one, two, three, pho

Two backpackers, one map

Templed out

by Laura

This is a little overdue, but in early January Matt and I spent three days at the Temples of Angkor.

We thought about writing a long, beautiful post full of great description and more but changed our minds. Whatever we would say has already been said and pictures are better.

Here are a few fun photos. Seriously, like 1/1000th of what we took.

We followed this itinerary And it was great!

Our only suggestion would be to skip sunset at Angkor Wat. Sunrise there is so magical and seeing the temple for the first time as it emerges from darkness would be inspiring. Also, if you do sunrise, turn right. Everyone goes left off of the path but if you go right it will feel like you have the whole temple to yourself.

Be prepared to be exhausted and skip a few things. It’s bloody hot.

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Watch out for the piranhas

by Laura

Siem Reap.
A seedy fish pedicure shop located outside of a restaurant, on the street.
A young Canadian couple, unsure what to expect.

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Both: (Nervous laughter)

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Laura: ohmygawd! I don’t know if I like this!

Matt: (giggling like a girl)

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Laura: oh f#*! oh f#*! oh f#*!

Matt: (giggling like a girl)

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Laura wimps out and takes her feet out of the tank.

Matt cracks a beer.

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Laura: ohmygawd it tickles!!!! (bursts out laughing so hard she cries)

Matt: (giggling like a girl)

Extras: (look at Laura like she’s crazy and at Matt with pity)

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Laura: Owwww!! You bastard, don’t dig in my blister!!! Ooops. I kicked him.

Matt: (giggling like a girl)

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Matt’s feet.

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Laura’s feet.

Later, while drying off their feet.

Matt to Laura: I would pay money just to watch you get one of those again.

The couple leaves for more beers to get over being eaten by the piranhas baby cousin.

Bangkok 2: The Suckening

by mattchesser

Two and a half months ago, we hated Bangkok.

The three days that we spent in the city inspired Laura to write this post, detailing the litany of little problems that made our first days in Southeast Asia disappointing.

This week we returned to Bangkok as seasoned travellers, ready to give Thailand’s capital a second chance.

After two days in the city I can confirm that Bangkok is still awful.

It’s not all bad: get away from the terrible Khao San/Grand Palace backpacker area and there are some nice neighbourhoods scattered around the downtown core. In the malls and markets there are some great deals to be had on clothing and accessories. And movie tickets are dirt cheap.

But feelings of expertise and satisfaction are almost impossible in Bangkok.

Most of the enjoyment that I get from being abroad stems from feeling like I’m getting “good” at travelling. Whether it’s getting a great deal, talking to locals, or finding a great little place to eat, the memorable experiences are those that feel unique and authentic.

In Bangkok it’s hard to feel intrepid. The downtown area is seedy, depraved, and depressing – filled with shitty bars, bad food, and moronic partyboys. The local people are generally cold and unfriendly (though this gets better the further out you go). Everything is overpriced and everywhere you look there’s someone running a scam.

Vietnam’s major cities, Hanoi and Saigon, are alive with the invigorating rush of local commerce. Laos’s Luang Prabang charms with its French heritage. Phnom Penh wins you over with its unapologetic authenticity and friendly Cambodian residents.

Bangkok is just there, stubborn in its refusal to come to life. You might as well be in Buffalo.

Goodbye Vietnam

by mattchesser

I didn’t expect to fall in love with Vietnam.

I thought it would be too crowded, too modern, too foreign.

I was so wrong.

Vietnam scores highly in every subjective category that I can dream up to evaluate a country.

The food is divine. Laura and I have made no secret of our love of pho, the noodle soup that inspired our pun-tastic blog name, but Vietnamese cuisine is so much more than soup and spring rolls. It’s stunning fresh seafood served on concrete benches by the sea or plastic stools in the heart of Saigon. It’s the fattening goodness of bun cha (barbecued pork floating in a sweet soup) and the delicate deliciousness of white rose (steamed shrimp dumplings). It’s edible flowers and banh mi sandwiches that made me forget my obsession with Subway. Above all it’s fresh ingredients, bought earlier that day at the market, and a healthy heaping of herbs and spices, served family style for all to share.

The scenery is stunning. From the seat of a motorbike we saw rice terraces climb up past the clouds in mountainous Sapa and sprawling coffee plantations, strawberry fields, and flower farms in highland Dalat. We kayaked through the surreal karsts of Ha Long Bay, which rise out of the water like thousands of massive stone icebergs, and spent several days lying on the gorgeous white-sand beaches of Nha Trang. I have enough profile-picture material to last for years (it’s just a pity there’s a pasty white guy in the foreground obscuring some of the view).

The history is fascinating. I struggled not to cry at the War Remnants Museum in Saigon, which has no need for propaganda to tell the story of the brutal American incursion in Vietnam. The photo galleries are graphic, powerful, and heartbreaking. The images stuck with me for days. But there’s more to Vietnamese history than just one war. I loved exploring the massive ruins of the Imperial Citadel and royal tombs in Hue, while imagining just how awesome a sight they would have been in their day. And Hoi An, where the streets and waterfront are still lined with old French colonial shophouses and there’s nary a modern building in site, is unbelievably picturesque (it’s so perfectly preserved that it feels fake).

And the Vietnamese people are so much friendlier than I expected. I’m generalizing here, so take this with a grain of salt, but the Vietnamese are kind, helpful, and fascinating people. If you’re lucky enough to hear them talk about politics you’ll get a pretty good idea about the average person. There’s a hardened realism about the current communist government and a sense of duty to country and kin. But below that is dissatisfaction with a system that requires that a bribe be paid in order to get a decent job and a belief that things will gradually get better.

I could go on for pages, but I think you get the point. There’s something for everyone in Vietnam.

Book a ticket, go to Vietnam, you won’t regret it.

Pure joy

by Laura

I don’t know if I’ve ever jumped up and down for joy.

Burst out laughing, sure. Devolved into happy tears, of course. Jumped into someone’s arms, unfortunately for Matt.

But jumped up and down, nope.

A few days ago though, I had the pleasure to witness it.

For whatever reason there were fireworks in Siem Reap a few nights ago. Walking home, Matt and I got to watch the sky sparkle. In anticipation of a long day at the temples we stopped to buy fruit. The store’s owners have the most beautiful little girl.

She’s a little serious, looking you over and deciding if you are worthy of her fruit or not. She’s always in a dress or ruffles, with a little pixie cut. And she’s probably two.

Well, it must have been the first time she had ever seen fireworks because this night she wasn’t evaluating us or playing on the sidewalk.

She was staring straight ahead into the sky. And every time the sky lit up do you know what she did?

She jumped up and down as fast as she could clapping her hands. The biggest smile you’ve ever seen on her face.

No squealing or laughing. She was too happy.

The second the sparkle was gone, she stopped. She looked at you for only a split second afraid that she would miss the next one, imploring “where’d it go?”

Until the next time the sky was full of glitter and then she was off: jumping for joy.

Finding myself (please note the sarcasm)

by Laura

Happy 2013, everyone!!

We’ve already told you about our Christmas but I thought I’d share the rest of our holidays with you.

Instead of shopping this boxing day, I spent the day on a seven hour long bus ride into Cambodia.

The next day was another four hour long bus to Kep, a small town on the coast of Cambodia in the Gulf of Thailand.

It was beautiful, but one of the best parts was that they had dogs!! Some were a little on the fleabag side, but just one was lovely.

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He liked me more than Matt.

He followed me everywhere. His Bitch got jealous and wasn’t very nice, I told her bite me. (I love puns!)

The resort was beautiful. The perfect place to spend a few days.

The pool at Kep Lodge

The pool at Kep Lodge

The view from our porch

The view from our porch

The only downside were all three screaming brats. Seriously, as of December 30th all was fine. But before then, omg, the littles were everywhere.

After Kep, we moved onto Kampot.

Well, sort of Kampot. We stayed there this absolutely amazing place called Ganesha Riverside Resort

I know, I know. I said I wouldn’t ‘find myself’ on this trip, and I promised that I haven’t. But this is a little touchy-feely.

I have such a connection with Ganesha.

It has its own energy, its own soul. You can feel it.

Maybe that’s because we stayed in a yurt with our own private deck over the water.

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Or because we paddled an old canoe made out of a tree trunk down deserted backwaters.

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Or because we borrowed bikes and cycled through local villages where everything child we passed jumped up and down yelling ‘Helyo!!!’

Or, maybe, it was the owners. The French couple, Stephanie and Emanuel, really made you feel like you were part of the family. Like it was home.

Either way, there you have it, touchy-feely.

Trip mishap number three

by Laura

Today an old cambodian woman patted my tummy and asked “you have baby??” all excited. 

While I was eating ice cream.

She got pretty awkward when I said no.

It was awesome, this happened six hours ago and Matt and I are still laughing.

I really hope she isn’t a fortune teller.