Random SE Asia

I have photos and videos that I want to share that didn’t easily fit into the day to day posts without making them too long. So, this will be an array of slightly mismatched, both cultural and silly, photos and videos from the trip.

On our arrival day to Siam Reap, we took quads on a tour out of the city center to see the rural aspects of Siam Reap. I loved passing by the houses and people but we moved way too fast to take photos. So, I have a few photos and videos from out in a lotus paddy and not much else. But, it was an interesting evening. Disclaimer: the videos all appear to be sideways or upside down but they play correctly.

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This is one of the rural villages that we passed through. They were more like houses alongside the road, no formal village center. There were cows and water buffalo (above, used for harvesting rice) and many, many dogs. We saw children having baths in wash basins in the yards and people lounging in hammocks. I loved it.

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I found the lotus flowers to be particularly entrancing, not sure why, they aren’t terribly pretty, but something about them fascinated me. It was interesting to see how they are farmed, in wet paddies, similar to rice.

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Onto to some of the less cultural aspects of our trip…the next videos are of us tasting the snake wine ( it contained a cobra.) It was awful and the videos don’t offer much except our funny faces and reactions upon drinking it. Wikipedia says:

Snake wine (蛇酒, pinyin: shéjiǔ; rượu rắn in Vietnamese) is an alcoholic beverage produced by infusing whole snakes in rice wine or grain alcohol. The drink was first recorded to have been consumed in China during the Western Zhou dynasty(ca. 1040–770 BC) and considered an important curative and believed to reinvigorate a person according to Traditional Chinese medicine.[2] It can be found in China, Goa (India), Vietnam, and throughout Southeast Asia.

The snakes, preferably venomous ones, are not usually preserved for their meat but to have their “essence” and snake venom dissolved in the liquor. The snake venom poses no threat to the drinker. It is denatured by the ethanol—its proteins are unfolded and therefore inactive—[citation needed] and would be denatured by stomach acid anyways.

I will testify that reinvigorated is not the correct word for the effects of snake wine! But gosh did we laugh that night! It was like being back in college, stupid and funny. At one point I say “this is how people die on SE Asia trips, they do dumb shit,” It is an accurate statement. Regardless, this is how we spent our Valentines evening.

In addition to the snake wine, my friend Mike tried the scorpion. I took a pass on this local treat and also opted to skip the snakes-on-sticks that this vendor was offering. I found it funny that she posted signs that you had to purchase a critter or pay a fee to take a photo. It leads me to believe that she made more money off of being a tourist trap than she did selling her wares to anyone as snacks.

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Back to a more cultural experience, these were dancers in Siem Reap, Cambodia. I found the music here much more appealing than the music in Thailand. This was peaceful and the instruments were interesting.

Last two photos. I have always gotten a kick out of cultural differences, especially the small things that don’t much matter. They catch my eye and make me giggle. These were two such things:

Ladies room sign in Thailand, above, and in Cambodia, below. Clearly recognizable as ladies rooms, but so different from the ones in the US and Saudi.

Tonlé Sap Lake

We visited the fisherman’s villages on Tonlé Sap lake yesterday. Tonlé Sap is:

Tonlé Sap (Khmer: ទន្លេសាប IPA: [tunleː saːp], literally large river (tonle); fresh, not salty (sap), commonly translated to ‘great lake’) refers to a seasonally inundated freshwater lake, the Tonlé Sap Lake and an attached river, the 120 km (75 mi) long Tonlé Sap River, that connects the lake to the Mekong River.[1

Due to it being the dry season, we weren’t able to see the houseboat villages but we were able to see the stilt systems that are erected under the houses along the banks each to raise them up enough to remain above the high water line. These houses are permanent whereas the houseboats come and go during the fishing season.

We took tour boats to see the villages and then arrived at a floating barge where we switched to smaller canoe type boats to take a tour through the mangrove forest.

Most of the large tour boats were operated by men whilst all of the smaller, single paddle canoe type boats had female paddlers.

The mangrove tour took us past many women selling snacks and drinks out of their canoes and ended at a floating restaurant where we climbed back aboard our tour boat to go watch the sunset. It amazes me how the villagers have established an entire tourist trap operation out on the water in tiny boats!

The lake is very muddy from the silty bottom, apparently it is this sediment that makes it great for fish. But, clean water is a problem for the villagers and many of them get sick from using it for drinking and washing dishes. Access to clean water is problem out there.

This first series of photos is of the mangrove forest tour.

Women brought their children along to work with themThis is the “dock” where we switched from the tour boat to the mangrove canoePanos and I on our canoeThis little girl was waving at us as we passed by her canoe. Her mother was selling drinks and snacks alongside the path we took through the mangrovesThis was the floating restaurant where we swapped back into out tour boat. These are some

Of the tour boat operators, taking a snackThese are the mangrove tour boats. We sat on the reed mats behind the women. Most of whom sat and paddled, which looked terrifically inefficient. A few of them kneeled, they paddled much better from that position. But, everyone managed to get their boats through the forest and there wasn’t any great rush for the whole thing so I guess efficiency didn’t really matter much.

Below are photos of the tour boats and the stilt houses. People wash clothes, dishes and themselves in this water, in addition, they toilet and fish in it. I am thankful for hot and cold running water in my life.

The boat engine is interesting. The steering mechanism consists of ropes on pulleys that connect to the propeller.Us on our tour boat. The bunch of bananas threw me off a bit as bananas on boats are superstitious bad luck in the US. Apparently they have something to do with the Chinese New Year holiday that is fast approaching.

These final photos are of the sun setting over the lake.

Angkor Temples

We spent yesterday at the Angkor temple complex in Siam Reap, Cambodia.

The word Angkor is derived from the Sanskritnagara (नगर), meaning “city”.[3] The Angkorian period began in AD 802, when the KhmerHindu monarch Jayavarman II declared himself a “universal monarch” and “god-king”, and lasted until the late 14th century, first falling under Ayutthayan suzerainty in 1351. A Khmer rebellion against Siamese authority resulted in the 1431 sacking of Angkor by Ayutthaya, causing its population to migrate south to Longvek.

The ruins of Angkor are located amid forests and farmland north of the Great Lake (Tonlé Sap) and south of the Kulen Hills, near modern-day Siem Reap city (13°24′N, 103°51′E), in Siem Reap Province. The temples of the Angkor area number over one thousand, ranging in scale from nondescript piles of brick rubble scattered through rice fields to the Angkor Wat, said to be the world’s largest single religious monument. Many of the temples at Angkor have been restored, and together, they comprise the most significant site of Khmer architecture. Visitors approach two million annually, and the entire expanse, including Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom is collectively protected as a UNESCOWorld Heritage Site. The popularity of the site among tourists presents multiple challenges to the preservation of the ruins.

In 2007, an international team of researchers using satellite photographs and other modern techniques concluded that Angkor had been the largest pre-industrial city in the world, with an elaborate infrastructure system connecting an urban sprawl of at least 1,000 square kilometres (390 sq mi) to the well-known temples at its core.[4] Angkor is considered to be a “hydraulic city” because it had a complicated water management network, which was used for systematically stabilizing, storing, and dispersing water throughout the area.[5] This network is believed to have been used for irrigation in order to offset the unpredictable monsoon season and to also support the increasing population.[4] Although the size of its population remains a topic of research and debate, newly identified agricultural systems in the Angkor area may have supported up to one million people.[6]

We began the day very early to catch the sunrise at the Angkor Wat temple. This temple is the largest religious monument in the world.

Angkor Wat (Khmer: អង្គរវត្ត or “Capital Temple”) is a temple complex in Cambodia and the largest religious monument in the world,[1] on a site measuring 162.6 hectares (1,626,000 m2; 402 acres).[2] It was originally constructed as a Hindu temple of god Vishnu for the Khmer Empire, gradually transforming into a Buddhist temple towards the end of the 12th century.[3] It was built by the Khmer King Suryavarman II[4] in the early 12th century in Yaśodharapura (Khmer: យសោធរបុរៈ, present-day Angkor), the capital of the Khmer Empire, as his state temple and eventual mausoleum. Breaking from the Shaiva tradition of previous kings, Angkor Wat was instead dedicated to Vishnu. As the best-preserved temple at the site, it is the only one to have remained a significant religious centre since its foundation. The temple is at the top of the high classical style of Khmer architecture. It has become a symbol of Cambodia,[5] appearing on its national flag, and it is the country’s prime attraction for visitors.[6]

The size of Angkor Wat (the name means temple city) is incredible. There are stairs up to the top that are really steep, they have built wooden stairs, with a hand rail, over the old stone steps and even those are quite a climb. I can’t imagine going up and down the original steps, with no railing!

you can see the blocky steps to the left side, these were for the ladies of the time. Then the handrail was added and eventually, they have put wooden stairs over one of the flights of stone steps to aid access. a close up view of the stairs gives you an idea of how steep they are. This isn’t an odd angled photo, they truly go very close to vertical, it’s dauntingthese are one of the flights of stairs that I mentioned!People pray and light incense at the feet of these statutesThis is designed to look like the head of a cobraThis is the bridge over the most that was dug all the way around Angkor Wat.

Next we visited Ta Prohm, which you may recognize from the movie “Tomb Raider.” Apparently Angelina Jolie started in it and was filmed here. The interesting thing about Ta Prohm is that you can see the forest trying to reclaim the land. The trees are pushing right up through, and destroying, the temples.

see the smiling face from the temple, the tree is growing right around it.This photo is interesting because there was a carving of a Buddha on the wall here and it was defaced because the country switched around from Buddhism’s to Hinduism and then back a few times. The defacement of cultural art and antiquities in the name of religion saddens me. It is ignorance and intolerance in its highest form. The ancient city of Palmyra, currently being destroyed by Isis, is a heartbreaking example of the ignorance of modern day humans. Buddhist monks wander around the temples. Apparently Buddhism has significantly relaxed its strictures for monks. They used to have to give up ownership of all but 7 items. Now they currently all seem to carry smart phones. You can see this monk has his in his hand. My first photo caught him using it. It would make quite a striking ad for Samsung!

Last stop of the day was Angkor Thom or Bayon. The name means great city. It has detailed carvings showing life at the time. We were told that the culture of the time didn’t yet have an alphabet, which we found surprising as it was only about 1000 years ago. This was not an ancient civilization.

My friends playing some of the local instruments. They need a bit more practice!

The consummate tourist photo, rubbing noses with one of the smiling faces of Bayon!

Grand Palace

The Grand Palace was the official residence of the kings of Siam (Thailand.) The king, his court and the government were based there until 1925. It is still used for official events. I don’t have a lot to write but it was absolutely stunning to visit. I’m just going to post a ton of photos so you get a feel for the opulence of it. The sheer volume of mosaic covered surfaces is mind boggling. More info can be found here:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grand_Palace

The following are the guards and the changing of the guards. Not the best photo and video quality, no photos were allowed so I had to take covert ones.

These last photos are of huge murals on the walls of the buildings. They are incredibly detailed and the gold paint pops against the rich colors. The art was very odd, monsters and orgies and lord only knows what else.

Lush villa evening

The staff at our villa is very attentive and the chef is fabulous. We have enjoyed every minute of the luxury part of our trip.

Last night they decorated for Tarik’s surprise proposal. It was gorgeous and Zeina did not see it coming! We spent the evening in enjoying dinner, drinks and the ocean and pool.

Panos got excited about opening the post proposal bottle of champagne!The boy band Tarik working the bar on his big day, still pretending that we were celebrating Sara and Ahmed’s a recent wedding and Sam and Tami’s recent engagement.The staff lit citronella oil lamps in pits in the sand. Below is Mike finding his zen place. Fresh coconuts with a splash of Malibu

The following photos are the religious shrines at our villa. I find them charming and couldn’t help but take a few photos.

Below is just one of the small luxuries that our villa provides. Every day they light candles in small scented oil burners in each of our rooms. The scent varies but is so pleasant to come “home” to.

Koh Samui

Yesterday was a lazy day at our villa. We kayaked and SUPed, played volleyball and spent a lot of time in the pool. In addition, in the evening Tarik proposed to Zeina so we celebrated the happy event! Today saw us zip lining past waterfalls. This is a beautiful island. I would be happy to spend a bit more time here.

Cu Chi Tunnels

Yesterday saw us traveling outside the city center to the Cu Chi Tunnels.

The tunnels of Củ Chi are an immense network of connecting underground tunnels located in the Củ Chi District of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam, and are part of a much larger network of tunnels that underlie much of the country. The Củ Chi tunnels were the location of several military campaigns during the Vietnam War, and were the Viet Cong‘s base of operations for the Tết Offensive in 1968.

The tunnels were used by Viet Cong soldiers as hiding spots during combat, as well as serving as communication and supply routes, hospitals, food and weapon caches and living quarters for numerous North Vietnamese fighters. The tunnel systems were of great importance to the Viet Cong in their resistance to American forces, and helped to counter the growing American military effort.The immensity and complexity of the network of tunnels is mind boggling. We went into a few of them and they are VERY narrow. If I hadn’t put my hands up over my head, my upper body would not have cleared the entrance. It was uncomfortable being down there knowing that I would safely exit within a short distance. I can’t imagine being in there during war time and not knowing what you may find around the next bend. I have great respect for the service men that entered those tunnels. I don’t think I would be able to force myself down in there under those circumstances.

This is the actual size of the entrance and it doesn’t get a lot wider inside. In the photos you will see below, of the inside of the tunnels (and a guy’s butt traversing in front of me,) have been widened by 30% for tourists. And guys were on hands and knees to make it through. Remember that these two photos show tunnels that have been widened by 30%!We also saw a display of many different booby traps that the Viet Cong soldiers set for US soldiers. I can’t imagine what a terrifying experience that war must have been. Pungee sticksAfter the tunnels we tasted a “specialty” of Vietnam, Snake Wine. It is wine with a cobra and scorpion stewing in it. It wasn’t good but it wasn’t bad, either. Tastes like crappy whiskey. Looks awful!

Lazy day in Saigon

Today was primarily eating and lounging, with some scooter riding thrown in for excitement!

Lunch was huge amounts of dim sum and dinner consisted of a four hour culinary (local food) tour on the backs of Vietnamese college student’s motor scooters.

The scooters toured us all around the city, stopping at pre-arranged restaurants to eat different local foods. We had some delicious meals and were given the opportunity to eat a fertilized duck egg. I couldn’t do it. Some friends did.

The first course was a green papaya salad with liver, which was surprisingly good as I generally dislike liver. The liver here is marinated in honey, garlic and other spices and then dried. The consistency was that of beef jerky which I found much more palatable than the texture of liver prepared fresh.

Course number two was fried quail which was delicious! You could eat it like tiny chicken wings but I preferred it prepared as a sandwich with herbaceous greens on the Vietnamese baguette (bánh mi) which is much lighter than a French baguette. You can see the quail head in a photo below. I took a pass on that part.

We then moved on to a crab dish that had noodles and rice pops. The broth was coconut milk based and the dipping sauce was chili and lime.

Onward to pork pancakes that were cooked outside in a barbecue style. My friends gave the cooking a try. This is where we were given lessons in how to consume the such egg. When she said “you start by cracking a small hole in the top and sucking out the liquid,” it was game over for me.

Last course was my favorite, coconut ice cream with either mangoes or black rice and frozen yogurt with hibiscus flowers. Yum!

Duck egg delight

HCM City

Day two saw us getting in a little bit of culture. We went to the Reunification Palace (Independence Palace) and the war remnants museum. In addition to checking out the city in the daytime and trying some local cuisine. I’m still boggled by the number of scooters here, intersections are hilarious.

As for the palace it “was designed by architect Ngô Viết Thụ and was the home and workplace of the President of South Vietnam during theVietnam War. It was the site of the end of the Vietnam War during the Fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975, when a North Vietnamese Army tank crashed through its gates.” Wikipedia

I didn’t find the architecture or interior design of the palace appealing (it felt rather communist block style) but it was interesting to see the opulence of it and recognize that while the country was in the midst of a horrific war, one side was living in such luxury.

The next stop after the palace was the war remnants museum. I struggled there seeing the photo displays of birth defects from agent orange, war crimes and US service men in country. I’m saddened that wars continue to happen around the world despite the fact that they rarely seem to have any positive outcomes.

At one point in the afternoon I had the “opportunity” to try birds nest drink.

Edible bird’s nests are bird nests created by edible-nest swiftlets using solidified saliva, which are harvested for human consumption. They are particularly prized in Chinese culture due to their rarity, and supposedly high nutritional value and exquisite flavor. Edible bird’s nests are among the most expensive animal products consumed by humans[citation needed], with nests being sold recently at prices up to about US$2,000 per kilogram, depending on grading.

The texture was slippery with chunks, I choked down a big mouthful of it and can add it to the list of things I have tried. It’s certainly not going on the favorites list.

Lunch was Vietnamese Pho (pronounced fu) which is a broth based soup with lots of greens, spices and chunks of meat. Dinner had us at a restaurant where the cooking is modeled after local home cooking. Prices here are unbelievable but the currency is loaded with zeros so doing the exchange math is a bit funny. Our dinner for six, consisting of huge amounts of food, a cocktail or glass of wine (or two) for each person plus a few bottles of local rice wine came to 3,500,000 dong…or about $23 USD per person!

Following dinner was a nightclub called Republic. We split into two taxis and my group ended up at the wrong club named Republic…we got it sorted and found out upon arriving at the correct one that we were initially at the largest gay club in the city. It was a good laugh. The club included just about everything, drinks, shisha, fresh fruit and whippets.

We even squeezed a bit of tourist shopping into the day!