Thailand

Thailand

We have now arrived in Thailand. We got here a couple days ago. Before coming here I didn’t know what to think of this place. Most people who backpack SE Asia come here. I know there are a lot of beaches and that the food is delicious.

These patterns were on all the doors of the Wat

When you have been on the road for 8 months, things don’t really shock you as much. Nor are you as impressed as much. One thing that was amazing was how nice this place is for backpackers. There is a couple of streets lined with cheap t-shirts, cheap food, cheap beer, cheap CDs, cheap books and cheap fake driver’s licenses. The streets are full of street food. You can get a really good cheap meal just about anywhere, and there are all sorts of meat being shown for display on the side of the road. The streets are a little dirty (but not as bad as some places), the traffic is nice to pedestrians, and there are a fraction of the motorcycles there were in Vietnam.

Buddha Statues

Nearby our area is the Grand Palace, the Emerald Buddha and Wat Pho. One day we went to see all three. However the price of the Grand Palace and the Emerald Buddha where a little to expensive for us. One thing that really bothers us is how much palaces charge to see them. It is not like the royal family really needs the money. I think the problem lies with the fact that people will pay it. As long as people are willing to pay to go in, a couple of cheap backpackers are not really going to make much of a difference.

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Big sleeping Buddha

After the trip to the gates of the Grand Palace and the Emerald Buddha we headed to the Wat Pho. The Wat Pho is a pretty big complex, the entrance price was reasonable and we enjoyed ourselves. In the days since that we haven’t been doing to much. Just killing time before we start our internship at the Panya Project, you will get more on that later. Tomorrow we will be in Chang Mai (northern Thailand).

Posted from Bangkok, Bangkok, Thailand
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Wat I saw: Angkor Wat, Part 2

Angkor Wat, from inside the outer wall

After two days of looking at temples, not really getting too many shots I was too happy about, I went on the Internet and searched out what the best may have in store for us. I quickly saw how cool this place could be and got a little giddy. I committed myself to wake up a 4am and catch the sunrise the next morning. Tanya (who is not a huge fan of mornings) stayed in bed and I went out to check out the temples.

Some of the faces of Bayon, modeled after the ruler of the time.

I was the first one to arrive at the Angkor Wat, however this didn’t last long. After I had my fill, I walked around back. The place was deserted, not only that, it was a fresh new perspective, enjoying the quietness, and the greenery I snapped some shots. Next it was off to Bayon. Another great place to take some pictures. Ta Prohm was my last stop and my favorite, it was by the coolest, mainly because the forest had taken over and the temple had a neat feel to it. These three temples are the best and are worth seeing. Here are some pictures of them.

Later that day, Tanya and I returned so that she could see the sights. We both agreed that the last sight (Ta Prohm) was the best. We went around 5pm to Ta Prohm and it was deserted, there was only one other couple in there, which was great, no tour groups, no hassels, just us and the super humid air (it had rained earlier that day).

Posted from Krong Siem Reap, Siem Reap, Cambodia
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Angkor Wat: Part 1

While in Cambodia, one must go to Angkor Wat. So we did, we had the hotel booked for a couple of days so we opted for the 3 day pass. Using the strategy of saving the best for last, we say all the outer temple first, slowly making our way to the crown jewels of the World Heritage Site. This is a great way to see the temple as you start on the smaller less impressive ones and they get better and better as time goes on. There will be three posts on this, and this is part one.

 

The temples here are in various states of condition. From completely overrun by plants to restored, each temple has a different feel to it

Day one and day two: without going into boring detail of the names of the temples we went to, I’ll just say that we visited the outer most temples first. Seeing a lot of sandstone buildings worshiping Hindu and Buddhist gods. It was pretty pleasant and the crowds were low (because most people don’t see these temple).

Temple hopping is pretty enjoyable here, you get a tuk tuk, which has the most wonderful airflow, to drop you off at each temple entrance. There kids from the age of 4 try to sell you postcards and books, which is quiet humourious. Just say no about 7 times and smile at them. The kids give up and then ask where you are from. The people here are so friendly. We would walk around the temple seeing what it had to offer and then head back to our tuk tuk.

 

Great Detail

By the time you are done walking around these ancient structures, you shirt is covered in sweat and you are quiet hot, this is where the open air tuk tuk is great. As you move to the next temple you quickly cool down and repeat.

If you only interest is to see some temples (not try to get a ton of photos) and you have spent 5 months in India, only get a one day pass. The temples in India are for the most part bigger, in better shape and more memorable. Saying that, if you haven’t seen your fair share of temples, getting a three day pass for Angkor Wat is well worth the cost and experience, I would just recommend the saving the best for last strategy.

Posted from Krong Siem Reap, Siem Reap, Cambodia
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Best of India

During our mulit-hour wait to catch the bus to Mysore, we came up with a list of some of the “Best Of” our trip:

Best Scenery

Riding into Hampi (image above)

Best Riding Day

Cochi to Alleppy

Best Dal

Hotel Raya’s in Kumbakonam

Best Temple

A taste of the Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple in Trichy

Best Pizza

New Creation Pizzaria in Auroville

Best TV show

No Reservations

Best Ice Cream

Richy Rich in Auroville

Best Indian Food discover

Parotta is amazing, white flour covered in oil and fried, great for eating right there or saving for the next day.

Best shot from inside a temple

Inside the Pattadakall temple

Best Photo taken

Us, taken somewhere along to the temple route.

Best Cycling equipment

Brooks saddles

Best Weather

The cooler weather at Kumily hill station

Best value accommodation

guesthouse in Mysore around Lakshmipuram

Best cycling energy food

peanut chikki

Best Entertainment

Open Stage nights at Sadhana Forest

Best fresh juice

Grape juice from Mahesh Prasad in Mysore

Best city not in the guidebook

Belgaum

Best Masala Dosa

Mahesh Prasad in Mysore

These were amazing, I probably had at least one a day for 30 days.

Best City

Pondicherry

Best Luck

No flat tires

Best Chocolate

Baker Street – Pondicherry

Best cycling road

The road Into Pudukkottai was quite, calm and enjoyable.

Best 10 Rs ever spent

A massive bag of basil at Nilgris market in Mysore

Best TV commercial

The Diet Sugar commercial

”Aba dabi di be” (we have not idea what this means or how to spell it but we say it all the time because it’s always stuck in our heads)

Best newly acquired skill

Discovering the very efficient way to get the seeds out of pomegranates

Best season

Mango season

Best State

Kerla with its backwaters, chilled out scene, rainforest, and diversity, it is easy to see why this is our favourite State (especially if you only have a short time)

Best Decision

To stay in India despite the terrorist attacks when we arrived

Kumbakonam

Yesterday we took a rest day. We found a nice business hotel with room and checked out of our overpriced bad hotel and moved down the road to the nice AC room. The rest day was needed, as we were very tired  after having two days of intense temple trekking (life’s rough eh?).

Distance: 43km
Roads: Fair
Traffic: Moderate

We got on the road a little latter then usual, but we only had 43 km to go so we took our time getting going. We checked many hotels and none offered great value, not until we checked out the one in the Lonely Planet (usually the ones in the lonely Planet don’t have as good as value). The Raya’s Hotel is one of cleanest in town. I worked on the bikes for a while and Tanya got settled.

After a short nap we headed to the Airavatesvara Temple. In the past week we have seen so many temples and you would think that this one would be the same as all the others. It wasn’t, this one was more basic then most of the others, and more like the ones in Badami. It was also deserted, there was only a handful of people there which was enjoyable.

After that we headed back to town and checked out a couple of temples bathing in the late afternoon sun.

Posted from Kumbakonam, Tamil Nadu, India
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Trichy

The Rock Fort Temple, up high on a rock in the middle of the city

We awoke to our alarm on our rest day, which is never really that enjoyable but we had a busy day ahead of us and we couldn’t spend it in bed. We got our sticky bodies out of the tent and put on our clothes. We ate some peanut jaggary snacks (kind of like peanut brittle) and headed to the train station. This was a first train on this trip and I was slightly excited. We had good luck, with 15 minutes before the train left we got a ticket (rs18).

There were no seat on the train for us, which was ok, so we stood for just over an hour talking to some Indians. You meet some interesting people on the trains, I learnt a little bit about Pakistan, Holy headwaters and cell phones. The time flew by and before I knew it we were in Trichy.

The view from the Rock Fort Temple

We headed to the bus station and got on a bus (rs6) to see the sights. There are four sights to see and we saw them all, starting at the lest impressive and making our way to the most impressive. The first was the Rock Fort Temple, which had many steps and you have to climb up in your bare feet. At the top you got a good view of the city. Next was an impressive neo gothic church.

We got back on the bus and said we wanted to go to the temple. Indian buses are an interesting affair. It takes two people to operate a bus in India. You have the driver and all he does is drive, which is harder then one would think (you have to get dangerously close to the cars/bikes/people in front of you, use the horn, shift and drive). Of course if you were doing this there would be no one to collect the bus fair. You have another person swimming through the packed bus collecting bus fare, which just might be more difficult then driving the bus. You have to walk from the back of the bus to the front of the bus remember who has paid and work hard at not falling out of the bus (there are no doors, just door ways). I would not want either job.

Elephant giving blessing

The fare collector told us that the temple was that way and we should get off the bus if we wanted to see it. Not totally sure if it was the right temple, we got out and headed towards the tall painted gopuram. Thinking we were at the wrong temple we still ventured in and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. The temple was nearly deserted, we were the only non-Hindus and it was an extremely enjoyable experience. We walked around taking in the sights. It turns out we were at the right temple (Sri Jambukeshwara Temple). After seeing the temple we had lunch.

The goparums that guided us into the temple.

We got back onto the bus and headed to the last sight which was the Sri Ranganathswamy Temple. As we walked closer we were guided to the temple by the 73m tall colourful goparum. This is what the Madurai goparums will probably look like, but with new paint on them. A total contrast to the Sri Jambukeshwara temple, there were many people in here (including more non-Hindus) and it was very noisy. We paid Rs10 for a view point, and glad we did, you could see the 60ha grounds, the 21 gopurams and the main temple. The guy that took us up there turned out to be a student and a guide and he did his sales pitch to us. I was all for it and probably paid more then I needed to, but we got a guide.

It was well worth the price in my mind, Rs300 and he knew his stuff. He even said I asked a lot of good questions (just like University). I was learning, and it was great. I learnt a little bit about temple architecture, the Hindu Cast System, the word Sri means holy and so much more. The temple was build in the 10th century and many different dynasties added on the structure. The most interesting was the granite pillars, which were about 4m tall, and must have weight a ton. The granite for these pillars is from Hampi. Hampi is at least 800km away and the granite pillars came from there, before diesel engines, before smooth pavement. Elephants dragged this granite, and there were so many of these pillars. What an amazing amount of energy and resources were put into these temples. Even by todays standards this would be an expensive building, I couldn’t imagine what it would have been like back then.

The packed train

We took the bus around the town and a train to get to Trichy from Tanjore. In total it cost us Rs40 for transportation for the whole day. Amazingly cheap. If we hired a car for the day it would have been around Rs1500, if we got to Trichy and took a rickshaw it would have about Rs500. But we took mass transit and it cost us $1. This is not without its cost though, you are stuck to the schedule of the transit and you often jammed in the bus/train. The train ride back home is a good example of when spending an extra few dollars would be well worth the cost. Our Rs9 each ticket got us a place on the train, but not necessarily a seat. We luckily found a seat for Tanya, I had to stand though. Until some of the locals convinced me to get on the overhead luggage rack with a sign that said luggage only (more then enough room, just no padding). Then when you think the train is packed full of people and no more could possibly get on, more do. I found it comical, there were an amazing number of people on that train. We were happy to get off packed train.

Posted from Tiruchirappalli, Tamil Nadu, India
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A temple and a Palace

As you know from the last post, there is a Temple in Madurai. In order to make the most of our rest day, I went to the Temple early in the morning to check it out. Although the outside beauty is covered, there is still some neat things to see on the in side. I did this alone because I awoke at 6:30am and Tanya would rather stay in Bed.

After checking that out we went to a Palace. The palace was pretty neat. Although it is being restored, about half of the building was already restored and it looked amazing. There were not too many people there and we enjoyed the calm space which is always had to come by in India. Here are some of this pictures from the Temple and the Palace.

Posted from Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India
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Theni

Clouds and Mountains

To Theni
Distance: 62km
Roads: good
Traffic: light

We awoke to the rain falling…really hard. We were a little apprehensive to get going, but as soon as we walked out of our room we were reminded of the nice temperature that is in India. Within in seconds we were soaked, but not cold….which was surprisingly pleasant.

We started the day going downhill, it was great. I’m sure the view was great as well, but all we could see was clouds.

As soon as we crossed the boarder into Tamil Nadu we noticed the difference. Kerala is a really nice state, with wealth more evenly spread around. The evidence can be seen by what kind of droppings you see on the side of the road. In Kerala you would see the occasional cow dung on the road, but not much of it, everywhere else in India (including Tamil Nadu) you see every kind of dropping imaginable, cow, pig, goat, elephant, dog and yes, human.

This thought was constantly in our heads, for the first time in India, we were getting splashed by puddles. The mud coloured water had completely covered our bikes, shoes, socks, legs and shorts.

The rain stopped and we rode into a town called Theni. Drawn by the giant Theni International Hotel sign, we quickly found a great value hotel were we spent the night.

To Madurai
Distance: 75km
Roads: good
Traffic: moderate

We stuck the the national highway (the only realistic route to take) and it wasn’t that bad. We kept dropping in elevation, there was slight slope (1-2%) the whole day and it was great, we had good speed. Traffic got more and more chaotic was we got closer to Madurai. We found a great place after checking out many other places, the guide book claims that there are great midrange value rooms in Madurai, but none of the ones in the guide book.

I often wonder if hotel owners buy every Lonely Planet for their area and jack up their prices if they are in the book (it seems like it to us). For lunch I order a Thali. It was the biggest and most diverse thali I have had in India, it was great.

After lunch we went exploring. Madurai has one of the neatest temples in south India. Tall gopurams challenge nearby six story building in height. I’m sure they look amazing, with over 1000 sculptured figures, all painted brightly, it would make a great picture. Unfortunately I didn’t get to see them.

Once every 12 years, they cover these massive building with scaffolding and palm leaves. They do this to paint them. I guess it has to be done, but what timing.

On our way back to the hotel, we found a bike shop. They had bells and kickstands. We have bells, but they are not loud enough, we do not have kickstand though. We went back the the hotel and got Tanya’s bike, I drove and convinced Tanya to jump on the back rack, with both her legs out to the left. It is the way most women ride motorcycles and there a lot of kids riding on the back’s of bicycles like this as well. It was fun, navigating through the busy streets with Tanya on the back. It is a great way to see a city.

Posted from Theni, Tamil Nadu, India
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Daytrippin’

Since we were back in Mysore and wanted to make sure we were good and healthy before we left again we decided to do some day trips to some sights around Mysore.

Chamundi Hill

The summit of Chamundi Hill is 1062 meters, and on top of the hill is a seven story temple.  You can walk up 1000+ stairs to get there, or you can take a local bus straight up to the top…we went for option 2, the bus.  We though it would be more difficult to figure out which bus to take but it was basically the only bus with English on it so it was easy.  It was crazy busy at the top of the hill (it was a Sunday of course), with hundreds of people waiting to get into the temple.  We didn’t want to stand in the hot line so we just walked around and then walked down the 1000 stairs back to town!

Holly Cow!! Tanya

At the summit of Chamundi Hill

Srirangapatnam

Due to the success of our first local bus experience, we decided to try again.  We were headed to an 18th century fort about a one hour bus ride from Mysore.  There are lots of sights to see around the area, including more temples and mosques and a royal palace.  It was a worthwhile day trip, the bus back was crazy packed with people!!

Mosuleum at Srirangapatnam

Painted Deities

Brindavan Gardens

If you’ve ever watched a Bollywood movie or two, you’ve probably seen the Brindavan Gardens, as apparently many scenes are shot here.  It was quite a process to get here, we just missed the bus when we got to the station so we waited about an hour for the next one, finally we got on and 10 minutes away the bus broke down and we had to wait on the street for the next one.  When we finally arrived to the bus stop for the Gardens, we realized we had to walk a bit to the entrance, and it was 4 kilometers!  But we finally got there and were glad we went, it was very relaxing, and the gardens were quite beautiful.  Apparently it gets extremely busy on weekend and in the evenings because the gardens are all lit up and they play Bollywood film tunes over loudspeakers, would have been cool to see but we didn’t want to wait around that long.  We ate lunch at a really posh hotel, and lunch was surprisingly affordable.

Giant Chess Board

Brindavan Gardens

Market (added by Kelly)

I went back to the market, if you remember a couple of posts ago we said that the Mysore market wasn’t very lively or colourful. When I went back (around sunset) it was a different market, well maybe not entirely different, but it was more lively and more colourful. My only goal was to practice taking some shot with the camera and improve my skill. I took a lot of shots and didn’t come back with a lot that I wanted to post, here are the ones that I liked.

Movement

Lost of seats

Dyes

Tomorrow we are going to try to leave mysore, we shall see how that goes.

Posted from Mysore, Karnataka, India
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Mysore

Distance: 6.5km (Mysore bus station to Gokalum)
Roads: Great
Traffic: Moderate (much better then a national highway)

We left Hospet at 11:53, only 53 minutes behind schedule, which is pretty good…I think. The bus was pretty nice, only three seats in a row, and above each seat was a bed. We didn’t get out tickets early enough to get a bed so we were stuck with a seat. I met a guy from Ottawa (first Canadian that we have met on the trip) and he was working in Bangalore. We had a good talk about all the usual stuff you talk about with some one from Canada (beer, Christmas, snow, and the differences between the east and the west). As soon as the bus started I tried to fall asleep. Continue reading

Posted from Mysore, Karnataka, India
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