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Blessings from Cambodia - A Post from Dennis

Buddhist Monks, Siem Reap and the darker things

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It is with some urgency that I am writing. The reality is that Southeast Asia is so mind-blowingly different that every day brings with it something new to share. We have been in Vietnam for only a few days and my camera is already full. I also want to give Cambodia the time it deserves. So with this post I will try and wrap up Cambodia to allow a fresh start for Vietnam.

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We absolutely loved Cambodia. We spent time in Siem Reap, the Gateway to Angkor Wat and Phnom Penh, the capital city. Siem Reap was a beautiful city and just the right size to explore. It had that manic Asian feel fueled by the darting and weaving mopeds and tuk tuks. It also had a softer side, with narrow alleyways, Buddhist monasteries, textile shops, lovely gardens and architecture.

It has been crazy, humid hot for our entire time in SE Asia. We are soaked through in a matter of minutes and often retreat to AC to cool off. We were fortunate in Siem Reap to have stayed in a lovely boutique hotel with a swim up bar and $1 fresh mango smoothies. The boys often went down to cool off, knocked down a smoothie and ran up a nice little bar tab.

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It was great to experience a largely Buddhist culture in Cambodia. In the mornings we would see all the monks, young and old, in their bright orange robes walking from business to business gathering donations in the form of money or food for a blessing. Once we became familiar with the protocol around monks we were able to get blessed ourselves. A blessing involved taking off your shoes, providing a donation, the monks putting a nice bright bracelet on your wrist and then providing a blessing while spraying you with water. It is a special experience we all enjoyed.

Also, lets face it Buddhist monks are pretty cool. I won't lie there is a part of me that expects them to all know martial arts and carry staffs and all that Shaolin Hollywood stuff. We had a few fun encounters with Buddhists monks whereby I was asked to be in a picture with some monks. I guess tall Canadian white guys are interesting too? We also met a hilarious young monk in Angkor Wat. He was milling around the temple humming Ed Sheeran's pop hit "Shape of You". After which he introduced himself to us, asked us where we were from, how old the boys were and then proceeded to give us a whole series of high fives, explosive fist pumps before and after his Buddhist blessing. It was a blast.

Cambodians are amazingly friendly people. They smile, welcome you with many hellos and high fives. Especially amazing after their heart-breaking recent history with the Khmer Rouge that killed approximately 25% of their population. This happened in the late 1970's! We visited the Killing Fields and the genocide museum in Phnom Penh. It reminded me a great deal of visiting the concentration camp in Dachau, Germany many years ago.

I'll finish on a positive note by saying that visiting Angkor Wat was an incredible experience and let the pictures do the rest.

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Posted by fishonyukon 04:16 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Slow travel in Cambodia - A post by Hillarie

A bike trip through the countryside

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Before we left Cambodia, we spent a lovely day biking through the countryside. We find that biking is a really nice way to slow down and discover some off-the-beaten track places that traveling by car or bus does not allow one to see. Our accommodation for the past three nights had been in Phnom Penh, the bustling capital of Cambodia. We were getting tired of the busy streets, crowded sidewalks, and obstructed views of the landscape.

We joined a group of three other travelers and two guides and went out for a lovely bike ride that meandered through temples and small villages.

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Our only obstacles were the skinny cows blocking the trail, school kids returning home from school, and a couple of very hot and slow ferry crossings across the Mekong river.

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We had the pleasure of visiting a local silk farm where we saw a multi-generational family spinning and weaving beautiful silk products.

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It was such an enjoyable and peaceful day that reset our traveling energy. We were ready to head back into the city and once again brave the honking horns, insane street crossings, and sweltering city heat.

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Posted by fishonyukon 22:03 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Cooking in Cambodia - A post by Hillarie

Chicken amok, spring rolls, and pumpkin custard.

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We had decided that Siem Reap was the place to finally take a cooking class. We all like cooking and LOVE eating. We could take a little bit of Cambodia home with us by learning a few popular Cambodian dishes that we could enjoy back in Whitehorse.

Our cooking class started with a market visit. Zach and Max, two big strong Canadian boys, were a hot comodity! "Are they available for marriage", asked a few of the local vendors. All of us (well maybe not the boys) were ready to meet the prospective brides given the unbelievably kind nature of all of the Cambodians we had met in our travels. If the brides could cook, Dennis was ready to make the deal!

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We entered the depths of the market and were overwhelmed by the smells, sights, and images of daily life in rural Cambodia.

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And of course we had to try eating some bugs. Loblaws in Canada is only now catching up with the rest of the world with its President's Choice cricket powder that North American consumers can add to their smoothies or bake into their muffins for protein and vitamins.

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And now it was time to prepare our food in the open air kitchen which was also home to over 50 orphan kids from surrounding villages. "Mommy .... you come here and peel the taro". "Daddy .... you take the skins off of the peanuts". "Brother .... beat the eggs". Ben, our cooking class teacher, gave us all very specific instructions for the three dishes that we would be learning to cook - deep fried spring roles, chicken amok, and pumpkin custard.

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We cooked all of the food over a very hot fire controlled ever so slightly with the turn of a log.

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The final dishes were amazing! I am not sure they are re-creatable back in Whitehorse given the incredibly fresh ingredients here in Cambodia and some spices that I don't think we can get way up north. But we learned the basics. Deep rich flavours, fresh ingredients, and simple recipes make for delicious food.

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We look forward to winter dinner parties back home in Whitehorse with our friends and family. Cambodian themed nights are in your future!

Posted by fishonyukon 18:11 Archived in Cambodia Comments (1)

Exactly as Advertised in Thailand - A Post by Dennis

Sun, sand, sea, Russians and Chinese

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Our gateway east was largely driven by the best value flights we could get from Germany. Phuket, Thailand is a very popular sun destination for Europeans and it was a hassle free 12 hour overnight flight from Cologne, Germany. We were even able to secure an extra row on the plane so each Zim could get a few hours sleep. We did not know it at the time but we were entering the low season with a few Europeans, very few North Americans and many, many Russian and Chinese tourists.

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Normally when we travel we tend to try to get off the beaten path. We try to choose destinations that are emerging, authentic and/or unique in some special way. Thailand is amazing but it is super mainstream. A ton of infrastructure, attractions and competition for our tourism dollars. Like you would expect, the beaches are gorgeous, the people are wonderful, the weather is hot, there is a ton to do, the food is amazing and it is all very reasonably priced. Phuket is anything but off the beaten path. Even in the low season, it is busy, built up and super-touristy. Normally we'd head out of dodge but in this case we knew what we were in for.

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After a few days at a fun hostel in Patong Beach, we moved to neighbouring Karon Beach and rented a modern apartment with a kitchen, AC, pool and more comforts that we are normally accustomed to. It was to be a base for the boys to catch up on some online school work, myself to get some lingering contracts buttoned up and an opportunity to prep for the upcoming work and grueling travel in Mongolia.

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In Phuket, we did most of the tacky touristy things: visited some great beaches, took in a foot massage and fish foot spa, did some snorkeling and diving, played mini-golf, met some beautiful Thai people, ate amazing Pad Thai and one of us even took in another popular Thai tourist activity...see photo below. I don't think we have seen or appreciated the "real Thailand" in our week and a half but it was great and exactly as advertised.

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With a ton of flexibility for the next few weeks we have decided our next stop will be Cambodia where we hope to stretch our travel muscles a bit and push ourselves to get off the well beaten path.

Posted by fishonyukon 01:18 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Camino Love - A post by Hillarie

Our first taste of walking the Camino Frances

rain 14 °C

We had heard about the Camino de Santiago over the years and had talked to various people who had hiked all or a portion of the trail. The religious nature of the trail was not of particular interest but the challenge of hiking some or all of its 780 kilometers was something that sounded exciting. And of course Spanish (more specifically, Galician) culture, good food and wine, and beautiful cities is what we (ok, mostly I) generally look for in a travel destination.

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During our time away we knew that we wanted to meet up with my mom for a couple of weeks. The nature of that two weeks was to be determined. We talked about Thailand, south of Spain, Portugal and finally landed on the Camino because my mom had always wanted to hike it and it was a pretty simple travel formula that could work for all of us ..... (wake up + eat + walk + eat + sleep) x 10 days

The five of us arrived in Santiago de Compostela with a limited plan. We had two nights booked in this lovely northern Spanish city and then a loose plan to hike for approximately 10 days. Luckily we met Manuel at the Camino tourism office who set us up with a plan.

The Plan:

Sarria to Santiago - 117 km - 5 days - this would allow us to receive our certificate of accomplishment that is given to pilgrims who walk a minimum of 100 km or cycle at least 200 km.

Santiago to Fisterra - 87 km - 4 days - this would take us on a unique westward route from in-land Santiago to Cape Fisterra on the Atlantic coast.

Great! We finally had a plan.

Day 1 - Sarria to Portomarin - Snow, rain, hail, mud, and sore feet all occurred on our first day. It was a bit of a tough introduction to the trail but luckily we had bought some ponchos and were up for a bit of an adventure.

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Day 2 - Portomarin to Palas de Rai - We encountered beautiful vistas, soggy picnic lunches, and great coffee stops along the way. We began to get a sense of Galician culture which is based on Celtic beliefs and society.

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Day 3 - Palas de Rai to Ribadiso - We all experienced silent moments, great conversations and connection with family, and made new friends (Ginny and Jaime our new friends from the UK)

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Day 4 - Ribadiso to Arzua - You can't help but meet travelers from around the world on such a famous hike. We enjoyed the company of others and each other while walking through the towering eucalyptus and pine trees.

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Day 5 - Arzua to Santiago - We were being pulled along by nearing Santiago and experienced a mixture of fatigue and excitement. My blistered feet hurt so much that I limp along at a snail's pace.

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Now that the first part of our journey was over we took a couple of days rest, cared for our blistered feet, and started to plan for the next leg of our journey. Santiago to Fisterra - 89 km. We were excited for the first glimpse of the ocean, new energy, and the accomplishment of another milestone.

This part of the Camino felt a bit different. It was less busy, had broader vistas, and emitted a sense of the ocean drawing you nearer.

Day 1 - Santiago to Negreira- The weather has changed - We encounter misty mornings while crossing beautiful medieval bridges.

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Day 2 - Negreira to Olveiroa - Sunny days brought lovely picnics, laughs, and always looking for the next sign to guide the way.

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Day 3 - Olveiroa to CorcubiĆ³n - We encountered mysteries behind hidden corners, peculiar sights, and miles walked in my Birkenstocks given my horribly blistered feet.

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Day 4 - CorcubiĆ³n to Fisterra - We were counting the remaining kilometers, getting the first glimpse of the ocean, achieving success, and dreaming of when we can return.

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While we only did a portion of the Camino de Santiago, the experience was a very deep one. Walking 20 to 30 kms for 10 days can be hard at times but it is an incredibly rewarding travel (and life) experience. For our family the formula worked (eat, walk, eat, sleep). The Camino also provided the opportunity for deeper rewards. We were all physically challenged at times, we had great family conversations, we had quiet personal reflection time, and we made new friends. Thanks Camino and we will all be back!! We have many more miles to go ....

Posted by fishonyukon 04:24 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

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