to see just how truly different the temples are from country to country and region to region. It was also interesting to note {and maybe someone more knowledgeable than me can help me out here} that it appears that different customs and traditions are practiced in the Buddhist temples in Thailand in comparison to those in Taiwan as well as having VERY different images of Buddha displayed in the 2 countries temples. ]

Our temple hoping included, but was not limited to, visits to Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Phan Tao, (which had a distinctive Japanese feel to the temple), Si Phum, Wat Pra Sing, & Wat Pad Thai....ok maybe Pad Thai isn't a temple, but we sure had our fill of the delicious Thai noodles! During one of our temple visits we also stumbled upon a group of young boy monks in school. I asked one of their superiors and was told that once a week their classes pertained to some form of temple art and that currently they were working on making tin lanterns and symbols for the temple. It was fun to watch them for a while and get to know a little bit more about what they were doing in those mysterious orange robes we saw all over the country! 

As the afternoon came to a close we found ourselves once again hungry, seriously what's new lol, and about that time stumbled upon a night market outside a large shopping mall...SCORE! Tina and I split some type of Thai noodle soup that looked good as well as a hearty portion of mango sticky rice followed by a Thai crepe of sorts...what I said we were hungry! The market was right up my ally! Filled with hand crafted Thai souvenirs, crafts, and handmade clothes...this girl could have spent hours there! Of course, I was in Thailand, so I had to snag some elephant themed goodies before we left. 

Before calling it a night {as our most anticipated day of our 2 week trip was just around the corner!} we found a rooftop bar to relax in for a while while soaking up the amazing city views...I have to say, Chiang Mai can so quickly steal your heart!

PS - Ok, I can't leave out the funnies, our night didn't end on such a romantic sounding note. The hotel we stayed at came with directions to get to it saying to show the taxi driver the name of a boxing ring and have them drop you off there "near the hotel". We thought "near the hotel" meant it was probably on the same block. Or...about 3 yards from the door of our hostel room haha. So naturally, I stood outside with all the cooks from the restaurant and watched some of the boxing match before going to bed (Mother Goose had a rhyme along those lines right?!?!) I can't say I know anything about boxing, but watching 2 scrawny Asian guys go at it pretty hysterical if you ask me!

Sunrise Over Angkor Wat

Tuesday, February 2

Today was by far are earliest of days during vacation, but holy moly was it worth it! We found a tuk-tuk driver Monday night that agreed to pick us up at our hotel at 5:00 {yes you read that right...my 4:30am alarm was not a welcome sound!} We agreed to $7 a person for Tina and I to your us around some of the fourth out temples, off the main circuit, starting with sunrise at Angkor Wat.

We arrived to Angkor Wat a little after 5:30 in the morning and were honestly surprised at the number of other crazies that were out there with us chasing the sunrise (it may not have helped that the previous 2 mornings apparently had poopy/cloudy sunrises so some people came back in hope of a good show!) I'll be honest, there aren't really words to describe what we saw. Sunrises are always an amazing spectacle to watch, but when you have the opportunity to watch the sun rising over a 1,000+ year old structure and you begin thinking about how many sunrises this place has seen and that more than likely the men who built this temple 1,000 years ago sat in the same spot watching the same sunrise...you can't help but getting goosebumps while realizing how amazing our world truly is that we live! It reminded me so much of my time 5 years earlier watching the same sun come up behind the pyramids in Egypt...sometimes life is surreal!

After the sunrise we spent a little time exploring Angkor Wat a second time and then made stops to some further out & less touristy temples (off the main route the drivers take) including Preah Khan, Neat Pean, Prerup, and Ta Prohm. These temples, although not as well kept as the "main ones" were fascinating in their own rights and allowed us to truly explore the temple and imagine what it may have once looked like in  its former glory.

We had every intention of having our driver with us until noon, but around 10am we started to feel the pull of our eye lids and we had him drop us off around 11 with just enough time to nap, pack up the rest of our belongings, and check out of our hostel.

Our afternoon was filled with lunch (umm hello spicy papaya salad where have you been my whole life?!) walking through the local markets, stocking up on last minute souvenirs (including a painting that I cannot wait to hang up!) sight seeing within the main town (including some stops at much newer and active temples) and finally grabbing a late night dinner and grabbing a tuktuk to the airport. A relaxing afternoon was well deserved!

So I could stop there, but what's the fun in leaving out a little action in our day. I said we grabbed a tuktuk to the airport, but nothing runs that smoothly when your traveling!! We got to our hostel and planned on walking our luggage down the dirt road until we ran into a tuktuk that would take us for a reasonable price. We get into eye sight of the hostel though and I see a guest leaving the hostel and loading his belongings into an already almost fill tuktuk...he had to be going to the airport, I just knew it! So of course being the shy quite person I am {hehe} hollered the guy and asked where he was going...BINGO...the airport! I asked if he cared if he had company and of course because of my charming personality {or because he thought I was crazy!} he said yes!

To say the 3 of us AND all our luggage was a tight squeeze in the tuktuk is an understatement; I'm not sure I could see poor Tina's eyes for the first 10 minutes of the drive! We were piled in though and out of town, maybe 15 or 20 minutes into our 25 minute drive, when all of a sudden we hear this horrible sound, followed by our tuktuck making a sharp turn, we feel some big bumps, and then we crash. Umm...what just happened?? Turns out we may have been a tad over capacity for the speed we were going and the poor guy we shared the ride with, his bag fell off the front of the tuktuk with no one noticing, the tuktuk then proceeded to "run over" the bag the best it could, although that just resulted in the bag getting stuck in the tuktuk's wheels. Needless to say that was enough to put our cart off balance and threw the whole thing into a nearby light post on the side of the highway....luckily we were all fine, the bag had some new wear and tear and the tuktuk a crack on the front, but we were fine! Obviously though, getting to the airport a couple minutes later was a welcome relief as we checked in and boarded our plane, headed for Bangkok!

Let's Fly!

Monday, February 1

Monday was Tina's birthday and we decided we were bound and determined that we were going to make it one to remember {as if being in Cambodia for your birthday isn't amazing enough! lol}

Sadly breakfast for her birthday wasn't really an option as we were up and out the door, waiting on our ride from Flight of the Gibbon at 7:00am. We piled into a van along with several other groggy eyed tourists and headed for...well we weren't exactly sure where yet.  We arrived to "I don't know where" (ok base camp!) maybe 40 minutes later and spilled out of the van. We were quickly given wavers to sign {you know, we wouldn't sue them if we lost an arm, both eyes, and my favorite pinkie toe type of thing} harnessed up, given our hard hat helmets and sent to our first briefing...ready or not, ZIP LINING HERE WE COME! We had 10 or 15 minutes of quick directions, don't do anything stupid type of deal, loaded back in the van, and we were ready to go!!

To say that the next 2 hours hours were exhilarating would be a lie; they were beyond exhilarating! Throughout the course of the next 2 hours we zipped {not sure what verb would be appropriate here lol} over 10 separate zip lines; with the longest totaling 310 meters (340ish yards), walked across 3 suspension bridges, 21 different platforms (most way above the tree tops!) and rappelled down the last one  to finally meet the ground again...talk about amazing! To make matters even better, our 2 guides were amazing, corny jokes & all! ;)

As zip lining grudgingly came to an end we were informed that our ticket for the day also included lunch at a local restaurant....umm can you say score?!?! We sat down and enjoyed lunch with our new group of Australian friends before climbing back in the car to the hotel {ok I can't lie here...we all passed out hardcore in the van, we were exhausted!}. We got back to the hotel a little after 1 and we all agreed as the birthday girl declared it nap time!!

Rebecca and  Tory apparently required a little more R&R than Tina and I, so when the 2 of us were ready we snuck out to treat ourselves to some birthday mani/pedis and fruit smoothies. When the bears woke up...oh I mean Rebecca & Tory! :P...we met up in town and Tina and I had booked dinner for the 4 of us at a local restaurant serving traditional Cambodia food {delicious!} as well as offering traditional Cambodian dance performances while you ate...umm amazing! Needless to say dinner was delicious & the dances were beyond mesmerizing to watch!

After dinner we walked around the markets for a while, indulged in yet another foot massage (who can seriously say no to 30 minute foot massages on the side of the street)  and slowly {but oh so happily} made our way back to our hostel.

Cambodia...you truly are amazing!

Didn't have a chance to read about our previous day in Cambodia? Check it out here!

Good Morning Cambodia

Sunday, January 31

Ahh, traveling is amazing! Learning about new cultures, meeting new people, trying new foods, and making the most amazing memories; nothing can ever top it!

Tina and I got to Cambodia late  Saturday evening (January 30th) and while Tina crashed early for the night I went out and explored the large night market about half a mile from our hostel. Ok, to be honest about everything was half a mile from our hostel as we were literally on a dirt road...I loved it!  Coming back late from the market, I met up with Tory and Rebecca who had arrived in Cambodia earlier that morning...the 4 of us were finally together and we were ready to party...or at this point in the night go to sleep lol. {side note: we scored with this hostel as it was for 4 "random" people and we booked all 4 beds for $4.70 a night and had the room to ourselves!}

Sunday morning was our first day together. We let ourselves sleep in a little bit, and then it was temple time!! We left our hostel in search of breakfast, and stumbled upon a place with the most amazing coconut curry, a popular Cambodian food, and a "Dr. Fish" pond. As we waited for our food to come we sat by the pond where I was able to stick my feet in the water and have the fishes nibble the dead skin off my feet...talk about ticklish!!

After breakfast we found a tuk-tuk driver willing to take us for the day and we headed out for Angkor Wat {a natural first choice!}. Angkor Wat was AMAZING!!! It reminded me so much of the feeling of seeing the pyramids in Egypt for the first time; it's so surreal you get goosebumps. If you would have told me 6 months ago I'd be with 3 people I didn't know at the time standing in Cambodia staring at Angkor Wat I would have told you that you were crazy...but there I was, and it was beyond incredible! We saw ancient temples and cities over 900 years old still standing (or restored) to much of its former glory...it was truly spectacular!

We walked around with our jaws dragging on the ground for a good 2 hours before finding our tul-tuk driver and heading to the next temple. Our driver proceeded to drive us around the "temple circuit" (a cluster of temples remotely close to each other {fun fact: there are over 300 temples in the town of Siem Reap alone!!}) for the remainder of the day stopping for us to explore Angkor Thom, Bayon, Ta Prohm, and Banteay Kdei. The last of these, Banteay Kdei, was very much unlike the first 5 we stopped at for several reasons, first, it did not appear that much, if any, money had been put into its restoration over the years, and secondly, there were hardly any tourists there. This temple in particular was amazing to explore. It had this calm sense about it and being able to walk through the old door ways and the rubble piles really let your imagination run wild as to what this place might have truly looked like almost 1,000 years ago!

Leaving the temples we were beyond exhausted and head out driver drop us off at a restaurant for dinner on the way to our hostel. After dinner we checked out the market for a bit, relaxed with some nice cheap foot massages on the side of the road and headed back to the hostel for an early{ish} night in!

Go With the Flow!

Saturday, January 30

We started off with a terrific plan! My Thailand Lonely Planet book (aka my travel bible!) had a 2.5 mile walking tour of Bangkok that hit several of the highlights that are on our to do list yet allowed us to keep our own pace so we thought it was a win-win deal! We chatted with some people at our hostel and figured out the best way to get to our starting point, and then we were off! We had 7 hours before our 8pm flight to Cambodia, my Lonely Plant book, and our walking shoes...nothing was going to stop us!

We got to our starting point, Victory Monument, and we sat down so I could read us some information on what we were looking at (thanks Google!) and I got no more than 3 sentences into the description when a middle aged man stopped near us and started to chat. Next thing we know he was handing us a list of "must see"/non-touristy destinations to hit, flagging us down a tuk-tuk driver and waving us goodbye with the most happy of smiles plastered across his face...so our plans were off to a rough start, but when opportunity knocks, I can't say no!

Our first stop was a teeny temple with zero tourists around making it a nice quiet place to explore. As soon as we arrived a man working there begin speaking to us in English and showed us an apparently 1000-year-old Buddha statue that the temple was famous for and told us if we touched it, it would bring us good luck (I'm still waiting on the call from Jackpot Lottery!) 

After a visit with the baby temple, we headed to a more famous spot in Bangkok, the Marble Temple. This temple is constructed from white marble imported from Italy and is beautiful! The outer courtyard is like a ring or a donut around the temple in the middle and features 52 different Buddha statues in varying positions. My personal favorite was popcorn Buddha (ok not really, but I swear his hands were out like for an offering and someone had filled them with popcorn...and guess what, I didn't even borrow any from him!) It was interesting as each Buddha had a little explanation about what their pose or position meant. Within the Buddha donut (can you tell its snack time here yet?!) was the actual temple which housed a large golden Buddha and motifs painted on the wall from the different provinces around Thailand. 

After leaving the temple our tuk-tuk driver drove us to a suit tailor. We had no intentions of actually purchasing a suit but it was on our list of things to do and we thought why not check it out! Apparently the guys who own the shop could sense this as well, after showing us the books and asking us to look around next thing we know they said OK five minutes goodbye have a nice day and showed us the door. So much for hospitality!

Later, after the suit and then gem shop (if we looked for 10 minutes our tuk-tuk driver got a coupon for 5 free liters of gas...sure we'll help you out buddy!) we asked our driver to take us to the Bowan Temple. We paid him a whopping 40 Thai Bot ($1.14 USD total for several stops) and said our goodbyes. We checked out the Bowan Temple for all of 5 minutes before we decided that food was a must before more temple exploration. We found some amazing Thai street noodles filled our bellies, then went back to work on Bowan Temple! Like many of the temples in Thailand the Bowan Temple had a large golden Buddha at the center of the temple. Unlike most of the temples though, there was a second building on the grounds that was used for monks' meditation. Each floor of the 6 floor building was laid out in a simple grid pattern with basic instructions as to guide you through your walking, standing, and sitting meditation phases. The top floor was entitled nirvana and was an open roof with spectacular views of the city below!

Leaving Bowan Temple we decided to take the river boat back to our hostel (one of Bangkok's several forms of public transportation) and enjoyed much different, yet equally spectacular, views of the city from the river. Quickly grabbing our belongings from the hostel we found our bus and headed for the airport; Cambodia {and Tory and Rebecca} were waiting!!