In April of 2013, Erika and I were fortunate to visit Laos, Cambodia and Thailand. We already made a post, telling some of our favorite stories from our time in Laos as well as the fun realization that Tad Jumps Off Everything. Both are worth your time. We now want to share a few more stories from our South East Asia travel experiences, starting with a quick video.
Just like many of the photos, there are so many hints to stories in this video. We’d love to tell all of them, but are going to pick out a couple favorites, but don’t hesitate to ask if you want to see more.
Joe: After our almost 2 week tour of Laos, Megan, Tad, Erika and I flew to Siem Reip, Camobdia. We actually bought the plane tickets the day before we flew (never done that before) and got through the Cambodian customs in 10 minutes (it is a real benefit to travel with experienced travelers). The hotel we had arranged was supposed to pick us up at the airport, but when the Tuk Tuk came to pick us up (along with another traveler), it became apparent that we weren’t going to fit. So, Tad and I spent our first hour in the country standing by the highway. I’m sure that 2 gargantuan white guys standing by the side of the road was a fun sight for all who drove by.
Photo by Megan
Erika: When Joe and I decided to go visit Megan and Tad, I knew we were only going to be a country away from the Ankor Complex. Ankor Wat and the surrounding buildings has always fascinated me. How did they make such elaborate carvings and complex structures? How did they come up with such intricate irrigation systems, stretching over 390 square miles and travel between all the complexes? It is astounding to think that such a huge civilization thrived, conquered and then diminished, all back before 1450AD, leaving behind these massive structures to be rediscovered so much later. It is awe inspiring.
Joe: My hat is still off to our awesome travel guides, hosts and awesomeness finders.
Photo by Tad
Joe: Through my world travels, I have been lucky to visit a fair amount of ancient sites. Whether those be Mayan ruins in Mexico or Incan in Peru. Angkor Wat was on a different level when it came to size. Even now, I can barely fathom the sheer size of this complex and the effort that went into creating it. The structures were built using limestone that was floated down the river from quarries up stream. Once in place, the stones were rubbed together until the steams were totally removed, turning them into single stones for the amazingly talented artisans to carve on. For two days, we were able to be driven around by the best Tuk Tuk driver ever and were able to avoid the crowds.
Photo by Tad
Photo by Tad
Erika: Sunrises and sunsets have always been important moments for me. I love taking the time to watch the sun set. Not only are you watching something beautiful, you are slowing down, breathing in fresh air and relaxing. So, naturally we went to watch the sunset from the only structure in the Ankor complex on a hill. The remaining . It was hot, crowded, and completely exposed. Not the PNW serene experience, but something equally as awesome. There must have been 200 people up on top of the temple, all just waiting for the beating sun to fall below the horizon. And it was worth the wait. It was a beautiful sunset and special to witness it with that many fellow sun lovers.
Photo by Tad
Erika: The next morning we got up super early to watch the sun rise. Everyone else who had the same idea was gathered before this semi dried up pond in front of the actual Ankor Wat structure. It was supposed to be the most beautiful and picturesque spot to watch the sun rise. But none of us felt like waiting around with all those camera happy people, jostling for position, so instead we just went inside the temple walls. So incredibly glad we did. We were among the very few visitors who ventured inside at that hour and had the entire place more or less to ourselves. It was a surreal hour where we got to wander around, exploring the structures and watch the sunlight slowly warm the stones.
Joe: As a photographer, preparedness is the key to success. To be prepared, you need to have systems, but the key is to never break those systems. I say this because I did exactly that on our first day in Angkor, which meant I carried around a dead 5D MkIII for a full day. I have covers for my camera batteries that I put on when batteries are full and take off when they’re dead. On the first day, the battery in the camera was almost dead, but I knew I had another. When it came time to switch, I did that, only to see the device not turn on. Horror struck, it hit me that I had put the cover back on a dead battery at some point in the trip (probably to make sure I didn’t lose it). Moral of the story, spend that extra 3 minutes before you leave, so you’re not stuck in an ancient site without power.
But, once I had power again, I was a kid in a candy store. There are so many angles, textures and colors in this World Heritage Site. I enjoyed that all four of us were able to move away from the classic tourist centers (for the most part) and really find our own spots. I even was able to talk Erika into posing for me. It was fun to put such a beautiful woman in a beautiful place. She felt super awkward, but it was a fun time for us all.
Joe: This is one of my favorite photos from the trip. Buddhist monks are everywhere in SE Asia, but as we walked around the top of the main Angkor Wat temples, I really felt as if I was living in their world. It felt like I was living in National Geographic. We had worked hard to time our movement to avoid what the “normal” traveler was doing. We went inside the Wat at sunrise and again in the afternoon, when the throngs of tourists were elsewhere. To stand in these ancient buildings with these gentelmen, just felt right.
To top it off, Tad stuck up a conversation with them. They were all astounded by his height and he just wanted to have fun. They even asked me to take a photo with their cameras of the group with the huge guy. In my mind, it beautifully juxtaposed the serene aura that the orange robes give off with the real humans who wear them. It wasn’t a static glossy page from my middle school library, but real, living emotion.
Erika: Border crossing is always stressful. Going across the Cambodian/Thai border was no exception. We planned as well as we could, got up super early, took a taxi 2 hours to the border and still had to wait like cattle in a pen for 2+ hours to get to the immigration authorities. BUT. All those moments of frustration and anxiety rapidly flew from my mind as soon as we landed on our little tropical island called Ko Mak off the coast of Thailand. It was paradise. The water was warm, the beach was sandy, the fresh seafood delicious. It was the perfect way to end an amazing trip with some of our best friends…
…and then we went night swimming. We had already gone snorkeling in the afternoon, and were exuberant with all the beautiful tropical fish that we had seen. We had come back to the island, ate some delicious food, drank some refreshing Chang Beers, and thought what better way to end the night than with a refreshing dip in the ocean! So we did. Tad and Megan were first in the water, followed quickly by Joe. I ran in after Joe and went to dive into the still, perfectly warm water and got the shock of my life. Literally. The most painful, searing, shocking sensation coursed over my body. Turns out, when I dove in, I landed right on top of a Jelly Fish. I tell myself it must have been a huge one, but truthfully, I have no idea how big it was, because it was a dark night and I couldn’t see a thing. After a moment of terror (I may or may not have shrieked) I came stumbling out of the water, followed quickly by the three others. We had traveled down the beach quite a bit to have our privacy, so had a long walk back down to civilization. I was shaking, crying, not sure if it was a poisonous jelly or not. Joe went sprinting up the beach to find some vinegar (yes, vinegar is the right way to clean stings… no peeing!!) from one of the jelly fish stations and we walked up to a restaurant where they helped me clean out the stings and rub some miracle leaves that Tad and the bar owner foraged for in the bushes. All ended well and I just had some long tentacle marks across my arms and torso for a few weeks. May have ended my love of night swimming in the ocean, but not my fascination with Jelly Fish and their power!!
Joe: On our second day on the Island, we headed out for a day of snorkeling. That is still an amazing experience. I guess it is because that is so foreign to us, as land dwellers. The idea of being under water, to see clearly and still breathe blows our minds. As a bearded man, I even remembered to shave a little space below my nose so the mask would make a good seal. I think there might still be water in my nose from our honeymoon when I didn’t think to do this.
But, the snorkeling was amazing. Our charter was just us and a French couple with their child. We went to a national park, which was teeming with fish and Chinese tourists. I actually swam under someone’s dog. Though we did have to actively avoid being kicked in the face, it was incredible to get below the waves, inspect the colors along the sea floor.
Joe: On our last day, Erika was sick and couldn’t really leave the hotel. I felt bad, but wanted one more photographic excursion. I love getting to know a space, camera in hand. I walked from our hostel and explored a little. I love finding real life when I travel. I don’t know how to put a finger on that, but it really excites me to see people living in their normal world, oblivious to my intrusion. In that walk, I saw a gila monster, many stores, street carts selling things I didn’t recognize, innumerable 7-Elevens, but mostly people living their lives.
We have so many mores stories from these weeks which we want to tell, but will also continue to influence our lives. Like so many other places on this planet, I have a soft spot for these 3 lovely countries and pray that I will get to visit there again. In the meantime, We’re also on the lookout for our next big adventure.