Saturday, January 30, 2016
Dinner was at the Corner restaurant with Kareoke. Borey sang 'hello' and a cambodian song for us. Clara did Mama Mia. and we all sang like silly little girls. It was very fun! havent had this crazy silly girl fun in a longgggg time. Not a bad way to end the trip.
The next day, woke up late, had a leisure and slow breakfast, and after much internal debating, ventured out to shop one last time. There were many many shops in the Pub Street. They just went on and on, all shops selling more or less identical goods. Finally got the table cloth and another tshirt with a giant face for Saffy. Loaded with purchases, the luggage was bursting.
Silk Air flight to Da Nang wasnt too full. the 40 mins stop didnt require going through security again. Flight to changi was packed. Spent time at changi and bought an aniseed medium longchamp which turned out to be yellow instead of lime green. sigh. checked in late to the transit hotel and was given the last room without a window. room was noisy and kettle didnt work. wasted 1 hr to get it mended, then a shower (forgot my shampoo) and finally closed my eyes to sleep at 1AM. Not a very pleasant stay this time. The next morning, a long flight to Seoul, packed. then to SFO the middle seat was again free, so at least a bit of breathing room.
the whole point of this trip was of course angkor wat. But the Banyon was what got me. and I didnt expect phnom penh to be so lively. expected laos to be more breaktaking and although I've enjoyed luang prabang, the rest I found boring and not amazing. Thailand, well, not really on the list but just because we had to fly in to Bangkok. the mekong was boring, unexciting and most of all, COLD. many unexpectations on this trip.
Thursday, January 28, 2016
Waking up at 4:30 to be at the temple by 5 to watch the sunrise aint my idea of my first introduction to Angkor Wat. I much rather view the full glory of the angkorian temple in broad day light. But instead, we walked through the west entrance in pitch dark, stumbling up and down the stairs of the main gate and almost fell into the moat. We sat on a spot that offered unobstructed view of the 5 towers and waited and waited for the sun to rise. The place was crowded with tourists already. Slowly but surely the sun appeared, a brilliant giant red circle, slightly to the right behind the towers. I thought the view should be from the east where we could see the sun rays hitting and reflecting from the towers, and not from the west where the towers would be silhouetted by the rising fireball. So as a consequence, the towers appeared dark against the shinny sun. Sunrise aint my thing so I've regretted having to lose sleep and missing the opportunity to walk into the temple compound from the sandstone causeway on the western gate and taking a picture from this viewpoint with the temple at dead center, like in the postcards. But others said they've loved the sunrise. Next a mad dash to the pools to see the sun and temple reflections on the water. Mad dash to be there ahead of the horde of the korean tourists. Again the reflections were beautiful but not spectacular and the amount of tourists that crowded the area made the view almost not worth while. But the temple itself blew me away. The first level of the pyramid temple with the quincunx of towers was an enclosure of bas-relief walls telling mythological and King Suryavarman II stories. Immediately upon the main entrance to the temple main temple, 4 identical square courtyards, used for offerings and prayers. The central structure of the pyramid surrounded the inner sanctuary where the 5 quincunx of towers stood since the 12th century. We've waited for over half an hour in line to go up one of the towers and the wait for worth every nanosecond. The view from the tower was spectacular. I've never seen anything so astonishingly magnificent, and while standing inside it, I've imagined how it would look like before it had succumbed to ruins, reclaimed by the jungle. Amazing what kind of structure a human could construct! Whoops, forgot to bring Small Tigger. He'd extremely mad at me! Doh!
Before all the awe subsided, the breathtaking south gate of angkor thom stole my view. the bridge to the gate was lined by 54 guardian gods (deva) on one side pulling the head of the serpent 'shesha', and 54 demon gods (asura) on the other side, pulling the tail of the serpent, sorta like in a tug of war. the rows of guardians and demons ended at a multi-headed cobra 'naga'. The gate to the city had the image of Avalokiteśvara on the towers on each of the 4 sides. After seeing the quincunx of towers at Angkor Wat, this was the second most magnificent sight.
As if the gate to the city wasnt impressive enough, the giant stone faces of Bodhisattva at the Bayon surely got the Hippo speechless. Every tower had a face on all 4 sides. everywhere you look, you see a face. some stern, some smiling. and the popular thing to do was to photograph your nose touching the nose of a face. What was interesting about this temple was the bas-reliefs depicting scenes of ordinary people in their every day life among battle scenes, market, chess games and child birth. Hm. Small Tigger took many photos with the giant faces. A little happier now, but still angry at me.
I would say, aside from Angkor Wat, the Bayon was my fav temple, just because she likes the giant faces! :-)
Last came the Terrace of the Elephants in the city royal square, a 300 meter long wall adorned with carved elephants and garudas. It's used for viewing stand for public ceremonies and king audience hall. It ended at the terrace of the Leper king. The sides of the terrace had carving of elephant trunks dipped in or holding lotus leafs. Not liking elephants, nevertheless I've enjoyed the terrace as it offered nice views of the jungle.
We returned to Angkor Wat to admire it during sunset. While sipping coconut juice straight from the fruit, with the sun hitting the temple stone structures, the entire complex was reflected on the moat in front. Nice relaxing way to round up the day and say farewell to angkor wat. The Hippo would not forget this site.
My desire to see the Angkor city has been fulfilled and it wasnt any bit disappointed. This was of course the highlight and the only reason for making the trip to SouthEast Asia and it was worth the hassle of deets, Malaron, heat and long sleeve shirts and pants.
But tomorrow promised more wonders as we'd cover more temples in the area. After dinner, ventured out one more time to the Night Market for more purchases of cheap goods. Slept quite content that night in my presidential suite at the Cheathata hotel.
Angkor Temples photos:
Wednesday, January 27, 2016
lunch was by the tonle lake in the dead center of the country. a wonderful place with huts on the water's edge. had the chicken in banana leaf and it was deliciously savory. love the food here. We stopped to photograph the oldest angorian bridge which was made in red sandstone with serpents as ballustrade, before arriving at our hotel in Siem Reap. i was given the presidential suite on the top corner floor with a small balcony that overlooked the street at the front of the hotel. what luck. the top floor pool was inviting and it offered plain views of the town. The night market was just next to the hotel.
dinner was a buffet at the Koulen Restaurant with traditional cambodian/khmer songs and dance. They were a tad better than the laotian ones. I like the music/melodies better than the dances, which were slow with mostly slow hand movements (they curled their palms and fingers backwards just like the latotian ones) but with more body moves. i loved the buffet although the others claimed it was the worst they've had so far on the trip. i think it's because, although it offered western food, such as pizza, spaghetti, hamburgers, french fries, they were sub-par, there are more asian food. lots of noodles (even custom made noodle soup with your choice of type of noodles), rice and curries, and even bean desserts, that westerners were not accustomed to. For me, the food was heaven. Tummy full and happy we chose to walk back to the hotel instead of tuk tuk.
Will leave the Night Market, which was just around the corner of the hotel, to tomorrow night. Felt asleep with impatience for the morning to come because when I wake up I'd say hello to angkor wat.
Siem Rep photos:
Tuesday, January 26, 2016
The morning started with a visit to the Royal Palace. Gorgeously decorated temples and buildings again with a small but interesting museum, which showcased the royal guards attire, some royal household items, royal chairs. However, after 2 weeks of buddhist architecture, the wow factor has now been reduced to mundane. The rest of the day was a depressing visit to the killing fields and the genocide museum.
Second night dinner, Borey took us to the Cambodian version of Students restaurant that served expensive tapas. The menu was limited, the price was high and the amount of food small. I had the fish cakes which were delicious. High quality with low quantity. I was still hungry. Not as good as the Makphet in Vientiane. After dinner we went to have a drink at the FCC and admire the evening view of the town and river from the top open air floor. We sat on high stools facing the river and the view was marvellous! All the lights, people and traffic noise, the smell of the city, the cool breeze from the river, the clear moon. I could sit here forever!
An evening stroll along the tonle sap river was refreshing. Right in front of the Royal Palace you could admire where the Mekong met the tonle sap. i quite liked this city. To my amazement.
Phnong Peng photos:
Sunday, January 24, 2016
Saying i was disappointed at Laos was probably not entirely accurate. I did like luang prabang and even the tiny village of pakbeng didnt put me off. The Mekong cruise though was unexpectedly cold, too cold to be able to enjoy the float. my little enthusiasm about vang vieng was probably due to the hot humid weather. and I didnt expect too much from Vientiane. But I was really expected to be blown away by the natural beauty of this land. I wasnt. Though the food was good, simply because I love noodles and sticky rice.
tomorrow we leave the sleepy LAOS to fly to Cambodia. With every passing day, we inched closer and closer to angkor wat, the reason why I took this trip.
Saturday, January 23, 2016
The Elephant Crossing hotel was right in front of the nam song river. Rooms were tiny, bathroom horrible but balconies faced the river with grand views of the hills. That's exactly the view of the online images I've seen. My room was again at the top floor. The day was hot and hazy which made sitting in the balcony to admire the view somewhat not very pleasing. Nonetheless I've spent hours enjoying the view and bearing the oppressive heat. The town was small, roads broken and lined with shops and littered with back packers. Visited the Tham Jang cave which was nothing interesting. Small cave, only took us 15 minutes to walk it. instead of lunch we had cake at a restaurant. We were all dying for cake. My black forest with oreo cookie wasnt any good. This town was all about physical activities like kayaking, boating, hot air ballooning, swimming and caving, and since I did none of that, I've spent the down time finishing Blue Labyrinth (not as good as the others in the series) to get my Pendergast fix, while the others went swimming and sunbathing at the new resort hotel. Dinner was at the hotel open air restaurant. Food was so so and the mosquitoes were giant and swarming. I've put extra layer of deet and picaridin on me in Laos.
I had great hopes for Vang Vieng. The reason i chose this particular itinerary was because I've wanted to see the landscape of Vang Vieng as opposed to going to phonsavan to see the stone jars. But Vang Vieng left me wanting. Although the view from the hotel was good, I've expected it to be more spectacular. Probably due to the heat, the mountains looked hazy and not sharp and in the mornings, the view was foggy and grey. However, I did get my anticipated down time to wind down, catch up with my book and simply do nothing. So for that I have to say I did enjoy my time in Vang Vieng.
Vang Vieng photos:
Wednesday, January 20, 2016
We all bought tickets to see the laotian traditional dance at the Royal Palace museum. There were 3 types of tickets. We bought the middle tier ones. But after seeing the show, I regretted paying as much as $15. The show was so boring that only after it went on for a little while, half the audience left. The traditional dance was no more than hand movements with fingers and palms curved backwards. But the costumes and headgears were bright and colorful. It was episode VII that we saw, a long running show that retold the stories of the Laos kings. In between the dances, the king and queen and entourage plus the monkey warriors just sat and a singer from the band started signing and absolutely nothing much was happening on the stage. When the monkey dance started, I'd wanted to leave also.
Doing laundry here was cheap. Nai took us to a laundy place 2 blocks from our hotel. My 1kg laundry cost me just $2.
The morning walk took us through a morning market where we observed fried riverweed, local fruit and produce. The Phusi temple on the mountain offered grand views of the town. In the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Center we've learned the Mo tribe's courtship ritual included the couple staying 2 nights in the jungle alone. Hmm. In the afternoon we drove to the Kuang Si Waterfalls. The falls were spectacular and the cascading water clear and blue but not very clean. the place was packed with tourists and back packers and people swimming. clara accidently photographed a man sitting on top of the falls stark naked showing off his weenie. There was also a bear refuge which had about 4 or 5 black bears.
Dinner was at an open air restaurant by the river Khan. There were small outdoor fires in the pits, and the ambience was quite nice, like you're eating with campfire. Except I've ordered the wrong dish. The buffalo orlam which was supposed to be a stew, came watery like a broth and the meat was tough and chewy. didnt like it. Made a mental note to not have orlam again.
We woke up before sunrise to go see the monks receiving alms. Some of us bought the sticky rice to offer the monks and sat down along the road with the other locals and waited for the monks. Soon the floating orange garments arrived and one by one we scooped the rice for the monks. I felt sorry for them. they were nothing but a tourist spectacle. they're being photographed, some with flash, some right at their faces. They've learned to ignore the tourists and just went about collecting their breakfast. Not really a scene I've enjoyed. For the rest of the day, I went to the Royal Palace museum (small nothing spectacular and the entrance fee cost too much), visited the Wat xieng thong temple which was extraordinarily gorgeous, with walls of colored glass mosaics, gilded figures,chandeliers and intricate carvings, the most beautiful temple on this trip, and had a drink with M and L in one of the outdoor cafes by the confluence of the Mekong and Khan rivers. Then it's all shopping for the rest of the time. Found a cute silk purse in lime green in a store but the owner wouldnt bargain and only came down 20000 kip in price so I walked. Later Clara went back and bought it for me.
Dinner was at the famous Tamarind by the Khan river. I finally sampled the water buffalo laap, which was minced buffalo meat in a curious sauce. I had it with tripe but no bile. It was tender and heavenly delicious. Not like the buffalo orlam that I had for dinner the night before which was tough and chewy. The orlam was a watery stew, more like a soup than a stew. The laap was ground meat and it was cooked properly at the Tamarind. The restaurant was very tiny and every night fully booked. Best restaurant in town and in Laos. Best meal of the trip, no doubt.
More shopping at the colorful night market and back to comfy hotel for another enjoyable evening and good night rest. Really liked Luang Prabang.
Luang Prabang photos:
Tuesday, January 19, 2016
The next morning greeted us with cold and fog. We had to wake the hotel receptionist to provide us with breakfast. Boarded the longboat again and braced for another long cold float on the Mekong. 9 hrs to Luang Prabang! How were we to put up with another slow boring cold day? Nothing to do, not much to see. No wifi. I couldnt even get into my book. It was only the cold. I was cocooned in 2 blankets and still felt the cold. By the afternoon the sun finally came out, it warmed up a bit and we could finally shed our blankets and coats. Lunch was exceptionally tasty fried chicken and the usual sticky rice and curry, long green beans and veggies, with pineapple for dessert. And that was the exciting event of the day. Except I've noticed the family's son was very good looking. Big brown eyes with long lashes. Attractive smile and very courteous. At least something or someone good to look at to while the time away.
Suddenly our local guide woke us up. On our left was the cave we're supposed to visit. Everyone started up enthusiastically. Our boat docked and we climbed up to the Pak Ou caves which had a lot of buddhas inside. the climb was steep but no one complained because we welcomed the chance to walk since there's nowhere to go on the boat. There was a white mark to indicate the highest level of the mekong, just below the mouth of the cave above the steep stairs. boy, this thing can flood big! Next we visited a local traditional village by the river. Very poor, women all working and men just sitting in groups chatting and kids running around nagging the tourists. Not interesting to me. Then finally we arrived at our destination. the longboat docked, mr young good looking helped everyone out and I took one long last look at the boring Mekong and the boat, turned around and climbed up to the river bank and into our waiting minivan. She survived the Mekong!
Mekong River cruise photos:
Sunday, January 17, 2016
the short flight to bangkok was uneventful. Nai was at the airport to meet me and the ride to the hotel took about 35 mins. always memorable the first ride in a strange city. the royal princess hotel was luxurious by tourist standards. My room was on a high floor, with a balcony overlooking the pool and the view of the top of the bridge and grand palace. not bad for a start. but admiring the view from the balcony proved to be too hot and humid.
The following morning was the first day of deet. just a thin layer to cover all exposed skin. dengue fever mosquitoes bite during the day in the urban areas, so just a precaution. We took the local bus and walked a few blocks to the wat pho temple with the reclining Buddha, my first exposure of buddhist temple. as the hippo was easily impressed and always the first encounter was the most impressionable, the temple's buildings, paintings, stupas and statues stunned me . Did the coin thing, of course, at the reclining Buddha, and ran out of coins before the end of the bowls. What does this mean? after a break for thai ice tea, we visited the grand palace, fighting and dodging tourists. The place was big, with many beautiful temples, buildings, status, shrines and stupas. There's a grand model of angkor wat in the palace because, i was told, if you cant go to angkor wat, angkor wat will come to you. didnt even care to enter the emerald buddha temple. it's not very big and by then I was tired of taking off/putting back on my shoes. it was suffocating hot and humid and I was drenched in sweat. had enough temples and buddha statues for the day.
After a lunch of pad thai, we boarded long tail boats for a ride in the canals. didnt know bangkok was an island, surrounded by canals. the ride was at times choppy and when another boat came by from the opposite direction, it felt like we were going to crash. but the wind provided temporary relief from the oppressing heat. The views were of wooden shacks on stilts on the edge of the water. some are grander than others, all very poor. when back on firm ground, while some wanted to go for a walk, some of us, hippo included, just jumped into the first taxi with ac and back to the comfort, dry and cool hotel.
Morning flight to chiang rai with thai air. their orange outfits were very attractive. stepped out of the airport and the air up here was significantly cooler. First stop was the golden triangle with myanmar (burma) on the left and laos on the right, where the mekong met the ruak river. this place was nothing but a tourist trap. the view of myanmar was nothing and a casino on the laotian side. up the stairs there was a ruined temple which was more interesting. lunch was by the mekong and then up the road to visit the opium museum. not very interesting for the hippo except on one wall, it had drawings of opium pipe designs. the rest was all text telling stories of the opium trade and a big collection of pipes. so the hippo went shopping instead. the row of shops lined the busy asphalt street. all shops had the exact same merchandise and all designs were elephants. elephants everywhere in Thailand. one particular elephant design was unique so I bought a tshirt for saffy. across the street there was a huge buddha shrine. was told once upon a time there was a temple there but the buddha statue 'drowned' in the river, so they made another one. Hm ... Also visited the Wat Chedi Luang temple with an old red brick chedi and we each sounded the gong. they're building a brand new temple building. other than that, not very interesting.
an hour later we arrived at our hotel in chiang khong. The hotel sign said 'happy hotel'. It's happy everywhere here in Thailand. They even called the restrooms, the happy room. the 'happy' hotel was a beautiful serene place with a few rows of bungalows, each with 4 or 5 small but well appointed rooms with balconies. Trees and flowers everywhere and an open air restaurant. situated literally next to the mekong, we could see laos on the other side of the river bank. the gorgeous infinity pool gave you the impression of the clear water dropping into the murky river. really liked this place. went for a short walk along the narrow 1 street village and it reminded me of the back streets in HK. just as the sun dipped below the horizon, the temperature plunged and the evening became cold. I had to double the duvet that night. Strange how it was hot during the day and very cold at night.
Breakfast the following morning was in an open air breakfast room. It was freezing. All attendants wore stuffed jackets. But noodle soup and rice porridge were available to order and the sunrise glorious.
Even it was cold, I did like and enjoy this hotel a lot. The setting next to the river and ambience were perfect, the pool gorgeous and view spectacular.
After breakfast (sorry to say goodbye to this place), we rode a bit to the border and entered Laos at Xuay Xai and boarded our longboat for a float on the mekong.
Thursday, January 14, 2016
Sunday, January 10, 2016
This cold world is not for you
So rest your head upon me
I have strength to carry you
Those are the twenties rising
Golden sun is just for you
Follow me down, to the valley below
Moonlight is bleeding
From out of your soul
I still don't know what I
was waiting for And my
time was running wild
A million dead-end streets
And every time I thought I'd got it made
It seemed the taste was not so sweet
So I turned myself to face me
But I've never caught a glimpse
Of how the others must see the faker
I'm much too fast to take that test
(Turn and face the strange)
Time may change me
But I can't trace time
R I P
Goose inspirational 'Goodbye Spaceboy'