Hire a guide for the Grand Circuit: Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom & Bayon

8am: My new friends had arranged for both a Tuk Tuk driver and a guide; Angkor Archeological Park has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since1992 and a guide enhances the experience ten fold.

Most tourists spend 2 days exploring the ancient temples. Day 1 is the Grand Circuit consisting of smaller temples, further apart. Day 2 is the Small Circuit, featuring 2-4 of the more spectacular temples. The Circuits’ names seem counter intuitive to me…anyways. Today was the 2nd day the boys had spent touring, so I accompanied them to see the Grand Temples on the ‘Small Circuit’. First up, Angkor Wat!

Without our guide I would have walked right past so many interesting details in the relief carvings. (For instance, there is a woman, washing someone’s hair just to the right of our guide’s elbow!) This impressive wall of reliefs was restored in 2012 and tells the story of the war of 1177 when the Cham people over threw the kingdom of Angkor. The Cham are taking seated Khmer people back to their land by canoe to be slaves.

Riding an elephant into battle. (I figured this out on my own!)

Often, our guide was able To tell us the history or mythology behind the carvings. I love hearing creation stories. My favorite was the creation of the Apsaras (aka. Celestial dancers with impossibly curved fingers.)

The Hindu story: Once upon a time 54 gods & 54 demons were searching for the Elixer of Life. They discovered that they must wrap Vasuki the snake around a volcano in the Ocean of Milk and churn it back and forth for 1000 years. In the reliefs, this looks like a giant tug of war. After 500 years of churning, the Apsara sprung up from the froth and danced in the sky.

P1040437-2

There are SO many carvings of Apsaras, in unique poses, with wild hairstyles that the Cambodian culture devised a very slow dance based on transitioning between the poses. Girls who aspire to be Apsara dancers when they grow up must start training their fingers to gracefully bend backwards at an early age.

Here I am, chiseling an Apsara at an interpretive station.

There are lovely views from the central towers in Angkor Wat. There are also shrines in each of the four directions. As the kings who ruled the area changed, the religious persuation of the temples occilated between Hindu and Buddhist. Therefore, most of the free-standing statues have been removed or vandalized. Luckily, this Hindu god has kept most of his arms.

Most of the original staircases have been closed or covered over with scaffolding; unlike this portion.

After 2 hours in Angkor Wat, we were ready to move on down the road… to Angkor Thom. (Which means Great City in Khmer.) These giant statues are playing tug of war with Vasuki the snake, as they churn the sea of milk.

Angkor Thom was founded by Angkors greatest king, Jayavarman VII , 800+ years ago. The most striking feature of Angkor Thom is the Bayon Temple at the center of the city. It is the place where earth and heaven join and it is decorated with 215 peacful, smiling faces.

It was hot as blazes by this time in the day, but those smiling faces kept me strolling for over an hour. These gentle faces are most likely the Bodhisattva Lokesvara, although some people think they are modeled after Jayvarman VII, himself. Either way- I could look at his serene face all day!

After soaking in the peaceful smiles of Bayon Temple, we headed to lunch to get out of the heat and rehydrate.

No, that is not us on an elephant on our way to lunch… we took a Tuk Tuk.

After lunch, slightly refreshed, we took on Baphuon.

P1040608It had an impressive raised walkway and children cooling off in the water.

P1040604
Thoroughly exhausted, we headed back to the hostel for a nap!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Life List: Siem Reap

Angkor Wat has been on my 'must see' list since before I was 10. Growing up, I remember the colorful photos on the cover of G'ma's National Geographic alternating from 'boring' archeological digs to covers like this one-

Monks in saffron robes, the roots of jungle trees pulling down the walls of ancient cities. Who could resist dreaming about those leafy ruins?

Not me! I bought a ticket to Siem Reap on Bangkok Air and off I went! Since Bryan lives so close to the SkyTrain, I spent $3 getting to the airport instead of $27 to take a cab!

Siem Reap is small and very touristy. Everyone gets constantly harassed by Tuk Tuk drivers and 'massage therapists' – even if you wear this t-shirt.

I spent a day gathering information, maps & opinions and walking the neighborhood near my hostel The Welcommen. I had only stayed in Tokyo, Kyoto and Bangkok; all cosmopolitan cities compared to Siem Reap. This was the first time I saw street barbers and gas stations selling petrol out of Johnny Walker bottles. I crossed the river and followed the shade lined paths until I spotted this Wat, whose entrance is guarded by the 7 headed servant, Naga.

Apparently it was the monk's laundry day.

If you linger long enough at a temple, a monk will come to practice their English with you. “Where are you from? Is this your first time in Cambodia? How long will you stay?” This monk showed me this retention pond & asked if I wanted to go swimming…. No thanks. The second monk was listening to a teaching of the Dalai Lama on his MP3 player.

That afternoon, I rented a bike for $2 and rode the 5 miles to the entrance of Angkor Wat to buy my ticket. (Tip: If you buy your 3 day pass at 3:45pm the day before you can go into Angkor Wat for free that day from 4-5:30pm.) I rode up to the main temple just as the dark clouds rolled in over the entrance.

The dark skies added a bit of mystery to my first glimpse of these ancient ruins. The souveniers hawkers were selling $2 ponchos: it was a sound investment… Even though it didn't stop the deluge from filling my shoes with rain. Upon returning to the hostel, my 'drowned rat' appearance drew the sympathy of a pair of Guys from Toronto who invited me to tour Angkor Wat with them the next day. Early start tomorrow = early bedtime for me. Goodnight, Cambodia!

 

Bangkok: Trapped in a Hindu Parade

The next day I lounged around Bryan's lovely Si Lom apartment, then spent the afternoon at HealthLand- Bryan's local spa.

Bryan had a work engagement that evening and suggested I head over to Asiatique on the free ferry. I rode the Sky Train down to the ferry. I love the Sky Train- its clean, timely and has great air conditioning!

Asiatique is basically a fancy outdoor market with a giant ferry wheel and great food. I had a ham and cheese crepe for dinner ($2) and Japanese Mochi (soft rice paste cookies) filled with ice cream! Chang beer had a golden elephant that was cool.

Since I was on my 2nd week of traveling, I didn't want to buy souveniers yet so I headed back to Bryan's. The ride on the BTS costs about $1 each way. When I got off at Bryan's stop (Chong Nonsi) there was all sorts of commotion! I crossed over the road and saw the street had been closed off for a festival.

It was a parade for the Hindu celebration of Navrati.

There were drag queens leading revelers in song…

…and people were LITERALLY dancing in the stre

The parade started and the Bangkok police closed the train station pedestrian overpass… which was the only way I knew how to get back to Bryan's apartment. So I decided to enter the fray and see what this party was all about.

The parade had a marching band and floats, like one would expect. I had been trapped on the wrong side of the street for 45 minutes & had decided that my best bet to get home was to cross thru the parade.

I had worked my way right up to the edge of the route and was preparing to dart across road when a guy with a 3 ft bamboo spear in his mouth and a bowl of fire came around the corner.

He was spinning and weaving and seemed to be in a trance. Just when I thought the mystic might burn a spectator, his bowl of fire was traded for a bowl full of red powder that he begain to fling into the crowd.

The woman in front of me threw her arms open and shouted to the guy. He turned and flung a handful of powder right in my face. I blocked most of it with my arm but I still managed to look like I had survived a bike accident.

I made my way across the street and through the crowd of red-powdered revelers to Bryan's. I didn't realize I looked so terrifying until the security guard looked shocked to see me walk into the lobby. I had seen that expression once before, that one time at Uni when I face-planted off my bike. My roommate took me to the medical center with an open bag of frozen peas on my face and I left a trail of tiny green orbs in the waiting room. Ahh, memories!

 

Bangkok: Aytthaya! (Gerund heir!)

1- Reclining Buddha @ Wat Pho

We got an early start the next day and visited Wat Pho at 8am! The reclining Buddha is the longest in Thailand @ 150 ft is quite amazing- I liked the swirly, opal inlayed on the bottom of his feet.

Along the back wall there are 50 round, brass bowls lined up. For a small fee, you chose a tin cup full of thai coins and tossed one in each bowl as you walked along. When 5-6 people were doing this at the same time the sound was musical!

2- The Grand Palace!

There were hordes of tourists already gathered when we arrived at the Royal Palace. At the gate, they checked to make sure you were wearing proper garb. If not, you had to rent long skirts.

One of the tourist ‘hordes’… snapping a selfie in his Thailand hat.

I think that is the temple of the Emerald Buddha behind us.

As we waited in line to purchase our tickets ($15 US!) the military marched by.

The palace complex was amazing full of shimmering buildings. Sam told us each golden tile on this pagoda cost $1US. They hammer the gold leaf by hand.

Scary demons raise the roof.

And of course, the Pagodas are gold as well.

The stories painted on the walls of the temple were gold too.

3- One more temple… Wat Arun!

We rode a ferry across the river to the Temple of Dawn. Two giant guard the entrance.

The pagoda is tall and covered with Chinese pottery.

Up we go!

I’m sure there was a lovely view of the river from the top but I can’t seem to find that photo. That’s ok- it was time to have lunch on the river! Check out the size of those prawns! Yes, it was still hot.

Yum, fish!

4- Ayutthaya Ruins

When we arrived at Ayutthaya, across from the regular parking lot, there was a elephant parking lot.

The ruins are lovely! I was mesmerized! (Althought, this is before my visit to Siem Reap.) The three stupas were built in 1448 to house the ashes of the kings of Ayutthaya.

What lovely clouds!

Next, we move on to see the Buddha head encased in the Banyon tree.

There were lots of Buddhas on this site but most of them had their heads removed when the kings would switch religions from Buddhism to Hinduism. This was a theme that would repeat itself throughout my trip. Buddha Belly!

One Buddha kept his head.

More ruins.

5- Wait, one more temple? Which one is it?

Whoa! Can you believe the size of this sleepy Buddha?

There was another temple to explore. Light an oil lamp and say a prayer.

Buddha, being protected by Naga the snake whose seven heads protect Buddha from the elements.

Behind, there was the temple, ringed by Buddha statues in golden robes.

I loved the view of the Buddhas from the top of the temple.

Lovely Buddha statue.

Enough temples for today- time to head back to Bangkok! We were tuckered out.

 

Why did I pack that? Packing regrets.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this regret-filled blog are mine alone.
You may be super happy that you brought a travel clothesline… But I never used mine.
Or the duct tape… Or the travel sewing kit. Or the super glue.
A Tiny Backpack
Encouraged by all the stories of SE Asia packing (It’s always warm so you carry fewer clothes!) I ditched my awesome Eagle Creek roller bag with zip-away backpack straps and put everything in this CamelBak to avoid luggage fees. I ended up buying a 2nd backpack in Vietnam and checking a bag anyways. The luggage fees were usually $10.

Fleece Jacket.

Growing up in the mid-west, I cannot fathom wearing short sleeves for 3 months and never wanting something warmer. So, of course I packed my fleece jacket, in case it got chilly in the mountains or on a boat during my travels. Now I realize that a long sleeve wicking shirt under my Patagonia windbreaker would have been plenty. (The coldest place we went, Sapa, Vietnam is also famous for $15 knock-off North Face jackets in case I had needed a warmer layer.)

Rain Jacket.

I arrived to SE Asia at the tail end of rainy season but my lovely Marmot raincoat was basically worthless for 2 reasons. 1- When it rained, it down poured and it the rain would sluice down my jacket and soak me from the waist down. At least my top half was dry, right? 2- Nope. It is intensely hot and humid so even with my pit-zips opened, there is so much sweat inside the jacket that I’m wet anyways. Next time, I’ll bring an umbrella.

Tummy Meds

SE Asian food is so great. Street cart skewers, giant Vietnamese omelets, spring rolls with shrimps. With a bit of careful eating (no uncooked veggies, only bottled water, no spicy food) I was happily able to avoid any stomach ailments and didn’t need the Gas-X, Cipro or rehydration salts I brought. Even if I needed those things, I could have purchased them at any local Pharmacy. PS- I chose not to risk eating these yummy-looking Popsicles.

First Aid

I used a few Bandaids but haven’t touched anything else in my kit. As with the medications, anything I needed would have been easily purchased at the local shops.

Adapters

I did my research & took 3 different adapters but most outlets work with 2-prong US plugs and 2-pin Euro plugs. I did end up using the 2-pin adapter a few times just to get through the stiffer doors over the outlets.


Silk sleep sheet

A small bundle, just bigger than my fist- I figured that the sleep sheet would be perfect for hostels where you had to rent bedding or weren’t sure about the cleanliness of the sheets. But all of the hostels provided bedding (usually no top sheet) and usually towels too. Could have left this at home.

Cotton t-shirts

The heat and intense humidity turned my t-shirts into stretched out, damp messes. I could wear my wicking tanks 3-4 days in a row, but the cotton t-shirts were always slightly damp. I also would have brought fewer tank tops since I couldn’t wear them any day I might be going to a temple where covering shoulders & knees is required.

Sink Plug and Laundry Soap

I planned on washing my essentials in the hostel sinks but soon realized that the humidity prevented my things from drying in a timely manner. Besides, laundry service was $1.5/Kilo and my t-shirts would come back from the dryer their normal shape & smelling good to boot! Additionally, many local women make a living off of tourist laundry.

Cooling Bandana

REI talked me into this purchase: a bandana that absorbed water and cooled you as it evaporated. Unfortunately, there is little evaporation happening during Cambodian heat waves. It was soggy and useless.

Wish I had some Vitamin C/Airborne. More wicking t-shirts. My mesh sided baseball cap. Hair conditioner.

I WAS GLAD THAT I BROUGHT:

So happy to have my Patagonia Hoodini! It’s the perfect layer for early morning bike rides or drizzly evenings.

I used these things almost everyday.

A pen! My ipad mini with a keyboard case. Wi-Fi. (Apps: TrailWallet, Agoda for booking rooms, Ulmon maps, FB, Postagram, Instagram, Podcasts… (Y’all should be binge listening to Serial) and e-books).

A collapsable water bottle. A quick dry bandana. My Patagonia Atom shoulder bag. (It was so handy that Kate bought one when she got home!). My Sherpani zip-close wallet on a strap that my passport fits into. A dry bag/compression sack. My Chaco sandals. Headbands by Jessie. (Ps- please note that my hair was only this shiny and soft when I stayed in Bangkok with Bryan who had Pantene and amazing water pressure! Thanks!)

I was super happy for an old pair of cut-off leggings that were soft & lightweight. I often wore them to bed in the hostels and always wore them under my skirt at the temples. Multiple kinds of sunscreen: Neutragena 70spf face stick and 50spf face lotion. Bug spray. Polarized sunglasses. A Timex watch with a light up face & an alarm. Sleep mask & earplugs are essential for hostel dorms. My headlamp. I ate all my granola bars and fruit leathers! My Lumix LX7 did a fantastic job at being smaller, lighter and cheaper than my Canon 60D but still taking post-worthy photos. (My 1 wicking t-shirt got a lot of air time!)

 

 

 

The first, best thing about Bangkok.

The first, the best thing about Bangkok is my friend Bryan lives there! Everyone should have a friend in Bangkok! (Never mind that he doesn't remember meeting me… At his wedding and hasn't seen me since!). Bryan had just accepted a job with the US Embassy and moved to Bangkok a month before I arrived. How lucky for me! My flight from Tokyo arrived at 11pm and because of his Embassy job, Bryan was able to meet me at my gate as I exited the plane! Do you remember the good ol days when you could be accompanied right up to your gate? What a luxury.

I had a rest day to do laundry and eat street food, then Bryan graciously hired Sam to take me around Bangkok in his taxi. Here's what we did the first day.

1- The train track market.

This was 45 minutes outside of Bangkok. The booths must be pulled in 8 times a day as the train wizzes by. Here is a photo of me, on the tracks.

There were lots of interesting food booths at the market. Many types of seafood.

This machine processes coconut into a flour-like substance.

What you will not see is a photo of the train. It wouldn't arrive for 30-45 minutes and Sam was not interested in waiting that long when there was so much else to see. Ok. Moving on

2- Longboat to the floating market

We hired a longboat for the outrageous sum of $55 US to take us to the 'authentic' floating markets, as opposed to the ones set up for the tourists, closer to Bangkok. The ride throught the channels was fun. The longtails are powered by automobile engines and are very loud.

Behind me you can see the canoes full of goods for the shoppers. It was fun to order mango with sticky rice and have it delivered in a net from the river.
This tiny primate was so cute! He belongs to friends of Sam so I paid 100 Baht to have my photo taken with him. They said he is very spoiled at home and so he is naughty and likes to bite fingers. This is not my finger in the photo… I did not want a rabies shot.
The monkey thought my necklace looked tasty and he tried to eat it. Naughty monkey.
After the floating markets we took the longboat back to the dock and headed to the resort for lunch. I experienced my first Thai toilet. You flush with the bucket & hope you can pee without getting any on your shoes.
3- Rose Garden Resort.
I had requested Pad Thai for lunch. This was absolutely the tastiest Pad Thai! Later, I learn that Pad Thai is a tourist dish and local people are much more likely to order fish and rice. The riverside restaurant at the Rose Garden Resort was classy but not too expensive.

The resort is famous for their Cultural show- so I (re:Bryan) shelled out 600 Baht ($18 us) for an hour long show of history, dancing, music and mui Thai fighting. It was a very interesting show. Here they show dancing through bamboo poles that are whacked and slid together. (Troy and I did the same with a group of Vietnamese people in Sapa!)

Mui Thai fights are popular entertainment here and I was glad to see one that was just pretend. The fight was so exactly correographed that Sam would tell me to make sure to watch for this next move or the next silly thing the trainer did to rally the 'losing' fighter. Sam saw this show often with his tourists.

The last dance, they ask the audience to join in. Luckily, the dance is easy and mostly involves some hand waving.

There was a 15 minute elephant show after the dance. The elephants showed us how they dragged logs.

4- Giant pagoda

I had been requesting to stop at one of the giant, shiny temples that we were passing along the highway but Sam refused. He would only take me to the BEST temples, the OLDEST temples! Not these showy, new temples that I was seeing. “Is the best OK for you?” he would ask.

Yeah, this was OK. My very first temple! Soon, I drew the attention of the 'Tourist Police' and we had to have our photo taken together.

The temple was the oldest in Bangkok and very interesting. It had many statues of Buddha, in many different positions or 'mudras'. I upset Sam by suggesting that the mudra of Buddha with his hands outstretched and fingers turned down should be called, 'Keyboard Buddha”. (Sorry, no photo- Sam seemed a bit upset by my joke…)

Sam told me that Chinese merchant ships would come into port with these heavy statues as balast.

 

All in all, it was a nice day and I arrived back to Bangkok just before the crush of rush hour traffic. The next day, Bryan and I would both go out to sightsee with Sam!

 

 

 

Sayonara, Japan.

I left Kyoto determined to get more than a glimpse at Mt. Fuji. I didnt need to climb it- especially after Mt. Ontake had erupted earlier in the week. I just wanted to see Fuji. So, I hopped on the Shinkensen for a few hours, transfered to a tram to head up into the mountains near Hakone.

I arrive in Gora after dark and found my hostel (Hakone Tent) and had some dinner.

This was a traditional Ryoken, so my dorm room had a woven tatami floor and futon mattresses for beds.

It also had an Onsen, which is like a natural hot tub. I had a lovely soak before bed and slept so soundly.

My hostel also had a turntable… in the kitchen.

In the morning, I got the 8am bus from Gora to Hakone to catch an early glimpse of Mt. Fuji.

I had a nice walk along Lake Ashi…

…and stopped off at a forest temple.

Then, I got down to business- where is that big ol Mountain hiding? Is it by this pirate sihp?

Hmm, couldn't find it. Must walk further… yay! I found the viewpoint park!

Well, shoot. Mt. Fuji is just behind those clouds somewhere. It should look like this.

The viewing house did have a cool 1930's light fixture…

and a manicured shrub that looked like a pile of stones.

I had a 6pm flight out of Tokyo and so I give up the hunt for Mt. Fuji and head back to the bus station. The tram up had cost me $7US, so I figured the bus must be cheaper… plus, the map showed the bus traveling a more direct route back to the Shinkensen. So I made the obvious choice and jumped on the bus.

I spent a long time in the front of this bus and figured out what all this is for. The orange/white machine dispenses tickets with a # on them- you take a ticket when you get on the bus & then you follow a chart to tell you how much to pay at your destination.

The next machine scans people's bus cards. When you get off the bus, you use the next block of machines.

The one with the red arrow is where you pay your fare. But first, you put your tiny ticket into the front of the machine.

Anyway, I finally got to the Shinkensen station via bus and made it out to Narita airport with time to spare! I had a United club pass and enjoyed my last few hours in Japan eating free snacks and drinks in the airport lounge.

The next time the wheels touch the ground, I'll be in Bangkok, Thailand! Sayonara, Japan!