Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Vancouver, British Columbia

Seattle was one of my favorite trips that we took last year, so I had high hopes for Vancouver as well. We had originally planned to use Jason’s gold passes, but ended up not needing to. This is great news as we can now use those to go to Mexico or the Caribbean with a confirmed seat!

The trip really started Friday morning when we drove from Seattle into Vancouver. This was only around a 3 hour drive (with border crossing) even with a bridge collapse causing a detour to our route. We got in around lunch time and immediately went hiking after a quick bite to eat. We had been told that Lynn Canyon has great hiking and a really cool suspension bridge. We choose a 3 hour hike that was really nice. The weather was beautiful and it was so nice to just be outdoors all day.

That night, we went to go grab some of Vancouver’s famously good sushi at a place called Aki. It was so incredibly fresh and honestly pretty cheap. Overall, Vancouver is super expensive, but we lucked out with this place!
The next morning, we went to Honey’s Doughnuts to grab some grub before we went hiking AGAIN! I got a delicious maple and Jason got a honey “doughnut” that were more like really dense cake. With some coffee to warm us up, we set off to hike the Baden Powell trail in Deep Cove. This was definitely a more rigorous hike, but once we got up to the top, we had some crazy views of the water.

That afternoon, we rented bikes to explore Stanley Park. This park is roughly the same size as Central Park, but that’s really the only comparison. It’s set on the seawall and you can bike around the entire thing in a few hours. It really has everything you could ever want – beaches, stunning views, forests, gardens, an aquarium and more. I have never been to a place like this before. It was pretty spectacular.

From the park, we caught an “Aquabus” to Granville Island (we could bring our bikes along too) and explored the tiny island. There is a daily farmer’s market, shops of every kind (my favorite was a hat shop) and even a water park! We stopped in at Granville Island Brewery for a tasting before we finished our walk around the island. Overall, it was perfect, but exhausting, second day.

Our last day in Vancouver, we drove the Sea to Sky Highway up to Whistler. This was the most beautiful drive I’ve ever been on (Jason’s is still Road to Hana on Maui). We had a view of the Howe Sound almost the entire way. It was only about an hour and ½ drive from downtown and once we made it there, we…went hiking of course! We hiked about 6km along the Cheakamus River which eventually turned into the lake. It was a very fun hike – probably our favorite!

We made a quick stop around downtown Whistler before heading back towards Seattle to catch an early am flight the next day. Vancouver was amazing and the most beautiful city we’ve been to. Everything was so green, everyone was outside and active and Canadians are just so darn friendly. I love the Pacific Northwest and definitely want to make many trips back there. I would love to see the San Juan Islands and spend a few days hiking around Mount Rainier. I am also looking forward to attending a wedding in Portland later this year. Out of all the places we’ve been, Seattle feels the most like home and I could definitely see us living here somewhere down the road.
Well, this was our last “together” trip for quite a while. Jason has a trip for work to do a station audit (somewhere REALLY awesome – I’m jealous!) and I have a conference, girls’ trip and a few weddings to attend. Jason is over travel, but I’m still in that travel routine. I’m glad I have a few things lined up within the next few months. When we’re just here in Dallas, sometimes I get bored not having trips to plan and cities to explore. Not the worst problem in the world, I know. Next up - Girls' Weekend in OKC in a few weeks!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Siem Reap, Cambodia {Part 2}

As I mentioned, we decided to hire a tuk tuk driver (for $12/day!) for our 2nd day of exploration. This was the best decision EVER! Our first stop was Bayon, a Buddhist temple built in the late 12th century complete with 37 towers. Almost every tower has four carved faces each pointing in a cardinal direction. From afar, the temple looks completely uniform but up close, you can see how each stone was fit together like jigsaw puzzle pieces. The large stone faces have become some of the most famous images connected to Khmer art and architecture. Inside was like a giant maze with passage ways, shrines and open window sills all looking like they were about to crumble.


Bayon was part of Angkor Thom, which was a complex that included many other temples and terraces. Below, there are pictures of the Terrace of the Lepers and Terrace of the Elephants. It was fun walking around, but we didn't last long here as most wasn't shaded. Did I mention that it was HOT?! When we got back to the hotel later this day, it was 107 - I can only guess that it was hotter while we were out exploring.

We really enjoyed Preah Khan temple as well. This was probably the temple that we saw that was the most "in ruins". There is a debate going on about how much to restore this temple and how much to leave it in the state that it was found in. I personally loved the feel of this one since it was really in the jungle with overgrowth and trees poking out. You could hear the birds chirping and there were hardly any people to be seen. I felt very much like Indiana Jones discovering this hidden ruin. For the most part, you can really jump and climb over everything. Hard to believe that all of these areas had to be swept for landmines only 30 years ago. For that reason, when an area says "danger" or "landmines may be present", you need to respect that.

Our absolute favorite temple was the last we visited - the Buddhist temple of Ta Prohm. I loved this temple because it was in complete shambles and tinted a faint red and green color from its jungle surroundings. The grounds and temple itself were completely overgrown with humongous roots and trees. This is also the temple that was featured in Lara Croft, Tomb Raider for any of you movie buffs out there.


We ended our day at the pool with $5 pitchers of Redbull/vodkas and massages. The next morning, we got in some pool time before we had to catch a plane to Bangkok. The trip back to the US home involved us frantically buying Australian visas at the Bangkok airport (only needed for people who don't have a "guaranteed seat" out = us), but seats looked good! We jumped on a flight from Bangkok to Sydney (on Emirates) and Sydney to LAX (on Qantas) and then LAX home (on Southwest). 30+ hours of traveling later and we were home!

We really loved this trip and we especially loved how cheap everything was. There are so many places I would like to go in the world, but I can definitely see going back here some day. I would recommend every single place we visited and would be happy to email anyone more details in case anyone is thinking about a trip. My biggest piece of advice? PACK LIGHT! I am fairly high maintenance and I managed to fit 16 days worth of clothes in this carryon pack. Be impressed - be VERY impressed.

Thanks again Southwest Airlines. This trip had been planned in my mind for at least 6-7 years and was truly epic. Standby travel is always stressful (I expect no sympathy here), but it is always worth it. I'd like to think that we're kind of old pros at this thing now!

Up next for us? We just can't stop - we're heading to Vancouver, Canada tomorrow. We've never been to Canada before, so it should be great! I hope everyone has a great Memorial Day weekend!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Siem Reap, Cambodia {Part 1}

Our first full day in Siem Reap, we decided to sleep in and eat our free breakfast at our hotel at a leisurely pace. Knowing what we know now, we would have woken up first thing. We decided we were going to take our hotel's free bikes to explore Angkor Wat. First, we had to buy our 3 day pass, which is a story in of itself. By the time that was done, it's close to 10am and getting hotter by the second. We arrive at the entrance, purchase water bottles from someone so they will "watch our bikes" and head on in.

Walking up to Angkor Wat is so impressive. Built in the 12th century in dedication to Hinduism (seems weird, right?), Angkor Wat is massive and equally as impressive. The ornate details and carvings are still visible even though the sandstone temple is slowly eroding away. It was amazing in the 21st century, so just imagine how stunning the temple used to be with intricate carvings on every surface of this 400 acre structure.

We enjoyed exploring all of the hidden passages and trying to stay in the shade. It was WELL over 100 this day and we could definitely feel it. One benefit to exploring during the hottest part of the day? Everyone heads back to sit at their pools or take a nap, so we mostly had the place to ourselves!

This was (no joke) about 3 minutes after we got off our bikes. The first of many times we did this.

After it got too hot to handle, we biked back to our hotel for the day. As far as food goes, I tried a popular Khmer dish called amok (very similar to a watered down yellow chicken curry) and Jason got a burger. Haha. We also tried sticky rice with fruit for dessert. We spent the rest of the day relaxing by the pool and getting the first of our 2 massages.

I feel compelled to mention where we stayed because I think it is a big reason why we really liked Siem Reap. We paid $50/night for our three night stay at the Golden Temple Hotel. The guesthouse welcomed us with a cold tea, cool hand towels and a tray full of snacks. In addition, we got a free hour long massage, a TV with HBO, breakfast every day, free picnic for two, free lunch or dinner for two, free bike rental and free water every time we left the hotel. We somehow ended up with 4 t-shirts as well! Plus, the staff was absolutely the nicest group of people we met in Cambodia…so incredibly kind and gracious. They were literally honored to be serving us. Needless to say, we definitely didn't mind spending our evenings here.

After our first day, we decided that hiring a tuk tuk driver for day 2 was our best bet. Some of the temples are pretty far away and we wanted to make sure we could see everything we wanted to. Up next - Day 2!