Cameron Highlands: Tea Time

5 Min. Read

If you happen to be exploring peninsular Malaysia and are looking for a peaceful and relaxing spot to unwind with a cup of tea… 

then look no further than the colonial town of Cameron Highlands.

An excellent stop to enjoy some nature trails and recharge your batteries if you’re criss-crossing through SE Asia.

Mossy Forest life

Located in the Pahang district in northern Malaysia, the Cameron Highlands is home to a unique subtropical ecosystem with 8 mountains, fruit & vegetable farms galore, flower nurseries and numerous tea plantations.

Everything very green.

Developed in the 1930’s and originally planned as a health sanatorium, this hill station was extensively used by the British colonials during their time there and is one of the oldest tourist spots in all of Malaysia.

The plateau’s highest elevation is at 5,259 ft. above sea level and is noted for its cool weather, sometimes dropping to as low as 9 Celsius (48 Fahrenheit), making it a good place to escape Malaysia’s hot summers.

And luckily for them, the area was also found to be suitable for the production of tea. 

(Nice for the British.)

The area itself was named after the British explorer and geologist, William Cameron, after being commissioned by the colonial government to map out the Pahong-Perak region in 1885.

And he uncovered the regions true potential.

Cameron Highlands seemed to have just about everything: Rivers, waterfalls, mossy forests and lakes. This made the area even more appealing to the settlers there and soon afterwards, farmlands, nurseries, orchards and tea plantations began to pop up. Along with of course many hotels, residences and country clubs.

Tea Plantations

Despite the land being developed and settled, 71% of the area is still forested and is home to over 700 plant species, making it a very diverse and interesting ecosystem in Malaysia and SE Asia in general.

Now you may be wondering what is there to do here.

The answer is A lot.

Especially if you’re a green thumb.

Like my Mom, now that I think of it.

Cameron Highlands has a Lavender Farm, a Strawberry Farm, a Bee Farm, Flower gardens, a Cactus Farm, Farmers Markets, a Butterfly garden and so much more.

A beautiful Chinese Temple. (Sam Poh)

Numerous waterfalls. (Thompson Falls, Robinson Falls and Parit Falls)

And of course, the BOH Tea Estate. The popular tea company  which has been making tea since 1929 and a fine example of the region’s numerous tea plantations.

In short, there is no shortage of relaxing activities in the area.

Believe me.

How to get to Cameron Highlands.

Unfortunately the The Cameron Highlands is not accessible by the Malaysian railway (KTM), yet there are several bus services operating back and forth from Kuala Lumpur, Ipoh, Penang and Tapah.

And obviously, you can also arrive by car. 

Route 59, highway 185 and highway 102 all lead to the Cameron Highlands depending on wherever you’re coming from; Georgetown, Kuala Lumpur, etc.

When to Visit

Because of the elevation, the Cameron Highlands is pretty cool throughout most of the year. It does rain from time to time but less so during the winter and summer months.

It also sometimes gets crowded during the weekends and holidays, so I would consider at least spending two nights in the area to enjoy it properly.

Where to Stay

There are numerous hotels in the area along with some hostels. Be sure to book in advance for a nicer hotel. If you are backpacking through Malaysia you may also want to book a lower budget hotel or hostel in advance but you probably wouldn’t have to much trouble finding a place to sleep even if you show up without any reservations.

Budget:

Traveller Bunker Hostel: $5-$6

Mid-Range:

Kea Garden Guest House: $10-$15


And there you have it!

A little sneak peek of the Cameron Highlands!

How you may feel when you get here.

Just in case you get lost… (I totally didn’t).

Johor Bahru: Glass Temple of Kali Ma

5 Min. Read

In the city of Johor Bahru in Malaysia, lies a peculiar temple. 

A temple devoted to the Hindu Goddess Kali… 

One that is made entirely of glass.

It’s called…

Arulmigu Sri Rajakaliamman. 

Originally built in 1922 on land gifted by Sultan Ibrahim of Johor, the temple started out as a small shrine in a hut that was inherited by the current temple’s Chief Priest Sri Sinnathamby Sivasamy in 1991. 

Story has it that Sivasamy was inspired during a trip to Bangkok. One night when he was riding in a tuk-tuk, he saw a bright light shining about 2 kilometres away.

When he asked the driver where the light was coming from, the tuk-tuk driver informed him that it was coming from a Wat (Buddhist Temple). 

The driver then took the priest to the temple and upon arriving did the priest realize that it was the glass artwork at the entrance of the temple that was shining.

Amazed at how far he was able to see it, this inspired him to create a similar effect in his own temple. 

Brilliant.

So, in 2008 he began work to completely cover the interior of his temple in mosaic glass tiles and finished it in October 2009. The project cost over 2 million Malaysian Ringgit (almost 500,000 US) and was made with imported glass from Belgium, Japan and Thailand.

There are over 300,000 pieces of glass tiles arranged in geometric patterns, with the colors being red, blue, yellow, green, purple and white.

And the place is a curious sight to behold.

With crystal chandeliers illuminating the temple and the light bouncing around, it’s like walking into a diamond with every corner of the interior shining and sparkling. Like a beautiful and strange, elaborate house of mirrors.

Inside there is an area to worship Kali herself, along with other statues of Shiva, Ganesha and Brahma.

And interestingly, there are also statues of the Buddha, Mother Teresa, Jesus Christ and Guru Nanak, which I suspect is to evoke a sense of religious tolerance, peace and appreciation. 

Nicely done, Sivasamy.

Razzle-Dazzle.

Who is Kali?

In Hinduism, Kali, also known as Kalika, (meaning the “Black One”) is the Mother of the Universe and the destroyer of evil forces.

Kali is usually represented as a terrifying warrioress with four arms holding a bloody knife and a severed head, and wearing a necklace of other severed heads or skulls and a skirt of arms.

The knife that she holds signifies divine knowledge and the decapitated head represents the death of the human ego, which is necessary to attain Moksha, or liberation, from Samsara, the neverending cycle of death and rebirth.

Kali also represents Time, Death and Doomsday but is also considered a strong mother figure and a symbol of motherly love. (Mothers…).

Where is Johor Bahru?

Johor Bahru, also known as JB, is located on the southern tip of the Malaysian Peninsula along the straits of Johor next to Singapore. At 220 sq. km and with a population of almost half a million, it is Malaysia’s 9th largest city.

Johor Bahru has some attractions other than the Kali Ma Temple such as the Johor Bahru Chinese Heritage Center, Johor Art Gallery and Plaza Seni (an Arts Center).

Along with this there are also a number of malls in the city to be found, such as the KSL, JB City Square, Paradigm Mall and R&F Mall.

Many people do tend to skip Johor Bahru and opt to go straight to Malacca or Kuala Lumpur, and perhaps for good reason.

Johor Bahru isn’t exactly a city geared towards tourism and the city itself is notorious for it’s high crime rate which has been the country’s worst in the past several decades.

Some of the more common offenses are: Robberies, snatch theft, carjacking, sexual assault and kidnapping, with gang and unarmed robberies accounting for 76% of it’s crime. Car cloning is also a big thing in JB.

Who knew?

I, for sure as hell didn’t.

J/K.

To be honest, I only learned about the city’s infamous crime rate and somewhat sleazy reputation afterwards when I did some research on it in Kuala Lumpur.

That being said.

Don’t let that discourage you.

I was there for 3 nights and had no problems whatsoever and I’m sure you won’t either.

So, if you DO plan on visiting Johor Bahru, just remember to practice some common sense, don’t stray around too far at night and always be mindful of your surroundings.

Do all these things and you should be alright, you adventurer you.

Check out the tight handiwork here.

How to get to Johor Bahru

From Singapore you can go to the Queen Street bus station and purchase a bus ticket to Johor Bahru for about a $1 and it’ll take you to the Johor Bahru Sentral bus station, which takes about an hour.

You can also fly into Johor Bahru through the Senai International Airport which is 32 km northwest of the city.

If you do take the bus from Singapore, you will have to disembark at the border and go through Malaysian Customs and Immigration. After you’re stamped into the country you then have to jump on another shuttle bus that will take you to JB Sentral.

Easy Peasy, Lemon squeezy.

As for the Visa requirements, most countries either get 90 days or 30 days visa-free travel throughout Malaysia, but double check the requirements for your respective country before entering.

Americans, Canadians and Europeans all get 90 days visa-free.

Crazy good. I know.


Now.

I know this post is about the Kali Ma Temple and Johor Bahru but…

If you are visiting Singapore with plans on visiting Malaysia and are limited on time, I would actually suggest skipping Johor Bahru all together and go directly to either Malacca or Kuala Lumpur and then Georgetown, as these places are full of history, attractions and have a vibrant nightlife. 

Johor Bahru just isn’t a touristy place.

To be quite honest, I did not run into a single foreigner there during my stay.
(Which is totally ok with me.)

Yet, if you are an advocate of slow travel (like myself), then by all means visit Johor Bahru as you make your way through Malaysia. Check out the curious Kali Temple, try some Malaysian food and perhaps discover some other hidden gems. That being said, 2 nights are enough.


Kali Temple Visiting Hours

Daily: Open from 7am to 10pm, yet visiting hours for tourists are from 1pm-5pm.  

Entrance Fee: RM10 ($2.34) per person for Foreign Visitors. A small donation is always welcome and encouraged.

Address: 22 Lorong 1, Jalan Tebrau, Johor Bahru


Enjoy JB bro.

And there you have it guys!


If you liked this post or just want to say hi, don’t be shy and drop me a line!

Also, if you’ve been anywhere cool in Malaysia or anywhere in general, I’d love to hear from you!

Safe Travels!

Singapore: 10 Things to See and Do

8 Min. Read

One of the Four Asian Tigers.
Multi-Cultural City-State.
Global Financial Hub.
Foodie Heaven…

We could only be talking about one place really…

Singapore

Yep. Singapore.

Founded in 1819 by Sir Stamford Raffles as a trading post for the British empire, Singapore had evolved into one of Asia’s economic powerhouses and with a population of 5.7 million people, it is home to the world’s highest percentage of millionaires and its property is among the most expensive. Singapore has been rated the world’s most expensive city to live in multiple times, although this year, that award goes to Hong Kong.

But still.

This sovereign city-state island is one of the 4 Asian Tigers, powerful high-income countries with remarkably high growth rates. The others being: Hong Kong (of course), Taiwan & South Korea.

But Singapore ain’t just about money.

Home to a very diverse and well integrated society mainly comprised of Malays, Chinese & Tamil, Singapore’s world famous diversity is well ingrained in its constitution and culture.

And it shines brilliantly.

Are you curious now?

Cool.

Let me show you around.

1. Marina Bays Sands

Firstly, if there is one place that stands out from the rest in Singapore it’s the Marina Bay Sands Hotel and Casino. And rightfully so. As the world’s most expensive standalone casino property, the Marina Bay Sands has it all: The world’s largest elevated swimming pool? Check. Nightclubs? Check. Over 300 high end stores? It has that too.

Completed in 2010, the property also boasts a museum, a large theater, art & science exhibitions, 10 celebrity chef restaurants, 2,561 luxury hotel rooms, 1,000 gaming tables and 1,600 slot machines. Enough to lose (or triple) your life savings in a day.

The Marina Bay Sands is a true work of art and should definitely be one of first places to see in Singapore.

To reach Marina Bay Sands, take the MRT’s Circle Line to Promenade station.

2. Chinatown

Originally home to Singapore’s Chinese community, many being descendents from Hokkien, Teochew and Cantonese immigrants, the area today is diverse and fairly well mixed, pretty much like the rest of Singapore.

For some traditional Chinese and interesting colonial architecture head to Kreta Ayer Road to get a glimpse of what Singapore used to look like back in the day.

Here you can find some some excellent Chinese temples, such as the Buddha’s Tooth Temple (Yes. It houses a tooth from the Buddha.) and pastel-colored shophouses with its strange mixture of both Baroque & Victorian design.

Stroll around, check out some street art, grab some dumplings or Singaporean Noodles and learn about the neighborhood’s interesting history.

Here’s a list of places to definitely check out while in Chinatown:

1. Thian Hock Temple
2. Wak Hai Keng Temple
3. Buddha Tooth Relic Temple
4. Chinatown Street market
5. Maxwell Food Centre

To get to Chinatown via the MRT, take the North-East Line to Chinatown Station.

3. Little India

For a bit more culture and mouth-watering food, head over to the historical Little India, located east of the Singapore River, to see some beautiful temples and observe daily life, in what was originally the neighborhood for Singapore’s Tamil residents.

Wander through its streets, haggle on some merch and get your hands on some delicious Dosa and a Mango Lassi.

For some good eats and shopping make sure to check out the Little India Arcade and Tekka Food Centre.

Tip: The City Square Mall is a good place to shop and to escape Singapore’s notorious heat while in Little India.

To get to Little India, you can take the MRT’s North-East Line to Ferrar Station or the Little India Station.

4. Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple

Built in 1885, this marvelous Indian Temple dedicated to Lord Krishna is one of the oldest temples in Singapore and a fine example of Hindu architecture. Check out its beautiful gopuram.

The temple is the starting point for the annual Thaipusam festival celebrated on the full moon in the Tamil month of Thai (January/February), where devotees pierce their tongues and cheeks with metal spears and carry decorated cage-like constructions called Kavadi to show gratitude to Lord Murugan. This procession begins at the temple and makes its way to Chettiar Hindu Temple in a large festive parade.

The temple can be reached by taking the North-East MRT to the Farrer Park station.

Visiting Hours
Everyday: 6am-12pm & 5:30pm-9pm

Location
397 Serangoon Road.

http://www.sspt.org.sg/

For a video of the 2020 Thaipusam festival, click here:
(Warning: Sensitive Images)

5. Haji Lane

Located in the Kamplong neighborhood of Singapore, Haji Lane is a great place to wander around and peruse through its many fashion boutiques and hip bars. The area is also notable for its fantastic street art and numerous Turkish and Arabic cafes and restaurants, making it a great spot for lunch and some people watching while wandering the streets of Singapore.

Be sure to also swing by later in the evening for some good local nightlife. For some interesting bars, you can check out Blu Jaz Cafe and Bar Stories to get your drank on.

To get to Haji Lane and the Kamplong neighborhood, take the MRT’s East-West or Downtown line to Bugis Station.

6. Singaporean Hawker Stalls

Ok Foodies… Listen up.

No trip to Singapore is complete without trying some seriously delicious food from one of its many hawker stalls.

I repeat. DO NOT MISS IT.

With over 100 “Hawker Centres” and over 6,000 food stalls, Singapore is a fantastic country where a lot of cultures have mixed throughout the years and it shows best in its cuisine. Ethnic Malay, Indian, Chinese, Indonesian, Peranakan and Western cuisine have all shaped the countries food culture and it’s downright tasty.

Believe me.

Be sure to try some Laksa, a thick, rich and spicy noodle soup with either chicken, fish or prawn and of course Singapore’s national dish, Hainanese Chicken Rice. Wash that all down with a glass of Teh Tarik, a hot milk tea blended with condensed milk and hunt for the next best food stall.

And don’t forget to try some Popiah, a fresh Fujianese spring roll.

And everything else for that matter.

Got it?

Aight.

Here’s a list of some great Food Centres :

1. Old Airport Road Food Centre
2. Maxwell Food Centre
3. Chinatown Complex Food Centre
4. Tekka Food Centre
5. Chomp Chomp Food Centre

Pro Tip: Not sure which stall to pick?! Find the one with the longest line and join the party you hedonistic gourmand you.

7. Masjid Sultan

Located on 3 Muscat Street, also in the Kampong Glam neighborhood is the Masjid Sultan or Sultan Mosque. Originally built in 1824, this impressive religious building has remained unchanged in design since it was rebuilt in 1932.

This historic mosque is known for it’s beautiful golden domes and large prayer hall which have served the community’s Muslim residents. Be sure not to miss this national monument during your walks through Singapore and join one of its informative tours to learn more about Islam and its history.

Interesting fact: The black band that you see below the golden dome is made up of glass soy sauce bottles donated by the community, making this mosque a collaborative effort.

To reach the Sultan Mosque and Kamplong neighborhood, get off at the Bugis station.

Visiting Hours
Saturday – Thursday: 10am-12pm & 2pm-4pm
Friday: 2:30pm-4pm

www.sultanmosque.sg/

8. Raffles Hotel

This colonial-style luxury hotel built in 1887 is located in Singapore’s Downtown Core area. With 9 dining rooms, 9 different kinds of suites and a spa, this historical landmark is not to be missed.

It is also famously known as the birthplace of the Singapore Sling, a gin based cocktail created before 1915 by Ngiam Tong Boon. As with many historic cocktails, the exact recipe of this drink has been heavily disputed throughout the years and had been made every kind of way, from the most simple to complex.

Nowadays, the accepted recipe is made up of: Gin, Cherry Brandy, Cointreau, Dom Benedictine, Grenadine, Pineapple juice, Lime juice, Angostura Bitters and then garnished with a maraschino cherry and a pineapple wedge.

Due to its shadowy history, many variations due exist and as a professional bartender myself, trust me when I say, that I’ve tried them all and many are subpar; this one is great. So, if you happen to be a cocktail nerd in Singapore, I recommend you saddle up to the Raffles Hotel Long Bar and give the original a try for yourself.

Who knows, you may end up loving it.

https://www.raffles.com/singapore/

9. Atlas Bar

If you’re a fan of gin (And why wouldn’t you be?), then make sure you head over to Atlas Bar located in the gorgeous lobby of Parkview Square, also in Downtown Core. This stunningly beautiful Art-Deco inspired bar is currently at number 8 in The World’s 50 Best Bars and houses over 1,000 varieties of gin which is displayed in its 3-story gothic tower making it one of the largest collections of gin in the world.

Along with its impressive gin list, this spectacular bar also has an excellent cocktail program. Make sure you try their signature Atlas G&T, made with London Dry gin, Fresh citrus and house-made Burmese tonic.

And for something truly special, try the Milk Punch Palais, a clarified Milk Punch made with Japanese gin, peach, earl grey, milk and lemon. (It sounds so good just typing it).

Get yourself a group of classy friends together and mosey on over to Atlas Bar and relive the 1930’s in this spectacular bar.

Tell them Ben Valentino sent you.

www.atlasbar.sg

And last but not least!

10. Gardens by the Bay

Making our way back around to the Bay is the spectacular Gardens by the Bay nature park.

This popular attraction is a 250-acre venue made up of 3 gardens around the Bay and 2 conservatories. The Flower Dome, which exhibits flowers and plants from the Mediterranean, is the largest greenhouse in the world and will surely bring out the inner botanist in you.

The other conservatory is the Cloud Forest, which houses a 138 ft. “Cloud Mountain,” and replicates the tropical mountainous regions of the world. Here you will find all kinds of tropical plants, orchids, ferns and a 115 ft. waterfall (Whoa).

The other main attraction is of course the Supertree Grove, which are 18 solar-powered tree-like structures that function as vertical gardens displaying exotic ferns, orchids and vines (pictured above). Along with the Marina Bay Sands and the, ahem…Merlion, the Supertree Grove is definitely an iconic structure in Singapore and one not to be missed.

Enjoy it during the day to appreciate the gardens, but also be sure to catch the nightly music and light show known as the Garden Rhapsody, which begins at 7:45 pm-8:45 pm. The perfect way to end your time here in this spectacular city.

To reach Gardens by the Bay via the MRT, take the MRT Circle line to the Bayfront Station, from there take exit B to access the gardens.


And there you have it!

Obviously, there is a lot more to see and do in Singapore, (Orchard Road, Clarke Quay, Sentosa Island, etc.) so, I highly encourage you to go out, have fun and explore this wonderful city!

Also, keep in mind that Singapore is preeetty hot and humid year-round, even for me (and I’m from Miami), so make sure you stay well hydrated during your walks through the city.

Also, one last fact before we part ways.

You may be wondering what Singapore means…

It comes from the native Malay name for the country, Singapura, which means, “Lion City.”


If you liked this list and would like to see something added here or have been to Singapore yourself, don’t be afraid to give me a shout out.

I’d love to hear about your experience there!

Bali: The Bali Arts Festival

5 Min. Read

Do you love traditional music and dance?

How about an exotic island in South East Asia with beautiful beaches, temples and a unique culture rich in tradition unlike any other?

If you said yes to both, then Bali should be your next stop in the world.

Without question.

Every year in June, the Balinese Arts Festival, also known as Pesta Kesenian Bali, takes place in the capital for an entire month and showcases the best of the best of Balinese art and traditional music and dance.

And it’s amazing.

First held in 1979, it was originally created to promote Balinese culture, as well as to encourage people, both Indonesians and other visitors, to explore and discover the artisitic contributions of the Balinese people. It is the country’s longest running arts festival and definitely one of the most spectacular in all of Indonesia’s 17,000 islands.

Along with live music and exquisite dance performances, the Balinese Arts Festival also holds competitions, seminars and art exhibitions full of paintings and sculptures and traditional handicrafts on display.

And not to mention a vast amount of delicious Balinese cuisine available.

(I keep thinking about Ayam Betutu and Babi Guling….) Ohhh mama…

Babi Guling. (Roasted Suckling Pig) For ya’ll that don’t know.

The festival typically begins on the second Saturday of June and runs till mid-July, with the month-long celebration taking place in Denpasar.

The festivities start with a grand parade on the grounds of Bajra Sandhi Monument, a place dedicated to the hardships and struggles of the Balinese people. The event then moves to the Bali Arts Center, also known as the Werdhi Budaya Art Center, where there are mutiple open air performance stages.

If you’re not familiar with with Balinese music and dance, as I was initially, don’t you worry.

Cause’ I’m gonna fill you in with a small introduction into the deep and complex world of this Balinese art.

Firstly, let’s talk about the beautiful and mesmerizing Gamelan music of Bali that accompanies most Balinese dance performances.

Gamelan Music

Gamelan is the traditional orchestra of the Javanese, Sundanese and Balinese people, which is mainly made up of percussion instruments. The more common instruments comprising the gamelan ensemble are metallophones of all different sizes and registers, which are struck with mallets, along with hand-played drums, xylophones, flutes and rebabs, a bowed stringed instrument.

Balinese Gamelan in particular, is also known as Gong Kebyar, and is characterized by explosive changes in tempo and dynamics and is different from other gamelan genres throughout Indonesia.

Some of the unique instruments that make up a gamelan orchestra are: Bonang, Gender, Gongs, Peking, Saron and the Kenong, just to name a few.

(Very obscure. I know.)

The drum that is played with the hands is called a Khenghang and its main job is the keep the beat of the piece being played.

Despite the major Hindu influence throughout Indonesia, and Bali in particular, the gamelan and its instruments were around long before the introduction of Indian culture. Therefore making its artform uniquely Indonesian.

Gamelan can be described as busy, noisy, hypnotic and sometimes eerie.

And personally…I love it.

It’s texture really is unlike any Western music and its complex layers at different pitches are a distinctive feature, though interestingly enough, it is largely monophonic (One melody).

For a beautiful example of Balinese Gamelan music, click here:


Got It?

Nice!

Let’s move on.

Balinese Dance

Balinese dance is by far one of the most complex and beautiful dances in the world and it is as old as Bali itself. Fancy footwork, elaborate hand movements and the use of facial expressions are some of the most noticable things in Balinese dance, making it a real pleasure to watch.

In a nutshell, Balinese dance is split up into 3 genres: Sacred Dances, known as Wali. Semi-Sacred Dances, known as Bebali and Entertainment Dances, known as Balih-Balihan.

We won’t delve too much into it, as there are a lot of dances and variations in Balinese culture and it can be pretty deep.

But,

Here are a few examples you may encounter at the Bali Arts Festival:


Legong

Legong, is a refined dance that is accompanied with gamelan music and is characterized by complicated footwork, expressive facial gestures, jerky eye movements and slow elaborate finger movements. Legend has it that a prince from Sukawati had a vivid dream about two girls dancing to gamelan music and when he awoke he ordered the dances to be performed. Another legend is that two little girls were possessed by good spirits in a ceremony. There are more than 15 types of Legong dances and some can be up to an hour long.

Joged

A social dance for entertainment where a single or several ladies dance onstage and invite men from the audience to dance with them. The dance is light and playful, yet with much teasing and erotic movements. It can also be humorous as well, with the male dancer trying to court the female and then usually getting rejected. The male will then either continue to seek her love or in some cases ignore her, where she’ll become desperate for attention and seek the male. He may even playfully spank her after all of the love games. (Heyyyyyy.) Many times the male dancer would give the female dancer some money at the end of the performance, and another male dancer would then jump onstage and perform his dance.

Kecak

An interesting dance based from the Ramayana, tells the story of the abduction of Rama’s wife, Sita, by the evil King Ravana and Rama’s fight to save Sita with the help of Jatayu, followed by Hanuman and his army. Jatayu gets injured and then Hanuman gets captured to be set on fire, yet manages to escape. The story ends with the battle between Rama and Ravana. The interesting thing about this dance is that the music is completely acapella. About as many as 150 barechested men wearing checkered clothes around their waist chant repeatedly, “Chak, chak, chak, chak…” These men play the role of Rama’s army, as well as Ravana’s army. One place to see this spectacular performance is at Uluwatu Temple which is performed as the sun is setting against the gorgeous backdrop of the Indian Ocean.

Barong

A dance which represents the never-ending battle between good and evil is depicted in this marvelous performace by Barong and Rangda. The benevolent lion-like Barong, is the King of Spirits and battles agains the child-eating Demon Queen Rangda, who represents evil. Rangda casts black magic to some male dancers which puts them in a trance and makes them commit suicide with their own kris. Barong then interferes and places a magic spell on the men which make them invulnerable to the daggers, protecting them. Barong and Rangda then finish the show with a battle and Rangda’s evil is defeated.

Baris

A group of sacred traditional war dances performed with gamelan, shows the feelings of the young men before entering battle and honors the Balinese warriors. The dance can either be performed solo or with a group of other people imitating the warriors moves. The dance are usually performed with a variety of weapons, such as the kris, bow, spear etc. and the dance is often named after the weapon that is being used.

Pendet

A dance usually performed by young girls carring bowls of flower petals which are floral offerings in order to purify the temple and is sometimes perfomed as a prelude to other Balinese ceremonies and dances. The Pendet dance, which is one of the oldest dances in Bali, is also seen as a sort of welcoming dance to the audience and spirits.

For a spectacular example of some of the dances mentioned here, along with others, click here:


And that’s pretty much it!

A lot of fantastic food.
Traditional music and
beautiful Dance for an entire month!

Keep in mind that Bali is well known for having many traditional ceremonies and festivals throughout the year, but if you happen to be there around this time of year, trust me when I say,
that you’ll be in for a real treat!

Enjoy Bali!


Phnom Penh: Inside Cambodia’s Dark Past.

7 Min. Read
* EXPLICIT CONTENT

In Phnom Penh,

the capital of Cambodia,

there exists a place called Tuol Sleng.

A security prison used by the Khmer Rouge regime between 1975-1979.

During these years, an estimated 20,000 people were imprisioned here and subjected to brutal interrogation, torture and execution by their captors.

By 1979, only 7 had survived the horrors of Tuol Sleng.

This is the story.

One of the young prisoners at Tuol Sleng

Tuol Sleng

Before Tuol Sleng became the murderous torture center it would become to be known as, the site was actually a secondary school for kids, which was then converted into a prison by the regime. The main objective at Tuol Sleng, also known as S-21, was to obtain confessions from what the prisoners were criminally charged with by the state.

The other goal was to extract information on other opponents of the state through torture, with the prisoners giving a list of the names of close friends, family and colleagues. The people on these lists would then be brought in for interrogation, where the vicious cycle would start again.

The main opponents of the Khmer Rouge were firstly, any previous military or political leaders and anybody else suspected of having any kind of connection with the former government or any other foreign government. Along with these victims, other groups that were targeted included, business leaders, professionals and intellectuals of any kind.

This included doctors, lawyers, journalists and students.

In fact, just by wearing glasses alone or speaking French, was enough to get sent to prison.

Ethnic Thai, ethnic Chinese, ethnic Chams, Christians and Buddhist monks were also rounded up and sent to labor camps or prisons to be tortured and killed.

The Cells of Tuol Sleng

“It is better to arrest ten people by mistake than to let one guilty person go free.”
motto of the Khmer Rouge

Upon arrival at the prison, all of the prisioners would be photographed and had to give a detailed autobiography to their captors. They would then be stripped down to their underwear and have all of their personal items confiscated.

They were then taken to their cells where they were either shackled against the wall or to the floor. Those that were escorted to the larger cells were shackled together with long iron bars. There, they slept on the floor with with no mats, no mosquito nets nor blankets.

During the day they were only fed some spoonfuls of rice porridge and a watery leaf soup and they would be given only the smallest amounts of water to drink. If they were caught drinking water without the guards permission they were then subjected to beatings.

Bed in Torture Room

Most prisoners of the state were brought in for interrogation after 2 or 3 days after their arrival and the majority of prisioners spent about 2 to 3 months at the prison. To extract confessions from the prisoners, along with additional information of “conspirators” against the regime, the staff at Tuol Sleng used many different forms of barbaric torture.

Along with the severe beatings and deplorable living conditions which caused many skin diseases, lice, rahes and ring worms, they were also subjected to electrical shocks, being cut with knives and searing hot metal instruments. Many were hung upside down and suffocated with plastic bags and others endured torture by waterboarding.

The Harsh Rules at S-21

Sometimes the prisioners were forced to eat feces and drink urine. Fingernails were pulled out and women prisioners endured sexual abuse and rape. Sleep deprivation and outright neglect was combined with the horrendous physical torture and live surgical operations with no anesthetic were also being performed.

All of this was being done by the state…

to it’s own people.

The iron shackles used to lock up the prisoners side by side

And here’s another terrifying fact…

Tuol Sleng was just 1 out of at LEAST 150 torture and execution centers throughout Cambodia and by January 1979 an estimated 1.5 to 2 million people had been executed by the ruthless regime.

A genocide was being carried out by the Khmer Rouge and this included, not only ethnic Cambodians, but also Chinese-Cambodians, Muslims and Vietnamese-Cambodians. Nearly a quarter of the nation’s population was exterminated.

Only after when the prisioners confessed to their alleged crime, were they routinely executed and buried on site at S-21. However, after only a year, when there was no more space to bury the victims, did the staff at S-21 decide to move their executions to spot near a pond called Choeung Ek, about 11 miles south from the capital.

Who were the Khmer Rouge?

The Khmer Rouge was the name given to the Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK), Kampuchea being the name of Cambodia in the East, and in the 1960’s the Khmer Rouge army slowly built up in the jungles in eastern Cambodia. And with much support from North Vietnam, Pathet Lao and Communist China especially, the Khmer Rouge Army was able to overthrow the Khmer Republic in 1975 and captured Phnom Penh.

The Khmer Rouge was led by Pol Pot. A Cambodian revolutionary and politician. And in 1975, with much aid from Mao’s Communist China, he would begin to radically change Cambodia into a Socialist Agrarian Republic. Under his leadership, entire cities, most notably, Phnom Penh, were emptied out under the pretext that the United States was planning to bomb the city.

Pol Pot

Instead, entire familes were sent to the countryside, had to wear identical black garbs and forced to work in labor camps to produce rice for the nation. They had to build their own huts and were provided very little food and water. The prisoners were subjected to brutal slave labor, working 12 or more hours a day and when they could no longer work from weakness or sickness, they were exterminated without hesitation, many times having to dig their own graves. Many others died from diseases and starvation.

“To keep you is no benefit. To destroy you is no loss.”
motto of the Khmer Rouge.

Everything was for the state and the people were “Reeducated” by the party, also known at the time as “Angkar” or “The Organization.” The party’s ideology was the complete rejection of capitalism and to create a classless, self-sustaining communist state maintained by a rural agrarian economy.

The party abolished the use of money, free markets, religious practices, foreign clothing and traditional culture. All schools, universities, churches, mosques, temples, shops and government buildings were effectively shut down, with some of them turning into prisons like Tuol Sleng. There was no private or public transportation and absolutely no entertainment.

Cambodia would then become to be known as, Democratic Kampuchea.

A completely totalitarian and genocidal regime.

Choeung Ek

Choeung Ek was a killing field.

It was 1 out of the 20,000 mass graves sites that dotted Cambodia and in the following years, many adults, children and entire families would meet their horrible deaths here.

Due to the scarcity and cost of ammunition, the regime at Choeung Ek would execute the prisoners in other savage ways…

In order to save bullets, they resorted to beating and butchering the prisoners with pick axes, machetes and other iron tools. Small children and babies would be beaten to death against the trees, with the captors laughing, as they couldn’t show any sign of sympathy.

Not doing so would raise questions about the comrades loyalty and risk being thrown into prison himself.

Execution Tree at Choeung Ek

Toady, Choeung Ek is a collection of mass graves where almost 9,000 bodies were discovered after the fall of the Khmer Rouge and it is open to visitors that want to learn about Cambodia’s terrible past. In the center is a Buddhist stupa filled with 5,000 human skulls, which serves as a memorial to the people that had lost their lives during the brutal regime.

The Khmer Rouge genocide against it’s own people finally ended several years later in 1979, when Vietnamese forces entered Cambodia and effectively dismantled the brutal government.

Pol Pot fled and died in 1998.


A Reflection

July 5th, 2019

As I walked through Tuol Sleng and explored the Killing Fields at Choeung Ek, I learned in detail how the killings were carried out.

Learning about the atrocities that were inflicted to the Cambodian people horrified me and made me think of the other genocides committed by other countries in the past. It made me wonder why those nations took those steps. Why was it a solution?

And why do we, as human beings, keep committing genocide?

Being there at Tuol Sleng and walking through Choeung Ek made me shudder. It made me emotional and it even made me sick.

And it made me question human nature.

We all learned about horrific genocides in school.

Yet, here I was, physically learning about the barbaric crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge.

Peering into cells where people were locked up, beaten and starved to death.

I was standing in places where thousands of men, women and children were murdered…

It was something I had never experienced.

It was hard to fathom that, a nation had turned against it’s own people and they were not safe in the one country they were supposed to be safe in.

And to think…

That the genocide committed by the Khmer Rouge ended only 40 years ago.


In memory to those who lost their lives during the Regime.


If you would like to learn more about Cambodia’s dark past and more about genocide in general, I encourage you to check out these resources down below.


Websites

End Genocide

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Books

First they Killed My Father by Loung Ung
Brother Number 1 by David P. Chandler

Movies

The Killing Fields directed by Roland Joffe.
First they Killed My Father directed by Angelina Jolie.

Tuol Sleng

Visiting Hours: 8 am to 5 pm.
Entry: Khmer – Free
Foreigner – $3 (10 years to 18) and $5 (18 years and over)
Website: https://tuolsleng.gov.kh/

Choeung Ek

Visiting Hours: 8 am to 5:30pm
Entry: $3
Audio Guide: $3
Website: http://www.tourismcambodia.com


Angkor Wat: How to Experience it like a Boss

10 Min. Read

By now I think its safe to assume that most people know about Angkor Wat and how magnificent it is.

From the countless number of stunning photos on the internet to its popularity from the successful Tomb Raider movie, it’s no wonder why it sees millions of visitors each year.

That being said,

Angkor Wat is definitely not to be missed if ever in Cambodia or even close to Cambodia.

I repeat.

Do NOT miss it.

It is awe-inspiring.

And rightfully so.

As the largest religious monument in the world, this Hindu-Buddhist temple complex is also one of the most beautiful of the UNESCO World Heritage sites.

And that’s just ONE temple.

There are over 70 temples within the temple complex area alone and several hundred minor temples in the Cambodian countryside beyond.

Or maybe

this is your first time hearing about Angkor Wat.

And if that’s the case, don’t you worry.

Cause I’m going to painlessly hit you up with everything you’ll possibly need to know for your first visit to one of the worlds most marvelous structures.

Which is, quite honestly, up there with Machu Picchu and the Pyramids of Giza.

We’ll cover some quick facts, some fresh tips, and a suggested itinerary to get you the most out of your visit.

Cool?

Wat we waitin’ for?

(Only one joke like this. I promise).

Let’s dive right in.


Facts about Angkor Wat

  • Angkor Wat means “City of Temples.” Oooooooo.
  • It is the largest religious monument in the world.
  • The entire complex is 154 square miles (400 square kilometers).
  • It was built in the early 12th century and orginally was a Hindu temple before transitioning to a Buddhist temple.
  • Angkor Wat is on the Cambodian national flag. And on their beer, for that matter.
  • It took 30 years and 5 million tons of sandstone to create Angkor Wat!
  • It was abandoned and hidden for around 400 years. (This I found truly amazing.)

Ok.
Let’s Begin.

When to Visit

The best time to visit Angkor Wat and Cambodia in general, is anytime between November – Febuary. During this time, the weather will be a bit cooler with temperatures around 70-85 degrees Farenheit (21-30 degrees Celsius). March through June is generally very hot and humid, while the rainy monsoon season kicks in around July-Ocotber.

How to get to Siem Reap

Although Siem Reap is a very popular destination for people around the world wanting to visit the Angkor Wat temples, its airport, Siem Reap International isn’t exactly a major travel hub, especially for visitors coming from Europe or the Americas. Most likely you would have to fly to one of the major airports nearby, such as Bangkok, Singapore or Kuala Lumpur. From there you can fly to Siem Reap fairly cheaply, depending on the season. I would recommend checking out Skyscanner or Adioso for some of the best prices out there.

Where to Stay

When visiting Angkor Wat, you’ll be staying in Siem Reap, a city in northwestern Cambodia, which today has become a popular tourist destination because of the promixty to the Angkor Temples.

The city itself has an Old French Quarter and has colonial and Chinese-style architecture in the area, as well as around the Old Market. It also boasts many hotels, restaurants and resorts, all related to the growing tourism. The city also has a vibrant nightlife with many stores, massage parlors and nightclubs. I would definitely spend at least one night on the town to take advantage of what Siem Reap has to offer. And you can enjoy a lot, as Siem Reap isn’t terribly big.

I would recommend to find a place within the Psar Chaa area (Old Market) as it’s the livlier part of town with alot of bars, restaurants and markets.

The prices for hotels around this area can vary, but you can usually find homestay rooms for around $12-$15 per night. Which is not bad in my book.

For the hostels though…

A bed in a 4 person dorm is going to set you back a whole $2.
Which is one of the cheapest I’ve seen in Asia and great for budget travelers, but most hostels range from $3-$10 per night.

You can easily book accomadation through Agoda or Hostelworld.
Find one that looks good and book in advance, but even if you arrive without a reservation, you won’t have any problem finding a place to lay your head down.

Recommendations

Budget
Onederz Hostel – $8-$10/night (dorm). $26/night (room).
Lub d – $7-$10/night (dorm). $ 26-36/night (room).

Boutique
Kannitha Boutique – $15-$20/night (room).

*Prices vary

Dining

There are many restaurants to choose from in Siem Reap, especially in the Psar Chaa area. A lot of them being family-run restaurants whipping up delicious Cambodian fare with the average price for dishes ranging around $2-$7. That being said, there are also a lot of European and Asian restaurants to be found, along with some interesting French-Khmer fusion restaurants.

But please…

Definitely try the national dish of Cambodia, Fish Amok. Which is steamed coconut fish in banana leaves with coconut milk and curry paste.

It’s Delicious.

Angkor Wat Opening Hours

The main temple, Angkor Wat, opens up at 5am. and closes at 5:30pm.

The other temples open up at 7:30am. and close at 5:30pm.

What to wear

Visitors must dress modestly when visiting the Temple complex and appropriate attire must be adhered to.

This being:

– Long pants to cover the knees.
-Shirts and/or scarf to cover the shoulders.
-No tank tops, shorts or any revealing clothing.

Currency

The currency in Cambodia is the Cambodian Riel but interestingly enough, US dollars are accepted virtually everywhere. When withdrawing from ATM’S you will receive American dollars as well. Usually when purchasing food & other items, you will be paying in US dollars and the change that you receive in return will be the Cambodian Riel.

Stay saavy though and make sure you’re getting back the correct exchange (mistakes do happen). Currently the exchange rate for the US Dollar to Cambodian Riel is for 4,112.00 Cambodian Riel per $1, but definitely check out the exchange rate upon arrival.

Daily Costs

-Guesthouse Room – $5-10
-Local Meals and Street Food – $1-3
-Tuk-Tuk rides – $1-4

Getting Around

For the days that you’re visiting the temples, I would advise on getting a tuk-tuk driver for the entire day and he’ll take you to & from Siem Reap to Angkor Wat and around the temple grounds for about $25/day. If you don’t hire a driver for an entire day, which is totally fine, you’ll probably spend around that much anyways.

As for getting around Siem Reap, expect to pay about $1-$2 for a five minute ride and around $3 to take you across town. Not too bad at all.


Now.

I must say that I understand that every traveler/tourist has their own time restraints.

I really do.

Some travelers have all the time in the world to explore slowy.

While others may be doing a quick trip and have to get back to work or their regular routine.

But remember that sometimes, delays, accidents, new plans & emergencies do happpen.

And as a long-term world traveler, I am all too familiar with this.

I myself have had to cut certain trips short.

Maybe because of the date of a certain festival in another place was pending and I didn’t time it right.

Or my visa was about to expire.

Or perhaps my dumbass crashed in Laos on the way back from some waterfalls, therefore I couldn’t fully enjoy Luang Prabang and had to cut my experience there short.

Read & Laugh here:

Luang Prabang: Kuang Si Falls and Unfortunate Events

That being said, to come all the way to Cambodia and to see Angkor Wat for “A day” is unadvisable,.

Angkor Wat is simply too big, too historical, too interesting and too magical.

Therefore, if there is anything you can take away from this post it’s this:

Give Yourself Plenty Of Time.

I mean it.

There is much to see.

And although unlikely,
anything can happen while you are traveling, whether near or far.

You know…

The things I mentioned above.


Angkor Wat “Boss” Itinerary

Firstly, I would recommend that you purchase your ticket online in advance, especially if you want to catch the main temple at sunrise to get those sweet beautiful shots that you keep seeing on Pintrest. (Be aware that there will be a lot of tourists there doing the same exact thing).

But if you feelin’ like a rebel and don’t buy your ticket in advance, you can buy your admission pass or “Angkor Pass” at the main entrance on the main road to Angkor Wat. And that’s actually what I did.


Prices for Angkor Wat

  • 1-day pass: $37
  • 3-day pass: $62
  • 7-day pass: $72

*As of this moment: With the 1-day pass you have two days to use it. With the 3-day pass you have ten days and with the 7-day you have 30 days.


ok, so for all you jetsetters out there that have only one day to spare to see this magnificent place in our world; here is a good One-Day Itinerary to fullfill all of your Temple Oriented Desires (TOD).

One-Day Itinerary

  • Watch the Sunrise over Angkor Wat and explore the grounds
  • Visit the large trees and root system taking over at Ta Prohm
  • Stop for a quiet lunch
  • Visit the giant carved faces at the Banyon Temple
  • Visit the peaceful Preah Khan

And what I would recommend…

Three-Day Itinerary

Day 1

  • Watch the Sunrise over Angkor Wat and explore the grounds
  • Angkor Thom
  • Break for lunch
  • Pre Rup Temple
  • Ta Som Temple

Day 2

  • Ta Prohm Temple
  • Banyon Temple
  • Break for lunch
  • Preah Khan
  • Banteay Srei

Day 3

  • Neak Pean
  • East Mebon Temple
  • Break for lunch
  • Bakong
  • Preah Ko

Or… No Temples at all. (Explanation down below.)

A word on this Itinerary

Believe me when I say that three days of straight up temples is

ALOT.

I’m for real.

It’s called Temple Fatigue.

And trust me, unless you’re a budding archaeologist or extreme temple nerd, you’ll be pretty tired of seeing temples all day that you’ll want to run AWAY from Angkor Wat by the end of your second day.

This is why I also say that, you’d want to give yourself plenty of time to see this spectacular place and to do it as relaxed and as stress-free as possible. To see the temples at your own leisure and not rushed is key and essential for you to maximize the most enjoyment out of your experience while there.

Therefore, I would even say that if you buy the 3-day pass, go and explore the Temples for the first two days and give yourself a break on the third.

Trust me.

Siem Reap is wonderful in of itself, so go and enjoy the city.
Grab some drinks on a chic rooftop bar. Get a relaxing massage in one of the towns many parlors. Eat a tarantula. (True.) Explore the Old Market for Cambodian delicacies and traditional craft. Or party the night away bar-hopping around with the locals through Siem Reaps’ crazy nightlife.

Anything but Temples.

And for the following day,
if you have the time and are up for it,
explore slowly through any other temples that you may have missed.

I personally stayed in Siem Reap for more than a week, as I also spent alot of time exploring the city itself and doing other activities. But quite honestly, I think a good 4 full days is a good amount of time to enjoy Angkor Wat and the city of Siem Reap.

ALSO.

Keep in mind that these itineraries presented here are merely what I’m suggesting. Feel free to use them more as an outline for you to plan your trip. I highly encourage you to do some research, see what temples you would be interested in seeing and make a plan similar to what is provided here.


We made it.

Whew!

Alright guys and girls, that concludes everything you may need to know about planning your trip to Angkor Wat!

I hope you guys enjoyed the read and if you have any questions or comments or just want to say hi, I’d love to hear from you!

Also, for additional information on tourism in Cambodia check out:

https://www.tourismcambodia.com/

Now book that flight to Cambodia and see for yourself!

(When everything gets back to normal that is).

How to Make Authentic Thai Papaya Salad in 25 Easy Steps.

5 Min. Read

J/K.

But the steps ARE super easy and I’m here to kick-start you into your next budding culinary career in Bangkok.

If you’ve ever been to Thailand (Kudos.), then I’m positive you’ve come across the ubiquitous Papaya Salad or Som Tam, a very common Thai dish that is enjoyed by many Thai and many a Non-Thai people all across the globe.

Or most likely you’ve tried it before at your local Thai restaurant that your cousin twice removed kept bragging about and dragged you to.

Or perhaps you’ve never even heard of it before.

And if that’s the case, climb out from under that rock my friend and come grab this food knowledge!

‘Cause Chef Benny B is gonna teach you how to become an expert in making this Tasty Thai Treat in Two minutes.

Are you ready?

Alright, Lagasse.

But first.

What exactly is Papaya Salad?

Papaya salad is a dish that is actually traced back to Laos and the ethnic Lao region in Thailand, Isan. The dish combines the five mains tastes of the region (sour, salty, spicy, sweet and savory) and it shows up a lot in other Thai and Lao recipes, such as Pad Thai and Pad Kra Pao.

These ingredients are (you guessed it): Lime, Salt, Chili, Sugar and Fish Sauce. All of this is then mixed and pounded together with the green papaya to create Som Tam, which literally means “Pounded Papaya”.

(My Cuban friends and family can go ahead and laugh here).

Moving on.

There are actually many kinds of recipes to make Som Tam and many use an array of different ingredients: plums, dried shrimp, eggplant, small crabs, noodles, etc. The recipe that I’m presenting here is simple, delicious and utilizes few ingredients. And quite honestly, it’s one of my favorite things to eat in Thailand.

Alrighty then,

enough backstory.

Let’s get down and make some Thai food.

Yes indeedy Jim.

Let’s start with the ingredient and tool list.

You’ll need:

– 1 Small Unripe Green Papaya

– 2 Plum Tomatoes

– 2 Small Limes

– 2 Cloves of Garlic

– 3-4 Bird’s Eye Chili

– 3 Tbsp. Fermented Fish Sauce

– 1/2 Tsp. Palm Sugar

– 1/4 Tsp. Salt

Sidenote: Obviously this recipe can be altered to match your tastes and preferences. So, if you like something a bit more tart, squeeze in some extra lime juice. Salty? Add another pinch.

Or maybe you’re feeling Boss and like things extra spicy.

Toss another pepper in.

Up to you, you rebel.

Now, for the tools:

– A Knife

– A Cutting Board

– Mortar and Pestle

– Grater (Optional)

– Peeler (Optional)

– Lime Squeezer (Optional)

Ok. Let’s Begin.

Super Boss” Som Tam Recipe

Step 1

First we halve the limes and chilies and cut the plum tomatoes into quarters. Set those to the side.

Step 2

We then peel the Papaya skin and with your knife in a light chopping motion make cuts into the Papaya (the picture below shows the technique). We then slice off the bits into julienne slices and set to the side. Do this repeatedly until the papaya is finished. This is the method I always see the Thai vendors use but you can also use a grater, which works great. Or greater.

Step 3

With the mortar and pestle crush the garlic cloves. We then add the chilies and plum tomatoes into the mix. Cover the mortar with one hand to prevent any unwanted splashing of unruly chili juice into your eye (you’re welcome). Grind that a bit and squeeze in the juice of the two limes into the mortar along with one half of the used lime. Add the salt, sugar and fermented fish sauce and stir it all together.

The fish sauce brand that I have pictured above is called “Nai Pon” and is the #1 fish sauce here in Thailand, or so all my Thai friends keep telling me. If you can get your hands on it, nice. If not, any other decent fish sauce will do the trick.

Almost done…

We now add the julienned green papaya.

Stir it up all together a bit and…

Presto!

A Simple, Clean, Healthy, Refreshing Papaya Salad to put some pep in your step and help you make better life decisions.

Serve on a plate and enjoy the deliciousness of Som Tam alone or with your friends.

Most likely alone, since you’re supposed to be on quarantine buddy.

Anywho.

Feel free to reach out to me and let me know if you enjoyed this post or if you’d like to see any of your favorite Thai or Asian recipes. I’d love to hear from you!

Also, stay safe and stay in tune for new posts about Cambodia and Angkor Wat later this week!

Peace!

Pakse: 7 Things to See and Do

6 Min. Read

In Southern Laos where the mighty Mekong river meets the Xe Don river lies Pakse, or Pakxe. The second most populous city in Laos, after Vientiane and the capital of its province, Champasak. It is home to Vat Phou, the Bolaven Plateau and many other interesting temples and sites.

I arrived there in mid-June after traveling through Thakek via bus from Vientiane. The journey was about 6 hours long and the entire ride was through the Laotian countryside passing through small towns and wooden villages. Along the way the bus would stop several times where young Laotian girls and older women would frantically climb aboard to sell all different kinds of snacks and drinks: Grilled skewered organ meat, Khao Lam (sticky rice in bamboo), and grilled chicken sliced lengthwise and tied to a bamboo stick.

Yes. I bought and ate them all.

But only after after being subjected to local high-pressure sales tactics from a young school girl.

I arrived at the local bus station and began walking through its streets and markets, knowing little of what the charming city of Pakse had in store for me. But I’ve found Laos to always surprise me in many different ways.

That being said, here are some of the things I did in my week stay in this interesting city and you should probably do the same!

(You’d better).

1. Vat Phou Salao

Away from the Pakse city center and crossing the Mekong River via the Lao-Japan Friendship bridge you can find Wat Phou Salao, also known as the Golden Buddha in the Hill. With the wonderful gigantic golden Buddha statue aside, the site also offers a beautiful panorama of the Mekong and of the Champasak landscape. Try catching it at sunset for some fantastic scenery and also to avoid some of the heat. I arrived there by a tuk-tuk with some other travelers and climbed the steep stairs up to the site. If you choose to do the same, give yourself some time to do this and bring along some water, as it can be a bit strenuous. If you haven’t been doing your P90X workouts (errr…) and stairs aren’t your thing, you can also reach it through a 4 km paved trail.

2. The Bolaven Plateau

The Bolaven Plateau is an elevated region in southern Laos with many rivers flowing through it and a number of scenic waterfalls, with Tad Fane (large picture above) being the tallest. It is also known for its lush vegetation and ethnic villages which you can explore by motorcycle, boat rides or trekking. If you’re a coffee lover/addict, then make sure to visit one of the many coffee plantations in the area, as coffee production in Laos is almost entirely produced here. 80% of it is Robusta but they do make some very good quality coffee. If you’re feeling adventurous enough, for about 350,000 Laotian Kip ($40) you can zipline across the Tad Fane waterfall and other areas which includes some hiking for about 50 minutes. This was my first time ever ziplining and it was quite the adrenaline rush and a truly unforgettable experience… particularly because I almost shat myself.

Anyways.

I would highly recommend it if you’re looking for something thrilling around these parts.

3. VAT PHOU

Dating from the 11th to 13th century, Vat Phou is a ruined Khmer-Hindu temple complex which lies about 6 km from the Mekong river. The site was originally a place dedicated to Lord Shiva but it is now a center for Buddhist worship. In 2001 is was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site making it a well conserved archaeological area. The hours of visitation are from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and the entrance fee is 50,000 LAK for foreigners and 20,000 for locals. Cray.

4. Talat Dao Heuang

As the largest outdoor market in southern Laos, a trip to Pakse would not be complete without a stroll through the chaotic Talat Dao Heuang. Located near the Lao-Japanese Friendship bridge, the market is especially known for its produce section with all kinds of local fruits and vegetables being displayed along with coffee stalls, a seafood and meat section, local delicacies and a variety of herbs and medicines. There is also a section that sells jewelry, woven baskets, local textiles and imported goods from Thailand and Vietnam. Walk through slowly and immerse yourself in the wonderful madness of this Laotian Market.

Sidenote: You will go mad in here.

5. Visit Lak 40 Coffee

Located in Ban Paksong lies a charming coffee shop and plantation that has been around for three generations called Lak 40. Here they make some very exceptional coffee and they also hold some workshops which teach about its cultivation and production. If you find you find yourself in the area and love coffee, then make sure to stop by Lak 40 or any of the numerous coffee plantations and enjoy a genuine cup of Lao Coffee.

For more information you also visit them here:

http://www.facebook.com/lak40/

6. Wander the city and get lost you bum

Pakse is a fairly walkable city with a good number of shops, markets, restaurants and bars. Whenever in a new town, I always suggest taking a day to get a general idea of the area and to explore leisurely. Pakse interestingly enough, is home to a very sizable Vietnamese community ( In 1943, 62% of the population in Pakse were Vietnamese). Therefore, incredible Vietnamese food can be had everywhere. Go out, meet some of the locals, grab some delicious noodles and for some entertainment at night, head to the Lighthouse Station for some drinks, live music and dance. I would also suggest renting a motorbike to get around, as Pakse can be pretty hot especially before the monsoon season (March-April) but also be weary of some of its roads and always drive carefully. And wear a helmet. And don’t speed.

You know. Logical shit.

Or do speed.

I don’t care.

7. 4000 Islands (Si Phan Don)

Laos is a landlocked country and as strange as it may sound, it does have a cluster of islands in the south. About 3 hours south of Pakse lies the archipelago of Si Phan Don scattered throughout the majestic Mekong Delta. After arriving at the bus station you have to take a short longboat ride to Don Det, the main island with bars, restaurants and cheap bungalows to stay. With it’s quiet atmosphere and slow pace of life its definitely worth a couple of days stay or even longer. From Don Det you can visit Don Khong by crossing the old French railway bridge via bicycle, which you can rent for the entire day for a dollar. If you’re looking for a place to relax and unwind on a hammock with a couple of beers (or 10 if you wake up early) after a long backpacking trip through Laos, then 4000 islands is a great way to end it before heading into Cambodia. Kayak through the islands, cycle through Don Det and Don Khong and definitely visit Khon Phapeng Falls, the largest waterfall in SE Asia!

So, where exactly is Pakse and how do I get there Benny?

Gee, glad you asked!

Pakse is located in southern Laos in the Champasak Province close to the Thai border and is about 670km south of Vientiane using Route 13.

Air

Pakse International Airport (PZK) is 3 km north of the town itself and located off Route 13. There are daily flights to Vientiane, Luang Prabang and Savannakhet. There are also flights to Bangkok, Siem Reap and Ho Chi Minh.

Or

Wear a cape.

Bus

There are 4 bus terminals in Pakse:

Chitapasong Bus Terminal – Located in the town center close to the old French Bridge. Your best bet.

Kriang Kai Bus Terminal – 2 km east of Pakse with tuk-tuk services available to the city center. 2nd best bet after 1st best bet.

Northern Bus Terminal – Located 10 km northwest of Pakse.

Southern Bus Terminal – Located 8 km east of Pakse.

Where can I stay?

In Pakse there are many accommadations to choose from ranging from cheap hostels to some luxury hotels and resorts. But this post would not be complete if I didn’t mention my wonderful stay at Sanga Hostel.

Upon arrival I was greeted by Leuang, the manager of the property and quite simply the kindest and most hospitable woman I had ever met. After giving me some water and a snack, she settled me into my dorm personally and then helped me with every question I had a about Pakse, from sites that I shouldn’t miss to the better dining options in the area.

The hostel has a very nice and clean restaurant serving breakfast, local coffee and all kinds of Lao and western dishes. The entire staff, which were all lovely young women dressed in traditional Lao skirts or sinh, were very friendly and attentive and made me feel like a true guest. Although it is a hostel, all the beds had privacy curtains and were the most spacious and comfortable in my entire trip in Laos. The bathrooms were impeccable with fresh towels and there was a daily cleaning of the rooms. If dorms aren’t your thing Sanga also has some private rooms. And in the front Sanga has its own boutique store selling all kinds of traditional items and souvenirs.

All in all, if you find yourself in this area of the world I would highly recommend staying here. Sanga Hostel, Leuang and her staff made my stay in Pakse unforgettable and I know they would do the same for you!

http://www.sangahostel.com

Enjoy Pakse!

Vientiane: 7 Things to See and Do

5 Min. Read

Ahhh…

Vientiane.

Warm capital of Laos and its largest city. Home of many Buddhist temples, beautiful statues, one of three bowling alleys in the country (not a lie) and the most significant national monument: That Luang. Friendly locals, spectacular street food and a lively peculiar nightlife await you. If it’s your first time in this beautiful and fascinating city and you don’t have any idea where to start, don’t fret. I got your list right here!

Let’s Begin!

1. PATUXAI

First on our list and located in the center of Vientiane at the end of Lang Xang Avenue is the Patuxai, or “Victory Gate”. Built between 1957 and 1968, it is a war monument dedicated to those who fought in the struggle against France for their independence. Around the monument is Patuxay Park, where you can find some fountains and many Laotians going for an evening stroll.

2. WAT SI SAKET

Built in 1818 and in Siamese style architecture, this beautiful Buddhist Temple can be found on the corner of Setthathirat Road on Lan Xang Road. Considered to be the oldest temple still standing in Vientiane, the temple is also known for its cloister wall that houses more than 2000 silver and ceramic Buddha images.

3. Haw Phra Kaew

Just southeast of Wat Si Saket you can find this beauty, Haw Phra Kaew. It was first built in 1565 to house the Emerald Buddha but has thus been rebuilt several times. The Emerald Buddha stayed in this temple for over 200 years until it was seized by the Siamese and taken back to Thonburi, ultimately finding its way to Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok, where it is considered the palladium of Thailand. Haw Phra Kaew is now a museum where you can find some fine examples of Laotian religious art.

4. PHA THAT LUANG

Originally built as a Hindu Temple in the first century, now stands Pha That Luang, a large gilded Buddhist Stupa in the center of Vientiane. The building includes many references to Lao culture and identity and is also considered a symbol of Laotian national pride.

5. BUDDHA PARK ( XIENG KHUAN )

If you’re looking for something curious outside of the city, then head to the Buddha Park or Xieng Khuan, a sculpture park just 25 km souheast of Vientiane. The name Xieng Khuan means “Spirit City” and although it is a tourist attraction, the park is known for its 200+ Hindu and Buddhist statues. In one sculpture you can enter through the mouth of a giant (pictured above) and climb up three stories to get a nice panoramic view of the entire park.

The entrance fee is 5,000 Laotian Kip.

Tip: To save some money and have a local experience walk to the Talat Sao Bus terminal and take bus #14. This bus leaves every 20 minutes and costs about 6,000 Laotian kip, or .68 cents. (That’s a bargain in my book).

6. COPE

For a better understanding of Laotian recent history and the impact of the neighboring Vietnam War it had on the entire country and its people, then I urge you to please visit COPE (Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise) Visitor Center. It is a small non-profit organization in Laos which provides prosthetics and rehabilitation to the people that cannot afford it. Many of the patients are victims of UXO’s (Unexploded Ordance) mainly in the form of cluster bombs that remain in rural Laos and are still injuring and killing children and adults to this day.

For more information or if you would like to make a donation

please visit

http://www.copelaos.org

7. Vientiane Night Market

After running around and doing everything on this list, finish your night off at the Vientiane Night Market located at the Mekong Riverfront. Here you can find a plethora of stalls selling all kinds of merchandise: handicrafts, clothes, street food, electronics etc. Here you can also find many restaurants along the river serving a variety of Laotian specialties. After dinner, do what I did and grab yourself a cold Beer Lao, try some Lotus Flower Seeds from a street vendor and watch the sun set slowly over the majestic Mekong River. Afterwards, if you’re looking for a livelier venue, then head across the street to Bor Pen Nyang and let the night carry you away.

Safe Travels!