Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Siem Reap, Cambodia

On Dec 3, we spent around a week in Siem Reap, Cambodia where the famous Angkor Wat temples are located. Interestingly, almost all shops price things in US Dollars and not in Cambodian riel.

Marc looking skeptical.

One day we took a class at Backstreet Academy where we spend 4 hours carving, chiseling and sanding down matching flower candle holders out of pink sandstone. My wrists were definitely sore the next day and Marc even had one of his fingertips become numb for an entire week because of the pressure we were putting on the tools (note from Marc: apparently this is a common incident when putting too much pressure on a fingertip for too long)!

Starting out with just blank blocks.

With finished products.

We went to see amazing acts at Phare Circus, an organization which helps disadvantaged young adults (eg. coming from poor rural areas) find work in the performance arts. They had gymnastics, tumbling, people stacking on top of each other, fire spinning, juggling, balancing on rolling canisters, a bicycle with lots of people on it, chair stacking, etc. It was pretty awesome, though they did all of it without any safety ropes, which made me really nervous for them.

No safety lines, eek!

We also did a horseback riding trip through local rice fields. Marc's only request was to be allowed to gallop, so we ended up galloping through really bumpy paths where I was near certain I would bounce right off of the horse (though I luckily did not). At one point Marc got chased by a very angry water buffalo and a small group of dogs tried to run us down. Kinda scary, but really fun :)

My horse's name was Bunny.

Marc's horse's name was Blue. Bunny and Blue were not friends, and Blue even bit Bunny in the bottom.

The highlight of the visit was waking up at 4:30am to catch sunrise at Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples. Waking up that early wasn't the most fun, but it was beautiful to see the orange colors reflected on the water. They let us climb up to the second floor of the temple even before it was open (ooooh) so that we could see the sunrise over the walls of the temple.

Barely awake enough.

On the second level.

Back down to earth.

We visited an area called Angkor Thom, which has a bunch of different temple ruins. One of them was the famous temples with many faces called Bayon.

Prasat Preah Palilay, with trees growing out of the temple stairway.

Elephant terrace.

Another early morning the next day! This time we saw the sunrise over Srah Srang. One of the nice things about starting out so early is that we were done by 11am, when it started to get hot and the masses of tourists came out for the day.

Beautiful sunrise with the moon and Venus visible in the sky.

Next we moved on to the famous Ta Prohm temple, which has been left in much the same condition in which it was found, with trees growing out of the ruins and the beautiful jungle surroundings. This was the film site for the movie Tomb Raider.

More and more temples:

Pre Rup.

Banteay Srei, a red sandstone temple that is a bit out of town.

Preah Kahn.

Neak Pean, surrounded by a green moat.

Ta Som.

Riding around town in the tuk tuk we saw many stops where people could buy gasoline on the side of the road (see the plastic bottles containing a yellowish liquid).

Next stop, Phnom Pehn Cambodia!

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Bangkok & Ko Samui, Thailand

We travel back to Thailand on Nov 25 and stay a few days in Bangkok! Our hotel shuttle drops us off in the shopping area called Siam Center, with posh shops and huge food courts. I end up doing a lot of shopping, whoo hoo!

Guilty pleasure, Swensons!

We visit the Jim Thompson House, which is a museum of old Thai structures that the American businessman Jim Thompson collected from all parts of Thailand in the 1950s and 1960s. He was an architect turned silk entrepreneur who mysteriously disappeared without a trace from Malaysia’s Cameron Highlands while going for a walk in March 1967. His disappearance launched one of the biggest search and rescues in SE Asia at the time (over 500 people strong) and still remains a mystery.

This small house is a "Spirit House," which is shrine to shelter spirits who could cause problems for a house owner, if not appeased. They are usually on the corner of a property and never in the shadow of the house. 

On the way back to the shopping area, we watched a muay thai boxing match that was set up outside of a mall.

No KOs in this match, it seemed to be a draw.

That evening, we went to the riverside to see the celebration of the festival Loy Krathong, when people gather around lakes, rivers and canals to pay respects to the goddess of water by releasing lotus shaped rafts, decorated with candles, incense and flowers onto the water.

The next day we visited Wat Pho, which houses a 49 foot/15 meter high and 150 foot/46 meter long reclining gold buddha (one of the largest in Thailand). There are also 108 bronze bowls in the corridor alongside the buddah, which represent the 108 auspicious characters of buddha. Visitors drop coins in these bowls to bring good fortune and help the monks to maintain the wat.

Beautiful ceramic-covered spires.

Pregnant cat doing a weird dance on a ledge. Just kidding, it's a lazy cat on its side.

That evening I met up with Paothep, a friend from college who I hadn't seen in over 10 years! Crazy. It was great to catch up and he showed me around his family's stately steakhouse and bakery. We even got to sample some of their cakes. This was seriously the best food we had in Bangkok!

Our last day in Bangkok we ran a bunch of errands (e.g. sending packages of goodies home to the states!) and took a stroll around Chinatown.

On Nov 28 we were off to the island of Samui for 5 days, a touristy island off the east coast of the Kra Isthmus in Thailand. Unfortunately, we got caught in a late rainy season so it rained almost every day, though usually only for 30 min or so. Thus, we spent many lazy days relaxing, swimming at the pool, exploring close beaches, and scootering around the island. Our hotel was overlooking a serene rocky cliff, though we had to travel farther away to find a sandy beach. One major bummer was that I did get bit by my fair share of mosquitoes, boo.

We did some rock climbing along the shore, got stuck and ended up tramping up a long jungley hill and into a restricted area, oops :)

One of the days we decided to rent a moto and drive around the entire island (maybe only 2-3 hours all the way around). We ended up going to see one waterfall, Na Muang Waterfall, which was completely anticlimactic. Note: tripadvisor advice > guidebook advice.

The sad waterfall is behind Marc.

Not great.

Sadly, there was a considerable amount of trash on most beaches. The beaches in front of 5 star hotels were the only major exception, so we ended up hanging out on Mae Nam Beach in front of the beautiful Santiburi hotel trying to pretend that we were fancy.

Next stop, Cambodia!