Chicago!!!

Two weekends ago I had the wonderful opportunity to visit my friend Chelsea in the beautiful city of Chicago, Illinois. I spent three glorious days in the Windy City eating and drinking my way through the amazing city, while soaking up the amazing architecture in this metropolis that 9.5 million people call home (2.7 million in the greater Chicago area).

Chicago, the third most populous area in the USA, was founded in 1780 and officially was recognized as a city in 1837. Chicago had a spectacular fire in 1871 which destroyed many homes and left over 100,000 people homeless. This didn’t stop the city from rebuilding and by 1900 the construction boom and population influx left the city as being the fifth most populous city in the world at the turn of the 20th century.

Chicago is now an international hub for finance, culture, commerce, industry, technology, communications, and transportation. It also is a massive destination for tourism, with over 58 million visitors annually!

Below is a handful of the photographs that I took on my weekends adventures with Chelsea. I also had the wonderful opportunity to meet many of her friends while I was there.

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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 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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Chile – Day 2 – Santiago

Today we woke up at 7:00am. We got ready fairly quickly and then walked to a nearby Starbucks. I had a regular drip coffee and C had a Chai Tea Latte. We then walked back to Santa Lucia Hill and explored the hill. Santa Lucia Hill sits on top of a volcano that last erupted an estimated 15 million years ago. On top of the hill is a beautiful park, chapel, and Fort Hidalgo. Fort Hidalgo was recently restored and reopened to the public and traditionally a cannon shot is fired at exactly noon.

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After exploring Santa Lucia Hill we walked over to Plaza De Armas. Plaza De Armas is the main square of Santiago. It is the centerpiece of the initial layout of Santiago and the square grid pattern of the city was laid out from here. Santiago (officially known as Santiago de Chile) was originally founded in 1541 by the Spanish conqueror Pedro de Valdivia. Santiago has a population of 6.3 million people and is home to 40% of the entire population of Chile.

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Right across from Plaza De Armas is Cathedral Metropolitana de Santiago which took 52 years to build and was first opened in 1800. Previous cathedrals stood in its spot but were destroyed by earthquakes. Chile is known to have some of the world’s largest earthquakes in recorded history, with the largest being the 9.5 magnitude earthquake on May 22, 1960 near Valdivia, Chile. That particular earthquake left 2 million Chileans homeless, killed approximately 6000 Chileans, and created Tsunami’s that reached as far as Honshu, Japan. The 18 foot high waves reached Honshu about 22 hours after the earthquake and left 1600 homes destroyed and killed 185 people.

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After visiting the beautiful Cathedral Metropolitana de Santiago we walked through the nearby Central Market and over to Centro Cultural Estacion Mapocho, which was a former railway station (built in 1913) that was converted to a cultural center/musuem. The beautiful semi-restored train station is built in Art Nouveau style architecture, which is some of my favorite architecture, alongside Art Deco and Mid-Century Modern. You can refer back to my France blog posts, among others to see some other beautiful Art Nouveau and Art Deco architecture.

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We continued exploring the area and came across a hip modern area called Eurocentro, and narrowly avoided a protest in front of the University of Chile. There were about 30-40 armed military personnel with riot shields ready to pounce if things got out of control.

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After that we took the Yellow Metro line from Santa Ana station to Departamental station. Santiago is home to one of my favorite style of Metro systems; the rubber-tyred Metro. There are only about 25 systems like these in the world and I’ve been on about 1/4 of them. The rubber-tyred Metro was first applied to the Paris Metro in 1951, and is also used in Montreal, Canada. The benefits are better grip, quieter, and a better ride.

After exiting Departamental station we walked to the nearby community of San Miguel, which is a rundown lower income community with many tenement buildings. The appeal of this community to us was the huge open street market and the massive murals on the sides of the tenement buildings.

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We were getting hungry and were in search of Arepas, which is a Venezuelan & Columbian food that is fairly popular to Chile as well. Arepas is made of ground maize dough and is cut in half and stuffed with cheese, meat, tomatoes, etc. You can have it in many different styles. We took the Metro and walked to numerous places on google maps that supposedly sold Arepas, but sadly they were closed or didn’t sell them. We settled on some amazing freshly made pizza at a nearby restaurant. We ordered a Neapolitan style pizza, which absolutely delicious.

After eating we explored the rustic community of Varrio Italia, before walking back to the hotel and calling it a night. Originally we were supposed to stay one additional day in Santiago but we opted to go to Valparaiso a day early starting tomorrow.

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