THAILAND & CAMBODIA

We flew to Thailand on Air Korea via Juno, Alaska then Korea. The flight attendants were hot. The food was actually delicious. We spent a 10-hour layover in Seoul, walking around Gyeonbokgung Palace and eating at some very confusing restaurants where no English was spoke whatsoever. It was freezing cold and the entire city felt pretty sterile and formal. But 10 hours is really no basis to form a real opinion.

BANGKOK // THAILAND

We arrived in Bangkok that night at The Golden Tulip Fortune Hotel. A big, swanky 4-star joint with tacky carpeting – better suited for Vegas from what I could tell. The sign in the lobby read “Welcome Mrs. Julia Bevan” in white plastic letters.

We woke up around 5:30am and got ready to hit the road. We only had about half a day in Bangkok before our next flight. My Dad taught me how long ago how to get the most out of travel. Make a plan. Get up early and get out there before the hordes of other tourists arrive to ruin your experience. I can come off as a bit of a drill instructor on vacations as a result, but I do make the most of it.

We got a tuk tuk taxi and arrived at the outdoor Chinatown market before sunrise. The traffic was unbelievably chaotic. A billion taxis, motorcycles, trucks, panel vans, bicycles, scooters, and tuk tuks weaving in and around each other like a school of fish.

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Bangkok’s Chinatown market was, in a word, off the hook. Endless alleyways – straight out of Bladerunner – with the craziest foods, smells, giant fish heads, squids, dried vegetables from outer space, packaged goods of all kinds, mangy dogs, mangy cats, mangy kids. The list goes on.

People scurried back and forth up and down the narrow dark corridors – alleyways between buildings that were packed wall to wall with an open-air market. A labyrinth that seemed to stretch out endlessly in all directions.

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Chinatown is a feast for the eyes: An 80 yr old hunchback lady was pulling a rolling cart of dried noodles, passing a 12 yr old boy riding a loud motor scooter spitting exhaust, next to a huge fat butcher loping the heads off 50 lb fish, standing across from a 90 yr old incredibly wrinkled and shrunken man feeding a baby, sitting crossed legged on top of a loading palette, as two barefoot monks in bright orange robes silently weaved in and out of the bustling crowd. There was so much to look at it, it was almost overwhelming. An attack on all five senses that rendered you dumbstruck.

After a few hours in the market we endured another chaotic tuk tuk ride to the north side of town. The whole city was its won visual overload. So much to look at. So much amazing signage and typography. Just about every building is covered in neon letters, banners, and billboards. Electrical wires are strung in all directions and there appears to be no method to the madness whatsoever. The colors were straight out of a Wong Kar Wai movie.

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The north side of town was much more touristy, with lots of backpackers eating and drinking in outdoor cafes watching soccer games. After breakfast we walked over to the river and I negotiated a long tail boat tour of the Thonburi Canal that surround the city. Many people still travel by boat, and much of the commerce seems fed by the river system.

Several boat captains refused to take us since we insisted on no stops. This would prove to be a recurring theme. Taxi drivers of all stripes have a complex system in place where they deliver tourists to various stores and shops for kick backs. If you opt out of it, you greatly reduce their profits so they are less motivated to take you anywhere. But I managed to settle on a decent price for a tour and we were off.

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The Thonburi Canal snakes through a densely populated neighborhood. Lots of corrugated metal and wood shacks seemingly seconds away from collapse were mixed with beautiful tique wood mansions surrounded by high walls and gardens. Each house had a doll-house sized Buddhist shrine that was well attended to. In addition there were several elaborate Buddhist temples along the way that periodically appeared out of nowhere. Their bright colors and exquisite architecture was a dazzling site amidst the run-down shanty towns.

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After the boat ride we walked around Lumphini Park and had a drink at the tallest hotel in Bangkok before catching our next flight, to Trang – small city in the very far South of the country, near the Malaysian border. From Trang we were to make our way South, towards the most remote island in the Adaman Sea, Ko Lipe. I had discovered it in the Lonely Planet guide. It was written up as being as off the beaten path as one could get in all of Thailand. Transportation there was limited: Private chartered boats, and weekly mail boat that you could bribe for a ride out. Getting away from other tourists is always my goal, so this seemed like the move.

Before I get into Trang, here’s a few more pics of Bangkok that I took at the tail end of the trip. Sukhumvit sex market and some random street.

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The flight to Trang ended up being the lynchpin of our entire vacation. While enroute, we switched seats with an older couple and found ourselves sitting next to a very friendly American named Kurt. He was traveling with six other old friends and was actually headed to the exact same remote island we were going for, Ko Lipe. I was initially a bit suspicious of this coincidence, as I had been warned to watch out for shady Americans who prey on gullible tourists. but the size of this man’s entourage seemed legit.

Kurt was from Davis, California. he had recently quit his job, sold his house, and was half way through a 12 month trip around the world with his brother Franz. They had met several other friends in Bangkok, all of whom were on the plane.

Once we landed we all decided to share a taxi for the hour-long trip south to the fishing village of Pak Bara – the launching point for the South Adaman Sea.

Kurt’s crew of 7 were a bit odd at first. Very California and a bit fratty. Anne and I kept looking at each other as if to say “Did we really come all this way to be stuck in a van with a bunch of loud Americans?”

It got very dark during the drive, but we could see was incredible. Thick, lush, jungle-covered cliffs. Rolling hills. Tique plantations. Thick coconut groves. It was exactly the kind of landscape that I had always dreamed of traversing. Probably because of Apocalypse Now, the movie that really put the zap on my head as a kind. As the sky grew darker and the light more and more deep blue, I kept thinking of the tiger scene in the jungle with Capt Willard and Chef. “Never get out of the boat. Absolutely god damn right.”

We arrived in Pak Bara 2 hours later. We dumped our bags the hotel and walked into town to get some food. The town was really just one main road about 3 blocks long, with one traffic island straight down the middle. There was a handful of tiny shops to service tourists, though all were closed. The road ended at the pier, where several crappy tour boats were moored.

We made our way down to the only restaurant open in town – a small hut on the side of the road with a cluster of candle-lit tables with umbrellas in the sand. We sat down and ordered two local Chang Beers and and some Thai vegetable Tempura.

One of the Americans, John, soon appeared before us with a proposition:

He had located a boat for rent. It included a tour guide, a chef cooking 3 meals a day, and a diving instructor. “You guys interested in joining us?” He asked. This was intriguing. He offered to take us down to the dock to check out the boat and meet – a pretty, tomboyish Thai woman in her early 30s named Kwandee. She broke it down for us:

- Seven days in the islands (there are about over 500, of various sizes and development, or lack thereof)
- She’ll take is anywhere we want to go, and she knows the islands like the back of her hand
- 3 meals a day by a private chef on the boat
- Bungalow arrangements at every island of our choosing – she knows all of the hoteliers personally
- Optional beach camping tents, complimentary
- Optional sleeping on the boat, complimentary
- Snorkeling tours
- Diving certification for an extra $100 each
All of that, for about $180 US, each. No matter how you slice it, this was an incredible deal.

Kwandee also seemed to be the only person outside of Bangkok fluent in English, so that was a big plus too.

The boat itself was very low rent. A plain, weather-beaten ferry boat. The upper deck was barren and moldy. The lower decks had rows of wooden benches that could seat about 75 people. The bathroom seemed like a very scary place, but the toilet was surprisingly sparkling clean.

Back at the restaurant, we weighed the pros and cons. We needed a boat to get anywhere. Kwandeed spoke English and knew the area like an expert. Bungalow arrangements on the islands would be pre-arranged, a big hassle removed. And complete freedom from the schedules of local ferry and mail boats. Amazing, right? Yet spending a big chunk of our vacation with a bunch of loud Americans was worrisome. And being a minority vote amongst them was also a concern.

But whatever. Fuck it. We were in. We were to meet at the dock at noon the next day to begin our adventure.

After dinner we strolled through the tiny beach town by moonlight. It seemed silent and totally deserted – such a dramatic, complete removal from the modern world of NYC. Yet, at the far end of the road, we heard the tell-tale sound of movie explosions. We eventually found the source – an open-air restaurant where almost the entire town had gathered to watch “Independence Day” with Will Smith on VHS. This was a bizarre sight to behold. We wondered how much their perception of Americans had been warped by Hollywood.

Morning Muslim prayers woke us up at 6am. The South of Thailand is primarily Muslim, as is nearby Malaysia. There had been some rumblings of Muslim separatists starting a guerrilla war nearby but we saw no sign of it.

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I joined John and Kurt for a beer run in Kwandee’s pick up truck in the nearest town, La Nga. A 6-block long stretch of concrete with one ATM. Speeding through the countryside on the back of a truck was thrilling. It was surreal being in a place I’d always dreamed of – one I’d only seen in movies. John spoke non-stop for the entire trip. Ugh.


This was the group we had now committed our vacation to.

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KURT WISNER - black hat, center
Tall. Skinny. Like a runner. very tan. About 33 or so. Got pretty much left at the altar by his fiancé just 6 months earlier. He sold his house, quit his job in commercial real estate, and decided to travel the world with his brother Franz. We discussed movies within 10 minutes of meeting. The princess Bride came up and he immediately responded “No more rhymes, I mean it”. To which I replied “Anybody want a peanut?”. This was a good sign. He seems to be the most laid back of the bunch.

FRANZ WISNER - grey hat, left of center
Tall. Handsome. Always smiling. Very endearing. Grey hair and a goatee. He worked for California Governor Pete Wilson throughout the 90s. Worked as some kind of lobbyist in DC. Seems like he has a future in politics. Oh, did I mention that I think they’re all republicans? This is scary, but I am ignoring that for now. He’s been reading the bible cover to cover on his trek around the world, rediscovering his own spirituality. He and Kurt first went to Prague. They bought a car and drove to Russia. Did all of eastern Europe. Then The Middle East. Then India. Then Sri Lanks. Then Indonesia. Then Viet Nam and Cambodia. Note to self, before I die, must make the drive from Wei to De Nang.

JOHN TERRA - black shirt, sunglasses
The talking guy. Gets shit from everybody and always takes the bait. This was very annoying at first but he’s growing on us. He’s been living in Poland and the Czech Republic truing to finish his dissertation on the effect of trade unions on newly Deomcratic states in Eastern Europe. He’s incredibly smart and perhaps the sole liberal among them. He also seems like he needs to get laid.

LISA PERROZZI - far right
Franz’s GF he’s been dating for a few months. Very nice chick. Easy to talk to. Morning jogger. Avoids the political discussions. In commercial real setae, I think. Lives in Newport Beach.

JOHN & LENA DAWKINS - far left
The only married couple aboard. Well traveled. Has great stories from Fiji, Borneo, Nicaragua, the Red Sea, that really remote area of Russia near Hokkaido Island. Sonklhin? He and Lena live in Moscow. He owns a telephony Company and ISP he claims is earning 80K per day. He worked fro Exxon for 3 years. He is constantly teasing and pranking his wife, Elena – A beautiful Moscow party girl who is always busting out some kind of MTV dance moves. They had a traditional Kazakstan wedding in Northern California. Everyone wore traditional Russian clothes. Lena rode up on horseback as John negotiates her dowry with the parents. In a burst of theater, she refuses the deal and gallops off into the mountains. John has to give chasm, which he does, dragging her back to the wedding ceremony. Impressive.

EVELYNA - second from right
John Dawkins’ part time accountant from Moscow. She speaks good English bout remains silent most of the time. She wears crazy Chanel sunglasses. She is very pale and not built for the tropics in any way shape or form.


We boarded the boat back in Pak Bara and set sail for Ko Bulon Leh, one of the larger nearby islands. The sky was growing darker as we slipped away from shore, so it seemed like sunshine was not in the cards for our first day at sea. At least the boat looked a bit less crappy in daylight, so that was something. Plus, Kwandee, our guide, seemed genuinely sweet and wholly devoted to creating an amazing experience for all of us.

THE ADAMAN SEA // THAILAND

When I had originally read about these islands in the Lonely Planet, the hours of travel time between them convinced me they must be very far apart. We quickly realized that this was simply a technology issue. The long tails and ferry boats were just all very old and slow, with tiny ancient maritime motors. I didn’t take the photo below but it begins to hint at an average view of the Adaman Sea.

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Once we cleared the bay, the horizon was dotted with hundreds of island, big and small. It was thrilling. Something out of James Bond. Even more beautiful than any photo or movie I had seen. The vacation had officially begun.

We landed on the beach at Bulon Leh around 4pm just as storm clouds rolled in and the wind picked up dramatically. There were 3 resorts on the island. Two on our side and a third on the other. And by resort, I mean simply a cluster of grass huts with a common dining area.

The nearby resorts were both full, so I accompanied Kwandee and her first mate as we took the inflatable dingy to the opposite side of the Island. The tide was too low so we had to wade in from about 500 yards out. The sea water was a bit below room temperature, like a bathtub that had been left to cool.

The third resort was also full, so we were kind of out of luck. Then it started raining.

We made our way back around the island in the rain to inform the crew about our situation. We agreed to pitch tents on the shore, on a bed of soft pine needles beneath a grove of trees.

By the time the tents were pitched, it was really raining and the wind was blowing hard, but we needed to get back to the ferry boat – about 800 yards off shore. We had picked up three local kids who just wanted to hang around us. Two giggling girls and a flaming homosexual boy who could;t have been more than 11. Kwandee explained he was a “ladyboy:” and this was quite common in Thailand.

The dingy ride back to the boat for dinner was a bit hairy. Too windy and the sea was getting rough. Plus, I have a thing about being in a small, easily cap sizable boat, in the ocean, at night, with no life jacket, in a storm, and weighed down by a huge backpack that will surely deliver me to a watery grave.

Once back on the boat, people started getting sea sick. The sea was rough and the boat was churning this was and that. The home cooked food, made by the Chef named Pen in a single wok inside a close, was incredibly delicious. We ate as much as we could given the circumstances, but soon realized we needed to get back to shore before the sea got too rough for the little boat.

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Eager to escape, I volunteered Anne and I for the first ride back. But there was a problem. The inflatable dingy was losing air, and slowly deflating. The sea was now swelling about 4 feet up and down, so just getting into the boat was treacherous. Keep in mind it’s also night and pitch black as the entire island went dark at 9pm.

We manage to get down in to the dingy with the first mate but the swells are so bad that the engine won’t start. And it’s sinking. Kwandee and her entire crew are screaming at each other in the most ear-piercing pitches in Thai. I realize I may have made a deadly error in judgment. Getting into a sinking dingy in the dark, in a storm, in Thailand. WTF was I thinking? “Brooklyn couple drowns in bizarre boating mishap” was all I could see. The sea is getting rougher and the crew is now desperately trying t9o keep the dingy adjacent to the boat with ropes while we jump back in to the ferry – no easy task with the 4 foot swells. I was sure were would hit our heads in the dark and sink to the bottom of the bay. But we made it. Barely.

Kwandee moved the ferry around the island a bit to a calmer section of water. From their she radioed a long tail boat to come fetch us. She seemed to now every fisherman within 100 miles. We made it back to the tents unharmed.

The next morning, sea was once again calm and the sky sunny, so we next headed for Ko Turutao, the biggest island in the chain; and a National Park. It was Christmas day. Turutao looked like Jurassic Park as we approached. Or Fantasy Island. In a word, it was EPIC.

The food on the boat was amazing again. Fried rice. Fried Eggs. BBQ fish. Deep fried shrimp. Mussels. Sauteed vegetables. Khai Tom Kha soup. Green curry stews. Thai food HEAVEN. Like 1000x better than any Thai food I’ve ever tasted.

KO TURUTAO // THAILAND

We secured bungalows and spent the first day swimming and napping on the beach, watching monkeys emerge from the tree line at low tide. The water was an unbelievable emerald green. The island was alive in vibrant, lush greens. The whole place was spectacularly stunning. We spent the evening BBQing freshly caught fish on the beach. We drank beer and Franz challenged us to Bible Questions, since he was reading the entire thing from cover to cover. I was really beginning to like these guys.

The next day we took two small boats up a narrow, winding river to find the Crocodile Cave. Only a few of us saw any crocodiles. Aftewards we split up and set out for a 3 hour hike across the entire island, to a rocky stream that would lead us to a mythical waterfall at the base of the highest peak.

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Walking through the jungle was awesome. Like something out of LOST. Insects as loud as a table saw serenaded our trip. Tropical birds made bizarre tea kettle noises. I chose to ignore the numerous deadly snakes and scorpions and spiders that were surely lurking beneath the beautiful veneer.

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The hike up the stream was incredibly rigorous, with huge boulders to traverse around every bend. But we made it, and the leap off of the waterfall at the top was more than worth it. We spent over an hour laughing and taking photos, seeing who could climb the highest and still clear the rocks, 30 feet below.

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We had an amazing sunset Christmas dinner back on the boat in the bay. Kurt & Franz played Viet Namese santas, wearing matching green and red pajamas from Ho Chi Mihn city. They gave out gifts to everyone, including Kwandee, Anne, myself, and the ship’s 4 man crew.

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The next day we headed out towards Ko Lipe, the place I desperately wanted to reach. We stopped for a couple off snorkeling excursions along the way, which was incredible. Not since the Great Barrier Reef have I seen such amazing underwater sights. Several of he guys went diving but they were clearly feeling like the equipment Kwandee has brought was a bit ghetto. When they asked for weight belts, she told them to swim to the nearest shore and put some rocks in their pockets. This convinced me that this was not the place to finally get certified as a diver. Oh well.

KO LIPE // THAILAND

We arrived at Ko Lipe just after dark. The restaurant on the beach was magically lit up by Xmas lights and candles. It was like something out of a dream. There is so few lights out here, you see. Most islands have generator which they turn off at night. So its wonderfully dark and the stars incredibly vivid.

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Our beach bungalow was the most minimal accommodations I have ever found. Wooden floor. Mattress with Mosquito net. Toilet and cold shower in the corner. That’s it. It was $7 a night, and it was absolute HEAVEN. The light streams through the mosquito net in the morning, creating wavy star patterns on our bodies.

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We blissfully lost ourselves in Ko Lipe for days and days. It is Nirvana. Nothing to do. Nobody around. Completely removed from modern society. I didn’t know what day it was. It didn’t matter. We were told the island was fully booked but you’d hardly believe it as there seems to be nobody here. Our resort has about 14 bungalows, mostly with European couples – but they seem to vanish during the day. We’d see them briefly at night, eating in the lone restaurant on the beach.

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I’d wake up each morning before sunrise and sit on the beach writing this journal as the crows rang their alarms. It was cathartic.

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Some days we’d walk across the small path to the Chao Ley village on the other side of the island. Chao Ley are “Sea Gypises” that live in this part of the Indian Ocean, they are Thai by birth, but they are really their own culture, which spans many of the islands near Thailand, Malaysia, and Burma. They speak their own language and very resistant to being assimilated by Thailand. They have much darker skin than Thais, and they’re plump, like Samoans. Their fishing village was beautifully crafted from corrugated metal with toque wood shutters. Everything is on stilts for Tsunamis preparation. Anne was digging the minimalism here too.

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Some days were spent snorkeling and getting $5 massages on the beach. I found a 17 yr old kid that seems to both run his own restaurant and sell bags of Thai stick out of a coffee can for 80 CENTS a pop. Drugs are a real risk in Thailand. A single joint gets you a 5 year mandatory jail sentence. But I felt immune there, so far from the mainland. And I mean, shit. It’s Thai stick. From Thailand. You wouldn’t go to France and not eat any cheese.

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I got to know Kwandee a bit better. She was a paratrooper in the Thai Marines for eight years before returning to home to be a tour guide in Pak Bara. She destroyed her knee in a parachuting accident in Singapore.

We asked her to tell us some stories from her days in the Thai Marines. She spoke about conflicts with the Khmer Rouge on the Cambodian border. She once smuggled a desperate pregnant out of Cambodia for badly-needed treatment in a Thai hospital. They traveled through the night in silence, having no way to communicate to each other. The woman named her hold Kwandee. She told us about seeing Thai army divisions capture Khmer Rouge, force them to dig mass graves, then murdering them all with pistol shots to the back of the head. She’s seen some shit, that’s for sure.

She’s incredibly sweet. And an amazing host and tour guide. Several nights she went free diving to the bottom of the bay to get us fresh mussels. We were impressed, to say the least.

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After 5 nights on Ko Lipe we headed back to Pak Bara. We said our farewells to Kwandee. She had arranged for a bus to drive us north to another island, Ko Lanta. The Wisner brothers had chosen it at random.

At this point in the trip, we would follow the Wisner Brothers just about anywhere. Their six months of traveling had made them so good at haggling, it was really best just to let them handle everything. Not to mention they were just excellent human beings, as were their friends. Exhibit A: since we were already half way around the world in Thailand, they INSISTED that we simply MUST go to Cambodia to see Angkor Wat. I had considered this back in NY, but the $300 flight seemed pricey, and I just wasn’t sure there was enough time. But like I said, they insisted. So I booked it for 4 days after New Years.

We arrived in Ko Lanta on New Years Eve, 5 minutes before midnight. As soon as we got a drink at the hotel bar, I hear a loud “JULIAN?!”. I turn around, and it’s one of my oldest friends, Daniel Fries and his GF Jackie Simmons. This was amazing. I knew they were in Thailand, but we had no plans to meet. Daniel and I were working together at The Shooting Gallery and saw plenty of each other every day. But there they were!

We spent the next couple of days island hopping and riding around Ko Lanta on rented scooters with Daniel And Jackie. Not a bad way to spend the new year. I has just turned 32 on New Years Day.

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We bid farewell to the California crew the following day. We spoke very candidly about our first impressions of each other and everybody said exceptionally nice things about our mutual affection. We felt very lucky to have met them and share this weird adventure.

2014 EDIT
Several years ago I was telling this Thailand story at a party – how we had met these two brothers and spent a few weeks island hopping with them. As my story concluded, a person listening in nearby said “you know what… I’ve heard this story before… In fact, I read it in a BOOK!” Turns out that the Wisner brothers has gone on to travel the entire globe for not one but TWO years, and wrote a book about the whole thing, called HONEYMOON WITH MY BROTHER. Fancy that!

THE EMERALD CAVE // THAILAND

On our last day in Ko Lanta we bought space on a small boat to take us out to the famous Emerald Cave – the island that is only accessible by a secret cave, made so famous by the book and movie “The Beach”.

You park your boat towards the entrance of a very low cave in the side of a steep cliff. You jump in to the water and swim into the darkness. Once it gets really dark, a really loud roar fills the sea air – its the tide swelling up and down inside the cavern. It was also quite terrifying and caused many of the ladies to scream. But you have to keep swimming, because its dark and fucking scary. You follow the light around the bend, and eventually you see the other side. It opens up into an amazing emerald lagoon. The lagoon sits in the middle of a circular canyon, with a patch of jungle leading up the rocks in the distance. This is the only access to the island. And it’s fucking MAGIC. It was stunning. No wonder people dropped out of society just to live there in secret, hiding from the world. You didn’t want to leave.

I only managed to get one photo of 3 in our group reaching the beach first. The other two photos with the canoe I stole from the web.

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SIEM REAP // CAMBODIA

Angkor Wat is the general name given to the large complex of Buddhist and Hindu temples in Siem Reap, Cambodia that were built around 1100 AD. They are both Buddhist and Hindu because both religions held sway at various points in time during their construction. It is often called one of the eight wonders of the world, easily on par in majesty with Machu Picchu and the Pyramids of Giza.

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I had long dreamt of visiting Angkor Wat, ever since I read about in National Geographic in 1982.

Cambodia had been very dangerous to visit for many years – basically since the Viet Nam era. The country had been in an almost constant state of civil war – first from 1967-1975. Then the U.S.-backed Khmer Rouge spent 4 years murdering MILLIONS of people in attempt to reforge the country in some maniacal Communist Utopia. Viet Nam invaded in 79 and drove the Khmer Rouge into the jungle for a prolonged civil war that lasted 15 years. So in 2001, this was only about 8 years after. The Khmer generals were still hiding out in the jungle, trying to regroup. The country was still littered with American and Chinese land mines that blow up kids every day, and the population was just beginning to try to put 30 years of bloodbaths behind them. To this end, the Cambodia government had just recently begun inviting Khmer rebels to join the government – the theory being that, despite murdering millions of their own people, these people were more controllable if given a seat at the political table; getting them to be part of the system, rather than fighting to overthrow it. This was met with very mixed emotions, as you can imagine. But they were desperate to end the war. For good. Can you imagine if Hitler had escaped Berlin, and spent another 20 years alive, trying to re-take Germany. It’s unthinkable. 

 

But I digress.

We arrived in Siem Reap two days later. Once you exit the airport, you are bombarded by a sea of yelling taxi drivers, all screaming “TAXI! TAXI! TAXI! I TAKE YOU!” at the top of their lungs. It’s pretty chaotic. You simply just have to pick one at random, and hope he doesn’t plan to murder you. Whomever you pick at random ends up being your personal chauffeur for as long as you stay in Siem Reap. The Wisner brothers had advised me to get a jeep, because the roads were terrible. So I yelled back at the Taxi drivers “FOUR WHHEEL DRIVE? WHO HAS A FOUR WHEEL DRIVE?”
There was a moment of confused silence. Nobody knew WTF I was talking about.
Then, like a flock of seagulls, they all just started yelling back at me in a cacophony of mimicry “FO WHIR DRAH! FO WHIR DRAH!”. It was chaos. I had no idea what to do so I chose the best dressed guy there, and we went with him. It’s a weird system, but it kinda works.

Our driver was a thin man with black framed glasses and a striped collared shirt. his name was Chomrom. His car was a late 80s Ford 4 door. Hardly a Jeep, but what could I do? He told us he’d be our guide for the remainder of our trip. he would drive us everywhere. Pick us up whenever we wanted. And he knew everything about all of the temples of Angkor Wat. So be it.

The drive from the airport was exciting. It really looked like what I’d always seen in Viet Nam movies. Huge wide rice fields, ringed with one lane roads and palm trees.

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The first thing you notice in Cambodia is the poverty. Such a stark contrast from Thailand. 30 years of civil war, Kissinger’s genocidal carpet bombing campaign, and and endless supply daily land mines will do that to a place. There are children with missing limbs begging at every tourist site. It’s incredibly sad.

The French colonial influence is also unmistakable. In the architecture and food and French language you see on signage everywhere.

We dropped our bags at our room and headed straight for the main temple, which is the largest of all of the structures and is actually called Angkor Wat.

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It’s here that I became so mesmerized with the beauty of the place that I stopped keeping a journal. IT’s very hard to put into words how beautiful and mesmerizing it was. I think I will let the photos do most of the talking from here on in. I’ll interject some memories as they surface.

ANGKOR WAT // CAMBODIA

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Chomrom and I discussed the history of Cambodia on our long drives around the complex. He was surprised that I actually knew anything about their history. He said most Americans have no idea who Pol Pot was, what he did, and who paid for it (us). He seemed on the verge of tears when discussing the carpet bombing in the 1970s, which he lived through, but many of his family do not. It’s one of the great shames of our country. And instead of being executed for crimes against humanity, Kissinger got a Nobel Prize.

ANKOR THOM // CAMBODIA

Ankhor Thom is a smaller temple, but has a lot of the great big Buddha faces most associated with Angkor Wat, They are massively serene and smiling. A beautiful combination.

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THE RIVER OF A THOUSAND LINGAS // CAMBODIA

Chomrom insisted that we see the River of A Thousand Lingas – a long stretch of jungle stream where they carved elaborate sculptures into the rock to bless the water as it rolled into Siem Reap. This was amazingly cool. Along the walk in the jungle, were were told many times to never step off the path. Land mines. The guide pointed out several fake trails that the Khmer Rouge had made just to litter with mines. No joke.

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TA PROHM // CAMBODIA

Ta Prohm, The Jungle Temple, was pure magic. Straight our of an Indiana Jones movies. I think they shot the Tombraider movie here too. It was very overgrown with giant roots from baryon trees. The most amazing thing was, this being Cambodia, there were no rules. You could climb up on top of anything. There was no security guard telling you don’t do that. It’s like being able to run around on Mt Rushmore. Crazy. I took a lot of pics, but they came out very dark.

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BANTEAY SREY // CAMBODIA

Banteay Srey, The Pink Temple, was by far our favorite. For starters, it’s much smaller in stature. More intimate. Supposedly because it was built by the women while the men are all at war. In addition, it’s made from the most gorgeous pink sandstone. This stone seems perfect for the incredible detail that the creators imbued the entire site with.

It’s also special because it was deserted the day we were there. It’s located about an hour outside of town, on the worst road you can possible imagine. I don’t know if you can even call it a road. It’s a long stretch of dirt that somebody had begun to turn into a road, but given up after the first day. So it is just littered with huge rocks about the size of cinder blocks. This goes on for MILES. So you our driver had to crawl there at about 8 miles an hour. Along the road, you occasionally see old burnt our husks of former vehicles that were blown off the road by land mines sometime in the not too distant past. Chomrom tells us that for many years, drivers like him would take this road with their doors open, standing with their bodies outside of the open door frame. This way, when they did hit a land mine, they might be thrown clear in the explosion and live through it. Fucking Crazy.

The Cambodians did some cool things with architecture. The doorways of the temples get progressively smaller the closer you get to the center. This way you are continually bowing lower, being more reverent and humble as you pass through each portal.

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I wish I had written more about my Angkor Wat experience, but in truth, I think it left me speechless.

If you are ever anywhere near this part of the world, you owe it to yourself to make it there. It’s unforgettable.

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