Join us on a hot air balloon trip over Cappadocia!
En Route to Cappadocia
I landed in Abu Dhabi at 4am, tired, hungry, dirty and not caring that I looked like a crazy homeless person who just wanted somewhere to sleep. Ah the good times travelling! ; ) Luckily the airport had showers (bliss) and uncomfortable reclining seats (any port in a storm).
Of course, I met another aussie on our flight, (aussies are everywhere we've found!) Kelly, who works 6 months of the year in Croatia as a tour guide for crazy drunk UK tourists. Apparently drinking is part of the job, sounds appealing but its a Full time job that starts at 8am.....eek.
Despite my reverting to grunge style and feeling horrid, it was so wonderful to see Greggy waiting at the baggage carousel! (Sounds like the beginning of a song....I met you at the baggage carousel, my hair was wild - yours as well...)
If you remember he went to London for a job interview with the NHS whilst I partied in Tokyo for a week. Rainy Istanbul greeted us, the huge ancient church silhouettes like ghosts in the misty sky. A good sleep and then we travelled onwards to Cappadocia. Now if like me, you have no idea what or where it is - read on!
History Lesson by Jade
You knew this was coming right?!
So Cappadocia was originally named Hatta, and first mentioned in 6th Century texts by Darius I & Xerxes I (yep that Great one - King of Persia).
Situated in the Anatolia region in Turkey, it was home to the Hittite empire from 2nd Century BCE* onwards, they created many cave dwellings carved out of the soft volcanic rock in the valley. The amazing rock formations are due to the volcanic ash sediment being compressed and slowly eroded over the centuries. It’s soft enough to carve inside, but hardens on the outside when exposed to weather, thereby making amazing homes!
Around 1st - 7th centuries BCE the Christians took refuge from persecution in the huge caves underground and above ground.
*In case you're wondering I use Before Common Era rather than Before Christ dating system as I dont believe in dating our whole civilisation by a single religion. It is, however the same timeline, just a bit more politically correct.
Goreme Open Air Museum
We stayed with Ihsan, at the oddly named Kookaburra Pension in Goreme. Ihsan is a wonderful, unusal host who shared many of his pet peeves with us, regarding tourists of certain nationalities - but he does love aussies!
Each morning started with a full turkish breakfast of vegetables, tomatoes, eggs, toast, oranges and turkish coffee. Armed with a full belly we set off to explore the Goreme Open Air Museum, which is really an area with a cluster of these cave houses. It was amazing walking into them - some beautiful carvings, paintings from early Christians still exist despite the devastating damage done by the Muslim conquerers in the 9-11th centuries BCE.
This kind of devastation always makes me sad - and despite what we have learnt wars today are still fought like this. Destroying irreplaceable historical monuments - haven’t we learnt better? A tasty Gozleme for lunch did cheered me up somewhat.
A Walk through Pigeon Valley to meet the locals
We got up early for a breakfast overlooking beautiful Goreme, and then Greg convinced me to go for a walk through Pigeon Valley. As you will see, the natural rock formations are incredible and it feels like you’re walking in fairy land. Not only that if you’re lucky you can find empty cave dwellings and pose in them!
We wandered a bit looking for the valley and instead met a nice guy building a new two story home into the rock. He showed us his new home and his crops in neat little rows just outside, whilst inviting us to tea and telling us that his family had owned this land for generations. 'You have to be careful when building, as frequently the rock erodes and collapses', he warned us. Hmm…glad we are not staying in those expensive cave hotels!
Halfway through the valley there was what looked like an open air cafe / home! We ventured in and were greeted by a farmer and his family. Over drinks of cay (turkish tea), and freshly squeezed orange & pomegranate juice they tell us their story.
During Spring and Summer when crops are growing, they come out and live in the cave home, planting crops in the rich volcanic soil. When winter hits, it gets too cold so they pack up (except the stubborn Grandfather) and go to their 'normal house' in the next village. Peeking inside their 'house' we saw a large cosy cave with decorative turkish carpets over the floor, walls and roof. Tiny windows let in light, while power cords and sockets seemed to come from no where. Laptops and a tv sat in the corner while the youngest boy did his school homework on the floor. They showed us the sleeping mattresses, folded up in a small side hollow during the day, and put out on the large floor at night, and their cats who found a cave room above the family's and sleep there. It looked very comfortable and I was tempted to stay - but onwards toward the castle!
Onwards and upwards towards the great Uchisar ‘Castle’. I must mention our amazing lunch at Uchisar - the views over the valley were spectacular, as we reclined (turkish style) on carpets and rugs inside an old cave, whilst kittens played on our laps. Beautiful!
Full bellies we trudged further uphill to the castle, a natural hollowed out rock fortress for villagers to retreat to in crisis. No one knows when it was built, but it can hold the entire village plus livestock and be highly fortifiable.
Exercise not done yet, we cycled to Cavusin another little town with some old ruins.
When we got into view our jaws dropped - on one side it looks like typical rock houses, other side was caved in exposing rooms and old dwellings.
A local guide told us the sad story, of how people had lived here up until the 1960’s. And in 1965 there was a major landslide, killing many of those families.
Now the whole site is open to tourists to explore. We wandered, climbed and clambered up through holes, down tiny passages, through an ancient 2nd century church and right up to the top windows. Amazing how all the houses have interconnecting passages and doorways - I did wonder about the bathroom situation….
Ballooning over Cappadocia!
This is the ONE THING YOU MUST DO whilst here in Cappadocia. Up at 4am (bleh!) and taken to the bus offices where we had a selection of bread and drinks. I took a a little of everything as I was intrigued by the variety of bread things on offer - Turkey has a lot of bread nibbles you should try them all!
Once we all settled into a basket (about 20 of us crammed in) we slowly took the sky, girls near me precariously hanging their iPhones over the edge to get photos.
We floated so high it stole my breath! Then gently came down to brush the fields and fairy chimneys….and as all the balloons around us flared up we saw the rising sun spreading her pink rays over Cappadocia and it was just other worldly!
The underground City of Derinkuyu
How exciting! A secret underground city - something you cannot miss whilst in this area. We decided to visit the largest underground city, Derinkuyu* which could hold up to 20,000 people with livestock all underground for months at a time.
I refused to pay for some terrible tour guide to take us out to the famous underground cities for crazy money, (which as you might have guessed was a theme on our trip!) so instead we caught two local buses at the low price of 0.50pence for both.
In the spirit of DIY we managed to solicit an old turkish guy hanging around outside, who spoke a bit of english, to give us a tour. (Why not!? There are many fake tour guides in Turkey, so at least I knew he wasn’t legitimate!). He was very enthusiastic (I'm guessing hanging outside the gates, chatting to other tour guides over turkish cay must've given him some info on the city!) and quite funny. He led us through the caves for free showing us the highlights and proudly chatting to the other turkish guides.
What an amazing settlement, we ventured 75m underground (beware claustrophobes) and goes for over 50km, joining another underground city, Kaymakli, via an 8km tunnel.
However, only part of this is open to tourists because of the risk of getting lost!
Suspected to be originally created by the Phrygians, and then expanded by Christians when the Muslim invasion happened.
You descend via a tunnel that slowly shrinks until one person has to double over to walk through. Then it has cleverly designed large round rock disc doors that roll shut in case of invasion, there are around 3 as you descend before getting to the city. As you venture down, you see rooms for livestock first, school rooms, winemaking areas, sleeping quarters and more.
A fantastic design, they disguised the air vents as deep water wells so any invading force would not realise and come looking for them.
*Amazingly whilst we were here National Geographic ran a story of a newly discovered underground city at Nevsehir, which is larger and holds even more secrets!
Thanks again for reading my waffling commentary on Cappadocia!
Next up we have Aphrodisias - our favourite ancient Roman city, and the beautiful Pammukale.
Jade & Greg x
Well we are now back in London reflecting on the wonderful year we had. But as I have not finished the blog, rest assured this will continue until I’ve recorded all our adventures! (‘Im sure you’re all so relieved to hear this ; )
Where were we? Ah yes, Tokyo and my solo adventures without my Japanese interpreter (Greg).
Off I went into the big jungle that is Tokyo, with my minimal Japanese....!
I ended up in a fantastic guesthouse Shinagawa Guesthouse, if you're wondering - with my own tiny room that cosily fit my bed, my bag and me, very japanese! I ended up bonding with the guys that worked at the hostel and we all went for a wonderful lunch at the Michelin star soba restaurant, Sangoan.
We queued up early at an unassuming tiny restaurant in a residential neighbourhood. The food was amazing, and my japanese friends explained the various traditions about soba. Firstly we tried the sobagaki, which is the buckwheat noodle base as a dumpling. Tasting it, will determine how good the noodles are - it is served in a plain broth and tastes kind of chewy with no particular flavour as it is noodle base! Next up we had the fluffiest egg roll I've ever eaten, sweet and light with a hint of soy sauce. The main course was tempura, soba noodles and dipping sauce. The soba comes separately so you can taste it better, the dipping sauce was soy tasting and gave the noodles a lovely edge. The noodles themselves were earthy, and slightly chewy textured but so incredibly fresh!
The entire meal came to 2,000 Yen = $16USD to eat at a Michelin star restaurant. So if you're in Tokyo don't miss visiting Sangoan.
Tokyo has two big holidays for everyone one was New Years and the other is Golden Week (the old Emperor's birthday). Yep I was there for Golden week! And what a fantastic time it was. I ended up at Nezu Temple for their festivities that included the annual azalea festival, food stalls, praying, Shinto priests chanting, fantastic Taiko drumming and bizarrely, or not, hula dancing….
I ended up with a cup of Sake chatting away to the locals using my few japanese words.
I also saw a creepy spirit begging for money. Check that video out here.
Having visited Tokyo a few times previously, I made it my mission this time to find all the things that make Tokyo, Weird. So here's what made the list:
Bathe in black waters - Check ! I found out I was up the road from a special 'Black Water' onsen (Japanese bathhouse), so of course I managed to get there and try it out. There was a black water bath which apparently has healing properties - but I felt like an egg being boiled in soy sauce (they are quite popular here). Nevertheless it was extremely relaxing. If only London had bathhouses!
Get eaten by Godzilla. Twice! Check check!
Eat at the restaurant where Kill Bill was filmed - Gonpachi - almost check. Right restaurant but wrong location! Still the food was delicious.
Drink lots of sake - Big check.
With the help of Fumi and Eric, who we met in Vietnam all those weeks ago, we sampled as many sake bar's as we could. Eating, drinking, walking, meeting new people, more eating and drinking. Bed time was around 3am during this week ; )
Find a crazy bar - check.
There are quite a few to choose from, but the one I ended up at was awesome. 8bit Cafe, a shrine to all things 90’s. Nintendo, Gameboy, Sega, etc etc. Order a drink and start playing Super Mario Bros….ah good times. Sadly you realise how much you’ve aged when you die continuously on the early levels….
Eat sushi at the fish markets - yum!
Oh yes! It was an hour wait in line but oh so worth it. You are assigned a sushi chef with whom you are supposed to converse with, sadly our communication was limited, but that didn't affect the delicious sushi let me tell you. Each nigiri is made by hand in front of you, slicing the fish creating the rice rectangle in cupped hands. Then a small amount of soy glaze is put on so no need for dipping in soy (it's also a bit of a no no). Fresh fish, so fresh it was jumping when they got the fish out.
Find the best Coffee - oh yes.
This is always on my checklist but I was surprised here. Apparently Tokyoites are crazy for Portland. Why? Hipsters, Americans, Cool. So I was taken to the first Portlandia style coffee shop selling Stump Town Coffee. Even the japanese owner had worked in Portland.
Go to the oddest festival(s) you can find - check and check.
I found Cinco de Mayo Festival in Tokyo. Why? hmm I don’t believe they have a large spanish population but any excuse for a festival right?! The flamenco done by Japanese kids was amazing and bizarre.... Just further down they had a large second hand clothes market, then the NHK festival for kids was on, with awesome kiddie activities.
Experience a Cat Cafe - YAY!
I’ve always wanted to do this and was so excited to finally go! After signing up online and getting a time and date slot I entered my first cat cafe and was not disappointed.
The cats lounge around and you, slave human, are allowed to feed them buying little kitty treats from the onsite cafe. Some say this is an amazing money making opportunity, I say its cat lover heaven.
See crazy things - Yes.
This is the general craziness of Tokyo, from dressing your pet bunny, to you and your dog having matching hairstyles...ah Tokyo!
Try to see Mt Fuji - Uncheck.
This is a repeated effort, each time I go to Tokyo I day trip out to try and see Mt Fuji and get the most awesome photo. Every single time I seem to get a wonderful shot of white clouds. This time was no execption. Luckily I made up for it by eating the best gyoza in Japan (Gyoza Centre) and wandering through Hakone's Outdoor Art Museum - amazing!
I highly recommend all these things next time you're in Tokyo, its great fun and a more enriching experience to see the weird side of this wonderful city.
One day I'd love to live there. Sad goodbyes were said and I boarded the plane to Istanbul and see Greg......
Next post: Greg and Jade travel to Cappadocia and see fairy chimneys - do fairies live in them?! Find out next time!
Till then keep travelling!
This post is brought to you by Dr Greg Shields!
From Osaka we caught the bullet train to Yamaguchi, and then a local train to the modest town of Hofu where I had spent my time as a high school student on exchange. It had been my first overseas trip, much anticipated, and remains the most memorable experience of my life to this date. Going back to Hofu, which I have done twice before (once with Jade in 2003) is an exercise in nostalgia and remembrance of a very happy and formative experience.
We met my host mother, Fujiko, at the station and she drove us back to the traditional wooden house that has been the family home for over 70 years (Papa himself was born here). We greeted Papa warmly and introduced ourselves to Noah, the incessantly yapping daschund.
We spent our time there relaxing, catching up with the family, eating our way around homely Japanese cuisine, and enjoying the familiarity of my second childhood home. My host sister Mayumi (who had been in the US while I was at school in Hofu) arrived from Miyajima for one night, and Yasuhiro (my host brother) visited for a night with his new wife. We also visited the Okamotos for an afternoon; they were another host family from the school and had been very kind to us in the past. Takumaru, their son, visited with his wife and new baby daughter, who kept Mrs Okamotos and youngest daughter Azusa transfixed. They own an umbrella factory and, as is now customary, we did not fail to leave without one of their very good umbrellas each.
The other highlight of Hofu was hiring electric bicycles and cycling around the outskirts of town, visitng shrines and the small fish market along the way. We bought unagi for dinner and stopped at an incongruent 'Hula Cafe' (Hawaiian themed!) for lunch.
During the week there we also took an overnight trip to visit two historical towns. Hagi is famous for its pottery throughout Japan, and we enjoyed exploring its quaint streets and old workshops. The same day we went to Tsuwano where we stayed in a small inn, slightly shabby, but enjoyed an immense teishoku dinner of very high quality accompanied by copious sake. The following day we spend exploring Tsuwano, which is an incredibly well preserved historical town with traditional cobbled streets, houses dating back to the 1500s, and deep guttering with carp swimming. Tsuwano held particularly good memories for me as it was on a school excursion there that I had first seen snow, so many winters ago. We wandered around the town, delighted to see groups of older Japanese couples dressed in kimono. When I asked what the occasion was for their dressing up, they replied 'just for fun', which I thought to be about the best answer they could have.
We returned to Hofu that night and saw out the rest of the week there, and left on the same train: Jade to Tokyo and myself to Osaka, heading for a job interview in London.
Join me for my Tokyo adventures in a week's time!
Also update we are currently in Iceland but I promise to keep posting all our adventures despite our big adventure coming to an end.
From dusty heat ridden plains of Cambodia to the neat, cool streets of Osaka. I’ve only ever been to Osaka once before and like this time it was to visit our good friends Shino, her husband Daichung and to meet the now grown up Akane and her younger brother Aoi.
Osaka is the too-cool-for-school younger brother of Tokyo. While Tokyo is busy, central and filled with people. Osaka is home to the eclectic artists, young musicians playing on street corners and people wearing what might be the next trend. However we weren’t staying in the centre, we were staying out in the burbs a good 45min by train. So arriving in the suburb and walking to our hotel was an experience for us and the japanese around us - who’d probably not seen tourists that much!
True to Japanese style, our hotel has a check in time of 3pm. Not before, no, sorry we cannot, its the rules. Sorry sorry. Please wait here (dusty dark lobby with a few chairs), and at 3pm we will check you in.
It didnt matter that we were exhausted or that we had an AirAsia overnight flight, where they insisted on leaving the lights on, and waking you up every 5min to try and sell duty free crap, 3pm is the only time you can check in. Not 7min before this. And sure enough at 3pm there was a queue of us all waiting to check in. Only in Japan. Sigh.
Instead of waiting for hours, Shino rescued us and took us out to lunch. This is the moment we were waiting for, the wonderful deliciousness that is Japanese food. Of course, we were happy to see Shino and meet the kids, but oh my gosh, it is so nice to have something other than noodles and not worry about whether we might get food poisoning!!!
Dinner that night was a family affair, traditional Osaka speciality Tako Yaki (octopus/squid balls) food, with neighbours, kids and lots of noise. Felt like we’d come home!
Woo hoo! Aoi & Akane gave us a great excuse to visit Universal Studios - and they challenged Greg to go on the Jurassic Park ride. Of course he didn't scream like a girl at the end of the ride. Of course not!
Himeji Castle : A Feudal Fort
We saw the newly restored Heron Castle, or Himeji Castle. A 12th century feudal castle & fort with weapons storage and large rooms to sheller the towns people in a siege.
Once long ago there was a Princess Katsu (not Katsu like the pork cutlet says Greg but I'm not convinced, I think she was Princess Cutlet!) who lived at one of the towers.
The castle itself is amazing, we climbed up all the steep wooden floors, through trap doors and into tiny alcoves. Where nightingale floors squeak as you walk (security measure), and tiny windows are covered with rice paper. It was amazing to see this 12th century castle in such great condition and what a view from the top! Over the entire city of Himeji.
Weird Japan: We watched some tv shows with the kids and realised that every show is a discussion panel with old celebrities. They sit around and discuss whatever the show is about, offering opinions. The women invariably are particularly cutesy and girly and seem to offer nothing but exclamations. Good female role models seem to be hard to find here.
More disturbingly Greg was shown a new game show where men have to sing karoeke while having an...ahem erotic massage. There are new, inventive, amazing, and horrific shows all the time. Glad I'm not in tv!
*On another note, I was trying to find a good pic for here, but if you google Japanese TV Show in images you will disturbing and hilarious images that can keep you entertained for hours.
Of course we had to go shopping! (Uniqlo, LOFT!)
Here is the cutest toy I found, its a Panda Moneybox. You place a coin on the white button and the box opens (as seen here) a panda pops his head out and his paw grabs the money and pulls it inside.
Greg wouldn't let me buy it even though it was incredibly cute.*
*This is perhaps why its a good thing I dont live in Japan. My house would be filled with kitchsy cutesy stuff.
We also bought some wrapping paper, and in true Japanese style, I was pleasantly surprised to find words of wisdom...
We said farewell over a normal family dinner of ‘Hamburg’ which is the Japanese take on a hamburger. Its the meat patty with herbs, and a side salad. No bread. Only in Japan, and its surprisingly tasty!
Akane showed us what she was learning in dance class, ‘ pop & lock’ style. Its a type of street dancing thats pretty edgy and requires quite a bit of skill. Whilst she wouldn’t let me film it, we were amazed at how good she was!
Next up, we travel to Hofu to meet Greg's host family from when he was 16 years old! And get to scare all the locals, and try a 'traditional Hawaiian restaurant!'
Till next time
Jade & Greg
A fun and surprising blog about the top 10 interesting things we found out while travelling Vietnam Cambodia and Laos. So without further ado:
1 Nixon outright denied that U.S. Troops were involved in a war in Laos when in reality they were on the ground fighting in Laos. For realsies.
2 In Vietnam it is legal number of people allowed on a scooter is 5, as long as the driver has a helmet. And then you can fit almost anything on the back of a scooter - legally. We saw a full sized fridge, a cow, two full grown pigs and even baskets of chickens.
3. Although the death toll in Laos from unexplored ordinances (UXO's) is fairly low, the economic consequences of not being able to use the land as farmland and the injuries to farmers, is a big problem.
4 Fish sauce production smell so bad it's illegal to make it in your home!
5 Vietnamese are coffee aficionados, on par with Sydney, London and Italian coffee drinkers.
I had the best coffee in my life here. See above.
Vietnamese are also great coffee experimenters with weasel coffee, egg coffee, iced coffee with condensed milk, and frozen yoghurt coffee.
6 Almost a third of the Cambodian population was killed during the communist regime of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge.
7 It's illegal for foreigners to have relations with Laos women.
8 Families who want to educate their sons, but perhaps dont have the money for it will send them to be monks at the temple for a few years. They get free education, accommodation, food and when they get older they can choose to leave or stay on. This happens throughout Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos and helps provide for the children.
9 Beer Laos is the officially the coolest beer in the world with an Instagram account and a fantastic motto: "Beer of the whole hearted people"
(Plus they liked my pic!)
It is also hailed as the best tasting South East Asian beer. Even Vietnam and Cambodia import it over.
For the final surprising and interesting fact we realised.....
10 Stuffed frogs are delicious!! We tried them at a market in Cambodia (dont worry caught fresh that morning!) Organic, freshly roasted and stuffed with mince, we were both completely surprised to ask for more!
Go on, I dare you to say I'm wrong. Go and try these at Phsar Lieu a market just outside of in Siem Reap central city.
Click here for more!
That's it for South East Asia - next post we travel to Japan! Old friends, new friends and wonderful wonderful Japanese hospitality and cleanliness! Cannot wait!
For our last week in Cambodia, we decided to go our separate ways. Well, only for a week.
Being the water baby that I am, I was very excited at the prospect of learning how to Scuba Dive by doing the 5 day PADI Open Water Certificate. Whilst Greg was looking for a more humanitarian style adventure, so he went deep into the Cambodian countryside to do a homestay with a family and teach english to the locals.
Why he didn't want to spend 5 days, swimming, diving, and enjoying the sunny sands of Sihanoukville was totally beyond me, but, absence makes the heart grow fonder they say and rather than strangle eachother, we thought a short week apart might be good for us ; )
Brimming with excitement I joined the pilgrammage of many of young 20 somethings to the sandy beaches of Sihanoukville and the Cambodian Islands. Unlike my fellow travellers I was not going to drink, dance, swim and drink some more. But instead looking to do 4 and a half intensive days of learning to scuba with Scuba Nation Cambodia.
This seems like a lot but with the amount of paperwork, exams, 2 pool dives, and 2 days out in the ocean diving twice a day, it really felt like a blitz!
Each day I drummed more information into my head; remembering to check my air gauge, learning the hand signals, remembering safety, checking depth gauge and air, and revising more at night - by which time, I was exhausted.
In the end I got 98% on my theory, and passed my practical tests easily! Woo hoo!
I have my awesome instructor Vero to thank for helping me through it all - it was definately not an easy thing to do in such a short amount of time.
Below is a short video of my first open water dives - you'll have to forgive them for being a bit shaky as my buoyancy wasn't that great.
While Jade was in Sihanoukville plumbing the depths of the ocean, I was 40 minutes from Phnom Penh plumbing the depths of cultural immersion and transcontinental companionship in the village of Ang Tasom.
I had decided to opt out of yet another idyllic beachside retreat so that I could spend Cambodian New Year with a real life Cambodian family. Based on excellent reviews, I booked 2 nights the Meas (www.cambodianhomestay.com). This was quickly extended to 5 nights, partly because of Siphen's incredible cooking, but also in expectation of Mach's karaoke performance at their upcoming New Years party.
The Meas live a complicated life on a large property surrounded by fields in a semi-rural part of Cambodia. Not only do both of them teach at the local high school (Mach is also the principal), but Siphen runs an NGO which provides materials, equipment, and space for impoverished women to work for themselves weaving scarves, which are then sold by the NGO to retailers overseas. On top of this, she also teaches English classes to a regiment of die-hard teenagers who are desperate to live the American dream upon graduation.
While Jade was in Sihanoukville plumbing the depths of the ocean, I was 40 minutes from Phnom Penh plumbing the depths of cultural immersion and transcontinental companionship in the village of Ang Tasom.
Also resident at the family home is Paul, an Indian-Canadian, ex-Brit, and ex-corporate marketing jock who has burnt his suits & ties in favour for a quieter and more satisfying life managing the NGO.
And last but not least, Mach & Siphen's son Savdar who is preparing for his impending exchange to New Zealand by learning Bruno Mars songs.
As the week went by and the New Year loomed every closer the house became abuzz with relatives and friends who filtered in gradually and expanded meals into ever grander events. I was joined by four volunteers from our esteemed Oxford University: Paige, Coral, Siew, and Bea, who were busy assisting Paul with photos and video content for promotion of the NGO. The five of them would become my worthy companions for the remainder of the stay. Soon we were joined by Rob, an Austrian volunteer whose time was usually spent driving a converted rikshaw-library around to local high schools, and Sarah & Michael, a British couple who had settled at the Meas as a brief reprieve from their long travels.
Most of the days were spent chatting, reading, sleeping, relaxing in the hammock, playing scrabble, and above all, eating. That was all to change on New Years eve...
Cambodian New Years is a big deal, involving prolonged public holidays during which Cambodians return to their families en masse, leaving cities like Phnom Penh eerily quiet. Everywhere you go weddings abound, spilling out onto the pavement as newlyweds take advantage of the seasonal good fortune for their nuptials.
Our New Year party began a few days before as the extended family migrated to Ang Tasom and began preparations, spending many hours cooking and planning for the event. The day itself started ordinarily, but as the stage was assembled and sound engineers arrived it became clear that it would not be an ordinary night. I spent my time concocting a barrel full of sangria, as well as helping Siphen to prepare the food. As the evening came closer friends and family started to arrive, and the students from Siphen's english class milled around. By the time food was served there were 70 people waiting hungrily, excitedly anticipating the evenings events.
The evening really began when the games started. Firstly tug-o-war, then musical chairs, and a pinyada full of talcum powder; then a game in which participants sat in a circle while one person chased another around with a rope, brutally whipping them until they gave up. All in good fun, Cambodian style.
After the games we ate and the music started. The band consisted of a keyboardist and two singers, only one of whom could sing, as well as four of the most bored-looking backup dancers ever to grace the stage. If you had told me they were robots, I would have believed you. Other than the fact that one of them kept blowing her nose during the performance. All of this against a glittering multi-pink-coloured backdrop made for quite an entertaining night. Of course the night was stolen by Mach who, with minimal persuasion, jumped up to take the mic and entertained us all.
Needless to say we drank all the sangria, and spent much of the latter part of the night by the pond talking, drinking, and listening to music. It was a wonderful experience and I was extremely happy to have been able to share it with the Meas.
Stay tuned for our next post when we hit Japan. Konichiwa!
The Japanese won't know what's coming!
Till next time you have been watching & reading 'Jade & Greg go around the world!'
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Hi Guys, sorry for the late post. I've been attempting to complete a new post every Friday, but its turning more into a Saturday/Sunday post. So if you're watching out, each weekend I should have a new post up. We are so far behind it's a bit daunting, but if you stay with us I promise to tell some amazing stories here!!
Especially if you post some comments ; )!
PHNOM PENH, which translates to Penh’s Hill, was named after a Cambodian lady, Penh, who discovered some old, weathered Buddhas floating in the river, and stuck in trees. She created a temple for them on the hill and in doing so, was the founder of the new city. What a huge, modern city that we weren’t quite prepared for! It was odd after travelling through dusty asia for so long to suddenly find the dusty swirling around trendy coffee joints, shops specialising in foreign produce, gyms, and big modern high rise buildings.
We arrived after a jolting and death defying bus ride. It was so bad Greg stood up and yelled at the driver to slow down while I imagined our deaths and came up with tombstone epitaphs (here lies Greg & Jade killed by asia - driven over the edge by a reckless cambodian bus driver).
We then grabbed a local tuktuk and in the space of 15min were scoped out by two kids on motorbikes - our driver turned around and yelled at us to hold our bags while he then yelled at the kids who sped off - and saw a thief run across the road, with an angry guard after him which stopped traffic as the guard beat him soundly with a huge stick. And I mean beat the crap out of him. It was so brutal and yet the guy had just snatched a lady's necklace.
Ooookay then. Valuables keep out of sight and safe. Hold onto all our bags. Welcome to Phnom Penh!
Met our awesome airbnb host Kay another aussie who is living and working with an NGO in Cambodia, and had drinks by the river at a fancy French bar. It was so nice to have a glass of rose with a fellow aussie.
Tuol Sleng - S21
With only one day we visited Tuong Sleng prison, also known as S21. Set up by the Khmer Rouge after they took over Phnom Penh. It was harrowing, and left an indelible mark on us.
Kay had urged us to get a guide, and I was so grateful that we did. Our guide just happened to have written books and was currently adding extra sections onto the museum. Unfortunately I didn't write down his name! He told us how 1600 people were sentenced here, yet only 2 children and 4 adults survived. The survivors are amazingly still in touch and a couple still sit here in the prison to talk to tourists, and have books on their stories.
Before this, Tuol Sleng had been a school but when the Khmer Rouge took over they put up iron fences and draped the buildings in barbed wire to stop prisoners committing suicide by jumping off the upper levels.
The prison has been cleaned up but they’ve left the tiles with stained blood, the wire fences and torture implements that were found there. The cells were tiny about the size of a single bed.
The brutality of the KR was unbelievable, they evacuated everyone from Phnom Penh to the countryside to work in labor camps. They killed 2-3 million of the overall 7mill population. Many photos of the imprisoned are on display including a few Australian, French and even a Kiwi whose boats happened to stray close to the coast of Cambodia and were picked up by the Khmer Rouge army. After their entrance photo, they were never seen again.
During the four years of the prison operation, many prison guards and party people ended up there too because of the increasing paranoia of the KR leader Pol Pot. Torture, and experimentation to obtain false confessions of CIA and KGB affiliations from farmers, women and children. Whilst horrific, it is something that needs to be seen and understood.
There is a large sign out the front which has the rules of the Khmer Rouge posted on them. I have to apologise for the no photos apart from the barbed wire as I felt it was just too intense and moving to take any photos whilst there.
The Security of Regulation
After this heavy and intense visit, we headed to the gym because I had to do a asthma test for my scuba course. The contrast was stark, a sleek reception with guards standing outside, chandeliers inside the gym, a huge beautiful swimming pool with wifi and pool bar….such a change.
Later over dinner discussing the prison and KR regime, we realised that anyone around our age 35 years, or older would've grown up under the Khmer Rouge regime. Looking around the restaurant this was at least 80% of people, a stark reminder to us that this country and it's people are still recovering.
Next post I head to Sihanoukville (or Snooky as known to the locals) to experience my first scuba dive and get certified; while Greg heads to the country and stays with a local family to help the village kids speak english.
What a surprise, coming from dusty villages and places lost to time, the lights and smells of Siem Reap is an onslaught. Then you get to Pub Street, a real tourist mecca or traveller hell. Depending on your point of view and what you are looking for, if its cheap booze, tacky nightclubs, overpriced 'authentic' restaurants then you've come to the right place!
Despite this, we did actually enjoy Siem Reap itself. Cycling everywhere and feeling the excitement was in the air, for in a few days it would be the countries biggest celebration, Cambodian New Year!
We met a French photographer, Theirry Diwo, who'd moved here right after Pol Pot's demise. He he had a lovely gallery of Buddhist relics and a great collection of memorabilia from post Communist Cambodia. Including a book of photos showing the mass exodus of Siem Reap in 1975, when the Khmer Rouge made everyone move to the country to dig trenches. It's actually hard to imagine your government suddenly ordering a complete evacuation of the city you live in. Try to imagine, no cars (it symbolises capitalism), you must take what you can carry and if you don't move fast enough you'll be shot or whipped. The photos were disturbing and moving
The city today has recovered and grown, embracing tourism, capitalism and all it's benefits, if perhaps a little too much. However despite this there are still many NGO's in Cambodia and spirit of good will towards the poor, that we witnessed whilst there. We visited a great French NGO called Artisans d'Angkor. They have set up training and workspace facilities for very poor people to learn a trade and then work creating handicrafts and keeping the skills alive. They are trained in woodwork, stone cutting, metallurgy and weaving, to make and sell to tourists, creating a market for old handicrafts. Using these skills the stone cutters are able to help restore the Angkor temples too.
By this point in our trip I was dying for a glass of good wine. So we made a pilgrimage to the best wine bar in town, and realised it was Aussie owned. We were in good hands. It also turned out to be a gay and transsexual club at night, with shows. However we were hungry and the shows were hours away. So armed with a great recommendation from two expats we had some wine with we headed out to The Sugar Palm for dinner. And wow! Apparently Gordon Ramsay went there for the fish amok recipe. Despite Gordon, we arrived and they obviously knew we were VIP's (!) as there was one table left that night. And yes, the food was amazing!
Later on, Greg bought a jar of homemade chilli paste from a restaurant as he was constantly frustrated with the lack of chilli in tourist restaurants. Whilst we tried to haggle the lady would have none of it, and we settled on the extravagant $3 USD for the jar - which he felt was warranted and I didn't dare disagree. It became a talking point with other tourists who noticed and asked to try it too!
I saw the Museum of Angkor which was sadly empty, it has many relics and pieces recovered from the Angkor complex, not to mention some beautiful statues. I was able to learn some Hindu myths including the Story of Ganesha. He was made out of turmeric by Parvati as she had nothing else in her cupboard, and she asked him to keep watch over the house and let no one in, as she went for a bath. Her husband Shiva returned home only to find a strange boy denying him entry. Shiva grew angry and beheaded him (Its what he did since he was Lord of War and Destruction), Parvati came and saw and was so upset with him. Shiva realised his error (don’t piss off your wife) and consulted a magician to restore Ganesha to life. "Send your armies out and the first living thing you come across, cut off its head. Then put that head on the boy's body and the boy will return to life". So the armies of Shiva went out and the first thing they found was an elephant. So they cut off its head, and stuck it onto the tumeric boy, who immediately came back to life. Parvati was happy, Shiva sighed in relief and Ganesha became the elephant headed god. A lovely tale and explanation of his interesting figure.
After walking so much we treated ourselves (ok more than once) to foot massage at a fantastic place known as DR FOOT. Walk in, and get comfortable, while your feet experience heaven - then leave on a soft cloud. You also get to stare at the wall full of graffitied notes left by other tourists!
The most interesting thing we did was our most ADVENTUROUS FOOD TOUR. Heading out to the local Phsar Leu night market, which is huge and oddly set up along a stretch of highway in the middle of some fields every night. Its obvious the locals of Siem Reap leave Pub street and the central market to the tourists and come here for their dinners.
We purchased bbq food and sat down to eat it alongside the road on straw mats. Our guide passed around crickets, (nice and crunchy), roasted silk worms (nutty tasting I didn't like them), and I even got brave and tried what looked like a cockrach/beetle thing. Once you peel the carapace off it was quite crunchy and chewy...mmm..eww. Probably not something I’ll make a habit of eating.
However the best dish of the night was BBQ stuffed frog. Wow, we all went back for seconds, it was delicious. Honestly, I’m not joking, you must try it!
We also ate traditional cambodian green noodle soup, a pungent fish paste, tasty lotus seeds fresh from the lotus, and coconut biscuits.
Walking around the market, we saw black market petrol from Thailand (cunningly disguised in Johnny Walker bottles), arcade games, crazy neon duck train, and a fan-powered merry-go-round ( Hilarious! see the pic!). Greg triumphed and won some cookies at a shooting game, he then proceeded to hand them out to the local begging children.
Siem Reap is full of surprises, from the outrageous touristy pub street, to the adventures food options and beautiful temples. Highly recommended!
Next up we head to Phnom Penh where we learn the origins of the city’s name, meet an aussie expat living and working in Cambodia and spend a week apart from each other!
Till next time,
Jade & Greg
Cambodia is a whole other world to Laos and Vietnam. We arrived dusty and dirty into Siem Reap. The heat was energy sapping and the city bustled to the tune of tourists. But I'll talk about our adventures in Siem Reap in the next post, this one is all about the temples we saw at Angkor.
The Angokorian period began in 802CE (Common Era/AD) when the Hindu Khmer monarch Jayavarman II declared himself God King and lasted until the late 14th Centry (middle ages europe). According to Wiki, Angkor Wat is considered the world’s largest single religious monument, and the original Angkor (encompassing all the wats) was a megacity supporting at least 0.1% of the global population during 1010-1220.
The coolest thing I found out while writing this (Ok maybe i'm a bit nerdy!) was that Angkor is considered to be a "hydraulic city" because it had a complicated water management network, which was used for, storing, and dispersing water throughout the area.This network is believed to have been used for irrigation in order to offset the unpredictable monsoon season and to also support the increasing population. (Thanks Wikipedia). We saw this by the many lakes and rivers around the temples.
We started our tour early with a 4am pickup to go and watch sunrise over the Phnom Baekeng temple.
Because we are flash packers (or maybe just because we are awesome) and we do things in style, we opted to go for a private guide and air-conditioned car. Cushy? Well, we were glad we did. The heat starts in the morning at a cool 27degrees and rises to midday of around 40 degrees getting as high as 42 in the afternoons and only cooling off after sunset around 9pm.
On top of this, there are over 108 temples and over 2million visitors a year, so it gets very crowded and there are no information boards, having a guide is pretty essential to understanding the importance of each structure and how it fit in the Angkorian history, not to mention knowing how to avoid the crowds to get good pics!
Below is the sunrise over Phnom Baekeng temple; great views over the jungle and other temples. It was built in the 9th century and dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva.
We moved on to the amazingly decorated Bayon Temple in the Angkor Thom complex, this temple has a bridge leading over the lake towards it. The railings show Gods pulling three headed nagas (snakes) on one side and demons pulling the nagas on the other - beautiful.
At the end of the bridge the triple headed god greeted us. The triplicate god is comprised of Brahma as Creator, Vishnu as preserver and Shiva as Destroyer - remember them as they crop up again at other temples.
We scrambled up eroding steps to visit the temple and libraries. And stared in wonder at the many giant faces of Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma.
In the early 10th century the Champa from Vietnam, (remember our trip to My Son? the Champa ruins) invaded and occupied the area. They held it for 4 years before the Chinese allied with the Angkorians and fought them off. You can see these fierce battles in enormous carvings that cover the length and width of the temple walls.
Key: Khmer are depicted by long ear lobes, the Cham have top knots and different costumes and Chinese have slanted eyes.
Click to make photos larger and see captions!
Baphoun Temple 10th Century is dedicated to Shiva the Destroyer and ironically (or not) it's quite destroyed.
There is a long crumbling walkway to the temple and a steep climb up. We were silly enough to want to climb it, in 40 degree heat. Luckily our air con car was waiting nearby!,
Around the back (on picture below) you can just make out a giant reclining buddha in the back of the temple. Its head is on the left near the tree and its body lies to the right. Can you see it?
The Elephant Terrace
Blazing heat was slowly sapping the life out of us at this point, but we soldiered on and saw a few amazing walls along a long promenade, that was filled with carvings of animals and elephants. The triple headed elephants below are particularly wonderful sculptures.
Ta Ne is the hospital temple, created to treat the illnesses of the entire populace as a gift from the God King. Can you believe they had free public healthcare in the 12th century, as Europe was emerging from the dark ages and into the middle ages! Wow.
Then the AMAZING Ta Prohm Temple, also known as the Tomb Raider temple. Yes, thats where they filmed, and of course I got a pic right outside the doorway where Angelina stood (eek!), it's beautiful. Delicate carvings of Hindu dancers grace the walls, while the surrounding jungle and trees slowly reclaim the temple.
It is the most crowded temple not just because Tomb Raider was filmed here, but it is one of the most beautiful that is being quickly taken over by the jungle. It's amazing to see how much more of the temple has fallen since the film. Come and see it quick before it is just a pile of large stones!
Finally we went to see Angkor Wat, which translates to the Universal City Temple. At this point we were so exhausted, hot, dusty, and weary we could barely lift our feet to get there. The temple itself is enormous and so much of it damaged by the Khmer Rouge who fought here. The walls have carvings but sadly quite damaged now, and inside is empty as most of the treasures were moved to museums. We climbed steep stairs to get to the top, felt quite dangerous. (As someone mentioned once, "It's Cambodia, safety isn't an issue - literally -they don't care!")
Originally it was a Hindu temple, but the Buddhists came into power and scratched out many Hindu carvings. Now both religions claim this holy place. View over the lake is normally amazing, sadly the lake was dried up when we got there! ; (
We arrived back at our hotel, hot sweaty and exhausted the only thing keeping us going was the thought of a swim in the pool!
Our favourite temple - Banteay Sarai. It was dawn, no one else was around except a few security guards hawking their caps, and the pink sandstone glowed as the sun cast its first rays.
Built in 967CE Banteay Sarai means the City of Women, and according to our guide, if you come from this area you're beautiful by default!
The sandstone is intricately carved with swirls, and myths, amazingly tiny figures on the lintels.
A Chinese tour group came up behind us and paid the police some money to go and view the carvings up close, so we were ushered in behind them. Whilst I was upset at the lack of conservation, the tourists were pretty good at not damaging the temple and the carvings were even more beautiful up close!
An older temple in a very poor farming district, we noticed many signs "XX sponsored this house/well". Not sure how the locals feel to have a sign in their front yard advertising, but they do get a house out of it. The temple use to be lovely but it has lots of damage now. Being the last day of school, the local school played techno at 9am which was our musical accompaniment to the temple. A group of local children turned up at the temple, dancing, and I danced with them. Sadly the video evidence wasn't quite as compelling - see below!
Today we had a cunning plan, instead of letting the heat sap away our strength and enjoyment, we scheduled a lunch break with a quick swim. Heavenly!
After this blissful excursion, we visited the poetically dishevelled Prea Khan Temple. Originally built to hold the sacred royal swords. Another beautiful temple in disrepair, slowly being reclaimed by the jungle. Gorgeous tree trunks entwining the temple walls.
It’s also a multi faith temple, two gates for Buddhists and two for Hindus. It was so serene and peaceful I couldn't resist taking a short video for you!
The centre of the temple was a large chamber with holes in the walls. Our guide explained that on holy days, these holes were filled with plaster and gemstones so when the sun’s rays hit the light would bounce and sparkle creating radiant blessings onto the people!
Speaking of blessings, I then got blessed by a toothless old lady after buying a bracelet off her (yep, I felt sorry for her), she then blew on my forehead and trailed her fingers from my head out my hands. We could have spent all afternoon here.....
Finally we watched a wonderful sunset at Phnom Baekeng, a beautiful end to an epic two days!
Thank you so much for enjoying the adventure with us, I love sharing these with you!
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Next post, Siem Reap - the food, the festivities and everything in between. Plus I eat a cockroach!
See you next time,
Jade & Greg
If you do go to Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom, feel free to get in touch and we can tell you the details of temples and other things, which guide we took etc. It was amazing and whilst you can see the temples with a tuktuk I'd advise that for only wintertime - its pretty hot there!
This is the story of Jade & Greg. Two creative escapists, who've decided to pack it up and travel the world for a year and a bit!
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