Toby The Testers Travels – Siem Reap – The End

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This is the final part of my blog posts about my time in Siem Reap. You can read my previous posts here:

The Beginning
The Middle

Day 3 – Temple Touring

The first Temple on our final day was Jungle ruin Preah Khan, one of the largest Temple complexes. There is still evidence of the dense Jungle that took over the temple whilst deserted. Walking through we saw some huge spiders and hundreds of huge spider webs!
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Next we headed out of the central temple area 30k from Angkor Thom to Banteay Srei. This temple is considered to be the “jewel in the crown of Angkorian artisanship” as it’s intricate design is carved from a pink coloured stone. The carvings in the stone were incredible and amazing to think it was built in AD 967.
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On the way back to our lunch stop at a restaurant overlooking Sra Srang we stopped to observe a number of land mine excavation sites. Bun told us how unfortunately the area used to be littered with land mines. In fact tourists are still advised not to tread to far away from the paths in this area.

Cambodian Pub Street

As I mentioned in my previous post Siem Reap has a popular tourist street called “Pub St” which is full of western pubs and restaurants which isn’t at all very “Cambodian”.

To experience the “Real Cambodia” our Homestay host, Bun, took us to the Cambodian Pub street for the evening. We were kind of expecting a street of bars but it was a long, long road full of market stalls, street food, amusement rides and thousands of Cambodian families enjoying picnics. There must of been about 10,000 people there, more than usual due to the nations River Festival, and we were the only 2 “westerners” I saw!IMG_7451.JPGBun walked us through the crowds pointing out some of the delicacies on offer; Pigs Anus, Buffalo Testicles, Frog, Foetus, mmmmm…..Tasty. As we had a 6hr bus ride the next day(without a toilet) I politely declined. IMG_7548.JPGIMG_7551.JPGIMG_7547.JPGIMG_7552.JPGIMG_7549.JPG
We sat down for a picnic like the rest if the families. Joining us with Bun were his extended family, about 20 or so. We also got to meet one of Buns friends, Mr. Tan who was also a tour guide.IMG_7554.JPGIt was such an authentic experience to end our time with our Cambodian family. With Sadness our time staying with Bun in Siem Reap came to an end the next morning as we jumped on the bus to continue our Cambodian adventure to Phnom Penh.IMG_7031.JPG

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Toby The Testers Travels – Siem Reap – The Middle

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This blog post is a continuation of my series on Siem Reap. You can read the previous post, The Beginning, here.

Day 2 – Temple Touring

4:30am the alarm rings, it is time to visit Angkor Way for Sunrise! Every day thousands of tourists rise early to get to Angkor Wat. Luckily our guide Bun knew the perfect spot to watch the sunrise with few tourists. It was so peaceful and was like stepping back through time as the morning mist was burnt away by the rising sun. If you ever go to Siem Reap, the sunrise at Angkor is a must, but try and avoid the large crowds if you can by using local knowledge.
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As we avoided the crowds it meant at 6:15am we left quickly to get over to Ta Prohm(Tomb Raider) temple before it got busy. Rather than take the usual trail to the temple we parked up at the edge of the jungle and trekked through. The number of spiders in the trees and what looked like snake tracks in the sand was quite daunting! After 20mins we arrived at Ta Prohm. With only a handful of tourists in the temple it meant we could easily enjoy the temple sights and take some awesome photos. This temple is famous for the trees that have taken over the temple and it’s use in the Tomb Raider film.
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After Ta Prohm we trekked through the jungle again to another deserted temple, we were the only people there. Also taken over by the Jungle we climbed over collapsed walls to get into the centre of the temple.

By 10am we had already been out 5hrs so headed back for breakfast and a snooze.

Silk Farm and Tonlé Sap Lake

In the afternoon we headed to something different to the temples. We made a short visit to the Silk Farm to see how traditional methods are still being used to produce some of the worlds best silk.

Then we headed to Tonlé Sap Lake which has people living on the lake in floating villages. The usual tourist track is to go to the Vietnamese village but instead we headed a little bit further away to the Cambodian Floating village which is on a different part of the lake. Again, this allowed us to experience the real Cambodia far away from the large tourist groups.
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The boat journey was rather hilarious. The water levels were quite low leading to the lake so a number of times the boat required a push. Our driver must of only been 14 but he seemed at home at the wheel.
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In the evening we stopped by Pub St to meet some friends for food at Cafe Central and drinks at Cheers, Red Piano and the Sun Inn.

Nearly 24 hours after waking up for sunrise we headed back to Bunyong Homestay.

The final part of my blog on Siem Reap will cover the Pink Temple, Banteay Srei, and the Cambodian Pub Street.

Toby The Testers Travels – Siem Reap – The Beginning

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Having spent 5 days in Siem Reap there’s far too much to fit into a single post so I’ll break it into 3 parts; The Beginning, The Middle and The End.

Bunyong Homestay

After the short flight from Bangkok we arrived into Siem Reap airport. To experience the “Real Cambodia” and avoid the tourist tracks we decided to try the Bunyong Homestay. Bun who’s family we would be staying with met us at the airport and we immediately felt like we had made a new friend! Buns story is truly inspirational which I will go into at the end of this post.

The Homestay is a few minutes from downtown Siem Reap along a bumpy dirt track. It has all the basic needs you’d require and is in a very secluded setting overlooking a small lake. We were welcomed as part of the family by brother Bun.
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That evening after relaxing on the balcony overlooking the lake we joined Buns family(Mother, Brother, Sister, Nephew, Dog(Lillie) and two other guests) for a traditional Cambodian dinner. The main delight of the meal was in fact; fried Snake with chilli and lemongrass washed down with Spider(Tarantula) Wine which was all surprisingly tasty!
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We then ventured out to Pub Street Downtown with Bun. We went to a bar called Cheers and had a couple $0.50 local beers before the street got too crowded. Unfortunately the Pub Street is a little chaotic filled with neon bars and dreadful music. There are some nice chilled out restaurants/bars though just off pub street. Anyway, we didn’t come here to party, we came to see the Temples!

Temple Touring – Day 1

Siem Reap has over 300 ancient Temples so it’s impossible to see them all. Luckily our international award winning Cambodian tour guide Bun sorted a great schedule for us. First up was Angkor Thom.

Most tourists enter through the overcrowded Southern gate but instead bun took us around to West Gate. Equally as impressive but the only people there were us and some young children collecting Water Lillie’s from the moat surrounding Angkor Thom. Incredible start!
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Heading into Angkor Thom we toured some of the smaller Temples, walked along the Terrace of the Elephants and headed to the first big hitter, Bayon, the temple of the four faces.
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We then took the short ride to the masterpiece of Siem Reap, Angkor Wat. The sight as you walk towards the temple and through the gates is mind blowing. It’s hard to imagine what this ancient city of 1 million people would of been like. Out tour guide shared with us stories from a Chinese ambassador who visited during the Angkor era and the artists impressions of what it would be like are incredible. Golden giants lighting the sky.
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After a morning of touring the temples it was time for some rest back at the Bunyong Homestay.

The Story of Bun

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In the late afternoon Bun took us on a bike ride through the local villages of Siem Reap. There are 4 million visitors each year who come to the area but many don’t venture away from the temples, hotels or pub street.

Despite the tourism Siem Reap is still the 2nd poorest city in Cambodia. On our bike ride Bun showed us the two sides of Siem Reap, the local village and the posh hotels.

We travelled through some of the slums in Siem Reap where Bun told the stories of the villagers hardship. As privileged westerners what we saw was obviously very difficult to take in. The stories were heartbreaking. We travelled the short distance to the road of posh hotels where the difference was incredible. Huge, well maintained hotels with tourists from all over the world bused in and out every day.

Returning to the Homestay Bun shared his story over dinner. Until recent years Bun was also living in the slum. He showed us his old home where he lived with his Mother, Brother, Nephew and Sister which was best described as a parking garage you’d find here in the West. Growing up in difficult conditions at 22, unable to speak any English, he became a Monk to try and improve his families life. Since then he has worked tirelessly for the past 15 years as a tour guide. With an attitude of “Work Hard, Work Smart” Bun has managed to build a home for him and his family. Not settling for providing for his family, Bun also houses 4 students from a poor village outside Siem Reap to give them a better education. He also has big plans to help the slum children of Siem Reap which I’ll touch on in a later blog post.

It was a honour to hear his story and be part of his family at their Home. Looking at the coaches full of tourists I couldn’t help but be thankful for the opportunity to experience the real Cambodia and this was all within our first 24 hours.

My next post will touch on Sunrise at Angkor Wat and Pra Thom, the Tomb Raider temple!

Toby The Testers Travels – Bangkok

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Bangkok
Friday 20th – Monday 23rd November

So I’m doing a little tour around South East Asia and first stop was Bangkok!

Day 1

We landed surprisingly fresh after an overnight flight from London and after a 2hr taxi ride through Bangkok rush hour we arrived at our hotel, Eastin Grand Hotel. We picked the hotel due to the excellent Trip Advisor reviews, ranked #9 of 790 hotels.

After check in we wandered through the bustling streets of Bangkok and stumbled across a street food place. No idea what it was called but it was pretty good. The 60bat large bottles of Chang certainly helped.

Day 2

Up bright and early we caught the Chao Phraya Express Boat (15bat – pay on board) to the Grand Palace. We arrived at 9am as we’d heard the crowds can busy later in the day and the heat can be over bearing.
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After hearing from a friend that he got taken to the “Fake Grand Palace” by scammer who told him the Grand Palace was closed luckily we didn’t have any trouble. Outside they have a loud speaker blaring out “the grand palace is not closed” so I’m not sure how he got tricked.

We took the short walk to Wat Pho to see the reclining Buddha and more temples. Compared to Grand Palace I enjoyed Wat Pho a lot more. The reclining Buddha was cool but the temples around it were awesome. Probably the best thing we did.
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For lunch we visited one of the most popular Thai restaurants, Siam House, for Pad Thai(50bat) and more ice cold beer!
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In the evening we headed to Ban Chiang which was amazing. Lovely restaurant and excellent Thai food.

After our meal we decided to checkout the famous Bangkok nightlife. Firstly we headed to the Sky Bar made famous by The Hangover 2. Safe to say, it’s one of the worst bars I’ve been to. The view is ok, but drinks are so expensive and everyone crammed in like sardines. Thailand has it’s share of scams but this bar is probably the biggest scam of them all!

After that we met some friends at a Craft beer pub for a drink(just the one as a beer was 400bat) and headed over to the very odd, Nana district. Very strange bars and what you would expect from Bangkok’s darker side. After walking around and grabbing a beer in the quieter bars we left.

Day 3

A little hungover we headed to the Bangkok shopping district, Siam Paragon, for some AC and relaxation. Whilst we were there we had some spicy Chicken Wings and all was well in the world again.

Feeling revitalised we went for a stroll around Lumphini park which is one of the few green spaces in this crazy city.

Back at the hotel we had a swim in the infinity pool for awesome views of Bangkok and a cool down from the heat.
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Our last night we made a reservation at a Thai restaurant, Tealicious. An English guy called Tom runs this with his Thai family. Amazing food again, cheap beers and lovely setting. It seems you can’t have a bad meal in Bangkok!

To finish the night we decided to try another rooftop, Moon Bar at the Banyan hotel. WOW! This one was awesome. A 360 degree view, a live Jazz Band and lovely cocktails. This was so much better than the more famous Sky Bar.
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That’s it for Bangkok, amazing vibrant city. I’ll definitely be coming back to eat well and party the night away again!

How to have successful conversations

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Successful conversations are central to agile teams. As it states in the Agile manifesto:

“Individuals and interactions over processes and tools”

With this emphasis it is no surprise that many of the agile approaches adopted by teams today focus on enabling successful conversations:

User Stories –  “3 C’s – Card, Conversation, Confirmation.” Ron Jeffries

Behaviour Driven Development(BDD) “The single most important part of BDD is the conversation.” Liz Keogh

Three Amigos –  “Conversations between the team to gain a shared understanding.”

Conversations are hard!

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The problem is good, valuable conversations are incredibly hard to have. Most of the teams i’ve worked with have found it difficult to have successful conversations. In some ways i think thats why so many teams “Doing BDD” jump straight to the tooling. It’s so much easier to write some feature files on your own rather than actually have a conversation.

We all spend most of our lives dodging difficult conversations in not only our work life but at home with family and friends.

The biggest problem i think with conversations is that they are often emotionally complex. Unfortunately, conversations with the most emotional complexity are the really important ones.

Many teams often choose to ignore this emotion and this is where the problems start. It could be the Product Owner who brings an idea to the team but the team clearly doesn’t think its a good idea. However, because of the passion from the Product Owner, the team struggle to have an open and honest conversation. Instead, we move further along the journey and problems get compounded.

In Crucial Conversations by Joseph Grenny he talks about the impact of not having these conversations:

“If you don’t talk it out, you will act it out”

This has clear alignment to the software we build. If we avoid the crucial conversations, it reflects in the software we build. Maybe the team didn’t believe in the idea, so they built sub standard software because their heart just isn’t in it. Or maybe the team don’t fully understand the idea, but don’t want to appear stupid so avoid having the conversation.

So how can we improve our conversations?

Good conversations don’t start happening over night. Some of the techniques, mentioned at the start of this post can provide a framework to enable better conversations such as the “Given, When, Then” commonly used in BDD. However, we need to dig deeper to be successful with our conversations.

Fundamental to successful conversations is creating a safe environment. So often our conversations are influenced by our work culture. I talked at Agile Testing Days 2015 about the HIPPO (Highest Paid Persons Opinion) In many organisations its not safe to have conversations that challenge the opinion of a senior person. Creating a safe environment where teams can be honest is fundamental.

Improving our communication approach can also improve our chances of success. In The Chimp Paradox by Prof Steve Peters he talks about “The Square of Communication”

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In the centre of the square is the “Right person”. I’m sure we’ve all been in the situation with lengthy calls to customer service centres where we are passed around between different agents hoping to find the “Right person” Its the same in our teams. To ensure success we need to have the right person(s) in the conversation. Luckily the agile approach promotes getting the right people into the conversations. Rather than having conversations in silo’s we are encouraged to break down barriers, something that the Three Amigos technique supports.

Finally being more humble in our conversations can help. In Humble Inquiry by Edgar Schein we are challenged to “Ask rather than tell” So often our conversations revolve around “Telling” It could be the Product Owner Telling them what he wants or the team Telling the Product Owner it’s too complex. By shifting to asking “Can you build this?” or asking “Can we make it less complex?” it builds better relationships that lead to more successful conversations.

I hope this post helps you to reflect on the communication within your own teams and that the resources i’ve suggested will help you have more successful conversations.

My next thought, is “How do you measure the success of a conversation?” Maybe something for a future post.