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adventures in cambodia

feeling normal… ish

It’s been a few weeks since my last post so here is an update. I also plan to write you a summary of the fantastic water festival week at the beginning of the month, that will be soon.

After the epic temple biking day, I got another adventure that week to go to the Thai border and change my visa. This was a very daunting prospect due to the build up my lovely* friend had given the process. I was fretting for days at the prospect of having to do this and as a result likely made it worse by reading everything online and chatting to people. I almost obtained a travel buddy but no, however I did feel marginally better when said potential travel buddy actually expressed disappointment in not being able to come and visit Tesco and go to the casino! Who’d have thought?! I got some extra tips from a great local blog, which bolstered the info that ‘lovely friend’ had provided and I studied it intently. After the journey to the border, I followed prescribed advice and started to try making acquaintance with other people doing the same thing… quickly learning that I was never going to make any long-term friends from this (ie no longer than 10 minutes :-\) and decided to get on with it. The issue here was I was trying to find someone to share the taxi cost back! I did not succeed. I did however manage to endear one of the visa staff who helped me get the ‘special fee’ down a few dollars and clapped me enthusiastically on the back when I explained that I make websites for a job (this is the simplest answer I give people I don’t know). Triumphant, I grabbed some previously promised mediocre lunch at an outdoor cafe where I could watch the in and out traffic at the border. Although I know Cambodia isn’t a high exporting country, it was particularly obvious whilst watching empty trucks leave the country and full trucks enter. Then carts, animals and people similarly flowed constantly through the street in between Thailand and Cambodia. Kit loi’d and got some baht for change, I headed back to Cambodia. All in a day 🙂

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At the end of the week it was Halloween! A tradition has unfolded via the expats living here and it’s a reasonably big deal. I was dubious at first but then allowed myself to be swept along with the excitement of my friends for this event. As I’d left it to the last minute, literally, there were no costumes to be found… so make up was the back up plan. Three of us got ready at my house and it was a lot of fun! The party hadn’t even begun. It reminded me so much of fun times when I was little; going to calisthenics concerts and putting on loads of makeup, even more so of the Rock n’Roll Eisteddfods when I was in high school. I think I’ll be looking forward to the next fancy dress party! The reactions from locals started at home when the kids of my landlord and landlady saw us leaving for town! Photos and excitement and a little bit of fear. Khmer are very superstitious and believe strongly in ghosts and spirits, so it’s quite interesting that this tradition has bubbled up in this town. This continued en masse for the rest of the night; so many photos, so much attention I felt a bit like a celebrity but the scare factor was something altogether strange and made me a little uncomfortable when I accidentally genuinely scared some people. Everyone went over the top with their costumes and I was reunited with the teacher I helped last year; her and her daughters and one friend all dressed up as cats… so sweet, the same could not be said for my immediate friends…2014-10-31 19.27.27

During this time I had a friend visit from Prear Vihear province and another from Phnom Penh, I will talk more about that when I write about the water festival. It was wonderful to have visitors particularly when my housemate went away for a week to the beach (it takes about a day to get to the beach!!). After this is when things began to feel a bit normal. My days are still random and occasionally chaotic, but I have a couple of regular activities to stablise my week; kick boxing and soccer. This is nice. My housemate and I get along very well, so it’s nice to be able to cook some meals at home and head out to the porch, local bar or town for a drink or to indulge in a massage.

In the last week or so I feel like things have really begun to feel good. I showed a video to a small group of people about climate change which resulted in the opportunity to present to two classes of 7 years olds about recycling. It was a really wonderful experience and I hope the kids get something out of it too. I heard they will do a project on environment/recycling as a follow up. I then got to give my first presentation on social media for local businesses. It was a small group but it was just perfect for the first one and I’ve had a lot of encouragement to do some more. I’ve continued to do volunteering for a couple of organisations; ConCERT Cambodia, Treak Community Centre and ABCs and Rice and I am enjoying this mix of things, I think this could work out nicely.

I have a bicycle for transport and even managed to do my week’s shopping at the local market, Psah Gne, with my slowly improving Khmer linguistics and a lot of charades!

Life is good. What’s your news?

adventures in cambodia

biking at the temples

A couple of weeks ago some friends and I hired mountain bikes to spend a day at the temples. As like most days in recent weeks, it was searingly hot, so we left the city nice and early – after an even earlier yoga class for me too!

The ride to the temples is so nice, the traffic wasn’t too busy and for the first time I saw monkeys! I was somewhat disheartened to see them eating chips out of a foil packet.

We grabbed our tickets and made our first stop at Angkor Wat. It was nice to go back and with a sense of familiarity we went straight in for the pinnacle, which was already closed for the day last year when I’d visited. Everyone in town has been talking about how dry the wet season has been this year and this was obvious to me seeing the ponds inside the temple grounds, which last year were substantially fuller.

Our next stop was Bayon, the temple with the faces and we made our way round and looked at the four main sides, each containing its own Buddha and offerings; I wondered how the ancestors of the guy placing his offering came to an end… coke and cigarettes.

It was a nice experience to visit the temples with some friends and after a brief lunch stop, we made the one hour ride round to Ta Prom. The last time I’d visited it was pouring with rain, so it was nice to have a better look around. I was still thinking about the monks that I imagined when I last visited.

By this stage, I was struggling with a headache from the heat, the sun was starting to set and we still have at least a half hour ride back to town (and no bike lights!). We made for the exit and would have made it, only, we’d gone out the other side to where we had left our bikes! The guard wouldn’t allow us to cut back through and so we had to grab a tuk tuk back around to the other side.

Finally reunited with our bikes, all starting to feel a bit exhausted and the knowledge of a 14km ride along a very bumpy road was not an exciting prospect. We got into it and went as quickly as we could, it wasn’t long before the sunlight was completely gone and just after passing a 10km to Siem Reap sign and thinking ‘i’m gonna make it!’, I didn’t see a huge pothole and ended up busting up my tyre completely.

Whilst regrouping on the side of the road and trying to figure out how to get back without totally destroying the wheel of the bike, I tried my luck at flagging a tuk tuk. Within seconds my shining tuk tuk driver arrived! He already had a passenger but obviously a lot of empathy and they let me and the bike aboard. Even more than this, he drove the tuk tuk close behind my friends to give them enough light to see and get back to town safely! What a star!

The adventure ended with beers and burgers and a lesson to leave a bit earlier next time.


adventures in cambodia

almost adjusting

Since my last post I have been going through an adjustment period. Certainly the last thing I want is for this to seem like I’m complaining, but there are some things I’d like to get off my chest and maybe endear some sympathy 😉

At home, we now have a fully functioning kitchen, tonight I will attempt to cook! This has taken a week and a half. The cooker was the first challenge; having been told that the gas bottle was full, I was struggling to work out why I couldn’t get it lit to make coffee in the morning, to then try it in the evening when it would work! Madness. Anyway, turns out there was no gas. Full, empty = same.

I purchased most of our stuff from an Australian girl who is leaving SR after 2 years. Cushions for the shiny lounge chairs and everything we should need for the kitchen, including a blender! Then came the challenge of getting that to work. After an extremely hot day yesterday I was keen for a banana smoothy, I had everything I needed but couldn’t get it to work. After much frustration of not getting it to work for two days and trying almost every powerpoint in the kitchen, I learned that only one powerpoint in the kitchen works!

On Sunday night my friend the tuk tuk driver took me out to the ‘space market’ just out of town. I had no idea what to expect and on our way it started hammering down with rain. I suggested we turn back but that wasn’t to be, on we went with the aid of a lovely blue plastic poncho. The markets were only semi operational and most stall holders were closing up. It was mostly clothing and handbags from what I could see. We went to eat instead at a lovely tarp set up restaurant. Wooden slats were laid down on the ground, and very necessary because everything had turned to mud. My friend ordered and I went along with it, everything was excellent until I discovered that I’d put a piece of liver in my mouth, too late, I tried my absolute best to chew and swallow it but I just couldn’t do it. The good news is that the attitude there was if you don’t like it just take it out of your mouth and throw it on the ground!

After I stopped in at my hub friend’s new place for a second dinner! It was nice hanging out with a couple of expats; one French Canadian and one Aussie. They Aussie brought an excellent bottle of Shiraz from McLaren Vale – so you know… very challenging, but I do what I can to fit in and drank some.

On Tuesday I signed up to a kick boxing gym, on the way my newly acquired, eco friendly drink bottle decided to empty it’s entire contents inside my backpack – yay. The class was excellent and I’m still hurting 3 days later and can’t wait to go back next week.

Angkor Fight Club, Siem ReapHint: you can see more pictures on my Instagram.

My nurse friend came along too and we went for dinner afterwards deciding to try out one of the local places in my neighbourhood. There are a lot of Vietnamese places and I was intent on having pho. We then got distracted by the BBQ place, we’ve been quite a few times to one in town, so we embarked on inadvertent offal adventure number two. I returned home to a lively poker game my housemate was hosting with 4 of her French expat friends. I joined in, despite not speaking French or knowing much about poker. It was a strange but nice night.

Hopefully this post comes across as amusing, it’s intended to make light of my crazy week.

adventures in cambodia

i live here now

Another week has gone by and I now officially live here, in a house, up the road. Some other things happened too.

Last week I met my soon-to-be housemate, we met for lunch and conspired to go house-hunting together. I visited ABCs and Rice school to say hello and give them some supplies from Australia that they needed this week, I also spent some time seeing how much the Full Belly Farm has progressed since my last visit!! It’s thriving! Two ponds full of fish, a lot more chickens than last year (when Olive the pig was snacking on the chicks) and a great crop rotation of eggplants, kale and other healthy veggies.

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A chance invite and my friend the tuk tuk driver invited me to attend the English class he teaches. He initially asked if I’d teach the class! Errr. no. I did say yes to chatting in English with the students. It was really great. A little awkward to begin but by the end of the class pretty much each of the 12 students practised a little English with me. At the end of the class one of the students presented this pretty star, deftly made out of 100 riel notes, I was very pleased.2014-10-11 08.05.16-1

Saturday I spent looking at houses, by late afternoon, we had decided on a great place close to town. A quick beer to celebrate and then into town to meet one of the ABCs volunteers for dinner and some more drinks. The three of us had a really fun night, including my housemate finding a little shop named for her hometown in France!

Sunday was more low key. Later in the afternoon I went to a board games event one of the expats here organised. It ended up being a really great afternoon and I met some lovely new people. One of whom took (at my suggestion) me on a market adventure this morning! More on that in a moment. She also introduced me to someone in the tourism industry who I’m hoping to talk with tomorrow!

In the evening I met up with my new friend and organiser of the hub space I’m now working at three days per week. There were a few other people and a few cocktails; a very nice evening.

After ‘working’ on Monday, it was time to go and sign for the rental on the house… the contract is 1 year. So… looks like I’m almost a local. Ha ha ha!

Tuesday was so crazy! I started the day with a meeting with ConCERT, we had a really good chat though I sense that the forward plan is somewhat organic. Then I rushed off to meet the organiser of Together for Cambodia. A house that a friend of mine in Sydney spent some time volunteering for, I said I’d bring some donations over for her. It was excellent to hear another wonderful success story. Off again to meet with the volunteer coordinator for ABCs and Rice, I want to focus on their web stuff but wanted to be sure that they have enough hands on deck at the school for now, which they do. Later I’d like to help them with their breakfast club. The busyness and heat of the day started to take their toll, plus a lack of sleep this week due to the ramp up for a wedding at my guesthouse, so I went to my room and recuperated, packed, chatted to my friend in Australia.

Yesterday (Wednesday) was a public holiday for the King Crowning (Coronation?). Most places still operated and for me I opted to ‘take the day off’ from the hub and use the time to move and get settled into the new house! Instead I had another meeting with ConCERT to assist in finalising a video message (my role was to say ‘yes, that looks good’) and help with the social media (create the post copy). Then run around trying to work out my local shops to get the basics for the house, then get ready to attend the wedding party. By the time my friend arrived in a tuk tuk to collect me I was more than ready for a drink! The wedding was great, it was an English guy and Khmer lady. It was outside the guesthouse I’d been staying at and it was a nice set up; a Khmer band, lots of tulle and lots of food!

Getting back to my house, although relatively sober, was interesting, I had to squeeze my hand through a ‘hidden’ panel in the gate and open a padlock with only one hand without being able to see a thing! Luckily I managed to finally get inside. The next padlock on the front door is a little bit easier to wrangle. I spent the first night in the new place on my own, the housemate decided to stay an extra night at her dormitory. It has been a while since I’ve stayed in a new house on my own… I’m sure it will feel homely soon.

This morning I was invited (as mentioned, I nominated my new friend to take me) to go to the markets. So I figured that it was worth going to work late to experience a local market. It was really great and super close to my house, it’s called Pshar Gne and it was great to have some insights for my first visit. I quickly learned that there wasn’t much I could buy until I own a knife and a pan, sigh. I bought fruit. I’d hired a bike for the day, so we took a ride to check out my friend’s house. Whoa! It was really nice and fully decked out like an Aussie place, with an oven and couch! Believe me, this is pretty rare. So I proclaimed more friendship on this couple – ha ha. Then we discussed me helping them with digital stuff in return for roasted vegetables, I love it! I rode back home without incident or getting lost but was promptly scolded by the son of my landlady for leaving my bike out the front on the driveway for about 3 minutes.

Now I’m at the hub ‘working’, I hope you enjoy the result.

adventures in cambodia

a week of firsts

I’ve now been in Siem Reap for a week, before I go into that I will summarise my TEDxChiangMai and Elephant Nature Park experiences.

TEDx was incredibly inspiring! I met some great people and most of all the presentations were relative and full of hope. From bio plastics, affordable music, responsible tourism, being water and a practical application for technology and nature to coexist, nearly every speaker had a message I can relate to. I will provide some links once the videos become available.

Elephant Nature Park was wonderful. I knew about this place as a responsible tourism organisation through friends, though I had to try a few different booking agents before I could get this one. It was interesting, informative and I cannot quite describe how it feels to talk to an elephant! Keep an eye out because I will write a dedicated post for Asian elephants soon.

I enjoyed my time in Chiang Mai immensely and left with a wealth of new friends and renewed connection to an old friend. When I flew into Siem Reap I was surprised to see my favourite airport under construction. An even better surprise was being met by my friend when I walked outside!! Even thinking about it now makes me extremely happy and it is wonderful to have such a dear friend in my new home.

Today is my eighth day here and so much has happened this would be an extremely long update if I described it all in detail. Whether it’s because I’m not committed to a 40 hour work week or the magic of Southeast Asia, lots happens in a very short period. I’ve reconnected with nearly all of the friends I met last time I was here and I’ve met more new people in this week than I did the entire year in Sydney. I’ve eaten it feels like non-stop (so much for the health kick I promised myself), drunk a lot, about to go to my second pub quiz tonight, done some yoga, been to the markets, attended a child protection workshop, found a co-working office space, applied for a job, had discussions with relevant parties regarding volunteering, advanced my Khmer language skills, joined a soccer team and been out house hunting. I’ve probably missed a few things too! Plus I’ve had time to read and relax and sleep and enjoy not having to be anywhere in a hurry.

I’ve also set myself a 30 day challenge, I purposely set the bar low knowing that my first 30 days will be busy, but I hope that you will find my photo a day challenge an interesting insight to Siem Reap. Have a look and let me know what you think.

adventures in cambodia

a week of transition

It was momentous watching the Australian coastline disappear from my view from the plane window and then as our big country became distant from the little plane on the flight path image.

My first senses of Thailand were walking up the aerobridge at Bangkok airport. The smell and the humidity made me smile as I remembered my last visit (see my post from last time: Wat?). It’s a funny airport, huge but sparse and some bad luck for me that I was unable to use my lounge pass due to it being renovated. I found a mini pub in a food court and entertained myself by having a G&T while I waited for my connecting flight to CM.

I’m extremely grateful for this time in Chiang Mai, it’s been an absolute blessing. My friend met me at the airport and played host for two full days, which meant the only thing I had to think about was what to eat, you already know what the answer was!

I’ve spent time online trying to be productive, time trying to wrap up a couple of things in Sydney and time wandering around the city. I’ve also managed a yoga class, a bit of reading, a visit to a swimming pool, a night at a jazz club, lots of time chilling in the backyard, lots of eating and drinking and made a new friend, well three if you include the rabbit and the cat!

Riding side-saddle on a scooter was a first for me, it’s quite good! It also makes it possible to wear a skirt without flashing the world. I felt like a total princess! The ride ended up at a look-out from the mountains over Chiang Mai, it was extremely beautiful and serene.

Yesterday I was on my own! It was raining it’s heart out and so I caught a couple of song tao’s to get around, I even got to ride up front on one trip, very cool. I revisited some favourite places; Bird’s Nest cafe where I ate and read and Wild Rose Yoga for a pretty strong 2 hour vinyasa session.

I’ve been bitten, sunburnt and eaten some dubious chicken (?) skewers and I’m feeling good. Tomorrow is TEDx and on Monday I’ve booked a trip to the Elephant Nature Park.

Bye for now.

adventures in cambodia

ready to go

Whether I’m ready or not, in less that 48 hours I will be in transit to Thailand where I will stay until the end of the month.

I’ll be staying in Chiang Mai and be prioritising yoga and noodles. I’ll also attend the TEDx Chiang Mai conference while I’m there, it’s actually my main motivation to stop back in CM (the yoga and noodles are a bonus ;-)).

Following CM, I’m heading to Siem Reap and then the real adventures will begin…

adventures in cambodia


In four weeks time I will be finally ready to embark on an adventure that began as a tiny seed of thought 8 years ago. It’s exciting and terrifying all at once and a million other emotions that will feel natural in Southeast Asia. This adventure is about sustainable tourism; I want to learn, share and and collaborate on this subject. I’ll be as truthful as my beliefs and encourage you to comment and converse, I want to expand my knowledge and perspective.