Cambodia – Day 1 – Angkor Wat & Other Temples

Today I woke up at 6:00am. I had some breakfast downstairs, which was a mediocre omelette and some coffee. After breakfast I waited in the lobby for my private tour guide. I chose to use Cambodia Tour Services because my father had used them in the past and had great things to say about the owner named Phanith. I was supposed to get Phanith myself, but he broke his leg playing soccer the day before the tour, so he gave me a guide that had even more experience than him. Sadly I forget his name, but he was a really nice guy! I was picked up at 730am. The first stop was Angkor Wat.

Angkor Wat, also known as the City of Temples, was constructed in the 12th century as a Hindu temple dedicated to the god Vishnu for the Khmer Empire. It was eventually transformed to a Buddhist temple towards the end of the 12th century. The temple is surrounded by water on a site that is 163 hectares in size. The temple was built in an east-west orientation, suggesting that there was a celestial significance, which you’ll find out tomorrow morning as I travel very early to watch the sunrise at Angkor Wat. Interestingly unlike most Khmer temples, Angkor Wat is oriented to the west, rather than the east. The site is surrounded by 4.5 metre (15 foot) high walls and has 5 towers, with the central tower being the tallest at 65 metres (213 feet) tall, which I even climbed to the top of.

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Throughout the complex there is intricately detailed walls with all sorts of carvings that show the 32 hells and 37 heavens of Hinduism. You can see from the pictures below the struggle between heaven and hell.

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After visiting Angkor Wat it was time to grab some lunch. We stopped by a very nice restaurant, which I forgot to get the name of. I had a Cambodian dish called Amok, which is a thick soup cooked with fish, vegetables, eggs, and coconut milk. It was absolutely delicious.

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After lunch we visited three temples; Lolei, Preah Ko, and Bakong Temple. Lolei is a Hindu temple built entirely of brick in the 9th century, before Angkor Wat in the centre of a man-made lake called Indratadak.

Preah Ko is another Hindu temple that has a lot of carvings. It was built in 879 AD to honour members of the kings family. There are six towers arranged in two rows of three, each on top of a sandstone platform.

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Bakong Temple is the first temple mountain made of sandstone that was constructed under the Khmer Empire. It was built in 881 AD. The main structure is a sandstone pyramid, with surrounding brick satellite temples.

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I was dropped off at my hotel at around 3:00pm and relaxed by the pool until it was dinner time. For dinner I decided to head to Jungle Burger Bar. I had never rode in a Tuk Tuk before so I ordered one on GRAB. Jungle Burger Bar is owned by Clayton, a 45 year old gentleman from New Zealand. He left New Zealand when he was 20 years old and was a builder up until about 9 years ago when he decided to open this burger bar. Words can not describe how amazing the burgers are here; if you end up travelling to Siem Reap you must visit this place! This was easily the best hamburger I’ve ever had!

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Check back tomorrow when I continue on my Cambodia adventure and explore even more temples!

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Vietnam – Day 3 – Hoi An

The next day I woke up at 5:30am. I didn’t realize this at first but I had the whole villa to myself; none of the other 12 rooms were booked. The villa had a restaurant that opened at 7:00am so I waited for the restaurant to open. I had some beef pho for breakfast. I borrowed one of their bicycles for free to ride into the ancient town of Hoi An. I explored around the local market, wandering up and down the streets to take in the sights, including the famous covered Japanese Bridge, which was built in 1719. It was starting to get too hot to bear at around noon, so I rode the bicycle back to the villa. I looked on the weather reports and noticed that it was 37 degrees, but due to humidity it felt like 46 degrees.

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After relaxing by the pool for a bit and drinking a few beers I decided I was hungry so I borrowed the bicycle again in search of food. I settled on a place called Pho Co Hoi An. I had some beef pho and a local beer. I was getting tired so I rode back towards the villa, quickly stopping for some bottled water, a bag of Doritos, and some more beer. The villa had a good supply of bottled water and beer, but I wanted to save some money by purchasing it at the store instead.

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I had what was supposed to be a short nap, but ended up sleeping from 3:00pm until 8:00pm. After waking up I walked into town and went to famous Banh Mi Phuong for dinner. Anthony Bourdain ate there a few years ago and featured it on his television show called Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown. Banh Mi is a baguette filled with savory meats, spices and a few vegetables such as shaved carrots and a bit of lettuce. To describe the taste of the Banh Mi at this particular restaurant I would say it’s like having Pho in a bun. It was so delicious, and very inexpensive; only 50000 Dong ($3.15 CDN) for a Banh Mi and a beer.

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After dinner I walked around and explored the night market, and watched people floating down the river in the love boats, as well as watch people making wishes with lit lanterns and placing them in the water. It was getting late so I decided to walk back to the villa. It was around 11:00pm by now so it was time for me to go to bed.

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Santorini

I just spent a few days on the beautiful Greek island of Santorini. Santorini’s history dates back to roughly 5000 BC.

Accommodation was at Villa Danezis. This luxury villa was rather affordable at $70 CDN per night and is managed by the owners who live on site. The villa has ten beautiful appointed rooms with nice art work, a sizeable outdoor pool, a beautiful patio area, and morning coffee with delicious home made muffins.

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During my stay I rented a car as it was a lot easier than trying to take the local transit, despite it being a more expensive choice. When I was on the island I did the famous Fira to Oia hike in reverse, which took about 3 hours to complete and is rated moderate. The hike takes you through both the ancient districts, and along the mountainous terrain between the two districts, with many beautiful old churches painted in blue and white. All of the “towns” on the islands are now just referred to as districts of Thera (Thira), since 2011 when the government decided to do so.

I explored Oia and Fira in detail, visited the old Akrotiri Lighthouse on the south side, and the ancient towns of Akrotiri and Ancient Thera.

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The ancient town of Akrotiri date’s back to as early as 5000 BC, when it was a small fishing and farming village. By about 3000 BC the community had developed and expanded significantly. Akrotiri continued to prosper over the years with the introduction of paves streets, an extensive drainage system, and high quality pottery and craftsmanship. This all came to an end in 1627 when the volcanic eruption of Thera buried the entire community in volcanic ash. The community wasn’t found again until 1867 when some locals found some old artifacts in a quarry. Extensive modern excavations of the site occurred in 1967 by Professor Spyridon Marinatos. Excavations are still ongoing to this day.

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The ancient town of Ancient Thera date’s back to 9th century BC until 726 AD when it was buried after a small eruption of the volcano of Santorini covered it in pumice stone. The ancient city was re-discovered in 1895 by Friedrich Hiller von Gaertringen and excavations started to occur between 1961 and 1982, and 1990 and 1994.

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I also ate some of the most amazing food I’ve had in my life. The meat and vegetables are so fresh and the Greek meals are delicious; whether it was traditional Greek coffee, Greek salad, fresh sea food, or vegetarian dishes. Yes you read that correctly, vegetarian dishes! Santorini has vegetarian only restaurants and they serve incredible food; my personal favorite being Tranquilo where I had Greek salad and goat cheese filled hot peppers.

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Another fantastic restaurant that you must visit is To Briki. I had traditional Greek coffee served with old wine grapes soaked in honey, deep fried Greek cheese, and amazing smoked salmon and avocado bruschetta.

Check back shortly for my next blog post where I explore the beautiful city of Zurich!

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Thailand – Day 2 – Ayutthaya

Today I woke up at 2:00am because my internal clock is out of whack. I talked to some friends on the phone and made myself some coffee in my hotel room before I took a cab to the main train station so that I could catch a ride to Ayutthaya. The first cab turned me down, but the second one accepted me, although I had to give him directions as he didn’t seem to understand what I was looking for. Luckily I had brushed up on these four key words; no, stop, left and right.

When I arrived at the train station I purchased a ticket on the “high speed special diesel” locomotive since I missed the cheap local train, which cost me 345 baht (about $13.80) instead of the 45 baht the local train could have cost me, and the kicker is the train was 45 minutes late arriving anyways. It did come with air conditioning which was a plus.

After purchasing my ticket I went and got a bowl of soup and waited for the train. The train ride was nice, with lots of perspective of what the rest of Bangkok is like, and the countryside is like. Bangkok was attempting to grow their transportation network; there is tons of elevated train stations and highways being built, but the government pulled the plug in the 1990’s on the company involved because there was lots of corruption and over spending. I also got to see some beautiful temples along the way. I even was served coffee and a custard filled bun, which was delicious!

Upon arriving in Ayutthaya I took a water taxi across the river for 5 baht. I then explored the amazing historical site of Ayutthaya, visiting the sites of Wat Maya That, Wat Ratchaburana, Wat Thammikarat, Ancient Palace, Wat Phra Si Samphet, and Lokayasutharam. I also had some amazing Thai chicken noodle soup for 40 baht. I walked a total of 20km’s.

On the way back I took a local train without air conditioning for only 20 baht. It was hot, but actually pretty bearable. I helped a few people that had heavy bags with that that needed help getting them off the train. Upon arriving at Bangkok station I took a taxi back to the hotel for 70 baht ($2.80), a distance of about 4km.

I relaxed for a bit before venturing out to Khao San Road. It was really cool, and beyond anything I imagined from what I read and what people told me. Of course it’s super touristy but ya cool; it’s like a mini Vegas strip in the heart of Bangkok.

I was then feeling pretty sleepy so I head back to the hotel room to get some sleep. Stay tuned tomorrow for the next part of my adventure; a journey on the Death Railway towards Myanmar (Burma)!

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