Exploring Hoi An 

We flew into Da Nang and immediately transferred to Hoi An.

We slept in a teeny bit before heading to our buffet breakfast (so nice that it’s always included). It was delicious!

Our guide, Lee, met us in the lobby and had brought bikes for us all to ride. He also had helmets and I think was surprised when I said we would use them!

I was about concerned about riding bikes but he had assured me that it was quiet where we rode.

 

   

And it was. In most areas. But there were some interesting moments too! Of course the really hairy ones I couldn’t capture as I needed to concentrate on not crashing!

He took is through side paths, between rice fields and then to a couple little villages.

We continued on (in the heat) to get to our final destination: the lake:

There, we stopped to rest and then he paired us up to go into “coracles”- these little round baskets that looked so easy to tip!

Each basket had a little driver who brought us through some swamp land (which apparently was where the North Vietnamese had hid out during the war).

We searched for crab, spun around, and then eventually came to some fishing boats where the boys got their try with casting the nets.

We made our way back and had the most fabulous lunch ever. We didn’t order, they just brought food. Love this kind of meal! We had spring rolls, shrimp mango salad, Calamari, shrimp, pancakes (specialty of the area) wraps and a type of curry and rice. Best meal so far!

After lunch we took a boat ride from e little village into old Hoian.

Our tour guide then showed us around the city, which is really very cute. But we were melting!

The famous Japanese covered bridge

We stopped in a store where silk is made and saw the process from start to finish… Of course it finishes up in a store.

Hoian is known for their tailoring and Rob decided to be adventurous and had a suit made! The boys got ties, and Zandra got a kimona. Great souvenirs from our awesome trip!

We headed back to our hotel where we needed to cool down and rest! Some of us explored the beach a bit and dipped our toes in the South China Sea!

  

A few hours later, we went back to Hoian. Our guide found us a boat that would take us into the water where we could light the lanterns, make a wish and send them floating down the river. It was so pretty!

After our little boat ride, we were zonked. We all decided to skip dinner even! Good thing too, because the whole little town lost its power! I had heard that was common, but it was a little eerie. We made our In the dark to where we thought the hotel shuttle picked up, but it didn’t. We finally found a cab and headed back to the hotel.

A truly amazing day!

A day in the life at Kompheim Village 

We headed back to our hotel for our final breakfast in Siem Reap. 

To take a break from the temples and learn about the culture of the Cambodian people we decided to try something a bit different. The travel agent we booked with had recommended a program run by an organization called Husk. It’s a way that we could learn as well as help in a tiny, responsible way.
Here’s what they say on their website www.Huskcambodia.org:

“The Day in a Life Tour has been created in conjunction with Beyond Unique Escapes. It allows you to experience life in a Cambodian village. Learn about the local people, their customs and culture. Work with a host family and help them on a specific project. Enjoyed a guided tour of the village and a delicious hot Cambodian lunch.”

And that’s exactly what we did.

First, we met our guide Lee, who explained to us what life was like in the village and took us on a tour of the monastery where the children go to school. He talked about the poverty in the country and how many children are unable to go to school because their parents can’t afford their uniform, or the bike required to travel to school. Many children are sent to become “novice monks”, as their parents can’t afford them, but want their kids to get an education. That is exactly what happened to our guide Lee. His education allowed him then to break out of the poverty cycle.

We then travelled by Oxcart to one of our host families. How it works is we pay for the private tour, and then the money we pay gets divided up to help multiple families. So, 3 families were paid $4US to take us on the 20 min ride through the village. They are happy to do this work, since they would only be  getting $2-2.50US per whole day in the rice field. Then the host family is paid to have us come help them with a chore or project. Another family is paid to allow us to use their bathroom (which we all passed on!). Another one to cook us lunch etc…. All in all, a family gets a few days of pay to “host” you.

This first family we met wanted us to help build panels from bamboo to help extend the roof of their house for shade. It is wicked hot in the sun. The mother is 8 months pregnant and needs to build 400 panels. She showed us how to do them, and then we each were able to do 3 each in the time we were there. Not much help, but a little.

She then showed us her humble home. Eye opening for the kids (and me) to see. These are the homes Husk builds for them.

Their water purification system:

Bathroom:

Homes for these families have all been provided by the HUSK organization. They take care of about 80 families from what I understood. They use water bottles to help build – water bottles filled with garbage, actually.

Cambodia has a terrible problem with garbage. So, they encourage the people to fill the water bottles with garbage and these get used to help build the walls of their buildings. Each family can earn “points” to be traded for supplies for bringing in water bottles.

We walked through the village – in the blazing heat- as we learned through seeing what the village is like. We met a couple of other families and heard about the challenges with lack of education and the poverty cycle which is difficult to break.

We then arrived at a hut where a family was cooking our lunch. All the food and cooking supplies are brought in by HUSK – for sanitary reason, and to cover the cost. The family gets paid to cook for us. We helped a little chopping some veggies and pounding into paste. We then had an incredible meal of fish cakes and curry. By far, the best meal in Cambodia!

We finally continued on our way and stopped at the private school run by HUSK where the children, who would ordinarily not be able to learn English due to no money for education (and public system is limited)  are taught. Learning English is one of the only chances people have to get out of the poverty cycle – they can get involved in tourism and start to earn a better wage.

It was pretty sweet to hear the kids counting in English and singing cute songs.

We continued trekking and ended up finishing our tour a bit earlier than anticipated. We were completely dying of heat and exhausted. It was a great day, definitely worthwhile. It was very sobering, and hopefully changed something in each of us. It definitely made me want to give more to this great organization and spread the word!

The plan was to head to the airport directly, but since we finished early, our guide, Happy, arranged for us to get a couple of rooms at a guesthouse. We rested up and they then took us to the airport:

We were all completely exhausted after being in the heat all day and everyone crashed on the short flight to Da Nang, Vietnam. Rob and I talked about how we felt guilty and could not stop thinking about how we were on a plane heading to a new destination, great hotel, completely taken care of, while those families were still in the heat, lying in their one rooms with the hard mats. It just really isn’t fair. We are so so so blessed.

We arrived in Vietnam and laughed so hard at the sign to greet us:

Could it be any more priceless!?

We checked in to our hotel and checked out the closets and found some attire:

Pure awesome.

We crawled into bed and with prayers of gratitude, fell asleep.

Another Sunrise at Angkor Wat

We were determined to get to the top of the Angkhor Wat temple. So, we woke up at 5:30 AM and went again via Tuk Tuk. The crowds were still there:

Waiting to get in:

     

Once in, we ended up being the first people in line to get to the top of the temple.

We explored on the main levels while some waited in line:

We climbed to the top and got some amazing views of the sunrise. Definitely worth getting up early for.

  

Back to the front:

Amazing.

Tonle Sap Lake and Fish Pedicures!

After a long day of visiting temples, and a short rest, we headed out to Tonle Sap Lake to view the sunset, and visit a floating village (Kampong Phluk Village).

Just driving there was eye opening as you saw so much poverty. And other interesting things:

Then the village on the lake is a whole other level.

We headed out on boat:

As we travelled down the lake, there was quite a lot to see:

We stopped at a floating restaurant, more to take in the surrounding area:

There was a Chinese couple that had a drone that we watched:

We headed back and our guide dropped us off for dinner.

It was pretty funny that we all felt like Italian again. I guess we aren’t used to all the Asian flavours and craved some more comfort:

  

But we quickly stepped out of our comfort zones and got “fish pedicures”.

At first I was the only one who wanted one, but then everyone joined in. Soon we were all laughing hysterically. It sort of pinches and tickles!

It was another awesome day.

 

Other temple visits

Once we met up with Happy, we set out.

First stop:  Ta Prohm, which was a beautiful temple in the jungle where the trees dominate. I took a ton of pictures, combined then with what Zach was taking, and Rob! But, on a trip like this, you can’t take too many pictures!

We then headed to headed to two other temples.

The first one, we were able to climb, Pre Rup:

We continued along our way, enjoying the signs of every day life:

Next, was Preach Khan:

Our guide picked up the resident cat… we weren’t so sure about it, but the cat didn’t seem to mind:

Our last temple was Banteay Srei (and yes, we were exhausted!).

We had lunch at the temple but were really overcome with the heat!

These signs were everywhere over the toilets:

Pretty funny!

We headed back to the hotel and everyone just chilled for a couple of hours.

Sunrise at Angkor Wat

You can’t go to Angkor Wat and not go for the famous sunrise.

Of course, you can’t go alone either.

Hundreds go end up going too, so we arranged for two tuk tuk’s to pick us up at 5:00am to try to get there early.

We arrived and got “second row standing” – not so bad.

It was pretty crazy how everyone takes every inch of space and is sort of pushing and wedging their way in there. We tried to stand our ground, and got some great pics. (Sorry if they all look the same! But which ones to choose?!?!)

  

 

We headed into the temple again, and tried to go to the top level (it had been closed the day before), but there was a long line up.

We decided to head there the next day, and went back out and watched the sun continue to rise.

We also watched the monkeys at play!

  

A few family shot and selfies:

 

The light on the path leading up to Angkor Wat and from the front gate was pretty beautiful too:

We headed back to our hotel for breakfast and a tiny rest, before we met Happy.

Angkor Wat

My computer is up and running again! Yah! We think it was the humidity. So here’s my write up of our first day at Angkor Wat:

Getting up early hasn’t been a huge problem since we are all still a bit jet lagged. It’s not that “I want to die” jet lag, more so the  “I can get up early no problem but am exhausted by 7pm” jet lag. So heading down for a 7:30 breakfast was not problem. The buffet was enjoyed by all with its mix of eastern and western cuisine.

We met our guide, “Happy” in the lobby at 8:30 and he shared with us the plan.

We headed over to the Angkor Wat complex to get tickets, and then spent the next few hours at Angkor Wat itself.

It was so nice to have Happy share so much history with us, and guide us to shady spots to listen to that history. He’s also a whiz with the iPhone, so was often offering to take some fun pics of us all, so that was a real bonus for me!

I’ll let all the pictures tell the story (and there’s a lot of pictures… and they won’t all be exact order as it’s hard to keep track of! ):

  

After Angkor Wat, we headed out for lunch and had a nice lunch in a breezy patio across from a lake (not sure what it is called).

It was so hot!

We then headed to the next temple on our agenda: The Bayon Temple.

Happy did this cool panoramic picture and  I also loved the shots of how he took it!:

The Bayon temple has all the faces and is quite stunning:

  

We passed The Elephant Terrace and Terrace of the Leper King, but it was so hot and we were all drained .

We also stopped at this Buddha along the way:

We headed back to the hotel, where we  quickly changed and headed to the pool for some cooling off and relaxing.

After the pool, we all snoozed a bit more. The heat is a killer!

We then headed into town where we had booked some massages. I tell you, there were a few really funny things about the massages and massage place, but I think everyone found it relaxing and overall it was a success!

Starving, we searched for an Italian restaurant I had read about. I know, Italian??? But we have had a lot of rice, so we were craving some Italian. The place we went to was awesome! Right out of Italy! Everyone was a bit irritable (including me) and we were happy to head back to climb in bed after a wonderful day!

 

Computer woes 

Following an awesome, but sobering day participating in an activity organized by a charity in Cambodia to help families below poverty (anyone who makes below 2.50 a day), we flew to Vietnam. 

After a good night sleep, I went to organize my pics as per usual in the early hours (nice and quiet and I’m usually awake). All of a sudden, my computer went black. Normally Rob can fix any problem, but apparently not this one. He thinks it’s my screen:( 

Later that same day, Josh’s phone (which was cracked for months), went kaput! Crazy! Same day! Our guide knew “a guy”, and while we were resting mid afternoon,  he had Josh’s phone repaired! We weren’t comfortable getting our whole computer done here though…

So, I’m computer less for the remainder of the trip. My blog posts (although I can prepare the words on my phone) and my photos will have to wait until I’m home! (But I am still posting some pics and mini stories on Facebook and Instagram:))

As sad as I am about not having my computer… Perspective is easy to take on this trip. Small, small, small first world problem.

Heading to Siem Reap

On our way to Siem Reap, our driver stopped at a little market in a place called Skun.


There, they have for sale deep fried bugs.

Gross.

But my brave boys wanted to try: spiders and scorpions. Impressive! We got some good photos and videos of it:

Josh and Zandra held a live one:

We continued on our way and then stopped in a little town for lunch. We pretty much all ordered the same noodle dish (except for adventurous Rob) and Josh was mortified again at the amount of vegetables with the noodles. Poor guy. Good thing he had had fried rice for breakfast!


We continued on and stopped at an area called Sambor prei kuk, where we saw some pretty incredibly old temples in the middle of nature. After the hustle and bustle of Phnom Penh, the silence in the woods was great — (except for when then cicadas started, but they are pretty cool sounding!)


The journey continued on …. forever. We could have flown into Siem Reap, but the agent had said it’s only a 5 hour drive, and it sounded fun to see the country side, and it was…. But after a while we were all a little restless from driving bumpy roads in a van with partial air conditioning working….flying might have been worth it.

We saw two LDS chapels (one posted further down)

We loved this little girl on her giant bike!


We were happy to arrive. And we’re even happier with our hotel the Tara Angor Wat.

After settling into our rooms (which this time were side by side, and across the hall), we tried to decide on dinner. We ended up going to a place recommended by the hotel as we had looked on our own and frankly were just too tired to do the due diligence of reading reviews, and didn’t feel like wandering the busy streets in the dark with the kids find a place.
We took two tuk tuk rides – which were pretty wild and the kids were mixed with exhilaration and fear! We ended up going to relatively fancy place called Chanrey Tree. It was actually quite delicious! The boys and I had variations of Khmer steak and beef skewers wrapped with porc belly, while Rob had their fish amok and Zandra went for curry again. It definitely was pricier than any meal we’ve had (but nothing compared to home), and the little guys were asleep at the table by the time we left, but it was a nice way to end such a long travel day!


A crazy tuk tuk ride back and we were dead by 9pm!

What an adventure!

Privilege

I awoke super early yesterday morning and was able to get some pics organized and write a blog post. Benefits of still having jet lag! By the time we got the kids up, I was all packed up for our next part of the journey.

 
We had a great breakfast again, this time I tried the noodles for breakfast- which were awesome, and a few kids opted for pancakes.

 

We packed up and bid farewell to the King Grand Suites hotel, as well as smoggy Phnom Penh. Zach had commented last night that the city has a certain smell to it. All the time. Sort of like pollution?!

 
We drove through the city and snapped some pics.

I had a little doze and woke up to our driver saying he had to stop for a minute to see his mom, who was at a little stall/shop at the side of the highway. We were about an hour outside the city. I watched him give her a bag of things, and then count out money for her and give it to her. Two little kids were there too and started waving and blowing kisses to us. So cute!

 
I was overcome by this feeling of privilege. Here we are, being driven to Siem Reap. On this incredible trip. Bellies full from a great breakfast. After a good night sleep in air conditioned rooms. My kids playing on their own iPhones in the back of the van. Heading to experience and explore an area that most will only dream about.

 
Why me? Why them? Why were we born in such different surroundings? We talked a lot yesterday with the kids about how if you were born in poverty in this country, there’s really very little way out of it (our guide has been sharing a lot about the poverty in the country). Why do some of us live in extreme privilege and others in extreme poverty?

 
I don’t know the answer.

 
I just know that this privilege brings me to my knees in gratitude for what I have. And for no other reason that I was born in a different land, to different parents. No more deserving of it than anyone else.

 
It also brings me an overwhelming sense of responsibility to raise my kids – highly privileged kids – to have a social conscience. To be kind and compassionate humans. To use travel as a way of expanding and educating their minds. And to serve serve serve. And then serve. Expressing gratitude along the way. Always.

 

I know it doesn’t change much. Poverty still exists. Privilege still exists. But small acts all together can make a difference. I hope.