Travel Tips

Vietnam // My SE Asia Adventure

Sapa Village

I wanted to leave SE Asia with a bang, so we decided to do a trek through the mountains of Sapa in northern Vietnam. I got to see the villages and culture of the Hmong people that I grew up with in my rural hometown in Minnesota. I went to school K-12 with the children of Vietnam war refugees. These large group of Hmong were the only sign of diversity in our town of predominately German and Polish decent. Growing up, I had no knowledge of their culture, history, values, landscape, or anything. There was no effort made in the school curriculum to fill in the gaps of knowledge and mutual understanding. Thinking back, it's incredible that these families were able to adapt to living in Minnesota because Sapa Vietnam and the culture couldn't be anymore opposite. 

We arrived in Sapa in a sleeper bus. This was the first time being on one of these for me. The roads are narrow and windy for two of the 6 hour ride. There is a train option the is probably safer, but since there was no availability, we took the bus. I booked our trek and overnight homestay through Sapa O'Chau. They were extremely helpful and we loved our guide! The trek was an all day hike through the mountains, villages and rice fields. There was a stop for lunch and a snack. We arrived at the family's house for the one night homestay. They made a dinner for us on an open fire and we soaked in an herbal bath. Each homestay house is required to have a western toilet and shower (not heated water). However, on the trek you will make stops for lunch/snacks and the toilet may not be a western one. 

Myanmar // My SE Asia Adventure

Old Bagan

Old Bagan is hands down, the most magical and breathtaking place I've ever been. If you want the best sunrise of your life, visit this place. Images of the hot air balloons peacefully gliding over the landscape of the temples will never be forgotten. The best thing about these photos is that they are hardly photoshopped. What you see is what you get. The color changes from oranges to yellows and greens through out the sunrise and mid-morning. 

We stayed in old Bagan right outside the walls and rented E-bikes to get around the 2,200 temples. I was a little reluctant to get on a motor bike, but in this particular area, that was the only way to get around in a practical way since there weren't any tuk tuks. A lot of the pathways were sand or dirt. This place is changing by the minute. Right now, the country has only been open to US tourists for 6 years and the temples are wide open to exploration. The bigger ones are quite touristy, but still very worth it. We did a fair amount of exploring, going in as many as possible that were off the beaten path. I recommend wearing flip flops or easy on/off shoes as you will have to take your shoes off when entering every temple. 

Inle Lake

Inle Lake was one of those unexpected adventures that stands out in the memory bank. We almost didn't come here, but decided to anyway. I've always had a fascination with living on the water. Inle Lake takes it to the next level. They have an entire community that lives miles and miles out in the middle of this lake. They have a post office, electrical poles, everything. They are completely self-sustaining water community. For the most part, it's still pretty under the radar and not overly touristy. We hired a boat driver and did the tour in one full day. The boat tours are very "un-official." You just walk down to the boat docks and find a guy and pay him $20 US dollars for the whole day. No need to worry about getting a touristy tour vs. an authentic tour because it's all the same.


We flew into Yangon and spent two days there doing a couple of short stories. If you are just traveling, I recommend doing a layover that has enough hours in between flights to visit the Shwedagon Pagoda. This is the tallest pagoda I saw on my trip. It stands 325 feet tall and made with gold and a 76 carat diamond at the top. It looks incredible during the evening all light up and early morning hours. It's the most famous landmark in Yangon and worth seeing. We got there just before sunrise. The wind chimes and children chanting made me feel like I was on a different planet. There's nothing else that compares to it. I recommend wearing sandals or flip flops and bringing wet wipes because you will be expected to take off your shoes at the entrance. They regularly sweep, but your bare feet will get very dirty.

Cambodia // My SE Asia Adventure

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat in Siem Reap was so massive and so incredible that it was challenging to capture it all! If you are going to Cambodia, this is a must see place. We spent a couple of days walking around the massive complex and going around to all the temples. Angkor Wat is still a little under the radar for Americans, but it's the largest spiritual place on earth. 

For $20 a day, you can hire a tuk tuk to take you around to all the temples within the complex. He will drop you off and wait for you while you go in and look around. Entrance fees are around $40. It's very "un-official." Just go out into the street and flag someone down driving a tuk tuk. Tell them you want a tour guide, and they will be happy to do so. 

Phnom Penh and Battambang

One of my goals for traveling to as many Asian countries as possible was to sort out the differences between them. Reading something or watching a show doesn't do it for me. I have to see it and feel it for myself. All these countries triggered different emotions for me and I wasn't expecting that. In Cambodia, I felt deeply empathetic.  The air was heavy in Cambodia, the moral felt low. Something about this country felt a little desperate and sad. Their history has such triumphs and sadness that has left its citizens in confusion and without much cultural identity. 

Behind the Scenes of Laura Mam

One of the main reasons that brought me to Cambodia was Laura Mam and her ambitious desire to re-ignite the need for original arts and cultural identity. During the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s and 1980s, all artists were murdered and the country lost around 1/3 of their population. The effects of this genocide has still not recovered.  Laura is Cambodian American, and in her 20s, moved to Phnom Penh to start an artistic revolution in the music scene. She has started a collective of musicians that produce original music. In the US, we take our music industry for granted: high quality studio production, concert production and high quality music videos. We place value on our artistic integrity. In Cambodia, not so much. Karaoke has been widely popular. It's cheap and easy, but not sustainable for the progression of culture and identity. What Laura and her collective of artists are doing has never been done before. On tour for a couple of days with Laura, I've become truly inspired. I believe in the big picture of what she is trying to do for her country and for her roots. She's incredibly eloquent, a leader and extremely passionate. I can't wait to share the documentary that we filmed about her while we were there! 

These are just a few behind the scene photos of her getting ready for the concert and on the tour bus from Phnom Penh to Battambang.