Taking it Easy in Christchurch

Arriving back in Christchurch after doing a loop of the South Island, it was time to commit to a plan for the rest of my time in New Zealand. The original plan was to ski the club ski fields at Broken River or a similar field near Christchurch, however due to the poor snow conditions in New Zealand this year the fields weren’t even open yet. The mountains outside Queenstown had plenty of snow, and spending more time in Queenstown sounded like good fun, so I decided to ski down south.

In the meantime, Jucy had a relocation deal from Christchurch to Auckland that was too good for me to resist. They needed their RVs relocated back to Auckland and were willing to pay the (expensive) ferry ride for vehicle, and toss in a tank of gas. They allow four days to travel to Auckland, so plenty of time to check out a few cities and mountains along the way, and free accommodations camping in the vehicle at night. I reserved a car to pickup on Monday morning, as that was the first day I could get a ferry reservation.

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I had four days to enjoy in Christchurch with Emma and Brendan before heading up north. Thursday was supposed to be a beautiful day, so Emma and I went up to Mount Hutt to enjoy some skiing in the sunshine. Unfortunately Hutt has almost no snow this year, but they have been able to make enough snow to keep the groomers open and they softened up nicely in the sunshine.

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After an enjoyable day in the mountains we headed back to town, and I decided to cook up a winter classic for the Kiwis: chili and cornbread. Emma and I went off to the store and had some difficultly finding corn meal or corn bread mix, until Emma thought to check the gluten free section. Sure enough, thanks to the rise of gluten free products, you can now purchase corn bread mix in New Zealand! The rest of the chili supplies gathered we headed back home and I set to cooking. The chili dinner turned out great, with the cornbread being particularly popular.

The next day was another sunny one so Emma and I went to the local golf course to play a few holes. Unfortunately at this point it was clear that I was sick, so we didn’t stay out too long and I rested for the remainder of the day. Emma was flying up to Hamilton for the weekend so it was just Brendan and I holding down the house. I still wasn’t feeling 100% so I mostly relaxed, and spent time sorting out various logistical details I had been ignoring. We had a lovely dinner on Saturday evening at Brendan’s sister’s house in Christchurch, and then Sunday I packed my gear and prepared to head north.

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The Kiwis love their savory pies, and I have been eating them at every opportunity. We had plenty of chili leftovers, so Brendan decided to apply the standard New Zealand technique of putting your leftovers in a pie. It turns out that pie makers are a thing here: think of a panini press but with two little pie cups inside, so you just put the crust in the shapes, fill, and roast. Ten minutes later you have perfect pies! The chili cheese pies were fantastic, I might need a pie maker back home.

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Milford Sound and Mount Cook

Fred and I got an early start and drove out towards Milford Sound. The sound isn’t far from Queenstown as the crow flies, but the road has to loop all the way around a set of mountains so it is 300 kilometers from Queenstown to the sound. There are many photo stops and short hikes along the road so we wanted plenty of time. We had a great view of the mountains as the sun rose.

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Milford Sound is a giant glacial valley carved out during the last ice age, and it only gets more impressive as you drive through. There are massive mountains with waterfalls cascading down from their glaciers to the green valley below.

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We picked up a hitchhiker along the way, a Canadian who was spending the night in Milford Sound. The three of us continued onwards, stopping at Mirror Lakes which were every bit as reflective as the name suggests.

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The Kea is this crazy alpine parrot they have in New Zealand, and the birds love to play with different materials. When you park your car they will start picking at the rubber gaskets, or any shiny portions they can reach. They certainly aren’t afraid of humans at this point and you have to chase them away. These Keas were hanging out on our car as we waited our turn through the one-way tunnel.

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We finally made it to the end of the road and discussed taking one of the boat trips, but they were all expensive. Also, Fred had done the boat trip in the past, so I decided to skip. Instead we did a nice hike around the Sound to where you could see the giant waterfall across the water.

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After enjoying the views we started the drive back, and stopped at a few more points we had skipped on the way out. Milford Sound was incredibly beautiful, it reminded me of the fjords in Norway with the huge mountains reaching all the way to the sea, covered in waterfalls.

My original plan was to leave Queenstown on this day instead of heading to Milford Sound, so I had to search all around to find an available hostel for the night. Luckily Reavers had a bed available so I was able to move there for the evening.

I got up the next morning and hitchhiked out to the airport to pick up the rent car I was relocating back to Christchurch. It was snowing more so I decided to head back up to the Remarkables to ski for the afternoon. I didn’t want to buy a ticket so I hiked up the old fashioned way, and got a great run down the chutes above Shadow chair. It was a complete white-out up top so I just followed the boot prints hiking and was able to find a good run, and then somehow found my way back to the resort.

After the skiing was finished I got cleaned up in town and grabbed dinner from The Bakery. They make amazing meat pies, and everything goes buy-one-get-one at 5 PM, so I got two pies for under 5 NZD! Fueled up and ready to hit the road I headed to Wanaka, another ski town not too far north of Queenstown.

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I stayed at the Flying Kiwi Backpackers in Wanaka which had a fun group of folks, most of who were spending the ski season in town. It was a good night hitting the town with them, the bar had a great band playing and was surprisingly lively for a Tuesday night.

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The next morning I headed out of Wanaka to drive towards Mount Cook and eventually Christchurch. It was a nice drive through the center of the south island, with some great views along the way. I did a hike along Lake Tekapo and really enjoyed the crazy blue color of the lake.

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I made it to Christchurch around dinner time and met up with Emma and Brendan, the Kiwis I had met in Queenstown. They have a spare bedroom at their place so they let me crash for the weekend until I head up towards Auckland.

I Love Queenstown

I arrived in Queenstown late at night so I didn’t see the city until I woke up the next morning. When I exited my hostel and looked around, I immediately fell in love. Queenstown is set directly on Lake Wakatipu, and is absolutely surrounded by mountains. There are multiple ski hills within a short drive, mountain biking trails directly down to town, and every high-adrenaline sport you could ever want. Also the best night life in New Zealand: every night in Queenstown is a party (if you can keep up).

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I was lucky to even find a bed in Queenstown as it turns out. I generally hate booking ahead as I like to keep my plans flexible, so I didn’t look for beds in Queenstown until the day before I arrived. However, I was in shock when HostelWorld returned zero beds available in the city! I started desperately searching different booking websites and looking at individual hostel websites until I finally found availability at the Haka Lodge, the hostel had great reviews so I booked it right away. When I checked in at the hostel I learned the full story: apparently I set the new record for someone to book a cancelled reservation, someone had cancelled that bed two minutes before I pulled up their website and found it! Currently it is the mid-winter holidays in New Zealand and Australia so it is absolutely peak season here, but apparently Queenstown is always this busy.

The trail towards my final goal: Ben Lomond Peak in the back center.

After returning my rent car I headed to the tourism office to ask about good (free) activities for the day. The woman mentioned a beautiful hike up to the saddle of Ben Lomond, or the peak if you were willing to work for it. I gathered my gear and headed up the mountain. The first section you could take the gondola, but I figured 45 minutes of work to save myself $35 of beer money was worth it! The views from the gondola were already lovely, but from there the trail turned to snow and ice so it was time for the microspikes and trekking poles.

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I shared the trail up with some short and chubby mountain goats

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Looking back at Queenstown from the top of Ben Lomond

I was pretty exhausted by the peak, but it was a perfect day and a fabulous view. I was only able to snap a few photos because my iPhone kept shutting off due to the cold temperatures up top.

I finished the hike down before dark, got cleaned up, and then treated myself to a Furgburger, the famous hamburger joint in Queenstown. The burger and onion rings were excellent after the hard day, and refueled it was time to check the bars. There is a great place that was recommended to me called Cowboys. It has a mechanical bull, 10 NZD liters, and a life-sized bust of Donald Trump in the urinal trough. I met an American woman at the bar who made them shut the bathroom down so she could take a turn at Donald.

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Who hasn’t wanted to piss on Donald Trump?

 

I had the good luck to meet Emma and Brendan at Cowboys, two Kiwis from Christchurch visiting some friends in Queenstown for the weekend. I had a great evening out with them and made plans to meet up when I got back to Christchurch.

After the late night out there was no sleep in the morning, because there was 20 cm of fresh snow at the Remarkables, and more falling throughout the day. After hauling a pile of ski equipment around the south island, it was time to finally put it to use. The bus to the mountain costs 20 NZD, but it only took a few minutes on the side of the road to hitch a ride up to the resort.

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When I reached the hill the conditions were near-whiteout, and the avalanche danger considerable, so my plans to ski the backcountry were quickly abandoned and I bought a lift pass. It was great to see snow again and the conditions were quite good. In the afternoon the chutes a 15 minute hike above the Shadow chair opened up and I had two great laps up there. On my second lap I ran into a group of instructors getting some laps after their lessons, and they were nice enough to show me a few good runs at the end of the day. After doing another hike with them I was thoroughly exhausted, and as it was closing time I hitched a ride back to town with a nice Australian family; my payment for the ride was showing them how to put chains on the car.

That night I was making dinner at the hostel and met Fred in the kitchen, an Australian here on a holiday. He was planning to head to Milford Sound the next day in his rent car. After a quick discussion about plans and confirming the forecast, we made plans to meet up early the next morning.

Spending the Summer in New Zealand

After a great 6 weeks in the states visiting friends and family it was time to head out again. The summer weather in Seattle was just too nice and warm, so I grabbed a ticket to New Zealand to be a ski bum for the winter. Since Amanda started a job back in Seattle I’m traveling Kiwi-land by myself for the next 7 weeks; I guess the blog needs to be renamed In Solo I Travel.

Getting to New Zealand is quite the journey, flying from Seattle to LA, then to Sydney, and finally to Christchurch, NZ. I had an 8 hour layover in LA, but a college roommate who lives in LA was throwing a party at his place that day, so it actually worked out great. I grabbed a bus from the airport to Hollywood and spend the afternoon hanging with Kevin and his friends in LA.

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I grabbed the last bus back to LAX and caught my 11 PM flight from LA to Sydney. 15 hours later I finally made it down under, and it was time for a 12 hour layover. Since I had never been to Sydney before I caught the train into town and spent the entire day walking around the harbor, downtown, the gardens, and anything else of interest I could find. It was a cloudy and somewhat rainy day, but it was still nice to explore the city. The bridge and opera house are every bit as beautiful as you would expect, and the gardens surrounding the harbor are also quite nice.

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I finally found some reasonably priced food courts downtown, although as far as I can tell the Australian diet consists entirely of Asian food. This entire food court had nothing but Vietnamese, Japanese, Thai, and Malay restaurants. I ended up getting a delicious soup from this hopping Malay place, although I had to visit an ATM first as they only took cash. I also grabbed a meat pie at one point in the afternoon for a snack which I was greatly enjoying until one of the million seagulls surrounding the harbor grabbed the pie out of my hand and ran off with it. I’ve always hated seagulls, but I’ve never seen one so brave as to steal food you are holding in your hand.

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While exploring Sydney the realities of July being winter really hit me when I came across multiple winter festivals in town. It is currently mid-winter break for Australian schools, so there were ice rinks and snowball fights setup all around town. It wasn’t really that cold, but in Sydney they make the most of the winter they get.

After exploring all the way from the Botanical Garden to Darling Harbor, it was time to head back to the airport. I was carrying my avalanche airbag backpack on the plane and someone at security finally started asking questions about the odd canister showing up on the Xray machine. After a while of talking and explaining to security they let me through, but notified the airline personnel at the gate so I got to go through the entire process again with them. Eventually everyone was convinced that a depressurized canister is allowed on an airplane and I was able to head to New Zealand. Thankfully this plane was mostly empty and I had an entire row to lay on the sleep.

I landed in New Zealand after midnight and my plan had been to sleep in the airport, however it turns out the Christchurch airport doesn’t allow people to sleep overnight. Due to the late hour I had to find a hotel with a 24 hour reception, and thankfully was able to find a place that wasn’t too expensive for the night. With that I finally got a solid sleep after 40+ hours of traveling and sleeping only on airplanes.

Vietnam by Moto Days 31-32: Stilt Houses in Pu Luong

We left Cuc Phuong in the morning and started the beautiful drive towards Pu Luong Nature Reserve. The Pu Luong area is well-known for minority village homestays, primarily in the village of Mai Chau. However, Mai Chau is now far too popular and on the bus tour route, and apparently has turned from a quaint village in the mountains to a place where tourists are treated like a walking ATM. The Vietnam Coracle talks about another village inside the nature reserve, so we decided to try and stay in Bản Hiêu. 

Sunset over the rice terraces.


The Coracle’s website mentions two Homestay options, but one has since turned into a fancy eco-lodge that is out of our price range, so our plan was to try and find Mr. Ba’s Homestay, or somewhere else to spend the night. As we reached the nature reserve we turned off the highway onto a dirt road leading up into the mountains. All we had to follow was a google maps point from the Coracle, but it pointed us in the right direction. We reached the general village and were riding through the stilt houses when Hoai chased us down on his motorbike. He asked if we needed a place to stay, and proceeded to take us to his family’s house.

Hoai’s stilt house, the wooden stilts are over 100 years old as high quality trees are hard to find now days.


Hoai lives in a traditional stilt house: These houses are built up high to allow storage space underneath and to protect against flooding. The house is one large room inside with bamboo flooring and and a palm leaf roof, there is an outhouse and a separate kitchen outside. Hoai’s house only got electricity a few years ago as is costs $100 to buy the wire to connect your house to the grid, but now they have a small refrigerator, TV, and a single light bulb. Apparently the electric bill is only $5/month. They have no running water in the village, but Hoai was lucky to have a good well they dug in 2007 so they had clean water available. They kept a can of water filled from the well next to the squat toilet and you pour a bucket of water in the toilet when you’re done to flush.

Bamboo pipes bring water to the rice fields.


Bản Hiêu is a beautiful village in a river valley between mountains. We spent the afternoon hiking around the village with Hoai as our guide and seeing their traditional way of life. There are rice patties everywhere, and the patties without a stream to feed them water use an ingenious bamboo waterwheel to lift water from the river into bamboo irrigation pipes.

When rice fields don’t have a natural stream to supply them with water, the villagers build bamboo water wheels to lift water out of the river and irrigate the fields.


The locals haul bamboo down the mountainside by dragging it behind their motorbikes.


As we hiked up the mountainside, we saw villagers dragging bamboo behind their scooters, it turns out growing and selling bamboo is one of the major industries in the village as bamboo is greatly valued for construction. We saw one woman carrying huge pieces of bamboo out of the forest and Amanda tried to pick one up, I think the villager found us weak westerners quite amusing!

Amanda tried to lift the huge bamboo pieces that the villager had been carrying out of the forest.


This snake we saw crossing the path is apparently pretty toxic. Our host wouldn’t let us anywhere near it.


Hoai’s family was excited as their cow was pregnant, and if they can raise the calf to a healthy adult they can sell it for a significant amount of money. A grown bull is worth around $700, enough to buy a new motorbike! Bản Hiêu is a Thai minority village, so the locals are ethnically Thai despite living in Vietnam. They speak Thai among themselves, but they also learn Vietnamese in school.

It was time to get cleaned up for dinner after joking around the village, and since they don’t have a shower that means a nice swim in the river. Some of the local children were practicing their English with us while we bathed in the river: most children know a few basic phrases like “What is your name?” And “How old are you?”.

Dinner was a feast of spring rolls, pork, vegetables, and sticky rice.


The dinner was a feast of pork, vegetables, spring rolls, and sticky rice. It was going to be hard to finish all the food, and then they brought us another plate! Hoai’s father joined us to share his homemade rice wine, which packs quite a punch.

It was hot inside.

After dinner Hoai played some guitar, and we watched a Chinese drama that the family enjoyson the TV. Finally it was time for bed, so the rock-hard mattress was laid on the floor and the mosquito net hung up. We got to have the house to ourselves while Hoai and his parents slept in the kitchen and underneath the house, respectively.

Saying goodbye to Hoai after spending a night with his family.


The next morning we had another delicious but way too large breakfast, along with several more shots of rice wine (apparently they drink with breakfast and we had to finish the bottle). After saying our goodbyes, we set off on the road to Hanoi.

As we climbed higher into the nature reserve jagged rocks started to poke through the rice fields.


Hoai had told us the best route to take, and it was a lovely drive through mountains with village after village. However, it was also the steepest mountain pass we climbed during our entire trip. Amanda had to walk good portions of the climb while I drove the bike as the motorbike could barely climb the hill with both of us and our luggage. At the end of the day, we braved the insane Hanoi traffic and made it to Vietnam’s capital after a month on the road.

One of the joys of driving across Vietnam is witnessing what a motorbike can really carry. The bonsai tree delivery moto is one of our favorites, we’ve seen tons of the these traveling the highways.

Vietnam by Moto Days 2-4: Pool and Sand in Mũi Né

Near H’ô Tràm, we picked a yellow cantaloupe like melon to eat later and continued northward.

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As the fields changed from melons to spiky dragon fruit trees, we pulled over in a town to look for the roast pork sandwich stands mentioned in the Vietnam Coracle since I thought I had seen a pig sign. Rob pulled over in a shady patch outside a house to check the map. Turns out that a large group was lunching on seafood on the patio. They motioned us over to join their feast and plied us with beer and a variety of seafood. Luckily we had our recently purchased melon to share.
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With a combination of the only Vietnamese we knew (1, 2, 3, cheers! – mot, hi, baa yo!) And the Lonely Planet dictionary, we managed some conversation. We learned how to say spicy and tried áwp/snail. Rob responsibly refused beer refills (the Vietamese think it is perfectly reasonable to have 5 beers with lunch and then get back on a motorbike, we disagree) and we managed to get back on the road north.

We stopped in Phan Thiet for a 10k dong bánh mi and an ATM before continuing on to the Mũi Né Backpacker Village. We paid a premium $25 for a large double room with en suite bathroom and access to a gorgeous pool across the road from the beach. The poolside was so pleasant we actually never made it to the beach proper. We played pool volleyball for awhile then tossed a football around. Dinner was a beach front restaurant (sand on top of a concrete pier) that served tasty and reasonably priced seafood and beer. Recommended by Lonely Planet, Lam Tong Restaurant was our go to spot for food and drinks with a view. The squid with garlic was so good!

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Tasty dinner on the beach at Lam Tong!

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View of the kiteboarding beach from Lam Tong Restaurant


We signed up for the sunrise sand dunes and more tour for the next day. It was slightly more expensive than the afternoon tour, but came with free breakfast and would allow us to spend the afternoon by the pool (and not baking in the sun on the dunes). Four am the next morning came quickly and it was a bit hard to drag ourselves out of bed in the darkness.

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Chillaxing and Biking in Battambang

Battambang is a smaller town on a river southwest of Siam Reap. It’s known for it’s French Colonial architecture and was a wonderful place to spend a peaceful day.

The previous night Rob and I finally mustered the energy to walk downtown, ~20 minutes. Rob caved to my desire for Indian food and we sought out a place recommended by Lonely Planet, Flavors of India. When we got to the address, it wasn’t there, so we continued wandering down a more major road nearby. Just when we started checking out menus for other places, I saw Flavors of India across the street. It had moved at one point. We proceeded to have a extremely large and good meal for $14 (palak paneer, eggplant masala, naan, tumeric rice, beer for rob and mango lassi for me).

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Flavors of India in Cambodia!

Unfortunately, my stomach was still a bit on the fritz, so I couldn’t enjoy it completely. We joked that Rob knew I wasn’t feeling great because I gave him the last 1/4 of my mango lassi. Our tuk tuk driver came and picked us up afterwards. We paid him for the two rides so far and told him we weren’t going to hire him but instead bike around. Returning to home stay, we were greeted with a plate of amazing mango that overcame all stomach issues. Best mango yet!

The next morning, we woke up early and had an amazing Cambodian breakfast at our guesthouse (we highly recommend Battambang My Homestay) before borrowing their free bikes (Rob’s was great, my front wheel didn’t rotate too well and required extra oomph) for a cruise around the city and a short ride out to the bamboo train, a dinky monorail about 1 km connecting two villages. The cars are made of bamboo so they can be disassembled when passing is needed. We decided against the $5 ride but it was fun to go check it out.

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Crazy good pancake thing with chicken, veggies and a vinegar based peanut sauce. Cambodian breakfast is awesome!

 

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Lunch stop at a hole-in-the-wall vegetarian restaurant

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Checking out the former Thai Governor’s mansion

Returning to downtown, we grabbed lunch at a tiny “veggie” restaurant recommended by Lonely Planet. We were confused because both of our dishes had meat. We also tried some flavored soy milks (black sesame/peanut for Rob, pumpkin for me), which were pretty good.

After lunch, we went in search of a quiet, shady cafe to spend a few hours. We found Alan and Peggy from the boat “cruise” in the best value beer place we could find ($0.50 drafts at happy hour) and ended up talking to them for a couple hours about traveling, history, and views on other countries. We would run in to them a few more times before leaving Cambodia. While we were there, another guy from the boat walked in. Tourist Battambang is small.

Eventually, it was time to grab a quick street side bite and head north to the circus. We picked up our bus tickets to Phnom Penh en route to the show. The performances are held at a fine arts school famous for its acrobats and the older students show off their skills a few times a week to raise funds. Graduates do another show in Siam Reap that we missed. It was a fun show with some parts that left us confused about their “storyline” but the acrobatics were fun. We sat next to the same woman from France that we were next to on the boat ride.

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Circus School Performance. This guy is balanced on a series of cylinders.

The next morning after a tasty spring roll (2 types) breakfast, we were off to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia.

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Lost Days in Siam Reap/Angkor Wat

Strolling through Siam Reap en route to our hostel brought to mind tourist Mexico. Visiting Playa del Carmen in high school, I remember the mixture of modern buildings, outdoor restaurants and ramshackle structures surrounded by hordes of tourists. Welcome to Siam Reap. Rob and I were once again on the tourist/backpacker trail and we ended up spending more time here than we originally planned.

We were amazed to find ourselves spending US dollars in Cambodia. At the airport leaving the US, we both had pulled some emergency cash and now it meant that we didn’t have to hit up an ATM right away. The other nice thing about Cambodia is that they drive on the right side of the road. Despite a month of Japan and a few days of Thailand, we still invariably look the wrong direction first when checking traffic.

Rob chose the Downtown Siam Reap hostel since we’d been isolated for the last bit. Our hostel had a beach bar area and a pool. With the surrounding wall blocking views of the street, it felt like a little backpacker resort. We met some pretty awesome folks there (or mainly Rob did since after the first day, I was pretty much down for the count after 5 pm). Our second night, we joined the hostel BBQ and its two free beer half hours from 5-5:30pm and 9-9:30pm.

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Rob enjoying a beer at the Downtown Siam Reap Hostel

Our double room only had fan cooling, but it was definitely nice to have our own space. The main issue that we quickly realized is that the hostel doesn’t have enough water supply, so half the time you try to shower and find the water is out. This was also an issue for the toilet and it’s special feature the bum gun (pretty much a kitchen sprayer for you butt).

Our first full day in Siam Reap was a bit of a wash since we had been up a bit late and slept in. We decided to use the afternoon to visit an orientation museum (Bayon Information Center) then indulge in a Smith family tradition – minigolf. Renting bikes from the most disinterested women ever, we biked north of town in search of the Bayon information center. For only $2 each instead of $12 each at the National Museum, we received background on Angkor especially the Bayon Temple at the center of Angkor Thom. One of the staff members walked us through a number of the exhibits and there was only one other couple there. Armed with new found knowledge, we prepared to the many of the temples ( in miniature form).

Angkor Putt was a 15 minute bike ride out of the center of town on a dusty highway. With some help from google maps, we found it quite devoid of other tourists. The owners were laboring to build a new temple replica of aluminium cans on one of the holes. There were definitely a few holes that killed our scores and when the dust settled, I beat Rob by a record 6 strokes. Normally, he wins by a couple. I was a gracious winner and didn’t brag too much. I even shared my hole-in-one beer with him (one beer per hole-in-one).

By the time we finished minigolf, it was free beer time #1 followed by the BBQ and free beer time #2.

Needless to say, the next morning was not an early morning. I woke feeling pretty terrible, s0 we slept in until 11 am and with a couple pain relievers felt okay enough to venture out. We opted to hire a re-work moto (they call them tuk tuks too, but they’re different than the ones we’d seen before) and driver for $18 since we didn’t quite feel up to biking as we originally planned. With the wheels, we decided to visit the outer temples on the Grand Circuit. I found a guide book called Ancient Angkor at the hostel, which gave us great background and information on each temple (I saw a guy selling the book for $1 at Angkor Wat.

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View from the back of the re-work moto. It wasn’t particularly fast, but it was nice that Rob and I could talk as well as stay cool in the shade. Plus, our driver knew where all the bathrooms are located.

We visited 7 archaeological sites (Preah Khan, Neak Pean, Ta Som, East Mebon, Pre Rup, Sras Srang, Banteay Kdai ) sites the first day and I was pooped by 4 pm. Since we didn’t really have lunch, we grabbed some amazing ice cream at Blue Pumpkin on the way back to the hostel (Rob also picked up four skewers and cold noodle salad for $1 at the local restaurant near the hostel). A nap and some more Vitamin I were required before dinner.   Rob and I tried a local BBQ place on the same road as the hostel. We’d walked by many times and it had always been busy. We had a few tasty dishes and enjoyed the local atmosphere – kickboxing on two tvs and  female beer reps drinking with tables of men drinking their brand of beer. Halfway through our meal, a car dropped off a group of attractive women in distinctive purple, green and yellow short dresses. They turned out to be cigarette reps selling their product to the restaurant clientele.

The next day, we pushed through not feeling great and rented a tandem. It was fine for awhile, but as soon as we got to the temple area ~11 km from town, the chain started falling off with increasing frequency as the day dragged on.

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Our $6/day rental tandem needed some TLC. We should have gotten the fancy ones with awnings over the seats.

We went to Angkor Wat first braving the hordes for people and heat. There are guides everywhere trying to sell you their services. It honestly would have been nice to have a bigger group and hire one. The grounds are huge! It’s a pretty decent walk from the entrance to the temple itself.

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Inner temple of Angkor Wat. Since it was a holy day, we were unable to climb up to the top. Normally there’s a wait to do this and they even have the “x min from this point” signs.

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View of Angkor Wat from the pond outside the inner wall

The bas reliefs at Angkor Wat depicting many battles were quite neat. Unfortunately we were compelled to leave in a hurry and only made a cursory inspection of most of the carvings.

Our next stop was Angkor Thom. Not feeling great, I survived our visit to Bayon Temple, the elephant terrace and the leper king terrace and the northern gate. The pain relievers kicked in just in time for the ride to Ta Prohm, the Tomb Raider temple, and our ride home with the timing chain falling off constantly. At times, we weren’t in a good place to pull over, so I got to power the bike solo. It would have been fun to hear “He’s not pedaling in the front” for a change.

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Ending the day at Ta Prohm

We didn’t get back into town until well after dark. After a tiring day, we just wanted grease and got some $2.5 burger and fry plates from our usual restaurant a couple doors down from the hostel.

Our last day in Siam Reap, I felt so terrible that I relaxed in our room all day while Rob hung by the pool side. After having been worried that my symptoms were flu-like (also can be malaria symptoms), I called the nurse consulting line for our health insurance to see if they thought I should get test as a certain strain of malaria can get bad rapidly. We found a nearby clinic (Sok San clinic next to Same Same Bar) and they were able to draw blood and perform the tests right away ($15).

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Test results.

 

It was a relief to know that I didn’t have malaria and although the test for dengue came back negative, they said my low platelet count could be a sign of that. I wasn’t as worried about dengue since I didn’t have the high fever. To celebrate the good news, we got some Mexican food. It wasn’t too bad and we had a great time talking with a couple from San Diego that was heading to Vietnam for a motorbike road trip.

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Viva Mexico branch in Siam Reap. There are two locations and one seems to have better specials.

At this point, we had already booked the boat to Battambang for the next day, so we hoped with all the rest that we would feel up to the 9 hour journey. Otherwise, we would be taking advantage of the travel insurance for the first time.

 

 

WE BOUGHT A MOTORBIKE!!!

As you might be able to tell, I’m more than a bit excited about this. On the bus from Cambodia to Vietnam yesterday I made Amanda watch the Top Gear Vietnam special, and somehow convinced her that we should buy a motorbike and ride our way from Saigon to Hanoi. Here is our new baby, a 110cc Sufat Win from 2009:  
    
The “Honda” Win is the standard backpacker bike in Vietnam as it is one of the only proper motorcycles you can get with a fully manual transmission. However, Honda stopped making them nearly 20 years ago, so all the ones for sale are actually terrible Chinese clones that break down all the time. After doing some research we learned about the Sufat Wins, which were officially licensed Honda clones made in Vietnam and much higher quality. 

After searching Vietnam Craigslist we found an Irish couple who just finished the journey from Hanoi to Ho Cho Minh and were selling their Sufat Win. We survived test riding the bike around Saigon during rush hour and after everything checked out they handed over the keys. The bike is has everything a backpacker needs: welded on luggage rack, tire lock, and proper Western-certified helmets. 

  
We had a great time spending the evening with Shane and Sarah having beers and hearing about all the wonderful places they drove around Vietnam. They were sad to let go of their motorbike, but we promised to give her a good home!

Skiing the Japow: Day 14 Epic Furano Part 2

The storm we hoped to catch at Furano was slightly delayed but there was still plenty of new snow for a fun day or 3 hrs. Since Rob and I planned some sightseeing stops ending in Asahikawa for their ice festival and sake museum, we had about 4 hours to ski. Heading to the premium zone for one lap of amazing knee deep to thigh deep powder was great, then we did a 20 min hike into the sidecountry to ski the next bowl over. The snow was even better. After the bowl, there are some fun trees before skirting a creek and joining back up with a groomed run.

While waiting for me, Rob thought he might have heard calls for help. Then when I joined him, we went to investigate. Rob ended up helping a snowboarder out of a creek hole. Luckily, the dude had gone in feet first and was able yell for help. His friend had gone on ahead and didn’t realize his buddy’s predicament. Rob read him the riot act/this is how people die skiing off-piste.

For our last run, we went farther on the hike and dropped into the trees for some more fluffy stuff. Rob hucked a rock while I attempted to take pics. I think I missed all the neat bits and only caught the beginning and end.

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The take off.

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The landing

After packing up the skis one last time, we grabbed some Hokkaido caramels and headed north to Asahikawa.