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Angkor Wat

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This past summer, Halie and I and our friend Morgan visited Siem Reap, Cambodia to see the wonders of Angkor Wat. I never wrote a blog about it because I struggled to put into words what I saw. Recently, while reading Anthony’s Bourdain second book A Cook’s Tour, I came across the following passage about his visit there. He said it better than I ever  could so I’ll just let his words speak for me. After the quote, I’ll have a link to an album of some of my pictures.

I stopped taking photographs at Angkor Wat. No camera is adequate to the task. it’s too big, too magnificent to be captured in any frame. There’s no way to convey through simple images the sense of wonder when you encounter the cities of Angkor looming up out of the thick jungle. Mile after mile of mammoth, intricately detailed, multileveled temples, bas-reliefs, jumbo Dean Tavoularis-style heads, crumbling stone structures choked in the root systems of hundred-year-old trees. This was the center of the mighty Cham empire, which once extended as far as Nha Trang and the sea to the east, all of what is now South Vietnam to the south, to occasional sections of Thailand and the Indian subcontinent. The work, the time, the number of artists, craftsmen, and laborers it must have taken to construct even one of the hundreds of structures is unimaginable. Looking at the densely populated reliefs, you are utterly intimidated by the impossibility of ever taking it all in. The KR did its best to ruin Angkor for all time, laying mines all over the grounds, destroying statues and shrines. Looters and unscrupulous antiquities dealers knocked off as many heads as they could, stripped the temples of what they could carry, and sold them on the black market in Thailand and elsewhere. But the UNESCO people are there now, painstakingly restoring what they can. The mines have, for the most part, been removed, and you can wander the interior of the dark stone piles, a waiflike Khmer kid by your side, telling you what it all means, pointing out the two-tongued figures in dark corners, urging you to give the saffron-robed bonzes tending to small Buddhist shrines a few riel. The dark, clammy interiors smell of burning incense and go on and on forever. Standing at the foot of a great stone head, I could only imagine what the first Frenchmen who’d stumbled onto the place must have felt like.

-Anthony Bourdain, A Cook’s Tour

Pictures.

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Posted by on November 14, 2018 in History, Quotes, Life, travel

 

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Lovely Dichotomy of Luang Prabang

Lovely Dichotomy of Luang Prabang

Last week Halie had Thursday and Friday off for Makhabucha Day. We decided to use the long weekend to travel to Luang Prabang, Laos. Not knowing much of anything about the city but only hearing great things from friends who’ve been, we we’re excited to see what the mountains and hills of northern Laos had to offer.

As we descended through the surrounding mountains, we could already tell this ancient city bordered by rivers would be different. During the taxi ride to the homestay, a hodgepodge of architecture passed by us. French colonial buildings, wooden homes, temple ruins and thriving monasteries. We quickly checked into our hotel and decided to go explore the city. Right around the corner was the night market so no better place to start.

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So if you notice the title of this post, I called Luang Prabang a “dichotomy”. Before I continue with our trip, let me introduce the first part of the dichotomy since it was the first night there that I was confronted with it. Tourist. So many of them. Half the city is 22 year old backpackers. The other half is wealthy, retired Europeans. Initially, it was somewhat of a turn-off to me. Most cities awash with tourists are structured cultural experiences. There’s a facade put in place to appease the masses and hide the authentic nature of the location. This is common across the world and at first glance, I thought Luang Prabang was another casualty.

Until the second day. Using Backstreet Academy, we were picked up by a translator and brought to a Hmong village to learn the art of embroidery with a lady and her daughter. Backstreet Academy is a company that connects travelers with local craftsmen and women to learn traditional techniques of all kinds of things: embroidery, bow making, brewing beer and wine, cooking and woodworking. The list goes on.

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Halie and I spent the afternoon embroidering with two Hmong women. They begin learning this craft at the age of 7 or 8 and spend their lives making beautiful clothes and accessories to sell at the night market or use in local ceremonies. After finishing, we walked around meeting some of the other men and women of the tribe and learning about their lives and language and culture.

Let me get back to the dichotomy I was speaking of. I’ve never been to a city that had so many tourist but was so integrated into its own history and culture and local tribes. The night market wasn’t a tourist trap to get our money but a life-line for the Hmong and Khmer tribes surrounding the city to continue the crafts and traditions that they’ve been doing for hundreds of years. The well-kept French colonial structures weren’t a facade but an example of a city that appreciates its architecture and history whether it represents colonization by a foreign power, a powerful tribal king and kingdom or the current communist government.

Okay, back to our trip. Getting back to the city, we began exploring around a bit more.

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The city is on a peninsula surrounded by two rivers coming together (Mekong and Nam Khan Rivers). The Nam Khan has a bamboo bridge that is only up 6 months of the year (they take it down for the rainy season). So of course we had to cross it. Who knew on the other side was going to be the greatest meal in my life!?

We were recommended a restaurant named Dyen Sabai by a friend. With benches, chairs and ground level seating all facing the Nam Khan, this place had atmosphere. Reading through the menu, we decided on what the menu called “Lao Fondue,” learning afterwards that this is a popular dish in Luang Prabang called “sindad.” The best way of describing this incredible food experience is a mix between Chinese hot pot and Korean barbecue. You have a pile of hot coals with a grill above. The grill is rounded with a moat for the broth. The meat, vegetables, noodles and eggs all come raw and it’s your job to cook them. Don’t forget to start with the spicy chilis and garlic before adding everything to the broth. Then use the grill to cook the meat (after adding a chunk of fat on top to grease the grill). The broth was the best broth I’ve ever tasted and everything coming out of it was just as good. IMG_9210.jpg

Okay, this is getting too long. Next day, beautiful waterfalls. Afterwards, we walked around to see a few temples and the mountain in the middle of the city. The views were stunning:

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Last day, UXO Museum. This intense museum chronicles the 2 million tons of bombs dropped on Laos between 1964 and 1973 and the heroic efforts to locate, dismantle and remove the 80 million unexploded bombs left over from the war. A sobering end to an incredibly enjoyable weekend.

Then flight home. Luang Prabang, when can I return?


To see a few more pictures, check out this Google photos album. Thanks!

 
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Posted by on March 6, 2018 in Life, travel

 

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One Day in Chinatown

Last Saturday Halie and I decided meet up with some friends and spend the day in Bangkok’s Chinatown. Starting at the beginning of Chinatown at Wat Traimit, we walked the 3km to Wat Suthat outside of the neighborhood, winding our way through the market alleyways between Yaowarat and Charoen Krung Roads.

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Looking down from Wat Traimit.

As I said, we began our adventure at Wat Traimit, the home of the largest gold Buddha statue in the world. Not only is it the largest, it might also have the coolest story. At some point this statue was covered by plaster to hide the true value from attacking Burmese armies. This was either done leading up to the fall of Ayutthaya in 1767 or possibly in an earlier war. Well, over time, it was forgotten that there was gold under the plaster. It wasn’t until 1955 (!!) that the statue fell during transportation, knocking off some plaster and revealing a bit of gold. After removing all of the plaster, they discovered that the statue was the largest gold Buddha and one of the most valuable statues in the world.

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Wat Traimit

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The Golden Buddha, 5 meters tall.

Next we began our trek into Chinatown proper. Walking along Yaowarat, we stopped for a quick, tasty lunch at the Canton House. After a few blocks we finally decide to turn into one of the side streets and begin attempting to navigate the open markets of Chinatown. These small streets, like most of Bangkok’s sois, are an assault to all of your senses simultaneously. It’s an invigorating and slightly frightening experience to be inundated by the smells of food vendors selling all meats and vegetables (raw and cooked), by the sounds of motorbikes honking at you to get out of the way and shopkeepers announcing their wares. To taste the sweat on your lips intermingled with the exhaust from vehicles of every size and shape and to bump into every person and every thing as you struggle through the orderly chaos with your eyes open wide the whole time to behold it all. I love every bit of it.

Blurry Snapchat video of a reprieve I had in a less dense intersection.

After surviving the markets along the sois, we began the last stretch of walking towards Wat Suthat. The main temple was covered with scaffolding for repairs so I was unable to get a good picture of the facade. Really, I didn’t take many pictures walking around the grounds because it was such a beautiful, peaceful area that I just wanted to experience the calm. Dusk was upon us, the people were praying. A few pictures cannot encompass the serenity of the grounds surrounding a major Buddhist temple.

After leaving the temple, we grabbed a taxi to bring us the a BTS station and then took the train to meet some friends for dinner. Got to the restaurant just as the rain began to fall. With dinner complete, we spent some time walking around the Patpong Night Market. We haggled over a few purchases then headed home. I’d say it was a successful Saturday.

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Sun setting outside Wat Suthat.

 
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Posted by on September 2, 2017 in bangkok, Life

 

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