Hawaii

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Aloha! Hawaii is one of my favorite places on earth. Not only because of the great surf and the shaka lifestyle, but also because it is the place where my wife and I got married. I had been to Hawaii twice before in the Navy. The first time was for 48 hours, and the second time we were only in port long enough to resupply and then get back to San Diego. Most of my days as a sailor were spent like other sailors—drinking and making new friends. So I never got a real taste of the Hawaiian island lifestyle until I went with my wife.

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I do, however, remember the first time I saw Hawaii. It was the first time I had ever left the continent and wanted to see my first overseas exotic place. I was doing Sea & Anchor detail down in the forecastle of the USS Belleau Wood LHA-3. I was in an enclosed room with a crew of few that manually controlled the two 15,000lbs anchors that were used to stop a 50,000-ton ship (just under the size of an aircraft carrier). I remember standing there waiting for my next command when Master Chief said we could stick our heads out of the porthole and get a real sailor’s view of Hawaii.

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There were multiple portholes, but the ones with the best view were located on the forward keel of the boat. When it was my turn, I stepped up on the angle irons and stuck my head into what seemed like a dream. I was looking directly down at the keel of the ship as it was splitting crystal clear blue water. As it did so, dozens and dozens of flying fish were jumping off our wake and flying up to thirty yards before re-submerging. Then I looked port side and saw Oahu from about ten miles offshore. It had everything that I had come to expect from pictures. There were lush covered mountains, clouds that allowed for the sun to beam through, and a classic Hawaiian rainbow stretching almost the length of the island.

 

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The rest of the Navy story spirals out of control from there involving two guys in a urinal cake–eating competition, a girl that accidentally got mule kicked unconscious by one of my superiors, and I got kidnapped by a 550-lb. Polynesian. But that’s a different story for a different time.

This blog post is about my experiences in Hawaii while I was getting married. The first leg of our trip was from Tampa to LA and then we paid to upgrade to fly first class for our trip from LA to Honolulu. But as luck would have it, they ran out of champagne in first glass, so we only had half a glass each for us to toast.

I was disappointed with Delta about that one. We landed in Honolulu and were picked up by my fiancées Tutu (grandmother in Hawaiian) upon arrival. Tutu and Grandpa have lived in Hawaii Kai for more than 20 years. They are no longer visitors; they are kama’aina, which is Hawaiian for “local.” So if you’re ever in Waikiki and find yourself getting harassed by vendors, just say you’re kama’aina and they will immediately move on to the next tourist. After a long flight, we finally settled into the guest bedroom at my fiancée’s grandparents’ home and waited as other family members arrived from the airport. We then went to bed to rest for the activities that we planned for the week.

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The next morning, I woke up and went for a morning run to work out at the 24-Hour Fitness a couple miles away. Upon my return, my fiancée asked me why I was going for a run when we were just leaving to go hike a mountain? I had gotten the activities mixed up but met up with the rest of the family to climb Koko Crater. Koko Crater is a 1208-ft. ascension on an abandoned railway to a mineshaft and military bunker at the top. It makes for one of the best views in all of Oahu and is totally worth the climb. Plus, it’s free.horse11

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That afternoon, we went to our wedding rehearsal at Kualoa Ranch where our wedding would take place. Kualoa Ranch is famous because it was the shooting location for all of the Jurassic Park movies. After the wedding rehearsal, the family headed to Byodo-in Temple, located on the windward side of the island. It is a beautifully preserved Bushido Temple and cemetery. I’ve been to Japan, and I can honestly say that this temple and its surroundings completely reflect Japanese tradition.

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For dinner, a whole lot of family and friends headed to Hale Koa Resort for their famous luaus. The whole show and dinner were impressive to say the least. I had seen fire twirlers in Thailand, but the Hawaiians bring a completely different act. Aside from the fire twirlers, the hula dancers fulfill the cultural gap that makes the show that much more authentic to Hawaii. The luau host played a little game asking for all the engaged, newlyweds, and married folks in the audience to stand. He then asked the engaged to sit down, followed by the newly weds, and then eliminated the married couples until he came to the oldest couple in the audience who were celebrating their 73rd wedding anniversary! WOW. After an entertaining show and a full belly, we all retired for the night so we could go SCUBA diving in the morning.

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I love to SCUBA dive, and lucky for me so do almost all my new family members. That morning, we woke up and headed to the Patrick’s Diving Adventures, located on the other side of the island in Waianae. We went for a morning and early afternoon of beautiful SCUBA diving through lava tubes with tons of beautiful and colorful fish. I would have beautiful pictures of many reefs filled with fish, but my buddy whom I just loaned my GoPro to cracked the case before giving it back to me, so water unknowingly got inside. I didn’t realize this until I got back on the boat. By then, all the video and pictures were gone along with my GoPro. How do you even crack a GoPro case? We had even paid for a professional photographer to dive with us so he could take photos and videos with the GoPro. Fortunately, we salvaged some pictures from some other family members.

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Once back on shore from SCUBA Diving, half of us headed to the North Shore for some surfing and some Matsumoto’s shaved ice. We park along the roadside at North Shore and went down the walk way to the beach where you can find plenty of surfboards for rent. So, I grabbed a board and paddled out. It was on my bucket list to one-day surf the North Shore of Oahu. I caught about a hand full of decent rides in time of maybe 30 minutes before heading back to shore. This was the middle of June, and the real action doesn’t start until November. There was nothing really special to write home about, but I did surf North Shore.

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After surfing, I went in search of one of my favorite clothing lines from the ’80s that is only based out of Oahu—Town and Country Surf Designs (better known as T&C Surf Designs).

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Once I was successfully outfitted, we returned to Waikiki to meet up with the Asian side of my wife’s family. Before I go any further, maybe this would be a good time to point out that my wife is half white and half Asian. I tell her she is “White Rice,” haha! The Asian side decided that they wanted to do Korean BBQ for dinner, and Waikiki was host to one of the best outside of South Korea (probably North Korea too). The name of the restaurant was 678 Hawaii, and all your meals are served and cooked with grill-at-the-table yakiniku barbecue style.

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The next day, while the rest of the family was off at the famous Aloha Stadium Market Place, I was taking my first flying lesson. My wife’s grandfather who is living in Hawaii is a retired Marine Corps fighter pilot instructor. Needless to say, he doesn’t have a jet fighter plane anymore, but he does have a single engine Cessna that is perfect for island hopping.

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We went over our flight plan, radio checks, and next thing you, know we’re taxiing the runway. Grandfather Richard, as we call him, obviously took controls until after we took off. But once we were at safe cruising altitude he started instructing me on instrument gauges, throttle control, and simple plane movements. After 20 minutes of getting a feel for how the plane was reacting to my movements, I was flying between the Hawaiian Islands!

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I saw everything from old and new shipwrecks to rainbow-infused waterfalls as I banked between the lush, green mountains. My nerves were a complete wreck because of the exhilaration of the first time you actually fly a plane. Then Grandfather Richard said we should try and little touch and go. Touch and go is when you land a plane just to take off from the runway again. There was a small airport just a couple miles away on Molokai in Kalaupapa. Kalaupapa is an old leper colony set up in the late 19th century to quarantine people during a leprosy outbreak. Grandfather Richard obviously landed the plane, but once we were on the tarmac he turned all the controls over to me and said, “Let’s go back up.”

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The first time you take off in a plane that you are in complete control over, you’d better have your balls screwed on tight for that one. You have to completely commit to the ascension and what was earth showing through the window a second ago is now a tilt back with only the light blue yonder and a couple clouds staring back. Just when I thought that this flying experience couldn’t get any better, Grandfather Richard radioed in a request for us to fly over Pearl Harbor. They approved, and I changed my course heading. As we got closer, I encountered a cluster of clouds that blinded my view, but I was still flying off my gauges and GPS unit. And just as I got through to the other side of the cloud cluster, the clouds parted and I was just approaching Pearl Harbor. It’s a pretty amazing feeling to see the same view as the Japanese Kamikaze pilots saw more than 70 years earlier. We circled over Battleship Row and saw the USS Arizona like this sailor had never seen before. I’ve come in and out of that port as a sailor, but never as a pilot. After circling a couple more times, we flew back to the airport where Grandfather Richard stored his plane, and I thanked him for one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life. He has inspired me to get my pilot’s license in the future. To end an emotionally draining day, we went back home to some single malt scotch and fine cigars.

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The following morning, the next item on our wedding itinerary was to relax most of the day at Hanauma Bay. Hanauma Bay was just a short walk from the grandparents’ house and is a State Park, Nature Preserve, and a National Treasure. It’s a beautiful bay that is filled with thousands and thousands of fish and aquatic life. You have to watch a short video presentation about preserving the bay, but after that, you’re allowed to enter. You can easily see why the State of Hawaii goes to great lengths to protect it from tourists.

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13466163_10100724320158892_3065324961563931411_nThat evening, the whole wedding party gathered back at the grandparents’ house for the rehearsal dinner that was nothing short of classy and classic. We drank and dined into the night and then I headed back to stay with one of my groomsmen to stay at his hotel because I couldn’t see the bride before the wedding. A couple of my groomsmen and I went out for one last hoorah in Waikiki. We went on a short pub-crawl until we ended up at a fully authentic Japanese karaoke club with multiple enclosed rooms for drinking having your own small private Karaoke parties. After a short-lived time in the karaoke bar, we headed back to the room to crash so that I wouldn’t be hungover or late for my own wedding.

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Without going in to too much detail, the wedding was perfect, I cried, and we got married at one of the most beautiful places on one of the most beautiful islands in the world. Getting was clearly the best and most moment in my life so far. After the wedding ceremony, my wife made us all take a picture pretending that there was a T-Rex at the wedding so she could Photoshop it in later.

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After we took more wedding photos at Kualoa Ranch, we hopped into our limo and met the rest of the wedding party downtown at the exclusive Plaza Club in downtown Honolulu. My wife even designed our cake to look like suitcase luggage with multiple travel stamps covering it. Our reception was on the top floor with a 360 view of all of Honolulu.

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After much dinner, drinking, and dancing, my new wife and I returned to our Honeymoon Sweet at the world-famous Moana Surfrider Hotel right on Waikiki.

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The next morning, while the wife was sleeping in, I grabbed my best man who was staying down the hall at Surf Rider and we went out to catch some morning waves as the tide was coming in. We caught about a dozen each and then grabbed our girls for some lunch at Cheeseburger in Paradise. This is one of my favorite places to eat in Waikiki because it’s reasonably priced, you get good size portions, it’s delicious, and they have a killer breakfast special. The one thing that I regret that I didn’t do while I was there was the Cheeseburger Challenge.

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That afternoon we laid around on our balcony that overlooked the Pacific and sipped champagne until it was time to go to Disney’s Aulani Resort for final wedding photos and a world-class Hawaiian buffet that went on for miles

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The next day, we all had lunch at the Hard Rock Café before returning back to the grandparents’ house to pack our final things before catching our flight home that evening. I absolutely love everything about Hawaii, and I now understand why so many people want to live and retire here. Every day was amazing, and I can’t wait to return in the wintertime to SCUBA dive with the humpback whales. This purpose of this blog was to talk more about my experience with Hawaii and not focus too much on my wedding directly. Later I will post a separate blog section explaining how to get married in Hawaii and how to plan a wedding around a travel theme. I look forward to sharing soon. Aloha and Mahalo.

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Greece (Athens, Delphi, & Thermopylae)

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In 2013, my then-girlfriend (now wife) and I went on a history trek across Greece. We wanted to explore all of Athens, Delphi, and Thermopylae. We started our history tour in Athens. After our plane landed and we went through customs, we picked up our rental car from Avis. I had used Avis rental car in other countries before, but for me, the rental car is hit or miss. We rented one of my favorite cars to rent on vacation—the Fiat Panda. As the rental car attendant and I were going through the paperwork, she asked me if I’d like to pay $7 extra a day for a portable Wi-Fi hot spot that worked anywhere in the country and was limitless. I said, “Hell yeah!” and traded back in my GPS. Now I could use my phone for GPS and would be able to call through Wi-Fi apps while on the road. We got shown to our mini-car and off we went to our hotel. As we drove through the city, two things became very overwhelming. The first was all of the ancient monuments alongside the modern architecture, and the second was all the random spray-paint graffiti. None of the heritage pieces were “tagged,” but all the modern buildings were.

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We checked into our hotel and then decided to drive around in the Panda. We found a quaint little restaurant that was up the hill from the main tourist shops and had a beautiful view of the sunset. At dinner, I ordered a lamb gyro like every single Greek restaurant in the United States serves it, and the waiter looked at me like I was crazy. He said, “In Greece, gyros are made with beef or chicken and have French fries wrapped in the pita with everything else.” The chicken and pork gyros (with French fries!) were very good, but I had no idea lamb gyros were American as apple pie.

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The next morning, we headed out early because we had already chartered a SCUBA diving trip with Aqua Divers Club. They are based out of Anavyssos, Greece, which is about an hour outside of Athens. The dive shop was very professional, and they maintained good equipment. Our first dive was nothing too special, just a reef dive. However, the second dive was awesome because they took us to an island owned by the Greek Navy. While they do not allow trespassing on the island, we were allowed to dive a couple wrecks just off the coast of the island. It was my first wreck dive, and it was very cool to say the least. We finished up our dives, headed back to the shop, and then back to Athens.

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After showering, we headed to the main tourist shop area in search of ouzo. Ouzo is a grain alcoholic drink that’s popular in Greece and Turkey. The Greeks and the Turks both say they invented it, but either way… “When in Rome!” Or Athens. Whatever. As you walk around at night, you get to see Athens from a whole other perspective than during the day because a lot of the ancient monuments are all lit up and you don’t see as much graffiti. We wandered around for a while taking in ruins and little handmade artifacts for sale and then headed back because we had some driving to do the next day.

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The next morning, we headed out of Athens so we could spend the afternoon at Delphi and then be in Thermopylae for sunset. As I drove through the Greek countryside, I couldn’t help but think of all the battles that had been fought there, the many trade shops that came and went, and that man once believed that gods lived upon the very same mountains I was driving up. Greece is a very beautiful country filled with olive fields, Greek roadside shrines, and countless picturesque views of the Mediterranean.

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When we arrived in Delphi, parking was free and non-cluttered. From the main entrance, you go inside a museum that has been carved out of the mountain, and you either pay for a ticket to the museum, a ticket to hike up the hill to the monuments, or a ticket for both. Once we purchased our tickets and started walking up the hill, the first object that I came across looked like a big rock cone sticking out of the earth. If you know your Greek mythology, this is supposed to be the exact spot where the two eagles that Zeus sent (one from the North and one from the South) met at the middle of the earth. It is referred to as the navel of the world.

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As we ascended higher up the hill, we came across the temple where the Oracle would breath in mystic gases that allowed her to have premonitions. Scientists later discovered that the gases breathed in by the Oracle were not mystic, but rather venting gases that reached their way to the surface from the volcano.

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There is so much to explore in Delphi. We saw the Ancient Theatre, the Ancient Stadium, and of course the Temple of Apollo—all before we went into the archeological museum. Inside the museum, you see sculptures, coins, and armor that date back thousands of years. If you enjoy history and that’s why you want to go to Greece, you have to go to Delphi as well. There were other Oracles, but the main Oracle was at Delphi.

 

 

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After Delphi, we were off to the famous “Hell Gates” in Thermopylae. If you’re not familiar with place off the top of your head, you may remember the movie 300. This is where the battle of Thermopylae is where Spartan King Leonidas and only 300 of his personal bodyguards fought against King Xerxes and his massive Persian army. The Hell Gates was an ocean ridge that bottlenecked the Persian army between and mountainside and the ocean. Since the battle in 480 B.C., the shoreline has receded back miles and is now farmland until you reach the river. Finding the actual battle spot isn’t as easy as you think. We had to ask multiple people until we discovered a semi-big memorial with a big statue of Leonidas on top and in the center. I expected something so much more grandiose, but did not find it. The entire western civilization could have been lost if not for bravery of Leonidas and the 300 Spartans. Just beyond the memorial site is a small but very modern museum dedicated to the 300. It was built right before the 2008 stock market crash and now stays open thanks to donations. It’s free to get in and has a theater and multiple touchscreen tables to walk you through the history as well as many artifacts. We paid our respects to the ancient Spartans and then headed back to Athens to rest up for a full day of exploring.

 

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The next day, we started early to try to beat all the other tourists to the Acropolis before all the tourist buses showed up. The Acropolis is so big that you never feel crowded. We took pictures of The Parthenon and of the beautiful 360-degree view you can get from on top the Acropolis. The rest of the day was spent seeing the Plaka (marketplace), going to the Panathenaic Stadium, and exploring the many random ruins that are located throughout the entire city. That evening, we went to the highest hill in all of Athens called Mount Lycabettus. From the top of this hill, you can see all of Athens and all its surrounding countryside. It’s free, very picturesque, and I highly recommend it for a great photo opportunity.1175234_10151619775296334_1673521441_n1234202_10151616589556334_1564503462_n

 

In the morning, we woke up, had some breakfast, and were off to the airport to fly to Istanbul. I plan on going back to Greece and seeing Santorini and some other temples that we didn’t get the chance to see during our three-day stay. Overall, I had a wonderful time. The food was excellent no matter where we went, everyone was very friendly and spoke English, and the little portable Wi-Fi from Avis was a godsend because it allowed us to access the web and make calls from anywhere we went. The only negative thing I would say about Greece is that some of the souvenirs and activities can be a little overpriced, but I feel that is in response to their poor economy. So shop around and don’t be afraid to haggle. I had to teach a couple Greek vendors that it’s easier to get a dollar out of a million people than it is to get a million dollars out of one person.

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Macau, China

The fourth stop on my Asian Invasion was to Hong Kong, China. I had just happened to be there on St. Patrick’s Day, so I headed to the more popular tourist area located on Hong Kong Island. I was pub hopping until I came to an Irish bar right around the corner from the Hard Rock Cafe.hongkong_entrance

There I met four German guys who all spoke English, and one of them was half German and half Chinese who spoke perfect Cantonese. We all had some whiskies and they invited me to go gambling/sightseeing with them in Macau the next morning. I had nothing better to do, so we had a few more drinks and then split a cab back to our hotels because we were only about a block from each other.

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The next morning, I woke up and met one of the Germans at a pastry bar right around the corner. We both grabbed a small bite and ate at one of the nearby tai chi gardens while we waited for the other guys. There are tai chi parks spread all throughout Hong Kong, and each one is beautiful in its own right. After we all caught up with the others, one of the guys (Ben) took the rest us into a shopping mall located right at the harbor side of Victoria Bay. Located in this shopping mall was also the place to purchase ferry tickets to take people back and forth from Hong Kong to Macau. We purchased our tickets and then headed out to the ferries.

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When I got out to the dock, I was looking for a tugboat type of ship that usually fits the description of steamboat, but not here in Hong Kong. In Hong Kong, they use Turbojet Hydrofoil ferries. Every seat has a full buckle system because of the high speed at which the ferry moves, hovering over the water. After a quick 35–45 minute boat ride, we grabbed a taxi and headed to The Venetian for a little gambling. If you’re not familiar with Macau, let’s just say that it’s the Las Vegas of Southeast Asia. My newfound German buddies and I walked around and played some slots and some blackjack. After a little while they wanted to continue casino hopping, but I really wanted to go see some of the more historic parts of the city before the final ferry left that evening.

 

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I walked around at a couple of neighboring casinos until I figured out a plan to get to some historic sights without spending too much. Just as I was coming up with a plan, I looked up and saw about 10 buses that leave the Venetian to go out into town and pick up guests as a nice gesture. So I jumped in line for the bus going to Senado Square. Senado square is an old Portuguese central plaza. It’s a Plaza that leads up the steps to the Ruins of St. Paul’s. Not too many people know this, but the Portuguese were the first outsiders to sail in from the Western World. The Portuguese were in Macau before the British were in Hong Kong. Senado Square has a beautiful and mind-bending black-and-white mosaic tile formation that is unmistakable. The Ruins of St. Paul’s is one of the oldest churches in Asia. It was completed in 1640 A.D. and burned down during a typhoon in 1835. I only had enough time to shop around for some local street food, hop around by bus to a couple more casinos and then meet my friends for the ferry ride back.

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I can’t say that I was able to completely soak in the culture of Macau, but I would highly recommend it as a day trip from Hong Kong to Macau. You’ll get to catch a ride on the fastest and smoothest ferry you have ever been on to arrive at a place that is seriously giving Las Vegas a run for its money. At the same time, you can take in hundreds of years of history and culture still reflected in everyday life. I will definitely be back.

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Angkor Wat, Cambodia

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The third stop on my Asian invasion was to the Kingdom of Cambodia. I traveled most of the morning from Ko Chang, Thailand, by tour bus to Krong Poi Pet city on the border of Cambodia. There, I got out of my bus and stepped into a line of people about a football field in length, and they were all standing in line to pay for their visa to enter the country. In front of me were two Brits and a girl from the Philippines. One of the Brits and the girl from the Philippines had just gotten married and were on their honeymoon. The other guy was the Brit’s cousin who decided to come along for trip. When I got up to the window to show my passport and pay for my travel visa, I noticed there was a board that had the prices for visas. A three-month travel visa is $5 while a year work permit is only $27! I had never seen such easy access to start work in a foreign country. After I had paid and stepped outside I said bye to my new friends and headed towards the bus station to purchase a ticket to Siem Reap.

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Siem Reap is the city next to the largest religious monument in the world, Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat was built in the early 12th century and was originally Hindu and dedicated the Hindu god Vinshu. However, the temple was converted to a Buddhist temple by the end of the same century. This place is completely man-made and is the square-foot size of 100 aircraft carrier flight decks. It was originally all trees and swamp that was leveled and then reshaped with the use of elephants. Needless to say, the elephant is quite revered in Cambodia.

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After purchasing my bus ticket, I grabbed a bite to eat and then proceeded to my bus. Once on, I saw my friends from the border. They were catching the same bus as me to Siem Reap, so I plopped down in the seat next to the cousin and he handed me a beer. We talked, ate, and drank on the 2-hour bus ride to Siem Reap. Upon arrival at the bus station, there were dozens and dozens of tuktuks ready to take us into town. My friends jumped in to one tuktuk while a Canadian buddy we made on the bus jumped into another with me. Both parties then decided to pay the tuktuk drivers to race against each other to where our hotels were located. When we got there, I made plans with my new friends and then went to my hotel to check in. I showered, shaved, and then walked down the street to meet my friends at the bottom of their hotel.

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We negotiated with the tuktuk drivers for a flat rate for the next three days. I hired my own tuktuk driver for $35 for three days for non-stop service. Whenever I called this guy, he was there. He would wait outside a nightclub for us and be at our hotel waiting the next morning. He would run other people to places while we saw the sights, but one phone call and he was on his way. We all piled into two tuktuks and headed to the main tourist street, Pub Street. Upon arrival, we got out proceeded a club called X Bar. This is three-story night club that has mini half pipe on the roof. After having a couple beers I decided to grab a board and relive some of my childhood—nothing too impressive, just a few simple tricks. We had a few laughs and then headed out on a pub crawl for more drinks and some Cambodian BBQ.

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The next morning, I checked out of my hotel because there was only availability for one night and was going to check in at my new hotel after sightseeing with my friends. I then had my driver take me to rendezvous with my friends at their hotel for some breakfast. Over breakfast, the cousin of the couple said I could just crash in his room because he paid for a room with two queen size beds. That sounded like a good plan and the place was nice so I went along. We then paid the bill, jumped into our tuktuks, and we were on our way to Angkor Wat.

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At the entrance to Angkor Wat is a ticket booth where you purchase your ticket for entry that is not only good at Angkor Wat but also gains you entrance to Ta Prohm as well. Once our tickets were purchased, we got with our drivers and headed down a road towards the site. You take a road that cuts through the forest, and the road is shaded with overhead branches and vines. This road goes on for a couple hundred meters before it opens up to a 500-acre clearing with a massive temple in the center surrounded by a gigantic moat. It’s four times the size of Vatican City. Now remember, the only things that were here before were trees and swamp water until man and elephants changed this huge landscape almost 1,000 years ago.

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After crossing the bridge over the moat to the main gates, you walk through to discover a full-scale view of the massive temple, huge rectangular buildings where the monks are raised, and huge mirror pools on both sides of the main walking path. It’s said that Angkor Wat once was home to a million people.

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As we walked down the path, a local teenager who worked for tips greeted us. He said he was an orphan who was raised by the monks and knew the complete known history of the site. As he walked us around, the heat started to become unbearable. It gets hot at Angor Wat! And this is coming from a guy who grew up in Florida. I highly recommend a bringing a thick layer of sunscreen or an umbrella. If you’re a lady and want to dress for the heat that’s fine, but make sure you bring a scarf or t-shirt to put over your shoulders or you won’t be able to ascend the highest tower. If my memory serves me correctly, there are three layers of the inner temple. The grounds representing hell, the first two levels of the temple representing Earth, and the highest tower located in the middle is the ascension to heaven.

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There are many Buddha statues scattered throughout the site that all have their heads missing. During the Cambodian civil war that lasted from 1967–1975, the Khmer Rouge beheaded all the Buddhist statues. Even though all the heads have since been found, unless the monks know without a single doubt which statue it came from, they can’t put it on the statue or it is one of the biggest sacrilegious acts in all of Buddhism. That is why you don’t see any heads on the statues. After spending all morning at Angkor Wat, we headed to Ta Prohm.

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Ta Prohm is a very popular ancient temple that has been featured in such movies as Raiders of the Lost Ark and Tomb Raider. This is a massive temple almost completely consumed by foliage and roots with a gigantic banyon tree sticking right out the middle. There are almost endless passageways weaving in and out of the temple and nearly all have carvings on them.

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After an hour or so of discovering Ta Prohm, we decided to head back to Pub Street for some lunch. We had lunch and a few drinks and the guys suggested that we bar hop, while the Filipino girl said she was going to go get a massage. I thought that was a great idea, so she and I went to one of the many massage parlors. Cambodia is probably the cheapest country I have ever been to. We each got 45-minute massages with a beer for only $3! Gotta love that exchange rate. After our massages, we met back up with the guys and headed back to the hotel to shower for dinner.

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Once again, we headed back to Pub Street because all the bars and restaurants spread out from this epicenter. We then proceeded to have dinner at an outdoor restaurant located on one of the corners. When I say Cambodia is cheap, I really mean it. A dinner for five people including a couple drinks and entrees each plus dessert was only $20 total! And they were good-sized portions. We always tried tackling each other for the check because it was so cheap. While our food was digesting, we walked to the two biggest clubs in Siem Reap, which are located directly across from each other—Temple and Angkor What?

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We were probably a hundred yards away from the clubs when out of nowhere a Cambodian bodybuilder and his scrawny posse challenged me to an arm wrestling competition in the alley. I said, “Let’s do this!” Next thing you know, my Brit buddy Matt and I were in a creepy alley with barely any lighting, wet power wires only inches above our heads, and no exit other than the way we came. The “Big Guy” then grabs two milk crates for us to sit on and some type of wooden cargo box for the main event. As I looked around, Cambodian tuktuk drivers lined the walls to form a circle around us. I felt like I was in the final scene from the movie Deer Hunter. He won the first round. I stepped it up and won the second round. But in the tiebreaker, he won. All the drivers erupted in cheer and then all kindly escorted us to Temple Club. As we were walking, back Matt said, “I thought you were heading into that alley to fight and I wasn’t going to let you go alone. I chugged my beer for nothing! I thought we were going to have to fight our way out of there.” I laughed and said, “I thought so too; good thing we won. Don’t worry your next beer is on me. Hell, they’re only $0.50 each,” I grinned.

The following morning, we all went out for breakfast and then did a little souvenir shopping before I flew out that evening. While we were walking around, one the markets I came across was selling Beats by Dre headsets. I thought to myself, “I already posted a picture on Facebook of the pair I picked up in Thailand, and I don’t want to come back empty-handed.” So Matt and I worked the lady selling them down to $70 for two pairs! I paid $35 for a pair of headsets that costs $300 back in the US. They came with the box and all the little amenities (two types of wires, airplane adapter, etc.) that come like the real ones do. We shopped around for a couple more souvenirs and then headed back to the hotel.20160902_161004_001

After some lounging by the pool, I packed my stuff and head to the airport. I will always remember Cambodia as a beautiful, mysterious, cheap, friendly country. It was hard for me to go, but I was off to Hong Kong to continue on my Asian Invasion Tour.

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