Honeymoon - Cambodia

Check out photos from our time in Siem Reap here! This was probably our favorite place out of the four countries we visited. The food was incredible and there were some magnificent sites to see.

We stayed at Raffles Hotel which was really nice. It is one of the few hotels that dates back to before the war, it was built in the 1930's and has plenty of charm. They still have the original cage elevator from when the hotel was first built, which was fun.

When we first walked in, we were greeted and brought to a sitting area for check-in, where they offered us cold towels and tasty juices made from mixes of local fruit. It definitely beats the usual experience of standing up at a counter that you get at most hotels.

When we went to our room, we were greeted by two kissing swans on the bed made out of towels, and between them they held a red rose. In front of them was a heart made of rose petals. How nice! There was also a bottle of champagne and some fruit.

We arrived a bit late in the afternoon to do anything, so we just chilled out at the hotel for a bit. At 7:00 they were offering a complimentary cocktail tasting, so we decided to check that out. They served samples of four tasty cocktails, but I only remember the name of one, Singapore Sling, which was quite good.

After that, we decided to splurge a bit and check out the fancy restaurant in the hotel, Restaurant Le Grand, where they served authentic Khmer cuisine. It was quite the fine-dining experience with white linens, a single tall candle on each table, and very attentive wait-staff. Not to mention, the food was unbelievable! I don't remember exactly what I got, but it was very good, as was Kellian's dish (which I think involved pumpkin). It was a bit pricey for Cambodia, but even pricey food there is pretty reasonable compared to what you would pay here for the same thing.

After a wonderful meal, we headed off to bed since we were tired from travelling and it was getting late. The next morning, we were quite pleased to find that the breakfast was also quite good. It was a buffet, but it was a good one! They had many things to choose from, including a bunch of different juices, six different types of honey, fruit, and pancakes, waffles, and eggs cooked to order.

The fellow who drove us from the airport to the hotel, Lin, was really nice, and offered to drive us around if we'd like and even arrange a tour guide if we wanted. This ended up being about half the price of going through the hotel, so we decided to give it a shot and met up with them after breakfast.

It turns out that we really lucked out on the tour guide Lin was able to find for us. His name is Soeun and he was the first registered tour guide in Siem Reap! He holds a fairly high position in the ministry of tourism, but gives tours on the side for some extra money. Lucky for us! He was extremely knowledgeable about all the sites we saw, spoke English well, and was really nice. Here are their business cards if you're ever in Cambodia!

The first spot we went was Angkor Wat, a massive temple complex near Siem Reap. If you only see one temple, this is the one to see. The whole thing is surrounded by a gigantic moat, then a huge wall. The wall encloses a 203 acre area and in the center is the temple, which is huge. Check out this aerial photo from Wikipedia for a sense of the scale.

So it is huge, but the really amazing thing is that much of it is covered in these incredible carvings. The outer wall is covered in thousands of carvings of dancing women called Apsaras. On the actual temple walls, there are elaborate carvings depicting various battles both real and from Hindu mythology.

Soeun informed us that the Cambodian people tend to think that they are Buddhist, but what they actually practice is more similar to Hinduism with Buddha added in. The religion switched back and forth so many times during the reigns of various kings that it all got a bit mixed up.

We took quite a while wandering around Angkor Wat, since it is so large. It was a hot day and we were pretty wiped out, so we went to grab lunch. Soeun recommended a place called Viroth that was really good. Kellian had one of the best curries she had ever eaten, and I had a traditional Khmer dish called Amok Fish which was very tasty. It was a very moist white fish stewed in a magnificently spiced coconut base. It was so good, we're working on finding a restaurant around Boston that serves something similar. No luck yet!

After lunch, we went back to the hotel for a bit of a rest. This was the hottest part of the day, so it seemed like a good idea just to wait it out a bit before venturing to the next temple. After some rest, we headed to Bayon, a much smaller but nicely decorated temple.

The most striking characteristic is the multitude of towers jutting out of the temple toward the sky. Each has four faces carved on it facing each of the cardinal directions. Also of note are the bas-relief carvings which depict scenes from everyday life during the time that the temple was constructed.

We saw a few other things (check out the photos for details), then headed back to the hotel. For dinner, we went to a place that had a buffet and a traditional Cambodian dancing demonstration. Some of the dancing was similar to what we had seen in Bali, female dancers gesturing slowly and moving through unusual poses. Other dances we hadn't seen before, like one with men and women dancing around with old tools used for fishing. There was some kind of love story going on too. I liked that the music was a bit more upbeat at least.

The next day, we were in for some more incredible sights with Lin and Soeun. First we stopped at Ta Prohm, a temple that has been overtaken by trees. About 500 years ago, birds dropped seeds on the temple and the seeds grew into massive trees. The roots cover the temple, and have caused quite a bit of damage. Unfortunate, but it looks very cool. It was featured in the movie Tomb Raider!

I found it pretty remarkable that the temple could support the weight of such big trees. I guess a lot of the weight is taken by the roots, but still it is impressive! Soeun told us that unfortunately the trees are not of much use, the wood is no good for carving or building, and doesn't even burn well!

The last temple we saw is called Banteay Srey. It is actually quite small compared to the other temples we saw, but it has remarkably ornate and well-preserved carvings. They were carved out of red sandstone, which lends itself well to more ornate carvings. You can see the depth and detail in the photo, it was really quite remarkable. There were many carvings like this all around the temple.

By this point, we were getting a bit overloaded with temples, so we decided to check out this school where they train people in traditional skills such as painting, carving, and silver work. They had a nice little tour where we got to see folks working at the different crafts. I particularly enjoyed seeing the stone carving after seeing all of the carvings on the temples that have survived for hundreds of years. Here's a photo of a fellow carving a wooden Buddha head.

Next, we decided to check out a nearby floating village that Kellian had read about. It turns out, this entire town lives on houseboats on the river. Depending on the height of the river, which varies dramatically, they can move the entire village to a different location. They mainly live by selling the fish they catch in a huge lake that is nearby.

We took a boat tour of the village, and it was quite interesting to see the way these people lived. Generally, they are quite poor, so some of the house boats are in pretty rough shape. In this photo, it looks like the house is probably just on stilts, but it is actually floating on the water.

They had floating schools, a floating water purification system donated by the USA, and even a floating volley ball court. It was very interesting seeing people living in such an situation.

After that, we went back for dinner and a shadow puppet show. Rather than waste our dinner on another potentially mediocre meal that accompanied the show, we headed to a place the hotel recommended, I think it was called Khmer Kitchen. Indeed, it was quite good!

Afterwards, the shadow puppet show was pretty painful. There was a lot of extended dialogue in Cambodian, so it was pretty dull if you couldn't understand what they were saying. They gave us handouts that summarized the plot, but without line-by-line dialogue it was really hard to follow. Also, the voices were pretty annoying and the actual puppetry wasn't all that interesting. Oh well!

The next day, we would head to Laos! We went to the airport and waited for a while, but our flight got delayed. Eventually, they told us it was cancelled due to bad weather! The next flight would not be until tomorrow. This was quite unfortunate since we only had one full day in Laos, so delaying our arrival by a day would mean that we fly in one day around noon, and leave the next day around noon, so it is hardly worth the trip.

The airline was kind enough to put us up at a hotel and feed us, but we were still feeling like going to Laos may not be the best plan. Once we got on the hotel's wireless, we found out that there was a flight to Bangkok that we could still make, if we hurried. However, we needed to go to the ticketing office to get a refund on our flight from Laos to Bangkok first, and buy our new tickets. It was going to be pretty tight, since our flight left in about 2 hours!

Fortunately, our trusty driver Lin was available when we called him and he was able to take us to the Bangkok Air ticket office in Siem Reap. Good thing we got there when we did, since they were about 5 minutes from closing! They were able to refund our Laos to Bangkok tickets, but they had shut down the credit card machine so we had to pay for our Siem Reap to Bangkok tickets in cash! Fortunately there was an ATM a few doors down, but it made me a bit nervous handing over that much cash.

In the end, it worked out fine: we got to our flight in time and ended up with two extra full days in Bangkok rather than two half days in Laos, which seemed like a much better plan. Stay tuned for details of the last leg of our trip!

Honeymoon - Bali

Here are the photos from Bali, Cambodia and Thailand to come soon!

The flight to Bali wasn't bad at all, it only took a few hours so we made it there in the early afternoon. Taking a cab from the airport to our hotel took surprisingly long! I think it ended up taking as long as the flight, mainly because there are mostly only two lane roads (one lane each direction).

Our first destination in Bali was a town called Ubud, which is known for being a cultural hub of Bali. We stayed at Uma Ubud which ended up being one of our favorite hotels of the trip. The lobby was just an area covered with a roof, no walls. The weather must be nice here!

Our room was very cool (check out the pictures). Each room was a semi-free-standing structure, usually sharing one wall with one other room. After opening the front door, there is a pond with koi fish right in front of the door with fountains shooting water into the pond. You cross the pond by walking across stepping stones. Above this area there is no roof, it is just open to the sky. After crossing the pond, there is a small sitting area, to the right is the bedroom and to the left is the bathroom.

The bedroom is not open-air to keep the bugs out and the A/C in. The bed had a mosquito net, which I think was mainly decorative, we didn't have any problems with mosquitoes in the room. The bathroom was mostly covered, but the near the back wall there was a strip that was open to the sky, which was nice since the breeze could pass through from the open area above the pond.

We were a bit hungry after arriving, so we walked down the road that the hotel was on to find a place to eat. We ended up eating at this BBQ place that had some pretty good ribs (not quite as good as Memphis, but not bad!). After that, we headed into central Ubud to check out the market there. Our hotel had a shuttle, which was handy, it is a bit too far to walk.

The market was not bad, they had the usual stuff you'd expect to see: sarongs, scarves, various woodcarvings, baskets, and other trinkets. Nothing of much interest to me, but it is fun wandering around to see what is for sale. I did find some puzzles, but they were mass-produced ones I had seen before out of low-quality wood.

After wandering for a bit, we got a bit hungry and decided to go back to the hotel for dinner. The restaurant is also open-air like the lobby, with just a roof and no walls. The food was great too! I had some lettuce wrap things with chicken and various spices. Kellian had some vegetarian sushi that was good too. We were a bit tired from our trip, so we headed to bed.

The next day, we were greeted by a massive snail on the door to our room! Guess that's the fun part of having your room partly open to the elements. We left him alone and headed for breakfast. The breakfast at Uma Ubud was incredible! It was included in the price of the room, and, unlike most places, was not a buffet. You picked which dishes you wanted from the menu and they brought them out, which is part of the reason why I think it was so tasty.

Each morning they had a different mixed juice from local fruits. We had some tasty pastries with some unusual spreads made from local fruit as well, and a plate of mixed fruit. The coffee here was incredible too, very thick and rich flavor. I had some amazing pancakes that I think involved coconut as well as some fruit. I don't remember what Kellian had, but it was quite tasty as well!

After breakfast, we went over for the free 8:00 yoga classes. We were still a bit jet-lagged, so we were waking up before 8:00 anyways. The yoga was pretty excruciating (Kellian enjoyed it), but the view was incredible! The yoga studio in the hotel is located on the edge of a valley, so the view looks down into this lush green valley with a stream running along the bottom.

We ended up hiring a driver to get back from the market the previous night, and ended up hiring him for today to drive us around to some sites, since it was a good deal less expensive than going through the hotel. Our first stop was the Elephant Cave.

The actual cave itself was pretty cool, but the best part was wandering around the area afterwards. We ended up following this increasingly rugged path way back into the forest, where we were pretty sure that we were going to get eaten by a snake or something. We kept following signs for a temple, so we hoped that something cool would be ahead.

Eventually, we ran across a nice local woman who told us that the temple was up ahead and she walked along with us while telling us a bit about the area. Eventually, we came to the temple! However it wasn't what you would expect: it was two doors that were carved into the side of a cliff, right at the level of the stream at the bottom of a valley. As such, you'd have to swim to get to it. Unfortunately, I didn't have my swimsuit (and the water was pretty rough!) so we didn't go in. Still, it was quite scenic and we were glad to have stuck it out to see something pretty far off the beaten path.

After that, we headed to the Rock Temple, which was quite cool. It was a long walk down a flight of stairs, I wasn't looking forward to climbing back up in the heat! The temple itself consisted of large figures that were carved into a rock wall, as well as some other structures that were carved out of the rock. It was quite impressive thinking how long it must have taken to carve them with primitive equipment.

The next stop on our tour was a town called Kintamani, which sits up high on a mountain and overlooks a very scenic vista. From this point, you can see two huge volcanoes as well as a large crater lake. It was quite impressive! We had lunch at a place where we could continue to take in the view, the buffet food wasn't that good, but the view was spectacular!

On the way back from Kintanami, we stopped by a coffee plantation where they gave us all sorts of free samples to try out. Very tasty! The coolest thing at the plantation was that they had two huge bats as pets! They just hung from this stick that they put in the ground and ate fruit that people fed to them. They were quite large (maybe 2-3 feet tall), and had faces like wolves. Still, very cute!

After that, we headed to a town known for their silver crafts. We were hoping for some boutique shops, but it ended up being a big road with a bunch of large stores that sold silver crafts. Even though they were hand-made, it felt a bit mass-produced like an assembly line. We didn't much care for the style of the pieces there, so we left empty-handed.

For dinner we grabbed a bite at a vegetarian-friendly place that the hotel recommended, and then went out to see a dance performance. The performance had two styles of dance, Barong and Legong. The Legong dance was a bit slow for my taste: it mainly consisted the dancers slowly progressing through strange poses. Barong was a bit more interesting, there was a big lion (or dragon?) that danced around on stage (operated by two people), as well as some people dressed as monkeys. There was a story of some sort to go along with it, I think it had something to do with the usual theme of the battle between good and evil. Definitely worth checking out, but I was nodding off a bit due to the jet-lag. Kellian enjoyed it!

The next day, after another great breakfast, we headed out on a complimentary rice paddy tour around the area near the hotel. The guide first took us past a Balinese graveyard, which was pretty interesting. They actually re-use the same grave for many people, and then at particular points during the year (based on astrology) conduct mass-cremations. However, they don't actually cremate the body, they cremate a small amount of soil from the burial site.

After that, we we walked through the rice paddies a bit, and learned about rice cultivation. Bali produces quite a bit of rice, but they still have to import from other countries in Indonesia because they don't produce enough for their population.

After that, we went with the same fellow who drove us around the previous day up to Ulun Danu Beratan Temple, also known as the Temple on the Lake. It was a pretty long drive, I think over 2 hours. It turns out that we were visiting on a day that there was a ceremony going on, so there were a bunch of local people dressed up visiting the temple. The temple was pretty cool, it was on an island a short distance out into a lake, which made for a very picturesque setting.

We were close to the Bali Botanical Garden, so we headed over there next. They had an Orchid exhibit that I was interested in seeing, but unfortunately the orchids weren't flowering. I think the sign said that the collection mainly consisted of botanically interesting orchids rather than pretty orchids. Too bad! They also had a cactus exhibit that was pretty cool, but not really a must-see thing if you've see cacti before.

After that, we took another fairly long car ride over to Tanah Lot, also known as Temple in the Sea. This temple was built on a rock that is in the ocean a short distance from the shore. During low tide, you can walk across the sand to the island temple, but during high tide the sand is covered. We didn't walk over to it, since you can't actually go inside, and the view was better from the shore. The area is pretty crowded with tourists, and there is a bustling market of touristy trinkets nearby where we had lunch.

That evening, we went to see something called Kecak dance, which was performed by a group of around 100 men sitting in a circle around a structure with flaming lamps on it. They chant rhythmically in a very unusual way, as the solo dancers act out an excerpt from the Ramayana. Check it out on YouTube so you can hear what it sounds like. Very cool!

After the Kecak dance, they did something they call a fire dance, where this fellow with (wood) horse head strapped to his stomach gallops around the stage, kicking flaming coconut shells all over the place. It is similar to walking on coals, since the curiosity is how he keeps from burning his bare feet while doing this.

The next day, we were planning to make our way to Jimbaran in South Bali, but we hung out in Ubud a bit before making the trip. We stopped by the market for a bit, and then headed over to the Monkey Forest. The Monkey Forest was incredible! As I hoped, there were monkeys running around, and you could walk among them. They came quite close, and were fairly friendly though you weren't supposed to try to pet them or anything since they can be unpredictable.

I crouched down to get a better look, and this little monkey came up to me cautiously. He climbed up on my arm, then around to my shoulder and started picking through my hair. Eventually he figured out that he could grab my sunglasses and started to head off with them, but one of the monkey experts who was nearby clapped his hands and the monkey dropped my glasses so I could get them back. I love monkeys, so I was pretty excited that one actually climbed on me. I wish we could have stayed longer, but we needed to get back to the hotel since we had scheduled a ride to Jimbaran.

This was another pretty long ride, but eventually we got to our hotel, Ayana. Ayana is quite a bit more isolated than the other places we stayed, it is more of a self-contained resort with a number of restaurants and shops. It was very scenic, perched on a cliff overlooking the ocean.

Perhaps the coolest thing was a small infinity pool that was built on the side of the cliff. When you swam in it, it looked like the water extended right into the ocean. Very neat, and it faced to the west so was a great place to watch the sunset. Unfortunately, it was cloudy both days we were there so we didn't get to see much of a sunset.

Another cool feature is Rock Bar, a bar that they built on a rock out into the ocean. It was all open air, if you look past the bar it just goes straight out into the ocean. This was such a cool thing that folks came from other hotels in the area just to check out this bar for sunset. There was a thing called an 'inclinator' that you could ride up and down the cliff, sort of like an elevator but for going up an incline. Very cool!

The next morning, since we were on our honeymoon they served us complimentary breakfast in bed. After that hung around by the pool for a while, then watched the sunset from a pier that went out into the ocean. After sunset, we had some tasty appetizers and drinks at Rock Bar. A bit of a lazy day, but we had been running around like crazy in Ubud so it was good to have a bit of a break.

The next day, we headed to Cambodia at the crack of dawn. It was really hard finding a way to get from Bali to Cambodia in a single day, since there aren't any direct flights. So we needed to go to Singapore really early, then head to Cambodia from there.

We actually ended up with enough of a layover in Singapore that we had time to head downtown to check out a pocket-watch exhibit in the national museum! We had seen advertisements for it while we were in Singapore before, but it wasn't open while we were there. Fortunately, it was now open! It was a very cool exhibit with some amazing watches, so I'm glad we could make it.

Next up, Cambodia!

Honeymoon - Singapore

Here is the first batch of photos from our honeymoon. I'll post the rest shortly!

Our flight was actually not too bad thanks to a good in-flight entertainment system for the longer legs of the flights. We ended up watching about a half-dozen movies which kept things from getting too boring.

We arrived in Singapore past midnight due to delays in our flight out of Japan, so we were pretty wiped out when we checked into our hotel. We were staying at a beautiful hotel called the St. Regis. The room was fantastic with really nice details: a nice high ceiling with chandeliers in both the bedroom and bathroom, a walk-in closet with room to lay out your luggage, lighting control panels next to the bed, and really nice furniture.

The next day we just wanted to see some of the city, so we spoke with the concierge who was very helpful in suggesting a whole itinerary for us for the day. First we started off walking down the main shopping street, Orchard Boulevard, which had all sorts of high-end shops. We're not much for shopping, but it was fun strolling along.

He suggested grabbing lunch at this mall that is attached to a subway stop. We were skeptical, but it was really nice! All sorts of great foods to choose from and a very classy looking environment (for a food court). I got some chicken-rice which is a popular Singaporean dish, which was pretty tasty. It appeared to just be boiled fish and rice, but it had some flavor to it as well and was very moist. Kellian got some sort of veggie noodles that were pretty good too.

Next we made our way over to Little India. It was a bit of a hike getting there by foot, but it was a fun way to get a feel for the city. There was a nice market there with all sorts of little shops. We strolled around for a bit and then headed over to Arab Street.

The site the concierge suggested checking out there was a big mosque, so we headed in there. They had Kellian put on a robe of some sort because she wasn't dressed properly. It was a really hot day and that made it even hotter for her, so we left fairly soon.

At around this point we were getting tired of walking around, so we hopped on the subway and decided to head back to the hotel for a dip in the pool. On our way back, Kellian accidentally left her brand new pair glasses on the subway! She was understandably pretty peeved, but I said we should try to get her another pair as soon as possible so she doesn't miss all the great sights we're sure to see! Luckily, there was a glasses shop in the mall/subway stop where we ended up, so she ended up buying another pair without too much trouble.

After getting back to the hotel and cooling off in the hotel pool, we headed back along Orchard Street to check out this restaurant that Kellian remembered from her prior visit to Singapore.  She remembered having a vegetarian version of laksa, another popular Singaporean dish that has noodles in a spicy coconut soup. Unfortunately, when we got there the only laksa that they had was lobster laksa (with Boston lobster!), so she ended up ordering something else. I got the lobster laksa and it was very tasty!

After dinner, we headed to the old colonial district of Singapore, which has some nice old buildings where we walked along the Singapore river. It was quite scenic at night with all the buildings it up along the river. We stopped off at a nice old hotel where we had some dessert before heading back to our hotel for bed.

The next day, we headed to Bali! Details of that part of our trip will be my next post.