Monday, September 17, 2012


With all the crazy drivers and seeing a tour bus on its side in a ditch, we were very grateful to have made it safely to the Thai/Cambodia border.  The process at the border took us about 1+ hours of waiting in line to both exit Thailand, and enter Cambodia.  I was relieved to see our driver who unfortunately had been waiting for us for hours.  I felt bad, but they said they are used to waiting for their clients.  We were then escorted onto a bus that was about a 10 minute ride to a bus station where people can meet up again with their hired drivers.  I found out if you hire a driver, that they cannot take their own vehicle to the Cambodian border and park.  Below is a small video I took on our bus ride.  Its hilarious if you can view it.

The scenery in Cambodia was nice and rural.   It took about 2 hours along the countryside to drive from the border to where we were staying in Siem Reap.  We stayed in a nice hotel that had very nice rooms, a great pool, excellent customer service and a superb breakfast buffet each morning.

Angkor Wat.

We decided to hire a guide and driver for our 1 day to Angkor Wat.  The one day pass to Angkor Wat is $20 for adults, and kids 11 and under were free.  The temples were spectacular.  We went to Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm and to Angkor Thom.  There is so much history and the places are so old its hard to fathom, but having a guide to explain things to us was nice.  The pictures we took don't even do these temples justice.  Although it was scorching hot and humid, I think we all mostly enjoyed ourselves.

'Tomb Raider''at Ta Prohm.
"Faces" in Angkor Thom.
The day after going to Angkor Wat, we hired our guide again and he took us on a Tuk Tuk tour around Siem Reap.  He took us to an indoor market, to a Silk Farm, to one of the small 'Killing Fields', and to Cambodian Village. This day was busy and hot.  Unfortunately, Danton started feeling sick at Cambodian Village, so we cut our tour short.  We think it was the flu, because Justin also ended up with similar symptoms a couple days later.  Overall, Cambodian was full of very sweet people, good food, and a good time.

Performers at Cambodian Village

You can become a monk at age 10.
Killing Fields Monument.

Petrol is being sold on the side of the road.  It is very expensive.
We even saw a family of 4 on the same bike.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Conquering the Mountain

On August 19th, me along with a busload of others, started our 2 day journey to climb Mt. Fuji.  I wasn't worried about doing the trek without my family because I figured I'd meet new acquaintances on the tour.  I knew I was more prepared than I was last year since I had a better attitude, trekking poles, two cans of oxygen, my IPOD, and beautiful weather.  I was ready to conquer this mountain once and for all!

Beautiful weather for the climb.  Happy there was no rain this time!
By the time the bus pulled into the 5th Station at Mt. Fuji, it was close to 10am.  The temperature was comfortable, the trail had few climbers on it and I think it was a perfect time to climb.  I started and climbed with the same few people most of the day, but I wouldn't say it was any easier this year.  The one thing that made a difference was not having any time constraints.  

With a nice leisurely pace, many of us arrived at Fuji-San Hotel (the 8th Station) by 4pm.  The hut where we were sleeping in was cozy.  It was like having a big co-ed sleepover.  There were two levels of bunks and people were to sleep right next to each other.  Many people were resting as soon as they arrived to the hut, but others ordered food (curry, ramen, etc) and drink.  The ramen and beer were a good treat after making it to the 8th Station.  I was just happy I made it this far!!!   

The cozy sleeping quarters.
Lights out was at 8pm, and I couldn't sleep.  I didn't come equipped with earplugs, or my IPAD, so I was literally tossing and turning for hours.  Between the snoring, being too hot, and anticipating the remainder of the climb, 1am couldn't come soon enough.  The night before, our tour guide suggested to many of us that we could take the bulldozer route to the summit.  He said it would be less-crowded than the main trail.   I was worried I would be taking the easy-way-out, but our guide said that there is no easy way to climb to the top of Fuji-san.

So, at 1:30am, a number of us set out on the bulldozer trail.  Man, was it cold but the view was one of the most spectacular sights I've ever seen in my life.  You could see the city lights as far away as Tokyo.  With one foot in front of the other, the thin air, the body slowly warming up, and a slew of others wanting to conquer the mountain, we managed to make it to the summit by 3:30am.  I was beyond elated to see the torii gate before me!!

With a little less than two hours until sunrise, it was hard to stay warm.  It was absolutely freezing. Luckily, they have vending machines, vendors that sell hot cocoa, and have warm food to pass the time.  The shrine that stamps the walking sticks didn't open until 4am, so once we finished that, we walked around with hundreds of other people trying to find a good place to view the sunrise.  

Top of Mt. Fuji just after sunrise.

The sunrise was worth the climb.  It was beautiful and you could see clouds hovering below.  Once we got a peek at the crater, we decided to head down the mountain.  Many people don't like the trek down, but the trekking poles were a tremendous help this time.  I made it back to the 5th station in less than 3 hours.  I was really enjoying myself and my accomplishment even though my camera battery died.  I am relieved to have this climb behind me, and am grateful for the friendships I made along the way.  

Friday, September 7, 2012

Visiting Thailand


Uncle Scott at The Dangerous Market.
I know that many of you have been waiting to hear about our trip to Thailand and Cambodia this summer.  Honestly, I've needed up until now to process exactly how I felt about it and to write about it in a way non-offensive way.  What I do know is that I was the one who planned our itinerary and dragged the family to the  various places knowing that we may encounter some unpleasant situations.  We'll, let's just say that it didn't disappoint....we got more than we bargained for.  Overall, I think that the trip was an eye-opener which isn't a bad thing no matter what age.  Here are some of the highlights of our Thai adventure:

Floating Market
  • We stayed in Siam Square which was pretty decent.  Easy to get taxis, tuk tuks, and our hotel was a block from the Sky Train.  
  • Beware of motorized vehicles (buses, taxis, POV's, tuk tuks, mopeds, motorcycles, etc)  when you are on foot because the Thai drive like maniacs.  I've never seen so much chaos with motorized vehicles in my life.  Tailgating and speeding are normal. For instance, our drive from Bangkok to the Cambodian border was one of the scariest experiences of my life.  
  • Browsing does not exist in Thailand.  We were hit up at the markets, on the beach, for massages, on the street...for everything.  Use your imagination.  The Thai's do not discriminate on age, gender, etc.  
  • Bargain at the markets, for tuk tuk, taxis, you name it.  We walked away from a Tuk Tuk driver who gave us a cheap price, but wanted to take us to a Tailor Shop en route to China Town.  There are a lot of scams in Thailand regarding gem shops and tailors.  I think we dodged a couple bullets.  
  • There are often times no seat belts in tour vans or taxis.  When we went on a day tour with our lovely tour guide "A" to the floating market outside of Bangkok, we were flying down the highway without seat belts on.  Such a strange feeling since the U.S. is so safety conscious.  
  • You can't wear leggings as pants (if you're a female) to visit the Grand Palace.  My tour guide rented a sarong/skirt for me from a street vendor.
  • There are an abundance of 7-11 stores in Thailand.  This was helpful when we needed to get some Baht out of the ATM.
  • The food vendors pretty much close up shop by 10pm.  So strange to see empty sidewalks, and so early.
  • I know that the Baht is cheaper than the yen, but I didn't think that we saved a lot of money in Thailand...especially with all the tipping we had to do with our drivers, tour guides, etc.
  • We found out after the fact that the area we stayed in was not the best.  I picked the location because of its proximity to the beach, shopping and restaurants.  This was not good investigation on my part.  If you ever visit this area....especially with a family, stay in North Pattaya, in Jomtien Beach area, or don't bother.  As much as the guide books say that this area is getting better for families, its not.  I'm not prudish, and am pretty open-minded, but this would be a place for a person without children, say in their 20's.
  • We couldn't relax on the beach because of all the people hitting us up for Jet-ski's, massage, food, etc.  It was pretty bothersome, but in reality, this is how the people make their income....from tourists.
  • If you don't stay in a secure hotel, or at a resort, be prepared to hear screaming, domestic violence and prostitutes outside your door at around 4:30-5:00am.  This happened to us two different hotels.  We came to the conclusion that this behavior is a strategy for the prostitutes to get more money before they leave.
  • We did go on a nice dive/snorkeling boat for the day.  The water wasn't clear like in Guam or Hawaii, but we did see some fish, I heard the lunch was good (I was seasick and spent the latter part of the trip laying down on the boat), and our Australian guide was great.
  • We rode on a Songthaew (a mini-truck taxi) which was pretty cool.  You still need to barter with the price before getting in the vehicle.
  • We had a great driver named Adisak that came from Bangkok to pick us up and return us to our hotel  in Bangkok.  It is very popular to hire a driver or a van in Thailand for a set price.


Although we had a few rough patches in Thailand, it still hasn't deterred us from wanting to see more of what the country has to offer.  Chaing Mai in Northern Thailand is supposed to be beautiful as well as Phuket and other islands nearby.  I am bound and determined for us to have another Thai vacation that includes some much needed R & R.  I'm hoping to combine it with a trip to Malaysia, but we'll see.