Tagged: unesco

Komodo, Flores Island, Indonesia

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I was picked-up at the Labuan Bajo airport by a local (a friend’s friend) who I had been talking to for the last week. He drove me into the port town to his office and I booked a trip to Komodo island, and a scuba trip. I then checked into Hotel Matahari, a single room for 80,000 rp. I spent the entire day in bed resting then went out for a quick local dinner at Blue Corner. I was exhausted from all the early mornings and traveling.

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The next morning I boarded a small wooden boat for a 2 day- 1 night trip. The group was me, two Argentina girls, an American couple, a German man with his Balinese wife, and her brother. There were also two local captains. We headed first to Rican— island, part of Komodo National Park. The mountains of land jet out all over the ocean. The grass covers the land like a golf course- smooth with random Palm trees. I’ve never seen anything like it.

At Rijan Island we paid the park entrance fee of 228,000 rp ($17 per day,) and we did the medium hike which was a little over an hour through both jungle and open land. We saw a bunch of lazy resting Komodo dragons, which look like large lizards with crocodile skin. There were three random water buffalos and a lot of buffalo poop. A few monkeys and jungle turkeys. We didn’t see any snakes or deer.

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After the hike we had lunch on the boat then drove for two hours towards Komodo island. The weather turned but it only drizzled for a bit before the sun came out again.

We got to Komodo Island to find deer lounging on the beach. At the gate we were told we had to pay again for tour guides and a hiking fee, another hidden cost that they opt to not tell you about. All seven of us decided we didn’t want to pay again especially because there was nothing different on this island. So we boarded the boat again and headed to Phuket island to go swimming. Here and our next stop locals arrived on long wooden boats to sell pearl necklaces and Komodo dragon wood figurines.

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We then drove a little farther and docked for the night. I sipped whiskey with the German and his local brother in law while the sun set. We then had a feast, this time with fried calamari. The locals played western music and a nearby boat lit fireworks randomly throughout the night. I slept on top of the boat on foam mats covered with a wooden awning.

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In the morning we were up with the sun and started off for Pink Beach at 7am. The beach did not appear pink from the ocean but once on it I could see the tint of pink along the shoreline caused by broken up pink coral. The snorkeling before the shore was amazing with pink and purple corals.

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After we drove to Manta Ray Point to snorkel. The manta ray’s look like giant sting rays, one we saw was 3 meters long. They swam to the surface so we could see them from the boat, but it was much more exciting to swim with them. As cool as it was though it only made me want to dive to actually swim deep with them. To our surprise there was a lot of trash in the water.

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After a few manta ray spots we went to a small beach. We had lunch then snorkeled around. Snorkeling I saw brown coral with blue tops, and there was one 5″ pink fluorescent fish that kept running into my googles with wide eyes, backing away, then doing it again. That made my day.

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I lounged on top of the boat taking in too much sun as we drove back to Labuan Bajo. I went back to the same hotel but got a dorm this time, then relaxed for the night. Unfortunately it rained throughout the night and I had to walk outside to get to the shared bathroom.

The next morning I was at Manta Rhei Dive shop at 7am for a full-day three tank dive. The Manta Rhei wooden boat was much nicer than the previous boat I was on; it was clean and new looking with big colorful bean bag chairs on the top. They served grain bread and donuts for breakfast, cookies and oranges in between dives, a nice lunch including a salad with avocado (my first salad in months,) and pound cake and watermelon after our last dive.

[I bought a red filter for my GoPro which is needed for diving, which I learned in Thailand when all my photos came out dark green. However, this time all my photos came out yellow and red. I'm not sure why but I'll figure it out before my next dive. For now here are some abstract photos of the bluest water I've ever seen.]

The American couple from my snorkel trip were also on the boat. My dive group was a dive master from the shop, a dive master in training from the shop, an instructor from Mexico fun diving, a dive master from Bali fun diving, and an open water diver who dives at home frequently. This was the first dive boat I’ve been on where you enter the water by falling backwards. I smacked the back of my knees all three times on the ledge even though I thought I straightened my legs- three days later it still hurts.

The first dive we went to was Mini Wall. The water temperature was cold, at 25 Celsius. I was chilly in a wetsuit, which I did not expect considering I was diving in Thailand without a wetsuit and was fine. I ran out of air faster than everyone else, and faster than I ever have before (because I was freezing,) so for the next two dives the dive master in training became my buddy so we could go back to the surface early without dragging everyone else back with me. [All the other divers were wearing multiple wetsuit layer which they brought from home- my dive buddy was wearing 2 wetsuit tops underneath his normal wetsuit.]

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The second dive we went to was Makassan Reef (Manta Point.) This was my first Drift dive and would have been very exciting if I knew how to handle it. The current was insanely strong and we moved so quickly, like a high-speed conveyer belt above the coral. The other divers in my group were relaxed but I had never done a drift before and didn’t know how to control my body from slamming into the ground or floating too high up, so in the end I probably looked like a maniac flapping away. The black and grey reef manta ray’s were incredible, ranging from 3-4 meters. We saw about 10 of them during the dive. At one point my dive buddy grabbed me and we stayed low while a manta swam directly above us.

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The third dive was at Batu Bolong. This is known as being the best dive site in Komodo for having the largest animals- sharks, large fish, octopus, etc. However, I did not get to experience the site as it should be. It was the coldest dive at 24 Celsius, and there was also intense currents. We were constantly battling the drift one way then it would shift and we were fighting to get back the other direction. It was a non-stop workout and I ran out of air the fastest here at just 33 minutes. I did manage to see a few white rip reef sharks, a lion fish, and a turtle, but nothing I hadn’t seen before.

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When we got back onto the boat we saw how intense the water looked from above. The area we emerged from looked like a toilet flushing. It was difficult to move around and get the other divers, and the ride home was a mess. It started to rain, then pour, and the waves were rough. The captain was unable to turn the boat towards the mainland without almost tipping, so we went out of the way for a while. The boat didn’t have sides so the rain was soaking the boat. I attempted to hide in the captain’s quarters but when the local crew jumped out to wipe the windshield and guide the boat I also got the splash of the rain. It took almost four hours instead of two to get back.

I decided I needed a massage when I got back to shore, and a hot shower. My knees were incredibly sore from working them so hard in the freezing water, and my back (which is always sore from poor beds and non-stop travel) was in even more pain from sitting awkwardly on a wooden shelf for the past few hours. I’m sunburnt from the live aboard so as good as the cream felt on my skin it also burned when she grabbed me. Throughout the night after the massage I was in more pain. I think I pulled a muscle in my neck, and my chest felt funny.

My dive buddy runs the Manta Rhei homestay and he let me stay the night for free, even though technically you need to do two days of diving with them to stay there. We went out to a local restaurant for dinner and once again I shocked locals with the amount of chili I can eat (I put two servings worth in my soup.) We split two Bintang’s and picked up another for home. We chatted for a while before going to bed.

The next morning he drove me to town at 8am. I had breakfast at a chic hippie Greek restaurant on the main road. I then picked up my laundry and grabbed a motorbike off the main road to take me to the airport. I flew to Bali, then to Lombok with Wings Air.

Hoi An, Vietnam

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I arrived in Hoi An on a sleeper bus at 8am, a 12 hour trip from Nha Trang. I stayed at Hoa Binh Hotel downtown with my Celtic crew. It’s a social hostel with an indoor pool and buffet breakfast. The dorms are cramped but it’s only 6 people with a private bath so it was fine.

Hoi An is a tiny historic city along the river. Once heavily populated by the Japanese and Chinese, the Old Town is now tailor shops, wine bars, and restaurants converted from merchant houses, temples and tea warehouses. For tourists Hoi An is most known for it’s tailor shops, which are literally everywhere. Suits, dresses and coats are on display as options but you can have absolutely anything made that your heart desires, just show a photo.

The city reminds me of Old Chiang Mai and Luang Prabang a bit. Cute buildings and cafes, one after another. There are a few traditional dishes to the city. The two I really wanted to try were White Rose (steamed shrimp dumplings,) and Coa Lau (noodles with pork slices and croutons in a bit of savory liquid.) At our first restaurant stop (the morning we got in) I tried Coa Lau, which was delicious and definitely savory. The pork is tender and the noodles are denser and chewier than the typical pho noodles.

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I was recommended Yen Dung Tailor Shop by a friend and after seeing hundreds of positive reviews on TripAdvisor I had no doubt of going there. Before hand I found photos online of all the clothes I wanted made. The shop is a tiny open-faced store a little less than a mile from downtown. The store owner Lien was incredibly sweet and sassy. She knows style and exactly what she’s doing, and for the most part I trusted her taste. My first day at the store we spent almost two hours looking at my photos, choosing fabrics and taking my measurements.

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Our first night we went out to the little island right in the canal next to town. It’s connected to the Ancient Town by a few bridges. Walking through the city at night is spectacular. It’s a law that all shops must hang lanterns at night, which makes for a colorful happy nightlife. Along the river women and children sell floating lanterns for the canal, and the bridges are also all lite up.

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We ate dinner, had a few drinks at Infinity, then went to Cheap & Easy. This is a town of flyers and promoters- free shots, free shisha, unlimited cocktails, etc. The walls are white covered in writing, and there’s a black light to make the whole place (a tiny rectangle) look electric. For $4 you get unlimited drinks until 2am. However, at midnight, after all the customers had paid the owner told us the cops were coming and to get out. It was a trick, as usual. Now that he had our money he didn’t need us there anymore. When we were all outside there were a bunch of motorbikes waiting to take us to another bar. Also a scam. Luckily I knew it was a scam ahead of time. The bikes take you to some bar far out of town and leave you there. Instead we went to Why Not Bar, the only bar still open in town. The place was incredibly sketchy and I ended up not even going in.

The next day I woke up and rented a bicycle solo. First I rode to the Tra Que Vegetable Village. While riding through the rows of herbs my bike chain fell off the wheel. I stopped at what I thought was someone’s house/cooking school to ask for help and possibly coffee. The woman who greeted me was really sweet and told me some handsome man would fix my bike, then she led me around the house to a restaurant. I sat on the bamboo terrace, which overlooked the herb fields, and enjoyed a coffee and sautéed water spinach.

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After I biked over to Cua Dai beach. The beach is on a peninsula. I had heard that it was already built up with resorts and beach bars but I didn’t find that. The entire strip was one construction project after another of huge resorts. I biked to the light house at the end and walked out along the beach in the ocean. The beach itself was very dirty with rubbish. It had already started to rain and it’s a bit cooler here so it felt like an early fall day on Fire Island; not very tropical but I still loved it. Across the ocean are mountains which made for a nice view.

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I stopped to get a massage near the beach. After I biked back to town a different and faster route. I went down to the Ancient Town, through the Central food market, along the river, over the Japanese bridge and down the “walking and biking street.” The ancient town is beautiful and what makes Hoi An a UNESCO site. Again I felt like I was in a small town in Europe.

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I stopped at Mermaid Restaurant (recommended by Lonely Planet) to try the traditional White Rose dumplings. Like everything else they were too oily. I thought I’d really like them since they’re steamed shrimp dumplings but they were bland.

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At 5pm I went back to the tailor for fitting and alterations. I couldn’t believe in a little over 24 hours she was able to make so much clothing, and I am only one of many customers. I was the last customer of the day and soon realized that a few different people are making the clothes. Randomly people started showing up on motorbikes bringing my clothes and listening to what alterations need to be made.

That night I went out to dinner with the crew then took it easy. The next day I woke up sick again. I went to the market to pick up a papaya and dragon fruit then got back into bed. At 4pm I went back to the tailor. All the dresses were perfect, but a few items still needed to be fixed. That night I took it easy again with the crew. We had a early dinner and played pool at the restaurant next to our hostel, then later on we went for baguettes at a local place across the street from our hostel. After eating we discovered that there was mouse droppings in the cart holding the bread. Lovely.

The next morning I woke up and Lien, the tailor, picked me up on her motorbike. With her husband and 17 year old son on the motorbike behind us we sped off into town. We ate breakfast on a side street that I’ve passed on a daily basis and never noticed. The skinny lane has a few local restaurants and a few clothing factories. We each got our own bowl of Vietnamese beef curry with a baguette. The curry was very oily (like everything) but delicious. It’s different than Thai curry; it’s more like a stew. It’s also darker in color and more flavorful because the spices simmer longer. For four of us the total was 10,000 Dong. 2,000 Dong a person for a meal, about 10 cents. As a tourist a curry would cost anywhere between $2-5.

The entire meal Lien and I talked while her husband and son sat quietly. They don’t speak English but I have a feeling they are always quite. Lien is definitely the head of the household. She runs the tailor shop with her sister, and her husband and son work for her making clothes and doing fabric deliveries.

After curry we went to a local coffee shop. When we sat down we were served tea and toasted watermelon seeds which are eaten the same way as pumpkin seeds- you eat just the inside. Unlike pumpkin seeds the watermelon seeds are tiny and I found it almost impossible to crack them open. We got our coffee and Lien and I continued to chat. I learned that her 11 year old daughter still sleeps in the same bed as her and her husband, in the middle, with one hand on her moms bare breast and one hand on her dads arm. Apparently this is normal. Her 17 year old son also just started sleeping in his own room, even though both kids have had their own room since they were very young. There are a lot of cultural differences but as far as I’m concerned it’s not okay that an 11 year old is still sleeping with her parents holding her moms breast.

While we were sipping coffee a local woman placed lottery tickets on our table. Although Lien doesn’t usually play her whole family played for a while to show me. Lien ended up winning 10,000 Dong on one ticket but she didn’t collect the money.

After coffee we went back to the clothing shop for my final fitting before my bus. Everything looked great and we made piles of what I’m taking vs shipping. Lien’s sister then took me to the tiny factory in town to change the button on my jeans before she brought me back to my hostel- I was in a rush to get back to check out.

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For $550 (after negotiating the first day) I got:
1 long wool coat w/ a hood
2 t-shirts
2 tank tops
1 denim shirt
2 silk trousers
1 cotton pants
1 skinny jeans
1 Jean shorts
1 blazer
1 lace chiffon gown
1 little black cotton dress
2 long dresses
1 short dress
1 beach cover-up

I also got a custom real leather jacket for $180. The weight for the clothing being shipped is 7 kilos, and the cost for 3-4 month delivery is $50. So total cost $780.

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Siem Reap (Angkor Wat), Cambodia

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I stayed at European Guest house in Siem Reap. It’s about a 15min walk from Pub Street and the Night market, but it’s $3 a night and on a street with other guest houses. My first meal in Cambodia was the traditional Amok curry. It was good, a bit too much ginger, but definitely not spicy enough for my taste. It was the first time I had fish in weeks though- the fish was the same price as chicken. I also treated myself to a glass of house red wine that tasted like Manoschevitz. Happy Hanukkah?

My first morning I woke up early, had breakfast on the rooftop of a guesthouse across the street, then boarded a tour van for the temples. I chose a tour vs a tuk-tuk for a few reasons. One, I’m alone and didn’t particularly feel like being on my own all day. Two, with the tour I have an English speaking guide. A huge plus since I don’t know much about the history. Three, a tuk-tuk for the day is $15, and the tour is $13. A better deal for me since I’d be paying for the tuk tuk alone. Also, the temples are very expensive to get into. [I had been hoping to get into the city earlier the day before to make friends to share a tuk-tuk with, but it didn't work out that way.]

With the tour I did the Small Circuit.
First we saw the South gate, then Baoyon, Bapaoun, Phimeanakas, Taprom and Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat is the most famous temple, the one you see on all the postcards. Taprom is the temple used in Tomb Raider with Angelina Jolie- it has a large twisted tree throughout the center. Baoyon is famous for its smiling faces that face all four directions.

Our tour guide was Hean, from Siem Reap originally. He spoke fantastic English, which he learned in school. During lunch he privately asked if he could motorbike me around the large circuit the next day as a date, and I politely declined. Awkward. He was nice after but definitely looked like he felt rejected.

Lunch was not included with the tour. The van driver drove us to an expensive restaurant right outside the old city along the old Angkor pool (now just a pond.) It was not in my budget to spend $7 for one plate, so I left. I found a restaurant nearby that asked what I could spend, I said $4 (still more than my $3 budget but everywhere was expensive,) and they agreed. I had a huge plate of sautéed chicken with kale.

The temples were incredible. Huge, detailed, worn down, and unique. All the temples were different but the same. Carvings in all the stone. Some had small stones, Angkor’s stones were much larger and therefore preserved themselves better. Almost all of the temples were being restored. New stones were being put in to replace those that had fallen or were falling apart. All landmarks are always being restored when I visit.

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At night I walked to the Old French Quarter, the city center. The walk from my hotel was picturesque. I walked along the river that runs through the middle of the city. The bridges along are all lite up with white lights, and fancy modern hotels line the streets. It’s not at all what I expected. It’s very modern. The Old French Quarter looked like a mix between Greenwich Village, New Orleans (what I imagine it looking like,) and Epcot Center. There were flashy light up signs everywhere, LED lights taking you towards Pub Street and the Night Market, touristy restaurants/bars, cute stores, massage parlors, fish spas, locals selling the usual elephant paraphernalia and millions of tuk tuks.

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I walked off the beaten path and found a local restaurant and had stir fried seafood with vegetables, which was awful. After dinner I went to a restaurant on Pub Street and had a few $0.50 drafts before going home.

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The next day I ate lunch at Khmer Kitchen in the old city. I had Pumpkin in the Oven with beef. It was like a non-dairy pot pie filled with sliced onions, shredded carrots, mushrooms, garlic, egg, beef, and topped with mashed pumpkin then baked in the oven. It was delicious and felt almost like a winter-y holiday meal.

My plan was to walk around after lunch, then get a massage. What was supposed to be a relaxing afternoon was more like a nightmare. There were millions of tuk tuk drivers out harassing me. Every single block you pass at least 10 drivers. Every single one approaches you screaming “tuk tuk?” in your face. Even if they hear you say no to the guy next to them they still do it. They also whistled at me and made sexual comments, even though I was in the tourist area and was wearing loose pants. It is the most annoying thing I’ve had to deal with on this trip so far. I completely lost my patience and was screaming no at all of them and they still didn’t get it. On top of that there’s also the usual women trying to get you to buy elephant pants, or a massage.

I ended up trying to escape and found a massage place a few blocks from the center. I had an oil massage which was good until the very end when the woman started telling me about her salary and how I must give her a tip because she won’t be able to feed her children otherwise. She has 2 children, makes $50 a month, and a husband whose a jerk. It wasn’t a sob story, she was informing me that it’s partially my fault she doesn’t get paid enough and it’s my duty to tip her. Tipping is not the norm here. I tipped her because she literally followed me out the entrance and down the street with her hand out. I paid her to go away but I definitely didn’t want to tip her. It’s not like Laos where you can see how poor they are. This woman was fine.

After that I had to get out of there. I went to the local market, bought a papaya, and walked home along the non-touristy side of the water. I settled into my lobby area and started watching the tv, which was playing Jingle All The Way. I completely forgot it’s Christmas movie time. Eventually I started talking to another guest who was from Milan. We decided to head to town to play pool since there wasn’t much going on at the guesthouse.

We went the X-Bar, a huge bar that has live music, two pool tables and foosball tables. It’s also one of the late night dance clubs. We started playing one-on-one but after two games two locals asked if they could play us. Neither spoke English. So we played 5 games against a pool Coach who was 26, and his pupil who was 17. The whole time the coach was telling his pupil exactly which balls to hit and where. He kept banging on the table and strictly pointing. We actually beat them the first 3 times and they were in shock, as was I. The coach was mad, and the pupil was disappointed in himself so eventually we threw the fourth game. We were by no means amazing in comparison; they definitely had better skills. I think they were just nervous playing us (tall white people.) We also were drinking and playing casually, which I think confused them more.

The coach wanted to be Facebook friends. I let him add himself- give him some American entertainment for a while, although he won’t be able to read any of my posts. I bought them each a beer after the third game and after the fourth game the pupil claimed he was too drunk to play. It was hilarious.

After dinner I attempted to get noodle soup from a local restaurant. It was horrible. I miss Thailand street food.

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My last day I did the Large Circuit of temples. My tuk-tuk driver for the day was named Heang. He’s 24 and from a village about 1km from Siem Reap. My tuk-tuk was purple with ruffles and detailed silver railing- I had the royal tuk-tuk. I was able to spend a lot more time looking at the details of each temple since I was on my own; however, I didn’t get to learn anything about the history- my tuk-tuk driver wasn’t a guide. I did enjoy being able to rest at each spot though and take it all in. Unlike the temples on the Small Circuit the temples on the Large Circle were not being restored and therefore looked older.

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Pr. Preup has reddish stone and almost looks Mayan. There are lions at all entrances. The temple is mostly ruins but the main pillars still stand proud. I climbed to the top and it’s a great view of the nature around. There are plants growing out of the stones, with random purple flowers on their own. This temple was beautiful in its grandeur and backdrop, even though it’s crumbling.

Eastern Mebon has the same architecture, stone, lions, and carvings, but is less grand than Pr. Preup. The only addition is that is has Elephants on all 4 corners. Seeing this one second was not impressive.

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Ta Som was beautiful even though it’s almost completely in ruins. Rubble and stones lay throughout and around the temple. There are rooms sectioned off with rubble, but the remaining temple stones are amazing. There are carvings on almost every stone (ivy, flowers, guards, women, Kings, etc,) and like the past two temples, ivy and flowers are growing throughout. When you enter the temple you just see doorway, after doorway, after doorway. It looks like a labyrinth even though it’s not.

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To get to Neak Pean you walk down a long Boardwalk pathway through a massive lake. In the distance on both sides there are barren trees growing from the water. At the end there’s a small forest followed by the temple. Neak Pean is a single peak sitting on top of a circular plate with stone steps in the middle of a reservoir.
It’s its own island. Serpents lay in the water facing the temple. The reservoir is square with stone steps all around, and 4 small structures in the middle of each side. The larger lake is surrounded by a fence where you can view the temple from. The whole scene looks like it belongs in a fantasy movie.

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Prah Khan was absolutely massive. The facade was being restored, which is the first construction I’ve seen of the day. You then walk down a forest pathway for about a quarter of a mile to reach the temple. It’s the biggest temple I’ve seen (width not height.) I think I walked through at least 100 doorways (and stepping stones) to get from one end to the other. Along the way there are passages, some open and some blocked off with rubble. There is rubble everywhere at this one too. It looks like random bombs exploded throughout and no one has touched the area yet. There are also a few incredibly tall trees in the front of the temple, one of which is boarded up for safety. This temple however is more like the ones I saw in the Small Circle- the stones are larger.

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By 2:30pm I had been touring around for 4 hours and I was done. Haeng wanted to take me to see more but I was exhausted. Same same but different. We stopped at the Khmer Rouge Memorial on the way back. The memorial was nothing special- the real one is in Phnom Phem which I’ll see in a few days. But at the entrance I saw an infant with hydrocephalus. It was scariest and saddest thing I’ve ever seen. I then got dropped off half a mile from home and walked my way back. Haeng was offended I wouldn’t let him take me home but what can you do.

The one time I should not have been cheap was taking the bus to Phnom Phen. I took the local bus for $7 instead of the mini-van for $10. The bus was 9 hours instead of 7, and it was definitely local. I was the only tourist. Half the people were wearing face masks, there were babies crying, and and the whole bus was just plain old. However, it was nicer than the local Thai buses. The seats were soft and there was air-conditioning. It was a little too cold for me but with all the locals and kids around I figured it couldn’t hurt with the germs.

It started off okay but within an hour went drastically down hill. The smell was horrific; it reminded me of my first China Eastern flight to Shanghai. Dried fish snacks loomed. Then the babies starting crying and pooping their pants, and I think the old guy behind me peed himself. A woman came and sat next to me even though there were plenty of other free seats. She crossed her legs up with her bare foot touching my leg. I also forgot to factor that the local bus would be built for Asians, so even with my seat and butt back my legs still didn’t fit (with the guys chair in front of me back.) I literally couldn’t move. My legs were spread with a chair in between with a foot keeping me pushed towards the wall. And to top it off they were all randomly talking on their cell phones screaming into the receiver. The one highlight was playing peek-a-boo with the cutest girl sitting in front of me.