Abuse your passport

When my dad asks why I travel so much, I wonder. This is the man who took me on my first international trip when I was six months old. I celebrated my 12th birthday in Brasil, and by 20, I'd been to five continents and set my sights on all seven.
Living in: Denver, United States
  • Day24

    Begrudginly wearing pants again

    November 17 in the United States

    Deb picked us up and we were shocked back into reality with sub-30 degree weather. I haven’t worn pants in 3 and half weeks, so it was a bit of an adjustment.

    I’m glad to be home and when I think of this trip and five different countries, it’s tough to limit the top ten to just top 10, but here we go:

    10. Crawling around the Cu Chi tunnels.
    9. Practicing English with a young boy in Vietnam, who thanked me with tiny origami figures.
    8. Taking a leap from a tree limb into a pool at Kuangsi Falls.
    7. Walking around Bayon temple with Buddhas staring down from every direction.
    6. Kayaking among the giant limestone monoliths in Halong Bay.
    5. Giggling like a junior high girl, while our guide said Pusi 10 times really slowly.
    4. Miscalculating the exchange rate in Bangkok and trying to withdrawn $10,000, only being stopped by the limit on the machine.
    3. Taking a balloon flight over Myanmar.
    2. Somehow managing to eat a grasshopper and try weasel poo coffee.
    1. Taking a leap of faith and literally walking into Vietnamese traffic with Kim, Russ, and Carolyn.
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  • Day24

    Pit stop in Tokyo

    November 17 in Japan

    Sadly, we left Thailand at 8am this morning. We should arrive in Denver in about 24 hours, although it will magically be only 12:30 this afternoon. We were scheduled for a two hour layover in Tokyo, but our flight was delayed, so we found some teriyaki chicken bowls and waited patiently.

  • Day23

    One night in Bangkok...

    November 16 in Thailand

    We chose to stay near the airport because we all have early morning flights tomorrow. Unfortunately, that means we are quite a ways from the sights we want to visit in Bangkok. After much deliberation about getting into the city, we decided to try out Grab, Asia’s version of Uber. We were picked up by Jim Bowie (not his real name). He was possibly the best driver I’ve ever had. Jim shared with us that his father worked at the US Embassy, and his American nickname is based on the actor Jim Bowie. That’s what we understood, but Carolyn googled it and discovered that Jim Bowie was the character, and Russ remembered a bit about him. Jim was very talkative and made sure we had some easy listening, playing all the pop hits of the 60’s - 80’s. By the end of our trip we were all singing along to the radio. He kept joking that he would have to charge us an additional 5 baht for karaoke on each song. As we went through one of the toll booths, Jim rolled down the window and smiled at the security camera. He explained that he was actually quite well known, then showed us a YouTube video of himself being interviewed on the local news show. Apparently he was commentating on the Thai government, about which he has very strong opinions. He got us close to the Grand Palace but told us that Grab is not allowed to operate in this area. Like thieves in the night, he asked us to jump from the car quickly, so the police didn’t have time to fine him. Needless to say, Mr Bowie was an unexpected treat that we all enjoyed immensely.

    The Grand Palace is the crown jewel of Bangkok. It houses the previously mentioned Emerald Buddha, as well as a collection of beautiful buildings, temples, statues, stupas, etc. Built in the late 1700’s, it was used by the kings of Siam for over 100 years and is still used for some official royal events. When I was in Thailand, about 18 years ago, I came here, so I was very excited to return. I couldn’t remember details, but I do remember being awed by the place. As we got our tickets and walked in, I realized that I was very fortunate to have visited so long ago. When I came the first time, there weren’t more than a couple hundred people there with me. I will also have to check my photos, but I’m sure that I was able to take a picture of the Emerald Buddha, as well as to walk up close to it. Today, there were thousands of people on the grounds, the vast majority being Chinese tourists. It was tremendously crowded and most of our pictures have unknown visitors in the frame, with the occasional cut off head or apologetic face. It was kind of ridiculous how many people were in there. The temple, housing the Emerald Buddha, was packed, and only Thais could approach the altar. The rest of us had to stay a ways back. However, despite the density of humanity, the place is still breathtaking. Everything seems to shimmer. The largest buildings are covered in mirrored or glass mosaic tile. It was cloudy, but when the sun peeked through, the place just sparkled. Although the sun would have been nice, the clouds kept the temperature down a degree or two. It was in the lower- to mid-90’s and very humid. We spent a couple hours wandering the grounds; most of the time was spent taking pictures and feeling amazed by the small details, which are easily lost in the grandeur of the premises.

    From the palace, we grabbed lunch and made our way to Wat Pho. The property is, again, a complex of buildings that includes the largest reclining Buddha in Thailand, which is also the ninth largest Buddha statue in the world. When we first walked by the building, I pointed at the open window to draw Kim’s attention to it. She looked dismissingly and I said, “See the reclining Buddha?” She seemed puzzled; the only thing visible was what appeared to be a gigantic gold wall. “That’s his flank,” I informed her, realizing that she didn’t quite understand how large he was. She looked again and realized that what she saw was just a fraction of of the statue’s length. We came around to the entrance of the building, and all of us were a little overwhelmed at the enormity of the statue. The statue stretches over 150 feet long and is just short of 50 feet high. It took us a while to walk the length of the statue, as we stopped frequently to take pictures, hoping that one of them might capture what we were witnessing in person. At the end of the Buddha, the bottom of his footprints are inlaid with mother of pearl, against a black background. As we moved along the back of the Buddha, there was a place to purchase 108 coins, which we then dropped in 108 buckets; each time making a wish along the way. The buckets end short of the building, where we gathered to walk out together and view the grounds. Wat Pho has over 1,000 Buddha images on the property, in and around its many structures. Within the walls also exists the first Thai massage school. When I was here in 2001, I had a Thai massage; however, the thought of having one now, given how sweaty we all were, was unfathomable. We decided to postpone the massage for later tonight.

    As we were leaving Wat Pho, raindrops splashed on the ground and developed into a heavy downpour by the time we reached the exterior of Wat Pho. By the time we got a cab, we were drenched. We immediately hung our clothes to dry, when we reached the hotel, hopeful that they won’t be wet when we need to pack in the morning. My swimsuit was dry, so I replaced my clothes and headed to the pool to enjoy the weather one last time. It’s forecast to be 30 and snowing, when we arrive in Denver tomorrow tomorrow.

    Before leaving Thailand, we felt it necessary to have one last massage, having already had one in every country we have visited. We all walked down to the local “spa” and had an hour long Thai massage for 300 baht; that’s $9.13. It was a great massage, and we were all very happy with the service. We stopped in at the food court for dinner and then proceeded to the hotel. It seems like I’ve been gone for summer break, so part of me is excited to be returning home. I miss my bed.
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  • Day22

    Off to Siam, I am

    November 15 in Thailand

    We left Laos in the late morning and were sitting at the hotel pool, in Bangkok, by 3pm. We did very little today, which came as a relief. After finishing a 12 day tour, during which we felt like we were constantly moving, we were exhausted and didn’t have the energy to do much of anything today. We didn’t even bother to go out to dinner, choosing the hotel restaurant out of convenience. After platefuls of Thai food, we retreated to our rooms. We’re going to tackle the big sights in Bangkok tomorrow, in 90+ heat, so resting up is in order.Read more

  • Day21

    One last day in Laos

    November 14 in Laos

    Today included another half day in the car to travel from Vang Vieng to Vientiane. Although the distance is about 150 km (about 90 miles), it took four and a half hours. We had a couple of bathroom breaks along the way, as well as a stopover at a local market. Nick took us through the market that had a wide favorites of foods. First we stopped at the insect table. There were different kinds of crickets, grasshoppers, small crabs, and worms. Nick purchased a variety bag and offered samples. I had a hard time even looking at the insects, let alone eating one. But, when would I ever have the opportunity to try one again? I picked the smallest one I could find, which happened to be a grasshopper. When I tried to put it in my mouth, I couldn’t get my arm to raise. It was as if my body was saying no for me. I made a couple of attempts and finally deposited it into my mouth; antenna, legs, and all. I bit down and found it to be crunchy, salty, and not terribly flavorful. Actually, other than the shape, it wasn’t much different than a potato chip. These insects had been stir fried with oil and sprinkled with salt. It certainly wasn’t as bad as I thought, but I wasn’t interested in seconds. There were also other things to try. Nick had bought some skewers of meat. I sampled the snail and water buffalo. Both were very chewy and tough. I finally gave up chewing and had to just swallow them whole. Kim had gotten a rice patty, also on a skewer and held together with egg. I took a few bites of it to wash down the taste of buffalo.

    We left the insect/skewer table and moved to the fresh meats. Fresh being a very descriptive word. The frogs, eels, fish, and snails were all alive in large metal containers. Every once in a while, an animal would liberate itself, and Kim almost stepped on a small eel, trying to squiggle its way to freedom. From the water dwellers, we processed by the mammals. There was an entire skinned calf curled up in a bowl about one quarter the size of a kiddy pool. There were rats, moles, and other animals. We continued to walk to the other corner of the market, where the avian products were located. One rooster was tied down, but all the others were either in covered baskets or underneath large baskets that had been inverted to create cages. There were pigeons, ducks, and chickens, as well as other birds that I couldn’t identify. We completed our tour through the fresh fruit and vegetable section. There were many items that I was familiar with, but Nick had to help us out with several of them. We have been served river weed several times and finally saw it “raw.” It looked like a mess of hair. Their were vegetables from China, for which Nick did not know the English name, but they looked like they came from the cucumber family.

    We left the market and continued driving to Vientiane, where we drove straight to Wat Sisaket. It is the oldest temple in the city and now serves as a museum of Buddhist objects. In a rectangular structure around the temple, there were over a hundred Buddha statues lined up, facing the temple in the middle. Behind the statues were small cubby holes that each held two small Buddha figures. This was repeated on all four sides of the wall. In the temple, there is a honeycomb on every wall, again filled with little Buddha statues. In all, there are over two thousand Buddhas in the temple and about four thousand on the grounds.

    Across the street is the formal Royal Temple, Wat Prakeo. It, too, serves as a museum for numerous Buddhist artifacts. The building also was the previous home to the Emerald Buddha; however, it is now in Thailand, after the Thais took it during the Siamese invasion in the late 1820’s. I searched my memory for a moment and then blurted out, “It’s at the Royal Palace in Bangkok!” Nick confirmed the location that I had remembered. The Emerald Buddha is so stunning, its image is still burned into my mind from viewing it almost 18 years ago, on my first trip to Thailand. I turned to Kim and reminded her that the Emerald Buddha was the one that I was impressed by all those years ago and we would be seeing it in Bangkok in just a few days. She was interested but not remotely as excited as I. The Wat was certainly worthy of such a jewel. The large structure has gold trim and detailed wood carvings on the main doors (now preserved behind glass). Inside, the Laotian architecture creates a high ceiling, with deep sloping roof.

    We finished up the day, after lunch, with two more stops. First was the Patuxay Monument, which looks like a small Arc de Triumph. The structure was constructed to memorialize independence from France, so I thought it was ironic that they decided on this design. As much as it looks like the monument in Paris, the details paint a different picture. The window frames are enclosed with decorative metal, with a Buddhist flare. Where one sees gargoyles from a distance, the creatures are Buddhist in nature. There are also Buddha figures at the apex of the roof, reminding the onlooker that they are worlds away from that grand French city. It takes about 300 or so steps to get to the top, so we climbed them all for a panoramic view of the city. Below we could see temples interspersed with homes and buildings. In the distance the Mekong winds slowly past Thailand, which lies on the opposite riverbank.

    A short distance away and last of our sights to see in Laos was That Luang Stupa. With a more recent coat of paint (thanks to a donation from Barack Obama), the stupa gleams in the sunshine. Although it was originally built centuries ago and has been restored numerous times. It was mostly destroyed during the Siamese invasion and rebuilt once again. It is a three level stupa, surrounded by a wall to keep the traffic out. Like Wat Sisaket, the wall around the stupa has a number of old Buddha statues and other Buddhist antiquities, such as stone tablets engraved in Sanskrit. The building was gorgeous, and we took a bit of time to enjoy the peaceful grounds and magnificent presence. We also knew the end of our time was nearing. With a heartfelt goodbye to Nick, we were dropped off at our hotel. Our driver will return to fetch us in the morning, but once we get to the airport, we’ll be on our own for the trip to Thailand. It has been a great tour of these three countries, and I can’t wait to recollect the magic in the thousands of pictures that have been taken.
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  • Day20

    Another set of stairs

    November 13 in Laos

    We started our day with another set of stairs. This time about 100 more than the caves. Before leaving Luang Prabang, we opted for a hike up Mt Phousi. The mountain is named after a hermit, who took residence in a cave and taught the people about Buddhism. At the top of the mountain is a stupa dedicated to the monk, Si. About halfway up, there is an overlook, where we took a few minutes to take pictures and enjoyed the view. A bodhi tree, given as a gift from India, provides shade and a place rest. But not for long. We commenced the stairs again, zigzagging our way to the top. The view of Luang Prabang was beautiful, and we took it in from all 360 degrees. In the distance we could see a large pagoda, as well as the confluence of the Mekong and the Nam Khan Rivers; both flow on either side of the town. We descended on the other side of the mountain, where we got to see a Buddha footprint. This was on my bucket list, so I was very excited. Supposedly the Buddha left footprints both as a symbolic reminder of the path, as well as an actual demarcation of his presence. There are about 3,000 of these footprints in Asia, but I’ve never actually seen one. This one was preserved, with a small structure built around it. The footprint was about 5 feet long, with heel and toe impressions very clear.

    Leaving Mt Phousi also meant leaving Puang Prabang. We drove south, toward Vang Vieng, with the intention of enjoying the scenery. Laos is about 70% mountains, so we were looking forward to taking in some beautiful views on our four hour drive, which included “comfort” stops and a lunch break. Unfortunately, the wet season was unkind to the roads, so the conditions made for a much longer drive. Also, there was rain and low lying clouds, so we didn’t get to see the peaks we had hoped. But there is always beauty to be had. The cloud covered peaks seemed mystical. Karsts shot up and into the heavens, and we could not tell how high. Occasionally, there would be a break in the clouds, and we could see that the mountains reached fairly high altitudes. One of the passes, where we got out and walked in the fog, was over 3,000 feet in elevation. We started out at about 1000 in Luang Prabang.

    We stopped in a small village (Kari) for lunch, then worked our way south to Vang Vieng. Along the way, we saw several farms, where the rice harvest was underway. All of them were cutting the rice by hand. Sometimes there would be a single person cutting the rice and other times there would be a whole team of 6-8 people working the field. We watched as they swung a sickle across the stocks, leaving a wake of rice piles as they moved. We also saw farmers tending to other crops, such as hops, corn, and rubber trees. Cows and buffalos walked freely along the road, though we were told that you have to pay the other farmer, if your cattle tramples their land.

    On arrival in Vang Vieng, it initially stopped raining, so we walked to dinner without our rain jackets, but we got to the restaurant in time to avoid the rain...and then a downpour. We weren’t in a hurry, so we waited. When 7:15 came, we decided it wasn’t going to stop raining, so we headed out into the weather. It was coming down slowly and it was warm, so it wasn’t bad. I’m just hoping that my clothes will be dry by morning.

    I’m not crazy about Vang Vieng. Compared to Luang Prabang, it is louder and more active. We read that several years ago the government had to put a halt to some of the partying in the town, as it was getting out of control. It had become a heathen’s delight, where young backpackers drank themselves into stupors and did ridiculous things. It still has a party vibe and there are 20-somethings everywhere, looking as if they haven’t been home in months. I’m happy that we are only transiting here and leave for Vientiane in the morning. I don’t see myself returning here in the future.
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  • Day19

    Laos: the best kept secret

    November 12 in Laos

    Laos has been amazing. The people are incredibly gracious, and the atmosphere just feels different here. I would love to return to Luang Prabang and spend a month just walking the streets and enjoying fresh baked croissants, with a cup coffee, at a sidewalk cafe. The city is the old capital of Laos and still displays its French influence. The “downtown” area has been a designated UNESCO Heritage Site, so the whole area is protected and under strict regulation for development. It really makes for. A delightful place.

    Our day started with a quick lesson on Buddhism before touring the Wat Xieng Thong. The temple, built in the 1500’s, was used by the royalty until 1975. It is a beautiful structure and there were very few people at the site while we were there. From the temple, we walked down some stairs, crossed the street, and continued down to the river bank, where a long boat was waiting to take us up the Mekong for the day.

    Again, it was just the four of us and the two hour ride was enthralling. The Mekong is surrounded by jungle, where small homes pop up here and there. The banks are farmland during the dry season. The ground is extremely fertile, since the Mekong just dumped a bunch of fresh soil on the shore during the wet season. We saw corn and greens growing on both sides of the water. On occasion we spotted a fisherman, either on his boat or trying to catch fish from the shore. Oddly, we saw no water birds, but there were several buffalo and cows grazing in a few of the open areas, where jungle had been cleared. Our destination was the Pak Ou caves. There are two caves, crammed with over 4,000 Buddha statues. Originally, the king hid the valuable statues in th cave during war, to ensure they would be safe. Since then, the caves have taken on special meaning to the locals and have become a repository for Buddha statues big and small. The first cave is about two stories above the Mekong River. It is a large opening with thousands of Budddhas looking down on the visitor. It there is a nook or cranny, there is a Buddha statue in it. They are everywhere. Another 200+ stairs took us up to the second cave, where there were fewer statues but a much larger cave. There were probably stalactites and stalagmites at one time, but the cave has had a lot of use. It has a few different areas, where the Buddhas are concentrated, but in fewer numbers than the cave below. After walking up the steps, I can see why this cave is visited less than the other. It was warm and humid and the exercise certainly worked up a sweat.

    The caves were as far north as we would travel into Laos. We motored back down the river to lunch, where we had a table on the bank of the Mekong. Apparently, and unbeknownst to us, this is the same restaurant where Barack Obama enjoyed fresh coconut juice, during his visit to Laos a couple of years ago. His picture seemed to indicate that the coconut juice was good, but I decided to have a bottle of water. I’m pretty sure I sweat out a liter or two at the caves.

    We left lunch for what would become another top 10 moment on the trip. We drove into the mountains to visit Kuangsi Waterfalls. The falls originate from a spring in the mountain. There are three tiers to the falls, which create three pools, where swimming is allowed. The first pool was empty of visitors, and Nic lead us to the second pool. There were some good sized waterfalls feeding this pool, which we were told was a little deeper than the others. There were some basic dressing rooms, where we quickly changed into swimwear. I tossed my towel, grabbed my GoPro, and headed for the thick limb of the tree, where others were jumping into the water. It reminded me a little of Talofofo Falls, where we would go when we lived in Guam; except, the water in Guam was very warm, and I was remembering that this was spring fed, so probably not. I figured it couldn’t be that bad because other people were swimming. So, I climbed up the side of the tree, walked out to the edge of the limb, and mustered up the gumption to jump into the cool water. Wow! Cold! It was cold. Thankfully, it was relatively warm outside, so the water soon felt “refreshing.” We floated around a bit, swam to the back side of one of the smaller falls, and kicked over to the edge, where this pool spills down some smaller falls to the swimming area below. The water was a soft color of blue, and the jungle came right down to it. The place was serene; although Nic said that it gets pretty busy during the middle of the day. Fortunately, it was late afternoon, and there weren’t a lot of people in the area. Once we were properly cold, we slogged over to our towels and repeated the process in the changing room. When I came out of the changing room, Kim pointed at the sign on the tree, where I had leapt into the water: Danger! No Jumping. I swear I did not see it, even though I walked right by it. I hate it when tourists totally disrespect the rules, so now maybe I will tell myself that they just didn’t see the sign.

    Once we were packed up again, we walked up to the next pool, which is fairly shallow, with smaller falls. Again, there was no one swimming in this pool, so we took a few pictures of the water. It was just a short walk up to the final fall, or the first fall, depending on how you look at it. This is the first fall that comes from the originating spring. It is about 150 feet high and fairly wide at the bottom. It crashed into the pool with enough vigor to spray visitors on the bridge over the pool. We took lots of pictures but mostly just enjoyed standing there and watching the water seemingly fall from the sky. What a great way to end the day!
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  • Day18

    Angkor Thom and beyond

    November 11 in Cambodia

    We started the day at Angkor Thom. As we approached the South Gate, there were Buddhas lining one side of the roadway and demons on the other (similar to the churning of the ocean of milk yesterday), while the gate is topped with four faces of Buddha, representing compassion, equinimity, sympathy and charity. We visited the Bayon temple first. I think it was my favorite, in Siem Reap. It has 54 towers, representing each of the provinces at the time it was built. Each tower then has four Buddhas, for a total of 216 Buddhas looking down at you, as you visit. The towers are different heights, depending on the size of the province; for example, a populous province would be taller than a less populated one. Surrounding the structure were extensive carvings that depicted a day in the life of your average Khmer. It was quite intricate, with scenes detailing such things as daily markets, a buffalo nursing its young, and a man stoking a fire; however, no dinosaurs. We stretched out our stay as long as we could, since all of us enjoyed it so much.

    We eventually moved on to Baphuon, which is a three level, pyramid looking structure. There are few carvings to see on the building, but the view at the top offered a glimpse at the surrounding jungle. The steps were very steep and reminded me of the ones that take you above the tree tops at Tikal, in Guatemala. I’m sure they have visitors that get to the top and have a hard time coming down. Unlike the Bayon temple, which was a Buddhist dedication, with hints of peace toward Hinduism, the Baphuon is a Hindu temple, dedicated to Shiva. We didn’t spend a lot of time here, as it was less spectacular than what we had been seeing, so we walked toward the Royal Palace. At the gate, a banyon tree had completely destroyed a building and as we walked by, we could see a few stone blocks stuck in the trunk. I suspect that all of it will be covered someday. We got through the gate and looked at Preah Pithu. We could not climb up because it has been closed for some time, due to a tourist diving from the top to his death. It, too, had a pyramid feel to it, with large lions guarding the building on the corners. This building was within walking distance of the king’s pools, as well as the Terrace of Elephants. The terrace sits high off the ground, and the supporting walls have enormous men and elephants carved onto the side. The terrace was used for the king to watch out over military exercises and other ceremonies, in a large area in front of the terrace. Across the meadow, there were 12 buildings, which we understood to be armories; one building for each type of weapon.

    From here, we drove out from the grounds. We stopped in for lunch before being dropped at the airport, where we left for Laos. The flight was about two hours, and we experienced no problems getting through immigration. Our guide, Nik, definitely has the best English, yet. He was exceptionally friendly and helpful. He taught us a little Laotian, so that we can be polite with the locals. He also recommended a quick trip down to the night market. We made it about 20 minutes before we made our first purchase.
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  • Day17

    Wat an amazing place

    November 10 in Cambodia

    We started our day at Angkor Wat. Built in the 1100’s, It is one of the largest religious monuments in the world. As we approached the site, the first thing that was obvious was the giant moat surrounding the complex. The water was sparkling in the morning light, with green vegetation on both sides. After parking, we walked over a floating bridge, added recently to safely deliver tourists to the gate. As we crossed the bridge, the three towers were prominent on the horizon. The complex has been in use, since its construction, and there are about 20 monks currently living on site. The complex was built with lava rock and sandstone. It’s surprising that the sandstone has weathered as well as it has; however, it is a heavy rock and the bottom of the pillars show noticeable where from the weight. We were saddened at the sight of several beheaded Buddha statues. The antiquities have been raided over the years and sold to museums and collectors. Apparently a museum in Paris has several pieces, but they will not return them because Cambodia cannot “prove” they were taken from them. There was still plenty to look at. One temple represents Mt Meru, the center of the universe. How often do you get to stand right in the middle of the universe? The other temple has elaborate stories carved into the wall, encircling the entire building. One relief displayed the realms of heaven and hell, with the good people of earth walking between them. Down the wall to the right of center was a depiction of judgment at death, with a whole group of people headed downward.

    It was very hot, so we were relieved to get in the van and head to Ta Prohm, or the Raiders of the Lost Ark temple. It was my favorite, mostly for the atmosphere. The jungle has taken over the complex, with banyan trees growing over and through the stone structures. It was an incredible sight; Angkor Wat would look the same, if not for being occupied all these centuries. Oddly, and the guide couldn’t give an explanation, there are two dinosaurs depicted in the carvings on one of the temples. Remember, these were built in the 1100’s, so I don’t understand how a carving that is very clearly a stegosaurs appears on the side of the building. Super weird.

    My favorite part was the gate as we were walking out. On second glance I saw a face, then we realized there were four Buddha faces, each carved in the separate directions. Someone said something about Raiders of Lost Ark, so I guess I’ll have to watch it again and see if it’s there.

    We drove an hour to visit Banteay Srie. Although our guide said that it was a temple, where women were allowed to worship, it was not built by women. The name means Citadel of the Women, so there was some confusion. Our guidebook said that how much women may have worked on it is still up for debate. The argument lies in the relief carvings. Some have argued that the carvings are so intricate that a man’s hand would have been too large to create the detail that exists. Regardless, it was a beautiful and peaceful site.
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  • Day16

    That's all pho now

    November 9 in Cambodia

    We had the morning in Hanoi before moving on to Cambodia, and we made the most of it. I’ve been wanting to try egg coffee, so we searched out a shop with the drink on the menu. We ended up at Civet Coffee, where the woman opened the shop for us. Russ and Kim decided to try the civet coffee, while I went for the egg coffee and Carolyn had a frozen coconut milk cappuccino thing. Carolyn’s came out first, and it was like a dessert. Then, the barista brought out all the implements necessary for the civet coffees. There was the packet of the coffee, which is pre-measured, and then there was the coffee drip, the cup, the plate, the spoon, and the large bowl, into which she put the coffee cup. She filled the large bowl with boiling hot water to keep the coffee cup piping hot, as the coffee dripped in. Whilst the civet coffee was brewing, she stepped inside to start the egg coffee. What is egg coffee? Apparently during the war, Hanoi suffered a shortage of milk. Being cappuccino lovers, they discovered that an egg, whipped properly, could provide a foamy alternative. I watched the barista whip up the egg. She added some vanilla syrup and whipped some more. Before adding any coffee to the cup, she lined the bottom with a healthy portion of sweetened condensed milk. She then poured the robusta coffee into the cup, scooped the whipped egg onto the coffee, and sprinkled finely ground culi coffee on top. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the civet coffee was finishing up just before mine came out. Russ and Kim took a sip and...made some serious faces. The coffee was quite bitter and strong; “Stronger than espresso,” said the barista. No kidding. I had a taste and that was enough for me, but I had my egg coffee to get back to. Mine was also served in a larger bowl, with boiling hot water keeping the coffee hot. I was told that it is better to drink it quickly, while it’s still fresh, so I did. I stirred the contents, which seemed to be just fluff. I couldn’t even see any coffee in the mug, then I gave it a try. Oh my goodness! It was like a big, toasted marshmallow. It was amazingly delicious. I am going to scour the internet to find that recipe!

    Once the coffee was done, we needed to walk the caffeine out of our systems, so what better than to do more shopping. I ended up getting a NorthFace gortex rain jacket, which Kim informed me will be my Christmas present. I also got a pair of Chacos. Everything was $20. I’m so glad a I brought an empty bag to stuff full of all these purchases.

    We enjoyed pho one last time before heading to the airport. Our flight was about two hours to Siem Reap. We had to get a visa upon arrival, which was one of the most bureaucratic processes I’ve ever witnessed. We handed over our passport and the visa application, as well as $30. The immigration officer then handed the passport and paperwork to the guy next to him, who looked at it, then passed it to the guy next to him, who put the money in the drawer. From there, it was passed down 14 more people before I saw it again. As I waited for the passport, the immigration official at the end called me up to the counter. He said, “It should be about an hour,” and then laughed. It really only took about five minutes to move down the long counter before the second to last official did some stamping, and the last guy handed it over to me. His job was very important; making sure the right passport went to the right person. He opened my passport to the picture, showed it to me and said, “Is this you?” I replied affirmatively, and his job was done.

    We all made it out fairly quickly and met Dom, our guide, with little trouble. He, and our driver, Ton, will be with us the next two days. Dom has the best English of any of our guides so far. Apparently he was a monk, when he was younger, and his temperament confirmed it. I’m looking forward to spending a couple of days with him. In the meantime, we took a tuk tuk to the night market to top off the evening. Although there was a lot going on at the market, it was nothing compared to the frenetic pace of Vietnam.

    Before winding down tonight, I hopped on google and noticed an interesting google doodle. I clicked on it and learned that today is Cambodia’s Independence Day (from the French in 1953). It is clearly not celebrated like July 4th, but yea for them.
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