Thursday, September 26, 2013

Honeymoon Part 4: Siem Reap and Angkor Wat

We left Koh Samui feeling a little tired, a little worn down, but generally really excited for our last stop. After a slightly longer flight than our others, we arrived in Siem Reap, the small town located outside of the temple city of Angkor Wat.

We stayed at the newly opened Park Hyatt Hotel, which was really swanky, for free with points from our credit card. Woot woot.

For every hotel, R emailed in advance to ask some random question and casually mention that we were on our honeymoon. Every hotel gave us some upgrade, mostly in the form of flower petals on the bed (I don't get it), but the Park Hyatt won the award with a bottle of champagne, chocolates, and sweet potato chips. Hello free dinner! After our fabulous meal, we went to sleep early knowing that the next day would be a long one.

The next morning, we hopped in a tuk-tuk (took-took) around 4:30am to get to Angkor Wat for sunrise. Anyone who knows me knows that I don't often wake up in the pre-5 am hours, but this was totally worth it. In the darkness, we slowly shuffled in with the hundreds of other tourists from all over the world to watch together as the sun slowly rose, lighting up the massive temple ahead of us. It was amazing.

sunrise over Angkor Wat

Then, thankfully, all the other tourists went back to town for breakfast (and a nap, I bet), which left us to explore the massive temple by ourselves, until we were attacked my small monkeys and decided to move on.

The walls are covered in Bas Reliefs

And dancing nymphs, known as "Apsaras"

Angkor Wat is the most famous temple in this area, but in fact there are dozens of them. We hopped back in our tuk-tuk, which provided a nice breeze for us on this already hot at 9am day. We drove into the temple city of Angkor Thom- which includes a few really interesting temples. My favorite was the freaky temple of Prasat Bayon, which is covered in images of the face of King Jayavarman VII, who built it.

Bayon in Angkor Thom

After Angkor Thom, we were melting. It was the hottest day yet for our trip- in the upper 90s with thick humidity. After lots of walking around, our feet were hurting.  We trudged on in order to see some of the other small temples in the area. Unlike Angkor Wat and Thom, the other small temples weren't maintained, and were slowly reclaimed by the jungle. Now the trees are completely intertwined in the temples, and can't be removed without destroying them. Many of these are various stages of preservation. 
The yellow dots mark some of the many other temples in the area.

Cruisin' in our tuk-tuk, enjoying the breeze

Some of these temples were used for the filming of "Tombraider", which we were reminded of many times (Cambodia reallllly likes Angelina). We rewatched the movie when we got home to find the scenes. While cool, they're pretty quick. There's a part where the bad guys are pulling down a door to the temple. They used a fake thing to pull down, but the door was real and part of the wall into Angkor Thom. Then there's a scene where she chases a little girl to some flowers, and falls through the ground. The flower part was real and  filmed at Ta Prohm. The falling through the ground and sculptures coming to life and fighting her part, I think may have been fake. 

Gate to Angkor Thom

Ta Prohm

Again, with the help of our fantastic tuk-tuk driver, we swung by Ta Som next, known for it picturesque tree.

Ta Som

The temple of Neak Pean was cool because it was once a complex fountain system, that projected holy water out into the various pools. Our travel book noted that it would for sure be the model for the swimming pool if there's ever an Angkor Wat themed hotel in Vegas. I was impressed by the idea that they had advanced irrigation like this in the 1100-1200s.

Neak Pean

Then, we made our final stop at Preah Khan, one of the larger temples. This one was cool because it was built to be a Buddhist temple, but the official religion switched between Buddhism and Hinduism a few times over its lifetime. Instead of knocking it down, the monarchy simply edited the temple- scratching out all the Buddha images.

A doorway that has been restored

Preah Khan

At this point we had been on foot for close to 12 hours and were seriously fading. Despite the fact that there were more temples to see, we decided to give in and head back to our air-conditioned hotel. After a short nap, we set out for dinner at the Sugar Palm. We tried the local Cambodian dish of "Amuk", which is a lot like a Thai red curry, but with the texture of a soufflĂ©. I think it was good. I couldn't tell because I was so exhausted.

Exhausted dinner at the Sugar Palm

For our next day, we decided to take it easy. We had a relaxed breakfast, and then hopped in a tuk-tuk to visit the Artisans of Angkor, a local artisan school and market. It was a nice change from the piles and piles of mass-manufactured trinkets that we found everywhere else. We bought a few cool things and then hopped another tuk-tuk back to the hotel.

At this point, R realized he didn't have his cell phone. After the lantern disaster in Part 3, he had been relying exclusively on his phone to take pictures. I had our bigger SLR camera, but wasn't taking it everywhere because of its size. The phone had over 600 photos that would be lost forever. We panicked, and decided to go back to the market. Of course we didn't find it, and decided to try to find our tuk-tuk, which was extremely unlikely. We found the tuk-tuk, and miraculously, found the phone, wedged in between the seat and the side. The phone and all of its pictures were saved. Unbelievable luck, after a series of very unlikely camera experiences.

Feeling pretty awesome, we went back to the hotel, crammed our new souvenirs in our over-stuffed suitcases, and headed back to the hotel for our final planes of the trip. We flew back to Bangkok, and then to Doha. We stayed the night in Doha before catching a 14 hour flight back home. When we finally arrived home, after over 24 hours of travel, we were exhausted, but very happy. It was an amazing trip.

Honeymoon Part 3: The Islands of Koh Samui and Koh Tao

So after the Bangkok frenzy and a few busy, hot days in Chiangmai, we were both very happy to move on to the next phase of our trip- the Islands. We took another quick plane south to the island of Koh Samui.

Koh Samui, the honeymoon destination in "Meet the Parents," is a huge honeymoon spot. It is super duper fancy and very developed. Knowing we would only be there for one night, we decided to go for a very nice place- Le Meridien Hotel. It was spectacular. Our room was on its own semi-private pool, that came with a very friendly little cat that I liked, and a privacy monkey that R thought was hilarious.

The Entryway/Lobby Area of Le Meridien

Our Room at Le Meridien

Privacy Monkey says Shh?

Hotel Pool

After some much needed pool swimming and general relaxing, we waited in the hotel lobby area for their nightly release of floating lanterns. After a short intro, they gave us each a paper lantern to open, while they lit the candle below. It was a little windy, so holding onto the thing without catching it on fire was tricky. So tricky, in fact, that in the process we dropped our camera. In the water. #travelfail. We quickly released ours, which floated off beautifully with the others, before veering into the roof of the hotel, and then into a palm tree. #wesuckatlanterns . We quickly retreated to our amazing room to hide out and try to save the camera.

Other hotel guests, successfully releasing their lanterns

Me and our lantern in the camera's final moments

The next morning started super early with a ferry ride to the nearby island of Koh Tao. Despite the fact that these islands are so close to each other, they couldn't be more different. Koh Tao has great diving, and has attracted a large population of expat divers, mostly in their right after college years. As such, food and hotels are cheap and a little rustic. Our hotel here was the Sensi Paradise Hotel, where we had our own little cabin.

Ferry to Koh Tao 
Our cabin 

We quickly dropped our stuff and headed off for our first dives. We used the Big Blue Diving company, which was well reviewed. It appeared to be the capital of the expat population- so it was a bit like a college dorm and cafeteria. Very exciting, pretty crowded, maybe a little overwhelming, but the dive master was good. The diving was great (sorry, no pics), because of a few strong currents that were really stirring up the nutrients and bringing in the fish.

That night, we had a lame dinner at our hotel -- I ordered shrimp that were deep fried in their shells. It was a seriously nasty mess to try to get the shrimp out, and totally not worth the effort. R had a grilled fish, which was the dish of the island. At this point though, food had really become an after-thought. Between the heat and the humidity, we were barely eating much at all.

For the next day, we opted to try a new diving place. Scuba Junction was another dive shop (one of many in Koh Tao) that was well reviewed, but much smaller than Big Blue. Both were good and the same price, but I think we generally preferred the less frenetic Scuba Junction.  Again we did two dives, following a dive master with one other person in our group. Again the sites were amazing and full of fish.

Koh Tao at Sunrise

Before we left, I was a little worried about R, who had just gotten certified right before the trip. Instead, he did great, and I was the problem. Clearly diving, like any sport, is a skill that needs to be practiced. I hadn't been since last summer, and maybe 4 years before that- so I was super rusty. Since R had just been certified, he was a little less rusty than me and did great. This is particularly important, because a lot of diving is about fighting your instincts so you don't do something stupid.

At some point on the first dive of the second day, I was struggling with the current and breathing too much. I realized that I was running low on air and indicated to the dive master, who just kind of turned around (communication under water is really difficult). He kept swimming without acknowledging me, while I kept breathing and using up my air. I started to panic, and wanted to shoot the top for air (The first rule of diving is that you don't shoot to the top because you may explode. Seriously). I didn't, and managed to get back to the boat without completely running out of air. We did one more dive after that that went well, so everything ended fine. I was left thinking that I need to dive more so that I'm better at it-- but very happy to get back on dry land.

Oh happy Pad Thai. 

Pool Time

We had some good pool time and then went to the Whitening restaurant, which is the place to eat in Koh Tao.

Sunset at Whitening Restaurant

Then we were back on the ferry, heading back to Koh Samui. This time, we opted to stay at the Hansar, another super fancy hotel. We had some more good pool time, and lazed around.


That's not a cup, that's a coconut. 

Holy spring roll!

We picked this hotel because it was by the fishermen's village on the island- but we ended up lazily having dinner at the hotel. By this point, I think we were both tired of constantly moving from place to place and starting to get tired of Thai food. Despite my best efforts, we were both mildly sunburnt and covered in bug bites. I had developed a head cold/allergy situation that was as annoying as it was attractive. Our camera still wasn't working after the lantern fiasco, and our clothes were beginning to smell like we'd been traveling for a while. The idea of going home was starting to be appealing. Knowing that we were coming to the end, we rallied for one last plane flight for the fourth and final phase of the trip.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Training For a Marathon - 5 weeks to go

I just want to start out by saying I'm an excellent planner--a really excellent planner. When there's something big coming up, I can plan up a storm. I'll give you tables and printouts, with rules and themes. It's the execution that I'm not great at.
So I realized today that I have just 5 weeks until the marathon. I somehow thought I had lots more time than that, which is to say, I haven't been training well at all. I haven't done ANY of the weight training and yoga classes I wanted to. I haven't done most of the midweek runs, and I have missed a few of the long runs. Total weekly mileage, as shown below, is WAY below where it needs to be.
I started out ok, sort of.
I believe there were a couple reasons that led to this failure:
  1. After the wedding, I lost a serious incentive to keep moving.
  2. My job was really bumming me out.
  3. I might have broken a toe, we'll never know for sure.
  4. It was really hard to do any exercise on the trip.
  5. It's really freaking hot here in the summer, and easy to lose the energy to do anything at all.
So now that we have 5 weeks to go, it's time for me to get this show on the road--literally. If' I'm going to run this thing, I have to get ready for it or I will hurt myself-- and I really don't want to do that again.

This reminds me actually, of something I went through every single term in undergrad and grad school. All term, I would go to class and mostly do my homework, but then a week before finals I would panic and realize I wasn't ready. I would decide to re-read everything in order do basically do-over the term. It's not as bad as panicking the night before the exam, when all you can really do is go to sleep. It's not as good as being on top of things from the beginning. I'm at the point when I can still mostly save this, but it's going to be a lot more painful than if I'd done a better job all along.
Things in my favor:
  1. Fall weather is great for running.
  2. I definitely don't have any broken bones or injuries at the moment.
  3. I just started a new job and am full of optimism. 
My new plan:
  1. Be better at following the old plan.
  2. Learn to be a morning person.
  3. Cook more-- eat out less.
  4. Lose 5 pounds.
I'm excited. Feels like the getting-in-shape montage part of any athletic movie with girl power music. Yah.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Honeymoon Part 2: Chiang Mai

So- on to Part 2!

After a short plane ride from Bangkok, we arrived in Chiang Mai. If Bangkok is like a slap in the face from an angry stranger, then Chiang Mai is a slow hug from a sweaty stranger on a warm day.

We got a great hotel - U Chiang Mai- that was right downtown. The room was great and the facilities were fantastic. The only downside was the lack of functional air conditioning, which was somewhat important in a place with 80% humidity and 90 degree weather at night.

Our hotel balcony

After checking in, we immediately headed downtown for the local temples, which were all pretty fantastic.  The only weirdness was that at least one of these included wax copies of monks that were amazingly lifelike.

The ruins of an old stupa 

For dinner, we went to Ratana's Kitchen. The food was good and cheap, even though the atmosphere was a bit odd. Clearly this place is on some international backpacker's restaurant list.

On our way to the famous night market, we passed through the International Lantern Festival. It was a small display of the lanterns of the world. Not entirely educational, but definitely really pretty to see.
International Lantern Festival

Night Market

The next day was our exciting elephant day! We did some research, and realized that Chiang Mai has lots of elephant places. We picked the Patara Elephant Farm,  which seemed like a nice balance between conservation and entertainment. They picked us up at our hotel, and after a short van ride into the country, we stopped at a spot where a mother and three baby elephants liked to eat. They gave us some small bananas and sugar cane to feed them, and we hung out for a while. 

Then we headed to the main camp, where we were each paired with an elephant. We fed and cleaned them, then hopped on board for a quick ride down to the local waterfall. Sidenote, my elephant was very grumpy and didn't like people. R's elephant had a baby that was a huge pain. It turns out that baby elephants are like bad human toddlers, only times 500 pounds. My elephant at one point, slapped R's baby. It was awesome. She was such a grump. 

My and my girl, Mae Moon

After we rode our elephants down to the local waterfall, we gave them a quick bath which was a lot like washing a moving school bus. Once completely exhausted, we gathered for a picnic. It was amazing. 


So, after we said goodbye, we went back to the hotel to crash. 

Our third day was all about cooking. We had the morning to kill, so we signed up for a Thai massage at the hotel. I enjoy massages generally; I like the quite, calm, relaxing atmosphere of a massage. This was not that. A Thai massage is known as "lazy man's yoga" because the masseuse picks up the victim and forces them into yoga poses. We chose to get massaged in the same room, which for me was more about having a witness than having a romantic moment. I literally yelped multiple times. 

As soon as I could stand again, we headed down to catch our van to the cooking school. Like elephant places, there are a lot of cooking schools in Chiang Mai. We picked the Pantawan Cooking School because it wasn't just teaching the same generic foods all the rest were (ie, curry and Pad Thai). Plus, this place was amazingly beautiful. Again, they picked us up at our hotel. 

We stopped by a local market where they explained to us all of the many fabulous things for sale. One of the specialities of Chiang Mai is a pork sausage with lemongrass and other Thai seasonings. We sampled it and a few other awesome things.  

Perusing the Market

Then we went to the school and made a bunch of exciting dishes. The food was good, but the atmosphere was fantastic. 

Fried rice baby!

When we finished our many multiple courses of food, we stopped by the night market once again to sample the Roti- which in Thailand, means crepe with fried banana and chocolate, and is amazing. 

After three days, we felt like we'd gotten a good sense of Chiang Mai. It seemed like the right amount of time to experience the good stuff without getting ancy. And then, it was time to pack up and move on to the next spot. 

Next stop- Part 3 and the islands of Koh Samui and Koh Tao!