It happened again: my birthday fell on a travel day. In the past I have flown home from Mexico…

La Manzanilla, Mexico, 2008

… and flown into Ecuador on my birthday. Those traveling birthdays turned out to be a great time. Now, what about this one?


We boarded a not entirely pleasant bus about 9:30am in Phnom Pehn. Our destination: Kratie, a town along the Mekong River, known for its dolphins. Considering we had air-con, iPad games and TV (a 1980s slapstick Chinese movie), the trip was going quite smoothly. After a few hours, we stopped for a toilet/snack break and were treated to a view of the local delicacy of fried spiders and crickets. Sorry, I wanted to keep my birthday pleasant, so I passed on having a sample.

Fried crickets

Fried spiders

A young girl happily heads back to the bus with a bag of crickets. Thanks, Mom!

Another hour into our ride, Ken asked me if I wanted my birthday surprise. Hmmmm, keep staring out the window at the dusty fields, full of emaciated cows looking for a shred of green grass, or get a birthday surprise? OKAY, surprise me! Ken handed me my own iPad, where he had secretly stored emailed messages from friends and family back home and new friends from around the world. (Sometimes it bothers me that Ken knows more about my iPad than I do!) Almost 50 messages in all. It was a hoot reading such inspirational, funny and even poetic notes.

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The Mortonsons even wrote me a song and sent me the music video. You, Mortonson Family, ROCK!

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Continuing on our long bus ride, I was getting ready to blow my brains out after an hour of terrible karaoke love songs and accompanying cheesy videos being played on the bus. I switched anticipation over what may be waiting for us in Kratie. About a week prior I had booked our room at Balcony Guesthouse. I had asked if it was possible to get a birthday cake in their small city, and whether we could pick it up in the late afternoon. The manager replied simply, “I’ll take care of it”. Ooooo, sounded exciting. While some big-haired gal flounced around the screen to lyrics like, “Your love feeds my very soul, so it hurts so much that you left me”, I dreamt of cake.

We arrived at our guesthouse about 5pm and found colorful balloons decorating the place. For the upcoming Chinese New Year? Nope, for my birthday! Peter, the manager, went way beyond a simple request for cake and basically helped us throw a party. On the guesthouse restaurant’s dry erase board, he wrote, “Karen Gill Birthday Party, 7:00 pm, Pls Enjoying together”.

It's my party


He rounded up cake, candles, balloons, party hats and even sparklers. Ken and I offered free snacks and beer and about 10 travelers enjoyed my birthday. New friends from Germany, Australia, Denmark and Cambodia joined in on the food and fun. Peter played Happy Birthday songs and some dance tunes. He was disappointed that there was no dancing, yet I was too tired after the long bus ride. It was a great evening, celebrating alongside the Mekong River.

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Birthdays abroad can be such a lovely experience, even if it’s a travel day. My 42nd (eek!) will be a great memory thanks to the warm spirit of the Cambodian people and our fellow travelers.

Basking in the glow

Birthday girl