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Friday, July 27, 2007

Memories in Cambodia (Angkor Wat) - Part 5

On the third day, we were glad to visit somewhere other than temples, so that we didn't catch the dreaded NABTS (Not Another Bloody Temple Syndrome). So we set out to the floating village of Chong Khneas.

It was quite a distance from Siem Reap town and we were lucky we went in a car. This was because the road conditions there were simply disastrous. For most of the second part of the journey, we were travelling through muddy terrain. According to our guide, the roads would get flooded once the rainy season came.

After the bumpy ride, we reached the river bank and got on our own private boat.

Not far from the jetty we saw numerous buildings, built floating on the river surface. It looked like a real town, complete with residential huts, sundry shops, schools, a basketball court (!) and so on.

One of the few schools in the floating village.

A floating Catholic church - fancy praying on water?

Believe it or not, there was also a pig sty built on water. Cambodians really can't go without pork.

All the buildings here are easily relocatable, depending on the water levels. We saw a family 'moving house', being tugged by a small motor boat.

Check out the picture below. Anything strange about it?

Yup, the loos are open air. Boat people can see you peeing, how about that!

The entire tour took about one and a half hours and we were back in town after that.

After some lunch, we headed on to the silk farm operated by Artisans d'Angkor. There we were given a tour of the silk production line, free of charge. They also had a shop selling goods made of silk. The silk here is purportedly one of the best in the world.

On the way back from the silk farm, we stopped by one of the rural schools run by the government. There were only 2 classrooms, with students from both classes taught by one teacher. The education sector must be seriously understaffed.

We went in to say hello to the teacher and students. Since she didn't speak english, our driver acted as a translator. Apparently, english is only taught in certain schools in the suburbs or town area, while rural schools mainly use the Cambodian language as a medium.

The conditions there were frankly quite miserable, but I guess there are schools like these back in our own country too. The students were shy when we tried to take some pictures with them. Things changed though as my friend started a math pop quiz and gave out candy to students who managed to answer the questions correctly.

We also gave out some pencils which we purchased in town earlier. Many of these children are too poor to even afford proper stationery.

This practically rounded up our Siem Reap and Angkor. There were other mini excursions as well that I have not blogged about, but I'm feeling this has kind of been dragging on. So this concludes my post on the great journey to the land of the Khmers.

PS: Did you read about the landing gear scare which happened to an Air Asia aircraft when it was trying to land in Siem Reap? Think twice before flying Air Asia!

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Walk on air - Air Max 180

If you're a long time reader of this blog, you probably know I'm a Nike fan when it comes to shoes.

After one a half years using the Air Max Candela, I decided it was time to get myself a new pair of trainers. This time, it was the Air Max 180 TR.

The Air Max 180 is sort of like the little brother to the full-fledged Air Max 360. As the name would suggest, the difference is in the length of the air-sole unit which is only covers half the shoe. Why didn't I go for the 360?

a) It's damn expensive, 600 bucks per pair ok (but this doesn't mean the 180 is half the price of that)
b) This pair was on sale :)

The shoes are quite a comfortable wear, despite the air-sole units not being as soft as I'd expected. I'm just hoping the air units won't deflate like my old pair - there's always the risk on Nike shoes.

Ah I love my Nikes.


Monday, July 16, 2007

Memories in Cambodia (Angkor Wat) - Part 4

After exploring the Bayon, we went on with our tour of Angkor Thom, this time to the temple of Baphuon. Since restoration works were going on within, we didn't really get a chance to go in.

There was this long, elevated walkway right in front of the main entrance. My guess is it served as a walkway for the king when entering the premises.

'No admittance except on business'. I wonder what is considered as business here. Selling coconuts?

Best drink around Angkor Wat. Nothing like a cool coconut after a hot day's walk.

Gurl with my trusty Jansport backpack. I bought it with the purpose of travelling here, but it has served me well on other trips too. At this point where the picture was taken, we were standing on top of a high, flat wall. Interestingly, it is named Terrace of the Elephants.

I had to stop and plaster up my foot due to friction with my sandals. Walking around Angkor Wat is nothing like a stroll in the shopping mall.

We then headed back to Angkor Wat for a second visit, this time to go further into the building and explore it's many galleries. There are four sides to the building, each lined with intricate carving depicting scenes mostly from the Ramayana epic.

Many carvings were of women-like figures in various poses. These are apsaras, supposedly heavenly nypmhs who dance in the palaces of gods. Notice certain parts of their bodies shining like marble, caused by constant touching. Yes we humans are very curious indeed.

After a while it started to rain. We were trapped inside the temple complex while waiting for the torrents to stop. This dashed our hopes of viewing the sunrise, but nonetheless we were given a taste of Cambodian rain.

So ended our one day tour of Angkor Wat. It was a great experience and some of the views were just breathtaking. Pity it didn't get into the final 'New 7 Wonders', I guess Cambodians are too poor to vote for their national pride.

Next up, our tour of the floating village and other places in Siem Reap.

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Saturday, July 14, 2007

Face off: Transformers vs Harry Potter

Managed to catch two of the most touted movies being released this month over the weekend. Going to do a little comparison based on what I thought of both films. Be warned though, you might not like what you read, and potential spoilers ahead.

Transformers vs Harry Potter and The Order of The Phoenix (thereafter referred as HPOP)

The Background

Transformers has come a long way since I ever remembered watching cartoons when I was a kid. Optimus Prime was sort of the hero every kid wanted to have. Harry Potter on the other hand was only introduced a few years ago, and despite me being a fan of the books (yes, I'm guilty) this is not a childhood fantasy I want to relive. Can you imagine Harry Potter the cartoon series? Nuf said.
Score: Transformers 1, HPOP 0

The Plot

Honestly, both plots kinda sucked. Advanced robots coming from outer space to fight an age-old war with a couple kids in between, that basically sums it up for Transformers. But the fact that the Transformers were even in the movie, makes it pwn the draggy HPOP which was cut really bad. Why was Voldemort even after the globe thing? Bah.
Score: Transformers 2, HPOP 0

The Acting

The guy in Transformers was kind of funny, and Megan Fox is totally hot though her character is really a bit lebih (except to maybe show some cleavage to get the guys drooling). With HPOP it's the same old bunch of actors, who are getting more and more boring as the series drags on. But our beloved Dolores Umbridge is so wicked in HPOP she makes me want to slap her.
Score: Transformers 2, HPOP 1

The Special Effects

Movie with kids flying on broom sticks and casting spells over one another - been there, done that. Movie with alien robots with the ability to morph into super cool automobiles, now that's what we're after.
Score: Transformers 3, HPOP 1


Goofs in Transformers - Archibald Witwicky, the guy who found Megatron, is referred to Sam's grandfather, great grandfather and great great grandfather in different occasions throughout the movie, wtf? How did Megatron learn to speak English if he was buried for 1000 years and they supposedly learned the language from the WWW?

On the other hand, the whining kid who sat next to us during HPOP made the viewing so terrible I wanted to tick off his mother. And the film melted halfway through the show. Yes, MELTED and we could see the film dripping off the screen. Way to go, GSC.

So looks like we have a clear winner here. Yay, Transformers! Autobots, roll out!

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Memories in Cambodia (Angkor Wat) - Part 3

As the day went on, we proceeded to one of the most famous ancient Angkor sites - Ta Prohm. This temple is famous for the massive trees that grow undisturbed and undeterred on top of the stone structures. What's amazing is seeing nature fighting relentlessly against man-made buildings - the eternal struggle between man and nature.

As a result from not clearning the entire jungle, many of the structures were in ruins. The reason to this was, as the trees grew, their roots would become entangled into the stone blocks. If the tree were to die, it would pull the structure down with it.

Some of the trees had trunks so wide in diameter I guess it would probably take dozens of people to form a circle around it. From what I heard, some of them were four to five hundred years old!

Ah, and for the famous part, I'm sure many of you would have caught a glimpse of the site before. It has appeared in none other than the first Tomb Raider movie, where our sexy Lara Croft picks a flower when the ground gives way and she plunges into....Pinewood Studios, Hollywood.

That particular site was so packed with visitors we didn't had the chance to snap some pictures. It was interesting to see middle-aged oriental faces speaking excitedly as they followed their tour guides. Most of them were Koreans or Taiwanese.

We didn't quite like the Korean tour groups because, contrary to the dramas they produce, they're actually quite a noisy crowd and can be quite rowdy at times. A good method of avoiding these crowds is getting ahead of the main groups, then fall back to visit the early sites once the crowd has dispersed.

After the temple in the jungle, we were escorted into the confines of Angkor Thom, literally called 'The Great Citadel' because of the size of its grounds. At the centre of it stood the grand temple, Bayon.

Like many other temples, the Bayon had its own attraction to visitors. What would look like rocks piled on top of each other from far, would reveal the real beauty once you came closer to it.

Most famous here were the stone faces carved into the many towers surrounding the central peak, as well as the peak itself. The faces, totalling about 200 of them, are said to be carvings of a Buddhist god, or even the king himself.

Looking at the huge faces, it kind of takes away the mistery of Mona Lisa's smile. If you're searching for enigma, try studying the various expressions on these stone faces. I bet it would be even more intriguing!

Hello...what are you looking at?

Next up, to the interiors of Angkor Wat as we round up our tour...

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Thursday, July 05, 2007

Memories in Cambodia (Angkor Wat) - Part 2

And the journey into the land of Khmers continue...

On the next morning, we were up at 4am to prepare ourselves for the day ahead. Today our itinery was to view the sunrise at Angkor Wat. We would then proceed for the Mini Tour, which consisted of visits to a number of temples.

We bought a one-day pass on the way there, which cost a whopping USD20 per person. Pricey considering the living standards on Cambodia, but the locals get to go in for free. Just a note on the currency - here the US Dollar reigns supreme, and the locals only used the Cambodia currency (riel) for change or for small denominations.

Luck was not on our side that morning, as it was cloudy and we could barely see the sun rise over the magnificent structure ahead of us. We were not the only ones disappoited; the place was already packed with visitors eager to catch a glimpse of first light.

Our fellow travellers, Fenny and TL.

Despite the not-so-inspiring view, we snapped away. Standing before Angkor Wat, the temple of temples, greatest glory of the Khmer people was truly awe-inspiring. From a far distance we could already have a feel of the proportions, how grand the entire structure was.

As morning came, we moved on the the further structures which were now in ambient light. Two so-called 'libraries' lined the pathway up to Angkor Wat. We had our next photo session there.

Just to give an idea of how large the structure was, I look dwarfed by the buildings which seemed like they were built for kings of giants.

We did not proceed into the main building because there would be a visit later in the evening. So we headed on to our next destination: Banteay Srei, literally 'citadel of the women'.

The reason why it's called 'citadel of the women' is because of the intricate carvings found on the walls of the temple. It was believed to be too delicate to have come from the hand of man, hence the name. The details that were preserved in the carvings are amazingly preserved despite centuries of harsh weather.

After a couple hours, we stopped at Pre Rup, a relatively huge structure and definitely taller than the earlier ones we had been to.

I could reproduce the history of these temples here, but surely that would be boring. So just google it if you're interested :)

Our trusy Angkor guidebook which we bought from one of the kids constantly hogging you to buy their merchandise. It was one dollar cheaper elsewhere; I felt ripped off. By an 8 year old.

The steps up to the peak of the structure were so steep, we had to hold on to the sides while climbing down. A little mistep and I guess that would be the end of you.

By the time we finished our tour at Pre Rup, it was nearly 11am, and time for a visit to one of the more interesting temples.

More to come...

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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

My dept sucks...aesthetically

Just a little detour from my Cambodia posts.

Why do other departments in my company always get the cute pretty interns? And we are forever stuck with those who either are girls but look like they're getting weekly testosterone shots, OR those who are not girls at all.

Eye candy can be a motivator to employees. The management needs to know that, seriously. Someone please educate them on this. Please.


Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Memories in Cambodia (Angkor Wat) - Part 1

Greetings earthlings! I have just arrived from the far away lost land of the Khmers, all soaked up in the wonders and sights there.

Visiting one of the greatest wonders of the world was truly a breathtaking experience to say the least. And thus I have taken to myself to jot down the memories gathered during our stay there. The following few posts will be my travel writings, for reminiscence as well as documentation's sake.

Alas this will probably start off as more of a budget airline rant rather than document what I experienced in Cambodia. To start things off, our flight was delayed. No big deal for the usual Air Asia traveller, but being a first time passenger the wait can be agonizing.

The departure screen showed our flight being delayed, starting from 2 hours, which changed to 3 hours, which in the end (because the people were out of wits, I think) was changed to 'Unknown'.

To cut it short, we were delayed by more than 6 hours before the plane actually took off, including getting into one worn-out airplane which we were eventually shooed out of. Counting in the fact that we reached 2 hours earlier than the initial departure time, we spent a total of EIGHT hours in the LCCT.

Low-cost terminal of the year - A McDonald's, a cafe serving mediocre food at crazy prices, a convenience store and a Coffee Bean. They don't get more low-cost than that. Imagine the things we did (or rather, we had to find something to do) while waiting for time to pass.

After the announcement finally came that it was boarding time, we happily stepped out of waiting hall Airbus 320! Well, at least they gave us a new plane to ride on.

"Ladies and gentlement this is your captain speaking. You are now on board flight AK846, an Airbus 320 which comes with it's own...dry ice maker! We hope you'll have an enjoyable flight while the mist keeps the environmet romantic enough for couples to make out."

After 2 hours of uneventful jourey, we touched down at the Siem Reap International Airport.

By then it was nearly 6pm local time (Siem Reap is one hour behind Malaysia time). Earlier on we told our guesthouse contact to pick us up from the airport at 2pm. What a surprise to find the guy still patiently waiting for us a the arrival hall, holding a sign inscribed with none other than my name!

The guy in the picture was our driver, Su Heuk. A pretty friendly guy who would ferry us around Siem Reap for the next 3 days. The plus point - he could speak basic English.

With half a day gone, our initial plans to go for the Mini Tour of Angkor Wat were dashed. We checked into our guesthouse, the Golden Temple Villa. The place was sort of a modified 3-storey bungalow, and at USD14 per room per night it was a perfect suit for our budget. The rooms were clean and colourful, and we had no complaints through out our 4 day stay there.

After a shower and some rest, we ventured out into the town area, armed with a Lonely Planet guidebook loaned from a friend. The hotspot to go at night is none other than Bar Street, so called for the numerous bars, pubs, cafes and massage parlours lining the street.

Hungry from the journey, we found this little place recommended by the guidebook to have some dinner. We ordered some Khmer dishes as we were anxious to taste some of the local food.We particularly fancied the national dish, Amok (steamed coconut fish with turmeric sauces and spices), which was really delicious.

Amok, Khmer curry with pork, and friend chicken with chillies and basil.

Khmer Kitchen Restaurant serves one of the best tasting food in the area at a reasonable price. It was so good, we went back for a second time during our last night in Cambodia.

I also tried the Cambodian national beer, aptly named Angkor. It's a very drinkable beer, tasting not unlike some of the European brands like Heineken.

Other than the usual delicacies, there were also some barbecue dishes for the more daring. With mains such as crocodile, snake and kangaroo meat on the menu, it was like a Cambodian Fear Factor showing live.

After a stroll around the street in aid of our digestive juices, we settled down at the Angkor What? Bar, one of the oldest and more popular bars in town.A vodka coke made that night's sleep very pleasurable indeed.

The walls of the bar were littered with messages left by the thousands of visitors before us. It was interesting to read some of the messages, and we did not leave without our own trail there as well.

If ever you visit this particular bar, at the left corner of the exterior, look up the space 7 feet from the ground.

There you will find what I left for your, my dear traveller.

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