Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Thai temples (photos post)

Here are some of the best shots of the temples we saw in central Chiang Mai, up on the hill of Doi Suthep and finally Ayutayah, an ancian capital, an hour away from Bangkok.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Girls trip to Phnom Penh

Spelling Phnom Penh is a mission on its own! Getting there is actually much easier!

This is the 2nd post of this blog on Phnom Penh; as a guest writer, R had already written one after he came back nearly 2 years ago. I haven't re read it, may be I will before the conclusion of this one...

Anyway, N and I realized that both of our other halves had visited PP (for simplicity we'll use an acronym! do not believe that I have already forgotten how to spell it!) so we decided on a middle of the week trip to PP, going on a Wednesday morning coming back on Thursday night. According to all the guide books, it doesn't require much longer, thanks to the Khmer Rouge who have destroyed a lot of what was worth seeing...

After a lovely lunch on the poolside of our gorgeous hotel, we boarded our tuk-tuk to get to S-21, a high school that PolPot had transformed into the worse prison in the country, right in the middle of PP.

As in other sites of horror, there is not that much to see but the atmosphere is oppressing. There are lots of photos of the people who died there. A rough calculation gave a death rate above 90%...
The rare explanations provide really disgusting details : glass was added to windows to keep screams in so it wouldn't disturb the neighborhood, barbed wires blocked the open space in corridors so people would not jump and commit suicide etc

Throughout the visit, we made an attempt at piecing the history of Cambodia together but I have to admit that it is quite twisted. People have changed their mind several times regarding friends and enemies, making it complicated to follow.

One thing jumped out, all senior Khmer rouge members were highly educated, they had mostly been sent to university in France. What can make a human being do what they have done in their 4 years of power to their own country and their "camarades" is completely incomprehensible.

In order to lighten the mood, we moved on to the Russian market, cocktails, dinner and massage! After all, it is a girls trip!

The second day was planned out as a military battle in order to fit everything in before flying back to Sg. Let's say that the battle didn't really go according to plan as the grumpy lady at the entrance of the Royal palace refused to let us go in with a scarf around our arms (as you do in temples all around the world, but not in PP apparently...grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr)
First mission aborted! 2 very annoyed French girls then proceeded to have an argument with the tuk tuk driver who doesn't seem to grasp the principles of negotiation: when he starts at 3$, his second move can NOT be 5$
Anyway, now annoyed by 2 local people, we proceeded to restore calmness at Wat Phnom temple.

Next stop was the art deco market, first looking for long sleeves teeshirt (to please Royal palace grumpy lady) and then moving on to proper tourist shopping: scarf, magnets, coasters, purse etc
It became clear that negotiation with prices going up is not uncommon, it led to a very hard core debate on 1/2 $ which took a while but I proudly won! (Thinking about it now, I feel a bit guilty, the 1/2$ had probably more significance for the lady than to me, I should have probably let it go...)

With our cardigans, newly bought check shirt, long pants and our grumpiness, we made it back to the Silver pagoda/Royal palace. After all it is the main thing to see in PP so we couldn't really be too snobby and ignore it...

We toured the palace for a short hour, completely melting in our long trousers and long sleeves. The palace who is still being used by the king (the son of the one who changed his mind about the French, the Americans, the Russians and the Khmer rouge several times!) is indeed very beautiful but we were disappointed by the silver pagoda which is meant to be the highlight because of the complete lack of effort made in showing it to its best and even taking basic care of it.
It's famous for the 5000 silver tiles on the floor. Most of them have been taped with brown Sellotape and then covered by carpets. The pagoda has then been filled with old furnitures showing thousands of small buddhas without a single explanation, making the solid gold, solid silver and missing solid bronze Buddhas be Buddhas in the middle of Buddhas.
No one could understand what was worth seeing and what was just a series of mass production Buddha. (let's say that we might not have been on our best spirit...)
The lack of photos is not linked to grumpiness or disappointment, it was just not allowed!

2 days was indeed just about right to see PP, in reschuffling the activities of the 2nd day, we forgot to see Hotel Royal which is the colonial equivalent of the Raffles in Singapore, never mind, we'll have to go to the Raffles for a Singapore Sling to compensate ;-)

Saturday, September 15, 2012

This month's photo: Jeux de mains

Apologies, problem with the photo on the first issue

I could have chosen a cooking photo from the lesson in Chiang Mai with people cutting, mixing or even eating by hands but really the first thing I associate with Thailand is a good massage done by small but very powerful hands!
I admit that if I had had my camera at the right time (The Sunday night market of Chiang Mai), I could have done a more impressive photo of a row of probably 30 people getting a foot massage (may be it was a Guinness book world record attempt...), but anyway, this one is from another market: Chatuchak in Bangkok.(touristy so pricey, imagine, a 60 min massage for 8$.................. :-)

For more hands at work, or at play:
El Padawan, Viviane, Dorydee, Marmotte, LaGodiche, Gilsoub, Agrippine, Une niçoise, Mgie les bons tuyaux, Tambour Major, Lesegarten, Emma, Céline in Paris, Cherrybee, Dreamteam, Louiki, Testinaute, Dr CaSo, Lhise, Marianne, Batilou, Oryann, M, La Papote, N, Karrijini, Laurent Nicolas, Les petits supplices !, François le Niçois, Akaieric, Cessna, oui !, Stéphie&lesCacahuètes, 100driiine, Dame Skarlette, Les voyages de Lucy, Sébastien, Lost in London, Carnet d’une Réunionnaise, J'adore j'adhère, Le Mag à lire, jen et dam, Melting Pot, La Fille de l'Air, Anne, Gizeh, Sephiraph, Lucile et Rod, Violette, Carole In England, Cynthia, Pilisi, DelphineF, Titem, Ava, Nicky, M.C.O, Arwen, Stephane08, Berliniquais, Jean Wilmotte, Champagne, Anne Laure T, Pat Québec, Véro Beramelo, Vanilla, Alice Wonderland, Lisa adore, Mamysoren, Un été Sans Fin , Lavandine, Céliano, Les voyages de Seth et Lise, Où trouver à Montréal ?, Cathy, Filamots, E, La Messine, Bestofava, Leviacarmina, The Mouse, Coco, Caro, Sophie Rififi, Laure, Annick, Nathalie, Clara, Manola, Café créole, Carnets d'images, Lo, Elapstic, A&G, La Parigina, Alban, La Nantaise, La Flaneuse, Olivier, Skipi, Anita, Cocosophie, magda627, Nataru, Galinette, Les zinzins, Chris et Nanou, Louisianne, Narayan, Tsuki, Kyoko, Kob, LaFamilleD , Ori, Un jour une rencontre, Cara, Fanfan Raccoon, Lyonelk, Hibiscus, Maïder, David et Mélanie, Cricriyom from Paris, André(eric)Fernandes, Cindy Chou, Escapade en Tunisie, Renepaulhenry, Vickie in the sky, Xoliv', Alexanne, Sinuaisons, Xavier Mohr, Cekoline, Krn, Frédéric, Lauriane, Mistinguett, AnneSoPhotos, Anne-Cécile, Guillaume, Blogoth67, Alexinparis, Dan, Mon p'tit boudoir : Mot de passe : mon/ptitboudoir.

Monday, September 10, 2012

The bridge on the river Kwai

One of the most famous bridge in the world is about 2h drive from Bangkok. Having tried to reach it by the weekend tourist train previously (and having miserably failed), this time we did a bit more planning and it was worth it!

We got a car to drive us past the latest station of the death railway, all the way to the hellfire pass memorial.

Quick history reminder:

The 415km of the death railway connecting Thailand to Burma were built between 1942 and 1943 by the prisoners of war (mainly Australian, British, American and Dutch) and south east asian workers under Japanese order.

The conditions were terrible and during some period death rate was above 40%. A lot of the railway was bombed by the allies in 1945 with many bridges destroyed, a significant length is also now under water at a dam near the 3 pagodas pass. The only part still in use is between Nam Tock and Bangkok, passing Kantchanaburi and the famous river Kwai bridge.

Note that the river was re named after the film as originally the death railway followed the river Kwai for kilometers but never crossed it, but it did cross several times the river Mae Kwong which was then renamed big Kwai. (isn't Asia amazing to sort these little details out? No problem, just rename the river! As long as the tourists come...)

Back to our visit. At the memorial, we walked some part of the railway up to the hellfire pass, the longest cutting made in the rock in the railway.

I can confirm that it is hot, sticky and there are a lot of mosquitoes. The view across the valley are stunning but I don't think the guys got to enjoy that very much.

The memorial is very interesting and was built by the Australians, it really gives a feeling for the atrocious conditions the men worked and lived in as well as the incredible accomplishment of building such a railway on a route passing jungle, canyons and rivers.

Our driver then dropped us as Nam Tock so we got to ride the train from the terminus to Kantchanaburi passing the bridge on the way. The bridge is a bit of a disappointment on its own but the journey was great and the views again beautiful.

On arrival at Kantchanaburi, we paid our respect at the war cemetery and went for a tour of the JEATH museum before driving back to Bangkok.


Final note, the western pronunciation of Kwai means water buffalo, the correct pronunciation is "ware" like in Tupperware!


Saturday, September 8, 2012

Chang and Seux

Having travelled around south east Asia for a while, Chang gets associated with beer fairly quickly. Luckily there are drawings on the bottle so that was the first clue to how to say elephant in Thai!

Tiger was a bit more complicated and we just had to look it up, pronunciation is closer to Seua than to the Latin official spelling of Seux.

One of the objectives of our stay in Chiang Mai was to become a mahout; an elephant trainer, in 1 day! We got a good address from N and D and on our second morning in Chiang Mai, we were heading for the camp.

We spent the morning learning Thai command to get the elephant to do a few things, like :"lift leg", "higher", "head down" so we could learn how to climb on their head.

On each successful climb, the happy elephant was getting sugar cane. There was a command to say trump up to pick up the sugar cane but we never had to learn it, they knew what to do! We did have to learn "yaya", which means no more fruit as we had a very hungry one! (after all, they do eat 250kg a day!)

At lunch, we met with all sorts of farm animals but the most popular was definitely the 4 months old baby elephant, the cutest thing ever!

Early afternoon, R and I got an elephant just for us and we went for a ride around the fields first, then in the river, just sitting on her head, legs behind the ears, trying to remember the instructions from the morning. Luckily, the real mahout was also around. (there is one per elephant and apparently, the elephant gets to pick him himself!) Once in the deeper part of the river, it was time for elephant bath (and ours as well apparently). Our elephant went on strike and decided it didn't need a bath, we joined in on the clean up of the other ones, they are big enough for several people after all!

With some bit of a special wood which has been crushed and produces great foam, we brushed the elephant trying to avoid them eating the special soap!

The interaction was brilliant, they were half submerged and the trump was coming out from time to time for breathing, making great noise and always trying to sneak around to steal the woody soap.

After a good rinse, we got back on our elephant (a different one actually as ours had given up on being social that day), we continued our walk in the river and from time to time, they were finding a bit of mud on the side, they would use their trump as a straw and then spray back the mud on us, giving us a taste of what was coming next...

The mud bath!

We got into a pool of mud and the fun started for both the elephants and the mahouts, we just got caught in the cross fire and ended up being the victims...

Climbing back up on the elephant after the mud bath proved to be very challenging, especially that ours forgot there were 2 people on his back and got back up half way through my already sleepery climb... I would have liked to take them back to the river for a wash but apparently muddy is their preferred state! (baby even went to rub himself against the muddy ones so he would get some as well!)

Once back to our original skin color (a bath in the river AND a shower were required!), we fed the elephants some lollipops we had made at lunch made of a stick of sugar cane and a big sticky ball of tamarind, rice and salt. The tamarind is good for their intestine but they don't really like it so it's hidden with the sugar cane; that's the elephant version of the kid's pill in a spoon of jam!

By the end of the day, we were playing with the elephants so much more naturally than on the morning, getting close to them, pushing them around, not afraid of their trumps anymore. It was a fantastic experience and I do not regret not seeing them playing football or painting as they do in some shows around town.

The second animal encounter of the Chiang Mai visit was with tigers, at Tiger Kingdom. I'm sure the debate will remain regarding "is it normal to get so close to tigers?", people will still say that they are drugged and badly treated etc

From what we saw, they did not look drugged, they were very reactive when waken up, but it's just the middle of the day, it's very hot and it's their usual nap time! (as in all zoo around the world, these big cats are always asleep during the day and that's the reason why Singapore got a night safari so finally people could see them during their time of activities) They are also trained and used to be in contact with people from the youngest age.

Anyway, we went and got to spend some time with the smallest, the small and the big tigers.

Baby tigers are well protected from the outside environment, no shoes allowed, hands have to be washed before getting in and they are not on the ground but live in a concrete environment.

We started with 6 months old and they are already big! May be a little bit smaller than a Labrador. Their paws seem to be over designed comparing to the rest of the body.

Weirdly, we have to sit behind them and not to interact with them from the front. Facing them would mean that we want to play and we are on an uneven ground.... (even at 6 months!)

So we sat behind them, touched them firmly (otherwise they think we are a mosquito), and got to take a lot of photos!

They are not very soft, they like their tummy being rubbed (like any animal), they are very photogenic and I'm still completely panicked each time they move a bit suddenly or when their tail got under my teeshirt which made R laughed a lot!

Second ones were the babies, I'm not sure how old they were, probably a couple of months. They drink milk like there is no tomorrow, pulling so hard on the bottle that it runs everywhere, they are incredibly cute and are probably the most active ones we saw on the day.

Third group are the small ones which are as big as the biggest dog you have ever seen, they stick together, very often sleeping in each other arms, if I may say.

In between visits in the tiger areas, we got to see other tigers who were not "on show" on that day and just slept in their own rooms.

There was also a very lonely lion who I have tried to enquire about but I didn't get a clear English answer. Looking how pissed off he was, it's not tomorrow that they are starting a "Lion Kingdom".

The very colorful birds gave us a demonstration of how skilled they are at eating pumpkin seeds, taking the outside off and spitting it out before eating the inside.

Finally we went to see the big cats. They seem to have the same paws as the small ones just with an enormous body.

The trainer, who is always accompanying the group of visitors, got one of them to play with a coconut and he was quick! Taking a cat-ish ready to jump position and then jumping around, very impressive!!!

The interaction was obviously much lower than with the elephants as the tigers were way less active (thankfully) but it was a once in a lifetime chance to get really close to them.