Posts Tagged With: Buddhist

Phnom Chisor: Our First Pagoda Visit

Part two of our day off.

You thought we only went to Tonle Bati and then turned around? Not when there is a tall hill beckoning to be climbed! (Or, 436 feet to be exact. The area around Phnom Penh is all at sea level.)

After Tonle Bati we drove to Phnom Chisor, which is a contemporary pagoda as well as ancient Angkorian ruins. We climbed the 412 steps to the top, sweating all the way, unaware of the jaw-dropping experience that awaited us.

It was awesome!

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One of the modern pagoda buildings. Buddhist monks live in the pagodas, as well as others who I think of as ‘in-betweeners’, people who are looking for a job in a new place, passing through an area, or at a tough point in their lives. Pagodas are incredibly welcoming and warm places. Check out this great article from The Phnom Penh Post about the life of a boy who came to live in the pagoda.

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We were allowed to crawl into every nook and cranny of these ruins!

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Felt like we were in the movies.
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The modern pagoda is in the background… while I stand under towering ancient temples.
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The inside of one of the ancient buildings is being used for Buddhist worship. After three years in different countries, I feel like I’ve got a pretty good grip on when someone is being genuine, or when they’re trying to rip you off. Or, when they’re just being curious. Curious is okay. Friendly is okay. You can spot the ulterior motives pretty easy. So when I peeked into this temple, there were three older Cambodian guys in tank tops and trousers sitting barefoot on the floor burning incense. They stood up, and gestured to me to come in. I shook my head “no”, and smiled. I didn’t want to bother them, and felt like I probably didn’t belong in there anyways. They insisted that I come in, and smiled at me and Sean. I paused, looked at Sean, and took off my shoes. Barefoot, I padded up the ancient steps and ducked through the doorway. Led to the back, I was given a stick of incense to offer to the shrine. I was shown Buddhist prayer flags. I stumbled through saying, “How beautiful!” and “So nice!” in Khmer. (‘Saat nah’ and ‘laaw nah’, in case you’re wondering.)

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They walked me away from the shrine, then offered to tie a red string around my wrist. Again, I had this fuzzy feeling inside, so went for it. The man gently wrapped the strand around my wrist, while chanting in a language that was hauntingly foreign. I don’t know if it was Khmer. I don’t know what he was saying. What I do know, is that full minute that I sat there looking at the string before he cut off the final tie, was one of the most humbling moments in my life. I thanked them, smiling profusely, and stood to leave. I later learned that the red string is Buddhist good luck, and they are popular with anyone who frequents the temple in their neighborhood. My boss, an American married to a Cambodian woman, always has three or four around his wrist. My friend is dating a Cambodian guy, whose mother always brings them back for her when she goes to temple. My students wear them. And I, shyly, and proudly, shared in that community.

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Exploring more of the complex. We were the only people there.

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And then we saw the view.

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And the monkey.

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One of the men said this is the only monkey in the area, and it lives here at the pagoda. I believe it; monkeys have pretty much been hunted out of population in greater Cambodia.

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Another naga. Read my previous post on Tonle Bati to learn about the nagas…

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What a great view! We walked around the rim of the hill to gain a full view of the countryside.

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There was a clear path the whole way around. I felt so happy to be out there in the trees, the green, the peace.

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Only an hour outside of Phnom Penh. Can you believe it?

IMG_8106Rice paddies on the drive home, along with those who tend them.

I am loving Cambodia more and more.

Check back soon, because I still haven’t told you that I went to China…

 

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Wat Phou Champasak, Southern Laos

You know you are living a good life when the words “temple” and “waterfall” become frequent in your vocabulary.

This is our last post on Laos—thank you so very much for following along on our journey. Don’t fear, there are many post-Laos adventures queued up for your reading pleasure.  To close on Laos, for our final day, we visited an incredible UNESCO World Heritage Site, Wat Phou Champasak.
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Wat Phou (or Vat Phou) is an ancient Khmer temple complex near the Cambodian-Laos border. Archeologists have actually determined that an ancient road ran all the way from Wat Phou to the famous temple complex of Angkor Wat! Folks, that is a long way. When I first heard that fact, it reminded me of the ancient Roman roads we saw in Jordan and in Italy, and the phrase, “All roads lead to Rome”. Well, I think it is fair to say that in Southeast Asia, all roads lead to Angkor Wat.

In the above photo, Sean and I are in front of one of the ancient reservoirs created for the temple, with the sacred mountain of Wat Phou in the background. The temple comlex was built into the side of the hill, so we were anticipating some great views.

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Here is the entry road to Wat Phou. You can see two large buildings immediately behind me, but the temple complex stretched up into the hills in the background. (I have taken quite a liking to being barefoot here—maybe it is the absence of leeches after Koh Kong, but I feel that I can conquer anything!)

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One of my favorite things about traveling abroad is that the ancient ruins become your playground. Perhaps, though, they should be more protected…?

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Looking into the hills of Wat Phou.

 

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This was one of our favorite parts of the site. The ancient steps were beginning to warp with the growth of the trees. We pondered over this for quite some length; were the trees built to anchor the stone steps in this specific way? Or is it merely coincidence?

 

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At the top of the steps was the main Buddhist temple. At this point it began to rain, so we took refuge under a wooden hut that is occasionally used for selling snacks and offerings to Buddha. (It was empty on that day. Don’t worry, we didn’t kick anyone out!)

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After the skies cleared, we were able to take some great pictures. Did you know, I’ve taken up yoga in Cambodia? It is only fitting. This is the tree pose. I have yet to perfect it… But the setting certainly was perfection. If you look in the background you can see the straight road running away from the temple; this is the road that used to lead to Angkor Wat.

 

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Inside the main temple on the side of the hill, there is a modern Buddhist shrine. Did you know that it is forbidden to take a picture with your back to the Buddha? Thus, Chino recommend I take this modest and respectful pose. This temple was actually very unique because it was connected to a natural spring that came out of the mountain. The water was then piped into the temple itself, continually “bathing” or immersing the lingas (holy statues) in water. It is the only known water-temple of it’s kind. Today, you can still locate the spring, which merely drips, and you can see the ruins of where it entered the shrine to shower the lingas.

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Beautiful carvings. Incredibly preserved. This stuff is from between the 11-13th centuries!

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An ancient Hindu stone relief. Shiva is in the middle, between Vishnu and Brahma. As you can see, the temple was originally a Hindu temple, but was converted to a Buddhist temple later on, as it currently is now.

 

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We loved how the temple was just nestled within the crannies of the mountainside!

 

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More ancient carvings… We stumbled upon this, hidden in the jungle on the mountain. I love this because it shows the universal timelessness of the spiral….

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The terraced hills leading up to the main temple. Time to go home.

IMG_7924Our final night was spent in the tiny town of Champasak. I loved the architecture down the ‘main’ street.

Thus concludes our trip to Laos. A place I never thought I’d see with my own eyes! I think a return trip is in order, but this time to Northern Laos.

Check back soon to see what we have been up to since Laos! I guarantee there are two more countries that have tales to be told, and our Halloween plans are looking to be quite the blog in themselves…

See you next time!

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Sri Lanka: The Birthplace of Lipton Tea! In which Sean and Kim explore tea plantations, meet a buddhist monk, touch a carnivorous plant, and practice Zumba moves on the side of a mountain.

I truly hope you are not yet bored with my photo montage of Sri Lanka, for there are still more stories to still and highlights to be had. Today I would like to speak to the highlight of the hill country in Sri Lanka, the tea plantations. After our two idyllic days in Ella (which still remain the favorite part of our trip), it was time to travel to Hatton, home of Horton’s Plains National Park and World’s End viewpoint.

We had originally planned to take the train to Hatton, but were having second thoughts around the breakfast table. I knew that our hotel in Hatton was very remote, so we thought we should do some exploring around the area before checking into our hotel. We spoke with Martin and Karen at our Ella homestay, and they recommended we have a guy drive us around in his tuk tuk for the afternoon. They had a friend named Lanka (yes, that is his name) who commonly takes tourists around for a fee. I spoke with Lanka and negotiated a cost of 4,000 rupees for an afternoon tour across the country. 4,000 rupees = $32. A four hour private tour for $32? Yes, please!

We had originally planned on traveling with Lanka for six or seven hours to visit various waterfalls, but realized our plans were too ambitious. It generally clouds up around 3 or so, which meant that less is more. Instead he recommended “Lipton’s Seat” and the tea plantations, along with a tea factory tour. We were happy to oblige.

Lipton’s Seat, to quote Lonely Planet, is where “The Scottish tea baron Sir Thomas Lipton used to survey his burgeoning empire.” Yes, that is correct; the tea being grown in Sri Lanka is grown for all the Lipton iced teas you are drinking back home. It was a wild realization that I came to—that all of the rolling hills of tea plantations I was seeing is the tea that is fueling our consumerist, caffeine-driven society. Every time I walked into a restaurant and ordered an iced tea, every time I pulled a “Brisk” off the shelf in a gas station, every time I served tea to customers at Fairtrade Coffeehouse on State Street, someone had to HAND PICK that tea for my personal satisfaction. All that talk about ‘fair trade’ and ‘organic’ doesn’t remove the fact that there are still human beings on the other side of the world working ten hour shifts filling burlap sacks with tea leaves so that we can have another tasty beverage. It made me feel somewhat selfish…

…But I digress. Onto the photographs!

Our last morning at the bed and breakfast in Ella. Sean is sitting at the outdoor dining table. It is built with a deliberate overhang off the side of the slope, so that you really feel you are suspended in the trees with the monkeys… *sigh*

Before we left to Sri Lanka, Sean and I were nervous about having indigestion due to the change in diet and the cleanliness of the water. A good friend of mine here in Kuwait told me to eat “the local yogurt”. She claimed that while she was in Sri Lanka she had “buffalo curd”, made from the local water buffalo, in which the natural bacteria that is present in Sri Lankan food helped her remain healthy from any illness. Sean responded with, “There is no way on earth I am eating ‘buffalo curd’, Sharon…” Little did he know that buffalo curd is the MOST DELICIOUS thing on the face of the earth! In the photo above, the earthenware pot is filled with fresh buffalo curd. It tasted like a very thick, creamy yogurt. You top it with the syrup made from the local palm trees and a few slices of banana, and you are in heaven. Needless to say, we were free from any bathroom-related illnesses the entire trip!

Before we left Ella, we had one more hike on our itinerary. Named “Little Adam’s Peak”, you reach the summit by walking through private tea plantations. Along the way, we met a guy who was selling handmade jewelry that his parents create. After close inspection, he informed me that the “beads” were actually seeds from the trees that had been sun dried. A friend of mine also told me that the red beads were also what the Sri Lankans used to use for currency. I made a few purchases before continuing on our trek…

You can see the summit of Little Adam’s Peak in the background…

Sean at the top of Little Adam’s Peak.

On our way down, we saw a bearded dragon!

Once we returned back to our homestay, Lanka picked us up and we began our travel through the tea plantations. You can see Lanka’s tuk tuk in the background of the above photo. The first thing he did was to stop on the side of the road to show us this flower. He explained that this flower is carnivorous, and anybody who has taken Botany 100 could see why. (If you were paying attention in class…) The bug is attracted to the sugary liquid in the bowl of the plant, so they make their way into the opening, which is coated with hairs that point in one direction. Once inside, the bug cannot escape due to the hair that has trapped him in! Yum…

Lanka took us on  a *very* scenic route through the hill country…

A family swimming, bathing, and washing their tuk tuk. There is something unspeakably beautiful about seeing human beings living so closely in communion with nature…

On our trip Lanka stopped near a Buddhist monastery. We saw this little boy outside in his saffron robes. We did not see many Buddhist monks while on our trip, so he was very interesting to us!

The stupa at the monastery. A stupa is a mound-like structure containing Buddhist relics and is used as a place of worship.

Then, Lanka’s tuk tuk began to climb. And I mean switchbacks up, up, and UP. We were climbing us the side of a tea plantation on the side of the mountain. The above photo is on a large Ceylon tea plantation.

Sri Lanka is the third largest producer of tea in the world! They export Ceylon tea (black, green, and white), which you can order in any coffee shop around the world. Try it next time you are at your local cafe. Thomas Lipton, founder of Lipton teas, helped Sri Lankan tea grow to it’s international success in the late 1890’s. Sri Lanka actually used to be named “Ceylon” until 1972, which is why Ceylon tea is called what it is today. Any Ceylon tea you order has come from Sri Lanka.

A very Dr. Seuss-like landscape… The humidity, cool temperatures, and rainfall make this region ideal for growing tea.

The bags and bags of tea leaves after an afternoon’s picking…

The Dambatenne Tea Factory gives tours for only a few rupees. Lanka was nice enough to wait for us while we took a tour of the factory!

We had a personal tour of the factory (not many tourists make it into these high-altitude regions where tea plantations are abundant and locals make their living). In the above picture you can see the rows and rows of leaves that are being dried by an air-circulation system.

In the above picture you can see that after the tea has been ground and roasted, it is being sorted by quality in these sorting machines. The machines act as a sifter, where the finest, highest quality teas are pulled by magnets into one part, and the lower quality tea falls through.

After the tea factory, we would up in the town of Haputale, where Lanka bid us a fond farewell. As it was 3pm, we contacted our hotel, and they sent a man in a tuk tuk to pick us up. We were very disappointed upon arriving at the hotel property as it was all covered in clouds. This hotel was in the middle of NOWHERE. The tuk tuk ride took forty five minutes, half of which was on dirt roads through a rainforest. I was very nervous, apprehensive, and upset. I had originally thought, due to the information on their website, that the hotel was on the border of the national park. Well, they might have been, but they were on the BOTTOM of the valley, not on the plateau on the TOP of the valley, where the national park was actually located. I shed a few tears on the tuk tuk ride that kept winding down, down, down into the heart of the valley when I realized that we were likely not going to make it to the national park during our stay…

Determined to enjoy myself, however, I pranced through the fog amusing Sean and taking my mind off the cloudy weather.

Little did I know that once the clouds cleared in the morning, we would be perched on the edge of the most beautiful cliff on the entire island…

This is the same view above, where I am surrounded by clouds. In the morning, my spirits lifted at the prospect of getting to explore such a beautiful landscape. While we may not be able to visit the national park, we still were going to be able to climb a few mountains, play in the rainforests, and enjoy the beauty around us.

The pool at our hotel. I know, what was I complaining about?

The next post will be quite the narrative treat. As I said above, any hope of actually hiking in the national park was out of the question. Therefore, we spoke with a man at the hotel (whose English was VERY limited), and got a vague idea of a tentative hike for the next day. Little did we know we would gain—and lose—3,000 feet in elevation, walk through a village that has probably never seen white people before in their lives, completely lose the trail, get bitten by leeches, and have the time of our lives.

Looking forward to sharing the experience with you…

Categories: Sri Lanka | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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