Here’s the video we shot while in the Kingdom of Cambodia!
Hope you like it!
Here’s the video we shot while in the Kingdom of Cambodia!
Hope you like it!
Have you ever seen that movie The Beach with Leo Dicaprio? You know… the one that takes place on a remote island with pristine beaches, lush landscapes, and not the slightest touch of western influence? Well, I am not about to tell you that I went to that tourist hotspot in Thailand, but I am going to tell you that we found our own version of The Beach right off of the coast of Cambodia.
It’s called Koh Rong.
The second we got there we were brought into a meeting area where we were given the lay of the land — Be cautious of sand flies, don’t abuse the usage of fresh water, watch out for your personal belongings as theft is a problem, and most importantly don’t play with water buffalo. So, with that in hand we chose to do one of the most adventurous things we have done on this trip. Stay the night.
People have traveled from around the globe just to get a glimpse of this movie-like setting. There are only a few places to get rooms from on the island, just a couple spots to eat and drink at, but no matter where I went I found it hard to overcome how surreal it all felt.
We dropped our bags off at our toasty air-conditioner-less bungalow, in the middle of summer might I add, and went out to mingle with the locals, or the lack thereof… Locals were present on this island, however it seemed that the island only really existed as a tropical oasis for backpackers.
It was incredible to step foot in a world that was so different than my own. In this world all anyone cared about was the ‘here and now’ and nothing beyond that. A lot of the island’s inhabitants are just previous backpackers that stayed a bit longer than expected without a departure date in site.
That night we decided to live like the ‘other side’, we drank with them, ate like them, sang with them, watched dancing fire shows, and just partied with them until morning.
After the evening’s festivities we returned to our bungalow which only offered the safety of a mosquito net, and nothing more. There were zero comforts of home — there wasn’t even a fully enclosed roof. As we laid in bed, there was one of the biggest storms I have ever witnessed, and we were right in the middle of it. The lightning strikes lit up our entire bungalow, and the thunderclaps sounded like a tank next door was waging war with the water buffalos.
Status update: We are in the middle of a barren island that not many people know of, both cell phones completely dead, and no accessible wifi all while in a torrential storm! But, what could have happened to our bungalow? Caught on fire? Flooded? Swarmed with mosquitos? Eh — it was all for the story, so we just pushed through it without a wink of sleep.
When we got up in the morning we went back to the docks to catch our ferry to get off the island to find people taking shots of tequila at 8:30am… Yea… Well, somehow we were able to make it out of the belly of the beast, aka Koh Rong, and continue on our travels, but let’s just say I don’t think we would have been able to survive another night!
Cambodia… Wow… I truly do not even know where to start.
The Kingdom of Cambodia is by far one of the most interesting, weird, fun, safe, scary places I have ever visited. Imagine a land with no rules, cheap drinks, amazing sites, and tuk tuk drivers (more to come on this later). This was a deadly combination of the elements that we were not prepared to handle, but are unbelievably glad to have experienced it!
We started off our Cambodian adventure in Siem Reap: the home of Angkor Wat. Interestingly enough, Angkor Wat came into plane sight on our way from the airport to the hotel, and for good reason too, it is the countries main tourist attraction which brings millions of people into the country every year.
Our first day of tours while in Siem Reap was an all out temple blitz. It was so hot outside that it made Miami feel like a little mosquito bite in comparison. As we were traversing through the temples with a camera in each person’s hand we had to be mindful not to drench them with our own sweat, but as we always do it for the story we decided to trek on through!
We were able to see some incredible sites and have fun while doing it. Outside of the first temple, Angkor Thom, we came across a pack of monkeys on the side of the road where we proceeded to feed them bananas. Coming from the states, I have never seen monkeys in the wild like this, and to see them jumping around chasing the bananas was unique for me. Once we got inside to the temple grounds we parked our van immediately outside of the check in point where we were able to step foot on elephants to take us on a trip around the temple itself.
Coming down after our trip to the first temple we were whisked away to one of the most famous temples in the world, Ta Prohm, or better known as the Tomb Raider Temple. This was the temple that was seen in the famous movie with Angelina Jolie. I know when I was a kid and watched this movie the only thing that was going through my head was, “Is that place real?” … Well, that and maybe one or two other things, but you know what I am saying.
Upon reaching the temple, it was exactly how it looked in the movie 13 years ago. It was pretty incredible to witness the exaggerated overgrowth there. It was almost as if the trees were consuming the temples, and after admiring the natural beauty of this temple we had to pay our respects to the Tomb Raider site depicted below.
After the Tomb Raider temple it was about 1 in the afternoon, and that was when we chose to tackle the massive Angkor Wat. I arrived to Angkor Wat and thought we were just going to be there for a short time as it was blazing outside and I was exhausted, but once we got inside the temple grounds we found ourselves staying there for almost 2 hours! It was one of the most fascinating places I have ever been to in my life.
I didn’t know this before, but Angkor Wat is considered the largest religious monument in the world. It was truly a magnificent monument and once inside you can really tell why it is one of the world’s biggest tourist attractions.
All in all, Siem Reap (although there is not much to it outside of the temples) is an absolutely incredible place, and one that I can now scratch off of my bucket list. I highly encourage everyone to visit it at least once.
May 25th – On my way back to Ho Chi Minh City on the last leg of my journey. While I’m incredibly excited to go back home to my wife I find myself saddened to leave the boys to continue on with their travels. To say that these last two weeks have been an adventure would be the understatement of understatements. It feels like the past 2 weeks have been surreal — kind of like a blur.
May 10 – We started in the north of Vietnam and slowly worked our way south. The differences between Hanoi and Saigon were stark to say the least. You could feel the frenetic energy in Saigon, the restaurants, art galleries, clothing tailors, and the nightlife.
May 16 – Our first day in Saigon was an all day tour starting out with the former South Vietnam presidential palace equipped with the war rooms and command centers in the basement to the residential suites for foreign dignitaries once visited by Richard Nixon.
Our tour guide was a gentleman by the name of Giao Chau from Buffalo Tours who had a strong command of the English language and was able to articulate a lot of the history and culture of Vietnam. Giao made our stay in Saigon very memorable as we felt like we had our own personal valet.
We were fortunate enough to see most of the highlights of the city in our first full day. You couldn’t help but notice the wide tree lined boulevards in and around the town. The center of Saigon kind of had a hint of Paris to it. Get it? Vietnam was once a French colony.
Saigon also had the very hi-end shops, which made Gesy, the Brazilian Princess, feel very much at home. You had shops like Hermes, Ferragamo, Louis Vuitton, and Cartier. (Please ask Gesy for the list of fine shops, she had committed to memory) I’m wondering whether her afternoon shopping spree, or as I would describe it an injection of monetary stimulus into their local economy, will be reflected in next quarter’s Vietnamese retail sales and local GDP figures. It was funny to see that every time she left one of these fine shops Gesy was able to leave members of the staff with a lasting smile. I leave it to Gesy to be a team player and for being a solid supporter of the local economy where ever that might be.
May 17 – we started to make our way to the Mekong River delta about a 3-hour drive away from the city. We were fortunate to have our air-conditioned van equipped with a wifi hotspot, which made the long drive a bit more enjoyable. The scenery was beautiful and I lost count of how many rice paddies we went by.
We arrived at the Mekong River Delta where we boarded our, let’s say, 27-foot very basic floating vessel. I was amazed at the floating villages, open markets, and even local art galleries. One small point their local art galleries are nothing like we are use to in the United States: trust me it adds to the adventure. However, on a small note, I did learn how rice cakes were made.
One of the day’s highlights was when Michael launched his aerial camera drone. The locals were coming out of their floating homes just to see this unidentified object flying through the air — technology like this has never made it to this far corner of the world and my boys were able to create some unforgettable moments for a lot of people that day. The children jumping up and down just waving at the drone not really knowing what it actually was.
We eventually transferred to two smaller boats to take in the jungles of the Mekong. Imagine a shallow undeveloped Venice where there was nothing but lush jungle for as far as the eye could see. After we disembarked from these small vessels we got back into our van where we traveled back to the ‘comforts’ of our Saigon hotel.
We had gone pretty deep into what Vietnam had to offer, but nothing had prepared us for Cambodia. Stay tuned.
I gave a kiss to the love of my life and told her I’d see her in a couple of weeks. I’m joining our two boys on their Onwards and Upwards adventure to do it for the story. My flight from Miami, Newark, Beijing, then Hanoi was pretty much uneventful, however thank God for business-class. I met Michael, Daniel, and Gesy at the Hanoi airport as our flights pretty much arrived within minutes apart.
My adventure apparently started right away on my first evening in Hanoi as my checked bag was lost. I resigned myself to the fact that I was doing this for their story. Upon my arrival at the Hanoi airport, and having flown from Beijing to Hanoi on Vietnam Airlines, I couldn’t help but notice the mannerism and professionalism of the flight crews, it was such a relief after such a long journey. Having learned that my bag was not with me the customer service of Vietnam Airlines couldn’t have been more helpful and more courteous. With a high degree of confidence they assured me that they would do everything possible to locate my bag. Thankfully my bags were found in Beijing and were delivered to my hotel the next day.
The following day, I’m awoken by Daniel around 10:30am local time. I must have slept for 12 hours straight and was feeling rather refreshed. Moments later I joined the rest of the crew for our first day in Hanoi. Michael and Daniel right away wanted to check out the local flavor however Gesy and I were showing some restraint.
I for the life of me never experienced the tens of thousands of moped scooters that filled the streets of Hanoi. I literally saw a family of four on one moped. I thought I was a risk-averse individual, but crossing the streets of Hanoi puts risk into a different perspective. In my view I would describe it as organized chaos. Michael and Daniel jumped on a scooter with a driver heading off to the old quarters area of Hanoi, the open markets. Gesy and I continued to show restraint by jumping on to a rickshaw and met the boys a short time later.
We started walking around in this open market, which was nothing short of a sea of humanity and capitalism, where literally everything was for sale. As we were walking around you couldn’t help but feel you were in a portable steam room unable to escape the heat. The temperature was in the high 90’s with relative humidity around 80%; bottom line it was rather uncomfortable and we needed to find a different venue.
Voila we stumbled onto this back alley massage parlor, albeit very legit and with air-conditioning (thank god), and were met by a massage team of 5 Vietnamese women. My expectations were going to be tested. I picked out the head, neck, and shoulder massage 70-minute package for $12.00. I thought to myself — It was only $12.00 what did I have to lose, but I set my expectations accordingly. As this young lady proceeded to work out the damage that 20 hours of flying can do to the human body she tried to have a conversation with me, but I was only understanding every 10th word that happened to be in broken English. For me I tried to be consistent with my communication skills so I kept repeating the same thing over and over, in English, “this feels veri, veri, good.” I said that for the 70 minutes and was hoping she got the message. I literally had this petite woman walking on my back and working very hard to loosen the stiff muscles, to say that this was a great feeling would have been an understatement it absolutely exceeded my expectations. I felt so refreshed. The value of this experience was priceless, and that was only the first day of the adventure.
Getting caught in everyday life back home can be overwhelming — commuting to a job, paying bills, tending to responsibilities, upholding ‘social status’, dealing with friends… Once in a while we just need a break from it all where we are able to detach and really re-charge the batteries, but in a different sort of way that just another vacation cannot do for you, and that is exactly what my dad came to do.
Here I am half way around the world — traveling around Asia from country to country, visiting more airports than hotels, being lost more often than knowing where I am or how to get back home, all while armed with my backpack and camera. It has been one of the most revitalizing experiences of my life.
I have always traveled, I have been privileged enough to travel often, and I have really gotten this travel bug from my father. He is by far my biggest role model and someone who I aspire to be each and everyday. Well, my father just joined us on our adventure in Vietnam; he packed his bags and traveled half way around the world to join us.
So, without further ado, I wanted to welcome our pinch-hitting blogger, Luis Rangel.