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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Tunnel Mountain Hike

My father (@pjgriffn on Instagram), and our family friend Filipe Weller (@fwpenedo on instagram) recently completed the Tunnel Mountain Hike in Banff National Park, Alberta.

The Tunnel Mountain trail is a 4.5km 266m elevation gain train that starts right in the town of Banff, Alberta and switchbacks back and forth to the top of Tunnel Mountain at 1692 masl (metres above sea level). The hike was easy and straight forward. We completed the hike in 1.5 hours round trip, including a 20 minute break at the top for lunch.

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Due to an extremely busy day tomorrow my Vietnam series will continue on Saturday June 29th when I showcase my travels to Cambodia… So technically it’s the Vietnam / Cambodia series…

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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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Vietnam – Day 8 – Ninh Binh

Today I woke up at 5:30am. I’m still struggling with this persistent jet lag, a whole 8 days later. I packed my bags and got ready, before heading down for breakfast at the buffet. After breakfast I walked about 10 minutes to the Hanoi central train station.

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There’s a few ways of obtaining train tickets; you can buy right at the station, or you can buy online from a third party which charges a small booking fee on top. Unfortuneately foreigners can’t book online through the REAL Vietnam Rail website unless you happen to have a Vietnam bank card, which I presume almost everyone won’t. Also one thing to note is that there are a lot of fake websites in Vietnam, and other parts of SE Asia for things like trains, airlines, museums, etc. You need to be extra diligent and do your research as they mostly all look the same. I read multiple travel blogs to ensure that I was picking the appropriate websites. Anyways, I chose to use the third party website called Balou, as it came the highest recommended. I only paid about $2 CDN more to book it online through them than just showing up, but it was a nice piece of mind knowing everything was taken care of beforehand.

The train departed Hanoi station at 7:30am and slowly crawled its way through the city before picking up speed. About 15 minutes into the train ride I realized that I had made a bad mistake… I forgot my passport and US cash in the safe back at the hotel. I called the hotel and explained the situation, gave them the passcode for my safe, and told them that I’ll be back tomorrow evening to pick it up. Phew, disaster averted.

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The train arrived at Ninh Binh station at around 10:00am. While exiting the station I booked a GRAB, which happened to be waiting right out front. It took about 15 minutes to drive from Ninh Binh train station to my accommodation in Tam Coc, called Tuan Ngoc Hotel. The fare was 76000 Dong ($4.35 CDN). After arriving at the hotel I dropped off my bags I decided to rent a motorcycle from the hotel for two days for a cost of 110000 Dong/day ($6.25/day). The motorcycle didn’t include gasoline so I had to find a gas station before I ran out of gas, as they had drained all the fuel out minus a few drops.

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First stop was Hang Mua viewpoint, about a 6km ride away. Something to note here is that you don’t take the first parking spot that people try to flag you down to because you’ll end up paying way more, and have to walk a fair distance. If you can drive past all the people standing in the middle of the road you’ll find yourself with parking right at the entrance for only 10000 Dong ($0.55 CDN). Unfortuneately despite reading this there was an extremely persistent group of very angry sounding Vietnamese women that wouldn’t get out of the road and pretty much forced me to park in their parking spot for 25000 Dong ($1.35 CDN). Obviously we’re not talking about much money here, but the fact they were so pushy left a sour taste in my mouth. Picture down below of where NOT to park.

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After a 15 minute walk from the very end of the road I came to the entrance of the Hang Mua Viewpoint, which had a nominal entry fee of 100000 Dong ($5.50 CDN). There is a small cave at the start of the steps up to the viewpoint with a tiger statue and some offerings from the locals.

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After viewing inside the cave it was time to start the hot and strenuous journey up to the vietpoint. 500 steps and about 20 minutes later I was dripping in sweat, but looking at an absolutely fantastic view of the karst sceneries of Tam Coc, as well as the Lying Dragon ontop of the mountain. I spent some considerable time up here getting the photos that I wanted to get, before heading back down so that I could get some lunch.

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After walking back to the bike I rode back into town to get some lunch from a restaurant, which I unfortunately forget the name of. I had some beef pho soup, but it wasn’t very good and the service was quite slow.

After having some lunch I rode a short distance away to Bich Dong Pagoda. The parking attendent wanted to charge me 30000 Dong ($1.65 CDN) but I ended up negotiating down to 20000 Dong ($1.10 CDN). I crossed over a bridge through some temple gates, walked a short while to the Lower Pagoda, before ascending 100 steps to the Middle Pagoda, which is built half inside of a cave. There are roughly 20-25 steep steps to the Upper Pagoda, which is fully inside the cave, which is also filled with bats. Bich Dong Pagoda was built by the two monks Tri Kien and Tri The in the early 18th century.

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It was starting to get extremely hot as it was mid afternoon, so I rode back to the hotel and hung out in the pool for a few hours.

For dinner I rode to the Bia Minh Beer Garden, which was just down the street. I probably could have walked but I was feeling lazy from my hike up all those stairs earlier today. For dinner I had a Hawaiian pizza, and a pork Banh Mi sandwich, along with a mini keg of fresh beer. I’ve never seen anything like it before; it’s a combination between a growler and a keg. This was some of the freshest beer I’ve had in SE Asia so far. During dinner it started to pour rain. After dinner I rode back to the hotel in the pouring rain and ended up going to bed at around 9:00pm.

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Be sure to check back tomorrow when I explore more of Ninh Binh before heading back to Hanoi.

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Vietnam – Day 6 – Hoi An Eco Cooking Tour

Today I unfortunately woke up early again at 5:00am. I did some photo editing in the room until it was time to have breakfast. For breakfast I had Cao Lau Noodles at the villa restaurant.

I booked myself a cooking class tour with Hoi An Eco Cooking Class Tour company on a recommendation from Viktor and Sandrine. I was picked up at 8:15am and was taken for a tour of the Hoi An food market before venturing on a boat ride on a traditional basket boat. I went fishing and caught 3 purple crabs! After riding on the basket boat it was time to start my cooking class.

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During the cooking class I learned how to make pho, eggplant aubergine, Vietnamese pancakes, fish sauce, aubergine sauce, and shrimp salad rolls. The cost of the cooking class was 750000 Dong ($46.85 CDN). The class ended at 1:30pm and I was dropped back off at the villa.

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It was time to check out sadly… it was an absolutely amazing villa! I stayed here for four nights and actually had the whole place to myself. This family run villa has the most amazing friendly staff that are eager to make your experience in Hoi An as perfect as possible. The rooms are spacious, clean and bright. The rooms have a super cold minibar fridge with cold drinks that are very fairly priced. The pool is incredible, especially on a hot day. My favourite staff member was Lap; she works in the afternoons. She’s so sweet and makes sure you have everything you need; including if the weather is bad she wants to make sure you don’t get wet and gives out rain ponchos. You can rent motorcycles for fairly cheap (110,000 Dong ($6.85 CSN) for a newer Honda automatic with lots of power). The complementary breakfast is amazing with an option of 13 different choices with Vietnamese and traditional western foods as options. They also have amazing fresh fruit juices and authentic Vietnamese coffee. I would absolutely stay here again and would recommend it to anyone.

After checking out I had a private driver drive me to Da Nang Airport for roughly 130000 Dong ($8.15 CDN). I arrived at the airport at around 3:00pm.

My Vietnam Airlines flight to Hanoi was at 5:00pm on an Airbus A321 CEO (Current Engine Option). After arriving at Hanoi I took a fairy expensive GRAB ride to my hotel; O’Gallery Majestic Hotel & Spa, for 272000 Dong ($17 CDN). I received two nights for free at this $200 CDN/night hotel on Hotels.ca for free. If you don’t use hotels.com or hotels.ca you should; every 10th night is free with a blended average rate from your previous 9 stays. This hotel has everything you can possible imagine; a private pool, a massive room with a luxurious king size bed, free food, mini bar, a 3:1 staff to tenant ratio. I highly recommend this hotel to anyone who wishes to visit Hanoi.

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After checking in I walked to the famous Hanoi rail tracks where the train passes by every day in the evening at 7:30pm. After taking pictures of the train I went for some chicken broth pho at Bahn Cuon Gia Truyen Thanh Van. After eating dinner I walked back to the hotel and went to bed.

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Check back tomorrow when I explore the massive city of Hanoi.

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