Sunday, June 28, 2015

Don't Miss This Chance to Alter History!

~ There might be something in it for you ~

Dear Friends,

In Cambodia they let you use your mug shot
for your day pass to Angkor.
It's been 12 years since I made it out of Cambodia alive. 12 years since I made it through some hard
and harrowing days, replete with uncertainty and confusion and a lot of really weird smells. Now, after more than a decade of turmoil and strife (none of which has to do with Cambodia), the stories of these days are ready to be told.

But only with your help will these stories make it to the masses who are, unbeknownst to them, dying to hear them.

Do you like to make people happy?

Awesome. Before you now lies a golden opportunity to help bring happiness to millions of people.

Do you like to give your opinion?

Who doesn't, right? Here's a rare chance to give yours to someone who is actually asking for it.

Come on my friend! Tell me what you think!
And you may even get something in return!

Take a moment to check out the first few pages of the upcoming travelogue 'Take This Guidebook & Shove It' and, at the bottom, let us know what you think, like:

  • Do you feel compelled to keep reading?
  • What do you expect from the rest of the book?
  • Do you prefer e-books or print books?

Answers to the first two questions will help me.

Answering the third will help you as I will be giving copies of the book to those who leave the most helpful and most creative comments.

So help bring joy to millions of people by giving us your thoughts - and by sharing this with everyone you know who could use a good laugh.

And now comes the part of the tour where we dance for you!

Welcome to Cambodia!


March 13, 2003 – 10:00 am
Somewhere in the middle of Phnom Penh.

It’s steamier than a sauna out here on the sidewalk. My legs are dripping like I just ran here from Thailand. I’ve spent the last four hours sitting on my butt, on a plane and then on a moped. I keep picking at my boxer shorts. The Saran Wrap in my kitchen should be so clingy.

My t-shirt is soaked under my cheap blue backpack, a relic from my days at Georgetown. My sunglasses feel hot on my face. The sun is roasting my scalp right through my hair – which might be on fire for all I know and no one is going to say anything because in this heat people’s hair probably catches fire all the time.

On the street in front of me cars and mopeds rush by in a torrent of sound and steel. If there are any traffic rules in this place I can’t figure them out. It reminds me of playing rugby.

I can’t read any of the signs around me either. Strings of cutesy-curly Cambodian letters, no spaces in between words, it looks like the border design on a Polynesian wedding invitation. I’ve never actually been invited to a Polynesian wedding but I bet the invitations have borders like that.

I have no local currency on me and no idea where to find some. I haven’t had so much as a sip of water since before my boarding call in Bangkok. My throat feels like that little of strip of sandpaper they put on a box of matches. If I eat a stick it will probably ignite.

There are probably a thousand things I could be doing right now. Besides try to lick the sweat off my legs, I mean. But I can’t think of anything. I’m not a clear thinker when my hair is on fire. Two people besides myself can actually attest to this.

So I continue to stand here in the broiling heat, looking around at a world that feels much farther from home than Japan ever did, and ask myself the same question I’ve asked myself countless times before, mostly during college.

What the hell am I doing here?

As usual, no answer comes.

If you are reading this – and chances are you are – you are likely looking for one of two things.

If you are trying to find out the best way to get in and out of Cambodia, where to go, eat, sleep and buy souvenirs in Cambodia and generally how not to get lost or have your leg blown off by a land mine in Cambodia, then this is not the book you are looking for. While I did not get my leg blown off by a land mine in Cambodia myself, I would not be the guy you want telling you how to make it in and out without losing a limb. Or even your room key.

But if you want to garner a deeper sense, a meaningful understanding, some profound revelation as to what it’s like to be a wildly unprepared traveler in Cambodia, wondrous land of trash and little boys running around with no pants on, then this is exactly the book you are looking for.

Even if this is not what you were looking for, you’re here now. Enjoy it. That’s been my attitude my whole life and I have yet to lose a limb.

I had no intention to go to Cambodia. I’ve had no intention to go to a lot of the places I’ve ended up, these things just sort of happen. Not because I lack direction (as my parents like to suggest to their friends at dinner parties which, lucky for me, they never go to). I simply let the Universe take its chosen course.

The Universe, I suspect, is a lot smarter than me which makes this a sound strategy.

And it was the Universe that led me in to Nikko, Japan in May 2002 and two guys named Garryck and Jamie.

They were in the first days of a five year round-the-world cycling adventure. Each of them rode a tandem because over the course of five years chances are good you’ll come across someone on the side of the road waiting for a lift so why not make yourself useful?

Jamie wore light button-down shirts and shaved his head. Garryck wore t-shirts and only shaved the sides of his head. Ten minutes after we met we agreed to all go out for sushi. Later we rode the tandems around in the dark, scaring the living crap out of a few nice, timid people even though we totally didn’t mean to. The next day we swam in the river next to the ‘Swimming Probably Not A Good Idea’ sign.

‘Come ride with us again sometime!’ they told me before we parted ways.

Don’t say something like that to a guy like me unless you really mean it.

A year later the Universe had decided I would ride with them in Cambodia.

One week before take-off I emailed my family with news of my looming departure. The next day my sister responded with a most well-thought-out question.

‘People go to Cambodia??

The answer, which I didn’t know until early 2003 when Garryck and Jamie told me to meet them there, is yes.

Thousands of people descend on this mostly flat and underdeveloped country every year. Most of them arrive on tour buses that have whisked them from morally-bankrupt Khao San Road in Bangkok directly to Siem Reap and the famed Temples of Angkor, the de facto crown jewels of this otherwise sparsely-decorated country. After a half day of traipsing around taking selfies and posting their ego all over facebook, most of them head right back to Bangkok.

And why not? It seems counterintuitive to want to take in Cambodia at a leisurely pace when you’ve got world-class beach resorts and modern infrastructure right next door in Thailand, while to the east there are countless beaches and a palatable variety of exploratory possibilities far beyond Ha Long Bay, all served up with Vietnam’s unique style of impatient, money-grubbing hospitality. In between these two countries lies little besides the ancient grandeur of Angkor and the somber, depressing remnants of the Khmer killing machine. There is nothing else on the surface of Cambodia, really, that cannot be found elsewhere or cannot be done without. Hence the day tours from Bangkok I guess.

Still, there are plenty of people who choose to travel at a slower pace, endeavoring to uncover the more sublime faces of the land. People looking to interact with the locals on a human level, not a tourist one, while finding pleasure and value in doing it all in the most laborious and exhausting manner. Lucky for me I met Jamie and Garryck when I still enjoyed things that were laborious and exhausting.

Not that dehydration and hallucination are integral parts of a worthwhile journey. They actually make it harder to connect with people, believe it or not.

But they do make for good stories.

And isn’t that the greatest part of travel?

So jump in and enjoy the ride as we dive into Phnom Penh on a moped; cross dry, open lands on a tandem; walk through the woods looking for adventure in any form except a landmine; ply the murky waters of the Tonle Sap from the top of a loud and crowded boat; and, in the end, leave it all behind as we ride in the back seat of a bouncy van that, like me, seemed not to have much of a plan.

Along the way we’ll encounter some lively locals and some deadly water, a bit of explosive plumbing and a bunch of edible shower heads. Some beautiful children and some brutal history. Mysterious food and the magnificence of man. Smiles and hollers. Questions and confusion. Laughs in the strangest of places. All sandwiched between two passes through the Heaven and Hell of Bangkok.

And through it all maybe you’ll see what I saw.

That when we travel, it’s not how far we go that matters.

So fill up your water bottle and let’s rock and roll.

And hey, if you have any electrolytes, bring them. They really come in handy.

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Thank you in advance for your thoughts and comments.
Millions of future readers appreciate it.

And so do I.