Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Two Months In

{Picture taken on the bridge in Hoi An, Vietnam}

We're two months in to our grand adventure and I must say I'm feeling so much more comfortable with this travel lifestyle than I was when we first started this journey. Traveling with a partner, especially one that is your spouse, has its own challenges and we've definitely had to figure out (fast) the best way to communicate and enjoy this trip together so we don't kill ourselves. Haha. We have our fair share of disagreements but we also get over them and find solutions quite quickly because we have to. While there are challenges to being with the same person all day everyday, there's no one I'd rather share this journey with and I'm so grateful for the chance we have to experience new things and learn and grow together. 

Since the last monthly check-in, we've visited Cambodia and now, Vietnam. Both have been incredible. Overall, I've been amazed by seeing and experiencing for myself just how many people there are in Asia (more than half the world). Of course, I've always known that the population in Asia is massive, but to see it and experience the masses of people all going about their daily lives is a different thing. It's such a huge part of the world that has it's own different but very routine (for them) way of doing things. It's crazy to see how what you thought was so normal for so long in your life can seem so strange to half of the world. Man, perspectives. And what once seemed crazy to me is so normal for everyone in Asia. 

One thing I can say to summarize my time in Cambodia and especially Vietnam is that I'm so grateful for a pure, (mostly) uncorrupted government in the United States that practices democracy and capitalism! Socialism doesn't work. Ay! 

We've got another couple weeks in Vietnam and then we'll spend some time in Laos before going back to Bangkok to plan out the next "leg" of our trip. 

I'm so thankful for all our friends, family, and readers who are supporting us from afar. We can feel the love and it is much appreciated. As a summer-loving girl, I definitely miss being away from California this time of year, but I'm so glad for this opportunity to travel this part of the world that I've always had such a curiosity about. We love you all and hope you're enjoying a great summer (or winter) wherever you are!

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Phnom Penh is a chaotic yet beautiful, corrupted yet friendly city. Cambodia is a loaded country--the people have been through a lot, so you feel sorry for them, but at the same time, you feel frustrated that their leaders can't just shape up and get the country in order. In Phnom Penh, I was charmed by the temples, the waterfront, the sidewalk crepe stands, but turned off by the security guards asking for money and sleeping on the job. 

At one point we tried to visit a temple and the security guard on duty informed us there was an admission fee. 

"Where are the tickets?", we asked. 

"No tickets," he replied. 

"Where is the sign stating the cost of the entrance fee?" 

"No sign," he answered. 

"Where does the money go." 

"My family," he said. 

The sad thing is that I'm sure his family needs the help and it irks me that there's not a proper system in place where even someone with an actual, steady job needs to find creative ways to make ends meet for his family. 

The traffic in Phnom Penh is insane and mesmerizing and the people are resourceful, resilient, and optimistic. At one point, we found ourselves resting at a bus stop in the middle of the city and we witnessed young man after young man arriving on scooters to pick up various boxes and goods that had been dropped off at the bus station. I have no idea what the goods being delivered were as there was no real organized system, but my hunch tells me they were various supplies needed for whatever business their family member or friend was running to make ends meet for their individual situation. One guy in particular rode up and lined up two microwave-size boxes on the back of his scooter with nothing to tie them down. I thought to myself "there's no room for him to fit on the scooter now to drive the thing!". Then I saw him throw one more large box in the front section of the scooter where his feet are supposed go like it was nothing. He then squeezed himself into the inches of space left for his body, dangled his legs to the side of the box in front of him, and sped off into the traffic you see pictured below. This whole loading process took about 30 seconds. Brad and I sat there mesmerized, like we were watching a Rube Goldberg machine. 

Below are some pictures I captured in and around the city of Phnom Penh, including our visit to the Royal Palace. 

{Rush hour}

{Overlooking the main square, with the Royal Palace to the right and the merging of the Tonle Sap and Mekong Rivers to the left.}

{One of our favorite discoveries was the Wat Prayuvong temple, which was nestled right in the middle of a local neighborhood. The whole neighborhood was staring at us as we would our way through their streets, in front of their houses and shops. Then we walked inside this--the brightest, most colorful building I've been inside of.}

{Wat Langka}

{Phnom Penh's Central Market}

{Delicious crepes--we can thank French colonialism for this one!}

{Our crazy moto ride in the rain. Brad did a great job navigating all the traffic and bumpy roads!}

{Post rain-soaked moto ride}

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Book Club: The Agony and the Ecstasy

In addition to seeing new things and having more adventures, one thing I was really looking forward to upon starting this journey was the ability to have more free time to read. Reading books is so important to developing a stronger vocabulary, becoming a better conversationalist, and overall, learning new things.

I've always enjoyed the feeling of being immersed in a really good book. For the last several years, I've struggled to find the balance in life to allow myself enough time and thinking space to let my mind really dive into books. I've read a few here and there, but in the future, I'd like to live a life where I always have the desire, the mental space, and the ability to be immersed in a good book. 

I just finished "The Agony and the Ecstasy" by Irving Stone, a biography written about Michelangelo's magnificent life. First and foremost, this book made me want to travel to Italy, specifically Florence. Through Michelangelo's art, the author tells the story of Italy's history and culture. Michelangelo's love for his hometown of Florence is so strong that in addition to seeing all his magnificent works there, I want to travel there to better understand how this city influenced and raised such a brilliant artistic genius. 

The dedication and devotion that Michelangelo gave to his trade was incredible and inspiring. It made me want to develop a passion so strong that sacrifices to complete that thing do not feel like sacrifices. 

Below are a few of my favorite quotes from the book. 
"Listen, my friend: it's pleasant to get used to the expensive, the soft, the comfortable. Once you're addicted,it's so easy to become a sycophant, to trim the sails of your judgment in order to be kept on. The next step is to change your work to please those in power, and that is death to the sculptor."
"Did God really rest on the seventh day? In the cool of that long afternoon, when He was refreshed, might He not have asked Himself, "Whom have I on earth to speak for me? I had best create another species, one apart. I will call him 'artist.' His will be the task to bring meaning and beauty to the world."
"Drawing, like food, drink, and sleep, puts strength back into a man."
"Man passes. Only works of art are immortal."
That night, as he lay sleepless in bed, he thought, "Life has been good. God did not create me to abandon me. I have loved marble, yes, and paint too. I have loved architecture, and poetry too. I have loved my family and my friends. I have loved God, the forms of the earth and ther heavens, and people too. I have loved life to the full, and now I love death as it's natural termination. Il Magnifico would be happy: for me, the forces of destruction never overcame creativity."

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat. What a dreamy, ancient, awe-inducing place. Cambodia today is a very poor country that has endured a lot of hardships with unstable leadership and little outside support. It's hard to imagine that 1,000 years ago, these people ruled the largest city in the world. Angkor Wat is proof of the divine nature and abilities of the Cambodian people.

This massive network of temples and structures, built of solid stone is huge and incredible. It is so fun to walk through the complexes and imagine people 1,000 years ago performing religious rituals and worshipping their Gods--to imagine how these people felt, walking reverently, deeper and deeper into each massive structure, and feeling closer to God. 

Most of the temples are built with a similar layout, having several layers of walls leading to an inner, holy center with some of the centers built tall to signify a closeness to heaven. 

Angkor Wat is the largest and most well-preserved single temple and it's amazing, but there are so many more temples and complexes, including the Angkor Thom complex, which includes several temples and takes at least 30 minutes to ride from one end to the other by bike. One of the most unique temples at Angkor Thom is the Bayon, which has more than 200 large faces carved into the stone and staring at you every which direction you look. Some of my other favorites include Ta Prohm, which still has tons of trees and jungle overgrowth overtaking the temple walls, Pre Rup which has a more reddish tone, and Banteay Samrei--this one's a little farther to get to but it is unique and beautiful.

We decided to buy a 3-day pass for the temples which allowed us to take our time and venture out to some of the lesser-visited temples. The 3-day pass allows you a week to complete your three days, so we took a day between each visit to the temples to relax and recover. Exploring ancient temples is exciting and amazing, but it can also be tiring. I was so glad we had those days in between to rest. 

Most people hire a tuk tuk driver for about $15/day to drive them around to the different temples. Being the able-bodied young adults that we are, we decided to rent bicycles to see the sights and I'm so glad we did! The routes are totally doable by bike and I loved being able to slowly take in all the scenery around us and gaze at the temples from afar while we were riding. And, we definitely saved some dough since our bikes only cost $1 per day (per bike).

In summary, Angkor Wat is amazing and if you have the chance to go, do! Here are some of my favorite pictures from all our exploring. 

{This was my first sight of Angkor Wat, when we walked up at sunrise. The realization of a dream come true made me giddy with excitement.}

{Exploring the hallways and grounds of Angkor Wat.}

{Taking in the wonder of Angkor on our bikes}

{The Bayon--one of our favorites, is covered with over 200 huge faces carved directly in the stone.}

{Can you say photobomb?}

{A lot of the temples had very steep staircases leading to the top. While most had wooden steps with handrails installed, some still let you use the original steps and those were even steeper! We definitely took our time climbing up and down.}

{This particular temple, the Baphuon, was actually disassembled and put back together by the French for preservation purposes.}

{East gate of Angkor Thom, also known as the "gate of death" -- and it actually felt like death cycling on the rocky, muddy road to get there!}

{Seriously steep steps!}

{Ta Prohm - a temple that showcases the mighty and destructive power of the jungle. Over time, these huge trees have extended their roots into the temples and destroyed much of the original framework.}

{Everywhere you go at Angkor Wat (outside of the actual temple complexes), there are kids running trying to sell you souvenirs. "One dollar, one dollar!", they say. They're pretty cute, but we never gave them our business out of principle, not wanting to support child labor. Brad was always so kind to them though, and would engage them in conversation, sometimes teaching them English and sometimes just logically telling them why he didn't want to buy some of their trinkets. Some of the interactions were pretty hilarious!}

{Pre Rup}

{Exploring Banteay Samrei on our last day}

{One of my favorite memories in Cambodia--cycling down this village road}

{Here's a typical gas station in Cambodia. Where are the pumps, you ask? The fuel is sold out of those wine bottles you see in the front of the photo, under the green umbrella!}

We ended the afternoon of our last day back at Angkor Wat and just took in magnificence and beauty of the whole place. 

We went inside and climbed to the top of the structure which was really neat. In ancient times, only high priests and those close to the king were allowed up here. 

{Standing in front of the tallest structure, in the middle of the temple. Only the king was allowed here and he would go here to communicate directly with the Gods. Angkor Wat was originally built as a Hindu temple.}

{Cambodians in traditional dress standing in the inner courtyard of Angkor Wat}

{One of the most impressive things were the bas relief carvings that lined the entire inner wall of the temple. The carvings were so detailed and complex.}

{Angkor Wat, in all it's glory.}

Bye bye, Angkor!