Monday, November 23, 2009

Our final day . . . in Bangkok

In the afternoon, we arrived in Bangkok. We dropped off our bags at the guesthouse and went straight to the National Museum. There was alot to see there but much of it was in disrepair. Not run-down - but also not at the standards of most museums we've been to (and not even close to any of the palaces!!). We hurried along through it to see all that we could before it closed.

. . . and we were off to see more temples!! This one is called Loh Prasat (The Iron Monastery) referring to its 37 dark metal spires.

We met some monks at the top of a long stair-climb. They were happy to talk to us. One spoke alot of English and asked us where we were from. We told him we're Canadian - which made him quite happy. He said that he listens to Celine Dion every day . . . . I am not lying! Never in my life could I have imagined I'd be on top of a monastery in Bangkok talking to a monk about Celine Dion. Hilarious! (the Celine fan is the one closest to us in the glasses . . . )

Next, we hopped on a river bus not knowing where it was headed. Only 10 cents (somewhere in that ballpark) for the fare so we weren't too worried about going the wrong direction. (They pull up the blue tarp to keep the passengers dry.)

We ended up back in the downtown area. Noticed the sunset - not the ideal place for a photo being surrounded by skyscrapers - but I pointed up and this is what I got. The colors were beautiful.

It was getting dark and we were getting hungry so we went off in search of a restaurant. We read about a place called Vientiane Kitchen in our guidebook and looked like just the thing. They served Thai food with a Lao and Isaan influence - specialties included ants eggs and spicy fried frog. We didn't feel too adventurous so we stuck to some stir-fry and curry. The best part about this place was the live band. Great music, great food, and great beer! The photo's didn't turn out too well but I've got some video of the band that I'll get to someday . . .

Well, it was our last night and time to fill what little space was left in our backpacks so we went back to the Night Bazaar for some souvenirs.

Bazaar . . . bizarre . . . .how do you spell it?

Well, the next morning we had to leave (don't feel too bad for us - we're going back to Korea for more adventures). One quick stop at the Taipei airport (somehow I managed to buy a watch while I was there - Duty Free!!!!) and we were back in Seoul.

What an unforgettable vacation we had!!!

And now, since its taken us months to finish the blog posts, we're already on to planning our next vacation!!!

Angkor - Day 2

We decided that our second day in Siem Reap didn't need to start before 4:30AM so we slept in a bit . . . until 7:30. We wanted to check out the Artisans of Angkor so we did that first thing in the morning. The Artisans are a group of 'disadvantaged' students learning the art trades that were all but destroyed during the Khmer Rouge Regime. They make fantastic stuff! Check out their website: Artisans d'Angkor.

Here is the traditional silk loom.

Some students carving stone . . .

We bought a few souvenirs (and some Khmer curry spice . . . yes!) and went on our way - back to Angkor! But first, we had to stop for some gas. Our tuk-tuk driver said these kids offer a much better deal than the gas stations . . . they were just hangin' on the side of the road with Johnny Walker bottles full of gasoline. It looked like a lemonade stand . . .

We were happy to be back in the park. You would think that 12 hours of temples would be enough but this place was so amazing that we needed to see more.

It was fun ripping around in our tuk-tuk betweens the temples. There were all kinds of cool things to see.

One of those things was the "Land Mine Museum". It was set up by a self-taught de-miner named Aki Ra in 1997. Cambodia is one of the most heavily mined countries in the world and there are still many injuries and deaths happening throughout the country. Aki Ra has devoted his life to de-mining the countryside and he has even started a home for children that are mine victims. His museum houses many of the mines and bombs he has dealt with. They stand so that Cambodian people and the rest of the world won't forget about what has happened and is happening still.

Here, out tuk-tuk driver Sieu waits for us with the other drivers - he was a really nice guy and I hated to wake him up every time we wanted to move . . .

Back on the road . . .

We decided to avoid the crowds and and return to our favorite temple in Angkor, the Bayon to take in the sunset. We're glad we did - when we drove past the 'classic' sunset spot there were tons of people and cars and tour buses - that definitely wasn't the last thing we wanted to see during our time in Angkor. Because everyone went there, we had the Bayon almost to ourselves.

Here's a funny little note . . . I wanted to take a picture from this angle with the sun coming down but there was a big ugly sign in the way. It said, "Please Do Not Sit On The Rails". I thought to myself, "What's the harm in moving it for a few seconds to get an unobstructed shot?" Hey, there was no one around anyway . . .

As soon as I moved the sign, before I could even snap a shot, this guy comes around the corner and sits exactly in the spot where the sign was. Couldn't believe it!!

Oh well, lesson learned . . .

The security actually came around and sent us out of the temple before the sun was completely set. We were a little disappointed but I guess you can't have people roaming around ancient temple staircases in the dark. We were extremely happy with our two days in Angkor - the weather was fantastically hot, we saw a ton of the park, and took hundreds of photos . . .

But now it was time to say 'goodbye' as we passed by Angkor Wat one last time . . .

Next - Back to Bangkok for one more day of fun!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Sunrise in Angkor

Alright, here we go!! We finally made it to Angkor. We figured it was a special occasion so we dragged ourselves out of bed around 4:15 in order to meet our tuk-tuk driver for the day, Sieu. We had to make it an early start because we wanted to make it to Angkor Wat for sunrise. Here's our view from the back of the tuk-tuk . . .

We made it there with plenty of time and set ourselves up at the classic viewing spot by the little pond. We waited with bated breath until we could finally make out the silhouette . . . here's the progression:

Well, as you can see, the sun was out in full force so we decided to head in to check out Angkor Wat.

It was really unbelievable to actually be there. There was hardly anyone inside at this point so we had some really nice viewing time to ourselves . . . the hoardes of people would be here soon.

We toured around the inside and outside of the entire grounds. As you can see - we were pretty much left alone to soak it all in (it got much more difficult to take pics without people in them as the day progressed).

Here's a view of the rear . .

Inside, the bas-relief friezes were amazing. The walls were completely carved out, from top to bottom, depicting Hindu epics, "The Ramayana" and "The Mahabharata."

Well, we had a lot of Wat to see - so we went on our way - sad to leave but excited to see what was coming up next (still before breakfast time).

Our next stop was Angkor Thom, the last capital city of the Khmer Empire. The first temple within Angkor Thom we went to was called, Bayon. It's unique because it has 216 huge faces carved in the towers.

Many scholars believe that the faces depict King Jayavarman VII himself . . . a handsome fellow.

We stopped for some water outside of the next temple, Baphuon. We were super hot - unimaginably hot - near death - luckily the enterprising Cambodians have set up shop at every stop along the way.

Here, we are standing on The Terrace of The Leper King.

Where's Waldo? . . . I mean Shawna . . . see if you can find her.

Shawna was offered some postcards and handicrafts from the children. "Lady? One dollar?" "Please, you buy from me?" "Please?" "Lady?" "Please?" All day long - the children close to the more famous temples were really aggressive. They knew what they were doing and had their technique down pat. They were speaking 7 languages - offering special discounts just for us - some of them even put on the waterworks! The children at some of the smaller temples were really playful and cute - just wanted to hang out with the foreigners. We bought a few things off of them . . . "Mr. Jon from Canada - remember me - you buy from me -you promise." OK!

Here is Ta Keo - 14 meters to the top - I climbed up and Shawna opted to be the one taking the pictures this time.

Here I go . . .

It was really steep but getting up wasn't the problem - it was getting down . . .
Another Where's Waldo ? . . I mean . . . Where's Jon? photo.

It started to rain just in time for the mystical, Ta Prohm. An ancient Buddhist monastery that, in its heyday, housed 12 000 people while another 80 000 worked there. Wow!

It's famous because it has been swallowed by the surrounding jungle and its enormous Kapok trees. (It's also where they shot Tomb Raider!)

We were geared up for the rain so we weren't bothered . . . plus it gave us more time with very few people around.

A couple more stops before we called it a day - Banteay Kdei - similar to Ta Prohm but with less trees and more Apsara dancer carvings. It was in use from the 1100's all the way until the 1960's.

Prasat Kravan was our final stop - there was not much left of it because it's really old. You can tell its old because there is nothing Buddha-related here - only Hindu.

Well, we had a marvelous day, but tomb raiding from 4:30AM-4:30PM took its toll on us. Not that we didn't go downtown later that evening. More temples to visit tomorrow!!