The Travels of Drew & Liss

New Zealand, Australia, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Siem Reap, Cambodia

We arrived in Siem Reap with one thing on our mind, Angkor Wat. What else do you go there for? Since millions of tourists come to see the temples of Angkor every year the city of Siem Reap has everything you need. There is every kind of food you can think of, ATMs on every corner, and some body offering you something to buy where ever you look. We had a hard time when little kids would come up to you while you were eating wanting you to buy postcards and when you say no they walk away crying. Real tears or not, it was sad to see children working the streets at night to make a buck.

Another think about Siem Reap is everything is in US dollars which was strange after not seeing the greenback in a long time. It was nice not doing the math to figure out that your dinner costs $2.

The first day at the Angkor Wat we rode bikes to see explore the area. Once we bought our three-day pass we got a map and found out how large the area really was. The first temple we went was the famous Angkor Wat which was surrounded by a giant moat. The actual wat was incredibly impressive with the thousand year stone all intricately carved into designs and figures. The four walls surrounding the wat are all carved telling different stories of the past.

The next temple we saw was Bayon and it turned out to be our favorite. This old temple had tunnels, rooms, and statues all over the place. Each tower of the many towers has a face on each side. We ended the day going to a tower on a small hill that had a great view of the sunset.

We hired a wonderful driver, named Cheam, the second day to take us to some of the temples that were further away. He was a great guide as he explained the meaning of the temples and gave us some of it's history. We saw a few temples that had huge trees with the roots draping over the walls of the temple.

The temples are from the 9th-13th century of the Khmer Empire. The Angkor Archaeological Park encompasses more than 400 square Km and is a World Heritage Site. The Khmer people are the dominant ethnic group in Cambodia, they have beautiful dark brown skin and beautiful big brown eyes. Unfortunately there country is strewn with land mines and there is a high rate of amputees. It was devastating to see so many of them begging at the temples, a result of the genocide done by the Khmer regime as late as the 1970's.

We absolutely loved exploring the temples of Angkor Wat, soaking in the memorizing sunsets, and meeting the kind people of Cambodia.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


Luang Prabang Parade
We crossed the border from Thailand to Laos painlessly and arrived to find out that it was the start of the annual 3-day festival celebrating the end of the rainy season. Our first day in country we roamed through the streets playing dart games and trying different foods at all the
booths lining the streets. Drew won a box of juice for hitting 3 balloons out of 4 and then he tried some BBQ, but couldn't figure out what kind of meat it was. It kind of gave him a scare when Liss reminded him that they eat dog, rat, and many others animals you wouldn't think of eating.
The next day we jumped on a 2-day boat ride to Luang Praban . Our boat was the 'slow boat' and luckily we were going down river. The boat is about 80 ft long and it was packed with tourists. We made the best out of the ride by admiring the natural beauty of riverside villages, lush green mountains, watching the boat races which is part of the festivities. The boat ride stopped in a small town in a steep canyon for the night and we quickly fell asleep despite the continuous firecrackers going through the night. After the second day of sore bums on the boat we finally arrived in Luang Prabang which is a World Heritage Site with strong french influence. We made it just in time for the biggest night of the festival. We watched a parade of people of all ages singing and dancing and carrying bamboo boats glowing with candles. We participated by shooting roman candle fireworks over the parade and then we followed the parade to the temple were all the boats were blessed and then the monks shot off roman candles over the crowd. We also took part of the festival by lighting a floating candle and incense and putting it into the river hoping our wishes will come true. Then we watched all the boats float down river. We barley made it home while kids threw firecrackers at our feet. We then took a windy bus ride through the edgy mountains of Laos, where we realized we had a man guarding the bus with an AK47. We arrived at 1am in Vang Vieng, a very creepy backpacker town where every restaurant plays reruns of Friends or Family Guy. The best part of Vang Vieng was the river tubing. We booked a river tour that took us to a village to see a cave temple and then explore a massive cave. The enterance to the cave was a few small holes where a stream came out of the mountain. We jumped into our tubes and ducked under the rock and emerged into a giant cave with stalagmites everywhere you looked. After the cave tour we headed down to the main river to start floating 5 km back to town. The river is absolutely gorgeous with mountains towering over the river. As we floated down the river there was numerous bars to stop for a drink. The main attraction to the bars was the giant rope swings, water slides, and zip lines. We spent hours on the swings acting like kids at 'Raging Waters'.
Our next stop was the capital of Laos, Vientiane. This city has a strong French influence with many bakeries, french architecture, and a look-alike 'Arc de Triumph'. There was also many beautiful temples, old and new.

We took a night bus to our next stop and this was no ordinary bus. It was a two-story sleeper bus and each bed was the equivalent to a twin but shorter and for two people. It wasn't too bad of a ride and next thing we knew we were in Pakse where we jumped on a van to the 4,000 islands. The 4,000 islands is in the very south of Laos where the Mekong fans out creating many little islands. A short boat ride took us to the island of Don Det that was a beautiful little island with rice fields in the middle and bungalows on the shore. The island was very quiet with many locals busy harvesting rice and fishing in the Mekong. We found the perfect bungalow right on the river that had amazing sunset views, night-time lightning shows, and overlooked Cambodia on the other side of the river. We rented bikes to explore the island to the south which was home to the largest waterfall (by volume) in Southeast Asia. This water streched as far as you could see and massive amounts of water plunged over rocks. At the far end of the island we took a boat to see the fresh water dolphins which are some of the last in the world. We spent a week in the area to take a break from moving around so much and because it was so cheap and the food was so fresh and so good.
We spent our last day in Laos back in Pakse which is a small, bustling town. With not a whole lot to see in town we rented a motor bike to see some of
the local life and that led us to a  national park. We saw some incredible waterfalls and had lunch at a beautiful restraurant uniquely built with local timber.
Laos was filled with natural beauty and friendly people and we highly recommend a visit.  
Peter, the friendly little monkey at our guesthouse who was saved from a Cambodian BBQ.

Sunday, October 12, 2008


Well, we just got back from our 3 day trek to the hill tribes just north of Chiang Mai. The first day we explored a beautiful waterfall, then hiked 3 hours to a Karen tribe village tucked in the mountains. We had one other American solo traveller, and 4 Spanish lady friends who did the trek with us and our guide was a Jackie Chan-look alike named Som Dee. It was up and down slopes through hot sun and misty fog, and then we came upon the small village surrounded by tiers of rice fields and lots of bamboo houses. We stayed in small bamboo huts on stilts and the villagers made us dinner of delicious vegetable curries and rice. The next morning we got up early and hiked for 4 hours again through the blazing sun. Our Spanish ladies complained enough to give us plenty of breaks...which was really very much appreciated and then we finally came down the mountain side into a small valley where 10 elephants and lots of water buffalo were bathing in a river at a small elephant camp. We loved hanging out with the big wrinkly guys, and watching the kids give them all baths before our trek. We rode them for about an hour through the jungle, until we got to the next Karen village. That night Som Dee serenaded us with his Thai versions of American classics...Bryan Adams, "Everything I do, I do it for you" became "Avry doooo, dooooo faaa you"....very entertaining :) The next day was the biggest adventure yet...Bamboo rafting. Which sounded very peaceful and relaxing meandering down a big calm river- We were so wrong! At 8am Som Dee loads up all 8 of our bags on a bamboo tripod and we all line up in a single file trying to distribute our weight. In about 2 minutes our feet disappear, then our ankles and then Som Dee says " Very quick...OFF!" Som Dee and another villager found another piece of bamboo to tie on making it16 pieces instead of 15 pieces keeping us afloat. Drew and the other American guy were given the job to maneuver us through the river, which they realized quickly was much harder than it looked. We were banging against rocks and ducking under trees until they figured out how to put all of their weight on their 15 foot bamboo poles while pushing off the river bottom. Our favorite part was when Som Dee said, "OK, sit down...small waterfall" All of us looked at each other, and stopped laughing when we started going over fast rapids, hitting rocks on the way down. Liss was hanging on by one hand until someone pulled her back on. It was quite the adventure! Next stop Laos.....

Friday, October 03, 2008

Sawadee Ka

Mae Hong Son Province
We arrived in Bangkok about a week ago and Aunt Bonnie and Uncle Henry gave us a royal Thai welcoming. They treated us to a fabulous meal of local cuisine on the river and our train trip to the north.
We are now in Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand and we have fallen in love with this little mountain town. We are staying at a nice quiet place near the river with free bicycles for us to wander around town and whiz through all the motor bikes. We are enamored with the food and local markets...and the $0.60 fresh fruit smoothies are divine. We met up with Morgan and Kataneh (Congrats again Newly Weds!) for a Thai Boxing match which was as Drew states "Bloodsport" quality. Ten fights, 2 KO's, bloody faces, and so many kicks to the kidneys made us sore the next day.
Motorbiking the Mae Hong Son mountains
We headed up to Pai in the mountains for 3 days and had an amazing adventure exploring on a moped. We found waterfalls, canyons, and even elephants! (Aunt Roxanne I did better than an elephant pet, I got a hug :) Pai itself was a very small, bohemian style town, with great live music every night and an incredible variety of international cuisine.
Pambok Waterfall
We met up with Drew's godmother's friend, Ronny, last night for dinner. She is an inspiring woman who picked up her belongings 3 years ago and relocated to this fabulous town, Chiang Mai. She is an amazing artist who volunteers at the blind school for children and who is very much young at heart and who knows how to enjoy every moment of life.
We plan to go on a 3 day trek to the hill tribes via elephant and bamboo raft. Then eventually Laos....if we can pull ourselves away from Chiang Mai.
A tiny bar in the middle of Pai.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Land Way Down Under

Sunset over Australia
So, about that slowing down on the Sunshine coast bit, well, knowing us we just couldn't sit tight for 3 weeks straight so we decided to take an adventure packed 9 days to Tasmania.
We apparently could not get enough of sleeping in converted minivans, so decided to dip back into the near freezing weather and explore the place where the Cape Grim Air Pollution Station claims Tasmania as having the world’s cleanest air. (The lack of pollution is due to the island’s southerly latitude, its position in the Southern Ocean, low-key development, distance from other land masses, and the cleansing effect of the Roaring Forties -Strong westerly winds that carry pollution-free air thousands of kilometres across the Southern Ocean. For those of you who were curious :)
Tasmania is a beautiful island with stunning white sand beaches, and landscapes that are rocky and rugged to green rolling hills and fertile valleys. The cities and towns in Tasmania are very historic from the times when it was mainly an isolated prison island. We found big stone building and old churches and bridges in every town we visited. We enjoyed the various campsites where we were surrounded by wildlife. Unfortunately we saw most of the wallabies, possums, wombats, and birds wildlife on their backs or smooshed on the side of the roadl... That's why everyone has big grills on their cars! We also visited Mt Fields National park to see massive waterfalls, rainforest, the second tallest trees in the world (mountain ash eucalyptus), and to play in the fresh snow. We spent out last day exploring the orchards, vineyards, and bays of the Huon valley ending it with fish and chips in Hobart harbor.
Before and after our Tas adventure we were able to spend some quality time on the coast with Lynne and Steve, Drew's aunt and uncle. They have a beautiful house and land where you wake up every morning to kookuburras, and rainbow colored lorikeets songs. We spent our days surfing and swimming at the numerous beaches on the sunshine coast. We spent an afternoon at the Noosa Jazz Festival listening to amazing artist and one young artist, Smokin' Joe Robinson, left us stunned with his brilliant guitar talent. It has been so comforting to stay with family and wind down after living in a van for weeks at a time. We spent a day at rainbow beach discovering the colored sands and the cute little towns along the way. We stumbled upon a small lake with a gorgeous botanical garden. Since it is spring time we enjoyed all new colorful flowers as well as seeing a snake winding its way in the shrubs. Steve even let us take out the boat to go fishing down the Maroochy River. What a fantastic trip we are having so far. Next stop is Bangkok and many more adventures to come.

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