Pen On Pen // Phnom Penh

Roadtrips have a strange beauty to them..

It is very rare that travelers who venture to South East Asia get to experience the open roads within each country let alone the ones that connect to their neighbours. Admittedly, I understood why. Vietnam-Cambodia buses are by no means the quickest mode of transport. The routes are however, habitually traveled by locals, and having an insight by the lovely Kim from Ho Chi Minh City really helped. Although we did not reach Cambodia by any faster means, we did however, travel in pure luxury with both Vietnamese and Cambodian nationals. It took a good few hours with multiple stops, strange roadside treats and an explicitly confusing border which left us without our passports for majority of the journey; but I would not have traded a single kilometer on the road for a mile in the sky.

Roadtrips have a strange beauty in that the landscapes change with each kilometer traveled, this journey in particular revealed the vast social, economic and political differences that separate Cambodia from Vietnam, apart from the obvious border crossing – its very unique journey to experience.

“There are far, far better things that lie ahead, than any we leave behind.”

C.S. Lewis

I had this illusion of Cambodia being an almost carbon copy of Vietnam, but these two countries have no comparison. I’ve seen some pretty busy cities along my travels and although Phnom Penh is not the most populated place, it feels populated because there is just so much happening within each square meter of this unpronounceable capital city. Its a wonderful sort of busy, the kind that makes walking around 5km and up countless stairs in rain and humidity with 39°C and a heavy backpack within the first hour of arriving, worth it.

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Our couple days in Phnom Penh were spent with endlessly special tales of Cambodian history and its citizens through their beautiful people and memorial sites. Choeung Ek, just outside of Phnom Penh is a bittersweet place to start. It is completely depressing, there is no way around it but it gives you a good understanding of exactly how much the Cambodian people have overcome in recent history  and why they are such a beautiful nation that has grown from the worst of the worst to somehow still smile and be so unbelievably respectful to fellow humans. This quality was seen in each Cambodian I had the pleasure of speaking with over delicious food and along long walks in the city – and its a quality that paved the way for my inevitable love for this beautiful country and its people.

Phnom Penh is dotted with some seriously gorgeous architecture and national monuments. Within a small radius near the lake you are able to spot all the notable buildings often seen attached to Phnom Penh. Being the people Sharzy and I are however, we obviously went off of the notable list and ventured into the unknown. Local markets left us slightly less hungry and Buddhist monasteries left us amazed yet, bizarrely confused (if you find yourself in Phnom Penh and able to find the door beneath the Sanskrit pictured below – you will understand why I look as though I’m walking away from one of the strangest yet best experiences of my life).

Pen On Pen//Phnom Penh, you were a beautiful chaotic city of life and history.

Next stop, Siem Reap.

Ho Chi Minh City // Saigon

After our final Skype, we worked out that I would be arriving in Vietnam a whole 10 hours before Sharzy did. Essentially I won the pleasure of spending an extra day of wondering around, making friends and dying of heat.

As I said, I really didn’t have any expectations of Ho Chi Minh City. I didn’t even Google it to see what it looked like. Honestly, I didn’t really know much about Vietnam in general so after landing there, everything was like a huge surprise. The entire ride from the airport to my guesthouse was spent peering out of the back window with eyes of wonder like a child discovering buildings, people and transport for the first time. In some way, I had the guilty/naive thought that Vietnam would be similar to India but man oh man, was I wrong. Just because they are both in Asia, the fact they are completely different in their cultures, government and geographical locations – there is literally no basis for comparison.

I remember the first four things that came into my mind within driving for about 20 minutes.

  1. This city is seriously, almost ridiculously, too clean.
  2. There are far less people here than I had imagined there to be
  3. They have some really smooth roads (I think that’s just something only a South African would notice almost immediately)
  4. Its hotter than the Thar desert

I booked us in a guesthouse called Kim Hotel. It’s run by a lady named Kim, who is about the most beautiful grandmother I had ever met (she looked like she was about 30 years years old), also she speaks fantastic English and loves to talk to her guests. The rooms are bright and big, with an aircon and fan, an en-suite bathroom and windows that can open (trust me some places don’t care much for air). There is even a balcony right at the top of the hotel with a little garden and table. Its situated perpendicular to one of the most famous backpacking streets – so literally the location is about perfect for solo travelers because everything is within walking distance.

 

I was sitting in the lobby when Kevin, Rachel and Chris walked in with a guitar and some music equipment. Between the quick chats, I found out that that Kevin is a musician (if you’re in Ho Chi Minh, go check him live, he’s an awesome fusion of folk and country and rap). They were on their way to a bar in another part of the city for a gig. Naturally I tagged along and quite frankly, nothing quite beats the night life in Ho Chi Minh. Its a city bursting with talent, culture and fun. Its almost a fusion of East and West and its a kind of vibe that can’t really be described – I walked a large part of it between each gig and got to notice all the small things while on foot.

Keeping true to being the hungry friend, I ate some amazing traditional Vietnamese street food on the way to one of the gigs closer to the guesthouse. It was Rachel’s recommendation and I was not disappointed. For like 30 000 VDN we ate like royalty although we literally sat on the ground because street chairs aren’t really taller than 15 cm. But hey, when in Vietnam. . .

I absolutely loved tagging around with a band for the day that turned into night because they were an absolute blast; we drank beers, we danced and we sang, it was a perfect first day in a foreign country. After all this adventuring, I managed to make it back just in time to welcome Sharzy! Although at 11pm, the backpacking scene in Ho Chi Minh is still not close to closing.

From Cambodia to Vietnam

Re-united after 4 years. Here begins the the tale of how Sharzy and Karina backpacked two South East Asian countries with zero plans other than flight tickets to Ho Chi Minh and another from Angkor to Hanoi. . .

Like any tale worthy of being told, you need a good place to start and looking back, Vietnam was a little over-qualified for the job.

I’m not sure which story made this trip turn out to be one of my favourite backpacking trips of all time but it could be,

  1. How we accidentally broke a world record in Angkor Wat;
  2. The fates which led us to meeting some of the most incredible humans;
  3. Ways in which you can order the most descriptive thing on the menu to avoid disappointment but yet still somehow manage to gag a little and perhaps cry.
  4. How a simple Sanskrit sentence led us to the finding of one actual Buddha eyebrow hair;
  5. But definitely maybe (for certain) the tale of how two girls broke every single cardinal rule of travelling in Vietnam.

I can say that I have never found a more bizarre place to travel. Bizarre in the sense I had absolutely no expectation but somehow everything still managed to exceed the idea of expectation.

Our tales are numerous and I have no choice but to share some of our day to day adventures, because quite frankly its another part of the world that managed to steal a part of my heart.

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Ooty to Coonoor to Ooty

Adventure?

Of course!

That nine letter word pretty much dictates my life. South India is definitely place for a little wanderer like me to do a bit of adventuring.

A random decision one Sunday to part-take in some local sight-seeing, tea picking and trekking ended up being one of my favourite days. I would definitely never say no to a roadtrip and one in India on a bus with random Indian families… I almost couldn’t wait to step foot on my adventure ride. As South Africans would say, “local is lekker” and being the only foreigner on my bus was definitely the best way to see some Southern Indian beauty.

Arriving late, to the bus stop and then being greeted by a man with a cloth as pants. I almost wondered what I got myself into, but once he politely ordered the man sitting on the front seat to move so that me (the foreigner) could sit right near him, I knew that I’d be well taken care of. The language was a bit of an issue but my driver who also doubled as my sole tour guide, photographer, driving companion and lunch date was actually pretty awesome.

I literally managed to see everything Ooty to Coonoor has to offer in 8.5 hours.

It was definitely an adventure to remember!

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My ride // “the boss”

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Front row seat

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Lookout just outside Ooty

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Trekking in style

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Lamb’s Rock

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Lamb’s Rock

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Doddabetta

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Singara Tea Garden

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Plantation fields

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Government Botanical Gardens

((Posts of each place coupled with tales and photos will be published soon))

South India || February ’16

People as Places

Visiting a new place is like seeing the world for the first time. Your eyes search high and low following the natural lines and movement, your heart beats a little faster everytime you feel a new vibe and your nose, hands and taste are in pretty much sensory overload for the entire duration of exploration. But what does it all actually mean?

“All this scrambling around
Hunting high and then low
Looking for the face love
Or somewhere to go
I hardly have places that I need to go
‘Cause you’re the places that I wanted to go”

– Modest Mouse, People as Places

Whenever I visit a new place, be it a different city or country, my experience there is generally based upon the faces I meet. No matter how high or low my senses are explored, my memories of the landscapes and scenery are captured through endless photographs but the feeling within my heart of wanderlust of a certain place is due to the people I meet along the way.

Quite frankly I cannot believe that after five years I’ve finally had the chance to travel back to my favourite place, my beloved India. As I sit writing this in the moon light of this vibrant country, I remember the one question I get asked by locals and foreigners all too often “why do you love India so much? “.

The unique culture, the food, the vibrancy, the feeling of being somewhere completely foreign, the noise, the landscape, the history are generally the responses travellers who loved India will give. On the other hand you get those travellers who completely loathed the place for those reasons.

However for me, the answer is simple, it’s the people. Once you fall in love with the people you notice every detail of the landscape and culture and that’s when you really experience and fall in love with the country itself.

The hospitable nature of Indian people is indescribable. It’s one of those things that I can’t ever find the words to properly explain. It’s only something you can choose to fully embrace if you allow yourself to be in situations where you can openly interact with the people. I don’t believe in travelling where you stay in fancy places, with on site restaurants, tourist agency organised shuttles and tours. If you really want to experience the country, do as the locals do and go where the locals go.

As overwhelming as that sounds, because I can assure you that you are literally throwing yourself in the deep end, the experience you gain will be nothing short of an adventure.

I’ve had the opportunity to do some pretty crazy things in India ranging from living in the desert with the most beautiful family to running a guesthouse in Agra. Travelling by third class seating in trains to riding on the back of a new friends motorbike. Eating lunch within the homes of new faces is always something special to me and the offering of tea by strangers is always welcomed in my hands. Over the five years since my last stay I’ve come to love this place for countless reasons and this trip has been no different. I really don’t even know where to begin because although I’ve only been here two weeks the stories are numerous and I’d be writing for days. I’ve been lucky because my searching high and low, while met with unforgettable landscapes, architecture and cityscapes of India have actually been obscured by some beautiful faces that I have without a doubt fallen in love with over the past weeks.

Although my experience in 2016 is every ounce unique and different to my first in 2011, my memory of India hasn’t waivered, it’s only made me realise that this is the place I’m always meant to be, because the people for me are the place.

Ooty, India || February 2016

Roadtrippin’

My goal to do more adventuring came around sooner than expected. A spontaneous little roadtrip adventure yesterday to Nelspruit with the best friend-ship turned out to be my first adventure of 2016.

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Those who know me well enough, know that I will never, and I mean never pass up the opportunity to be driven around. Whether it be to the shop down the road or a random location which requires a highway drive, you will always have a co-pilot if I’m around. However, I don’t think you really realise how far a place is until you drive there and back within the same day. But our journey to Nelspruit was a little different as we were driving in the actual Flash mobile, coupled with the best company, all the laughs, gorgeous views and perfectly timed single stop, the adventure began as soon as we embarked.

Going on roadtrips is honestly one of my favourite things. I don’t know if its the sound of the of the car over the tar or the idea of going from one place to another, but it’s lovely. I tend to always look out the window and get little thrills every time I see the landscape change and somehow the random playlist of songs perfectly couples the journey like a soundtrack to a movie. As we pass by other cars, I like to sneak in a little peak at the passengers and wonder to where the road leads their destination. The movement of the clouds and the on and off of shady shadows as you drive between hills and trees makes you feel as though you’re drifting off to somewhere you’re meant to be. Peering out and down onto the dark tar and seeing the flashes of white lines as you accelerate between them.

Roadtripping, its all about the movement and constant moving of everything around you.

Knowing that you’re not stationary but rather in constant motion towards somewhere undiscovered, I think that there is where the thrill lies. Travelling simply for the sake of travelling. To arrive at your destination only to do something random like hug a tree or trek through the heat in search of some of South Africa’s beautiful flora.

That’s the beauty of roadtrips… it’s travelling for the eyes and the body soon follows.

Go find someone fun to roadtrip with and just go – your destination will find itself.

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Thank you to these beautiful people for a day to remember but for now that’s where my roadtripping ends, as my next adventure will be here sooner than time tells.

Nelspruit, South Africa || 2016

 

Two Zero One Six

To see the world, things dangerous to come, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other and to feel. That is the purpose of life.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

As we coast through into the new year, the question to always come up over conversation coupled with cocktails and scrumptious cuisines is “what are your new years resolutions?”

The new year always seems a new opportunity for everyone to initiate change but the real change only comes if you choose to move on from the person you were last year. Its difficult to identify the parts of you that need improvement, call it ego, or downright selfishness, its human nature to think we’re awesome just the way we are. However, I for a fact can say that I will definitely walk into 2016 being no ounce of the person I was in 2015.

Its not about change, its about moving on.

As the world’s worst goal setter because discouragement is real when not all are achieved. Sometimes setting a single goal, one lonely new year resolution for 2016 might just be the way to go . . . for 2016 its, the quote above from The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

Its almost impossible to find the purpose of life but the little to big adventures you take, the risks you make, the lessons you learn, the experiences you put yourself in, the love you fall into, the friendships you make, the heartbreaks you suffer, the places you visit and the little things that inspire you . . . they are all choices you make that get you a little closer to understanding the purpose of your life.

I read a blog post that puts this goal into words. . . its gets a little biblical towards the end but the beginning couldn’t hold more true because over the course of a year people lose the ability to connect with people and the world around, only because you involve yourself with people, things and places that didn’t move you forward but rather kept you stationary.

I don’t want to be stationary, I want to engage. Engage with the world around me and the beautiful people that fill it on a level that makes me feel, draw closer and perhaps maybe even see behind walls. I want to travel further, capture more moments, write more stories and share worlds between with the people I meet along the way.

Here’s to moving on.  With the enthusiasm, plans and opportunities I have for myself, this is the year for adventure, happiness and love.

And I wish nothing less for you.

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Plettenberg Bay, South Africa || January 2016