Archives for posts with tag: temple hopping

After wandering around Thailand and Laos without any real purpose other than to see cool things, I felt ready for a little more of a routine.

I really enjoyed my volunteer experience in Nepal, so I thought I would try it again in Cambodia with a different organization to see how it would compare.  I’ll spare you the details of my constant self-doubt and internal conflicts that resulted from my volunteer position, but basically I felt morally torn as to whether what I was doing was right or if I was effectively contributing to corruption in voluntourisim, especially within orphanages.

I spent the majority of my two weeks in Siem Reap at a volunteer house with other young volunteers.  That in itself really affected the way I felt while I was there; it wasn’t an authentic experience and it mostly felt like I was living in a dorm with a bunch of young college kids with ulterior motives.  But in the end, my experience isn’t something that I would change regardless of how I felt during the time and if anything, I feel like I can now make a more educated decision regarding volunteering abroad.

Siem Reap itself is a loud tourist trap of a city, and I found it hard to escape the constant calls of tuk-tuk drivers and peddlers.  I didn’t give myself too much time in Cambodia, since I wanted to meet my parents in South Korea, so I made Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples my priority when I had time off from volunteering.

I went with a few volunteers early in the morning to Angkor Wat for sunrise.  It was definitely worth battling the throngs of people to see it because 1) it was spectacular and 2) it wasn’t a million degrees out… yet.

The temple is, for lack of a better word, impressive.  I could have spent all day just strolling around the grounds there.  It was absolutely stunning and overwhelming.  It’s hard to believe that people could create such beautifully intricate works of art with nothing but a chisel.

I bought a 3-day pass for the park, so the next day I rented a bike for a dollar and rode out along the big circuit to see some of the other popular temples in the area.

From my volunteer house and back, the ride was about 26 miles.  It wasn’t difficult at all, since the roads are flat, traffic on the big circuit is light and you’re constantly stopping along the way at various places.  You can certainly hire a tuk-tuk to take you around as it would be faster and save you a lot of energy, but there was something so much more peaceful and rewarding doing it on my own.

I visited more temples along the big circuit than I can remember, among which were Prasat Kravan:

and Srah Srang, the royal bath:

At one point, I hired a motor-bike to take me further out to another famous temple, Benteay Srei, which translates to “city of women”.  Supposedly, it is believed that women were the main artists of the temple, based on the surpassing intricacy of the carvings compared to the surrounding temples.

It’s been very well restored and unlike most other temples, the majority of the grounds had been roped off to prevent damage from foot traffic.

Bayon was equally impressive as Angkor Wat and just as weird with looming faces peering at you from every corner.

I visited there late in the afternoon when the traffic had died down and people were making their way to Angkor Wat to witness the sunset, so it was much more peaceful to walk around.

Ta Prohm was a mad-house of tour groups.  The tree growth takes over the temple stones and if it weren’t for all the tourists, I could have closed my eyes and pretended I was Indiana Jones for the day.  I bet he never had to deal with swarms of tourists to enter the temple (Nazis, maybe…)

All in all, I had the best experience biking around the temple by myself, and saw just about everything that I sought out.  I’d like to think that it’s always best to leave a few things unseen for the next time.

Ok, one more monkey picture, because I just can’t resist.  This guy was cracking me up.

I have been debating how I wanted to write this post. Do I talk about the things I’m doing now that I’m in Laos, or talk about the things that I’ve been up to the last week in Thailand?

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I think what’s making it so difficult is that while there were points that were really fun and amazing in Thailand, overall I don’t like it as much as I love Laos. On top of that, my less than stellar “trekking” experience in Chiang Mai has left a sour taste in my mouth. I hate the idea of spending an entire post complaining about my experience (I actually wrote one before this but deleted it because it was just too much), so I will just say a few things:

The tourism board in Thailand should NOT offer this particular trek during the low season. The waterfall was non-existent and my white-water rafting on the second day consisted of us pulling our raft off of rocks more than we were rafting. If they want to offer this tour during the dry season, they should make it known when you buy the ticket that the river is low and the waterfall is small. Really small. Also, the “authentic” village we stopped at didn’t treat their elephants well. So that didn’t make me feel like my money was going to the right place at all. Which leads me to the final conclusion that I paid too much money and did not get what I was expecting out of the trip

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At least Chiang Mai wasn’t as chaotic as Bangkok and I managed to find a little bit of peace and beauty again before leaving the country. It took me a few days to get used to moving around by myself and working up the courage to talk to random people and ask to join them if they were going to the same temples I was going to. In the end, I met up with a few people that have been great to travel with and the best part is that they’re my age (so I can stop hanging out with all the 18 and 19 year old kids on their gap year). I love the temples in Chiang Mai. A lot of them don’t get very much attention, so most of the time, you could gaze up at them in complete solitude and take in all the details. I found myself being really drawn to the scales of the serpents guarding the doors.

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A lot of the temples hosted monk chats, which was a designated time that you could sit down with one or two (or in our case, 8) monks and talk to them about anything you want. It’s supposed to help them learn English and of course help you understand more about their lifestyle and Buddhism. I thought they were so interesting to talk to. I was mostly expecting them to be very stoic with their answers, but I found them to be very forthcoming. They talked about everything from their day to day activities, how they don’t like homework, the fact that they have fears and worries and feelings of doubt. But even so, they said it all with a smile on their face, as if they knew that even with all that, they are able to find joy and happiness within themselves. We joined them for an introductory course into meditation. It was really challenging to quiet your mind and stay seated for 15 minutes. I can’t imagine how they do it for hours on end.

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I decided to take the slow boat on the Mekong River to get to Luang Prabang, Laos. But that required yet another minivan journey up through Chiang Rai and on to the border town Chiang Khong. We stopped for a brief 20 minute break at the white temple, Wat Rong Khun, in Chiang Rai.

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By far the weirdest Buddhist temple I have every seen. Outside, there were disembodied hands (one had a wristband on it that said John Lennon) and demon heads, while inside the temple there was an even stranger mural. While there were paintings of Buddha there were also cameos of Spiderman, Batman, the twin towers with a plane crashing into it, Neo from the Matrix, and angry birds to name a few. We weren’t allowed to take pictures of the mural, so you’ll just have to take my word for it.

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The slow boat ride was absolutely amazing, but I’ll save that for tomorrow’s post.

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