Next stop is Amsterdam, one of the most important world ports back during the Dutch Golden Age in the 17th century. Today, the city can still boast the oldest stock exchange in the world along with historic canals, many famous museums, a thriving red-light district, and cannabis coffee shops. However, more than anything, I will remember the city’s beautiful canals and architecture.

Amsterdam canal

The canals, a result of 17th century city planning, make four concentric semi-circles with open ends running into the bay. (Interesting fact: Their lack of stagnant water ensures that they do not stink up the city with foul odors.) However, despite the charm the canals provide to the city, they only set the stage for its diverse and historied architecture. The oldest building still standing, the Oude Kerk (or Old Church), was built in 1306. There are also samples of renaissance architecture from the 16th century, baroque architecture from the 17th century, and gothic architecture from the 19th century. That all said, my favorite architecture was that of 17th century residences built around the canals. These buildings are all very narrow, have elaborate front steps, and show off ornate gables. The gables have utilitarian purposes because the buildings are too thin for large staircases, thus making it almost impossible to move furniture up and down. Instead, the buildings use a hoist and pulley system to transport large items into the house, with the hoists attached to elaborate gables on top of colorful and embellished facades. These residences make up the familiar canal image people conjure up when imagining Amsterdam.

More from walking around Amsterdam

Amsterdam has more to offer than walking around and appreciating its beauty, thus Gabe and I sit down with Lonely Planet, TripAdvisor, and the like and we decide what we are going to visit. Of the many museum options, Gabe and I decide to visit the Van Gogh museum, with its more than 200 paintings by Van Gogh along with many drawings and letters. Memorably, the exhibit creatively displayed Van Gogh’s famous bedroom painting next to a matching physical room. We spent an afternoon in the museum followed by some time soaking up sun and reading in a nearby park.

Siem Reap, Night Market, and Pub Street

Siem Reap is a city easy to travel because of its many tourist amenities. Delicious restaurants full of both Khmer and Western foods, Tuk Tuks ready to take us anywhere for a dollar or two, and English spoken everywhere. But the best example of Siem Reap’s tourist-friendly atmosphere is its Night Market. When I first think of a night market in Southeast Asia, a very specific image comes to mind with crowded stalls, dim lighting, a mixture of smells that individually would be nice but together don’t blend, and people trying to sell you anything and everything. This market was anything but that to the point of there being a night market map, a bar/restaurant in the middle, friendly salespeople, great lighting, and surprising cleanliness.

Pub Street, located in the middle of town, was full of inexpensive and great restaurants.  For each dinner, Sangita, Nithya, and I would take turns reading about Khmer history from my Kindle’s Lonely Planet Cambodia so that we could start to understand the Indian, Hindu and French influences all around us.  In addition, up and down the street were small pools of cleaner fish. For a small fee, we put our feet in one pool and let the fish, both big and small, nibble at our heels and our toes with the promise that afterwards our feet would be clean and “soft as a baby’s bottom” (their words, not mine). After I moved pass the tickling phase, the sensation wasn’t too unusual and almost nice.

Siem Reap is a great city, even if a bit touristy, that offers opportunities to try traditional food, appreciate Khmer Art, and see temples that were significant in ages past and are still places of pilgrimage for many today.

Artistic rendition of Buddha