Photos from Vietnam and Cambodia

I’ve finally finished uploading all my photos from the vacation to my site. Uploading 900 pictures from Shanghai to San Francisco takes a long time but they’re all there now. They’re listed below day by day, with some of the more interesting pictures singled out, especially at Angkor Wat.

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Temples, Temples and a Water Village

We started the day off by getting our plan tickets out of Siem Reap sorted out. Originally we’d wanted to head over to Bangkok for the rest of the trip but given the prices of hotels and the plane ticket cost we decided to short cut it and head back to Vietnam. Not quite sure what we’re going to do in Vietnam, but hopefully make a trip to Hoi An, Hue or the Mekong Delta, depending on prices.

After the tickets were bought to SGN (plane tickets, mind you — another 13 hours of busses on the way back would make me want to kil myself), we went and rented a tuk-tuk driver for the day to take us to the east side of the temples we hadn’t seen yet. For $10, our driver stayed with us the whole day and took us around to a lot of the quiter and less seen temples. It was so much faster via tuk-tuk compared to our bikes from the day before. Again, I don’t have the list of temples we say (the bag is back at the hotel) but again they were beautiful, charming and imposing. One of the ones we saw today was in the middle of a set of concentric pool that used to be filled with water and another was a 15 minute walk from one side to the next. I’ll have to post a comprehensive list of temples when I get my notes in front of me for my own sake.

We started to feel a bit templed out and called it a day and headed back to Siem Reap for lunch and some refreshments. Having the rest of the afternoon avaiable, we took one of the side trips out of Siem Reap to a floating village on the Tonle Sap Lake. We hired the same tuk-tuk driver (he’s become quite our friend by now) for the 45 minute drive out to the boat launchers. The trip into the lake was nice, but given the price of the boat rental, it probably wasn’t worth it ($10/pax). There were two villange on the water — and I mean litteraly — one Cambodian and one Vietnamese. The former seemed a bit more permanent while the latter felt more like boats anchored in close proximity. The village was complete with TV antennas attached to homes, dogs running and juming between platforms and a boat-housed Catholic church. Some the pictures I managed to get were fantastic.

In the evening we did some gift shopping then had dinner at Khmer Kitchen again (yet again, the best curry evar) and now I’m at this internet cafe on the Pub/Bar Street.

Our flight to Saigon is at 1pm tomorrow, so I plan to spend a little bit of time exploring the city of Siem Reap itself. Tomorrow is Khemer New Years Eve, which is supposed to be chaotic and avoided if possible (due to the crowds and chaos). Hopefully I’ll just a taste tomorrow before we leave. Then it’s off to the aiport and who-knows-where-in-Vietnam. Worst comes to worst, we’ll stay in Saigon but I’m really hoping to make it up to the UNESCO christened Hue or Hoi An.

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Biking Around the Angkor Wat Temples

(this post will be short — the keyboard at this cafe is miserable at best)

We started the day off by switching hotels, and dropping our stuff off at the Golden Banana. We rented bikes from the owner (2usd/day) and started biking to the Angor complex. After about an hour of biking, we made it to the first group of temples (names escape me now), and then did about another 4 groups of temples culminating at Angkor Thom. Like all the temples so far they are all incredible and beautiful. Some are restored to perfection while others have trees growing out of them.

Doing the day by bicycle was both rewarding and punishing. The former obviously since we set our own pace and were able to take the detours we wanted and see all the temples up close. We spent a lot of time hiking thru the temple grounds and walking up the steep steps to the their top hights. The punishing part without a doubt was the incredible heat. I was constantly soaked and round trip we probably did around 22km on our bikes, plus the walking. We’d started around 8:30am and didn’t get back to Siem Reap until 3:30pm, the whole time spent hiking and biking around. What I really enjoyed of being on our own was the ability to take time to relax in the shade of the complexes and take in the enormaty of it all.

Spending more time in the temples today really drove home the point of how Hindu the temples are. I was able to recognize various images and deities carved in the stones. At times, it was only the more modern Buddha image that was placed inside that made it clear what the temple was used for. When I have my notes on me, I’ll post what exact temples I saw, since my pad is back at the room.

Tomorrow, it’s more temples, probably the more distant ones. The plan is to hire a tuk-tuk since I might die if we do another day of biking. Looks like we may end up in Bangkok for the last few days of the trip.

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The Ride to Siem Reap and Angkor Wat

Another day, another early bus ride. This mornnig we left Phnom Penh at 7:30am to head to Siem Reap, the basecamp for our visits to the temple complex of Angkor Wat. The ride was uneventful. We stopped a bit more often than I would have liked, at times taking on and letting off passengers.

We arrived at Siem Reap around 2pm and made our way via tuk-tuk (imagine a motorcycle with a covered riksha back, or something) to the Golden Banana. We had reservations for three nights there, but apparently that doesn’t mean anything and the hotel/guesthouse was sold out. We went up the street to the Golden Village or Palace or something (not sure where all the ‘golden’ references come from). We’re camping out there for a night and then moving for the Banana.

Soon after we’d put our stuff down we went out of the hotel looking for a tuk-tuk to take us to Angkor Wat. We found a guy who spent the rest of the afternoon with us for $7 USD. When we got to the ticket booth, around 3:30pm, we had the option of paying for a 3 day pass that started today or waiting until 4:45pm for a 3 day pass that started the next day and get in free this evening. So, of course, we waited and our tuk-tuk driver took us to a litle shrine/temple complex with bones of people who were killed during the reign of the Khmer Rouge. A bit depressed but quite real.

After getting in, we made our way to Angkor Wat and walked thru and around the temple. It’s a sight to behold, nothing like what I’ve ever seen before. Physically imposing, beautifully carved and masked with its battle against time it’s a humbling experience. All throughout the complex are beautiful carvings in the stone bricks, steep sets of stairs that lead higher and higher until you reach the center of the complex. In the middle (and all throughout) are active parishioners (if that’s what you call them), praying to the various statues and shrines that exist. Once at the top of that central complex, you have an amazing view of the rest of the complex including the walls, the moats and the pools. It’s simply stunning. The Hindu heritage of the sight is omnipresent as well, with carvings of Vishu visible and bas-reliefs of scenes from the Mahabharath.

We had dinner at a place near Bar Street in Siem Reap called “Khemer Kitchen”, which served up an incredible curry dish, possibly the best curry evar. And now I’m blogging in an outdoor internet cafe on Bar Street (appropriatly so named after all the bars here and closed off to traffic) where there are hundreds of bugs wanting to make dinner of me.

Before I forget, I want to mention how pretty much the only currency here is the US Dollar. I’ve paid for everything in USD and gotten change back in USD. The only exception is the sub whole dollar portion of the change, which comes back in Cambodian riel. Everybody, including street vendors take and return USD. It’s a de facto currency. Tomorrow, more temples and hotel change. I think we’re going to rent bikes for the day and power ourselves.

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Want a Postcard from Cambodia?

If you’re interested in getting a postcard from Cambodia (or Vietnam for that matter) and I know who you are, send me a email at hyperionab at hotmail dot com with your address and I’ll fire one your way.

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The Ride to Phnom Penh

The day started early as we emarked on our journey to Cambodia. At 8:15 we were picked up from our hotel to go to the meeting point for our bus. The first bus, a three hours ride, took us to the Moc Bai-Bavet border between Vietnam and Cambodia. After waiting to exit Vietnam for over an hour (to get our passports stamped), we walked through the no-mans land to a temple-styled immigration center for Cambodia.

At the border, we bought visas to Cambodia for $20 USD/pax, walked over to another counter to get the passport stamped, then over to another to clear immigration. All this was out in the open, any intrepid soul could have walked through it and not caught the attention of an offical. We, on the other hand, went thru the whole process and emerged in Cambodia in Bavet. We had been instructed to look for another bus on the Cambodia side, and for a moment thought we’d lost the bus since we couldn’t find any that fit the description. It turns out it was just hiding, so after walking around lost is the middle of 95F, 85% humidity, deforested Cambodia we found shelter in the bus.

The ride from Bavet to Phnom Penh was another 5 hours or so. We stopped for a little at a ferry crossing in order to get over a river (not sure which, perhaps the Tonle Sap?). The little area in which the cars and motos queued was full of poor beggar children asking for alms, women selling sodas and water, men selling dried birds and shrimp, etc, etc. I handed off a bunch of the spare food that we had packed to the beggars. While we crossed the river, a downpour started, so I’m not sure where they ended up.

The road on the other side of the river was even more bumpy, chaotic and pot-hole-full than the others I’ve been on in this trip. We made it to Phnom Penh around 6pm and found a moto(rcycle guy) to take us to our hotel, the Flamingo. He tried to pull the now-standard trick in the area. “Oh, that hotel? It’s full, my friend say so. I’ll take you to other place.” The hotel is fine and it has one of those showers that are in the same room as the sink and toilet (e.g. no shower over tub). Reminds me of India.

On that point, a lot of Cambodia reminds me of India. The facial features of the Khmer are a lot closer to Indian features than to north-Asian (e.g. Chinese or Japanese). It’s stands out even compared to the Vietnamese. I’ve had a few people think I was Cambodian. The streets also remind me quite a bit of India, with random folks hanging out in metal-roofed lean-tos, piles of garbage sitting around with kids playing in it and adults collecting, etc. It feels a bit like a cross of what I remember of Nagpur and Bombay, but of course it’s been a while since I’ve been in either.

Tomorrow we head to Siem Reap to start three nights in the Angor Wat region. The bus departs at 7:30am for another six hour treck.

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Heading to Vietnam and Cambodia

I’m taking off tonight for a week and a few days to Southeast Asia, namely Vietnam and Cambodia (in that order). I land in Ho Chi Minh City Friday at 12:30am, and we’re staying in the city for two nights, then traveling by bus or boat to Phnom Penh, were we’ll be for one night. After staying in Phnom Penh, we’re heading for Angor Wat, the centerpiece of our trip and staying in Siem Reap for three nights.

After that, it’s a bit undecided. We’ll likely head back to Vietnam and I want to go to Hue and/or Hoi An, but it’ll depend on transportation since it’s some 15 hours by bus from Ho Chi Minh City. Trip wraps up back in Ho Chi Minh City, with me flying out at 1AM next Sunday, getting back to Shanghai at some awfully early hour.

Given any available internet access, I’ll blog while on the route.

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