Kyoto

Kinkakulj Temple - aka the Golden Pavillion

Kinkakulj Temple - aka the Golden Pavillion

Yasaka Shrine

Yasaka Shrine

Koda-ji Temple and Gardens

Koda-ji Temple and Gardens

So after my longest day of intra-Asia move which involved a stop in Bangkok, and a train from Osaka to Kyoto, I arrived late Thursday night after a full day of travel in Kyoto, Japan.  You might remember (or at least I did) Kyoto from Lost in Translation, where ScarJo takes off on the train and visits all the temples and zen rock gardens for the day. Kyoto is that and much more. A mid-sized city (#6 in Japan), with 1.4 million people, its best known as the previous Japaneese capital (for about a thousand years!) and also as the "City of Ten Thousand Shrines".  Kyoto reminds me a lot of a Seattle or Portland. It's an extremely clean and orderly city laid out around rivers and streams with an abundance of low rise residential plots and picturese Japaneese scenes and shops scattered throughout the landscape which is rich with culture.

Ginkakuji, Silver Pavillion. 

Ginkakuji, Silver Pavillion. 

Crowded street scene - shops, food and tourists. 

Crowded street scene - shops, food and tourists. 

  Kiyomizudera Temple and view from the hill of central Kyoto

 Kiyomizudera Temple and view from the hill of central Kyoto

Path of Philosophy

Path of Philosophy

I spent all day Friday on foot, by my estimate about 13-14 kilometers visiting a laundry list of Temples and culture stops in the eastern part of Kyoto, the old portion of the city.  I started with a morning visit to the Yasaka Shrine, Kodaji Temple and the Kiyomizudera Temple.  I spent about 30 minutes to an hour at each, snapping pictures and walking throughout the temples and grounds. The grounds surrounding each is impeccably manicured and landscaped, and extrememly picturesque.  The temples and shrines range in crowds and tourists from the quietest and serene to the ones that you can't walk ten feet without getting hit by a selfie stick.  Regardless, each was unique and provided ample photo taking opportunities.  The journey itself though, between sites, was a great walk that varied too, from quiet lonely residential streets, to crowded pedestrain shopping disctircts lined with food and small kimono shops.  Its definetly a great way to see the city.  I stopped back at the hotel to drop off some purchases and made my way (by cab) north to the Ginkakuji Temple, known as the Silver Pavillion, one of the landmark locations in Kyoto.  From there I made my way back on a path known as the Path of Philosophy towards the hotel. The path is a 2 kilometer mix of alley and path, along a stream through small residental areas, scattered with small shops and artisans and is mostly a quiet walk with your thoughts.  Famous for the cherry blossoms, here mid-summer was not in bloom, but was still a great way to get through the city. I made a quick stop at the Heian Jingu Shine on the walk back before returning to the hotel late in the afternoon.  After a quick shower, I headed out to an izakaya I had seen on my walk for a few beers and an omakase dinner after a long and tiring day.

Ryoanji Rock Garden

Ryoanji Rock Garden

Streets of Arashiyama

Streets of Arashiyama

Bento Box lunch creation. 

Bento Box lunch creation. 

Riding shotgun on the rails.

Riding shotgun on the rails.

Saturday morning I took a cooking class in Japanese cuisine. The class spent the first part of the morning learning about essential Japanese ingredients and their history like miso paste, mirin, soy, dashi, etc.  After a bit of background and learning, the group got to create our own lunches in a bento format with a sushi roll, tempura, spinach salad, chicken teriyaki and miso soup.  It was a super fun format, and great to learn a lot about a cuisine I love, and never cook. Everything was super simple and intuative, yet complex in flavor and composition. It was awesome to be able to build it and of course eat it.  After lunch, which I must say was delicious, I headed out to another famous and must-see on the list - the Kinkakuji Temple, or more commonly the Golden Pavilion. Being one of the more popular attractions, by early afternoon it was very crowded, but I managed too get some great shots by dodging a few selfie sticks and crropping out the tourists. From there I walked about 20 minutes to the  Ryoanki Temple which is famous for its rock garden. this was a great stop, with a much smaller crowd and a much more zen atmosphere with a beautiful pond and its "internatinally famous" rock garden, which when everyone is quietly sitting around does envoke some pretty powerful thoughts for something so seemly simple.  After Ryoanji, I headed over to another area I was told I had to check out further out of the city called Arashiyama.  Its a really picturesque suburb, I guess you could call it, on the banks of the Hozu River, with a couple really great tourist streets around some of the culture spots.  I visited the Tenryu-ji Temple and the Bamboo Walk, a great path through a seriously tall bamboo forest. It was a good trip outside of the city, and allowed me to navigate some public transpartation coming back in, starting with Randen train, an electric railway tram dating back to 1910. It was a fun ride and definetly a juxtaposition from the connection I made to Kyoto's modern subway, but it wrapped up another long day of touring.

Sunday I was off on the bullet train to Tokyo, saying goodbye to my Lost in Translation moments in Kyoto, which earned itself a very favorable city rating on the Asia tour.

Tons more pictues available on the iCloud folder.

Bamboo forest walk. 

Bamboo forest walk. 

Beaches & Singapore

So after a long few weeks of touring and much more activity travel, the latter part of my itinerary was more focused on relaxing and catching up. I spent a few days between Koh Samui, Thailand, Singapore and Bintan Island in Indonesia.  This part was decidedly less active and doesn't lend itself as well to pictures, activities and blog posts, but here is a short summary of my days and experiences in each spot. 

The beach at Bintan. 

The beach at Bintan. 

Koh Samui

Breakfast spot at Koh Samui resort. 

Breakfast spot at Koh Samui resort. 

Part of Marina Bay path in Singapore. 

Part of Marina Bay path in Singapore. 

My three days in Koh Samui were mostly filled with relaxing at the beach, pool, reading, eating or other equally relaxing ventures. Located a short flight from most mainland destinations within Thailand, its a small island paradise in the south China Sea. Along with others (Phuket, Koh Tao, etc) the beaches are a popular draw for travellers around SE Asia. While most of this stop was designed as a wind down from a few weeks of heavy touring destined to be spent at the beach and pool of the resort, I did venture out a bit, but with decidedly less agenda. I spent some time visiting the town and tourist destinations Friday evening at the walking night market at Fisherman's Village.  Significantly larger than previous night markets I've visited (less Siem Reap), the market also drew a much larger crowd with its weekly frequency.  Koh Samui has a thriving tourist and backpacker draw, and this was present in the market. A bit of a mix between Cancun bar/club/restaurant hybrids and the night market souvineer and food stalls of Asia, it was hot, crowded, but a delicious and interesting way to spend the evening and kill a few hours outside of the resort.

Panorama of Marina Bay and Marina Bay Towers. 

Panorama of Marina Bay and Marina Bay Towers. 

Singapore Hotel in the foreground and Financial District in the background. 

Singapore Hotel in the foreground and Financial District in the background. 

Singapore 

Singpore shopping district, full of malls and high end shops. 

Singpore shopping district, full of malls and high end shops. 

Another Marina Bay angle. 

Another Marina Bay angle. 

Most of my time in Bintan was spent like this. 

Most of my time in Bintan was spent like this. 

So Singapore was my next destination, but more of a travel hub for travel between Thailand, the Bintan Island, and the eventual jump off to Japan. I spent two seperate nights here with not much time to do much but walk and explore the shopping and food areas surrounding my hotels and catch glimpses of the city from my transit to and from airports and ferry terminals. I was left with a lasting impression of both the quality and density of the city.  Extremely clean and weathly feeling from the roads, sidewalks, and level of shopping its clear that the cost of living and operating a vehicle is extreme in Singapore.  There is not one junky car to be found anywhere, and the registration cost of owning and operating a car drives not only the quality of autos, but the quantity (Singapore experiences very little congestion despite its incrediple population density). I spent some time in my second evening around the Marina Bay area, which is like the central water/tourist area, think Baltirmore Inner Harbor or Chicago River Walk,  only much nicer.  The whole area is smartly designed with a contiguous walking path that circumnavigates the entire area, over 3 km.  They have tons of nice water front restaurants and bars, and that combined with the cleanliness of the area and the water made me more jaded about our inability to accomplish it in the states.  It just seemed so much more refined and well done than your typical tourist-area-around-water-withfood-and-drink type of place in the US. Needless to say, a beautiful city and one worth deticating more time.

One thing I did pick up on was the tension between  native Singaporeans (Malay) and the influx of Chineese immigrants, a racial sentiment articulated in many of the countries I've visited, but interesting to hear how quickly it comes up in conversation and how many parallels there are to other countries (including our own).

Bintan 

I spent two of my relax days on the Indonesian island of Bintan.  Bintan is only a short 45 minute ferry from downtown Singapore, and is home to a spur of recent resort development aimed at vacationing Singaporeans.  Indeed, it seems a world away, soon after leaving a city marine terminal, you are amidst hundreds of shipping cargo and tanker ships, then next thing is a small ferry terminal on a seemingly remote island. New and modernly well developed, there are a host of resorts on the island. My resort was new as of last fall, and whether we are in the low season, I am not sure, but I spent much of my two days at the resort without seeing another guest.  Needless to say it was a super beautiful and relaxing respite before heading back to Singapore and onto Japan.

Bintan resort from the beach. Can you see the one towel? Yeah thats mine. 

Bintan resort from the beach. Can you see the one towel? Yeah thats mine. 

Chaing Mai

 

Wat Chedi Luang in Old City Chaing Mai

Wat Chedi Luang in Old City Chaing Mai

A four hour drive through the winding moutain roads of Northern Thailand brought me to Chaing Mai, a city of about 500,000.  Arriving late Monday afternoon, I had time for a quick check in, shower and turnaround to meet my guide Phone (told me to call him) and tour a bit of the town and night market. 

Pork and cowboy hats at the Chang Puak Gate market. 

Pork and cowboy hats at the Chang Puak Gate market. 

Obligatory white water action shot I pirated from the tour company. 

Obligatory white water action shot I pirated from the tour company. 

Hill tribe houses by a small stream along the hike. 

Hill tribe houses by a small stream along the hike. 

We stopped first and visited Wat Chedi Luang in the old city. Built in the 14th century and once over 82 m high, its an impressive sight beespite the earthquake damage to the original structure.  After a walk around the temple, and a quick chat with some of the young monks there, we headed just outside the walls of the Old City to the Chang Puak Gate night market to try some street food.  The Chang Puak market is a few blocks long and littered with stalls and open air restaurants serving all manner of food. we stopped first at a pork and rice stall that had a particularly long queue. The dish was khao kha mo, and was delicious slow rosted pork leg and a bit of intestine over rice with some pickled cabbage and a great spicy broth. We grabbed that and headed to another open air resturant and grabbed a seat and ordered a bowl of gaeng jued.  Clear broth with cabbage, beef, and glass noodles, it was a "lighter" thai dish, but didnt at all lack flavor. Both were great, spicy and super substantive.  After that we tried a few baos and dumplings and finally a sweet coconut dessert soup which was a good finish to another fun and delicious meal in the night markets and open air restuarants of Thailand.

Hillside farms along the way. 

Hillside farms along the way. 

Tuesday was another adventure day which kicked off at 8 am with a long and windy drive into the mountains in a jeep/pick up truck style safari move.  the first part of the trip was a white water raft down the Taeng River.  Not the most thrilling white water I've ever done, but exciting and scenic nevertheless. After a short one hour ride we headed off deeper into the moutains for a quick lunch stop and to visit the hill tribes annd villages. After lunch my guide and I began our hike through 4 villages of the hill tribes, migrant people who have settled the hillsides and been supported for the most part by the Thai government who allows the use of the land.  We hiked through fields and farms and jungles and visited in small villages for about 2 hours before starting the long ride home. It was a fun experience and a big workout but very eye opening to see the villages and the simple lives of the farm communities there.

After a solid nights sleep, it was up and off in the morning to the beach at Koh Samui, marking a departure in the itinerary from higher activity levels and strucutre as I round out the less than two weeks remaining in Asia with more beaches and pools.

Chaing Rai

Me, Suki and Boon Jan after our walk. 

Me, Suki and Boon Jan after our walk. 

Cleaning up the elephants. 

Cleaning up the elephants. 

After a short hour long flight, I landed in Chaing Rai early Saturday afternoon and took an hour drive to the hotel, located the town of Chaing Sean in the Golden Triangle, an area named for the convergence of three countries (Thailand, Myanmar and Laos) which meet at the confluence of the Mekong and {need} rivers.  The hotel was amazing and features an elephant camp and support and preservation program built onto the property. I ended my Saturday with a massge and dinner in preparation for my elephant adventure on Sunday.

Suki likes sunflower seeds. 

Suki likes sunflower seeds. 

Sunday began shortly after breakfast with my first program with the elephants of Anantara Golden Triangle.  The Elephant Camp at Anantara is a foundtain built to support and rescue elephants from Thailand's logging industry, circuses and the tourism industry on the streets of the cities.  Not only does the camp support the elephants, but also the mahouts (elephant's trainer) and the mahouts entire family.  Many of the mahouts have lifelong relationships with the elephants so its a really great feature of the resort and the camp that they provide for the mahouts and their entire family as an extended support network of the elephants themselves.

Me and Boon Si after training, ready for walk. 

Me and Boon Si after training, ready for walk. 

My first experience was a program called Walking with Giants which gave an up close and personal look at the elephants and their relationship with the mahouts. It also provided a great opportunity to learn more about the camp and the elephants themselves.  I spent a few hours working up close with Boon Jan and her 16 month old son Suki. We walked through the jungle and I got an opportunity to feed and bath the elephants while watching them interact in their natural environment. It was a great experience and easy to see how the program at Anantara provides a healthier experience and environment for the elephants and the interaction with guests. The elephants were healthy and happy and well take care of, which proves vastly different to other camps and how elephants are treated elsewhere.

Cooling off in the river. 

Cooling off in the river. 

Later in the afternoon, I participated in the Mahout Training Experience where along with Boon Si and her mahout, I got to learn the basic commands for interacting and riding with the elephant.  After some short training, boarding and exiting the elephant, a small drivers test of manuvering Boon Si proved me worthy of a longer ride.  Boon Si was gentle and lazy and together with her mahout and the elephant experince guides, we took a long walk and dunk in the river. It was a truly great experience and an incredible time interacting with the elephant. It gave me an awesome appreciation for the program and the preservation of these awesome animals.

For more information on the foundation and to help support these Asian elephants please visit:

http://www.helpingelephants.org

More pictures from my trek available on my iCloud.

After a great italian meal at the hotel it was a good sleep and up the next day for the 4 hour drive to Chaing Mai.

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Bangkok

Longboating through Bangkok. 

Longboating through Bangkok. 

Wat Arun

Wat Arun

I arrived in Bangkok Thursday afternoon, three days after the bombing that killed 20 went off at the Erawin Shrine.  After a lengthy wait at passport control, I got a first hand look at Bangkok traffic on the evening commute to the hotel.  The bombing though, seemed to be the topic of the trip as my guide and those I came in contact with were very curious to hear what I had thought. There was a significant dip in tourist travel that week, and a significant ramp in security around the city, including my hotel which employed barricades and xray monitoring of all traffic. Overall, I felt extremely safe throughout the city over my two days there.

After an easy evening settling into the hotel, woke up Friday for a day of touring the city.  My guide Chino and I started by boarding a loongboat and touring the Chao Phraya River, making our way through the Klongs (canals) of Thonburi.  The canals were a great way to tour the very old portion of the city and traditional Thai houses and back channels of the old city.  After an hour touring the canals, we visited the Temple of Dawn or Wat Arun. One of the most photographed sights in Bangkok with its shrine at 79 m high.  Although under construction, the Temple is ornately decorated with ceramic mosaic that reflect the sun, and make it an awesome stop.  It was completely empty as well during our visit.

Mix of European and Asian styles at the Grand Palace. 

Mix of European and Asian styles at the Grand Palace. 

On the other hand, the Grand palace was quite crowded. The Grand Palace, houses the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Pra Kraw), containing Thailand's most precious Buddha images. The Grand Palace also contains the anncient Siamese court and former residence of the Thai Royal Family. The Grand Palace was a great mix of European and Asian influenced architecture and deisgn.  Security was tight, and the area was crowded, but it was well worth the hour or two tour.  

The meats of Chinatown street food. 

The meats of Chinatown street food. 

Following the Grand Palace tour, we spend an hour or so walking the markets and vendors of he street and stopped for lunch.  I got the afternoon to relax by the pool before meeting up again for a night visit to Chinatown. We headed to Chinatown at night to visit Bangkok's biggest open air restaurant. The street opens up with stalls and stands flowing out of the restaurants with all manner of Asian cuisine. My guide and I walked up and down the streets trying all manner of noodles, dumplings, dim sum, satays and soups. It was awesome to have someone who knows the language giving you the background on food and translating with all the vendors.  The two hours on the street left me stuffed and really satisfied with a fun night.

The next morning it was up and off to elephant camp in Chaing Rai. 

Luang Prabang, Laos

After a short afternoon flight, I arrived in Luang Prabang, Laos around dusk, with just enough light on the decent to catch a glimpse of the mountains and rivers of northern Laos in this vastly different landscape than any experienced thus far. Laos played a key role in the Vietnam war when the invasion by the People's Army of Vietnam along with their supplies lines lead the US to heavily bomb the country, more than any other country ever. Luang Prabang is a small city, with thriving tourist and backpacker tourist interest.  The city, set along the Mekong River and amoungst the peaks of Northern Laos is a draw not only for its outdoor adventure and regional culture but also the Buddhist history and significant number of temples.

View of the Nam Khan River from Mount Phou Si

View of the Nam Khan River from Mount Phou Si

Me giving alms in the form of sticky rice. 

Me giving alms in the form of sticky rice. 

Fish at the morning market. 

Fish at the morning market. 

Longboating on the Mekong River. 

Longboating on the Mekong River. 

After settling in, my first day started at 5:30 AM for a ritual giving of alms with the monks of Luang Prabang. The giving of alms is an ancient sign of respect for the Buddhist tradition practiced by the people of Luang Prabang for hundreds of years.  Each morning, just prior to 6 AM, they line the picturesque streets of the French colonial town to offer food to the monks who walk through the streets.  The food, ainly sticky rice, represents the food that the monks will eat that day, and also represents the immense respect the citizens and visitors have for the spiritual dedication of the over 300 monks in Luang Prabang. I had the opportunity to participate and offer sticky rice to the monks which was a very exciting and humbling experience.  After the alms giving, my guide Wat and I took a stroll through the morning market with sights of fresh fish, fruit, frogs and rice lining the packed alley and stalls.  The first day continued after breakfast with a longboat ride on the Mekong River. We travelled up river, stopping in a the Ban Xang Hai village to view the temple and local handicrafts like embroidery, weaving and whiskey making with our final destination the Tham Pak Ou cave.  These caves are filled with many many Buddha images, in every style and material imagined, ammased over the last hundreds of years.

Royal Palace and home of the Phra Bang Buddha. 

Royal Palace and home of the Phra Bang Buddha. 

View of central Luang Prabang and the Mekong from Mount Phou Si. 

View of central Luang Prabang and the Mekong from Mount Phou Si. 

After returning on the longboat to Luang Prabang it was a short stop for lunch and then onto the National Museum, built in the former Royal Palace. This turn of the centruy residence designed in French beaux-arts motifs held the history of the royal presnce in Laos, prior to their movement to Lao People's Democratic Republic in 1975.  The rpalace also houses the Phra Bang Buddha image, cast of gold, silver and broze sometime between the 1st and 9th century, and at 50 kg is the palace and towns most prized pieces, as well as the namesake since arriving in 1359. After the Palace tour, we hiked 350 steps up Mount Phou Si which, at 150 m tall, sits in the middle of the city with great views of the surrounding mountains, rivers and town, and is adorded with small temples along the steep ascent.  Following the hike down the hill, we visted a few more of the 30+ temples throughout Luang Prabang like Wat Mai, Wat Xieng Thong, and Wat Visoun, dating back to 1513, once destroyed by bombiing which houses the supa referred to by locals as That Makmo (watermelon stupa). 

The "watermelon stupa" at Wat Visoun. 

The "watermelon stupa" at Wat Visoun. 

After a long day of touring I returned to the hotel for a quick dip, then ventured into the city to visit the Night Market.  Hundreds of stalls, closely packed and dimly lit lined the cities main street and offered a huge variety of local handicrafts, goods and wares.  After grabbing dinner and a few souvineers,  I headed to the hotel to rest up for the trek the next day.

Rice paddies deep along the hike. Local guide way ahead pictured with machette. 

Rice paddies deep along the hike. Local guide way ahead pictured with machette. 

Hiking with Wat. 

Hiking with Wat. 

Wednesday began early with a steep and bumpy drive through mountains and villages to Ban Long Lao, a small village from where we met a local guide and began our 10K trek through the farm fields, rice patties, and jungles to visit the Tham Nam Ook cave, at over 800 meters deep which sits near the source of the Kuang Si waterfall.  a really unqiue hike, at close to three hours gave a really unique and approach to the falls, which are a popular destination in Luang Prabang. The small source of the falls quickly decends into a large cascasing waterfall and pools filled with refreshing limestone river water.  With great views, and pools for a quick swim, the falls are one of the must see placesin Luang Prabang, but I felt good after the long hike, seeing no one other that my quise Wat, and our local guide (name unknown, only guy carrying machette), and making our way through the countryside to this awesome site. We wrapped after lunch at the base of the falls and took the rest of the day to rest and cool down in the hotel pool.

The humble source of the falls. 

The humble source of the falls. 

Swimming hole at Kuang Si

Swimming hole at Kuang Si

Overall, in two short days in Laos, it really showed me something. a budding tourist destination, it still has the flavor of that backpacker/small town/quiet vibe, especially now in the off season.  It's an incredible mix of mountains and city, rivers and roads, and history and people. I saw some great sights and had a variety of great experiences from hiking the back trails of rice patties to cruising the Mekong. It was great to see the falls, not only from the photo spots and bridges but from the source, seeing where it comes from, how it irrogated the rice patties and grew into the massive waterfall and pools. It offered something of a deeper experience - seeing how something small can grow into something as big and impressice as Kuang Si. The massive buddist presence, and the opportunity to interact with the monks rounded out the incredible feeling I leave this place with.

Thursday was an easy start, and a early afternoon flight to Bangkok.

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Siem Reap - Cambodia

After an early morning flight and a connection in Kuala Lumpur, I arrived in Siem Reap Friday early in the afternoon. A small, but new and organized arrival terminal was quick and easy to navigate and soon I ghad met my ride for the short ride into Siem Reap.  My guide Reth was informative in the quick drive into town, pointing out all the new hotel development and giving me a quick lay of the land and background on some of the visitors to Siem Reap (mainly Korean, Chineese, Japanese, with a lot of weekend visitors from neighboring Laos, Thailand, Vietnam).

Outside Angkor Wat

Outside Angkor Wat

Pub Street, a collection of bars and nightlife in Central Siem reap. 

Pub Street, a collection of bars and nightlife in Central Siem reap. 

Amok at Khymer Kitchen in Central Market. 

Amok at Khymer Kitchen in Central Market. 

The explosion of tourism in Siem Reap is immedietly obvious, where new hotels and shops dot the otherwise low and dusty landscape of a small Frech colonial village.  The Old Center of town is packed with night markets, stalls, shops, vendors, bars and nightlife. Tuk tuks (motorized rickshaws) and the vehicles of tight packed streets make for a chaotic scene, but one rich with fun sights to take in. There are plenty of stalls with all the same, fun tourist souveniers mixed in with massage parlors and restaurants with a worldy range and everyone barting for tourists attention every 5 feet. "Buy something", "I have your size", "Tuk tuk?", all phrases you cant walk 5 feet without hearing.  Although constant, the people of Siem Reap were quite friendly and not onvertly aggressive and tucked within this maze are some real gems in food, beer, and culture that made for fun nights wandering the streets and markets. The US dollar is the unit of currency here and it goes a long way.

Bayon Temple reflection. 

Bayon Temple reflection. 

I mentioned the food in Siem Reap, and as evident by my Instagram feed Siem Reap and Camobida was a great venue for good eats including great street food and awesome Amok. The Khymer food is a melting pot itself of curries from Indian cuisine and noodles from Chineese, it has a unique approach to spices and aromatics, contrasting flavors and an emphasis on seafood and vegetables, but overall differnet and unique from other Asian cuisines and a great part of my visit to Cambodia. 

Sandstone carinvgs at Banteay Srei. 

Sandstone carinvgs at Banteay Srei. 

Jungle-clad ruins of Ta Prohm (from Tomb Raider movie)

Jungle-clad ruins of Ta Prohm (from Tomb Raider movie)

Thousands of detailed carvings - this wall is hundred of feet long with this scene. 

Thousands of detailed carvings - this wall is hundred of feet long with this scene. 

So outside of the food and the night life and culture of Siem Reap, the real gem here, the the purpose of most of my visit was Angkor. Angkor is a collection of over a thousand tempes that once served as the seat of the Khmer Empire begining over a thousand years ago, including the famous Angkor Wat, the largest religious monument in the world. I spent 2 full days touring and learning about the vast history and culture of this place by visiting aabout 110 of these temples dotted throughout a landscape of jungles and rice patties.  My guide Reth actually grew up a stones throw from the moat of Angkor Wat (his swimming pool) and was forced to move when the site was designted a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992.  The tours were filled with a deep history of the religion, culture and rule of the land and people who built and lived within this area over the course of a thousand years.  I gained a deep understanding of Hindu and Buddism, and the conlifct between the two thaat has played out in the ornaments and architecure of the many temples at Angkor.  Each temple had a distinct feature from the pink sandstone and incredible preserved carvings of Banteay Srei to the pure scale of Angkor Wat and the preserved jungle entangled stones of the temple Ta Prohm.  What stuck me most outside of the amount of tourists and visitors (unsustainable tourism as some see it), was the incredible scale and detail of the construction and decoration which in some cases has lasted 10 centuries.  The amount of work needed to produce this must have consumed livelihoods of many generations. You start to think about the impact that work has now set against the fact that the individuals who created it had no sense of the longevity, rather were just dedicated to the religious pursuit of its creation, its a pretty amazing sight.

Didnt even tour this one, just a quick look from the road. 

Didnt even tour this one, just a quick look from the road. 

Just 3 of the over 200 faces at Bayon Temple.

Just 3 of the over 200 faces at Bayon Temple.

All in all, this is an awesome place. Again, its a great mix of old and new - you have the thousand year old temples a short air conditioned drive from a tourist safe haven with ample English and USD spitting ATMs. I think the real trick here is in the moderation, especially when it comes to tourism and the melding of cultures and ideals.  The risk is losing that grasp on preservation of the historic at the sake of the ease of tourism, it's a delicate balance, and the secret in keeping the mix of old and new and the optimal mix of influences and cultures intact is not leaning to far to either side while supporting both. It will be interesting to see how that plays out in Cambodia, where all of this is still relatively new.

Next its a short flight to Laos! 

P.S. - Here is my two day touring Itinerary. More photos available on iCloud.

Day 1: (Angkor Thom) - Bayon Temple, Preah Khan, Banteay Srei, Banteay Kdei.

Day 2: Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm, Prasat Kravvan, Ta Keo, Thommanon Temple and Chau Say Tevodam

 

 

A missing Budda statue at Chau Say Tevodam. 

A missing Budda statue at Chau Say Tevodam. 

Borneo

Let me start by saying this. Borneo is an island, shared by three nations: Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia. The Malaysian Borneo is comprised of two states, Sabah and Sarawak. Within Sabah is the capital city of Kota Kinabalu or KK, with over 450,000 people. This is where my Borneo adventure takes place. I preface this here because it took me a few days to grasp the geography of this visit.

The sun sets early, but in glorious fashion. 

The sun sets early, but in glorious fashion. 

I arrived Monday evening from Hong Kong, after my first Malaysian Air experience (will save the innuendo and review for another time) into KK. Two things struck me immedietly. First, ok wow this place looks amazing on the flight in and second why is the sun setting at 6:30?  On the subsequent drive to the hotel, I was presented with a mix of a well structured city, tropical paradise, cultural melting pot, and a lot of cars (gas and cars are cheep so EVERYONE drives).  The cultural and ethnic mix is obvious everywhere, and population growth (400% since 1970) spurred by rapid immigration has increased the diversity and broadened the feel.  I digress, but this lesson in ethno-geographic relationship was very evident, and very much a part of the experience of KK and Borneo in the food, the people, the surroundings, and the mix of ideals.

Felix and the mangrove forests. Rude of me to only have a picture of him from behind. Sorry Felix. 

Felix and the mangrove forests. Rude of me to only have a picture of him from behind. Sorry Felix. 

On Tuesday my itinerary started with a rainforest hike on Gaya Island, the largest of five off the coast of KK.  Eco Tourism is huge here. A massively bio-diverse island, Boreno boast not only the assets of an incredible ecosystem, but the wherewithal to promote and conserve them; challenged only by some of the cultural nuances aformentioned in people who are not native to this land and do not share the same detication to its preservation.  On Gaya my guide Felix and I spent a few hours working a hike through the tropical rain forest about 3km which showed some great examples of plant an animal life as well as many lessons learned ranging from pharmacological impacts to erosion control to punk rock and reviewing Felix's favorites (Blink 182, Green Day, etc).

Afternoon oasis at Manukan Island. 

Afternoon oasis at Manukan Island. 

We wrapped up the afternoon taking in lunch, another small hike and some beach time on neighboring Manukan Island which was a bit of a tourist trap, but they had cheep beers, and you cant beat the view. Despite the Monitor lizards threatening my beach domain, it was a relaxing afternoon.

 Durian with Ipus for scale (left); Breadfruit (top); Rambutan (bottom) 

 Durian with Ipus for scale (left); Breadfruit (top); Rambutan (bottom) 

Wednesday was the cultural day, and despite not being super thrilled about the itinerary item initially, actually was an interesting day.  The day started with a drive and a stop at a market/stall/parking lot to kill some time before the tour in which Felix and our driver Ipus gave me a tour of the exotic fruit scene. Really cool experience getting to try breadfruit, durian and rambutan. Quick sysopsis: breadfruit: crazy structure, tastes like sweetened condensed coconut milk; durian: tastes like expired almond butter mixed with mango and garlic. Was expecting much worse, totally unique taste I can see how some love it and most hate it; and rambutan which was interesting to consume and very much like lychee. 

Indoor trampoline hut traditional dance demostration

Indoor trampoline hut traditional dance demostration

A six year old rescue Orangutan. 

A six year old rescue Orangutan. 

After the fruit tour I spent a few hours at the Mari Mari Cultural Center which felt a lot like a field trip in my younger days, but with better activities (rice wine) and more diverse tour group (Italian family and Chineese family elected me group leader).  Mari Mari was a fairly interesting cultural recreation of the tribal heritage of the Malay, complete with rice wine making, headhunters, food demostrations, cultural dance and even a trampline house made out of bamboo.  Now listen, was this cheesy and a bit verbose for the heat and content, yes, but I did enjoy it, and I feel a lot better coming out of this trip with a bit more time spent on people and the environment as I know a few family members would be proud of me for that. 

Thursday I got the opportunity to relax and explore the Nature Preserve on location at the resort which has a variety of aminals, including the Orangutan, the largest tree climbing animal in the world.  With only 22,000 left in Borneo, the Orangutan is severly endangered. Overall a great chance to see this awesome species and learn a bit about conservation efforts here despite some afternoon rain which hampered photo efforts.

So after a few days in Borneo I feel much more adjusted, with a chance not only to relax, enjoy the pool and enjoy the beach, but learn a lot in the process and take in all the diversity here.  The mix of cultures and the mix of enviroments here is super diverse and made for a really well rounded few days relaxing a lot and learning even more.

Friday brings a pre dawn departure to Cambodia. 

Hong Kong

First stop on the Asian adventure is Hong Kong. I arrived late Saturday and had the weekend to get adjusted and also see the city. After a lengthy flight that began in Chicago Friday morning, I was looking at Hong Kong as my jumping off point, my adjustment zone into 30 days abroad. Here is what I found out with less than 48 hours in Hong Kong.

View from Victoria Peak. 

View from Victoria Peak. 

Sunday I took a half day tour of Hong Kong island. Started by taking the tram to Victoria Peak.  The tram runs at a steep 45 degree angle, but only 8 minute trip to the summit which is 550 meters above sea level. Great views and got a chance to snap some photos and walk around the peak. Great views of Hong Kong and Kowloon penisula and the Victoria Harbor.

Temples, statues and a view of Repulse Bay. 

Temples, statues and a view of Repulse Bay. 

From there we took a drive down the backside of the hill to Repulse Bay. Cool little beach, spend time looking at temple statues and walking on the beach. Drove by the beach at Deep Water Bay as well which seems to be a great beach site as well despite the shark netting.

The fishing vessels of Aberdeen. 

The fishing vessels of Aberdeen. 

Headed finally to Aberdeen and hopped on a Sampan for a 20-30 minute cruise around the inner harbor. Pretty interesting contrast between the million dollar vessels at the Hong Kong Yact Club and the floating fishing community.

The 73rd Floor Pool at the W Hong Kong.

The 73rd Floor Pool at the W Hong Kong.

After the tour, spent some time back at the hotel trying to beat the heat at the hotel pool.  With the highest pool in Hong Kong, the views were on point, as were the Coronas.  Relaxing, swimming and reading - it was a solid wind down afternoon.

Pork Dumplings with Noodles in Soup at Mak's Honk Kong. 

Pork Dumplings with Noodles in Soup at Mak's Honk Kong. 

After a relaxing afternoon I was up for exploring the subway, so headed on a short train back to Hong Kong Island and the Soho district.  The temperates and humidy were opressive in the city and despite the worlds longest outdoor escalator,  I was sweating profusely enough to try my hand at some soup and dumplings.  You would think a bad choice at this heat, but worth it. I checked out Mak's Noodles, considered some of the best in Hong Kong. I tried both the Pork Dumplings with Noodles in Soup as well as the Beef Brisket with Noodles. Neither disapointed and for only $108 HK including drinks (about $14 US) it was well worth the heat and electrolites surrendered to the mean streets of Central Hong Kong.

So after a quick weekend I felt more aclimated, in a city that boasts being somewhere in between Asia and the rest of the world, somewhere between modern and ancient I found myself on that more Eastern path and more prepared for the time zone, culture, food and logistics of the days ahead. I found it a terrific transition city, with the language, the culture being that right mix of what you know and what you dont, enough to get me excited for the days ahead without shocking the shit out of my western brain.  A city not unlike San Francisco in a lot of ways, it is the "Pearl of the Orient" and a welcome begining to this adventure.

Next, its off to Borneo!