The Journey Begins!

We successfully completed the 10-day silent Vipassana meditation retreat at Dhamma Giri!  It was an incredibly challenging experience (both mentally and physically) - and we will need some time to decompress before writing about it.  We’ll write an article and tell you about the rest of our India travel in the next newsletter.  For now, here are some first impressions:

Danielle: “I thought it would never end…”

Daniel: “Let’s never not talk to each other for 10 days”

Michael: “WHOA!”

Michael used this experience as an opportunity to raise money for A Caring Hand, an organization dedicated to providing grief counseling to children who have lost one of their parents prematurely.  Thanks to the generous donations so far, he has raised over $24,000!

A Whirlwind Departure

After a chaotic week on the East Coast, packing and saying our goodbyes, we boarded the plane in Newark ready to take on the world!  We had an overnight layover in Bangkok, Thailand, complete with the first (of many) Thai massages.
 

Siem Reap, Cambodia

We met up with Michael (Daniel's dad) and Hannah (Daniel's sister) in Siem Reap, Cambodia.  The city itself is relatively small, with a large street of Western bars and restaurants (called “Pub Street”) in the midst of several local markets - all of which seemed to carry the same endless supply of elephant pants, printed t-shirts, shoes, carved wooden trinkets and local jewelry. Everything is very cheap - almost every bar offered $0.50 beers.  We realized after Michael accidentally attempted to take out $100k at an ATM, that the primary currency here is US Dollars. Thankfully, his card was not disabled.

Our first full day in Siem Reap, we played the obligatory tourist and took on the circuit of temples.  We visited Angkor Wat and Ta Prohm (Tomb Raider Temple) in-depth and then called it a day, ending our tour a bit prematurely.  We used these ruins as an opportunity to get more familiar with our DSLR camera, capturing a ton of great moments - which I’m sure you will see if you follow our Instagram accounts (@exploremagic @diamondinthewind).  After our second $3 foot massage, a quick nightcap turned into an all-nighter, complete with shots at the tuk-tuk bar.  Whoops!

Despite a slow start to our last day in Cambodia, we pulled it together to take a tuk-tuk out to a floating village.  We choose one of the villages further from the city center, hoping for a more authentic experience.  The town was a series of houses built on stilts and could only be reached by boat during this time of year. Once we arrived, we jumped into two smaller boats hand-rowed by locals and were quickly steered to a cluster of boats with women selling food and drinks.  We encouraged the young boy and his mother rowing our boat to choose a snack. Not surprisingly, the young boy chose the most expensive item!  To be fair, it was only $7 (but that’s equivalent to 14 beers!).  Next, they paddled us through a forest.  We were literally floating through the tops of the trees - it was magical (until we heard the impending storm).  Turns out that it's monsoon season.  
 

Chiang Mai, Thailand

We spent four days in Chiang Mai.  We couldn’t help but order a “table” pad thai at almost every meal!  On our third day, we visited Maerim Elephant Sanctuary.  Finding a humane and ethical elephant experience was really important to us and we hit the jackpot! The Sanctuary currently has 7 elephants ranging in age from 6 to 51.  Each of them was rescued either from (i) elephant tourism, (ii) the circus, (iii) illegal logging operations in Thailand or (iv) legal logging operations in Burma. Before beginning our elephant trek, we each stuffed as many bananas as possible into our cross-body bags and the pockets of our clothing.  We fed them by placing the bananas on their tongues or in their dexterous trunks.  Then, we began our trek; the elephants led the way and we carefully followed along.  Without bananas, it was like we were invisible to them!