Strasbourg, France

On the loooong flight from Singapore to Frankfurt, we fly over Afghanistan (according to the route map – so if it wasn’t Afghanistan, it was awfully close).

Somewhere over Afghanistan

We spend one night in Frankfurt (at Motel One, which I fully recommend. FYI – they’ve got a free shuttle service from the airport. Unfortunately, we found out too late. It’s a new service and one will that will save you 16 Euros in cab fare.)

The next day, with the help of some very friendly Germans, we make our way via bus and tram to the train station. We settle in for our first European train ride and comment on how comfortable the seats are just as a porter offers us a newspaper and asks if we’d like to order anything from the on board cafe. Several minutes later we realize we are in first class with our second class tickets. The tickets are in German, which makes them difficult for us to read (thanks for nothing to both of our German mothers – who neglected to teach us their mother tongue). We have since figured out that the rail tickets will tell you which car number you are in, usually along with assigned seat numbers, but, not realizing that yet, we boarded the wrong car.

Walking through the narrow aisles of a swaying train with all of our bags, through multiple first class cars, the restaurant car and into the second class section, narrowly avoiding getting pitched into the lap of an old man, we find our seats.

And two hours later we are in France!

Our introduction to France starts in Strasbourg, which is in the Alsace region.

We immediately fall in love with Strasbourg – it’s cobbled streets, colorful old buildings, flower boxing blooming over every balcony.

Lindsie in Strasbourg

Buildings in Strasbourg

We are couchsurfing with Pedro and Lenka who couldn’t be more welcoming if they tried. They traveled for 10 months themselves and recently got married, so we have a lot in common. We trade travel (and wedding) stories – laughing at some of the similar experiences we’ve had, especially as blondes in Asia (Lenka and I).

They introduce us to the local wine, beer and culinary delights and we have so much fun with them during our three day stay.

Our first dinner in France

Sometimes, a little too much fun…

Curtis and Pedro with the Giraffe

We spend our days wandering the quaint cobblestone streets, take a boat tour of the city along the canal, discover such culinary delights as the Alsatian salad (a little bit of lettuce and a whole lotta cheese and sausage), sip cafe au laits at sidewalk cafes and take in the beauty of the Notre Dame cathedral (there are Notre Dame cathedrals in almost every city here – I thought there was just one – which is probably a North American misconception).

Notre Dame - Strasbourg

We spend our evenings eating, drinking and laughing with Pedro and Lenka and their friends. None of them are actually French – they are all from other European countries – but they all speak it of course. Most of them speak many languages (which we find very impressive) and which also shows another big difference between European and North American cultures.

When it’s time to leave, we do so reluctantly. So reluctantly in fact that we barely make our train…we are literally running through the station with Pedro, Lenka and Lucy (Lenka’s sister) with mere minutes to spare.

Couchsurfing with Pedro and Lenka

As we wave goodbye, I feel like we are leaving old friends.

We settle in for our fast train (speeds up to 320 kms!) to Paris.

Singapore – Short and Sweet

We catch our last glimpses of Sydney as we take off and head for three nights in Singapore.





We’re doing our second couch surf in Singapore with a really nice couple in their fabulous pad. Irvin and Eunice live in a new apartment complex that has a huge outdoor pool, tennis courts, gym, gardens and bbq areas. I wish Vancouver weather could support a pool like this! They even have swimming lessons for the kids!


Irvin and Eunice don’t have a lot of time to spend with us as they are busy preparing for their upcoming wedding but we do manage to connect one evening for an absolute feast.

Couchsurfing with Irvin and Eunice

They introduce us to all sorts of delicious delights. We have laksa which is rice noodles in spicy coconut gravy, bbq stingray in sambal chilli and onions sprinkled with lime, char kuay teow which are flat rice noodles fried in soya sauce with cockles and chinese sausage, hokkien mee (egg noodles fried with bean sprouts in a thick prawn broth), an oyster omelette, otah which is spice and fish paste grilled in a banana leaf, satay in peanut gravy, and grated steamed white radish fried in dark soya sauce which they call carrot cake. And we wash it all down with sugar cane juice. Dee-lish!

Feast in Singapore

Besides the delicious culinary wonders, we don’t get up to anything exciting. We spend one day exploring this incredibly clean city (where chewing gum and firecrackers are banned).

We make it to a mall (what a surprise!) in the hunt for cheap jeans (our last chance before we leave Asia) and to Chinatown. Curtis loves those spicy fish balls.

It’s hot – we’re back to the Southeast Asia humidity – so look for a cool drink. I opt for bottled water (even though you can actually drink the tap water here, which is nice) and Curtis orders a sour plum drink. I try a sip – and stick with my water – its sour alright.

We’re impressed with the transit system here. You use prepaid cards on the buses that you swipe when you get on and off and your fare is calculated according to how far you traveled. They have a flat screen tv on the bus, which I would find annoying during a morning commute, but it’s showing the Olympics so we’re riveted to the screen.

During our brief stay, Singapore wins the silver medal for table tennis. This ends their 48 year medal drought – we can feel the excitement!

Our stay is short and sweet and pretty soon we’re on our way back to the airport for our twelve hour flight to Frankfurt. Six months in Europe coming up!

Caravanning along the Coast

We arrive in Airlie Beach and besides the soothing sight of the ocean, experience a little culture shock. Coming from life in the outback, the very touristy beach side town of Airlie is overwhelming.

Airlie Beach frogs

We park our van and don’t have to pay as a friendly Aussie gives us the time remaining on her ticket. (Aussies are like that – they’d rather help each other out than worry about the rules – which seem to be rather bendy here anyways). After hitting the tourist info booth to line up our Great Barrier Reef excursion, we set off to check into a campervan park. I guess we picked the deluxe one this time because it has free mini golf, a pool with waterslides, tennis court and a jumping pillow (besides the usual amenities of showers and outdoor kitchen). It’s a great place for kids.

Curtis on the jumping pillow

After a couple of days of hard driving, we take full advantage of the facilities and spend our first day enjoying the outdoors (a run, the jumping pillow, the pool). A short trip into town for fish and chips on the beach and then its back to the campervan park for a game of mini golf and a relaxing evening.

The next day we get up early for our reef trip. Whitehaven Express comes highly recommended and we soon find out why. Our $140 (for both) gets us transportation to/from the boat and eight hours of fun. The boat is full and we meet a couple from Toronto who are traveling the world as well, along with a bunch of Aussies who are super friendly. One of the older ladies playfully slaps Curtis when he pronounces “tomato” tomato instead of “tomahhh-to”.

Our first stop on this cloudy morning is snorkeling at the reef. Hesitant to gear down and jump into that cold water (it is winter after all), I give myself a pep talk. I’m not going to act like a grandmother and take the comfort of the glass bottom boat – I can’t come all the way to Australia without snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef – twenty degree water or not. For the first time ever, I actually wish I weighed 20 pounds more, then realize that wishing for a wetsuit is a more practical way of keeping warm. In just my flippers, mask and bikini, I jump in. Curtis has been waiting in the water for at least 5 minutes by now – he’s always the first one in when the ocean is involved.

The snorkeling here is more amazing for the variety and size of the coral rather than the fish. The fish are actually the same ones we saw when we snorkeled in Thailand. I’m thoroughly enjoying myself when I start to realize just how cold I am. A bunch of us must have felt the cold at the same time because there is a sudden surge of swimmers towards the boat. Covered in goose bumps and shivering I make my way to the upper deck where the sun has blessedly appeared and try to warm up with the other shivering girls. We chat and sun ourselves – Curtis arrives about 15 minutes later – with blue lips! I told you the water was cold!

Tea, coffee and biscuits are served as everyone dries off and changes back into warmer clothes for the boat ride to the whitest of the white sand beaches. The sand here is like flour. Really. Just amazing!

White sand beach

We enjoy a delicious Aussie barbie on the beach of steak, bangers (sausages), spicy burgers, salad and fruit. Six weeks in Australia and this is our first bbq. Crazy when you consider that coin operated bbq’s are found throughout Australia at all of the public beaches and parks (I so wish we had this at home!) Our bellies full, we wander the beach, soak up the sun and just enjoy.


Continuing on our journey, we head towards the perfect spot for a hike to a lookout that brings the most breathtaking view. It’s the Whitsunday Islands in all their turquoise waters and white sand glory. I don’t want to leave but tear myself away from the beauty when it’s time to head back to the boat.

Us at the Whitsundays

Back on the boat, as we wait for the rest of our tour group, we spot a few big sea turtles swimming by. Everyone is excited and tries to take their picture when we spot a huge manta ray. That manta just glides through the water – looking very graceful – when the captain of the boat announces that he wishes we would see a shark.

Shark? No, I really don’t want to see one. Not even from the safety and comfort of our boat – definitely not. I voice my opinion before I can even think of it – the words just tumble out of my mouth, “I don’t want to see a shark.”

“Not even from the boat?” asks one of the girls. “No,” I reply, “I was afraid to use the toilet after seeing Jaws.” I forget to mention the fact that I was only eight. Oh well, I’ll never see any of these people again.

In the silence that follows, the rogue captain pulls up his sleeve to reveal the scar across his arm where he was bitten by a shark in the very same spot that we were snorkeling in mere hours before. My heart stops, the urine trickles down my thigh….no, not really! But I’m sure glad that he neglected to share this little tidbit with us earlier or I definitely would not have braved that icy water. Cold I can handle. Sharks I cannot. Jaws has ruined me – the terror has stayed with me to this day.

While our captain was spear fishing (in the very same spot that we were snorkeling in a few hours ago!), a shark took a bite from his arm and spit it out (wet suits and human flesh don’t taste so good apparently). I’m not sure if it was revenge that made the captain wish we would see another one or something amusing that would scare the tourists but whatever it was, I’m sure glad we didn’t see one!

On our boat ride back to the harbour, they served us cheese and crackers (I really could have used a drink after that shark story) and one of the Aussies that we befriended invited us for dinner. We had gotten to know her and her two daughters, who were on holidays from Brisbane. Her husband had been out fishing while they were snorkeling and she invited us to come for a fish dinner, which would have been lovely if we had been able to find where they were staying. Armed with only the name of the place (which no one we asked had heard of), the fact the building had big waves on the roof (which we couldn’t see in the dark), unable to remember the street address and with no thought to getting a phone number, we were forced to settle for very mediocre Mexican food.

Although it was a little disappointing not to end such a wonderful day with an Aussie dinner with new friends, our stay in Airlie was great. We had survived without a single shark incident to boot.

After Airlie, our next destination is Mission Beach. We can’t resist stopping at The Big Mango for a photo and some delicious mango ice cream.

Us at the Big Mango

We drive for five hours to meet up with Christine. Christine and I were roomies years ago and think of each other more like sisters (me being the older and wiser one only because she’s younger). She has been traveling around for 8 months by herself, hitting Asia and then Australia a few months before us. It is so great to see her! We spend the first night drinking wine and sitting around outside at her hostel chatting with her, a few Scots and a few Brits.

Me and Christine on Mission Beach

Mission Beach is a small town with two campervan parks right across the street from each other. One of them charges $34 a night and the other only $12.50. The cheaper one sits right on the edge of the beach where we can view the waves right out our back window.

While in Mission, we take long walks along the 14 kms of sandy beach, one walk that takes us on a short hike to a lookout point before the three Canadians tire and return to the town pub where we consume burgers and many pitchers of beer. We are Canadian after all.

Curtis with Burger

On the hike, we came across some red green ants, which Christine said tasted like lemon if you lick their butts. I thought she was joking until she picked one up and licked it (and this was before the beer!) Curtis tried it as well but I did not. Apparently they really do taste like citrus but I guess I’ll never know for sure.

A fun few days in Mission Beach spent catching up and relaxing, Christine joins us in our campervan and the three of us set off for a mini road trip up to Cairns.

Cairns Street

Along the way, we pass the Sugar Museum and decide to stop. After days of driving through sugar cane fields, we are drawn to the museum dedicated to the sweet stuff.

sugar cane

sugar cane

Actually we pass Cairns and hit Port Douglas for lunch and a walk on their beach before going back to Cairns to spend a few nights with our Aussie friend Ryan. The drive along the coast during this stretch is magnificent.

As the Aussie portion of our trip comes to a close, we look forward to our adventures in Europe. But first, a few days in Singapore.


As I sit in a flat in France and write about our road trip in Australia, I just have to pinch myself. This is my life – at least for another 6 months anyways. As we approach the half way mark of our one year trip, I reflect on how lucky I feel to have been able to do this. I wouldn’t trade these experiences for anything. And as much as I’m dying to rave about our first few days in Europe, I have to share the adventures of our last 2 weeks in Australia first.

Curtis with the Camperman

As we drove out of Sydney, our campervan adventure plan was to head into the outback (or as close as we can get) before heading north up to Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef. We took the Inland route and drove about 500 kms before bunking down just outside of Armidale at a rest stop.

Our first sleep and we freeze! The bedding that comes with the van consists of two sheets and two very thin sleeping bags. We sleep in our warmest clothes spoon style so that one side of my body is warm and the other is cold. When the cold wakes us, we know it’s time to turn over to heat the other side. At one point we start the van and blast the heater – which lets us sleep for a few hours. Later that day, we find out that the temperature dipped to minus 9 degrees – no wonder we were so cold!

me in the campervan

I woke up the first morning to what can only be described as UFO noises. It sounded very similar to the scene in Close Encounters of the Third Kind when the aliens communicate with the humans through the organ sounding tones. In that moment before I was fully awake, I felt pissed off at the thought of sliding the curtains aside to be confronted with a UFO because I felt too sleepy to deal with it.

Once I was officially awake of course, I realized it was a magpie bird making those strange sounds. I referred to them as the UFO birds before learning their real name – which the Aussies affectionately call the maggies.

Before setting off on our second day of driving, we made coffee and oatmeal on our gas stove, did some jumping jacks (it’s so hard to stay fit while you’re traveling!), brushed our teeth and hit the road.


After driving for several hours we came across a winery called the Thomas New England Estate Winery and decided to pop in for a little tasting. Our little tasting turned into a two hour visit with one of the owners (daughter Leigh who runs the tasting room/wine shop – it’s a family owned winery). We sampled all of their wines from the sparkling to the port and shared a fantastic little cheese tray while learning all sorts of fascinating things about wine, Australia and the local gossip.

Thomas New England winery

Their sparkling white is my new favorite but unfortunately you can only buy it in Australia. I had to restrain myself from purchasing more than one – which we enjoyed later that night in Morree.

We stayed at the Gwydir Park Caravan Park – on the recommendation of Leigh – and enjoyed soaking in their natural hot springs. It was just us with a bunch of retired traveling Aussies and every one of them were so friendly and had all surprisingly been to Vancouver and loved it. We traded travel stories until our fingertips were sufficiently wrinkled from the hot water – then made our way back to our van where we had our ice cold sparkling white with our home made (well I guess technically it was van made) version of chow mein (Mr. Noodle and veggies).

We made it to Lightning Ridge the next day which is a town known for it’s opals. People from all over the world settled here to try and make their fortune. In the video we watched after our mine tour, one of the locals said, “Today’s biggest asshole can be tomorrow’s richest resident.” No one knows just how many people live here, because they refuse to answer the census.

Lightning Ridge sign

Our first order of business is to visit the Bottle House. Arthur and two of his mates built this house 45 years ago, because “there was nothing else to build it out of.” Arthur and his wife lived in the house for years before adding on to it and turning it into a museum. Arthur came here for the opals, but never did strike it rich. We meet him on the day he retired – from working at the bowling alley. He is a wealth of knowledge on many things and we enjoy our tour of the museum with him.

Arthur and me

Curtis at the Bottle House

The dog house

Arthur recommends the perfect spot for us to watch the sunset that evening.

Us at sunset

While waiting for the sun to go down, we explore the area – which has all sorts of old mine shafts – and come across a now decrepit house made out of beer cans.

bottle can house

Curtis at Can house

And then we see our first outback sunset.

Sunset at Lightning Ridge

We spend the night at Lorne Station – a privately owned 10,000 acres out in the middle of nowhere – which is a great campervan park with a fire pit, indoor kitchen (and tv room) and very clean showers. All this for only $12 a night! Over our dinner of tuna mac and cheese with veggies on the side and two bottles of red wine, we have a delightful conversation with Gary. An Aussie who is taking a break from work and caravanning on his own for a few weeks. After a great night’s sleep (no longer freezing to death!) we head out to get in a quick mine tour before trying to make another several hundred kms towards the coast.

By now we should know that there is no such thing as a quick visit with anyone Australian. They are always so friendly and up for a chat.

We head underground for the first portion of our tour – it smells divine down there. The smell of the earth is wonderful.

Heading into the mine

Curtis in the mine

After the underground tour and a video, we watch some earth get pulled up and are allowed to fossick through it. Fossicking is what they call looking for opals – and anything we find we get to keep.


Of course the little bits of opal we find aren’t actually worth anything – but it’s still exciting to find one. A shiny bit of color gleaming out from the dry rock.

When our tour finishes, we have coffee and chat with the Aussies (naturally!) and they recommend that we go to Airlie Beach. We head off and drive for 10 hours – forced to stop and rest when the gas station in Rolloston is closed at 10:00 pm.

windmill in Rolleston

We hope to make the coast by the next day – this is a big country and we have vast distances to cover but we are determined to see the ocean and snorkel at the Great Barrier Reef.

Stay tuned….






Sydney – beer, bats and beaches

Week two of our stay in Sydney is at the Jolly Swagman hostel.

Jolly Swagman

We check in on a Saturday morning – that night while eating our dinner and sharing a bottle of Aussie wine – we find out that Saturday nights at the hostel are Centurion night. Which means we get to watch a bunch of twenty-something’s drink a shot of beer every minute for 100 minutes.

Centurian contest

It’s not too long before the first contestant is puking in the bushes, but his competitive spirit has him back in the game in time for the next shot. This guy projectile vomits twice more before the other contestants make a new rule that if you throw up 3 times, you’re out. I’ve never been so thankful for my 30-something wisdom before. A few years ago, that coulda been me.


With 6 Centurions left standing at the end of 100 minutes, everyone decides it’s time to hit a nightclub and we go along, wrapped up in the spirit of hostel living.

We’ve got our own room at the Swagman with a sink, fridge, desk and small TV. The shared bathrooms down the hall and are kept nice and clean. We make our meals in the huge kitchen and eat in the noisy dining area, which also sports an X-box. We are located in Kings Cross; a short walk to the grocery store and to the waterfront where we go for our runs along the seawall, turning around once we hit the Opera House. We spend a lot of time in the Botanical Gardens, strolling, drinking coffee, people watching. We discover a new bird or plant or statue on every visit. The birds here are so loud. And we aren’t the only ones who have noticed it – we were talking to an American at the hostel who had noticed it too. The birds here don’t sing – they scream.

Aussie bird

On one afternoon stroll we realized how many bats there are. Hundreds and hundreds of them hanging upside down, wings wrapped around their batty bodies, for their afternoon nap while a few glide effortlessly through the sky. They are creepy and amazing.


Lots of bats

We discover a store called Dan Murphy’s. It’s sells alcohol at the lowest prices you have ever seen. Rows and rows of delicious wine (sorted by grape variety, not country). Because they are all Australian (with a few from New Zealand and France) all at amazingly low prices. Same wines at half the cost as they are in Canada – with bigger discounts when you buy 6 bottles. I have died and gone to wine heaven. We leave with 10 bottles – seriously restraining ourselves from buying more. I am giddy.

On the Bondi to Coogee walk

We celebrate our one-year wedding anniversary while we’re staying at the hostel. Not the most romantic place for it but we pack a picnic and stroll through the gardens, eating our lunch on a sunny patch of lawn overlooking the Opera House. Then we go for a drink at the Opera Bar – enjoying the view of the Harbour Bridge on their fabulous patio.

Harbour Bridge

Wanting to go out for a romantic dinner – we search for a one online only to discover that all of Sydney’s “great romantic” restaurants are so overpriced that I know I wouldn’t be able to enjoy my meal. We opt for a funky dimly lit Thai place called The Opium Den instead. It’s not licensed but only charges a $4 corkage fee for BYO so we’ve brought our own sparkling Australian wine with us and have the most delicious dinner with unbelievable service for a very reasonable price. It’s romance on a budget.

Us in Sydney

For the next three weeks of our stay, we’ve got a furnished apartment rented in Darlinghurst. We’ve rented it from a girl who has gone to England for three weeks. It’s a great pad in a convenient location. The only thing is, she’s dirty. On day two while I’m curled up with a book and a cup of tea on the couch, Curtis emerges from the bathroom in just his jeans and pink rubber gloves exclaiming, “I’ve lived in dorms, I’ve lived in the bush, and that is the most disgusting bathroom I have ever cleaned.”

A few hours later, we’ve done some rearranging and serious cleaning and made it ours. Our nest for the next three weeks.

Some of the highlights include the Bondi to Coogee walk, attending the opera of Don Giovanni (excellent!), having fish and chips in Manly and visiting the Toronga zoo.

Bondi beach

Me before the opera

Curtis before the opera

We’ve got one week left here before we hit the road in our camper van. Stay tuned….

Sydney, Australia

Two flights and a 4 hour stop-over in Singapore later, we arrive in Sydney. It’s 7:00 am local time (4:00 am Bangkok time) and we haven’t slept a wink.

Opera House

We wait for our luggage at carousel 4, watching other people’s luggage pass us by. As the heaps of baggage diminish, our apprehension grows. My biggest fear at every airport carousel is that my bag will be the one that doesn’t appear. But alas, there it is, the very last bag to make it’s way down the shoot and around to where we stand. Curtis’s bag is nowhere to be found.

The Singapore Airlines staff are more than helpful – turns out his bag is still in Bangkok and will arrive tomorrow. They give us $100 and a men’s toiletry kit for our temporary loss. His bag shows up the next day.

We exit the airport into the Sydney sunshine and freeze! It feels so cold here after Asia even though it’s probably about 15 degrees. We get used to it after a couple of days and the temperature rises to a nice mild 20 degrees (we’re in jacket and sweater weather now though after acclimatizing to Asia’s 33 degree heat).

Curtis and the Harbour Bridge

We discovered a great website called Couchsurfing which is a brilliant way to travel. People host travelers, giving them a free place to stay and allowing both parties to have a cultural exchange. When said travelers are back home, they become hosts themselves.

Our first couchsurfing experience is with Jessica. She works at the airport so we wait a couple of hours for her shift to end and drive back with her to her house in North Sydney. After a little breakfast, it’s time for a long nap. We wake up at dinner time and Jess has made homemade pizza dough so we make our own pizzas and settle in for a long chat. Our weekend couchsurf with her turns into a week when she asks us to stay on because we get along so well.

She lives beside a National Park so we go bushwalking and start back onto a regular fitness routine of running every other day. Our excuse in Asia was that it was too hot – but I fear our lazy ways might be more of our true nature.

Kookaburra in the gum tree!

Sydney makes me homesick for the first few days. Everything about it feels so much like Vancouver – the air, the smells, the neighborhoods. It’s my first serious bout of feeling homesick but luckily it passes soon enough. My parents were supposed to come meet us for a few weeks in Australia but their plans changed so I feel the loss of not seeing them for another 8 months.

We settle in comfortably at Jess’s though and have lots of fun making dinners for each other and staying up late watching movies and chatting. We all go whale watching on Canada Day and spot 5 humpbacks, which is an incredible site. They aren’t shy and seem very playful, splashing around not far from our boat – waving at us and everything!

whale waving

whale tail

You can tell when the whale is about to surface because you can see a turquoise glow in the water.

Whales surfacing

whale tail

It’s very exciting waiting for them to blow and rise out of the water.On our way back to the harbour we also see a pod of dolphins.

We go for dinner and find out that there is a Canada Day celebration on at one of the pubs so decide we must finish our night off there. There are lots of fellow Canadians, the DJ plays only Canadian artists for a few hours, bottles of Kokanee are on special (and get sold out) and they have a contest where people try to shoot a stuffed beaver into a hockey net.

Beaver hockey

The best quote of the night goes to Jess when she said, “I accidentally touched tongues with the guy while we were kissing the beaver and I had to apologize for my poutine breath.”

Jess and the Beaver

A good time was had by all….

Our last weeks in Asia – including Phnom Pehn and Bangkok

“There’s nothing else to do – let’s get drunk.” This became my motto (as well as everyone else’s at Cloud 9) for the week we got nothing but stormy weather.

Our days were spent reading, making travel plans for Australia and Europe and storm watching. Our nights were spent drinking and socializing with the other guests (usually after a delicious dinner of fish or prawn amok).

prawn amok

We met some great people from Australia (Mike and Belinda) and from the UK (Sam and Helena) to name a few. We played scrabble, traded stories and of course, drank. It was a lot of fun.

One day when the waves were huge but the thunder, lightening and rain were taking a break, we went to the beach to play in the surf. Curtis was having fun diving under the really big waves while I played it safe with the smaller ones closer to shore. Even the small ones were powerful as my bikini top found out…

We were with Sam and Helena with our borrowed boogie boards and the four of us were having a great time along with many other foreigners. It wasn’t long before we had drifted quite a ways down the beach though, on the strong current. When I got out of the water to put my boogie board away, a woman who had been watching us suggested we make our way back as a child had drowned recently in the area we were heading towards. We obliged and there were no incidents.

Twice while swimming in the ocean I got stung by jellyfish but the stinging sensation only lasted about 20 minutes and it wasn’t as painful as one would imagine. Walking along the shore one afternoon we found it covered with dozens of washed up jellyfish.


The temperature of the ocean was actually warmer than it was outside. This was the case another day when Curtis and I decided to walk to the very end of the beach. There was a break in the rain which didn’t last long and we soon found ourselves soaked but were determined to make it to the end. We had to go swimming just to warm up after getting completely drenched.

We had lunch at the Snake House at a glass topped table with a big snake inside after wandering around looking at all the snakes, crocodiles, birds and reptiles. This croc was asleep with his mouth open. Crikey!

Sleeping Croc

Snake House

After Sihanoukville, we headed to Phnom Penh for a few days before returning to Bangkok. Curtis wanted to see the Killing Fields and hit a few museums before leaving Cambodia. I wanted to avoid any more sad sights but agreed to go.

Landmine victim begging on the beach

The Killing Fields are the saddest place I have ever been and imagine that they are one of the saddest places on Earth.

skulls at the Killing Fields

In 1975, Phnom Penh fell under control of the Khmer Rouge, the communist guerilla group led by Pol Pot. They forced all city residents into the countryside and to labour camps. Educated people, people who wore glasses, anyone who spoke a foreign language and anyone who opposed the regime were tortured and killed. Families were separated and estimated 2 million Cambodians died by starvation, torture or execution.


The Killing Fields are where they were taken to be killed and buried in mass graves.

While we were there, reading the history and standing in the very spots where these poor people suffered, I felt sick to my stomach and couldn’t stop the tears. The horror of what happened to them in unbelievable. S21 (the school that turned into a prison) was just as sad to visit. The pictures of all the victims was haunting.

Curtis at S21

Victim at S21

When we returned from our visit to these sad sites, we went to see the Royal Palace to finish the day on a “cheerier” note. It was quite a contrast to see such riches in the middle of a country that is surrounded by so much poverty. We weren’t allowed to photographic the huge diamond encrusted Buddha’s or any of the other treasures inside of these majestic buildings.

The Royal Palace

Phnom Penh is a city built on the river made up of many beautiful old colonial buildings. There are tons of restaurants and bars to choose from. We had pizza one night at Happy Herbs Pizza, a place we had read about in the Lonely Planet. The “happy” pizza was only $1 extra and when our server asked how happy we would like it, I replied, “just a little happy.” Which was more than enough – we were giggling and looking for ice cream in no time.

We spent our last 5 days in Asia back in Bangkok. It was bittersweet being back there because Bangkok is the city where our one year adventure began. The first 4 months of our journey were almost over.

We spent most of our time in Bangkok trying to shop for winter clothes. Not an easy task in a city that has no concept of cold weather (all of the sweaters I found were short sleeved). We spent one afternoon at the outdoor weekend market, which was filled with everything you could possibly imagine. Clothing, jewelry, toys, silk products, leather goods, food and gadgets.

Curtis at the market

Guy at the market

We went to a tailor where Curtis had a suit and two dress shirts made and I had a black silk dress made. The tailored clothing in Bangkok is much cheaper than off the rack in Canada. Plus it’s so much easier to just pick your fabric and style and tell them exactly what you want than to try on dozens of different dresses looking for the perfect one. You’ll get to see us in our new duds when we go to the opera in Sydney.

One evening as we were walking down the street, I smelled a very strong animal smell – turns out it was a baby elephant walking down the sidewalk. Some guys were selling fruit for people to feed it. Only in Asia….

We also spent a fair amount of time in Little Arabia where we discovered some delicious Indian food and Curtis enjoyed smoking a hookah (or Shisha as they called it there), which is tobacco flavored with fruit.

Curtis with the hookah

We went to see the Sex and the City movie (which was an excellent follow up to my favorite show!) but went to a swankier restaurant inside the mall for a cocktail first. I thought it would be fun to have a Cosmopolitan before the movie (which is the girls signature drink if you aren’t familiar with the show). The cocktail menu was extensive but didn’t have a Cosmo on it. Curtis asked the bartender if he could make one and he said sure. While we were sitting on our leather couch waiting for our drinks, the manager came over to us and bowed, apologizing profusely that even though they had the ingredients and knew how to make a Cosmo, that they simply couldn’t because it wasn’t on the menu. His apology lasted for over 5 minutes and even after I explained the whole Sex and the City thing, he still couldn’t budge. I was able to order a vodka and cranberry juice instead (which arrived with more apologizes and bowing) – but it wasn’t quite the same. I would have thought it would have been easier to just make the drink and save the bowing but what do I know?

The Asia portion of our trip being up – we board a plane for Sydney, Australia (with a stop over in Singapore) and head towards winter Down Under.

Sihanoukville – just a few little differences and some gecko poop

This morning I woke up with gecko poop in my hair. My first thought after “gross” was, “oh great! Now I have to wash my hair!” Normally, I like washing my hair – but not when it’s been raining, stormy and a little on the cool side and all you have is a cold water shower.

Stormy Day

Having an ice cold shower on a hot day: Refreshing. Having an ice cold shower on a wet, cool day: Torture. Washing my hair and having the cold water hit my back is particularly unpleasant.

We met a couple from New Zealand who have been traveling for a few months and while comparing travel notes she admitted that she hadn’t washed her hair in 5 days. Her boyfriend looked a little horrified but I could totally relate! (I am not as hard core as her – my record is only 3 days with unwashed hair) She was wearing a head scarf so I couldn’t even tell how dirty her hair was – she looked rather stylish with her scarf.

In regular life I shower and wash my hair every day but traveling changes you. The longer you can get away without doing something – you do. (For the record – I do shower every day!) But why wash my hair when I can just throw on a hat or put it up in a ponytail? Think of all the shampoo I’m saving!

The gecko poop changed things of course. I had to wash my hair after that. I discovered that enduring the ice cold water was only torture for the first half, then you get used to it and it’s not so bad. I can say this now because I’m all cozy but I couldn’t help but scream and curse a little while I was actually in the water….

In Cambodia and Thailand it’s not uncommon to see people walking around in their pajamas. Up until now though, it’s mostly been at night. I guess they shower and change into their PJ’s after the sun goes down and then they just wear their PJ’s out after dark. But in Sihoukville there are people who wear their pajamas all day long. It’s funny to see people on the beach in them. I asked a few locals what is up with the PJ phenomenon but they didn’t have an answer for me. My guess is that PJ’s are cheap, comfy and cool enough to wear all day long so why not?


Thais and Cambodians don’t wear swim suits in the ocean – they go in fully dressed. Only the foreigners wear bathing suits at the beach. You just don’t consider these things about a country before you get there and then you get so used to them while you’re there that they seem normal. Which of course they are – we’re the ones who are different.


The bus from Siem Riep to Sihanoukville

Before I tell you about our wacky 11 hour bus ride, there are a few more things about Siem Riep to share.

We had read about Seeing Hands Massage in our trusty Lonely Planet and decided that was something we had to do. At Seeing Hands, the massages are given by the blind and it’s a great way to help them support themselves. We followed the sign for it down an alley and came upon a pretty decrepit looking building. There were a few blind people and some children scattered about the “yard” and we were greeted immediately and led into the massage building. Apprehensively. The inside was clean though – there were 6 massage beds lined up in a row with clean looking towels and they showed us to a little change room where we changed into very comfy blue hospital looking pajamas.

The neat thing about my massage was that the girl never took her hands off of me. No, it wasn’t one of those wandering hands massages that I also read about in Lonely Planet, she did it to keep in contact with me since she couldn’t actually see me. She was climbing all over me on the table and actually gave me one of the best massages I’ve had here so far. Curtis wasn’t quite as lucky – he said his wasn’t very good. But, we happily paid our $5 for the hour since it was all going to a good cause.

I finished my massage a few minutes before Curtis and when I walked into the change room, I walked in on another guy changing into the blue pajamas. I caught him fully nude just lifting one leg into his pants. Whoops – I apologized and shut the door. When he came out he made a joke about charging for pictures…we ran into him the next day at the Boom Boom Room (again, not what you’re thinking!) and I told him he looked different with his clothes on. I began referring to him as Mr. Naked because after that, we seemed to see him everywhere – although always fully clothed. (The Boom Boom Room is a cafe/clothing store where you can buy music).

Another spot we read about in LP was the Blue Pumpkin which was the coolest concept for a place for travelers ever. Bakery downstairs, airconditioned (very important in this part of the world) restaurant upstairs with free wifi, huge couches to lounge on, tables and a great menu. Everything was white from the tables, chairs and massive L shaped couch to the flowers in the huge vase – there were at least 25 people typing away on their laptops and the whole scene was very futuristic. We loved it.

We also loved Bar Street with the many restaurants and bars to choose from – we spent a lot of time drinking 75 cent pints of Angkor (2 for 1 at Happy Hour), talking to other travelers (I was very excited to meet a couple from Iceland – I’ve never met anyone from Iceland before), eating delicious Mexican food (and drinking those $2 frozen margaritas) and just watching all the activity out on the street.

Couple from Iceland

One night we were at an upstairs restaurant that had great live music when we watched a very drunk guy perform a Michael Jacksonesque dance with summersaults and other strange moves all the way down the street. Everyone he passed was in stitches – I’ve never seen anyone so drunk and still able to stand, let alone “dance”.

And the last thing about Siem Riep I must share was my bizarre bikini wax experience. We had heard about a really good massage place from Mr. Naked where the girls had their hands and feet on you at the same time so we gave it a go and since we were heading to the beach shortly, I thought I might as well get a wax. I’ve had a few in Southeast Asia so far and they have been great – the most painless ones I’ve ever had and cheap to boot.

Curtis was going to get the 90 minute massage (for $10), I was going to get the bikini wax and then a 60 minute massage.

I was in the waxing room all ready for them to start when the power went out. The girls went to find a candle but the power came back on just before my “candlelit massage”. Phew! Although they then produced a “spotlight” lamp which they placed between my legs at the foot of the bed. Nothing quite like having a spotlight on your crotch with two girls on either side, hovering over your hairiness. And the pain begins….I admit that I screamed a few times, they were using some crazy roll on wax stick which reminded me of roll on deodorant – except that the rolling pulled my hair before the hair removal even began. My screams led a few people to peek in the room, which was when I realized that I was lying half naked with a spotlight on my crotch facing the door. Which would have been fine if there hadn’t been a window in the door. Not a very big window, but a window nonetheless. I’m not sure who’s faces were peering through it from time to time but I’m pretty sure that before I left there, all the staff got a pretty look at my nether regions.

When it was finally over and I went to join Curtis in the massage room, he said that even he heard me screaming. It’s pretty bad when a hearing impaired person hears your screams from a different room with two closed doors between you. After my little torture session of hair removal, my massage was great.

And now, onto our bus ride.

We took an 11 hour bus ride from Siem Riep to get to Shinoukville which is on the south coast. Included in our $16 bus tickets was a pick up from Rosy’s at 6:40 am. The shuttle bus was running late so we ordered a pot of tea and just as we finished our first delicious sips, the bus pulled up.

The shuttle was filled with backpackers – we were their last pick up. They took us to the bus station where we boarded a double-decker style bus. The luggage and a small bathroom were on the first floor and the passengers sit on the top floor. When we boarded we were handed small bottles of water and sterilized cool towels – a nice touch.

The bus was air-conditioned and had the usual curtains that you see on all the buses in Asia so it was comfy to get more sleep on the journey to Phnom Phen.

We stopped twice along the way for brief opportunities to buy some food, etc. and on our second stop when I got off the bus, I was surrounded by women selling fruit, cooked bugs of all sizes, frogs, small birds with their heads still attached and the best one of all – cooked tarantula spiders. These were located next to a box of live tarantulas which were crawling all over the girls who were handling them. I couldn’t resist asking how much the cooked spiders cost – only 25 cents!


I bought a bag of pineapple and some corn on the cob before retreating back to the bus to get the camera and Curtis. We ventured out again into the chaos trying to get some photos in the crowd. One girl kept trying to bargain me down to buy her bugs (I wasn’t participating in the negotiations, she just kept dropping her price in an effort to get me to buy some). I tried to explain that I don’t eat bugs – but I’m sure she didn’t understand.

Frogs for sale

We ventured over to the spiders again – despite the heebie jeebies at those huge hairy things – we were drawn to them. One of the girls held one out to me – I backed away while a shiver wracked my body. She told me they were good and they might have been, although I didn’t see anyone purchase any, but there was no way I was about to find out. The thought of putting one of them up to my mouth was more than I could stand to imagine – never mind biting down on it! Curtis felt the same way and we grossed each other out when we were safely back on the bus by coming up with all sorts of spider scenarios until we couldn’t stand it anymore.

Spiders for sale

Our bus stopped to help a truck change their tire and the delay must have made us late arriving in Phnom Phen because as soon as we got there we were whisked to another bus for the onward journey.

The road from Siem Riep to Shinoukville is great. Nicely paved, it’s a smooth ride. The scenery is amazing. We passed many farms with great water buffalos, cattle, pigs and chickens. There were vast stretches of flat greenlands dotted with occasional palm trees, small towns filled with people at markets and housing that ranged from tin shacks to wooden houses on stilts. As we got closer to the coast, there were mountains covered in lush trees, which reminded us of Costa Rica.

At the bus depot we were bombarded by people handing out pamphlets for their guesthouses and restaurants. The tuks wouldn’t budge from a firm price of $6 (which is way too much. A tuk around town in Siem Riep is $1) So we each took a moto (us on the back of a motorbike with our backpacks in front of the driver) for $1 each. Much more reasonable. About half way to the guesthouse we had requested, my driver started trying to tell me that he knew a better place, a cheaper place. I was onto his game of course because all the guidebooks warn you of this. Curtis’s driver was up to the same tricks except that he was pretending he didn’t know where ours was. They even stopped outside of the one they wanted us to stay at and Curtis firmly told them to take us to ours, that we would decide if it was too expensive.

I was shown a fan bungalow with a view of the ocean for $12. Not too expensive at all!

After we settled in, we went to check out the beach. Turns out we are in a beautiful bay on a white sand beach.


We wanted to check out some other guesthouses and compare them to ours. We found Cloud 9 which had a restaurant/lounge area playing reggae music with lanterns for funky lighting. We asked to see a room and were shown a bungalow that was far superior to the one we had – nicer bathroom, bigger balcony looking out at the ocean, fancier bed linens and some art on the walls. It just felt more homey. The whole place had a really nice vibe so we bargained a weekly discount of $13 a night.

I was hungry (since bugs and spiders aren’t my thing). We had our pick of beach-front restaurants and picked one called the Moon Shack. One thing we’ve learned from our travels is that the best restaurants are usually the busiest ones. We weren’t disappointed with the food or the location. We were on the beach literally 3 feet from the waves lapping at the shore. We both ordered the bbq barracuda on the recommendation of a fellow diner and it was delicious. Served with bbq potatoes and a small salad for the whopping price of $3.50! And guess how much pints of Angkor beer were? 50 cents!

As we were enjoying our second pints, some local kids came by collecting empty cans from the tables. There were three of them ranging from about four to eight years old. The little one took two almost empty coke bottles from the table behind us and immediately started drinking the remaining coke. The kids passed them around, sharing their found treat. They then asked a couple who were finished their meals if they could have their leftovers and happily took the plate off to the side and devoured it.

On our walk back to our guesthouse we were approached by a small child selling bracelets who couldn’t have been more than five. She was so small and it was quite dark that we didn’t even see her until she was right in front of us.

There are so many children in Cambodia who aren’t in school, who are out trying to make money at a very young age. There are others you see collecting bottles, and still others who follow their parents around begging, learning how to beg themselves. It makes it really special when you do pass a school ground full of kids in their uniforms out playing in the grounds, knowing they are getting an education.

You don’t want to buy jewelry or postcards or other assorted things from these kids because you don’t want to send them the message that it’s okay not to go to school because they can make their money selling stuff to tourists. Most of the kids selling things on the beach are not poor by Cambodian standards – and by the looks of them, they are not spending the money they earn on food or other necessities. They are well dressed, wearing “blingy” jewelry, watches and hats. In most of what you read about Cambodia, they advise against contributing to this vicious circle.

The kids out collecting empty cans are the ones who look really poor – and we are more than happy to give them our empties – and delighted when they say “thank you” (not all of them do). And relieved to see that they haven’t started begging.

But sometimes it’s hard to look at their little faces and listen to their little spiels and not want to help them out. I don’t know what the answer is to this problem, I just know that it’s there. We personally, have made it a policy not to buy anything from the kids and try to talk to them about how great it is to go school. Because when we say, “no thank you” to buying their bracelets, they always ask “Why?”

Temples, balloons and landmines

We got a three day temple pass which was just the right amount of time to explore them at leisure. We hired our tuk tuk driver Mr. Set (the same one who picked us up from the airport) for 3 days of transport for $45. The first day we did Angkor Wat (pictures in the previous post). The sheer size of Angkor is extremely impressive.

The second day we visited the Cambodian Land Mine Museum which was really something. The museum was founded by Aki Ra who’s parents were killed during the Pol Pot regime. By the age of 10 he was given his first rifle and spent the next two decades at war. He laid hundred of landmines and booby traps as a soldier but in 1994 was trained as a de-miner. He has since deactivated an estimated 50,000 mines.

de-activated land mines

The Museum is also home to a number of landmine amputee children. They have a safe place to live, and are provided with education and training. The number of amputees that you see around Cambodia is truly heartbreaking. The majority of victims were soldiers and farmers and children of farmers.

We spoke to one young man at the landmine museum who lost a foot. He now has a prosthetic foot – which is extremely rare – he was the only person we saw with one.

Landmine victim

Another landmine victim that we met (in Siem Riep – not at the museum) was Top Vanna. He was forced to become a soldier – which was where he lost both of his hands to a landmine in 1988. Top wanted to commit suicide when he came to after the blast and looked down to see both of his hands gone. He tried to reach a grenade that he had in a bag attached to his waist but one of his friends saw and took the grenade away. He spent 9 months in a hospital and became a beggar for a year after he was released.

Top was rescued by an aid worker and was given a job working with Rehab Craft Cambodia. He was then able to realize his dream of a family – he got married and had 2 children. He now has his own business selling books and postcards to tourists.

Top Vanna

The damage caused by landmines is devastating – although there are some great organizations helping the victims – the numbers of people who have lost limbs – and their lives – is staggering.

After the sobering visit to the museum, we continued on our journey to another temple – I keep calling it the pink temple because I can’t remember it’s name.




The pink temple was a mere fraction of the size of Angkor Wat. The next morning we went back see Angkor by balloon. The big balloon ride was $15 each for 10 – 15 minutes but totally worth it.


The balloon was a cool experience – everyone stood around the outer edge – and we had to distribute our weight evenly or else the balloon would tip to one side. We got a great 360 degree view of Angkor and the surrounding area.

Cambodia by air

Angkor Wat

After our balloon ride, it was on to more temples….we visited Bayon which turned out to be our absolute favorite. Something about all of those faces – it was more moving and amazing than anything we had seen.




And we couldn’t resist being a little goofy:



After Bayon and a little lunch, we moved onto our final temple, Ta Phrohm.


The trees were absolutely amazing, how they would snake their way over the walls.



In some spots it looked like the roots of the trees were the only thing keeping the walls from crumbling down.


We were all templed out by the end of the day but wanted to make one last stop. We had passed an orphanage on our way to the temples with a sign that encouraged you to stop in and buy some of the art that the children had made. I asked Mr. Set to take us there (after a lot of explaining to make myself understood – he thought we wanted to go to a school not an orphanage) but once he got it, he took us to one. It turned out to be a different one than the one I had seen but that was okay. As we got out of our tuk, some of the kids ran up to greet us and the founder of the orphanage welcomed us and gave us a tour. We gave the kids stickers, temporary tattoos and shiny pencils that we had brought from home but we didn’t get a chance to spend any quality time with them. We went back a few days later for a visit where we were able to read with the kids, play soccer, help with their schoolwork and just play with them and give them lots of hugs. The orphanage is completely reliant on tourists and foreign volunteers. We met an 18 year old guy from Germany who was volunteering as a teacher for 6 months. He was covered in tattoos, had a piercing and was wonderful with the kids – they loved him.

The kids were all happy and living in a safe place and enjoyed spending time with us. They especially liked the pictures we showed them on our computer of elephants, fish and cats and of the beaches in Thailand.

kids at the orphanage

They loved posing for the camera and then seeing their photo.



This little one was so cute, she was too young to talk but she wanted me to carry her around and she tried walking in Curtis’s flip flops. When we left she put both of her hands on my cheeks and then gave me a huge hug.


I played ball with this boy for ages and taught him this trick!


Some of the other boys really latched onto Curtis and wanted him to help them with their schoolwork. When we left they were all hugs and high fives. It wasn’t sad leaving them because they were all so well adjusted and received so much love.

Next up: A little more about Siem Riep before the bizarre bus ride to Sihanoukville.