Posts Tagged With: tour

Khao Lak & Khao Sok

As beautiful as Phuket may be, there are hundreds of great destinations sprinkled around mainland Thailand just on the other side of the Sarasin bridge. Last month Sean’s parents visited and we took them on a long weekend up to Khao Lak and Khao Sok National Park. The former is a beautiful beachfront area on the mainland and the latter is a stunning national park around 2 hours north. 

We left Phuket around 3pm and got to Khao Lak just in time for sunset. My favorite place is called “Thai Life Homestay” and is actually 30 minutes north of the main tourist area. Living in Phuket which is super touristy, we find that our vacations involve trying to escape crowds as much as possible. 

The beach in front of Thai Life homestay. Absolutely empty and perfect!
Our hotel was in the main tourist area and called “Gerd and Noi”. Strange name, great place! But we’re partial to anywhere that’s dog friendly. Summit and Sean watched me do some handstands in the pool after breakfast. 

We explored near the hotel and found Sai Rung waterfall. It was pretty small but was right next to the parking lot so makes for a nice 20 minute side trip. 

The surprise of the day was finding Pak Weep beach. Literally directly across from the waterfall on the other side of the highway, it was beautiful white sand and turquoise waters. The best part? Peace and quiet!

Spent the evening playing cards and enjoying happy hour on the beach. 

The next morning we set off for Khao Sok National Park. It used to be a river valley but was dammed to generate electricity in the eighties. Now it’s a protected area and you can rent boats for day trips.

The karst limestone is beautiful!

We hired a boat for four hours and went to a raft house for lunch. The food was awesome; both Sean and his mom said it was the best fish they’d eaten!

Then we rented kayaks and paddled around for a while. Summit fell off at least twice which was… exciting. Luckily her noble owner jumped in after her and swam to shore with her. (Sean watched from the boat.)

The area around Khao Sok is equally beautiful; I recommend Art’s Riverview lodge if you want good river access.
I definitely recommend a trip to khao Lak and khao Sok for anyone visiting southern Thailand. We’ll be back for sure!

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

Cyclo Architecture Tour in Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh is a city seriously misunderstood.

When visiting Southeast Asia, tourists expect two things from Cambodia: The ruins of Angkor Wat, and the Killing Fields. After booking their flight to Siem Reap and their bus to the beach, they plan to pop into the dusty and chaotic city of Phnom Penh for a few nights—no more—to tour the Killing Fields and have a beer overlooking the Mekong River.

I have news. Phnom Penh is so much more than the Killing Fields. It is a city in renaissance. A city overflowing with a culture unlike any other in the world.

Sure, the roads are a bit busy and the air a bit humid. Phnom Penh is a city of 2 million people.

When you visit Phnom Penh, you walk the pebbled streets of smiling women scrubbing pots and brushing the hair of baby girls.

You wave at the moto drivers playing chess on the street corner and they wave back. When you visit Phnom Penh, you giggle with the girls in the market as you try on clothes that obviously don’t fit.You are invited to play games in the street. You taste countless different types of sour soups and steaming curries. You never knew a noodle could be cooked so many ways. You never thought flowers could smell so sweet or fruit could be so fresh. You take a selfie with your lover in the moonlight, and look behind your shoulder to see a young Cambodian couple doing the exact same thing. You hear men singing as they pedal their bicycles past you as you walk home from the market. Teenagers sip bubble tea as they get a manicure for a weekend wedding. You try to photograph the architecture of the wooden Cambodian houses peeking out alongside the French colonial facades, but you realize that your camera can never capture the creeping vines, the butterflies, the shadows, the tiles, the apsara dancers carved in wood, the smell of the incense. And when you fall asleep, you dream of the people who were so patient with you in a place where you are so clearly a foreigner.

Phnom Penh is not a place to be “done”. It is not a place to ask, “Is it worth it?” When you go to Phnom Penh, you need to slow down, take a deep breath, and look around you. I have lived here for two years and I am surprised every day.

When my family came to visit, I wanted to show them a part of the city neither of us had experienced before. I had seen the cyclos looping around Wat Phnom on Saturday afternoons, and knew there was a pretty popular cyclo tour. After a quick visit to the Khmer Architecture Tours website, I knew it would be the perfect way to spend the morning.

IMG_5185(All pictures are courtesy of master photographers; my Aunt Pat and my sister.)

There were seven of us: Sean and I, my dad and sister, my aunt and her two friends. We arrived at eight in the morning to a group of men in lime green t-shirts and white hats. They didn’t speak English, and my Khmer small-talk is brutal. We had a tour guide who was a recent graduate of Phnom Penh University with a major in architecture. IMG_5187Our sunscreen on, and our introductions complete, we set off to learn more about the architecture of Phnom Penh.

IMG_5202Our first stop was at a Chinese temple, one of the few in the city.

IMG_2816The temple had a few people praying or making offerings. There is a large Chinese-Cambodian presence, and many Cambodians identify as both Chinese and Cambodian to a certain extent.
IMG_2819The streets weren’t crowded as we cruised along, seven cyclos in a row. I can’t imagine what someone sitting in a barbershop must have thought when they saw us filter past!

IMG_5221We stopped at an old Jesuit church that has now been converted into housing. Before this tour, I had no idea how complicated housing is here in Phnom Penh. During the Khmer Rouge, people were marched out of the city and the houses became abandoned. After the Khmer Rouge, people returned to an empty city to try and rebuild their lives. The government passed a new law which said that if you inhabited a place for one year, then it legally became your property, and you were the rightful owner to sell it as you pleased. This presented a real problem. Imagine that you were forced to leave your home during the Khmer Rouge, crossed the border into Thailand, and were finally able to return three years later. You are dropped off on your street. Not only does everything look different, but you walk up to your door, and a stranger opens the door. Your house does not belong to you. However, the new owner is “so kindly willing” to sell your house back to you, if you can agree on a price.

The whole system is terribly flawed, and shattered the lives of thousands. They not only lost their loved ones, but their houses were now “owned” by strangers.IMG_5224This church had room after room that had been cobbled together and built on top of each other. The church can’t be taken over by one dominant person as each room is independently owned by the people who resettled there after the Khmer Rouge.

IMG_5266The tour was fantastic not only because of the history and the architecture, but I had never seen Phnom Penh from the viewpoint of sitting inside a cyclo.

IMG_2817Each bike was a testament to the life of the man who drove it. You could tell they were meticulously crafted and continued to be cared for. These cyclos are the cadillacs of the city, man. Not to mention one of the drivers who really enjoyed saying, “Ooh la la” to make us laugh. IMG_5226At the end of the day, we said goodbye to our guide and our drivers, our minds full of awe at this city and it’s hidden alleys, temples, and histories that we never knew existed.

If you have the chance, come to Phnom Penh. And stay a while. I’ll take you to my favorite neighborhood. You’ll meet some really great people. It’s a hard place not to love.

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

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 : )


 

 

Categories: Egypt | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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.

 

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

Egypt: Islamic Cairo (Day 1)

First of all, let me say that I love Cairo. I love it for its speed, its noise, its throngs of people, its culture.

The people that shout, that smile, that laugh, that form the lifeblood of a city that has one hand giving a high-five to tradition and the other grabbing the short-skirted behind of capitalism and freedom of expression.

Cairo is a beast of a city, a pulsing heart running a marathon. If you ever make it to Cairo, you will be amazed at the layers of human experience.

From, literally, the oldest civilization in the world, to a mixing of cultures: Arabs, Islam, Christianity, Crusades, Colonialism, French and British influence, World War II, and McDonald’s. Every bit of rubble has a story to tell.

These are the people who live in the largest city in Africa.

Sean and I arrived two days before my parents and sister. We instantly were shocked by the sheer size of the city. It was a magnitude that we have never seen before. Sure, New York City is big, but it’s all in English, and you have the glitter of Times Square and a cop on every corner to point you to the nearest metro station and public bathroom. In Cairo, you are in a jungle of Arabic script and honking horns, with the smell of shawarma wafting through the air. We dropped off our bags and went for a walk.

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I was hoping for a side of french fries to go with my felafel sandwich, but I ended up with two sandwiches: one filled with felafel and one filled with french fries. Both were equally good.
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We found a warm, quiet cafe on the street near our apartment. We settled into the comfy, overstuffed chairs with a cup of chai, shisha, and the lovely drink I had come to be addicted to: sahleb. A delicious, thick, pudding-like drink that warms you from the inside out. We returned to this cafe multiple times not only for the shisha and chai, but for the $4 pizzas, too!

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Before my parents landed, Sean and I went to the Cairo museum. It was fantastic. We bought a book in order to be able to navigate the countless mummies, statues, and sarcophagi.

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Street art in Cairo.

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Once my parents arrived, we explored Medieval Cairo. While Sean and I enjoyed navigating the city by ourselves, it was truly exhausting. Therefore, we organized a guide for much of our stay in Cairo so that we could relax and enjoy the company of our family as well as genuinely understand the city. (We booked through a wonderful woman named Mara, who was fantastically helpful in arranging everything for us. She has hotels in both Cairo and Luxor, and can organize any tour you need.) The above picture is of Bab Al Nasr, or the Gate of Victory. It was the gate the victorious warriors would return to the city through after their conquests abroad.

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Once inside the area of Medieval Cairo, we visited the Mosque of Al-Hakim. It was a beautiful mosque, but the guy who built it was a little unhinged. (He is known as the “Mad Caliph” in Western literature.) Al Hakim passed a law that prevented women from wearing shoes so that they couldn’t go outside. He also killed all the dogs in Cairo because their barking annoyed him. He would wander around at night, and ordered all the streets of Cairo to be illuminated for him. (Before electricity.) Then, he changed his mind, and ordered everyone to be indoors by sunset.  Then, at the age of 36, he disappeared. (And who says history isn’t fascinating?)

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Inside Bayt al-Suhaymi, or, an incredibly rich person’s house during the Ottoman era. Every part of the house was beautifully adorned. In the background, you can see me, my mother, and our AMAZING guide, Mohammed, looking at an Islamic rug.
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The view out one of the women’s windows at Bayt-Al-Suhaymi. The point was that I could see you, but you couldn’t see me…

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A ‘living room’ type area at Bayt Al Suhaymi. Isn’t it just gorgeous? And to think, this was in the 1600’s!

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After Bayt Al Suhaymi (I am so tired of forcing my fingers to type that name… try it, it’s tough!) we visited the hammam of Sultan Inal. A “hammam” is a public bath, which were incredibly popular for a long period of time. Not many exist any more in Egypt; people now visit spas, and, obviously, bathe within their own homes. I have been in quite a few hammams in the Middle East, some still in operation and some such as this that have been preserved, and you can recognize them all by their beautiful stained glass ceilings. (If you go to Egypt, be careful with your Arabic; my students in Kuwait told me that “pigeon” and “bathroom” both sound like “hammam”!)
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This was one of the most beautiful places we visited: The Mausoleum and Madrasa of Sultan Qalawun. (There’s one of those names again…) A madrasa is a learning center. In the above photo you can see the place people would pray. (The Imam reads from the Quran in the wooden pulpit, and the arched area is pointing towards Mecca.)

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This is looking at the tomb of Sultan Qalawun. I am in love with the beauty of Arabic script, and the beautiful woodworking of the Ottoman era. (And remember, this is Egypt, wood is hard to come by!)

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Walking through Medieval Cairo. I love how the old architecture towers over the modern traffic. (And, trust me, this is NOT a typical street in Cairo!) The rest of Cairo has about four cars fitting into the width of this walkway.

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Here we are in a Sufi monastery built during the Mamluk period. Can you see, behind the “gazebo” style structure, the small doorways? Those were small rooms, where the Sufis lived. They would spend their entire lives within the confines of this complex. (Unfamiliar with Sufism? They are a sect of Islam that brought us the concept of the “whirling dervish”.)

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Again, inside the Sufi monastery. The prayer area. We were the only people there!

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Our final stop brought us to Khan El Khalili, or the famous bazaar of Cairo. We spent a few hours perusing the shops and feasting on felafel and eggplant sandwiches. (And, admittedly, giggling while my mom and sister got targeted by shopkeepers for “one time deals” and “special prices”.)
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Dad, are you upset you didn’t bring one of those lamps home with you?

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More of Khan El Khalili. It was great to be in a place that didn’t allow vehicles. In this photo, I am standing outside of a shop where my father bought frankincense. Very cool, huh?
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Before we got in the car to return to our apartment, Sean snapped a picture of some boys playing soccer. Like I said, it’s a city of many voices.

(Check back soon! There is lots more Egypt to share with you! And, wow, in typing this blog, I am amazed at how much I learned!)

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