1 After a day and a half of travel, we finally landed in Bangkok near midnight. This is our little hostel, Asok Montri...note the Merry Christmas banner. In February.
2 Asok has RULES.
3 The next day, we had the morning to explore Bangkok before our flight to Cambodia- so we ate at Krua Apsorn, one of the Top 500 Places to Eat in the world. The Thai royal family LOVES this place.
4 A charming Bangkok bridge.
5 One of the grossest things we ate on this trip: These crepes smelled like waffle cones, and were filled with marshmallow...and MEAT.
6 If you ever wondered where to buy one of those huge Buddha statues, we found the store!
7 During our stay, a lot of Occupy Bangkok protests were ongoing. This is one of the protest camps, right outside our hostel.
8 On to Cambodia!!
9 We landed in Phnom Penh during rush hour. A 15-minute tuk-tuk ride became an hour. This was our view. For an hour.
10 For dinner, we ate at Romdeng, run by Friends International. They provide culinary training for Cambodian street kids. And the food is FANTASTIC.
11 And their drinks rocked, too.
12 The next morning, our teapot had a message for us. MAN UP, JONESES!! (we figured out it was a promo for the Manchester United football team)
13 We visited Wat Phnom, the temple that consecrated Phnom Penh. ("Phnom" means "hill")
14 The stairway up to Wat Phnom ("wat" means "temple").
15 Statuary in the Wa Phnom gardens.
16 The main temple inside with its beautiful colors.
17 And the first of MANY temple Buddhas we'd see on this trip!
18 In the back, a most unusual shrine: A shrine to Penh, the woman who, according to legend, found 3 Buddha statues, dragged them up this hill, and built the temple. Phnom Penh is named for her.
19 Birds for sale as temple offerings...or, KITTY WANT BREAKFAST.
20 A random wat on the street. They're everywhere here.
21 Another random lovely wat.
22 20 kilometers outside Phnom Penh is Choeung Ek, better known as The Killing Fields. It was here in the 1970s that after a brutal civil war, the Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia and set up essentially slave labor camps throughout the country. The goal was to create a perfect Western-free agrarian society, but instead families were separated, mass starvation ensued, and 3 million Cambodians were murdered by their government.
The Killing Fields were the last place prisoners were sent before they were executed.
23 Visitors are given audio headsets, and no guides are allowed. It is a very solitary, introspective experience.
24 When the prison camp was liberated, all the buildings were torn down. All that remains are these signs and markers of what once stood here.
25 The mile-long Fields contained thousands of dumped corpses in shallow graves, discovered after the Khmer Rouge surrendered. This is one of the many graves, containing over 400 unnamed victims.
26 One of the many shallow graves.
27 Behind the makeshift gravesites is the Killing Fields' shrine, which seeks to honor the unidentified victims who died here.
28 Even 40 years later, the rains dredge up pieces of bone, teeth, and clothing. All of it is collected and put into shrines.
29 The clothing shrine, collected over time as clothing is exposed.
30 The shrine of headless women and children. In this grave, several hundred children's and adult females' skeletons were found. Nobody knows why they were decapitated.
31 The most horrifying marker of all: This tree was discovered with bits of blood, brain, and skull fragments embedded in its trunk. Rescuers soon realized that to save bullets, the Khmer Rouge would smash babies' heads into this tree to kill them.
32 The bone shrine, comprised of excavated bone fragments from the site.
33 This is as horrifying as it looks. Basically, the Khmer Rouge killed anyone deemed not "necessary": Children, women, the elderly, the infirm, the educated, Westerners...essentially everyone under 20 and over 40. The remaining men were eventually killed as "enemies of the state."
34 The Killing Tree.
35 This brought home to me just how recent, tragic, and horrifying this genocial history was: While walking the site, I stepped on a human tooth.
36 The shrine of the Killing Fields.
37 Walking into the shrine, which is several storeys of excavated human skulls.
38 It was simultaneously beautiful and shocking and horrifying.
39 Victims' skulls in the shrine, organized by age, gender, and how they died (skull crushed, hatchet, etc).
40 Viewing the shrine.
41 Next we went back to Phnom Penh, to a former primary school known as Tuol Sleng.
42 When the Khmer Rouge took over and abolished education and religion, the schools became prisons. This prison was the last place prisoners lived before being sent to the Killing Fields for execution.
43 The school/prison is still intact 35 years later, with prisoners' beds and chains.
44 The many cells of the prison.
45 What life looked like from inside- parts of the prison are still wrapped in barbed wire.
46 On the way back to Phnom Penh, we passed the Phnom Penh Independence Monument, also called the Victory Monument, dedicated to the war dead.
47 After a long day of death and sadness, we turned to Cambodian curry to make ourselves feel better.
48 Ice cream helped, too.
49 We visited the Cambodian Royal Palace in the center of Phnom Penh.
50 The Silver Stupa at the Palace.
51 Behind the Silver Stupa is a model of Angkor Wat!
52 The Palace's lovely gardens.
53 The Temple of the Palace.
54 A view over the many wats and stupa on the Palace grounds.
55 The Palace from the entrance.
56 Our first sighting of the quintessential Southeast Asian saffron-robed monk :)
57 Sightseeing complete!
58 ....and I deserve an Angkor Beer. It barely costs $1 :)
59 Yummy Cambodian noodles for dinner, in our last night in Phnom Penh.
60 We stopped by Phnom Penh's night market on the way back to our hostel, and couldn't resist the freshly made spring rolls.
61 Souvenirs! For just $1, my boss will treasure his hand-woven Minion keychain.
62 Phnom Penh at night, as seen from the balcony of the Blue Pumpkin ice cream shop (BLUE PUMPKIN ROCKS. More on this later).
63 So today is our wedding anniversary. And how did we spend it? By sitting for 6 hours on this beast, en route to Siem Reap, Cambodia.
64 ...and then spending another hour in the back of another tuk-tuk, en route to our guesthouse.
65 Our guesthouse for the next five nights- Parent Heritage Angkor Villa in Siem Reap, adjacent to Pub Street.
66 Our cute room. Note the towel-swans on the bed.
67 We set out to explore the town of Siem Reap, which is the gateway town to Angkor Wat. I was immediately drawn to the dumpling food cart.
68 Siem Reap sits next to a lovely river.
69 A classic Southeast Asian photo of the Siem Reap riverside.
70 Strollin' the town.
71 The next morning, we were up early and had breakfast by the hotel's pool.
72 And we purchased our 3-day passes to Angkor Archaeological Park!! The park is 40 square kilometers and includes way more than just Angkor Wat. 3 days is barely enough, but here we go....
73 They are VERY fussy about these tickets. Your photo is printed onto it to prevent sharing, and punched for each day you're there. There is quite a large fine for not having a valid ticket.
74 We rented a scooter from a local family, and set off to explore Angkor Park!!
75 The Bayon Temple Gateway.
76 Temple #1: Preah Khan.
77 Preah Khan's entrance
78 Our official 2014 18th anniversary photo!
79 The many, MANY hallways and doorways of Preah Khan.
80 Doorway peeking :)
81 Preah Khan's outer walls
82 The temple is enormous...doorways and windows everywhere.
83 Another side entrance.
84 The weird thing about all the doorways is that it creates a "hall of mirrors" effect, and makes it very hard to navigate.
85 Wild banyan trees have grown up and through the temples.
86 The weird hallway of mirrors effect happens even in the ruined temple parts.
87 Matt conquers Preah Khan!
88 Temple #2: Neak Pean, which is a water temple.
89 It was a fraction of the size of Preah Khan, which was good- because if all the temples were that huge, we were ready to give up. :)
90 Temple #3: Prasat Ta Som.
91 The cool jungly entrance to Ta Som.
92 Matt welcomes us to Ta Som :)
93 I liked this temple because unlike the others, there were VERY few people here. Most tourists stick to the big temples, and these cool little ones are ignored.
94 A very cool, very old banyan tree.
95 Ta Som's grand entryway
96 The "back door" of Ta Som.
97 After a hard morning of temple exploration, we stopped at a vendor outside Ta Som for some fresh pineapple.
98 Temple #4: Mebon!
99 Mebon had Angkor Wat's design of multiple stupas.
100 So much of the Park is hard to photograph because it's crammed so close together. But this photo shows how incredibly HUGE these temples are.
101 Whee! I'm at Angkor Park!
102 Matt atop Mebon Temple.
103 Playing with the local wildlife. :)
104 Atop the highest staircase of Mebon.
105 A view down from the top...
106 What's up? Lion butt.
107 Onto the next temple!!
108 Temple #5: Pre Rup, which to me looked EXACTLY like Mebon. This was a sign that "Temple Fatigue" was beginning to set in.
109 Matt at the base of Pre Rup's staircase. In the 100F+ heat, this is where we started thinking, "Do we NEED to climb every staircase?".
110 Well, we did anyway. We're obsessive that way.
111 Enjoying the quiet at the top.
112 So we stopped for lunch at one of the many tiny stalls selling Cambodian food. Angkor Park is so huge that it's actually its own town- people LIVE inside the Park and own businesses there.
113 Best lunch view ever!!!!
114 Temple #6: After lunch, we drove by Sra Srang, the royal bathing pool (yes that humungous lake was a bathing pool!).
115 Temple #7: Banteay Kdei.
116 We were very hot and tired, and were NOT pleased by Banteay Kdei's very long walk to the entrance. :)
117 The "front yard" of Banteay Kdei.
118 Temple #8: Prasat Ta Prom, or The Tomb Raider Temple!
119 This temple was made famous in Angelina Jolie's "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" film.
120 The temple was selected because of all the temples, this one was most dramatically reclaimed by banyan trees.
121 Banyan tree craziness.
122 Inside the tree.
123 Trees obscure most of the temple. It's cool and creepy.
124 The "backyard" of Ta Prom.
125 Temple #9: Ta Keo.
126 Oh yes. More f**king stairs.
127 I sat here for a while. It had been a very long, hot day.
128 Temple #10: We stopped by Angkor Wat to see it in the afternoon sunlight before we left for the day (note: we were told later that no one in their right mind attempts to see 10 temples in a day. We actually hit 11, but were too tired to take photos by #11).
129 Enjoying a rare moment of solitude at Angkor Wat.
130 Leaving the park for the day!! Coolest commute EVER.
131 This, my friends, is what your feet wiill look like after a day of temple exploration at Angkor Park while wearing sandals.
132 The best way to cool off after a hot day temple-hopping: Our pool!! (note that we pre-showered to get all that filth off before we got in the pool. We're not animals)
133 The view from my pool chair. :)
134 That night, we headed out to Pub Street, Siem Reap's famous backpacker/party street, for dinner at The Paper Tiger. Awesome, fun, noisy, exciting, and delicious :)
135 And lots of beer.
136 The next morning, we were up at sunrise, and jumped on the bikes we'd pre-rented the night before. We wanted to see Angkor Wat by bike!!
137 Temple #1: ANGKOR WAT!!
138 Sunrise over Angkor Wat begins...
139 ...and continues....
141 The sun continued to rise over the stupa...
142 The colors were amazing.
143 Almost full light.
144 The sun was almost over the highest stupa peak.
145 It's daylight!
146 Morning at Angkor Wat.
147 The many colors of sunrise.
148 I loved how once the sun rose, people actually stopped noticing Angkor Wat, and started checking their phones. Sad and funny.
149 Me at Angkor Wat!!!
150 The Joneses, Angkor Wat, 2014.
151 The Joneses, Angkor Wat, 2014 (landscape view :) ).
152 Watching the sun rising over the temple.
153 One last lovely photo.
154 Jones selfie!
155 Most people just see the sun rise, and then bail. We stuck around to explore the temple and its amazing carvings.
156 Catching Matt in a very relaxed moment :)
158 The interior court of Angkor Wat.
159 Angkor Wat has a beautiful breezeway lining the temple's exterior.
160 These cool window "bars" are on every window. We were amazed they'd survived the centuries.
161 The long stairway up to the top of Angkor Wat (of course we were going to climb that).
162 A view from the top of Angkor Wat.
163 Angkor Wat's interior structures.
164 After our visit, we stopped at a vendor's stall for breakfast. Matt enjoys his morning coffee in front of the COOLEST BREAKFAST VIEW ON THE PLANET.
165 Then we got back on our bikes and RODE!!!
166 Temple #2 of the day: Bayon at Angkor Thom.
167 Bayon is fantastic. People actually pay to approach it by elephant (the ride is about 1/8 of a mile).
168 Bayon looks like the world's largest sand castle.
169 Me taking a photo of Matt taking a photo. It's all very meta. :)
170 The entry courtyard to Bayon.
171 Bayon temple, with its ENORMOUS amount of tourists (this is the 2nd most-visited temple, after Angkor Wat).
172 216 carved faces stare at you from the temple. It's hard to show the enormity of this place when you're close up.
173 More of the carvings...
174 The huge faces were meant to initimidate the peasants who came to see the King.
175 More of Bayon's carvings.
176 Matt in the crammed courtyard.
177 This is what Bayon really looks like: A crush of noisy, obnoxious tourist groups. We gave up and left ;)
178 Matt disrespects a statue :)
179 This is what happens when you park your bike in front of Bayon Temple with 2 bananas in your basket. F**king monkeys.
180 Temple #3: Baphuon. It was huge.
181 The long walkway out to Baphuon.
182 This was the entire reason for visiting Baphuon: The amazing 200-foot-long Buddha carved into the side wall. Go ahead, look closely: the Reclining Buddha's head is on the left.
183 The head, up close.
184 The doorway to Baphuon.
185 Temple #4: The Terrace of Elephants, where the King would hold parades.
186 Temple #5: I have no idea. Today, the heat became unbearable, and much of the fun was sapped from our temple hopping...
187 Matt takes a much-needed break from the heat.
188 Cycling the entryway, which features a huge moat.
189 This is not a road sign one sees in America.
190 Cycling back after a long, hot day.
191 We returned our bikes to this very sweet woman, who had also rented us the scooter.
192 Pool time!!!
193 Yes, that elephant sculpture is actually spitting on Matt.
194 That night, we returned to Pub Street for dinner and entertainment. "Dr. Fish" is very popular in Cambodia: You stick your feet in a fish tank, and they eat the dead skin off your feet.
195 A selfie in the mirror as we joined the tank divers.
196 This is what it feels like when a tank full of fish begin to nibble on your feet.
197 All this excitement for just $3.
198 The view from our seats :)
199 Mmmm....fish food
200 The next morning, we had a late breakfast on Pub Street. And yes, Matt ate that whole thing.
201 This is how bizarrely diverse Pub Street's clientele is. Sushi, Tex-Mex, steak, Khmer (Cambodian), and Latin food, all in the same place.
202 I admired the tenacity and creativity of Siem Reap's many tuk-tuk drivers. This guy's gimmick was that you could hook up your iPod to his tuk-tuk, and blast your music during your ride. "Rock your ass off!"
203 Matt took a cooking class at the Temple Bar. For just $10, he got a 3-hour cooking class, a T-shirt, and food.
204 ...and he got to wear this swell outfit. :)
205 Kitties in the kitchen!
206 Matt in cooking school!
207 Learning Khmer recipes.
208 Matt's teachers watch him do all the knife prep.
209 The papaya salad Matt made!
210 Matt's 2nd course: Amok, the amazing fish curry dish of Cambodia.
211 ...and sticky rice for dessert.
212 Matt and his teachers :)
213 That night, Matt took me to THE CIRCUS!!!!
214 The Phare Cambodian Circus is an awesome organization that trains street kids in the performing arts. Their Cirque du Soleil-style circus is a must-see in Siem Reap.
215 Prepping myself for the circus :)
216 Fire juggling!!
217 Balancing tricks!
218 Whee! Juggling!
219 Cool balancing acts....
220 Feats of strength and balance!
221 ...and FIRE JUMPING.
222 Yes, that is a jump rope made of FIRE, and that guy is FLIPPING OVER IT.
223 Fire tricks!
224 More cool balancing acts...
225 I love this shot!!!!
226 More cool acrobatics.
227 The final act: The 2 men jump off the platform onto the seesaw, and flip the other guy backward.
228 Matt gets tough with the circus men!
229 The next day was the last day of our 3-day Angkor Pass, so we rented the scooter again, and set off to see Angkor Park's most remote temple- 40 kilometers south.
230 Banteay Srei!
231 Banteay Srei (not to be confused with Banteay Kdei), is unique because it is a pinkish stone, and its carvings were the only ones done by women.
232 The amazing carvings.
233 It is astounding that all this detail has survived.
234 Me at Banteay Srei!
235 The doorway carvings.
236 The courtyard of Banteay Srei.
237 Little squat statues guard the courtyard.
238 Heading back over the river to Siem Reap.
239 Since the day was cooler, and we still had an entire day on our Passes, we headed back to the main entrance of Angkor Park. This is the "moat" at the entryway.
240 Enjoying the fact that I can stand outside without feeling like I''m getting broiled alive.
241 Matt conquers Angkor Park!
242 My attempt at an artsy shot.
243 The statues that line the bridge.
244 One last hurrah at Angkor Wat!!
245 Enjoying our last day at Angkor Wat.
246 Matt takes a breather after 3 crazy days at Angkor Park.
247 And of course, one must replenish with lots of street vendor food.
248 This is Blue Pumpkin, a Cambodian-owned ice cream chain. The ice cream is handmade and fantastic, and they serve it IN BEDS!!!! Truly there is nothing better on earth.
249 Our last day in Siem Reap, we hit the Siem Reap Market. I liked how raw fish (background) was sold right next to the fancy shoes (foreground).
250 Elephant pants: The bane of my existence in Cambodia. Every single tourist was wearing them. How long does it take for Matt to go from "They're annoying" to "I want a pair"? The answer: 3 days. He bought those pants.
251 I of course bought me a pashmina scarf. Note that this is the beginning of a serious shopping problem on this trip.
252 We had to kill an hour before our plane to Laos departed, and we found the next best thing to ice cream in bed: Beer in beds. 35 cent beers.
253 I am in f**king HEAVEN.
254 Last Cambodian meal!! We loved this little cafe- the food was fantastic, and they had a sense of humor...
255 The gender signs on the bathrooms. It took me a second to figure out where I was supposed to go. Literally.
256 Another amusing bathroom sign in the cafe.
257 ...this sign still confuses me. I get the No Smoking, No Squatting on the Toilet Seat, and the No Showering, but WTF is the other one??
258 ...so back when we'd booked out guesthouse, they'd promised to pick us up at the bus station for free. They never showed, and we had to pay a tuk-tuk to bring us to the guesthouse instead. So Matt swiped a teaspoon from the breakfast buffet to add to his tasting spoon collection, as compensation for the missed bus station transfer. We think this was a fair trade. :)
259 Onto Laos!
260 Landing at Luang Prabang's airport in Laos.
261 Heading to our little guesthouse in Luang Prabang, Laos!
262 The Singharat Guesthouse, our home for the next few days. Our room is the top left with the wooden shutters.
263 Our room- and we needed that mosquito netting. The windows didn't have any glass, so we slept with them open, and the mosquitos were voracious in the morning.
264 Our first dinner in Luang Prabang was at a typical twinkly, lovely garden restaurant.
265 The spirit house in the courtyard below our room. We awoke to the smell of its incense burning each morning!
266 Our guesthouse's neighborhood!
267 The view I woke up to each morning- the guesthouse's quiet little street.
268 Breakfast each morning was on the balcony outside our room.
269 Luang Prabang is a lovely, mystical town, filled with and amazing number of temples and wats. They have temples and wats like we have Starbucks.
270 Just a random wat. They're so numerous that there aren't even signs to identify them.
271 These dragons adorned almost every Laotian temple we saw.
272 More dragons! Dragons coming out of dragon mouths!
273 Another wat, and another saffron-robed monk.
274 I loved the random gardens. They all featured golden Buddhas and bright flowers.
275 Yet another anonymous wat.
276 Flowers! Gardens! Buddhas!
277 The quintessential Luang Prabang photo.
278 This wat was amazing- the colors and carvings had survived intact for centuries.
279 A close-up of the vibrant colors.
280 Best wat surprise: KITTENS!!!!!!!!!!!
281 Baby kittens!! In Laos!!
282 My new Laotian kitty friends.
283 Matt discovers more kittens!!!
284 This wat is very important to Luang Prabang- it's the symbol of the town. It's so important that unlike all the others, Wat Xieng actually charges admission.
285 Concrete kitties overlooking the Mekong River guard Wat Xieng.
286 Me at Wat Xieng!
287 Wat Xieng's main temple.
288 The "storage room" of Wat Xieng.
289 What's inside that storage room...
290 Extra Buddhas, statues, and this dragon parade float were inside.
291 Dragon float!
292 The Buddha shrine at Wat Xieng.
293 Unlike Cambodia, the Laotian stupa still had their amazing, colorful tilework intact.
294 More ceramic and tilework accents on Wat Xieng's buildings.
295 A close-up of the colored glass decorations.
296 Detail of the back wall of the Wat.
297 A gorgeous "Tree of Life" in tilework on Wat Xieng's back wall.
298 The ginormous Buddha inside Wat Xieng.
299 The view from inside Wat Xieng.
300 A tiny doghouse-sized temple next to Wat Xieng contained this vibrantly red shrine.
301 This photo pretty much encapsulates Luang Prabang.
302 Wat Xieng's mailbox!
303 Another random wat.
304 And another...
305 ...and the Buddha inside.
306 Another random garden we discovered, with a Buddha shrine.
307 Another random wat, this one with a matching vehicle :)
308 This random wat caught my eye because of the Giant Buddha guarding the entrance.
309 The main street of Luang Prabang- it is a former French colonial town, lined with lovely shophouses along the Mekong River.
310 And like so many other places here, it's Christmas Every Day!! Yes, that is a Christmas Tree. In March.
311 A colorful shophouse, with a cute bike parked outside.
312 Just walkin' down a Luang Prabang street.
313 These cute little cafes lined the riverside. Aside from the view, their best feature was the 50 cent beers.
314 I greatly admired this little bar's marketing efforts. P.S. 15,000 kip= $1.50. I do love the drink prices here.
315 Later that afternoon, we took a public minibus 30 minutes outside Luang Prabang to the famous Kuang Si Waterfalls. This is the park entrance.
316 Welcome to Kuang Si!
317 The top of the falls.
318 Enjoying the tropical setting of the falls...
319 The blue of the water almost looked staged. It was stunning.
320 Matt conquers Kuang Si!
321 Waterfall selfie!
322 The falls meandered about 1/2 mile down a path, and created beautiful pools.
323 One of the most picturesque viewing spots.
324 Matt enjoying the view.
325 An amazing photo (taken by Matt, of course).
326 The waterfall pool above the swimming area.
327 The lower falls were beautiful cascading levels.
328 Continuing down the waterfall path....
329 The swimming area!
330 Matt jumps right in.
Note that the foot-eating fish were here, too...we just neither expected them, nor saw them, before they started chowing down.
331 Swimming in Kuang Si!
332 Even in the heat, this water was COLD.
333 Enjoying the pools.
334 Matt poses, while the kids behind him leap off the "diving board."
335 There was a Malaysian sun bear sanctuary at the base of the falls. For whatever reason, they had life-sized statues of bears.
336 Bears: Godless killing machines, according to Stephen Colbert.
337 A real-life godless killing machine.
338 Sun bears!
339 After hours of tramping around waterfalls, one requires a smoothie.
340 That night, we ate in a another lovely garden cafe- Laos' answer to outdoor dining. Just stick a table and chairs in the yard, hang up some twinkly lights, and it's showtime.
341 After dinner, we discovered the magic of the Luang Prabang Night Market. This market went on and on for blocks, selling the most brightly colored scarves, purses, and clothing I'd ever seen. I bought a LOT.
342 Laotian versions of Japanese lanterns at the Night Market.
343 Luang Prabang is simply magical and stunning at night- warm and clear with twinkly lights everywhere.
344 The Royal Wat at night.
345 The next morning, we strolled the local morning market.
346 Mmmm nothin' like the smell of fish in the morning.
347 My shopping problem continues. Another handmade purse.
348 One of the most important sites of Luang Prabang is Wat Phousi (yes, that is pronounced "poo-see"). It is on top of the highest point of Luang Prabang, and you can see it from everywhere in the town. Up we go!
349 Those are some stairs.
350 The view from atop Wat Phousi. That haze isn't smog, it's the humidity.
351 The Buddha temple at the top of Wat Phousi.
352 The colors of the murals were amazingly still intact, and quite vivid.
353 Next we visited the Royal Palace.
354 Matt relaxes on the Palace's entrance stairway.
355 More dragons!
356 Here there be artsy dragons. And see Wat Phousi in the background!!
357 One part of the Royal Palace has been turned into a car museum. A sad car museum (mainly junkers from the 1960s), but a museum nonetheless.
358 World's Cutest Puppy, Laotian edition.
359 LUV THIS PUPPY
360 Nothing says culture exploration complete like an iced Laotian coffee.
361 We passed this vendor of rice paper wrappers drying his goods in the sun!
362 Enjoying the view.
363 At the end of town, we saw monks heading down a mysterious staircase.
364 Turns out, this was the staircase down to a bamboo bridge, leading across the river to another part of Luang Prabang.
365 Monks crossing the river.
366 Se we decided to pay our 35 cent toll and cross too!
367 ...and at the other end of the bridge we found an amazing restaurant called Dyen Sabai.
368 Dyen Sabai specializes in "sidbad," or Laotian BBQ.
369 There is a firepit built into the table, and the waiter puts hot coals into it. Then a "stove" is placed over the coals, and you get a basket of meats and veggies. The meats and veggies cook over the heat, and in the hot broth.
372 Heading back over the bridge after a successful sidbad lunch.
373 Sidbad mischief managed!
374 On our walk back to our guesthouse, we discovered another wat.
375 This one had another massive stairway.
376 ...and of course we climbed it.
377 The view from atop the wat's hill.
378 The wat had many little statues built onto rock crannies and fallen trees.
379 Random little Buddhas hiding in the rocks!
380 The wat's dragons, built right into the hill.
381 This Buddha statue was surrounded by more colorful, unfaded murals.
382 In the very back, in a corner, we found this shrine: The Imprint of Buddha's Foot.
383 Apparently that is Buddha's foot. He looks to be about a size 324.
384 More statues built around the rocks.
385 This is one of my very favorite pictures on this trip.
386 After a long day of climbing stairs and eating sidbad, YOU deserve a BEER.
387 And what goes with beer? MORE KITTENS. In a BAR!!
388 We decided to camp out at a riverside bar and watch the sun set over the Mekong River.
391 ....still going...
392 ....almost gone...
394 The next morning, we caught the 8am boat to the Pak Ou Caves. We did according to this sign, and Booked for a Full Taste of Pleasure.
One wants a full taste of pleasure. Half tastes are no fun.
395 The boat landing to Pak Ou.
396 Boating on the Mekong River!
397 Matt enjoying the boat ride.
398 After a 90-minute ride, we arrived at a small village near Pak Ou Caves. This is their dock.
399 The little village was very modest, but had an amazing wat.
400 Bright and colorful and shiny clean, it was the most impressive thing in the entire village!
401 Close-up of the wat's statues.
402 I of course bought another scarf from a village vendor.
403 Matt takes a ninja-stealth selfie.
404 As we arrived at the Pak Ou Caves, we were amazed at the sheer cliffs and the beaches. And...ELEPHANTS!
405 A closer view of the elephants.
406 The view of the Pak Ou Caves as we approached by boat.
407 Walking up on the bamboo (VERY SPRINGY) dock...
408 Longtail boats off the dock of the caves.
409 The Pak Ou Caves are where Cambodians go to dispose of their old Buddha statues. You can't just throw relics in the trash, so they've been stacking up here for centuries. Now, the Caves are a tourism site.
410 Walking up the very long stairway to the top of the Pak Ou Caves.
411 A Buddha guards the Cave entrance.
412 Some of the Caves' Buddhas on a random cave rock ledge.
413 More Buddhas!
414 I was wearing a headlamp while taking these photos. In reality, this cave is completely unlit and a bit spooky.
415 Heading down the staircase to the lower Cave.
416 The lower Cave is far more crammed than the top Cave.
417 Buddhas everywhere!
418 I liked this little outcropping with a ready-made shrine.
419 A view out the Cave, over the Mekong.
420 Heading back to the boat.
421 The Pak Ou boat dock.
422 Heading back to Luang Prabang!
423 Hey! Someone stole my new scarf!!!
424 When we arrived back in Luang Prabang, it was lunchtime. 3 Nagas is a very expensive, high-end restaurant...with a fantastic $10/pp set lunch deal.
425 Our set lunch menu.
426 Of course, no fancy-schmancy set lunch would be complete with a Laotian beer.
427 First course: Spicy eggplant dip with handmade rice noodles.
428 Matt is READY.
429 Second course: Chicken grilled with wood (yes, real wood is in the middle of that bowl); mixed vegetables in oyster sauce; grilled trout with Lao spices; and a cone of black rice wrapped in a banana leaf.
430 This was a fantastic meal.
431 A birds-eye view of my lunch!
432 Dessert: Tropical fruit and tapioca in coconut milk.
433 I would have preferred chocolate mousse or ice cream, but Matt was digging the coconut and tapioca dessert.
434 Matt basks in the afterglow (with the help of a lot of coffee).
435 Another lovely street we discovered on the walk back to our guesthouse.
436 The colors of this garden were just blinding!!!
437 This is how lovely Luang Prabang is: The streets are littered with frangipani blossoms. Nobody seems to notice because it's so ordinary here.
438 We got a great view of Wat Phousi on a street near our guesthouse.
439 So while I developed a shopping habit, Matt developed a massage habit. For 3 days straight, he had a 90-minute massage for just 8000 kip (about $8).
440 The next day, we decided to jump on the water taxi and cross the Mekong River to visit one of the small villages across from Luang Prabang.
441 Riding the water taxi!
442 After our water taxi ride, we had lunch at Cafe Toui in Luang Prabang.
443 ....and you are what you eat. I'm apparently a Sweet Mate, for the good times.
444 After lunch, we were ready to head to the airport to fly to Vientiane, the capital of Laos! Matt naps while we wait for our tuk-tuk pickup.
445 We arrived in Vientiane in the late afternoon, and checked into our guesthouse Sala Inpeng. That's our little cabin in the background.
446 Our cozy wee room.
By the way...Vientiane is pronounced "Ween-chan." That's what happens when you have a Laotian city, named by the Chinese, colonized by the French, and they try to spell it phoenetically.
447 Our cabin had an awesome porch, where breakfast was served.
448 And a dog!! Our guesthouse had an adorable DOGGIE!
449 Enjoying morning coffee on our porch.
450 So for our first of two days in Vientiane, we explored the town on foot.
451 A wat nearby our guesthouse.
452 This lovely wat garden was in the middle of the capital city.
453 Next stop: The Sisaket Museum.
454 Buddhas!!! Everywhere!
455 Artsy shot, thank you very much
456 ...more Buddhas...
457 Outside the museum was an interesting graveyard.
458 We took a tuk-tuk about 10 miles outside of Vientiane to the deeply weird Buddha Park.
459 This park began as the simple Reclining Buddha on the left; then a religious freak decided to build all these other sort-of-related-to-Buddha statues.
460 On the rooftop of The Big Mouth, as we called it....
461 This is The Big Mouth. With a Tree of Life on top.
462 All these statues are a weird mashup of other religions (Hinduism, Christianity), and just plain bizarre.
463 The Reclining Buddha.
464 So imagine if someone built a Jesus Park...and there were statues of Jesus crossing the Delaware. Or flipping burgers.
Here is a statue of a giant Buddha-clown holding a dead body. Like I said, deeply weird.
465 This statue on the right is a pig-man dancing on Buddha's back. I don't know what it means either.
466 Or, how about a reptilian Buddha eating someone's head?
467 I like this one. Husband not included.
468 After seeing the Buddha Park, having freshly grilled bananas is of course mandatory.
469 For lunch we found the most amazing cafe- Kung's Cafe. It's run out of a family's home, in their orchid garden. The food is FANTASTIC.
470 Our awesome noodle lunches.
471 But the service is weird.
Do not fuck with this kid.
472 Seriously. Do not fuck with him.
473 Dessert was Kung's Cafe's famous crepes with mango (apparently it was mentioned in the New York Times, and a copy was helpfully framed on the wall).
474 After lunch we visited Ho Phra Keo, one of Lao's most famous temples.
475 ...it's famous because the Emerald Buddha, found in Bangkok's Royal Palace, used to reside here. Until the Thais took it. The Lao are not pleased.
476 But there are more dragons!!
477 Cool ivory Buddhas line the temple.
478 The Presidential Palace.
479 The Palace was a very lovely European-style building, unlike anything else in Vientiane.
480 The night market of Vientiane. Thankfully he didn't buy that hat :)
481 Our final day in Laos. We begin with some PUPPY LOVE!!
482 We rented bikes to cycle to the edge of the city.
483 Cycling in traffic to Vientiane's Patuxai Monument.
484 Biking in Laos!
485 This is Patuxai, or "The Vertical Runway."
486 In the 1970s, the US government gave Laos a lot of cement to build a runway for the Secret War (when the US was secretly bombing the sh*t out of Cambodia and Vietnam). Laos said yes please, then took that concrete and built this. :)
487 The plaque on the Vertical Runway is hilarious. "From a closer distance it appears even less impressive."
488 The underside of the Vertical Runway's arch. It's actually quite...impressive. :)
489 Biking through the arch!
490 The backside of the monument has a lovely reflecting pool.
491 Cycling by the pool.
492 Cycling by a random wat!
493 This is Wat That Luang, the most revered wat in Vientiane.
494 ...so we cycled by it. :)
495 ...and cycled by it....
496 The famous stupa of Wat That Luang.
497 The stupa is a masoleum, and HUGE.
498 The long brick plaza leading up to the stupa.
499 Posing in front of the stupa!
500 This photo does not convey the fact that it was 10am and well over 100F. This is why we were the only idiots out in the sun.
501 ...cycling outta there.
502 On our way out, we took one last shot of the wat.
503 We cycled back to the guesthouse, checked out, and took a tuk-tuk to the train station to board our overnight train to Bangkok! This is Thanaleng Station in Vientiane- this train will take us 15 minutes over the Laos-Thailand Friendship Bridge to the main train station.
504 Last Laotian purchase!
505 Riding in an open-air car over the Friendship Bridge.
506 Whee! This is why dogs enjoy this.
507 We arrived over the Bridge, cleared Thailand customs, and were set to board our overnight train to Bangkok.
508 In 2002, we took a 2nd-class overnight train to Bangkok. It was awful. So this time, we sprang for a 1st class, A/C, private cabin. This booth unfolded into BUNK BEDS!
509 Our train's little hallway.
510 After a long, and somewhat comfy night, we arrived in Bangkok at 6am. We had exactly 24 hours to see Bangkok before we had to fly home.
511 We checked into a very swank hostel- it's on the list of Top 10 Stylish Hostels Around the World. This is Siamaze Hostel, and it was definitely comfier than a train. :)
512 We showered, changed, and headed out to see Bangkok for the first time in 12 years. First stop: Wat Po.
513 We felt properly welcomed to the home of the Reclining Buddha.
514 Matt at the entryway fountain.
515 Wat Po, with Reclining Buddha deliciousness inside.
516 It's his head!!
517 "This grips me more than would a muddy old river or Reclining Buddha..." -Murray Head
518 The view from Reclining Buddha's toes.
519 What the back side of Reclining Buddha looks like.
520 That's quite the head. ("Get Thai'd! You're talking to a tourist whose every move's among the purest!")
521 Buddha's massive feet, with amazing inlaid ivory.
522 A close-up of his ivory toes.
523 A close-up of the soles of his feet.
524 Outside Wat Pho, on the grounds, was a garden of stupa.
525 Unlike Cambodia and Laos, which were colonized by European powers, Thailand stayed independent...and its architecture stayed safe from foreign sticky fingers. The stupa here still have their ceramic inlay.
526 Amazingly beautiful ceramic work on the stupa.
527 Stupas in the sunshine!!
528 More flowery stupa.
529 Matt at the entrance to a side temple.
530 Inside the temple was a stunning golden Buddha.
531 We took a water ferry across the Chao Phraya River to one of Bangkok's most famous sites, Wat Arun.
532 The entrance to the Wat Arun temple.
533 The amazing thing about Wat Arun is that it looks gray and made of concrete from afar...but close up, it's more lovely bright ceramics.
534 Do not trust wily strangers!! And after 2 weeks in Cambodia and Laos, where nearly everyone was trustworthy and kind, we fell prey to wily strangers. We were told the Royal Palace was closed, and we believed them. Unfortunately for the shysters, we didn't opt to go on a tour with them...we simply walked elsewhere. :)
535 But we made it to the Royal Palace, and had 90 minutes to view it before it closed for the day!
536 Me at the Royal Palace of Bangkok.
537 What's weird about this visit was that I KNOW we visited back in 2002...but I have zero memory of it. And it's not like this place isn't memorable- it's fantastically beautiful and ornate.
538 It's also fantastically expensive. After spending $15 for lovely guesthouse rooms in Laos and Cambodia, entry to the Palace was $16 per person. Thai sticker shock!!!
539 More rooftop sculptures of the Palace.
540 The Palace had a miniature model of Angkor Wat! Which is odd, seeing as Angkor Wat is in Cambodia, and we're in Thailand.
541 A side view of the model.
542 I loved these little statues in front of all the doorways. Oh, and here's a difference from 2002: Now, nobody respects the "Do Not Touch" signs. We were disgusted at how many idiot tourists touched, jumped on, leaned against, and basically disrespected these amazing historical sites.
543 A closeup of the amazing tilework of the Palace walls.
544 I took this picture to show the perspective. These stupa are HUGE. Look at the tourist in the bottom left of the photo. It's like being dwarfed in a giant's city.
545 More cool golden statues.
546 Look! Artsy shot!
547 A closeup of the jewels in the statue. Frankly, I'm stunned the Thais don't rope these statues off, and that tourists haven't stolen everything off them.
548 The one roped-off statue I could find. But trust me, nobody obeyed the sign. *sigh*
549 I loved these guys- vivid and bright and holding up a stupa!
550 Another Palace rooftop.
551 The sacred Emerald Buddha of Thailand, at the Royal Palace. This was previously in Vientiane, Laos, until the Thais took it back.
552 The walls of the Emerald Buddha's temple.
553 At the end of the Royal Palace grounds is this very European-style building. The King built it in the 19th century during the colonial era.
554 The final buildings on the Palace tour.
555 One last shot at the Palace.
556 On the subway ride home, we were greatly amused by this sign- you would ONLY see this sign in Bangkok.
557 For our final night, we visited Khao San Road, the center of Bangkok's backpacker universe. And of course we had to EAT. Here Matt is eagerly awaiting his pad thai, made right on the street.
558 On our way back to our hostel, we noticed that next door was The 60s Tree Bar. Intrigued, we went inside.
559 This was a nutty bar. Completely outdoors, and built around banyan trees....but with Mad Men-1960s style furniture. It looked like Don Draper's living room, if Don Draper had banyan trees growing in it.
And then we got up at 5am and flew home. End of trip :)