Category Archives: Travels

Everything about all the travelling that I do!

Cambodia – My Father’s Perspective

Cambodia!! What an experience!! From the moment we stepped off the plane from Utopia In Singapore we realized we were completely in another world.

A country of 17 million people that has gone through hell during the genocide regime of the lunatic Pol Pot as leader of the Khmer Rouge party during the 1970’s. Even though there was irrefutable proof that he massacred and starved to death between 1 and 2 million of his own people, the Western world continued to support this clown and his party for over 15 years. The UN even gave him a seat in the UN. That confirms more in my mind than ever that the UN has become a huge useless bureaucracy that really has no relevance in today’s world.

But back to 2013 and our wonderful experience in Cambodia. We stayed for 2 days in Siem Reap, a northern city of about 300,000 people, where we enjoyed viewing some fantastic architecture in temples from the 11th – 12th centuries. An amazing feat considering that most of the rocks for the temples were built with rocks from a mountain 60 kms away. These temples are comparable to the pyramids in Egypt. As well we toured a floating village, which gives a new meaning to us in Canada, of a floating village as most of the original houses that were built near ground level were immersed in water to the eaves. This is truly the rainy season as reports coming out of the media are claiming that two thirds of the country is currently under water. When flying back in the daylight to Singapore and looking down on Cambodia I believe those reports to be true. Water, water everywhere!!

Then we moved onto Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia, a city of 4 million people. This is the comeback city for the Cambodians. Even though there are still lots of people living in extreme poverty the city is growing in leaps and bounds. Construction everywhere!!!! Huge new buildings and major highways. Hopefully they aren’t building more government offices as there seems to be no end of elaborate government buildings already in existence. We just had a fantastic time touring around in the main source of transportation in Cambodia, the world renowned Tuk Tuk. This tuk tuk is a little different than the one in Thailand which is a one piece unit. In Cambodia they have these 4 seater two wheeled carts attached to 160 cc motorcycles. The “Honda Dream ” I’m sure has 75% of the tuk tuk market. Motorcycle Alley is 3 city blocks long on both sides of the street with new motorcycle dealers. Only saw two Harleys in the whole city. Small, small motorcycles here.

The Cambodian people are the meekest people that I have ever met as a society. Our Tuk Tuk driver, who we hired for the 5 days, had limited English language skills and consequently took us to a few places that we hadn’t asked to go. He was very apologetic for doing that with his hands folded and bowing to us as in prayer. He even wanted to buy us our dinner one night because of his mixups. Can you imagine that taking place in Canada!? Combined with our limited grasp of the Cambodian language we did a lot of hand signing and signals to get our messages across. On most roads, other then the major 4 lane highways, everyone just drives where ever they wish. There doesn’t seem to be any road rage as everybody just gives way to whatever is needed to keep the motorcycles and tuk tuks moving. I can’t imagine this taking place in Western world cities where somebody would step out and pound you if you cut them off!!! Once again the Cambodian culture of meekness.

We spent one day reviewing the history at the time of the Pol Pot regime during the 1970’s. A very moving and sombre time as we viewed the so called “Killing Fields” where Pot’s regime took the people that didn’t agree with his philosophy of what a pure race of people that he was going to create. At these fields he made the people dig these massive graves and then just killed the people to fill them in every inhumane way he could. There were over 50 of these fields disbursed throughout Cambodia. We finished up that day reviewing a former school that was supposed to be a jail but was really a torture chamber to remind the people of Cambodia that Pol Pot was really a warped and insane individual. Hard to believe that “so called” humans can do this to their fellow man. Every day I think how fortunate myself and our families were to be born in Canada, a real land of opportunity.

I believe Gwen is talking about our housebuilding and orphanage tour so I will leave that segment to her. The rest of the time was spent touring the city, eating great food and drinking cheap beer. “Angkor” and “Cambodian” beer were the most popular and the cheapest. In most restaurants beer was anywhere from $1 to $1.50 US for beer. Lots of different food and most restaurants also provided Western cuisine. Ate “crocodile” one evening and it truly does taste like chicken. Ha! Ha!

We are just leaving for the airport again this morning to fly to Bali for 5 days of fun and relaxation. What a trip we’ve had!!! Life   doesn’t get any better!

Cheers,
Pat

History Lessons and Joyous Occassions

Well we have been really, really busy these past few days. So busy, I haven’t really been able to find the time to be able to write out all that has been going on. But this busy-ness is a good thing because we have learned so much about this country in such a small span of time. There have been lessons in humankind, lessons in evil, lessons in healing, and lessons in survival. All have been powerful messages that have hit us all in many different ways.

We spent the full day on Wednesday learning about Cambodia’s most recent history involving the Khmer Rouge and their take over of Cambodia. For those who don’t know, from 1975-1979, the Khmer Rouge ruled ruthlessly over Cambodia through Communist ideals that enslaved their people and created mass famine and unbelievable working conditions for all. Essentially, this is how this came to be:

The Cambodian people had been experiencing civil war and had been bombed heavily by the United States (as a part of the Vietnam war hoping to kill all North Vietnamese supporters). It was so heavily carpet-bombed by the US that Cambodia still remains to be one of the most heavily bombed countries on Earth (Laos having the extremely unfortunate title as the top of the charts). Rabble.ca reports “The United States dropped upwards of 2.7 million tons of bombs on Cambodia, exceeding the amount it had dropped on Japan during WWII (including Hiroshima and Nagasaki) by almost a million tons.” All of this in secret. Obviously the effects of this were devastating.

During this time, a young Cambodian man of privilege named, Pol Pot, was creating an army of followers to his extremist ideals. He trained young boys in the jungles and rural areas, aged between 12-16, to fight. He spent years doing so and on April 17, 1975, his forces captured Phnom Penh. They took over Phnom Penh in only 3 days. They made every single person leave the city of thousands. We wondered – how could this possibly happen? How could you clear out a city in this short amount of time? The answer was simple as people at that time weren’t listening when he and his army marched into the city on the first day. So to make people listen, he shot one entire family per city block. No one was spared. From that day forward, people were forced to listen and follow or be shot, tortured or killed in some way. The longer it went on the more brutal they became in their killing.

During the Khmer Rouge’s reign – they forced urban dwellers to relocate to the countryside to work in collective farms and forced labor projects. The combined effects of executions, forced labor, malnutrition, and poor medical care caused the deaths of approximately 25 percent of the Cambodian population. In all, an estimated 1 to 3 million people (out of a population of slightly over 8 million) died due to the policies of his four-year reign. The reign fell only when Vietnamese soldiers began to invade Cambodia in order to help free them. Pol Pot fled to the countryside and lived there (with the remaining Khmer Rouge followers) until 1997. During this time, he held a seat on the United Nations and was determined to be the official leader of Cambodia. This is a fact that completely floors us all. How on earth could the UN allow for this and support him knowing what had happened in Cambodia? It is unbelievable, but it is unfortunately true.

We learned all of this about Cambodia’s history by visiting two remaining places where evidence of the brutality of the Khmer Rouge still remain. The first site was the mass graves of the Killing Fields – also known as Choeung Ek (one of thousands – there were many of these Killing Fields that were scattered throughout the country). After the Khmer Rouge were defeated by the Vietnamese, the Killing Fields were horrifically discovered and exhumed. It is estimated that over 1.3 million people were executed and discarded in these fields. Visiting this place brought forth many emotions for us all. There is such a juxtaposition to today where it is a very serene place and you can walk around in silence, only listening to the birds, and trying to imagine what life was like at this place and time. It is difficult to understand. We listened to a very informative audio guide that lead us throughout the fields. It was important to hear the information as you stood at the graves to help you make as much sense of a place like this as you possibly can.

Over 8,000 skulls are encased in glass at the shrine located in the centre of the Killing Fields.

Over 8,000 skulls are encased in glass at the shrine located in the centre of the Killing Fields.

From there, we travelled back into the city, and visited the Tuol Seng Genocide Museum (also known as S-21). This was a former High School that, during the reign of the Khmer Rouge, was turned into a place to torture people in hopes to find out “information” about their enemies. They tortured the people to the point where they would lie and make up stories to try to get the torture to stop. Over 20,000 people were tortured in the walls of this school – many of them succumbing to death from the abuse they had to endure there. Our guide was really wonderful in helping us to understand and try to comprehend the atrocities that occurred there. His parents lived through the Khmer Rouge reign and his own history is effected by what happened in Cambodia during this time.

Thousands of documented prisoners at S-21. Photo courtesy of theguardian.com

Thousands of documented prisoners at S-21. Photo courtesy of theguardian.com

All of this is just so horrifically unbelievable. We just couldn’t understand – how can humans treat each other in this way? It is so hard to gain a true understanding of it, but we did try our best. I know we all thought of what we would do if we faced a situation something similar. It is almost impossible to put yourself in that situation when you have not experienced anything like it in your life. However, learning all of this was a necessary part of coming to Cambodia. It is essential that every traveller try to learn as much about the genocide in hopes that history won’t repeat itself (but looking at history – this is sadly almost inevitable).

It made Thursday’s experience of visiting the People Improvement Organization (PIO) that much sweeter though. On Thursday, it was wonderful to witness how Cambodia can preserver and rise from the ashes of their very recent history. And it is able to do so through people who are willing to give of themselves to help their fellow humans around them. The PIO is a school and orphanage that helps children who live in the slums of Phnom Penh. It is founded by Phymean Noun who was there on Thursday to greet us and tell us about how she started the PIO. Our experience here was that of pure joy. We were able to see first hand the opportunities being provided to people who would never have them without someone’s help. Students attend the school FOR FREE. Children stay at the orphanage and attend school FOR FREE. They are given hope and opportunity and a way out of the cycle of poverty that would have otherwise awaited them.  As a treat, we took the children who live in the orphanage to a water park in Phnom Penh. We piled in 75 children into tuk tuks and drove them to a water park that looked like it had been abandoned in the 60s. But to the children – it was the BEST place on earth. They swam, screamed, giggled and for a few hours – just got to be kids who didn’t have to worry about anything other than having fun. It was a beautiful thing. I spent the day with my sponsor child, Raksa who has really grown into a healthy young girl. She arrived to the shelter a couple of years ago terribly afraid and badly malnourished. She looks really fantastic and we played together for most of the afternoon. Kelso supports her older brother Cha Phrom and I was also able to spend some time talking football with him as well (in honour of Kelso who wasn’t able to be there).

On the way back to the PIO, Gwen and Pat’s tuk tuk was in an accident. A motorbike and their tuk tuk collided during the busy rush hour traffic. Everyone was ok – the man on the motorbike received the worst of the injuries of cuts and scrapes on his face and arms. Luckily, our friend Savi, raced back to save the day and to help my parents and the kids as people began to gather around the scene. Everyone was fine, but I think it was a very scary situation to be in (especially being a foreigner with young children who don’t belong to you in your care). All is now well and they have a very interesting story to tell everyone when they return!

Riding in the back of the tuk tuk (post accident!)

Riding in the back of the tuk tuk (post accident!)

Today we built houses. This was an experience all in itself and one that deserves to have a whole blog post dedicated to just this. We will write about this tomorrow.

Sitting on the stoop of one of the houses.

Sitting on the stoop of one of the houses.

 

“Resilience is all about being able to overcome the unexpected. Sustainability is about survival. The goal of resilience is to thrive.” – Jamais Cascio

We have seen people in Cambodia survive through their hardships and we are now seeing them to thrive in the opportunities that lay ahead. And it is amazing.

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Phnom Penh with a View

Yesterday was a full day of shopping, sightseeing and learning a bit about the culture and history of Cambodia. Our first stop was for a little retail therapy at my favourite dress shop – Ambre. My father decided against sitting and watching 10 women try on clothes for a couple of hours to instead drive around the city taking in the sites from the back of a tuk tuk. He really made it around everywhere and even enjoyed a couple of cold beers while doing so. He visited the water front, the Central Market, National Monument, National Museum, Silver Pagoda and the Royal Palace. All by himself (only getting lost for a short while when he got dropped off at the Central Market to look around and came out the wrong side of the building). I was very impressed with his ability to navigate everything solo. Well done, Dad!

While my father checked out the sites, my mother and I really shopped our butts off. We both managed to find some really great stuff and a lot of it is getting tailor made just for us. We go in for our next fitting on Friday. Only in Asia can you get a beautifully custom designer piece of clothing made just for you in 3 days.

From there, we went for some lunch at Daughters of Cambodia. Daughters is a wonderful organization that works to help women exit the sex trafficking trade and supports them through many different initiatives so that they can make money and hopefully never return. They have a 98% success rate of keeping women out of the sex trade. Most of the women join Daughters and stay in the shelter when they are between 15-20 years of age. There was a short video to watch at the shop to explain what the organization does to support women. There is a shop where handicrafts that the women learn to make items for sale, a spa where girls are taught skills in aesthetics and a wonderful bistro serving up delicious food. It was yummy-scrumptious (as my friend Lisa would say).

We then headed up to the Tabitha office for our orientation briefing for our build. We got to meet Janne, the founder of Tabitha, who spoke to the group. She gave a history of the Khmer Rouge, painted a picture of what life was like for people in Cambodia of that time, and also gave some hard facts about the house build and interacting with rural Cambodian people. She scared the daylights out of my mother. However, Janne has to explain all of the extreme situations so that people have a sense of what it is we are doing and how important it is to remain culturally aware while out in these communities. She put it best when she said “we aren’t out there for you – we are out there for them. So we need to check our attitudes, comforts and ways of life at the door and be there only for them” (Roughly what she said – I’m paraphrasing). My mom is mostly worried about offending someone out in the community and (like all of us) the lack of a running water and a bathroom. But the reality is that if you are aware of your own actions and act with kindness and you smile (the other universal language other than Gangnam Style) then they will do the same in return. It’s really that simple. The toilet situation – well we really can’t do anything to help that. Just do your best in that situation. I guess we will have to just make due for one day. After our briefing, we did some shopping around the Tabitha shop. Tabitha is known for its hand crafted silk and there are lots of things to buy.

From there, we departed to catch a boat to take us on a sunset river cruise. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much in the way of a sunset due to the cloud cover, but it was a beautiful evening and the breeze from the river felt wonderful. It was amazing to take in the sights of Phnom Penh from the river and offers a different perspective to view the city. Our friends, Wan and Savi and their cousin, Nim and Brother-in-law, See (who are also our tuk tuk drivers) came with us on the boat. It was fantastic to share a couple of beers and chat while floating down the river. Savi leaned over at one point to let me know that he had never been on the boat and cruised down the Mekong in Phnom Penh before so it was great to share the experience together.

 

And, as it somehow usually does with me, our conversation turned to boxing. I learned that See was # 3 boxer in Cambodia in 2009 and Savi drove me to a boxing gym a couple of years ago – so he was sure to introduce us. We talked quite awhile about our favourite boxers and some of the recent fights that were shown on TV and he is going to try to arrange for me to do a training session with his old coach too on Friday. That would be pretty cool. 🙂

We ended our day with a dinner at a delicious Mediterranean restaurant – Ocean. Really lovely food and since there were 14 of us dining together, when we entered the restaurant, my friend Celeste mentioned to a man dining alone that we apologized in advance if we were a bit noisy. Through that conversation, we found out that the man was actually from Owen Sound, Ontario (Canada) which is only about 3 hours from where my parents are. What a small world we live in. I absolutely love it when things like this happen.

Ocean Restaurant

Ocean Restaurant

So – it has been a wonderful first day in Phnom Penh and our views of the city will always shift and change the more we learn, experience and immerse ourselves in this wonderful city.

Flooding in Cambodia

Yesterday we spent the afternoon travelling to Tonle Sap Lake District outside of Siem Reap. This area is located along a riverway leading to the Tonle Sap Lake. The community is actually made of up mostly Vietnamese people living along the water ways. It is unique for two things: its flow changes direction twice a year, and the portion that forms the lake expands and shrinks dramatically with the seasons. The latter couldn’t be more true at this moment during the rainy season.

We drove for less than an hour as far as we possibly could until we literally ran out of road to drive on. The drive cut short by at least 25 minutes because the road simply ceased to exist. We ended up boating down where the road once was for over 30 minutes to reach the start of where the Tonle Sap community usually starts. We could easily tell where roads were because the trees lined the paths and poked out of the water. There was water EVERYWHERE. Literally all you could see were the tops of trees for kilometres. Every now and again, a house could be seen, often sitting below the water line, or sitting precariously just above it. It was really humbling to see this and try to understand what life must be like for people who live in this area during the rainy season. This isn’t the first time that this happened. It is a way of life. And definitely not an easy one.

The Global Post reports that “More than 100 are dead, roughly 850 square miles flooded and more than 60,000 evacuated from their homes, according to situation reports prepared by United Nations agencies and non-governmental organizations. To varying degrees, two-thirds of Cambodia’s provinces have been hit by a flooding crisis.” Globalpost.com

Travelling and seeing first hand the experience of those who live this harsh reality daily was very difficult to comprehend, but it made us all think about the houses we are about to build on Saturday and how desperately they are needed for people to survive in these conditions.

Despite these harsh conditions, everyone was waving to say hello. The kids were scrambling to wave and shout out greetings to us (while also demonstrating the universal language of dancing the “Gangnam Style” as we floated past their houses. We still can’t figure out how Psy and Gangnam Style has made it to this community but it has!

The universal language of "Gangnam"

The universal language of “Gangnam”

We have now travelled to Phnom Penh and the city itself is dry, but outside of the city thousands of people have been affected by the water that is currently flowing through Cambodia. We hope the sun stays out and dries this all up as quickly as possible.

Sunshine – do your work!

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Temples, Temples, Temples…

Yesterday was a very big day of sightseeing. We departed at 8am and returned around 6:30pm. Wow, what a day! We had a fantastic time with our guide Tom showing us all the wonders of Angkor. We learned so much in that time frame and all of the facts, tidbits and history really helped us to understand so much about this place during particular parts of history. As I had said before, I haven’t visited these sites in 9 years, but they were even more majestic than I remembered them to be.

Our guide, Tom (Mr. Theara) was phenomenal. (Check him out for your next visit www.angkorguidetour.com) He knew everything. Literally everything. Even down to knowing my camera so well that he not only was our tour guide, but he was also our new photographer for the trip. He has a true love for photography and I happily let him snap away on my camera for the day and he was in his element. He owns the same camera himself so he was quite the expert! And I need to take a refresher photography course!!

Throughout the course of the day we visited 4 sites. We began at the creme de la creme, the head honcho, the big daddy of wats, THE wat to see – Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat was built in the 13th century. It took approximately 35 years, over 350,000 people and 5,000 elephants to create this masterpiece. It is absolutely breathtaking and a true wonder of the world when you consider how it could possibly be built using rudimentary tools to complete it and also the fact that all of the stone was brought from a mountain that is 60km away. The details in the carvings, layout and planning is astounding. It took us a few hours to get through all of the grounds, to capture all of the information and to sometimes just sit back and take a look around.

Our next stop was to Angkor Thom complex to see the Bayon temple. Bayon is remarkable for the 254 faces that were originally  scuplted into the stone. Now, what remains is only a small portion of that, but they are still amazing to see. Each face represents the king who wanted the temple to be built for him. The symmetry in all of these temples is really phenomenal and I can’t believe how these things were measured out to ensure that they were in line. Brilliant.

After a lovely lunch break and an ice cold Angkor Beer to recharge our batteries we were off again to see two more temples. This was a really hot part of the day, however the long walk down the path to our next temple – Ta Phrom was lovely. There was an amazing breeze floating down the path and there was a orchestra playing beautiful music. When we got closer, we realized that the orchestra was comprised of victims of landmines who can no longer do their original jobs and have learned to play instruments in order to support their family. The music became even more beautiful knowing this. Ta Phrom is an amazing temple ruin. They are working hard to restore the temple one brick at a time. It is absolutely painstaking work and the mother of all jig saw puzzles to be able to lift, carry, number, plan and reset all of the stones in the exact same way that they have fallen out or been taken out. Unbelievable and no surprise why it takes many, many years of work. The jungle has really worked its way through this temple which makes it a beautiful juxtaposition of nature and man-made beauty.

Our last stop was to Bantey Srei temple. I had never visited this temple before and I was glad that Tom took us to see it. It was so different to the other temples and the focus was on the intricate carvings on every single piece of stone that made up its walls. The temple is a gorgeous red sandstone. The carvings are amazing to think of someone making it today, but this temple was even older than Angkor Wat so the tools that were used must have been very primitive. We were the only people here at this time and it was such a lovely end to a spectacular day of temple sight seeing – it was very peaceful and serene. Gorgeous.

By the time we were back to the hotel, we were very tired. But we showered up and headed to the Foreign Correspondents Club (FCC) to end a wonderfully fantastic day in Cambodia. The FCC has been renovated from an old Govenor’s mansion and it was a step back from the busy pub street area. A great place to just enjoy the warm Cambodian night.

FCC

The beauty of Cambodia is truly a sight to behold.

Even my iphone can capture the amazingness that is Cambodia! (all photos of temples on this blog are compliments of my iphone!!)

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Siem Reap – It’s a wonderful place

We have landed in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Yesterday was a fantastic start to our Cambodia adventures. We were picked up by our hotel and met our wonderful driver and guide, “Tom” (obviously not his real name, but he says that his nickname is Tom). He is a character and had my parents laughing the whole drive to the hotel, while also explaining a bit about how Siem Reap has developed in the past 10 years. We drove by lots and lots of flooding. As we flew in, I saw that the countryside is absolutely drowned. There is terrible flooding all around Siem Reap and it reminded me of how important it is that we will be building houses, at the end of this week, that sit above the water.

Our hotel (The Mulberry) is not too far from the main part of town near Pub Street and the Night Market. It is down a quiet lane with family houses lining the small street. We arrived and were greeted very warmly by everyone that works at the hotel. Even the cleaning staff were waving at us and saying hello. I love boutique oasis-style hotels. Absolutely gorgeous. We were then shown to our rooms. The hotel really went all out for Mom and Dad as I had mentioned that they were celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary via email weeks ago. They have been upgraded to the suite that is enormous. They also delivered a lovely bottle of New Zealand wine in celebration of their anniversary and decorated their bed with flowers (all complimentary!!). So we sat on the balcony enjoying a short sunset, watching the storm clouds come in and celebrating their 40 years together. Then we ordered another bottle of wine J

After the rain passed by, we decided to head out for some food and check out the town. The Siem Reap I remember visiting years ago was that of a small town. It is no longer small. Nor is it much of a “town”. It has really changed and tourism has really taken a bite out of the quaint place I remember it to be. However, despite the bright lights and music pumping from certain places, I was still able to find some things that reminded me of how it once was, and share that with my family. We decided to avoid the throngs of tourists on Pub Street and head to another quieter street lined with restaurants and shops, but with a much more down to earth atmosphere. We decided on a Khmer BBQ restaurant that allowed you to cook your own food at the table. It wasn’t much in the way of “traditional” food (as there seems to be some form of the hot pot or BBQ in most Asian cultures), but the food was delicious and it was fun to do together. We also tried crocodile (which is readily available in Cambodia near the water). Tastes like chicken! No, really it is a white meat and has a lighter texture than chicken and has a very mildly fishy taste. Talk about risk-takers on their first night in Cambodia!

IMG_2307

After all that croc, it was then time for bed. We are just getting up to start our day of temple sightseeing with our new friend Tom. I am looking forward to seeing the temples from a new perspective and watching the looks on G & P’s faces as they see how amazing a sight the temples are to behold.

And they’re off!

It’s official – they are in the air and on their way. The beauty of technology actually allows me to track exactly where they are in the world right now. Currently – they are just starting to fly over Greenland. Check out their first leg of the journey here (flight CX829) That’s pretty cool thing to be able to do, I have to admit. I wouldn’t have even thought that was possible 10 years ago!

Since they are up in the air and relaxing (and hopefully sleeping!) this is the perfect time for me to fill you in on how they will end their time in Bali. After spending 3 fabulous days in Ubud, we will head down to the south west cost to Seminyak. This area is known for its wining, dining and shopping! The perfect place to end a fantastic couple of weeks together in SE Asia.

While we are in Seminyak, we will be staying at Villa Arta. This a 3 bedroom private villa and I am very much looking forward to just chilling out, reading and relaxing by the private pool. (What’s the extra room for? Well, nothing really – it was just a better deal than the 2 bedroom villas I was looking at!) It is right off the main shopping area and a very short walk to the beach as well. Heaven!

While in Seminyak, I don’t have too much planned. I was waiting to see how we were feeling and what we wanted to do. Perhaps we will just want to relax a little together, maybe have a mooch around in the shops, lazy afternoons with Bintang beers in hand perhaps? All sounds very, very fabulous.

If we want to squeeze in one more thing, we may head down to Uluwatu temple (about an hour drive from Seminyak) to catch the sunset and watch a Kechak performance. Kechak is a chanting style performance made up of about 150 performers and through their chanting they reenact the Ramanyana (a famous Hindu epic). I have seen one of these performances during my first trip to Bali and I really enjoyed it and the setting over the cliffs of Uluwatu sounds absolutely perfect.

Essentially, while we are in Seminyak we will be winding down, reminiscing about all the amazing things we have done for the 2 weeks of travel, and probably crying because it is the end of our holiday. 🙂

On the Saturday we will fly back to Singapore to be reunited again with Kelso (unfortunately, he can’t join us on the Bali part of the holiday) and we will enjoy some of the last sights of my home away from home.

Looking forward to welcoming my parents tomorrow – I hope I can sleep 🙂

 

Let the Anniversary Asian Adventures begin!!!

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Eat, Watch People Pray, Love!

Did you think that our trip was finished in Cambodia? No way! We have a whole other week together and we are going to be taking off the day after we arrive back to Singapore to Bali, Indonesia for 6 days. So – as I am nursing a really nasty intense ear infection at home today, I have been able to write out our next leg of “Gwen and Pat’s Anniversary Asian Adventure“.

Our first stop in Bali will be to Ubud (for 3 nights). Ubud is a favourite place of many, many, many of my fellow teachers and travellers. It is known as the arts and cultural centre of Bali. You know, the “love” part of Eat, Pray, Love and all that goodness (though admittedly I have never seen the movie and I never finished the book but I’ve heard that it’s based on Bali…)

Here are some reasons why Ubud is so well loved by many….

The Scenery – the rice terraces are absolutely stunning. Like, majestic. Like, woah.

The Food – I know that this sometimes may seem like a food blog, but I’m not joking… the food is really, really good! So many options as well to try food from Indonesia and all over the world. Warungs (restaurants) aplenty!

The Temples – it’s not known as the cultural centre of Bali for nothing!

The Monkeys – ok, sometimes they scare the crap out of me, but I have to admit it is an interesting thing to go to the Monkey Forest and walk around with them so close. This definitely doesn’t happen in Canada!! Just hold on to just about anything that the cheeky little buggers might be able to snatch. Touristy as sin, but hey, sometimes ya gotta do it!

800px-Ubud_Monkeys

The Art – Batik, painting, masks, shadow puppets, sculptures… an art lover’s paradise.

art market

art market

The Spas – aaaaahhhhhhh! Known for yoga, massage and other spa delights!

spa

During our time in Ubud, we will be staying at Rouge Bali Villas. Again, I haven’t stayed here before, but it had wonderful reviews online. It is a new resort and the location in town was what really drew me to wanting to stay here. It apparently has a fabulous jazz lounge with amazing cocktails and a fabulous spa as well. The pool is lit up with red at night as well – fun!

rouge-bali

So, our plan is to eat, watch people pray (at the temples) and love every second of our time in Ubud.

Doesn’t seem too hard to do at all!

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Weekend Fabulousness and Phnom Penh Plans

This weekend was fantastic. You know, the start to finish, awesome kind of weekend. Friday was a nice and relaxed evening with my hubby. Saturday, I hosted what may be the first-ever Boxing Baby Shower for my boxing coach, Rey and his wife Hazel and ate tons of delicious food made by my friend Nora and her good friend Emma.

Sunday, I hosted the first-ever Bootcamp in the Botanics Fundraiser that raised over $1000 (thanks to an EXTREMELY generous donation of 100% of the bootcamp fees from all the trainers at LEVEL Fitness!!!) Amazing stuff and it was great to have such wonderful weather and an amazing turn-out.

Bootcampers before the Workout started

Bootcampers before the Workout started

And then on Sunday evening, we celebrated Thanksgiving a week early with the Canadian Association of Singapore and enjoyed a fab turkey dinner with all of our friends.

It’s been a great weekend indeed!

Now that the weekend has passed, it’s time to really start preparing for my parents arrival. There are many things on my ‘to do’ list before they get here on Thursday. Unfortunately, I am now sick with a nasty chest cold and middle ear infection! Ain’t nobody got time for that!! But I will have to take some time to rest and get better before their arrival. Fingers crossed that I’ll be back on track in no time.

But before I rest, I need to fill you in on the rest of our Cambodia plans.

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

We will be arriving on the Tuesday evening from Siem Reap and heading straight to our hotel. During our 5 day stay in Phnom Penh we will be staying at the White Mansion Boutique Hotel. Again, I haven’t stayed here before, but this time the recommendation came from a friend of mine and she had many wonderful things to say. Very excited about our stay.

We’ll maybe go out for dinner or may just hang out at the hotel that evening. The next morning we’ll be heading off to some of my favourite places in Phnom Penh. A bit of shopping, eating and seeing the city is scheduled for this day. First stop – my favourite dress shop, Ambre. I love this shop and it is always my first stop. I hope that my mom finds some beautiful items as well to take home with her and I hope my dad has a bit of patience to wait for our shopping for an hour or so! 🙂

From there we will be heading to the Tabitha office for a briefing of our build with founder, and fellow Canadian, Janne Ritskes. This is a really important part of the house build as she gives everyone lots of information on the history, customs and what we need to remember while we are meeting people that have different cultural understandings than our own. Tabitha also has a wonderful silk shop where everything is hand made. Again – a little shopping is in order! We’ll follow up the day with some pool time, wandering around, sightseeing in the city and then meet up with my friends who arrived into Phnom Penh a few days prior to us for dinner and drinks.

Our next day will be much different than the day before as we will be learning a lot about the history of Cambodia and the genocide. We will be visiting Tuol Seng Genocide Museum – also known as S-21. Tuol Sleng was a former high school before the rise of the Khmer Rouge and was turned into an execution centre/prison. It was only one of at least 150 execution centres in the country, and as many as 20,000 prisoners there were killed there. From there, we will continue to learn about the genocide by visiting the notorious Killing Fields. This day will be sombre but it is extremely important to truly understand what happened in Cambodia during this time and to learn about their experiences as people of this country at that time. By understanding, we can see just how far Cambodia has come, appreciate all the work that has been done to help raise Cambodia back to the place where it once was.

Our next day will include a visit to the People Improvement Organization (PIO). I have been visiting and working with this organization for the past nine years and Kelso and I both sponsor a child each to live in the orphanage and attend school. I love this organization and all the students are so very excited to see you, practice their English skills and get to know more about you. I know that they will love to see that I have brought my parents with me – to see what they look like and how similar (or dissimilar) we may look. We are taking the kids from the orphanage on a special excursion to the water park. I know that they will absolutely love the afternoon out doing something special. That day Kelso will also arrive in the evening. It will be great to have him in Phnom Penh with us and I am sure we will celebrate his arrival with a few drinks and dinner out somewhere.

The next day will be our build day. We will be driving a few hours out of Phnom Penh to the build site and we will be building all 16 houses in one day. This will be an amazing experience for all of us and I am really looking forward to sharing in this with my parents and friends. That evening, we are usually pretty knackered, but there is always time for a little dinner and drinks to celebrate a great day.

We will then be heading back to Singapore the following afternoon. But I am sure we will try to fit in any last sights or stops before heading to the airport.

There will be lots and lots to write about and I am hoping that my parents will take a few moments to ‘guest blog’ on here to give their perspective on the trip. I am sure that they will have quite a bit to talk about and I look forward to learning how they feel, react and to watch them fall in love with Cambodia too.

Keriann O’Rourke – Tour Guide… at your service!

As many of my friends will attest… I love to plan a holiday. My parent’s holiday to SE Asia is no exception. There is nothing I love more than to scour through websites, compare rates, research unique things to do off the beaten path, and check traveller ratings and recommendations – all in the name of having the ultimate holiday.

And I think that I have created what will be the perfect Asian Anniversary Adventure for my parents.

First Stop: Singapore (I’ve already given the update of what we will be doing in Singapore when they first arrive in the blog titled “Excited? You Betcha!). We will try to fit in as much as we can in this short amount of time.

Second Stop: Siem Reap Cambodia

We arrive in on Sunday late afternoon and will be checking into the Mulberry Boutique Hotel. I’ve never stayed here but they had great reviews so I am very much looking forward to our stay there. Right in the heart of Siem Reap only a short walk to the market and to Pub Street (a strategic location for Gwen, Pat and myself I must say!)

We have arranged the following day to go and check out the temples. This is a pretty full day of sightseeing, but it is worth spending the day checking out all of the amazing temples of Angkor. The temples are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The complex is massive (stretching over some 400 km2) and we won’t be able to see every single temple in one day but we will be seeing all of the main ones. The complex are the remains of the different capitals of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th to the 15th century. I like to call them the ‘pyramids of Asia’ because they are simply awe inspiring when you go to see them much like the pyramids must be like. When you stand back and consider how on earth they were build with primitive tools – it really blows your mind.

Our second day in Siem Reap we will be heading off to Tonle Sap with the rest of the group of teachers. Tonle Sap is South East Asia’s largest body of water. It is made up of a network of rivers and lakes. It is usually quite small, but during the rainy season it can grow drastically (approximately 6 times it normal levels!). There are various floating villages along the lake and it is very interesting to see the homes of those who live along this waterway. The flow of the river changes twice a year as well.

 

And those are only our first two days in Cambodia! Later on during the second day, we will be taking a flight down to Phnom Penh (Cambodia’s capital city) to start our next leg of our adventures. More to come about what we are doing there very soon!

I am looking forward to us capturing our own photos and posting them on here for you to enjoy too and sharing in our experiences.

 

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but going and seeing this all in real-life is absolutely priceless.

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