Thursday, August 20, 2009


While my short visit to Cambodia was centered around the temples and ancient cities of Angkor, I did have a chance to see Siam Reap and visit the floating village on the great lake. The boat people of this area are a unique culture. Both Vietnamese and Khmer live on and around the lake. Watching the children play, swim, wash and move about in and on the water convinced me that they are about as much a part of water as any people can be.

One of the kids' pastimes is floating about in washbasins with a paddle tucked under the elbow in one hand and a cup (if they are lucky enough to have one) in the other to bale out the small basin. With a graceful sweeping motion of the paddle in front of the basin, they move with amazing speed and direction.

While you can definitely notice a marked decrease in organization and cleanliness when you cross the boarder from Thailand into Cambodia, the people are captivating. I read "First They Killed My Father" (this is a great account of one little girl's experience under the Khmer Rouge control) and "The Killing Fields" on my way here and was moved with how much turmoil a whole people can experience. I will need to come back to Cambodia again as I found the people to be intriguing.

People with very little, often seem to find interesting ways of enjoying themselves.

I guess bamboo makes an available and adequate reinforcement for concrete.

A floating 7/11.

Typical rowing position of the Vietnamese boat people.

The great lake in the center of Cambodia.

A regular floating supermarket.

Stilt houses on the lake.

Typical Viet Nam style boat.

Stilt village.

Arrival in Cambodia. I would not want to have been here between 1975 and 1979 during the khmer rouge time.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Temples of Angkor

The ancient temples and cities of Angkor are amazing in both scale and imagination. Unlike both Machu Picchu and Petra, much of the building materials for this vast area were imported or manufactured. The overwhelming scale of this place is hard to grasp and requires a tuk tuk, bike or car (or elephant) to traverse.

As interesting as Angkor, the khmer people fascinated me. I found many of the girls selling trinkets and books around the temples to be quite intelligent, many being able to hold conversations in eight or nine languages. They were quick witted and entertaining. When I brought out my bills (crumpled in my pocket as I usually keep them) to buy a book, the young lady selling the book was so bothered by the way I was not careful with my money that she tried to give me her own wallet, even though she was dirt poor. I was amazingly unaware of what the khmer have been through with various invasions and civil war and genocide. It will take generations to heal. I look forward to seeing more of Cambodia.

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai, in the northern part of Thailand, is a great place to visit and to go on a short trek through the green hills. I went for three days, which included some good hiking, plenty of waterfalls for cooling off, a nice elephant ride, and some white water rafting. I got a real kick out of watching the mahouts washing their elephants in the river, something both the elephants and drivers seemed to really enjoy.

Bamboo is a great resource here - used to build everything. It is even used in place of steel reinforcement in concrete. Also note the "outdoor" plumbing - empties underneath the hut, in the picture.

The hills are very green now with the rice growing well. It is the rainy season here, which means it is quite humid and warm. Good weather for a cold Chang beer after a long hike!

I took an all day Thai cooking class in Chiang Mai. I can hardly wait to try out some recipies on friends and family.


Thailand - The Land of Smiles! Also, the land where everything is for sale. I spent my first couple of nights around Khaosan Road (ever seen the movie - The Beach?) It is one of the more interesting little streets anywhere. One of my past times was sitting on the curb with a Chang beer and just watching the throngs go by. After midnight, the ladyboys come out to strut their stuff and try to attract customers. I sat in the curb until 3 AM one night with a local bar girl who had gotten off work without any customers and we played a little game of "Lady, or Ladyboy?" It is kind of like - "Is it live, or is it Memorex" - for those of you who remember those audio tape commercials. I would try to guess if the person was a lady or a ladyboy and she would let me know if I was right or not. I only hit about 50%! At least that is what she said. I have no way of knowing for sure, since I am certainly not into that sort of thing. What a different lifestyle! After three hours of this and other people-watching, I saundered on home for the night - er, morning. The amazing thing was how many people were still out walking the streets, eating noodles or spring rolls and drinking beer at that time of the morning.

Like I said, anything is for sale on Khaosan Road, from people to clothes to Phad Thai to digital movies and music to just about anything you could imagine and some things you can't. I tired of this place after a while and was delighted with many of the other sights in BKK, like the temples and markets. I have not tried the bird's nest soup in Chinatown yet, but might before I leave.

The purple fruit is Dragonfruit, which makes a great juice. The Tuk Tuks are a real wild ride. I noticed that the air quality here seems much better than many other mega-cities I have visited. Perhaps one reason is that 3/4 of the autos run on CNG or propane. Another thing I liked (for all you traffic engineers out there) are the countdown timers on all the signals. We see a lot of these for pedestrians, but most of the signals here have them for drivers too. It allows the driver to shut down the vehicle because they can see how long until they get the green light. Maybe this only works on fixed-time signals? The last photo is different types of dried shrimp, which is used like salt as a seasoning. Also, fish sauce is another salt-substitute, a bit like soy.

After a few days here I went up to Chiang Mai for trekking and a different environment for a few days.

Island of Spices

The sands of Zanzibar remind me of the West coast of Florida. White and incredibly soft. It is easy to spend time in Zanzibar. A week went by quickly after a day in Stone Town, a day on the spice plantation and several days on the beach. Stone Town was worth a short visit - it is no Fes, but does have an interesting local market.

The people of Tanzania are colorful and friendly. Still, there is a bit of a desperation that can be felt- the result of poverty and illness. It drained me a bit, along with the constant poor air quality that results from burning wood and other fuel. Travel here is also a dangerous venture. The day I was going to travel from Arusha to Dar Es Salam, a bus crashed, killing at least 33 people. There are several buses per day, so I probably would not have been on that one, but you never know. It happens often though. While this was one of the more difficult countries that I have traveled in, it was certainly a great visit with amazing variety of cultures, awe-inspiring parks, and warm-hearted generous people.

My bus ride from Arusha was interesting. One highlight was the toilet stop. The driver just pulled over next to a planted field and everybody got out and found a bush to use. The women went to one field and the men to the other. It was hilarious seeing a bus full of people, some in suits and others in dresses, peeing on the side of the road all at once. At least it did not cost any shillings to use this stop.

I am now out of Africa (sorry Countess Blixen - now one of my favorite authors) and in SE Asia. "Sawasdee Krup" from the Land of Smiles, where it is hot and humid, the sea is warm, and the food is fantastic. I think I have gained at least 5 kilos. I also learned a new past-time here. I call it "Is it a lady, or a ladyboy," but more about that next posting.

I had dinner here every evening - grilled fish and rice with a Kilimanjaro beer at sunset.

I will never complain about my workspace ever again after seeing what this guy has to deal with every day! Shoving his hands into cows heads...