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Day 6 – G Adventures’ Cambodia and Laos Mekong Adventure

May 23 – Day 6 was a 4-5 hour bus ride to Kratie. Along the way, I noticed new types of houses of worship – Seventh Day Adventists and Jehovah Witnesses in Kam Pong Chan. I thought it was interesting since up until that point (and for the rest of the trip) I only saw buddhist temples.

Soon after arriving in Kratie, we dropped off our bags at the hotel and went to lunch down the road. I had a big plate of rice with sausage and pork for only $2. It was quite tasty too. After lunch we rested and then took a tuk tuk to see the dolphins. It was pouring rain during the ride there, but it cleared up by the time we got to the river. At least my rain jacket was getting some use! The temperature while on the water was nice and cool which was such a relief after so many hot days. We managed to spot a lot of dolphins but you could only see a bit of their backs and their top fin. The boats we used were fairly small, so we only had 4 people in each boat.

DSC01628On the ride back to the hotel, there was a wedding taking place, so we stopped and they let us take pictures with the bridal party. They took pictures of us as well since we were as much of a novelty to them as they were to us. Further down the road, we spotted a nice sunset through the trees along the river. Fortunately, our driver stopped to let us take a picture but unfortunately it didn’t photograph well..

For dinner we ate at the restaurant right next to the hotel and it was quite disappointing. The food wasn’t good and it was much more expensive than our lunch spot. Also the electricity kept going out so that was kind of unsettling.

Upon returning to the room, I realized that management had been in our room when we weren’t there. When I brought this up to them they said perhaps it was to turn off the electricity. Now, I don’t know about you, but I would be willing to give them an extra couple of dollars for the electric to be left on so we could have a cool room and less bugs. I didn’t notice anything missing, but it was a reminder that we should never leave anything valuable in the room.

The room had a bunch of bugs in it at this point, so we sprayed repellent all around (I’m sure that was great for my health!) and went to bed early around 9pm. Fortunately, the cable started working again, so we were able to relax and watch a bit of television before sleeping. Unfortunately, the roomie thought there was a bat in the room, so she woke me up a few hours later. I thought she was nuts until I heard the sounds as well. I Googled and listened to bat sounds online; they sounded the same! I did figure that the bats were outside near the AC unit, but she was so convinced that it was in the room that I went to find someone to check it out. The hotel was a ghost town except for a few friendly roaches, geckos and a giant waterbug. I gave up and went back to sleep! Overall the hotel was okay, not disgusting. It had an all-in-one shower / sink / toilet bathroom but the water was warm and there weren’t too many mouse turds. It did look kind of dirty though. I did kill a giant mosquito on my pillow and it left a ton of blood behind. I decided to not be a diva and just slept with my head on the other side of the pillow.

 

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Days 4 & 5 – G Adventures’ Cambodia and Laos Mekong Adventure

May 21 – Day 4 had a late start of 8am which was nice; however, the day consisted of a 7 hour drive on a private bus to Phnom Penh. The roads were really bumpy – the kind where you actually get tossed out of your seat at times. We stopped to use the restroom at a gas station and the squat toilets were clean and actually flushed. You will always have to bring your own toilet paper though – otherwise you’ll have to use the hose. Along the way, we stopped for lunch where they served tarantula. It was really disgusting looking but smaller than I imagined (smaller than the palm of your hand). A couple of tourmates ate the whole thing, but I only ate a leg – it tasted like crispy nothing.

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May 22 – Day 5 consisted of visiting Choeng Ek / the killing fields which was interesting. They haven’t excavated all the bones yet, so you actually end up walking on some which are still partially buried under the walkway. We then went to the museum which was where the victims were held and tortured. The cells were very small and it looked terrible. There were two survivors there as well selling their books.

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The white on the ground are bones.

 

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Many people didn’t know this was their last photograph before death.

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This building was full of skulls organized by age and sex

From there we went to lunch at a restaurant that helps homeless children. Then we went to the silver palace which had many buildings but also had lots of sections blocked so you couldn’t view them. There were nice gardens there at least. CIMG0640

From there we went to the Russian market where they sell goods that fell off the truck. The tuk tuk that took us to the palace market and hotel only cost 10 dollars and they actually wait for you while you explore and you just pay them at the end. We also walked to the central market where we bought pens and paper for the children of the house that we went to for dinner. The central market was more interesting than the Russian market. It seemed to have more quality things. The Russian one had a local section which was interesting but gross. Because it was raining and the market didn’t have proper roofing or drainage, the floor was very slippery. I didn’t take a close look at what they were selling, but I know there were full dead animals for sale, and it smelled really bad. I was happy that the vendors were not as aggressive as they were in Peru. However, I was not happy that prices were not super cheap like I thought they would be. I only bought fancy chopsticks for my sister. Afterwards, we showered and dressed for a dinner hosted by a local family which had mostly curry dishes, so I only ate a few shish kabobs, rice and some spring rolls. Unfortunately, they also served duck fetus, which was so gross to think about that I had to remove myself from that part of the table…..that meant I also couldn’t partake in the tarantula wine which was wine in a bottle with tarantulas. Overall it was a fine dinner except for the mouse turd on the table.

I do find it uncomfortable that the family does not join you for dinner. They simply host the meal and serve you. I would appreciate the dinner more if the family would eat the meal with me and have a conversation with us (even though it would have to be through a translator). Instead, you are solely there to pay them to feed you. There is minimal socialization which is disappointing.

The hotel in Phnom Penh was okay – pretty clean and only one gecko in the room. The elevator got stuck at some point so it was a bit nerve wracking to use it. The breakfast was a mix of Western and Eastern so it is overall good if you could ignore the mouse turds and roaches.

 

Day 3 – G Adventures’ Cambodia and Laos Mekong Adventure

CIMG0297May 20 – On day 3 we got up very early to watch the sunrise at Angkor Wat. It was nice but not amazing. Our guides also didn’t have us wake up as early as they should have in order to see the nicer views of the sunrise. After the sun was up, we went to see Ta Prohm where Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom was filmed. It would have been more interesting for me at the time if I had actually watched the movie, but now I can watch it and remember that I was there in person! Archaeologists are trying to put the pieces of the ruins back together in their original formation.  It’s amazing how they can figure all that out. There is also a fun picture to take – you can stand under rocks that look like a booty and legs and take a picture from the doorway. BAM! I stood under Angelina Jolie’s ass!

Stones that still need to be put back into their original places

Stones that still need to be put back into their original places

After those ruins, we went back to the hotel for breakfast which consisted of both Western and Eastern foods, then went back to Angkor Wat. I know I should have been impressed, but I’ve seen so many ruins in my life that I no longer am. There was also a dog on the ground that didn’t move, and I was worried the whole time that he was dead (he wasn’t). Being an animal lover, the stray dog population of Cambodia ruined many parts of the trip for me.

The highlight of the day was getting to feed wild monkeys. There were several babies in the mix and they were so cute! Luckily my roomie and I brought snacks to feed them.

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From the monkeys, we crossed the street to see another ruin (Angkor Thom) full of smiling Buddhas, but the day had gotten so hot that we rushed through it. I did manage to get a picture of my nose touching a buddha’s nose, so that was kind of fun. CIMG0513

After all that, it was only lunch time. Our guide brought us back to a spot right across from Angkor Wat which I felt was an odd choice – very touristy and average taste (I’m guessing he got kickbacks again.) My $9 lunch was expensive for Cambodia – I got pork with vegetables, a mixed fruit shake and a big bottle of water. I took my leftovers to feed stray dogs (FYI, the dogs must not be starving because they only ate the pork, not the rice!)

We all skipped the optional activity of riding an ATV to see the sunset; roomie and I had a couple of drinks in the pool instead and then napped. After the nap, I didn’t feel well, so I only had the worst cheese fries for dinner – french fries with two tiny pieces of cheese placed on top. Dinner took place at a restaurant that included a free dance show (not sure if this is because I requested to see Cambodian dance or if it was already on the agenda). The show was interesting- the dancers move slowly and tell a story with their dance. After dinner we got what they call ice cream, but it was really more like a sorbet or gelato.

To end the night we wandered around the area looking for a place to drink even though no one really seemed into it. A few of us attempted to get fish pedicures which have little fish (some bigger ones, too) eat the dead skin on your feet. It felt really creepy so I could only do a few seconds at a time. Ultimately we only sat there for a few minutes. However, because it only cost $3 and included a free beer, it was definitely a great deal! That would have cost at least 10 times as much in the states and is banned in New York!

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We ended up sitting at an outdoor bar where a couple of people got their obligatory drink. We stayed out until 11:30pm which was wild and crazy for that group.

Day 2 – G Adventures’ Cambodia and Laos Mekong Adventure

May 19 – Day 2 started off with a delicious Western-style buffet breakfast. This was the best breakfast of the trip, so eat up! Although if you get car-sick, you may want to rethink that as the bus ride to Cambodia was several hours long and very bumpy.

Don’t bother to get your Cambodian visa ahead of time. Crossing the border was quick and easy. It was really strange though. The immigration station in Thailand was big and formal; then you exit that building and enter a dirty, crowded area. You cross over the street to a tiny building where you stand outside and fill out an immigration form and hand it and your passport to a person behind a window. When he finally gives it back, you walk to another building to stand on another line in the heat to get all your fingers fingerprinted and a photo taken of you. Finally you are released and are free to roam Cambodia.

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Traveling to and entering Cambodia took most of the day. Upon arrival at our hotel, we checked in and then roomie and I got spa services. I got a Cambodian massage which was very odd. They had me undress (leave underwear on) and put on a full long sleeve and pants outfit which you wear the entire time. Then the lady gave me the worst massage I’ve ever received (and I’ve had some pretty bad Chinatown ones in NYC!). I was sore for days afterwards and not in a good way. Save yourself the $10; 5 beers will make you feel better than that massage! My roomie also got a heat rash from her body scrub. Perhaps try a Swedish massage instead. In the late afternoon, we visited the outside courtyard of where monks live and walked to the town to have dinner.

The hotel in Siem Reap was the best one you will have while in Cambodia. Don’t get used to it.DSC00479

Day 1 – G Adventures’ Cambodia and Laos Mekong Adventure

In 2014, I decided to take a trip to coincide with my boss’ vacation so I had very limited flexibility in which tour to take. I had originally decided on South Africa but the particular tour I needed sold out before I could book it. With only 3 weeks prior to my trip, I finally settled on G Adventures Cambodia and Laos Mekong Adventure as it fit snugly into my allotted time slot.

I’m still torn on whether or not this was a good decision. Over the next dozen or so blogs, you will be able to form an opinion of your own.

 

May 18 – Once you arrive in Bangkok, you must go to the lowest level of the airport to find the public taxis. The first thing I noticed as I exited the airport to get to the taxi stand was the heat. My glasses actually fogged up because of the heat and humidity. I thought I had experienced heat before…..I was wrong.

The taxi stand was very easy to find. To get a taxi I simply greeted the woman at the stand and handed her Centra Hotel’s address. She called a driver over and handed him a form she completed and off we went. Unfortunately, my driver didn’t actually know where the hotel was and he had to stop to ask directions. Luckily this didn’t add much time/cost to the meter. He also tried to have a conversation with me, but his English was so bad and I didn’t know any Thai so I had to just apologize and stay quiet.

The Centra Hotel was one of the nicest hotels of the tour so enjoy it while you can. Rooms are very clean, no bugs, working AC, great breakfast, free WiFi. It has a nice lounge area where you can leave your bags if you want to roam the city, relax on their couches or use their computers.  They claim it has a small pool but in reality it has wooden lounge chairs sitting in a few inches of water. The chairs are not shaded so this is not very refreshing.

I  had connected with another tourmate via the G Adventures meetup page. Since we were both arriving  on Sunday morning, we planned to tour the city together once he arrived. G Adventures does not make it easy to find one another upon arrival. It turned out two other tourmates arrived early that day and others a day earlier, but I only found one other tourmate because she was my roommate. Other people had to explore on their own.

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All 3 of us squished in the back. Watch your head!

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Big Buddha wasn’t actually so big compared to other Buddhas

My two tourmates and I ventured out and managed to see a lot in just a few hours. We took a tuk tuk from the big Buddha (which was on the same block as our hotel) to the river and only got charged 30 baht for the ride. This was because we agreed to pretend to shop in a store where the driver got kickbacks. We then went on an hour long khlong boat ride which cost 1500 baht – we haggled them down from 2000 baht. I also bought food to feed the fishes which was supposedly good luck. This was the highlight of the ride for me as the fish went crazy for the food. Our guide was silent for the duration of the ride so we didn’t learn about anything we saw. During the ride we saw various living accommodations which ranged from the crappiest hut to big beautiful houses – sometimes right next to each other. The ride ended in Chinatown which was just like the Peruvian markets I visited last year except these had a better variety of goods.

After Chinatown, we bargained with tuk tuk drivers until we got a 100 baht ride to the Royal Palace which a guard told us was closed to tourists (only Thai people were allowed in after a certain time).  We tried to get in anyway via a different entrance and were quickly approached by a tour guide who offered to bring us in and show us around for only 700 baht. This sounded like a great deal and it was! The entry fee to the palace was an additional 500 baht. Having a guide to show you around is definitely the way to go. We saw and learned about things that we would have completely missed.

I also had my first experience with a Thai bathroom. This one was very clean but had a variety of Western and Eastern toilets. You would think that perhaps they would line up the Eastern on one side and Western on the other…..nope! They were just randomly put in stalls so it was a crap shoot (hehe) to find the one you wanted to use. After the Royal Palace, we walked around the outside of the gates to see the reclining Buddha which was directly behind the complex. This Buddha was HUGE! Entry cost another 100 baht. From there we went to eat some street meat which was delicious. I also got some hard boiled fried egg in dough – kind of like a wonton – also delish. After that we went to the hotel via another 100 baht tuk tuk ride.

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Very difficult to get a good shot of the entire Buddha

We showered and got ready to meet the rest of the group for orientation and travel insurance check (I only used the insurance on my credit card which technically is not okay with G Adventures but the guy let it go). We all went to dinner at a restaurant diagonally across the circle from the hotel. The food was okay but was nothing special and overpriced. I’m sure the tour CEO got kick backs for bringing us there. Also a huge waterbug found a way to terrorize me all the way from America (they stalk me, I swear). I accidentally made a scene as I jumped up and tried to get away from it.  After dinner, we got water and ice cream and went to bed.

Driving from NY / NJ to NOLA for Mardi Gras!

Got an invite to Mardi Gras? Check!

Got a place to stay? Check!

Got transportation to NOLA? Ch…well, wait a second? Flights were $800 from NY to NOLA so we had to pass on that, which lead to a ROAD TRIP!!!!!!!!

I absolutely love road trips. There are so many things to see and do in the US that we miss out on because we are so intent on where we need to be instead of thinking about the journey of how to get there. New Orleans is approximately 20 hours from New York City so we had a lot of hours to fill.

I created a long list of things that I thought we may want to see along the way but because of timing, this is what we ended up with:

Our first stop was a guitar shaped building in Bristol, TN. You can easily see the guitar from the visitor’s center parking lot which is immediately after the first exit in Tennessee. We did a quick stop to take a couple of pictures and continued on our way.

Our next intended stop was Pigeon Forge, TN, but somehow we missed the entire town. We saw signs for a scenic natural park which I can only assume was Great Smoky Mountains National Park but wanted to know if there was a particular route we should try to venture on that would not take us too far out of the way. We ended up stopping in a town (which I have sadly forgotten the name of) and stopped in the visitor’s center to ask driving advice. There we met a lovely lady named Catherine who had stories galore and even remembered to show us a route that would bring us into an area of the park that was preserved from the olden days. Unfortunately, because we were driving south, it was out of the way for us but we hoped to see it on the way back.

Our next stop was the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Alabama. It is basically like a giant Goodwill so it’s hit or miss on whether or not you will find treasures for yourself. For us, we didn’t try very hard to find bargains, but we still were able to purchase cute cowboy boots for $30, sneakers for $13, new ink for my printer, new socks, a hat, a purse, and we could have bought a lot more. Everything we found was in great condition. There were things like camping gear that I debated on purchasing but decided against it because I didn’t want to risk not having all the pieces, or damaged pieces. Overall, it was just a fun shopping experience.

Our last stop on the trek down to NOLA was Natural Bridge Park in Alabama. After dealing with wrong directions from Google Maps and driving all over timbuktu trying to find this place, we finally decided to call them and ask directions. Once you know where it is, it is really easy to find. Just continue west on 278-W past Route 5, go down the hill and you will see a sign for the park on the right side. Turn on County Road 3500 and BAM! the park is right down the road.

We were welcomed to the park by a little dog running up to our car. I opened up the door and said to come in. He hopped in the car and promptly gave us kisses and cuddles while we parked the car. As we exited the car, two little brown puppies came over to welcome us as well! We were in heaven!. We were also fortunate enough to arrive at the park when Barbara and her husband were were working. They were such lovely people. Barbara looked at my friend and told him that he has native blood in him. We stayed and talked with them for a bit, then continued on to see the bridge. The puppies joined us for the trek.

If you have time, definitely stop in at this park. It is a beautiful space that doesn’t take long to enjoy. Continue on the path past the bridge to enjoy a wishing well and additional bridges/ledges. We arrived late in the day so we had the trail to ourselves (and the puppies!). If you bring lunch, you can even stop and eat on a bench at the wishing well or near one of the many little waterfalls along the paths.

We ended up arriving in NOLA at a pretty bad time – 11:45pm. We were staying at the Marriott on Canal Street and didn’t realize that parades go right along Canal. We drove around for almost 2 hours trying to find a decent parking lot to put the car in. We couldn’t even get close to the hotel to unload our bags. Had we arrived just a couple of hours later, we could have easily parked the car and been on our way.

Ultimately, we threw the car into a lot about 6 blocks away that cost $40 a night (which was the same price as hotel parking and $10 cheaper than a slightly closer lot). We dragged our bags through the Mardi Gras revelers and checked into the hotel…………then promptly fell asleep!

SNB files are evil, which means that Samsung sucks monkey balls

Why Samsung can’t just make snb files work with other programs is beyond me. If you don’t know what an snb file is, you are lucky……..but I’ll tell ya anyway. Samsung has a note taking program called S-Memo. While traveling, I thought this would be a good program to use for my journal writing as I could easily export the files to Drive, so when I took my daily trip notes, they could easily be backed up without having to always be connected to the Internet. Well, I was wrong.

Finding a program that could read S-Memo files on the PC is next to impossible. I Googled and Googled but couldn’t find an easy (or any) solution. Originally, I exported all the files directly to Drive expecting to be able to simply open and edit them but found that neither Drive nor any program on my PC could open the files. Finally by searching around on the Internet, I found that I could export from S-Memo under the “MyFiles” tab to either jpg, pdf or snb.

So obviously neither jpg or snb would be helpful as I wanted to edit my notes. I thought PDF was an option because on my computer, I have the full version of Adobe Acrobat. Unfortunately, this is not a real solution as the conversion basically gives you crap that you then have to decipher and put into actual words – much more work than just starting from scratch.

Overall, S-Note is a completely useless program and I will end up just reading my notes from my phone and will retype them.

priate cat