Preparing for Cambodia

This year, I will spend Christmas and New Years in Cambodia. Holiday in Cambodia! Here are a few things you need to know before leaving.

So you’ll need a re-entry permit if you’re holding a Thai visa expecting to get back in. You’ll also need a Cambodian visa. This can be obtained online, at the airport, or at most border crossings. Online, the visa is $30 USD plus a $7 USD processing fee. It takes three days to process. I’ve heard and read that the immigration officers at the Thai borders will try to ask for the visa payment in baht, generously rounding up. I am going to have the $20 USD in hand, smile politely, and tell them I would like to pay $20 USD. If going in person, have two passport photos with you.

Many establishments or businesses in Cambodia accept USD, so if you have them, bring them along. Apparently you will sometimes get change in Riel, Cambodian money.

From Bangkok’s Hua Lumphong Train Station, you can catch a train to the border town of Aranyaprathet. There are two trains you can take, one at 5:55 in the morning and one at 13:05. It is recommended to take the morning train as the afternoon train will not put you in Siem Reap, after the bus from Aranyaprathet, until midnight. This train is 48 baht. Yes, 48 baht.

Online Visa

https://www.evisa.gov.kh/

Train Travel

http://www.seat61.com/Cambodia.htm#Siem Reap

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October Break Travels

I love getting to travel over our school holidays and breaks. Recently, all of us that work at Thida got a few weeks off of work at the end of the first semester. We wrapped up semester one at the end of September and a few days later everyone was spread out across Asia. This time, the destinations among Thida teachers included Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, and for me and my husband, China.

Earlier this year, Eric and I traveled Eastern China, but this time we headed a few hours directly north of Thailand to the province of Yunnan. We were in the mountains almost the entire time, which meant lots of cooler weather. It was a nice change from the sweltering heat and humidity of Thailand. We spent a lot of the trip near the Yunnan-Tibet border hiking and cycling in the mountains. The mountains there were massive, some over 20,000 feet tall, and the views were really incredible.

The whole trip was really enjoyable, and probably one of my favorite trips in Asia so far.IMG_2442 IMG_2760 IMG_2858 IMG_3472

Vacation!

There are 2 days of school left before the October break begins. Everyone is excited for their vacations and having some time out of Surat and away from school. A lot of teachers are traveling around Thailand or going to Indonesia.

I’m flying to Singapore to visit a friend who I worked with in Korea. From there, I’ll be flying to Sri Lanka for some solo travel time. I don’t have much planned but I’m hoping to get out on a blue whale watching tour, which is apparently one of the things to do while visiting. If nothing else, I’m just looking forward to some time to relax and read a book on a beach. Unfortunately, I think I’ll be fighting with monsoon season. Either way, I’m happy to have some time to myself in the near future.

(Already) Time for Another Great Vacation!

Kristin and I moved here almost a year and a half ago, and our first semester flew by so fast. Before we knew it, we were looking at 2+ months off in Southeast Asia. We took full advantage, seeing tons of Thailand, as well as Vietnam, Malaysia, and Singapore. It was an amazing vacation. We came back to Thida, worked hard for a somewhat longer semester, then took off on another 3 week trip to Indonesia. Less than 2 months later, we were able to spend over a week in Cambodia at Christmas. And now it’s already time for our next big break.

Someone mentioned today at school how great teaching is because of the sense of completion. Not only do students finish a level, but there’s a nice chunk of time off for both teachers and kids to look forward to at the end. Friday is our last day of school for over 2 months. Some teachers are moving away (*tear). Most of us who are staying, though, are taking advantage of this time to adventure off to new places, visit family and friends, and recharge for next year. 

Kristin and I decided to split our break between visiting back home and traveling through China. First we’re spending a few days at beautiful Thai beaches, then it’s time to fly back to the states. We’re really excited to head home in about a week, see our families, eat tons of Mexican food, and get reverse culture-shocked by America. After about a month there, we’ll fly to China and… do who knows what. China things, I suppose. We’re pretty pumped about going there as well. It’s been near the top of my list of places I really want to see for a while, and while a month is nowhere near long enough to see that much of it, we’ll get a nice taste.

Two school days left, and then we’re on the road yet again!

Christmas in Cambodia

I’m sure you’ve heard it before and I’m sure you’ll hear it again – one of the biggest perks of working at Thida is getting at least a week and a half or so off for Christmas and New Years. Most other schools in town only get New Years off, and my friends that work for other agencies and Thai schools are always jealous of this big chunk of holiday time.

For Christmas break, my husband and I were planning to go to Koh Lipe, an island off the west coast of Thailand, just about as far south as you can get before you hit Malaysia, but the break had other plans in store for us and we had to change our plans after having a spill on our motorbike right after the last day of school before the break. Nothing too bad, but we ended up with just enough scrapes and road rash to make scuba diving, snorkeling, and any contact with salt water sound like a terrible idea.

We ended up going to Cambodia and had a great time! We toured the magnificent temples of Angkor Wat, learned about the daunting history of the Khmer Rouge in Phnom Phen, visited lots of cool markets, ate lots of delicious Cambodian food, and spent more than a fair share of time on long bus rides over terribly paved roads. Oh, and we found DR. PEPPER in Cambodia at a little convenience store with Western foods. Who would have guessed?!

One of my favorite things about living in Thailand is how so many incredible places are right at my fingertips. Our plans to go to a beautiful tropical island didn’t work out, so we just hopped on a train and a few buses to Cambodia and got to see the largest religious monument in the world. Pretty awesome stuff.

sunrise over Angkor Wat on Christmas morning

sunrise over Angkor Wat on Christmas morning

 

Eating Snake in Hanoi (Oh Boy!) — by Catherine

Y’all will probably never believe it, but I ate a live beating snake heart in Vietnam.  It all started when my friends from Portland and I were walking to the bus station in Hanoi.  We were stopped on the way by a drunken Vietnamese man whose birthday was that day.  He wanted us to drink Bia Hoi (brewed daily Vietnamese beer) with him and when we said we were on our way to the bus station, he literally walked over, picked us up one at a time and sat us down an the table with him and his friends. In Vietnam, it seems to be the thing that a lot of the outdoor tables and chairs are about kindergarten size and you’re constantly sitting
with your knees raised and trying not to fall off the tiny little plastic stools on which your bum is perched.

We end up drinking with the birthday boy and his friends for a few hours, getting completely hammered.  One of his friends works for the American Embassy and kept telling us that everything was okay and not to feel unsafe, which was nice  The birthday boy was a cab driver and when we were talking about going to eat snake, he offered to give us a ride.  By the time we decided to go, we were all plastered, including the birthday boy.  So we got into the cab with the guy who worked at the embassy, as he seemed to be the only sober one.

We had to drive a little bit outside of the main part of Hanoi to get to it.  When we got there, my friend didn’t think we were really there until we saw the restaurant’s sign that had a snake on it.  Going into the restaurant, you enter into the basement
where they keep the snakes.  On the left was a large cage housing a bunch of long green snakes, and on the right were a lot of little cages with individual cobras in them.  They took one of the cobras out and were making it dance.  We ended up choosing one of the green snakes because it was cheaper.

After choosing your snake, they kill it right in front of you, take out the heart and put it on a plate where you can watch it continue beating.  Then, they pour blood into a cup and bile into 2 separate cups.  Next, we headed upstairs to the actual restaurant area.  Here, they brought up the plate with the still beating heart, and the blood and bile.  They mixed the blood and bile with rice wine, so we were taking shots of that.  Then, they put the heart in a shot glass with rice wine and I took that one!  I tried to feel it still beating in my throat, but I couldn’t.

The restaurant then cooked us about 8-10 different kinds of snake
dishes, continuously bringing them out throughout the night, every one of them were absolutely delicious!  We were also drinking snake whiskey, which is whiskey infused with a whole snake.  I think we drank 1 1/2 bottles between 5 of us. It was a pretty epic night!

Hit the Road, Jack

Friday was our last day of the school year at Thida. It was a fun day, filled with games, fruit-giving, and “thank-you-teacha-goodbye”s. I have enjoyed this last semester a lot. I had so much fun teaching the 3rd graders and I’m looking forward to moving up to 4th grade with them next year. But as much as I’ve liked teaching, I’m super stoked about the 2+ month vacation I’m now staring in the face!

This week on the agenda is Koh Samui and Khanom for some lazy days at the beach. Next week Kristin and I will head out to meet my family for their Thailand visit. Markets in Bangkok, ruins in Ayutthaya, more beaches and snorkeling in Koh Phi Phi and Phuket, night trains, longtail boats, and plenty of culinary exploration are all on the agenda. Next comes our trip to Vietnam – 3 1/2 weeks working our way from Sapa, Hanoi, and Halong Bay up north to Hue and Hoi An and then on to Ho Chi Minh down south. Then straight on to Chiang Mai for what will be a ridiculously epic 3 days for Songkran. After that, we’re hitting up Singapore and Malaysia and island-hopping / beach camping around Thailand until we have to report back for school.

The extensive time off to travel all around this area was one of the major draws for us in moving here. The break is here and I’m ready to hit the road!