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Asia Cambodia

Leaving Phnom Penh, Travel bloggers tips and tales

Leaving Phnom Penh For Sihanoukville

Having left it too late to buy a ticket for the Giant Ibis bus to Sihanoukville the hotel we stayed at recommended another bus company which they claimed is just as good, and, as it costs the same I take the bait, buy the tickets, how wrong can you be. We ended up with tickets on Vet bus run by Virak-Buntham Express Travel & Tour. Like most bus companies in Cambodia they collect you from your hotel about an hour before scheduled departure time. The pickup van, a dilapidated and rusting wreck, from the hotel told me this was going to be an interesting experience come what may. Whilst the actual minivan bus turned out not to be too bad what no one could prepare you for was the insane driver to match the general level of insane driving that is Cambodian road travel. And yes, I have lived to tell the tale, but I reckon the stress of the journey may well knock a couple of years off my life expectancy.  To give you some idea of the speed we went at we managed to pass the Giant Ibis bus plying the same route, but which had left Phnom Pen and hour before our departure time. In reality we had little choice as we had a hotel reservation in Sihanoukville and a well-planned itinerary. The next bus journey to Kampot turned out to be equally as hair raising, although mercifully half the distance. In a word never again!!

Sihanoukville

Otres Beach Sihanoukville

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Asia Cambodia

The Killing Fields (Choeung Ek) and Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (S-21)

The Killing Fields (Choeung Ek) and Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (S-21)

Both of these places are the main draws for travelers to Phnom Penh and visited on the same day by most as a combined package. It makes for a somber, sober and saddening day, planting memories of images and scenes that are likely to stay with you and last a lifetime. No bad thing, although we did witness some disrespectful idiots taking selfies in an around the Stupa that houses the skulls of the dead. Whilst another group of young adult Australians I witnessed were loud and behaved as if they were visiting a theme park. At the risk of sounding, or being, preachy visitors should show their respect for all who died in these dreadful places by observing an air of solemn calm and quiet reflection.

The Entrance to Choeung Ek Genocidal Center

The Killing Fields, once the site of an orchard, memorialises and symbolises the final expressions of barbarity of the Khmer Rouge,  the final resting place for the murdered, located about 17 Kilometres outside Phnom Penh most arrive here by Tuk Tuk.

The Memorial Stupa. This Stupa houses the skulls of many of the victims found buried around the site now known as the Killing Fields. Depressions in the ground are the sites of excavated mass graves.

It is estimated that from a population of some 8 million people about a quarter were either murdered or starved to death during the reign of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge. For me, although witness of the remains of the mass graves is an awful reality, the most harrowing and difficult to comprehend aspect of the place is the Killing Tree that was used to kill babies and children in the most horrific fashion by bashing their skulls against it. I cried a lot this day and in the end despaired for us as a race when my thoughts turned to current day events taking place in Syria at the behest of another couple of murderous dictators, Assad and Putin. For the sad truth is, humanity it seems will never learn.

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Asia Cambodia

A Travel Bloggers Impressions of Phnom Penh

A Travel Bloggers Impressions of Phnom Penh Cambodia in Words & Pictures

Monument to the late King Norodom Sihanouk with independence monument in background

I first visited Phnom Penh about 4 years ago and was struck this visit by the rate of change and the speed of development taking place in this city on the move.  This is fast turning in to and exciting vibrant and great city to visit in South East Asia. No longer just a stopping post for visiting the Killing Fields and S21 but is fast becoming a destination city in itself.

 

Memorial statue and monument to the Vietnamese army for their part in driving the Khmer Rouge out of Phnom Penh

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Asia Cambodia

Kompung Khleang, Angkor Province, Cambodia

A Travel Bloggers Guide to Off the Beaten Track in Angkor, Cambodia.

This blog post focuses on my return visit to the community of Kompung Khleang, Angkor province, Cambodia. This is a village largely centered on and living off the Tonle Sap Lake and river that feeds into it. It is not a pretty, or sanitised tourist place, but rather, offers a glimpse into the reality of life for most of Cambodia’s population i.e. poor. This was my second visit and I am once again struck by the warmth and open generosity of the people who live and work along its shores. It is also a place that few who marvel at the many sights or Angkor and Angkor Wat will see, as it lies off the beaten track and has not suffered a tourist makeover. But for those who have a genuine interest in how the majority of Cambodians live and survive in this part of the country it is a good starting point. From a personal perspective I cannot imagine visiting any country, and particularly one steeped in such a profoundly  creative and important history, and not be interested in the inhabitants, who are after all the ancestors of it creator’s. Behind the laughter smiles and warm welcome lies the cruel truth of a life expectancy of 40 to 45 years due to Dengue fever and Malarial mosquitos. Still the children will rush forth at the mere sight of a stranger using it as an opportunity to share their few words of English “Hello mister, where you from?” They are quick to smile and delighted when asked to gather for a picture. It is also a place full of strong colour form the vibrant blues of the clear sky mirrored in the shades of blue in the house and building and set dramatically by the rusty burnt orange colours of the mud roads. The road eventually terminates in the village square beside a monastery school and boat jetty where we take our river and lake trip out to the vast expanse that is Tonle Sap Lake and the floating villagers who call it home. I cannot imaging visiting Siem Reap or Angkor again in the future and not paying yet another visit to this fascinating place.

 

Stilt House on Tonle Sap River

All houses are built high on stilts as the water level raise dramatically in the rainy season.

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Asia Cambodia

A Travelbloggers Guide to Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Travelbloggers guide  and top tips for Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Angkor

This was to be my second visit to Siem Reap and the temples and ruins of Angkor. Spread out over an area of some 600 acres amidst the tropical humidity of Cambodia it is at once beguiling and mysterious in its state of semi ruin, a state accentuated by the creeping gripping roots of giant fig trees that have embedded themselves into the stonework and structure of so many of these part ruins. Indeed it is this very otherworldly quality that led Hollywood to use it as the location for large parts of the film Tomb Raider.

To sum up my experience of the return to Angkor In a word magical!!

 

Angkor Wat itself is surrounded by a 650-foot wide moat encompassing a perimeter of more than 3 miles, it is approximately 13 feet deep. This water way adds further to the enchantment of the area as a whole. The trees and roots that add so much drama and structural damage to the remaining temples are those of the Ficus strangulosa tree, a member of the fig family of trees. Although they caused a lot damage to the structure of a  lot of the temples, in some they have become so embedded as to become part of the supporting structure. In  many it is hard to see how they could be removed at this point, without causing further major damage to the remaining element. They also add to the drama and mystery of the area, having become synonymous with the temples and aesthetic of this region throughout the world.

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Asia Thailand

A Travel Bloggers Guide to Chiang Mai Thailand, Top Travel Tips

Chiang Mai, Thailand

A travel bloggers insight guide and recommendations.

There are 6 main reasons that tourists to travel north of Bangkok to the much more relaxed and chilled out city of  Chiang Mai. One: To see the exquisite Buddhist temples, Two:  Because it is a much more relaxed and safer place than Bangkok, Three: As the gateway to jungle trekking into the surrounding mountains, Four: Probably most popular of all, to visit and experience a close up encounter with elephants. Five: For Thai massage and Six: Last but not least, the food!!

I had first visited Chiang Mai in 2014 as the meeting point with a tour guide for a 3 day trek up into the rain-forests of Northern Thailand, a trip that had turned out to be one of the best experiences of my travel adventures. For the few days spent in Chiang Mai on either side of the trekking adventure I had grown to like the laid back and friendly atmosphere of Chiang Mai itself. Based on this the aim of my return was simply to relax and enjoy that laid back atmosphere. Having gone trekking in the past I also wanted to have a close up encounter with elephants, but at a place that have a No ride policy. It is an unfortunate truth that many tourists visiting this part of Thailand do so with the aim of taking part in an Elephant encounter which has led to the rise of many unscrupulous and unethical Elephant farms. I use the term Elephant farm deliberately as they are little more than exploitative and cruel places run by people with little care for elephants, other than how to exploit them.

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Asia Malaysia

Pulau Langkawi, Malaysia.

The Archipelago of Langkawi Malaysia

The Island of Pulau Langkawi is a tropical paradise located some 30 kilometers off the northwest coast of Malaysia. Considered the jewel in the crown of the state of Kedah it is in fact an archipelago of some 104 island in the Andaman Sea, with Pulau Langkawi being the largest inhabited in the Archipelago. Many refer to it as the Hawaii of South East Asia, but to me that title does not do it justice and having visited both I prefer Langkawi for the diversity of it landscape, wildlife and rain-forest. Mainstream tourism tends to concentrate around Pantai Cenang beach area and although this is a good base when visiting the island, being close to all the best eating and drinking establishments, there is so much more to explore and see not far beyond and all within short driving distances. I would recommend if you intend visiting Langkawi that you hire a car for at least some of your stay, if not all, as this will allow you to explore the Island more fully and freely. Driving in Langkawi is also a much easier and safer experience than what you might experience on mainland Malaysia. Being a duty free island expect to find lots of cheap tobacco, booze and chocolates.

Langkawi Malaysia in pictures by DKTravelpix (16)Offering a range of accommodation types from the cheapest budget places Langkawi also plays host to some top class and secluded luxury resorts, with the most highly rated probably being the Datai and closely followed by the Danna and the Four Seasons Langkawi. Links to all can be found at the end of this post.

A couple of places not to be missed I would suggest are the Langkawi Wildlife Park, and my favourite Gunung Raya.

Telaga Harbour Marina is also well worth a visit with a nice stretch of usually fairly quiet white sand beach just beyond the harbour area, although it’s not great for swimming as the as the base sand is muddy and slimy, I presume from pollution. There is also free parking on the beach edge at this place.

Langkawi Malaysia in pictures by DKTravelpix (1)

Langkawi Malaysia in pictures by DKTravelpix (2)

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Asia Malaysia

Thaipusam festival Penang Malaysia 2016 (post 2 of 3)

Post 2 The 10 kilometer walk to the Temple 

Thaipusam is a Hindu festival celebrated mostly by the Tamil community on the full moon in the Tamil month of Thai (January/February). It is mainly observed in countries where there is a significant presence of Tamil community such as India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia. I was fortunate enough to be in Penang this year when the festival was taking place. The picture post that follows is divided into 3 parts, but all from one festival day. The festival itself lasted for 3 days over a weekend.

Thaipusam Festival Penang Malaysia 2016 By David Keegan Photography (35)

Post 2

By now it is getting close to midday as we set off on the 10 kilometer walk to the base of the temple Arulmigu Balathandayuthapani Kovil. The sun beats down from overhead and the air hangs heavy amidst the humidity of the atmosphere and crowded streets. Everywhere is a riot of colour and sound as speakers pump out a rhythmic and hypnotic beat. Soon i find myself carried along by the sway of the music as we make slow walk to the temple. The pain and the endurance of the Kavadi Attam participants now clear to see, yet none that oi have seen falter. It must also be said that Thaipusam is not just about, or centered, on Kavadi Attam although given the visual spectacle of the bondage of hooks and hanging adornments this is a major draw for tourists and spectators. Thaipusam is very much a family based festival. Indeed on the plane from Singapore to Penang (which was mostly full of families heading to Penang for Thaipusam) I struck up a conversation with one man who was not in favour of the Kavadi as he felt he sent out the wrong message of this important Hindu festival and as such was a distraction. The pictures here tell the rest of the story far better than my words can describe. Suffice to say it has to be one of the most fascinating and exhilarating experiences of my life.

Thaipusam Festival Penang Malaysia 2016 By David Keegan Photography (16)

Thaipusam Festival Penang Malaysia 2016 By David Keegan Photography (17)

Each participant has a team of friends making sure they are ok whether it be quenching thirst or readjusting spears and pins. Each one of the cups seen in this picture is attached to the devotees body by means of a hook pierced through the skin. There are also a number of hooks lodged in his back each roped and held and pulled by the parson at back (see picture above) adding greatly to the strain and endurance of the participant.

Thaipusam Festival Penang Malaysia 2016 By David Keegan Photography (18)

Thaipusam Festival Penang Malaysia 2016 By David Keegan Photography (19)

Some do Kavadi Attam light preferring to support the frame to their bodies by means of a waist belt. However this is still a long and painful slog for all Kavadi Attam participants.

Thaipusam Festival Penang Malaysia 2016 By David Keegan Photography (20)

Thaipusam Festival Penang Malaysia 2016 By David Keegan Photography (21)

These pictures demonstrate the force used in pulling on the hooked ropes. This participant also has a very large spear pierced though his cheeks.

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Asia Malaysia

Thaipusam Festival, Penang, Malaysia 2016 (Post 1 of 3)

Post 1 The Preperation

Thaipusam is a Hindu festival celebrated mostly by the Tamil community on the full moon in the Tamil month of Thai (January/February). It is mainly observed in countries where there is a significant presence of Tamil community such as India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia. I was fortunate enough to be in Penang this year when the festival was taking place. The picture post that follows is divided into 3 parts, but all from one festival day. The festival itself lasted for 3 days over a weekend.

Post 1

Waiting at the bus stop for a bus to the festival starting point I strike up a conversation with a man from Singapore who travels with his temple community every year to celebrate the festival. He very kindly offers to take me to the preparation ceremony for their nominated Kavadi for the 2016 festival. He explained that of all the regions and communities that attend the festival the Singaporean group is the most committed to the true requirement of The Kavadi Attam (“Burden Dance”) as their devotee is speared to the flesh front and back, but also carries a metal temple on his head weighing some 25 kilos. He explained that most others preform Kavadi Atam light, using waist belts to hold the metal spines and polystyrene temples on top of their heads. I cannot overemphasise the difference and importance inherent in this given the 36 degree heat and high humidity. The nominee then has to carry the entire enterprise though this scorching heat and humidity from the starting point, a walk of some 10 kilometres, to the base of the temple Arulmigu Balathandayuthapani Kovil which itself then involves climbing some 513 steps to reach the temple.  In preparation for the devotee will fast for anything up to 48 days prior to the festival day although my Singaporean friend tells me they fast for 2 weeks. Detailed explanation of Kavadi Attam below.

Thaipusam Festival Penang Malaysia 2016 By David Keegan Photography (6)

Kavadi Attam

The Kavadi Attam (“Burden Dance”, also written as cavadee) is the ceremonial sacrifice and offering performed by devotees during the worship of Murugan, the Hindu God of War.[6] It is often performed during the festival of Thaipusam and emphasises debt bondage. The Kavadi itself is a physical burden through which the devotees implore for help from the God Murugan.[7] Devotees prepare for the celebration by cleansing themselves through prayer and fasting approximately 48 days before Thaipusam. Kavadi-bearers have to perform elaborate ceremonies at the time of assuming the kavadi and at the time of offering it to Murugan. The kavadi-bearer observes celibacy and take only pure, Satvik food, once a day, while continuously thinking of God. On the day of the festival, devotees will shave their heads and undertake a pilgrimage along a set route while engaging in various acts of devotion, notably carrying various types of kavadi (burdens). At its simplest this may entail carrying a pot of milk, but mortification of the flesh by piercing the skin, tongue or cheeks with vel skewers is also common. The simplest kavadi is a semicircular decorated canopy supported by a wooden rod that is carried on the shoulders, to the temple. In addition, some have a small spear through their tongue, or a spear through the cheeks.

The description of Kavadi Attam above is sourced from Wikipedia

 

Thaipusam Festival Penang Malaysia 2016 By David Keegan Photography (1)

We took the ferry from Kedah on the mainland to Penang Island

Thaipusam Festival Penang Malaysia 2016 By David Keegan Photography (2)

Thaipusam Festival Penang Malaysia 2016 By David Keegan Photography (3)

Preparation and offerings for the Kavadi

Thaipusam Festival Penang Malaysia 2016 By David Keegan Photography (4)

The devotee who preformed the Kavadi Attam in 2017 recives blessings prior top the start of the procession.

Thaipusam Festival Penang Malaysia 2016 By David Keegan Photography (5)

Blessing a child

 

One of his assistants check the pins top make sure they are all securely anchored in place.

Thaipusam Festival Penang Malaysia 2016 By David Keegan Photography (7)

The entire body frame is held in place by metal pins anchored in his chest and back but he is also speared through his cheeks with further adornments hooked into the face.

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Asia Myanmar

Sagar on the banks of the Beluo Chaung, Inle Lake, Burma

Sagar on the banks of the Beluo Chaung River, Burma.

Sagar, originally part of the Shan state once ruled by the Sabwas people, ruthlessly eliminated by the Burmese military dictator Ne Win  who took power not long after the end of the second world war and is largely responsible for the destruction of Burma. The village itself is now little more than a crumbling, yet friendly, place reached by boat from Nyaung Shwe and taking around two and a half to 3 hours to reach. It is nonetheless a fascinating and worthwhile place to visit.

Sagar on the banks of the Beluo Chaung river, Burma (1)
 Sagar on the banks of the Beluo Chaung river, Burma (5)
Sagar on the banks of the Beluo Chaung river, Burma (2)
 A recently restored Stupa, restoration in Burma favours restoring to what the Stupa would have looked like when first constructed.
Sagar on the banks of the Beluo Chaung river, Burma (4)
Sagar on the banks of the Beluo Chaung river, Burma (7)
 Oxen are still very much a regular feature of the Burmese landscape, here pictured on the way home from a days work. These animals are very well looked after by the farmer.
Sagar on the banks of the Beluo Chaung river, Burma (9)
The local convenience store.

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