Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Kickin' it in Cambodia

Hello from Phenom Penh, Cambodia! We arrived here after a spending a few days in Siem Reap. 

We enjoyed our time in Siem Reap, in part because we stayed at a really comfortable hotel with a pool. The owner was new, so he was trying very hard to make our stay enjoyable, and he helped us figure out what to do. Of course, the first thing we did was a day in the Angkor Wat park. It was beautiful and impressive, all of these ancient temples that over time, nauture has started to reclaim. The park is huge, encompassing forest and residential areas. The structures were built between the 9th and 15th centuries.

A bridge in the park.

Mary on the rocks.

Carvings in the stone.

People are supposed to cover their knees to visit, so we took the opportunity to wear our elephant Hammer pants. They were functional (if not fashionable) because they are light and it was a billion degrees out.  Because the park was crawling with tourists, we were certainly not the only ones in these pants. Elephant pants were everywhere.

Can't touch this.

The park included reservoirs built in ancient Khmer dynasties. The one we saw, Neak Poan, is an artificial island built by Jayavarman VII before the end of the 12th century. The waters are supposed to have a curative function. 

There was a lot of shallow water around, and kids fishing. There were a lot of kids in general, children of people working at the park. 

Shallow water around Neak Poan.

The only glitch in the day was our tuk tuk breaking down in the middle of the park. We had to pull over on the side of the road, by a little hut, and get a ride with another drive while our tuk tuk got fixed. Ultimately, crisis averted.


Breakdown hosts.

Some animals in the mud, for context on location. Temp Bear Cambodia?

We finished up the day with some of the most famous sites: Angkor Thom, Bayon, and of course, Angkor Wat. First stop: elephants to match our pants.

Angkor Thom, Terrace of the Elephants. In Elephant pants.


Bayon from the outside.

Last stop: Angkor Wat, very sweaty and tired.

Angkor Wat.

We went through town on our first afternoon in Siem Reap, and checked out the night market and pub street. It was similar to the markets in Thailand: aimed at tourists, some interesting stuff, but no need to visit more than once. So, exhausted from our Angkor adventure, we spent our next two days mostly relaxing, and going to shows in the evenings.

Mary's morning coffee.

Poolside banana tree.

The Mansion at Siem Reap.

The first show we saw was called Phare, and it was the Cambodian circus. It is a non-profit organization that supports the arts and jobs and education. The show was pretty good. The story line didn't make much sense, but the tumbling was impressive.


Kendra joined up.

The second show we saw was an Apsara dance, a traditional Cambodian dance show. We both liked this better than Phare, because the costumes were beautiful and it provided some context for the culture.

Apsara dancing.

Mary working on her dance skills after the show.

After Siem Reap, we took a 7 hour bus ride through the countryside to Phenom Penh. The bus ride was not particularly comfortable but it was nice to see the countryside. The houses were all on high stilts, and many of the fields were flooded under them from the rainy season. There were rice paddies and tons of lotus blossoms all throughout the trip.

We came to Phenom Penh for really only one reason: to see thekillimg field and S-21 museum, to educate ourselves and bear witness to the atrocities that occurred under the Khmer Rouge regime. After reading the book In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner, Kendra really felt it was important to go. If you haven't read this book yet, you should. The story of what happened in Cambodia seems to be largely left out of American curriculums, and that's a shame. The museum and killing field were very sad and powerful.

We also did some lighter site seeing in the city. Our hotel was right by the Royal Palace, and we walked along the banks fo the Tonle Sap River. 

Play between the Tonle Sap and the Palace area.

Tonle Sap River.

Cambodia's Budweiser. Not bad. 

The royal palace.

Palace area.

The tomb of a king.

That's about it for Cambodia...we take an early bus to our next stop: Vietnam!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Trekking through Thailand

Hello from Thailand! We have had quite the advanture here so far. We landed first in Phuket, and took a  minivan down to Karon, which is in the Phuket area but quieter than Patong, which seems to be where a lot of people stay. Karon was pretty small but lovely. There was a temple right in town, so that was fun to see on our first day walking around.

We walked down to the beach, which was beautiful, and checked out the shops along the way.

Karon Beach.

Banana milk was discovered at the FamilyMart. So delicious. Like a banana milk shake. 

Our second full day in Karon we did a city tour around Phuket. It consisted of several quick stops, but it was perfect for our short attention spans. At our first stop, we saw a demonstration at a rubber tree plantation. To get the rubber out they cut a little slit on the side of the tree every day and the white rubber base drips down into a little cup. 

Rubber tree demonstration.

At the same stop we got a yellow curry paste making demonstration.

The componants of yellow curry, freshly chopped.

We went to a viewpoint where we could see Karon beach and Patong beach, and then it was off to the Big Buddha. The people of Thailand sent in donations for this monument to be built for the  King. 

Beach view of Karon and Kata.

Big Buddha.

Smaller gold Buddha at the Big Buddha complex.

Next we saw Wat Chalong. "Wat" means temple, so all the temples are called wat something. Wat Chalong is the oldest temple in Phuket.

We also saw the oldest Chinese temple in Phuket. The Chinese population in Phuket is about 10% according to our guide. A nice Chinese woman started speaking to Mary in Mandarin. We burned incents for Mary's mom and grandma, and other dear people in our hearts.


The most exciting and most important part of the day was meeting temp-Bear Thailand. Temp-Bear Thailand was a beautiful baby girl:

Love at first sight for Temp-Bear Thailand.

And for a less adorable animal experience, we went to a Thai honey farm and got to hold some bees! It was a little scary, but no people or bees were harmed.

We finished the day off in old Phuket town, some pool time at the hotel, and some Thai food (a vast improvement over Filipino food). 

Old Phuket town.

Pool time at Manhora Cozy Resort. Very cozy.

Thai food every day!

After our few days in Karon, we took a series of busses to Khao Sok, the Thai rainforest. We were in the rain forest during rainy season so... it rained. It rained a lot. But we went to the national park anyway, in the rain. It was still worth it- we got to see bamboo, some butterflies, and monsoons. We did not see any really cool animals (supposedly slow loris and elephants live here), but the flip side of that is we did not get attacked by any cool animals. 

Rainy faces and bamboo.

We stayed in a raised hut, which was an interesting experience. There were a lot of snails and geckos. At one point a gecko fell on Kendra's leg and based on the resulting panic, it was decided jungle life is not for Kendra.

The Nickel-Nguy jungle hut.

After Khao Sok, we dried off and took a night train to Bangkok. The night train was pretty uneventful, but we did have to catch it from a neighboring town called Surat Thani, where we were able to experience a street market with a lot of delicious Thai food, and some intimidating Thai food. 

A more adventurous food item at the street market: bugs on sticks in spices. 

It's hard to believe that Bangkok and all it's big roads and busy business people are part of the same country as Karon and Khao Sok. Bangkok is great- it has everything. Great food, impressive history, an easy public transit system, and modern conveniences. Our first stop was to get some suits and a dress made by a tailor recommended by a friend of Mary's. It was a quick job- the whole thing took three days. 

On pins and needles at the first fitting. :D

We took the river boat to the main tourist sites in Bangkok: the temples and the Grand Palace. The temples, Wat Po and Wat Arun, werethe highlight. They were so beautiful and intricate. Its hard to believe they are hundreds of years old. 
Wat Arun from the river taxi.

Statues outside of Wat Po.

The Reclining Buddha at Wat Po.

Close up of Wat Arun.

Wat Arun.

More Wat Arun.

Outside the Grand Palace.

We checked out China Town, which was really nice. It was pretty orderly- definitely nicer that the one on the Philippines, and even more organized feeling than New York. They had everything for sale, including shark fins. 


There are tons of markets in Bangkok, selling all kinds of clothes and food. We got some amazing pomegranate juice, which the guy pressed right in front of us. And despite our efforts to travel light, Kendra had to buy some puffy elephant Hammer picture now but they will surely show up at some point in this blog. Elephants are on everything.

Juice maker.

Elephant intersection.

Overall, a great time in Thailand. Next stop: Cambodia!