Part 10: Biking with Monkeys in Thailand

Part 1: When You Wake Up at 3 AM for a 6 AM Flight…
Part 2: Only 18 Hours to Go
Part 3: How to See Angkor Wat
Part 4: The Many Faces of Bayon
Part 5: Trees Galore!
Part 6: Cambodia’s Floating Villages
Part 7: View from the Top
Part 8: The Children of Cambodia
Part 9: When Politics Ruins Your Plans

Due to the political unrest in Bangkok, The Boyfriend and I decided to jump in a cab when our plane touched ground for a two-and-a-half hour drive south to a coastal town called Hua Hin for a mere $70. $70 for a two and half hour drive. Think about that. In New York City, it can cost $70 to travel 10 miles to the airport!

We chose Hua Hin for two reasons: We didn’t have a lot of options and Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park. If we weren’t going to see Bangkok, I at least wanted to see something amazing and the pictures of Khao Sam Roi Yot online looked pretty amazing.

We made reservations for a daylong bike tour with Tour de Asia which I highly recommend. Sadly, I can’t remember the name of our amazing guide, but he was amazing. His English was nearly perfect, and his willingness to answer all of our questions – as inane as they were – was just as perfect. He and the drivers picked us up at our hotel in the morning and informed us that we were the only bikers that day. Essentially, we had a private tour.

When we arrived at he park, we stopped at the park headquarters for a pit stop and to get fitted for our bikes. The grounds were littered with the cutest little monkeys… until one of them attacked me, and then they stopped being so cute.

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Yes, attacked me. One minute, I was taking pictures of the little buggers, and the next minute, a monkey was on my backpack pulling me every which way. The whole incident lasted all of 10 seconds, but it scared the hell out of me. I will never look at monkeys the same way again.

After I recovered, we started biking. The scenery was beautiful, and since we were the only participants, we could go as fast or as slow as we liked.

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Occasionally, we ran into a little cow problem and the van had to create a barrier so we didn’t get trampled on. Good times.

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I took this photo with my iPhone in my left hand while guiding my bike around the cows with my right. Pretty damn impressive.

After several miles of bike riding we ended up at the beach, where we enjoyed fresh coconut water straight from a coconut. Next up, was a short, but painfully steep, hike to an underground cave.

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The cave was surprisingly cool. The steep descent into the cave reveals a gaping hole that allows a band of sunlight to stream through over the temple the Thais build in honor of one of their kings

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I wouldn’t make a special trip to Hua Hin for the bike tour, but if you happen to find yourself in the coastal town with time to spare, I highly recommend Tour de Asia and Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park.

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New Adventure

Hello readers. I know, I know. I’m woefully behind on blogging about the great escape to Asia. I’ll blame work for that (and maybe a little bit of laziness). Meanwhile, I’ve started a new blog as a creative outlet. I used to do a lot of art and graphics during college and I’ve forgotten what a good form of therapy it is — cheaper too. Check it out and let me know what you think.

http://kindofathought.tumblr.com/

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yourself

Part 9: When Politics Ruins Your Plans

Part 1: When You Wake Up at 3 AM for a 6 AM Flight…
Part 2: Only 18 Hours to Go
Part 3: How to See Angkor Wat
Part 4: The Many Faces of Bayon
Part 5: Trees Galore!
Part 6: Cambodia’s Floating Villages
Part 7: View from the Top
Part 8: The Children of Cambodia

Now, I work in politics, so you’d think I’d be used to unexpected political events messing with my plans. But not when I’m on vacation! And not when I’m in a foreign continent with a very limited understanding of the geopolitical environment.

That’s the situation The Boyfriend and I found ourselves in when I checked my email shortly after landing in South Korea and my mom had sent me an email that said something about protests in Bangkok. If not for that email, it is very likely we would have remained blissfully oblivious to the unrest in Bangkok… until we arrived in Bangkok that is.

For the next couple of days in Cambodia, we monitored the situation in Bangkok and learned way more than I ever needed to know about politics in Thailand. In a nutshell, the minority party was upset with the majority, claiming the exiled former president held too much power over the government. Thousands of “yellow shirts” filled Bangkok’s streets, while countries around the world issued travel advisories for their citizens.

We already had our non-refundable flights from Siem Reap to Bangkok booked, but after some obsessive research, we considered forgoing the flights and booking a whole new itinerary. We considered going to Hong Kong directly from Cambodia (no direct flights), hopping a plane to Singapore instead (too bad last minute tickets were $800 a piece), going east to Vietnam (visa issues)…etc.

I went into travel planning overdrive – which turned out to be the one sore spot of our trip to Cambodia. While this hiccup was certainly no terrible tragedy, I confess I found the whole dilemma  very stressful. I had spent months planning our itinerary in Bangkok and rearranging everything at the last minute with limited options, high prices and no time to plan was more than my Type-A personality wanted to deal with.

We finally decided just to continue on to Bangkok as planned and simply avoid the high-protest areas when I saw a tweet about a planned protest right by our hotel. This stressed me out even more.

FInally, we decided to fly into Bangkok as planned and take a cab to Hua Hin, a coastal town only a couple hours from Bangkok. Our flight from Bangkok to Hong Kong could be redeposited and booked anew, so we left he rest of our itinerary in flux, hoping the protests would die down over the weekend and we could sneak a little Bangkok time in.

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This picture sums up what I saw of Bangkok from the window of our cab. If you look closely, you can make out Bangkok’s famous elephant building. I got so excited when I saw it, I had to take picture as the cab sped down the highway.

Of course, that did not happen, and after a couple of days in Hua Hin, we decided to go to Hong Kong early, which worked out well because we absolutely fell in love with Hong Kong.

In hindsight, we probably could have gone to Bangkok with no problems, but at the time, we did not feel comfortable assuming the risk. I’m still  disappointed we didn’t get to see Bangkok (unless you count the drive from the airport to Hua Hin) and hope one day I’ll have the chance to go back there.

Finally, while many of my friends roll their eyes and laugh at my miles obsession, it was points and miles that allowed us to have a modicum of flexibility. The SPG hotel in Bangkok was fully refundable and for only $80 I was able to redeposit my British Airways miles to my account and rebook our flights to Hong Kong on an earlier date. Had I paid cash for those flights, we would have lost way more money.

The moral of this story is: Points are awesome.

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Part 8: The Children of Cambodia

Part 1: When You Wake Up at 3 AM for a 6 AM Flight…
Part 2: Only 18 Hours to Go
Part 3: How to See Angkor Wat
Part 4: The Many Faces of Bayon
Part 5: Trees Galore!
Part 6: Cambodia’s Floating Villages
Part 7: View from the Top

If you go to Siem Reap, you’ll read about the children you’ll see around the temples hawking their wares and begging for a buck. But nothing quite prepares you for their insistence.

The children swarmed around us, offering anything from 10 postcards for a dollar to scarves to other random trinkets. When we said no thank you, they insisted on counting all 10 postcards in front of us, as if we didn’t believe them. We kept walking, and they kept walking with us. They were adorable, but also heartrending.

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The Boyfriend was quite popular with the ladies…

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The cutest moment happened on our second day, visiting some out of the way temples known as the Roluos Group. The lack of tourists meant the children had a captive audience. One of the girls noticed the cheap barrette in my hair, so I offered it to her. Suddenly, all the girls were begging for their own. Sadly, I only had one more and gladly handed it over. It was amazing to see how happy a simple hair clip made them. And they were more than happy to pose for pictures.

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2013 Travel Reflections

With 2013 coming to a close, it’s that time of year again… to look back and reflect on my travels for the year. And without further ado…

  • 5: Number of free Amtrak trips I received
  • 5: New countries visited (South Korea, Cambodia, Thailand, Hong Kong, Macau – one more than last year). I count Hong Kong and Macau separate from China because they are fairly independent provinces from China.
  • 6: New states visited: Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado (four more than last year)
  • 6: Credit card applications (same as last year)
  • 19: Number of states visited (counting DC)
  • 10: Countries visited (counting the U.S.)
  • 12,000: Number of Amtrak points redeemed
  • 15,469: Number of Amtrak points earned (only 19 points more than I earned last year)
  • 41: Number of Amtrak trips I have taken (four less than I took last year)
  • 45: Number of flights
  • 57,566: Number of miles flown (37,718 miles more than last year)
  • 445,500: The number of miles/points I’ve redeemed this year: Two business class seats to Siem Reap, Cambodia; two economy seats from Bangkok to Thailand; two business class seats from Hong Kong to New York, three hotel nights in Siem Reap an five hotel nights in Hong Kong. This is actually less than last year.
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Part 7: View From the Top

Part 1: When You Wake Up at 3 AM for a 6 AM Flight…
Part 2: Only 18 Hours to Go
Part 3: How to See Angkor Wat
Part 4: The Many Faces of Bayon
Part 5: Trees Galore!
Part 6: Cambodia’s Floating Villages

After our visit to Kampong Khleang, our driver took us to see another temple on the way back to Siem Reap.  The temple did not make much of an impact – I can’t even remember what it was called - but the view from the top certainly did. A twenty minute hike up the mountain gave us stunning views of another floating village on the banks of Tonle Sap Lake.

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Part 6: Cambodia’s Floating Villages

Part 1: When You Wake Up at 3 AM for a 6 AM Flight…
Part 2: Only 18 Hours to Go
Part 3: How to See Angkor Wat
Part 4: The Many Faces of Bayon
Part 5: Trees Galore!

There are a number of floating villages near Siem Reap located on the Tonle Sap Lake. Most tourists opt to visit Chong Khneas, the closest floating village to Siem Reap. In fact, that’s where our driver was going to take us when I said “floating village” until I showed him the map and pointed to Kampong Khleang. He told me it would cost extra and I nodded. I had done my research and Kampong Khleang was supposed to be worth the trip.

Tonle Sap

My research paid off. When we got there, there were barely any tourist boats on the water. The floating village was huge and we really had the lake to ourselves (plus our boat driver), allowing us to really appreciate what the lives of the local villagers are like.

It was an amazing experience. It’s hard to describe how different the floating village is from the lives we’re used to, hard to imagine that people actually live in the rickety huts perched precariously above the water on stilts. Hopefully, the pictures will do it justice.

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Our trusty boat… and by trusty I mean the motor made some rather odd noises that did not sound quite right. But we managed to make it safely across the lake and back so no complaints!

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Most people go to Siem Reap to see the Angkor temples, as well they should. But the Kampong Khleang floating village was an amazing experience and having the lake all to ourselves made it all the more amazing. If you travel across the globe to see the Angkor temples, take an extra day to squeeze in Kampong Khleang. It is worth it.

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Part 5: Trees Galore!

Part 1: When You Wake Up at 3 AM for a 6 AM Flight…
Part 2: Only 18 Hours to Go
Part 3: How to See Angkor Wat
Part 4: The Many Faces of Bayon

The temples at Angkor Wat are awesome, but so are the trees. The unruly trees were one of my favorite things — overgrown roots scrambling over buildings and ruins. It is amazing the way nature perseveres undeterred by manmade objects.

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The most famous trees in the Angkor complex are found at Ta Prom — famous for one thing – Angonlina Jolie filmed a scene from Tomb Raiders there. Its famous trees are a photographer’s dream. The gazillions of tourists sneaking into my photos are not…

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IS THERE SUCH A THING AS TOO MUCH TRAVEL?

I used to think no. But now I’m thinking yes. Yes, there is such a thing as too much travel and I have experienced it. Some of the trips were part of a long-planned vacation and some were for work, but put together, it was just a little too much. After a month of constant and cross-globe travel, I am so glad to be home.  

Travel Map - One Month

 My itinerary from November 21st – December 9th:

  • Washington, DC – Austin: A work trip with a stopover in Houston
  • Austin – Dallas: Road trip to check out the Bush presidential library which I did not see thanks to SNOW in Texas. Yes, snow.
  • Dallas – New York City: Flight to NYC for our Asia trip
  • New York City – San Francisco: First stopover of our Asia trip
  • San Francisco – Seoul: Second stopover of our Asia trip
  • Seoul – Siem Reap, Cambodia: We arrive at our first city of our Asia trip
  • Siem Reap – Bangkok: Our second city of our Asia trip
  • Bangkok – Hong Kong: Our third city of our Asia trip
  • Hong Kong – New York City: Our flight home from Asia with a stopover in Vancouver
  • New York City – DC: A train ride home for some meetings
  • DC – New York City: A train ride back to New York to see The Boyfriend and a work party
  • New York City – Pittsburgh: A work trip to Pittsburgh with a stopover in Philadelphia
  • Pittsburgh – DC: Home
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Part 4: The Many Faces of Bayon

Part 1: When You Wake Up at 3 AM for a 6 AM Flight…
Part 2: Only 18 Hours to Go
Part 3: How to See Angkor Wat

After breakfast, we headed to the ancient city of Angkor Thom. As we entered the city’s gate, I fell in love with the statues and their expressive faces.

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As we approached Bayon, our driver stopped so I could take pictures of these guys. My opinion of these ostensibly cute creatures will change drastically as our trip continued, but that is a story for another blog post

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Bayon is perhaps the second most famous temple in the Angkor complex. Located in the ancient city of Angkor Thom, Bayon was built in the late 12th or early 13th century and is famous for it many, massive faces jutting out from the temple towers.

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This is supposed to be a famous picture. If you stand in exactly the right spot you can capture two Buddha noses touching. Not sure I do it justice, but it seems like an obligatory tourist thing, so here you go:

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