The Truth About Cambodia

Christmas Eve I biked over to Ta Prohm before the hordes of people arrived in Angkor Wat. No problem at 5:30AM – the place was filled with birds cawing and the sun rising in tree boughs over my head.

I’ve been in Cambodia for 7 weeks now and traveled all over this captivating country.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

You can’t rent a motorbike in Siem Reap – so the only option is a bike. Tuktuk drivers will ask 9,000 times a day if you need a ride. With a bike under me they don’t ask anymore. Yay.

You can rent motorbikes outside of Siem Reap in other towns of Cambodia for about $5 a day.

There are no buses in the towns. Taxis cost almost the same as USA – my rule of thumb is if it costs the same price as the USA I don’t need it. I’m in Asia to pay Asian prices – not to pay USA prices. And that goes double for buying Skippy peanut butter. It costs $5 for a tiny jar of it. Please! I’d finish that in one sitting.

Guesthouses sell standard to luxury long distance bus tickets and you’ll get the same price as going to the station to buy it. Usually you can get some honest advice too. Language can be a problem so ask the ex-pats who have guesthouses to tell you how to get somewhere.

They know; they live here.

Angkor Wat. I was surprised by the hordes of tourists but hey I’m a tourist too. And I picked probably the most crowded week of the year to get my 3-day pass.

On the days I visited; all of humanity was there.

Angkor Wat attracts tons of tourists to see the sun rise over the temples

Angkor Wat attracts tons of tourists to see the sun rise over the temples

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But!

I had one of the best times in my life – how?

Get up early! Yes, at 4AM. I rode my bike in the dark with a headlamp you might want to employ a tuktuk driver. They show up where you are staying and take you over to the temples. I hired one once for the sunset at Angkor Wat but the other days I biked. More fun and slower.

So there I was riding the black velvet road on my way to Ta Prohm temple the one with the trees growing out of it.

I was the only one there!

Christmas Eve at the temples at 6AM - mystical moment of bliss

Christmas Eve at the temples at 6AM – mystical moment of bliss

It was dark and not lit up so I was glad to have my flashlight. Two other girls appeared; I called out to them, hey guys where’s the main temple here? Two North Americans, who also were enthusiastic to get up early, joined me and we shot photos, chatted, and had a blast.

Then we wandered off doing our own photo shoots before the hordes arrived. It was mystical to see the golden light dawn in the towering treetops over my head. I felt happy and full of shine.

Me and my yoga matt reflecting in the magical temple vibe

Me and my yoga matt reflecting in the magical temple vibe

It wasn’t that way at the sunrise at Angkor Wat with 12,000 people. Ok I exaggerate maybe it was just two thousand people but again I got there early. And bring a yoga matt to sit on so you’ll have more breathing space. The sun rises over Angkor Wat and the reflection in the lotus pond is divine and otherworldly. One of the most exquisite things I’ve ever seen in my life. Don’t miss it.

Discover delicious and astonishing photography of Angkor Wat that I shot this month click here for the app in the iTunes store

vagabondissue2

Captivating Cambodia, Issue 2 of Vagabond Magazine is in the iTunes store now for your iPad, check it out…be inspired to get that plane ticket and go discover the world.

As Yoon Leem from Korea said, after reading Vagabond, “Mary is the adventure guru, what are you waiting for, get your ticket and follow her!”

Intricate carvings of women adorning the ancient walls left me breathless. And I could get right next to them and see all the detail. Top level of Angkor Wat.

Intricate carvings of women adorning the ancient walls left me breathless. And I could get right next to them and see all the detail. Top level of Angkor Wat.

Sunset is also a wonderful time to see the temples. You can cuddle up with your pillow and wait for the end of the day.

The yoga mat is also good for having picnics far from the madding crowds. You can find shady areas to sit and munch and look carefully at a temple view or lotus pond.

Elephant Terrace at Angkor Thom

Elephant Terrace at Angkor Thom

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This divine pond was radiating the love energy - I almost died and went to a new realm just seeing it. Early morning is best as the blossoms open invitingly to the sky.

This pond was radiating the love energy – I almost died and went to a new realm just seeing it. Early morning is best as the blossoms open invitingly to the sky.

Don’t miss the lotus pond- this is the biggest one I’ve ever seen in my life. Bigger than the Paul Gauguin garden in Tahiti.

Discover the amazing photography that Cambodia inspired here

More facts:

You will eat healthy here. You’ll find farmers markets filled with fresh fruit to make your innards happy. Here’s my breakfast, dragon fruit and bananas.

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Cambodia has wifi in most coffee shops and restaurants now – yahoo – that makes me happy. We’ll see what happens in Burma if I can still stay connected.

The roads are not always smooth, for example the road between Sihanoukville and Kep/Kampot. You could rent a motorbike but you’d still have the craters, crevices, and dust clouds. I needed a massage after that spine-crushing ride over potholed roads. I’ll be going back to Thailand soon overland so we’ll see how that goes crossing the border from Cambodia. It should be easier than doing it the other way as every one wants to see Angkor Wat and I’ve all ready seen it and am leaving. Perhaps there is less tout activity on the Thai side too.

Kampot, Kep, and Otres Beach don’t have strong Internet connection – probably OK in Sihanoukville if you can stomach the litter and touts. Go to Otres beach instead – it is about 6 kilometers south of the big Sihanoukville area. Quieter and prettier too. Or one of the islands, which I did not get to.

I loved Kampot – fresh seafood comes in from Kep and it has a small town feel that is friendly and non-touristy.

Kep – fun for an outing but maybe don’t ride your motorbike there like I did. Traffic on the dusty skinny road to get from Kampot to Kep is scary. Tourist vans and drivers who have just discovered motor vehicles are not all that interested in staying on their side of the road or giving much leeway to bikers. Glad I arrived with all my skin intact.

Yes I wore my helmet – always do.

Phnom Penh – I didn’t hear anything about it until I stayed there 10 days. Many great restaurants, cheap high quality places to stay, and good markets if that’s your thing – check out the veggie and fish market – real stinky but fascinating for 5 minutes if you can stand the stench.

Read,

I’d Like a Stench-Free Room, Please

in Vagabond

click here: http://tinyurl.com/byg76kx

My recommendations for Phnom Penh:
Cozyna Hotel on the riverside
$18 per room AC + wifi in double room. Good bed, super clean.
Daughters of Cambodia: for eating, massages, wifi, handmade items
Blue Pumpkin for breakfast/good coffee/real yogurt/on the riverfront
Markets galore, Central Market within walking distance to the hotel

Russian Market is a short tuk tuk ride away

Massages everywhere for cheap $5 to $9
Visit the kings palace –
He had just died so we couldn’t go inside it.

There are 2 cons:
The insane traffic, which will not stop for you
Pedestrians don’t have the right of way
I think I’m still alive because they don’t want to kill tourists
It would be bad for business.
And tuktuk drivers who sleep in their cabs then wake up and ask you if you want a ride 200 times a day. Go back to bed!

Anyway I notice I have not left this country and extended my visa for another month. Glad of it; otherwise I would have been traveling on Christmas Eve instead of being at Angkor Wat dancing around

my favorite temple Ta Prohm. What fun!

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Cambodians are super friendly and want to learn English and try out their English on you. But be sure you speak so slowly so there are no misunderstandings in communication.

Their smiles are genuine – I’m tripping out on the love I feel here.
No matter what I do at my guesthouse the Cambodian family who owns the joint is treating me like royalty. I think I’m the only white honky there. They don’t know much English and I know far less Cambodian but we try to understand each other; the unspoken love is radiating out from them.

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Don’t miss this country – it gets under your skin and you don’t want to leave! I’m still here and it’s been 7 weeks.

Thats when you know you are in the right place. When you can’t imagine leaving it.

Christmas in the Caribbean: Belize

It’s exactly what I want it to be – a spiritual holiday not a swank buying spree. There are no shopping malls and temptations to spend more money than you have – there’s no Bloomingdales here.

Yes there are satellite dishes but usually it’s just the foreigners who own those – the real people live in shacks. But some locals do have satellite dishes next to their sheds.

I live in a house that is a cross between a shack and a bungalow. It’s the most I’ve ever paid for a run down house. $450 per month. The outside is peeling and could use a makeover but the roof is airtight and I have electricity and water. My own bathroom and screens to keep out bugs but that huge mouse I saw last night walking towards me on my front porch scared the shitake out of me. I screamed and told it to stay away.

I hear nibbling at night and rustling. I know its not the iguanas – they live under the house next door.

I was wrong – I saw them meeting up under my house today.

But about Christmas: I have no compulsion to buy here. I saw a stuffed Santa Claus perched on the desk of a dive shop and thought what’s that doing out? It doesn’t compute to have Christmas in the tropics.

But some people have put up lights on their houses and hotels and it makes me happy. Lights are what make the holiday splendid and also cultivating an attitude of love and generosity. That’s it. There’s nothing else to it. No reason to get religious or righteous about it either.

Many years ago in my former life in Palo Alto when I was picking up my 5-year-old son from his friend’s house – the child’s Mom was giving me a tour of her Victorian home.

In her living room I said, “That would be a great place for a Christmas tree,” she imperiously answered, “We don‘t celebrate Christmas.” I didn’t notice she was Jewish. Too bad you can’t put up some lights and have a cocktail – with or without booze. All the other kids in town get to celebrate and your poor (rich) kids have to watch on the sidelines with no tree. And no lights.

She didn’t like me after that since I mentioned Christmas in her presence. That’s what I mean by self-righteous. Maybe I am too the way I am proclaiming we should ditch the malls and go help out some people not as fortunate as us.

Yesterday I bought some lettuce from the mainland – it wasn’t iceberg lettuce thank god; it was sweet and fresh. Grown in Belize but not out here on our sand dab. It was tasty and crunchy – superb. I was so thankful; I hadn’t had a good salad in weeks. It cost what we would pay in the States but it was worth every bite. I now love the farmers who supply our sand dab with fresh produce.
Later on I went to visit an older woman whose husband had died 5 years ago. She rarely leaves her boat that she lives on. It was fun to do rather than just stuff my face with an unending banquet. I did have fried fish for dinner at a local restaurant and felt fat and full. “Gorda” as the Spanish say. Meaning fat.

Another thing to cultivate is appreciation and gratefulness. An underused feeling in the world. It feels good to count your blessings. Roof over head – check. Way to make a living – check. My child is healthy – check. Family in the USA doing OK. Check.

I live in paradise. Check.
Nothing to complain about it.
I’ve noticed complaining takes up energy. It robs me of the moment. All the energy that goes into complaining makes more bad energy and pulls negativity towards us. As a practice I am noticing when I do this so I can stop and choose to cultivate kindness and gratitude.
It’s a practice. Just like learning how to play a saxophone; it takes time.