Explorer Spotlight: Virginia Comella

Impressions of Vietnam & Cambodia

The Temples and Pagodas of Cambodia:

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Angkor Wat, our bucket-list destination is an impressive temple with its many towers and its extensive galleries with walls of bas relief’s honoring long-ago battles and celestial dancers reflecting both Hindu and Buddhist religions. Yet it was just one of many Cambodian temples and pagodas we visited. Six other temples of Angkor near Siem Reap are smaller and equally interesting. Ta Prohm, a temple overrun with massive tree roots reminded me of fake ruins on Disney’s Jungle Cruise, while Bantay Srei’s detailed and delicately carved bas reliefs, and carved monkey guards were captivating. The four faces of Buddha at the Bayon Temple were upstaged by two elephants with red blankets, saddles and passengers lumbering nearby.  Tickets to all are purchased at a many-windowed ticket office reminiscent of Disney World. The crowds, performances of musicians and dancers, and even a hot-air balloon reflected the Disneyfication of the real thing.

We were even more impressed by the beautiful Buddhist temples and pagodas in Phnom Penh and in villages along the Mekong River. The Silver Pagoda on the Royal Temple Grounds with its tiered dragon rooflines gilded with gold and silver, as well as the palace itself were impressive.  Stupas, elaborate carved towers for the cremated remains of the dead, were everywhere.  Especially impressive was the gold-gilded carvings on a stupa in front of a modern glass building.   Every village had its own pagoda with a Buddha facing the river.  The village pagodas also had a line of fruit/vegetable sculptures.

 

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Surprises:

 

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The biggest surprise was the vibrancy, friendliness and enthusiasm of the Cambodian people, especially the children, who were everywhere. A visit with elementary school children was a highlight. We demonstrated the diversity of English, with British, Aussie, Canadian and American accents from our fellow travelers and showed the children on maps and globes where we lived.  Many wanted to become Doctors.

 

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Motor scooters are the substitute for cars throughout both Viet Nam and Cambodia: many more than we see even in DeLand’s Bike Week rally.  They are ridden by women, men and whole families.  They carry buckets, baskets, and construction materials.  Sidewalks are scooter parking lots.  Most of the riders wear face masks, not to protect from pollution, but from sun, since white skin is a status symbol.

 

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French Heritage.
Throughout both Viet Nam and Cambodia, are reminders of  French  Indo-China rule: yellow buildings with red roofs, which include most public buildings such as schools, city halls, post offices, prisons [including the infamous Maison Central (Hanoi HIlton)] and Phnom Penh’s domed Central Market.  French baguettes, pastries, and cafes are other reminders of French rule.

 

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Explorer Spotlight: Jeffery Higgins

The best part of the trip for me from an activity perspective was the downhill mountain biking.  I always thought mountain biking was a technical thing – around rocks, over roots, through a stream – but this was totally different. Daredevil stuff in a beautiful setting.  The speed and the scenery were great.  If anyone thinks they have the guts, I highly recommend this activity in Ecuador or anywhere else.

I think our favorite location was Banos. There was a ton of stuff to do, and we could’ve easily spent another couple of days there without getting bored. Kind of a hippie, ski-village vibe without the snow.  Lots of outdoor activities, decent nightlife.  It’s obviously geared towards tourists without being tacky or “touristy.”  Still hidden off the radar, so easy to take in on a limited budget.

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Doing the sporting activities in a different country was interesting because of the risk element & because of the level of cultural immersion.  I’ve never felt so far from the US or what I considered “normal” life.  Plus, some of the activities were a little dangerous, and because of the language barrier (more on that later), the safety training was very different than you would get for similar activities in the US.  I know we talked about it before, but if anyone is going on this trip, they will enjoy themselves a lot more if they have at least a little experience with whitewater rafting, canyoning, or fairly intense hiking.  You don’t want to be a rookie at everything.

As far as advice for others looking at a trip to Ecuador, tourism seems pretty new to them.  As a result, things there are cheap (since the money-grab hasn’t started yet), there aren’t many opportunities to buy souvenirs (let alone the t-shirts or hats most Americans expect), and the language barrier is VERY real.  Even at a major hotel in the capital city, the desk clerks didn’t really speak English & were not very sympathetic if you didn’t speak Spanish.  I kind of liked this (after all, I want to know I’m in Ecuador, not feel like I’m in Epcot), but people should know what they’re getting into.

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As for the adventure aspect, G Adventures tells you just how physically challenging a trip will be.  Travelers will be wise to listen to them.  I think this trip rated a 4 out of 5 as far as how challenging it was & that was a very accurate rating.  In pretty much every activity there was a real risk of harm and people experiencing minor injuries (twisted ankles/knees, minor falls, blisters, cuts, bruises) throughout the trip.  In addition, because of the altitude & intensity, fitness should be taken into consideration.  You don’t need to be an Ironman triathlete, but you need to do more than walk the dog to get ready to make it through this trip.

 

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Explorer Spotlight: Patricia Bovio

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What made you interested in traveling to Hawaii as a family?

 

We’ve wanted to visit Hawaii for a while. We were also very attracted to what it has to offer and that there are so many different things to do like hiking, sight-seeing, nice beaches, etc.  We got the recommendation of doing a cruise and that was definitely the best option to see different islands without the hassle of traveling in between.

 

What was the best part of Hawaii?

 

We absolutely loved all the islands and what each had to offer. Our absolute winner was Hilo and the excursion to the Kilauea. Seeing the old lava flows and the volcano so close, made for an extraordinary experience that we will never forget. We really got to see Mother Nature in all its splendor.

 

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How would you describe traveling with your 2 year old to Hawaii?

 

Surprisingly it was not too bad (other than the long flights), we were also surprised to see many other families traveling with babies and young kids as well. Because we were doing so many things and constantly changing sceneries, Sophia was busy and entertained. We did not even have to go around everywhere with toys or other things, only plenty of drinks and a few snacks. All the tours we took were very patient and accommodating with us and the baby. The cruise was definitely the best way to go, since we wanted to see more places and did not have to worry about constantly packing and unpacking and the time that consumes. The only disadvantage was the limited space; next time we will definitely look into having a little bit more room.