To Asia, With Love (and Other Emotions)

Shelley with Ultadanga kids

My time in Asia challenged me, rewarded me, made my heart ache and churned out a stronger person. I learned more in the last 11 months than I have in the last 11 years, and that’s no hyperbole. I became more familiar with the world and with myself. As it turns out, I’m a nomadic homebody. My style is to hunker down in a city and get the lay of the land instead of moving every three days. Maybe when in a state of constant change, it’s comforting to know where you can go for a reliable bowl of pho or a cup of REAL coffee.

Surprisingly I did make it to 12 countries (if you count Tibet and Hong Kong as separate from mainland China, which I do). I’ve had 7 telephone numbers, taken 13 flights, crossed 2 borders overland, added 31 stamps to my passport, secured 10 visas and spent about $24,000. Below is a snapshot of my feelings about each country: what I liked, what I didn’t and how I sum them each up. India is longer than the rest because I spent the most time there and it had such a profound effect. Ladies and gentlemen, I present my view of Asia in 2,000 words or less… Continue reading

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Crashing a Wedding in Kratie, Cambodia

IMG_3602The five-hour bus ride from Sen Monorom to Kratie, a French colonial town along the Mekong River, was just shy of dreadful. From this experience I learned that you should ask if everyone gets their own seat when booking a ticket. The bus had 25 seats, but I stopped counting at 35 passengers. Across five seats sat at least seven people, and that didn’t include the kids who were on laps. One guy was sitting on top of luggage and another was standing in the door well. For about an hour of the trip, even the driver was sharing his seat. He had to lean over the passenger to shift gears. I was just waiting for a bunch of chickens and a cow to board. Continue reading

Cambodia’s Wild East- Ban Lung and Sen Monorom

Cattle in village- Ban LungAfter spending time in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville (beach town), it was time to head for the hills. I was craving the countryside, villages and fewer tourists. The mercury was also on the rise, and parts of Eastern Cambodia offer cooler temps, so I bought a bus ticket to Ban Lung in Ratanakiri province. It’s in the far northeast of the country, near the Laos border. Continue reading

Angkor WOW

Angkor main photoAngkor Wat is another destination I was hoping to conquer post-Japan but never made it, so it went on my ever-growing bucket list. With my Bagan visit less than a month prior, this trip has been an embarrassment of temple riches. My friend Natalia flew out from LA to spend two weeks in Cambodia with me, and I was thrilled that we would be visiting the temples together. Our overnight VIP bus from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap was sufficient but… interesting. There were two levels of semi-reclined beds, but they were only long enough for people under 5’4” so I had to bend my knees to fit. The beds were also very narrow with two jammed together on either side of the bus, making it extremely awkward if you didn’t know the person next to you. Thankfully I did. Continue reading

Getting Acquainted With Phnom Penh

Pig at market

To market, to market…

Upon landing at Phnom Penh International Airport on a Sunday, it took me less than 10 minutes to get my visa on arrival, go through immigration, pick up my bag and go through customs. That’s got to be some sort of record. It took me another 10 to get a SIM card for my phone and hop in a tuk tuk bound for The Irish Place, which would be my home for the next week. I found it on TripAdvisor, and figured any guesthouse with a pub downstairs was something I needed to give proper consideration. Pat, the Irish expat owner, and his Irish/British/American staff were beyond hospitable, as were a few regulars who greeted me by name when I came in and out. Continue reading