Wow. Two full days of travel, and I am finally at my destination.
Fortunately, I have always been one to enjoy the journey, never ready to leave the airport and get on the plane. Never ready to get off the plane and quit listening to music, reading, or watching movies. Never ready to check out of the hotel and go back home.
So, thankfully, the past two days went by fast. But I am ready to be here after traveling so many thousands of miles: driving, being on four planes, going through five airports, staying at one tiny airport hotel, and sleeping much less and at much stranger times than my body is used to.
I didn’t use my time in the airports to update my blog because my family and I discovered What’sApp, an app that allows you to essentially text (and voice and video record) over wifi. So I of course used every spare second to chat with my husband and parents. And catch up on what I missed on social media. 😉 Of course.
But, lots of interesting things happened, so I have to fill you in with every boring detail.
Not *technically* an official part of the journey, but I left my home (and cat!!) at 6pm on Wednesday night. Whit drove us to a friend’s house in Charlotte where we met their little girl, chatted over wine and thunderstorms, showered, and slept for four hours before the big send-off.
Dark and early, we left the house at 4:45am, parked in the (free!) hourly parking at the Charlotte airport, and walked into a bustling airport for being 5:15 in the morning. Whit stood in line with me until they printed my boarding pass, and then he took off my backpack so we could share a big hug and kiss. Then I walked into the security line and the rest was history…
Just kidding! You didn’t think you were getting off that easily, did you?? 😉
After going through security (with the cutest Frenchie… or maybe Boston Terrier), I found Jamba Juice and my gate. Turns out that my Aeronaut 45 is HEAVY. Haha. I wondered if I made the right choice choosing a backpack instead of a rolling suitcase. I slept uncomfortably (in the very back row, without a reclining seat) for the two-hour flight to Chicago. And then I was really on my own, about to go the farthest I’ve ever been across the world!!
The Chicago airport is nice, and I gathered up a few more snacks just to make sure my Shop Sack was completely stuffed and overflowing with snacks and travel essentials. I found a DELICIOUS gluten-free Mexican breakfast bowl at Tortas Frontera (it had a fluffy chorizo/egg mixture with arugula, red onions, and avocado). Before the flight I picked up a mocha frappuccino from Starbucks and a bag of caramel almond popcorn from Garrett Popcorn Shops – I was SO ready to rest on the plane and have my only agenda be to watch as many movies as possible until I couldn’t stay awake. In between picking up snacks I lost my boarding pass – it must have fallen out of my pocket. Fortunately the staff at the United customer service desk hooked me up with a new one in no time.
Boarding the 777 was super smooth – they spaced out the boarding groups so getting to my seat was a breeze. The kind Asian man behind me helped me hoist my bag into the overhead bin, and then a short Asian woman with curly black hair sat next to me without making eye contact, a Coach purse wrapped around her shoulder. I wasn’t sure if we would be able to get off the plane during our short layover in Hong Kong so I settled in for the long haul. The time on the flight map on the tiny tv in front of me read: 14.5 hours of flight time remaining.
Then it was time for the movie marathon! I watched Zootopia, which was funny, heart-warming (the baby elephant!!), and had a much more grown-up plot than I expected. Joy was next (I tried to switch genres each time). I had read an interview with the real Joy (inventor of the miracle mop), so I knew that the hardships she went through were real. It was touching, and I cried TWICE (note: I rarely EVER cry). Recommend. 9.5 hours remaining on the flight. I figured now was as good as any time to sleep, although the sky covered by the window beside me was as bright as ever (we followed the sun for an entirely daylit 14 hours).
I slept pretty well all things considering and woke up with only 3.5 hours to go. Definitely enough time for another movie! By the Sea was one that I had forgotten I wanted to see. It was so interesting with its sparse dialogue but intriguing motion, sound, and camera angles. Just when it started to feel slow I became more curious as to what was causing Vanessa’s (Angelia Jolie) flashbacks.
I stopped paying attention to the movie, though, when I realized we were close to landing, so I started watching the landscape under me. (Not to mention someone had gotten sick two rows in front of me, they were calling for a doctor, and I was a little bit panicked. I thought that I had lost my cosmetic bag with all of the most important things, but I found it and took half a Xanax and the nausea went away – for me at least. Poor lady in the row in front of me threw up the whole descent. Yuck.)
Turns out Hong Kong is AMAZING-ly beautiful. Who. Knew. This was my very first time in China (and East Asia!), and as I looked out the window I marveled at the tree-covered islands, green water, and skyscrapers built into the mountainside. Before I knew it we were de-planing. I was so thankful for some time off of the plane that I wasn’t expecting!
Hong Kong is really cool. Well, the airport is anyways. 😉 I learned that I really like industrialized Asia. The people all seemed so calm, smart, and quiet. The airport was much nicer and more technologically advanced than any I’ve been to in the US; there were internet stations, charging stations with every kind of outlet you could need, and water stations (with hot, cold, and warm water!). Besides the free wifi, they also had something that I wish EVERY airport had – small carts to wheel around your luggage! I enjoyed walking around stretching my legs and then catching up my family with an email that I was safely in the airport.
Back on the (same) plane without any hassle and I didn’t waste any time finishing up my movie. As soon as it went off I queued up the last of my movie marathon, the Internship (GRATUITOUS and inappropriate strip club scene that I wish hadn’t been included, for anyone thinking of watching). I can’t tell you enough how happy I was to have a dozen movies that I had actually been wanting to watch, right at my fingertips. Can I just ride that plane again about three more times?? Hah. I did actually sleep a bit and when I woke up I couldn’t find my glasses… good grief. Fortunately they were just squeezed into the mid-section between my seat and the now Asian man sitting next to me.
After ALL THAT, I made it my next-to-last (!) stop, the Singapore airport. Let’s just talk about the Singapore airport for a minute. It is unbelievably nice. The Hong Kong airport is cooler, with giant windows and sweeping views of the mountains and water, but the Singapore airport has EVERYTHING. There are gardens and koi ponds throughout (one that I walked through had four different sections of orchids, and over 100 types of flora), tons of shopping (feels more like you’re in a mall than an airport), and tons of things for kids to do (a coloring station, giant electronic game, and I’m sure more that I didn’t see). It’s a bit confusing with the three terminals labeled 1,2,3 and the gates labeled by alphabet (opposite of how airports are normally coded – hey I just figured that out! Too little too late haha), but I wasn’t complaining.
Even though I kiiind of wanted to wander around the airport for awhile when I got there, I knew I should check into my hotel and try to sleep. The Aerotel is a luxury *airport* hotel located right in terminal 1. There’s one hallway with 50 guest rooms that are so tiny you’ll wonder why you are paying $50 to be there for 6 hours. Just kidding, it’s all you really need, a twin size bed (very comfy!), mood lighting, and a small desk, with enough floor space to open your luggage. The four private bathrooms are down the hall (don’t forget your key card) and have a few counters to place your belongings while you shower.
I slept for six hours and woke up before my 8am wakeup call. I emailed my family and then slipped on a bathing suit and dress and walked down the hall to find the breakfast lounge. The modern, slightly hipster lounge has a large window (something the tiny rooms completely lack), couches in front of a TV, a big table, and a bookshelf where you can pick up a Time magazine or a travel guidebook. I had paid for a meal with my reservation, and after waiting a few minutes they brought out my American-style breakfast. A slice of bacon, egg, mushrooms and tomato (do they know that Americans don’t actually eat mushrooms and tomatoes for breakfast? I think that’s an English thing) was all I needed. I wish I could’ve eaten the toast (not gluten-free), and the sausage was a hot dog, so I skipped that. Pretty good though considering I was in the Singapore airport.
I walked through the oddly-placed “gym” (an open air loft with two cardio machines) and walked outside to the OUTDOOR (yes!) pool. I picked up a towel at the pool bar and debated whether or not I should order french fries before leaving. It was overcast and probably 75 degrees, so I tried to get in the hot tub but upon putting my feet in discovered it was just a small extension of the pool, so I sat back in my chair. I watched a lady about my age (unsure her ethnicity) swim a bit, and I decided I would do the same. I needed desperately to get a bit of exercise and stretch my limbs.
It was slightly chilly but not too bad, and I walked back and forth for awhile before deciding to actually swim some. I observed a family playing and swimming and tried to figure out if they were English or Australian – it sounded like both accents were happening. After almost running into the wife I chatted her up and learned that she was Kiwi and her husband was British (so I was almost right!). It was great to chat with someone and dish about our travels a bit. I swam some more, stretching out as much as I could, and then took a nice shower. I didn’t have time to dry my hair (gotta love a built-in hair dryer), but was able to pack up and check out only two minutes late (they charge by the hour so I did not want to miss my time).
I felt so refreshed despite the baby powder-scented shampoo slash conditioner slash body wash (slash deodorant??), and was excited to explore the airport a little more. I checked into my flight (loving all these customer service kiosks within the airports! Never had used one before but they are quite convenient) and scoped out the food situation (with Starbucks in hand again – I am not a big coffee drinker, but with a travel advance in the bank account I figured I would take advantage ;)). I planned on getting Nando’s and Burger King fries but was let down to discover that Nando’s is outside of immigration. Next time, Nando’s… next time. I could not ever find Burger King, it along with the cactus garden were hidden behind layers of escalators, private lounges, and unconnected third stories.
Still, walking around and around the airport was not too shabby, especially with one of those nice carts to push around my luggage, and got to walk through an outdoor greenhouse garden. Seriously love this airport. I checked out a bookstore and picked up a copy of Girl on the Train (I thought it would be too freaky for me, but after watching the movie trailer and reading half of a plot synopsis I was too intrigued and had to give in) – I love how Asia sells smaller-than-average copies of paperback books. Seriously, it’s my favorite. I checked out a few restaurants and debated trying a rice meal in preparation of a fully-rice-food-situation-this-summer or getting one last western meal even though I just came from America. I chilled a bit in a lounge on the upper level (all the sleeping lounge chairs were full, bummer!) and messaged Whit on What’sApp when a genuine samurai came up to the window. What in the world. I finally settled on french fries from Texas Chicken and a beef basil rice meal from Simple Eats. It came with a brothy soup and I tried to figure out why soup is such a staple of Asian food. Still don’t know.
I headed over to my gate and was happy to follow a group of white dudes (Australians) who looked like they were on quite the backpacking journey. All the Cambodian (Singaporean?) women in line ahead of me were dressed WAY nicer than me, and there were lots of cool pants to go around. On the plane (after going through a mini security line and waiting in a secondary gate lounge), the friendly girl next to me with a huge smile taught me some Cambodian pronunciation and I asked her questions about Phnom Penh. She had been in Singapore with her brothers seeking medical treatment for her mom. She was so sweet and I loved my first glimpse of the country. The language is very difficult, however, which was emphasized when 23-year old Moly, who is in the middle of starting a French Kumon school in Phnom Penh, admitted that she didn’t even remember the Cambodian alphabet (which is based on Sanskrit)! Yikes! We’ll see how much language learning I’m able to do this summer.
Finally, we landed in Cambodia after a quick 1.5 hour flight. I went through the (fast, efficient, no hassle) visa and passport process with all the other white people and a few Indians and maybe Singaporeans. Customs didn’t really happen fortunately, and I didn’t have any luggage checked, so I quickly found myself outdoors in an eastern garden (complete with koi pond), trying to figure out how Cambodian money works. I exchanged $100 USD for 184000 riel and had no idea if they gave me the right amount of money, ha. I asked a young couple if they knew which cell phone provider to go with, and they didn’t know either so I just picked one. I got a small Nokia for $35 and put $10 on it – hopefully he charged me (and accepted) the right amount of money. He showed me the calculator and counted my money so I think he was genuinely trying to charge me the right amount and not rip me off, like I expected (like they probably would’ve done had I been in Central America like I am used to).
There was nothing left to do but walk out into the open air waiting area and find the guy holding up a sign with my name (spelled correctly even) on it and go with him to the (very hot!) van that would take me to my hotel.
And that was it, now I’m in Cambodia! I think you’ve suffered through enough for one blog post, but you better believe I will be back soon with another update on the past 24 hours!
I am so, so grateful for so many people’s prayers – they have been felt! Only three slight hiccups (lost boarding pass that was easily recovered, thought I lost two important belongings on the plane but I did find them), and everything else has been a breeze! I am excited to be here!! And SO thankful for good food so far, okay sleep, and lots of chats with my husband and parents (and brother and sister in law). Praise God!!!