Angkor Monk

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Monk standing at the entrance to Angkor Wat


Gallery: Cambodia

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A collection of photos from our time exploring Siem Reap and the Temples of Angkor.


Siem Reap

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Planet View: N13°21.100′ E103°51.179′
Street View: N13°21.100′ E103°51.179′

Lisa and our driver: Mr ThomMr Thom's tuk-tuk companySoutheast Asia Siem Reap is the gateway town to the famous temples of Angkor and the thousand year old Angkor Wat.  We flew into Siem Reap from Vientiane, stopping off in Savannakhet for our small turbo-prop plane to refuel.  Siem Reap was a bustling hive of activity, although the third world living conditions of some of the locals was a striking contrast to the palatial hotels constructed for the tens of Our chariot for touring the temples of Angkorthousands of tourists visiting the area each year.  The Cambodians we encountered in Siem Reap were fantastic people, very friendly and accommodating, although we quickly learned that they will fleece tourists of their dollars with a smile at any chance they can get.

We hired a tuk-tuk driver for a day to tour us around the ancient ruins of Cambodia’s former royal seat of power, the temples of Angkor.  Our driver, Mr Thom, was probably the most friendly and soft-spoken person we’ve met on our travels, he took us to Angkor Wat and Phnom Bakheng one evening to watch the sun Our view from our tuk-tuk on the way to the temples of Angkorset and then spent the next day taking us to the main temples of Angkor (there’s a separate post here with all the photos of the Angkor ruins).  The tuk-tuks in Cambodia are a little different than those in Laos: in Laos most of the tuk-tuks are highly modified mini-trucks or motorbikes whilst in Cambodia they’re scooters with a small (but very comfortable) carriage attached to the rear.  We felt a little like royalty driving around in our little chariot!

The center of Siem Reap was a fun place to spend the afternoons and evenings, Street Eight (AKA Pub Street) is Street vendors in Siem Reap (try to figure out all the animal parts!)lined with drinking holes and a mind-boggling number of restaurants, offering everything from local Khmer curries to high-end French cuisine.  The $USD0.50 beers offered by most of the pubs were certainly a nice release from the humidity.  We spent a few hours one day participating in a cooking class at one of the Khmer restaurants, Our cooking class in Siem Reapthree Cambodian chefs taught us how to make Khmer curry, spring rolls, mango salad, Cambodian chicken soup and some tasty desserts.  After attempting to eat everything we’d cooked we had to go back to our hotel to have a lie down, definite food coma!  Another Southeast Asian street side offering we’d seen elsewhere but didn’t try until today is fresh pressed sugar cane syrup.  Vendors have carts (one’s pictured below) modified to Sam sampling pressed sugarcane juiceLisa learning how pressed sugarcane juice is madeinclude a motorized press through which they feed sugar cane and then mix the juice with fresh orange or lemon juice to create quite a refreshing (albeit super sweet) drink.  Southeast Asia is a hive of massage parlors, but a first for us in Siem Reap was the fish massage: pools full of hundreds of a certain breed of small fish that eat dead human skin feast on the limbs and feet of human customers, in doing so the sensation is something akin to a massage.  Lisa and I put our hands in one of the pools, it was quite invigorating, but we weren’t game to sit there for a full 15 minutes of treatment on our feet!

Street Number Eight (AKA Pub Street) in Siem ReapOne of the many alleyways of restaurants in Siem ReapThe markets in Siem Reap The markets in Siem ReapLisa in the markets in Siem ReapThe markets in Siem Reap The markets in Siem ReapThe markets in Siem ReapThe markets in Siem ReapOur cooking class in Siem Reap Sam rolling spring rollsThe finished product: banana and pumpkin dessert, Cambodian chicken soup, spring rolls, mango salad and Khmer curryOur cooking class in Siem Reap


The Temples of Angkor

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Sunset over Angkor WatRock sculpture at Phnom BakhengMonkeys inside Angkor Thom The throngs of people set to watch the sunset at Phnom BakhengSam and Lisa at Phnom BakhengOne way to see some of the Angkor templesLisa on the terrace into Angkor Thom The southern entrance to Angkor ThomMonkeys inside Angkor ThomMonkeys inside Angkor ThomThe Bayon Temple Rock carvings in the Bayon TempleRock carvings in the Bayon TempleThe Bayon TempleLisa in the Bayon Temple The Bayon TempleThe Bayon TempleThe Bayon Temple Rock carvings in the Bayon TempleThe Bayon TemplePhimeanakas Thommanom (the only temple in Angkor still in its original condition)Thommanom (the only temple in Angkor still in its original condition)A monk in Baphuon Ta Prohm: the jungle templeTa Prohm: the jungle templeTa Prohm: the jungle temple Ta Prohm: the jungle templeTa Prohm: the jungle templeTa Prohm: the jungle temple Ta Prohm: the jungle templeTa Prohm: the jungle templeSam in front of Ta ProhmThe entrance to Banteay Kdei A panoramic of the entrance to Angkor Wat Banteay KdeiBanteay KdeiAngkor Wat Angkor WatAngkor Wat (see if you can find Lisa...) Angkor WatAngkor WatAngkor Wat


Gallery: Laos

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A gallery of the photos we took whilst traveling through Laos during September, 2009. The gallery includes photos from Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng and Vientiane.



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Planet View: N17°57.851′ E102°36.413′
Street View: N17°57.851′ E102°36.413′

Some of the Scandinavian and French eateries surrounding Nam Phu FountainOur hotel room in central VientianeVientiane is the capital of Laos, situated about halfway along the north-south vertical of the country alongside the Mekong River.  The bus ride to Vientiane from Vang Vieng was a little trying, a swelteringly hot five hour trip along some extremely bumpy roads with only a quick 10 minute toilet break.  After the bus trip we weren’t in the mood for searching Vientiane for a hotel so found a fantastic little guesthouse in the city’s centre, a scrupulously clean establishment with beautiful hardwood furniture in each of the rooms.  With the lull in tourism through Southeast Asia many of the hotels are severely discounting their rooms in order to attract Lisa enjoying lunch at our favorite lunch spot in Vientiane: PVO on the banks of the MekongVientianeOne of the many temples around central Vientianetravelers: our room is typically $USD60 a night but the hotelier was willing to let us stay for $USD25!  A definite upgrade from the typical $USD11 to $USD15 we’ve been spending through Vietnam and northern Laos.

While Vientiane is officially the capital ‘city’ of Laos it’s really little more than a large village, an array of temples spread throughout an extensive array of restaurants, banks, embassies and drinking establishments.  Laos’ French influence was very evident as we walked about town, quite a number of French restaurants are spread around the city centre as well as a number of headquarters of French-sponsored aid organizations.  The Vientiane morning market: a plethora of goldsmithsVientiane’s morning market, Talat Sao, located a short walk from our hotel, was definitely the most laid-back market we’ve visited in Southeast Asia thus far.  Inline with the laid-back demeanor of Laos people in general, the shopkeepers were quite happy to let their merchandise speak for themselves rather than resort to the persistent haranguing we endured in all the markets through Vietnam.  In addition to the electronics and clothing typical to the markets in Southeast Asia the Vientiane morning market devoted almost an entire floor to goldsmiths.  Such an amazing amount of gold was on display, all guarded by security bearing AK-47 automatics!

 Nam Phu FountainLisa perusing one of the Scandinavian bakeriesCentral Vientiane The Vientiane morning market: that's real hair for sale on the rightThe Vientiane morning market: more karaoke machines than you can poke a stick atOne of the many temples around central Vientiane 

The PatouxaiWat SisaketHaw Pha KaewLisa planned a fun walking tour of central Vientiane one morning, taking us past the aforementioned morning markets and up the city’s central avenue of Lane Xang.  Perched in the middle of Lane Xang a few hundred meters from Talat Sao is the Patouxai, Laos’ equivalent of the Arc de Triomphe and another demonstration of the close ties between Laos and France.  The view from the top of the Patouxai was quite a sight, we were able to take in all of central Vientiane down to the Mekong and across the river to the beginning of Thailand.  Our tour also took us past Wat Sisaket, the oldest wat in Laos (constructed in 1818) and the only one to survive the Siamese sacking of the country in the mid-nineteenth century.  Further on we walked past the Presidential Palace on Setthathilat Road and took in the small art and antiquities collection in adjacent Haw Pha Kaew.

Lisa standing under the PatouxaiView of central Vientiane from the top of the PatouxaiThe Patouxai Wat SisaketThe Presidential PalaceWat Chanthabouli Haw Pha KaewHaw Pha KaewWat Chanthabouli 

Mekong River sunsetThe evening food stalls along the Mekong RiverWe found a great way to spend the late afternoon in Vientiane was to walk down to the banks of the Mekong River and enjoy a few drinks at one of the plethora of food stalls that establish themselves in the dirt.  Beers are $USD1.00 each and the food is all prepared on the spot, some great value traditional Laos eats.  There were a few eye-raising dishes on offer, such as the BBQ or fried frogs available at the stall pictured here (the frogs in the blue bucket were live and would be skinned should someone order a frog dish!).  The sunset was brilliant on the night I had the camera with me, a very picturesque spot…

We were originally contemplating heading further south in Laos Some of the foods on offer at the stalls alongside the Mekong (those are live frogs in the blue bucket)to Pakse and then to the 4000 islands of the delta of Si Phan Don.  However, given that we’re not overly keen on a day-and-a-half bus trip through southern Laos to Pakse as well as the fact that Pakse’s airport is closed for maintenance until November, Vientiane will be our last stop in the country.  It’s been an eye-opening albeit quick journey, the wats and monks strolling the streets a constant reminder of the religious roots of the country.  The inhabitants of the rural areas of Laos live in some quite squalid conditions yet the people all maintain an extremely friendly and, when compared to neighboring Vietnam, refreshingly laid-back attitude toward life.  We’re both so thankful we decided to make the side-trip into this small, land-locked Southeast Asian nation!

Beerlao on the banks of the MekongLisa and Sam having a few drinks at the food stalls along the MekongSome of the local boys horsing around next to the MekongRowers in the Mekong River


Vang Vieng

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Planet View: N18°55.282′ E102°26.792′
Street View: N18°55.282′ E102°26.792′

Almost vertical steps into Thamchang CaveA footbridge over the Nam Xong River on the way to Thamchang CaveLisa buying some banana chips in Vang ViengThe bus trip from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng was an amazing journey through the mountains of northern Laos, taking us up to elevations above 4300 feet a number of times along the way.  It took us almost seven hours to travel a mere 300 kilometers, I doubt if there was more than a single kilometer during the first six hours of the trip without a hairpin bend on the single-lane road, but it gave us a chance to take in some of the brilliant mountainous jungle Sam enjoying some Beerlao at the Sakura Bar in Vang ViengEndless bars and restaurants offering western food in Vang Viengscenery.  (Unfortunately the Thamchang Cavewindows of the bus didn’t open so I didn’t take any photos.)  We spent a couple of nights in the small village of Vang Vieng situated alongside the fast-moving Nam Xong River, stopping to break up the trip between Luang Prabang and Laos’ capital of Vientiane.  The jagged limestone mountains jutting almost vertically out of Vang Vieng’s surrounding rice paddies made for some beautiful surrounds and reminded us of the mountains in Kalambaka.  Unfortunately the influx of tourists to Vang Vieng has stripped the town of most of its traditional culture, the main street is littered with bars and restaurants playing reruns of Friends or Hollywood movies for the plethora of British backpackers that seem to be drawn to this tiny town in northern Laos.  If we were missing western food (which we’re not!) we’d have no problem finding anything from pizza to hamburgers and Sakura Bar drinksFrench fries at any one of the Vang Vieng eateries.  You can supposedly pay a little extra at some of the restaurants for a ‘happy meal’ which entails having marijuana, mushrooms or opium mixed into your dish!

Panoramic view of Vang Vieng and the Nam Xong River from Thamchang CaveWe spent our day in Vang Vieng exploring one of the limestone caves for which the countryside around town is famous.  Thamchang Cave is located a couple of kilometers out of town across a footbridge over the Nam Xong River.  While not as grand as the massive limestone amphitheater we visited in Vietnam’s Halong Bay, the small opening of Thamchang welcomed us into some brilliant caverns that stretch back into the cliffs for hundreds of meters.  An opening in the cliff face provided us a fantastic bird’s eye view of Vang Vieng and the surrounding rice paddies.

A bridge over the Nam Xong River in Vang ViengView of the limestone mountains around Vang ViengThamchang Resort on the way to Thamchang Cave Thamchang CaveThe spring-fed swimming hole outside Thamchang CaveThamchang Cave


Luang Prabang

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Planet View: N19°53.695′ E102°08.399′
Street View: N19°53.695′ E102°08.399′

Boats on the Nam Khan River where it meets the MekongThe colorful cabin decor on our flight from Hanoi to Luang PrabangWat SaenThe plane from Hanoi to Luang Prabang was definitely decorated in the most colorful manner either of us has ever seen, take a look at the seat covers pictured here.  Laos is the only country I’ve ever visited where, if you don’t have enough cash for a visa upon arrival, you can waltz through immigration to the ATM outside the airport and then walk straight back through for the formal immigration procedures!  I take it they don’t have Our tuk-tuk from Luang Praban's airporttoo many problems with illegal immigration in Laos…  We had a late night introduction to the tuk-tuk upon arrival in Luang Prabang, a tuk-tuk is a small truck converted to carry passengers in the rear tray, we jumped right in there with our bags for the few kilometers from the airport to our hotel.  Luang Prabang was a fantastic introduction to Laos, so laid back and relaxed compared to the hustle and bustle of Vietnam.  Luang Prabang existed as a tiny mountain kingdom for thousands of years, the whole town declared a World Heritage site in 1995.  Such a breath of fresh air after a couple of weeks in the often quite grubby places we visited in Vietnam, the Laos people obviously take pride in keeping their surrounds neat and tidy.  No more shopkeepers discarding their rubbish in the street gutters as well as a welcome respite from all the spitting, a practice of which the Vietnamese seem to be quite fond.  The laidback nature of the Laos people was clearly evident as we explored Luang Prabang, a break from being constantly hassled to buy anything and everything, the traffic even seemed to be orderly and Laos drivers aren’t struck with the Vietnamese’s obsession with using their horns.

Luang Prabang's old townOne of the many beautiful guesthouses lining the streets of Luang Prabang's old townWat Pa HouakLuang Prabang’s old town, where we spent most of our time, is located on a small peninsula between the Mekong and Nam Khan Rivers.  The French-Indochinese architecture of most of the buildings is mixed with an array of red-roofed temples, or wats, dotted about Wat Pa HouakRice cakes drying in the midday suntown.  The intricacy of decorations on the temples’ exteriors was amazing.  With the surrounding jungle, monks walking about town in their bright orange robes, beautiful wats littered through town and the calligraphic script of the Laos language covering all the signs we had to remind ourselves that we weren’t in an Indiana Jones movie!  Luang Prabang’s old town has an extensive range of beautiful Wat Saenguesthouses available for tourists, from $USD15 a night for the budget traveler to multi-hundred dollar palatial residences.  Most of the guesthouses are constructed using the tropical hardwoods that abound in the surrounding jungle, the flooring, doors and interior roof of our guesthouse were beautiful varnished teak.  The old town also has a surprisingly extensive offering of Young boys playing in the streets of Luang Prabangcuisine, from French patisseries to Indian curry houses, all priced very reasonably by Western standards.  The national beer of Laos is called Beerlao and is usually served in gigantic 640mL longnecks for between $USD1.00 and $USD1.50.  Happy hour at one of the local bars, where Beerlao longnecks are buy-two-get-one-free, can be a little dangerous to say the least.  Most of the tour books we read recommended Luang Prabang as the place to experience Southeast Asian massage, we didn’t need much convincing and each had an hour of traditional Laos massage one afternoon when the monsoonal rains were keeping us indoors.  Traditional Laos massage doesn’t use oil but instead the masseuse concentrates on pressure points, muscle relaxation and extensive stretching to relax the subject.  We both enjoyed it very much, the masseuses put their entire body into the ordeal, utilizing their feet, hands, elbows and knees to stretch and twist us in every which way.

Wat Nong (right next to the guesthouse in which we stayed)Wat Xiang ThongWat Saen Our favorite little pho shop (where we ate lunch most days we were in Luang Prabang)Lisa checking out the merchandise at a stall down Luang Prabang's main dragLuang Prabang's old town A monk walking in front of the wat at the Royal Palace MuseumThe Royal Palace MuseumWat Pa Houak View of Luang Prabang from That ChomsiThe more than 300 steps through the lush rainforest up to That ChomsiView of Luang Prabang from That Chomsi Buddha figures around Luang Prabang's central Phou SiThe calligraphic script of the Lao languageBuddha figures around Luang Prabang's central Phou Si Wat Pha PhoutthabatOne of the wats lining Sisavang Vong RoadLisa bargaining with some girls on the streets of Luang PrabangSoutheast Asia

Two of the elephants in our groupSam and Lisa on Mai SanSomething we both wanted to experience during our travels through Southeast Asia was riding elephants.  A great deal of the elephants in Laos have traditionally been used for wood harvesting, but due to the mechanizations of harvesting as well as the reduction in harvestable area due to conservation efforts a lot of elephants are finding themselves without Lisa feeding Mai San some bananasjobs.  We found an elephant village, as they’re called, just outside Luang Prabang where six elephants live to provide tourists rides through the dense Laos jungle.  They actually live quite comfortably with a full-time veterinarian on the premises and access to the waters of the Nam Khan River just below their jungle home.  It was an amazing experience, we spent an hour walking through the jungle on top of the huge animals, toward the end we both even had the chance to steer our steed from atop her head.  Our elephant was named Mai San and was a 60 year old female and had quite a fancy for bananas.  At the culmination of our walk through the jungle we were allowed to feed our steeds by hand with bunches of banana, their massive tongues coming out to latch on to what’s obviously one of their favorite foods.

The elephant village on the banks of the Nam Khan RiverCruising up the Nam Khan River on the way to Tad Sae WaterfallThe dense jungle on the banks of the Nam Khan RiverOur transport on the Nam Khan River to Tad Sae Waterfall Tad Sae WaterfallTad Sae WaterfallSam jumping off Tad Sae Waterfall On the way from Tad Sae Waterfall back to the elephant villageOur boat captainTwo of the elephants come to pick us upLisa hopping on Mai San Riding through the Laos jungleRiding through the Laos jungleLisa steering Mai San Sam steering Mai SanSam steering Mai SanMai SanLisa feeding Mai San some bananas Lisa feeding Mai San some bananasSam feeding Mai San some bananasMai San

Luang Prabang's night marketA monkey on the back of a truck in Luang Prabang's marketsA nightly Luang Prabang event that we unfortunately didn’t discover until our third night in town is the night market, a dizzying array of traditional Laos food and local handicrafts lined up along the old town’s main street.  A heaped plate of food from the food stalls cost 5000K (around $USD0.60), more than enough to fill us up for dinner and so very tasty.  We also did some souvenir shopping at the plethora of handicraft stalls, the bed and pillow covers made in the surrounding villages were too hard to resist (I’m now carrying Lisa’s backpack because it’s so full of souvenirs!).

One of the more colorful tuk-tuks on the streets of Luang PrabangThe dizzying array of food availanle at Luang Prabang's marketLuang Prabang's night market Luang Prabang's night marketLuang Prabang's main drag by nightOur tuk-tuk to the bus station


Gallery: Vietnam

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A collection of photos from our travels through Ho Chi Minh City, Hoi An, Hanoi, Sapa and Halong Bay.


Halong Bay

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Planet View: N21°03.081′ E106°40.349′
Street View: N21°03.081′ E106°40.349′

Halong BayAs with our trip up into the mountains to Sapa, Halong Bay is similarly one of Vietnam’s most famous tourist destinations.  The waters around Halong City are home to an astonishing 1969 limestone islands jutting out of the green waters of Halong Bay.  We explored the bay on an overnight trip on one of the many Vietnamese junks running tours, sharing the boat with a fun group of travelers from Australia, Ireland and England.  As the crow flies, Halong City is only around 85 kilometers from Hanoi, but the bus trip through the myriad of tiny towns and traffic-choked streets took us over three hours.  Our digs on the boat were fantastic, a wood-paneled room with views of the water from our bed and balcony to the rear.  Our crew of five Vietnamese boys cooked up some fantastic traditional meals during our trip, buying fresh seafood from the fishermen cruising the bay, so fresh…  The fishermen in the bay all live on the water full time, there’s over 2000 people living in floating villages in the protected waters of the bay.

Leaving the harbor at Halong BayHalong BayLocal fishermen in Halong Bay One of the many boats filled with drinks and snacks for touristsOne of the many floating villages in Halong BayOur room on the junk at Halong BayOur Vietnamese crew for the trip Lisa on the boat in Halong BayHalong BayHalong Bay 

Hang Thien Cung cave in one of the islands of Halong BayHang Thien Cung cave in one of the islands of Halong BayWe took a side trip to explore Hang Thien Cung, a 250 meter long cavern in one of the bay’s islands frequented by many of the tourist boats.  The size of the place was astonishing, a massive amphitheater carved into the limestone, full of stalactites and stalagmites.  The views out of the cave’s opening were also pretty awesome, a good spot to take in the seemingly never-ending expanse of islands stretching to the horizon.

Lisa in Hang Thien Cung cave in one of the islands of Halong BayLisa in Hang Thien Cung cave in one of the islands of Halong BayBoats lining up to enter Hang Thien Cung cave Halong BayOne of the few islands with a sandy beach in Halong BayHalong Bay Halong BayHalong Bay Panoramic view of Halong City as we chug back into the harbor

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