Thursday, 27 June 2013

Angkor What?????

After a night stop in Bangkok the next morning we headed to the Thai/Cambodia border. We had heard horror stories of pickpockets,long queues and scams. Luckily for us we managed to skip the scams and pay the correct 20dollars to the officials to enter Cambodia. We also met up with a french girl and shared the cost of a taxi to Some reap. We arrived at our hostel which was very cheap and friendly but unfortunately had a bit of a cockroach problem. However the free breakfast was nice and they offered lots of help with transport etc. Some reap is the home of Angkor Wat, the biggest religious building in the world and one of the modern 8wonders of the world. We decided to be a 3 day ticket so that we could visit lots of temples and build up to Angkor Wat  on our last day. On our first day we took a tuk tuk to visit the smaller temples, some of which are a bit further out. They were really interesting and fun to explore.



The next day we decided to have a relaxed day and just pottered around the hostel and the town ( our ticket was valid for a whole week) For dinner we had a traditional Cambodian BBQ and tried crocodile which was like a fishy chicken!! We also visited the very well named pub street. It' similar to the Khao San Road of Bangkok but a lot nicer!

The following day we hired bikes and set off to visit some more temples including what is known as the Tomb raider temple as it was featured in one of the Lara croft films. The bike ride was really fun and the temples were incredible .On a couple of the temples there was some serious climbing to be done and it was more like rock climbing than climbing stairs! It showed how strong the trees were as them growing over and around the temple was tearing the temple apart. I felt like we were in some form of adventure film!We also saw at the temple a band playing traditional Cambodian instruments to raise money for landmine victims. They themselves had the horrific injuries which comes from stepping on one.




On our final day of temples we headed out at 5am to catch sunset over AW. It was very beautiful and stunning but it seemed smaller to both of us than we had imagined. It was lovely and cool and nice to walk around. We also watched the young monks and nuns praying at this holy site. After sunrise we headed to Angkor Thom to look at some more temples including the elephant temple. They were all pretty fantastic and each different. With all the carvings you could easily imagine that the temples must have been terrifying to the peasant population.





After a morning of temples we headed into town and went to the vegetarian Ghekkho cafe for a cooking class. We learn how to make Cambodian spring rolls and dipping sauce, a green papaya salad and a tofu amok curry. All were absolutely delicious. And we had a very enjoyable lunch!
After having a coffee and read in town we headed back for an early night before our bus trip to Phnom Penh.

P.S. Hehehehe...naughty monkies!!

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Koh Tao (short but sweet post)

This is a short but sweet post. From Bangkok we headed southeast to Koh Tao for a week of scuba diving and relaxation. Having completed all our theory and pool work for the PADI open water in snowy Yorkshire it was time for the open water diving on a tropical island.
We had a great week and not only qualified as open water divers but went on to complete our advanced divers course, meaning that we can dive down to 30m. When not scuba diving we went for walks along the beach a and had a few cocktails. It was lovely to relax and felt like a nice holiday.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Burmese days part 2: Bagan,Kalaw, Inle lake and Yangon

My birthday began with trip to Bagan. Our hotel was equipped with a swimming pool so it  was great to be able to spend some time just relaxing. I was treated to 2 birthday cakes, one at lunchtime from some members of the group and one at dinner by the group leader, Shane. I felt very spoilt and had a lovely day.

Bagan has thousands of stupors and temples which can be viewed across the horizon. The reason for the many  temples are due to the existence of an ancient civilisation. They converted from Hinduism to Buddhism and wanted to gain merit, thus temples were built everywhere. At one time there was around 7000 temples but this is now reduced to 3000 all in the space of 40square kilometres. The temples are around the same age as Angkor Wat.

Some temples are very popular with many visitors whilst others are left to crumble. It was a UNESCO world heritage site but surprise surprise they withdrew due to arguments with the government. Bagan is a very beautiful place and it was great to mooch around the temples. We also visited a really lush veggie restaurant called love animals, the moon. Burmese salads are the country's speciality and this one did not disappoint!!!

(I think the photos more than words can show how beautiful Bagan was and they still don't quite catch it!!)

From Bagan we headed to Kalaw with a couple of stops along the way. We  firstly stopped at a sugar palm farm where they make sweets and drinks. Toddy is illegal to drink (because the government like to own all alcohol) so it felt good to have a shot at 8am. It was awesome to see the man shimmy very high up the tree to tap for the sugar sap with no protection at all.

 We also stopped at Mount Popa. It is this crazy mountain which looks like it should feature in a children's book. Mount Popa is the home of spirit worship and "gnats." Although Buddhism is the religion of Burma, many people still believe in spirits as well so it is a retty sacred site. There are also tonnes of monkeys!!!


Another stop was at a parasol makers. It was fascinating to see the whole process and I was sad not to be able to buy one. I did treat myself to a book made from the same material however!

On our journey we also passed through the town which had recently made  international news with the fighting between Buddhists and Muslims. The Muslims are seen as illegal immigrants by the other locals and are persecuted as such. There had been deaths in the Muslim community and a Buddhist monk was killed in retaliation. This resulted in many clashes. As a result the Muslim community were forced  out of their homes into a refugee camp for their own safety and the town put under Marshall law. It was apparently a buzzing town before but when we drove through it, it was deserted apart from the refugee camp and mass of military vehicles.

 Kalaw is up very high and so is a lot cooler than the rest of Burma. This was a relief after the 44degree heat in Bagan. It was an old British outpost from the 1920's and was now a popular trekking destination. On our first evening there we headed to a Nepalese place for dinner which was delish and then headed back to the hotel in the middle of a tremendous storm. The following morning we trekked to a hill top village to visit a tribe there which was very interesting and the countryside was beautiful.



 In the afternoon we decided with our friends Robyn and Jenny to do some shopping and to eat a pancake. On our shopping trip we visited a fair trade shop which supported local tribal villages. We were lucky enough to meet the head of the organisation who was a fascinating man. He showed us all the works of the charity and explained he had received an university education in England. He then shared with us that he had been imprisoned in solitary confinement and tortured. He showed us the burn scars and where his Achilles tendon had been cut. We learn later that he was the head of the NLD in Kalaw. He had been tortured in his  campaign for democracy and human rights and was continuing his fight.

On our last night in Kalaw we headed to a tiny bar for a few ( far too many) rum sours and a sing song. It was a great atmosphere and we had a great time. My favorite bit was teaching a Burmese Liverpool fan, Southampton FC players. Adam said all he could hear over the music was me saying Adam Lalana.

The next day we visited a cave ful of Buddhas, whih pretty much does what it says on the tin! There was also a fairy cave in there which is always good.

Our next stop in Burma was Inle lake where many people live on floating villages and boat is the main form of transport. We spent a day on a boat visiting firstly some temples and then different handicraft shops. We visited a silversmith and were shown how they mould the silver ( from mines in Burma) into jewellery. I treated myself to a simple silver ring. We also visited silk spinners who wove both silk and lotus fabric using traditional wooden looms. The lotus fabric is used in monk's robes as it is seen as a holy plant.









We also visited a blacksmiths, it was crazy seeing 3 hammers coming down in perfect timing. Our last stop was to a cigarette makers who make the traditional Burmese cigarettes from leaves and tobacco. They actually taste pretty nice and you can tell that there isn't all the nasty chemicals in them.



We took a flight back to where we started, in Yangon.On our way from the airport to our hotel we had asked if we could go past Aung San Suu Kyi's house (which is also the headquarters of the NLD) Firstly we drove past the back gates which showed the NLD's sign and a portrait of the General Sung San. (ASSK's Dad and Burma's hero who managed to secure Burma's independence from the British and who was a strong supporter of democracy' he was assassinated by the fascists.)Our legend of a bus driver then took us round to the otherwise of the lake where you can get a great view of the house and where you are banned from stopping!!!


Our last day was spent pottering about in the markets and having a walk around. In the evening we went for a meal to a rather nice restaurant and then a few of us headed to JJ club. It was pretty grim as it was like a meatmarket With the girls on a fashion show being given flower garlands by men. At the end of the night one girl was awarded a prize of the queen.

The next morning we were up early to catch our flight to Bangkok and leave the beautiful country of Burma behind. It was an absolutely amazing experience shared with some great new friends.We both hope that with Next year's elections tha a fair democracy will finally be established and that the people's heroine, Aung San Suu Kyi can lead them to prosperity.