Crazy Trees, Monks and Chicken Curry

When you think of Cambodia, is the first image that pops into your mind that of a hot and humid jungle of a country, sandwiched between Thailand and Vietnam? Maybe you recall Cambodia with its checkered past, or perhaps it’s simply a country you know very little about. If you or someone you know grew up in the 60’s, perhaps the first thought that comes to mind is a war-torn country that is probably best to avoid altogether — even today. That’s the way it was with this author, until everything changed.

I found myself returning to southeast Asia as the intrigue surrounding Cambodia simply proved to be too much to ignore any longer.

The first thing that is easy to notice is that the people are happy and quick to smile. Long gone of course, are the days of the Vietnam war and fortunately so is the Pol Pot regime with its ugly, inhumane genocidal wave that overran and extinguished the vast majority of the adult population of the country.

But fast-forward to today and one can readily observe those happy, friendly faces that exude tolerance and acceptance. What is also quickly noticed is a rich culture steeped in scenic beauty sprinkled with the mesmerizing sites of ancient, other-worldly architectural wonders. Finally, there is the fabulous and exotic food of the orient, readily available throughout Cambodia for a fraction of the cost that most international travelers find elsewhere.

Cambodia is hot and humid 365 days a year with only 2 seasons – dry and rainy. The best time to visit Cambodia is during the dry season which runs from the months of October through April. Be sure to take a walking tour along the Siem Reap river that runs through town. You will find it shaded on both sides by huge trees that kindly offer their shade as you take the sidewalks along the river towards your destination while enjoying the natural beauty along the way.

The wet or monsoon season comes in May and lasts through October, with the peak monsoon season occurring in July through September when it can rain every day. Fortunately, those downpours are short-lived and last only a few hours each day.

Most of the time, the river runs very slowly if at all, and moss can be seen floating in large patches across parts of the river’s surface. This phenomenon lends itself to the lazy, laid-back charm that one can feel. Don’t be surprised if you encounter a monk or two in their bright, orange robes walking along the river promenade. There is a beautifully-ornate Buddhist temple in downtown Siem Reap near Pub Street.

The artwork found along the shaded walls of the courtyard just inside the gate to the temple area is absolutely magnificent. Be sure to bring your camera. The whole area of Pub Street just around the corner from the temple, caters to thirsty travelers and bargain shoppers who congregate from all parts of the world.

The most popular attraction by far is Angkor Wat, a UNESCO world-heritage site drawing tourists from the 4-corners of the world. It is located just north of town by a few miles and is easily reached. Many get up before dawn to arrive at the lake, facing Angkor Wat in order to have a photo-shoot treat as dawn approaches. Sometimes the sky glows yellow and orange with the rising sun filtering through the clouds above the ancient temple.

Since the tour will always be on foot and takes a few hours, it is best no matter what time of year, to enjoy your tour while it is only warm, early in the morning. Do try to avoid the heat later in the day. Advance arrangements are necessary to gain access to the temples (yes, there are more than one) and can be made at any hotel or guesthouse in Siem Reap.

A driver may also be arranged for transportation to Angkor Wat, as well as a Tour Guide. All one has to do is ask.Many come to Cambodia “backpacking” in order to sample the exotic culture of Cambodia while on a tight budget, and to tour the sites. The mystery of Cambodia in general, and Angkor Wat in particular, drew Angelina Jolie and a Hollywood film crew who came to Siem Reap to film the blockbuster hit, “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” in 2001. You may recall a scene in the movie featuring the most crazy-looking trees you ever saw, growing over and around some of the temples.

Others come to Siem Reap to try their hand at volunteering for an NGO, a non-government organization. To be sure, there are plenty of opportunities for the generous and “big-of-heart” and it is always greatly appreciated by the locals. English is understood almost everywhere throughout Siem Reap and also in the capital, Phnom Penh.

One of the incredible treats of Siem Reap is the cuisine available almost everywhere. One can enjoy authentic “street food” and fresh fruit smoothies for next to nothing from local vendors. Or you may choose to enjoy an inexpensive sit-down meal at one of the many restaurants in town. Of course there are also bars and nightclubs throughout the Pub Street complex. During the day Pub Street is family-friendly.

Pub Street, is actually a group of streets in downtown Siem Reap. If you are easily distracted by the many sights and sounds you will encounter, you may find yourself getting lost among the myriad of shops, restaurants and pubs. But don’t worry since just about anyone can steer you in the right direction. Thirsty travelers are sure to find a favorite watering hole in record time, as there are many to choose from. Before long, you’ll come across many shops and large markets. One of which is the famous Night Market with its many treasures of the orient that can be had for a song!

One favorite restaurant seems to be the “Red Piano Restaurant and Bar” which has the most incredible “Panang Chicken” curry for just $5.00 USD, and it usually comes with a frosty mug of local “Angkor brand” beer. The restaurant is easily found and features outdoor, canopy-covered, comfortable seating along the sidewalk. Or, you may choose to sit inside, either on the ground floor or upstairs. The entire restaurant is “open aired” for more comfortable dining.

Mixed drinks can be found at the Red Piano and almost everywhere else along Pub Street for just $1.50 USD. A mug of beer can be easily found for just 50-cents to $1.00 US.

With so much to see and do throughout Cambodia, it’s no wonder many people come, fall in love and leave with memories to last a lifetime. Nestled between the countries of Vietnam and Thailand, there is so much to explore.

Cambodia is a fascinating country, while Siem Reap is perhaps the most magical destination in all of Cambodia, but you’ll have to decide that for yourself.

My Experiences While Trekking

Trekking is my passion and I love it because it introduces me to the beauty of nature. Every trek leads to some new exploration. I always try to trek once or twice in a month generally on weekends, to move away from the dust and pollution of the city. This also helps me to break repetitive and boring life style. Mountains have taught me that relaxation and individual privacy is very essential to live a long, happy and healthy life.

You will not succeed if you don’t try. I have been a traveler since childhood and was spontaneously drawn towards mountains and their beauty. Time and again reading several travel and adventure books made me think if I could also go on such expeditions. I always underestimated myself and taught that I can never trek to these beautiful mountains. But one day I made up my mind and decided to give it a try. So I opted for a very moderate trek to the dense forest of Maharashtra, India. After that there hasn’t been any stopping since then.

My first trek was not only peaceful but also relaxing. My body was ready for all hardships and I was mentally and physically prepared to face hurdles on the trek. The more I trekked along the beautiful path I started noticing the beauty of nature. On the go, I observed more, felt more and experienced the beauty of things around. So it’s very important to look after your fitness before you plan for any trek.

Always remember that when you are on a trek you have to face hardships. You have to come out of your comfort zone. When you are in nature you have to rise above yourself. Hardship is a part of trekking. You cannot engross yourself with your own little problems. You have to look beyond yourself. While trekking you are exposed to rough terrains and unexpected weather conditions. You are cut off from the civilization. You have to stop complaining and live in complete harmony with nature.

Trekking is enjoying the amazing landscapes and lush spaces with flowing rivers and glaciers but to enjoy this you have to move out of your comfort zone, push yourself hard and exceed your normal limits. While you are on a trek you may sometimes get injured or get wounds on your body but that shows you are pushing yourself beyond your normal limits. It displays that you are capable of achieving your aim in life. Every next attempt will surely make you stronger and happier if you embrace your wounds, injuries, pains and the discomforts.

When you are on a high altitude trek you have only one choice and that is accepting the nature. You have to learn to live with what you get and what is available while on mountains. You have to sometimes face scarcity but that makes you stronger. Again trekking is one of the sports in which you need hard work, fitness, strength and also patience and practice.

Water, is extremely importance on a trek. Every time you go up higher in the mountains you need water to keep on going, to fetch in extra energy, to uphold your stability and escape high altitude sickness. I never actually realized the need for water till I started trekking. I remember once I was on a trek where our group faced scarcity of water. It was a night trek and the next day we had to return back to our base camp following the same route. We realized that we had very less quantity of water and so we have to save it for emergency. That day I realized the importance of water. When we were taught about the importance of water in our childhood through schools, parents and many other sources we never paid much heed to it but trekking taught me a lesson that water is precious and we have a duty to save it.

You have to look for water source around you when you have to halt for night stays. To cook food and to survive in the mountains you need water. It is one thing which is not always available out in the mountains and forests. While on a trek your water bottles becomes the most important weapon for survival. It is true that we always learn to value things in their absence. So next time, when you waste water, think once how you suffered on your trek without it.

Mountain life is tedious and difficult. Think about those local people who are living their life in wooden houses with only basic amenities in these mountainous areas. They never complain about the difficulties faced. They are happy with what they have. Many times they are facing natural calamities and extreme weathers but then also they live happily and in synchronization with the nature.

Top Things to Prepare for an Exciting Trek

So get ready, pack your bags, put on your shoes and get set for an adventure. Whenever you decide on a place for a trek confirm that the place is filled with plentiful of spots. Go for a place where there are plenty of captivating forests, gigantic mountains, mesmerizing waterfalls and picture perfect landscapes which can be explored.

Here are some tips which can be useful for you while going for a trek:-

Always practice before you trek

If you are planning for a trek after a month or even after six months, the first criteria to be kept in mind is that you have to necessarily keep on practicing. That means you have to increase your body strength and fitness slowly and steadily. You have to give your body time to adapt to the new demands that you are placing on it. Training, fitness and strength together will help you to enjoy the trek. Walking for an hour daily may also help you to increase your body strength and fitness.

Pack your bags systematically

The next important thing when you plan a trek is the essentials to be carried. Always remember that whenever you are on a trek carry all the things like medicines, food, water bottles, dry snacks, sun glasses, cap, extra pair of shoes and socks, sandals if required, two or three pairs of clothes (if the trek is for more than two days), towels, sleeping bag, walking stick, camera, binoculars, torch, plate, spoons, bowl, glass for dinner, breakfast or lunch and a rucksack to keep all the above things.

Shop for good quality footwear

It is very necessary that you shop for good footwear for your trek. When you select your shoes, walking practice is very essential with those shoes to avoid blisters during the trek. Select correct size of your shoes. Wrong size may land you in difficulty on the actual day of trek.

Along with shoes also go for right pair of socks. The right shoes with wrong socks will ruin your trek. So while trying on shoes, wear the same socks which you intend to use on the day of trek. Look for material which has sweat captivating properties. If you are going for a trek in monsoon then try for water proof socks which are generally very easily available in any sports outlet.

Always go for some gym work

Now along with walking, gym work can also help you to enhance your capacity to walk on treks. It would strengthen your body muscles and thus help you to enjoy inclinations on the trek without getting tired. If you are not a gym person then go for yoga and meditation. It would also help you to increase your body strength.

Practice on similar walking landscape

Walking is very essential for training. It is very important to mimic the situations that you are going to experience while on trek. So practice on similar walking trails. Try to experiment with a loaded rucksack with the same clothes and shoes which you are going to wear on the trek. It will make a great difference to your speed when you actually trek.

Practice using the rucksack

Every time you walk or practice you have to use the rucksack which you are to going to carry with you for the trek. So while selecting a rucksack from the store, check whether it is fit for you and whether you can carry it properly on your back. Also purchase a rucksack which has appropriate strips to hold it on your back and chest. A good rucksack with proper dimensions can help you to stand the load in it.

Use walking sticks for grip

It would be a good option to use walking sticks while trekking so that it does not affect your knees. Sometimes if you do not land properly or you fall mistakenly then the direct pressure of that fall may go on your knees. Therefore use of walking sticks would be very effective. Generally these sticks would be of a great help when you are descending down the mountains.

Keep hydrated while walking

The next suggestion would be to keep hydrated. You should always drink lots of water while trekking. Whether the climate is hot or cold your body will require water due to sweating and losses on the breath. Your heart would have to work harder as a result of which you will feel thirsty and exhausted. So try to drink small amount of water frequently throughout the day. Energy drink would also prove as a good option to keep you hydrated.

Fuel your energy requirements

Try to eat small but regular meals and snacks on the trek to maintain the energy levels. This would give you energy to complete the trek successfully. Eating of fruits is a good option as it will maintain your energy levels. It would be easy to carry and eat fruits on the move to the mountains and is excellent option to boost your energy. While you are practicing for the trek you can experiment with the food also. Never opt for oily and heavy food on the trek.

Keep fit and enjoy the trek

Last but not the least; the most important thing is to keep fit. Keep on practicing and enjoy the trek on the actual day of execution. Your trekking experience will be very exciting and interesting if you are fit. A trek can be easy for you only if you are fit. You will have to spend a lot of time, money and energy to get to your trekking location. It also requires efforts. So it makes sense to be in good shape and have suitable fitness.

By following the above guidelines not only will you be prepared positively for the trek but will also get lot to learn from the experience. I hope this article will boost you to go for your first ever trek with a positive attitude and excitement.