Tag Archives: tuk tuk

“Rockclimbing” the Outskirts of Angkor….Beyond Siem Reap, Cambodia

Our dismay at the number of tourists at Ta Prohm (Tombraider location) the day before prompted a 5 am start on our second day visiting the Angkor Archaeological Park. We hopped on our e-bikes and headed in the pitch dark to the site. We weren’t the first to arrive, but the two British girls we encountered at the entrance with their slumbering tuk-tuk driver had been waiting for an hour. They ventured in with us, just as the sky was starting to lighten. We didn’t see them again. It was a bit too dark when we first arrived but we waved flashlights at some interesting parts, which made for some cool photos. Large strangler figs and silk cotton trees devour the stones, as this temple has been left largely to show the state it was “discovered” in.

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My favorite spot
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Riki’s favorite spot

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It is one of the most popular temples after Angkor Wat, probably because of its immense size and maze of corridors, blocked and open. And maybe because of the fame brought from Angelina Jolie’s part in Tombraider. In many places, additional support beams and posts have been added for stability and safety. It was a completely different feeling wandering the ruins without the hordes of tour groups snapping photos and being overly loud. I was even able to spot the “stegasaurus” bas-relief, though it took me 40 minutes to locate. Who knows if they had found bones from dinosaurs, or just made up this imaginary creature. It does look remarkably like a stegasaurus, though the head is more boar-like. We spent about two hours here and I only ran into Riki once, to show him my favorite spot. Turns out it was one of his too, also discovered sometime that morning. Then the tour groups started showing up and we bolted for the next temple.

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See the “dinosaur”?

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Pre Rup is a temple-mountain, with loads of laterite, an iron-rich clay used to make many blocks here. It has a dimpled finish though and was thus often finished in stucco or stone. The temple was very tall and we were able to see out over the trees, though all you saw was more trees, and a tiny bit of East Mebon (the temple after the next one). The laterite walls here were stacked in an odd arrangement to me. Rather than overlapping like bricks, they were stacked in a grid. One directly on top of the other, so the joints in the walls were straight vertical. Something that we learned in school was not stable, but since these are still standing, there must be some trick to it. Or they were reconstructed incorrectly?

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At this point we were a bit worried about the life left in our e-bike batteries, but we decided to risk it and head out 4 km to the east (we were told the bikes could go 40 kms before dying and weren’t sure how far the next charging station was).

I’m very glad we made it out there, as this turned out to be one of my favorite temples. Banteay Samre is a bit isolated and doesn’t receive as many tourists as the other temples. It has tall concentric laterite walls enclosing a tight cluster in the central sanctuary. It has been completely restored and has so many layers and a moat-like interior. Despite following a Spanish tour around trying to figure out what was going on, my Spanish is not good enough to discern if it was a moat or just a raised temple. Either way, it was unique to what we had seen so far.

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Cat spotting

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We backtracked the 4 km to East Mebon, the top of which we had viewed earlier from Pre Rup. East Mebon also appears raised, but actually it was surrounded by water, but is no longer, thus giving the illusion of a temple-mountain, though it is not. A large draw for this temple is the elephants placed on all corners. One is currently being restored, so they are in various states of completeness. There were also some incredible lintels at the top, one showing a monster eating an elephant. This temple also was largely constructed with bricks, unlike many we have seen. The bricks are heavily pitted, presumably to help decorative stucco adhere, though it is long gone.

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Next stop, Ta Som, just to the north. This is a smaller temple, where many of the lintels have been left displayed on the ground rather than in their original positions.  It has a huge tree growing over its east gate, which is a fabulous sight, but ominous, as when these trees ultimately die, they often leave little stability left for the stones, which can crumble.

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Along the north side of the park is Neak Pean, a completely different type of temple. This one is basically a crucifix of ponds surrounding a small monument. We didn’t spend much time here as most of the area has been cordoned off and many people were already crowding the small viewing area.

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Preah Khan is a huge complex, possibly a former Buddhist monastery. We dropped our e-bikes outside at a charging point and headed in for about an hour and half, hoping that would be enough charge to get us all the way back to Siem Reap, where we had to return the bikes. Preah Khan is a maze of rubble and cleared areas, easy to get lost in. A unique round-columned two-storied structure, of unknown use is one of the highlights at this complex. There are some incredible hidden niches filled with carvings that can only be seen if you know what to look for, or get lost, as I did.

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With our bikes charged, we headed back south to Angkor Wat to check out the tower, which was closed the first night we visited and the bas-reliefs that we had not had time to see. The views from the top as the sun was lowering in the sky were great. And we watched as monkeys left the forest and climbed onto the roofs of the outer galleries. Using our guide book, we followed a path around the bas-reliefs depicting all sorts of stories, including victories, losses, heaven and hell. We left before sunset as we had been gone 13 hours and were exhausted from climbing over rocks all day.

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So many tourists
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So many tourists still
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Tower
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Top of tower selfie
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So many tourists
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Outer walls
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Inside walls
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Art scene really emphasizing the bas-reliefs
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More bas-reliefs
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Was minding my own business when this guy showed up

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Needless to say, we needed another rest day, physically and mentally. Too many temples can be overwhelming, especially when you are too tired to realize the uniqueness of each. We sent out our laundry (except for socks), caught up on some blogging/pictures and went for a walk to find an information center and prints of the layouts of temples (both of which we failed to locate).

LAST DAY – MORE ROCKS

Our final day, we arranged for a tuk-tuk ($40 all day) to pick us up at 6:30 am. He was about 15 minutes late, but we didn’t think much of it as he was good-natured and spoke English pretty well. However, not long into our drive, we realized something was definitely wrong with his bike. We were going at a snail’s pace, being passed by all the other tuk-tuks, even those crowded with fat tourists. We had left early to try to avoid the crowds and it was clear we weren’t going to be as early as we would have liked. We were headed to Banteay Srei, some 25 km from the other monuments. We managed to arrive before most of the big tour groups and walked around the relatively small temple with only a handful of other people. This temple is miniature compared to the others and made of pink sandstone. It also has a plethora of exquisite carvings, everywhere. I shadowed an Engligh speaking tour guide as he explained the details, before finding Riki just as numerous giant tour buses arrived.

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Getting ready for the “tour”
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Inner sanctuary
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Chinese tourists bring candy for the kids, perpetuating the problem of the kids hanging out at the temples. Oh, and rotting their teeth.
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Intricate carvings as if “done by women”

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Our last stop was Beng Mealea, some 40 km from the Angkor temples, but in the same direction as we had already travelled. Unfortunately, our slow tuk-tuk was not the only problem. When our driver pulled over to buy water for the slightly smoking motorbike, he also asked for directions. He’d never been there. Great. It took over an hour, with some very nervous moments by our driver, where he obviously didn’t know if we were going the right way, but we eventually made it. This temple is on private property and not included in the three-day pass we had bought for the other temples. We had to pay an additional $5 (did I mention everything is in dollars here) to enter, but it was definitely worth it. This temple is one Riki had shown me months and months ago as one he wanted to visit. He knew it would be harder to visit, but the pictures were amazing. We almost decided not to go, as the $40 for the tuk-tuk is a big hit in our budget. But that doubt was gone pretty much as soon we arrived. Because its much further than the other temples, not many people make the journey, though that appears to be changing as the roads get better. We ate our pb&j at the entrance and ventured into the un-restored and ruinous temple.

Wooden walkways have been added to make it easier for tourists to clamber over the rocks, which are everywhere. The central sanctuary is literally a pile of rubble. Riki ventured to the top and could see stones with intricate carvings in the pile. You can still climb over many rocks, but some areas have been deemed unsafe and the rangers in the temple will yell at you if you enter one of those areas (not a personal experience we had, but one we witnessed). We spent almost three hours here and the pictures really do a better job explaining than I could.

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We had a long, slow, bumpy and dusty ride back, with a few trips to splash more water on the motorbike.  Riki made a lot of little friends along the way.   We rewarded ourselves with a $2 fish massage (including free beer) and bought our bus tickets to Battambang for the next day.

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Where we “gassed up” and bought water to cool off the bike. Gas comes in Black Label and Red label. Same price.

 

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More Wats & Motorbikes….Sukhothai & Chiang Mai, Thailand

No sleep on our overnight flight from Kathmandu to Bangkok (through Kuala Lumpur again). We just can’t do it. Luckily, there are lots of movies and we were entertained on both flights. So when we got to Bangkok we checked into our usual place (weird that we have stayed here at least three different occasions already) and slept for the rest of the afternoon. Our two favorite street food places on Rambuttri were closed because it was Monday so we opted for one of the touristy places nearby. Which was a great find, not for the prices, but because I discovered baked bananas in coconut milk. Delicious, like dessert soup. Must find a recipe. The next day we sent out all of our laundry (except socks, which are never leaving our sight again) and tried to get the Nepal pictures saved and then blogged. We have spent a lot of time in Bangkok by now and are less impressed each time we come back. It has so much to offer, but it is SO big and can be quite frustrating and/or expensive getting from one place to another. We were glad to hop on a bus on Wednesday for a 7 hour trip to Sukhothai, another ancient capital.


We arrived after dark, took a tuk tuk to our hostel in New Sukhothai and then explored the night market area. While there were lots of street food vendors, there wasn’t much else to do. The tuk tuks here are different. Instead of a bike pulling some sort of cart, the cart is in the front, completely blocking the view of the driver. And then the passengers get all the wind and dust in their faces and totally ruin their hair.

The next morning we got up incredibly early (Riki’s idea, I was not pleased) to rent bikes in Old Sukhothai and explore the ruins. We arrived by tuk tuk at the entrance, where we were given our 30 baht (about $1) bikes, pink and blue of course. I got pink, not by choice. Incredibly uncomfortable bikes, except for the extra seat in the back of mine, but they had brakes, which is more than we can say about some other bikes we’ve rented.

Old Sukhothai is very spread out and it was pretty hot. The first Wat we visited was the most central one and the largest. I pretty quickly discovered some wildlife and Riki wandered off take pictures. A lot of the wats are pretty similar, but there are a few different styles here, with Sri Lanka and Khmer influences. I will spare you the nitty gritty, but there are loads of pictures (shocking).


 

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Too early to be sightseeing
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She came up to me, I swear.

 

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BIG Buddha

 

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Proof Riki was here.
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Waiting patiently for Riki while he takes photos
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Buddha be gold-fingered
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Back seat was more comfy on my little pink bike

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The next day we went back to the bus station and caught a bus north to Chiang Mai. You don’t normally have to book the buses ahead of time, just show up at the station and they will put you on the next available bus. We have been pretty lucky and haven’t had to wait very long so far. Six hours later we arrived and took another tuk tuk to the Old City. We checked into a guesthouse named after me and meandered to the city walls to check out the food stalls. We have been able to eat very well and very cheaply in Thailand. The street food is really good and there are many options. I discovered a dessert stall and sampled a few bright colored squares. Still not sure what they were, but they were kind of a cross between hard jello and pudding. Unfortunately, not a good combo.

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Chiang Mai is a hub for trekking, outdoor adventure and cooking classes. Having no desire to go trekking Thai style as we feel a bit spoiled by Nepal’s real trekking, we spent two days wandering the city, checking out the various markets and wats. We also got our first massage, after being tempted by so many vendors in Bangkok, we gave in and got 30 minute foot massages for the equivalent of about $5 total.

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This is where the parents should probably skip ahead, or at least be thankful that we sometimes do things without telling you first for a reason. Having exhausted the sights of the Old City in Chiang Mai, we had the grand idea to rent a motorbike and go on an adventure around a commonly travelled loop just outside the city. This 100+ km loop goes by some incredible waterfalls, various flora and fauna sites, including an elephant camp, and through some incredible scenery. Having rented scooters in New Orleans one time, we were pros, and showed up at the bike shop ready for anything. Except semi-automatic motorbikes and hills. And Thai police officers (more later). But for the equivalent of $10 we were given helmets, a bike and a map and sent off on our way. Having only ever ridden a scooter, an automatic one, this was, well, a bit of a learning process. Oh and the traffic (not to mention they drive on the left). The beginning of the loop goes for about 30 minutes through the city and its suburbs. In one word, nerve-racking. Riki thought it best that I start out driving. You know, because I know gears better (?). So by the time we see the police check point, I’m pretty mentally drained from dodging buses and cars and other crazy motorbike drivers. When the cop motions us to stop, I’m thinking, “Well, this has been fun, all 30 minutes of it.” He asks for my international driver’s license and I hand over my Louisiana license. Of course, getting our driver’s license translated had been on our list of things to do before we left Louisiana, but it didn’t happen. At this point, Riki and I are both thinking that we are going to have to park the bike and get a taxi back to town because they won’t let us drive. Well, not the case. The cop writes me up a ticket, and motions me to cross the highway to the guy sitting under a tree with a wad of cash. 200 baht (about $6.50) later and we are off, with me free to drive for the rest of the day. I’d like to point out here that getting an international driver’s license in the U.S. costs at least $25. So I’m still ahead.

Onward we went. Eventually, we turned onto a smaller road and the traffic subsided. We stopped at Mae Sa Waterfalls and hiked up the 10 falls. This place has been neglected some, especially the higher you go, but the scenery is lush and the falls were decent.

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These big guys have an affinity for me. Note my awesome pink helmet.

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Riki decided to risk another $6.50 fine and took over the driving. We continued on the Samoeng Valley loop to the Queen Sirikrit Botanical Gardens. It is set up on a very steep hill and there were times when I didn’t think our little 125cc bike would make it. But we made it to the top, ate lunch and explored the greenhouses. They have a great display of cacti and water plants, as well as a very large rainforest house.

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We continued on through windy roads which at times were very steep (uphill and down) and saw some beautiful views along the way. When Riki got tired of driving, I took over and continued producing terrible noises from the motorbike as I chugged up and down hills. Towards the end, it was so steep that the fuel gauge hit empty and I was pretty sure we were going to be stranded. It wasn’t empty just yet, but by the time we neared the end of the loop we were running on fumes with no gas station in sight. I started coasting whenever possible and we passed plenty of LPG (liquid petro) stations, but not a single regular station. Finally, at a stop light, I pulled up to a lady on a similar bike and pointed down at my bright red fuel gauge. She chuckled a little and motioned just up the street. Sure enough, there it was, but on the wrong side of the road. I can’t exactly explain why that u-turn was so stressful, but I think the combo of already being low on gas, having to drive 5 minutes down the road to the next intersection to turn around and then trying to figure out which side of the intersection to go on when everyone is going every which way, all combined to make an eventful end of our trip. We returned the bike and headed straight for John’s Bar, where we got two draft beers and tried to unwind.

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The next morning, we got a tuk tuk back to the bus station and caught the bus to Chiang Rai.