Happy 2017 – Where Did I Go?

What happened to 2016?  Lots!

In 2016 I decided to start entering stories in the CBC Writes competition.  At this time I discovered that for entering into this competition, and others, a story is disqualified if it’s published.  And “published” includes being on a blog such as this one.  

This created a scenario where my blog became a collection of my weakest stories, with all of my better stories saved for other potentially more important venues.  I found this demotivating.
Another thing that happened was that my iphone died after my last Asia trip.  A company recommended by Apple (Apple does not help you with recovering any information from your dead Apple product) quoted me $2700 to try to recover just the photos.  I lost many blog posts that were half completed.  It was another demotivation losing hundreds of photos and notations, as well as a lot of interesting recordings such as conversations with taxi drivers.  

I did have quite a lot of travel in 2016, but I ended up sharing that mostly just on Facebook.  Also, life happened too and my focus moved to other things. 

My most recent trip involved some work in Arkansas.  This had me in the US for 3 months – before during and after the recent Presidential election.   I would like to share some of those travel experiences, as well as my own observations and learnings with you in some soon to come blog posts.  But after having gone on hiatus for so long, it seemed like it would be strange to just suddenly start posting without some explanation as to where I’ve been.  

With my Mum in New Brunswick, January, 2017.

Happy New Year Everyone!

Ta Prohm Temple

Perhaps most people know the very famous temple of Angkor Wat located near Siem Reap in Cambodia.  What most people don’t know is that Angkor Wat is just one of many temple complexes in that area.  

The first temple I visited in the region was Ta Prohm.  

I actually enjoyed exploring this temple more than I did later exploring Ankor Wat, although the latter had more wow factor from afar, set-up like the Taj Mahal in how you appreciate the view of it from it’s approach.

I have already talked about the devastation of the Khmer rouge on recent Cambodian life. The reality of landmines comes to life around Siem Reap with panhandlers missing limbs and those who have figured out how to make an income despite their disabilities.  

Click on the second image below to hear this band playing inside the entrance of this temple complex.



These temples were more towns than temple.  The outer wall of this one was 1 km by 650 m.   

Ta Prohm was one of the first temples in a massive program of construction and public works started in 1186 by Jayavarman VII.

When I say it was more of a town I mean this.  According to Wikipedia this temple was home to more than 12,500 people.  The surrounding villages that provided the support services and supplies for this walled city of sorts amounted to 64 times that.  That’s quite a ratio, 1:64, or 800,000 villagers behind the scenes.

This particular temple complex is iconic for its trees, growing through and on and amongst the structures.

Click on the image below to see a video.

 I feel like videos bring you closer to the site than do photos.

When standing far back it is not apparent the level of detail of construction. 

Of course most of the details have been obscured by 800 years of wear.  But see here some great examples.

As with all of these complexes,  after the fall of the Khmer empire in the 17th century these places were basically lost for hundreds of years.  When the temples of Angkor were finally given attention again in the 21st-century, it was decided that much of this one would be left remaining in the state as it had merged with the jungle.  Of course work has been done to stabilize and permit access.  

Ta Prohm was added to the UNESCO world heritage list in 1992.  In this photo you can see the lighter colored pieces are newly created.    So this structure would have been reassembled from a collapsed structure.  

Despite learning that this complex was being left more as it had been found, I saw more reconstruction happening here then at any other temple complex today. (I visited four today, which was a lot for me to take in.).  It has become one of the most visited temples.

The structures have been fortified as needed for safe explorations within.

Rubble of collapsed structures can be seen everywhere, and signs showing which way you should allow yourself to wander.

Click on the images below for videos of repair and piles of rubble yet to be put to their right order.

I was surprised by the degree to which we could explore.

Click on the video below to see more of this magical landscape .  You may recognize it from a movie 


The trees were incredible ..  I read that the most prominent are the silk cotton tree, the strangler fig tree,  and the gold apple tree.

The film that had scenes here was called “Tomb Raider” and starred Angelina Joliie.

At this time it was only about 9 o’clock in the morning, so I was not yet melting.  It was already about 32°C at that time, but the sun was not yet burning hot.

Despite the heat, it is polite and respectful not to show your legs at the temple complexes.  So here I wear a light pant sold at the local stores for that purpose.

I took this tour guides picture because he came from my favorite city in Japan.  I lived for two years in the city of Matsuyama, the main city of Ehime Prefecture. Ehime Shinbun is the provincial newspaper.


Thank you for Joining my visit to Ta Prohm in Cambodia.  I hope you will join with me visiting more of these temple complexes in upcoming posts.  




We are laughing about how much she is cheating me for this ballcap, in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Despite being pressured by my hotel to accept (and pay too much for) a tour of Angkor Wat by their tuktuk driver from 7 AM on my first day, instead I slept in and explored the town.  I was overtired and anyway it was easy to sleep late due to something that my room was lacking.  The room I prepaid for had a broken air conditioner so I was downgraded into a room where it worked.  This was after considerable effort on my part.  On the top floor, the room was hotter than the outdoors.  (Low of 30C with usual highs of 39C outside)

My new room had no window and no television, making it basically a cave.   Without the character of a cave.


I bet they don’t even know this is a famous person’s hairdo on their salon sign.  They probably just took a foreign person’s hairstyle off the Internet.

I left my hotel not knowing what I would do today in particular,  just I was tired and overheated.  My first stop became a massage for 60 minutes, I decided to try the local Kmer massage.  Once was enough for that.  There is perhaps reason why it is not world-famous. (Later I will have other fantastic massages here, just not that type.)

I let myself be coaxed in to a restaurant for lunch where I paid 10 times the average wage for a Cambodian according to Wikipedia, for this salad and drink.  ($10US)

. There were two customers in this large restaurant during lunchtime, me and one other foreigner.  That’s always a good sign.  LOL.

This always boggles my mind.  An otherwise well designed restaurant.  Here notice the bathroom door is propped open, often the case for a men’s room.  Except that the mirrors are strategically placed so those outside can see who is using the urinals.  

I was feeling grumpy this day.  

Click on the image below to view the video of me being grumpy in the market.

In my travels this is often a conundrum for me.  To give or not to give, what is actually better?  This Cambodian charity is requesting we not give and keep their children on the streets.  I had heard about this quandry in India.  A child would encounter a foreigner and earn too much money in one day.  The parent would decide their income potential was too good to let them go back to school.  And the cycle of poverty continues.

Every tuk-tuk I countered offered to take me somewhere.  Even though I was not going anywhere in particular, I finally accepted.  I had a good feeling about this young man

Click on the video below.

We agreed on six dollars an hour for random wanderings.  This is a very good amount for him yet affordable enough for me.  Yet you can hire a tuk tuk for $12 for the entire day.

If you look closely enough you can see bats in this tree.  In the country people will throw stones and then eat them my driver told me. Most things are considered fair game for eating in Cambodia.

If you squint your eyes, this lion might remind you of something else.  

We are laughing about how much she is cheating me on this ball cap.  Really, we are.

I want you to guess what this is.  I see them all over and it wasn’t what I thought it was.  Sometimes they are all Coke bottles but filled with this other colored liquid.  So I thought maybe it was that tea that every restaurant gives you instead of water.

This is a gas station.  Motor cycles and tuk tuks can easily measure how much gas they used to fuel up by half litre bottles.

I have been giving my driver lots of instructions that I would like to see more local areas.  We we didn’t start out great as he at first tried to take me shopping to all the large souvenir shops, the free-standing tourist traps designed to attract guides with their busloads of clients to earn kickbacks.  This would hugely increase his income if I bought anything at these very large tourist centers.  In fact he explained to me that if I could look for 10 minutes they would give him a vodka and Coke.  If I wanted my driver to be drinking vodka I would buy him vodka myself.  But I don’t

Looks like the sculptor of this elephant used some LSD

He told me monks live there.

On the most interesting part of the ride I did not feel comfortable taking photos.  And I didn’t.

My driver told me these are grave markers.

Click on the video below to see a sweet greeting.

Insert video of children here

I think it’s cow.  I wanted our picture together but they were afraid of me.

Click on the video below to see the full view including this cow and 

Insert video here

Me and my driver, Vichet

Cambodia Bus Ride

I took a very tiring bus ride from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap.  Taking the bus has it’s merits over air flight, for this duration anyway.  Traveling between the city provides an opportunity to see the Royal come Bodian life which does make up most of Cambodian life.  To see cities in isolation provides snapshots.  Like someone who has been to London and Birmingham think they have seen England when they have only seen two cities of England.  

with a noon departure it started off okay with the sun directly above.

I was able to take some photos during my first hour of the ride. 

The first thing I noticed was many houses on stilts.  It did not seem that water could possibly be the issue to build this way.  

The amount of dust emanating from the mostly dirt roads was incredible.   Does it help to be off the ground a little away from the dust?

 The highway was raised so perhaps this is a floodplain.  These homes were level with the road as you can see by their walkway bridges.

Still causing me questions was that some houses were very elevated and others on the ground.

Click on the image below for a video passing through this market town.


Here and there we would pass by pagodas .  This one scene from a large bridge was easier to capture .

I still have not found out why they are on stilts .

this does look more like flood plain safety, but much of it didn’t .  This was a topic of discussion for me and a German couple I befriended .  We talked about maybe there is a problem with some kind of animal that can not climb stairs ?

These truck like vehicles seemed to use the same engine as the one stroke boats .  For sure they could not make a sharp turn except with the driver dismounting .  

at this point the sun was starting to sign directly in my face.  The window already hot from 35°C  (cooler day this week ) became like heater.  I had to pull my curtains, even still I spent the next four hours wet with sweat .  The very weak aircon could not keep up.  Also with the sun in my face the camera could not focus any longer.  Any good photos would come from the other side of the bus for the rest of the trip, about 6 hours.

additionally the bus was shaking too much to be able to read or write or use device.  The patches of paved road where brief and intermittent .

This “club sandwich” with very red ketchup, no bacon, no tomato, no chicken filled my belly during a rest stop.

Click on the video below for my final impression of this bus ride. I know I’m complaining, but I’m still good natured about it!

Although it was a scam place it did have an interesting urinal.

I enjoyed a total of six days in Ho Chi Minh city also known as Saigon.  

I was fortunate to make some friends at a local coffee shop outside of the tourist district.

The coffee shop was also a custom T-shirt shop.  I chose this image for my first T-shirt, for obvious reasons.  

After three days away to the Mikong Delta I returned to Saigon.  I stayed in this hotel in the foreign district, on the eighth floor.  You can see my windows one from the top because the hotel is only one room wide!  Looks like a short version of a Tokyo building.

The backpackers district of Saigon is very hectic and has a very developed nightlife.  I don’t usually go out drinking but on one occasion I did.  Here you can see me with two girls I met from England.

Soon after meeting them I had us join a group of locals who were dancing at their table.  They were very generous with their quantity of beer coming from a tap on their table.  We tried to refuse but they insisted.  Some time later I was taken by the hand and told to come along as we all ran outside.  In the street we all continued to run.   It took me a few minutes before I realized that the locals had dashed on their bill.  And I had joined them!

There are many scams in the bars in Saigon, so I discovered in my one night out.  At this particular bar the scam was this.  One was presented with a menu that only showed the prices for premade drinks.  These prices were all very normal and standard.  The scam was that their cocktails were priced at nearly 10 times the standard rate for the neighborhood.   So if you saw their menu and then asked them if they had a rum and Coke, you would be very surprised by the price if you did not ask to see that specific menu.  Beer was about 20,000 dong, $1.  A wine cooler expensive at 100,000 dong, $5.  But who would have expected that any other cocktail, on a separate menu , was priced at 330,000 dong $17.  Whereas at all the nearby restaurants the same cocktails were two dollars.

I encountered my next scam at the next bar we moved to.  That was me and the British girls, not the locals who ran home.  This bar had all their drinks marked at double the going rate.  This was acceptable because they had a permanent two for one drink special.  So the three of us ordered two cocktails get two free, each having one and one third with the fourth as a refill.  Then we ordered two more and did the same with the four arrived.  

This was my first time drinking for several weeks.  I asked for the bill after having had five drinks that night.  The bill was much more than I expected but I was confused after drinking by the exchange rate which is difficult with such a large denomination.  (20,000 is $1).  I paid the 600,000 for our drinks and then parted company.  Only the next day did I realize they did not honor the two for one special.  I went back but they said sorry I have no proof.  I am certain they present every customer with this double bill and then pretend it was an honest mistake if the foreigner notices.  

After I had paid the bill but before I had told the girls it was my treat I asked one of them if she could send me a text with our photo.  She said no because it would cost her money.  (About 5 cents.). I signed her in to Wi-Fi to get the photo but I felt hurt.  Although she didn’t know yet I had just spent $20 on their share of the drinks when she didn’t want to spend five cents on one text.  

Although it was a scam place it did have an interesting urinal.   Click on the image below to see the video showing what I mean.

Insert your note video here

 This was another interesting urinal experience.  For your enjoyment we have installed a mirror above this low urinal so that you have no privacy from everyone who enters this bathroom.  Well designed.  

While in Saigon I also had my hair done, a pedicure, and a manicure.  I am still recovering from that traumatic experience.  

Phnom Penh – Wandering Around Cambodia’s Main City

City of 2 million people, Phnom Penh is the largest in Cambodia.  I enjoyed wondering streets and exploring, though I was constantly aware of the potential for mugging and bag snatching.  Not only had I read about this and heard the stories, I witnessed a first-hand account on my first day I was getting a Sim card installed in my mobile phone.  As I was in the mobile phone store another foreigner ran in to the store declaring that her bag had just been stolen with her phone inside.  “This happens all the time,” she told me, “my strap was cut.”

The Independence Monument.

Tuktuks were my preferred way to get around city.  Motorcycle taxes were common and half the price but there was no way to tell whether it really was a motorcycle taxi or just some guy with a motorbike.  Anyone with a motorbike could take me anywhere if I agreed to join him.  Of course this is also true of tuktuks but at least it seems purpose-built that it would be his job to transport people.

The daily temperature rose to between 35 and 39°C.  This is not usually my thing but I ended up enjoying the hotel pool every day.  Fortunately it was a salt water pool and had far less chemicals to damage my skin.  

Click below for a video talking about my insecurity of swimming in public.  I am getting better with this each time.

It is not recommended for one person to be walking alone after dark in this city.  I agreed and spent most evenings dining in my hotel.   I do take certain types of chances but in this case better safe than sorry.  Statistics were definitely against me.

 I left all cards and ID in my hotel and only carried cash.  

I also broke that habit of bringing my iPad everywhere.  I walked around with my bag gaping open so that possible thieves could see there was no reason to steal my bag.  I had to carry water, maps, and eyeglasses.   I was told my phone was most safe in my hand or pocket.  But I met another foreign girl from England who had her pants torn apart after she put her cell phone in her pocket.  In quickly retrieving her cell phone from her pants the thief ripped her pocket off her pants in the not-so-gentle process.

Middle class homes in the city center looked very secure.  

Click on the image below to see video of the same.

I was wandering around looking for lunch quite hungry in the 38°C sunshine.  Soup like this, even if the venue is not overly hygienic, tends to be a safe choice if you can see it boiling.  But I was feeling overwhelmed by the heat and I moved along.

Little Road stop places like this are everywhere.

This is the view from where I was sitting at the place I did choose.  My stopping caused quite a stir of excitement as the woman called for a family member who could speak English.  A tiny bit.  Not used to foreigners, it took them a few minutes to seem comfortable again.  This was clearly a home based business with baby and grandma watching television on a bed in the same room.  There were clothes here and there and personal effects around.  

Click on the image below to see a video 360° from where I was sitting.  It’s a bit fast but I was trying to be inconspicuous.  Grandma and baby were out at that moment.

I would say there are a variety of lifestyles in the city of Phnom Penh.  

I often walk by people doing dishes by the side of the road , but rarely do I feel comfortable taking a photo .  

Click on the image below to see video of this from afar.



This is some sort of delectable animal products being dried out for a streetside restaurant.

This photo shows the location of where they are being dried in the sun.  During rush hour I felt the need to wear my mask walking down this street, so there might be some chance of pollution absorption.  

In this scenario I was walking down a street of shops and suddenly encountered a bit of rubbish .  it’s not as bad as it looks.  Okay, maybe it is.  But later I was walking down the same street and there were multiple people sorting the trash.  So I think maybe that stretch of street is simply used as a trash sorting depot even though it’s just a normal street.

I took this photo after having a funny experience at this shirt shop.  Many businesses are home based businesses and in this case the family lived in the shirt shop.  The shop was clearly run by the wife and the husband had to come home for lunch when I was there.  Unknown to me, because he is an official he had changed his clothes to have his lunch break.  When I saw that particular shirt I thought it would make an interesting costume, I assumed it must be from nearby Thailand or Vietnam so I tried it on.  I was mistaken.

When he saw me wearing his uniform I thought he was going to wet his pants.  He was screaming-laughing in disbelief.  He called everyone over and took my picture.  It seemed like I was a celebrity until it hit me what was happening.  When I went to take a photo as well he covered his name tag quickly.   I was probably very fortunate he was so good humored.

Usually when I have iced coffee I go to the air-conditioned places I recognize to escape the heat for a few minutes.  On this occasion I stopped at a typical local coffee shop.

Click on the image below to see this coffee shop better.

Back at the hotel wearing my new shirt from the soldiers wife’s shirt shop.

Click on the video below to see the helpful pedestrian walk lights! When working better, they don’t just walk but they run as they’re running out of time. This one was a bit defunct. Some work a bit more effectively.

Okay, that’s enough for today. Thanks for visiting and I hope you’ll join my adventures by clicking “Follow” and entering your email address. Cheers! Darren