Sunday, May 14, 2006

Journey to the Developing Nations

Hello again,

In my final Asia excursion, I went my favorite travel buddies to Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia - it was, by far, the most eye-opening trip I have been on yet. We started in Thailand where we took a bus to the border of Laos to go through customs - customs in Laos involves a wooden shack in the middle of a muddy field. From there we took a 3+ hour ride in the back of a pick-up truck, which was the main transport in Laos to a little town near the gorgeous waterfalls. This town had no hot water, the ancient dial-up internet that was spotty, and electricity turns off for the entire town at 8pm every night. For 80 cents per night, we stayed in a bungalow next to the river. The bungalow was just one room with a king sized bed and the bathrooms were outside (as you can see in the picture). In the middle of the night we heard rustling outside our window. Convinced it was a thief, we looked out side - only to find cows grazing in our lawn... Weird.

We moved on to Cambodia - but not without serious issues. The transportation between Laos and Cambodia is spotty at best and HIGHLY sketchy. Essentially one bus runs between the two countries and they stuffed 12 people into an 8 person van... stopping only in the middle to load up the limited leg room with wood from a village. My friend got her shoes stolen from her bag, and when she got sick in the car, they refused to pull over and made her simply open the window. It was an absolute nightmare. The ride that they told us would take 4 hours took 10 HOURS. The road is not paved - it's mostly mud and dirt. AVOID traveling between these two countries if you can. It's simply not well-traveled enough yet. Try in 10 years. Fly directly into Angkor Wat if that's the ultimate destination. Phenom Phen was an even bigger disaster - there is nothing worth going there for. It's dirty with a ton of thieves looking to rip off tourists. There were more than one occasions where authority figures solicited bribes from us - once at the border, once with a police officer (wtf?!). Also, beware of false advertising - the "luxury cruise ship" that was advertised to us at our hotel to take us to Angkor Wat was more like a canoe, and when it began to rain in the middle of the ride, the boat started to flood with the brown water from the lake. We had to help get it out. Awful.

You really can fly directly from Thailand to Angkor Wat, and that's what I would recommend. The surrounding town of Angkor Wat was built by tourists for tourists, and it's not nearly as scary as the capital. Major chain hotels exist here. We never felt in danger. It was amazing to see such history. Trees growing out of monuments - it's the ultimate childhood tree house experience. Massages were $3 for an hour, and we got one every night. Food was good with lots of international cuisine. You should get a tour guide for Angkor Wat -- essentially, this just means hiring a tuck tuck driver for the day. I think we paid less than $20 for the whole day, including the night. It really was incredible.

Finally back in Thailand, we went to the Tiger temple, where monks and Bengal tigers live side-by-side. In the picture to the left, I'm just - you know - walking my pet tiger. It was pretty freakin cool.

**Please note, this trip was taken in May 2007 - I posted it in 2006, so that it would not appear at the top of the page, as I do not want it to overshadow my other amazing experiences in Asia. Additionally, this entry was written in 2009, as I never emailed my story to any of my friends/family.