Posts Tagged With: temple

Day Trip to Koh Sire 

There aren’t many places you can get off the beathen path in Phuket. The infrastructure, the beaches, the McDonald’s, the massages, the 7-11’s. I’ve heard Phuket referred to as “Disney world” and “Thailand light”.

All of which is fantastic, don’t get me wrong. But sometimes I miss that unpolished side of Southeast Asia; that place of upturned soil and hodgepodge of motorbikes nestled alongside unadulterated natural beauty. Koh Sire straddles the divide of polished Phuket and quietly, stunningly beautiful Thailand. 


Just a few miles east of Phuket town, it’s hard to know you’re on another island. Koh Sire is often overlooked due to the lack of tourist facilities, but that’s exactly why we sought it out. If you find yourself in Phuket, set aside a few hours to check it out – but you’ll need a motorbike or a car. And the trip to the temple is a must. Enjoy the photos. 

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Categories: Thailand | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Kep & Kampot Off The Beaten Path (AKA, What else you can do besides eating crab.)

When most people visit Kep and Kampot, they beeline it to the coast and spend the afternoon sinking their teeth into succulent seafood and reading poolside. As the sun sinks into the horizon, they kick back with a cocktail and plan their next destination of either Sihanoukville, Vietnam, or Phnom Penh. I am the first person to admit that many of my weekends in Kep look like this, but it must be said that there is SO much more.

You could easily kill a week in Kep and Kampot and never do the same thing twice. (Although you might want to.) Back in October, Sean and I spent all of the Pchum Ben holiday along the coast. While we have our local favorite activities, we knew there were a few hidden gems that we had to visit. With a tank full of gas and a map in our hands, we set out to look for all that Kep and Kampot have to offer.

Some of our favorites? The caves. We had no idea there were caves in Cambodia! Not to mention, Phnom Chhnork cave has a 7th century temple inside of it. Another favorite was bicycling along the pepper plantations, home to the famous Kampot pepper. Rabbit island was also a pleasant surprise; a tropical getaway just off the coast of Kep.

I drew up a map to give you a feeling of the area. The red line is the route we drove on our trip last October. I recommend driving this way as it makes a nice loop for the drive to/from Phnom Penh. The limestone hills on both routes are stunning, and you can see them from two different perspectives.

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Also, you’ve got to check out the video Sean made as a mash-up of our trip. Hopefully it will convince you to spend more than a weekend in Kep!

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Tuk Tuk Monopoly In Phnom Penh

You had to read that title twice, didn’t you? It is almost like trying to speak a different language. Catching a tuk tuk in Phnom Penh, okay, that makes sense. But Monopoly? Let me slow down.

 

First, you must remember that this is a tuk tuk:

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Second, you must remember that this is Phnom Penh:

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Third, if you have never played Monopoly…

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Now, let’s get started. As a staff ice-breaker and introduction to the city for new teachers, our school held a “tuk tuk Monopoly” race throughout Phnom Penh. We were given a game board, and instead of “Park Place” or “Boardwalk”, we had “Wat Phnom” and “Malis Restaurant”. The team who visited the most locations and racked up the highest points was the winner.

Never one to refuse a challenge, I met with my team at the start time, and we worked with our tuk tuk driver to map out a route of the city.

Our driver was amazing. The best driver I have ever had in Cambodia.

I’m not kidding.

When I first moved here, and had no idea where anything was, I would tell a tuk tuk driver, “Bouchon wine bar, please. Do you know where it is?” And he would politely nod, yes, of course. Then, thirty minutes later, I would be outside the number one night club in Phnom Penh, Pontoon.  I quickly learned that the tuk tuks know every single Wat and pagoda, but if you ask them about some swanky, foreign gastropub, obviously they’re gonna draw a blank. So, I learned to speak Khmer, mapped out the pagodas in my head, and have no more problems.

But this tuk tuk driver, he was in another league.

This guy knew every street, every bar, every cafe, every landmark. And he mapped out our route for us, in complete perfection.

I would mention three or four places we needed to go, and he would say, “Well, first let’s go to the riverside, because we can hit three of those places in order. Then, we’ll head over to the place you mentioned, and then down to the final stop. What else is on the gameboard? Oh, Sorya Mall? We can put that second. But if you want to get a picture of Raffles hotel then we need to go there before we go down to Central Market.”

The best part? His name is Bond. Jame Bond.

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I took one of his cards before he left. With his photo on the back, he makes sure you never forget his name or his face. This guy, he was legendary. If you are ever in Cambodia, do yourself a favor and call Jame Bond.

So, as I was saying, we—and by we, I mean Jame—mapped out our route, jumped onto the tuk tuk, and sped off down the congested streets in quest of first place.

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We had around three hours to check off as many places as possible.  I mapped our journey for you to get a better picture of where we went. I mean, just look at that route! Absolutely no back-tracking, no unnecessary streets, just seamless travel. If you ask me, Mr. Bond should become an urban planner.

0Our team. Meli, next to me, teaches Language Support in the Primary School. Mark, in the blue, is a grade 6 teacher. John, in the white, is our Secondary school guidance counselor. (And is from Wisconsin!) Jame, in the light blue, is navigating the streets. We had a dream team, let me tell you!

1The rule of the game was that we had to get a picture of ourselves in front of each location, with some sort of sign labeling the place. Our first stop, as you can see, is Russian Market. (Toul Tom Poung market, in Khmer.)

 

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Then we headed over to the newest place in Phnom Penh, Aeon mall. (You can start to see a theme of the photos… from here on out it’s all shots of us standing in front of something.)

3Then, to Malis, a famous Khmer restaurant.

4Metahouse, a popular place to see foreign films. Jame took all of our photos—pretty soon we got into a fluid routine of jumping out of the tuk tuk, snapping the photo, and racing back in.

5One of the “bonus” activities, to win extra points, was to get a photo with a monk. With the help of Jame, that was no problem.

 

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Then it was off to the National Museum.


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And one of the most famous expat places in Phnom Penh, the Foreign Correspondents Club. The most legendary bar in Phnom Penh, you can read the scandalous backstory of the place here.

 

 

 

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Wat Ounalom.

 

 

 

9The token Irish pub of Cambodia, Paddy Rice. (Where we ran into a teacher from another team who had long given up hope at winning tuk tuk Monopoly. He should have joined Jame Bond.)

 

 

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A brief stop over at Artisan’s Angkor, a social business where local artists sell their work.

 

 

11Wat Phnom! My favorite wat (temple) in the city.

 

12Doors, known for their live music and great brunch. (Doesn’t this photo look like an album cover?!)
13Funny story about this photo. This is the Elephant Bar at the Raffles Hotel. We were terrified to go inside because there was a rumored “policeman” somewhere in the city for the Monopoly game. (Remember when you played the game and got sent to jail?) If we were caught by the policeman, we had to head straight back to Northbridge, a thirty minute ride, get a signed form, and then head back into the city. So we snapped a quick picture and left as fast as possible!

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Central Market.

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Sorya shopping center, near Central Market. They’ve got a nice food court on their top level, most memorable for me when I dumped a 16 ounce avocado smoothie down the front of my shirt.

 

16The French cultural center.
17Deco, which has fantastic microbrew beer on tap from Cervisia brewery, an up-and-coming brewery here in Phnom Penh.

18Tabitha foundation. One of the more famous NGO’s, which has built Nokor Tep hospital, a free hospital for women in Cambodia.

And then, the finish line! We rolled in with five minutes to spare. And guess what? Thanks to our diverse team knowledge and Jame Bond’s skills, we actually came in first place!  We earned the most points by means of visiting the most places, getting the most bonus shots, and all showing up in a fancy dress. (I left that photo out though, for the integrity of my lovely coworkers.)

The bottom line? Next time you’re in Cambodia, use this map as a guide for all things local, and call Jame Bond.

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

Silk Island: Phnom Penh’s Tardis

If you’ve ever watched Doctor Who, you’d know that a Tardis is a time machine. Having sat through hours at my kitchen table hearing, “Exterminate! Exterminate!” or watch a phone booth fly through a psychedelic time tunnel in the opening credits, I have indirectly become well-versed in Doctor Who jargon.

A tardis is the time-traveling machine Doctor Who uses to, well, time travel. I like to think Phnom Penh has her own tardis in a way, and it goes under the guise of Silk Island.

Screen Shot 2014-05-03 at 8.57.13 AMIn Khmer is it called Koh Dach, and is north of the city on the Mekong River. A few Saturdays ago, Sean and I rented bicycles and took them over to Koh Dach for a step back in time.

IMG_0376A mere fifteen minutes outside the absolute chaos of Phnom Penh, you find dirt roads, cattle, palm trees, friendly dogs, and sleepy villages. You really feel like you’ve been transported back in time a decade or three.
IMG_0382We also found an abandoned temple complex, begging to be explored.
IMG_0383Not quite as old as Angkor Wat, but equally as beautiful.

IMG_0389All you could hear was the palm fronds swaying in the breeze, the putter of a distant motorboat, and the calling of birds.

IMG_0394Sean and I were wondering why this building grew to be so deserted. Was it during the Khmer Rouge? For such a beautiful location on the banks of the Mekong, it seems odd to have such a nice place grow so old and out of use.
IMG_0402As we cycled north on the island, we found rice paddies and farmers bent over, deep in their work, donning large hats and long sleeves to shield themselves from the sun. Like I said, you have to look long and hard to find signs of anything city-like on Koh Dach. It is a quiet paradise!

However, Silk Island is also a bit of a tourist destination for its “white sand beach” on the northern tip of the island…

SilkIslandBeachLocals love to visit the island on the weekend and rent out a little hut sitting over the water. They relax in hammocks, sip on a few beers, and have a picnic with their friends and family. It is a great concept—except that it is RIDICULOUSLY crowded. (The above picture is a panorama, which looks great when you open it in another window.) You can even rent an inner tube and float along the Mekong here. As beautiful as it was, maybe we’ll come back when it’s less busy!
IMG_0417Instead, we found a secluded hut tucked away in the trees just next to the beach. Owned by a family, they run a little restaurant on the bank of the river. With only seven or eight huts spread far apart, you can have some really nice privacy. And the food wasn’t bad! If I recall, they even had french fries. (Which Sean orders wherever he is, whatever time of day. You can’t lose a golden opportunity to get fries in SE Asia, he says.)

That’s how we spent our afternoon. You leave your shoes on the ground, spread out a blanket, and have a picnic in the hut. Here, the family brought our food to us, and we dined under the thatched roof. The shade was an oasis from the heat of the day and our sunburnt neck and forearms. Isn’t it lovely!

IMG_0430After our leisurely lunch we hopped back on the bicycles and headed back south. In the photo above, you can see the Phnom Penh skyline across the river.

IMG_0434And then we got on the ferry to go home.

Would I go back to Silk Island? Absolutely! It is a blast to pedal around the dirt roads, have a lovely lunch under the palm trees, and explore some abandoned buildings. It is a great way to spend an afternoon. And if you’re looking for a place to rent your bike, I recommend Vicious Cycle on street 144. Now you have no excuse!

Categories: Cambodia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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

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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How To Know When You’ve Fallen In Love (With A Country)

We all know the feeling. The rushing, pulsing of your blood. The grin. That stupid, cotton-candy grin. The wide eyes. The slack jaw. The wonder. The mystery. The fascination. The endless adoration. You’ve fallen in love.

In my life, I have fallen in love with one man, and three countries.

When you fall in love with a country, you go through the same system of shock and awe. You cannot get enough of the country; it courses through your veins. You hate to fall asleep because it will only separate you from spending another day with it. And when you leave, it is a bittersweet flight of tears. You begin a long-distance relationship, bound to return.

What were the three countries, you ask?

1. New Zealand

2. Sri Lanka

3. Thailand

If this has happened to you, you’re probably nodding your head along with me. If this hasn’t happened, to you, visit http://www.skyscanner.com and start looking up some flights!

Anyways, this new-found love of mine is with Thailand. We had to fly to Bangkok in the beginning of January as it was time for our next job fair.

Yes, we have decided to move on from Kuwait. This is our last year here as we had only signed a two-year contract. This means we’ve only got three and a half months to enjoy this, interesting, country left! I better stop blogging about other countries and start blogging about the one I actually live in!

Why have we decided to move on, you ask? Well, it’s not because of the school. We love our school. It is a perfect fit for us. We love our students, we love the people we work with, we love the IB program. We are only moving on because of the climate and geography. We can’t sustain life in the desert. It’s been a nice, sunny, warm two years, but we need more outdoor recreation.

We flew to Bangkok for the recruitment fair, which is a hectic, four day chaotic event. Luckily, we had done our homework, and arrived cool, calm, and collected.

We had quite a few interviews…

Even quite a few job offers… and….

Drumroll please….

We accepted positions in Cambodia!

That’s right, tropical, beautiful, lush, Southeast Asia. Miles of quiet beaches, elephants, monkeys, temples, color, flowers, love, life, smiles, music, dancing, iced coffee on the street and cold beer at night. Cambodia. Angkor Wat. We couldn’t be happier. Further, the school we signed with is also an IB school; check it out at ‘Northbridge International School’ in Phnom Penh. Phnom Penh is the capital. We’ve got family friends who live there and rave about it. We are incredibly excited.

So, maybe you can say I’ve fallen in love with a country I haven’t even been to yet…

But first, Bangkok. We only got to snap a few pictures because we were at the job fair the entire time, then had to fly back to Kuwait to work. We did get out and about a bit, though, which I am excited to share with you.

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Out of the airport, we took the metro all the way downtown Bangkok to our hotel. I loved how clean and organized the city was!

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A street in downtown Bangkok. I loved all the dogs that lounged around! Look at how clean and green it was…. *sigh*

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Just some alley with cool architecture. Yeah, I can’t wait to live in Southeast Asia.

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A tuk tuk. It’s like a taxi, but far more dangerous.

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One afternoon we had free, we decided to walk around a bit. We found this ordeal going on outside a restaurant. I am not sure what kind of animal it is, but everyone sure was excited to cut it open.

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You can tell by the script behind these men that it is a Japanese restaurant, and I even wonder if the picture on the wall is the animal they’re cutting up. What do you think?

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Sean loved this picture of men playing chess on their break. I loved how everyone was socializing with each other! Just relaxing outside, enjoying each other’s company. The whole city made me feel so happy.

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After we signed the contract with Cambodia, we had a free day to enjoy Bangkok. Unfortunately, and most likely due to all of the stress and travel, Sean became quite sick and stayed holed up in the hotel watching television and coughing. I gave him spoonfuls of cough syrup, bought him lunch, hung the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door, and started my own walking tour of Bangkok.

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I loved all the temples (and color!) everywhere.

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I took a water taxi to another part of the city. Look at all these homes built right on the river.

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A view of a temple (that I read was built in Cambodian style) across the river.

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When I got off the boat, I found a street vendor selling pad thai. I sat down at her table and ate the most delicious pad thai of my life. How much did it cost? 60 Thai Baht, or $2. Paradise. (And all you flower lovers, can you spot the orchids sprinkling her kitchen? Love it!)

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Want some dried fish?

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I’m pretty sure this was at the Temple of the Reclining Buddha.

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This guy was creepily life-size. I expected him to turn and look at me!

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Outside a monastery for the Buddhist monks. IMG_4335

Ssssh, I snuck a picture inside the monastery where the monks live!

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I don’t know what concerns me more, the mass amount of people or the massive amount of power lines…
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An intersection in Bangkok.

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A road that I just hated. I had heard that it would be fun to see “Khao San Road”, so I decided to check it out. What a mistake that was. Thank goodness I went during the day and not at night. It was a drunken tourist trap! I can only imagine what else is going on behind closed doors here…IMG_4330

I only stuck around long enough to take a few pictures and laughingly continue on my way. Adios, Khao San Road. No thanks.

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A Chinese school in Bangkok : )IMG_4337

After all this walking around, I decided to grab some fried banana strips. Mmmmm! (I love the middle east for their hummus, but as a vegetarian they really don’t have anything you can eat on a stick. I don’t eat kebab or shawarma, that’s for sure.)

IMG_4340I returned back home to my loving husband, who claimed he was feeling a bit better. I got us some fried rice and we celebrated our successful job fair, and looked forward to an exciting future in Southeast Asia.

Well, there you have it. If you were motivated by the beginning of my blog, and want to travel somewhere new, come see us this fall in the land of palm trees, coconuts, and ancient temples. Hopefully I will speak enough of the language by then, and Sean and I can help you fall in love with a country, like we have…

Categories: Thailand | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Egypt: The Grand Finale

 

Happy February! Tonight I aim to bring my blogging of Egypt to a close. It’s been incredibly fun remembering our adventures and straightening out the Egyptian history in my mind, but there’s a lot happening in Kuwait right now that I’d love to share with you, too! Thus, today I will finish Egypt, then talk about our recent adventures.

Our last few days in Luxor were a mix of exploring the town, visiting a few more temples, and checking out some swanky hotels. I would love to go back to Luxor in the future and cruise the Nile in a sailboat for a week. It was so relaxing and beautiful. I could picture Cleopatra sailing through the azure waters being fanned and fed grapes : )

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On our final afternoon we relaxed on the roof of a restaurant drinking smoothies and smoking shisha. You can see Luxor temple in the background, then the Nile, and across the Nile is the West Bank and Valley of the Kings. What a view!

 

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Sean and my dad visited Karnak temple together while my sister and I went swimming and caught up on our girl talk. Karnak temple is actually more like a city,

spanning 247 acres. It is considered the “sacred place”, and the main site is the Temple of Amun. Sadly, there are only a few obelisks left there, as most of them were looted and carried off to Europe. (Which Sean and I saw when we visited Rome!)

 
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Another photo from when Sean and my dad visited Karnak temple.

 
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Sean, me, and my dad standing with the statue of Horus at the temple of Edfu. Horus was the patron god of Egypt. Can you believe this gorgeous statue is over two-thousand years old? I can’t even begin to fathom it. (It was constructed in the 200’s BC.)

 

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Art inside the temple of Edfu. You can see the gods Horus (with the falcon head), Toth (with the Ibis head, the god of wisdom), Hathor (with the disc and horns above her head, the goddess of love and beauty), Sekhmet (with the lion head, the god of destruction), and a Pharaoh in the center.



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Sean outside the Temple of Edfu.

 

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We took our lunch break at a McDonald’s in Aswan, on our way to the Temple at Philae. I hadn’t seen my sister look so happy our entire trip!

 

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Here I am at the Temple of Isis at Philae. It is an island temple on the massive Lake Nasser. UNESCO saved the temple when the government dammed up the Nile and Lake Nasser was flooded; the water damage to the Temple would have corroded it to nothing in a matter of decades. Luckily, UNESCO moved the entire temple to a higher island in the lake, deconstructing it and rebuilding it piece by piece.

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Isis is pretty much the most important female goddess in Egyptian mythology. She is known as the “mother of God”, and is the wife of Osiris (the god of the dead) and the mother of Horus.

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Here you can see the Temple of Isis at Philae from the boat we took to get to the island. It was so surreal!

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After all those temples and history lessons, it was time for a break! We found the Hilton in Luxor and lounged the day away.

 

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Transportation in Luxor.

 
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I made some friends while walking around the town of Luxor. They were so cute and spunky! I talked to them for a while and luckily had a few chocolates in my bag.

 

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Baking bread in Luxor.

 

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This man was truly amazing. He had a jewelry store that was about as large as a walk-in closet. The gems, which he polished there in front of you, were unlike any I had ever seen before.

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We spent a long time looking at his stones and even bought a few.


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On my mom’s last day, we booked a Nile cruise with a man we found along the shore of the Nile. He seemed really nice and offered us a good deal. We were glad we chose to go with him, it was a real treat! Emily and I loved lounging on top the boat while we cruised the Nile.

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My dad, loving life, on board the boat.

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Lunch on the boat. It was fresh-caught fish, cooked on the boat. The rice was made by our captain’s wife, and it was my favorite! It was an unexpected feast.

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We stopped the boat to explore a banana plantation. We climbed around an old building for a beautiful view of the Nile from the West bank.

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My mom loved the bananas on the plantation! I have to admit, they were delicious, and I had quite a few myself.

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My family and I walking around the island.

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Our boat captain, Galal. He was fantastic.

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My sister in the street by our bed and breakfast in Luxor. Call it dingy, but I love how authentic everything is! In Kuwait everything feels new and fancy. Egypt was the true, romantic Arabia!

 

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My mother and sister were on a quest for perfume. Last year when we were in Jordan they found some perfume that they absolutely loved. While they may not have found the perfect match, they still found some enticing scents!

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The entryway of our bed and breakfast, Mara House. I can’t recommend it enough!

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Transporting of goods outside of Luxor.

 

Overall, our trip to Egypt was amazing. It was intense, and I returned home with a completely new understanding of Egyptian culture, both living and historical.

Would I return to Cairo? Absolutely. Luxor? You bet.

The food was excellent, the people were friendly, the history is astounding, the Nile is, well, it’s the Nile. Need I say more?

If you ever get the chance, you should undoubtedly go.

I’ll send you my itinerary : )


 

 

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Luxor: Part One

Hello all! Hope you are having a lovely weekend. Here in Kuwait the weather has been sunny and mild. I’ve gotten out and about with friends, and today am going to the doctor to get the bandages on my wrist changed. I have healed perfectly, and will find out the test results this week.

On a somber note, I don’t know if you have been following the news, but Egypt isn’t looking so hot. The unrest there is tragic. When we were there, there had been protests and such, but all before we arrived. Our two weeks were over the holidays, so I think the volatility of the situation was on a bit of a hiatus. Now, though, it seems like it will be a while before things are resolved. I know I said, “Go! Visit Egypt!” in my last post, and I still think you should go. These people that are unhappy have nothing to do with the tourist industry. The tourist areas will remain stable and safe.

After we left Cairo, we went to Luxor, the main tourist city outside of the famous pyramids of Giza. We flew to Luxor from Cairo, which only took an hour. The only other way to get there is by an eleven-hour overnight train. I’ve heard good things about it, but we were short on time so opted for the flight.

When we got to Luxor, the weather was just perfect, and we walked around a bit to get our bearings.

IMG_3834Above is the main city center of Luxor. As it is right on the bank of the Nile, it was a pretty lush city with lots of palm trees and greenery. (Everybody looks pretty tired in the above picture! We sure did a lot of our vacation!)

IMG_3835Luxor temple is the most famous temple complex in the city of Luxor (along with Karnak temple). It was built in 1400 BC, and much of it remains to this day. As you can see, the city has built itself around it, with a mosque from the Middle Ages constructed literally on the side walls of the temple!

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We saw many, many cruise ships on the bank of the Nile. While in theory a “Nile cruise” sounds decadent, I was happy we chose not to take one. The boats stacked next to each other on the bank, the smell of gasoline, the approach  of “get off at this port and do a quick drive-by of everything in forty-five minutes” was not how I wanted to see Egypt.

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Instead, we chose to take a sunset cruise on a “felucca”, otherwise known as an Egyptian sailboat. We met a guy with a nice boat on the bank of the Nile, and he took us around for the evening and to watch the sunset. It was blissfully quiet and surreal!
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The next day we began a tour of the West Bank of Luxor. Since the sun rises in the East and sets in the West, the West Bank was where the famous mortuary temples, tombs, and celebrations of the dead took place. Our first stop was the Mortuary Temple of Queen Hatshepsut (they told us to say “hot chicken soup). The coolest thing about this temple? Queen Hatshepsut was a female pharaoh! Historically, she is known as one of the first great women in history. She reigned for over twenty years, and was known as a very peaceful pharoah. She wasn’t buried here, as this is only a mortuary temple.
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A column with the goddess Hathor at the top. The goddess Hathor was the god of music, beauty, love, wisdom, and dancing. My favorite goddess!

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Sean outside the temple of Queen Hatshepsut. If you look at these statues, they are wearing the double crown of unified Egypt. Upper Egypt is the center, bowling-ball-looking crown, and the crown of Lower Egypt is the bucket-like-crown surrounding the bowling ball. It was believed that King Menes unified Upper and Lower Egypt around 3100 BC – such a long time ago!

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Here we are walking into the temple of Medinet Habu. It is the mortuary temple of Ramessess II.
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We had a great guide, Mohammed, who interpreted the hieroglyphics  architecture, and history for us. It was fascinating! These columns are inside Medinet Habu.

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Can you spot Sean standing outside Medinet Habu? It was a gigantic temple complex! One of my favorite.

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Sean is inside one of many underground burial chambers that we explored while in Luxor. I believe this one was in the Valley of the Kings, where many of the Pharaohs and their descendants were buried. I am fascinated at how well the color has been preserved over thousands of years. If you look at the wall behind Sean, you can see the pharaoh on the far right side; you can identify him by the double-crown of unified Egypt I described above. He is making an offering to two gods, one I can only identify as the goddess Hathor (by the circle and ‘horns’ above her head). The other god may be Amun, the god of creation, only because I can see the feathers above his head, which is how he can be recognized. There is so much to interpret in each tiny etching!

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Sean standing at the Colossi of Memnon. They are two giant status of the Pharaoh Amenhotep. The only reason they are named “the Colossi of Memnon” is because the Greeks, in 20 BC, thought the statues were singing (or whistling) at dawn. Memnon means “Ruler of the Dawn”. The reason they were whistling though was because they had crackes in them from an earthquake. When the wind blew through the cracks, they whistled!

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My first time seeing a scorpion. It was a quick crawler!

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Our morning breakfast in Luxor. We stayed at Mara House, which really made our trip easy and fun. It was a great place!

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The next day we woke up to explore the temple complexes of Abydos and Dendera. Our first stop was Dendera, which is known as one of the best-preserved temple complexes in Egypt. The main god of this temple is the goddess Hathor. Each temple is generally dedicated to a particular god or goddess. Also here is where it is believed that Isis was born. Isis is the goddess of healing and magic.

The above picture is a relief of Cleopatra and her son by Julius Caesar, Caesarion. Is it one of the few known artistic representations of Cleopatra in the world. Isn’t that amazing?!

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Interesting hieroglyphics at Dendera.

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This is inside the Dendera temple complex. It is famous for it’s beautiful colors that have been preserved for so long. Can you see the goddess Hathor’s head on each column?

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The ceiling of Dendera. The reason this temple is so preserved is due to the draining system they had on the roof. Water couldn’t accumulate and weather the stone. The above picture represents the passage of night with the help of the goddess Nut, the goddess of the sky. Sean took an amazing panorama of this artwork,  which I will share with you in a “best of Egypt” post!

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Walking down into the crypts of Dendera…

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Hieroglyphics inside the Dendera crypt.

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The god Horus, wearing the crown of Egypt, and his mother, the goddess Isis.  (Do you see the helicopter above Isis’ head? Proof that the Egyptians were visited by aliens!)

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This is another controversial image in the crypts of Dendera. While many people believe it is a snake and a lotus flower, common in Egypt, others believe it is a lightbulb. They think the Egyptians were visited by aliens and given advanced technology, or that the Egyptians themselves had supernatural powers and created things far beyond their time. I’ll let you decide ; )

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Inside the temple of Dendera. If you look at the top of the columns, you will notice the goddess Hathor’s face is scratched out. In the middle ages when the Coptic Christians began to occupy these temples and use them for their own worship, they scratched out  all of Hathor’s faces as she represented sinful acts and polytheism to the Copts.

 

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The same wall as above, with the relief of Cleopatra and her son.
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Sean inside the temple of Abydos, which was the temple for the god Osiris, the god of the dead.

IMG_4013Sean liked this relief  inside the temple of Abydos, which depicts Pharaoh Seti I with Prince Rammeses (Rammeses II), roping a bull.

Overall, these two days of tours (West Bank and the day we visited Abydos and Dendera) were fascinating. We learned so much history and saw so many beautiful things. I think by the end of it though my sister was a little bit tired of eight-hours-a-day-ancient-history. Regardless, it was an unforgettable experience.

I hope to conclude Luxor in two more posts, and then, who knows? I may begin to talk about our trip to Bangkok… but that’s a tale for another time.

 

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