I Got This.

Katie's last night in Thailand, I was filled with anxiety in anticipation of heading to Vietnam on my own. Sure, I had traveled alone before, but I was younger, fearless, and didn't doubt myself at all. She got in a taxi around 11pm; I went to bed and tossed and turned, worried I'd miss my early morning flight to Saigon, worried I'd hate traveling alone, and thinking that maybe I should just change my flight and fly home. Growing up my mother used to always say that I could be put in a room knowing no one, and would immediately make friends. Since I've been older, I've questioned how much this is true, and as I laid in bed, I really believed I'd lost this ability and that I'd spend the final 2-3 weeks of my trip lonely. 

But I woke up, got to the airport, and headed to Saigon where I almost immediately took a nap. Yes, I was tired, but I was also scared to go explore the city - I had no idea where I was, the traffic was simply insane, and the language barrier was overwhelming. Very few people speak English, and those who do often speak very quickly and with a thick accent, making it difficult to understand. After a brief nap though, my hunger overcame me and I hit the streets of Saigon, timidly crossing the streets at first, then just walking straight into oncoming traffic. I had been given warnings of the traffic here, and boy were they right. 

Most people in Vietnam have motorbikes, as the taxes on cars are too high to make it affordable. And the motorbikes rule the road - they do not stop for lights, they go the wrong way down one way streets, they even drive on the sidewalks if that's more convenient. The rules of the road for pedestrians that I had been told by various people are as follows:
(1) It doesn't matter the color of the light, cars will still go.
(2) Look both ways, even on one-way streets.
(3) Slowly walk into traffic at a constant pace. Do not make any sudden movements.
(4) Make eye contact with the drivers. (This is difficult when they are coming from all directions).
(5) Just go for it.
I'd like to add numbers 6 and 7:
(6) Everyone will be honking their horn. Do not turn to look, your toes will get run over.
(7) Do not wear flip flops, especially broken ones that may come apart in the middle of the street. 
(Note that neither of these happened to me, though number 7 almost did because of my beloved Havianas that I couldn't part with).

My first meal was naturally pho, and it was delicious (not to mention I had wifi so I could figure out where I was and where I wanted to go). My wandering brought me to Ben Thahn Market, which caters to both locals and foreigners. The market consists of narrow walkways between stalls overflowing with everything from chopsticks and other souvenirs, to delicious treats and Vietnamese coffee, to every knockoff you could imagine (the typical Louis Vuitton and Prada bags and wallets next to ones I haven't seen on the streets of NYC such as Tory Burch, Jimmy Choo, Goyard, Nike and Converse shoes, and North Face jackets). After purchasing a pair of cheap flip flops, I headed back towards where I ate pho to steal the wifi and was pleasantly surprised to find food stalls had opened. Per usual, I used my nose and checked where the locals were to figure out where I'd eat. But then a new challenge arose - in every other country I've been in on this trip, there was a menu in English giving me some idea of what I was eating. Not the case here. Luckily, I've since learned to just point to something that looks good on someone else's plate and its proved relatively fruitful. This time I lucked out - there was a man who spoke English so he ordered for me and we sat down for a beer. Just by chance, he was Vietnamese, but lives in Philly, and was simply back visiting family. Small world for sure!

(A little side note about eating street food in Vietnam - they use mini tables and chairs, like child sized. So you are almost sitting on the ground, knees into your chest. It's very strange but it's everywhere).

I headed back to my apartment, knowing that I had an early morning, and unsure of crossing the Ho Chi Minh city streets in the dark. While sitting in the living room, I heard the lock turn and, low and behold, it was an American (not the person I rented from). She was staying in the other room, and we immediately hit it off, both happy to have someone to explore a bit with.

I spent the remainder of my time in Saigon realizing that I hadn't lost that ability after all. On tours, at restaurants, and even just walking around the city I met new people: fellow Americans, Vietnamese, Australians, even a Parisian. I've realized maybe my mother was right (clarification: not about everything, mom) and I haven't lost the ability to meet new people, to venture off on my own. I very quickly realized I've got this - whether it's my solo travel or possibly moving to a new city. It'll all be okay. 

Two American Girls Cause Food Shortage in Thailand

Guys, this title is no joke. Basically we ate in Thailand and found things to do between meals. And sometimes the thing to do between eating meals was eat snacks. 

Our first meal was a place we'd go back to multiple times. As we had walked in the wrong direction to our hotel we passed a little open-air shop that was emanating a delicious smell out into the street; when we saw it was full of only locals we knew that would be our first meal in Thailand. And it did not disappoint. After returning from dropping our bags off we were whisked to a metal table with a fan overhead and were very quickly brought what is quite possibly the best beef noodle soup I've ever had. The broth had been cooking all day and then simply tossed in some beef, a handful of veggies, and vermicelli noodles. As we are the smell continued to waft into our noses and the heat of the soup combined with the scorching outside temperature and humidity made us sweat. In the four times that we went back for this soup, we did not see any westerners, and the only thing that changed each time was the type of noodles we got. I'm salivating just reminiscing about it, and hope I can figure out what it was and how to make it.

Later that night did not disappoint either, as we walked out from our favorite lady-man massage place and found the street full of food options that had popped up as the sun went down. I found a woman cooking pad thai and Katie found some basil chicken, and we chopstick-shoveled our food in our mouths and walked down the street. As we continued to walk down the street we started to compile a list of things we needed to try: the fried chicken, the chicken and pork satay, the whole fried fish. Basically, we used our noses and saw where the locals were eating to determine where and what we'd eat. 

Per the suggestion of a friend, we tried the food court at one of the many high-end malls in Bangkok: Siam Paragon. First we were taken back by the sheer size of the mall, then by the stores in it. We did not expect a mall full of Valentino, Pucci, Prada and other high end designers, not to mention the car floor which had the likes of Porsche and Maserati. But we were really there to eat, and that we did. We found the food court, deposited money on food court cards, and went to town. Between the two of us we ordered at least four full meals. While some of them were tasty, others disappointed a little. And none of them compared to what we had found on the street, though a brief reprieve from the heat was nice. We also tried durian ice cream (the only way I'd suggest trying durian, though I wouldn't even recommend that), and found a gourmet supermarket that we knew we'd be back to. 

Another memorable meal happened the night before we left for Bali, when we met an expat and Thai at an outdoor restaurant. Besides drinking a bit too much, we also are quite a lot because Tick, the Thai guy, kept ordering more food for us to try. First we had a spicy lemongrass and chicken soup that was delicious and HOT. That was followed by some deliciously marinated meat and rice. This was a pivotal meal, as we learned to eat the way locals do: grab some rice in your hand, roll it into a tight ball, and then use that to soak up the delicious sauce that was used in cooking. 

After Bali and before Cambodia we had more eating time in Bangkok and that's just what we did. The last two memorable dishes were once again street food. We finally tried the fried chicken from the guy outside of our massage place and wow was it tasty - definitely gives the south a run for its money! And the final wow came from a snack when we weren't even hungry. We were strolling through our neighborhood market, both tired and not hungry, when we walked passed a cart that had the most delicious smell wafting into the air. It literally stopped us in our tracks. Once we went over we looked and saw what looked like fried green tofu - we didn't care what it was, we were trying it. She put some in a bowl, poured a soy sauce with chilis over it, and handed it to us with two toothpicks. We went to town, no breathing, just eating. It wasn't until later that we learned that these were choice dumplings, and our attempts at finding chive dumpling lady again proved futile. 

Needless to say, Katie and I did a good job of eating all the Thai food, and I can't say either of us regret it even if it causes us to gain a few pounds. 

If This is What Bird Flu Tastes Like, Sign Me Up.

The main thing Katie and I were told about our travel to Cambodia was that bird flu is there, and that we should avoid eating street food chicken and should always stay upwind of live chickens. Well, we pretty much disregarded this advice, unintentionally.

Khmer cuisine is similar to other Asian cuisines in that one of the staples is rice, typically eaten with every meal. The rice in Cambodia has been the best rice we've had on this trip; naturally, we both bought to kilos to bring home. Khmer cooking also uses a plethora of delicious spices, often blended together to make kroeung which is a paste used in many dishes (Katie and I know how to make this from our cooking class).

Our first night in Siem Reap took us to one of the many restaurants lining Pub Street - 50 cent draft beers are hard to say no to. But it was here that we confirmed our love of morning glory (or water spinach). Morning glory is a green vegetable that they cook with oyster sauce and other spices and it is beyond delicious - we literally ate it at least once a day. 

On our second night, however, we ventured into the night market and found a local restaurant with plastic tables next to a grill on the sidewalk. We knew what we were having the minute we saw and smelled the BBQ chicken. It wasn't until we had both devoured half of our meal that we recalled what the doctor had said...and we both agreed that if bird flu tasted as good as that chicken, we were okay with it!

It wouldn't be the last time we had street food chicken in Cambodia, as we had it at lunch with Mr. Sak, and we said the same thing. We clearly decided to take what the doctor said with a grain of salt. Sorry mom.

The good news is that everything we ate in Cambodia was delicious and didn't make us sick! And after our cooking class we are now Khmer cuisine pros. 

The "Real" Cambodia

Despite purchasing a 3-day pass to Angkor Wat and initially coming to Cambodia for the sole purpose of seeing the temples, Katie and I immediately agreed we needed to see and do more. Five days here, two of which aren't full days, is not enough. So on our final day we opted to do a countryside and floating village tour with our favorite, Mr. Sak. I can already tell you that what I will write in this blog post will not even come close to what Katie and I saw, heard, smelled, and experienced, but I will do my best.

At 9:30am we climbed into Mr. Sak's tuk tuk and started down the road. We almost immediately stopped at a roadside stand where Mr. Sak purchased three medical face masks, one for each of us, and instructed us to put them on. Another quick stop for gas and we were really on our way!

Let me first give you an idea of what driving in Cambodia is like. Take all of the common sense and laws that you have from driving and erase them. Now, imagine motorbikes, motorbikes pulling tuk tuks, bicycles, cars, vans, and buses all going as though it's a free for all. You're turning onto another street? You don't look, you just go. And the street you want to turn on to is one-way? It's not anymore if you honk your horn. Add in cattle on the sides of the road, a beautiful but dusty red dirt coating your face, the smell of exhaust, a bunch of bumps and holes, and you should get the picture. 

Once we were out of Siem Reap, it got better in the sense that there weren't as many cars on the road. But the dust picked up as the roads became strictly red dirt roads, and we were glad to have our "SARS" masks. The further we moved from the city, the more we were blown away by what we were seeing. It was all beautiful and heart-wrenching at the same time: the brilliant red dirt made the greens of the rice fields with cattle and palm trees even greener, which ricocheted off the bright blue sky. But then this beauty was interlaced with hay huts that families live in, children as young as five walking and biking home from school alone, and older men and women working the fields. 

As we got further from town and closer to water we took a turn at the 2-story, turquoise fisheries building, and the road became less of a road and more of bumpy, sandy, red pathway along a canal. Mr. Sak even yelled back to us to apologize for all the bumps, and my bladder yelled even louder that I needed a bathroom. 

At least forty minutes later (I lost track of time) we arrived at a set of roadside shacks with boats in the water. Mr. Sak said he'd be coming with us and introduced us to our captain, a boy of maybe 20 years old. I said I needed a restroom and was instructed to go onto another boat to the bathroom at the back. My expectations weren't high, and I was right. I entered a small box, smaller than any linen closet I've seen in the US and found a toilet bowl (no seat, no tank) about waist height. I looked down and saw a wooden stair to step on with a water bucket next to it for rinsing. I was happy to find a small light switch that turned on the bulb and fan. As I climbed up, I noticed that I could see straight out to where everyone else was, and looking down I could see the dirt-colored water. I had no choice though, so I used it. 

Then we started off on our boat ride. Our boat was a decent size, with water in the hull, and 6 wicker chairs for seats. Our captain was pretty good at maneuvering the boat, but it was tough with the shallow water (it's the dry season). As we went down the canal, past children playing and men and women working, we started to run into boats coming in the other direction. Due to the low water levels, we would glide past them with only inches between us, and then we'd get sprayed with muddy water from their outboard engine that was churning the bottom of the stream bed. We'd then get stuck in shallow water and have to use a long pole to push ourselves to deeper water. 

We finally made it into the lake and saw children paddling home from school, people lounging in their floating homes on hammocks, younger adults cleaning fish, and elders washing themselves in the muddy water. We floated past the school that the children had come from - 4 floating structures, each with two classrooms. Mr. Sak told us that children go to school from 7am to 11am then they go home for lunch, and go back to school from 1pm to 5pm. While school is free, it is often a financial burden on families. For instance, Mr. Sak has three kids, his oldest is nine and is currently the only one in school. He told us that with the cost of two uniforms (which are required) and books, it costs about $100/year for one child so once his two other children are old enough, Mr. Sak will be paying $300/year for his kids to go to school. The poverty line is $32/month so you can imagine that there are kids that do not go to school. Some children don't go to school because their family cannot afford it, others work or do household chores instead. It was very clear that there are kids in this floating village that will not receive an education. 

On our way back from the village we got to experience more excitement. As we'd skirt past oncoming boats, we started to notice a horrible smell emanating from the engine and when we turned back there was a lot of black smoke, too. We joked that if we sunk it was so shallow that we'd be able to stand at least. The captain shut the engine off, reached in his little toolbox, and instructed Mr. Sak to try to keep the boat pointed in the right direction and out of the way. After an hour of off and on stopping and going and fixing, we made it back to land - with a new propeller blade, a new rubber belt (timing belt maybe?), and a pile of debris pulled from the propeller. 

Back on the bumpy road, my need to pee once again didn't fail me so I got another fun experience. Mr. Sak pulled off on the side of the road and walked over to an area where he said I should be able to get into the woods. Clad in flip flops and luon, I turned and asked if there were snakes. Mr. Sak's response, "maybe". The lesson I learned? Dehydrate yourself on countryside tours.

Our next stop was the silk farm, where we were hoping we'd be able to feed our growling bellies. Apparently Mr. Sak was on the same page because he pulled over to a market full of only locals and was going to buy his lunch as he expected that we'd eat at the restaurant at the silk farm. But how could we turn down an opportunity to eat street food where the locals eat? We hopped out of the tuk tuk and followed our leader directly to an older woman sitting with whole grilled chickens flattened between to sticks. He held one up for us to smell - you couldn't almost taste the sweetness of the marinade. It didn't even cross our minds that we were told not to eat street chicken in Cambodia due to bird flu, our noses did the thinking. We got the chicken, 4 bags of sticky rice, and 10 spring rolls for a total of $8, and hopped back in the tuk tuk.

Once at the silk farm we maneuvered some benches in the shade so we could sit on one and use the other as a table. Hands rinsed with our drinking water, Mr. Sak passed out the bags of rice and chicken and we chowed down, using only our hands to eat as we had no utensils (and many locals don't use utensils anyways). We learned more from Mr. Sak about his family and how he works very hard, and how when he comes home his oldest (his son) lights up with excitement. We were pleased to hear he hadn't lived in refugee camps growing up, as our bike tour guide had. 

After our delicious lunch we headed into the silk farm where we learned about the silk making process and witnessed women working on everything from processing the raw silk to dyeing it and winding it onto spools. We also got to see women working on looms making beautiful intricate patterns out of the silk - all of it was manual labor, and I can 100% assure you that if I had to do the weaving I would for sure screw it up. 

Beyond exhausted from our long day and from witnessing the heartbreaking conditions we saw people living in, we headed back to the hotel to rest a bit before dinner. But we didn't get far before Mr. Sak noticed he had a flat tire, and we had to stop at a local mechanic. An hour and a half later, fumes inhaled, and we finally made it back to the hotel. When dinner time came around we asked for a tuk tuk to town and it was Mr. Sak again! He came out of a little garden area where he had been drinking a few beers with the other tuk tuk drivers, so naturally we asked if we could join him for a beer and that's exactly what we did.

We followed Mr. Sak back into the wooded area, sat down on rocks and were handed beers. I can't recall the names of all the guys but everyone was friendly and open. We learned that in their free time they play volleyball and had won a tournament earlier in the afternoon. After a of couple beers Mr. Sak took us to Pub Street, with a quick stop where we bought a case of beer for the guys.  We invited Mr. Sak to join us for dinner and took him to our favorite local spot, where we ordered beers, Khmer BBQ, fried morning glory, sticky rice, and BBQ shrimp. We ate it all while he showed us pictures of his kids and told us about his wedding. As we strolled back to the tuk tuk, we grabbed ice cream and made a few last Cambodia purchases, which Mr. Sak, being the gentleman he is, carried for us. 

When we got back to the hotel we were coaxed into staying for more beer. And this time the guys brought out some green mango and salt for us to snack on while we talked and laughed into the night.

I'll be honest, I'm a bit hungover now but it was 100% worth it to spend the day with Mr. Sak and to see what is probably the closest thing to the "real" Cambodia that we could. 

The entire experience moved me, and made me want to do something to help. As some of you may know, a big passion of mine is education - I believe that it is a right for everyone, and that I would not be where I am today had I not had the opportunities I've gotten with regards to my education (from Loomis Chaffee to Villanova, Duke, and my teacher training at BIG). With the help of my brother I found and donated to the following:

"World Assistance for Cambodia (WAfC) / Japan Relief for Cambodia (JRfC) are independent nonprofit organizations dedicated to providing opportunities for the youth and rural poor in Cambodia. World Assistance for Cambodia is registered in the United States as a 501(c) (3) tax-deductible nonprofit organization.  Within Cambodia, WAfC / JRfC is recognized by the Cambodian government as one nonprofit organization." The Federal Tax EIN ID number for WAfC is 51-0350058. Several of the programs they run offer educational assistance, such as providing incentives for girls to go to school, building rural schools, and investing in talented children to provide them with more opportunities. For more information, or to donate and give Cambodian children the opportunity to go to school, check out www.cambodiaschools.com

The day truly could not have been better, from the broken down boat and tuk tuk to the late night beers, and I look forward to returning to Cambodia in the future - it now holds a special place in my heart.

Khmer Cooking: Same Same, Not Different

We've eaten a lot on this trip. And we've wanted to take a cooking class. It happened to work out in Cambodia, so yesterday we did just that. 

We arrived at the Le Tigre de Papier restaurant and cooking school, and were told to pick a starter and a main dish off the menu. I had figured they'd teach us a few common Khmer dishes, so I was definitely surprised to get to choose what I'd be cooking. Katie chose the papaya salad as her starter and chicken curry as her main dish, while I opted for mango salad and Somloo Mjour Krueng, a traditional Khmer spice soup. Once the other 6 people in our class chose their dishes and we all voted on one dessert to make (a pumpkin custard), we were off to the local market where we were accosted by flies and smells of chicken, meat, and fish, and by local women trying to sell fruits, veggies, and spices. Our head chef purchased some last minute goods - a pumpkin for our dessert, and some rice balls and jackfruit for us to try. 

We then headed back to the restaurant and upstairs to the cooking school where we washed our hands, and put on our aprons and hats before getting started. As we peeled and cut the vegetables for our starters we chatted with our fellow chefs - a couple from France, a Swiss couple, a girl from Perth, and a guy from Taiwan. Between all of us we were covering the gauntlet of starters - the salads Katie and I chose, fried spring rolls, fresh spring rolls, and pumpkin soup. After prepping our starters we moved on to the main course prep, more peeling and dicing, which at times proved difficult with the slightly dull knife. The main dishes included my soup, Katie's curry, fried rice, fried noodles, and chicken amok. Most of us had to make curry paste from scratch which included dicing shallots, garlic, galangal (a ginger-like root that has a slight pine scent), lime leaf, lemon grass, and fresh turmeric (which turned our fingers and everything we touch an orange-yellow color). As our head chef kept saying to each of us when we'd ask what we do next, "Same, same, not different" implying that we simply needed to essentially mince everything. Once diced, we then had to smash it with mortar and pestle until it had become a paste - definitely not easy, and Katie and I agreed this gave us an appreciation for curry made from scratch...and for food processors. 

Our head chef then worked with each of us to show us how to make our main dishes. As the outdoor heat picked up, so did the heat in the kitchen, but before we knew it, it was lunchtime. We carried our dishes down to the restaurant, and all sat together to enjoy our meals. Everyone shared so we got to try it all!

Stuffed to the brims and tired, Katie and I headed back to the market to stock up on Cambodian spices. Once again accosted with the smells of beef and chicken that had now been sitting in the heat for hours, we put our bargaining hats on and went to town getting spices, rice, and teas.

Before we knew it, we had to head back to the hotel to meet up with Mr. Sak. Mr. Sak is our favorite tuk tuk driver from our hotel - his English is good, and he's nice and fun. He was taking us to Phnom Bakheng temple, where we hiked up to watch the sunset among hundreds of Chinese tourists in what could have been a Canon commercial. Afterwards, Mr. Sak dropped us in town for dinner and drinks, and more shopping.

After eating we ventured through the night markets and came across a local artisan. We could tell by his hands that he worked hard, and he explained the process he uses to make brass statues. One statue of Ganesha took over a year to make, starting with carving the mold in wax, and ending with oxidizing the brass with rainwater before burying it for 7-8 months. Katie and I talked to him about getting a website, and found that he does ship abroad, so if anyone is interested in his amazing work please let me know and I'd be happy to put you in touch. 

Bikes, Beer, Temples, and Bugs

Are you noticing a trend here? Bikes and beer have become a common thing...

For our first full day in Cambodia we took the advice from some travelers we met in Bali and booked a sunrise and bike tour of Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples with Grasshopper Tours (highly recommend them). I'm a morning person, so the 5am pickup was no issue, but I've got to hand it to Katie for getting up AND functioning without coffee for 4-5 hours. 

We were picked up at our hotel by a van that had our guide, our bikes, and three other travelers - a Brit, and two Americans. It sure is a small world - one of the Americans, Bridget, has a background in environmental science and works for Conservation International; the other American recently retired from the World Bank where he worked as a forester, and is a Duke (Nic School back before it was the Nic School) alum. We haven't seen many Americans on our trip, and I definitely didn't expect to run into two people who have similar backgrounds to mine. 

That aside, we arrived at the temples and our guide set us up with a view over the 190 meter wide moat separating us from the towers of Angkor Wat. We sat, we ate croissants, and we waited for the sun - it seemed to take forever and we thought it was too overcast. Then suddenly, just above the highest tower of Angkor Wat, there was a fluorescent orange-red glow. 

Once some of the crowds had cleared from sunrise, we walked across the roadway that traverses the moat and entered Angkor Wat, the world's largest religious monument. Our guide was unbelievably knowledgeable and told us the meanings of all the etchings in the stone, as well as the history of the temple. Angkor Wat was built by the Khmer king, Suryavarman II and was built in the early 12th century. The temple was originally dedicated to the Hindu god, Vishnu, and later became a Buddhist temple. What differentiates Angkor Wat from other temples in the area is that is has been in almost constant use since it was built, and therefore was not overcome by nature. (I highly suggest researching more on both the history of Angkor Wat and of the Khmer empire - I plan to, as it has been extremely interesting to learn about).

Once we were all appropriately covered (shoulders and knees), we climbed up the 70 degree angle wooden stairs to the highest tower of Angkor Wat. It was nice to have the wooden stairs, as the originals were at an 85 degree angle and each stair would fit a 5 year old's foot. The view from up here was amazing - we could see every corner of Angkor Wat and the surrounding moat, as well as other temples in the area. The intricacies of the etchings and the shrines were simply stunning. After 20 minutes (the limit) we climbed down the treacherous stairs, managing to not fall and cause a domino effect, and made our way out the backside of the temple where we were whisked away to breakfast.

Our van pulled up in a wooded area where there was a breakfast picnic set up on the Siem Reap River. After a delicious meal, we grabbed our bikes (which were much better than any of the bikes we've had previously on this trip with working brakes and all!) and started on the trail.

One thing that was so great about tis tour is the mountain biking - we were going through small trails in the forest, over roots and ducking under tree branches. After a bit of this we turned to bike along the Angkor Wat moat where patches of sand would make you really work to keep your bike steady and moving. Before we knew it, we had arrived at the next stop - Angkor Thom. Angkor Thom, also known as the Great City, is just that. Angkor Thom was built in the late 12th century by King Jayavarman VII, when Angkor Wat was attacked, and was the last capital of the Khmer empire. It covers 9 square kilometers, and is surrounded by stone walls and a large moat. The entrance to Angkor Thom is simply breathtaking - a causeway with 54 demons and 54 gods representing the Churning of the Ocean of Milk, and a massive gate with faces staring out in every direction. 

For this portion of the tour, we biked through the gates and up a forested path to travel along the walls of the city, with the moat to our left and the ruins to our right. We stopped at one of the guard stands on a corner of the wall to learn more about the city and the Khmer empire.

A short bike ride along roads in the city then brought us to Prasat Bayon, a stunning temple that I actually preferred over Angkor Wat. Bayon was the state temple for King Jayavarman VII. It is in more of a state of ruin than Angkor Wat, but the faces (216 of them!) glaring down on you from all 54 towers, and the stories depicting everyday life carved in the stone walls are impeccable. These 11,000 figures included those of war, fishing, feasts, king processions, and markets.

Just outside of Bayon we sat for water and fresh fruit. Our picnic table was situated directly next to a monastery where monks were praying, washing, and blessing those who had come with ailments or bad luck. Refreshments inhaled, we hopped back on our bikes for more biking in the Cambodian forests. These forest trails took us directly to our next stop - Ta Prohm, or the Lara Croft Temple. This Buddhist temple was built in 1186 by King Jayavarman VII. Compared to the previous temples we saw, the uniqueness here lied in the power of nature to adapt and overtake what was man-made. The Cambodian forest has literally started to take over the temple, with moss on walls, doorways blocked, and trees growing out of and around the temple. 

A quick bike ride from here, past several Cambodian weddings, and we were at our late lunch of traditional Khmer dishes - chicken amok, beef amok, fried noodles, fish, and a vegetarian stir fry. It was all delicious, especially with a cold Cambodian beer! 

A quick post-ride shower to remove the layer of sweat and red dust, and a relaxing, pool-side margarita gave us the energy to grab a tuk-tuk to Pub Street. We walked around, went to the Night Market where we made several bargains, and got a quick foot massage to work up our appetites. Side note: I do not know how I will survive without $6 massages. 

Lucky for us, just around the corner from the massage place was a sidewalk restaurant, and as we walked by and smelled the food be cooked right there we knew where we'd have dinner. Two beers each, fried morning glory, two pieces of amazing grilled chicken, and two BBQ skewers later, we paid a whopping $7.50 total and headed to the street for the dessert that we weren't looking forward to: bugs. 

Just outside this "restaurant", was a street cart selling fried delicacies such as crickets, spiders, and water beetles. We both decided the only thing we could do would be the crickets, as the other options looked slimy, and the spiders apparently "pop" in your mouth...no thank you. One dollar for a 2-cup sized scoop of crickets - we opted to give her $1 for 4 crickets, and as quickly as possible popped one in our mouths. Surprisingly, not bad - the spices she had used to fry them were delicious and they were crunchy with no "popping" or gooeyness. We both actually chose to eat our second one, though I think two cups would've been pushing it. 

A couple of beers to wash down the crickets at the aptly named bar, Angkor What?, and we were ready to call it a (15+ hour) day.

Overcoming Fear and Trusting Others

One thing I didn't mention about our time in Lembongan is the fact that on our last night there I realized I had left my bank card at Dream Beach. It was too dark (and far) to bike or walk, and too late to rent a motorbike. Luckily, one of the guys working at our hotel was willing to take me to get it.

A bit anxious, I hopped on the back of his motorbike, placed my feet on the pegs, and grabbed his arms with my hands. I'm pretty sure he could feel my nerves, but off we went (on the wrong side of the road). It wasn't too bad through town, despite his weaving in and out around potholes, but then we reached the big hill (that also had curves). Surely we would fall and then I'd have road burn to deal with and Cambodian water to wash said cuts with...at least those were the thoughts running through my mind. I gripped his arms tighter, he added more gas, and up we went. He continued to weave in and out of potholes, honking as a warning as we went around turns. At one point we passed a truck and had I just slightly kicked my leg out, it would've been gone, but had my driver (or knight in shining armor?) moved over anymore we would've been off the road. 

Once we got my card and started to head back downhill I loosened up a bit - I started to feel the breeze in my hair, notice the beautiful views down over the ocean and the rest of the island, and let up my grip on my driver. He could feel me relax and started to point out various things in the panoramic view; I even got my phone out and took a short video (that hopefully shows up on this post). I had realized that by hopping on the back of his bike, I had conquered that fear. Sure, I didn't know if I could personally do the driving, but I now knew that I could ride on a motorbike without dying (my mind makes up some really great stories), and that I could trust someone that I didn't know in the least bit. 

Bali Belly

Besides the questionable food we ate our last night in Indonesia, food on Bali and Lembongan has not disappointed. 

Our first night in Ubud, after mildly recovering from our hangovers, set the bar high with Indonesian fried chicken and a delicious and light coconut curry. However, our best meals were without a doubt those cooked at our homestay with Ketut and his family. Each morning our breakfast consisted of fresh cut fruit (papaya, banana, and watermelon), delicious Balinese coffee, the best omelette I've ever had (tomato, onion, and spices), and a Balinese pancake, served to us on our front porch. I wish I had learned how to make a Balinese pancake, as they are thin and light, and beyond delicious. Ketut's family also offered to cook us a traditional Balinese BBQ, and we took him up on the offer. Our feast included tofu in peanut sauce, delicious veggies, and chicken and pork satay that his son's carefully grilled on a little fire. The chicken satay was blended with coconut, giving it a slightly sweet flavor, and the pork satay had a fabulous glaze on it. Dinner was followed with a sweet black rice pudding topped with shaved coconut. We ate and ate, and then ate some more. Ubud was also full of fresh fruits, veggies, and juices - after our feasting in Bangkok on everything but veggies, we happily ordered green juices most everywhere we went. 

Outside of Ubud, our favorite meal was our first in Lembongan. We both ordered the grilled snapper. When the entire fish came out we both cleaned those bones off while drinking our beers. 

Despite the delicious seafood and the food from Ketut's, I'd say that our two favorite Indonesian dishes (they happen to also be the most common) were Nasi Goreng and Mie Goreng - fried rice and fried noodles, two things you can never go wrong with.

Beer, Bikes, Beaches.

The past few days Katie and I have been beachin' it on Nusa Lembongan, an island that is just a 30 minute boat ride from Sanur, Bali. After our time in Ubud, we were ready for some relaxation on the beach!

Our first night on Lembongan we met some Canadians and after eating a delicious meal of fresh fish, we had Bintangs (Indonesia's beer) and a breathtaking sunset. 

Early to bed, early to rise for beach time! We ate breakfast at our hotel and walked to find an ATM and to rent either bicycles or motorbikes. Well, we failed at the ATM and we failed at the motorbikes (because I was a chicken with the whole opposite side of the road thing coupled with the horrific condition of the island roads). So with my Rupiah in hand to last us the next few days, and bicycles rented, we headed towards Mushroom Beach. 

Pedaling through town proved easy, as long as one could avoid the potholes and the drivers. However, once we reached the edge of town we hit a hill that was simply not possible to bike up in flip flops and with our less than optimal mountain bikes. Silly me for thinking that only a 90 minute class at BIG could get me so sweaty...

Eventually, covered in sweat and a bit annoyed with life (it was a brief annoyance, as it's hard to be unhappy in Indonesia), we made it to Mushroom Beach. We had seen absolutely no other bicyclists along the way, just people zooming by on their scooters. Oh well, we earned our beach beers! 

Mushroom Beach was a beautiful and relatively long beach, with various boats in the bay that took tourists snorkeling, diving, and on banana boat rides. We paid $5 each and set up camp on some lounge chairs where we enjoyed Bintangs, the crashing waves, and a local Balinese guy strumming his guitar. We also got the privilege of playing with the happiest little girl!

After our 4pm happy hour cocktail, we rode back, showered, and watched another great sunset before chowing down on more fresh seafood followed by fried bananas with ice cream, and bed.

Our last full day in Indonesia consisted of one of the prettiest beaches I've ever seen, a fabulous pool, beer, girly cocktails, and more bike riding. Dream Beach was a fitting name - white sand, crashing waves against cliffs that had lush greenery up to their edges, and every shade of blue, from the light blue of the sky to the darker blues and turquoises of the water. It was simply stunning. Our $5 once again got us lounge chairs, but also gave us access to the infinity pool overlooking the beach. We set up camp underneath an umbrella, and went to town reading books, ordering drinks, snacks, and lunch, and relaxing. Before leaving we opted to have some beachy drinks - a piña colada for Katie, and a banana daiquiri for me. We should've stopped here, given the bike ride we had back to our hotel, but happy hour had just started...so we opted for one more drink, which happened to be the one with 4 types of alcohol and a splash of juice. Needless to say, we didn't finish our drinks, and we hopped on our bikes happily drunk. Our bike ride went a little like this: stop for pant rolling, a little wobble here and there, successful and failed attempts at missing pothole ax a broken flip flop, and walking downhill with said flip flop in one hand. It was quite the sobering adventure. 

After a shower, our initial attempt at dinner failed. Katie's chicken was a dark grey inside, and we aren't even sure what came out on my plate. We very quickly paid and went to the restaurant next door where we ordered the safest thing - pizza, beer, and french fries. We're leaving our time in Bali unsure of that last meal, with mildly sore "treasures" (as Madonna at BIG would say) from the bikes and potholes, slightly sunburnt from the strong Indonesian sun, and blissfully happy. 

Stop Monkeying Around

Last full day in Ubud, and boy are we sad to go. There is no question in my mind that I will be coming back to Bali.

We had our delicious Balinese breakfast (which I will surely miss) and headed into town to the Monkey Sanctuary. We had heard that the monkeys could bite, and to definitely not bring in any food; naturally, we were a little apprehensive. The monkeys here are long-tailed macaques. The minute we bought our tickets we saw a monkey sitting in the pathway, just chilling with his balls out. I was beyond shocked that the monkeys literally own this area - they go where they please, and the entire area is open (when we left we saw several monkeys outside of the sanctuary). When you added in the massive trees with sunlight shining through and the old temples, it really was a sanctuary in the middle of Ubud (which is a sanctuary of its own sorts). We walked around the forest in awe of every monkey we saw and how human-like they were. We saw them fight, eat, defecate, play, screw, nurse; we saw elders, teenagers, moms, dads, and babies (which were Benjamin Button like) - it was the whole spectrum of being a human. At one point we were walking and one of the monkeys came up to me and started to reach up my shorts and then tried to take my flip flop off. It was amazing how soft his hands were and how gentle he was. When he realized he wasn't winning anything from me, he moved on to Katie and tried to reach into her bag to see if she had any goodies. Once again, he realized he wouldn't win, but we ended up in a lot of foreigner's photographs. 

We left the monkey sanctuary ravenous and sweaty, but after a quick lunch we headed to the spa! We had signed up for a 5 hour spa day, which included a massage, body scrub, yogurt bath, facial, hair treatment, mani/pedi, and dinner. All for a whopping $95. Turns out, it was a couple's treatment - sorry, Aaron. 

It was the perfect end to our time in Ubud. Now onto the beach to relax some more!