24 hours to Cambodia, 2013

I spent my final winter break of college on a trip through Cambodia and Vietnam with my mom. Getting to Siem Reap was unimaginably exhausting, especially having just flown from Boston to Los Angeles 3 days prior.

taoyuan

From LA to Taipei it was 14 hours of sleeping uncomfortably, waking up with neck cramps, drowsily shoveling airplane food down, and crocheting a beard hat to keep myself from getting motion sickness. I could not have been happier for a 90-minute layover in Taoyuan Airport. This place is beautiful now! Free food samples everywhere, pull-out workstations with unlimited free Internet, and even a digital library where you can read e-books using iPads.

After discovering the glorious taste of a flaky pastry with taro and mochi filling, it was off to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, for our second layover. Three-and-a-half hours later, we landed for another 2 hour layover.

hcm airport

Mum and I encountered some of the most stone-faced airline representatives when we arrived and didn’t know how to get to the transfer gates. Every attempt to catch their attention failed; none of the 5 women sitting at the desk, scrolling through random pages on their computers, bothered to look up for the 5 awkwardly silent minutes we stood at the front of the line. It was only after loudly stating my question did I make eye contact with the woman in front. She shooed us towards the right direction with annoyed brows and a frown.

Annnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnd Siem Reap! Finally! After another 90 minute flight from Ho Chi Minh, we were able to put an end to hauling around our backpacks and rest our bloodshot eyes.

siemreapairport

The airport at Siem Reap was adorably small and tropical. Palm trees and hibiscus flowers adorned the entire pathway to the terminal. We were tricked by the immigration officer into paying $10 for the both of us. Ah, bribery. Apparently it’s illegal, but the immigration officers still do it since they figure that tourists caught off guard will pay up anyway. Walking through customs went really smoothly; there weren’t any officials to take our Customs Declaration cards. In fact, all the cards went straight into the trash bag (literally). There was a pile of 3-4 extra large garbage bags full of declaration cards.

sofitel

Our hotel, Sofitel Angkor Phokeethra, for the next 3 nights was an unexpected paradise. Fruiting palms, bananas and coconuts ripe for picking off the trees, and soft, billowing, white curtains.

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The pool was amazing; it flowed under bridges and wrapped around small islands and gently sloped up to the deck. There was a pool bar that you could swim right up to and ask for a fresh, green coconut to be cracked open and to sip out of.

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The hotel served complimentary, iced lemongrass tea in a martini glass that you drank out of a straw of fresh lemongrass. After an arduous journey and one of the most challenging college semesters, this was just what I needed.

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Jiuzhaigou (2), China 2010

tiantang

My recommendation is the InterContinental Resort Jiuzhai Paradise, 九寨天堂九寨天堂.  Paradise indeed. Wonderfully spacious rooms–bigger than any you would stay in Europe, Japan, or the States. We had a living room and patio that opened up to a stunning view of the mountains.

The architecture is wonderfully ambitious, with a biosphere of sorts serving as its lobby (if I remember correctly). There are small rivers that run through the dome with colorful waterfowl waddling about to complement the surrounding forestry and a stone “village” that wraps around the dome’s perimeter.

tiantang2For dinner we had what is called “養生” [yang sheng], or a “healthy” hot pot dinner. “菌煲” [jun bao] translates to “fungus pot”. A wild mushroom stew, basically. The broth was brewed with Chinese herbs and medicine. A very woodsy/earthy and hearty meal. My mom and I were limited in our hot pot pickings, e.g. cabbage, dates, some taro, an egg or two, but those who weren’t vegetarian had choices of different marbled meats and even seafood!

Our one night in Jiuzhaigou concluded with an unforgettable performance showcasing traditional Tibetan music, dance, and storytelling. 藏迷 [zang mi], or “Tibetan Mystery” is the name of the show if you’re interested in doing something in the evening at Jiuzhaigou. The heroine of 藏迷 is Old Ma, a woman from Jiuzhaigou who dreams of visiting Lhasa.

zangmi

Accompanied by only her pet sheep, Old Ma prostrates herself every 3 steps of the way to Lhasa. She finally reaches Lhasa after 3 years but unfortunately perishes in a snowstorm and is sent into the spirit world for judgement. The most touching portion of the show for me was how closely and dearly she held her sheep near her death and how the sheep never left her side. Old Ma moved on to endure tests by various gods and spirits, and is eventually found to have accumulated enough good karma to enter “heaven”.

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藏迷 is a visual feast: so many beautiful costumes and so much wonderful dancing. My favorite was the “yak dance”, although I hear it isn’t actually a traditional Tibetan dance. It was a cute couples’ dance between the women and men that the mushy-gushy person in me really enjoyed. The music is wonderfully surreal, with the women hitting notes so high that I was amazed it was within my human hearing range. Overall, an absolutely otherworldly experience and my advice is to go if you still have energy at the end of the day!