Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam (part 1)

I was a child in the 1970s, and though I have no memory of the war in Vietnam while it was actually happening, it was definitely a huge cultural presence in the US in the late 70s and 80s. My elementary schools had many kids who'd just arrived from Vietnam, whose parents had incredible stories about how they'd escaped. And until the last decade, the idea of visiting Vietnam as a tourist was something that had not occurred to me.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Siem Reap, Cambodia (part 3)

We spent one of our mornings in Siem Reap exploring the ruins of Ta Prohm Temple. It was possibly one of the most amazing sites I've ever seen. Our car dropped us off at the crumbling stone gateway, beyond which was a long gravel pathway through the forest.

As you can see, at this early hour, we basically had the place to ourselves.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Siem Reap, Cambodia (part 2)

Tourists flock to Angkor Wat by the the thousands, and it is a glorious and impressive sight, of course. But for me, the real magic of Siem Reap lies in many of the other sites. There is nothing quite like the feeling of having a thousand-year-old ruin nearly to yourself, early in the morning. There is no incessant chatter of other tourists and their guides, no crowds to navigate past, no other people appearing in your photographs, just massive stones rising from the jungle that has been slowly reclaiming them for a thousand years, their intricate carvings worn by time but still astonishingly stark and beautiful. The heat and humidity of the day is not yet oppressive, just on the edge of stifling, and you can close your eyes and imagine what these temples might have looked like when they were first built, when they rose out of the jungle as a sign of power and wealth.

This is Angkor Thom, the ancient Khmer city.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Siem Reap, Cambodia (part 1)

We've traveled a lot in the last two decades, and I can honestly say that there have been very few places that truly surprised me, that exceeded my expectations in almost every way. Siem Reap, Cambodia was one of those places. 

When I was a child in the 1970s and 1980s, I only knew of Cambodia as a place where refugees came from. The Khmer Rouge and the killing fields dominated my ideas about the place, and though I knew there were amazing temples and ruins to be seen, it was difficult to get past my preconceptions.  Add to that that we'd read we were going to be there at the absolute hottest time of the year (one guidebook described the heat as "hellish"), and I wasn't sure I was really going to enjoy our time there.

But from the moment we landed at the lovely airport in Siem Reap, everything about the city was picturesque and charming. It was hot, yes, but the air-conditioned hotel van was waiting for us (with cans of cold beer) to whisk us off to the Soujourn Hotel, a lovely little boutique hotel just outside the city.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Pattaya, Thailand

On our last day in Bangkok, we headed down to Pattaya, a city on the coast, to visit a former colleague of Doug;s who lives there. It's definitely a beach town, and is a popular tourist destination. The beach was packed when we drove past. 

We went up to the top of a hill to see a lovely view of the city.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Bangkok, Thailand (part 2)

Bangkok is primarily a Buddhist country, and there are temples everywhere. There are nearly 500 temples in Bangkok alone, so obviously they are an important part of life in this city. We've visited Catholic cathedrals in Italy, Hindu Temples in India and Nepal, Shinto Shrines in Japan, and Buddhist Temples in nearly every country we've visited in Asia. And I have to say that the ones in Thailand are some of the most ornate and beautiful I've ever seen. If Italy has most of the beautiful cathedrals in the Catholic world, then surely Thailand has the most beautiful Buddhist temples.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and Bangkok, Thailand (part 1)

Leaving Kathmandu was nearly as difficult as arriving. The line for passport control was an hour long, and there were maybe only 20 people ahead of us. Luckily, Carter has learned to wait patiently in lines (as long as he has my phone or the iPad to play with), which made it feel much less like torture than it might otherwise. The Kathnmandu international airport is rustic, perhaps one of the most rustic I've ever seen (including Iquitos, Peru). The domestic airport was even more rustic: the baggage claim area is a hut next to the parking lot!

And so I was completely caught off-guard by the incredibly modern, glittering international airport in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The contrast was stunning, especially considering that it wasn't a very long flight between the two places.