A Travellerspoint blog

Crossing the border!

A WEEKEND IN CAMBODIA

rain 83 °F
View Cambodia & Flying into Asia on jenfeen's travel map.

There’s no sense in saying that you’re “traveling abroad” unless you really do travel all around your new homeland, and I’m proud to say that I am officially traveling abroad in Southeast Asia. Cambodia was my first stop! I have a multiple entry student visa for Thailand, but in order to avoid paying a $200 fee for the year that it’s valid for, I had to “activate” the visa by traveling exiting and re-entering the country within the first three months of my time in Thailand. And as Thai luck would have it, I ended up traveling to Angkor Wat on a budget of less than the fee! There's nothing like some rule forcing you to travel.
Tons of past UC EAP participants had severely warned me about crossing the Cambodian border—they’ll scam you, they’ll overcharge you threefold, and sometimes they’ll even lock you in the bus until you cooperate with the travel company’s terms, I was told—but in my opinion, we crossed that border with ease. The travel agency (called Good Well Travel, in case you’re interested in using them!) did tell us that by paying $20 extra, they’d handle the Cambodian visa paperwork and get us across in under 30 minutes, but we stuck to our research and the agency even drove us to the border where we could get a cheaper price directly from the government. Piece of cake! The ride from Bangkok to Poi Pet at the border was almost 4 hours, and then we hopped back into our shuttle van for the 2 more hours to Siem Reap, where we’d be staying. Our hotel was Lonely Planet’s #1 pick for the area, and it would have been my pick as well! I was seriously contemplating smuggling the duvet cover and pillows out of that hotel by the end of the trip.
We woke early the next morning to conspire about our must-see spots and hire some tuk tuks to drive us to and between the temples all day long; they were only $5 a person and could even rough it through the rainy streets! Oh yeah, I suppose I had forgotten to mention that the streets of Siem Reap and Angkor Wat were FLOODED due to the rainy/low season. Even so, our first day in Angkor Wat consisted of visiting the five most beautiful temples I had ever seen. My favorite of the five was undoubtedly Banteay Samre—it had been surrounded by two moats in its prime (and because of the all the rain, they filled up a bit again!) and was absolutely deserted of other tourists. We finished our tour with Pre Rup in time to see the sunset, but the clouds blocked any color that may have shone through, so we sat on the cliffs on Pre Rup playing brain-teaser games until the guards asked us to leave our post. Although we didn’t see any reds or oranges or yellows in the sky that evening, the fantastic company easily made it the most wonderful of sunsets.
sunset.jpg

Day #2 started at the wee hour of 5am in hopes of catching the sun rising over the Angkor Wat complex, but that darn storm blocked out the sunrise as well! Mai pen rai, we had our ponchos at the ready and took on Angkor Wat in style that morning anyhow! Ta Prohm was the most breathtaking of this cluster of temples because the structures were engulfed by oh so many tree roots. It was a scene out of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider! Honestly though, Angelina Jolie shot most of the movie at these temples in Cambodia.
The view from the third level of the Angkor Wat complex. There is jungle for days!

The view from the third level of the Angkor Wat complex. There is jungle for days!


Our Cambodian Crew in front of Angkor Wat after the clouds cleared

Our Cambodian Crew in front of Angkor Wat after the clouds cleared


Roots swallowing a structure in Ta Prohm

Roots swallowing a structure in Ta Prohm

We made it back to Siem Reap before a storm hit, grabbed some of the abundant baguettes that are sold in carts on the street, napped in those heavenly beds, and were jazzed and ready to experience some traditional Cambodian dancing for our last supper! I sure hope that taste buds have memory space because the delicious Cambodian amok paired with 50-cent Angkor beer deserves to live there forever and ever. That final night in Cambodia, we danced our hearts out to personally requested songs at a bar called Temple and skipped home along the flooded streets well after midnight. The streets were deserted and flooded and perfect, so you can bet that we had at least a handful of “I love Cambodia!” moments within that short walk.
When it storms, Cambodia turns into a massive water park for these kids!

When it storms, Cambodia turns into a massive water park for these kids!


Trekking through the flooded streets on our way out to dinner!

Trekking through the flooded streets on our way out to dinner!

Crossing back to Thailand was an even simpler process than entering Cambodia, and my visa is now good until December 10th. That means that I’m required to take one more trip out of the country before the end of my stay in Thailand—what a rough life, I know! Even though the two countries are so close, the cultures were so very different and made me appreciate my Thailand home all the better. The poverty of Cambodia was much more visible, for starters: swarms of kids (I’m talking 10 to 20, minimum) would beg for money, milk, and our watches as soon as we stepped off of the buses or exited the temples in Cambodia. In almost two months of living in Thailand, I have had one person ask for money, and he was a grown man. Every tuk tuk driver and food vendor spoke impeccable English in Cambodia (sometimes even Spanish, French, and Chinese too) while I find myself having a tough time getting my point across while chatting with the staff in the lobby of my apartment building. Angkor Wat is so blatantly a city built around tourism and although I could never live in the area without getting seriously sad about those kids’ living situations, I’m so thankful that I was able to live the culture, even if only for a weekend. Thailand can be the most frustrating place to figure out some days, but I wouldn’t trade it for any other study abroad experience. Today, I walked two minutes from school to the Grand Palace for a field trip and later successfully had an entire conversation in Thai with my taxi driver. It’s little things like these that make Thailand the most magical place in the world to me!

Posted by jenfeen 10:46 Archived in Cambodia Tagged temples siem_reap angkor_wat Comments (0)

And we'll all float on okay!

To the floating market in Amphawa, that is

After my one month and one week anniversary of being in Bangkok, I finally felt an itch to get out of the city. It seems ridiculous to say because Bangkok itself is my escape from my life routine in California, but let’s just call it a vacation from my vacation. A few of us international students joined forces with our Thai friend Pii Koii and decided it was about time to do something cultural—so it was off to the Amphawa floating market!

Beautiful Amphawa! We conquered all this in a night and a day.

Beautiful Amphawa! We conquered all this in a night and a day.


We arrived in the afternoon, dropped our bags off at the sweetest little inn next to the river, and immediately set off on (what ended up being a never-ending) binge of street food snacks throughout the market. There were prawns and squid eggs and coconut ice cream, oh my! We chose Amphawa’s market over Damnoen Saduak’s because of the great food and more local feel, so it was a real shocker for me to see so very many people walking along the riverside. Farangs were definitely the minority of the crowd, but there seemed to be an awful lot of Thai tourists visiting the floating market. This will probably turn out to be a very nice preface to the huge floating market though, because I’ve heard that Damnoen Saduak is ten times as crazy!

Catching fireflies from the trees on our nighttime boat ride down the river.

Catching fireflies from the trees on our nighttime boat ride down the river.


Prawns, chili sauce, and a fresh coconut slushy. My kind of lunch.

Prawns, chili sauce, and a fresh coconut slushy. My kind of lunch.

I cannot get over how much unbelievable food I tried this weekend. You really cannot get fresher than eating seafood that was caught that morning and never left the boat. But if I had to choose a highlight other than the smorgasbord of food, I’d have to let offering alms to a monk take the cake. Pii Koii had us wake up at 6:30, just after the sun and when the monks walk the town for their daily breakfast, but even that was too late to see the procession of monks. However, we heard that one monk had not received any food yet, so we bought some jook (rice porridge) to go and walked down the steps to the water with our offerings! After about a minute, one lone monk paddled down the river in his canoe.
Here's our monk paddling down the river for his morning rounds!

Here's our monk paddling down the river for his morning rounds!


Pii Koii talked us through the proper etiquette of offering our jook: we waii-ed, placed the food in his big bowl so that he wouldn’t have to touch a woman, waii-ed again, and then the monk asked us to join him in a prayer. I was concentrating on mastering the routine so much that I forgot to make a wish as I laid out my offerings for luck, though! I suppose this just means that I’ll have to try this again and get the practice down—sounds just fine to me.

Posted by jenfeen 06:37 Comments (2)

Loving it at TU

sunny 90 °F

I've been in school for a few weeks, and now that I'm finally in the routine of classes and all that jazz, I can safely say that I absolutely love studying at Thammasat University! My Art and Architecture class is the greatest course I've taken since Commercial Art at MVHS. We literally make art for three hours straight every Thursday! Last week we had a canvas workshop meant to help us better recognize details in Thai art, and Arjan Khiensak ended up drawing a beautifully artsy nung (the number one in Thai) that I got to take home. I'm going to pick up some paints and Lex is going to finish it off so that I have some colorful artwork at my place finally!
My new canvas! And Lex is holding up a gold foil bamboo piece that our arjan made for her to keep.

My new canvas! And Lex is holding up a gold foil bamboo piece that our arjan made for her to keep.

My first wat trip was also through Thammasat! Our Thai Traditional Medicine course took us to Wat Pho, the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, because the wat is filled with inscriptions of medical practices everywhere. Here's a quick history lesson of Wat Pho because it's actually a really cool place: King Rama III didn't appreciate the huge divide between royalty and commoners, especially with respect to the medical knowledge known at the time of his rule. So, when the wat was restored in his honor, he did something controversial: he had all of the traditional medicinal teachings that had only been known by royalty written on marble tablets and built into the structure of the buildings. That way, commoners could visit the temple to learn! Wat Pho is known as Thailand's first university because of it.
Inside one of these buildings is the official school of Thai massage! Thai traditional massage is one of the fundamentals of Thai traditional medicine.

Inside one of these buildings is the official school of Thai massage! Thai traditional massage is one of the fundamentals of Thai traditional medicine.


The Reclining Buddha! This is the last position Buddha took before discovering enlightenment.

The Reclining Buddha! This is the last position Buddha took before discovering enlightenment.


The Thai Traditional Medicine class is taking us on yet another field trip this weekend (albeit at 7:45 am on a Saturday...). This time, it's to a medical expo just outside of Bangkok. There are supposed to be tables and tables of pharmaceuticals and herbs from all the big companies in Thailand, but the part that I am pumped for is the massage school station! Apparently the students of the school have "demonstrations" and you can bet that I'll volunteer, ya know, just to help them out.

Our Thai language course is also finally becoming completely helpful! This week, we started a chapter entirely dedicated to FOOD. Ordering it, which foods are typical of which regions, and how pad thai is mostly for tourists. I'm going to use our page of Thai dishes as a bucket list of food that I should try here. Actually, I'm going go get started on that right now! Yesterday I tried lad na, and today I could go for some lap. Finally, I am capable of ordering without using my oh-so-sad pointing skills to do it.

Posted by jenfeen 23:55 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

What's cooking, Thailand?

FOOD FOOD FOOD

sunny 90 °F

I've been eating the greatest foods lately! Let's get this blog cookin' and spice it up (pun intended) with adventures based solely around their snacks!

Pancakes with bananas and strawberries
Let me preface this meal that may sound a little boring with a disclaimer: we don't have a kitchen in our apartment! Therefore, any American dish is insanely rare. A few of us girls slept over at our friend Dre's place in one of the EAP suggested housing, and her pad is fully equipped with a California king-size bed, stove, and microwave. Such luxury! We woke up to Mama Dre flipping pancakes and cutting up fresh fruits for breakfast and I could not have had more of a homey feeling. The last meal that I had in the states was a giant plate of French toast and fruit, so this one really hit the spot. We then proceeded to laze around all day and hung out on the roof of her building, looking out at the Bangkok skyline. I slept over one more night and got some of the best sleep of my life!

Cashew nut chicken, green curry with shrimp, and Thai desserts
Just like classic Thailand, I woke up promptly at 8 am to walk get to a Thai cooking class on a Sunday, but we didn't end up needing to be there until 9:45. After the buses finally came to pick us up from Thammasat though, we were taken to the coolest of outdoor markets! There were so many fruits, vegetables, prepared foods, and the largest hunks of raw meat that I've ever seen. I'm talking pig faces staring right at you (slightly smiling as well...it was a tad creepy). We did get to watch someone prepare fresh coconut juice at a stand to buy though--he chopped the coconut, shredded it, strained it, and concocted the juice right before my very eyes! The class was at Pii Maa's house, one of the staff members at Thammasat. Pii in Thai means "older sibling" so we use it whenever we're addressing an elder. Pii Maa showed us how to make green curry soup, skin and clean fresh shrimp, craft taro balls for a sweet dessert, and make fresh coconut sticky rice. And yes, I do indeed remember how to make them so that I can do some proper cooking when I return to California! First up will be that sticky rice. The cooking class was only two days ago and I've already had dreams about the sticky rice.
Cashew nut chicken. This dish is originally Chinese but we made Thai adaptations with chilies and it was wonderful!

Cashew nut chicken. This dish is originally Chinese but we made Thai adaptations with chilies and it was wonderful!


Coconut sticky rice in the making! You don't want to know how much or how many kinds of sugar are involved, but it's worth every bit.

Coconut sticky rice in the making! You don't want to know how much or how many kinds of sugar are involved, but it's worth every bit.

Chicken adobo and Filipino spaghetti
I'd heard all about my friend Lex's cousin who lives here in Bangkok and has a city-perfect lifestyle, but had no idea how great it would be until I actually visited! Her cousin and the girl's husband are ex-pats and are raising their two kids in an international school here, and because of his job have a very nice home. They have an apartment/condo/penthouse-type home in the heart of the city fully equipped with a swimming pool and gym facility! Lex was sweet enough to invite us over for a change from our routine, and change it was. We went swimming in a gorgeous pool, chatted in the sauna, worked out in the gym (my first real workout session in ONE MONTH! It felt so nice!), and had home-cooked food! I tried Filipino spaghetti and chicken adobo for the first time and fell in love with Filipino food. The spaghetti was almost sweet, which is like the way I cooked it back in the day when I had a kitchen--only with sweet Italian sausages instead of banana ketchup. We sat around the table with the sweetest of families and got to take in the cityscape from the 23rd floor! If I ever get the chance, I don't think I'd mind living in Bangkok when I'm older. I'm not a city person in the least, but Bangkok is the least overwhelming big city that I've ever been to. That Buddhist culture really shines through all!
After a swim and about to continue on to the sauna! This is the life.

After a swim and about to continue on to the sauna! This is the life.

Frog
That's right. And it tasted like popcorn chicken. Tonight we went out to eat near our friend Ryan's place on a canal and ordered tons of food to share. We had the staples--fish, some chicken, and the always questionable dish that tastes great so no one asks questions--and frog! It was cut up and deep fried and although I had no idea what part of the frog I was eating because of the cutting, I took out the bone and popped it right in! It's so fun going out to eat with a group because we end up ordering things that I'd never think to try on my own. I've heard that a few places around my apartment make a tasty frog, so I may end up ordering myself a plate in the days to come. It was that good!
Dining canalside and about to feast on some frog!

Dining canalside and about to feast on some frog!

I'm quite tired from the hot day and food coma that has set in since dinner, so I've got to go to sleep before Thai language class tomorrow. But on the menu for breakfast tomorrow: I picked myself up a guilty pleasure box of Cookie Crisp cereal and some soy milk so I will surely feast away! Hope you're all eating well wherever you are in life, and I dare you to go out and try some adventurous food this week!

Posted by jenfeen 09:17 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Home sweet Bangkok

semi-overcast 80 °F

I arrived home from our 12-hour bus ride and 10-minute taxi around 5:00 am on Tuesday, just in time to squeeze in a whole hour and a half of napping before a full day of school. Each day since school started has been hectic like this, and I plead borderline-insanity as to why I haven't been updating this blog more! After a few more mellow days in Bangkok, I hope to be less zombie-like and fill you in on Thailand living on a much more regular basis. Here's a start with my past week in Koh Phangan!

The tone of the weekend all started on Khao San Road when 19 of us met at the travel agency and thanked goodness that our hastily-booked 1,300 baht transportation had not been a scam! We boarded the bus, had a celebratory "cheers" that we'd all made it on time, and then mentally prepared ourselves for 20 hours of travel time--longer than most of us spent actually journeying from the US to Bangkok. We figured out one thing very quickly along the way: if you want a group of people to bond in the quickest way possible, throw them into the mess that is intense traveling together. Trust me, there is something very special about seeing your neighbor's head bobbing up and down with the motion of the ferry ride as they try to sleep that makes the first five hours together feel like years!
We all reached the island with a massive need to do some stretching routines, but instead had to pile into the beds of pick-up truck taxis because, oh yeah, we had not booked anywhere to stay! This set of bungalows called Friendly Resort lived wonderfully up to their name and accommodated us in a heartbeat and a huge weight was lifted off our shoulders. As soon as we dropped our luggage in the rooms and jumped in the pool to cool off/experience something close to a shower, the six days and five nights of zero stress and complete relaxation began.
Poolside at Friendly Resort, the most relaxing place on Earth.

Poolside at Friendly Resort, the most relaxing place on Earth.

I didn't wear a watch and rarely checked the time on my cell phone, so I can't differentiate too well between which days housed with adventures (and the next time any of you visit an island, I must INSIST that you do the same! It's the perfect escape). Every night we'd explore a different part of Haad Rin beach and by day we toured the island. I jumped off of a pier into the ocean, trekked to see a Buddhist altar, rode on the back of my friend's motorcycle up hills and winding roads, and unwound with my first Thai massage beachside. My favorite memory of these island days has got to be the hour-ride we took home after visiting Haad Sadet beach on the western side of the island. The beach itself was a spitting image of any photo you'd see in a Thailand book--ribboned boats tied up an cliffs practically made for jumping off of--but I kid you not, it was the ride back that made that trip! We piled into the bed of a pick-up truck with two benches bolted to the floor and no roof overhead (as we had seen on all of the taxi trucks on the island). This was actually some guy's personal car. He took us up and down the twisty dirt roads at 40mph through jungles that we are certain could be used in a reenactment of Jurassic Park. And the smiles that were plastered on our faces were probably only 10% due to the stream of wind, 90% pure joy!
Haad Sadet beach

Haad Sadet beach

That's the thing about Thailand, everything is really about the journey of life. That beach on Haad Sadet was the most beautiful one I have yet to see, but the real kicker was traveling down away from it. I've also been writing about my trip in Koh Phangan for a few minutes and have not even mentioned the Full Moon Party--the reason that we went! That's true Thailand for you.
Well that last night, the full moon, was phenomenal! We painted our bodies neon and spent the night dancing with 40,000 other travelers under the moon. Tiki torches, fire dancing, and DJs lined the sands so the look of the Full Moon Party was akin to a luau, Coachella, and Floatopia combined! Most people had cleared out by 5am, so when my friend Lex and I stood in the ocean to watch the sun rise, it was almost silent. The most magical experience of my life. I didn't sleep a wink that night--instead, we walked slowly back to Friendly to wake the troops and make our 12-noon ferry back. We had become regulars at one local restaurant, and she opened at 8am that morning just for our group's farewell breakfast.
That's Sue, the owner, in the light blue shirt. She was our Koh Phangan Mama!

That's Sue, the owner, in the light blue shirt. She was our Koh Phangan Mama!

The journey back to Bangkok was 20 hours overnight once again, and we arrived on Khoa San Road at 4:30am. I slept for a grand total of one and a half hours, like a boss, and we all looked so beat for the full 6-hour day of school that followed. Absolutely worth it.
Since being back in Bangkok, I've laid low to recuperate! We went to the theater Wednesday night and watched The Rise of the Apes (which I completely recommend!) and have had nice meals together back at 3J. Last night we visited our favorite food vendor across the street, Pok, and she introduced us to her husband, 12-year-old daughter, Yuy, and 7-year-old son, Art. We had our favorite Tom Yum noodle soup and Pok provided us with complimentary fruits as always! This time it was guava, faran, and we helped Art with his English homework and flipped through family photo albums right at their table on the side of the street. Pok, in all of her sweetness, even invited us to her hometown of Surin so that we could see some elephants! Who knows, maybe that'll be our next Thailand adventure!

After the first solid 8 hours of sleep that I've gotten in 2 weeks, I am completely back to my regular happy self again. No more exhaustion or running on empty for quite some time! And! I have the greatest friends in the entire world: Serena and Bibi are going to come visit Thailand in December! Life could not get any better right now (and I'm going to keep that in mind as I leave you here to take on 6 hours of school today).
I miss you all and assure you that I am having the greatest of times in my new home here in Thailand! If you ever have to opportunity to come to Thailand, please take it. This place never ceases to amaze me.

Posted by jenfeen 17:19 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

(Entries 6 - 10 of 16) « Page 1 [2] 3 4 »