The temples of Angkor—the last remnants of the ancient Khmer capital— draw millions of visitors per year, and we felt we couldn’t complete a circuit through Southeast Asia without joining them. After realizing that the overland journey down from northern Laos would mean more than 40 hours of bus time, we purchased two plane tickets and showed up at the airport on March 29th eager to participate in the wonders of air travel.
Two hours, a visa stamp, and laughably relaxed customs check (there was none) later, we arrived in Cambodia, pleased to discover ATMs dispensing notes bearing the familiar faces of our dead presidents.
Despite being warned by desperate tuk-tuk drivers that the bike ride from Siem Reap was “very far, very hot,” we rented two single speed bikes for $1.50 and peddled the 7km to Angkor and back on our first day. Yes, it was hot and tiring, but the terrain was Kansas flat and we enjoyed the freedom that your own set of wheels provides. We peddled around the crumbling city of Angkor Thom, through ancient gates, and down dirt paths lining old moats.
Our favorite temples were the ones with criss-crossing corridors and countless stone doorways, sunlight streaming into open rooms and others cast into stony darkness. Hallways often ended in empty courtyards or small chambers full of carvings of dancing apsaras, where it was easy to imagine being there 1,000 years ago.
Aloof stone faces stare down from many corners of Angkor, but no more so than at Bayon, where King Jayavarman VII erected a temple bearing more than 200 massive stone faces in his likeness. They pop out from behind every corner, and encircle the upper platform.
Surrounded by an old moat and the crumbling remains of a city wall, Chiang Mai is the cultural capital of northern Thailand. Narrow cobble-stoned soi lead to small cafes and glittering wats, the sun gleaming off their mirror-tiled walls.
An overnight sleeper train journey from Bangkok—and, we realized shortly upon boarding the train, there is no other way to travel—Chiang Mai is cooler, cleaner and less hectic than the capital city. We spent five enjoyable days there, running out the remainder of our visa.
First and foremost, our thoughts are with everyone in Japan right now affected by the earthquake. Having grown to love the place in our five weeks there, it is especially heartbreaking to see the devastation. It is an amazing country that you should definitely visit if you ever get the chance.
This is the first video in a series highlighting our fifteen-months across the Pacific. It’s 14 minutes long so get comfortable, grab a beer and watch it fullscreen if your bandwidth allows! Turning off HD will make for a faster load. Enjoy!
The speed of air travel can lead to some intense contrasts. Midway through February, orderly, wintry Kyoto was replaced with the chaos, noise and oppressive heat of Bangkok. The waves of taxi drivers and touts pressing their services were a bit bewildering after a month with the reserved, unfailingly polite Japanese. From the perfection of thousand year old gardens to soot-stained streets lined with garbage and stray dogs, this was a textbook case of culture shock.
Kyoto is much better explained through photographs than words. We spent three days exploring the temples, gardens and historic streets of Japan’s old capital city.(more…)