Thailand

Tiger Cave and More Climbing!

We’ve had quite an active past couple of days, especially considering we were planning on taking it easy and recovering a bit from traveling so much over the past few weeks. We thought it’d be nice to check out some local sights, and the Tiger Cave Temple was one of the highest recommended things to see. Reviewers consistently said that the 1237 steps were not to be taken lightly, but after all of the hiking and walking we’ve been doing, we figured it wouldn’t be that big of a deal. We were quite wrong.

First, let’s establish that the reviewers and the signs were also wrong. There were 1260 steps to the top. It mattered, because after the first 100 steps each one could be as high as a foot each time. After the first 400 steps, I was seriously questioning how worth it the hike could possibly be, as it was incredibly taxing. However, seeing the incredible views of the Thai countryside and coast from the top of the temple was really amazing, and absolutely worth it.

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Today we went back out to Railay to climb again! We got up early, caught the first boat over to Railay from Krabi Town, and still didn’t get to the gear rental shop until 11 (getting to and from Railay can be a pain). We rented a harness and met up with our new friend from New York, who fortunately had a rope and plenty of gear and was looking for people to climb with! We spent the day climbing in a couple of different areas around Railay and generally having a great time. Even with the slippery and polished limestone, the climbing was a ton of fun and it was cool to spend the whole day out climbing and seeing all of the other people doing the same thing!

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Thailand

Ao Nang and Climbing!!

It’s been a busy and also slow past few days in Thailand! We’ve been moving around and seeing lots of new places, but also spending plenty of time relaxing on beaches and enjoying the warm weather (sometimes entirely too warm).

Yesterday, we went out to Ao Nang and spent the day walking around the town, traversing the “Monkey Trail” over to a fancy resort beach, relaxing, reading, and cooling off in the ocean. The Monkey Trail wasn’t an entirely planned expedition, we sort of just saw a trail up a nearby cliff and decided to check it out. We found out later that we were lucky not to be robbed by monkeys on the trail (hence the name), but through most of the walk I was too worried about slipping and scraping my way down a rather high cliff, so monkeys weren’t exactly on my mind. Getting to Ao Nang itself was a bit of an adventure, as you ride in the back of a pickup truck that has been retrofitted for passengers. And by retrofitted, I mean they put a couple of benches along the sides, took out the back (so bags could very easily slide straight out onto the road, I seriously don’t know why they’d take that piece off…), put a few bars to hold on and called it a day. I’m not sure how fast the drivers go, but I can confidently say that it feels like at least 150 the entire way when you’re staring out the back at the road with nothing to keep you from falling out.

Today we went back over to Railay beach with the plan of spending most of the day climbing. Rough seas meant that we got to spend about an hour waiting for a boat to leave to Railay and then another hour to get over there, so that was fun. Once we got there, we figured we’d walk over to Tonsai and rent gear. Unfortunately, of the two ways to get to Tonsai, we took the incredibly difficult and roundabout way. Instead of a short stroll along the beach, we found ourselves scrambling up a massive hill and then precariously down-climbing the other side, all in all taking something like 40 minutes when it should have been closer to 10. Whoops.

Once we finally got to the gear rental shop we’d looked up, everything went much smoother! We spent about four hours climbing around various areas of Tonsai, mostly along cliffs that jut out along the coast. The limestone in the area ranges from “a little slick” to “oh my god this is polished glass” as a result of the popularity of climbing in the region and the coastal conditions. Even so, the climbs were a ton of fun with a variety of different features to scramble up and some very rewarding views from the top!

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The day concluded with a longboat ride back to Ao Nang and then another fun “bus” ride back to Krabi Town. Once low tide comes around, the longboats can’t come in all the way to the shore or to the docks. So the passengers go out to them, meaning everybody wades in knee-deep water out to the boat and the in to the shore when we arrive. Pretty funny and a new experience for me!

 

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Thailand

Hello, Thailand!

Cambodia had incredible temples and was a great stop on our tour, but now we’re on to Thailand! We arrived yesterday evening and discovered, to my dismay, that it was a Buddhist holiday and the sale of alcohol was forbidden. Alas, I had to wait a full day before I could try the local beers in Thailand (spoilers: they ended up tasting like the local beers everywhere else. Which is to say, like a cheap beer).

While there aren’t temples or museums that I’m looking forward to here, the beaches and limestone cliffs are unbelievably gorgeous and I can’t wait to get back out and see more of them. We spent the day yesterday at Railay Beach, a popular beach near Krabi town. Interestingly enough, I actually got to pilot the longboat that we rode over to Railay. As we rode along, we noticed that the boat was taking on an awful lot of water along the floor and by our feet. Our driver also noticed and pulled me back to drive the boat while he tried to keep us from sinking. So that was fun.

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We did eventually make it safely, and it was worth the risk of sinking. The beaches were absolutely beautiful, as were the giant cliffs. We also saw a group of macaques, which liked to steal from tourists and were extremely possessive of things they took (we saw a few bare their teeth at us and other tourists for trying to protect our belongings). We didn’t do much by way of adventures today, just hiking up a very steep hill to an overlook and otherwise lounging around on beautiful beaches, but over the next couple of weeks we’re looking forward to possibly visiting a floating village, an elephant preserve, some climbing spots, and more beautiful beaches!

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Cambodia

More Temples and a Circus!

After we finished with Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom yesterday, I figured we had kind of hit the high points of Siem Reap and it was time to just relax for a couple of days. I’m glad we decided not to, because today we saw some incredible temples, took a nice nature walk, and saw an amazing performance in the evening!

We started to the day with an hour and a half tuk-tuk ride out to a waterfall / nature hike. Definitely a long ride, but fortunately the scenery changed frequently and we got to see plenty of Cambodia outside of the city on our drive, which was an interesting trip on its own. Once we got to the nature hike, it was only 1.5 km to the top. On arrival, we were a bit disappointed that we had forgotten it was the dry season, so there was actually no waterfall at all. Still, we got to see some carvings in the stones around the waterfall (that was part of the appeal of the walk, there are some ancient carvings along the river) and enjoy a pleasant walk through a cool jungle.

After the waterfall, we went on to Banteay Srei, the women’s temple. It’s a long way out from Angkor Wat, so it doesn’t receive much traffic, but honestly it was probably the best temple we’ve seen yet. It was beautifully restored, not very trafficked, and easy to walk around and inspect. It was a gorgeous ruin, and I’m glad we went out there just for that.

On our way back we stopped at a butterfly conservatory (which was nothing special but still a nice stop), another small temple with a giant staircase (sadly it was very much in ruins and there wasn’t much to see at the top), and a gate to Angkor Thom. We went through the gate and came across yet another temple by the name of Banteay Kdei, which looked like it was in the middle of restoration but was still a nice stop, and then came back to the hotel for some rest.

In the evening, we went out to the Cambodian circus. We’d heard it was a circus of athletic performances and acrobatics, not of animals and motorcycles, so I had a pretty good idea of what to expect. Even so, it was incredible and a ton of fun to watch all of the acrobatics and performances. There were mini shows that gave a story to all of the acrobatics, so it wasn’t just flips and handstands for the sake of flips and handstands. Overall, the athletes were incredible, the show was fun, and I had a great time out.

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Cambodia, Vietnam

Goodbye Vietnam, Hello Cambodia!

Today was our first day in a new country, Cambodia!

Our last day and night in Vietnam was spent eating lots of pho, visiting a water puppet show (some cultural theater of Vietnam involving puppets on poles in a pool), and walking around markets. Now we’ve spent our first day in Cambodia, and it is already extremely different!

Rather than the bustling city that we left in Vietnam, we’re in the more spread out and dustier city of Siem Reap. We got in late, got lost on our way to the hotel, and discovered the widespread usefulness of the local transportation, the tuk-tuk. Our driver didn’t seem to understand us too well, but he got us to our hotel!

Our first day here was spent on a full day tour of various temples around Siem Reap. We first went to Angkor Wat, the big temple that everyone talks about. While it was a bit frustrating that it was so crowded, it was really an incredible sight and could have made a great day on its own.

After Angkor Wat we proceeded onto Angkor Thom, where we saw a jungle temple, a temple with 216 Buddha faces, and lots of gorgeous temples and ruins all around. It’s amazing to think that they have so many temples and ruins inside of Angkor Thom that they don’t even bother to restore or advertise many of them. Ruins just lie by the side of the road, looking beautiful and seemingly going unnoticed.

The day concluded with a trip up a large hill to yet another temple, where we went to watch the sun set over the country. As with the rest of the day, we were up there with 300 of our closest friends, which made it a bit difficult to get some good pictures but overall wasn’t too bad. The sun didn’t so much “set” as “disappear into haze”, but it still made for a good evening and a good end to a very exhausting and incredible day (I know there aren’t really any photos in this post, I just took way too many. If you want to see more then check out my Flickr album).

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Vietnam

More of Vietnam

Two more days in Vietnam and we’re now experts at crossing the street here. I realize I forgot to mention that in my last post, so I’ll quickly describe it: terrifying. There aren’t crosswalks, at least not any that are recognized, so you have to just step out into traffic and trust the scooters and taxis to weave around you. Remember the grandma who walked through traffic blindly in the beginning of Mulan ? That’s basically what you do.

We’ve managed to get used to crossing the street, had various Vietnamese foods (the pho is seriously amazing), and done plenty of exploration around Hanoi. We checked out the National History Museum, which was pretty standard as museums go and talked about the history of Vietnam (unfortunately it was largely in Vietnamese, and we didn’t take a lot away from it). We also went to a temple out on the lake in the city, which wasn’t that interesting on it’s own, but it was very interesting to see the pickpockets at work. They actually stand out quite a bit, they’re the only non-tourists in the area and look very suspicious as they patrol the bridge out to the temple. We had a couple follow us as we paced back and forth across the bridge, but with inside pockets on our jackets, we’re not the best of targets for pickpockets.

Today, we went off to the Ho Chi Minh museum and mausoleum, and to the temple of literature. The temple of literature is the ancient university, apparently founded in 1047 or something like that. However, most of it was apparently bombed in the 60s, so it’s all pretty recent construction in old architectural style. It was still cool to see, and we spent about an hour there before making our way up to the museum. Things around Hanoi close from 12-2, so we had to wait to see the museum, and we spent the time by walking around and seeing the exterior of the mausoleum and another unidentified government building. People aren’t allowed near the mausoleum itself, but the exterior fits in perfectly with the other buildings nearby (the museum and the unidentified government building). They look exactly you’d imagine the ministries of Peace, Love, and Truth from 1984 to look. With the exception that nothing in Hanoi appears to be above 10 stories.

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WAR IS PEACE — FREEDOM IS SLAVERY — IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH

Inside the museum, we again were presented with an exhibit which was both largely Vietnamese and largely propaganda. There actually was almost nothing inside the museum which told a story or reported on historical events, just lots of quotes from party leaders saying things like “It’s clear that Leninism is the purest and best economical and political ideology,” and a large statue of Ho Chi Minh.

We’ve started to examine buildings and infrastructure more in the past two days, and we’ve noticed that very little of the city appears newly constructed. The 1984 ministries were large marble buildings, but everything else looks like it was left behind by the French in that it is old, colonial style architecture.

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Vietnam

Good Morning, Vietnam!

After a couple of incredible weeks in Hong Kong, we now find ourselves in Hanoi, Vietnam! We arrived late last night, had a scare with our visas (they require payment in cash but don’t have an ATM before passing through customs. Who does that?!?), and made it to our hotel for the next four days.

Right away, our concierge was recommending places for us to go eat. I know that I like pho from around Atlanta, so I was particularly excited to try it out in Hanoi and see what it’s like from Vietnam. We got up early, had breakfast at the hotel, and set out to see some of the sights of Hanoi.

The first things we went to see were two national history museums. Because most of the city closes for midday, we actually only got to see one, and we opted for the museum of revolutionary history. It started with an entire floor dedicated to how terrible the French are, and ended with an entire floor dedicated to how terrible the Americans are. It was pretty cool to see the history of the country from ~1830 up until today, and most notable was the sudden jump in military technology. Prior to 1945, the only weapons on display for fighting French colonialists were sticks and swords. Suddenly, in 1946, heavy machine guns and artillery showed up. The entire museum was telling a very one-sided account of history, however, and decided not to mention how this massive leap in technology came about.

After the history museum, we went over to see the Hoa Lo prison. Again, we were presented with a rather one-sided view of history. The French built the prison to oppress political dissidents and living conditions were miserable and cruel, but the Vietnamese turned it into a very hospitable and comfortable environment for American POWs (who were even given resources to celebrate holidays that Vietnamese couldn’t afford to celebrate! How kind!). I kept expecting to find some sort of account of what actually transpired, but none was forthcoming.

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I don’t know what this says, but I’m guessing it translates to something like: “We definitely haven’t done anything morally questionable to anyone in the past 50 years.”

Finally, we rounded off the day of exploration by trying some pho from Hanoi, and I was not disappointed. It was absolutely incredible, and I can’t wait to try other types of Vietnamese food while we’re here. We did notice that our food smelled rather different than it tasted (it smelled awful), and have yet to find an explanation for that. Odd smells aside, I am excited to see what else the city has to offer, and try more amazing foods!

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