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The famous temples of Angkor Park taking on some water

For awhile there it appeared we timed our arrival in countries to make sure we caught rainy season in full swing. September is monsoon season in India. We arrived in Delhi on September 1st. In Thailand, the wettest month of the year is October. We flew in on September 27th. We decided very early on that it would be impossible to avoid foul weather everywhere, especially with the wacky, pattern-challenging trends happening around the globe. But honestly, this was looking ridiculous.

For most of our time in India, we only had rainy days in Delhi, which gave us an excuse to stay in and catch up on work. And we didn’t start to feel the impact of the wet season in Thailand until we tried to travel from Bangkok to Chiang Mai in the north via train.

We arrived at the train station in Bangkok about an hour before our 6:30pm overnight train to Chiang Mai was to depart. Immediately, we were approached by a man who started trying to tell us something, but we abruptly brushed him off. Ha! Are you kidding me? We just left India. We’re not going to fall for a random man in the train station trying to derail our plans scam. But we didn’t get more than five feet before a woman walked to us and explained that all the trains to the north were canceled because of the floods.

Floods? I may have seen something about it on the train website (which I guess I ignored.) We looked up at the TV stations in Hualampong Station and it was clear floods were a growing issue in Thailand.

What were we going to do? After we got a refund on our train tickets, the woman in the station directed us to a tourist office which promptly got us on an overnight bus leaving that night.

But I need to give you a little more information. We were warned about the overnight buses before coming to Thailand. A friend of a friend had taken an overnight bus on a very popular tourist route and woke up to find all of his money in his money belt gone. (A money belt is a wallet that many travelers wear underneath their clothes so you can imagine that it’s very difficult to get money out of the belt without waking the victim.) He discovered that many of his fellow bus riders were also robbed. The conclusion of this mystery is they were gassed into a deep sleep somewhere along the ride, allowing the bus driver and a team of cohorts to strip the tourists of their belongings. I did some research on this horror story and it apparently happened enough times to make the official warning list. So as you can imagine, the thought of taking an overnight bus was a little unsettling to us.

I gave the woman at the tourist office the third degree as she prepared our new bus tickets and demanded that she ensure our bus was safe (like that would really help.) Nellu tried impress on me that none of this would do any good while the woman and a colleague showed me that it would be an official government bus. “See this symbol,” they said.

The good news is that we weren’t gassed on the trip unless you count the seriously aggressive air-conditioning that left us cowering under our blankets and anything else we could find. (I lent Nellu my windbreaker which fit his slim figure surprisingly well.) But I still lodged my wallet in a strategic hiding place (which I am not going to disclose just in case I have to use it again.)

There was a little water on the roads but nothing like we had seen on TV and when we reached Chiang Mai, any city we saw was flood free. It wasn’t until Cambodia that we really found ourselves in high water.

We decided to fly from Laos to Cambodia to avoid possibly three days of travel and several tedious overland border crossings. The flight from Luang Prabang to Siem Reap was less than two hours and were were able to get a deal from Lao Airlines. (Yes that’s right folks – less than two hours by plane but three days via bus and train and tuk tuk). As we flew in over the city of Siem Reap, Cambodia, there was so much water on the ground, overflow from their great lake, I wondered where we would land.

We had gone to Siem Reap to see the great temples in Angkor Park, the most famous being of course Angkor Wat. We booked an off-road bike tour that would take us over 40km to see the temples. In the previous weeks, we had seen many reports of the floods so Nellu emailed days in advance to see if we could still go on the tour or if the temples were underwater. The area did sustain some flooding. Parts of our tour we’d have to deal with thicker mud and we might have to walk in water up to our knees. But we were tough, we told each other. We could handle it right?

We would need plastic shoes though. Nellu only had his already incredibly beaten up Converse sneaks. And to me there was nothing like having to walk around in wet shoes. We checked into our guesthouse and immediately inquired where we might be able to buy some flip flops. Some of you who are reading this may be wondering why we don’t have flip flops. I have some leather sandals and a pair of trekking shoes that would have done the trick, but I left those with one of our big duffles back in Bangkok. (Remember, we were clueless to the floods). And Nellu has a personal no-open-toed shoe policy that he has maintained throughout the entire time I’ve known him. So we borrowed two of the guesthouse bikes and headed downtown.

Unfortunately, the route we wanted to take was severely flooded. I went closer to get some video footage, trying in vain to keep my feet dry. It was clear that the locals had dealt with this problem before. There was a tractor to take people back and forth over a particularly deep intersection but for the most part people just walked right through the spots even if that meant being up to their waist in water.



We finally found the old market and got two pairs of plastic shoes and headed home to prepare for our big ride the next day. Nellu is going fill you in on some of the gory details of our off-road bike trip but here’s a tease: both of us ended up in overfilled rice patties and I found myself at one point up to my knees in mud trying to rescue my new plastic shoe while the ground was working to suction it off.

Up to my knees in mud

After Cambodia, we headed back to Bangkok for an overnight before taking off for the island Koh Phagnan off the eastern coast of the Thailand tail. On the six hour train ride from the Aranyaprathet/Poipet border towns, we witnessed more of the flooding on the Thai side. It was clear that vast areas had taken on much more water than the ground was ready to absorb. Back in Bangkok, we planned to stay with the same guesthouse we had during our first week in the city but we got an email from the owner that due to the floods threatening the city’s inner core he was closing shop. He found us a place to stay nearby and even brought over the bags we left in his storage room.

The morning we left for the beach, the Bangkok Post headline read, “Capital declared safe.” That declaration was clearly premature.

The floods in Southeast Asia have caused more than 1000 deaths across the region. The impact of these high waters will be felt for sometime to come.

~ Molly


Before and After

The last time I had my hair cut was seven months ago in March. This is an exceptionally long time for me to go without getting a cut. I love getting my hair cut but the idea of finding a place abroad and trying to explain to the hairdresser who most likely doesn’t speak English what I wanted, seemed like too much of a hassle. Besides, if I could hold off a little longer, I could stretch my beauty budget farther.

But Nellu hadn’t gotten his hair cut in more than three months, which meant he was sporting a full fro. Add in the beard he started growing the first week of India and you had a pretty hairy-headed man. He was going to need to get a cut by the time we arrived in Thailand and I decided I would go with him.

I don’t remember how we settled on the idea of a beauty day in Bangkok but we did. We’d get haircuts and Thai massages. There was a place down the street from our guesthouse that gives hour Thai massages for about six bucks. After all the overnight trains we had, we certainly deserved it.

There were also lots of hair studios in our neighborhood but picking from among the pack was certainly daunting so we asked our guesthouse host where he got his haircut. It turns out he didn’t use one of the small neighborhood salons but goes to Hair Olympic in Thailand’s mega market the Big C, which was right down the street. We scoped it out the day before. It looked like your garden variety quick cut hair salon. But I also noticed a woman with short, fire-engine red hair that I thought looked horrible. If she was a hair dresser there, the idea of getting my haircut at this establishment made me nervous. But Nellu swore she was just a customer. When we returned to the Big C the next day, I told Nellu, “If the woman with the red hair is there, I reserve the right to go somewhere else.”

When we arrived, the red-haired woman was nowhere in sight so we asked for two hair cuts. We waited for a few minutes before they approached us for our shampoos. I would go first. As the young woman shampooed my hair, my stomach jumped with nerves. Was I really going to let a complete stranger cut my hair in a foreign country? I didn’t get a chance to find a picture in the magazine to explain what I wanted. What if they didn’t understand me? They certainly couldn’t get any clues from my raggedy head. I tried to calm myself down by reasoning that my hair grows quickly and how bad could it be.

The young woman who washed my hair led me to a cutting station and got out the hair dryer. Would she be my stylist? She was cute and had cute hair so that was a good sign. She even brought me a few look books so I could pick hair model. Perfect. But when I picked a style, she indicated that another guy would cut my hair. Ok, he looked pretty cool so I was probably in good hands.

Nellu, on the other hand, I wasn’t so sure. It turned out that the woman with red hair did work there and would be cutting his hair! I felt bad, but his hair grows even more quickly than mine so I kept my fingers crossed.

The hairstyle I picked had long layers and a little definition around the face. Yes, there was a side bang but it didn’t look like a deep side bang so I thought I could handle it. When my stylist came over I pointed to the picture and he just went at it.

All the hair cuts I’ve ever had in my life start with the stylist taking a little off the bottom. This didn’t happen. My Thai guy took the scissors to my hair in what felt like a flamboyant over-exaggerated manner and started cutting pieces from the sides and back – big pieces in deep looking layers. Imagine a comedy where Martin Short plays an eccentric hairstylist and pulled pieces of my hair high into the hair saying, “We’re going to take a little off here and a little off here.” I felt like I was staring in that movie. At one point I wanted to shout, “Stop.” But he moved so quickly, I knew it was too late.

After a fast few minutes, he sent my original girl back for more blowdrying. As she worked on styling my hair, I came to grips with the damage. “It’s okay,” I thought. “It doesn’t look too bad.”

Little did I know I was in for another round. Forget Hair Olympic, it should be called Hair Triathlon. My hair dresser came back and instead of a just making a few touch ups, he went back at it cutting just as much hair as he did in round one. After a few more minutes, it was over.

In total, I think he spent less than 10 minutes on my hair. This is a far cry from the treatment I am used to where my stylist spends more than a half and hour sculpting my do. And even though my Thai guy didn’t take any off the bottom, I would say I have about 45 percent less hair.

It’s not the best hair cut I’ve ever had, but its certainly not the worst. In someway, he was willing to take risks that my regular hair dresser never would. My regular hair dresser knows way too well that I am a J-crew wearing, relatively conservative dressing/looking professional woman. He doesn’t understand that I want my hair cut to say that I am a J-crew wearing, relatively conservative dressing/looking professional woman…with an edge.

At times, my new do makes me look Joan Jett and it definitely gives my weak traveler style a little bit of spice. But when I wake up in the morning, I look like a refugee from Designing Women.

I think Nellu faired slightly better looking more like his usual self, despite the woman with the red hair. We paid and headed back to the guesthouse to take our “after” pictures before going back out for our massages. The massages were uneventful but lovely. I am so glad Nellu suggested we take them last, knowing full too well how stressful getting our hair cut could be.

~ Molly

As some who have known me more than 3 months can attest to, my hair grows quite quickly. This was not much of an issue in South America knowing full well that we would return in time to get a “humanizing” trimming. On the second leg of our journey, decisions would have to be made; such as when & where to get a haircut. Molly first suggested India would be a good place and at the right time. While the timing would be right, the location would interfere with the facial hair I was sprouting and managing. The answer suddenly came to both of us: BANGKOK! We would both get haircuts and massages while in Bangkok.

We scouted the neighborhood for prices and a general look at the venues, going as far as checking out where our host gets his hair cut; at the Hair Olympic in the The Big C (think of it as the Thai Walmart). When we did the necessary walk-by, however, we noticed an older woman with flaming red top hair sitting down inside. We debated the situation: Molly speculated that she worked there while I thought she was waiting her turn in the salon chair. We both decided to keep shopping around the neighborhood. Communication problems arose at the other local establishments, so we both decided to go back to Hair Olympic for the slightly more expensive haircuts, but better communication options.

Arriving at the salon, we relayed our desires and were separated for the hair washing & head massage. Afterwards I was introduced to the stylist… the same red-haired woman we had seen on a previous day. Molly was right and lucky, since she has sworn the day before that the women with red hair (if she did work there) would not touch a hair on her head. To her credit, she spoke English well & performed admirable considering her shaking hands. I was even lucky enough to have kept both my eyes and ears intact. Half-way through the cut, I was directed back to the washing station for another wash and massage. With her assistant handing her scissors & combs, along with several washings & massages, I felt like part of a racing team… a well oiled machine. The rest of the time I spent watching Molly across from me as her stylist performed “a cutting ballet”. I wasn’t sure, but she looked a bit hesitant at the process. Overall, it was probably the longest haircut I have had and the back of my hairline hasn’t been quite this high, but overall I think she did a good job. Molly came out looking pretty good as well, but she’ll have to tell you what she thought about that.

Before & After Shearing (Photo by Molly)

Fresh from the shearing, we went back to our bed & breakfast to take the required “after” photos, before getting a taste of the Thai massage. For those that do not know me well, I do not like massages much. Up to this point, the only professional massages that I have allowed to be performed to me were all on our honeymoon in Bali. I find it hard to relax when someone is digging their elbows and hands into my flesh, causing me more pain than when I came in. After spending a month each in India & China (as well as 5+ months of travelling overall), a $5/hour massage seemed like a good idea at the time. I’d like to say that it was a painless process, however, a Thai massage does seem to involve pain and some odd stretching. By the end, you feel like a discombobulated yoga practitioner. My masseuse also seemed to get a good workout as she was unable to get me into some of the poses and was at least half my size.

All in all, our day of beauty & rest was well-earned. I’m not sure we will have the opportunity to do it again somewhere else on our trip, but I am definitively not dreading it.

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