The Cambodian Landmine Museum and Relief Centre may be the only museum in the world that prints this disclaimer on their tickets: “Everything on display has been inspected 100% free from explosives.” Would that the fields in the nearby countryside were so safe.

It was founded by Aki Ra, whose parents were killed by the Khmer Rouge when he was five years old. He was later forced to become a child-soldier, receiving his first rifle when he was 10.

The museum displays the terrible toll landmines have taken, and continue to take, in Cambodian lives and advocates the banning of their use around the world. An ancillary mission is to continue the work of demining Cambodia and provide housing for about two dozen children who have been injured by hidden mines that still pose an explosion risk.

Cambodian landmine museum entrance (575x442)The museum was founded by Aki Ra, a former child soldier during the Khmer Rouge era, infamous as the time of The Killing Fields. He started clearing mines on his own in 1997, setting up the museum a short time later. The Cambodian Landmine Museum and Relief Centre is now an NGO that raises funds for mine victims and to continue clearing fields. Over 500 people a year are still injured by mines, many of them children playing or farming in the fields.

Cambodian landmine museum minefield (575x427)

As many as six million mines were placed in the Cambodian countryside. Not surprisingly, Cambodia has one of the highest rates of mine amputee victims in the world.

Cambodian landmine museum pile of mines (575x523)

This building displays the wide variety of these lethal killers. After they were laid in fields the people who put them there often forget where they were  placed, making removal difficult.

cambodian landmine museum

Many of the mines come from Vietnam, the United States and Russia. It’s rather sobering to see all the mines tagged with “Made in U.S.A.” labels.

Cambodian landmine museum mines up close (575x438)

The mines up close. When they are placed in fields most of what you see here is hidden from any unsuspecting passerby.

Cambodian landmine museum gift shop (575x441) Yes there’s even a gift shop. Proceeds go to the Relief Fund.

angkor wat landmine victim band

At nearby Angkor Wat, bands of landmine victims play for tips from the tourists.

Cambodia landmine band Angkor Wat (575x438)

Although this site is a museum, it is not just educating about things that happened in the past. There are still thousands of lethal mines hidden in the countryside. The mission of the museum is to eradicate this ongoing problem.

Further information can be found at The Landmine Relief Fund This registered American charity assists Aki Ra in his demining activities.

For the museum’s website go to: Cambodia Landmine Museum

Sandwiches are one of the universal foods, they’re cheap and convenient. We ate way too many of them on our trip and offer up the 11 best sandwiches in the world.

1) Shawarma in Jerusalem

Shawarma Jerusalem

A shawarma is a Middle Eastern sandwich made from meats (often lamb or chicken) that are cooked while rotating on a vertical spit. While it may look like a human leg spinning around, the spiced meat is delicious. It is shaved off and placed in a pita bread with a choice of toppings; usually hummus, tahini, tabbouleh, cucumbers and pickled vegetables. The flavors meld together into an incredibly tasty combination. The shawarmas pictured above come from side by side stands in Jerusalem.

2) Ham sandwich in Auckland, New Zealand

Auckland French Market ham sandwich

At the Saturday-only French Market in Auckland, you can try one of the great Kiwi bargains; $4.25 USD gets you a freshly carved ham sandwich on a crispy French baguette with lettuce and dressing. 

Auckland French Market Ham sandwich

3) Chopped rib on weck in Saratoga Springs, New York

BBQsa Saratoga rib sandwich weck

PJ’s BAR-B-QSA is one of our favorite barbecue joints. It’s a road trip of American barbecue offering regional specialties from all over the country. The rib sandwich is served on a weck roll, a western upstate New York specialty that is topped with kosher salt and caraway seeds. 

4) Kapana in Namibia

men eating kapana in Namibia

Part of the fun of kapana, the popular street food of Namibia, is how it’s eaten. You tell the vendor how much you want to spend and he pushes that amount over on the grill with his knife. You then grab it with your fingers and dip it into a communal box full of salt and spices. Tasty yes but not a sandwich. To make it a sandwich do what we did. Walk over to one the vendors selling fresh Portugeuse rolls, split it open and stuff the bread with the kapana. Now that’s a sandwich. It might have been donkey meat, we’re still not quite sure, but it sure tasted good.

5) Pastrami sandwich in New York

Katzs deli pastrami best sandwiches in the world

We both grew up in New York where the love of pastrami was drilled into us at an early age. Our favorite is still the classic with pickles and an egg cream at Katz’s Deli in Lower Manhattan. It’s where Meg Ryan loved the food in a famous scene from “When Harry Met Sally,” or maybe she was just faking it.

6) Pulled pork sandwich in Cincinnati, Ohio

Findlay market best sandwiches in the world

The award-winning barbecue team from Velvet Smoke plies its trade at the historic Findlay Market in Cincinnati. The pulled pork offers the right combination of tenderness, flavor and bite.

7) Bahn Mi in Hue, Vietnam (Winner: Best value)

Banh Mi sandwich

The sandwich is called banh mi but that is just Vietnamese for bread, in this case, a delicious crusty French baguette. The stuffing is typically grilled pork, perhaps compressed pig ears, liver pate, cucumber, cilantro, pickled carrots and a spread such as mayonnaise or spicy chili sauce. These bahn mi were 35 cents each, feeding us a delicious lunch for two for only 70 cents. The baguettes alone were worth more than that.

8 ) Hog roast and haggis sandwich in Edinburgh, Scotland

Hog roast haggis sandwich Edinburgh

Nothing like slapping on some haggis before the roasted hog. Haggis, the national food of Scotland and something they are oddly proud of, is sheep’s heart, liver and lungs, oatmeal, onion, oatmeal, suet and spices wrapped in a sheep’s stomach. Seriously. When combined with roasted hog it is pretty intense.

Pork and haggis sandwich castle terrace market edinburgh

Hard to beat the setting just below Edinburgh Castle. For a video of our haggis taste test check out “A Fistful of Haggis.”

9) Porchetta in  Assisi, Italy

Assisi porchetta best sandwiches in the world

You know your sandwich is going to be fresh when the head is staring at you. We have to admit though, it did make us feel a bit guilty.

10) Philly cheesesteak in Siem Reap, Cambodia

Philly cheesesteak Cambodia

Yo, we’re from Philly so we had to include at least one cheesesteak. After a tiring day touring Angkor Wat, Little Rocky approved of this one at the Warehouse in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Gotta love that French baguette.

11) Kokorec in Istanbul (Winner: The best sandwich in the world)

Kokorec best sandwich turkey

And the winner is, the kokorec sandwich in Turkey. It’s so delicious it even earned its own blog post: Damn, that’s good sheep intestine The title sort of gives away one of the main ingredients.

The world’s worst sandwich: Vegemite sandwich in Australia

Vegemite sandwich

Men At Work made it famous, but the world’s worst sandwich is the Vegemite sandwich. For those who haven’t tried it, Vegemite tastes like salty, fermented toe snarf. Straight from Australia’s Bush country, here’s a video of our official vegemite taste test. Watch it at your own peril.

What is your favorite sandwich?

Here’s our review of pizza on 6 continents: The best pizza in the world, it’s not in Italy

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As we were leaving the temple of Angkor Wat a boy who looked to be about ten years old sidled up alongside us. It’s hard to guess someone’s age in Cambodia, where the people are slight, even by Asian standards. His little legs matched our stride as he walked with us and offered to sell 10 postcards for a dollar.

After touring Asia for two months we’ve grown accustomed to aggressive hawkers, so we usually put on our game face and stoically work our way through the throngs selling everything from t-shirts to ginseng to who knows what else. But we hadn’t been approached by a child vendor before.

We had heard stories of child beggars and seen a few in Bali, where they congregate at major intersections pressing their imploring faces up to the windows of taxis at red lights.  Our driver there shook his head sadly and said to ignore them, that it’s organized begging controlled by local criminal groups, that some parents even hire their children out for the day.

angkot at child vendors

In the streets of Siem Reap, the local town for Angkor Wat, a meal at a sidewalk café is often interrupted a few times by children, some looking as young as 6 or 7, selling postcards and souvenirs. Both restaurant owners and diners treat them as another nuisance to swat away, just like the mosquitoes borne on the humid air. Everything we had read advised us not to give handouts on the street but to make donations through approved groups instead, pretty much the same advice we get back home.

Back at the temple though, something about the pint-sized postcard vendor made us hesitate. He wasn’t begging, he was offering something in return. Caught off guard, we somehow didn’t associate what he was doing with large corporations employing child laborers in sweatshops.

We thought we were pretty street-savvy but this kid was even more so and could sense our ambivalence. He tried to engage Michael in conversation and asked if he was from England.

“England?” Michael responded, “No way.”

The child replied, “If I can guess where you from buy some postcards.”

He ran through an impressive list of countries before finally settling on the United States. As Michael nodded his head the child eagerly continued, “US, capital Washington.” The kid certainly knew his geography.

Michael bought the postcards and we went on our way. After we slid into our taxi Michael asked our guide if it was okay to buy the cards. He said it was. But as we drove away we couldn’t help thinking, “Shouldn’t that kid be in school right now?”

Travel creates moral dilemmas that are amplified by vast cultural and economic differences. We still don’t know if we did the right thing or not.

What would you have done?

 

 

Siem Reap, Cambodia ~ We bounced along the road in a tuk-tuk—picture a rickshaw attached to a moped—anxious for our first glimpse through the trees of the temple of Angkor Wat. Our imaginations flared with visions of hacking our way through the overgrown jungle, then quietly discovering the nearly nine-hundred-year-old stone towers with nothing but a solitary monkey looking on. Perhaps we’ve watched too many Indiana Jones movies.

Angkor is the largest, and perhaps most exotic, religious complex in the world. The most prominent structure is Angkor Wat—it’s pictured on the Cambodian flag—but it is just one temple of dozens in the vast complex. Accordingly it’s a perennial favorite on travelers’ bucket lists, attracting over two million tourists each year.  As we neared the magnificent site it seemed most of those visitors had chosen today to make their pilgrimage.

Angkor Wat main west entrance

The hordes descend on Angkor Wat’s main western entrance. We’ll show you a quiet alternative.

We usually try to avoid the tourist horde. But what’s a privacy seeker to do at one of the world’s most visited sites? It turns out there are ways to find a quiet corner at Angkor Wat without crowds.

Angkor Wat itself covers almost 600 acres, and it’s not even the largest temple. We used that massive scale to our advantage. All those people couldn’t be everywhere at once. With a little advanced planning, and the help of a knowledgeable guide, we sought out tranquil spaces and dark winding hallways within the stone temples.

Angkor Bayon monks

Official guides to the park and temples are available for about $25 per day. Our guide, Pheara, quickly picked up on our desire to avoid the crowds.

Most visitors give themselves just one full day for a grueling marathon of a guided tour that could be called “the greatest hits of Angkor Wat.” They usually start at sunrise and many don’t finish until after sunset.  Marathons aren’t our speed so we spent a week in the nearby town of Siem Reap, a wonderful place in its own right.

A three-day pass allows a visitor to explore the temples at their leisure. As usual, the tour books say to get there early to avoid the crowds and, as usual, that’s when it gets most crowded. Instead we arrived at midday, just as many people were leaving.

Angkor Wat quiet corner

With a bit of planning Angkor can be all yours.

We started out at the western entrance to the temple of Angkor Wat. As we neared the structure Pheara turned left, avoiding the narrow main entrance where tourists were lined up like a gaggle of geese. He led us about fifty yards to a smaller doorway where there was — nobody. We felt like we were entering a secret garden as we stepped through the narrow opening into a vast hallway decorated with weather-worn bas-reliefs friezes depicting epic Hindu tales.

Seeking out solitude became a pattern as we continued our explorations.  Angkor Wat is built as a series of ever-rising concentric squares surrounding inner courtyards. Most tourists were clustered along the same section of each courtyard. As we reached each new level Pheara led us to the opposite side, which had similar ornamentation without similar crowds.

Angkor Ta Prohm trees Lara Croft

A visit to the temple of Ta Prohm using the same strategy worked well.  Known best as the temple used by “Tomb Raider” Lara Croft, Ta Prohm has been left in its native state.  Giant spung trees have reclaimed much of the temple, with some spots seemingly swallowed up whole by nature.  We ventured off the well-worn path to seek out intriguing nooks and crannies.  Pheara showed us a rare stone Buddha’s face peeking out from an opening in a tree trunk, it escaped destruction by vandals due to its embracing protection by the tree.

Angkor Wat Ta Prohm trees

A statue of Buddha peeks out from a tree that has protected it for centuries at Ta Prohm.

Armed with a detailed map, we opted to explore some of the remaining temples on our own a few days later.   Preah Rup, built by King Rajendravarman II in 961, is smaller than Angkor Wat but would be a major attraction anywhere else in the world.  The five-towered laterite and brick structure is well preserved.  But because it’s not on most tour groups’ one-day itineraries we practically had the place to ourselves.

Angkor Preah Rup people on stairs

Seek out the less visited Preah Rup and have it virtually to yourself.

We climbed over the stone parapets at will and scaled the large steps of the central tower to find a tiny Buddhist temple nestled inside.  In the spirit of the moment, a saffron-robed monk guided us in lighting joss sticks as we gave thanks for our journey and prayed for loved ones back home. From our solitary vantage point atop the tower we spent a few quiet moments admiring the unimpeded view of the jungle canopy below.

Angkor Preah Rup Buddhist offeringA Buddhist shrine atop the steps at Preah Rup offers a moment of solitude.

By now it was late afternoon, the perfect time to take in Bayon, the 12th-century temple of many faces.  Over two-hundred carved stone faces, each over six feet tall, stand watch over the site. With their enigmatic smiles they are called “the Mona Lisa of Southeast Asia.” Although Bayon is one of Angkor’s “greatest hits,” by this hour the bus tours had left and there were only a few stalwart souls enjoying the grandeur.

bayon temple angkor wat

The sun plays across the enigmatic faces of Bayon Temple.

Our newfound knowledge of crowd avoidance led us to revisit the main temple of Angkor Wat—this time via the little-used east, or back, entrance.  This part of the temple has been left in its natural state; the surrounding vegetation has crept back towards the temple walls.  As we watched the towers gradually emerge through the trees we finally had our Indiana Jones moment and, no kidding, a few monkeys even scampered by.

Angkor Wat east entrance

The little-used east entrance to Angkor Wat is crowd-free.

Also read about a moral dilemma as we met the child vendors of Angkor Wat.

 

I’m usually not much of a nature boy, saving the passion of the outdoors for my forester brother. But in the Southern Hemisphere I couldn’t help take pictures of trees that are really different from the ones at home.

The tree picture above is planted near One Tree Hill in Auckland, New Zealand, the site made famous in the U2 song. Ironically, the actual One Tree Hill is treeless due to a dispute between the native Maori and the later arriving Kiwis about what type of tree should be planted there, a native one or a colonizing intruder.

Here are a few photos of some other unusual trees we’ve seen along the way:

Pictures of trees

Alongside the road in the Australian Outback people place bottles on this tree, probably to relieve boredom.

tree pictures

These trees at Angkor Wat reminded us of heart-shaped lollipops.

Pictures of trees

We try to make like Lara Croft and climb this tree at the Ta Prohm temple.

Pictures of trees at Ta Prohm Angkor Wat Lara Croft (444x525)

At the Ta Prohm temple at Angkor Wat the trees have sort of taken over.

Pictures of trees at Ta Prohm hidden statue (422x525)

The only remaining Buddha statue face at Ta Prohm barely peeks through an overgrown trunk.

The Buddha statue pictured above is the only one at the Ta Prohm temple of Angkor Wat that still has its head.  Through decades of political turmoil and strife, including most recently the Khmer Rouge regime, the tree has protected the little Buddha.

Tree pictures Ta Prohm Angkor Wat

Imagine planting this tree next to your house?

My Lai tree

This tangled tree at My Lai reflects the area's tortured history.

Tree picutres

Wispy branches reach for the sky in Australia.

Pictures of trees

The trees in Auckland are huge and gnarly. Larissa makes like a Keebler elf in this one.

Pictures of trees

Thailand suffered from huge floods last year. This tree soaking in the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok shows the waters have not fully receded.

Picutres of trees

A 750-year old Boab in Perth, Australia.

Pictures of trees Clare Valley sunset (439x525)

Sunset filtering through branches in the Clare Valley of Australia.

This is our very first black-and-white photo essay. We’re curious, what do you think about it? 

 

Cheap travel is often a challenge, but how would you like to live in a land of 35 cent hoagies, $25 gourmet meals for two and beers for a buck? A place where the dollar stretches so far it could cover the entire country. That’s daily life for visitors to Southeast Asia. In expensive places like Europe it’s difficult to budget a vacation at a reasonable cost. In Southeast Asia it’s difficult not to.

We’ve learned that to travel cheaply, go where it’s cheap. That advice seems obvious but is often ignored. We picked it up from Tim Leffel in The World’s Cheapest Destinations. We read the book before embarking on our journey and were a bit skeptical about his stories of $25 hotel rooms and $5 restaurant meals. But we’ve been in this part of the world for three months now and have become true believers.

The picture below is of our $22 hotel room in Hue, Vietnam. The price included a buffet breakfast, Wifi and taxes. It also had a large flat-screen TV, comfortable bed and great shower. It was as nice as any Marriott Courtyard we’ve stayed. We were not giving up anything in the way of amenities that we would have at a Western hotel.

Vietnam hotel room

All yours for $22 per night, including breakfast and WiFi.

We polished off a delicious gourmet meal at Confetti, a high-end restaurant in Hue. Larissa had the full five-course spread, which included barbecued duck, while Michael settled on a mere three courses. Add in two glasses of wine and a bottle of water and we were stunned that the tab, including tax and tip, came to only $26. We were actually embarrassed.

But not as much as we were at lunchtime when we bought two Banh Mi, the Vietnamese equivalent of a hoagie, and paid 35 cents each. (As a point of comparison, in pricey Australia a packet of ketchup at a sandwich shop costs 50 cents.) A few weeks later Michael got a $1.50 haircut in Bangkok. He hasn’t paid so little since he was in short pants.

Vietnamese Banh Mi

Banh Mi, a Vietnamese hoagie on a French baguette, were only 35 cents each.

The biggest challenge  is finding out that others got a better deal. We were pretty smug about scoring a $35 room at a resort in Siem Reap, Cambodia; that is until our friends Doz and Amanda told us they were staying up the street for $16.

For cash-strapped Americans whose currency is weak, locales that value the dollar are great tourist destinations. There is one glitch though: getting there. But we looked up round-trip flights from New York to Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur (cheap hubs for travel throughout Asia) for April and found some for about $1,100; only a few hundred dollars more than flying to Paris. You’ll more than make up the difference once you get to Asia.

However a location shouldn’t be judged only on price. The old adage that you get what you pay for is always ringing in the back of our heads. But that just hasn’t been the case here. Paying 1960s prices for 2012 amenities, beautiful countryside, dynamic cities and meeting gracious people seems like a winning combination. We highly recommend placing Southeast Asia on your “To Go” list.

When we walked the streets of Bali we noticed sidewalk vendors selling bottles of Absolut vodka with a yellowish liquid inside. Usually the bottles were stuffed closed with a wad of cloth making them look like a row of Molotov cocktails. Whatever was in them, it certainly wasn’t vodka.

Petrol bottle

In some parts of the world these would be potential weapons.

We thought maybe it was arak, the potent local liquor that is fermented from coconuts and responsible for the occasional tourist death. Michael asked the shopkeeper if it was something to drink. He just laughed and said, “No, it’s for motorbike.” What we thought were impromptu liquor stores were actually gas stations.

We noticed the same thing in Cambodia. Only there the preferred bottles were Johnnie Walker Black and Johnnie Walker Red, maybe the Black Label was higher octane.

You can learn about the visitors to a place by the bottles used to sell petrol. Bali, with its beaches and warm weather, appeals to vodka swilling Russian tourists, hence all the leftover Absolut bottles. The tourists visiting the temple of Angkor Wat are apparently more of a scotch drinking crowd. In neighborhoods less affected by tourism the preferred bottles were Coke and Fanta.

Either way, we admired the ingenuity of this bottle recycling program.

Coke petrol bottles

In local neighborhoods Coke bottles are the real thing.