It seemed innocent enough—two monks talking and laughing with an Asian foreigner, asking questions in broken English about me and the U.S. However, the tone quickly changed as they exchanged some furtive glances and motioned for me to follow them. We found ourselves in a side street off the main road through Lhasa, sitting on some steps in front of what appeared to be an older abandoned residence constructed in the Tibetan style. Satisfied with my answers about the U.S. and that I wasn’t a Chinese spy, they proceeded to ask me about news of the Dalai Lama. Since I hadn’t been keeping up on his whereabouts, I told them he had written some books while in exile in India and then reached into my daypack and pulled out photos of him. Their smiles quickly changed as they looked around wondering if they might be watched, slipped the photos into their burgundy robes, and thanked me profusely. One of the monks reached into his man-purse and offered me a blessing wrapped in a prayer flag. Accepting with both hands, I bowed slightly out of respect. He saw the journal I was holding, pulled out a pen and motioned to see it. Handing it to him, he wrote a street address in both Chinese and English. I wrote my email address on another slip of paper and gave it to him. We never contacted each other again even though I considered it many times. I snapped a picture of the two of them, exchanged goodbyes, and went our separate directions. The entire interaction took less than 15 minutes, but the experience still stays with me nearly 16 years later. That was Tibet in 2000, decades after the Chinese occupation, but before the revolts in 2009. Some things such as the spying on the Tibetan people haven’t changed. Many other aspects have changed dramatically. Continue reading
On our RTW trip, whenever we go somewhere I’ve been already, it’s tough not to make comparisons of how places are today versus the last time I was there. In most locations, I’m surprised that things haven’t changed much. I had optimistically thought that 16 years of progress would alter most places for the better. Such was my hope for Indonesia.
I went to Indonesia about 16 years ago to visit my friend, Don. It was an unforgettable experience, mostly for all the wrong reasons. I came down with a bad case of dysentery from some bad food I had in Jakarta and spent a couple days between the bed and toilet at Don’s parent’s home. Even with such wonderful memories, I still decided that Indonesia was worth a repeat visit. However, I didn’t want a repeat of what happen to me to happen again with Sheri during this visit so we took the usual precautions to avoid stomach problems. Continue reading
Cambodia was our first destination in Southeast Asia. At the time, when I made the flight arrangements, I didn’t see any compelling reason to go to Phnom Penh. I figured we would see more than enough temples throughout Asia and the experience would be similar to Siem Reap, the town closest to the Angkor complex of temples. We only scheduled two nights and three days for Cambodia, and in hindsight, we could easily have afforded to stay longer. Cambodia was probably the least expensive place we have visited so far in Southeast Asia. Tourist who used to flock to Thailand for the travel bargains are now going to Cambodia instead. For me, it seems to offer more of the underdeveloped rural experience than some of the more modern Asian countries.
After reading horror stories about people crossing the border from Thailand, we decided to fly directly to Siem Reap. And although flying into the major airports allows you the convenience of getting a visa upon arrival, we opted to get our visa online while we were in Australia. We waited until just 4 days before our scheduled arrival to get our visa, but they were very fast processing it, so I had it within 2 days of applying for it. Although they are fast, I don’t recommend waiting until the last minute. We printed two copies as instructed and when we arrived, having our visas beforehand saved us from waiting in a long queue to get one on arrival. Continue reading