Phnom Penh (Hell)

 I can’t believe I’ve been back 2 months already. Really need to wrap up these travel posts from my trip to Asia. Only one more after this!

After ascending to the heavens at the temples in Siem Reap, it is incredibly sobering to visit Phnom Penh. Most of the tourism focuses around the pain of the past, which is incredibly haunting and way too real. You’ll be walking to get dinner, and tuk tuk drivers would call out to you “Hey, want to go to the Killing Fields?”

After yet another 6 hour bus ride (pretty cush!) we made it to PP. We unloaded our bags at the fabulous Tea House Hotel and made a beeline for the Foreign Correspondents Club (FCC). It’s my favorite spot in the city, and they have a decent happy hour.


To the right of the photo where all the motos are gathered the street is blocked off for protests. A week earlier there were election protests where a man died and several people were injured. Tensions were high, but that night nothing happened.



Life is on the streets…



Cambodian pizza. Yep.



My new BFF. It was a rather long night after this. We kept trying to go to the dance clubs in the area, but we were way too early (9pm? sigh). So finally we called it a night and went back to the hotel.



The next day was going to be hard, but we had to do it. We first went to S21, then Choeung Ek (The Killing Fields). This was my second time visiting both spots, and it was still very moving. I have much better photos from the first time that I visited, but it was too hard and too sad to sift through them looking for the “right” ones. It’s probably why I never wrote about PP when I visited before. So, here are a few of the limited photos from my last trip. Disturbing images ahead.

S21 is a school that was converted into a prison during the time of the Khmer Rouge. Men, women and children were kept here before they were taken to the Killing Fields. Above is a gymnastics structure that was used to torture people during interrogations. Basically you’d string someone up and then dunk their heads in water below, over and over until they passed out.


One of many rows of prison cells. There were wooden cells and brick cells (differing security levels)


At the Killing Fields, a taxi ride away outside of the city…

The site was leased to the  Japanese, and as a result, the information provided is very comprehensive, with audio tours in multiple languages. The Killing Fields was only one of many scattered across the country. Ultimately Pol Pot’s genocide killed off  25% of Cambodia’s population. Unbelievable.


So incredibly sad. When the site was taken over, people did not understand what the tree was until they found bits of bone and brain mashed into the tree.


A dog sleeps peacefully with the Memorial Stupa in the background.


New bones still wash up with the monsoon rains.


The Memorial Stupa is full of skulls of the victims. Piled high, multiple stories. You see it, but it’s still hard to comprehend.


There is more that I could show, such as the Magic Tree  or the official government photos of the thousands of people killed, but the skulls say it all. It was a very dark and sad time in Cambodia’s history. The resilience of the Cambodian people blows me away. It’s a very special place, Cambodia.

For more information on the genocide, the Enemies of the People documentary is really amazing, and happens to be available on YouTube.


Cambodia: Heaven & Hell

Part 1: Siem Reap- Heaven

There’s no place like Cambodia. If you follow me on Instagram- sorry- you’ll recognize 99% of these photos. It’s a photogenic place.


Getting to Cambodia overland from Bangkok used to be a pain, but now there’s a daily government bus that  is fast and scam free (ish)! In fact getting to the bus station in Bangkok was worse than the bus ride to Siem Reap. It took like flagging down 10 taxis in the rain just to make it the “final mile” from the metro to the bus station.


It was a 6 hour ride through the rainy countryside. Lovely.


Siem Reap is a bit of a tourist’s town. Everything is built around the magnificent Temples of Angkor.  We celebrated our arrival by eating Cambodian BBQ (beef, frog, crocodile, shrimp and snake) and having cocktails at my favorite bar in Siem Reap- Ms. Wong’s, a 1920s Shanghai cocktail bar.



The next day we were up at 5am to catch sunrise at Angkor Wat.


Traveling around the temples via tuk-tuk.


Ta Prohm, the “TombRaider” temple


Another view of Angkor Wat. Woof.


Going down


Receiving a blessing.


Our hotel was right by a crocodile farm.


The skin is for handbags and shoes, but they also sell stuffed babies as souvenirs. I was sorely tempted to start my taxidermy collection, but these are so freaky.


The plush and pricey Siem Reap outpost of the Foreign Correspondents Club (FCC). It was early…


Our bartender at Ms. Wong’s suggested that we go dancing  at Hip Hop Discotheque, where all the locals dance.


Loved the place, although we drew a lot of attention. Not for being foreigners, but for our American style dancing :).  They don’t have twerking in Siem Reap. It’s more like a one two shuffle, with a lot of arm action. One drunk local even videotaped me dancing on his phone! CRRREEPAY.


Bangkok Will Break You Down


About a week or two ago my friend Max asked me when I was going to write something else on this here blog. I’ve been trying to write about my trip chronologically, and to tell you the truth, I wasn’t quite sure what to say about Bangkok. Then today my mom asked when I was going to post pictures from Vietnam (She’s so obsessed!). To get to Vietnam, I gotta write about Bangkok. So, here goes.

For better or worse, most visitors to Southeast Asia will pass through Bangkok at some point during their trip, especially if they are moving through multiple countries. It just makes sense. Bangkok is THE HUB. It’s easy to get anywhere in the region if you start here. Flights are (relatively) cheap and it’s something of a soft landing. If you’ve got money, it’s got all of the comforts of the western world. But then you never forget that you’re in Asia. There is a common Thai  saying: “Same same, but different.” Things in Thailand are similar to the west, but if you look closely, there’s a quirky tweak.

We flew into Bangkok after a few days in Singapore. As you may recall from my last post, Singapore was great fun, but I really needed a (cheap) drink. So I was pretty excited to be back in sinful Bangkok.

While Bangkok is indeed a mix of east and west, I forgot how fucking HARD the city can be. The first day or so was so obnoxiously difficult that I found myself wondering “What did I ever see in this filthy delirious city? Why am I here? Have I gone soft?”

Our first night in Bangkok we went out drinking in the unofficial expat neighborhood of Sukhumvit. Sukhumvit is basically a long ass road that runs through most of the city, kind of like the Market St. of Bangkok. Off of the main streets are the “Sois”- smaller sidestreets where the real life is.

We ended up not too far from the infamous Soi Cowboy (red light area), so as expected, we were surrounded by roundbellied and grey expats and their prostitutes. Now I knew this was the deal, but it started to feel weird after a few hours. When we had had enough to drink we tried to catch a cab, but the cabbies wouldn’t go to our hotel! Too far, they said. Crap. This was around 1 in the morning.


At least the party vans were still open… Why does this not exist in SF?

One cabbie took us for a ride, and totally ripped us off, dropping us off at a hospital clinic, laughing. Ryan hopped out of the moving cab cursing. I threw the cab driver a few bucks so he wouldn’t come after us.  And so we were lost.  In Bangkok. Ugh.

So we walked.


In the rain.

Eventually, we were walking drunk in the rain on the side of the freeway. I was aching and drunk and wet and sad and so many things, but mostly exhausted. After some time walking the freeway, a passing cab took pity on us, and took us the rest of the way to our hotel.

The hotel was located behind a supermarket center, which normally we would walk through. Since it was so late, the center was closed. We wandered through the creepy back alleys, and had to hop a gate to get back to our hotel. We collapsed into bed, drunk and miserable.


The next day was also hard. Burned by cabs, we decided to take the train to Chinatown then walk to the river where all the palaces were. Bad idea. It looked close on the map, but was actually a two hour long walk. With the 90 degree+ heat and the stress of “walking” (consciously dodging traffic and hopping on and off sidewalks every single second) in Bangkok, I started to lose it. Tears were welling in my eyes. Why was I wandering this stressful dirty city when I just wanted to have a nice time? What was missing? Why was I so miserable this time around? How much money did I have to throw around to have someone take me somewhere clean and give me a Singapore Sling?

Eventually we made it to the water.


We had a nice meal, some drinks. I sat there eating lunch wondering how things were going to get better. I willed them to be better.  And then things were better.

From then on we took cabs for any significant distance. And the cab rides were like $6 for 30 minute rides in rush hour traffic! SO CHEAP. Now it was still hard as hell to get cabs, because the cabbies wanted to bargain for a sky high fixed rate, and you had to flag down about 6 cabs before one would say yes, turn on the meter AND take you where you wanted, but it was way better than walking. The next few days we got Thai massages, saw some temples, and took things easy.

Looking back on the first day or so, I realized that we made some critical mistakes. We weren’t drinking enough water even though we were walking 10-12 miles a day. We weren’t taking cabs, and we hadn’t acclimated to the city before we went to the skeevy stressful parts of town.

Anyways, by the end of the trip I liked Bangkok again. But this recent stay was very humbling. I thought that I was so tough, and I really am, but even tough people need to take it easy sometimes. Why struggle?


Other bits of Bangkok… I didn’t take that many photos since I’d been before.


Guerrero <3! In Saigon Paragon, the best mall in the world.

20131015-224933.jpgCurry soup! Khao soi!



At Above Eleven, a rooftop jazz bar. Yep, it’s pouring. There were also like 12 German bros and somebody’s mom here. Drinks were SF prices. 🙁


20131015-225016.jpgThis jazz club has been blessed by Woody Allen. ??? 



Singapore: Straight Edge Fun

Note: So, I’m back from Asia. I had spotty wi-fi all through out, but managed to write a few posts on my many 6 hour bus rides. I thought I had published this, but oops! It was still in draft form. Well, here we go.

I didn’t know what to expect from Singapore. What’s a depressive yet fun loving San Franciscan to do when visiting the world’s most famous nanny state? A lot, apparently.

“Just don’t get any spankings” as my mom says.

We started the trip off by rolling into Singapore for 3 nights. Any more and my Asia budget would have been shot. Everything here is American prices or worse. 8-14 dollar beers at the bar my friends. Singapore does not want you to drink. 9 dollar tiny tubes of sunblock. Help!

Here are a few things I enjoyed during my short time in SG.

-Stayed in up and coming Little India. Not a great night life, but a good buzz down here. Some pretty cool temples too.


-Visited the National Museum and learned about Singapore’s insane history. The exhibits here are interactive and totally engrossing. The one on Singapore rock and roll is pretty cool. If you flew in on Singapore Air flash your boarding pass and get 20 percent off the entry fee.


-Splurged on a Singapore Sling at the gorgeous world heritage site and operating hotel Raffles Hotel. Drinks are 30 bucks a pop so have one and then move along….





-Wandered Haji Lane, the hipster part of town. Except don’t go there before 1pm because nothing is open. Learned that the hard way. Twice. Sigh.

-Visited the Four Barrel of the Far East. Stumbled upon Chye Seng Huat Hardware when walking around my neighborhood on the last day. From the Japanese pour over to the tasting classes, bamboo bikes, custom aprons and Lana Del Ray on the speakers I thought I had stepped through a portal back to San Francisco. The prices were worse if you could believe it. Five bucks for a tiny cup! Not even 8 oz.





-Ate my money sorrows away at the hawker centers. There was a trip to Maxwells for chicken rice and oyster cakes of course.


Also ate so much laksa. It’s this seafood curry noodle soup that has such a rich broth. Not for the faint of heart.


-Had vegetarian Indian food for breakfast. HEAVY.


Other memorable breakfasts: toast sets at ToastBox or chicken and egg sandwiches at McDonald’s.

-Took a bus to the Night Safari and got up close with elephants tigers and giant flying squirrels. A bat even pooped right at me. 🙁 The cages are really more conceptual open air enclosures. Interesting.


-I met up with a few ancestors.


I had a fun time in Singapore. Really blown away by the deep mix of Malaysian, Indian and Chinese cultures here. Still, it wasn’t a place to stay forever. Too pricey!

Life, Travel

Asia, Again/ The Happy Place

It’s hard to believe, but in less than 48 hours, I’ll be headed off to Southeast Asia again.

This is my third time over there, and while I’m visiting a few new spots, I am mostly trodding well loved territory, although this time not with my family, or alone. Ryan is coming, which should be a treat. More for him, I think.

The pragmatist in me thinks “Why are you going back there? Shouldn’t you spend your money on new experiences? What about India? What about Burma? What about Nepal?”

For a while I didn’t know how to explain it, but it occurred to me the other night as I was doing a test pack: Southeast Asia is my happy place.  I’ve worked through major breakups, death and a number of other issues there. It’s a place of intense healing for me. It’s just something about the tone of life. You can’t help but be moved by being there. I may have mentioned it before, but when I meditate or do thought exercises in therapy, the Mekong River in Luang Prabang is the #1 thing I think about to calm myself down. I mean, come on, look at this shit.



This trip was precipitated because last year I didn’t go to Vietnam, and I felt like I had made a mistake. For a year I’ve told myself that I have to get back to Vietnam.


When I visited Vietnam seven years ago I met my family that was left behind in Saigon. I learned more about life and war by looking into their hard worn faces than I’d gathered from 22 years of books and stories.

Most notably, I’d been Chinese all my life, but once I went to Vietnam, I started feeling Vietnamese as well.  (Unfortunately, this “Vietnamese feeling” does not qualify you for a visa discount at the SF Consulate). I left Vietnam changed, with two little sunspots on either side of my cheeks to prove it. I was there, it really happened. See, here’s the sun damage to prove it.


So anyways, on the housekeeping front this longwinded, winding  and maudlin post is all to say that I’m going back to Asia again for a couple weeks. We’ll be hitting Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam (oh, and South Korea too, sort of). I’m pretty excited, and hope to post a little bit here and there.

Since we’re talking about it anyways, I guess I want to mention that if you don’t already have a happy place in your heart, you need one. Think about it. Sit still for a second, and conjure up the last place where you truly felt free and happy. Think about what it felt like to be there. Try to think of a specific moment that actually happened to you. Maybe you were riding motorcycles somewhere 3,000 miles away, or maybe you were on the couch with the cat, drinking chocolate milk and basking in the late afternoon sunlight. Think about all the little details, like the burn of the sunscreen in your eyes, or the grit of the rocks in your shoes. Even if this place doesn’t exist anymore, hold on to this feeling. The more you practice remembering the moment the easier it is to conjure up in times of stress and pain.

If you do try this, tell me where your happy place is. I’m curious.