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My own "First Time Asia" tour

May 5th I started my very first journey to Southeast Asia. Although I had an itinerary in hand and what I thought was an extensive knowledge of the land, there was no amount of books or movies that could have prepared me for the beauty of this part of the world. The people’s warm attitudes and kind smiles are the only thing that could over out shine the surrounding scenery. I have completely and utterly fallen in love with Southeast Asia. I could go on and on and on about each and every incredibly amazing detail, but I don’t think the space in this blog would allow for it. Below is a highlight from each city my family and I toured.

Bangkok, Thailand- The phone rings. I look at the clock 06:00 – is it morning or evening? The room is dark and I’m exahusted after a long flight and a busy day touring the city. The phone rings again. “Hello?” I answer. “Hi April it’s Waew.” “Hi Waew – is it morning or night?” She laughs. I assumed that meant night and remembered that I was supposed to meet her for dinner. I basically sleep walk to the elevator to meet her and Jeab in the lobby. Too tired to really talk, I lazily apologize for my jet-lag hang over and slow footed, follow them down busy Silom Road for dinner. By the time dinner was finished and a bowl of ice cream was in front of me I had woken up from my daze and began to chat away like my normal self. Waew and Jeab giggled a couple times and I know it was because they were humored by my ability to talk non-stop. I was even laughing at myself at times.  We all continued laughing and chatting thoughout our walk to the hotel. This get-together was extended as we all were having so much fun getting to talk in person. It truly felt as if I was sitting down with best friends from long ago. As the hours grew later I needed to go back to sleep and recover from the jet lag. I was sad to say goodbye, but knew I would be coming back to Thailand sometime to visit my new friends again. 

Waew and me in Bangkok

Chiang Mai, Thailand – It is a tradition in the Buddhist culture for the monks to walk the streets in the early morning for the community to give them food. I did not understand why this happened until I witnessed it for myself. Our guide, Tui, explained that the monks need to make a selfless commitment as an act of faith and get up early the weekday of their birth and walk throughout the community. The local community makes the same faithful commitment to give to the monks on this day. In turn both the monks and the local people are committed to their faith and each other and continuously perform selfless acts. This astounded me. What an incredible way for people to join together in their faith and community and work to better themselves and the world around them. As my family and I took part in giving the monks food I felt I was included in a very special part of their lifestyle and I was honored and moved. I was certainly one of the most memorable parts of my entire trip.

Giving to the Monks Chiang Mai

Siem Reap, Cambodia – The moment I stepped out of the van and was standing face to face with Angkor Wat I literally lost my breath. It is quite simply the most beautiful and awe-inspiring place I have ever seen. I was a bit overwhelmed by the magnitude of its beauty and deep history. No amount of books or pictures could ever describe the true wonder of this magnificent place. I felt I could have visited every day for years and still discovered new things.    

A second favorite moment in Siem Reap was our tour of a local village. We were taken away from the hustle and bustle and tourist scene of Siem Reap city and shown the true and marvelous Cambodia. At one point an older woman came up to me and held my hand and smiled and said something in Khmer. I asked my guide what she said and he said that she was thanking me for visiting Cambodia. It was truly moving. The boat trip to Baray Lake and exploring ruins without tourist guide signs and walkways was the moment I was waiting for on this trip. I felt I had the opportunity to view the temple in their honest form. No improvements, nor renovation – just the ruins. Seeing the quiet peace of the lake and the ruins was a moment I was able to sit back and absorb. It was easily placed up on the top of my favorite moments. 

Krabi, Thailand If you knew me, you would know that my husband is a major inspiration in my life. Yes, he challenges me in many ways to be a better person, but to be honest one of the reasons I love him so deeply is his fun and excitable approach to life. In Krabi he successfully reminded me why I adore him so. The moment the sun rose on our first morning in Krabi I awoke to see Chris sunscreen on and skim board in hand. “Are you ready to go?” he asked. I knew there was no way to convince him to wait for me to have my coffee. I grabbed a cup of joe to go and we were off to the beach. I’m sure you are wondering what the heck a skim board is – well, it’s a board that is meant to “surf” the wave break or shore break on the beach. From sun up til dusk, Chris was catching the waves breaking on the beach. Seeking more of a challenge Chris rounded up a large piece of driftwood and created a rail to ride on. Picture this – a wave comes in Chris runs, drops his board into the inch deep water, jumps on the board then somehow manages to get the board up on a giant piece of wood on the beach slides across the wood then spins around in the water. This is the type of entertainment my husband provides all the time! Of course I attempted to skim board myself. While I wasn’t brave enough to “hit the rail” I did manage to ride a couple waves and had a great time doing it.

 

Koh Lanta, Krabi, Thailand – While most special moments are described as an action, the island of Koh Lanta itself stands alone as a precious memory. Quite simply, I was whisked away to paradise and never EVER wanted to leave. Secluded white sand beaches, lush tropical rain forest, the sound of Gibbon monkeys hollering in the distance—Koh Lanta was paradise found and a place I certainly plan to visit again.       

Village life

One of Siem Reap’s many squatters’ villages is a short walk from the Journeys Within B&B. JWOC built its first wells there and I went to check it out with Brandon and some volunteer students from Loyola Marymount University. Brandon wants to get a business started that the JWOC scholarship students can run themselves, so we went into the village to research business ideas and assess the need for different services.

There are places blocked off where potential roads will go if they’re ever built, but for now the village is connected by a sequence of dusty tan trails. Some structures are built with corrugated metal or wood and seem relatively sound, while others are thatched with palm leaves or draped with tarps.

Because of the nonprofit projects most of the villagers have seen Westerners, but it’s still a treat for them when we arrive. They all know how to say “hello” and as soon as they spot you a harmony of hellos hits you from all angles. Groups of kids rush over wanting to show you things, while the shy ones gather to watch from a distance. I was just another giant white lady with a camera, but with this kind of welcome you would’ve thought I was Brangelina.

The kids love to get their picture taken and they’ll follow you around in hopes of getting their chance. Their favorite part is seeing themselves on the photo playback screen and they run away giggling as soon as they see their faces on the monitor.

As we walked back to the B&B—a short distance from poverty to luxury—I tried to imagine living without a toilet or electricity and what it must be like to put what little money you have into a “house” that could be destroyed any day.

What really resonated with me was the overall mood of the village. For all their hardship, the people were in great spirits. Everyone was smiling, the kids were running around and playing in the rain, the adults were chatting and playing cards. I expected it to be a bit more somber, but it was actually pretty upbeat.

Maybe they’re making lemonade, or maybe it’s just a Cambodian thing. I don’t think I’ve witnessed a happier, friendlier group of people anywhere. Each country has a different draw: gorgeous beaches, great food, beautiful sights, and although Cambodia has all of those things, the real draw is the people. Their smiles and good hearts are the reason you want to return.

Gavin, the rockstar.

It’s 3:00 in the morning, we’ve just finished the last leg of our 18 hour journey, we’ve landed in a foreign country, our minds are as disheveled as our bed head and Jet-lag has become a new four letter word. The thought of smiling was as foreign as the country we were now in – but that was all about to change. Waiting for our bags at the Bangkok Airport my soon to be 2 year old son Gavin had decided that the middle of the walkway was as good as a place to take a nap as any. While I was mortified and trying to maintain some sort of composure, an unusual thing happened. The local staff began surrounding us and smiling saying hello and asking “Can I take a picture?” . “Huh?” I asked. A sweet girl then said – “Of the baby.” I had to giggle, these people we all deeply entertained by my son and his choice to lay down on the floor. Not ten minutes after we had landed Gavin had acquired a fan base. The laughter began to uproar as soon as he realized that if he made a funny face or performed some sort of trick people would laugh. And this was just the start of our journey. Everywhere we went at least 5 people asked if they could take a picture or hold him. While at our hotel in Chiang Mai the girls there came just short of knocking on our room door and asking if Gavin could come out and play. As we drove up the entire staff would run to the van “Gavin!!” they cheered. He would then be whisked away and given candy and toys and delight as the girls all smiled and laughed when he’d perform one of his silly tricks. Not only was Gavin’s picture taken, and gifts were constantly bestowed upon him, he also received three surprise birthday parties! We had cake and candles in Cambodia, cake for breakfast in Krabi and cake for desert in Koh Lanta. Everywhere we went girls surrounded Gavin, I felt like Justin Timberlake’s mother (but much younger!) Now that we are back home Gavin can not quite understand why he can’t illicit the same attention while wandering through the market – although I think he’ll continue to try.

Song kran Festival!!

Here are some photos from Song kran festival. At first we weren’t planning on playing in the water, but two of our friends were visiting and have never gone to a Song kran festival so we made sure to do our best to make our friends enjoy Thailand more… so into the water we went! Joel said “I’ve never been so wet like this…all my life” You can see the photos before and after and see just how wet we got! Every time when someone would throw the water at him, Joel would scream…very loud…which only made it more enjoyable/tempting for people to throw more water…and so we got even more wet! We tried to stay away from him 🙂 but he kept running to us to stay close to the group. Anyways, we really had a good time and I enjoyed this weekend very much. I love Song kran festival. Everyone there is very happy and you are surrounded by smiling faces…

see you next year!!

Waew. 

Ouch!

Today Chris, Gavin and I went to get a Typhoid vaccine before we go on our trip. Although I’m a grown woman who has endured the pain of childbirth (well, let’s be honest I got the drugs) I still fear the doctor. In the back of my mind I kept saying, “Do I really need to go and get this shot?” And then I heard myself over and over telling guests we do recommend being up to date on your Typhoid vaccine – so the little voice in the back of my brain said ” You need to follow your own advice – silly!” So off to the doctor we went….

When I stepped inside the Travel Medicine office I was pleasantly surprised. It was as if I had walked into Andrea and Brandon’s home or the Journeys Within office. The room was beautifully decorated, with accents of local art and pictures of families traveling all around the world. On the coffee table in the waiting room was the copy of Conde Nast Traveler which Journeys Within was featured in (like that?!). I was instantly calmed and actually excited to meet the person who would be piercing my skin with a very sharp needle and injecting me with a dead virus (yes, I’m always this dramatic).

The Dr. came out of her office and welcomed us with a hug and excitement to hear more about our upcoming plans to visit Thailand and Angkor Wat – a place she said “she hopes to visit sometime very soon”. Of course I indulged her with our day by day itinerary and went on and on and on and on, but she actually seemed to be very interested (I liked her!). She kindly went into details about how to make our trip more enjoyable and healthy. Some things I had heard before – for example bring mosquito repellent, and some things I hadn’t heard – for example, apply sunscreen first and then apply bug repellent and also to bring diaper rash cream for Gavin (so happy she told me this).

Next came the shots – eek! Being a brave little soldier I went first. I pretended to not be afraid and continued chatting about my trip (as talking is something I can do no matter what the distraction) while she proceeded to stick a giant needle in my arm. I still pretended to be brave as I didn’t think it would be exceptionally helpful if I screamed in pain just before Chris and Gavin received their shots. Next Chris got his shot in his giant manly arms (I have a big crush on my handsome husband). Last it was Gavin’s turn. Dr. Vivian asked me to lean over Gavin and hold him down while she gave him the shot (apparently she has dealt with quite a few wiggling and screaming toddlers…). I leaned over Gavin and prepared to be a sad mommy as my son received a painful shot. Here came the countdown “One, two, three!” and the needle went in. Cue screaming baby. Not exactly. Gavin went on chatting about the book he had read today (in his little toddler language that few people actually understand) and didn’t flinch – not even for a second. “He’s the best toddler I’ve ever met,” said Dr. Vivian. I knew this lady was smart 🙂 – ha ha ha!

So I must admit, after all my fear and build up of anticipation, getting our shots was an almost pleasant experience. Let’s be honest, we all got shots and my arm hurts today – so it wasn’t like going and getting ice cream, but it wasn’t bad either.

ummmm….. ice cream…