Quiet days in Cambodia

no new pics this week, our wifi connection isn't fast enough...sorry!
no new pics this week, our wifi connection isn’t fast enough…sorry!

It has been an unusual week for us since I last posted.

We enjoyed our last few days in Battambang and on Tuesday we headed to a southern Cambodian town called Kampot. We traveled 10 hours by bus to get here and when we arrived Evan and I were grateful we were all still alive…the rules of the road in Cambodia have not yet been written. I think we spent more time in the oncoming traffic lane than we did in our own lane, as the driver sped past people on motorbikes, slow moving trucks, walkers. Let alone dogs randomly running into the road and the occasional cow. Oh and throw in torrential rains at times and the driver’s cell phone ringing and maybe now you can see why we were glad to be alive. Interestingly, the Cambodians on the bus never seemed alarmed. I suppose it is a travelers right of passage to have one of these kind of trips. I’ve been learning that the same road rules apply in Vietnam as well…so we may stick with the train for long travel days!

Anyways, Jamey unfortunately started to not feel well the afternoon before we left for Kampot. He developed a really high fever (I looked into purchasing a thermometer at the pharmacy but they only sold the glass mercury ones, and we thought it best not to throw one of those in my backpack!), sore stomach and headache. He was comfortable when he had ibuprofen, but when he woke up at 2 am vomiting and burning up,the nurse in me started worrying about crazy bad things, like meningitis or dengue fever…in Cambodia. I started planning (in my mind) his evacuation to Bangkok to get to nearest best hospital and didn’t sleep at all that night. Surprisingly he awoke at 7 am the next morning feeling much better (so all my worry for naught, which is what Evan always tells me!). He felt well enough to get on the bus, and slept on and off during the journey.

Two fairly quiet days in Kampot later, Jamey was feeling pretty much back to his normal self; however, Becca was not. It seems overnight she developed a terrible tooth ache. Becca is a pretty tough girl so I knew it was really hurting her when she cried herself to sleep the first night. The ibuprofen I purchased at the local pharmacy didn’t seem to help, and she cried and whimpered off and on through the night. It was so sad. The next morning, I went back to the pharmacy and was able to pick up amoxicillin ($0.50 US for 10 days) and tylenol ($0.25 US for 8 tabs, it’s called paracetamol here in Cambodia) and every 3 hours she needed either more tylenol or more ibuprofen. In SE Asia prescriptions aren’t needed for most medications. They are available at the pharmacy, you just ask for what you need and the pharmacist dispenses the medication to you.

Again, I was picturing worst case scenario (why do I do that???) and figuring out how to get either her tooth looked at, or evacuated to Bangkok (that hospital would be busy looking after my kids) due to a brain abscess forming(of course this never happened). Sometimes having too much knowledge as a health care provider can be a bad thing. Today she is on day 3 of her amoxicillin, and she is starting to feel much better. In fact, she has gone over 6 hours without needing medication for the pain, and hasn’t iced her cheek all morning. So so thankful for our dentist in Coeur d’Alene, Dr. Rachel Fehling who talked me through (on Facebook) best treatment and looked at her latest x-ray done in November 2015 to see if there was anything suspicious back then with that tooth.

So it has been a quiet week for us in Kampot, which is fine. We have been doing school, spending a bit of time exploring in the afternoons when it isn’t as hot, and Jamey and I rented some bicycles yesterday and explored the town on bike.

This morning is the final day of the Buddhist holiday known as “Pchum Ben”. On this holiday, Cambodian families get together, visit their local temple and give offerings of food and money to the monks in honor of their deceased relatives. Evan and I rode our bikes early this morning to the temple to witness some of the celebrations but we found the temple very quiet (except for the monk calling out prayers on the megaphone overhead). Apparently we were there a little early, but past 8 am it gets so hot here, so we headed out at 7 am to beat the heat…but not the crowds. Once I got home I started to feel unwell…tired, headachey and my skin hurts…so now it’s my turn.

Evan and the kids just left for a bar to watch some Aussie rules football. There are a lot of Australians living here as well as some Kiwis so they’ll be in good company. I thought I would take this time to do a blog update. We’ve learned that bugs and illness still find you, even when you are on the road and we have learned to listen to what our body needs. Thankful we are able to purchase the medication we need to heal our bodies as well.

On Tuesday we will leave Cambodia for Vietnam. Yes by bus…wish us luck!

discovering Cambodia, one day at at time

Early morning at Angkor Wat
Early morning at Angkor Wat

Oh Cambodia, what a country. It’s been a place of friendly smiles, “hellos” from young and old, exploring ancient ruins built in the 11th century, afternoon rains, and evening lightening storms.  It’s been a place of wonderful food, circus performances and travel at a slower pace. It’s been a place of reflection for the tragedy that befell this country in the 1970’s and the continued unrest into the 1990’s. It’s been a place of listening to stories and making new friends.

We started our journey in the city of Siem Reap and stayed at a lovely place we found on Air B and B. The owner of the home, Lim made us feel so welcome to share the space with his family. He was an amazing tour guide during our 3 days in Siem Reap, taking us on a bike ride through nearby villages, spending the day with us exploring the Angkor wat ruins, taking us to a silk farm, a war museum and a killing field memorial. As a family we shared dinner with Lim on our last evening in Siem Reap, accompanied by our new Canadian friends, musicians Kodi and Chantel. They have lived in Siem Reap, at one of Lim’s apartments for the past 4 months after travelling through India for 5 months. Chantel had a guitar, which she generously shared, and Kodi, Chantel and Evan treated us to some lovely singing and strumming on our last evening.

The Angkor wat ruins were absolutely incredible and mind blowing all at the same time. Although I thought they were included in the “new” 7 Wonders of the World (they aren’t), I did see them advertised as the “8th” Wonder of the World. These religious temples were built starting in the 11th century and are still standing. The height of the temples, the intricate carvings, the scale-incredible to think these were built without machines and all by hand.  Jamey and Becca were very interested and good explorers despite the heat. The war museum painted an honest picture of what happened in Cambodia during 1974-1979 with the Khmer Rouge. Remains of skulls and bones have been placed in sacred buildings in the Killing Fields that are found around Cambodia. There are still 3-4 million landmines that have not been removed in Cambodia from this time period (and into the 1990’s), largely along the Thai-Cambodia border. We have seen people everywhere we have travelled in Cambodia missing limbs from wandering onto a land mine. We have had many discussions with Jamey and Becca about this aspect of Cambodia’s history and they have been respectful, but confused at times as to how this could have happened. I suppose it makes me feel the same way.

We traveled to Battambang earlier this week via minibus. This is a smaller city, with a lot of old french architecture and is set alongside a river. It is a lovely place and we have explored many of it’s interesting places largely by foot and tuk tuk. We traveled out to a nearby village to see how rice paper is made, stopped and shared a snack of sticky rice and beans cooked in bamboo and ate fresh spring rolls along the side of the road. We ventured further afield to watch millions of bats stream out of a cave when the sun was setting and their meal of mosquitos were out. Millions! Seriously incredible and hard to really explain. We have found lovely places to eat with friendly people and who love to speak english with us. Becca and I took a Cambodian cooking class yesterday after a trip to the market to buy our ingredients-it was so entertaining and the meal we made was so good. Evan and Jamey stopped by when the food was ready and shared the meal with us. We have been swimming and relaxing, and doing school work and figuring out where to go next.

Vietnam is on the horizon now. We just learned yesterday that visa’s to Vietnam for Americans now (as of August 31st, 2016) cost $150 each!! That was a huge shock for us, as we had anticipated $40 from everything we have been reading.  Unfortunately, if Evan had his New Zealand passport and I had my Canadian passport our visa’s would have been on $40…but we decided before we left to just travel with our US passports. Regardless after much discussion yesterday, we decided to go ahead and get the visas…we have come so far, and both of us are really excited to see and travel in Vietnam.  We will stay in Battambang through the weekend so that we can pick up our passports on Monday, visas received and head further south to a town called Kampot.

Enjoy the pics…a small taste of the sights we have seen and experienced this week in Cambodia. We have all learned and seen so much this week. (Sorry if some of the pics are sideways…I still haven’t figured out why they look right side up before I post, then they shift after I have posted….c’est la vie!)

Sand in our toes…and let’s talk food!

Beautiful blue water and white sand at Koh Samui
Beautiful blue water and white sand at Koh Samui

Hi all,

I am writing from Siem Reap, Cambodia. We arrived here this afternoon after spending 5 lazy, relaxing and restful days on the island of Koh Samui, Thailand. We had a wonderful month in Thailand and were so lucky to see so much of the country. After much thought, we chose to fly to Cambodia rather than travel by bus, and while it was still a journey to get here, it was a small luxury that we felt we could afford and a much gentler way of travelling.

Our days in Koh Samui we largely spent with Jamey and Becca starting their day off with an early morning swim in the pool. We did school work each morning, and some afternoons, then once the heat of the day started to wane, we ventured out around the island to check out different beaches. We snorkelled (well mostly Evan and I) as Jamey and Becca were oddly freaked out by what they called  “sea slugs”-large black slug looking things that had absolutely no interest in an 11 year old boy or a 9 year old girl. Snorkelling was great, it was wonderful to swim in the Gulf of Thailand.  The roads in Koh Samui were incredibly busy and driving was stressful for Evan and the island is definitely very touristy. Although we don’t feel a need to return to Koh Samui, we all appreciated having some down time and getting some good school work done. The absolute best part of our time on the island was meeting 2 sweet kids, Zac and Cat, who’s mom is from Thailand and dad is from California. They live on the island and are fluent in Thai. It was neat seeing a friendship develop between Jamey and Becca and Zac and Cat. Sadly we met them 2 nights before we were leaving, but it was fun while we spent time with them.

I have had lots of questions about the food we’ve been eating, as I have made a few comments about how incredible the food is in Thailand.  One of our favorite things to do, no matter where we were in Thailand, was to check out the night market and buy dinner from different food stalls. We would wander around the market nibbling on barbecued pork satays and chicken satays (chicken and pork on long skewers with lovely marinade on them), we’d quench our thirst with pineapple, or mango, or lemon smoothies. We’d round out our meal with Pad Thai-this really was Jamey’s staple dish, some spring rolls (Becca’s favorite) or fried rice with egg and chicken, and if we were lucky, stir fried vegetables. Oddly for a country where anything can grow, vegetables were largely a garnish and not a main dish. As you know, I eat a salad EVERY day and have really really missed vegetables. Always a treat when we found lovely stir fried vegetables.

Jamey and Becca have been fairly adventurous eaters although I think Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam will stretch them (and us) out of their comfort zones. Evan and I have enjoyed mostly all of the food we have tried…maybe not the pickled eggs (sorry Oi…just not our thing!). Food is inexpensive and washes down well with cheap Thai beer. A pad thai cooked fresh just for us would usually be about $1.50 US, beer the same price! Fried rice typically $1.00 US as well as fresh fruit smoothies. If you came to Thailand for a 2 week vacation, a couple could easily live well on $100 per day, including accomodation and eat wonderful food! We have managed to stick to our budget of $100 US per day while in Thailand.

Our first meal in Cambodia tonight was amazing! Our tuk tuk driver took us to the night market area and we found a small little restaurant out of the pouring rain that served traditional Khmer (Cambodian) BBQ. We were given our own little table top BBQ, some beef, chicken, bacon fat, shrimp and vegetables to cook in a broth that collected all of the meat and bacon fat drippings while they cooked. $6.00 US for a meal that fed both Evan and I, with Becca and Jamey trying it as well. Lovely sweet waitress who explained to us how it all works…and didn’t laugh too hard at us when we ate the bacon fat early on…thinking that that was what we were supposed to do!! Instead she brought us another piece and explained it all over again.

our first Cambodian meal. So good! (excuse the french fries...comfort food for the J-man)
our first Cambodian meal. So good! (excuse the french fries…comfort food for the J-man)

Off to bed, we are exploring Angkor Wat, the 8th Wonder of the World and a UNESCO Heritage Site early tomorrow morning. Can’t wait!

Much love from this side of the world,

Nic xo

Cruising down the Gulf of Thailand…

img_20160910_172404560

I am just back from a night swim in the Gulf of Thailand. Originally Jamey and I were just relaxing at the guest house we are staying in tonight at Bang Boet Bay, while Becca and Evan went for a night swim…Becca came running back to tell us to come and swim as there was “glowing matter” in the water. It sounded too enticing to me, Jamey wasn’t quite sure but came anyways, and sure enough we were treated to an amazing under water light show! It is called bioluminesence and it is from the plankton that are living in the ocean waters. It can only be seen at night…and Thailand is one area where it is known to happen. Lucky us, what an amazing night swim and biology lesson all in one! I wish I could share a picture of the plankton but we didn’t have our camera with us, but if you google “bioluminensence Thailand”, you’ll see some amazing images.

Reflecting back on this week, it really has felt like even Jamey and Becca have returned back to school. In addition to Ev and I being more intentional about “school time”, our trip down to southern Thailand has brought us, and the kids many amazing learning opportunities.

We rented a car from Chiang Mai and we have been slowly working our way down to southern Thailand, to the beaches and the Gulf of Thailand. It’s been great having our own car as we are free to stop whenever we want to versus taking the fancy buses that boast wifi, air conditioning and some even have karaoke…I know, we have really missed out. Evan is very comfortable driving on the left hand side of the road, but wow, the driving is so very different than anything we are used to…bikes, trucks, bicycles, tuk tuks (taxis built around a scooter) all share the road. We laughed when we passed a man driving his moped with his dog somehow managing to sit behind him on the seat and another dog up front in his basket (see pic). Driving past pick up trucks loaded with 8-10 people in the back in hammocks doesn’t shock us now as it did when we first drove past one the first time, or families of 4 travelling at high speeds on their mopeds, all without helmets on.

Because we are free to stop whenever or wherever we choose to, we have broken up the 16 hour drive by choosing to stay in places that have some history or seem a bit off the beaten path. We explored old ruins that were built over 600 years ago as part of the defense of one of Thailand’s royal cities, Kampaeng Phet.  To see what remains was absolutely amazing and Jamey and Becca loved playing amongst the ruins. The following day, we ventured to Kanchanaburi, the town that was made famous by the movie, “The Bridge on the river Kwai”. Japan occupied Thailand during WW 2 and the town was home to a massive prisoner of war camp, largely Australian, British and Holland soldiers . These POWs were forced, alongside Thai citizens to build a rail line from Bangkok  to Rangoon (Burma) through punishing and extremely difficult conditions. They call this railway, the “Death Railway” as over 12 000 POW soldiers died and greater than 100 000 Thai citizens perished during the building and while living as a prisoners of war. We spent time in an incredible museum that brought this bit of history to life and then wandered slowly through one of the beautiful Prisoner of War cemeteries. It was actually very moving and an incredible opportunity to bring history to life for Jamey and Becca. They spent the next 3 evenings watching the movie “The Bridge over the river Kwai” (which surprised Ev and I as the quality of the film wasn’t terrific and the sound on my little computer isn’t great). Something we will never forget.

We then travelled further south and stayed at a lovely home in Thap Sakae, a lovely quiet spot near the Gulf. The host of the Air B and B place we rented encouraged us to spend the day at a gorgeous beach on the air force base and we are so glad we did. The setting was incredible and we had the beach pretty much to ourselves until 2 busloads of school children arrived and found Becca, Jamey and I pretty entertaining in our “foreign-ness”. At this same incredible beach, we had a chance to feed extremely tame and very cheeky little monkeys, called Dusky Langors. I think we ended up buying 8 little packets of corn cobs for them, it was so entertaining.

We are now close to getting on the ferry to travel to an island called Koh Samui. We wanted to find an island that had some great snorkelling, so it seemed a good choice. We have been a bit over burdened with choices of islands to travel to, places to stay, things to see and do etc…Travel is different these days with so much information available on the internet. I know, a hard problem to have and I feel guilty even as I write this. We don’t want to miss anything but we also want to see the real Thailand, away from all of the tourists as much as we can. Ev and I are worried that Koh Samui may leave our hearts a bit sad due to the influence of tourists in Thailand.  Tonight we found an amazing beach side guest house to stay in, with a lovely hostess named Dom, with a sea full of bioluminescent plankton and Thai children playing badminton the beach and not a tourist in sight…and we don’t want to leave this bit of paradise…but our car needs to be dropped off in Koh Samui and we have made a reservation through Air B and B for a place to stay, so we will go…but if our travels take us back to Thailand again, I think Bang Boet Bay will be our destination…and if our time in Koh Samui is anything like our travelling experiences thus far, I know we will find amazing places to spend time, seeing new things together, for the first time.

Thanks for reading and we love all the comments. You guys are all in our thoughts! Happy September!

xo Nic

 

 

Time with the Thailand McLachlan’s

It has been a week since I last did a blog update and what a week it has been! After we left Chiang Mai last weekend, we have had so many interesting adventures with Evan’s brother Tim and our sister in law Oi and their two fabulous kids Ben and Bam. They have been the best tour guides!

We visited the Chiang Mai zoo before we left Chiang Mai and had an interesting and hilarious visit with their famous panda bears, on loan from China. The bears were just waking up from their naps and were so very entertaining for all of us. The zoo was beautiful (despite a torrential downpour of rain) however, we didn’t have enough time to see all of it, so we hope to return again in November.

Tim and Oi live north east of Chiang Mai, in Chiang Mai Province in an area called Mae On. The scenery is absolutely stunning. I have never seen so many shades of green over gorgeous rolling hills and at night the crickets and cicadas were singing in unison with one another. It was wonderful to be back out again in nature after our time in Hong Kong and Chiang Mai.

Over 4 days we explored Mae On with our fantastic tour guides. Jamey and Becca were treated to a day amongst a Karen village tribe as Tim has been asked to be the pastor of their church. Together we walked hundreds of steps up a mountain and then many more down into a deep enormous cave. We went swimming in a a Hot Spring and the kids had a small horse back ride. We fed fish and elephants. We drove up to a lovely mountain top to see more amazing views and continued to eat incredible food.

When we were not out venturing, we loved our time at Tim and Oi’s place. It is peaceful and happy and full of love and music. Evan and Tim jammed together most nights, Ben treated us to incredible sounds from the piano, Becca learned how to play Heart and Soul. The kids played many rounds of Uno, and a fun game called “Don’t Panic” and card games. They wrestled with Tim and Oi’s dogs, Angie and Jasmine. We even found time for a ping pong tournament, which I am happy to report (despite Oi’s dismay), Evan won the tournament! King of Pinger’s…watch out! We so appreciated our time with the “Thailand McLachlan’s” and are so thankful for how welcome they made us feel. It was wonderful to see how quickly Jamey and Becca connected with their cousins.

Over the past 2 days, we have traveled much further north of Chiang Mai. Our first stop was to a town called Pai, after following the famous road which has 762 curves in total (up and down). Needless to say, none of us felt hungry when we arrived and we were thankful we didn’t need Evan to pull over while he was driving due to car sickness, but some of us got close! Evan and I visited Pai 18 years ago when we were in Thailand visiting Tim. It has definitely changed and while it is in an incredibly beautiful valley, it was bustling with 20 year old tourists and not really the scene we were looking for. Today we traveled further north to Mae Hong Son and have found this a peaceful little city. It is nestled amongst gorgeous green hills, the people are friendly and it is a lot less touristy. More our speed for sure.

Tomorrow we will use Mae Hong Son as our base and travel to a small town called Ban Ruk Thai, right along the Myanmar (Burma) border. It looks like a gorgeous place that was settled many many years ago by some people from China who were at war with their government and were given permission to reside in Thailand.  Oi shared pictures of Ban Ruk Thai with Evan and I, and we decided it looked and sounded too interesting not to go to.

We’ll return home in the afternoon back to the guest house we are staying in for some “road schooling” with Jamey and Becca and more swimming in the pool. We are thankful none of us have gotten sick at this point. Evan and I have felt less fit than we had when we left as the heat makes it difficult to endure long walks or intense exercise, but we are finding our stride.

It’s all good…we have been loving all the comments to the blog. Thank you for those. It is always so nice to hear from our friends and family both near and far.

Here’s to September and new adventures!

Becca and uncle Tim at the piano
Becca and uncle Tim at the piano

Nicola xo

(ps, I tried to upload more pics but for some reason I am not having much luck…so more pics to come later! I love this one of Becca with her uncle Tim)