My Struggles in Cambodia

Oh Cambodia. While in this country I had so many issues. It was just me and my bad luck. I’ve already mentioned getting scammed at the border. So I’m going to share all of my other struggles.
Struggle #1
The bugs! There were SO many bugs. it was normal for me to get bitten at least three times a day out in Cambodia by mosquitoes. But i’m just one of those people that mosquitoes just love…yay me.
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Also, I was forced to try snake! Ok, I wasn’t forced and it wasn’t much of a struggle. It was sold at a lot of different stands in Siem Reap. And my new travel companion bought one for herself and was trying to convince me to eat a tarantula. I had to opt out of that one because that’s just sick. And they were hairy and had so many legs and body parts. So she offered me her snake on a stick and I said, F it, why not. So I took a bite of the snake.
Luckily it was just a small snake. Luckily? It was hard and crunchy and surprisingly tasted like fish. Crunchy fish. One bite was good enough for me but I’m glad I did it! Maybe I’ll try tarantula one day, but don’t get your hopes up for that one.
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Struggle #2
Ok this one was just dumb on my part. It was late at night and I was out if money in Siem Reap. So I went to the ATM. Just the day before a girl from the US we met on a tour, Liz, was having a rough day because her debit card wasn’t working in Cambodia! Her bank told her that it was the ATM’s out there that wouldn’t allow it so she was stuck with no money. So the next day as I’m looking to take out cash from an ATM, my card also wasn’t working! I tried 3 different ATMs from three different banks and couldn’t take out money. I was sure I was just as doomed as Liz. I called my bank as soon as they were open ready to accept the same fate as my friend.
I talked to the first person, who then transferred me over to another person. I was sure they were going to give me some bad news. I didn’t know how I would make it out of Cambodia without any cash. I was starting to freak out. After a few minutes on hold, the last lady tells me that I had no money in my account. WHAT?! And that it was all in my savings…Oh. I keep all of my money in my savings and transfer over only what I need. I forgot to transfer the money from my savings over to my checking and that’s why I couldn’t take out any money. I’m sure she thought I was an idiot…ok I was lol. My card was fine.
Struggle #3
This one was also my fault. Ok I think they all are. We headed to the local market in downtown Siem Reap. I wanted to eat at one of the local stands. Always the best way to go when traveling. I got the beef soup which I was overcharged for and the lady laughed about it with her friends. All I heard her say was 6000 riel hahahaha! And they all stared at me. Whatever it was only $1.50. I’ve been scammed for more…not that that makes it any better. Just a part of being a tourist. So I enjoyed the soup and the lady brings me some ice cold water in a glass. Now other southeast Asian countries know that tourists can’t drink the local tap water so usually water in a glass is from a bottle so I don’t have to worry. I assumed the same for Cambodia. Boy was I wrong. And my body hated me for it right after. I took one sip and looked down in the glass and saw huge black things floating in it…shit…and I had already swallowed it. I felt like throwing up. I quickly paid, gave the lady the mean eye for overcharging, laughing and pointing, and serving me nasty water. I was pissed but I shouldn’t have assumed anything. And for the next 4 days I couldn’t eat. All I wanted to do was use the bathroom every two hours, just in time for my island tour on a nauseating boat ride to three different islands. All I could think about was the bathroom and how nauseous I was. And I also was having the worst stomach cramps of my life. I still can’t look at street food the same way.
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My nauseating boat ride.
Struggle #4
I was attempting to buy my visa for Vietnam. To get into Vietnam you need to buy your visa in advance from a Vietnamese embassy. I gave them the money and looked in my bag for my passport. It was gone. My heart dropped into my stomach. W…T…F. Where is my passport?! I took out everything in my bag and in my backpack. Nothing, I retraced my foot steps and headed to a restaurant that I was at the day before. Still nothing. I asked the Italian restaurant owner if he had seen it and he said no. The people at the bar looked worried for me. I’m sure they were all thinking, who loses their passport?! The most important thing you need when traveling abroad! And in Cambodia of all places! Probably one of the most corrupt country in Asia!
They pointed me in the direction of the local tourist police but warned me that if the police tried to take money from me, to come back to the bar and let them know. This made me feel a little on edge. Why are they warning me about the police? And if the police can’t help me than who can?! So I walked over to the police station, which was a tiny booth that shared a space with a tourist guide/travel agency. Yeah that looks reputable. And the “police officer” was wearing a dirty tank top and not a uniform. Just great. I told him I lost my passport and he didn’t seem to understand too much English. He understood after awhile what I meant and I asked him if anyone turned it in. He didn’t even check but just asked me if I lost my money too. I said no, which I soon regretted because he looked a little TOO interested that I still had my money on me. He then told me that he would call his boss and they would deport me in the morning. When he said that I freaked out on the inside and told him that I would just try to keep looking and come back if i couldn’t find it. I rushed out of there more concerned than ever. I did NOT want to be in this country without my passport and I did NOT want to be deported.
I had a rough night’s sleep that night trying to figure out where I could have left it. I decided I would go to the bank as soon as I wake up because I might have left it there. I figured this was a far shot because I was at the bank about 3 days ago and I didn’t remember using it there and if I did leave it, what were the chances that they would still have it. The moment the bank opened, I went straight there and the ladies at the counter smiled when I walked in and handed me my passport!! I was so happy I could have danced in the middle of the bank, but I already draw enough attention to myself, being a tourist with strange hair. So I booked it to the Vietnamese embassy to get my  visa so I can get out of my bad luck country.
I loved Cambodia but I just had the worst luck there. Maybe Vietnam will be better!?
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Getting Scammed on My Way to Cambodia…TWICE!!!

Getting to Cambodia from Bangkok was a crazy experience. It was such a last minute decision, but I just wanted to get out of Bangkok so I googled the best way to get to Siem Riep, Cambodia. The websites all said to go by bus or by train.  I had never been on a train before so I thought that would be a good option. Then I googled train times to Cambodia, saw that the last one for the day was leaving in two hours at 1:30pm, I quickly googled how to get to the train station, packed up my things and left. I google everything by the way.  Not sure? Ask Google!

So many thoughts were going through my head at this point. This is crazy! Was this a good idea? I don’t have any plans. What do I do once I get to Cambodia? Will I even make it to Cambodia? How do you buy a train ticket?! All of these thoughts were racing through my head, but I was glad to be leaving that hostel. And man was I excited for this next adventure!

From my hostel on Siam road, I caught a cab and told him I needed to go to Hualamphong station. Luckily this was a metered cab because I hate negotiating the prices for cabs without a meter. The cab ride ended up costing about a dollar since the train station was only 2 miles from my hotel. I walked up to the train station and had no idea where I was supposed to go. There was a lady in the front who spoke English and saw how lost I looked so she was able to point me in the right direction, to window 8, she told me. I walked up to window 8, the lady asked me where I was going, she said okay, one o’clock, 48 baht. Nice! It was $1.50 USD for a train ride to a new country! Score.

I had enough time after buying my ticket to eat before my train came. So I walked around and saw all the different shops and food places. I ended up just getting some eggs and rice since I wasn’t too hungry.

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Hualamphong Train Station

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More waffle hot dogs!

Once I got on the train, I tried to contain how excited I was. It was my first time on a train and I was headed to Cambodia! I picked my seat and waited for the departure. I saw people walking around on the train selling lots of treats for the people on board, kind of like flight attendants, but for a 3rd class train, and they were people from random villages who just got on board.

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Holding in my excitement! lol

While I was waiting, I saw this other solo female backpacker looking for a seat and struggling to get her bag up in the storage space. This older Thai woman walked over to her and demanded the guy sitting near them to help her with her bags. I walked up to her and introduced myself, told her I witnessed her struggle and we laughed about it, then the old lady made us eat some fruit. We couldn’t say no…she was intense. But it was hilarious, we laughed about that too. She ended up sitting by me for the train ride and I found out she was from France and that she was also headed to Siem Reap. She mentioned she had booked a room and that I could join her since I told her I didn’t have a place to stay yet and we would be arriving late in the night. Very nice of her 🙂 . That saved me from having to hunt down a hostel once I got to Cambodia.

The train ride was so nice! All the windows were down and the weather was perfect. The countryside was beautiful and so green! I’m from Arizona where green landscapes are very rare, so when I get to see it, it’s pretty refreshing. The train made quite a few stops in small villages and it was interesting to see the different people from these villages getting on and off the train.

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These kids were so bad! They were like wrestling on the train lol. But still cute 🙂

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One of the many towns we saw on the train ride. 

We rode the train to the last stop, Aranyaprathet and hopped on a a tuk tuk. We told the tuk-tuk driver to take us to the border and he said okay. He drove us to some shady looking office building and said, okay get off here for the border. I asked him if he was sure this was right and if we could try to get closer to the actual border. I knew he was trying to scam us.

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This is a tuk-tuk. A popular form of transportation in Southeast Asia. 

He insisted that this is where we needed to be to get our Cambodian visa. A guy from inside the building came out and told us we were in the right place. So with this, we got off and followed the man inside. He sat us down and had us fill out a form and told us the visas would be $50. Fortunately for me, I read a lot of blogs and they all mentioned this exact same scam. I told him the visa is actually only $20 and that we would like to go to the border and buy our visas there. He knew the jig was up so he pointed to where we were really supposed to go for our visas.  Then he asked us if we wanted a cab ride to Siem Reap. After he just tried to scam us!  Why would we want to try and take a cab from you when you just unsuccessfully attempted to scam us?! No thanks.

The visa process was pretty straight forward. After you get your visa and right before you cross into Cambodia, you enter a stretch of land known as the no man’s land. It’s a area about a quarter of a mile long that doesn’t belong to Thailand or Cambodia, it doesn’t belong to anyone. I have no idea how that works, but I didn’t want to stay in it for long enough to find out.

 We finally crossed over the border into Cambodia! We were told we wouldn’t be able to take a bus to Siem Reap from the border and would have to take a taxi since it was so late, it was around 8pm at that point. So my new friend recruited two more French-speaking girls to share a taxi with us. Brilliant idea! Because the moment we stepped onto Cambodian soil, all we here is, “Cab?! Cab?! Miss, you need a cab?!” all from about six different cab drivers all at once. We asked how much they were charging for a two hour trip to Siem Reap and they all said about 40 dollars. To my other companions, this was unacceptable. They wanted to pay 1000 baht or 33 dollars and nothing more. I was just going with it, because they were all speaking French so I had no idea what was going on.

But I was starting to get scared because it was getting later and later in the night and we were in a strange country and we still had a two hour ride to Siem Reap. When my group didn’t budge on the price, the other cab drivers all left except one really persistent one. He was saying $40 was the firm price and he dared us to find better. So we said fine, and walked to find a different cab. He followed us, taunting us the whole time, saying we would never find a better deal and he will wait 5 minutes for us to come back. In my mind I was just like, why can’t we just take the $40 cab and be done with it?! I’m starting to get scared! What if we don’t find another cab?! But right after I thought that, another cab pulls up and says he’ll take us for 1000 baht. Phew!

So we headed to Siem Reap. The driving in Cambodia was crazy! Everyone tries to pass everyone else and everyone is honking at each other. It seemed like they would just try to pass cars without even checking to see if other cars were coming from the other direction! After two hours of this, we stop somewhere that doesn’t look like where we need to be. The cab driver says, in broken English, I have to stop here; these two tuk-tuk drivers will take the four of you from here for free because cabs can’t go into the city. It was weird but we got out of the cab and loaded our things onto the tuk tuk, the two French girls got into one and we got into the other. They drove off in their tuk-tuk while our driver wanted to sit and chat with us.

He told us he could take us to the temples the next day for two hundred thousand Riel. We had JUST gotten to Cambodia, so we had no idea how much a Riel was and two hundred thousand of it sounded like a lot of money! We tried to explain to him that we didn’t know how much that was yet and we didn’t even have Riel; we only had US dollars and Thai baht as currency. And that we needed to get to our hotel before we could give him an answer. He persisted and at first he was asking nicely, then he was rudely telling us that we needed to let him take us on a tour the next day for two hundred thousand Riel or our ride to our hotel wouldn’t be free. Not another scam!!

I was so irritated at this point. I just said, “Well we don’t know how much that is so we don’t know! Just tell us how much the tuk tuk ride to our hotel will be.” He said it would be seven dollars each. We both were like, PSH yeah right! We’ll walk thanks. I was so tired of this crap. I just wanted to get there! So in the middle of the night in Cambodia, we grabbed our heavy backpacks and started walking down the street. And literally two seconds later, another tuk-tuk driver drove by and we stop him for a ride, we ask him how much, and he says $1 each because it’s only about 1km away…seven dollars my ass! So we hopped on and headed to our guesthouse.

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Finally we made it to our guesthouse!! We felt so much relief the moment we stepped foot inside our room. That was a long journey, totaling about 11hrs, with a lot of pushy people. This was my first glimpse into this country and I was already not impressed. If that is what it was going to be like in Cambodia for the rest of the time I was there, I would be really disappointed.

We celebrated our accomplishment with nachos and strong margaritas at a Mexican restaurant on Pub Street, Cambodia’s backpacker street (I know I’m supposed to be eating local foods but I love Mexican food and it’s hard to find so when I see it, I have to eat it! It’s the closest I can get to Chipotle.)  But we did it! It was a challenge getting from Bangkok to Cambodia, but we made it safely. And I think we knew from that moment that Cambodia was going to be quite an adventure.

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My celebratory nachos and margarita!

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My Escape to Cambodia

While in Bangkok, I spent hours aimlessly reading blog posts and recommendations from different websites trying to get the best advice for my journey. It’s great to have so much advice and so many recommendations readily available via the interweb, but it was also very overwhelming. I’m pretty sure I read every single blog about southeast Asia. Every website had different ideas about how to explore southeast Asia and after a week of exploring these options, I was even more confused than before!

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 Taking a break from all the blog reading to take a selfie…there’s always time for a selfie. Lol 

I really tried to find peace and comfort in Bangkok, but I have come to realize that it’s just not for me right now. I just couldn’t do it. The noise, the heat, and how crowded it was made me feel like I couldn’t breath! I thought I could manage to stay the full ten days, but after seven nights in my hostel near Siam road, I woke up to someone banging on the metal stairs with what sounded like a hammer. OMG…I had to get out of there!

I had no plans at all. But screw plans! I came here to be free for once in my life, so why did I just spend a week trying to make a plan?! What did I really WANT to do? Cambodia!! I wanted to be by a beach so I can relax for a moment and I’ve heard great things about Cambodian beaches. So I looked up the time for the next train to Cambodia. The train was scheduled to leave in 2 hours, so I packed up my bag, checked out of my hostel three days early, and ran out of there…with no plans.

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Learning How to Be a Backpacker in Bangkok

After struggling in the city during my first week, I did some research and attempted to be a true backpacker. I tried to walk around the city and just attempt to build routines. I got up in the morning and walked to get street food for breakfast along with the locals who were getting breakfast on their way to work. I would typically grab some bread from one stand and some protein, like eggs or chicken from another stand. It was usually too hot for me to have beef or pork soup, which is what I really wanted and the stands looked a little intimidating to me for some reason.

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Waffle Hot Dogs

I spent my days going to the local markets and taking the local transportation to the malls where I could sit and people watch and just spend some quality alone time away from my hostel. This was still a bit of a challenge for me because of the packed subways and streets but I did my best to try and relax and enjoy the sights and try and find some peace somewhere.

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Coconut Ice Cream 

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Watching as they set up the night market. 

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Shrimp Spring Rolls and Pho

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Tom Yum Soup

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Beef Noodle Soup

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Enjoying a Singha beer while doing some research. 

Feeling Lost in Bangkok

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When I arrived in Bangkok, I thought I would feel amazing and happy. But that is not what I felt at all. To start off, I had the brilliant idea to book a hostel in the middle of a popular tourist area right behind a night market. The hostel was ridiculously loud 24 hours a day since it was attached to a bar that stayed open until the last person went home, one night, this was at about 5am. My room was incredibly small and uncomfortable and there were no windows. The walls appeared to be made out cement, but that seems impossible now since I could here footsteps, music, and full conversations from the lobby. And to top it all off, I had a four person dorm room that was always full and NO ONE spoke any English. So it was awkward, packed, and no one said a word. But at $5 a night, I’m not really allowed to complain.

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This did not help the homesickness that I started to feel immediately. I felt so lost in the city. I didn’t know what to do, where to go, what to spend my time on. It’s like for the first time in my life, I don’t have any plans and i’m free to do whatever I want, and that thought alone was crippling. I’m a planner. In order to function properly, I need plans! So the moment I landed, I was on my iPad trying to make plans instead of enjoying the city. I can teach now or I can travel to northern Thailand now, or I can go to Cambodia. What do I do?!

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The city wasn’t helping me think clearly either. Bangkok is not a city for everyone. It’s like a mix between Vegas and New York. It can be intense. I felt packed and hot and lost in the chaos. It was so loud I couldn’t think clearly for a second and it was driving me insane.

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I did try to take walks and explore the city. But it gets pricey very fast in such a big city. I tried to read other blogs to see what I was supposed to be doing as a backpacker in Bangkok, since I had no idea. And the posts just said to relax and develop routines. They said that taking tours in the city and trying to do everything will run out your funds quickly, so you need to learn to just pick up a book and go to the coffee shop or pick up a deck of cards and go to the park. After I read that, I felt much better. Before, I felt like I needed to be doing crazy touristy things all the time, but that’s not the point of being a backpacker. The point of being a backpacker is to live in a country on a budget like the locals do. Don’t just be a tourist, go and explore the city,live like a local. Sit and take on the sights, eat on the streets, sit at a coffee shop and watch the day go by.

So this was my next challenge.

Getting Uncomfortable

I’ve planned an escape. An escape from my comfort zone. I’ve learned that for me, living in my comfort zone too long, makes me extremely uncomfortable. I had a nice job that paid me a pretty decent salary, I had my own apartment and I just lived that good ‘ole 9 to 5 lifestyle we all seem to adore so much. Well not that we adore it, we are forced into believing that that is life. We believe there is no other way and any other way is too hard and takes too much work. I mean, why pursue your dream of travel when you should be focused on building a career, so you can then get married and settle down and buy a house and fill it with children. There’s no time for traveling the world. And it’s also expensive. So it’s just overall a bad idea. Why live your life the way you want to?

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I had all of those thoughts stop me from traveling right after I graduated. I wasn’t ready. I needed to plan to go to grad school instead or plan on starting a career. That’s what I saw everyone else doing and I felt left out. So I spent my free time looking up schools and career paths while deep down in my heart all I wanted to do was travel. I started saving up just to make my life even more comfortable for myself. After a month of saving, I decided to screw what people thought I should do or even, where I thought I should be compared to everyone else in the world. I realized that life is too short and I would be pissed if I died tomorrow while I was trying to live everyone’s dreams and following everyone else’s paths. I have my own and it involves seeing the world. I can start a career at any time. And I can go back to school later. I cannot backpack the world any other time than now.

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Of course I had experienced my own roadblocks and plan changes. One of my biggest roadblocks was the loss of my little sister. We were supposed to do this trip together. We always talked about traveling the world, especially after our trip to Thailand for study abroad. She was my partner and crime and my best friend. Traveling the world with her would have been the most amazing experience because we have the exact same sense of humor and awkwardness. Those are two traits that generate some pretty interesting stories. Unfortunately she committed suicide two years ago, shortly after our trip to Thailand. I was broken and my family was broken. I waited two years to get myself together and tried to figure out my life during all of this. At this point I didn’t know when I would travel so I just buried myself in my work and in going out to distract myself.

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Earlier this year, I was starting to feel the weight of the pain and heartbreak that I was trying to distract myself from. I knew I had to get away so I bought a one way ticket…for one. No partner in crime this time. I have to do this by myself. I have to live this dream for her too, not just me. We said we were going to do it and I’m going to get it done. I don’t care what it takes. She doesn’t have to physically go with me, I can carry her spirit with me everywhere I go. I know she would do the same.

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So now it’s that time. Time to go out and explore the world. Let fear consume me and then teach myself to overcome these fears. It’s time to live my own dreams and figure out what I want from this life. You only get one life: I know that sounds obvious, but I’m surprised at the way some people choose to live it, waiting around for their dreams to come to them. Live a little, take a moment to breathe and appreciate life. It doesn’t necessarily have to be through travel, but whatever you love to do, go out and do it. Life is way to short for your dreams to be squandered away due to societal expectations or a fear of failure. Go live life now.  You only get this one.

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