Ms Scandinasia’s Travel Awards

Alas, this is my final post for the near future as I complete my seven month sabbatical around the world. I spent the last couple of days of my sabbatical chilling out in Bangkok. I have been to Bangkok before, so there was no pressure to go and see the sights. And when my plans to catch up with a friend fell through, I decided to end my sabbatical on a high note – living it up in a five star hotel, shopping to the max, having divine massages and facials, and drinking champagne (and cocktails) at Bangkok’s most exclusive rooftop bar. A simply wonderful way to end my world travels.

Celebrating the last night of my sabbatical in style.

Celebrating the last night of my sabbatical in style.

As I sat outside drinking a cocktail 60 floors up at the Vertigo & Moon Bar, I recounted all my incredible experiences.

I can’t quite believe that I’ve:

  • Studied at Stanford University
  • Caught up with long lost friends & family in New Zealand
  • Helped a struggling artist sell his paintings in Guatemala.
  • Helped a women’s collective gain fair trade status in Guatemala
  • Learnt the art of photography from a Vogue photographer in Costa Rica
  • Snorkelled at a secret barrier reef in Colombia
  • Swum with stingrays in the Cayman Islands
  • Partied with friends in Miami
  • Learnt basic French with a bunch of Saudi Arabian men
  • Caught up with long lost friends in France
  • Been smuggled into a music festival by 8 Frenchmen in Croatia
  • Seen a real reindeer and moose in Norway
  • Taken a road trip with 3 random gals to see the breathtaking landscapes of Iceland
  • Worked in a microfinancing organisation in Cambodia
  • Become best friends with Buddhist Monks
  • Met traditional long necked women in Myanmar

I’ve experienced a lot. I’ve met some amazing people, and reconnected with some dear friends and family. Thank you to all of you who were ‘guest stars’ in my world travels – I have loved spending time with you all.

People said that I was crazy to temporarily leave my job to travel around the world. I say ‘au contraire’. Taking time out from the hamster wheel has been the best decision of my life. My business skills have improved markedly having done pro bono consulting for different organisations around the world and having studied at Stanford. And most importantly, I come back home with a fresh vision and new perspective on life, and courage to take even bolder choices in the future. To those of you I met up with – meeting each and every one of you changed my life – thank you.

So what’s next for me? Well, straight back to work (sigh), and I begin to implement some of the major life changes you have inspired me to make. But one thing is for sure, my passion for travelling will not cease. Ms Scandinasia will be back. But when? You’ll just have to wait and see…

I leave you though with ‘Ms Scandinasia’s Travel Awards’, showcasing the best (and worst) from all my travel experiences.

 

 Ms Scandinasia’s Inaugural Travel Awards

Destinations category:

Best city for partying: Finalists – Bogota, San Francisco, Miami

Winner: Miami (from what I can remember)

 

Worst city ever: No finalists needed

Winner: San Jose – I didn’t even bother leaving my hotel room. You know it’s a hole of a city, when the highlight is doing your washing.

 

Best street art: Finalists – Miami, Bogota

Winner: Bogota. It is not illegal to graffiti in Bogota, so the street art is carefully and beautifully painted throughout the city. Love it.

Street Art in Bogota

Street Art in Bogota

Best Museum:

Penis Museum, Iceland – because it makes me laugh every time I recall my visit there. It’s quirky and eccentric to the extreme!

Ouch! One of the many artefacts at the Penis Museum in Reyjavik

Ouch! One of the many artefacts at the Penis Museum in Reykjavik, Iceland

Most over-rated destinations:

Pindaya caves – Myanmar. We visited this destination because it was recommended by Lonely Planet. I would describe it as a cave for Buddha hoarders. Thousands of buddhas in a damp wet cave where you have to walk bare feet on the sticky dirty ground. And they charge you to enter the area, then the caves, and then to take photos – over the top. Give it a miss.

Jaco beach, Costa Rica – people that rate Jaco beach must come from a landlocked country, because there was nothing spectacular about this beach. The beach in fact made me homesick for the great beaches back at home. If you are thinking of heading to Costa Rica, head to the Caribbean side, the beaches there are a million times better.

Most under-rated destinations:

Colombia – so much to see, people are so welcoming, and I never felt unsafe.

Cliff jumping - Providencia Island, Colombia

Cliff jumping – Providencia Island, Colombia

Iceland – jawdroppingly beautiful landscapes, quirky people that believe in Elves, and a country full of artists – it’s an intriguing place.

Beautiful Icelandic landscapes

Beautiful Icelandic landscapes

Myanmar – this country showcased festivals, long necked women, wineries, & in some ways felt like going back in time 30 years (like when we received handwritten airline tickets on carbon copy paper). We felt very lucky to experience Myanmar while it still has all it’s quirkiness.

Festivities in Myanmar - a once in a lifetime experience

Festivities in Myanmar – a once in a lifetime experience

Best beach: Finalists – Costa Rica (Caribbean side), Providencia Island (Colombia), Croatia, Cayman Islands

Winner: All of the beaches were fantastic, but the fact that this little known island called Providencia had beautiful and clean beaches with no one there, was a bigger winner in my book. Very few tourists and a spectacular barrier reef (3rd largest in the world), also makes for an incredible snorkelling and diving experience.

Providencia Island - gorgeous beaches all to yourself...

Providencia Island – gorgeous beaches all to yourself…

One of the wonderful beaches I visited on my trip - this one is in the Cayman Islands

One of the wonderful beaches I visited on my trip – this one is in the Cayman Islands

Travel technology category:

Best electronic appliance used whilst travelling: Finalists – Kindle, international adaptor plug, flipit! usb charger

Winner – International adaptor plug. It worked for every country I visited and I used it every day.

 

Best Travel App: Finalists – What’s App messaging, TripIt (which makes a master travel itinerary and keeps all of your travel plans in one spot (offline on my mobile), Oanda Currency Converter (converts currency offline), Spotify Premium (stores all your favourite songs offline).

Winner: All of them – I could not have travelled comfortably without them.

 

Best free wifi: Finalists: Guatemala, Cambodia, Iceland

Winner: Guatemala & Cambodia (yes I bet you didn’t guess that?). I was highly impressed that every café there had wifi and even on intercity buses in Cambodia.

 

Worst free wifi:

Winner: New Zealand (shame on you NZ, but you make it very difficult for a tourist to stay connected online).

 

Food & Drinks category:

Best food: Finalists – Norway, New Zealand, France. I love home cooked food, and I was lucky enough to have home cooked food in all of these destinations.

Winner: France – the food was simply sublime. Everything from the food at my local pâtisserie, to the home cooked duck, to the clams cooked in a delectable butter and garlic sauce. Exquisite.

French food - simply delicious!

French food – simply delicious!

Worst food: There doesn’t need to be any other finalists…

Winner: Guatemala. It’s the only country where I had to cook for myself because the food was so bad. Yes, you know the food is bad when I have to cook myself. God, it was tasteless, gluggy and put me off food for the longest time. On a plus, I lost a lot of weight!

Best Urban Bar: Finalists – Gaira (Bogota – dancing with crazy Colombians – loved it), Bajo La Luna (The greatest hipster bar in Xela, Guatemala), Delano (South Beach, Miami), Red Red Wine (Hvar, Croatia), Vertigo & Moon Bar, Bangkok.

Winner: Red Red Wine in Hvar, Croatia. Of all the bars I have been to in the world (and I’ve been to hundreds if not thousands), this one had the best service. I loved chatting with the bartenders, trying the exquisite local wine, and meeting some new friends. And the music – I LOVED the retro music. If you like small bars, this is the ultimate bar experience.

Closing up the bar at Red Red Wine Bar - Hvar.

Closing up the bar at Red Red Wine Bar – Hvar.

Best Beach bar: Finalists – Rolands Reggae Bar (Providencia Island, Colombia), Coco’s bar (Cahuita, Costa Rica – where you can listen to live music while watching a sloth meandering past), Laganini Lounge Bar (Palmizana, Croatia), Cafe Buza (Dubrovnik, Croatia)

Winner: Roland’s Reggae Bar. I love a bar that is so chilled, they let you go and get the beers by yourself, they call you by your name when you are a return customer, and when you ask for ceviche, they get the fishermen out in the bay to catch a fresh one for you. And did I mention, when you go up to pay your bill, the owner tends to you from his hammock. True rasta style. These guys are legends.

Getting the bill at Roland's bar

Getting the bill at Roland’s bar

Transport Category:

Best land transport:

Winner: Iceland’s tourist buses. Always on time, and their offices are open till very late to accommodate tourist’s last minute plans. And on top of that, they have free wifi onboard the buses!

Worst land transport: Finalists – Guatemala’s Monte Verde shuttle bus (thought I was being kidnapped when I had to suddenly change modes of transport – by myself – in the middle of a deserted highway to a small car with bullet holes in the window), NSB (Norwegian Rail).

Winner: NSB Norwegian Rail. I don’t know how a Scandinavian Rail company can have worse service than being potentially kidnapped in a third world country, but yes their customer service was atrocious. I stupidly used them three times. The trains were late by on average 2 hours. People were so jam packed like sardines on the trains that it was a health and safety issue, and when they decided to have trackworks, they replaced trains with Taxi’s – yes even for long distance trains. WTF???? And, there was never any accountability by any staff to know what was happening and communicate clearly with passengers. There are some very serious systemic issues with this company. Let’s just say I will not be a shareholder (or a passenger) of this company any time soon.

Exquisite scenery - Norwegian countryside. Pity about the rail system...

Exquisite scenery – Norwegian countryside. Pity about the rail system…

Best airline: Finalists – Iceland Air, Swiss Air, Lan Colombia

Winner: Swiss Air – punctual (of course), good service, good food, and great selection of arthouse/international movies

 

Worst Airline: Finalists – United (goes without saying, it’s one of many bad US airlines), Avianca

Winner: Avianca (Colombia). I’ve never been on an airline where none of the staff speaks English and the announcements are not in English. Especially if you are flying to the US?

 

Ciao for now people. It has been a pleasure sharing my travel escapades with you.

 

Bisous,

Ms Scandinasia xxx

 

Note: the awards are my own views from my experiences, I was not paid to promote these products & services (I wish).

Wineries, Long necked ladies, & local hospitality – Myanmar adventures Part 2

You will be happy to know that I did not get arrested this week in Myanmar. But I did have some unforgettable and intriguing experiences, including visiting a winery, seeing the traditional women with long necks, and meeting the locals.

Firstly, who would have thought I would be visiting a winery in Myanmar? I certainly did not. When I first heard that there was a winery near Inle Lake, where my friend and I were visiting, I was determined to check it out. It was a surreal experience, cycling past rice paddies and sugar cane plantations to finally arrive at the winery at the top of a hill. As we pushed our bikes up the steep hill, we past women in their traditional straw hats tending to the vines. I couldn’t stop smiling at the bizarre sight.

Woman working in the vineyards

Woman working in the vineyards

The winery produced Sauvignon Blanc, Rose, Shiraz, and Fortified wines. My friend and I sat at a table overlooking Lake Inle as we watched the sun set and sampled all the wines – it was a great moment. Local wine made in Myanmar – who would have thought, and it was surprisingly good.

Winetasting in Myanmar

Winetasting in Myanmar

Another surprise and a great great honour was meeting the tribal women with the long necks. I remembered seeing these women in National Geographic magazines as a kid, and remembered being intrigued by their long slender necks – which had been as a result of adding more and more rings around their neck over the years.

Was an absolute thrill to meet these serene and graceful ladies.

Was an absolute thrill to meet these serene and graceful ladies.

We met these women when we were at a small store at Lake Inle. They were out the back weaving their wares. I hadn’t expected to see them, so I was shocked and in awe when I turned the corner and they appeared into view. They were so dainty and graceful and very gracious letting me take a million photos of them without being upset. What surprised me though was how heavy the rings were. I would estimate EACH ring would be nearly 1kg, which means some of the older ladies would be carrying a lot of weight around their necks. But it is not only their necks that were adorned with the rings, their calves were also decorated with them – which made their calves super skinny. I joked with them and asked if they would mind me borrowing some for my thighs – they were super sweet and giggled at the thought of it.

Look at those calves - tiny...

Look at those calves – tiny…

Lake Inle did not only have wineries and ladies with long necks, but it was also the location of a festival celebrating the end of Buddhist Lent. To commemorate this, all the local people dressed up in their finery and watched the Long Boat procession on the lake. I would liken the event as a cross between a Santa Parade and Dragon Boat Racing – but with a lot deeper cultural significance. Men paraded on long boats with between 20-30 people and wrapped their feet around long poles to paddle the boat, which they later raced on the lake. As we rode past them on the boat at sunrise, they would sing and wave at us with big smiles when they saw we were foreigners. We felt very lucky to be a part of this festival, as we were almost the only foreigners witnessing this event on the lake. Wow, Inle Lake has a lot to offer, and should be on the must see list when coming to Myanmar for sure.

Buddhist Lent boat festival - Inle Lake

End of Buddhist Lent boat festival – Inle Lake

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But it’s not just the sights that Myanmar has to offer, the people have captivated us too. There was the ruggedly handsome French photographer/café owner of ‘A Touch of France’ who told us incredible stories behind his photographs whilst living in Myanmar. For instance, how he got his subjects to look like they were sitting on the water, or the irony behind his photo of a Muslim woman passing food to Buddhist Monks. But the most intriguing story was about how he knew Aung San Suu Kyi, and how his female friends would smuggle new underwear to her throughout the 15 years she was under house arrest. You don’t think about how someone would procure new lingerie while imprisoned, but he said his friends would wear layer upon layer of new underwear as a way of smuggling it in to her when visiting. Fascinating. I love random stories like that. When you make it to Myanmar, be sure to check out the Touch of France café when at Lake Inle. A chic cafe bizarrely nestled in the Nyaungshwe township, but an oasis after only seeing Asian food for the longest time. 

A Touch of France cafe – Nyaungshwe township

Our final stop in Myanmar was Mandalay, which from reports was nothing to write home about. But luckily my friend had contacts and we were fortunate to meet a local Myanmar family. They were gracious enough to show us around the city and give us the lowdown on good places to eat, and things to do. We felt very privileged to get the insiders view of Myanmar and be shown around by locals, not many visitors get this opportunity. They also gave us invaluable insights in Myanmar culture and thoughts and hopes for them and their country. I loved hanging out with these gals, they were smart, sassy, and full of fun. If these young woman are anything to go by, Myanmar has a bright and exciting future, and I look forward to returning one day and spending more time with them.

Hanging with the locals - love it!

Hanging with the locals – love it!

Because of it’s political history, Myanmar is one of the last places on earth which has remained undiscovered by the rest of the world. My travel advice – go NOW while it has all it’s charm.

Bisous,

Ms Scandinasia xxx

 

PS: A big thanks to my new Myanmar friend Su Mon who became my personal doctor when I became very ill on my last day in Myanmar. Thanks for the meds Doc – I’m finally better :)

How Aung San Suu Kyi almost got me arrested – Myanmar Adventures Part 1

Greetings from Myanmar (also known previously as Burma) – the state which up until recently had been under strict military rule and inaccessible to the rest of the world. Myanmar is nestled in between India, Bangladesh, Thailand, Laos, and China and has been a real eye opener of a place to visit.

The first thing that hit me about Myanmar’s largest city, Yangon, was that it was surprisingly developed considering it had been hidden from the rest of the world for such a long time. The roads were good quality (in comparison to Cambodia anyway), no slums that I could see on first glance, and everyone seemed to have brand new smart phones and were constantly glued to the screens. Even the Buddhist temples offered free wifi. I was shocked – wow the locals have really caught on to new technology very fast. The wifi was very slow though and was only really useful for sending quick emails. You got a real sense that big brother was watching when some sites were prohibited or ‘super slow’. It is a country where they discourage foreign journalists, and even as a blogger, I wasn’t too comfortable posting blogs from there, for fear of being caught by the Secret Police.

I’ve been travelling with an old family friend in Myanmar, and we had both read that it was to be expected that we would be followed at least once on our trip by the secret police.  We thought that may have been the case a few years ago, but did not imagine this would actually be true.

Aung San Suu Kyi and her father captured in a painting by a local artist.

Aung San Suu Kyi and her father captured in a painting by a local artist.

When we asked a hotel concierge where we should visit, he recommended visiting Aung San Suu Kyi’s (Myanmar’s most famous politician and Nobel Peace Prize winner) house where she had been imprisoned for many years. I was a little hesitant as I knew this would be risky – a foreigner visiting a politically sensitive location. The concierge assured us that it was fine. It was a hot day, but we decided to make the trek in the scorching heat to her house. I had come prepared with a big sunhat and sunglasses to shield me from the sun. We finally arrived at her house which was colourfully decorated with party colours. I decided to take my camera out and take some photos – big mistake. Within seconds, I heard a car accelerate (in what was a bumper to bumper traffic jam). Other cars were honking because of it’s erractic behavior. The car had blacked out windows and made a god almightly loud screeching stop in her driveway. I was shocked – what on earth was this car doing? I saw a very hazy outline of people in the back looking at me with anticipation. OMG, it was the Secret Police and they think I’m a political activist. Holy cr@p. Here I was thinking it was a good idea to shield myself from the intense sun in a hat and glasses, and they thought I was trying to be incognito entering the compound and taking photos. After I realised this, I stepped back, assumed the “I come in peace” hands in the air pose, and turned and ran the other direction. OMG, that was a very close call. If I had poked my nose around like I normally do, I would have been in big big trouble.

The very ordinary photo that almost got me arrested - Aung San Suu Kyi's house

The very ordinary photo that almost got me arrested – Aung San Suu Kyi’s house

It was then I realised that this was no ordinary trip. But the adventures didn’t stop there. My friend and I decided to take domestic flights in between our destinations because the bus and trains were notoriously slow. Taking a flight in Myanmar was like going back 30 years. Firstly the tickets were handwritten and on old fashioned carbon copy paper. Next there was no electronic display board showing all the departures. When the flight was ready, an airport employee would walk past with a hand held board informing customers of impending departure.

Boarding signs - none of the fancy electronic stuff!

Boarding signs – none of the fancy electronic stuff!

Then we were taken onto the tarmac to board our plane. Surrounding us were young kids and adults working in construction, sitting on the tarmac next to the plane, waiting for our departure to resume construction work again.

Some of the many people sitting on the tarmac at Rangon airport

Some of the many people sitting on the tarmac at Rangon airport

Then we boarded the plane. The flight attendant told us to hurry up, we tried to put all our luggage in the overhead compartment, but the attendant said “No time”, and she told us to put our backpacks on our laps for take off. This contradicted the rules of EVERY other airline I have ever taken. We found out why they were in such a hurry. The flights here are on a circuit. So while we were going to our next destination, Bagan, many passengers would remain onboard as the flight would continue on to a number of other destinations. What really shocked us, was that the plane’s time on the ground would only be 15 minutes, so you would have to be super speedy to get off the plane and the tarmac before the plane departed.

The planes were very old. An Australian woman sitting in front of me discretely pointed out to her husband that one of the propellers wasn’t working properly. With a bit of encouragement from one of the engineers, it started working. All of the foreigners became very concerned when looking at the condition of the plane, we all sat in complete silence for the complete trip – praying we would get there in one piece.

My friend perused the inflight magazine and nudged me in shock when he saw the following:

Hand guns permitted as hand luggage only? WTF???

Hand guns permitted as hand luggage only? WTF???

The instructions stated that ALL handguns be placed in hand luggage. Yes you read correctly, all hand guns must be stored in hand luggage – WTF? We didn’t know whether to laugh or be highly concerned after seeing that sign.

I have certainly had my fair share of excitement in my first week in Myanmar. Almost being arrested by the Secret Police and experiencing the uniqueness of what is Myanmar’s domestic airline industry has been a real adventure. I don’t know what I was expecting, but these experiences were certainly a surprise. I look forward to sharing the next adventures with you shortly :)

Bisous,

Ms Scandinasia xxx

 

Angkor Wat, the City of Temples – what you need to know before going

I could not leave Cambodia till I had visited it’s gem, the famous Angkor Wat temple near Siem Reap in the Northern part of Cambodia. In this blog post I’m going to share my experiences and give you advice should you go there yourself. I’ll impart my recommendations on what modes of transport you should use (based on the mistakes I made), some interesting facts about this region’s history, and where else in the region you need to visit apart from the famous Angkor Wat.

My Angkor Wat adventures started in Phnom Penh, when I took an overnight bus to Siem Reap (the city near Angkor Wat). The overnight bus was quoted as taking 6-7 hours, but in fact it took a lot longer. The main highway to Siem Reap was horrendous. Much of the road was not sealed and at times the bus crawled as slow as 5km/hour because of the massive pot holes in the road. It was certainly a bumpy ride. But looking at the positives, I got to ride on my first bus bed. Yes, this overnight bus had beds to sleep on and once you got used to the bumps on the road, the beds were reasonably comfortable (ok, not super comfortable, but much better than sitting in cattle class on a plane). My decisioning behind taking the bus was that my Cambodian colleagues had warned me about the bad safety record of the domestic airlines. I wasn’t got to risk it if the locals didn’t.

The beds on the bus to Siem Reap

The beds on the bus to Siem Reap

Once I arrived in Siem Reap, I decided to sign up for a bicycle tour around Angkor Wat and some of the surrounding temples. Multi-tasking by exercising and sightseeing seemed like a great idea. But alas, the first day I visited Angkor Wat was a scorching hot day, and I ended up suffering from heat exhaustion – so I could not complete the whole riding circuit. When I visited Angkor Wat the following day, I changed my strategy – I got up very early and took a tuk tuk to watch the sunrise. This was a much cooler and a much smarter strategy. I was reticent about getting up so early (I’m definitely not an early riser), but it was most definitely worth the effort – I really did feel like it was one of those ‘once in your lifetime’ type surreal moments.

Cycling tour of Angkor Wat

Cycling tour of Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat at sunrise

Angkor Wat at sunrise

But what is it about Angkor Wat that makes it so special? Angkor Wat was completed in the 13th century and although now a Buddhist temple, was originally the largest Hindu temple in the world. It is one of the most significant religious sites in Asia and because of it’s Hindu history, the Indian Government works closely with the Cambodian Government to ensure the sustainable preservation of this area. The Cambodian people revere this temple so much, that they have put it on their national flag – the only country in the world with a building on it’s flag. Angkor Wat’s history is however not only ancient but relatively recent as well. Throughout the site, you can see bullet holes and decapitated Buddha statues where the Khmer Rouge had tried to destroy this beautiful site up until only a couple of decades ago.

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Angkor Wat is not the only attraction to see in this area. There are countless other ancient temples surrounding Siem Reap, all with their own story and unique structures. Here are my favourites:

  1. Kbal Spean – As I was walking for an hour by myself just after daybreak in the Cambodian jungle, I pondered whether it was such a good idea. After all, the jungle had tigers, elephants, poisonous snakes and spiders and I could easily have been a juicy piece of breakfast for them. I heard the sound of monkeys high up in the trees and rustling of trees as ‘god only knows’ what animal moved around me. I was very relieved when I finally made it to the river, the site of Kbal Spean. This attraction was a fine example of Buddhist relics in an unique location. Kbal Spean is a collection of stone carvings on the side of a riverbed. Going there is like going on a treasure hunt. At first glance, it is difficult to spot the intricate carvings, but after a while, with the help of locals, you can spot some spectacular carvings that really do make you wonder – how on earth did they carve that?

Can you believe that these carvings were done in the 10th century and are still visible today? I have never seen carvings on the side of a riverbed before –     definitely a must see while in Cambodia.

Kbal Spean

Kbal Spean

Kbal Spean

Kbal Spean

Kbal Spean

Kbal Spean

My tip – you don’t need a guide, because there is an old security guard there who can show you all the secret spots where all the carvings can be found and give you a full run down of the history. He’s so old he probably was there when the carvings were first etched, hence he is very knowledgeable. I tipped him a couple of dollars for his time.

  1. BanteaySrey – This temple is famous for it’s picturesque redstandstone.   I arrived at this temple at around 7am. I was the only one there with exception of a German guy. We ended up swapping cameras and taking photos of one another at the site. Unfortunately for me, he was a terrible photographer and I had todelete most of the photos he took of me, whilst he got all the fabulous shots that I took on his camera (not talking up my photography skills or anything!). Nevertheless, the light was fantastic for photography and the weather was nice and cool. The security guard even let us take photos in the ‘out of bounds’ area for a sneaky dollar on the side (I guess that is how they make some extra money? – yes everything is dodgy here…)

    Gorgeous morning light at Banteay Srey

    Gorgeous morning light at Banteay Srey

  2. Ta Prohm – the temple is famous for the giant trees that grow in between the crevices of the ancient temple and is also well known as the location where Angelina Jolie filmed the Tomb Raider movie. It was amazing to see a temple that had been left in pretty much the same condition as when it was found by the French several decades ago. I went there around lunchtime (in off-peak season) and there were masses of obnoxious tourists around. A better bet might be going early in the morning after Angkor Wat.
Ta Prohm

Ta Prohm

Anyway, that’s my rundown of my tips for Angkor Wat and it’s surrounding attractions. As per usual, going ‘off the beaten track’ is where I had the most enjoyable experiences. I’m glad that I was able to visit most of these temples during the off peak season and early in the morning. Don’t be scared of coming to Cambodia in the rainy season, the prices are dirt cheap and the rain extremely short lived, generally only for a few minutes in the afternoon.

I’m ‘off the grid’ and out of wifi access for a while, so will upload a post once I get back to normal wifi again.

Bisous,

Ms Scandinasia xxx

Why you don’t ask a Buddhist Monk to dinner & other random stories

 

This week has been my last week in Phnom Penh. Despite only being in Phnom Penh for several weeks, it has been a surprisingly emotional time saying goodbye to everyone. This past week I said farewell to my BFF Buddhist Monks, had dinner with the Governor of the Central Bank, and said farewell to my colleagues at the microfinancing organisation.
Some people may think it strange to have Buddhist Monks as BFF’s, but because of their zen and kind nature, it seemed very natural to me, as that is what I look for in friends in general. It was a nice surprise to me that we had all kept in good contact with one another via Facebook since we met several weeks ago. We all met for one last time this past week, and I had the chance to sit down and have a good chat with them outside the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh.

My Buddhist 'brothers' and their chaperone

My Buddhist ‘brothers’ and their chaperone

As always, chatting with them was fascinating. I asked them to explain a typical day for them. Here was their response:
Me: What time do you get up in the morning, because you Facebook me so early?!
Buddhist Monks (aka ‘my brothers’): [laughs] We get up at 4am to pray to dharma.
Me: Can you explain to me what your day is like after praying to Dharma?
My brothers’ response:
• After praying, we change our robes and bathe.
• Then we go and collect our food. [You will often see monks in Cambodia visiting people’s houses or businesses asking for food – this is how they get their food].

Monks receiving their daily food from the general public

Monks receiving their daily food from the general public


• We then study our university courses [they are both studying marketing and business]. Meanwhile, other monks read or teach English, Korean, Chinese, or Japanese language to youngsters. They can also teach Microsoft Word or Excel if they have that skill. [How cool is that? Buddhist monks are pretty hip and up with the times – makes Catholic priests look archaic huh?]
• When we have a few free minutes we try to go on Facebook and see what is happening in the world.
• Then we have our lunch. This is our last meal for the day. [When I heard this I was mortified, because I had asked them to come and join me for dinner a couple of weeks ago and didn’t know that they were not allowed to eat anything after midday – duh].
• After lunch we like to have a short afternoon sleep while the weather is so hot.
• We bathe again and wash our robes.
• We study again.
• We pray again in the evening for a couple of hours in the evening.
• We go to sleep just before midnight.

I asked them if they found it difficult to pray for such a long time twice a day. They said sometimes they found it difficult. It made me smile because when I am doing Shavasana (mental relaxation time) at yoga I find it incredibly difficult to stop my mind racing with random thoughts. It was comforting to know that even Buddhist Monks find it difficult at times.

Unlike the priesthood, Buddhist Monks do not have to devote their whole life to their religion. In fact, it seems not unlike entering the military in Western countries. Becoming a Buddhist monk is an opportunity for many young and underprivileged Cambodian boys to become disciplined and have the chance to further their education. Speaking with my brothers gave me a fascinating insight into a lifestyle that had previously been mysterious to me. Thanks brothers for being so open and welcoming while I was in Phnom Penh. I will miss you guys ☺

Whilst in my last week at work, I was invited by the executive team at the microfinancing organisation to a dinner with the Governor of the Central Bank of Cambodia. I love living the expat lifestyle – you get so many more random opportunities than you would do at home. Anyway, the event was pretty amazing. We had traditional Cambodian dancers exhibiting their amazing costumes and dance moves, and I got to sit a few metres away from the Governor and hear him hold a speech. Ok, so I didn’t understand what he said – since it was all in the Khmer language, but it was very interesting to see everyone else’s reactions. Government officials here are treated like Kings – something that I am not familiar with back home, with people more likely to heckle a government official than bow to him.

Governor of Central Bank - Cambodia

Governor of Central Bank – Cambodia

And finally, this week I have been saying farewell to my colleagues. I have only been here for a short while, but my colleagues have been so welcoming. They always had big smiles and were keen to practice their English (as English classes are expensive here). It was sad to say goodbye to them – but I leave feeling satisfied with my achievements here. The recommendations I have made to improve the efficiency of their organisation have all been accepted, which is fantastic news. And it looks like the money that they will save due to efficiency gains, will be reinvested into education programmes for villagers. This means that over 20,000 more villagers will now have the opportunity to learn about budgeting, saving, and how to run a successful small business. I’m sooo happy with this result.

On that happy note, I will sign off for this week.

Bisous,
Ms Scandinasia xxx