Day Trip to Battambang

As I mentioned Monday, we took a day trip to Battambang last weekend. Battambang is a city of 250,000 people just under two hours southeast of Poipet. Andrew and I drive through it every time we go to Phnom Penh but normally only stop for a meal. But Saturday, we decided to get out of Poipet and see the sights.

And honestly, it was so refreshing. It was the first time since our Christmas trip to Krabi that we had traveled purely for pleasure. Every other trip is for work or medical care. Just because we travel a lot doesn't mean it's just for fun, folks!

We left town a bit late and arrived at our friend's house around noon for lunch. Bithrith has worked with Andrew for the past three years at Samaritan's Purse. We've never met his family and wanted to spend time with his wife and children before we go home to America.

As is typical here, three generations shared a home together, from the nine-month-old daughter to the eighty-year-old grandma. His wife made a delicious meal of home-cooked Cambodian food for us, and the babies played together in the grandmother's lap.

After that, we decided to drive around town a bit so Declan could take a nap. Battambang is full of original French colonial-era buildings from the 1800's and early 1900's. We found a walking tour map with the different architectural sights and slowly drove around, taking photos. Cambodia has been through so much change and upheaval, it's amazing these buildings have survived years of war and development.

Another thing I love about Battambang are the trees and open green spaces. Poipet doesn't have a lot of trees or grass, and I forget how peaceful it is to be in nature. A large river also crosses through town, with a paved walkway that makes a lovely evening stroll.

Battambang is also home to the provincial museum, which houses dozens of statues, lintels, and other sandstone carvings - most over 1,000 years old. The labels are quite old and are in Khmer, French and some English; a lot of pieces don't have any provenance listed and are not in great shape. It's a reminder of how old Khmer culture is - I can't think of anything man-made found in the United States that is 1,000 years old.

The museum costs $1 per person for entry; you can find more information on Lonely Planet.

We stopped in the local market to buy some pants for Declan (he keeps growing!), and we ended the day at Jaan Bai, a relatively new restaurant on Street 2 near Psaa (Market) Neth.  Plates of green papaya salad, Pailin corn fritters with chili-ginger sauce, and pork belly buns with papaya relish were so satisfying after our little sightseeing tour.

Kinyei is another great coffee shop tucked away on Street 1.5 (yes, that's right - 1.5)

It's amazing how easy it is to become numb to the beauty of Cambodia, especially when you just pass through and don't stop to really enjoy the people and the environment. This weekend was a great reminder to slow down and see Cambodia with fresh eyes. And I think the same can be true for you, too, wherever you're living.

Get out this weekend and do something that's been on your wish list for a while. Explore your city like a tourist. I promise, you won't regret it!

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What Babies Really Need in Cambodia

When I was pregnant with Declan, I looked at a lot of "what babies need" lists to figure out what to buy for the little guy. And honestly, some of it was overwhelming and a little ridiculous (poop alarm, anyone?).

Cambodia does not have the abundance of baby gear that American parents can get at any Target or Babies-R-Us store. So when my parents decided to come to Bangkok around the time of his birth, they offered to bring us what we needed.

We bought a few things in Bangkok, but most of our baby gear fit into a fifty-pound suitcase, plus the pack n' play.

I'm extremely grateful for all the gifts and money we received from people back home that allowed us to purchase those items! And it's also been amusing to see the "local alternative" to some items I probably would have bought if I lived in America - but didn't, due to obvious size restrictions.

So here is my list of what a baby really needs - and what the locals use instead.

Declan hanging out in the hammock at church.

1. Baby swing

I remember my siblings using a baby swing when they were young, and I always assumed it was a necessary piece of gear. But they are exorbitantly expensive in Thailand and Cambodia, because they're imported from America.

The local alternative: A hammock. In almost any household, you can see a baby taking a nap, swinging side to side, while mom or big brother pushes it back and forth. Declan even enjoys it once in a while, too.

2. Baby carrier

I still have my eye on this Ergo baby carrier and hope we can get one when we move back to the States. A friend gave us a Moby wrap, which was awesome when Declan was a newborn. But lately it's been a bit impractical (and hot) in 100+ degree weather.

Local alternative: auntie's arms. Wherever we go - church, shop, restaurant - there is always someone willing to hold the baby. I might be a bit too comfortable in handing my baby off. At church on Sunday, I realized I didn't know where Declan was - and when I spotted him, I had no idea who was holding him! But as long as I could see him, I figured it was fine.

3. Cloth diapers

I am a cloth diaper fanatic now (the Kawaii bamboo-charcoal diapers are my favorites!). They do sell disposable diapers in the shops here, but they are expensive. And because there's no city trash service, the landlord burns all our trash. I really didn't want to breathe burning diaper chemicals for the next six months. So we bought and were given cloth diapers and wipes, and they work great.

Local alternative: No diapers. If families are traveling, they'll splurge on disposables. But most families can't afford to buy them all the time. So a rag tied around their waist (or nothing at all) does the trick. And unexpected benefit? Our landlord started potty training his grandson at around six months, using elimination communication. And he was completely potty trained at around a year and a half old.

(Andrew and I are considering starting early, too - so don't be surprised if you see Declan running around in those split-bottom Chinese training pants in a few months. But only at home.)

4. Stroller

We actually did not get a stroller. And for us in Cambodia, it definitely would have been a waste of money. Our city does not even have sidewalks; we live on a dirt mud road. And if we happen to go to Bangkok's giant malls, they even have strollers you can borrow while you shop there. However, I am hoping to get one like this that we can use in Kansas City to walk to the grocery store and around the neighborhood. I miss sidewalks!

Local alternative: Moto. Yes, people ride with their babies on their motorcycles. No helmets, baby just sitting on their lap or in their arms - sometimes slung over the arm of the driver while he navigates with the other. I don't think I'll ever be Cambodian enough to do that. But that's as close to a stroller as people get here!

5. Baby monitor

We looked for baby monitors, but only saw one for $60 in Bangkok. Declan sleeps in the room next to us, and when he cries loud enough, we hear him. That way, we only get up when he's really serious about eating.

Local alternative: not applicable. Like I've written about before, families normally sleep together in one room. So they'll always hear their baby!

Those are just a few things that are seen as baby necessities in America that aren't necessarily so in Cambodia!

What about you? Have you ever bought something for your kid someone swore was essential, only to realize it wasn't?

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For Your Weekend Reading Pleasure...

Happy Fourth of July to all my American friends! Hope your weekend is full of fireworks, food, and family - the best of combinations. Enjoy some hot dogs for us! Since we are in Phnom Penh this week, we get to attend the annual Fourth of July party at the US Embassy for the first time! Follow along on Instagram to see how expats celebrate in Cambodia.

Today I have two things to share with you to enjoy over the weekend -

First, the online travel magazine Just Go Places (love the name!) just published their July 2014 edition focusing on Cambodia. And my poem "Cambodia" is featured in the front page. I'm still making my way through the magazine, but I'm already in love with their gorgeous photos and diverse stories. Check it out here.

Also, I wrote about the identity crisis I'm facing as an expat returning home on my friend Rachel's blog The Inspired Story. Here's an excerpt -

"My life abroad has come to define me. I view America as an outsider, laughing at the quirks of my fellow citizens in a way that would probably insult them. I post funny lists of “You know you’re an expat when…” on Facebook. My favorite packaged cookies are from places like Belgium, England, and Canada – countries I’ve never visited but where my fellow expats come from. 
And now that we’re moving back to the States, I find myself in an identity crisis. We hope to move back overseas after a year, but we’re also keenly aware that we need to hold that desire with an open hand. We may never live abroad again."
Read more here.

Happy holiday weekend!
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Crazy Cambodian Traffic {Part 2}

It's time for another edition of Crazy Cambodian Traffic!

These are photos I've taken in different parts of Cambodia of the amazing things we see on the road. If you want to follow along with photos of daily life here, check out my Instagram account here!

I guess a maximum load amount doesn't exist...

Mattresses by Moto!

Good thing rattan is lightweight...

You gotta pray that truck doesn't come to a sudden halt...

Hey, it may not look good, but it's still drivable!

There's a guy on a fridge on a moto on the road in Phnom Penh.

No words. It's just what it looks like.

Four kids on a moto, no helmets. Safe, right?

He really needs to watch his turns...

Hey, that's ours!
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Crazy Cambodian Traffic {part 1}

Driving here adventure.

You never know what you may see on the road.

And for laughs, I'm sharing some of the more amazing sights we've seen while driving through the Kingdom of Wonder.

{if you're on Instagram and can't get enough of Cambodian shots, follow me here.}

Some of these photos are compliments of my friends. And some of the photos are not great quality, because they were taken out the window of a moving vehicle. But you get the picture! {hehe. pun intended.}

You gotta wonder if the girl in the trunk got a discounted taxi seat...

Hang on!!!

Typical inter-village transport

Three piggies off to the market... (thanks, Patrick!)

For some reason, I'm not convinced...
That's one way to transport a moto...

Bicycle for two.

Please note that kid has an IV. And he's holding the pole himself. While driving through a flood.


Well at least they get a nice breeze on top...

Ok, that was way too much fun. And I have too many photos for one post. There will be another edition of Crazy Cambodian Traffic soon!

Linking up with A Harvest of Blessing for the Jack of All Trades blog link-up!

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