Monday, April 24, 2006

Khmer Craziness

Three days of temples, temples temples.
I am completely in awe with the magnificence and splendor of these massive works of ancient art, architecture and ingenuity.

Created from the 9th to the 13th Centuries the temples of Angkor and the surrounding area are nothing short of spectacular. The ancient Khmer people erected these temples to host various deities (Hindu and Buddhist)and did a grand job of it. No two temples are the same and all are in different states of ruin.

I will break it down to my favorites.

Angkor Wat is largest religious structure in the world and it hosts numerous sandstone carvings and statues and a grandeur surely worthy of the national symbol of Cambodia.


The Temple of Bayon is a unique marvel of tight mazes and small corridors inside and more than 200 gigantic faces looking in the cardinal directions on more than 37 towers on the outside. The outer walls of the temple display a wonderful array of carvings depicting the history and daily life of the Khmer's who lived there.

Bas-relief carving on the outer wall

So many faces

The stone heads are said to resemble the king of the time, talk about keeping a close watch... almost creepy.

From an inner corridor


To add to the strange faces watching from every direction there was conveniently a fortune teller who told Dan and my fortunes for a whole $1. Apparently I have a 6 colour diamond (this is good and rare) and will be a "billionaire!" He exclaimed this strangely as some tourists were walking by and it conveniently peaked their attention. Co-incidence? So he says I will have a good marriage and a long life, at least that I could have some faith in. He also said I was lazy... sure lazy enough to go to the trouble of saving enough to travel for half a year half way around the world!

Think abandoned temple left to the wilds of the jungle for 700 hundred years... think piles of rubble with tree roots splitting huge walls apart... ok if that didn't work think Laura Croft in Tomb Raider because it was filmed here. Ta Prom is a jumble of blocks hardly standing together in places but an amazing feat of what happens when nature takes over. Many of the outer walls have been demolished by encroaching jungle and in the middle there is a huge tree absolutely dominating a whole section of the building. I absolutely loved it. This is what I was dreaming of when I thought of Angkor.

Wow is not enough...

So cool

Banteay Srei is the famed jewel of artistry for Angkor. The sandstone carvings are so intricate and well preserved that it is a marvel that they were not carved last year. The temple, quaintly and mysteriously small in comparison to it's neighbors is endlessly intricate in the display of gods and demons, dancing women and mystical creatures.

This very 3D carving was created some 700 years ago! What happens when the artisan slips and breaks a piece off?

The Tiny Temple with all the splendor

I would hate to run into one of these...

But it's great to run into the ever friendly Monks

The three very expensive days we spent here were amazing and the people though most were pushing goods; water, postcards, bracelets, scarves and all other tourist wear... the locals that we were able to talk to were very friendly and helpful. What struck me is that the small children who often push post cards and books in your face and follow you to get you to buy, who are severely persistent, know a surprising amount about Canada...

"Where you from?...Canada?...Ottawa is capital...Canada has ten provinces and three territories...In Canada they speak two languages French and English"
Maybe even more than some of our neighbors to the south?

Ok but now seriously, it would be a crime not to view the rest of my pictures I know that you will find favorites, it was hard enough just picking a few!

So now we are at the end, just four days of lazing at the beach in Sihanoukville on Cambodia's cost then the travel to Bangkok...

2 days later...(my post refused to publish the time I wrote the first part)

We are staying at Cloud Nine on Serendipity beach... sound wonderful? Well it is.
Last night after a day of traveling from Siem Reap to here there was a huge storm that woke us up. It was unreal.
Strobe light skies and peals of thunder... utterly mesmerizing. Sometimes you could see the bolt form in the sky, the ions reaching for one another, a long jagged streak. Then almost instantaneously a crackle that resounds and tingles through your skin followed by the BANG!...RUMBLE, RUMBLE, RUMBLE! This always brings a mysterious smile across my face even though the volume of the crack makes me jump and curl my whole body inwards as if this will somehow protect me. We stared wide-eyed at the storm directly overhead for an hour or so, it was so amazing. The rain was so intense that it ate up the flashlight beam after only a couple of meters, the mist from the wind dampened everything. It was one thing to be in our bungalow and watch but I still remember my fear and vulnerability when we were caught in the storm on Ko Adang Island in Southern Thailand.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Boon Pii Mai Lao!

Happy Lao New Year!

Well I'm a bit flustered because of my own stupidity, I wrote this whole post already but be it my luck or not, the power cut out just as I was spell checking and I lost 2 hours work. My fault for not saving, I was almost pulling my hair out, but at least I wasn't writing a paper or something like that... with a deadline haha deadlines I remember those!

So here we go again...

Si Phan Don (4000 islands) is a beautiful display of natures talents. The Mekong fans out to distribute thousands (apparently some think 4000 or so after which the place is named) of islands of various sizes. We stayed one such an island, Don Khon to admire its beauty and languid nature. The people here seem to have captured the same way of life that the Mekong displays, an unhurried pace of peaceful demeanor and beauty, laughing through the rapids and enjoying the reflective nature. Arriving here and staying for a week we were willingly forced to slow down. It's so hot during the day that we simply melt by just swinging in our hammocks and still that was doing too much.
This was our welcoming sunset as we arrived at dusk

Our week co-in sided with the Lao new year Pii Mai, where virtually everything shuts down and all the locals go out drinking Lao Lao whisky and singing Karaoke. Unfortunately during this time our toilet plugged, we ran out of water and the little electricity that we are supposed to have from 7-11pm was not working, we had a very hard time finding our guesthouse owner who had apparently gone incognito to enjoy the celebrations, but we managed. I'm not sure however how the very drunk villagers managed after swaying and singing down the street to all who will listen at any hour of day and for some, many days in a row.

Another stunning sunset, do you get the feeling of what I mean by the way the locals mimic the river in this picture?

This part of the Mekong is also home to freshwater Irrawaddy Dolphins, we took a boat tour to see them and although they keep their distance we were still able to see them splashing around and their very small dorsal fins. When it was quiet we could hear them blowing from their blow holes. It was a very cool experience.

(not my picture)
Unfortunately when there is something mystical, there is almost always something threatening to take it away,
there are an estimated 80-100 of these dolphins left in the Mekong but are threatened by drownings that happen when they get caught in gill nets left by fisherman and it is suspected that high pollution rates in the Mekong are poisoning the calves, further threatening the populations. They look a lot like a beluga whale, with a stubby face and tiny dorsal fin don't you think? Of course when we mentioned this to people here, most do not know what a beluga looks like.

We managed to grab a fantastic sunset on the boat ride back

There are two tumbling waterfalls in the area and my favorite was the Khon Phapheng Falls or the so called "Niagara of SE Asia" I would not go so far as to compare the two but it is the largest waterfall by flow in SE Asia and I did find it impressive.
Elaine and David, two Australians we met and spent the day with going to the falls

The other is the very pretty Somphamit Falls,
We were thinking that we could definitely make it down this one in a Kayak... even toying with the idea... hahaha!
The half hour walk to these falls was not so funny, it was so hot I could smell the earth baking, but maybe that was me, good thing I wasn't skewered on a spit, I would have been done for! So I know you are thinking that we should just go for a swim in the Mekong to cool off but as there is a particularly nasty parasite that lives in this particular part of the water, this was not advised, it affects your liver (can cause failure) and can hibernate for 10 years before symptoms start. I had to pretend that we were not showering in this water.

Well the only bad thing about nearing the end of our trip is that we are nearing the end of our trip! We are running out of time and unfortunately we mistook the exact dates for Pii Mai and didn't book the earlier flight to Siem Reap in Cambodia because everything was closed so we now are leaving on Friday and have a couple of days to burn (or bake from the heat) in Pakse where we fly out of.

Here is a pretty sunset from Pakse
Our hotel has a rooftop patio with great views.

So what am I doing right now? I just witnessed a small gecko devour a butterfly. The geckos are everywhere in SE Asia, they are so cute, I always want to catch one but get too scared at the last minute that they will bite me.

Well some of you have been wondering when exactly we get back, so we looked at our plane tickets and tried to figure it out because there is no arrival time for Vancouver printed.
We fly from Bangkok at 1:20am on the 5th and get to Incheon Seoul 5ish hours later, have a 12 hour layover leave for a 10 hour flight plus the time difference and minus the date that 27 hours later gets us to Vancouver on the same day had us very confused so we looked up our flight:

6:25 pm Depart Seoul (ICN)
Arrive Vancouver (YVR) 12:20 pm Fri 5-May
Duration: 9hr 55mn
Korean Air Korean Air 71
Nonstop flight

So I would love to see all my wonderful friends and family at 12:20pm on the fifth who can make it to the airport! That is provided I do not skip out on the flight and stay in Thailand forever...nah I miss all of you too much, but it is tempting...

All right one more sunset pic, I love sunsets... not that you couldn't tell!
Ooo there are more pictures that you should check out

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Sirens Call

Into the dark we travel by day
Small boat rides smooth the entire way
Nervous and clam but more than a bit scarred,
To the depths of the earth we all dared
Our back to the light we venture within
And soon a dark untold begins
Only by torchlight glow can we brave to see
The vast nature, impressive enveloping me
Shadows dance and I hear the slightest of cries
With the wind it is carried, the gentlest of sighs
Did you hear that? I ask to myself and the others
It is nothing, I'm told, my mind is just bothered
Uneasy I strain to hear it again,
Everything in this cave is strange and insane
What monsters lie in wait beneath the boats bow?
What creatures in the shadows can see what I don't know how?
Again the call I hear clear this time
Calling a name from a depth that can only be mine
How crazy I am! Ignore and it will go away,
But more and more the voice can not be held at bay
An unknown splash here and there, even a tap on the shoulder
Instead of fear now I am growing bolder
Never before have I been in cave so deep
I am simply dreaming things from lack of sleep
So soon as the voice came it fades away
When we see the virtues of the light of day
Relieved, I am but in the back of my mind
I am still haunted by that voice I can not define
We still must go back through that dark passage way,
But for the moment swift sun takes my mind away
Before I know back to the darkness I go
The wind turns cool inside as it lightly blows
With current this time, I trust the dull humm of the engine
To drown out those sounds that I must have imagined
To my dismay I hear the song in the distance
I can no longer ignore my mind that is hopelessly listless
The call is so sweet, a music so soft
I want to help her and touch her, she drowning, she's lost
I will find her, I can not simply put this off
I will give the siren my love it is all I can offer
I whisper in the air 'come here I want to save you!'
She says that is what she has wanted me to do
I will walk off this boat I will drown and sink
I will search every crevice and not even blink
So soothing is that voice to be without I could not bear
This is the deepness of the depths of my despair
The end of the cave and the light of the world will come soon
I reach out and call 'come or I will be doomed'
Her presence is felt through my body so I delight
I feel for here is someone that I should never fight
A deeper realization I come upon and it will always be
That she is my soul and intern she is me
I found her in a cave and will never let go
The soul of mine is a treasure that only I could know.

Did you like my poem?
I know it's a bit long and I haven't written in a long time

Well we made it to Kong Lor cave and it was(literally)a huge pain in the ass.
Hours of painfully hard seats, be it bus, songtao, boat or even tractor were endured to see the cave. And I am glad that we went. The cave was pretty neat, we choose to go by boat which was rewarded with really friendly villagers along the way and stunning scenery. It was the longest cave we have ever been through at 7.5km and the boatride on the river that goes through the cave was interesting. Often we had to disembark and walk because the river was so low and we ran aground or because there were small rapids that the boat was carried over. We went to a village on the other side of the cave and through the cave is the only way to get to the road for them so they are very cut off but very friendly and loving and curious of my digital camera. I absolutely loved the people here and the surrounding scenery was so spectacular to see with all the huge limestone mountains and the scenic clear river that the villagers bath in and do laundry and fish. Unfortunately it is also where the sewage goes and it smells bad at times where their is 'sludge' build-up EEEEWWWW! It doesn't help that many water buffalo lounge in the water and add to the problem.

Yesterday we had a hellish day of travel to Pakse where we are now. It started with a two hour boat ride (think canoe) then an hour ride on the back of a tractor because it had rained hard in the early morning and made the roads slick so the songtao that was supposed to pick us up didn't show. Then another hour to the junction of highways on a packed songtao (if you have forgotten a songtao is a pick-up with two bench seats in the back and a roof). Then we caught the local bus that goes to Pakse which was a huge mistake because first of all they over-charged us hugely and there was nothing that we could do about it and for the first few hours we didn't even have a seat but a plastic stool in the isle! When we got a seat finally we found them so cramped and uncomfortable I wanted to cry. And it was hot. The most frustrating part was that the bus would go for 20 minutes then stop for just as long. We endured close to 12 hours of this just to be dropped off at a guesthouse not of our choice at 1am that was a dump. I absolutely do not want to travel by bus more than I have to anymore!
But now we have to go only four hours to Si Phan Don or four thousand islands where we plan to relax for a while and see irrawaddi dolphins and the famed beauty of the area.

Friendly villagers

We saw lots of water buffalo up close it was really intimidating

Amazing scenery

Big cave

Yesterday morning at 7am

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Thursday, April 06, 2006

A Jarring Experience

We took a minibus (instead of the local bus) to the plains of Jars in Phonsovon south of Luang Prabang to give ourselves some rest from the arduous travel in Laos, unfortunately this did little good. The eight hour ride was a real life roller coaster and by the end I was spent and more than a bit woozy. I kept telling myself 'but I don't get car sick' and I even got the best seat in the van, in the front with the driver, not crammed in the back like Dan and the other 6 people going to the Jars sites. However it proved too much and I got sick both at the first Jars sight and when we were checking into a guesthouse eeeew. To say the least I did not feel well and still have not regained my appetite. The deal was that the driver takes us to the first sight when we arrive to see the massive stone Jars made by an ancient Asian civilization and the remaining two sites on the following day.
Walking around the site was a surreal experience, there are hundreds of the huge jars and even a cave in the vicinity. The sanctity of the sites however were skewed by the warning of UXO or unexploded ordinance all over. We had to keep to a strict path marked by cement markers on either side.
Mine advisory group
MAG is the Mines Advisory Group that is working on clearing the area of explosive materials, a seemingly overwhelming task considering the vast areas involved.
Inside the white is ok and outside has only been searched for explosives by sight. The Jar areas are also marked by big and small craters that pock the land as far as you can see. I am troubled by the fact that while I can feel safe in that the skinny path where I walk has been cleared of bombs, only meters away farmers work with land that is not safe.

The Jars however were fascinating
and huge, I just can not imagine how an ancient civilization made them, then I think of things like the Pyramids and Stonehenge and I still don't think that modern civilization has matched these marvels.

Jars Jars everywhere!


By the second day and after a lot of sleep I was feeling much better while visiting the other two Jar sites.

Maybe they grew trees in their Jars... or apparently, according to legend, a giant race of ancient Lao made the jars to store their lao lao (rice whisky) or maybe they were used as really really big decorations ...? I know I would want a 4 ton Jar in my living room.

Possibly they are even from outer space, clearly this lid looks like a flying saucer and the alien race of Gumby people who sent it were carved on top.

Is there not an obvious resemblance?

Now we are heading to a dark and lonely place, cold and damp where little life dwells, or a cave that is 7 km long that we plan to take a canoe through. This Kong Lor cave by the small village of Khoun Kham is a bit off the beaten track which is fine except that it may prove to be a bit difficult to get to, we shall see. Authentic (non touristic) Laos here we come!

River Rage

Going back you may remember our trek in northern Thailand, well our guide expressed concern over the possible building of a dam on the Salawin river and now it seems that those plans have been approved by the Thai and Myanmar governments. The Salawin river is one of the last free-flowing rivers in SE Asia and the area to be flooded will displace thousands of hill tribes people including those who we saw on our trek. It is extremely unlikely that these people will get any compensation from governments and they are helpless when it comes to the decision of their fate. The traditional way of life for these people who have resisted integration into greater 'civilization' will be altered and possibly even lost forever. It just seems so unfair that the people who are affected most are consulted least and given no power over their fates. To me although the river is officially Myanmar territory, the military government in Myanmar probably agrees with the deal of handing over the project to the Thais because it would reduce the very pesky problem of the Karen and Shan army strongholds in the area around the Salawin river as well as supply the country with hydro power. More info here. Also read what Dan has to say

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Caves and Tigers and Waterfalls and Bears... OH MY!

No I don't mean Dan, we saw bears and a Tiger today.
We also saw three villages, hundreds of Buddha statues (in a cave no less)and one of the most stunning sets of waterfalls I have ever seen all in one day! Early in the morning we sat upon a boat to observe the mystic Mekong on our way to see the famous Buddha cave in the area. The cave was nice but what I really liked was the stop at the Lao whisky village, apparently in Laos, whisky just isn't whisky unless you have a reptile fermenting in it. On the boat ride back we stopped at a paper making and weaving village. The village makes beautiful paper with leaves and flowers in it to make into lanterns and notebooks, they are so nice that I just had to buy two and I hope that they survive the trip home. The young girls in this village also make scarves and blankets on big looms some have very intricate patterns and take days to make they are so unique I decided that I would help support their community by buying one and it's gorgeous. After four hours in villages and the cave but mostly traveling on the river (on wooden sore bum seats) we came back to town to eat then go off to Kuang Si waterfall which is actually a series of waterfalls cascading over limestone into picturesque turquoise pools, it was idyllic. And if you add that there was a sanctuary for Asian sun bears and a six year old female tiger named Phet, my day was fantastic.
There is something numbingly humbling being in the presence of a Tiger. One of the caretakers was tossing a ball around outside the cage while a group of us watched and suddenly as the ball landed at my feet and Phet pounced from her spot several feet away to the edge of the chain-link fence to the awe of us all to land just three feet from my amazed frozen body. After she was fed, we were even able to pet Phet though this intimidated me a great deal I couldn't resist, tiger fur is very course.
The last village of the day was a Hmong village that sold handicrafts. This was hard though because the children here were under obvious neglect, dirty, some without clothes and encouraged to sell as much as possible to the hundreds of Ferang that stop there everyday en route to or from the waterfall. It pulled my heartstrings. However many of the children still laughed and played and I liked to see that. The end of our very full day was crammed with a stunning sunset that tipped the sea-saw into a day for my memory banks of forever.

Pac Ou cave, packed with Buddha statues, some hundreds of years old.


Lao whisky village, mmmmmmm gotta love that snake whisky! Oh yes, they are real.

Eye of the Tiger
Have you been THIS close to a tiger before? I am one of the fortunate who have (with the help of a zoom lens)

Impressive Kuang Si waterfall

Lower Falls, no I unfortunately I didn't have time to go swimming.

Hmong villager girl

Anything can be a toy

Lao night market full of textiles, fisherman's pants, silver jewelry and opium pipes.

A perfect end to an amazing day

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