A Travellerspoint blog

Lao, Not Laos

In another place & time

sunny 25 °C
View Forever Summer on chang2n's travel map.

My first rant is how did the 'S' come about for Lao? All its inhabitants speak it without pronouncing the letter 'S' and its written form such as Lao Airline is also without the extra letter. I'm adamant on boycotting the 'S'. Before I rave about the calm & serene beauty of Lao I'll wrap up Bangkok with a few words & pics. My friend Jenn flew into Bangkok and stayed 2 nights before we took off for Lao. During that time I dragged her to see the snake farm (what? I was fascinated and admission was fairly inexpensive) which I'm surprised she agreed to since she has quite a fear of snakes. I coaxed her into touching the python at one point. Jenn didn't quite embrace the humid heat of Bangkok so we spent an afternoon at Siam Ocean World. Boasted as the largest aquarium in SE Asia with a 270 degree tunnel for viewing the fish. It was very well kept and I marvelled for hours at strange water (and non water) creatures of all kinds. Here are some pictures of the visit:

I like how it appears to rest and possibly walk with his fins
Giant spider crabs, its main body was easily the size of a human head.
Poisonous frog. It appears to have assumed the attack position.
What a haughty look & pose.
I pretty much love everything about chameleons. Their funny mitten wearing paws (if that's what they're called), their rotating eyes and obviously their abilities to camouflage.
Tarantulas. I couldn't tell whether that hole extended all the way through. Imagine having a hole in your chest?
The position of this tarantula suggested that either it has a total of 16 legs, or all 8 were off of one side of its body. Neither made sense.
The 270 Degree tunnel. The experience kind of hurt my eyes. But still very impressive considering the amount of pressure from the water.
Don't know the name of this shark. I asked Jenn probably a good 5 times and I still can't remember.
And the slow dances of jelly fish...

I was giddy like a 5 year old especially during our final component of our day pass: a 5D movie. I can't remember the title, but it was something silly like "Floppy's". The basis of 5D included 3D movie plus movement in the seat and scent. The screening was only 20 minutes and the viewers ranged from toddlers to seniors. Were we eager to watch the clip? No. But it was part of the admission fee we paid and under that principle we forced ourselves to wait it out rather than feed our whining stomaches. I'd be lying if I blamed it on fatigue but I was probably the only adult that was squealing from joy during the 20 minute presentation. Toddlers were crying because they got scared, Jenn like the majority of the audience was certainly not impressed with the squirt of scented air or the rumbling of seats that complimented the animation. I must have regressed, just like my use of English but I left the building with a silly smile.
Lao wasn't even on my agenda until my friend Jenn incorporated the visit into our travels.
The 5 days we spent in Luang Prabang were from another world, just exquisite. People were laid back & kind, you weren't haggled incessantly but left to take in the beautiful community life. A buddhist country, this small town had over 300 monks and many of the local men spent a portion of their childhood as practicing monks.

The night market strip setting up for the tourists.

We climbed the highest peak in town to catch a sunset and with every step taken we fell deeper & deeper in love with the prestine landscape.
This was a country full of love, for its people and for its land. I did not see trash everywhere like the rest of SE Asia, and I saw an abundance of men handling, caring and playing with children which is mostly looked upon as the women's role everywhere else. And the 2 tours that we took were not only on time, but EARLY! Just completely backwards to its neighbouring countries. I think this magical land is truly "La vie en rose" (OMG, I'm so cheesy! But it was stunning and the pictures simply doesn't describe how it feels to be surrounded 360 degrees by this landscape. Also this picture unintentionally took on a beautiful rosey hue.)

Offerings outside the temple. Just look at the care and packing? Doesn't this speak volumes for the kind of people Laotians are? I believe sticky rice are contained inside.
I call these antler trees.
The climb down from another path gave us another view of the town. Some of the kids were playing and tubing.

A bridge to the other side of the river.
The main strip of town.

Everyday our guest house owner at 6am carried out his morning prayer at a nearby temple. He was happy to bring along any of the guests so that they understood a bit more of his buddhist practice.
There were many others just as dedicated.
And EVERYDAY the procession of the 300+ monks from the town strolled through many blocks to collect the charitable offerings from the town's people.
They seemed to mainly offer sticky rice, but some gave non-perishable goods.
Preparing the sticky rice into small portions.
This little boy lugged awkardly his loaded basket and ran alongside the monks to request for any overflow of food. Our guest house owner informed us that thanks to tourism this town never goes hungry as there is always more than enough to share with those less fortunate.
The boys look excited about their gatherings for the day. And the wonderful sharing cycle continues the next day and everyday. LG!

The very next day we started our motorbike adventure. First thing that went wrong was that there were no automatic bikes. But after some further inquiries, there was no way that we'd be able to see the villages in the itinerary unless we go on manual bikes as the hills were much too steep. But because Lao is so amazing & beautiful... "I forgive you Lao". Jenn wasn't willing to risk her life trying to figure out how to ride a manual bike for the first time in her life so she rode with our guide Ton. I was less concerned with my own welfare & jerked along while attempting to switch gears, follow the guide, watch the traffic and in general stay alive. Yes I've driven a motorbike before in HCM taught by my friend Johnny, but I'm not sure 10 minutes of riding an automatic bike on paved road in a quiet part of town really qualified me for what I was about to embark on.
This is pretty much all the pictures I have of our trek, which doesn't at all translate the actual trek that we endured. My hands were sore & arthritic the next day because of how hard I gripped the handles, hanging on for dear life. Jenn & I were both too busy trying to stay alive than attempting to take pictures. The road was either intensely steep, I didn't think it was feasible to climb a sandy & rocky 90 degree angled slope, but we did it. Nor did I think it was safe to go down a tumultuous tiny path that I wouldn't even venture on foot, but I pushed on only to discover a rickety bridge at the base that swayed widely from side to side under the weight of the bike. If it wasn't steep it was soft sand that was impossible to ride through or you were forced to ride along the edge of a cliff drop off. Safety precautions of even the minute kind do not exist in Asia. Oh wait, scratch that, I had a helmet.

We stopped for lunch, and the village didn't have any vegetables for Ton to purchase so we had to settle with the following:
They compensated the lack of veggies with 15 eggs! Did I mention this meal was meant for 3? Not normal to ingest 5 eggs per person. It was surprisingly tasty. But then again anything tastes bloody fantastic when you realize you're still alive. I was surprised to learn that in Lao you generally eat with your hands, so I dug right in.
This small village was initially vacant. But then you started seeing locals pop their heads from behind huts and trees when they heard word of the blond foreigner that I was traveling with (Blond Devil was probably what they called her). I generally blend in enough with the locals especially now that I wear a more bronzed look (I know my friend Jenn is reading this aghast and shouting "LIES!" She was under the impression that the locals fawned over me like a prestine white lily... alas, I am doomed to be pestered by short local men born from 1970 and earlier)
The kids were then let to roam about freely when they realized that Blond Devil was in fact harmless. And got nice & relaxed in their own element.
Remember what I said about satellite dishes? Even places that have never seen tourists have them.
Before continuing our trek I taught Jenn to pee in a squatting toilet. It was comical for the 2 of us to be squeezed in here with my pants down demonstrating step by step what to do. I was proud of her accomplishments that day. Staying alive, eating with her hands and using the squatter!
Here are pics from some more villages that we stopped at:
This little boy's catch of the day for the family to eat. His young little feet were tough & calloused as if he were in his 60's.
Ton informed us that Hmong huts has 2 doors, the entrance and the back door for snatching brides. Something about how up until a generation ago, if you asked a Hmong woman to marry you and she refuses, you can steal & kidnap her from the secret back door. Imprison her until she accepts your hand in marriage. And if you were the parents of the woman, and notice the disappearance of your girl, you generally assumed she's being coaxed into a marriage. Both Jenn & I were like "then why build the back door at all?"
Cutest little grand mama! When we crossed paths, she beamed me a toothless smile from her weather beaten face. I nodded & smiled back at her and reached out to pat her on the shoulder. She continued her laboured trek.
A cotton bud plant.
The most fragrant flower! From a grapefruit tree.... wasn't expecting that.
An ant mound, that was dug up to feed the chickens the larvae.
More satellite dishes.
An indicator that a baby was born but you wait 3 weeks before a name is given, this white sign is put up during that period.
An outdoor squatter with no door, there's no way that I could coaxed Jenn into doing that. Not that I would either...
Beautiful Hmong village kids playing around.
Oh Lao! Don't ever change.

Posted by chang2n 02:59 Archived in Laos Comments (3)


Everything you've ever wanted & not wanted.

sunny 32 °C
View Forever Summer on chang2n's travel map.

The most pleasant surprise upon first entering Bangkok for me was: the sound of silence. Not what you normally correlate to the metropolis but let me explain. Ever since Dec. 10th when I stepped foot in Vietnam the chaotic driving and incessant honking have invaded my ear drums. Once I crossed the border from Cambodia into Thailand, pooff! Just like that the din was no more. Don't get me wrong, the traffic was still there, in fact even more conjested but the blatant abuse and leaning on the horn was gone.

Nothing stood out other than the fact that I had a great ease living in this city at incredibly low costs and great variety. I'm not suggesting that Bangkok doesn't have a special place in my heart but perhaps I've just acclimatised so much that this is my new norm. Driving on the right hand side of the road is an odd phenomenon. I escaped the humid heat everyday with a cheap movie, $3 in a fairly comfortable theatre in the Siam district. I was both tempted & shocked to know that just across the street at the super fancy Siam Paragon you could pay $21 for a VIP movie screening, which I figured I should just simply spend on watching 7 separate movies instead for the week.

This is Khao San Road, the backpacking district. The actual street itself was less than 500m, but you can find 3 7 Elevens, 2 McDonalds, 2 Starbucks and anything else you can think of crammed in. This was as slow as it gets at 7am in the morning. I stayed in the area only for it's cheap accommodations, anywhere else in the city hub was double the price. It was somewhat of a painful experience as listening to 90's music full blast until 3am in the morning just wasn't my cup of tea. Oasis, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ace of Base, put it on repeat and you get the idea.
Here is it's in the downpour.

I came across this monument at random, it wasn't so much the grandeur that caught my eye, but I saw a woman washing, in fact bathing, fully clothed, out one of the 4 lions' head spout. It was probably 8pm in the evening, this was a major roundabout in the city centre.

Locals often threw trash into the sewage drains. In a rather neat manner as well. I kept thinking about the kind of stew being concocted and how I should probably look into some sort of hazmat suit and rainboots once it starts to rain. But then I saw the rats. I've seen rats in NYC. I can say I've seen WAY more rats in Bangkok. The locals are happily keeping that circle of life alive.

A very fast way to get around the city are via the water canals. These are disappearing quickly due to the need to build, build and build. On buses and boats there are drivers and there are the "master & commander" who take care of handling the fees. They walk around with these cylindrical tins that open lenth-wise and rattle to indicate their presence. It's a rather intense job, as each & every stop, you have on average 10-15 people step onboard via both the front & back doors (or in the case of a boat, you can step on & off the entire flank) It's not a flat rate to ride, generally 3 price points, depending on distance traveled. The commander commence their shaking at each new customer, ask them the destination, calculate the price, and provide change & ticket stub for the rider. It was too complicated for me.
Here you have a glimpse of one of the operators on the canal boats standing starboard (why this complicated language once aboard a boat? Google just taught me starboard but now I might remember for life).
Temples were ubiquitous in Bangkok and I didn't step into a single one. Angkor was still fresh in my mind and everything else would have felt secondary. Here was one taken from a public transit boat.

Tuk tuks have been vamped up from the Cambodian style, the drivers themselves are sheltered from the elements.

On my bus ride from Siem Reap into Thailand I spoke at lengths with 2 separate men from Germany. Oddly enough they didn't even acknowledge one another even though I sat essentially in between them. Both were avid & extensive travelers. The first worked as a scuba instructor and had been doing some remote traveling for the past 20 years. Both leave on average for 6 months of travel while avoiding Winter in Germany. The second, quite his job on January 1st, 2002. I wanted to press whether he was just filthy rich but didn't feel it was my place. I got the idea to visit the Tiger Temple in Katchanaburi from the scuba diver. It was a sancturary for tigers and many other animals and supposedly through the calm of the meditative monks at the temple, all the animals, including the tigers were uncommonly docile. It's been suggested that they are drugged.
Hello kitty!
I have way too many photos posing with tigers, here's just one.
There were wild boars, deer, peacocks freely roaming about as well.
This calf kept nudging itself into my crotch even with my many attempts to back away.
A bandit bird or should I call him Zorro?
Out by the parking lot when a troop of cows stormed by out of nowhere.

Part of the tour I chose, included a lot of random other sites that I truly didn't care to see and obviously you don't always get what you want:
A war cemetery.

Some waterfalls that looked man-made but they were passing off as natural.

THE most random museum I've ever been to. It was called JEATH War Museum; I only bothered to remember its name to forewarn everyone else NOT to go! Partly war history, physical memorabilia of guns, shells, old soldiers clothes etc. There was a strange floor dedicated to stamps & coins, another floor for Miss Thailand Pagent jewelry.

This was a temple in the museum.
A model of... I don't know what to tell you. These live models just became silly.
This was a corner dedicated to prehistoric man and evolution. Seriously?. More than anything I was just plain confused.
This was the most fascinating thing I saw during my 30 minutes of roaming about (a lifetime if you ask me). This lizard was so immobile many of us stood around looking for signs of life. Including its long tail it was nearing 5 feet in length. After minutes of staring at it, it blinked.
I got the feeling that it had forgotten how to even move due to the lenth (and curl, please note the curl) of its nails.

I was looking forward to seeing the Bridge at River Kwai. My mother often sang & whistled the theme song from the 1957 award winning film. I still have never seen it, but I know the happy tune like the back of my hand.


We ended the tour with a train ride along what they call the Death Railway (yes, still part of the same tour). Due to the numerous lives lost from its construction.

This is me searching for Chinatown in Bangkok.
These dark alley ways had eyes that peered right back at me.
When you get random things gathered like this in front of homes you know you're in Chinatown. A bit of generalization but I'm Chinese, so I can say it.
Red lanterns still lingered from the celebration of the year of the Dragon. Guaranteed every Asian household was trying to bring a Dragon baby into this world for great future prosperity.
Fresh fruits and fresh fruit juices of every kind, and it'll maybe set you back 75 cents if you get ripped off.
This is how you clean up quickly when you are handling heavy customers. Toss it in the bin and deal with it later.
Strips of streets & buildings are dedicated to lottery tickets in Thailand.
This was the one place that I felt unsafe in Bangkok. There was no one in this subway station. It was 1:30pm in the afternoon. It just didn't make sense for a city center of over 8+ million inhabitants and not to mention the 10+ million tourists it receives annually. Not a soul.
A glimpse of the slums but as I've seen throughout Asia, even the slums have satellite dish. Priorities people!
This was the day that I celebrated my 3 months of traveling. February 5th was when I arrived in Chiang Mai. AND it was also the day I left Chiang Mai. I had lost my passport and leading up to it were 2 unlucky events:
1 - crazy stalker man (don't need to relive the experience by recounting it)
2 - my scheduled bus to Chiang Mai got into an accident. Leaving me having to find last minute replacement transport which always translates to more $$$. And so the French saying of "Jamais deux sans trois" is my best way of describing the events leading to the loss of my passport. I filled out a police report & a statutory declaration form, rushed back to Bangkok only to find out that I had left it at one of my hostels. I was simply being tested to see how to handle pressure & I guess I passed.

I entertained myself with a free Muay Thai Boxing exhibitions. I thought in the realm of competition and sports they would have been bigger or at least taller. I was wrong on both accounts. I watched 4 of the 8 bouts. There was 1 knock out, and 1 set of girls boxing all 5 rounds to determine the winner and 2 where opponents tapped out from sheer exhaustion.
This little fella peeped from behind the gas station and then when it stepped out we realized it was in fact a female and pregnant.
Me at a snake farm where they educated the locals & tourists on what to do when encountering snakes in the wild and snake bites. They also collected venom from snakes to create anti-venom serums. This was a 15lbs python which surprisingly felt much heavier as you can tell from the surprise on my face.

One of the hostels I stayed at. I had put the cup down for perhaps 20 minutes & it was swarming with ants. (ps It was place on top of the mini fridge and no where near the ground)
Perhaps it was the incident above or perhaps at the insistence of my friend Jenn from Toronto who flew out to travel Thailand & Lao with me for a couple of weeks. But it was due time to upgrade my accommodations with facilities that actually included hot water showers and less ants. Oh the luxuries I used to take for granted back in Canada.

Posted by chang2n 00:15 Archived in Thailand Comments (2)

Tonle Sap Lake

The Ecological Hot Spot

sunny 30 °C
View Forever Summer on chang2n's travel map.

This was a last minute decision, a suggestion posted on FB from a friend brought about Tonle Sap Lake into my consciousness. I consulted my best friend Google and found Osmose, an NGO focused on educating the locals on multiple fronts from conservation, sustainability, community support, accountability to name a few. I happily forked over a hefty sum to partake in the eco-tour offered. I generally slum it out but if it's a good cause every penny spent is worth it.

We started out in the wee hours of the morning, and caught another glorious sunrise with the backdrop of Cambodia's jungle landscape. The following 2 pictures are taken in motion from the car producing a lovely blurred effect that accentuated the swirls of colours in the morning sky. Makes me want to savour a Campino candy for once and not just crunch it all up in my mouth.
Our guide Mr. Savann made a quick stop for us to enjoy the moment freestanding.
A local home. No doubt its inhabitants have been busy well before the light of day.
Most locals have to bike at least 20km into town to their jobs or an equal distance to schools.
I met this adorable little boy by the pier, running around and looking at the others in my tour curiously. He shot me a happy smile moments after he peed in the sand. How is this not the picture of perfection?! In his hand is an empty package of cigarettes, perhaps not most parent's toy of choice, but he was content and shouldn't that matter the most?
From the boat ride we squeezed by farmers selling their goods to the middle man before it's brought officially to town. Majority of the goods was fish at 50 cents a kilo. Even though it was the dry season with low water levels, Mr. Savann informed me that the location of these markets change as frequently as the water levels.
We came across a mobile village which meant they were fishermen only during the dry season (October - March) and set up minimal plastic tarps as temporary homes and retreat back to dry land to their more permanent home during wet season.
On his way to work.
The sun rising above the watery forest.
Another type of floating village, these homes are made on bamboo rafts that required a change over once a year from the bamboo rotting. This was their local convenience store.
I liked how the motorbike is completely out of context in this village surrounded by water.
Boats are obviously a better mode of transport.
We stopped and tethered our boat here and enjoyed a lovely breakfast and an even lovelier view. I call this photo "Trees In Love". It makes me think of the Tim Burton film Big Fish, don't you agree?
Some of the canals we were passing through were exceptionally narrow. We were often whipped and beaten from the branches that would snap back as the boat continued to push forward.
Tonle Sap 101: During the wet season Tonle Sap lake would dramatically increase in volume by over 4 times it's size. The normal water level is about 1-2 meter deep and it would increase to over 9 meters. What also makes Tonle Sap unique is that it actually changes it's flow twice a year, during the wet season as the volume increase, the water flows in (NW) while during the dry season water empties out (SE).
Which means that these trees and everything in the entire view would become totally submerged. Whaaattt?! I'm a total nerd and fall big time for this kind of information. Our guide actually had pictures and graphs during his presentation about this one of a kind eco-system and what do you know? Mr. Chang sat in the front row.
Monks will go from home to home seeking charitable gifts. I've seen them on land patiently & silently waiting often under the shelter of an umbrella outside the boundaries of homes and when possible food or money would be given from the local family bowing on their knees.
This was my first time seeing the ritual being performed on water.
I like the image of these 3 ladies. I imagine them taking an afternoon tea, but I highly doubt it.
A colourful neighbourhood.
We stopped at a permanent building in the village built to accommodate the drastic change in water levels.
I liked the rickety bridge.
We climbed to the top of the viewpoint offered in the building and I watched this woman untangling her catch. It was tedious work.
An overview of the village.
An overview of the lake. I asked our guide for the umpteenth time "And all this would just become covered in water?!!"

We prepared to leave to the next portion of the tour, to a protected bird sanctuary a heavy breeding ground for some of the world's largest fresh waterbirds. Many of which are still endangered and some of which have climbed steadily in number since the establishment of the sanctuary. This was a chickling from an egret (I can't be certain so go ahead & call me a liar). It was too young to be released but will be accommodated back into the wild in due time.
On our way out of the village we saw these 3 kids playing around & rowing their boat. Some know how to row before they walk.
A girl taking a bath. My entire stay in Cambodia I was in & out of hostels & guesthouses that offered cold water showers which I initially dreaded until I realize by cold water, they simply mean 25-28 degree room temperature water. A giant relief.
Let me take a quick moment to introduce to you Harry from Shanghai. At first I found his constant photo taking and gadget handling a nuisance. What's this? snap-snap-snap. What's that? snap-snap-snap. Excuse me can you spell that? beep-beep-beep (into his translator). At one point I rummaged into my backpack for a piece of paper to spit my gum into, upon retrieving the paper, he asked me "what's that? How can I didn't get one? snap-snap-snap". I glared at him whilst spitting my gum into the paper. But my heart soften towards him, I found out that this was his first trip ever out of China and he was giddy like a little kid, not to mention he seriously only stood 4'9" (I might be a tad on the generous side). He was 38 and was tagging along with 2 of his well traveled colleagues. He was a very kind man.
Slowly we started to see large birds flying overhead. Then we started spotting large communal nesting trees such as these. Mostly grey & white herons.
Many boats gathered at the foot of the rickety viewing platforms, the middle (which could hold a max of 6 people) and the mega rickety top platform at the crown of the tree (which held a 2 person maximum). The view at the top was spectacular. 360 degrees full of nesting birds, flying in and out. We were shown with the knowledgeable eyes of our guide, who would scan with the telescope and spot out many varying types of birds: Greater Adjutant, Milky storks, spot-billed pelicans, he just kept them coming. Knowledge is sexy, and I'm not even a fan of birds!
Most of these tree tops held nests.
We went back to the community center and watched the women weave. They were shown how to utilize water hyacinth, which grew ubiquitously in these waters as a source of income rather than having their husbands hunt birds & eggs as additional sources of income.
Baskets, mats, plates, are just some of the products made.
The stalks of water hyacinth before the drying process.
A mini patch of water hyacinth.
A boy swimming near water hyacinth. He was using empty water bottles helping him stay afloat. Water-wings!
A dog napping in a boat with more water hyacinth close by. I think the villagers saw the immediate benefits of working with something so abundant.
The local school, most classes are mixed ages.
A church being tolled into town.
A community garden. There was a total of 90 set up, but only 13 kept up the project.
Pickings from the garden. I thought it was cherry tomato, but it ended up being a red chili pepper. Not my smartest move.
My guide, Mr. Savann on the left speaking to a local fisherman about his mini fish farm. This container was about 8'x12'x10' and had over 1000 fish. It took about 2 years before they are big enough to sell. He would feed the fish smaller fish he caught or Morning Glory, one of my favourite veggies.
We then went to an alligator farm. Sadly there aren't many wild alligators left in the waters, as an adult alligator on the market would sell for about $5000 US.
Look at this one giving me the death eyes. Female alligators are more aggressive. This one must have been a SHE.
The tour ended going back along the canals and towards the pier. I saw my little boy who peed splashing around in the waters with a glorious sunset behind me. I think if I was asked to choose, I might favour sunrises more.

Posted by chang2n 04:43 Archived in Cambodia Comments (2)

The Gem of Cambodia

Angkor Wat

sunny 32 °C
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Pictures just simply doesn't do it justice. It is so majestic and awe-inspiring to be standing at any of the temples within the boundaries of Angkor Archaeological Park; the most famous of which is Angkor Wat. I was shocked to learn that Angkor Wat was one of dozens of temples! The archaeological park encompasses an area of over 400 km2 very similar size to London Ontario the city where I spent my teenage years. London has a present population of about 365,000, the Khmer Empire at the height of its glory was estimated to have had over a million inhabitants. I had trouble visualizing the level of sophistication necessary for planning a city of that size and density, but it existed and I was standing in its remnants. The park was filled with these magnificent remains which got a bit overwhelming and I can understand why they suggest to take a break between your visits so you don't experience "temple burnout".

I purchased a 3 day pass to be used within a week's time and joined what they call the short circuit tour to introduce me to the grounds. I'll keep the words to a minimum as I have numerous photos to share. Just promise me that if ever you find yourself in SE Asia get creative, fly, bus, hitch-hike and get yourself to Siem Reap to feast your eyes on this UNESCO treasure.
The guardians of Angkor Thom's South Gate
A glimpse between them down the moat which protected this ancient city.
The watchful heads above the entrance.
I shared my experience with many, many, many others. It was officially Chinese New Year and they came a-flocking for some spiritual enlightenment. Our guide noted that during the lunar new year holidays, it was much busier than normal. How lovely!
An overview of Bayon temple inside Angkor Thom.
Bayon temple is known for it's giant face carvings infused with gentle knowing smiles.
Ancient costumes of Apsara dancers.
Apsara carvings are found through out all temple ruins within Angkor park. I've been told no two are ever found alike.
This was a microsecond snap shot whereby no tourist was in view. The feeling suggested from the photos is very different than the sweaty & pushy crowds that I endured.
A glimpse of the corridors below.
A lintel, by definition is a load-bearing building component, a decorative architectural element, or a combined ornamented structural item. It is often found over portals, doors, and windows. All lintels are intricately sculpted, none are left bare.
More overviews.
I loved seeing the temples and its surrounding jungle, akin to what it must have been like a thousand years ago. I think the phrase used throughout South East Asia applies adequately here "Same Same, But Different".
This is Baphuon, being the dry season, the water level is quite low, but the reflection is still quite pretty.
I lost the guide at this moment, not sure what these repeated stones are in the open plaza.
All the pretty colours.
Bas-Reliefs. Definition: a piece of artwork that is sculpted, carved or molded in such a way that it barely protrudes from the background flat surface. I wish my knowledge allowed me to understand the stories and myths being told.
At the very top level of Baphuon, well over 100 feet above ground in a tranquil passage way.
A heavily used incense holder.
This is Phimeanakas, which served as the King's Temple. By this time of day (nearing noon), factoring in the sun and the fact that we've been climbing each & every colossal temple, my entire group tour (5 in total) all took a rest break but 1 brave soul. We had already started to feel the soreness in our legs & butts after 3 hours.
Elephant terrace.
We've now arrived to one of my favourite temples, Ta Prohm, which every guide and local refers to as Angelina Jolie's Tomb Raider as some parts were filmedhere.
This is why I love it; the grounds were largely covered by massive overgrowths. I was told they were either fig, cotton-silk trees, but when I looked it up on google, neither resemble what I saw. LIES!
I love how the trunk and root skirt out.
Everyone was speechless to see the intimate mix of nature & culture.
Seriously? I've seen it in person, but I'm still impressed over the photo.
A little peep from the overgrowth.
This was an intriguing part of the temple where they come to pray. When you stand along the inset nook and pound your fist to your chest, the entire chamber resonated. Loudly. I watched a Japanese tour guide take his group through and demonstrated that the resonating phenomenon did not occur if you shouted, snapped your fingers, clapped your hands or pound other parts of your body. Only when you took your fist to your chest did it resonate throughout the chamber. It was magical. There are times that I do not care to understand the science behind strange phenomenons, but rather be in awe.
Our tour guide saved the best for last, Angkor Wat.
The lower corridors eerily empty yet filled with light.
This lengthy bas-relief told the tale of the Churning of the Sea of Milk along Angkor Wat's inner eastern wall. Different tales continued to be detailed for nearly 1km in perimeter.
A serene view of the secular grounds.
The layout was very symmetrical.
Often times adorable Cambodian kids are part of the highlight, I don't know why but this little boy was ignored at everyone's foot.
More Apsaras. It's kind of juvenile, but their breasts are often very shiny from the constant rubbings.
Monks taking a much needed rest when touring the grounds.
We were taken to the top of a mountain as the hot spot for viewing sunsets, unfortunately it was too packed so I had to settle with something offsite. The moment was still enjoyable.
4 of us from the group decided to meet up for dinner to watch an Apsara dance performance. It was free as long as you consumed something. Their movements were generally slow and focused on the delicate positioning of their hands and fingers. We couldn't come to a consensus on how old the girls were, we guessed between the range of 14-21. (My guess was 21, as my caucasian friends obviously don't understand the tricks of having Asian genes, haha!)
My breakfasts generally consisted of a fresh baguette that I'd pick up from the market with a jar of marmalade (I used to hate marmalade, but what do you know? I love it now). These 2 little boys came up to me finally on the 3rd morning and indicated that they'd like to have some baguette. I happily shared & dunked it full of jam.
Towards the end of the baguette I pulled out my camera and they knew how photogenic they were and posed away.
I took a break from Angkor park to stroll around and came across these oddly shaped flowers.
Followed by these odd trees. It gives the impression they were shy to bare their trunks.
Upon closer inspection.
I visited one of the many temples and liked how apprehensive this little girl was trying to be careful with all the burning incense.
The next day I rented a bike and felt confident in discovering the immense park on my own. I decided to go out to the cluster known as the Roluos group of temples. It states that it's only 13 km outside of Siem Reap. I forgot to factor in the additional 7km to exit the actual city itself. That was the day I'll remember as getting a tan. This is Preah Ko.
These are little kids who beg for either candy or money. I got the impression they like the former more.
Lintel adorning Preah Ko.
This is Bakong.
A goddess, not sure which one.
Can you imagine living right behind a famous destination? It's practically attached.
I didn't stay long to understand what they were doing, but only half was working, the other half observing.
My bike ride back brought me a big surprise. This beast was just off the main road to Angkor park, meaning if I by chance was riding on gravel that hugged the paved road it probably would have leaped off it's 1.5 meter web and attacked me. It was much larger than the previous spider that visited my bedroom in the eco-lodge, well over the size of a grown man's hand. Like I said, a BEAST. Just look at those mandibles?! It totally would have pierced my neck & sucked out all my blood through my jugular, if given the chance.
It's underside had these bright florescent yellow spots. Ugghh! Yet I stayed a solid 20 minutes observing it. I was fixated.
The next day I had planned on getting up early & seeing the sunrise. Little did I know that they don't turn on the lamp posts at 5:15am in the morning. I rode my bike at a very slow pace in the pitch blackness, and tried to stay focused on the pavement rather than the images of florescent spiders with killer fangs that were imprinted in my mind. Thankfully I got some fleeting light from the cars & tuk-tuks that drove past me at intervals. I arrived unharmed at my destination.
Sunrise over Angkor Wat
The colours were stunning.
Here's the view from behind my camera lens. This was not a solo affair but a mega party.
Another tranquil view of Angkor Wat.
The sun finally rose from behind the temple into the skies.
Many buddahs are physically adorned with these bright orange cloths inside the temples.
Naga, the serpent deity.
Monkeys are found near the entrance to Angkor Wat, I caught them doing some monkey business.
This was another one of my top favourites, Banteay Kdei for 2 main reasons: Firstly because it spontaneous, I was lost & I came across it. Secondly because I encountered only 2 people during my entire venture which made it very memorable for me.
This temple was fairly narrow yet extremely long with short colourful columns throughout.
It consisted of many chambers and doorways.
This was one of the 2 people I saw, a monk in passing. The 2nd person I came across was a young girl of 11 who wanted to sell me flutes, bracelets and baskets. She spoke excellent English and initially started off her conversation by asking whether I already see where Tomb Raider was filmed and took hold of my hand to take me there. I told her, I've already seen every corner of the temple but thanked her anyway. She then started to sell everything she was carrying in a very sweet manner, playing a tune on the flute for me, displaying the bracelets on her wrist and opening & closing the small woven baskets to be used as gift boxes. When I kept reiterating thank you but I wasn't interested, she told me that she was hungry and that she was considered extremely small for her age. Didn't I want to give her money so that she could buy pencils and paper for her schooling? Oh, she tugged at my heart strings alright. But then she changed her tactic when I told her I was sorry but I truly wasn't interested and started to walk away. She challenged me on the fact that I had a camera and Nike shoes (she recognized the swoosh), I was stunned and didn't know what to reply. At my final utterance of "I'm sorry" and turning away, she started speaking Khmer in such a venomous way that it could only be interpreted as the following: "You stupid dirty cunt! Why the fuck don't you just buy something?!! Waste of my fucking time!" I'm not even exaggerating, I'm sure she probably injected even more appalling words if you saw the dagger death eyes she gave me.
My last temple stop at Pre Rup, looking out at the vast expanse and imagining once more the empire that dwelled in this exact same heat amidst the same jungle terrain.
From this vantage point I actually saw another temple top, East Mebon, about 2 km away (in the center just to the right). My energy was waning and I think I hit my point of "temple burnout".
So I did what I love most and life's simple pleasure: Treated myself to a Cambodian delight of vegetarian Amok curry!

Posted by chang2n 06:39 Archived in Cambodia Comments (2)

Kratie & Banlung

Sitting in a tree...

sunny 33 °C
View Forever Summer on chang2n's travel map.

Kratie & Banlung are both small rural cities in Northeastern Cambodia. I figured I'd go this route instead of the beaches found along its Southwestern parts as my dear friend Jake would soon be joining me and frolicking the glorious waters of beautiful Thailand. The roads in Cambodia are a bit sub-par and not very direct, it felt that I had to meander through towns in the completely opposite direction before even heading towards my true destination. This is a tiny glimpse of what flew by me while on the 6.5 hour trek.
Long stretches of dirt roads.
Mini horse (donkey?) are not an odd sight in these strip towns.
Huts often stationed right off the main road as you'd expect, being the dry season there wasn't even a glimpse of water around at the base of these high stilts. The materials of these huts varied from straw, wood, concrete to dismal plastic tarps.
This one was a much wealthier home, as they had a car and a sturdy drive way uphold the weight.
This sight made my mouth drop, I couldn't get over the sheer opulence in this poverty stricken region. What I will also add was that the wooden on on the right was already luxurious compared to the rest of the straw housing I'd seen driving through this one-strip town.
I reached my destination of Kratie (pronounced Kra-chay) which is one of the few remaining habitats for the endangered fresh water Irrawaddy dolphins. This is a view of the Mekong right outside the hostel upon my arrival in the town; the view of the other side had sand, while the main strip of the town (the side where I was staying) was steep and full of patches of bushes and grass and not to mention a pure garbage dumping ground.
A fishing boat
And here are the glimpses of these beautiful mammals, they resemble belugas with their large melon heads and lack of a beak like bottlenose dolphins. We were very lucky to follow and observe a trio of these dolphins, while they appeared to round and trap schools of fish below the surface.
Surprisingly I was able to click at the at the right moments to capture these creatures frolicking and playing at times. Seeing these beautiful animals in their natural habitat was very precious for me. I'm always torn when animals are caged for our viewing pleasure; even with the best intentions it's not right but I still find myself eagerly attending zoos.
Our mini boat captain saw this little patch of island & sand and docked for us to have a stroll. The other tourists swore that they found gold in the sand; I took a quick gander at the sparkles in the sand but dismissed their cries.
These are snap shots of this developing town, no doubt to cater to the growing tourists every year. The French colonial influence is still seen throughout all parts of Cambodia.
I booked my bus trip from Kratie to Banlung on a notorious mini bus, I figured that even though it'll probably be uncomfortable, I get to experience something truly local and I'm mentally prepared for it. It wasn't so bad, just a bit shocking all around. First off, there wasn't an inch of free space on the actual flooring of the vehicle, it was packed with backpacks, guava fruits, rice, miscellaneous packages. In order to climb into the bus, you stepped on all of these things, essentially ruining them.
I liked how this van was blinding yellow, and had plasters of Hello Kitty in every window... perhaps to somehow beat us into happy submission. We started with a total of 20, let me remind you it has seating for 18 (including the driver) and picked up 5 more along the way, I'm certain they would have squeezed in more, if only the 7 French tourists weren't so tall & large by Cambodian standards.
The bus driver was considerate enough to ask the French crew whether 1 more could fit in the back, and it was a unanimous "NO" he got. Two of the picked up men were already holding another stranger's children on their laps in order to be squeezed in, so with no other solution the bus driver decided to squeeze the extra 25th person with him IN THE DRIVER SEAT! He drove like that for nearly 6 hours! You might question that there was a seemingly empty space between the driver & passenger seat, but don't be fooled, it housed a large and particularly spikey multi-crane wooden carving. And even though you can't see it clearly the passenger seat already held 2 full grown women sitting on one another's lap.
Our sore bottoms barely held out for unpaved trek, everyone melted together as one during our drive along the red dirt road. This rest spot had a red tinge on everything, trees, houses, flowers all from cars and bikes zooming by.
I arrived to my little eco-lodge which contained 15 minimal yet suped up huts (by Cambodian standards) that was advertises itself as a bird sanctuary. At the lodge if you stayed around during the day, the electricity used was generated from solar panels. From the hours of 6pm - 9pm you are able to charge any electronics or read by their loud generator.
I got accustomed to waking up and sleeping with the sun which was in effect how most Cambodians live. And at night, the stars! Growing up in the city, and knowing myself to be a city gal it never ceases to delight me seeing a night sky not just sprinkled but heavily painted with stars.
I would have appreciated all of this more if I wasn't eaten alive by the mosquitoes out in these woods. Is there anything worst than mosquitoes?! This is the one thing in nature that I don't believe deserves life! I now equate it with hating the cold, but unfortunately if I want Forever Summer, I'll need to endure these assholes... and you can purchase mosquito repellents that contain 95% DEET! That's pretty intense non?
It took a bit to build up my courage to do these pitch black walks at night as the generator only provided lights in the huts. Not sure why but the little LED light I bought at Mountain Equipment Co-Op shines red light, so my choices were either in pitch black or a bloody red canvas - what would you pick?. I knew there were many crawly things with multiple legs to surprise me everywhere I go as I had witnessed them during the day.
And had surprises in my hut such as geckos (I've gotten well used to these since Vietnam), frogs (not scary) and THESE MOTHER FUCKERS! Even in the intense heat and the "protection" of mosquito nets, I mummified myself every night in bed since his unexpected visit. It's actual body was not very large, maybe an inch, but I saw WAY too much detail and with the added length of it's 8 legs, it encompassed nearly the size of your hand. ps, it didn't quite crawl, it hopped! Eeeekkk!
Daily walks were taken on and around the lodge and the landscape was different from anything I had seen.
I came across huts in these hills, and passed by indigenous women and children (I didn't take any photos, as I was told they found it taboo and I didn't want to offend anyone). The best part for me was just sharing a simple smile and nod with them, they were always covered up heavily, headwrap, long sleeves, long pants + dresses sometimes barefoot, sometimes sandaled. Always with a wicker basket on their backs strapped by both shoulders and often a walking stick.
I often got lost as I choose random forks of road to stroll through and it was always quiet with the exception of winds and bird calls. SO many strange calls but so lovely all the same. I saw this boy riding his bike, then tossing it aside to climb and jump on the branches of this tree. Many of the pods fell to the ground, I didn't stay long enough to watch whether he gathered them, but instinctively I knew that he did.
I trekked out often to Banlung's famous lake, known as the Yak Loum crater lake. Here's an overview
The locals found the lake sacred due to it's near perfect circular shape and did their best to keep it pollution free.
The circular trek along it's circumference was lovely as well.
Banlung also had several waterfalls in it's vicinities and I stubbornly refused the hires of motorbikes to take me there and instead rented a bike at a $1 a day. Big mistake. First off, I didn't have a map, other than a hand drawn map and some guidance off the internet. Secondly I went with the presumption that there would be directional signs along the road; wrong again.
Thirdly, I didn't think that city bikes with a cute little basket would make that much difference in my silly ride; it did. I felt every bit of gravel, stone and bump in my ride and I back tracked and rode along EVERY path that could be taken on my search of one of these falls. I guess I'll simply share that I never reached my intended destination, but I had fun in my failure.
I witnessed the slash & burn farming techniques done by the locals, the heat from the fire + the intense sun + my body temperature from riding = Summer heat overload. But I did quite like the smell & scent of burning.
Obviously I took an escape in the shade from the heat; while I enjoyed sweet mandarins and chugging my water, a young man biked up nearly right in front of me with an awkward long ladder in hand yet naturally. Even though he parked directly in front of me, he did not acknowledge my smile. I assumed like me, he was seeking shade, but he immediately threw up the ladder against a tree and ascended it.
He started to scrap meticulously the tree trunk.
And placed little plastic bags along the base to capture it's white sap.
Then I started to take notice that every tree had the same scrapings and string previously strung to guide the sap.
He had repeated these same actions for about 10 trees until another one of his buddy came along, who started doing the same; parked his bike right near my person, ignored me and started his climb. A third man came by after my observing them for 1/2 an hour and sat beside me, I shared my mandarins with him while he spoke to me in Khmer even though I couldn't understand or respond. After 5 minutes, he called out to another man passing by on a motor bike who spoke English. Then all was explained to me. These men were collecting the sap from rubber trees which were exported to surrounding countries as there were no factories in Cambodia to turn into plastic. These trees were scrapped & sapped once a day for the mature trees and twice for the younger trees. We chatted on other topics and ate the mandarins, and with the language barrier absolved, the 2 young man came down and took a break with us with happy smiles. Towards the end the man who spoke English offered to take me to the waterfall he guessed I was looking for. I declined his offer as I didn't want to trouble anyone, he even said that we can take my bike easily; I didn't want to imagine how it was probably going to be strapped to my head or something along that line. So I thanked him and asked for verbal directions instead. We all parted our separate ways after 2 hours and with each of them urging me to not travel on my own around these parts as it could be dangerous. I didn't follow their advice (Stop yelling at me, I can already sense it) and went out biking the next day once again failing to find my waterfall but discovered beautiful sights once again. This time I did not come across a single person, only birds, cows, dogs and a pig.
So my 5 days out in the wilderness came to an end, I went into town to catch my bus to Siem Reap. Even though I felt a tinge of melancholy for leaving Banlung, I was screaming with excitement to feel the beat & energy of the city. I wouldn't be surprised if within a decade's time Banlung would be completely changed at the rate Cambodia's developing.
Good bye for now!

Posted by chang2n 20:10 Archived in Cambodia Comments (1)

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