THE TRAVELER: Mattie
ABOUT HER: Mattie is a 28 year old who lives in Denver. Last summer, she left her job in Denver, Colorado to explore the world on a backpacking trip! Read on about Mattie’s travels- a backpackers route through Asia.
Prior to this trip, Mattie had traveled in Europe, but no where else extensively. She had thought long and hard about her decision to quit and travel, so when the time came, she felt comfortable and ready for the adventure. Even still, booking the one-way flight to start her trip was nerve-wracking! In fact, just before booking the flight, she called her Dad just so someone could be with her when she clicked “purchase”. He lovingly obliged.
Mattie’s travel plan was very open-ended. The one-way flight she booked was through Iceland Air, where you can plan a layover for up to one week, so she stayed in Reykjavik for five days before continuing on to Paris. She also had a one-way flight booked after a week in Paris to go to Majorca, but from there, the itinerary was open.
Mattie ended up traveling for three months around Europe, but afterwards, she decided to head East to Asia, where she would meet up with her cousin, Katie, to explore Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar and Indonesia. Mattie and Katie both had a desire to go to Asia long before their trip, so once Katie found out that Mattie was making the trip, she booked a flight to join her!
BACKPACKERS ROUTE THROUGH ASIA
Katie and Mattie met in Bangkok, in part because of the major airport and also because it’s a city where you can easily go to consulates to secure travel visas. (Some of their visas were purchased online, but others required that you visit the consulate in person. No one visa was expensive; the most they paid was $50-60 USD. Also, you’re allowed to travel up to a month in Indonesia without a visa, due to the heavy tourism industry in Bali*).
Asia felt like organized chaos, but once you entered a local restaurant and sat at a tiny table with tiny chairs, life felt a lot slower and more relaxed.
Upon arriving Bangkok, Mattie was instantly inundated with the highly chaotic and crowded disposition of the Asian culture. As she describes it, “[Asia] felt like organized chaos, but once you entered a local restaurant and sat at a tiny table with tiny chairs, life felt a lot slower and more relaxed.” Still, with the condensed population, scooters whizzing in all directions, constant honking, and electrical lines and wires haphazardly bundled at poles…
… she realized she was no longer in Europe!
Throughout her entire trip, Mattie booked flights, searched for accommodation, researched, mapped destinations, and snapped all of her photos and videos from her iPhone 6. She also packed an iPad, but found that she almost never used it.
While in Bangkok, Mattie and Katie visited the Grand Palace, the official residence of the Kings of Siam. One thing they learned quickly while visiting the temple was the expected attire- for both locals and for tourists. The strict dress code requires that you respectfully cover your shoulders and legs, so despite the extreme heat, Mattie and Katie bought sarongs to wrap around themselves. Also, while in the temples, it’s customary to take off your shoes, as feet are considered ‘unclean’ in their culture. Finally, etiquette suggests not to point your feet at the Buddha. Instead, you’re supposed to bow in the presence of the Buddha as a sign of respect.
A final tip- when giving an offering at the Grand Palace, there are sets of bells that you’re supposed to ring afterwards, signaling your offering.
After spending the weekend in Bangkok, they headed to Cambodia. A traveler in Europe told them about a hostel called Babel Guest House, so they secured accommodation there upon arriving Siem Reap. It turned out to be one of the best (read: cleanest) hostels they stayed in while traveling. The hostel was run by Norwegians, and it was conveniently located 15 minutes from the International Airport.
First stop: Angkor Wat, a 1,000 year-old temple near Siem Reap in the north central part of Cambodia.
It was rainy season in Cambodia (August- September) when they arrived, which meant lower prices and a general lack of tourists. This helped Mattie and Katie meet more locals and experience “true” Cambodian culture. To their surprise, however, Angkor Wat was still PACKED with people, even though they rose around 4am to witness sunrise over the temple. To get to Angkor Wat from Babel Guest House, Mattie and Katie hailed a tuk-tuk, whom they paid around $12-15 for the day. They used this same driver to pick them up from the airport.
After the day trip to Angkor Wat, they headed deep into the jungles of Siem Reap. (psst: this is the location where Lara Croft: Tomb Raider location movies were filmed!) Lots of mysteriousness and lush foliage surrounded them. Here, they wore minimal clothing but tried to stay covered, despite the extreme humidity. It was here where Mattie realized she should have packed more lightweight blouses and modest dresses made from breathable fabrics. She quickly surrendered to the reality of Asian travel; there wasn’t a day that she didn’t go to sleep hot, sticky and sweaty. Mattie applied sunscreen each day to prevent from sunburn. A tip they learned from other travelers: to prevent oily skin, use a powder-based sunscreen on your face and neck.
In Siem Reap, there’s quite a bit of nightlife because of all the tourists. Mattie and Katie made friends while traveling and easily found fun places to dine and drink during their time there. An added plus? Everything is cheap! One of the best foods they tried in the region was morning glories (tra kuen)- a green-bean like vegetable that is often served in Cambodia. Morning glories can be prepared many ways, but their favorite was when it was lightly marinated in oyster sauce.
After visiting Angkor Wat, Mattie and Katie decided to book a stay at a wellness center, called Navutu Dreams, where they could relax, practice yoga, and drink lots of tea. They also went to a bar in the area to watch the traditional Apsara Dance from the Royal Ballet of Cambodia. The dance includes hand gestures called kbach, which represent various things from nature such as flowers, fruit and leaves. The dancers practice and stretch often to increase the flexibility of their hands; the goal is for their palms to reach back toward their forearms.
The next destination in their travels was Phnom Penh, the capital city and largest city in Cambodia. A major part of Phnom Penh’s history is the death march of the Khmer Rouge in 1975. Mattie and Katie had read about the 17,000 civilians that were killed and buried in mass graves, and wanted to visit the communal grave site, the Killing Fields of Cheung Ek. At the Killing Fields, bracelets line the poles, left by visitors in remembrance of those who died at the site. There were an estimated 1.5-3 million people killed by the Khmer Rouge.
Next, to get escape the bustle of the city, they traveled to The Vine Retreat Center at a pepper farm in Kep, Cambodia. To get there, they took a bus from Phnom Penh and then a tuk-tuk to the actual farm. This was a special stop for the two travelers; because it was low season, they were the only travelers staying at the farm. The intimate setting allowed the two a chance to get to know the workers on a personal level. The workers went out of their way to teach Mattie and Katie their pepper farming methods, as well as how to cook several traditional dishes.
Another day, one of the workers, Sarann, took them on a day tour into the town of Kep to go to the markets. After walking through the market and learning about all of the local goods, Sarann took them to a hotel owned by a friend in the area. Because no one was staying at the hotel that night, they had the pool and the deck to themselves! Sarann also took them to a bar on the water, where they witnessed one of the most beautiful sunsets they had ever seen.
Mattie and Katie stayed four nights at the retreat center, and slept in private rooms. The mosquitos and bugs were so prevalent that they slept in beds surrounded by mosquito nets. One thing to note if you plan to visit or stay at The Vine is that while the Cambodian accommodation is not expensive by Western standards, it is more pricey than other places in the country because they’re so far from a city or commercial center. The food was very fresh and well-prepared, but they paid more than usual because of the retreat’s remote location.
Mattie and Katie knew they were only staying four nights at The Vine, but they didn’t have any plans afterward, so when Sarann offered to have them stay at her home back in Phnom Penh, they agreed. She promised to show them a local, “happy” view of the city; she didn’t want them to leave her home after only having seen The Killing Fields.
This experience provided them with an unedited view of the Cambodian life, and, Mattie explained, one of the coolest parts of her trip. With Sarann, she experienced true living conditions in Phnom Penh, both inside the apartment where Sarann lived and the neighborhood where she worked and went about her day. At the time, Saran was housing a former employee and her child in her small, one bedroom apartment. Upon learning that Sarann was already opening her house to two other guests, Mattie and Katie felt that they couldn’t impose on her space further, but Sarann insisted. So, for a week, seven woman (Sarann, her two daughters, the employee and her child, Katie and Mattie) shared the one bedroom apartment.
During their stay with Sarann, they visited a market in the city, cooked several meals together, went out to a Karaoke bar, and even went out on the town with Sarann’s friend. The way she opened up her home to them was a true testament to the giving, selfless nature of the Cambodian people, and an experience that couldn’t be replicated. We at Trust the Locals believe these are the stories that make us so passionate about our mission: to connect travelers with locals, providing experiences that are otherwise not achievable, and to help travelers understand a place in a deeper, more meaningful way.
Next on Trust the Locals, we’ll take you through Mattie’s travels in Vietnam. Until then, happy trails!
*For more information about the visa requirements in Indonesia, check out this site.