Dave's Photo & Travelblogue

Photo shoots. World travel advice. Tips on Munich & environs.

Temples of Angkor

Based on a friend’s advice, I hired a guide to visit Angkor Archaeological Park. Best advice yet! It cost me $25 for a full day, plus $12 for the tuk-tuk (my guide brought his own excellent driver). I met Saron and Mr. Nan early on July 20th.

First things first: if you see Angkor Wat without a guide, it’s just a big pile of old stones. Even with a guidebook, you’ll spend hours figuring out where you are and which paragraph describes the temple or carving you’re facing. Then, you won’t know where to go next or what’s the best nearby temple – so you’ll need 2-3 days to see what a guide can show you in one day. Think of how much you spent to get here. The extra $25 for a guide (probably split between a group of 2-4) is nothing!

Here’s the first temple we saw. As an experiment, they have left the large trees growing amid the stones. Cutting them (and the subsequent root-system decay) can destabilize the stones and cause a collapse, if its not done carefully.

Tree growing on an Angkor temple

My guide Saron (http://www.sarontours.com/) is one of the most friendly, honest, and well-spoken natives I’ve met in Asia. His prices are reasonable, he really knows his stuff, and he didn’t try to persuade me for any shopping or donations. Besides this, I really appreciated his humanitarian outlook, as he formerly worked in community outreach and education programs. Besides explaining Angkor, he showed me Cambodia from a native’s viewpoint.

Face hidden by trees - I hear this is on a guidebook cover

When people think of Angkor Wat, this is the temple that comes to mind:

Angkor Wat temple

But the Angkor complex is so much more. There are hundreds of temples, and Angkor Thom is actually a whole city interspersed here and there with temples. Each King had to build temples to the gods and to his forebears, so over hundreds of years, this really added up. Many have been restored to reach the condition they’re in today, and teams from several nations are working hard on further restorations.

There’s so much to say about Angkor, and I have too many photos! I’ll just give a brief selection of memorable moments. Here’s a comical carving (from the kilometers of wall carvings at the complex). See if you can figure it out:

Angkor wall carving - turtle bite

The man and his wife are walking with a pole between them. But she has walked too close behind him! The turtle hanging from the pole has bitten him in the butt, so he’s upset with her.

From the correct angle, the Buddha faces seem to be rubbing noses:

Buddhas touching noses

Some of the temples still have moats around them. These are actually for structural reasons! The foundations were built on sand, and wet sand is more stable. Many temples collapsed when their moats dried up. The builders also learned from their mistakes: temples without enough stairways collapsed, so newer temples have more stairways angled in many directions. Think of the stairways like European cathedral buttresses.

Angkor temple - reflection in the pond

Eventually I’ll write more posts about the fascinating Angor Wat and surrounding temples. But I hope this taste has piqued your interest in traveling to Cambodia! It’s a wonderful country, and I can thank my guide Saron for making the experience even better.

Posted 7 years, 1 month ago at 3:22 pm.

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Angkor Sunset Storm

Admission to Angkor Archaeological Park, to see Angkor Wat and the other temples, is simple: choose a one-day, three-day, or one-week ticket. The multi-day tickets are usable over a longer period (I think a week and a month, respectively).

One really nice thing that I prefer over Machu Picchu: with the one-day ticket, you can enter the park a day before your visit, after 5pm, to see the sunset. Sweet!

Unfortunately for me, the sunset on July 19th got rained out. But I did get to climb up to the “sunset temple” (I can’t remember the Khmer name, but every tuk-tuk knows it). Eventually I will post some HDR (High Dynamic Range) shots of the rain approaching across the low-lying forest. Here’s the temple itself:

Sunset viewing temple at Angkor park

The stairs are quite steep. Go slowly and don’t look down – yeah, that steep. The idea of these temples was to imitate mountains, because Cambodia doesn’t have any majestic peaks like the Himalayas. Gods would be persuaded to visit these simulated mountain peaks, and even the King had to climb hand-over-hand up the stairways, humble before the gods.

Without HDR, the best one can do to capture the majestic clouds is to silhouette the foreground. Fortunately, the temples of Angkor lend themselves perfectly to this strategy.

Silhouette at Angkor park

Yes, that baby thunderhead was an omen of things to come. I waited out a brief shower from the west after talking to a tour guide who said it didn’t look too bad. Ten minutes later I saw another wall of rain moving toward us from north. When the guide saw that, he said, “Oh. That direction it usually lasts longer. I have to talk to my tour group, maybe we go down now.”

I took my cue and headed home, beating the rush to the tuk-tuks by ten minutes. My hotel driver unfortunately didn’t have any roll-down sides for the tuk-tuk (which every other one had), so I got soaked anyway.

Just as an aside: compare the shot above with a similar one where the silhouette is centered.

Example of bad framing at Angkor park

Bo-ring! The more interesting framing of the first shot captures the sky and the silhouette much better. Using the “Rule of Thirds,” place your subject on imaginary lines dividing the frame into thirds (vertically and/or horizontally). This composition makes a much more aesthetic photo.

As for a Cambodian sunset: I did see one a couple days later. Coming up soon! What was your best sunset ever, or worst attempt at seeing one? Flickr links please! <grin>

Posted 7 years, 1 month ago at 3:17 pm.

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Street Buys and Santa Condom

Some of the people I met in Thailand were very nice, and the Thais I know in Germany are fantastic people. But if you’re a tourist in Bangkok, be very careful whom you trust. This basically means no one who drives a taxi, tuk-tuk, or motorcycle; and absolutely NO ONE that approaches you on the street with “helpful information.”

  • The attraction you want to see probably IS open, right now.
  • Unless it’s the palace, they probably WILL let you in with shorts/sandals on.
  • There is no “diamond buddha” at a special temple that’s only open one day a year (TODAY!).
  • The traffic always sucks; it won’t get better in an hour if you stop somewhere for shopping.

On July 7th I determined that almost no taxi wants an “honest” fare. One guy complained constantly about traffic after I refused his offers to stop for shopping, and tried to guilt me into leaving the cab. I persevered, and it took a whopping 15 minutes to reach my destination (not 1-2h as promised).

A second taxi was actually nice: took me right where I wanted to go with no complaints, for the metered fare, and actually HAD correct change. The third just wanted the flag drop (35 Baht, or about $1), then persuaded me to take the Skytrain to my destination. I took the Skytrain after it was clear he had no idea how to get to my destination, a small hotel in Nana.

Aside from taxicab craziness, here’s a selection of what I saw today. First, the Golden Mount (where the first cabbie didn’t want to take me). Great views of the city from the top of all these stairs.

Golden Mount in Bangkok

Second, here’s a lovely image from Wat Suthat Temple:

Photo inside Wat Suthat temple grounds

Now a street photo from my walk around the center of town. The small 3-wheeled vehicles are tuk-tuks, named for their annoying 2-cycle-engine noise.

Wat Suthat and the Giant Swing

After being hassled by several dudes on the street (“Don’t go to that temple! It’s closed today!”), I went to the farmers’ market. Mostly veg (for cooking) and flowers (for shrines), with a smattering of other stuff as well. Great local color!

Bangkok chilies at a farmers' market

Here’s where I ate lunch. Finally found something moderately spicy, although from what I found so far, the average Thai food (or what they serve Caucasians) is not nearly as hot as what I expected.

Lunch in a farmers' market in Bangkok

For dinner, I tried out a restaurant called Cabbages and Condoms. It promotes the use of birth control, in order to bring the skyrocketing population into check. Apparently seven children per family in a developing country is too much. The prices are much higher than restaurants the locals frequent, but the service and food are fantastic. Since the profits go to a very good cause, I was happy to splurge and spend $13 on my meal.

Plus you get to see lamps made of condoms, and great statuary at the entranceway:

Condom mannequins at Cabbages and Condoms

Yes, Santa Condom. I think I have a new theme party idea for Skydive Orange! What do the jumpers think?

Posted 7 years, 2 months ago at 3:10 pm.

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The Sacred Island

Miyajima Island, near Hiroshima, is considered sacred. The O-Torii, a huge gate in the ocean near the island, bears witness to this. I visited on June 29th, and hiked up to the top of Misen Mountain, 529.8 meters above sea level. Unfortunately the top was in a cloud, but it was a good hike. Here’s the Torii at high tide:

The Torii at Miyajima

There’s so much to see on Miyajima (weather notwithstanding) that I don’t even know where to start. I’m just gonna throw cool stuff out there, and you’re gonna want to visit.

Tame deer roam freely around the island. You can pet them, they’ll pose for you, and they will try to eat food or papers out of your backpack.

"Hey Bob, how do you feel about seafood for lunch?"

Miyajima claims to have invented the rice scoop. To back that up, they have the world’s largest wooden rice scoop on display in the shopping street: 7.7m long and 2.5 tons. Of course you can buy rice scoops of all sizes (well, except this one) in nearly every store in town.

Largest wooden rice scoop in the world

“Look Ma, here I am in front of the Torii!”

Deer in front of the Torii

The strangest thing I saw all day, by far, was Doctor Fish. For 500 yen (about $6) you can have some fish clean your feet, eating away the dead skin. Sounds a bit gross, but it feels really nice, like a foot massage.

Skin-cleaning fish at Doctor Fish

THEN there are the temples and pagodas… the list of cool sights just doesn’t end.

Itsukushima Shrine

“Hey, there’s something on your butt. Let me just see if it’s flowers.”

Tail-sniffing deer

I finished off the day with an amazing meal out with a Japanese friend, Nina. She is also a world-renowned okonomiyaki cook. But the story of the restaurant where we went will have to wait for another time, because it was nine courses of Japanese deliciousness!

Tomorrow: I visit another castle, the best-preserved one in Japan, on my way back to Tokyo.

Posted 7 years, 2 months ago at 3:26 pm.

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The World’s First Nuclear Attack

Hiroshima was the site of humans’ first use of nuclear weapons on a populated city. The Peace Museum does a very good job of describing the buildup to this, and stays quite neutral in telling the story. They don’t condemn the attackers outright, but also don’t give loaded opinions about the Japanese involvement that brought on the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the first place.

A-Bomb Dome, below, survived by being almost directly below the detonation point – there was very little sideways force to topple the structure.

A-Bomb Dome in Hiroshima

Visiting Peace Park on June 28th was quite a sobering experience. But there are rays of hope in this place, as I feel that anyone who visits here is unlikely to ever support the use of nuclear weapons.

Every year, children from around the world send paper cranes in memory of a Hiroshima child who died of leukemia several years after the bombing. She had hoped that by folding 1,000 paper cranes, her dream of recovery would come true. Unfortunately, she was wrong.

Paper Cranes at a memorial in Hiroshima

The names of all known victims of the atomic bombing are kept in ledgers in the Cenotaph. Behind it is an eternal flame, which remains lit until the world is rid of all nuclear weapons, and A-Bomb Dome in the distance.

MMemorial Cenotaph in Hiroshima

Besides the sobering yet hopeful Peace Park, the city of Hiroshima itself shows little evidence of being completely flattened 65 years ago. But there are a few scars visible. Most of the newly-built temples are small structures, tucked in between office buildings and parking lots:

A temple over a parking garage in Hiroshima

The vibrant feel of the rebuilt city is reflected in the gaudy nightlife district, and in the city’s enthusiasm for their local baseball team, the Hiroshima Carp.

Nagarekawa District of Hiroshima

Overall, my impression is that Hiroshima has recovered and even thrived in the wake of the bombing. The city strives to be an example of why nuclear armaments should be eliminated, and reminds us of the horrors that occur when such a weapon is targeted at a city. Let’s hope it never happens again.

To end on a lighter note, since there is a game tonight: GO CARP!!

Posted 7 years, 2 months ago at 3:45 pm.

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No, DON’T Eat My Shorts!

I toured around Kyoto on June 26th with a new friend from the hostel. It rained the whole day, but I did manage to get a few cool shots of these turtles in the park around Toji temple:

Why are these turtles crowding onto this rock?

This Five-Storied Pagoda is a national treasure. It had a few “bests,” I think including the tallest wooden structure in Japan.

Five-Storied Pagoda at Toji

I love Japanese Maples. The overall family is my favorite kind of tree. I managed to find a bit of contrast despite the rain, and got this nice photo of trees in Maruyama Park, by the Gion district.

Japanese Maple

At the edge of the park I found this beauty parked in a patch of grass. I’m once again impressed by the D90 and Nikon’s VR (Vibration Reduction) system. It was almost dark by the time I got this handheld, no-flash photo. Does anyone know what kind of car this is?

Old car in Japan

I wandered through the Gion district, but didn’t see any Geisha, as it was raining. Neither they nor I had much desire to be out and about. This scene greeted me under one awning:

Don't eat my shorts!

Today I definitely observed a bit of the flavor of Kyoto! Everything from the sublime to the obscene. Tomorrow: I go to a castle in the center of the city, known for its “nightingale floors!?”

Posted 7 years, 2 months ago at 3:23 pm.

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Japanese Packaging – Dry Ice, Please

I walked out my hostel door June 25th on a mission to see gardens, visit temples, and take in the atmosphere of Kyoto. My first stop was the Shosei-en gardens, which have a small (500 yen) entry fee. Quite reasonable; so far nothing in Japan was more than 600 yen entry, about $7. The lake at Shosei-en was particularly scenic and peaceful, even on a cloudy & rainy day.

Lake at Shosei-en garden

I tried one of these small plums (one that had fallen on the ground). It was really sour. But they certainly look nice:

Plums at Shosei-en garden

Next I saw the big temples in the middle of Kyoto, each of which is part of a spiritual complex occupying a whole city block. The temple on the east side is the biggest wooden building in the world – my lens wasn’t wide enough to get it all in one shot! Here’s the slightly smaller west temple, Hongwanji, in a 12-photo panorama.

Hongwanji Temple complex panorama

What surprised me most about the day was this cream puff. They cost 126 yen, or about $1.40, so I ordered one. Before I knew it, the puff was packed in a fancy bag and sealed with a metallic foil sticker. The saleswoman then filled another small bag with dry ice chips, placed that in a cardboard box, taped it shut, and put it in the bottom of a third bag, with the cream puff bag on top. They said something about three hours, which I suppose is the time this thing would keep before getting home to the fridge.

I ate it five minutes later.

Green Tea cream puff kept chilled with dry ice

The green tea cream puff was divine, just like everything made with green tea here. In case you want less packaging, try some waving and hand-motions. That worked the next time I bought a slice of cake, and I got away with two less bags. Long live the environment!

There’s almost no end to what I saw today. Here are the vermillion gates of the Inari shrine. I thought it was going to be just one row of these gates. Actually it’s about 4 kilometers of them, with shrines every few hundred meters. Local businesses donate money for the gates; I suppose it brings good fortune.

Orange gates at the Inari shrine in Kyoto

Here’s one of the hand-washing pools at Inari. Drooling Dragon!

Hand-washing pool at the Inari shrine complex near Kyoto

I’ll have to do more articles about this day after my return to Germany. The raw chicken on rice (with an uncooked egg yolk on top) is something that many Japanese I spoke to hadn’t even seen! Anyone ever eaten raw chicken?

Posted 7 years, 2 months ago at 3:43 pm.

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Shibuya’s Top 5

We headed out of the hostel on June 20th with a downtown park in mind: Yoyogi Park. At the beautiful temple, a Japanese wedding was processing between buildings. 587 tourists had their cameras out and ready. So did I, for the first of today’s Top 5 cool photos around Shibuya (in the order they were taken). Best wishes to this happy couple!

Traditional wedding in Yoyogi Park

Next up: Greasers! Apparently there’s a big craze to dress up like Elvis (or the Pink Ladies) and dance in this square near Yoyogi and Shibuya. At least on Sundays, there are several “gangs” of Greasers there.

Japanese Greaser complete with comb

Number three is going to be a double-dip, because I caught the same tourist posing with both of these strangely-dressed people, several blocks apart!

Tourist number one photo Angelic Pretty

For “Tourist shot number two” check out the guy’s outfit: Cap. Headphones. Ski goggles. Hello Kitty purse. Belt pouches. Short shorts. Red fishnet stockings. Pink socks. SHIN GUARDS. Yellow sneakers. He must have multiple personality disorder, and each of them picked an item to wear?

Tourist number two photo Man Crazy

Fourth is Condomania, a shop filled with condoms and related… stuff. Here’s the Tenga, a one-use male pleasure toy. I found out what it is by accident last year, because I wanted to use Tenga as the name of a town in my fantasy novel Demon’s Bane. A Google search revealed that it might not be the best name for a town; a bit strange for any Japanese readers. Anyone in Mexico wanna buy a Chevy Nova?

Tenga - you don't want to know

Last for today is a famous intersection near Shibuya station. From the Starbucks you get this fantastic view when the cars get a red light and every crosswalk goes green at once:

Pedestrian crosswalk at Shibuya, taken from Starbucks

I actually have a ton more photos from this day. Eventually there’ll have to be an article about the best hamburger I’ve ever had outside the US, at Blacows in Tokyo.

Here’s a question for today: what is the best hamburger you’ve ever had outside the United States? I’m thinking: good beef that can be cooked rare, flavorful toppings, and a hearty, non-crumbly bun. Messy is okay, but tasty is required – in which country/city did you find it?

Posted 7 years, 2 months ago at 3:06 pm.

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