Cambodia – Day 3 – Even More Temples, Tonle Sap & Heading Home

Today was my last day in Cambodia before heading home back to Canada. I was picked up from my hotel at 8:30am. I skipped breakfast because the hotel breakfast was rather disappointing. After being picked up I was driven to the first stop of the day; Banteay Srei. Banteay Srei was built in 967 AD out of red sandstone, and brick. The temple complex is elaborately decorated in wall carvings, which are well preserved.

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Next stop was Banteay Samre. Banteay Samre is a Hindu Temple that was built in the early 12th century in the Angkor Wat style. It was named after the ancient people of Indochina.

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Lunch was at Khmer Angkor Kitchen. I had a traditional meat and vegetable stir-fry dish, which was pretty good. In the afternoon we visited Tonle Sap. Tonle Sap is a massive fresh water lake, which used to be part of the sea thousands of years ago. It was interesting to see where a lot of Cambodians went fishing, but sadly this lake is so badly polluted I can’t sit idly and not say something about it. We have a SERIOUS global pollution and garbage problem. It honestly sickens my stomach to think that I ate fish from this lake a few days ago. The whole lake is covered in a plume of algae and coolant / fuel from leaking boats. The shore is covered in garbage and plastic. As a society we consume way too much, use too many single-use plastics (in fact we shouldn’t use ANY single-use plastics), and we should be more thoughtful with our use and maintenance of transportation. Sadly, the Cambodians are just trying to survive and are not able to even consider any of these factors. This is a serious problem in the developing world, and I’ve mentioned this in the past in my travels to Thailand.

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After visiting Tonle Sap I was dropped off at Siem Reap airport, where I relaxed for a few hours at the Starbucks before boarding a Vietnam Airlines flight to Ho Chi Minh City, where I ended up staying the night. I stayed at The Airport Hotel, which was a 15 minute walk away and only cost me $35 CDN.

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I had to wake up the next day at 4:00am for a 7:00am flight to Tokyo, Japan and then onwards to San Francisco, USA and then finally home. The first flight was on an All Nippon Airways (ANA) Boeing 767-300ER, the second flight was on a United Airlines Boeing 777-300ER, and the last fight was on a United Airlines Express CRJ200. I must admit that United Airlines has severely disappointed over the last few years; the seats being quite uncomfortable, and the food being mostly inedible. I will go out of my way to avoid flying them in the future. You can see below what was supposed the be breakfast, but ended up resembling something that I wouldn’t even give to a dog. That’s an omlette, not a chicken breast…

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There will be a bit of a lull with new material for the next few weeks as I have some weddings I have to shoot, but do stay tuned for my weddings, hiking, and a quick trip to Belgium in October.

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Cambodia – Day 2 – Angkor Wat Sunrise & More Temples

Today I woke up very early at 4:30am for a 5:00am pickup to see the sunrise at Angkor Wat. The sunrise wasn’t too spectacular because it was a bit cloudy, but it was still nice to see and get a reflection of Angkor Wat against the water in front of me.

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After watching the sunrise I went and got blessed by a Buddhist Monk, who put a fabric bracelet around my right arm, which symbolizes good like. After being blessed it was time to get some breakfast. I ate a small booth that was setup on the northern perimeter of Angkor Wat; delicious scrambled eggs and some coffee. The mosquitos were brutal here and I didn’t have any anti-malarial pills, but I ended up being okay.

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After breakfast it was time to visit more temples. First stop was Banteay Kdei, also known as the Citadel of Chambers. Banteay Kdei was completed between the 12th and 13th centuries. The complex is in very rough shape due to the poor quality of construction and poor quality of sandstone that was used in the building of the temples.

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Next up was Taprom. Taprom was completed in 1186 AD. When it was found it was found to be in excellent condition due to the trees growing out of the ruins and jungle surroundings protecting it. Taprom was used for the filming of the 2001 Tomb Raider movie. I absolutely enjoyed my time at this temple and liked it even more than Angkor Wat!

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After Taprom we walked through the forest to Ta Nei, a temple dedicated to Buddha, which was built in the late 12th century. It was in fairly rough shape and quite overgrown with trees.

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It was time to get some lunch. We stopped at a place called Ta Keo Khmer Food. I had some local soup and a coke zero. The soup was absolutely delicious. I ended up abandoning the coke zero because a swarm of wasps had surrounded my can.

After having lunch I walked across the road to the Ta Keo Hindu Temple. Built in 1000 AD, Ta Keo Hindu Temple was the first temple to be built entirely of sandstone by the Khmers.

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Next stop was Tonle Om Gate (South Gate), a beautiful gate with a head sculpture sitting inside the sandstone gate structure.

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After passing through the Tonle Om Gate we made a quick stop at the Terrace of the Elephants. The terrace was used by Angkor’s king Jayavarman VII as a platform to view his victorious returning army. The 350 metre long terrace is covered in intricate carvings of elephants on its eastern face.

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Next stop was Baphoun Temple, which was built in the mid-11th century. The temple is three-tiered and also adjoins the southern enclosure of the royal palace that houses a swimming pool. My tour guide told me that when he was a child he would go swimming with his dog inside the pools. The temple was built on land filled with sand, and due to its immense size and site instability it collapsed. By the 20th century much of the temple had collapsed. Restoration was started, but then abandoned in 1970, when civil unrest broke out. Over 300,000 pieces, which were carefully labelled, were abandoned. In 1996 restoration began again under the guidance of French architect Pascal Royere from EFEO. The restoration took 16 years to complete.

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I also noticed some monkey’s playing around on my walk from Baphoun Temple to Bayon Temple. I got some great shots before one of the monkeys started getting aggressive with me and coming after me. The tour guide dropped a water bottle to distract the monkey so we could escape.

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Bayon Temple is an intricately detailed temple built at the end of the 12th century. The Buddhist temple had 49 (now 37) towers with faces on all four sides. This was my favorite temple of the day.

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It was getting late in the afternoon now, so it was time to head back to the hotel. I relaxed for a while by the pool until it was dinner time. I decided to try a vegetarian restaurant called Yuan Sheng Vegetable Restaurant. It was fairly good food, but I don’t think I could be a vegetarian as I like my meat way too much.

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Check back tomorrow when I continue on my Cambodia adventure and explore even more temples! Tomorrow is my last day of my Vietnam / Cambodia adventure. The remainder of this summer will include hikes I have completed, as well as weddings / family portraits I have been hired for.

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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 12 – Hanoi & Travelling to Cambodia

Today was a day of relaxation before I had to board an evening flight to Siam Reap, Cambodia. I woke up at 6:00am and went downstairs for an amazing buffet breakfast. It doesn’t matter what you wanted, this place had it! I spent the first half of morning relaxing in my nice and cool air conditioned room, before heading upstairs to the pool area. I had the pool all to myself and ended up relaxing there until checkout time, which was 1:00pm.

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At checkout I left my bags with the reception desk and went in search of food. While I was walking I saw a restaurant that was called Bami King, who’s sign looked like a knockoff of Burger King, so of course I had to eat there. The sandwich was super saucy but didn’t really have too much flavour; probably the least favourite Banh Mi that I’ve had so far.

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I got back to the hotel around 2:00pm and relaxed in the lobby for about an hour editing photos. While I was there one of the hotel workers began playing the harp, and it sounded amazing.

3:00pm arrived quickly and it was time for me to head to the airport. I ordered a GRAB for 120000 Dong ($7.50) which was less than half of the price that I had paid when I had originally arrived in Hanoi. The reason for this was because the surge pricing wasn’t in effect due to it being mid afternoon. When I had originally arrived in the evening there was surge pricing in effect.

When I was at the airport I had to find a way to print my Cambodian E-Visa, which I sloppily had forgotten to print off before I had left for the trip. After talking to numerous Vietnam Airlines desks I found someone who was willing to help me. I had to email it to her Gmail account and she had to print it to some really older printer that was off to the side. Remember most airline tickets are still printed on dot matrix printers in the fair majority of the world, so finding a modern laser printer is difficult sometimes.

After clearing customs and security I sat and waiting for two hours before the 6:00pm flight. A storm had rolled in at this point in time and there was a ton of lightening. I tried to get photograph or the lightening, which has been a bucket shot for me for quite some time, but no luck. I eventually ended up getting a photo from a video screen capture, despite it being low quality.

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The flight was on a Vietnam Airlines Airbus A321. The flight arrived at 7:50pm. I was even served a meal on the 1h50m flight. Siem Reap International Airport was a complete mess. After landing we de-planed in the middle of nowhere and there was no bus or guidance of where to go. People haphazardly walked to a few buildings before finding the terminal, which was not actually very obvious to find. Customs was easily to clear as I had already applied online for a Cambodian E-Visa. After clearing customs I went to the taxi commission desk to book a taxi to my hotel, since GRAB didn’t operate out of Siem Reap. After paying my $10 USD ($13.20 CDN) I was given this young man who spoke perfect English. The first half of the drive went by seamlessly, but during the second half he was trying to get me to hire him as a tour guide. I told him that I had already scheduled a guide for the next 3 days. He started to cry and I asked him what was wrong. He told me that they have to get a number and are only allowed to pick up people every 3 days or so as the Airport Authority only lets the one taxi company show up and there is a huge wait list. I felt pretty bad so I gave him a $10 USD tip; regardless of if the story is true or not. The guy needs the money more than I do.

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He dropped me off at my hotel; Golden Citadel Hotel, a hotel you can typically acquire for about $21 CDN/night. The room has a king size bed, free bottled water, mini bar, and two rainfall showers. This is pretty food value and the hotel is rated 4.3/5 on Google. After checking in I realized that my British passport was missing so I phoned the Siem Reap airport lost and found, and they confirmed that they had my passport. Turns out it fell out of my bag on the flight, which is super sloppy of me. I told them I would pick it up tomorrow in the afternoon. The key for the room had a very amusing statement on the back of the keycard; I feel somewhere the thought was lost in translation…

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It was time to head to bed as I was completely exhausted, and my tour guide was to pick me up at 7:30am tomorrow morning.

I will be taking a slight pause in the Vietnam series. Check back tomorrow for a recent hike I took with my dad and our friend Filipe to Tunnel Mountain in Banff National Park, Alberta. The Vietnam Series will continue on Saturday June 29th.

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Vietnam – Day 11 – Ha Long Bay

Today I woke up at 6:00am. I showered and got ready to start the day. Breakfast was at 6:45am and was a delicious buffet with a large variety of food, including hot cooked eggs, omelets, etc. After breakfast we took a smaller boat to Sung Sot cave, which can hold over 1000 people in it at the same time. It was absolutely breathtaking, even bigger than the caves that I’ve seen in New Zealand, and the United States.

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After visiting the caves everyone gathered around for some cooking lessons, but I found them mediocre compared to the cooking class that I took a few days ago in Ha Noi. I was given a few hours to relax before the ship docked at noon.

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Checkout was noon and the tour bus took everyone back the same way we came, again stopping at a similar expensive touristy spot half way back to Hanoi. I was dropped off at my hotel at around 4:30pm. I was again staying in a different hotel in Hanoi, this one was called La Belle Vie Hotel, a rather luxurious hotel which I received for free from hotels.com. Every 10 hotels I stay at I end up getting one free for the blended average price of the last 10. You can also get sponsored by hotels to review them and leave a good opinion if you are crafty enough with your social media skills on Instagram.

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I relaxed by the pool for the rest of the afternoon before taking a 30000 Dong (1.85 CDN) GRAB back to the to the very famous Bun Cha Huong Lien Obama, where former US President Obama and Anthony Bourdain ate on May 23rd 2016, where I ate a few nights ago when I was in Hanoi.

After eating I decided to walk back to my hotel which took about 45 minutes or so. I stayed up and edited photos before heading to bed at 10:00pm.

Check back tomorrow when I relax and spend time in Hanoi before taking a flight to Siam Reap, Cambodia.

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Vietnam – Day 10 – Ha Long Bay

Today I woke up at 6:00am. Breakfast was a rather mediocre buffet, and a few hot dishes. I had an omelet. The tour bus for Ha Long Bay picked me up at 8:30am. I choose a semi luxury 2 day option operated by A Class Cruises for about $160 USD ($210 CDN). About half way through the 4 hour drive we stopped for a bathroom break at a very overpriced tourist stop. They put a chain around your neck with a number and record how much you spend and then the workers get a kickback. I found that really annoying. The bus finally arrived in Ha Long Bay at around noon. Throughout the bus ride I was talking with a really nice couple named Danny and Sara, who are both photographers that live part time in Australia and part time in Canada. They’re absolutely adorable together.

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We immediately boarded our boat; Stellar and were greeted with a welcome drink before heading upstairs to the dining room to be briefed on the next two days, discuss safety items, and to get room keys. After obtaining my room key I went to my room to drop off my bags and clean up a bit. The room was small and smelled a bit musty, but the bed was comfortable. The bathroom even had a nice rainfall shower.

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First activity for the day was Kayaking through Luon Tunnel and spending an hour chilling out in the Kayak. This was very peaceful and relaxing. I even saw some monkeys!

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Then the tour guide took us over to an island where we all went to an outlook that you could gaze into Ha Long Bay, and then we went swimming in the ocean and hung out on the beach for an hour or so.

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It was now dinner time so we were taken back to our boat and had dinner. I called it family dinner because it was Sara and Danny, myself, and a French couple that hit it off together and hung out for the rest of the trip.

After dinner many people went upstairs to the sundeck to watch the sunset, myself included. After sunset people Sara and Danny decided to go squid fishing, but didn’t have much luck. I had a drink and talked with them while watching them for a bit before heading to bed, as I was exhausted from waking up early the entire trip.

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Check back tomorrow when I continue on my Ha Long Bay boat tour and explore a massive cave that can hold over 1000 people inside of it at the same time!

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Plains of Six Glaciers Hike

Yesterday my dad and I completed the Plains of Six Glaciers Hike, which is considered to be one of the top twenty hikes to do in Alberta. My dad picked me up at my house at 6:00am and after a 2 hour drive we had arrived at Lake Louise. We thought by getting there early that we would find parking… we were wrong. We circled the parking lot a few times, and lucked out and grabbed the last available spot.

The Government of Canada starting running a massive promotion of the Canadian Parks back at the 150th Anniversary of Canada back in 2017, and ever since then tourism has kicked off. They figured by running buses to Lake Louise and Moraine lake that it would help ease congestion, but it actually made the problem worse because people park at the Lake Louise lot, instead of the overflow lot to catch the bus to Morraine Lake, leaving not many parking spaces available for people actually wanting to visit Lake Louise.

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The 14km and 587 metres of elevation gain trail starts at Lake Louise, then hugs the east side of the lake, before starting a gradual 500-or-so metre elevation gain through the trees towards the Plains of Six Glaciers Tea House. When we were nearing the Tea House we heard a rumble, and you could see a small avalanche that was occurring; luckily I had my camera in hand and ready to shoot and was able to snap a great shot of the avalanche in action. At the Tea House we stopped for some beverages and food. Dad had a delicious sandwich, some lemonade, and some tea, while I had some coffee, as well as some chips and salsa.

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The Tea House was originally built by the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1927 as an enjoyable spot to hike to have a cup of tea and overlook the amazing scenery. In 1959 Joy Kimball purchased the Tea House and it has been run by her family ever since. The Tea House still has no electricity, and all food is prepared on a propane stove. Non perishable food items are helicoptered in once at the beginning of the season, and workers bring in the rest up with them in backpacks or by horse every 5 days, when there is a shift change.

I continued the last 1.5km and 100 metres of elevation gain of the hike to the end, while dad started to head back towards the car. The view at the end of the hike was out of this world amazing!

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It was time for me to head back towards the car too. I ended up catching up with my dad towards the beginning of the hike along the east side of Lake Louise. Total time for the hike was roughly 3.75 hours, which is actually slightly faster than the sticker time for the hike.

On the way home from the hike we stopped in Canmore for some well earned coffee and cola.

What hike is in store next? We’re not quite sure as we both have a busy July, but I do have the following hikes on my personal list that I’d like to complete this year: Galatea Lake & Lilian Lakes, Valley of 10 Peaks: Wenkchemna Pass, Geraldine Lakes, Crypt Lake.

The next blog post will be a continuation of my Vietnam. In the next post I’ll be travelling to Ha Long Bay, so be sure to stay to check back tomorrow!

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