On Falling In Love With The World

Three summers ago I fell in love. Not with a man, as expected at my age. That hasn’t quite happened yet. Instead, I fell in love with the world. I dreamed of spending my life living in new countries, exploring the continents, learning new languages, embracing new cultures and meeting new people.

Two summers ago, my heart was taken again, by Thailand. Still a part of the world, but a bit more specific. A lot of the young travelers who arrive in Thailand are there for the parties, the cheap prices and the beaches. Throngs of young people migrate to particular areas in each city and on each island to drink buckets of Sang Som, attend Full Moon Parties and see controversial ping-pong shows. While the cheap prices are certainly an added bonus and the parties are indeed some of the wildest I have ever been to, Thailand is so much more than that. I fell in love with the people there: the men and women working hard at a street stall, children zigzagging through the crowded bars trying to sell roses to drunken foreigners. I volunteered and became passionate about something I knew very little of before I went. I got my priorities straight, realized just how lucky I am, and learned about a new way of living that I’ve tried to integrate into my daily life at home.

Cambodians lounging at their countryside home

Thai streets

Cambodian children

With a love of travel comes a sacrifice and for each individual making travel a priority, their sacrifice is unique to them. Some may sacrifice romantic relationships, friendships, wealth, or material possessions. Some might sacrifice the idea of a career or a family all together. But with that sacrifice comes something that many travelers yearn for. An indescribable feeling that comes from a mixture of ultimate freedom, terror, empowerment and lack of control. Travel isn’t easy. It can be hard, but it’s both the good and bad that make me love it. I haven’t gone as far or seen as much as many but I have gone and seen more than some. I am both thankful knowing that I have been born into a lifestyle that allows me to continue to see new places and grateful for the things I have already seen.

do as the romans do!

Each destination I face brings out a new reaction. I am disappointed by some, others I enjoy but will never return, and a special few steal pieces of my heart. It feels as though every time I fall in love with a new city or a new country, a piece of my heart is left behind with it. It takes a special place to do that but it is because of those special places that each time I come home I feel as though I’m being stretched farther than before. There is something beautiful, yet terrifying, about that feeling. Having your heart belong to so many places already, feeling the intense pull whenever you hear its name or see a photo.

sheep in Ireland

Laughing in Trafalger Square, London

Abbey Road!

Travel isn’t for everyone. I don’t believe that you have to travel in order to be cultured, aware, or a better human being. A traveler is not better than anyone else. A businessman or woman is not better than anyone else. For some, travel can only happen in the summers. For others, travel is their lifestyle. Either way, travel is something more than a vacation. It’s more than five-star resorts and parties on a beach. It’s forcing you, especially as a backpacker, to trust. That’s something people don’t seem to have a lot of these days.  It’s becoming as fully integrated into the local culture and way of life as you can get yourself in the time that you have there. It’s exploring parts of a town that few tourists have. It’s befriending the music students in the park, the lady at your favorite smoothie stand, or the homeless child on the street.

looking out over Chiang Mai, Thailand. One very special place.

As it is now, I feel my heart scattered across the world in Thailand, Canada, England and Ireland. Four places, so far apart from one another. Travel is so many things: invigorating, fun, tiring, terrifying, spontaneous, and enriching. But why do I do it? I travel to push my own limits. I travel to find something that I wasn’t aware that I was looking for. I travel to connect with people, nature, myself, the world in general. I travel because it is what makes me the happiest. I travel because I can’t imagine not.

So, for all of you readers who also travel, why? What does it mean to you?

Things Southeast Asia Has Taught Me

Southeast Asia has a special place in my heart and I think it always will. When I first decided to try out traveling, I told myself I wouldn’t return to a place I had visited before until I had gone to all seven continents. Well, this summer I went back to Thailand for a second time. And during that trip I started to try to plan how I could get myself back there next summer. There is just something about that area that draws you back again and again. It could make you stay forever. Southeast Asia has also taught me many things. About myself, life, other cultures. Here are the top ten:

1. NEVER TAKE TOILET PAPER FOR GRANTED. Seriously, the amount of times I found myself in a washroom, whether it be a western toilet or the dreaded squat toilet, without toilet paper was far too many. I have learned to always carry a roll of toilet paper in my purse if I’m traveling in a developing country. Or a small packet of tissues or kleenex, which are much more discreet. It’s far better than rummaging through your purse for a random receipt to use, that’s for sure.

2. COLD SHOWERS CAN BE ENJOYABLE. And preferred. There comes a time when you’ve been walking around with a backpack on your back, shirt soaked through, eyes stinging from the sweat dripping in your eyes, and all you want is an ice cold shower. At home, this works the opposite way. My showers are burning hot and any limb that is not under the water has goose bumps. In Southeast Asia, any limb out of the refreshingly cool water is hot and humid feeling.

3. TIME MEANS NOTHING. Life moves at a slower pace over there. There is no rushing for deadlines. Scheduled appointments are really only a guideline. The person you’re meeting with might just need to go have one last cigarette outside before he meets with you. Sometimes, this kind of atmosphere is really awesome. Usually, I do like it. But sometimes, when you’ve slept in and really need to be somewhere, like to catch a flight, it can be frustrating. Time also means nothing in regards to scheduled transportation times involving buses and trains. They are frequently, if not almost always, delayed. Get used to it. Grab a fruit shake and wait.

4. FLIES ON MY FOOD IS REALLY NO BIG DEAL. My falafel was being made infront of me and flies were everywhere. Flying around my face, the cooks face, her hands, they rested on the pile of lettuce, pickles and other vegetables. They went for a ride on my pita as it was passed from her to me. But you get over it. Soon it becomes almost… normal.

5. ANGER GETS YOU NOWHERE. In the Western world, people get angry. They yell that there wasn’t the right amount of cream or sugar in their tea. They yell because there’s no cheese left on the shelf. They’ll raise their voice to an absurd level and argue about something to someone that usually has no control over that situation. In other parts of the world, it gets you absolutely nowhere. If you’re upset about something, all you need to do is remain calm and try to explain yourself. Even if you have to try saying the same thing with different wording ten times until they understand. And then, they still might not get it. But if you yell, they will think less of you and they will walk away. Or laugh at you.

6. AIR CONDITIONING IS MY BEST FRIEND. I can’t handle just the fan rooms. Waking up with my hair stuck to the sweat on my forehead. My sheets damp, skin damp, hair never actually drying in the humidity. I could have handled it if I had just stuck to fan rooms and never had the experience of the air con rooms. But I did experience air con and after that, the fan was not enough. In my last few days I splurged by spending twenty dollars a night on a guesthouse. Private room, air con. After the first night I thought twenty dollars was too much, so I switched to a fan room for half the price. I spent that evening laying motionless on my bed in nothing but a bikini top and underwear, hair tied as high on my head as possible. It was so bloody hot, it was disgusting. The next morning, I switched back to the air conditioning and embraced the freezing cold.

7. DRINKING BEER MAKES YOU FRIENDS. It’s true. The easiest way to make friends is to sit in the hostel common room or whatever social area they have(chances are they have something of the sort) with a local beer in hand, sitting in a circle while someone plays the guitar or plays cards and tells stories. Or has ice cube wars. I don’t even like beer when I’m at home, but when I travel it’s almost the only thing I drink. Well, until the buckets are introduced.

8. THE HAPPIEST PEOPLE ARE THOSE WHO LIVE SIMPLE LIVES. Most of the locals in Southeast Asia don’t have a lot. Their closets are not full of clothes, they have no ipads or all of the excess that we have here. They live simply. They have little possessions and little money, but they are always smiling. Thais, Cambodians, and Vietnamese people are truly some of the kindest, happiest people I have ever met. We could really learn a thing or two from them.

9. VEHICLE HORNS CAN BE USED TO EXPRESS SOMETHING OTHER THAN ANGER. Who knew?! Here in Canada the only time people honk their horns is if they’re really unhappy with the person infront of them and are in a fit of road rage. I generally don’t use my horn because my first car’s horn was broken, so I rarely even think to. But in Southeast Asia, that is the music of the road. Music.. or the reason you will go deaf in one ear as a bus flies by you with the horn honking for a full minute. But over there, they use the horn for everything. They honk if there’s something in their way, they honk to let other drivers know that they are coming up beside them, they honk even if there is nothing to be seen for miles!

10. ALL ABOUT ASIAN ELEPHANTS. Yeah, that’s a big reason why I want to keep going back. Whoever has read this blog from the beginning has read my posts about the Elephant Nature Park. But really, Southeast Asia has taught me a lot about elephants. Particularly their rapid endangerment. While there was once over 100,000 in Thailand alone, there are now only an estimated 3000-4000 left in Thailand. Only about 30,000 globally.

Bucket List Fail: Sunrise at Angkor Wat

If I’m being completely honest with you, I get templed out pretty quickly. After a while, all of the temples start to blur together. Last summer when I was in Thailand I was so intent on seeing as many temples as possible but by the fifth one I had had enough. This time around, I saved the temples for Cambodia and I am extremely glad that I did.

Angkor Wat is Cambodia’s most famous tourist attraction. The largest Khmer temple in the world, Angkor Wat is constantly filled with eager tourists snapping photos at every possible angle. The interesting history about this temple is that is was once a Hindu temple but was then changed to a Buddhist temple. The temple is such a huge Cambodian symbol that it is even on their national flag! I was determined to be up before the sun rose, arrive at Angkor Wat by 5AM and watching what I imagine to be a very beautiful and slightly romantic sunrise over the temple. Unfortunately, we had been told that a sunrise hadn’t been seen for quite some time by tourists since the sky was so cloudy. We arrived there a bit late as well, 6AM rather than 5AM. Even so, there hadn’t been a sunrise to see. One moment it was dark and the next it was daylight. Or so I was told. Unfortunately, this was a bucket list fail. And I will probably never go back just to cross it off my list, but I did at least go. The closest thing to a sunrise I saw was this, which really wasn’t much:

While some people spend an entire day to three days biking or walking around all of the temples in the area, the only other temple that I visisted was Ta Prohm. I actually really loved wandering aruond Ta Prohm. A lot of people know it as one of the places that part of Tomb Raider was filmed, but that really is only a small part of it. Ta Prohm was beautiful, with massive trees grown over many bits and pieces of the temple and the jungle surrounding it. I had a hay day taking as many photos as I could.

The Happy Ranch

A few weeks ago, I spent my Sunday morning horseback riding through the Cambodian countryside. For days leading up to this ride I was ecstatic. I dreamed about it and couldn’t contain my excitement. Growing up, I was fascinated by horses. I spent my money on horse books, both fiction and non-fiction, and dreamed of one day being able to rise early in the morning and go out back to a horse of my very own. Although that dream never did come true, I was able to spend nine years of my life horseback riding, by taking lessons at various stables near my hometown.

I haven’t been on a horse for the last two years, so I was beyond excited about being able to spend two hours exporing Cambodia on horseback. By nine o’clock in the morning, we had reached The Happy Ranch and I was sitting on top of my horse for the day, Astar, while Megan was on a gelding named Mexico. We spent the next two hours riding through local villages, passing by Cambodian farmers working in their fields, and cantering past the many rice fields that scattered throughout the countryside. Well, I cantered. Megan was perfectly content to saunter through at a walk. Here are some of my favorite photos from the day:

Learning to Cook, Khmer Style

There is a distinct smell of burning food, the fire alarm is ringing, the bottom of the pot is caked in food stuck on there for life, and there is a high chance that the microwave may catch fire. Even making toast isn’t fool-proof. That has been my life long experience with cooking. I can’t count the amount of times that somehow, something has caught fire in the microwave. And that was my back up, after a failed attempt at cooking real food.

At home, with the comforts of my ready-made meals or easy to make foods, I’m alright. I also live with my mother, so I get delicious meals almost daily without having to cook myself. But here in Cambodia, the food is foreign to me and makes me a bit nervous, to be honest. In the background, as I’m writing this, there is a song on that keeps repeating the words squashed banana. At least that’s what it sounds like, and it’s very distracting.

Despite the food being extremely unfamiliar here, I decided to take the plunge and join a cooking class for an afternoon. Located on Pub Street, it’s a restaurant called Le Tigre de Papier, and for a whole three hours, I pay a measly twelve dollars. I’m told that I can pick one appetizer and one main course. Later, the five of us in my class must decide on a dessert together, as only one can be made. These were the three picks:

-Appetizer: Fresh Spring Rolls, with shrimp and vegetables

-Main Course: Vegetarian Amok(vegetables and tofu instead of meat)

-Dessert: Banana and Tapioca

The entire cooking class was a really great experience. Before cooking, we get a tour through the fresh food market across the street, filled with fruits, vegetables, live fish and dead chickens with their necks flopping around(not my favorite part of the market, that’s for sure). After learning about all of the foods that we would be using for our chosen meals, we walk to the back of the restaurant where everything is set out for us: knives, vegetable peeler, cutting board, plate of food.

One at a time, we all begin slicing and dicing our vegetables. This really isn’t so hard after all, but I soon realize that my fingers aren’t curled in, something that my dad always points out at home, saying that someday, i’ll chop off my own fingers. I quickly tuck them in and pretty soon, I’m finished all of my vegetables before everyone else is even half way done! As my uncle is a chef, I assume it just runs in the family. After chopping up the veggies and the tofu, our teacher, Nara, says that now we must “pound it.” I’m wondering what the hell that means, until she pulls out this big wooden contraption.

Veggies in the big wooden bowl, I begin pounding them into a paste with a big wooden pounder thing and actually, it’s really fun! I get to do this for about 10 to 15 minutes until my arms are sore. Soon enough, it’s time to roll the spring rolls. My cooking skills don’t last for long, because the first one is a disaster. Bits flying everywhere, the rice paper sticking to the cutting board, all the food falling out. By the fourth one, I’ve got the hang of it. Sort of.

By the end of the three hours, I’ve pounded vegetables, making a homemade paste, flipped veggies and shrimp around in a skillet as flames leap up at my hands(this is supposed to happen, for once) and have created an absolutely delicious meal of nine fresh spring rolls and tofu/veg amok.

I’ve even received a certificate to prove it. In fact, I was pretty impressed with myself at the end. And in my excitement, I forgot to take a photo of the banana tapioca dessert. Oh well. It was all delicious and it will be interesting to see if I ever decide to make it again at home.