7 Tips to Prepare for Southeast Asia

It’s been about a week since I’ve arrived in Siem Reap and I must say my body seems to be accepting this humid, hot climate in October. In NYC, I could probably enjoy the cool autumn breeze, but here…nope!

My friend gave me the scoop about living in Siem Reap, but you can’t really know what you’re getting yourself into until you’re actually here. With that said, I’d like to share some of my tips on how you could prepare yourself for living in Siem Reap.

  1. Learn to ride a bike.
    You’d be surprised to find out how many people don’t know or were never taught how to ride a bike during their childhood. Here, it’s one of the most common methods of transportation after tuk tuk or motorbike.
  2. Practice riding a bike in a real street, not in your backyard.
    Trust me, this one is one of the most helpful tips I can give you. I learned how to ride a bike when I was a kid, but I only practiced in my driveway and at the park, both of which were car and traffic-free! This week, my office’s tuk tuk driver let me and the two other volunteers fly from the nest and we were on our own riding our own bicycles. AND LET ME TELL YOU, it’s not easy when maybe 80% of the streets are unpaved and/or do not have traffic lights or signs. You’ll be dodging traffic left and right, in front of and in back of you. If you’re a noob like me, you have to signal with your left arm out when you want to make a left and risk getting it whacked if you stop too close to a tuk tuk or a zooming motorbike.11918__870x_148
  3. If you’re feeling lavish, hail a “trusty” tuk tuk.
    Tuk tuks are one of the most common ways tourists get around in Siem Reap, and probably in other parts of Southeast Asia. A little seated carriage is attached to motorbike and will be your “taxi” while you’re in Siem Reap. For a modest $1-3 USD, you can get around most of the city without issue. Make sure you negotiate the price with the driver BEFORE you get in, or haha good luck 😐
  4. Book someplace to stay for the first week or two, and book another place for the long term later.
    If it’s your first time living in Siem Reap like me, it would be prudent to book a short-term stay when you first arrive. You won’t really know what you’ll be close to, so if you decide you like a particular neighborhood, you can easily find a cheap apartment for under $200 USD a month pretty much anywhere you want. There’s an “Expats and locals living in Siem Reap, Cambodia” Facebook group that advertises apartments for rent/sale and also many other helpful items that you may be interested in!
  5. Bring DEET insect repellent.
    If you know me, you know that I’m literally a mosquito magnet no matter where I am in the world. Name a place, and there will be at least one mosquito that’s lurking near me…When I was in Mexico this summer, I had brought and bought insect repellent but I still got bitten quite a bit. Turns out you need DEET percentages of at least 10-15%, and even that might not be strong enough depending on how evil the mosquito is. I ended up purchasing 8 bottles of 40% DEET repellent spray and lotion (yes, overkill but really I’m trying to avoid getting any mosquito-borne viruses). So far, I’ve been using the spray every morning before I leave my home and it’s been pretty reliable. I did apply lotion to my feet after I wash them in the afternoon (we experienced quite a bit of flooding from the rain so there’s some stagnant water outside the office) but it didn’t seem to work as effectively as I’d hoped repellent lotion would. :/
  6. Bring cheap quick-drying sandals.
    Echoing what I mentioned above about the flooding…I brought a pair of leather flip flops that tend to absorb water, and I didn’t want it to be contaminated with stagnant water that potentially can carry parasitic worms, so I was lucky to find sandals for only $1.50 here. But hey, Old Navy sells $1 flip-flops, so invest in that in the US or wherever you can find a cheap water-repelling shoe that is easy to wash!

    Just to put things into perspective, this is supposed to be a rice field but was flooded due to the heavy rains two days in a row!


  7. TRY the local food! (But bring travel medicine, just in case)
    If you’re going to a new place for the first time, you need to try the food, at least once! It’s almost guaranteed that your home city won’t have authentic cuisine the way they have it in the country in which you’re traveling. If you want to err on the cautious side, go to an actual restaurant where they serve the local cuisine, and if you’re feeling brave, try the street food in the stands lining the streets. Use your judgment when you try these foods–if it’s meat, you want to see that it’s either refrigerated and cooked in front of you, or that your food is very hot when it’s served to you. If you have a sensitive stomach, you can bring any of the following items with you: Pepto Bismol (helps with upset stomach), activated charcoal (apparently it clings to the toxins in your body and helps you expel it), Imodium (anti-diarrheal), psyllium husk (to stay regular when you go #2)

    Some delicious homemade Khmer cuisine 🙂

These tips can definitely apply to nearly every country in SE Asia 🙂 Please remember to buy your medicine where you’re from before you go traveling, JUST in case it’s difficult to find! Hope you enjoyed reading and please let me know in the comments if these are the kinds of posts you’d like to read!



Living Like a Local: The Importance of Family

8 weeks have flown by here in Agua Caliente Nueva. It’s been an incredible experience living with such a wonderful family. They’ve welcomed me with open arms and took care of me through thick and thin, especially when I had food poisoning twice during my time here lol… Extrañaré a mi familia Mexicana 😥 Mexicanos son muy buenas personas y me encanta la gente en Agua Caliente mucho. ¡Conocerlos antes de hacer juicios! (I will miss my Mexican family. Mexicans are really good people and I love the people in Agua Caliente. Get to know them before you make any judgments!)

I learned that Mexicans are very family-oriented and everyone knows each other in a small pueblo like Agua Caliente Nueva (less than 1,000 inhabitants).  The families here are large and from my understanding, there are generations of families that remain in this little town.

I was talking with my host father the other day and he brought up the fact that there are some people who have grown up in their town or in other cities in Mexico, only to leave to the United States. He mentioned that this was understandable, but it was sad to find how some family members wouldn’t want to return to “su casa“, or their home in Mexico. These individuals would leave Mexico in order to pursue the “American Dream”, as I tried to rationalize with him. He acknowledged that and said that it made sense, but that it was disappointing when these people didn’t return home, and seemed to forget their families here. It was disheartening to hear, especially coming from the US and understanding why people would want to try to pursue prosperity in the States. He mentioned that some men who had moved to the US continued to send money home to their wives and children who are here, meanwhile having another family in the US.

My host family is extremely close. My host father runs a carpentry business from his shed and hires his own family members to work for him, keeping things in the family. When I’m invited to family gatherings, there are toooons of people who show up, all of whom are family. I admire the close-knit ties they have to each other :’)

Mi familia Mexicana ❤ 

Living Like a Local: The Not-So Itsy Bitsy Spider…

If you’re living anywhere outside of an industrialized, large city, you’re bound to find insects and other bugs that you haven’t encountered before. This is the story of my experience with a spider the size of my HAND.

Not drawn to scale 😛

This spider seemed to live in my bathroom, and every so often I would see its shadow scurry away into hiding when I’d enter the bathroom. We shared a space together, and I left it alone for my 6+ weeks here since I figured it’s a mutually beneficial relationship: I leave it alone, and it will eat the insects in the bathroom…

UNTIL one day, I was taking a shower in the middle of the day because, you know, 90-degree weather, and I saw the shadow of this spider with what looked like a Mentos disc under its belly. Normally, this spider scurries away super quickly, but this time it was moving ever so slowly… I had a feeling it was carrying an egg sac or something out of the ordinary. I even considered the possibility that this spider had cancer and this was its tumor. So I rush to shower before this disc possibly bursts into a million baby spiders and quickly dress and leave the bathroom…

Later that evening, I go to take my second shower because you can literally sit in front of a fan and still perspire. So I’m in the shower, drawing the shower curtains to prevent water splashing, and I see this big spider again, no longer carrying that disc, and it’s walking really quickly. I’m thinking, Oh, -expletive-. I’m still wearing my contacts and I see these tiny little white things moving along the brown plastic curtains and again I curse to myself and start to panic. THERE WERE SO MANY BABY SPIDERS EVERYWHERE. So I’m panicking and splashing water onto the curtains to try to get rid of some (and before animal and bug supporters say I’m being cruel, spiders can lay between 50-200 eggs so relax, there’s no way I was going to get all of them anyway).



Feeling unsuccessful and completely uncomfortable in my own skin, I quickly shut off the shower, shake off my towel and clothes and get dressed and bring in my trusty Raid spray and start spraying the shower curtains and floors like I’m trying to put out a forest fire. I found Mama Spider and we dueled for quite a bit but I eventually cornered her and I won the fight.

Living Like a Local: Fantasmas!

I’ve heard SO many stories about fantasmas (ghosts) or almas (spirits). My host father is full of these anecdotes and it’s just so interesting and quite spooky since I never wanted to believe they existed. Sure, there are a bunch of TV shows about ghosts and all things haunted, but me being the scaredy cat that I am, I’ve never indulged. I’m not sure if people in the US share these ghost stories so openly, but I was intrigued by how many of these stories existed in the little pueblo of Agua Caliente Nueva.

Story time! Dun, dun, duuuuuunnnnnnnn……

The Guardian Angel: When my host father was an infant, there was a neighbor who would always look after him and give him candy and other sweets. He had been killed and my host father continued to grow up in that neighborhood. His house was still being built, and there wasn’t a door to the entrance of the house; it was only an entryway. When my host father was 8 years old, he was sleeping and suddenly woke up and found there was a very tall, tan-skinned man standing in the entryway, who ducked his head to enter the house and approached the bed and stood there for a good while, not doing anything, and would leave. This apparently happened until my host father turned 14. He told his mother about it, and she suspected it was the same neighbor who was watching over him to make sure he was okay while growing up o.o

The Murder Suicide: There is a vacant house in Colima that has remained empty for many years. Why? In the past, there was a man who had shot and killed his wife, and then later killed himself. There would be people who attempted to rent the house, but would leave within a few days because they would hear sounds and voices during the night when no one was there.

Have We Struck Gold?: A man offered one of his friends a house to stay in up on a hill since he owned it and it was not currently occupied. My host father explained to me that this friend could not stay more than a few days because it was just so noisy, with people knocking on the door and other noises. At first, I thought it was because maybe there were hooligans knocking on doors and running off, but he explained that no one was there and these knocking sounds and other noises happened late at night. This spooked me out. But another one of this man’s friends stayed in the house and didn’t have problems. He had some kind of intuition to mess with the large stone-like structure at the corner of the bedroom, to find that there was an olla (jar) of gold buried under the floor directly under the stone!

White Figure Walking: When my host father was younger, he used to stay up really late and just look outside of his house. Back then, there weren’t street lights so it was pretty dark outside, but there was a time when he looked outside and saw a bright white figure coming down the street. He wasn’t sure what he was seeing, but the white figure had literally passed through a fence. He couldn’t believe his eyes!

Mystery Horse Carriages: This story kind of confused me, but way back in the days, there were no paved roads, and the highways were all just dirt roads. To get around, people either had to walk or use horse-drawn carriages. My host father said that some older people in town have claimed to hear the sound of horses trotting outside of their homes in the dead of night, but there were no horses or carriages to be seen or heard.

Knock Knock, Who’s There?: Many years ago, my host father would hang out for long periods of time outside, and then come home to sleep. There was a time when he came back late, and made sure to close the door when he came into the house. BUT… the sound of the door would open, and his father heard someone calling my host father’s name, but when he checked, there was no one there…

The DJ Request: An 8-year old boy had an accident and I think he fell off the roof of his house, close to the time of his older sister’s birthday. A year later, the sister turned 15, which is a huge celebration in Mexico. She didn’t want to celebrate her birthday because she missed her brother, but her parents wanted to throw her one because it was an important year. They had hired a DJ to play music for the event, and at one point in the celebration, the DJ came down from his booth, locked it, and announced to the party that there was someone who wanted to make a speech. Everyone got quiet, and then a young boy started speaking, wishing the sister a happy birthday. The boy apologized to the sister for not being there, and that he was watching over the family. The mother recognized her deceased son’s voice, and fainted, while the father got angry and asked the DJ what kind of cruel joke he was trying to play. However, the DJ had no idea that their son had passed a year ago, and said that a boy who looked about 8 years old had approached him with a request to speak during the party, and he brought him to the DJ booth and then left him there to speak. When they went to the DJ booth, the door was still closed, but there was no one there.

Phantom Chauffeur: I saved the best one for last. There was a couple who was expecting a baby, and the expectant mother was in labor. The expectant father yelled for help, but no one was around to help. The only logical thing to do at the time was to leave the house and just start walking and looking for people, since they didn’t have a car and didn’t want to deliver at home where complications could arise. They walked, and walked, and walked, until they came upon a house that was celebrating what appeared to be a newly married couple. They went in looking for someone to help, so the newlyweds offered them a ride. They got into their car, and drove to the hospital, where the baby was delivered safely. They bought flowers and wanted to thank the newlyweds properly, so they found their house, but when they arrived, it was completely vacant, as if no one had lived there in years. They asked a neighbor if they remember the party that happened the other day, and who the newlyweds were. The neighbor told them that there was a couple that had gotten married a year ago, and were on their honeymoon but had died in an accident, and no one lived in that house since. I’m still in disbelief that a phantom couple could physically drive a car and help a couple get to the hospital, but hollllly bananas, right????

Living Like a Local: Día de los Muertos in Michoacán

In history class, most of us learned about Día de los Muertos, which falls on November 1st and 2nd every year. Mexicans pray for and celebrate friends and family members who have died, and help support their spiritual journey. Betcha didn’t know that the 1st is dedicated to the children, and the 2nd is dedicated to the adults!


My host family is teaching me so much about the culture in Mexico, and shared a tidbit about this Mexican holiday. In Michoacán, a state in Mexico, residents take this holiday to a whole ‘nother level. They spend this holiday at los panteones, or the cemeteries where their loved ones rest. Here are some fun, rather bizarre facts (to Americans) that happen during this time:

  • Michoacán celebrates Noche de los Muertos, where people will sleep over in the cemeteries next to their loved ones’ tumbas (tombstones). The cemetery is filled with lit candles and maravillas (yellow marigolds), which are said to be bright and deter the bad spirits from lingering around.
  • Mexicans in Michoacán have a tradition from waaaaay back where they will dig up the graves of their loved ones to CLEAN THEIR BONES. Yes, you read that right. I looked at my host father in disbelief as he said this, and he said it’s a strange tradition alright, but it’s been practiced for centuries :O

Living Like a Local: Nature’s Instincts

Human babies are born with the instinct to suckle as a means to get food. No one taught them this, just like many other animals in the world. I think it’s pretty incredible how nature has a way of taking care of animals, big and small.

When I went to the kitchen to grab some pozole for lunch the other day, I noticed a steadily moving black blurry line from the dining room door leading into the kitchen. My host father warned me before I took a closer look, “¡Cuídate! ¡Esas hormigas pican!” which translates to “Be careful, those ants bite/sting!”


Being the anti-bug enthusiast, I was already not thrilled, and I saw that they was a LOOOOONG trail of them, uniformly entering the kitchen. I asked my host father why they were indoors, and he told me not to worry as long as I left them alone. He explained that they enter many houses looking for food because they can anticipate the rain (WHAT?!) and they know it’ll be a couple of days before they can go looking for food once the rain stops, and once they gather enough food they would leave. I sat with my host father and with my luck, I felt what seemed like an electric shock on my hand and a freaking ant was on me!!!!! I panicked and shoved it off my hand, but there residual stinging and today I have a slightly swollen red bump on my hand -_-

What he told me was fascinating. The past 2+ weeks had no rain, and we had no idea when the rains were going to come aside from observing where the clouds were originating from over the cerros (hills), but these little creatures just knew by instinct that rain was coming. My host father also told me that the birds could also sense when hurricanes would come, and trees that would normally be populated with birds would suddenly be barren and eerily quiet because the birds have flown to a safer location to wait out the storm.

Surely enough, when I retreated upstairs to the safety of my mosquito net, I came back down and found that not one ant was in sight :O

That’s my story for today 😀 Hope you enjoyed reading!


Living Like a Local: “Mexican Time”

When you hear people talk about “Mexican time”, you don’t really know what that means until you’ve actually lived in Mexico. In the past, I went on vacations to Cancun with my family, so I didn’t really count that as understanding the concept of “Mexican time” since we never had schedules to follow. Even when I volunteered abroad in Mérida, I had a schedule to stick to since I worked at a food bank, and whenever I took excursions out of the city, the bus schedules were somewhat on time. Living in Agua Caliente, however, is a whole other story!

Some of my classmates are doing their practicums with organizations with set work hours and co-workers and supervisors, but here in Agua Caliente, I’m a solo gal communicating with my professor via Skype weekly, while my other supervisor is currently exploring the hills of India looking for more exotic plants to investigate. My schedule is relatively “set-it-yourself” and while I’d like to sleep in in the mornings, the carpenters working in the shed like to work at the crack of dawn (what I mean is 8am, but still, SUPER early and who wants to wake up to sawing sounds?!)

Moringa site
My supervisor who lives in Mexico has this Moringa germplasm site where he plants all the Moringas he’s been able to collect from around the world, along with other trees that grow in dry tropical areas.

On the times when I don’t work on my coding part-time job or on my Moringa projects, I get invited to travel to other parts of Mexico such as Colima (the city), Manzanillo, La Manzanilla, Melaque, Cihuatlan, etc. It’s funny because I’m so used to being on time for everything, that when the family says we’re heading out at a certain time, I’m ready to go about 10 minutes before said time. However, this has been my error on more than one occasion!

The first occasion: We were going to La Manzanilla to the beach and to grab some yummy fresh seafood for lunch, and I was told “Vamos a La Manzanilla a las dos” so as you all know, I’m extremely punctual, and I’m ready to go. Two hours later, my host father texts me “Vamos!” Yes. TWO WHOLE hours later! But I didn’t quite learn my lesson…

La Manzanilla
We always manage to go to the beach at La Manzanilla when it’s cloudy :c

Second occasion: We were going to Manzanillo to Walmart and I was super excited since *civilization and cityyyyyy* and I was in the middle of eating my lunch, and I’m like “¿A que hora nos vamos?” and my host mother goes “Ahorita”, roughly meaning, “[like] right now”. So here I am trying to scarf down what’s left of my soup and rice, and then I see my host mother and sis just grabbing their plates and sloooooowly sitting down and taking their time eating.

Lesson learned that “ahorita” never really means “right now” and that I need to learn to take the times they mention REALLY lightly or risk choking on my food the next time lol.