Oct 24 2007

Cambodia, Angkor Wat

Up at 4am, our taxi picks us up at 5 as planned to drive us out to Angkor. We arrive just as light hits the sky, and stroll in alongside hundreds of (mostly Japanese) tourists. The temple is immense, and after passing through the outer wall, we can see the lotus bud shaped towers of the temple’s center in the distant twilight. Most of the Japanese seem content to sit quietly along the outer wall, waiting for sunrise, but Janise and I decide to venture closer. The sun rises just as we reach the lily pools, and we enjoy the magic of the moment as the sun explodes from behind the temple’s 5 towering spires.

The temple’s very quiet this early (most of the sunrisers have retired for breakfast) and we wander Angkor as if we’d just happened across it in the jungle. It’s on several levels, with intricate carvings on all the sandstone facades, and I find it amazing that the details have survived the elements for so long. After about an hour, we return to the road to enjoy a hearty “American breakfast” (lots of coffee).

Our driver escorts us through several other temple ruins, all interesting in their own right, but no match for the majesty of Angkor. We finally arrive at Ta Prohm (made famous by Tomb Raider), a temple still mostly claimed by the jungle, and realize just how spectacular these temples must have been when the French explorers first found them – trees drape over the temple walls, roots flow like water dripping over the intricately runed stones; this truly is mystical.

We’re templed out, and head back for the comforts of the hotel pool. There’s nothing quite as nice as a cool, clean pool in a hot, humid climate, especially when accompanied by a cold local larger. We decide we can top it though, and head downtown again in search of a foot massage; after a blazingly spicy dinner, we end up going for the 4-hands (two masseuses) full body package. I could get used to this….

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Oct 23 2007

Cambodia, Siem Reap

We have an really early flight for Siem Reap, so we put off some of Gretchen’s late-night party suggestions until our return trip. The twin prop lands at the tiny airport just outside of town, and we make tracks to get a hotel. Our goal is to see the sunset over Angkor Wat, and so we haggle quickly with a taxi and speed out to the temple. It’s a long hike uphill to the view spot; we just miss sunset, but there’s light enough and we explore the ruin, climbing the near vertical stairs to the top and admiring the full circle view of the countryside. We resolve to make sunrise.

Back in town, map in hand, we walk to “oldtown.” Siem Reap is small, but very busy. Traffic is mostly motorcycles, and crossing the road requires a blind walk-of-death through traffic (drivers here don’t honor the rules, your fate on the road reflects your belief in Buddha) . The main strip is a mish-mash of pizza parlors and Italian what-have-you, but we find a nice quiet Cambodian cafe overflowing with flavor. Dinner is about $7, for two – with beer.

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Oct 22 2007

Bangkok, sights

I crash early, and Janise arrives (very) early the next morning. We’ve planned for a local guide to take us around town and hit the top 6 or 7 tourist sights.

Nui’s our guide, a tiny (ok normal for Thai) 20 something, with excellent English and a warming smile. We jump on a river boat and head up to the old king’s palace and wander between the beautiful and detailed buildings while Nui gives us the history. I remember some of the buildings we see, but at 12 you remember different things than an adult (like whether the demon statues were good scary or bad scary). There’s so much detail in every building, it’s hard to focus. Small, 1cm mirrors and gold-plated tiles form mosaics on 20 foot walls, around pillars and in alcoves – the man-years of effort required boggles the mind, but then, this is a palace.

The architecture is an interesting mix of styles, as after king Rama V traveled to Europe, the buildings inherited a European look. One building has 2 stories that could have been pulled from Oxford Street in London, but’s topped with a detailed red and gold-gilded Thai roof (so that it fits in with the “skyline” of the other buildings)

After some more touring, we grab a boat and visit the canals of Bangkok. Before there were cars everywhere, Bangkok was traveled by canal, and many of the canal houses have been passed down through the generations mostly unchanged, so you can find the city as it was, and it’s fantastic. Old store fronts straight out of the flea market, beautiful hanging gardens, traditional hand-carved Teak houses on stilts, shanty towns barely above the water line. Clearly, though, life’s turned away towards the unseen road, and many have built up high walls to protect their new “backyard,” cutting off the covered walkway that used to lead people from the water to their front door.

It’s well passed lunchtime, and Nui takes us to one of her favorite lunch spots. I’ve been craving Tom Yum since I arrived, and order one up “Thai spicy”. Just what the doctor ordered, I feel the flavor course through my veins; Thai food is just good for the soul. We top lunch off with the richest most wonderful coconut ice cream (served in a coconut!). Why can’t Ben & Jerry’s taste like this?!

We head out very sated, and grab taxis to a few other must-sees, many of which spark memories of my last visit. At the Marble Temple, I find a wonderful sense of peace; whether it’s the bald, orange draped monks quietly strolling across the garden bridges, or the sudden lack of street noise and tourists, I don’t know, but there’s a wonderful tranquility in the air.

Our last stop is the Jim Thomson house; the house was built in the 50s buy an American who wanted to preserve Thai culture, and amassed a huge collection of historical art. The house is wonderful, hand built in the Thai style, whole walls open to the gardens and the canal. I want one.

We bid Nui goodbye, and meet Gretchen (a friend of a friend of Janise’s) at the Banyon Tree for drinks. This 70 story hotel has the most amazing rooftop bar I’ve ever seen. Several tiers place the bar at the highest point for a mile around, and sitting at the bar you have 360 view of the whole city. Fantastic! Gretchen’s full of energy; she works for Asia Care (?) and transferred to Bangkok from SF a few years ago. She loves the expat lifestyle, and tells of the many party districts that dot downtown, from Disney fun to downright nasty. Sounds like she’s planning to stay awhile.

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Oct 21 2007

Bangkok, weekend market

Bangkok sure feels different. Last time I was here I was 12, and I remember clearly the dirty chaotic streets filled with bicycles, motorbikes and tuk-tuks, barely paved, dirty and real. The new Bangkok’s much closer to Kuala Lumpur – roads are paved, traffic is hell and mostly cars, super-malls dot the landscape, clean(er), air-conditioned and modern. There’s still a taste of the old town, tuk-tuks are still popular (basically motorcycles pulling covered seats), and the stacks of old concrete cube houses can be spotted between the gleaming skyscrapers, but with raised motorways and skytrains weaving between 60 story towers, it’s hard to visualize the old city.

I attempt to escape the downtown, and head to the weekend market at Mo Chit. It’s far enough from the high rent district to be a true flea market. Everything can be had here: silk ties, live snakes, ivory antiques, unidentifiable street food (I find one marked octopus eggs), even overpriced espresso ($6! Ha!). The place is teaming, mostly locals, a few western men with trophy Thai girls on their arms (though the men are much younger than those in the Philippines), and token number of misc (Malays in colorful head-scarves, French couples haggling poorly).

And the clothes, everywhere name brand knockoffs, piled high, crowds jamming the space between the stalls until you can’t move, digging through the racks, haggling over a few baht. I feel tall again here, very tall. Despite being able to see over everyone, I get completely lost, unable to move forward or back at any speed in the mass of people, the 30C temperature finally starts to feel hot. There are some tables at one of the open air crossroads, and I decide to grab some street food. The buffet is a staggered mountain of pots with all manner of “things in sauce.” Things because I have no idea what in there, but I pile it on a plate with rice and enjoy a tear-your-guts-out spicy meal. I sweat fire, and love it – and try not to think of the price I’ll pay later… hell, it’s worth it.

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Jun 24 2007

Slazburg, wandering

OK, I don’t feel at all bad about slumbering until 3 after the previous night! News quickly reaches us that several members of our party group won’t be leaving their respective houses today as they are absolutely thrashed. This in light of the infamous Austrian drinking constitution makes it clear that 14 hours of drinking is about their limit 😉

However, it’s a beautiful day, and we’re not in quite that bad a condition. We decide to return to downtown (and perhaps grab a little hair of the dog… ;). There’s a nice rock festival in downtown, and we plant ourselves in a nice cafe and sample the excellent larger and listen to the tunes. Salzburg is like a small village, and we’re constantly stubling upon Margit’s friends. We eventually decide to tackle on of the two towering hills in downtown, and grab a pint at the top and watch the sunset over the rooftops. I keep thinking I could be in a cube at work… (Yes, even on a Sunday)

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Jun 23 2007

Salzburg, half-Christmas

Margit and Tini are kind enough to offer me the spare room (no hotel! hurrah!), and I make good use of it sleeping until noon. We head back into town and do a little touring and grab some coffee. Salzburg is beautiful this time of year, and despite having some tourists, it’s surprisingly uncrowded. On our way back home, we pass the preparations for tonight’s “half Christmas” party, something a few friends of Margit’s have been putting on for years. Christmas trees, lights, and lots of ornaments bring the season to life on the 24th of June each year – and we’re all invited.

Margit and I dig in her storage room and rustle up the necessary festive red and white hats, and Margit show’s me her extensive art compositions; it’s very cool and original work. Tini’s got a play to go to, so she plans to join us later, and Margit and I head into the madness that is half Christmas. There’s already about 75 revellers there, and more arriving.

Some people are really taking the party seriously and have full white fur lined red outfits on, and a few really creative hats! Most guests are like us with just a seasonal hat, but given the warm afternoon, it’s a good thing. There’s a wide selection of drinks, and lots of “hearty” Austrian food. Tini finally joins us after we’re already 3 sheets to the wind, but catches up in no time. I’m meeting lots of their friends, and they all have at least a basic knowledge of English, so I can avoid inflicting my destructive German on them!

The party (well, at least we and some of Margit’s closest friends) move the party closer to the bar, and it starts getting quite wild. Kris Kringle shows up with his… Um… Goblins! That’s right, Santa in Austria has some seriously ugly, scary brown goblins (not just at half Xmas either), and they grab people from the crowd to be interrogated by Kringle. It’s all in good fun of course, but it’s… well, different! 😉

Salzburg is the home of Red Bull (or at least one of it’s founders), and so Red Bull is in everything. I’m not much of a fan of the liquid candy myself, but all the cocktails are 1/2 redbull and 1/2 something tasty, so I make do ;). Still, about nine hours of this, and we’re very drunk and very wired. We eventually take the party back to Margit’s house. As we stagger back the sun’s just rising over the rooftops.

At the house Tini is barmaster, and makes short work keeping the party going! We all try to keep pace (memory’s a bit fuzzy here though ;), and we pour the final drinks at 7:30am – or there abouts anyway.

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Jun 22 2007

Vienna, tourist

After a cursory review of a few old faithful Vienna tourist spots, I figure it’s time to get off the beaten path and head down to the Gasometer. Four old brick gas tanks that have been used for Bond films and raves, they now house a mall (blech), apartments, and some really interesting modern architecture. I wander a bit and get lost in the side streets (best way to see a city in my opinion). When lost in Vienna, I find it wise to eat apple strudel with a cappuccino, and all’s right with the world. I eventually find my way back downtown in time to catch my train for Salzburg.

It’s fab to see the old Salzburg crowd again: my cousin Tini, her boyfriend Ollie, and her mom Margit. Everyone’s in fine form (it’s Friday and sunny), and we decide that first things first, we have to grab some nice cocktails!

Downtown Salzburg is small, and impecably clean. We settle for a nice little wine bar and tell stories and drink light cocktails for hours. Funny how Salzburg can feel like home so quickly!

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Jun 20 2007


As much as I’d like to stay, Paris is full. Totally full. I try a dozen or so websites, and there’s not a room or hostel to be had (short of $700). Hint taken, I try to get a train to Vienna. No luck. “Can’t you leave tomorrow?” *sigh* I may end up on the street…

I eventually find a way to route through Munich on an overnight, and I’m on my way. Even on the intercity, it’s a long way from Paris to Vienna, and I bunk down in a crowded 4 bed sleeper with a nice girl from Wisconsin, and 6 Chinese (yes, this is a FOUR bed cubicle, but the Chinese are nothing if not space efficient!). The smelly feet and general endless loud snoring brings back memories of the capsule inn in Tokyo.

I arrive Vienna in the early afternoon, and spend a few hours walking in circles until I locate my hotel (damn these ring roads!). Finally free of the accursed backpack, I set my sights on some nice downtown cafes, and a much needed bite of civilization.

I pop into the Kunsthistorisches Museum, which turns out to be a bit more than I bargained for encompassing massive Egyptian artifacts, hundreds of Roman/Greek statues, and an extensive art exhibit that rivals a wing of the Louvre. While I’m inside, the guards spend some time running circles around me, very upset about something… I don’t escape until 9pm, and find the world outdoors a mess. There’s been quite a storm blowing through Vienna while I pondered my swirls of paint, but the massive bulk of the building has completely isolated me from it.

I seek out a traditional Vienna restaurant, and I find one billowing cigarette smoke and bustling with locals – perfect. Wiener Schnitzel and a nice Riesling on the table, and I’m soon chatting with two very talkative young ladies at the next table, Pia and Caroline. They’re having a monthly get together, and are chain smoking up a storm, but very energetic and great company. They explain that the storm I missed actually killed several people, blowing over trees and cranes (killing the driver). They also spin some very scary stories of their last visit to Prague, and how I, as a single male, will be the prey of every hooker/pimp/pickpocket in the city, and I’m taking my life in my hands going alone. Well, we’ll see 😉

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Jun 19 2007

Paris, museums

My sister Victoria has helpfully provided me with a few top choices for museums, and so I start with the Decorative Arts at the Louvre After a quick bite (ok, 90 mins for a coffee, who’s in a rush 😉 I head across the Seine to the Musee d’Orsay.

I find myself wandering again looking for a nice spot for dinner (how did it get to be 11pm?!) and finally find an open door at the Cafe de la Paix. I plant myself at the bar for a nice pre-dinner martini, and have a chance to look about. This place it a bit of a museum itself, perfect French Baroque decor, waiters all with a cloth over their arms, and hmmm, I’m the only one in the place not in a tuxedo! If fact, I’m in my museum comfort outfit of jeans and a t-shirt. Well, I wait to see what happens, but they seat me at a nice table (_not_ hidden in the back like in Japan I might add 😉 and I get an excellent salmon with white wine. They never batted an eye at my attire. I guess I’d expected more “snooty” French attitude, and was a little, well, disappointed! Perhaps they thought I was a rock star or some Hollywood type 😉

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Jun 18 2007

Paris, Monday

I’ve picked the perfect day: Monday. Nothing’s open (this is Paris after all, and they only work a few hours on the best of days, when they’re not on strike that is). I pick out a few choice sights that aren’t museums (like Notre Dame) and make a path through the city from the Arc de Triomphe to the Latin Quarter visiting them, enjoying a nice crepe here, avoiding a rainstorm there (really need an umbrella!)

I find a nice English pub in the Latin Quarter, and since it’s oddly one of the only places I’ve seen where everyone appears to be French, I grab a Guinness, flop down on a bench in the sun, and enjoy the wifi. I even login to World of Warcraft just to drop a “guess where I am!” in the guild chat for yuks; I can be so cruel…

After my Guinness addiction is sated, I explore a bit in search of someplace for dinner… and in a tiny backstreet in the Quarter I find an absolutely spectacular ancient (17th century?) house/restaurant called Le Coupe-Chou – the low, heavy beams and narrow craggy staircases remind me of the Gordon’s cottage, and the food, well… it’s Paris!

I decide Paris needs another day.

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