Posts Tagged With: driving

How to get a Thai driving license if you’re American

If you’re an American living in Thailand and would like to get a Thai driving license, I’ve got a few quick and dirty tips for you.

A Thai driving license is important in the following scenarios:

  • You want to fly domestically without your passport
  • You get in a car accident
  • You’re stopped by the police
  • You need proof of identification
  • You want to pay the ‘local’ price at tourist attractions

Since we just got a new car, it was only natural to go through the process to get a Thai driving license. The biggest tip I can possibly give you is this:

Get an international driving license from AAA in the United States.

If you get an international license, it’s just a 45-minute visit at the department of land transport to “convert” it into a Thai license. We live in Phuket, so I’m not sure how busy it is in Bangkok or Chiang Mai,  but this morning we arrived at 8:15 and left with a Thai license in hand at 8:59. If you show up in Thailand WITHOUT an international license, you’re looking at a 2-3 day process and the stuff nightmares of made of.

Okay, that was an exaggeration. But you will have to do the following if you do NOT have an international driving license:

  • Vision test
  • Color blind test
  • Reflex test
  • Depth perception test
  • Watch a four-hour video
  • Take a 30 question test
  • Undergo the “technical” driving course, complete with parallel parking and laser sensors that beep if you cross a line, Mission Impossible style.

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather pay $20 to AAA to get it done in 45 minutes.

Either way, if you have an international license or not, you’ll still need the following things:

  • copy of passport
  • copy of visa
  • medical certificate from past 30 days (any clinic can do this for 200-300 baht)
  • copy of work permit
  • copy of residency permit if you’re not working (ask your landlord for help with this)
  • copy of international driving license
  • Around 400 baht for the whole process

I recommend that you show up the day before you aim to go and show the nice lady at the front your documents. She can clarify which pages were incorrectly photocopied, of which you will most likely have a couple. You can then go home and make new copies that suit her request and come back the next morning at 8am feeling confident and ready to hit the gas.

Honestly? Good luck, and happy driving!

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Cambodia’s Hidden Corner

When most people hear “Cambodia”, this is what comes to mind:

1. The Khmer Rouge

2. Laura Croft

3. Angkor Wat

4. Nobody really gets past #3… but if you did, “The Beach” with Leonardo DiCaprio. (Even though that was in Thailand).

5. Backpackers

6. Asian Women

7. The Mekong River

8. Not Thailand.

9. The French

10. Sihanoukville 

A valid list, but definitely not accurate. Not in the purest sense of Cambodia. When most people book their tour du monde, their Cambodian stop over generally involves the Killing Fields, Angkor Wat, and some form of Khmer curry.

Hopefully you’ve gained a greater sense of Cambodian geography and culture through the past seven months here at alohakuwait. I’m here today to expand your knowledge a step further. It’s high time I paid homage to that great road trip—from Phnom Penh to the Thai border. Most people speed through on an afternoon bus, in transition from Bangkok to Phnom Penh. They see the stretch from Koh Kong to the Mekong river as a boring, bumpy ride that stands in the way of their Southeast Asian experience.

Well, Cambodia’s got a lot of secrets in her hidden Southwestern passage…

But, since I came from a family of pig farmers, let’s be honest with ourselves.

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The pigs. Stick ’em in barrels, stack ’em on trucks, slide ’em in trailors. There is no modest way to transport pigs anywhere in the world. Any country that tells you otherwise is lying to you.

As you wind your way along highway 4, the road begins to climb through heavily forested hills. The slopes become steeper, and the homes become sparser. It feels as if you have left the populated world behind. Just as you are ready to pull over to marvel at the beauty of it all, a turn off is provided for you.

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And what a turn off it is. I had driven past this specific stopping point numerous times on the way to the beach, and never noticed the troupe of monkeys that live in this stunning valley. Man, if you never pulled over, you would never SEE the stunning valley! There are myriad Buddhist shrines, and the monkeys are not seen as pests but rather positive additions to mother earth. Look at this killer playground they’ve got!

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Nothing says road trip like sipping on a cold soda and watching some monkeys.

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Or were the monkeys watching us? I wonder what they wrote about me in their blog…

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Like I said, this turn off was really pretty awesome. There were monks, chanting, shrines, monkeys, rituals, and of course, tubes of Pringles and fresh-cut pineapple for sale. What more could you want?

By the time we rolled onto the coast,  it was time for lunch. (Isn’t it always?)IMG_1939

So where else do you go but the Crab Chack. Home of the tastiest crab in Koh Kong.

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And while you wait for said crab, you can relax on their swing with your sister, dipping your toes in the water, sipping on a well-deserved Anchor or two. Paradise.

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I have previously blogged about the Rainbow Lodge in Koh Kong, but I have found yet another place of passion. Welcome to Thmorda Garden Riverside Resort. You can lounge on the shore of the river, and kayak in the mangroves all afternoon. The best part? You’ve got this entire place all to yourself.

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And their patio is fantastic.

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Morning in Koh Kong: Such a kaleidoscope of colors. Why rush through on the way to something better? You can’t find a superlative to this.

We did spend a few days in the luxury of Koh Kong and Southwestern Cambodia, and then we moseyed on to Thailand. On the road, my dad (who was visiting with my sister!!!) snapped a photo of something I have so long overlooked: the spirit houses. You see them everywhere, but I hadn’t really though twice about them until my dad brought it up.

IMG_1953Spirit houses are common in Southeast Asia, and are placed in a particular spot of your home, business, or natural area (often at the base of trees). They are a place for the spirits to be appeased—or to reside—depending on who you talk to. It is believed that so long as you keep the spirits happy, you will live a prosperous life. Sometimes spirits is synonymous with ghosts. I recently had a seventeen year old student tell me he was afraid of ghosts. I had to ask around to determine that he was talking about the spirits, which are very prevalent in Thai and Cambodian culture.

Your mission, if you choose to accept it: Take a road trip. Explore your home. Find something new. Stop at a place you’ve never stopped at before. Take a picture of something you’ve seen a million times. Maybe you’ll find monkeys. Maybe you’ll find spirits. Maybe you’ll find love.

Categories: Cambodia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Best Of Angkor Wat

IMG_9647A very belated Christmas and a Happy Chinese New Year! Friday, January 31 marks the transition from the year of the Snake to the year of the Horse within the Chinese tradition. The city of Phnom Penh is deserted; everyone is out in the provinces celebrating with their families.

As a consequence, we don’t have school today. In case you were wondering, this is what a day off in Phnom Penh looks like:

8:00-11:00, Drink coffee, blog, plan upcoming trips
11:30, Early lunch at the Russian Market
12:00, Get a massage
2:00, Head back to the Russian Market to get ingredients for dinner
4:00, Go for a swim in our pool
6:00, Dinner at home
8:00, Watch a movie of some sort

This weekend we are also renting bicycles and attempting to visit Silk Island—the real one this time. We also met up with friends for a drink last night; we went to the Irish Pub on the riverside for the first time. I had my first Kilkenny in over a year. Yum!

Anyways, this post is about the best of Angkor Wat. I’m not going to do a “Top Ten”, but I want to tell you what makes Angkor Wat simply spectacular. What makes it the stuff of legends. The reason I am dying to go back.

The trees.

Honestly. The trees in Angkor Wat are the pulse of the ancient temples. They are trees like I have never seen.

Let’s begin.

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They completely envelop the ruins, stretching so high into the sky you have to crane your neck. I cannot believe they can support their height simply on a jumble of old stone.

The most famous temple with astounding trees is Ta Prohm, the Tomb Raider Temple. Rember:

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Not going to lie, I might have pretended I was Angelina Jolie a few times. All I was missing was the black spandex and acting skills… right?

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More of Ta Prohm. The trees command the attention of your eyes. I can’t even fathom how they take root.

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Sean pretending he is the one and only Jolie himself.

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And it’s not like there is one famous tree. When you get there, you think to youself, “Oh, that must be THE tree.” Then you walk five feet and see another one. Then you pass through a crumbling archway and see one even greater than the last.
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One reason why I love them so much is that they completely humble the human existence. We are dwarfed in the massive, timeless presence. They have existed since before I was born, and will last long after I am gone. They bring life to dead civilizations. They own the place.
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Some of these photos aren’t even from Ta Prohm. Other temples had trees just as grand. We lost ourselves in wonder countless times.

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This one was in Ta Prohm for sure. The roots have grown so incredibly large that they need contemporary scaffolding.

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The best part is that all of the temples are in protected areas; it feels like you are driving through a national park in the states. The trees dwarf the car everywhere we went, leaving us under a gorgeous canopy.
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Abby and I climbed a hill that was built onto the side of a temple, and got a bird’s eye view of the road—and our car. There were a lot of swampy areas with trees coming straight out of the water.
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Then we found yet another spectacular tree. This one wasn’t even at Ta Prohm, it was at another temple complex.

IMG_9650The trees are not only decorative, but they are functional.

I have one more post devoted to Siem Reap to share with you. Then we head to Cambodia’s coast!

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Christmas At Angkor Wat

Normally people dream of escaping to exotic, distant locations for their winter holidays. Palm trees swaying overhead, an iced drink in their hand, and pathways of foreign land to explore.

We dreamt it. And we didn’t have to board a plane to do it. We played host this year to friends and family who came to visit. We saved Angkor Wat until we had company—it’d be awesome to visit twice, but it’s one of those non-negotiables when you have family passing through, so we figured we’ll be up there more than once.

Our friends Kyle and Abby flew out from Kuwait, where we worked with them last year. Abby taught middle school with me last year, and Kyle teaches in the high school. My dad and sister flew out after the new year, and stayed for January. But that’s too many stories for one blog.

When Abby and Kyle arrived we headed straight up to Siem Reap. I promised Sean three days of temple-touring, and I promised Abby and Kyle an exotic vacation with ample beer, tank tops, and swimming pools. It wasn’t hard to satisfy everyone.

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Our first stop in Siem Reap was Phare, the Cambodian circus. It was amazing! Based out of Battambang, Phare helps kids from poor homes enroll in a fine arts school that teaches them art, dance, music, and the like. If they decide they want to be professional, then they join Phare in Siem Reap, and could even travel to other parts of Cambodia after that. It was like Cirque Du Soleil combined with a great music and storytelling.

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The next morning we headed straight for the temples. It was overcast the three days we were there, but we finally managed a hint of blue sky for a photo in front of Angkor Wat.

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The storytelling walls surrounding the main temple complex. A jumble of arms, legs, and spears. IMG_8961

A baby monkey asks permission to play with his friends. His mother’s stern reply disheartens his eager plans.

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Baby monkey receives consolation from aunt and uncle monkey. He can play with his friends when he gets a little bit older. For now, just entertain the tourists, little guy.

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We climbed all over these temples! This is still in Angkor Wat, the main temple complex.

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Sean imagines he is the great Angkorian king, looking out over his kingdom.

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Kyle doesn’t have to work hard to imagine he is king, he receives worship from the Angkorian goddesses, Abby and Kim. Sean is reduced from Angkorian king to photographer.


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After our game of make-believe, we took a break for lunch. Abby claims these were the best fried noodles she had in Cambodia, and she ate a lot of fried noodles! In the parking lot of Angkor Wat. It was tough to decide which vendor to pick, but we went with the one who said, “I give you half-off on anything on the menu.” You can’t go wrong with a competitive salesperson.

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After Angkor Wat, we drove out to Angkor Thom, which is pretty much the headquarters of the ancient empire. It is a huge complex that stretches nine square kilometers. You can drive your car between towering trees, stop anywhere you like, and climb around ruins.

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Bayon was a temple full of mystique—how many smiling faces can you spot? (Hint: There’s more than you think!)

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After Bayon, we played hopscotch around some temples scattered in a field. Abby’s hopscotch techniques had great form. Maybe I should start ‘temple hopscotch’ as an after-school activity… We’d get to take lots of field trips.

IMG_9123As the sun sunk lower in the sky, the views got more and more beautiful. (Note to self: Always travel with photogenic friends.)

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We are ready to make our next album. We’ve got the picture for the cover right here.

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Angkor Wat is yet another place outside of America that you can literally climb over all of the ruins pretty much undisturbed.

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Sean and Kyle were feeling a bit like our tour guides at this point. Now if only I could get them to talk in cool accents.

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We find a modern-day shrine, and Abby sits pretty. (Did you know it’s sacrilegious to be photographed with your back facing the Buddha? I tried to tell her, but she is a natural-born rebel… Can’t you see it in her eyes?)

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And then we found elephants. And pensive mahouts.

At this point, the sun was setting on our first day, so we headed back into town for dinner and a night out. The next day we got up early and began out next adventure…

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Early morning at East Mebon temple.

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Abby and I playing inside East Mebon. I wonder who used to pass through that doorway…

These pictures all speak for themselves, don’t they? If a picture is worth a thousand words, then these have to be multiplied by the thousands of years and stories they contain.

I’ve got one more post about Siem Reap and Angkor Wat for you, and then we headed down to the Cambodian coast. I think I could start a business, “Tours By Kim”. I need a catchier name, though. I think I’ll just stick to friends, family, and my husband. They keep my hands pretty full as it is.

Check back soon for more on Angkor Wat!

Categories: Cambodia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bokor Mountain, Kampot

We love Cambodia. We find more and more to love every day. A few weeks ago, we found Bokor Mountain.

As you drive South from Phnom Penh, you begin to enter rolling hills. Pretty soon you come across taller hills, oddly shaped hills, hills with temples on top, hills begging you to explore them. It’s all part of the Elephant Mountains, a small mountain range in Southeastern Cambodia. The tallest mountain of them all is 3,547 feet.

And its name is Bokor Mountain.

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Sean did an amazing job shooting all these panoramas; click on them to open in a new tab. It’s better to see them on a bigger screen to get all the amazing detail.

These are all shot from the top of Bokor Mountain. You can see the ocean, and islands off in the distance. This part of the ocean is known as the Gulf of Thailand.

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Bokor, in Khmer, means cow hump. (Pronounced: Bo-Ko.) You know what I mean; those cows you see in the countryside of certain countries with the massive hump on their back. It is apparently incredibly delicious. Sean has been dying to try it ever since he saw his first cow with that massive chunk of meat rolling between its shoulders…

I’m pretty sure the type of cow see in Cambodia is a zebu, check it out here. They live primarly in this region, and are known for their massive hump between their shoulders, or in Khmer, their bokor.

While doing my research, I stumbled on a fascinating article about the Kouprey, Cambodia’s national animal. It is a species of cattle found only in Cambodia. I had no idea! They are a “wild, forest-dwelling bovine species” in the jungles of northern Cambodia. They are seldom seen anymore due to deforestation and hunting. They weren’t even discovered until 1937! Learn more about the kouprey here.

Anyways, back to our trip to Bokor Mountain…

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You can drive to the top of the mountain and hike around from there. If you look at the left side of the above picture, you can see all sorts of cars and people on picnics. We were there during a holiday, so it was a bit crowded. But that didn’t make it any less beautiful.

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This is the statue of Lok Yeay Mao, also at the top of the mountain. Lok is the most formal version of Mr. or Mrs. You use Lok when speaking to someone of extreme status (like royalty, or someone in a government role). Yeay Mao is an ancient hero and divinity for the Buddhists in Cambodia. She is seen as the protector of travelers. One legend says that she used to be married to Ta Krohom-Koh, literally “Grandpa Red Neck“. (I’m not kidding.) They used to live in the forests, and her husband left her alone once and a tiger devoured her. Another legend has it that she was married to a powerful warrior, and when he died, she took control of his armies and became very powerful. I choose to believe the second story.

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Never miss an opportunity to have someone take your picture! We never have enough photos of us together.

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Near the statue of Lok Yeay Mao there is an abandoned building with some awesome graffiti. I later found out these abandoned buildings were part of the old King Sihanouk’s residence.  So much history on this one mountain!

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If you driver further along the mountain road, you come across an old French church. The French built it during the twenties when they wanted to have a French community at the top of the mountain.

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It’s abandoned now, but makes for an amazing place to explore…


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Inside the church.
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Speaking of abandoned things, the most popular artifact is the abandoned hotel. It was also built by the French in the twenties, but was never finished. It is in excellent condition, and you can explore every hallways and rooftop. There are no railings, security guards, or caution signs, so explore at your own risk!

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Explore we did. This is the view from the top of the abandoned hotel.

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The architecture was really neat, as was how well it is preserved. It was almost eerie…

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Then we found Popokvil Waterfall. IMG_8534

These guys live life on the wild side. They must have amazing balancing skills, because I would have fallen over the edge minutes ago.

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One of the steps of the falls. It was tough to get it all in a picture; they rolled on for quite a ways!


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A Cambodian phenomenon: The amount of people you can fit on one moto.

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Another view from Bokor. That is the town of Kampot off to the left. Isn’t it gorgeous?

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Then we checked in to our guesthouse… or ‘nature lodge’ I suppose. It was thatched huts on stilts in the middle of rice paddies.

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The view from the balcony of our hut. That’s Bokor Mountain. How massive! You could spend a week explore every inch of its plateau.

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Then we headed into the town of Kampot for dinner. I loved the colonial-looking architecture…

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Sunset over the river in Kampot.

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When I woke up in the morning, I saw a woman heading to work…

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I wanted to get a shot the next morning of where we parked our car. We were skeptical when we saw that we had to park here and walk through the woods to get the bungalows. It was the first time I’ve seen a mosque since outside Kuwait!

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Sean in trusty Champee. The sign pointing towards Ganesha, where we stayed.

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The road was absolutely terrible. There were times that it felt more like a swamp than a dirt path!

Genesha4The rice paddies in front of Bokor Mountain.

Kampot is a beautiful place.

…but then we found Kep.

Check back soon for the rest of our weekend adventure!

Categories: Cambodia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Phnom Penh Day Trip: Tonle Bati

We had a day off a few weeks ago, a Tuesday, to be exact. Tuesday is an odd day to have off. It’s not attached to a weekend, and falls right after the first day of a work week. Sean and I were resolved to getting out of the city for a little day trip; to clear our minds of the hustle and bustle of Phnom Penh. Plus, we are dying to see more of what the rest of Cambodia is about.

Our friends told us about a little place called Tonle Bati—a small lake 30 kilometers South of Phnom Penh. It seemed the perfect distance for an afternoon drive, and would certainly get us out of the city. What an adventure it turned out to be!

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Before we left, I must confess, we stopped at USA Donut. For donuts. I’m not kidding. Come on, what’s a road trip without apple fritters on the dashboard and a steaming mug of coffee in your hand? If you live in Phnom Penh and have never been, you’ve got to go. It will change your life. USA Donut is on the corner of streets 302 and 51. And no matter where you live, you have GOT to read this story, published only two weeks ago about the history of Cambodian refugees and donut shops. Completely blew my mind.

Anyways, so we picked up some strawberry donuts, chocolate-sprinkled donuts, and of course, the holy fritters, and headed down to Tonle Bati.

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One thing you’ve got to understand: Cambodia is temple-heaven. This place has more temples than Wisconsin has dairy farms. (Maybe not… But both are just as legendary.) Tonle Bati is the name of the lake we headed to, but is also the home to Ta Prohm and Yeay Peau.  Both are Angkorian-era temple complexes, built during the same time (12th century) as many of the temples around Angkor Wat.

The 12th century was 800 years ago. If it all seems too ancient to conceptualize, think about this…

12th Century:
– Second and Third Crusades
– Saladin
– Genghis Khan
– Knights Templar
– St. Francis of Assisi
– The windmill was invented

What makes Ta Prohm and Yeay Peau particularly interesting is that the area has been continually occupied since their creation. Yeay Peau is now part of a contemporary monastery.
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I had a friendly shadow all day… but she was not so enthused that I wanted to take so many pictures instead of hang out with her.

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So she decided to sneak into the pictures… fair enough.

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So this is Ta Prohm. Pretty amazing, huh? We visited during the rainy season, when the flowers were in bloom.

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The carvings were left so delicately preserved!

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What is fascinating to us is how these temples are used for contemporary Buddhist worship. The whole complex was sprinkled with people in doorways, people praying, people taking lunch breaks, people making offerings. The smell of incense permeates your journey. Sean liked the above shrine as it is a headless wonder…

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When we explored the grounds, we found some pretty cool wildlife. This picture isn’t too clear, but hopefully you can make out that the snake is indeed eating a frog!

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And this guy is just getting some sun.

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Yeay Peau is the ancient temple that is surrounded by a contemporary monastery. I can’t get over all the temples that are built within and around trees here. It is really beautiful and awe-inspiring… especially for someone like me who absolutely loves trees!

IMG_7983There were also a ton of statues in the monastery. Some more cryptic than others. Sometime we need to go with a Buddhist guide who can explain the meaning of them all to us.


IMG_7985I do know, though, that this is a Naga. The Naga, in addition to being our school’s mascot here in Phnom Penh, is a famous deity in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. The Naga is a snake (a king cobra, to be exact), that is believed to have come from the water to protect all of humankind. In Cambodia specifically, legend says that the Cambodian people were “born from the Naga”, due to a wedding between the Naga king’s princess and an Indian Brahmana. Wikipedia actually does a great job breaking down each countries’ beliefs towards the Naga. Check it out here if you’re interested.

IMG_7986 This is the actual temple of Yeay Peau. You can see how they built the contemporary temple around it. An interesting way to both preserve and incorporate!
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The monastery was built next to a man-made lake of water for religious purposes.

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If our interpretation was correct, these were all female statues.

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Can you spot the blue-skinned deity? The temple of Yeay Peau is famous for pregnant mothers, who come for good luck and good blessings for their upcoming birth. If I were to interpret the above picture, I would say that the blue-skinned deity is a Hindu god (Shiva? Lakshmi?) that is carrying a linga, or a phallic object, as a symbol of fertility for the woman in the center. I may be wrong, but what is the purpose of art if not to provoke thought?

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Again, more interesting statues around Yeay Peau. I wonder what the story is behind this one? An elephant, a god-looking form, and a colorless woman kneeling before her, receiving some sort of liquid into her bowl. Religion, like history, is full of so many fascinating stories!

IMG_7998Here is the actual lake of Tonle Bati. You can even see more temples on the opposite side.
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Another animal spotting…

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Tonle Bati is actually more famous for weekend day-trippers looking to lounge along the lake instead of climb around the temples. Sean and I are the odd ones. For a small fee you can rent one of hundreds of wooden floating huts on the shores of the lake. Each hut is owned by a family that will cook for you and set up cushions for you to relax on. Sean and I weren’t in a lounging mood, but we may have to come back on a clear day!

IMG_8018On our walk back to the car, a quick snapshot of the Cambodian countryside.
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This is a modern, beautiful Cambodian home in the countryside. I loved the vivid colors!

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Before we left, Sean jogged back into Ta Prohm to snap a photo of the reclining Buddha he had forgotten about. Historically, temples weren’t a place of worship, but housed the statue of the deity. The taller the temple, the more important it was. All the homes and buildings around it were made of wood, mud, and leaves. The temple is all that remains… What will we leave behind in 800 years?

 

 

 

 

Categories: Cambodia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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