Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Guns and stuff

Yesterday we took a tuktuk to see some of the sights around Phnom, Penh. We started at a shooting range where I got to shoot an AK 47 and an M16. the closest I ever thought I would come to shooting a gun was playing James Bond back in the day. It was an indoor range and I had a hanging target to shoot at. I got him in the face a couple of times and the neck. i actually did much better with a real gun than a Nintendo controller. I also blew the hell out of a coconut with the M16. This by no means turned me into a gun person and feeling the power behind a gun in fact solidified my stance on guns. It was good fun and maybe next time I'll spring for the rocket launcher at $300.00, but I doubt it.
Yeahhhhhhhh!

This is my Christmas card photo next year! haha

Then we moved on to the more serious part of our trip with was to visit The Killing Fields. As one can imagine it was horrible. The feeling that came over me as we stepped onto the grounds was a mix of nausea and fear. I can't begin to imagine what was felt by those who had to experience such a terrible place. It was much smaller than I had expected but it was big enough to feel the atrocities that took place there. I split off from the others because I needed to just process it on my own. When I came to "The Killing Tree" I started to dry heave. This is a tree the Khmer Rouge would swing babies and children against to kill them and then throw their bodies into a nearby pit. After all of the mass graves had been exhumed the skulls and bones were placed in a shrine that stands in the middle of The Killing Fields. We then moved on to S21 which was a school that had been turned into a prison by the KR. It was another hard place to see. I couldn't stop the tears that streamed down my face as I looked at the pictures of the people who had lived there and died there. I just cannot understand how one day a person is a math teacher and the next day he is the right hand man to Pol Pot ordering children (most of the "guards" were in their early teens) to torture the prisoners there. When we were getting ready to leave we met an old man who was selling a book. It is his biography of living at S21 for 2 years. His wife lived there too but was transported to the killing fields. I found a YouTube video of him.


 I am in love with this old man and I have the same questions he does. Why to the men and women who were the soldiers of the KR live in better conditions than the men, women and children who were victims? For the last 30 years this man has been waiting for his death because of what Pol Pot and his clique took away from him.
Liz, Bou Meng and Me at S21
Sites like this are not fun and not a great place for photos in fact it really brought down our day but we need to visit sites like this to remember and to prevent atrocities like these from happening again. People may think that they cannot make a difference and sometimes it IS easier to just go with the flow but as my favorite quote says:

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Secret of the hidden temples

The temples that we are visiting over the next few days are considered, according to my guide book, the eighth wonder of the world. The basic history is that the temples were hidden in the jungle for hundreds of years and have been being restored since archaeologists first found them. While the Khmer Rouge was in power they destroyed all things related to academia and the arts so any restoration plans that had been created were destroyed. The teams of people working on reviving the different temples now are basically rebuilding based on what they think it might have looked like. What is still intact is really amazing and I’m so happy that I get to see it before any more damage is done to this historic gem.
We arrived at Angkor Wat around 5:30 am after a long TukTuk ride to see the sunrise. While we didn’t get to find the best spot to see the sunrise we did see the sun drench the grounds in gold as it came up behind the trees. I will say the energy around Angkor Wat was a little unsettling. It felt negative and just not as welcoming as I had expected. The carvings and structure were interesting to look at but overall it was not my favourite sight of the day.
The sun starting to cover the buildings

The moon was still out for most of the morning


 The next thing we saw was the South gate of Angkor Thom which was once a city with over a million people. The bridge leading to the gate features 54 gods on the left hand side and 54 demons of the right hand side. We of course saw this as a perfect photo opportunity.
Hanging out with some gods
We then visited The Bayon which has enormous towers decorated with 216 faces of Buddha. The faces however look more like the king that was in power at the time. This was my favorite place so far. The energy around it was amazing and I felt like a kid climbing around all of the rocks; in and out of the walkways and up and down the sometimes very steep steps. It was by far the most amazing thing that I have ever seen in my life. It was truly awesome and I know that I use that word a lot but this structure left me speechless. I really can’t wrap my head around how it was even built let alone intricately carved.
I really can’t even begin to describe what it looks like up close and it is definitely one of those you have to see it to believe it type things.




We also saw the Terrace of the ElephantsThe Terrace of the Leper  King and  Ta Prom which is the temple where the first Tomb Raider was filmed. All very cool and carved with amazing detail. On our way back to our guest house we saw some wild monkeys on the side of the road and our driver let us stop to feed them. That was like the cherry on top of an awesome day. I got to go right up to them and they took the lotus seeds right out of my hands. One of the adolescent males came up and let me pet him while he shoved as many seeds into his mouth as possible. There were two mamas with babies and one of the babies actually grabbed my finger when he reached for a seed. It was so great. I was on such a high riding home just being thankful for having such an amazing life. We still have more to see in the next few days and since I took over 175 photos today I’m sure my flickr album will be bursting soon.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Ayutthaya,Thailand

The other day we went to visit Ayutthaya which is a city that was once the capital of what was once Siam. It was hot as hell and I thought that at any moment one or all of us might fall over. We did get to see a pretty ginormous reclining Buddha and some other next looking sites. Not a lot to report from good ol' Ayutthaya but it was a quality day trip with lots o photo ops. DSC01545 DSC01523 DSC08070 The highlight of the day for me was the chance to see the buried Buddha. The only part of his body that exists is his head and the remainder of his frame is said to be buried under the Earth beneath him. Maybe it is.. maybe it isn't but in my mind it definitely is! DSC08095

Monday, May 23, 2011

Elephant Island

I haven't had the best Internet access so I haven't been able to update as much as I would like to but let me just say I am having an amazing time. Here's a back track of what I've been doing. Brittny had to go back to the states before she could join us on our trip so Liz, Laura and I went to Koh Chang which is an Island  south of Bangkok.
First view of Koh Chang from the ferry
Koh Chang or Elephant Island was so amazing and beautiful that I didn't want to leave. The water was a blue that I've never seen before and I loved to sip my morning coffee while I looked out on the endless skyline. Beach life is definitely for me. At first I had a strange feeling and I couldn't figure out what it was. I realized after a couple of days that it was the feeling of no stress. I didn't wear a watch or shoes the entire time and I slept better than I have in years.
The food was amazing too. We mostly ate ate our bungalow's little place but a few spots down from us was a great bbq place. We just picked what we wanted from the spread and they grilled it up for us. We had fresh tuna and red snapper. Great shishkebabs with pineapple, hot peppers and chicken in a spicy rub. It was so good my mouth waters just thinking about it now.
All of our yummy choices for din din
Red Snapper
Mussels
We did do more than eat.... not much more but some. We went snorkeling around four islands and that was interesting. I have always love the water and snorkeling has been a lifelong dream of mine. I was torn between my interest in snorkeling and the fact that all of the coral that I saw was brown and dead because of the pollution from the boats. I honestly didn't think of the terrible ecological impact that those daily tours have until I saw it close up. I will go snorkeling again but I want to make sure it's in a more Earth friendly way. I found myself singing songs from The Little Mermaid and Bedknobs and Broomstick the entire time I was snorkeling. The fish were close enough to touch and the sea urchins looked like beautiful works of art left on the sea floor. It was beautiful and it isn't even the brilliant colors of a live coral bed.
Unda da sea

I love the sea urchins
Here fishy fishy fishy
We got to know the staff pretty well and had some enlightening conversations with them. Most of the people who work on the island are Cambodian and came to Thailand because they can make so much more money than at home. How much money you ask? 1500 baht a month. That is equal to about $45.00 a month. Yeah you read  that right. Don worked an average of 17 hours a day, every day to make what the three of us spent on one meal. He still has family in Cambodia so he makes sure to send about half of his salary home every month for his sister to go to private school so that learn English. He learned English completely by interacting with the customers at his restaurant.  Can you really imagine living on $20.00 a day even let alone a month. It really helped remind me that even when I feel like I have no money and compared to my friends who have a car, house, big TV, stereo system or all of those other must haves. I am still rich compared to most people in the world. It was very humbling to have conversations with the men who worked so hard to move from doing laundry to one of the "best paying jobs" of being a waiter all for pennies really. I know that their stories and words will stay with me as I navigate my way through the rest of this trip and my life.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Welcome to Cambodia

I’m in Cambodia now and I am proud to say that I walked here. Our bus from Bangkok stopped at a restaurant near the border and rather than wait an indefinite amount of time for the next bus we decided to just walk the few minutes to the border. It did turn out to be a bit longer than we thought and the temperature drastically increased as we got closer to Cambodia but we made it. Our guest house (the Aroma daily Guest House) is amazing and I would recommend it to anyone who ever travels to Siem Reap. It is about $8.00 a night for a fan room which we quickly decided was not enough in this ridonkulous heat so we upgraded to get the air conditioner remote for tonight.
Just a tad warm after my walk to Cambodia
Our first night here we met up with two of our friends from Korea - Nuala and Clare. We had a blast at a local bar called “Angkor What”. We found that in Cambodia they are really into food and add a lot of different “herbs and spices” to their pizza. Their use of “flavors” helped us to devour the slices in a way that only people stuck in bland Korea for a year could. The pizza tasted great and they even have $5.00 “take out” which would probably be like $40.00 or more at home.
That ain't oregano!
Yesterday we spent most of the day recovering and in this heat that is oppressive at best laying down makes one sweat like a pig. Last night we walked around Siem Reap and had delicious Mexican food (the best in Asia according to their sign). We came back to the guest house early to get rest for today. We had to wake up at 5 am to go and see the sunrise at Angkor Wat.The day was so amazing it gets its own blog.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Goodbye Korea Hello Bangkok

Thanks for the photo Tiffany
Well, a year has finally passed and yesterday I said goodbye to Korea and see you later to a lot of wonderful friends. For our last big blow out weekend in Korea we spend some time on Deokjeokdo Island eating a lot of yummy food and drinking. Perhaps a little too much since I passed out at around 7:00 pm and missed out on most of the evening. Well I blame our little friend absinthe for that. I may have only had one shot but boy howdy did that do me in. I did have a great time celebrating my time here with old friends and meeting new ones so thank to all who made it a stellar going away bash.
Now I am in Bangkok, Thailand with Liz and Laura listening to the rain pour down outside of our hostel. With minimal Internet I checked in with the folks, checked Facebook and got Brittny (our fourth travel buddy) psyched for her arrival. If you have ever seen the opening scene of The Beach, Leo is offered snake blood on Khaosan Road and that is exactly where I am right now (well a few blocks but close enough). It truly is a place where one can buy everything from fried crickets to dreadlocks. A street that entices every sense and vice with the same intensity. The dance music blaring out of the bars and stalls magnifies to the other stimuli ten fold. While we sat at an outside bar drinking some Chang beers I couldn't even hold a conversation because I was so intrigued by all of the people walking, drinking, eating, laughing, hustling and ... living.
Each person that I see makes me want to talk, listen and learn their stories. Everyone is here for a reason and whether it is to escape, find oneself or just have a great time there are characters around every corner. The topless sunbathers are far more attractive that the topless man who carries a water gun and looks like the 60's were far too good to him. There are people of all ages shapes and sizes which is pretty different from what I've seen for the last year in Korea. I love the food and the fact that a plate of Pad Thai is made fresh in front of me for roughly 3 bucks and it comes with a spring roll. In a nutshell Thailand is totally my kind of place and even though I am still here I already can't wait to come back.
Earlier today we went to a hostel that has a roof top pool and bar. Yeah, OK, we weren't guests at the hostel but Laura let her puppies out so who would really kick us out with a nice set flying free? I had an awesome red curry for lunch and am excited to have a few Chang beers tonight. This morning we went to get manicures and pedicures. I have always wanted to get one of those fish pedicures and today I had the chance so why not? It was actually a really cool feeling and although it was very ticklish it wasn't nearly as bad as a regular pedicure. It lasted for about 20 minutes and was well worth the six bucks.
video
Tomorrow we head off to Koh Chang which is an island off of the coast of Thailand. there we will soak in the sun (don't worry I'll wear plenty of sun screen), relax in the sand and just really get into the beachy kind of life. I'm pretty much in love with Thailand so far. I'll write more when I can. If you want to keep up with what's happening you can check out my travel bud Laura's blog too.