Friday, June 18, 2010

Angkor Management


Angkor served as the center of the Khmer Empire between the 9th and the 13th century. The word "Angkor" means "city". The Angkorian period started when Jayavarman II, a Khmer Hindo monarch, declared himself as the "god king" and lasted until Ankgor was sacked in 1431AD causing the population to move into the Phnom Penh area.

There are over 1000 temples in the Angkor region ranging in scale from fields of rocks to Angkor Wat, the temple Jayavarman built for himself in the 12th century as his state temple and capital city. Angkor Wat is the best preserved temple in the complex and is the only one that remains as a functioning religious center, first to the Hindu and second to the Buddhist religions. This temple has become a symbol of cambodia and is pictured on the country's flag.


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As suggested by our hotel, we arranged for a tuk tuk the night before and left around 8am for Angkor Wat. The guy drove us around the complex, patiently waiting outside for us at each stop.

The ticket booth was surprisingly high tech. They took our $20 and, in exchange, gave us a ticket with the worst possible mug shot on it. Mom and Dad, that's one of the papers that you got in mail, take a look again, I'm sure you skipped it not knowing what it was.

Someone in town recommended that we get a guide. We asked the police officers in front of Angkor Wat where we can find one. A short phone call from the law enforcement and we had a guide. As promised, he did speak English. However, we couldn't understand 90% of what he said. But hey, the 10% was very interesting!

Being a functioning temple, there were many monks and nuns visiting.

It took me a long time to find out who these old women with shaved heads were. After several attempts of googling it, I finally found out that the "Women are not ordained, but older women, especially widows, can become nuns. They live in wat and play an important role in the everyday life of the temple. Nuns shave their heads and eyebrows and generally follow the same precepts as monks. They may prepare the altars and do some of the housekeeping chores". However, I don't believe that anyone actually lives at Angkor Wat.

Through the main gates and down a long path, we approached the probably most photographed spot in Cambodia.

The green construction objects that made it quite annoying to photograph the temple are part of the German restoration project. Gosha, I thought you'd enjoy learning that.

We must have spent 3 hours wandering around Angkor Wat, following the long, seemingly endless hallways on multiple levels decorated with reliefs depicting the ancient Khmer history.

One of the reliefs was particularly humorous in my opinion. I inquired with the guide as to why the warriors wore such large shirts but didn't seem to have enough fabric for the pants, but his response was just a shy giggle.

From Ankgor Wat, we moved on to the Ta Prohm temple, also known as the Tomb Raider temple. I was told that the story behind the tree roots taking over the ruins is that during the Thai occupation, no one took care of the temple which was pooped on by numerous birds who had eaten the tree seeds.

I ended up coming back for more photo opportunities the following day, arriving at 4:30am, just in time for the sunrise and taking my time exploring the Tomb Raider temple completely alone. What a fantastic moment it must have been, being the first person to walk into this magical place after the hundreds of years of abandonment.

When I was all photoed out, shooting for 5 hours, my tuk tuk driver suggested I go see one more temple. Our original agreement was that he takes me to the temples at 4am and back to the hotel around 11. He insisted on me seeing one more and I didn't think much of it. I was tired and my brain was starting to boil from the heat, so I agreed. We were driving for quite a long time, I fell asleep and managed to have 3 dreams. When we finally arrived, I realized it was the temple that's super far from the rest, the same temple that we told him previously we didn't want to go to because it would be too expensive. Crap! Annoyed, I hopped out, gathered the little energy I had left from my breakfast that consisted of a toast with jam and a small banana 6 hours prior, and snapped a few shots.

When we got back to the hotel, the shady, sneaky tuk tuk driver demanded I pay him $30 instead of the original $5. I'm sure I don't even need to write what happened, since most of you know me well enough to guess. To make the long story short, I told him that because he tricked me, I'm not going to pay him what he asked. I said I'll give him an extra $5, making it a total of $10 because he intentionally tried to rip me off. Had he been honest, I would have paid him more. He insisted on arguing, at which point I told him that the longer her argues with me, the less money he'll get, removing a dollar from the pile of money every few minutes. He finally stopped arguing with me and took the money.

More pictures can be found here:

Travel Info:

We stayed at the Golden Mango Inn ( by two incredibly hospitable brothers, Phin Ly Ngeth and Sokvann. Our room with 3 beds, aircon, wifi, and free breakfast was $15 total.

I highly recommend starting at Angkor Wat at 4:30am (bring a flashlight), watching the sunrise over the pond and continuing through the temples until 11am. That's when it gets super hot, so go back to the hotel, rest, shower, and return around 3am to see some more ruins and the sunset. You should be able to negotiate with a tuk tuk driver to take you around for the entire day, including the returns to the hotel for about $5/person.

There is a lot of good shopping in Siem Reap. I found things to be cheaper there rather than in Phnom Penh. Don't forget to bargain though. The initial price is usually more than double the real price.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Facebook Access in Vietnam


I know it's my travel blog, but I'd like to post a solution to a problem that many people will face when traveling in countries that block access to specific sites. Vietnam, as well as a few other countries block access to social networking sites such as facebook. I found a way to make it work on my laptop with OSX.

  1. Download firefox if you don't have it already
  2. Download Tor Vidalia (it will hide your IP):
  3. Install the TorButton by double clicking the "Install TorButton for Firefox" shortcut in the downloaded Tor package or install it from Firefox extensions.
  4. Run Vidalia and when its icon in the the doc turns green, click the Tor button in your firefox so that it says "Tor enabled" in a green font.
  5. Then enjoy your facebook! :)

Tor also has free installers for windows and linux machines. For public computer use, tor has a pre-configured self-contained browser that can be installed onto a usb drive. All downloads can be found here:


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Siam Reap, in the land of pajamas


The city of Siam Reap is a group of villages clustered around approximately 1000 temples of Angkor. The name Siam Reap means the defeat of the Siamese aka the Thai referring to the century old bloodbath.

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The Siam Reap airport was pretty much what I expected. The small hut-like building on the side of the airstrip managed to efficiently get everyone through passport control and my e-visa, printed out of my gmail, was legit. At the entrance, there was a mob of people standing around with signs and it took me a while to find the guy with my name. He lead me through a parking lot carrying my big bag to his tuk tuk, which is like a modern "carriage" towed by a motorbike.


I arrived at the "Golden Mango" guest house and was greeted by Julie and Jill who were screaming my name off the balcony "O-lee-a, O-lee-a". In comparison to all the hotels thus far, this was a mansion! The room was large, with 3 beds, clean towels, nice bathroom with shower accessories and air conditioning. All for $15.

I'd like to introduce Julie and Jill, the two Canadian girls that I traveled through Cambodia with. Here's Jill in a restaurant, in deep thought.

Here, Julie and I are enjoying our first Cambodian meal. I had rice with stir fried veggies and pork.

Of course the main attraction of Siam Reap is the Angkor temples, but we found a few things to do aside from that.

I finally got to try out the fish spa where fish remove any dead skin you have. I'm ticklish, so I lasted about 3 minutes in there. There was another lady who decided to try it out with me and after some chatting inbetween the giggles, it turned out that she's from Burbank. Small world.

We also went to get a massage after a long hot day of temple wandering. 1 hour massage cost $4. There was a peculiar sign though (Thanks guys, good to know).

The first night in Siam Reap, we had dinner at Karo restaurant which was recommended to us by a local. We were told that all tuk tuk drivers will know where it is. We grabbed a tuk tuk and asked him if he knew where Karo was and he said yes. He drove down the street and pulled over to ask someone. Cambodians have an annoying habit of agreeing with everything even if they don't know the answer to a question. No one seemed to actually know where the restaurant was. Eventually, we found it and the food was very yummy. Flipping through the long menu, I ran across a couple interesting pages. First of all, they pointed out what they do not serve and they also seemed to have invented a new drink called a "Block Russian."



On another night, we decided to try the "happy" pizza that I recalled hearing about from my cousin Anya years back. When the hotel owner inquired as to what our dinner plans were and we told him the happy pizza, he loudly exclaimed "oh, you want marijuana." At that point, we realized it's not a secret thing and whispering about it was unnecessary. We ordered a happy pizza which came sprinkled with some grassy bits that tasted very much as they should. However, I wasn't any happier than I would have been had I eaten Papa John's back home.

And last, but not least, I'd like to explain the title of this entry. One of the first things that I noticed on my way from the airport to the hotel is that pretty much all of the women were wearing pajamas. I figured, well, it's morning time so maybe they haven't changed yet. As the day progressed, pajamas remained. People were wearing pajamas all day long, at work, on motorbikes, laying around in hammocks, etc. I've come to a conclusion that it must be a fashion trend similar to the track suit trend (which still exists in glendale...heehee)

More photos can be found here:


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