I’m travelling overseas more and more frequently now as my last real anchor to a conventional life was buried with Mum in February.
All that remains now is a need to keep moving, and the notion of settling down and making do is vanishing behind me.
So… this ‘Travel’ thing eh?
I’m totally lost to the addiction and it seems to be the only way to stay really connected to the present.
When I’m “home” I’m unsatisfied/unsettled and constantly planning an escape but when travelling I can easily slip into the “now” of things. It effortlessly brings me back to the moment.
Travel-based yogic mindfulness, maybe.
So another quick catch up – after 2 weeks of Svastha Yoga Therapy training in Bali, I came home and felt the familiar dip begin.
Luckily a good friend Shay was travelling into South East Asia for the first time (we’d talked about it for ages whilst I was in the US last year) , and she was so close to Australia – I made the call to take some leave (yes somehow I still have a job), bought my one way ticket to Chiang Mai, booked some dental work at my favourite dentist (is that a thing?), counted the hours, and then after several weeks of listlessness, finally left.
Chiang Mai was instantly welcoming, smoky and hot – but no more so than a Dubbo summer. I caught up with a few friends here and settled in. Walked the familiar streets, caught a First Class movie ( Ghost in the Shell – really good actually), found my fave coffee shops and vegetarian eateries, took a breath and finally relaxed.
There was a brief window of opportunity to fly to Cambodia and meet Shay there instead – she had a girlfriend leaving and her partner coming over but there was a 10 day period in between that we could reconnect.
So…easiest decision ever.
A quick flight to Siem Reap via Bangkok , and voila!
What a fascinating place.
I won’t go into the politics: Pol Pot, the genocide, Killing Fields, land mines and cluster bombs or the aftermath of it all – it’s relatively fresh and has scarred this country deeply. I’d recommend you do some Googling before visiting if you aren’t familiar with these terms and get a solid dose of perspective on the horrors that occurred here in the 70’s.
At first glance, it’s an unusually weird amalgam of American icons and SE Asia. The US dollar rules the streets, prices are high (this is a real tourist town), scarred and limbless land mine victims haunt the tourist areas, cars drive on the right hand side of the dusty roads, tuk tuks and scooters “meep meep” and dash madly around confused pedestrians, trash and plastics cover the roadsides and floats along the sludgy surface of the Siem Reap river, mingling with the rainbow coloured oil slicked algae and water weeds.
Parts of the city are charming but a lot of it is not. The amount of garbage is surprising, as is the dust and spotty internet. Neither the Hard Rock Cafe, Palacial 5 star resorts with plastic bag shanty towns, or the ubiquitous McDonalds and Starbucks improve things much, but the more you explore away from the tourist traps the more interesting it gets. I’d love to head to Phnom Penh, but Siem Reap is it for me this trip.
Someone asked me today about the food there and how was it different to Thai, but to be honest I couldn’t answer the question. I can say generally it is EXPENSIVE (all in USD$) and that the markets have a massive variety of dried, fried, fresh and absolutely toxic foods available – (like deep fried spiders, crickets and snakes). There are plenty of Western style coffee shops, quite a few French Boulangeries, and plenty of other upmarket options.
We were railroaded into a small cafe at Angkor Wat for a $1USD soda and a $5USD fried rice with vegetables/Khmer sausage which we only survived by ditching the gelatinous weird pale red sausage pieces (whew!) but was otherwise yum. $1USD Draught Cambodia Beer was the drink of choice and wasn’t a bad drop at all.
I tried a few traditional Khmer dishes at The Peace Cafe (http://www.peacecafeangkor.org/ – an awesome vegan and vegetarian spot in Siem Reap ) that were amazing but I can’t recall their names…damn Draught Beer again.
At dinner in the second night , there was a mango-like fruit that dropped from a tall tree with a SPLAT just near our table – the waitress picked up the split pale yellow/orange splatted fruit but when Shay asked what is was, it didn’t have a English name but she kindly offered us some to eat…it was yellow/orange flesh – sweet but chalky and totally delicious.
The nicest food I’ve had so far : a simple stir fried Morning Glory Salad with some boiled rice. Next time I’ll explore the food side more for sure.
We’ve been travel buddying around for the past few days now though – Shay, Dick, Puk and myself – Angkor Wat at dawn, tuk tuk rides, Dr Fish Massages, Siem Reap arts, crafts and shitty tourist markets, off track Hare Krishna compound, smiling kids – always wandering and discovering, roaming the back alleys and secret nooks of this dusty city.
… and the temples. My God – the temples. Stunning ancient ruins and a history lesson in one, swarming with tourists but somehow still accessible – allowing space and time to find a quiet corner and experience their ruined beauty.
*ditch the shoes and flip flops – climbing the treacherous steps and exploring the temples barefoot is both safer/easier plus the feel of the sandstone is incredibly grounding and connecting.
It’s not hard to connect to the places and the people here in this busy tourist spot, even though this city is a revolving door for tourists – the hostels turn over backpackers of all ages every few days. Last night was games night at the bar, which was a great way to meet and greet – then most people went out for a big night. I stayed in – boring but I don’t like to fly hungover. The parade of arguing couples and loud rambunctious drunks returning at 5 am is always a bit of fun to watch though.
I’ve made many new friends in the hostel here and as usual HostelWorld recommendations are proving the best way to find a bed. (The Living Quarters in Wat Bo Road is excellent – No. 543, Wat Bo Road, Krong Siem Reap, Cambodia )
Anyway I’m back to Chiang Mai today for the next week of two. Getting a wisdom tooth pulled and a crown done tomorrow so that should be a lot of fun.
Shay and her partner are coming up to Chiang Mai in a week or so – itll be cool to explore northern Thailand again, especially Pai.
Then I have to think about booking a flight back at some stage.
Oh !!! I’ve been fortunate enough to get shortlisted for an IT job working in Antarctica next season (with the Australian Antarctic Division) – interviews, psych tests and medical are in May.
I hope I’m the right kind of crazy . Wish me luck!
If that comes through for me, then I think I’ve finally won the Oscar for best “Get Me The Hell Out Of Here” performance for 2017.
I’ll keep you posted.