Is there anything you wish you'd packed that you didn't?
Being the cautious packer that I am, I took a light jacket and jeans thinking that we may come across a chilly night or an odd day of cold weather. I was very wrong. There is no odd day of chill in the dry season. The last time I’d been near the equator was a few years ago so I’d completely forgotten the intensity of the sun and the suffocation of humidity!
Every day I was hot from inside out. I always appreciated the few seconds of shade I stole from a big tree or the air conditioning in our tour bus. What I regret not taking was a hat and sunnies. It’s best to take cheap sunnies in case they get stolen or broken. Even when the sun wasn’t out, there was still glare and relentless humidity.
Any packing tips for others?
Next time I visit, I’ll remember to pack light coloured clothing to deflect the sun and avoid synthetic fabrics. I’m glad I didn’t take anything skimpy or too dressy as it’s not adaptive to their culture. I also found that the more dressed up you are, the more you stick out like tourists and get harassed by beggars and stall owners wanting you to buy things!
Even through the constant sweating, I’m glad I visited during summer because we only saw rain once at night. Even then, it was not cold so it eased the temperature and made for a pleasant night.
Tell us about the food
Besides the beautiful scenery and great company, my favourite time of the day was meal time! The breakfasts were included in the hotel stay, consisting of western-style foods with some fried rice and noodle dishes.
I looked forward to lunch and dinner time and sitting next to one of my new friends. For every meal, I made a conscious effort to order the most authentic dishes from that country. I remember the spicy beef hot noodle soup (pho) for breakfast in Vietnam when it was already 30 degrees at 7am.
I won’t forget the countless Khmer curries and amoks with chicken, seafood and once a whole crab in Cambodia. The best amok was at a restaurant in front of Angkor Wat temple where it came served in a whole coconut. My last photo taken Cambodia looked like I was six months pregnant because of my curious palate!
Along the travels in Cambodia, deep fried huntsman was on offer. No one dared to eat the body of the hairy delicacy but we all braved the legs! It was just so crunchy that there was no distinct taste. The same can be said for crickets and cockroaches.
In Thailand, I had too many pad thais and spicy seafood noodle soups to count. Asian hospitality is very accommodating by offering Western dishes but it isn’t the quality we get at home. To avoid the disappointment of not-quite-right-spaghetti, order local cuisine because they know how to make that better!
What were your thoughts about visiting a third world country?
There was plenty of advice and warning about the poverty in the countries visited prior to departure. Seeing it first hand was quite possibly the best history lesson I ever got and I’m so thankful we had great tour guides who knew so much. It was an awakening to see the street beggars and locals with missing limbs as a result of injury from the landmines planted during the war.
There were more street beggars in Cambodia than Vietnam or Thailand. It was surprising that some were as young as three. They’re forced out on the streets by their parents to make money from tourists, being taught phrases such as, “three for a dollar” with their cute accents. I encountered one boy who stole my heart and struck up a deal to buy a woven bracelet if he would let me take a picture of him, and he was happy to pose. I asked him what he was doing with his hard earned money and his simple answer was, "for school".
As our tour guide said, it’s a fact of life for lower class families. The children need to go out and make their own money for school books and uniforms. Next time I visit, I’ll be sure to take as much stationery and books as I can.
Tell us about your local guides
The Gecko's local guides are born and raised in their respective countries. They couldn’t be more proud to be doing what they do, taking visitors around to show off the sights of their country. They’re as street smart as they come and very educated about the history and modern trends of their home land. They not only teach us about their country, they take keen interest in our lives, dividing their attention to each of us and as a group.
They’re full of personality and organised, two traits you want from your tour guide. It’s reassuring to know that they’re there to ensure we have a great time and keep us safe. Two things I noticed which was of great importance was insurance documents and head counts!
I have a few tips I learned for myself: if anything from the menu is recommended, get it. If a photo angle is suggested, shoot it. If an activity is offered, do it.
On a few occasions, some activities were optional which meant we could wander off and find our own activities if we wanted. This wasn’t the case with our Cambodian guide, Kheang. He never got a day or night off as everything he suggested as “optional” was mandatory to us. If you stuck with him, it was guaranteed to be amazing. These tour guides truly live and breathe what they do. They have families to care for but seldom see them. I have no doubt they enjoy what they do because it shows in their dedication to us day after day, week after week. It’s sad for me to think that they might forget us when they pick up their next group, but we’ll never forget them.
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