Burns Lake–Beauty, Blue skies, Books, Educational Bonding, and Brat (the cat).

June 2019

Returning 1,000 km north to Burns Lake to complete the final 5 weeks of the school year was an opportunity to continue working with a fabulous staff and engaging students; and experience the delights of this beautiful area during early summer. This blog post summarizes the first 3 weeks of my adventure up here.

Burns Lake is located 226 km (2 1/2 hours) drive west from Prince George on highway 16 (otherwise known as the Highway of Tears). There are billboards erected to remind drivers of some of the people (mostly aboriginal women) who have mysteriously disappeared along this highway. It’s an oppressive and sad history tied to this area which directly affects families and students we are teaching.

However, there are so many dedicated and energizing people and organizations making the heartbeat of the community pulse with activity and optimism.

A walk down to Spirit Square to observe people walking their dogs, children swimming in the lake, people chatting with a coffee, or teens playing in the skateboard park always brightens my day. The square was busy last summer due to the horrendous forest fires burning out of control in the Southside. These same grounds were converted into an evacuation area during that difficult period.  

The population of the village of Burns Lake is listed as just under 2,000 but this does not include numbers from any of the surrounding reservations. Burns Lake is a central hub, known as the heart of the Lakes District, with highway 16 passing directly through the downtown core en route to Prince Rupert and is a junction for highway 35 to Francois Lake and the Southside.

Arts, culture, outdoor recreation, and alternate life styles thrive here. One weekend while walking downtown to my favorite organic coffee shop There was a painting workshop occurring outside right beside the highway! These photos are of lovely Lorne Street and the downtown main highway. 

On the edge of the village is Omineca cross country ski club and 10 minutes away at Boar Mountain you can experience world class Mountain Biking. Forestry claims to be the main industry; however, ranching and tourism directed to outdoor recreation, are equally important to village economics.

My home bases during these 5 weeks are at Decker Elementary school and with Loretta, Joe and Brat on Lorne Street. Brat was a rescue kitten and is now a totally lovable and affectionate cat.

My colleagues and friends from William Konkin Elementary did not forget me while I was absent traveling around Asia. Days after my return to Burns Lake, we had a ladies adventure 80 km northwest (about 50 mins) to Houston to check out a funky women’s dress shop Chia’s Dream Closet and Happy Jack’s local bar for dinner. Social bonding is so much fun and important!

At Decker Elementary the staff led by Monica (the quilter), Brenda (First nation’s home support) and several other staff created a quilt with FN symbols on it. The wolf was the icon selected to represent Decker. Some of the students who attend Decker are from Cheslatta Carrier background, some from Lake Babine, but the majority of our FN students are Wet’suwet’en.

This small school has a population of 125 students from Kindergarten to Grade 7. Prior to my departure in early March I had a Learning Commons Leaders’ club for students in grades 5-7. Over 30 students (girls and boys) attended regularly. I had a lovely card waiting on my Library desk when I returned. Teaching is such a rewarding occupation.

During the winter, students are expected to remain outside during breaks unless the temperature drops below -20 degrees Celsius. When the sun shines…shorts are quick to appear! I found the mosquitoes nasty and I wore bug repellent when I was on duty outside. But biting insects did not seem to phase these students! Many were covered in bites from camping excursions, but they did not complain or cover up.

Beauty in nature and artistic expression are embraced at Decker Elementary. Many colorful flowers adorned the school gardens and seasonal art displays outside classrooms were highly innovative and changed regularly to the delight of parents and definitely appreciated by me. Each student had an art portfolio and near the end of the school year students displayed their favorite artistic endeavors during an Art Open House at the school. 

It was very impressive to see the effort and pride students put into their displays.

Arts B.C. concerts in schools are varied and usually enjoyable for students, but this group, Tiny Islands, was particularly entertaining and engaging. It is rare to capture the attention of all students from Kindergarten to Grade 7, but Tiny Islands jazz group was interactive, funny, talented, energetic and musically educational.

A local high school musical rendition of Aladdin was well attended and a fun field trip for the students.

Part of my Teacher-Librarian/Learning Commons Specialist position was to analyze, weed, and update the library collection appropriate to the needs of the staff and students and locate resources to tie to the new B.C. curriculum.

In addition, a TL works collaboratively with teachers developing units of study which promote inquiry learning and reinforce engaging S.T.E.A.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math) problem solving skills.

This collage depicts a variety of learning and activity in the Learning Commons during June. These lessons included: S.T.E.A.M. investigation related to simple machines; Learning Commons Leaders assisting to review non-fiction subject areas and shelf books; Grade 1/2 Literacy Centers word practice; Grade 5/6 Book Speed Dating Activity; Introduction to High Interest/Low Vocabulary Novels; and Buddy Reading.

Miscellaneous wonderful programs are happening at Decker in June including the Breakfast program led by Ms. Zettergreen where students assist making toast for others while Ms. Zettergreen creates smoothies.

The school wide Jump Rope for Heart event raises money to support Heart and Stroke research and is lots of fun. The loud music, watermelon, and obstacle course created by the grade 6/7 class were hugely popular. Well done organizers!

One day in June the blue skies appeared to be shedding snow! There were masses of white cloud like substances blowing everywhere outside. When these items fell to the ground they piled up similar to hail. This was a new experience for me. I learned these were seeds from Cottonwood trees–a type of Poplar.

So many options are available for weekend adventures around the Lakes District. A walk is always pleasant. After grabbing a drink at one of the 3 awesome coffee shops on the main road, you can walk down by the lake at Spirit Square. The arena, curling rink, climbing wall, dance rooms, weight room, racquetball court, skateboard park, and tennis courts are all also located there.

If you are lucky, you might be invited out for dinner with some of the friendly folk from Burns Lake. The kimono from Vietnam looks great on you! Thanks Sara!

Or you can tour one of the local greenhouses and learn about the most deer resistant plants available for this geographical area. After admiring the photo of the Atlantic Giant Pumpkins, you might feel inspired to start growing some for the next Lakes District Fall Fair.

My next blog post will be dedicated to weekend activities which utilize motors in this northern B.C. area!

 

 

Transitioning from Asian Travels to Working/Exploring Northern B.C.

Late May 2019

Relaxing on beautiful Vancouver Island for just over a week, then I will return over 1,000 km north to central northern British Columbia to complete a 5 week teaching contract in sd91 at Burns Lake.

When departing Burns Lake in March there was snow everywhere, but recent photos display friends kayaking, hiking, and mountain biking around lush wetlands and biomes supporting an expansive diversity of bird sanctuaries.

This blog post is intended to be a transition from 6 weeks traveling around Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia to 5 weeks exploring northern B.C.’s Burn’s Lake area while completing the school year as Teacher-Librarian/Learning Commons Specialist at Decker Lake. Meanwhile, contractors are finally arriving to repair our home and yard from the December 20th 2018 storm–the worst storm to hit Nanaimo area in over 50 years!

So unfortunately, our plans have adjusted and my husband will be remaining in Nanaimo leading the various contractors while I head north to continue to evolve another school library into a Learning Commons.

Returning from a lengthy spring trip, a pressing job was to update the vehicle tires from snow to all season tires.

Then we were off 110 km northwest to Courtenay where we enjoyed a lovely lunch at “Common Ground” which has recently changed its name to “The Yellow Deli”.

This place is really unique as everything is created by the commune group–from the wooden benches and tables, to the macrame decorations, to the vegetables and many ingredients used to prepare the healthy food menu they offer.  There are so many fabulous unique places to try when dining in funky, artsy Courtenay.

Home to Nanaimo. Late May is a perfect time to enjoy gardening, working in the yard, soaking up the intense colors and beauty of the rhododendrons, observing the sailboats and ships passing by, and of course having backyard B.B.Q.’s.

Prior to my departure up north, the roofers came to replace the roof on our cabana. That was fascinating to observe as they melted the glues on the back of the roofing material using a blow torch! One roof completed!

Back to renovations in our kitchen. There are so many decision to make: quartz or granite; colors and patterns need to compliment the new cabinets and flooring; which company to employ? Thank goodness for the internet as I spent many hours researching products before visiting stores.

It is truly amazing where the granite mines are located globally! I fell in love with White Ice Granite which is quarried in Brazil in limited quantities.

Finally, time to unpack all our beautiful souvenirs from Asia and see what we ended up purchasing! The colors are so intense and bold. Most of our Christmas shopping was done early this year.

Time passed all too quickly and we were once again in the VW Jetta boarding the B.C. Ferry from Nanaimo (Departure Bay) to Vancouver (Horseshoe Bay). Driving through Vancouver area, the Port Mann bridge with its “pick up sticks” looking metal rods always intrigues.

The long 800 km journey from Vancouver to Prince George exposed multiple types of weather from clouds and rain, to thick fog, to sunny blue skies. To break up the journey we stopped at dusk to overnight near 100 Mile House. The mosquitoes and small flying insects were so intense the manager of the motel warned us to run from the car to the room and close all windows. She was not joking!

The following day we completed the drive to Prince George where Mark flew back to Nanaimo while, feeling melancholy, I drove solo the additional 2 1/2 hours west past Vanderhoof and Fraser Lake to Burns Lake. The initial plan was to camp and explore the area together, not to be separated by 1,000 km for these final 5 weeks of the school year.

The scenery from Prince George to Burns Lake was so renewed and inviting; such a vast contrast from the snow conditions of March. Arriving back in Burns Lake, I quickly made a late entrance at a baby shower for a teaching colleague then returned to the familiar cozy home base on Lorne St.

Brat (the cat) immediately recognized and got reacquainted with me. She hopped into my suitcase as I started unpacking and had to be coaxed to depart from that cozy spot. Loretta, Joe and I had much catching up to accomplish! 

Tomorrow unfolds my 5 weeks of teaching and adventure back up in Burns Lake, B.C.

 

 

 

Astounding Atmospheres from Bangkok to Taipei, Vancouver, and finally Nanaimo!

May 2019

Having endured traveling through Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia during the hottest months of the year (April and May) we were excited to return to cooler temperatures and substantially less humidity during late spring back in Canada. However, there are definite advantages with travelling throughout these countries during the ‘off season’ particularly if you prefer more space and less crowds!

En route to Bangkok 6 weeks ago we stopped and changed planes at Hong Kong.

Due to the political unrest there presently we were thankful our return passage was through Taipei.

Our travel route was from Bangkok, Thailand to Taipei, Taiwan. Taipei to Vancouver, Canada. Then Vancouver to Nanaimo across on Vancouver Island. For curious prospective travelers, we booked direct flights and the entire travel time worked out as follows: 3 hours wait at Suvarnabhumi International (Bangkok) + 4 hours flight to Taipei + 3 hours wait at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport + 10 1/2 hours flight to Vancouver + 2 1/2 hours wait and transfer to Harbour Air Float planes + 1/2 hour to Vancouver Island + 1/2 hour taxi to our home = 24 hours in transit.

Since we gained a day crossing the International Date Line photos taken on my Iphone record confusing times, and our entire trip across half the globe apparently did not exist!

This blog post is dedicated to illustrating some unique characteristics of different airports during our homeward travels; fascinating sights, lights, and colors above the cloud layer in our atmosphere; and aerial representations of cities in different areas of our beautiful world.

Suvarnabhumi International Airport (Bangkok). We have truly fallen in love with this friendly, lush, fascinating country and look forward to returning to renew friendships, explore new areas, taste more cuisine, and try new experiences. )

Taipei, Taiwan was just under 4 hours flight time from Bangkok. These photos show the airport area.

The janitors had their own cleaning storage area off the washrooms which was so tidy and cute I couldn’t resist taking a photo.

Inside the airport the 2019 Chinese year of the Earth Pig was highlighted as was a dedication to Mother’s Day.

The Chinese year starts on Feb. 5th, 2019 (Chinese New Year) and lasts until Jan. 24th 2020. Apparently most true Earth Pigs alive today are born between February 8, 1959, and January 27, 1960 so they have completed a 12 year cycle and a 60 year cycle.

Ironically, I just discovered I am one of those rare Earth Pigs! So upon further research I discovered a vast range of characteristics describing an Earth Pig from “Good-tempered, kind-hearted, positive, loyal” to “extremely kind and thoughtful nature and is sensible and realistic” to “likes sleeping and eating and becomes fat!”.  Hopefully I won’t become too fat! 🙂 I could not resist this photo opportunity in Taipei with my Earth Pig.

Departing Taipei on Air Canada, thanks to Aeroplan points, we upgraded to Premium Economy for the 10 1/2 hour flight to Vancouver.

Some of the differences we experienced from Economy were: priority check in and seating, two seats on each side instead of squishy three, more leg room and width, more attentive service, hot cloths as soon as we departed, better meals and drinks, less people using the toilets. It was so much nicer than regular Economy!

Aerial views of Taipei, Taiwan May 2019.

Stunning sunrise and light shows entertained us above the cloud level as we flew over the Pacific Ocean.

There is something so peaceful and tranquil as you move in seamless uninterrupted space above the clouds.

Excitement throbbed as the clouds uncovered snow capped mountains and we recognized the familiar geography of home. Following the mountains, the longest river in B.C. the mighty Fraser exposed its powerful force. Coastal Western Canada truly is magnificent!

 

As we neared Vancouver and the Richmond Delta the city appeared so tidy, so organized, so green! Vancouver is known as a bustling west coast seaport in British Columbia. It is among Canada’s densest, most ethnically diverse cities and has become a popular filming location. Metro Vancouver’s 2019 population is estimated at about 2.5 million.

Metro Vancouver is the 3rd most populated city in Canada after Toronto and Montreal. After travelling through Hanoi (over 8 Million) and Bangkok (over 10 million), Vancouver seems pretty tiny in comparison.

But, although we are back in Canada, our journey does not end here.

Upon collecting our cases, we were off to locate the shuttle to take us to Richmond’s Harbour Air float plane base.

Although we could not sit together; the 20 minute flight was lovely, and ear plugs are usually supplied!

Close up views of logging operations, freighters, mountain tops, lighthouses, and tiny communities are possible. Once I even viewed 2 Humpback whales during one of these flights!

Back to beautiful Vancouver Island! We touched down on the ocean in the downtown area. Nanaimo, the Harbour City, has a population over 114,000. Nanaimo is the most populated municipality on Vancouver Island, outside of Saanich and Victoria. The small city has multiple claims to fame including the annual International Bathtub Races (since 1967).  I have attached a link to provide more information about Nanaimo.

https://www.tourismnanaimo.com/

We arrived home to be greeted by a burst of luscious lilac! 

It’s always wonderful to sleep in your own bed and unpack… My next adventure is only 10 days away…

Bangkok–Markets, Movie stars, Massages, Malls, and Mother’s Day!

May 2019

On Day 17 of our Intrepid “Best of Vietnam and Cambodia” tour we departed from Siem Reap, Cambodia; a mere 10 hours later, arriving at Bangkok, Thailand. Our group of 12 (plus our guide Sareth) traveled in 2 separate vans and experienced 2 border crossings together prior to arriving at the Nouvo City Hotel in downtown Bangkok.

There were limited photo opportunities during this day of travelling and border crossings, so this blog post includes highlights from 3 days exploring Bangkok prior to returning home to Canada.

At 6:30 a.m. we departed from the Dinata Boutique Hotel in Siem Reap heading toward our first border crossing. Our group exited Cambodia at Poipet and entered Thailand at Aranyaprathet.

We were extremely grateful to have Sareth guiding us through the lines and expectations for border crossings. There were issues to overcome…lines that suddenly closed…stamps or documents that ‘somehow’ disappeared. Sareth translated and chatted with customs officials and extra personnel until everyone was eventually cleared. Photography was not permitted in the two border crossing locations.

Due to massive population’ traffic, we were late arriving in Bangkok. Thailand’s capital, has an estimated population of over 10.6 million people. The city is known for ornate shrines and vibrant street life. My husband and I were happy to be returning to the familiarity of this more peaceful country.

After dropping off our belongings at the Nouvo City Hotel we headed out for ‘real’ Thai food at a nearby location where our group filled the seating capacity of the establishment nestled on the edge of the soi (street). The Thai meal was authentic and a wonderful final dinner experience for our group.

Some of our group planned to spend a few extra days in Bangkok, while others were departing in the morning. My personal and very special reason for returning to Bangkok again prior to flying home, was that my son resides here and has worked As a senior engineer at Western Digital in the Bangkok area for over 5 years!

Our first full day back in Bangkok happened to correlate with Canadian Mother’s Day! (In Thailand Mother’s Day occurs on August 12th in 2019). During the last 2 trips to Thailand, we focused on exploring and learning about Thai culture, Buddhism, local cuisine, and different areas of the country.

During these final few days we would be experiencing Bangkok from a tourist perspective. Our agenda for Mother’s Day in Bangkok was shopping at JJ’s (Chatuchak) Market, taxi to Esplanade Mall, Massages, lunch at Sizzlers, an afternoon Movie (Pokemon Detective) with Thai subtitles, Swenson ice cream treats, and late return via taxi to the Nouvo City Hotel.

As it was Sunday my son, Alexander, was able to join us and make my Mother’s Day complete!

Meeting Alexander at Chatuchak (JJ’s) market ended up being a huge challenge as communication with taxi drivers, hectic roads, misunderstandings, and masses of exits and people resulted in extensive texting before we finally met up. This is the largest market in Thailand with more than 15,000 stalls and 11,505 vendors, divided into 27 sections.

Although still extremely hot and crowded, the temperatures and humidity were not as intense as our previous visit in early April–which happens to be the hottest month of the year in Bangkok. As we wandered through one of the main walkways we were suddenly immersed in cameras and filming paraphernalia.

Tourists and local merchants were scanning curiously to determine the person/people at the center of this attention. They were filming a lady in a white dress with long brown braids who was walking through JJ’s fanning herself with a red heart shaped fan and carrying a large straw hat. Who was this mystery woman?

Obtaining our souvenirs, we were off to sort out our next mode of transportation. Taxi or MRT? Luckily, Alexander speaks and understands Thai so we got a better price for the taxi.

Esplanade mall was our next destination as it was in close proximity to my son’s apartment, had reasonable prices, and he frequented the movie theaters there. We usually experience Thai massages from local shops along the sois or beach locations. However, we decided to pay a bit more than usual (350–400 Baht equals $15–$17 CAN) and try a “mall” location massage. The essential oils scents and little treats afterwards were a lovely touch. I prefer the head/neck/shoulder massage while the 2 men tend to prefer the foot massages. Traditional Thai massage can be pretty brutal for novices who are not expecting to have forceful body manipulation. At these prices, why not partake as often as possible!

Lunch at Sizzlers was Alexander’s choice. It’s a chain of restaurants specializing in salad bars, burgers and steaks. After 5 years residing in Thailand, he craves non traditional Thai food at times. He consumes these Canadian type foods with such ecstasy and enjoyment.

Next, a movie experience Thai style. Having substantially different movie preferences, our compromise was to watch “Pokemon Detective”. After purchasing tickets from a kiosk (like in Canada), Mark purchased his popcorn and we entered the movie theater.

Luckily, we were able to select movies in English (with Thai subtitles). The seats were super comfortable. Prior to the movie commencing, a song was played. Immediately people stopped talking and everybody stood up. The song and video depicting the King’s life was a dedication to the current King of Thailand and respect was an expectation. When the video dedication ended, everyone sat down and the movie started.

What follows a Pokemon movie experience better than a visit to Swenson’s ice-cream parlor? These cold treats are pretty expensive for a Thai wage, but the dessert specialty location was packed. Alexander had recommendations about his favorite menu items. The desserts were delectable.

A tropical down pour hit as we departed from the mall and again as we made our way back to the hotel. Income for taxi drivers must increase dramatically during the long rainy season here because as soon as the downpour commenced taxi drivers raised their prices and most only accepted lengthy fairs.

Our hotel Nouvo City Hotel was located in a historic area of Bangkok adjacent to the famous Banglamphu canal. Today we planned to explore this area starting by investigating around our hotel. The views from the rooftop swimming pool area illustrate the vastness and intensity of residences in the Bangkok metropolis.

We enjoyed the pool located on our 3rd floor level. However it was really annoying when a couple decided to take racy photos in the pool using a drone. Try to relax under the fountains while a drone zooms inches from your head! In my opinion there should be a privacy bylaw against drones in pool areas!

Air pollution levels vary and can be moderate to dangerous in Bangkok, but on this day the skyscrapers of the downtown area were visible. Our hotel room had a lovely view of the canal (Klong) complete with a window that didn’t open due to unpredictable air quality and variances in water pollution/smell levels. It was exciting to view long tailed boats transporting passengers or freight along the waterway.

I discovered an interesting article explaining the history behind the Banglampu canal from welcomeguide2thailand.com  The canal dates back to 1782, when Bangkok was designated as the capital, and is over 3.4 kilometers long created by over 10,000 laborers. Bang Lamphu canal is 1.1 km long and is a section of the canal line that offers transportation access around the city. Bangkok waterways are symbols of a city that was known as the “Venice of the East” for much of the 19th Century.  

On previous trips to Bangkok we took guided tours on the canals and also experienced the klong water transport system with the locals. This is an experience you don’t want to miss unless you have physical limitations–be prepared to jump in and out of the longboats quickly.

Sometimes the longboats did not even come to a complete stop at the docks, so be ready to move quickly; know your exit stop prior to boarding; have correct currency ready; and watch out for the fee collectors who hang off the sides and maneuver around the vessels as they speed down the canals. P.S. Most of the fee collectors did not speak English.

Off to north Bangkok destination Union Street Mall to meet up with Alexander and his lovely girlfriend Benz for dinner at popular MK restaurant. This mall has 8 floors housing over 1,240 booths and shops and adjacent to MRT Phahon Yothin station.

Our next adventure was to explore the largest Chinatown in the world at Yaowarat Road, Bangkok. The 1.5 km road was originally built in 1891.

Street food, markets, and famous temples are the main draws for this populous and popular area of Bangkok. According to the Chinese zodiac, it is the year of the pig and souvenirs were readily available. The clothing shops displayed brightly coloured ornate traditional clothing for very reasonable prices.

Market places displayed a multitude of choices of nearly any type of food or herb imaginable. Seafood options were plentiful and extensive. It is a fascinating area to explore. Unfortunately, it was Mark’s turn to suffer travel aggravation and our visit here ended up being cut short.

Heading back to the hotel we passed the majestic complex of the Grand Palace for the Kings of Thailand. Bangkok’s famous palace complex was built in 1782 and features buildings including Wat Phra Kaeo (Temple of the Emerald Buddha), which contains a beautiful Emerald Buddha dating back to the 14th century. The yellow cloth banners symbolize the King. Purple banners symbolize the presence of the princess.

After 1925 the Royal family no longer resided here. The Grand Palace is now mainly used as a tourist attraction except for occasional ceremonial events. The fee to enter the Grand Palace is 500 Baht $21.50 CAN/person.

Back to our soi 2 Samsen Road, Banglamphu where interesting buildings influenced by French, as well as tailors flashing Armani titles and suits made to fit in 24 hours, intrigue.

Consuming more charcoal pills to settle irritated intestines, we headed out closer to home base. One last massage prior to departing from Bangkok tomorrow…

Checking Trip Advisor (our “go to” app for recommendations) we located a nearby massage shop receiving great ratings. Upon arrival the outside looked less than appealing, but we thought we would be open minded. We entered the massage location, but nobody was in the reception area? Suddenly 2 people quickly descended the stairs to greet us. As they led us upstairs to our locations a young couple quickly exited the disheveled bed I was directed towards. My husband and I quickly created an excuse and departed the establishment. This was our first experience with terribly inaccurate ratings.

However, further down the same block we discovered Samsen massage which was a clean, well run massage location making our final 300 Baht massage experience in Bangkok a satisfying success.

This video represents our adventures: exploring our Hotel, meals with Alexander, Chinatown, Grand Palace, our Soi, and final rainy moments.

It was time for final good-byes to wonderful friends Andy and Jen from Australia, and one last meal with my son, Alexander.

It is never easy for a mother to say good-bye to her child no matter his/her age when half a world separates them! So…until we meet again my son. Love you forever and always.

This has been a phenomenal 6 weeks in Asia. Thank you Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia for sharing your people, culture, history, geography, and unique perspectives with us. I feel richer and more informed from this experience.

Tomorrow we depart to return to Canada. What’s next for this curious adventurous soul and her equally globally curious husband?

 

 

 

 

 

Re-live Tomb Raider at Prasat Ta Prohm. Angkor Wat Sunrise to Khmer Dancing!

May 2019

Our final full day in Cambodia could not have been any more diverse or awe inspiring! Departing the hotel at 4:45 a.m. we joined the masses sitting or standing awaiting mother nature’s artistic sunrise display above Angkor Wat.

As we exited from this location we encountered an active troop/tribe of pigtail macaque monkeys. Research varied on the number of macaque monkeys at Angkor Wat, but estimates are 60 monkeys. Although the macaque played, groomed, and interacted with each other near well used pathways it is always wise to remember that these monkeys are wild and their personal space should be respected.

Here is a collage showing a sample of our day in Cambodia.

Our Intrepid group was off exploring two more temples. Prasat Ta Prohm is the famous temple in the Jungle featured in the Tomb Raider movie. We also visited another small temple Prasat Kravan. Our final group experience in Cambodia was to attend a Apsara Khmer Cultural Dance Performance and buffet dinner.

Departing from our hotel at 4:45 a.m. we drove in darkness to Angkor Wat and carefully followed our guide along the dark path to the favorite look out location. Luckily May is “off season” because clearly this is a popular tourist attraction and hundreds of other tourists were also gathered here to wait for the mysterious display of colors and hues which would light up Angkor Wat this morning. The sky was lovely and if you were close enough to view the reflection on the water it truly was quite spectacular. 

As we returned to our bus we were entertained by the antics and activity of a tribe of pigtail macaque monkeys. The macaque monkeys had appeared near the pathway after the sunrise and were busy playing, grooming, and eating. There were several tiny babies snuggled in tight to their mothers and the parents were keeping a close eye on their babies. As they traveled from location to location the babies hung on underneath or on top of their parents.

Tourists were venturing close to the monkeys. Research uncovered that there have been previous attacks/altercations between the monkeys and humans at Angkor Wat temples. Monkeys are fascinating to observe, but in my experience wild animals (especially mothers with babies) should be treated with an element of caution and personal space. However, the interaction and love displayed between mother and baby monkeys warmed my heart.

Heading northeast our next destination was the jungle-covered temple Prasat Ta Prohm famous in the Western world as the setting for the movie Tomb Raider.

What an incredible location for a photo shoot! Enormous gnarled trees exposed roots and branches that encompassed piles of ancient bricks from remaining ruins of this 12–13 century temple. A feral orange minx cat even appeared out of an opening in the stone wall. Hues of green from various types of algae and moss thriving against the grey/rust stone left a damp, magical sentiment.

This Bayon style temple, originally founded by Khmer King Jayavarman VII in the late 12th to early 13th Century, was intended as a Mahayana Buddhist monastery and university. The original name was Rajavihara. Conservation and restoration of this magnificent temple is a partnership project between Cambodia and the Archaeological Survey of India.

Our next temple stop Prasat Kravan was a small, less popular tourist location.

Kravan is a small 10th-century temple consisting of five reddish brick towers on a common terrace. The Hindu temple was dedicated to Vishnu. After about 10 minutes we were back on the tour bus!

This video reflects our adventures from Sunrise at Angkor Wat to Macaque monkeys and magical Ta Prohm temple!

 

We appreciated relaxing in the hotel pool between the sights of the day and the evening of Khmer culture –traditional dance and buffet. Sadly, one member of our Intrepid tour group slipped on the rain covered tiles while exiting the pool and sustained a nasty fall. She was a trooper but the injury resulted in the couple missing our final dinner together in Cambodia. Accidents happen so unexpectedly, it certainly is a reminder to buy medical insurance before you travel globally.

The rooms we received at the Dinata Angkor boutique hotel in Siem Reap ranged from satisfactory to quite lovely. Our room was quite lovely, but as we entered the room we could overhear a ferocious dog fight nearby. From our balcony we overlooked a dirt courtyard. A dog run fence was located along a white walled building. 

When the green metal gate was left open stray dogs entered the dirt courtyard harassing and threatening the dogs in the narrow fenced area. Adults would eventually chase the strays out with brooms and close the gate. We were thankful we spent very little time at our hotel.

The Apsara Khmer dancers were performing at a lovely hotel nearby. Several of us wore our Khmer scarfs to the event in honor of our tour guide Sareth and the Cambodian people.

The Apsara dance is based on a legend that Cambodia originated from the union of the hermit Kampu and the Apsara Mera. The dance dates back to the 6th and 7th centuries.

The main dancer wearing white represents Mera. The other females clad in colourful regalia are her maidens. Although the female dancers are serious and seem to show no facial emotion, ironically the dance depicts happiness and prosperity for the country.

The female dancers were beautiful and feminine. The costumes were ornate including silk, extensive jewelry and make up, and headpieces. The dances were slow moving and graceful with wrists, hands and eyes embellishing the story message. The men seemed to have the character parts–demons, monkeys. The youth dancers who performed demonstrated vitality, fun, and playfulness.

This pictorial video represents our entertaining Khmer Cultural dance and buffet experience!

 

The buffet dinner was extensive including Khmer/Cambodian food options: Amok Cambodian curry, BBQ, curry soup, mango salad, fish amok, and Khmer desserts.

What a memorable and lovely way to celebrate our last evening in Cambodia.

Tomorrow our Intrepid tour agenda includes a 10 hour bus trip exiting Cambodia and returning to Thailand!

Temple-hop at Angkor Wat!

May 2019

Travelling through Cambodia in May has its advantages and disadvantages. A huge advantage with travelling in the “off season” was more personal connection, physical space, and no line ups or massive crowds at tourist locations such as, Angkor Wat.

Peak season for Cambodia is from November to February when the weather is dry and cooler.  Our biggest challenge was the intense heat and humidity! Walking outdoors for hours exploring ruins and climbing steep staircases in 40 degree temperatures with 90% humidity required hats, hand fans, lots of water and incredible resilience. Don’t plan to pose for photos if you are concerned about looking fresh and beautiful. Saturated clothing, beet red faces, and hair stuck to our heads is the look you will be seeing today!

Angkor Wat world heritage archaeological site is a temple complex in Cambodia and the largest religious monument in the world. The ruins are located on an area over 160 square kilometers. Angkor Wat means “Temple City” in Khmer. Angkor refers to the city of Cambodia and Wat is the Khmer word for temple ground. Angkor Wat is the icon on the Cambodian flag.

Angkor Wat temple is a source of fierce national pride in Cambodia. It has been the source of conflict between religions as well as neighboring countries (Vietnam and Thailand) attempting to claim its ownership.

Angkor Wat opens at 5am for visitors who want to see the sunrise from this iconic spot. The upper level (Bakan Sanctuary) is only open from 7.30am. Angkor Wat closes at 5.30pm.

An entry pass to the temples of Angkor costs US$37 for one day, US$62 for three days (which can be used over a period of 10 days) and US$72 for one week (which can be used over one month). Siem Reap is the closest main center located 7 km away. Our Intrepid tour group stayed at the Dinata Angkor Boutique Hotel in Siem Reap.

After getting our photos taken for the $62 US 3 day pass of Angkor Pass, our day’s adventure commenced.

Angkor was the capital city of the Khmer empire flourishing from 9th to 15th centuries. King Suryavarman II built Angkor Wat in the early 12th century as a Hindu temple for the Khmer Empire dedicated to the god Vishnu; however, the temple was transformed into a Buddhist Wat during the 13th/14th centuries.

The sandstone blocks from which Angkor Wat was built were quarried from the holy mountain of Phnom Kulen, more than 50km away, and floated down the Siem Reap River on rafts. Ironically, the floating walkway which safely supported 2.1 million tourists last year as they made their way toward the ancient ruins, originates from Canada. My husband and I recognized Candock immediately!

There is much speculation regarding the purpose of the enormous Wat complex–possibly a potential tomb for King Suryavarman (who was not buried here). Even the manner in which you view the temple has been interpreted as an anticlockwise direction. Angkor Wat’s unique features, include more than 3000 charming apsaras (heavenly nymphs) carved into its walls. The stairs to the upper level are immensely steep, because “reaching the kingdom of the gods was no easy task.” (Particularly in 40 degree temperature!).

Angkor Wat is an architectural fascination of intricacy and transformation. To understand the history and complexity of the structures and spiritual Hindu then Buddhist beliefs, it is wise to research prior to visiting this World Heritage site. Beyond the 12th Century origins in Khmer culture, many questions remain as you tour these temples and view evidence of historical transformations at Angkor Wat.

The bullet holes in the walls and missing Buddhas speak of uprisings, wars and periods of time when peace was not obtainable. The Gallery of a Thousand Buddhas (Preah Poan) used to house hundreds of Buddha images before the war, but many of these were removed or stolen.

After viewing majestic Angkor Wat our group gathered at the end of the Candock floating bridge where the monkeys entertained us (mostly from a healthy distance).

Sareth rekindled his energy with some fish kabobs while most of us searched for cool drinks and shade! Then we were off to tour Angkor Thom Temple and the Bayon.

As we trudged over the moat’s bridge (in the intense heat) we were greeted by statues on either side of the road–the faces of Southgate.

“On each side of the causeway are railings fashioned with 54 stone figures engaged in the performance of a famous Hindu story: the myth of the Churning of the Ocean. On the left side of the moat, 54 ‘devas’ (guardian gods) pull the head of the snake ‘Shesha’ while on the right side 54 ‘asuras’ (demon gods) pull the snake’s tail in the opposite direction.”  https://www.orientalarchitecture.com/sid/16/cambodia/angkor/angkor-thom-south-gate

Angkor Thom means ‘Great City’. The Bayon is the captivating 12th/13th century Khmer temple of the Mahayana Buddhist King Jayavarman VII.  It is adorned with stone pillars originally featuring 216 stone faces created to replicate King Jayavarman VII.

Sections of the facial rock sculptures have been altered and adjusted to reflect the face shapes and cultural representation of subsequent rulers.

After King Jayavarman VII died, several kings adapted and changed the faces in the Bayon temple. Under King Jayavarman VIII, Cambodia reverted to a Hindu country and the faces in the temple were altered. Later in the 14th and 15th centuries, Cambodia became a Theravada Buddhist country and the temple was altered once again.

There is much to observe and reflect upon while wandering through the various temples at the Angkor complex.

Late lunch was perfect timing as a tropical rain storm hit while we were under cover at a local rural marketplace. We observed shop proprietors rapidly and efficiently covering their wares with tarps and plastic sheets then plugging large holes in their roofs with temporary tarps or umbrellas. Although the children trying to sell us palm leaves to protect us from rain were adorable, we were told not to encourage them or give them money. Apparently if children beg or get successful getting money from tourists then they rarely attend school and have less chance of getting educated and improving their life choices.The laterite (red clay soil) shone with new purpose when the rains ceased and the sun exposed itself once again. The rain was refreshing and we were off to tour our third temple.

Banteay Srei, the Lady Temple, built from pink sandstone looked stunning after a fresh rainfall. This 10th Century Cambodian Temple was dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. It is located near Phnom Dei 38 km from Siem Reap northeast of the main group of temples.

Banteay Srei was gorgeous! The colours and intricate carving made beautiful photo shoot opportunities. A French company has been working to stabilize the ruins and improve the condition of the artifacts. The guard monkeys and adornments of leaf motifs and female deities (devatas) on doorways and walls were spectacular.

But… our tour was not completed yet!

As we journeyed back towards Siem Reap, we encountered our 4th temple which was Prasat Pre Rup.  Pre Rup translated means “turn the body” and it’s believed that funerals took place here. Apparently, the bodies of the dead were rotated during the funeral. Some archaeologists believe that the large vat located at the base of the east stairway to the central area was used at cremations.

This architectural temple-mountain was built in the second half of the tenth century (961) by King Rajendraman II and dedicated to the Hindi god Siva.

When we arrived at Prasat Pre Rup another tour group was posing on the staircase while their guide snapped photos. We enjoyed touring around the ruins, climbing the steep staircases, and observing the canopy of the rainforest from the top of the “temple-mountain”.

However, we were given minimal information about the unique characteristics and religious significance of each archaeological site in the world famous Angkor Wat complex. In retrospect, I would strongly suggest that extensive front loading and research prior to your investigation of Angkor Wat would greatly enhance your understanding and spiritual experience here.

We returned to our hotel for a much needed quick dip in the pool and cool down prior to dinner! Although we had a “free” evening, my husband and I chose to add another experience to our Cambodia adventure by attending a “circus” located on the outskirts of the city.  Siem Reap, population 140,000, is classified as a resort town in northwestern Cambodia and is the closest location to the Angkor Wat complex.

We were naive regarding our Cambodian ‘circus’ expectations, but our tour guide organized the remorque (tuktuk) and tickets for our experience. We had heard that the Phare circus involved Cambodian street kids and orphans who were learning life skills in the ‘circus’ entertainment industry. By attending the ‘circus’ we would be financially supporting positive ways to change the lives of these children and teens. “Phare artists use theater, music, dance and circus arts to tell uniquely Cambodian stories.” https://pharecircus.org/

What a fabulous experience! Same. Same. But Different! When we arrived at Phare Circus Ring Road, south of the Intersection, Sok San Rd, Krong Siem Reap the place was buzzing with activity! “Phare, the Cambodian Circus, is an offshoot project of Phare Ponleu Selpak (Association), which translates into “Brightness of the Arts” in English. PPS Association is a Cambodian non-profit, non-governmental association founded in 1994 by eight young Cambodian ex-refugee artists in the area of Anchanh Village, Ochar Commune, Battambang Province.” https://www.bordersofadventure.com/night-circus-siem-reap/

To get children and teens off the streets, the organization teaches these youth skills to create a safe product which is then promoted and sold by other youth and adults. The money they accumulate goes directly to support their education and career training opportunities. Meanwhile, the public is also getting educated and the youth are gaining a positive purpose and new optimism towards life possibilities.

Keep in mind that due to Khmer genocide discussed in earlier blog posts, we were informed that 54% of Cambodians are 18 years old or younger and many of these youth survive without family guidance. We were totally supportive of, and encouraged by, this social and cultural initiative.

At this location there was a shop selling crafts mostly created by youth–many utilizing recycled materials. There was lovely food and drinks being created and served by the youth. Inside the humorous and athletic entertainment was performed by the older youth who had been through the education and job skills training. I particularly enjoyed the skit on the differences in fixing a power outage–Cambodian verses Foreigners!

There were posters and information displayed requesting that tourists do NOT give money to children who are begging and to phone and report if children are seen accompanying foreigners into hotels.

In addition to an enrapturing evening of entertainment, crowds of tourists were also being educated about Cambodian social awareness and responsibility.  I would highly recommend attending the inspiring Phare circus if you have the opportunity to travel to Siem Reap.

Tomorrow we are up early to observe the sunrise above Angkor Wat, explore more fascinating temples then attend a cultural Cambodian dance performance!

B.B.Q. Rat, Frog, or Fowl? Battambang to Siem Reap.

May 2019

Our morning agenda consisted of a Soksabike half day bike adventure exploring authentic cottage industries throughout the Cambodian countryside around Battambang. While our Intrepid group and Sareth would exercise all morning cycling 22 km in over 32 degree humid heat…I would play the role of the trusty mascot who would be in charge of purses and backpacks and yell encouragements from my position in the back of a covered Tuk Tuk! Ahhh….Those darn knees of mine!

Although this event was included in our Intrepid tour, it can be booked with Soksabike for $27 US/person. This collage depicts some of our sights and experiences today in Cambodia. 

During the Soksabike tour we stopped at several private homes to observe and learn how various food products were harvested and the locations in which they were created! This video represents our morning adventure from orientation at the bicycle rental through the first two countryside visits.

Please note the variety of housing as we made our way through the lanes and back roads checking out cottage industries off the beaten path of Battambang.  70% of Cambodian population lives in rural locations. We were so appreciative to have the opportunity to learn how products were made in traditional ways by local Khmer and understand how these gentle people lived, worked and survived. 

At the first location we learned about creating rice paper. Although most of the people we visited did not seem to understand English, our tour guide explained about their lifestyle and what was involved to create their product.

We walked past the racks of drying rice paper into the production area/home. Water is collected in huge ceramic pots at the rear of the home. Inside the home the men sleep on mats beside the fire, motorcycle, and drying racks. We were informed it is safer for the women to sleep upstairs. This family unit worked from Dawn to Dusk every day creating rice paper just to make ends meet. The elderly were cared for by the family. While we were at this location, a monk (in orange robes) arrived to collect contributions of food or money. The lady offered him coins from her meager supply.

 

At the second location we learned the process involved to make dried mango and bananas. Wooden boards supported multiple quantities of bright orange mango which rested on leaves while drying in the sun. Flies were plentiful buzzing around the sweet, sticky substances. There were also long poles drying bananas. In the yard we also observed long bamboo poles with baskets on the ends resting against a fence.

Inside the home a table was set with samples of fruit for us to try. While our guide explained the process for drying fruit, the women sat on the floor in the background peeling fruit. There were also some older men baring war wounds and scars who sat silently. When we departed into the yard one of these men demonstrated the long poles with baskets which he had created to assist removing fruit from tall trees. He also demonstrated the stick marionettes he makes and was delighted when Ecaterina and I purchased one.

Resuming our tour, we noticed that children were quick to wave but adults tended to be serious and sometimes seemed uncomfortable towards us.

The second video reflects the continuation of our cycling tour and introduction to more Khmer traditional foods and drinks including bamboo sticky rice sold in long bamboo tubes and another location producing rice wine.

We have seen several rice wine distilleries during our travels though Asia, but this was by far the cleanest and most modern facility I have witnessed. As usual, no rice wine facility is complete without at least one huge poisonous snake sharing its poison in a large clear jug of rice wine!

As we passed a Wat temple three very serious young boys were exiting–possibly studying there?

Following the cycling tour we checked out of the “Classy Hotel” in Battambang and headed to Siem Reap.

Au revoir Battambang. Although it is the second largest city located in northwestern Cambodia we spent very little time here.

We missed seeing the colonial buildings (Sala Khaet), Provincial museum, Khmer temples or 11th Century pagoda. We did experience the Bamboo train, visited Lok Ta Dambong Kra Nhoung statue, and toured through cottage industries.

En route to Siem Reap we stopped at Sareth’s favorite roadside stop at O Taki. Strettarea to sample Khmer BBQ foods (well…some tried). My husband decided to sample some rat, but I preferred to sample a very chewy frog! 

Roads were packed with bicycles through Banteay Meanchey as school children clad in white shirts and navy pants/skirts exited school grounds on mass for the day.

In the collage above… the top right photo is an example of take out Khmer style! There are several BBQ rats in the white bag on the dashboard.

During the 3 + hour trip from Battambang to Siem Reap we encountered more road upgrades and construction. We were informed most of the funding for these infrastructure upgrades is coming from either China or Japan.

This final video illustrates the BBQ Khmer foods we sampled and what traveling on highways looks like in Cambodia.

Road safety does not seem to be a priority here as people ride in the backs of trucks, on the tops of loaded vehicles, or pass on the right or left! We witnessed 2 lane highways regularly being utilized as 3 lane roads as vehicles manoeuvred between the center while vehicles were occupying both lanes of the highway!

Once arriving at our destination of Siem Reap many of us took advantage of the hotel’s pool for a much needed break to relax and unwind! We are based at Dinata Boutique Hotel for the next 3 nights.

Tomorrow we explore the famous Angkor Wat!