A Travellerspoint blog

Welcome To The Jungle!

Living like a gibbon in the jungle of Northern Laos.

sunny 26 °C
View Around we go on mands186's travel map.

large_DSC04801.jpg

Our adventure to Laos begins at the border in the small river town of Chang Kong, Thailand. Our evening was supposed to be slow and uneventful, we had survived a long bus ride from Chiang Mai and all we wanted was some food and a bed to rest. What started out as an invitation to join a couple from New York for one drink transformed into a feast of Thai dishes and an endless river of wine, all courtesy of the restaurant owner, Pui. As the establishment closed its shutters, we sat unaware that the owner was prepping for a late night party of her own, and we were the honored guests. Pui approached our table and innocently asked if she could join us. We were delighted to invite her into our conversation. As she poured us glass after glass of wine, she would also disappear into the kitchen and return with freshly prepared Thai dishes. We enjoyed stir fried vegetables, a coconut spicy curry dish, and fried Mekong fish. Each dish was exquisite and we happily gobbled up every bite. The night quickly spun out of control and before we knew it was closer to sunrise than midnight. The next day Scott was left to ponder why he ever let that night get away from him.
7Image.jpg

Despite the consequences of drinking late into the night, it was one of the most memorable nights we have had on this trip. We learned a lot about Pui and her life in Thailand. Pui works hard to provide for her two sons. Her spirit and energy are tremendously high, and she could charm anyone in to staying after hours for delightful conversation and food. If you find yourself with a night to spare in Chiang Kong have some tasty food and stay at her guesthouse. Just watch out for the never ending jugs of wine!

The next morning started abruptly with the sounds of our alarms. An unwelcome early checkout time forced us to get going far quicker than we wanted to. We slowly drug ourselves to the immigration office near the edge of the river. McKenna made sure we were both presentable before smiling in front of the officers to receive our exit stamps. We hopped a boat across the mighty Mekong and after a short wait at customs we had arrived in Laos. Our first order of business was to check in at The Gibbon Experience. For those of you unfamiliar with the Gibbon Experience imagine being Tarzan for a few days zipping through the canopy of the jungle and sleeping in the trees. That should give an idea of why we ventured so far north into Laos. For the rest of the day we rested to make sure we were ready for adventure into the jungle.

Bright and early the next day we were loaded into the back of pick up truck ready for the jungle adventure we had heard so much about. The Gibbon Experience is an innovative project with the main goal of preserving wildlife and their natural habitat. The idea was to work with the village to save the forest and wildlife from poaching, logging, and slash-and-burn farming. To accomplish this goal a group called Animo teamed up with the local villagers to build tree houses and a series of zip lines in the Bokeo Nature Reserve. The end product was an eco-tourist adventure like no other. All of the proceeds are reinvested to protect the forest and the project has been handed over to the villagers to run. You can check out the website for more information: www.gibbonexperience.org.

Before we could enjoy the adventure, we had to get there. We sat on lightly padded seats and cruised out of Huay Xai (Hoksay) headed for the Bokeo Nature Reserve. We spent about an hour traveling down a newly paved road making friends with the three Swedish backpackers crammed in the back with us. We arrived at a small roadside village with only a few shops where we took a short walk around and stretched our legs. Little did we know we were only half way there. The next leg of this journey left our rear ends bruised and our arms exhausted from gripping the roll bars. The last hour of the truck ride serpentined through the jungle on a dirt road that has been repeatedly washed out by the rainy seasons. Every hill required a big rev from the engine to climb and quick down shifts to avoid curtailing out of control on the downward decent. All in all it was moderately terrifying.
DSC04747.jpgDSC04748.jpgDSC04757.jpg

We finally arrived in the village where we would disembark the truck and said goodbye to any signs of civilization. Many villages support The Gibbon Experience and this particular village provides several of the guides including our guides Ja Lee and Tzong Leu. We were quickly herded along on to the hiking section of this journey. We hiked into the jungle for only an hour or so before arriving at the first kitchen camp. Here we picked up our zip lining gear, which consisted of a harness, the zip clip, and part of a bicycle tire for our brake. It wasn’t long now before we would be zipping through the jungle.
DSC04765.jpgDSC04948.jpg

Before we could launch into the jungle we had to divide our large group of 20 into 4 houses. Each tree house can hold between two and seven people. We had to make some quick judgements on the group and find the most compatible people. Looking back on this moment, it was the single most important choice we made on this journey. We chose wisely and ended up in Tree House 7 with the three Swedish backpackers (Johan, Marie, Lineea) and a nice couple from Portland (Jason and Michelle). Looking around at the other groups that formed we all felt confident that we had made a good choice. We all hit it off immediately, and it made the entire trip more amazing than we could have ever imagined.

Now that our tree house was set we ventured further into the jungle of bamboo, following our guides like excited puppy dogs anxious for our first zip experience. As we clipped onto the line for our first zip, it was nerve racking. Here we are, in the middle of Northern Laos, hours away from medical care about hurl ourselves across the canopy of the jungle hanging by a slightly used harness. While the guides casually launched themselves across the line, there was an initial trepidation in all of us. As we zipped along the first line we soon came shooting out of the thick jungle and found ourselves gliding across the valley about 60 meters above ground. To say the feeling was incredible doesn’t do it justice. It was absolutely, without a doubt, the most amazing way to see the jungle.
DSC04769.jpg

We zipped across four lines on our way to tree house 7. The last one took us right into to our home for the next two nights. We had no idea what to expect of these tree houses, but what we found exceeded our wildest imaginations. We a had a three story tree house complete with bathroom, shower, running water, small kitchen, solar powered lights, and one incredible view of the jungle. Every child dreams of living like the Swiss Family Robinson and here we were getting a slice of that dream.
DSC04890.jpgDSC04928.jpgDSC04929.jpg

The first night we settled in to our new digs, setting up surprisingly comfortable mattresses and enjoying a freshly cooked Laos dish brought to us by our guides. The evening turned dark quickly and we all ventured to bed very early, tired after a long day of travel. As we attempted to get some shut eye a scurry of foot steps began scratching across our tree house floor. The tree rats were descending upon our left overs. With only a few pieces of food in the garbage these furry creatures made their presence known. They spent all night rustling in the thatched roof, engaging in battle, and loudly nibbling food right by our netting. It was very unsettling and our first night of sleep wasn’t exactly restful.

We finally ventured out of our net the next morning at around 5:30. We sat on the edge of the tree looking out over the jungle listening to the sounds of birds, bugs, and other morning goers. About an hour went by until we started to hear a loud crashing through the trees. The trees just below our house started to shake and two gibbons shot through a brief opening. Our first gibbon sighting and it was about to get more exciting!

We directed our sights to the right of the tree house and in perfect view was a gibbon perched high above the jungle sitting on an enormous bare branch. He started to conduct the rest of the family in the most peculiar animal call we have ever heard. It started out sounding like a car alarm and evolved in to a chorus of high pitched calls similar to the sound of a Star Wars laser. We listened to several renditions of their song as well as other families of gibbons off in the distance.
DSC04833.jpg

After an hour of singing the gibbons started to move. They are considered the gymnast of the jungle and we got to see why. Their arms stretch almost their entire body length and they were swinging wildly from branch to branch without effort or concern. They make it look so graceful as they floated across the canopy and fell from the trees. It was an amazing sight and any doubts about this trip quickly left out minds.

We chatted over breakfast about what we had just seen and heard. Each of us were amazed and felt fortunate that we were able to see these creatures performing their morning ritual. We gobbled up some rice, eggs, and vegetables before stepping into our harness for a day of zipping. We spent our morning traveling to two tree houses, 3 and 5. Tree house 3 was near by, so it was just a short hike before we were zipping into another house in the canopy. There was a nice view and the house only slept four so it was slightly more cozy than ours.
DSC04841.jpg

Our next destination took us deeper into the bamboo. We spent about an hour hiking through the jungle before coming to our first long zip of the day. We climbed a wooden platform, clipped on, checked our safety points, and then launched ourselves out into the canopy. Like most of the zips here, we started in the dense jungle but quickly shot out into the open, high above the ground and looking across the mountains. As we glided along we were able to enjoy the scenery, the views were amazing. As we neared the end of this first long zip the inevitable happens, you run out of speed and come to a stop well short of touching your feet to mother earth. When this happens you have to climb along the zip doing what we call the “monkey crawl.” This takes some arm strength. You flip over on your back so that you are looking up at the zip line and then pull your self hand over hand to your destination. At first it doesn’t seem so bad, but after several you begin to feel the work out burn.

We cruised across two more zip lines taking us to the highest tree house of them all, tree house 5. Standing in this particular tree house you get the sense of how high up you are and it can be uneasy. The tree sways with the wind and we all have that thought in the back of our head, what if? But as all good adventures do we sucked it up and kept cool. Getting to tree house 5 was a breeze, exiting the house however, was the most adrenaline pumping jump of them all. First, we clipped on to the line and sat on our butts. We scooted across the floor to the door and made our way to the tiny step that acts as the launch point. Looking down all you can see are tiny trees on the ground and your heart starts to beat rapidly. It was easily the most exciting start to a zip. With a deep breath we each allowed ourselves to fall out of the tree and trust our harness to catch us and zip on to the next platform. The guides got a kick out of our nervousness and they enjoyed a good laugh at our expense.

We continued to trek through the jungle and zipping on long lines high in the air. After a long morning turned into the afternoon we finally made a return to our wonderful tree house 7. We devoured a lunch of rice, vegetables, and beef brought to us by our guides. The guides work tirelessly to make this experience as comfortable as possible and ours were especially great! After eating there was only time for a short nap before we ventured back out to see the last few tree houses. We hiked up a long hill to tree house 2, the smallest one of the bunch and also the most awkward exit of any of them. After that we ventured to the largest tree house, tree house 1. The three level tree house 1 is the crown jewel of the experience and has a great view. It took almost 6 months to build and was completed just 5 months before we arrived. The original tree house 1 burned down not long ago from a candle left unattended. We spent some time at the house looking around and talking with our guides about the construction process before heading back.
DSC04867.jpgDSC04851.jpgDSC04874.jpg

We ventured back to our tree house but not before taking some time to do a few extra zips along the way. Johan showed us all up by staying out an extra hour bagging 8 more zips. We were all a little jealous of his youthful energy! When we returned to the house we were all in need of a refreshing shower. It just so happens that the tree house had a rainfall shower head and a view of the entire jungle from 40 m above. It was the best shower in all of Southeast Asia, the water was cool and refreshing and the view couldn’t be beat. The only issue, was that you had to battle the thirsty wasps that buzzed around you as you showered. Nevertheless, it was great.

That night we again dined on a steady diet of rice and vegetables. We spent some time playing cards and sipping on apple wine before heading off to bed. To avoid a repeat of the previous nights rat attack we decided to bate them. We placed the garbage with a few offerings of left overs in the top floor of the house. It worked well and to our relief they stayed up in the top of the tree house for most of the night and we didn’t have to listen to them noshing food right outside our net. That night we all slept a little bit better.
DSC04815.jpg

The next morning we all woke up early ready to listen to the gibbons once more. Although we couldn’t see them this time, they did not disappoint in singing their hearts out for us one more time. After a breakfast of eggs and toasted baguettes we packed up and started the hike back out. We were able to zip a few more times before heading back to the village. We patiently waited for our trucks to pick us up and watched the children of the village run around playing and teasing one another.

We boarded the truck and geared up for the long ride back to Huay Xia. The road was no less bumpy on the way back and seats still lightly padded. It was all worth it. We got to see gibbons in the wild, zip across the canopy, and sleep in tree houses. It was the ultimate Swiss Family Robinson adventure!

Best of all were the lasting friendships we made with our tree house 7 bunk mates. Remember how we said that the choice of roommates would turn out to be the most important part? We all got along so well, we exchanged emails at the end and even posed for some group photos. Upon our return we said our goodbyes to the Swedes as they headed out on a bus and then we joined Jason and Michelle for dinner on the banks of the Mekong. A nice way to end our Gibbon Experience and a great way to begin our adventure in Laos!
DSC04937.jpg

Check out the pictures and video: Pics - The Gibbon Experience & Video - Welcome To The Jungle (Hear the gibbons sing, watch them swing, see the tree house, and watch the zips!)

We head to Luang Prabang next, but we have a two day trip down the Mekong by boat first.

Cheers!

McKenna & Scott
DSC04870.jpgDSC04878.jpgDSC04898.jpgDSC04916.jpgDSC04927.jpgDSC04964.jpgDSC04970.jpgDSC04813.jpg

Posted by mands186 20:56 Archived in Laos Tagged landscapes mountains food jungle laos sunsets gibbon_experience gibbons ziplines Comments (3)

Leisure and Learning in Chiang Mai

A laid back week in Chiang Mai and a short trip to the wonderful Elephant Nature Park.

sunny 27 °C
View Around we go on mands186's travel map.

DSC04334.jpgDSC04655.jpgDSC04672.jpg

The morning is cold and the blankets at the end of the bed are useful for the first time in months. Just outside our door elephants are trumpeting and the howls of three hundred dogs are erupting just beyond the road. We are at the Elephant Nature Park in the misty mountains north of Chiang Mai, and the sound of change is echoing in the cold air.

The elephant is the national symbol of Thailand. Their image is plastered on every sellable good across the kingdom and their likeness is adorned on many temples. Elephants are revered religious symbols and know as the chariots of the Gods. Yet the physical treatment of elephants across the land doesn’t seem to fit with this image. There is no other way to describe the ritualistic torture these animals suffer at the hands of men as anything other than shameful. There numbers are dwindling at an alarming rate and this gentle giant is in real danger of extinction within our lifetime.

The Asian Elephant is a smaller cousin of the African Elephant and once roamed the jungles of Thailand by the tens of thousands. Today there are an estimated two thousand wild elephants left and their habitat is quickly being eaten up by sprawling cities and demand for agriculture. The fate of the domestic elephant is just as sad. Elephants are treated as livestock and tortured into submission in a ritual know as the “crushing.” As the use for them diminishes in more modern times, they are forced to the streets by their mahouts to beg for money or trek tourist through the jungle slowly deforming their backs. There is a complicated relationship between the Thai People and elephants. Many people, including most Thais, are not aware of the training practices.

This certainly is a difficult way to start a blog, especially considering what a wonderful time we have had in Chiang Mai. This city has so much to offer and as you will read, we had a great experience in the northern region of Thailand. I felt it was important to start the blog discussing this brutal reality because it was a major part of our stay here. So much time touring places in Thailand is spent trying new food, temple sight seeing, jungle trekking, and elephant riding. You can ride an elephant just about anywhere in Thailand. But do you know what you are supporting? In Chiang Mai we received a dose of reality at the Elephant Nature Park, it was an eye opening experience and we want to share it with you, the good and the bad. It was not all doom and gloom, we had a wonderful time with the elephants at the Park, we enjoyed delicious food in Chiang Mai, made new friends, and found loads of handi-craft markets to wander through. The city of Chiang Mai should be at the top of everyones list of places to visit and a little education can help you avoid supporting questionable tourist attractions.

Upon our arrival into Chiang Mai we had high hopes for this northern city. The second largest city in the country is no where near the enormous size of Bangkok. The streets in the central city are narrow and the alleys, called “Sois,” have even less width for cars and mopeds to get through. The people share a smile more often here than their big city neighbors to the south. We quickly picked up the laid back vibe that has been resonating from this affluent city for ages. With a population of university students, professors, care-free locals, and adventurous backpackers this city is a dream to travel through. There are restaurants on every corner offering up a variety of global cuisine and off in the distance the mountains are ripe with activities in the lush jungle.

Once we dropped our bags off at the CM Blue House, our accommodations for the week, we hit the streets to check out the city. Immediately we notice the more comfortable temperature, it is still plenty warm, but noticeably cooler than Bangkok. Central Chiang Mai, where we were staying, is surrounded by a canal and remnants of the wall that once protected it. A majority of the guesthouses, temples, and restaurants are located here. The main streets that cut through the old city are all connected by a maze of sois. Each soi is full of tiny cafes, massage parlors, tattoo shops, guesthouses, and fresh markets. It goes against our better instincts to walk down an alley but here if you didn’t explore them you would miss out on what makes Chiang Mai so great. As we strolled through each soi, people were out on their back patios, playing guitars, singing, and sharing stories about jungle trekking our temple sighting. This city is brimming with a hippie vibe, and it felt great to find this in Thailand.

Our first full day in Chiang Mai started of in a glorious manner, delicious coffee! We have not been able to find coffee, other than instant coffee, since Australia. Off of the main street along the eastern canal and down an unassuming alley we located one of the best cafe’s in the city, the Libernard Cafe. At first it looked empty and seemed like maybe we had made a wrong turn, but we ventured in anyway. We made our way up the steps to the tree house like dinning area, removing our shoes before we entered, and joined the only other couple who assured us we were in for a real treat. The cafe is owned by a lovely woman named Pong, she does all the cooking and her daughter gladly helps serve the guests. The atmosphere is so peaceful, as it is tucked away from the streets and the mismatched furniture give the cafe a cozy feeling. We ordered up some lattes and the famous banana pancakes that we had read about. When the pancakes came out we dove right in. The pancake was perfectly round and perfectly golden brown. Once we cut into it we learned the secret of this delicious pancake. She doesn’t smash the bananas into the batter, but rather places slices in the pancake as she cooks it. The result is the most mouth watering pancake we have ever had. Seriously amazing! We spent every morning at this cafe. We enjoyed starting our day off in such a peaceful and delicious way so there was no reason to take chances with another spot. By the end of our time here we had become friends with Pong and will be telling everyone to seek out her wonderful cafe!
DSC04704.jpgDSC04634.jpgDSC04186.jpg

After breakfast we walked along Tha Phae Street checking out shops and temples. We especially enjoyed a large Buddha Gallery run by a man named Dan. He had been a monk for three years and now runs a certified Buddha shop. You are not allowed to ship any Buddha images out of the country without official authorization. As we admired the many Buddha carvings in the shop, Dan explained the nuances about each face of the buddha. How the light hits the face can show different expressions on the same Buddha. He also went through the ritual of receiving a Buddha into your home and properly welcoming Buddha into your life. It was all very interesting and enlightening. We were grateful for his knowledge and patients with us as we worked through the language barrier.

After walking the streets and checking out a few temples we worked up an appetite for dinner. We were looking to break away from Thai food for night and decided on Middle Eastern. We found a restaurant called Jerusalem Falafel and headed on in. This restaurant had a special significance to us. In Denver we had frequented a late night spot of the same name with many of our friends back home. As we dined on chicken shawarma we reminisced about good times in Colorado.

The next morning we were off to the Elephant Nature Park bright and early. We didn’t really know what all we would be doing, we did know that it would be a mixed bag of heart break and heart warming. I opened this blog with the brutality that these elephants face. Their future is bleak and no one is sure if Thailand can reverse course against centuries of tradition.

There is a hope for the elephants in Thailand and it beams from the heart of an amazing woman named Sangduen Chailert who goes by Lek (meaning small in Thai). Her love for elephants started from an early age in her remote hill tribe as she grew up with elephants in her family. In 1992 she began rescuing elderly and abused elephants and started her first sanctuary, Elephant Heaven. Her Elephant Heaven project has since blossomed over the years and she now manages a burgeoning tourist and volunteer center that cares for over 35 elderly and abused elephants residing on some 200 acres. Her incredible selfless acts of kindness shown to these animals has earned her numerous awards and recognition, but there is no time for accolades. She tirelessly works with the herds on her property, takes time to talk with the hundreds of guests that roll through each day, is always championing her cause all over Asia, and has now taken on the task to rescue over three hundred misplaced dogs. Lek is an amazing person and her dedication to all creatures is exemplary and we encourage everyone to read more about her amazing story. Please visit www.elephantnaturefoundation.org if you would like to learn more about this cause.
DSC04411.jpg

We arrived to this sanctuary excited to for the experience and prepared for the difficulty of witnessing the hard truth. We were escorted to a large central porch that overlooked the Park. We noticed two things right off the bat, no fences keeping the elephants from roaming freely and there were dogs everywhere. Lek has taken to rescuing dogs and has collected over three hundred. The dogs have formed packs and some reside on the central porch area, another in the bungalow area, and many other packs in locations all over the park. All of the dogs are very sweet and you can pet them, but it always advised to approach them with caution and let them decide if they want your attention. We miss Bandit and Millie, so we immediately made a few friends. Back to the reason we came here, the elephants!

We began our day with a safety talk about interacting with the elephants, simply respect their space, don’t touch them unless directed to, and follow our guide and the mahout instructions at all times. We would be getting up close with these animals and while most are gentle there is always risk with wild animals. We began a tour of the grounds, meeting several of the elephants along the way. The 200 acres of this Nature Park are mostly devoted to the free roaming elephants. Each elephant has a person who is designated as their caretaker known as a mahout. The mahouts spend all day with the elephants ensuring that they don’t harm each other and they act as buffer between the crowd and the elephant. Elephants can live up to 80 years old, making the commitment between a mahout and his elephant more comparable to a marriage than having a pet.
8DSC04416.jpg

As we met several elephants along the way we were also learning about each of their tragic stories and it was heart breaking. Jokia is completely blind from years of torture while logging and Kwanjai has a broken back leg that happened while working and never had time to completely heal. There were several elephants who had stepped on a land mine and their feet will never recover. Some of the elephants had been given amphetamines to work day and night and other had warped spines due to years of trekking. The point of telling you this is two fold, one is that these elephants have suffered at the hands of man, and two, despite their tragedies these animals are resilient and survive despite the difficulties. The Park is constantly treating their wounds as it’s difficult to fully heal in the wet jungle and many are elderly. After touring the grounds we headed back to the main area where we were treated to vegetarian buffet which was delicious.
DSC04510.jpgDSC04315.jpgDSC04273.jpg

After lunch it was time for the elephants favorite part of the day, bath time. We grabbed a bucket and headed to the river that runs through the park and waited for the elephants to rumble down to us. They gladly noshed on bananas as we splashed them with water, occasionally they even helped by spraying water on themselves. After bathing several elephants we had a chance to watch one of the youngest elephants in the park take his own bath. His name is Hope and he was rescued from the jungle after his mother had been killed by farmers for eating their crops. He has never been subjected to the torture that the elderly elephants have endured. He is capable of going wild and not much interaction is allowed with him. He has to wear a bell so you can hear him coming and he moves with great intensity. Seeing him bathe himself was a sight as he gleefully rolled in the river, completely submerging himself at times. I wouldn’t have believed that a 3 ton elephant could move the way he did had I not seen it for myself. After his bath he playfully sprayed water at the onlooking crowd and then his Mahout whisked him away back to his corner of the park.
DSC04376.jpgDSC04388.jpgDSC04482.jpg

After Hope, the largest herd in the Park known as ‘The Family’ came strolling down to the river. ‘The Family’ consists of the two babies in the park and the six females that care for them. ‘The Family’ is extremely protective of the babies and show off their dominance at the sight of Hope as they passed by each other. After they all bathed we had the chance to go down and have a short photo session with them. The oldest baby has a cute trick of giving you a kiss on the cheek with her long trunk, it is adorable. This is probably the only touristy part of the trip. Compared to other attractions in the area it is not a terrible thing and Lek knows she has to give the tourists some entertainment. After the interaction we wondered over to the mud pit to watch ‘The Family’ cover themselves with mud again. Mud acts as a sunscreen and bug repellent for their sensitive, yet thick skin. The babies rolled around in the mud and just like that they were dirty all over again.
DSC04410.jpgDSC04430.jpgDSC04574.jpg

We spent the last hour of the day watching a documentary on Lek and the treatment of elephants. The video was inspiring at first, showing how dedicated to the care and well-being of her elephants and their cause. The video then turns to a dark place. A baby elephant was torn from her mother and placed into the crush. We watched in horror as the defenseless elephant was repeatedly stabbed with a nail stuck to the end of bamboo. The men of the hill tribe go at this for days as the elephant sits scared, hungry, injured and confused unable to move. The video was terrifying and it made us angry. This horrific tradition has been happening for centuries and Lek is battling hard to change it. It is an uphill battle going against the centuries of tradition.

The video left us angry and upset. We retreated back to the main porch area of the park just in time to feed some of the elephants. Jokia, one of the blind females, had her trunk resting on the walk way just out of reach of the fruit. We both took turns gently placing pineapple in her trunk and she gladly gobbled it up. What ever upset feelings we had they subsided at the sweet and gentle nature that Jokia exudes. After years of torture she stills has the ability to trust humans, something we couldn’t understand. She has a special place in our hearts.
DSC04543.jpgDSC04382.jpg

That evening we were escorted to our sleeping quarters. We prepared for a night of roughing it in a mud hut, but we were in for a treat. They provided us with a quaint bungalow complete with a full bathroom and wrap around porch that overlooked into several of the elephants sleeping quarters. We settled in for the night and then returned to the main porch for another amazing vegetarian spread and a beautiful sunset. We were exhausted after being on our feet all day and as soon as it was dark we ventured off to bed.
DSC04449.jpgDSC04448.jpgDSC04461.jpg

The next morning we awoke to sound of elephants trumpeting and howling dogs. We returned back to the main porch for a light breakfast and then met our tour guide for the morning, Jodie. Jodie was from Michigan and is covered from head to toe in tribal tattoos. She has been working and living at the Park for 8 and a half years. She is also married to one of the Mahouts and runs a small tattoo shop out of her hut. She has a great spark and is fully attached to all the elephants. We spent the morning walking around the Park with her as she told us stories of each elephants past and personality. These animals have very complex social interactions. They form clicks and have best friends, they quarrel with each other from time to time, and they mourn each other when the inevitable happens. As Jodie shared the amusing stories of the elephants we saw the human element in them that makes them such amazing creatures.
DSC04466.jpgDSC04480.jpg

After our walk we headed back to the main porch area to feed our new best friend, Jokia. We seemed to be the only people around her basket and we gladly took turns feeding her and taking pictures with her. Did I mention she was sweet and gentle? It was a nice morning and time spent with Jokia was a treat.

Next we enjoyed another great buffet lunch before embarking on our last part of the experience, a tour of the vet clinic and the new training methods. The vet clinic was interesting and we were able to follow along with one of the workers as he cared for several wounds of the three elephants. We then moved on to learn about the training technique now being used by the park. It’s not a new method, just new in elephants. Fundamentally it’s clicker training like what’s used with cats and dogs. The Park is trying to implement this method to get the elephants to learn certain commands like lifting one foot and opening their mouth. This is all done by positive reinforcement and is mainly to help the vets work on the elephants when they need care. McKenna thoroughly enjoyed all of these activities and learned a lot about what she will be studying starting this fall.

After all the talks were done we took a few more laps around the porch to say good bye to our new doggie friends and the elephants that were still feeding. Before leaving we were able to purchase carvings of Jokia and Kwanjai from their mahouts. The mahouts carve figures of their elephants to make a few extra Baht, and it seems like nice reminder to have of our favorite ladies.
DSC04426.jpgDSC04429.jpgDSC04593.jpg

We learned a lot at the park about elephants. They were all so gentle and sweet, but their size is a constant reminder that they are capable of overpowering us. It is a shame that many have endured abuse and hard lives, but it’s comforting to know that the elephants at The Park will be able to live out their lives with little worry. As we exited the area passing through one of the villages a sobering site appeared. Almost thirty elephants chained to posts and no room to roam. They were trekking elephants taking tourists into the jungle. If you ever find yourself in South East Asia, please think before you take an elephant ride. There are other ways to experience elephants in a more natural setting that are positive for both parties. After this trip we would highly recommend sanctuaries like the Elephant Nature Park.

We returned to Chiang Mai with mixed emotions. We had such an amazing time at the Park, but it was hard to forget all that we learned. Luckily we were in a very laid back city and had plenty of time to relax and discover a new place. That night we ventured out in search of comfort food and we found it the form of a Mexican restaurant called Miguels. We devoured the most delicious mexican food we have found since leaving the US, it was the perfect meal to rejuvenate us for the rest of the week.
DSC04630.jpg

The next day we returned to Libernard Cafe for our favorite coffee and banana pancakes. After breakfast we spent time talking to family and doing some much needed laundry. After a lazy afternoon we headed to the infamous night markets of Chiang Mai. Just east of the central city there is a collection of markets called the Night Bazaar that was brimming with cheap t-shirts and hand-crafts. We strolled through the markets finding a few odds and ends, but it didn’t have the cultural delights that we had hoped.
DSC04648.jpg

The next day started the same, coffee and banana pancakes. They are seriously that good! After breakfast we both caught up with friends on Skype and finally got to share some of our funnier stories face to face with people back home. Scott ventured out for a while in search of Wat Chedi Luang. The Wat is built around a partially ruined Lanna-style chedi. It was interesting to this site in the middle of the city. It towers above almost all of the buildings in the city. It is famous for once having housed the Emerald Buddha and it also shows the scars of cannon fire it once took in King Taksins recapture of Chiang Mai from the Burmese. That evening we ventured out to a much hyped Saturday Night Walking Market. Here we found the hand-crafts and cultural delights we had been looking for. We arrived a little early and the crowds were light. We were able peruse the market easily until around 9 pm. Suddenly we found ourselves in the middle an enormous crowd. We were no longer able to shop and had to slowly weave our way out to open space. We ended the night with a leisurely stroll home.
DSC04684.jpgDSC04696.jpgDSC04698.jpg

Our last day in Chiang Mai was just as easy going as the last few. We cleaned up, shipped stuff home, and re-visited a few shopping areas. It has been a nice couple of days in Chiang Mai, a quite and restful time where we dined on global cuisine and relished in the laid back vibe. While there are numerous activities in and around this city we elected to take it easy and save our jungle trekking for Laos, our next adventure on this world tour.

Be sure and check out the photos from Chiang Mai & Elephant Nature Park: Chiang Mai & ENP

McKenna & Scott

DSC04685.jpgDSC04658.jpgDSC04582.jpgDSC04577.jpgDSC04565.jpgDSC04190.jpgDSC04173.jpgDSC04164.jpg
DSC04584.jpg

Posted by mands186 10:25 Archived in Thailand Tagged temples food elephants sunsets sunrises chiang_mai leisure Comments (4)

A Tale of Two Thialands

One week in Thailand and we have already seen two very different sides of Thailand: the muggy metropolis and the peaceful island.

sunny 30 °C
View Around we go on mands186's travel map.

DSC03771.jpgDSC04010.jpg

The city is noisy with sounds of busses, tuk-tuks, street markets, and the chatter of languages from all over the world. The Island is peaceful, slower paced, and surrounded by turquoise water. There couldn’t more contrasting sites, yet both are uniquely part of the Thai experience. We spent three days in the humid metropolis of Bangkok and countered with four days on the beautiful western island of Koh Phi Phi. Each area has a distinct appeal to travelers and both provide a different view of life in Thailand.

For our three days in Bangkok we located ourselves in the Old City. This section of the city is an unimaginable tourist trap for the ages. In this one spot you can walk through ancient Wats, admire an opulent Grand Palace, and shop like a king with $20 at the cheap market of Khao San Road. It is a mixture of backpackers and locals throwing ‘em back and partying through the night, and a place where people gather to cheer on their favorite EPL team. Our introduction to Bangkok centered around this mad house, and it was a welcome back to the big city life that we weren’t exactly ready for.

With only three days to explore this area we took to the streets armed with a map and flip-flops. Our first night in the city started with the usual process of familiarizing ourselves with our surroundings and the exchange rate. With 30 baht to the dollar one can go a long way here when eating and shopping. We found our way to the heavily traveled Khao San Road. Once we arrived we were right in the middle of backpacker debauchery and deal hunters from all over the world. People were haggling over fake Ray Bands and lining up for $1 pad thai from the street vendors. Our first impression of this city was that it was noisy, polluted, and any night of the week you can find a raging street party. We decided to save our selves for some sight seeing and headed back to our hotel for a good nights sleep.
DSC03518.jpg

The next morning we filled up on a free breakfast at the hotel and headed out to explore the Grand Palace. As we sat on a park bench looking like typical tourist, buried in a map, a nice young Thai man approached us and offered us some help. He took the map from us and quickly pointed all of the important temples that people like to see when they visit. It was very nice, but we waited for the usual follow up of “I will take you there for 10 Baht.” You see, the books tell you to be wary of people trying to take you to the sights, because they usually whisk you off to high pressure shopping at a gem store or suit shop where they earn commission. We had encountered several tuk-tuk drivers trying the age old trick of telling us “the Palace is closed, let me take you to another temple.” So we were skeptical of this person. To our surprise, after he drew the sights on our map he us bid farewell and wished us good luck. He even gave a few tips of what to do and what to wear when visiting each of the temples. It was a pleasant encounter with someone who just wanted to help us, something we didn’t expect. It’s kind of sad that you can’t always trust the people on the streets to help you, but as a tourist sometimes you have to keep your guard up.

We ventured through the high white walls of the Grand Palace to brave the crowds. To tour the Palace and temples you must be appropriately clothed. This meant covered from ankles over the shoulders. In the hot Bangkok sun and humidity this made for a sweaty day of touring. Many people tried to slip by unnoticed into the Palace lightly clothed only to be held back and forced to wait in a long line for a sarong to cover up.

The Grand Palace of the Kingdom of Thailand is extravagant, and the detail put in to all of the buildings and sculptures is exceptional. The Palace, the temples, and the Wat housing the Emerald Buddha all sit on a huge complex surrounded by an 18 feet wall. We started with the Emerald Buddha, which may be tiny in stature but commands a deep respect in the history of Thailand. We toured the rest of the grounds, looking at gorgeous painted walls with scenes from the country’s history and religion. We finally moved on to the Palace. The sheer size of this place is amazing, complete with guards standing out front without moving an inch.
DSC03530.jpgDSC03535.jpgDSC03597.jpg

After touring the Grand Palace we walked along the small amulet market lining the sidewalk next to the Palace. There is a fierce amulet market on just about every corner here. We are told that people collect them and will troll these markets haggling for the one they desire. It led us to Wat Pho, a temple that houses Thailand’s largest Reclining Buddha and the most Buddha images located in one temple in Thailand. The Reclining Buddha is genuinely impressive, it barley fits in the temple that it is displayed in. The line around this magnificent display was endless, as people tried to get the perfect shot capturing every inch of the Buddha. Which was basically an impossible task.
DSC03681.jpgphoto_5-2.jpgphoto_4-3.jpg

The sun was intense and the humidity only added to it. Have we mentioned that touring here was sweaty? We had been walking around town for hours and were in need of a break. We headed back to our hotel, taking a few short detours through a some street markets. Once we made it back to the hotel we decided to call it a day and hydrate for the next long day of temple spotting.

Beginning the day with another hearty breakfast, we set our sights on a few more temples in the area. Our first stop was the Standing Buddha. A massive image of Buddha stands prominently in a small neighborhood in the Old City. While visiting, we purchased a few birds to set free. An act that is meant to bring good luck for life. We suspect some of the birds are trained to fly back to the lady who sold them. Still, it was something different to try and it did feel good to set the little birds free.
DSC03697.jpgDSC03701.jpgDSC03704.jpg

Our next temple sight contained the Sitting Buddha. Yet again a large image of Buddha towered over us. This temple however was tucked further into the neighborhoods and was empty of tourist. It was a nice change from the last few.
DSC03731.jpg

Our last temple sighting of the day took us to the Wat Saket and the Golden Mountain. Initially the temple constructed on this sight had collapsed because of the soft soil beneath it. It sat as a pile of rubble for some time, sprouting grass and weeds. Finally Rama IV added a small stupa on the hill crest and over the years the hill has been upgraded and maintained and now houses a buddha relic given to Thailand by India. The top of this temple gave us a panoramic view of Bangkok, the tall buildings, the sprawling neighborhoods, and even the smog. We rang the bell three times for good luck and made our way back down the mountain.
DSC03760.jpgDSC03761.jpgDSC03772.jpg

We spent that evening at Khao San Road for one more night of shopping, food, and people watching. The markets are always exciting and the backpackers, tourist, and locals provide an entertaining atmosphere. The next day we will head towards the Islands and we couldn’t be more excited!

We have grown weary of the loud city and the dirty air. Bangkok is an interesting place and we don’t doubt it has its great spots but at times the noise, the pollution and the thick air can suffocate you. We were ready to move on and it came just in time. Sadly Bangkok suffered a minor terrorist attack in a popular tourist area. We were safely in the airport at the time this happened and it was not anywhere near Old CIty where we had been staying. Still, it is unsettling to think how close it was and that people were injured. The world is not always a safe place and as travelers in a foreign country you have to be aware of your surroundings at all times. Rest assured we are on top of our game and always careful on this adventure.

We were ready to escape Bangkok and were looking to try something on the opposite end of the spectrum. Enter Koh Phi Phi Don, a beautiful Island located in the Andaman Sea south of Phuket. This Island is the quintessential island complete with palm trees, cliff sides jetting up out of the turquoise waters, and coral sand beaches stretching everywhere. The only real mode of travel is on long-tail boats, some painted in tropical colors while others show the original wood. Our hotel was located on the quieter north side of the Island, away from the chaos of Tonsai, the only local village on the island. Once we arrived we immediately headed for the beach to play in the ocean and bake in the hot sun. After a short beach session we settled into the night and began planning the next few days of snorkeling, diving, and beach hopping.
DSC03839.jpgDSC04097.jpg

We started our first day of beach life doing what else, lounging around on the beach for most of the day. Around the middle of the afternoon we caught a long-tail boat over to Mosquito Island for some snorkeling. The water was clear and warm, but the jelly fish were abundant and we occasionally came across large groups of them. After watching the tropical fish swim along we headed to Bamboo Island to watch the sunset. We found a nice spot to watch the sun fall and McKenna took to searching the ocean for marine life. We enjoyed some beverages while the sun turned orange, purple, red, and finally disappeared.
DSC03959.jpgDSC03972.jpg

The next day we were off to put our dive skills to the test. The hotel had a great dive center and that’s where we met Anika. Anika and her boyfriend run a friendly and professional dive shop on the island and she was excited to help us experience the Andaman Sea. We spent the morning at Tonsai Wall diving to about 15 m and we saw some amazing tropical fish, rock lobsters, and tiny sea slugs called nudibranchs.

After an hour at the surface we headed out for our second dive at Nui Rock. We dove to about 18 m and were down for about 55 minutes, our longest dive yet! While down we saw eels, ghost piper fish, and even a scorpion fish. The scorpion fish looks exactly like the coral it sits on, and to be honest we didn’t actually know we were looking at one when Anika pointed it out. After the dive she was able to show us a picture of the scorpion fish that she took with her awesome camera. She was also kind enough to send us a few pictures from the dives so we could share them with you. The GoPro doesn’t have a flash or an underwater filter so the color never comes through that well.
421250_112..85983_n.jpg423817_108..31435_n.jpg430715_108..53521_n.jpg

The diving was great. We are both so glad we were able to get certified before we left for this adventure. We plan to dive every chance we get!

The next day we headed out to a popular snorkeling lagoon called Wanglong Bay. We encountered a few jelly fish and the usual suspects of tropical fish. We were also fortunate enough to see a group of squid hanging out on the bottom. They were so cool! After snorkeling we headed to Monkey Beach, where, you guessed it, monkeys hang out. It is an interesting beach, people are hand feeding these wild monkeys. We were not sure how to feel about this activity and didn’t partake other than snapping a few photos. It wasn’t really our scene so we headed out and back to Nui Rock to snorkel more. Once we got back to the hotel we relaxed a little bit before catching the sunset one last time. This time we opted for the Sunset Bar at they top of our hotel where we sipped some tropical drinks and celebrated McKenna’s birthday.
GOPR0688.jpgDSC04086.jpgDSC04060.jpg
DSC04132.jpg

The Island was a sweet getaway from Bangkok. We enjoyed the water activities, clean air, and tropical sun. We realized that the big city isn’t really our scene. I haven’t met a person who wouldn’t pick tropical paradise over a crowded city, so I guess that’s really not saying much. We are head to Chiang Mai next for some jungle trekking and elephant volunteer work, and we are well rested for the adventures ahead.

Here is the link to all the pictures from Bangkok and Koh Phi Phi: Bangkok & Koh Phi Phi

McKenna & Scott

DSC04100.jpgDSC04082.jpgDSC04075.jpgDSC03965.jpgDSC03749.jpgDSC03670.jpgDSC03663.jpgDSC03633.jpgDSC03623.jpgDSC03580.jpgDSC03561.jpg
DSC04125.jpgDSC04028.jpgDSC04059.jpg

Posted by mands186 03:37 Archived in Thailand Tagged beaches temples diving bangkok sunsets snorkeling buddhas city_life scorpion_fish Comments (2)

Wat This, Wat That, What the Wat?

A week in Siem Reap, Cambodia exploring Angkor Wat, the surrounding Temples, and enjoying some delicious traditional food.

sunny 31 °C
View Around we go on mands186's travel map.

AngkorSunRise.jpgDSC03485.jpgDSC03411.jpgDSC03311.jpg

We arrived in Siem Reap ready for a new adventure. It began right off the bat with an intimidating customs process. We handed our passport and 20 american dollars over to a customs agent. Then we waited as our documents were passed through a string of ten agents ending with the most official looking person stamping them before they were handed back to us. After customs, we were on our way to our hotel. As we drove through the streets of Siem Reap we got a glimpse of a completely different lifestyle than we had seen on this trip. For the first time we were seeing people living without what we would consider modern comforts and it was different.

Cambodia can’t hide the devastation of it’s war torn past, but the people show promise for the future in their drive, hard work and kindness. Much has been written of the sad history that Cambodia has endured. The worst of it came during the terrible reign of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. They wreaked havoc on the people, religion, and the economy by killing almost two million Cambodians, destroying religious sights, and abolishing currency. Now free of the Khmer Rouge, Cambodia is slowly putting itself back together. The country is now attracting tourist by the plane loads and transforming its economy to compete with their savvy neighbors.

Siem Reap is a shinning example of this trend of change. Angkor Wat provides the perfect tourist attraction to create a mountain of jobs and downtown Siem Reap gives tourist a place to unwind with food, drinks, and shopping. The people of Siem Reap have an energy about them, eager to please and eager to sell you something. As this village outgrows itself and transforms into a jet setters city one thing is certain, the future looks bright.

The first day we settled into our wonderful hotel, The River Garden. We rented bikes and rode into town to explore a little bit of the downtown. Biking on the road to town was an adventure in itself. The mopeds, motorbikes and tuk-tuks outnumber the cars about 10 to 1 and there are no street signs. There is a system of merging, but if you hesitate you could end up going nowhere. Interestingly enough there is no road rage, people just expect to get cut off, let each other in, and a honk means someone is passing you. We survived and eventually made it back to the hotel for some drinks. Our hotel makes some of the best cocktails we have enjoyed on this trip, the Lemon Grass Martini is great and the Pineapple Chili Margarita is amazing.
DSC02946.jpgphoto_1-1.jpg

That night we ventured downtown again for some Fish Amok and an adventurous tour through the Night Markets. These markets are full of t-shirts, buddhas, silk, and krama scarves. Our first time in this market was overwhelming and after a while it gets hard to walk through the stalls as people press you to buy something from them. Our ride home in the dark was eventful and slightly sketchy. We didn’t have a light and we ended up going the wrong way on oneway most of the ride home. We made a rule after biking in the night that we would take a tuk-tuk during the night. We headed off to bed to rest up for some temple sight seeing over the next few days.

Somewhere between the epic feats of the Pyramids and the majestic aura of Machu Pichu, Angkor Wat claims a place amongst the worlds most amazing ancient ruins. Built by the Khmer Empire who once ruled much of Southeast Asia only remnants of their great rule are still alive today. Angkor Wat and the surrounding Temples are aww inspiring and tell a great story of the fall and rise of the Khmer Empire.
DSC03108.jpg

Angkor Wat is one of the worlds largest religious structures. It was built as a funerary for Suryavamarman II to honor the Hindu deity of Vishnu. This structure was constructed to symbolize the four ages of Hindu thought. When visitors walk the long causeway through the gate, then further across the courtyard to the final temple they are crossing into the first age of the creation of the universe.

We spent about two days at this World Heritage sight exploring the temples, admiring the stone carvings, and taking in one sun rise. The new trend for backpackers is to bike around the temples on cruisers, but for a few bucks you can hire a tuk-tuk to take you around. It is much nicer and considering the heat, it is much more tolerable. In addition to that it’s supporting a job in a growing economy.

On the first day we toured Angkor Wat for several hours. It was an amazing sight of grandeur. We walked slowly through the courtyard observing the temple from a distance, floating above the horizon with towers like a palace. We started exploring around the outer walls of the temple checking out the bas reliefs. This wall measuring 1 km in length wraps around the temple and is intricately carved with stories of Hindu Gods and great Khmer battles. It’s an amazing piece of art. Some of the carvings look like black marble from many years of people rubbing the sculpture.
DSC03009.jpgDSC03044.jpgDSC03056.jpg

Next we explored the inner temples walking around in amazement that this was hand built. The steps to the top of the center temple were extremely steep. To our amazement a young family had ignored the ‘Do Not Enter’ signs and climbed to the top. The tour guides spotted them and began shouting at them and they made there way down. We walked through the Gallery of a Thousands Buddhas on our way out, but sadly almost all of them had been removed during years of looting. We exited Angkor Wat and left the massive crowds behind us to explore the quieter temple of Ta Prohm.
DSC03096.jpgDSC02998.jpg

Ta Prohm was once a well looked after Buddhist Temple built for an Emperor’s mother. Now the Temple is almost all rubble and completely reclaimed by the jungle. Ta Prohm still holds some of its shape, held up by the tree roots. The atmosphere here is totally different from that of Angkor Wat. Ta Prohm looks like it is straight out of Indian Jones or Laura Croft Tomb Raider (which was filmed here). Ta Prohm is a great place to see the strength of the jungle.
DSC03155.jpgDSC03127.jpg

We returned to our hotel to get out of the heat of the late afternoon. We sipped on some drinks by the pool and ordered some Pad Thai just in time before the entire city went dark. That night we had to get to sleep early so we would be fresh for the sunrise over Angkor Wat in the morning. With the blackout our air-conditioning and fan were of no use. Our hotel room slowly turned into an oven and a night of comfortable sleep seemed impossible. Alas around midnight the power came back and we both rejoiced in the breeze of our fan and cool air from the A/C. We’re both kind of heat wimps.

The next morning we woke up at 4:30 am and met our tuk-tuk driver who had our breakfast. We drove through the dark of the morning, neither of us very talkative after a short night sleep. When we arrived we were thrust into the crowds ascending upon this right of passage at Angkor Wat. We managed to sneak away from the crowds once in the courtyard and found a quite step on one of the Libraries. We took in the sun rise over Angkor Wat and all the eeriness and mystery that comes with sitting in a spot where thousands of Khmer people once prayed to Vishnu.
DSC03206.jpgDSC03219.jpgDSC03226.jpg

After hundreds of pictures had been taken we again ditched the crowds, who mostly returned to town for breakfast, for Angkor Thom. Angkor Thom was once the great city of the Khmer Empire. This 10 Km city, complete with temples and a grand palace, was home to an estimated 1 million people at the time when London only claimed 50,000 people.

We started at the temple of Bayon. From a distance it appears the temple is just a pile of rocks but as you let your eyes adjust, the faces of Avalokiteshvara start appearing everywhere you look. This was one of our favorite temples. There are 216 faces carved into the gothic towers and they are all smiling back at us as we wander through this ancient ruin.
DSC03247.jpgDSC03242.jpgDSC03230.jpg

We moved on to several other sights in Angkor Thom. There are too many to count and explain, but one thing stands out, this was once an enormous city full of energy. We spent several hours here hiking up to the top of various temples, taking in views of the jungle, snapping photos of the guardians of the Lepers Terrace, and exploring the old palace.

It was nice to go exploring early in the morning. It was much cooler and there were no crowds to battle. As we exited the Temples for the last time we were amazed at the number of tour busses that had descended on the sites. We were glad to be leaving them behind.

That night we headed to Pub Street, the main bar and restaurant area in downtown Siem Reap. We enjoyed some Duck Curry at Temple Club and sipped some cheap cocktails. After dinner we headed back to the infamous Night Markets. As we strolled the night markets armed with a better knowledge of the layout and what we were looking for. We came across a stall owned by a pleasant woman named Sambo. She was not pushy and had a much more relaxed approach to selling compared to her competitors. She allowed us to browse the goods at her stall and she even taught us how the traditional krama scarf is used. It was a much better experience a second time through.
DSC03437.jpgDSC03331.jpg

The next day we attended a cooking class offered at our hotel called Cooks on Tuk-Tuks. We spent the day touring several markets, praying at a local temple, and cooking a traditional Khmer meal. We made Banana Flower Salad, Fish Amok, and Sweet Potato Pudding. The chef was delightful and she was very patient with our poor cooking skills. After cooking the meal we got to enjoy it with a fresh lime juice.
DSC03417.jpgDSC03428.jpgDSC03404.jpg

On our last day in Siem Reap we explored the Royal Gardens and biked around town one last time. It is still amazing how the traffic just moves along without stop lights or traffic signs. For dinner we headed to a local BBQ restaurant that offered a sampling of tradition Cambodian cuisine and has a traditional Apsara Dance Show. We were able to try several dishes and witness some traditional Khmer dancing.

Apsaras are heavenly nymphs and during the Angkor period, young maidens would dance as these messengers of the gods. There was one Apsara dance at the beginning and then at the end. In the middle there were several dances performed by groups of younger people and one duet dance. The costumes were colorful and sparkling. The most impressive dances were that of the Apsaras as they contorted their hands and feet as they slowly moved about the stage to the music. It was nice to spend some time listening and seeing some of the Khmer culture that has been recently revived.
DSC03501.jpgphoto_4-1.jpgDSC03476.jpg

Our time in Siem Reap was brief but memorable. The temples were grand, the food was delicious, and the people were enjoyable and kind. While this town struggles to modernize and cope with the bands of tourist that our through it, the people will work hard and even razz you a bit in good fun. In fact, everywhere we went people would comment on Scott’s beard, as it’s very uncommon in Cambodia, comparing him to Abraham Lincoln. In Cambodia the US dollar is the first currency, but you might receive change in Riel.

Check out more pictures of Siem Reap here: Siem Reap, Cambodia

McKenna & Scott

photo_5.jpgphoto_4.jpgphoto_3.jpgDSC03438.jpgDSC03383.jpgDSC03362.jpgDSC03148.jpgDSC03116.jpgDSC03095.jpgDSC02963.jpgDSC02962.jpgDSC02956.jpg
DSC03366.jpg

Posted by mands186 18:21 Archived in Cambodia Tagged temples food cambodia angkor_wat sunrise cooking khmer the_river_garden krama_scarf Comments (5)

Cultural, Culinary, and Architectural Delights in Singapore

Our two and half day layover in a melting pot of culture and structure. Singapore has more to offer than just a list of rules.

semi-overcast 28 °C
View Around we go on mands186's travel map.

large_DSC02864.jpg

When our travel agent suggested that we spend a few days in Singapore, because we had to fly through there to get to Siem Reap anyway I was skeptical. The only thing I really knew about this place was that it had the some of the most stringent laws of any city in world. For example, there is a $500 fine for spitting or jaywalking, and the death penalty for drug trafficking. Not to forget the highly publicized miss guided american student who received a caning for his graffiti work.

So, I read up on this tiny Island and I came to understand that it is full of culture and some of the most modern elements found in cities today. The city is no longer afraid of outside influence and is welcoming all to join them in celebration of a new dawn in SIngapore. The city is clean, organized, and pays special homage to the Gods of shopping. The malls are built like palaces and Louis Vuitton stores outnumber even Starbucks.

There are 4.5 million people living on this small island that sits on southern tip of Malaysia. The make up of the population is even more diverse than imaginable. There are four distinct cultures melding together here, Chinese, Indian, Malay and British. If you don’t speak one of these four languages, no need to worry, the organized and color coordinated train and bus system make it easy for anyone to move about the city.

SIngapore was colonized by the British, occupied by the Japanese during World War II, and expelled from Malaysia in the 60’s. Despite the constant change of leadership in its past, Singapore has cultivated a system of success over the last 40 years under the guidance of the socialist People Action Party (PAP). The PAP dramatically changed the fate of Singapore and transformed the country into an ultra-modern and successful business hub. Today the PAP has, for the most part, eased its grip on society but how they deal with the fast paced digital age is still unknown.

We arrived into Singapore late in the evening, tired from a long day of sitting in airport terminals, and unsure of really what time or what day it was. We were pleasantly surprised to find customs easy to pass through. Even my long hair and beard didn’t garnish much attention as some thought it might. After collecting our luggage we headed for our hotel where we enjoyed a complimentary Tiger Beer and then headed off to bed.

We only had two full days in the city, and we wanted to make the most of our time. Armed with a brief knowledge of the city we picked a few places that we wanted to check out.

On the first morning we explored Little India. As we strolled along the street markets, our eyes were bombarded with brightly colored fabrics and intricate pieces of gold jewelry, while our noses were pierced with burning incense, curry, and the pungent wet market. The wet market, so you know, is the fish and butcher market. When the rain came down we ducked into a larger market and McKenna got a henna tattoo. After the rain went away we hiked down to the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple, one of the city’s more important temples.
DSC02537.jpgDSC02570.jpgDSC02593.jpg

After hiking through the markets and doing some temple sight seeing we were hungry. We headed for Food Republic, a popular food court with Thai, Chinese, and Malaysian food stalls. First, we did a lap around the stalls and selected a few dishes from several different places to try. We tried the Fried Prawn Noodle, Roasted Duck with Rice, and Egg Rotti with Fish Curry Sauce. The Fried Prawn Noodle was our favorite and they all tasted delicious.
DSC02620.jpgDSC02621.jpgDSC02622.jpg

We rested for a few minutes back at the hotel and then headed out to the much talked about Singapore Zoo and Night Safari. We had about two hours to explore the Zoo before the Night Safari began and we made the most of it. Darting from one exhibit to the next we were able see some great animals. We saw the White Tiger, the Elephants, and several species of monkeys. One of the coolest exhibits has to be where the Orangoutangs live. It is not so much an enclosure because the Orangoutangs have several areas that are connected through a series of ropes and trees. When you look above your head they are swinging all around you through the trees.
DSC02682.jpgDSC02658.jpgDSC02645.jpg
The Night Safari began with a tram ride through a more open spaced zoo. As we rode a long, the tram conductor pointed out several species of deer, big cats, elephants, and hyenas. The animals are more active at night, perhaps because the temperature drops slightly. Either way we did get to see some cool animals. The Creatures of The Night Show was also included in the Safari and features animals performing tricks. The coolest part of the show was when the sea otters came out on stage and showed how easy recycling can be. Each otter picked up a can, plastic bottle, or paper cup and put it in the correct receptacle. Our day and evening at the zoo was enjoyable and entertaining.

The next day we headed to Chinatown and walked through the markets and temples. It had a much different flavor than Little India. There were a lot of electronic stores and silk. The color remained vibrant and the temples were just as impressive. We checked out the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple which was recently erected in Chinatown.
DSC02750.jpgDSC02784.jpgDSC02802.jpg

After a short rest back at the hotel we headed downtown for a look at the skyline. The city has several really intriguing new architectural sights. The new art center, Esplanade - Theaters on the Bay, has an amazing roof full of modern three-dimensional triangles and the Marina Bay Sands hotel, mall, and casino that looks like a ship sits across its three twisting structures. We also took some fun pictures at the Merlion fountain. The Merlion is an iconic symbol of SIngapore, part lion and part fish.
DSC02828.jpgDSC02842.jpg
DSC02851.jpg

After seeing the bay from the ground we headed to the roof of the Marina Bay Sands to take in the view of the city lights. It was a great view and the view of the boats out to sea was just as impressive. After viewing the city lights we headed down to the mall, one of many palatial malls in the city, for some window shopping and dinner. We wondered the endless line of high end shopping wondering how anyone affords any of the stuff. We were starving and decided to stop in at a wood fired pizza place called Mozza. We dined on fried goat cheese over lentils, salad, and a delicious mushroom pizza.
DSC02905.jpgDSC02904.jpgDSC02920.jpgDSC02922.jpg

Singapore has been an amazing place. More modern and open to culture expression than we both ever imagined. I would be misleading you if I didn’t mention that the government does run a tight ship and it comes with a price. There’s not much room here to challenge the PAP or speak ill of the government. Misbehavior is not tolerated and everyone here is held to high standard of personal conduct. While things appear great on the outside, there are certainly non-monetary costs associated with it.

After two days of running around Singapore we were exhausted. The city was well beyond anything we could have imagined. Our hotel was amazing, the food was great, and the city has an amazing diversity of culture. Singapore is one of the more modern cities we have visited so far and the public transportation here is out of this world. We are moving on to Siem Reap next and are excited for Angkor Wat. We are also preparing for a much different adventure there than the modern comforts we discovered in SIngapore.

Check out the pictures from SIngapore here: Singapore Pictures

Also, if you want to see our other pictures, don’t forget the links to the rest of our albums can be found on the right side of the page under “Favorite Links”

McKenna & Scott

DSC02814.jpgDSC02916.jpgDSC02772.jpgDSC02709.jpgDSC02725.jpgDSC02623.jpgDSC02571.jpg
DSC02566.jpgDSC02574.jpgDSC02581.jpgDSC02613.jpgDSC02616.jpg

Posted by mands186 01:03 Archived in Singapore Tagged art skylines food lights nightscapes malls Comments (4)

(Entries 11 - 15 of 27) « Page 1 2 [3] 4 5 6 »