Crossing over Siberia and Alaska even from the airplane always gives me the chills. The thought of the barren cold beneath makes flying for me even more stressful than it already is. Though I have flown the world over numerous times, turbulence seems to be tougher on me since my daughter was born.
Arriving in Seoul, South Korea at minus five degrees Celsius felt no warmer than where we had just escaped from. This is only temporary I thought, as we were headed to the gorgeous beach town of Boracay in the Philippines the following day. With solely one day to explore Seoul, we headed out in the freezing cold attempting to have a taste of this capital city. Needless to say those December temperatures are not precisely visitor friendly so we spent our day kimchi tasting and savouring local flavours indoors.
At night, we returned to our hotel room and turned on CNN, as we normally do on vacation since we don’t have cable at home. If you’ve read my book, you’ll know that every time I fly, something happens in the world, from tsunamis to airplane crashes to revolutions, usually around the areas we are visiting. Yes, about 12 planes have fallen from the sky while I was on vacation or around the time I was on vacation, so my friends joke and say they will not fly when I am flying. The latest one was the German wings which crashed while we were returning from Cuba and Air Asia which crashed a week after we returned from Asia. Needless to say, there are many reasons that I am terrified of flying.
The first segment of news that came on CNN after we turned it on was that of a typhoon heading to the Philippines and the authorities evacuating people from their homes particularly in coastal areas. All flights to the Philippines were to be cancelled for the next five days. In shock, we found ourselves in a modern hotel room with limited internet access and a child who did not want to exit the hotel as a result of the cold. Our carry ons were filled with beach clothing and outside it was freezing cold. In addition, we had a week’s vacation fully paid for in the Philippines. Waiting around in hopes of a flight within the next few days would have been acceptable, but risking having to spend our entire vacation in the cold was out of the question.
While waiting on the phone with Air Asia Philippines for hours with no response, we made the executive decision that even if we lost the thousands of dollars we had already paid for the week, we needed to escape the cold. Meanwhile, Air Asia had posted on their Facebook fan page that they would accommodate people to change their flights or fully refund their money as a result of the typhoon. Relieved, deciding where to go was yet another challenge as we had visited most of Southeast Asia, apart from Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia. I checked Myanmar which seemed to require a visa that could not be obtained upon arrival.
Back and forth for hours, checking flight times, connections, prices and options on a WiFi signal solely available by the entrance door of the hotel room, I ended up booking a flight to Thailand and on to Cambodia, with a connection in Hong Kong. A whole day of flying and airports, when we were only planning on doing the three hour charter to Boracay. Happy with our decision as returning to Thailand is always a treat, I spent the remainder of the night booking connections, transfers, hotels and figuring out logistics, all details that I would normally figure out months before vacation. By the time I was done, it was 3 AM and our new flight required us to be at the airport at 5 AM. Needless to say, the next day was a write off, as was our one night in Bangkok before heading to Cambodia.
First impressions are lasting impressions, and my first impression of Cambodia was that of a green paradise as the palm trees soared beneath our flight path. Lush and friendly, we felt a bit as we did in Vietnam. We came here to see the picturesque temples and the next day we headed out to do just that. We arrived at Angkor Wat and within minutes realized that the phone I thought I had charged must not have been plugged in properly and it had merely 20% of battery life left for taking photos. In a panic, we returned to the hotel and brought our charger along the way. It’s sad to say that instead of focusing on the grandeur of the place at first sight I was more concerned about being able to capture the scene to share with dear ones. What would we do without photography? Most of my childhood is not captured on film nor on camera yet it is as vivid as can be in my mind. Perhaps we would enjoy a place more without the worry of “Facebooking” each moment.
Needless to say, Angkor Wat is as majestic as it appears in photographs. The temples stand withered by many suns and rains that have contoured them for centuries. To the foreign eye not familiar with its history, the architecture is Hindu in style with Balinese accents. There are so many temples at Angkor Wat that we could spend weeks exploring and there would still be more to discover. Since this trip for us was unexpected we explored the main three temples, including the one where Angelina Jolie shot her famous movie “Tomb Raider”.
Hundreds of years old tree roots and cement blend the old and the new in an organic manner. Structures are held together by the strong tree roots which enhance the appearance of the temples. Here and there, we spotted playful monkeys enjoying the generous tourists feeding them. To make the experience even more unforgettable, we visited the last temple while riding an elephant (which in retrospect feels wrong). It is quite surprising when the elephant spoted a mouse it appeared quite scared. We were told elephants have a fear of mice. I must have been an elephant in a previous life as I detest them as well.
We enjoyed our three days in Cambodia, though the food was not always fantastic, and we felt as though Cambodia was not quite there yet in terms of tourism. It was reminiscent of Thailand and Vietnam but it did not seem to have that one thing that sets it apart.
Returning to Thailand is always a pleasure as it is not surprisingly one of our favourite countries. The flavours of Thailand are unmatched around the world, nor is the generosity of the people surpassed by any other. This time around we decided to visit the floating market as it is one of the main day trips from Bangkok. A two hour ride away, we arrived at the boat terminal and were taken by a small motor boat to the water canals of the floating market. A canal of water much like Venice, with vendors on each side. Our favourite part was the floating restaurants; fresh phad thai made on a small boat, desserts, soups, meats. There were boats filled with colourful exotic fruits and vendors with sizzling meats. The smells of Thailand are fragrantly delicious. I would live here for the food alone.
So this trip was just that for us as they say, when life throws you lemons, make lemonade. Though we never made it to the Philippines we got to return to a country we love and discovered an ancient civilization in another neighbouring country.
Our last night in Bangkok we ended up in the emergency room with our daughter having an extremely high fever. The doctor appeared quite alarmed and based on our travel history, she believed our daughter may have dengue fever. She advised us to return to Canada and visit the hospital if her fever continued. After arriving in Canada, Alessia seemed fine but a few days later her fever returned. Worried, we rushed to the Emergency department where ten hours later the doctor decided that it could be malaria as in Cambodia, malaria is quite prevalent. We always take our precautions when we travel, especially for malaria, however, Cambodia was a last minute decision and we were completely unprepared. The Canadian hospital was rather slow and unprepared as they rarely deal with tropical diseases. The doctor told us the malaria test is a series of three tests which must be done three days in a row.
Fortunately, Alessia was diagnosed with a cold, but given the severity of malaria, we had to rule that out. To conclude, yes, taking all the precautions before a trip is extremely important, however, we are happy to say that in the two instances where we had to go to a hospital abroad, we were treated much better there than in our own country. Foreigners tend to have international hospitals available where they are seen within minutes.
I once had a friend who used to always tell me “humans are the most adaptable species” and I believe that. Even with things catching us off guard this vacation was still amazing and most important, we spent time together, as a family, going through everything. I love Southeast Asia for its authenticity and it is an area I will always return to. Once again, if ever in a situation where life throws you lemons, please, remain calm, and make lemonade. 🙂