Beautiful dancers in Cambodia. I love this photo because her graceful dance is exemplified with the way she is holding her hand, while the small tear in her outfit and sweat on her neck show the reality of her hard work.
Beautiful dancers in Cambodia. I love this photo because her graceful dance is exemplified with the way she is holding her hand, while the small tear in her outfit and sweat on her neck show the reality of her hard work.
In Siem Reap, Cambodia we visited what is probably my favorite ancient site I saw on my trip through Asia – The Bayon Temple in the ancient capital city of Angkor Thom.
The temple was giant and from afar you don’t notice right away what makes it extra spectacular- there are 53 towers with 4 giant Buddha faces on each side of each tower. So the temple is decorated with 212 giant Buddha faces.
We also went back to Ta Prohm, the temple with all the trees where “Tomb Raider” was filmed and had a tribute battle.. of course.
Our tour guide said this was the first time visitors have asked him to take photos of a tribute battle.. who would have thought! Poor guy.
After we finished exploring these ancient marvels, we took a boat to a floating village. Wasn’t sure what to expect, but would have never imagined what I saw! It was an entire huge village all floating on bamboo rafters. There were restaurants, stores, schools, farms, and homes. This is one of many floating villages along this river, 80,000 homes in all.
The grass you see is a plant that grows on the surface of the water, and is extremely thick in parts. We ended up getting stuck in it a few times.
When I told the girl on the right that she was beautiful she replied with “Thank you, but my brothers are also very beautiful.” I didn’t expect that response but you can see in her what a beautiful person she is!
Another wonderful day of sites that I never could have imagined I would be seeing or even existed.
… everyone has one, and today was mine.
We visited another part of Angkor today where giant trees have grown in and around the temples. It is an unexplainable sight, and almost seems staged. I expected Indiana Jones to show up at any minute, or a roller coaster to go by like the “ancient” worlds in Busch Gardens.
So how could it possibly be a bad camera day you ask? Well, as you could assume, I went crazy with the “click, clicks” at every corner of the complex, but when I got home to upload the photos only half were there. HALF.
I held my composure, and have decided to relive today again… tomorrow. Luckily trees and stones won’t be moving around on me tonight so I should be able to get some of my shots back tomorrow.
Here are two of the photos that weren’t deleted to give you a sneak peak, but I will be posting lots more tomorrow.
This morning we took a flight from Luang Probang, Laos to Siem Reap, Cambodia. The airports were both so tiny and the flight was only just over an hour so it was an easy trip!
We arrived at our hotel, called the Grand Hotel D’Angkor – the oldest hotel in Siem Reap. I jumped right into the pool and then got changed to go visit Cambodia’s most prized posession- Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat is a temple complex built for the king Suryavarman II in the early 12th century as his personal temple and capital city. It is a world heritage site and the world’s largest religious building.
It was also used in “Tomb Raider.” We ran into a film being shot while we were there and when we asked what the film was we got the response of “it is going to be like Tomb Raider, but with Tigers! And Chinese.” Keep an eye out!
After we finished walking around Angkor Wat, we went over to a small temple next door. It was around 6 p.m. which is when the monks gather at each temple and chant. They do this twice a day, once before sunrise, and once right before sunset. We sat with the monks before they began their chants, and I was surprised when they began talking to me and looking me in the eyes. I have been under the impression until now that you are not to look a monk in the eyes or talk to one if you are a girl. This is because they have given up the ability to have any type of relation with a woman, so talking to them or looking them in the eyes is seen as tempting them. While it was still clear that I was not to touch any of them or even get too close, it was nice to have a conversation with them.
Their chants were almost hypnotizing. I closed my eyes and took in the humming and words of the ancient words. It was beautiful.
After we listened and watched the monks chant, we walked back through Angkor Wat in the dark. A slightly eerie but also a spiritual experience. We were the only ones left in the complex because it had closed almost 2 hours prior.
Got back on the boat in the morning and began heading down the Mekong further towards our destination of Luang Probang. It was an incredibly overcast and misty morning, which are usually perfect for curling up and watching a movie, but I was blown away by how beautiful the mist was over the unique terrain along the Mekong. I could make a whole photo book out of the shots I took just that morning, but I’ll just share a few for now!
We stopped at another lodge for the night called Kamu Lodge. I thought I was staying in the jungle the night before, but this was REALLY the jungle. Each room was a tent set on a tile landing. Everything was run by solar panels, so no sun no electricity. The lodge was integrated into a neighboring village, “The Kamu People,” which is completely self sustainable. They grow and raise or hunt all the food they eat and sell, they pump running water from the mountain, and they use solar energy. I was so impressed by the quality of life and kinship I found in this village and lodge, I would love to be a part of a community like the Kamu people.
When we arrived our guide at the lodge name Khamla took us on a little tour. I got the chance to shoot the traditional bow and arrow, pan for gold (a source of income for the village), plow the rice field and plant rive, swim in their natural swimming pool (part of the Mekong), fish for river fish, and walk around and learn about the village.
We had a wonderful dinner in the lodge dining area, which was a platform in the middle of the rice fields. I have become immune to large bugs whizzing by at every moment, and actually captured 5 inch long fat beetles that wondered into my dinner.
After the sun went down we went back to our tents and since you can’t turn on a light to read or your bed will turn into the hottest bug bar in town, we went to sleep. Between the calming heat and the harmonic song of millions of insects, I fell into the deepest sleep I have had in a long time.
In the morning we had another eventful breakfast in the rice field when a cow from a neighboring village invaded the rice patties and was running ramped while 10 men chased him. All was well though and we went on our way to Luang Probang.
We made a pit stop at the Pak Ou Caves. Two story caves that are in a mountain side on the Mekong river. There are over 400 Buddha statues in the lower cave alone. The upper cave is 204 steps above the lower cave (yep, we counted). Both are something I have definitely never seen before.
Luang Probang is the 3rd largest city in Laos and used to be the capital. Because of its beautiful valley and river setting, the quality of life, and the culture, the whole town has been named a world heritage site. I took one look around and saw exactly what they were talking about. What a town! In a town of 60,000 people there are 65 temples (all gorgeous) and about 1,500 monks (disciples of Buddha).
We went to a few temples that seemed more for the local people than to impress tourists (a relief) and then to a lookout that was quite a climb where we could see the whole city.
At night we went to the night market where there were many local crafts, but what was most interesting was an alley of the market where food was being sold. There was stand after stand of amazing looking food where you pay $1 for a plate or $1.50 for a big plate and fill it up! There were tons of backpackers eating around these stands, but also lots of local people.
In the morning we were out the door at 5:30 to go watch the monks get fed by the local buddhists, an ancient tradition since monks are not allowed to cook for themselves. They walked through the streets of the town with a metal bowl and each person gave a pinch of sticky rice to each monk.
We then went to see a local food market that was already quite lively for 6 a.m. This market wasn’t for the faint stomached. They were selling everything from grub to bats, and from ant larvae to buffalo tail. And no, this wasn’t for show. These ingredients are found in traditional Lao dishes.
After the market we went to a place where students wanting to learn english gather. Anyone can stop in who speaks english and can have conversations with the students, read with them, or help them with their homework. it was a really neat way to learn a bit about the life of a young Lao person, but also a great way to give to them.
We had an amazing lunch by the river. I had coconut soup with chicken and noodles, sweet and sour tofu, sticky rice, and vegetable spring rolls. You might say: “Wow Marina, you really pig out!” But I say it is the best $6.50 I have ever spent on a culinary experience. And no, I didn’t finish it all, but I could have!
In the afternoon we split up and were on a quest for sun dresses (since we mistakenly only packed pants and hot dresses, luckily I did sneak in a pair of shorts) when we came across a spa. $5 for an hour long massage, mango smoothie included?? Yes please!
Our quest for a dress was a fail, but the day was wonderful.
Tomorrow we get on another plane and head to Cambodia. Second to last leg of our Asian adventure.
(Don’t want to leave you with a bad taste in your mouth from the market photos, so here are a few from a village we visited!)
Well here I am.. sitting on a porch at a camp over looking the Mekong river in Laos.
How did we end up here? Well we got on a boat today in Change Rai and headed south towards the heart of Laos. You would not believe how close these countries are. I could literally thrown a pebble from thailand to laos across the mekong river.
but let me fill you in on the past few days since I was without internet. We spent a few days in the Golden Triangle. Famous for the trade and production of Opium. For such a corrupt place in the past, it had an amazingly peaceful ambiance. To tell us a little about that era in this area, they have a museum called the “Hall of Opium.” It was honestly one of the most elaborate and well thought out small museums I have ever been to. I couldn’t take many photos inside because it wasn’t allowed but i snuck a few of the tunnel walls that lead into the museum. They are cement depictions of people that suffer from opium. Pretty powerful.
After the museum we checked into our beautiful hotel called Anatara. and then were met by a master mahout (elephant trainer) in the lobby. He took us up to the elephant camp. Yes there is such a thing, and it is comparable to what I believe heaven to be like. What unbelievebly intelligent and emotional animals. I quickly turned my attention toward the baby elephant. 5 years old and still wobbling around like a newborn puppy. He plays tag and hide and seek and begs by hoisting himself up onto the bars of his pen for a banana.
We then learned the controls of an elephant and got our very own. there was no seat and there were no reins. You sit on their neck, balance yourself with your hands on their head. and steer by kicking behind their ears and yelling commands such as “bai” (straight) “map long” (sit down). it was crazy how well they listen.
We then road our elephants down to the river, took about an hour. my elephants name was Lana and she is the same age as me… and as feisty as me! Everytime there was a pond or puddle she would suck it up and splash me with it. I was soaked in no time. That thing is like a fire hose!
When we got to the river, she walked right in with all the other elephants. she didn’t really care that I was still on here and immediately began wallowing. I had to get my balance and try not to fall off as she completely emerged her head and body into the river (but I did fall off… twice.) It was like balancing on a barrel in water. I couldn’t stop laughing! meanwhile my dads elephant who was about 53 just laid under the water and didn’t move.. my dad lounged comfortably on top of him like he was a day bed or something.
When Lana finally stood up she doused me another probably 20 times with water and then we got out. It was an experience that is truly hard to explain, but is now a top 5 favorite memory of mine.
The next morning our master Mahout invited us back to the camp to wash and feed the baby and its mother. The baby kept wrapping his strong trunk around my arm that had the hose and pulling it into his mouth. Then he would run away like a dog that just played a funny trick. The way he walked it looked like he could fall over at any time, and many times he stumbled over his own feet. I also fed the mom water, but she would fill up her trunk (which held a couple of gallons) and then put her trunk into her mouth.
After we washed and fed the mom and her baby, we headed to the border of Thailand and Myanmar (formally called burma). We walked across the border and entered Myanmar. It had a different feel immediately. It was not as clean and didn’t seem quite as friendly as Thailand. Interesting what borders can do!
We went and visited a tribe called the Karen People. There are a few different divisions of the Karen tribe but my favorite are the Longneck Karen. The women place rings around their neck to lengthen it. This tradition stems from a superstition that a tiger spirit was coming to kill the women in their tribe, so since the tiger bites the neck to kill, they put metal rings on it. It is now more of a sign of beauty and status. The woman with the longest neck in the tribe is thought to be the most beautiful.
We shopped for a while at the market in Myanmar and then headed back to thailand, walked across the border again, and went back to our hotel. It began to pour so we just took it easy and called it an early night.
This morning we boarded the boat I was talking about at the beginning, and are now in the jungle of Laos, absolutely beautiful! And absolutely full of giant bugs. We stopped at a village where we were met by tons of kids waiting our arrival.They had embroidered bracelets for us to buy, and my dads soft spot once again hit and we ended up with about 20 of them. The kids were all so happy to see a photo of themselves, and video seemed to blow them away.
We made it to our camp lodge and are here for the night. I have my mosquito net up and my eyes open. Already found a huge tarantula looking spider in my room but was comforted when it seemed much more scared of me than I was of him (I hide my fear well). And a beetle the size of a small bird slapped me in the face while I ate dinner. The lady next to me screamed.
Should be an interesting night! Tommorow we continue down the river to the next camp.
I only got about three hours of sleep last night… I’ll thank my childlike excitement about going to the floating market for that!
Imagine hundreds of little souvenir shops, food vendors, and grocery stores lined up along a canal and placed into canoe-like boats. This is the floating market. We drove for about an hour and a half outside of Bangkok to reach the small town where the floating market is located.
We arrived at a small boat landing where we had ice cream for breakfast, a treat from our guide because it “is too hot out to not have ice cream.” We boarded our boat and were on our way through a series of canals surrounded by coconut plantations and dilapidated houses.
The market was originally for locals to buy groceries and trade goods, but since it was discovered as a place for tourists to visit it has turned into a bit of a souvenir nightmare. But most of the souvenir shops are along the side of the canal, and the boats are mostly filled with the traditional goods.
I did give in and buy one of these beautiful monk paintings from this guy. He was painting them right there. I also bought a crazy four-eyed laughing man painting which he made in college and was very reluctant to give up, but after I told him that I would be hanging it in my house for all my friends to see, he was pleased to pass it on to me.
After we got off of our boat, I went over and befriended this gem of a lady.
She even let me sit on her boat (which is not easy to balance, let me tell you!).
I wanted to grab some soup in the market, but you would think I were wanting to play Russian Roulette the way my dad reacted. This is the first very exotic place that he has traveled to, and is terrified of the local water and sanitation, which is probably good thinking but I like to take my chances and absorb everything I can.. especially the food! But I let him win this time, and really it was a win win because look at this lunch! Curry pineapple rice with tofu.. served in a pineapple! Yumm.
After lunch, we headed back to our hotel.. which is absolutely beautiful!
We ended the day with a traditional Thai massage, which is like yoga for a lazy person. You stay clothed and the bend and stretch you every which way. It feel wonderful! And is such a steal.. they come to your hotel and give you a Thai massage for an hour and a half for $20.. and that’s the tourist price! I couldn’t bring myself to even attempt to bargain when It is already 1/4 of the cost of a massage at home.
So now I’m heading to bed, and waking up at 5, jumping on another plane, bidding adieu to Bangkok, and moving onto Chang Rai, a city in northern Thailand which is supposed to be beautiful. And in the afternoon I get to play with elephants! Probably going to be restless with excitement all night again.. Oh well!
Felt like three! If we would have planned any more to do today, we wouldn’t have had time to blink.
We began early with another amazing breakfast.. photo as promised:
If you know me, you know that I LOVE food, but am not a breakfast food fan.. well looks like Asians aren’t either! Ah what a treat!
After breakfast we headed to see the Golden Buddha, the world’s largest solid gold statue which weighs 5.5 tons and is about 10 feet tall.
Then we went for a stroll through Chinatown. But let me tell you.. I have been to Chinatown in a few cities in America, but this was a completely different experience. No fake purses or watches being sold here! It was a place truly for locals to buy their groceries and everyday household items.. which to us are really not so everyday.
I also learned something new while I was in Chinatown today. It is Chinese tradition for when someone dies to bring paper representations of material goods they used while alive to their funeral and burn them. There was shop after shop of paper models of planes, watches, phones, crock pots, coffee makers, cars, shoes, clothes, anything you could imagine.
After Chinatown we went to visit the Emerald Buddha at the Grand Palace by Tuk Tuk. The compound that the palace is on is unbelievable. The colors, plants, layout, and intricate detail on every inch of every building is like nothing I have seen before. But of course.. I accidentally packed an extra tank top in my purse instead of a coverup so I got to wear a super stylish Hawaiian button-up shirt. Luckily I wasn’t the only one walking around with the island vibe.
After we finished exploring this astonishing palace, we moved on to a possibly even more breathtaking sight.. the “Reclining Buddha.” 154 feet long and 50 feet high. It is housed in a small building so hard to get a good photo of the whole thing but i was about as big as three of his toes.
Then we took a longtail boat for a ride through a few of bangkok’s 500 canals which are lined but slightly decrepit but incredibly interesting houses.
We ended the day with a punch.. or two.. or three..and some kicking..
At a Thai Kickboxing match. These guys were brutal! And the best thing about it was the crowd going crazy after each round placing bets with each other. They were yelling and throwing up hand signals all over, looked like a Thai version of wall street.
Photo overload? Never….! Just wait until tomorrow, we are visiting the floating market. Something I have wanted to see for years!
My mom and I flew into Doha, Qatar (Dubai’s sister city) in the middle of the night. As we stepped off the plane we were hit with an intense heat wave, it felt like we walked into the driest and hottest sauna there is. I figured it must just be the engine heat but I was incredibly wrong. It was 104 degrees out… AT NIGHT. Wow! I cannot imagine what it must feel like during the day. We had to quickly remember etiquette in the middle east, so I put away my usual eye contact and smile that I pass around to everyone since it is not ladylike to look a man in the eyes and definitely not to smile at them. So we decided to just sit and have some coffee. And because I love food.. let me just give some recognition to Qatar Airways for their amazing service and food.. When is the last time you saw something like this served on a 5 hour flight?
And yes the wine was included, and no there was no limit on number of drinks.
We arrived in Bangkok at 7 a.m., incredibly tired but eager to see the town. So we decided an energizing massage would help us out. Well, we both fell asleep in the massage and my mom woke herself up because she snored too loud and I must have had a bad dream and yelled which scared both my masseuse and myself. But it did the trick! We hit the town and because we only had a few days we took some beautiful fabric that my mom bought in ghana to a tailor, along with some photos of clothes too expensive to buy, but easy to replicate.
My dad arrived in the middle of the night and flew into my room like a tornado. He immediately started telling me a story (he is a renowned story teller whose stories take 10x longer to tell than needed). His everlasting energy then got us up and going at 7 am. We ate an amazing breakfast at the hotel (will definitely post pictures tomorrow), and then went off to the “Mo Chit” stop on the train to go to the Chatuchak weekend market. An endless maze of vendors that stretches for miles.
There was a lot of junk but also some really beautiful and bizarre things. I bought a necklace that will definitely turn some heads.
There was also an entire food section of the market. I now believe that Thai food is by far the most aromatically pleasing and tasting food! Have you ever seen prawns this fresh and beautiful?
I will leave you with a couple of my favorite characters I came across today…
The craziest most surreal experience I have had traveling is without a doubt when I visited India.
The smells, noises, tastes, and sights are all incredibly intense and overwhelming all at once. The only place that you aren’t on overdrive is in your hotel room.. and that can even be trying at times.
My mom and I visited India over Spring Break one year, and only planned the trip about 3 days before we were to leave. I like spontaneity.
We were going for 10 days and visiting about 5 different cities, so lots of driving and flying but there was never a dull moment. I won’t be writing about food this time, they had some amazing dishes ( I grew especially fond to paneer, a cheese found in this area) but after this trip I still have a hard time eating Indian.. we were both horribly sick for months after coming home.