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So that’s how my first trip ended up being to Siem Reap

I had spent the second half of December 2016 trying to decide where and whether or not to go on a solo trip.

There was a sale (turned out to not really be a sale) on Jetstar’s website and the “promotional pricing” would only last till the end of December. I felt the pressure to make a decision on where to go but with the perceived complexities of only having a carry-on, and then deciding on where to go, the decision was not easy. I did, however, at least manage to decide on an entire week in February (9th to 15th).

On New Year’s Eve, the day I started writing the first words on the first post of this blog, I finally gave up trying pick a destination while simultaneously deciding to commit to go for that solo trip, wherever and whenever it may be.

As it was a Saturday, before I headed out for the NYE celebrations, I went to church to attend Mass.

I don’t usually pick up the church bulletin but for some reason, this time I did.

In the bulletin was a request for volunteers to help out with a Church mission to build water filters in Siem Reap. It was also a 7 day trip in February though from the 12th to the 18th!

Most of the time, when I notice God helping me out, it tends to be in a very cheeky way and this seemed to be no different. It’s kinda like He lets me try to make the decision first and if I can’t decide or if I come to the wrong conclusion, He steps in and points me in the right direction.

So inwardly, I was grinning like a little schoolboy at God’s help in the matter. If I had committed to my solo trip, I would not have been able to go for this one!

In fact, it was more than just that.

As this was to be a mission trip, one could expect at least a few meetups prior to the actual trip itself. 3 days before I found out about this trip, an event that would have clashed with one of the days, was cancelled.

As I got to finding out about what would be involved in the mission, I began to have doubts about my ability and value, especially since it was pointed out to me that only 9 slots were available. I eventually suggested that the organiser consider me only if there weren’t enough people.

As it turned out, there was such a positive response that they added even more slots for the mission. For reasons unknown to me, despite the extra slots being filled at first, one eventually opened up and I was invited to join the mission.

So that’s the story of how my first trip ended up being to Siem Reap.

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Hostel Life and the idea of Travelling Light

So. The hostel life. I’m not really into it per se but I’m not really against it either.

I mean, crowded bunks were what I used to sleep in when I was in the army (National Service) so it’s not new to me.

Sure there was the camaraderie and brotherhood and general good spirits that we were forced to foster after having been cooped up together for so long, but there was also the politics, the backstabbing, and even the actual physical stink of the whole place.

Not to mention that this will be my first trip overseas by myself. Do I really want to force myself into a situation where even my home base in a foreign land isn’t safe?

One of my first memories of a shitty room was probably when I was in primary school. I know I was very young because I was not shy at waving through the back window of the tour bus whenever we spotted a Singaporean car behind us. My church group had an overseas holiday thing either in Malacca or where Malacca was one of the stops. Basically, we were hotel/motel/hostel hopping. Anyway, one of these stops involved a room where the door could not even open fully because it hit against the Queen sized bed frame. There was barely any room to open our bags.

So as I mentioned in my previous post, one of the reasons why I started this blog is that I like to document stuff. In this modern age of ignorance and shallow sense of rationality, I feel it ever important to have a record of things available. Can you bring that nail clipper on board? How about that scissors? Am I going to have a good stay or a bad stay at this mixed review hostel? The answer is, it depends. For the foreseable future, the answer will always be “it depends”.

Going on a solo overseas trip means I can’t be lugging too much gear around. While I like to document things, I’m not actually making a documentary. The choice of lens or the bokeh isn’t going to make or break my trip. I’m here to explore. Recording things down for posterity is secondary.

Despite this clear awareness of this fact, I often overpack, at least when with family or friends. Should I get the headband or the shoulder strap for my action cam? 1/4″ mount or GoPro mount? If I need to bring both I might as well bring a second action cam. Then again, I should bring my small Canon Point and Shoot camera too since there’s a 1/4″ mount. Now I have three cameras. Maybe I should also bring a chest strap. You can see where this is going.

This time round, I’m probably slightly wiser. I won’t be bringing an action cam unless I plan to do anything where I can’t be holding on to my phone (it’s water resistant; water has got in to my Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge before though).

My phone’s camera performs better than my DSLR (Nikon D90) in almost all areas except for lenses and long exposure shots and focus speed. It even shoots in raw. However it would be ridiculous of me to bring my huge tripod just to put my phone on it. So the huge tripod and the DSLR are out.

Long exposure shots are relegated to my Point and Shoot camera running a custom firmware called CHDK. I have a USB remote release for that as well. If you haven’t discovered CHDK yet, give it a go. I’ve been using it for a very long time and it is simply awesome. I’ll pair it with a very small tripod or a gorilla pod.

Then I have the drone. It’s a Phantom 3 Pro and it is huge and cumbersome. It requires it’s own bag and you can’t even fit anything else in it. So that’s 1 de facto checked-in luggage bag. Since I’m checking it in I might as well check in another bag for the stuff that I can’t carry on. So that’s a total of 3 bags now, 1 carry on and 2 checked in. You can see I’m at it again.

So unless there are going to be some incredible sights that I won’t ever be able to see again, the drone isn’t coming with me. Unless of course I can get my hands on a DJI mavic then all bets are off.

When I was in Primary 1, my parents brought my brother and I to Perth, Australia for a holiday. We stayed at the YMCA. The room was pretty decent and even had a tiny little kitchen. I remember the kitchen because it was the first time I tried condensed milk out of a tube. The toilets were co-ed and were across the hall. I remember the toilets because it was the first time I saw a misted up bathroom mirror. I also remember not being able to get used to that arrangement.

I mention this because memorable memories are usually created when strong emotions are mixed in with the experience. If emotions are not present it becomes routine, and routine isn’t adventure. Adventure is fun.

So what’s the plan?

Well, for a start, I’ll be heading up to Malaysia. I’ve decided on Malaysia because it’s familiar and I know the language, the exchange rate is great  and I already have the currency on hand, and I can spot a cheat there about as well as I can spot a cheat here in Singapore.

I almost definitely won’t be driving up as I don’t have a car and I want to keep the budget low (so no renting). Taking a bus would mean a 12 hour journey and  a lot of luggage space. If I only brought one carry on bag, flying there would be slightly cheaper than taking the bus and would also be significantly faster with a flight time of just 1 and a half hours.

Since this is my first solo overseas trip, I may end up needing the extra luggage space. This way, I can have the luxury of learning, by experience and practice, what not to bring to on my next trip. If I take the flight and the extra luggage space (i.e. check-in luggage), I won’t have to deal with all the silly little restrictions on what can and can’t be brought into the cabin either.

Will I need simple things like superglue, scissors, or even a sewing kit? I’m surely going to need sunblock and antiseptics right? These things aren’t allowed in your carry-ons. Guess I’ll find out.