We spent the last 3 days at one of the wonders of the world: Angkor Wat. It consists of numerous temples created by a long succession of kings between 800 – 1000 years ago. Some temples were adorned with beautiful engravings in stone walls depicting stories of ancient battles, mythical creatures and every day life. Some temples were surrounded by jungle over-taking the ruins and giant trees with impressive roots that engulfed stone walls. It was amazing to see architecture with such perfection and uncomprehensible to think of how these massive temples were constructed.
Last night we stayed at a floating village on Asia’s great lake, Tonle Sap. The village is located in an isolated corner of the lake (2 hour boat ride from Siem Reap) and consisted of houses floating on bamboo rafts. There were floating markets and children rowing to school. I can’t imagine never stepping on dry land (for half the year, the wetland do dry up with the change of seasons)! The lake is home to the largest colony of water birds in south east Asia. We saw 100’s of nesting water birds, including four species of storks, spot-billed pelican, 3 species of cormorants and ibis. It was nice to see copious amounts of big birds when it is typically very difficult to find an animal bigger than your fist. Several conservation organizations are working with and educating the local community about the importance of these wetlands and the animals in them. Locals get a cash reward for finding bird nests! Such a great incentive for not hunting or selling bird chicks!
As Ryne mentioned in the last post, our stay in Laos was adventurous indeed. Laos has some of the best scenery with limestone spires and forest clad mountains. This makes for good vistas but very long, bumpy bus rides down torturous roads. We travelled the whole length of the country from north to south by bus, so many days were spent in transit. Buses were often old, falling apart, crowded and very hot!
Along our journey we went on a 4 day jungle trek accompanied by a guide. It was nice because we didn’t have to carry any of the food and meals were prepared for us. Meals were traditional Lao and eaten on the big banana leaves on the ground. Sticky rice was served with every meal and is traditionally eaten with your hands by rolling it into bite sized balls and dipping it into sauces or vegetables or meat. Meals were very tasty, but very repetitive! After eating rice 3 times per day I was ready for bread or anything different. On the hike, we saw very few animals, mostly small birds and a few insects. Whenever an animal was seen the guide would say “barbecue.” The forest was conspicuously quiet. This is because Lao hunt and eat everything!
Another highlight was a boat trip through a 7 km cave! The water was gorgeous blue-green and the cave was at times 100m high and 100m wide with spectacular cave features. Unfortunately, a virus or worm infected our camera and we lost all of our pictures from Laos and northern Thailand. There is a chance we can recover the photos so I am going to try.
3 Things we learned in Laos:
1) Even if a bus or bus seat appears full, it is not full! There is always more room to crunch another person on a bus!
2) Lao people eat anything and everything (except cobra “because it is poisonous”).
3) Tourists never pay the same price for food or bus fares as the locals; simply because we have more money.
We are going to Siem Reap, Cambodia today. We will visit the mother of all temples: Angkor Wat
After a very adventurous stay in Laos we are once again on the banks of the mighty Mekong in Cambodia. Unfortunately, Jen just made a long post, but the computer froze! I will delve into more detail regarding our stay in Laos and show some pictures later. We stayed at unscale eco-lodge ($12 a night!) last night and spent the day Kayaking through the maze of island and rapids along the river. We were lucky enough to see 4 species of Kingfishers (Pied, Stork-billed, White-throated and Black-capped) and a bird found only along the the Lower Mekong, the Mekong Wagtail. In the next several days we will see the river dolphins and other natural wonders!
We spent the last 2 days in Chiang Saen, Thailand. This town is situated on the 10th largest river in the world, the Mekong River. This area also hosts some of the only wetlands in Thailand. We rented bicycles, which was a nice change from walking, and went birding around these wetlands. We saw a Harrier roost where dozens of Pied, Marsh and Northern Harriers gather at dusk. We were fortunate enough to have a brief look at a beautiful but one of the worlds deadliest snakes, the Banded Krait.
We were lucky to meet a couple of excellent naturalists from the US and England who taught us a lot. It was sad to hear how much Thailand has been raped of its wildlife over the last several decades. The Thais take virtually every animal from nature and either eat them or sell them to China. I have never witnessed such wholesale exploitation of nature. It is downright disturbing to witness and hear about. The American naturalist had given up all hope and seemed borderline suicidal and the Brit was putting his life on the line to try to save a remnant wetland that we visited to see the Harriers. The most disturbing part is that its not just a handful of people, its pretty much everyone.
Now we are in Laos, hopefully things will be better here.
One thing I really wanted to do on this trip was volunteer on a farm. Through helpexchange.com we found the perfect spot nestled in a glorious mountain valley surrounded by limestone spires in northern Thailand. The farmer, Peter, was a soft spoken old man from Hungary. He had a hernia and swollen foot and was not able to get around to much,
so our farmstay turned into a homestay with some farming chores. I was happy to cook and clean. Peter recently made a clay oven and I had the honor of being the first to use it. Too bad I had absolutely no experience baking in a clay oven. My first loaf of bread did not cook all the way through because I did not get the oven hot enough (this is difficult without a knob to set the temperature). My second try I heated up the oven too much and burnt some rolls. My third try was success with delicious wheat berry, peanut and sesame cookies. Yay! We had all you can eat papaya, bananas, wheat berries, brown rice and fresh veggies. When we weren’t busy with chores, we engaged in hiking, wildlife watching and spelunking!
The whole area was surrounded by wonderful bamboo filled forests. Unfortunately, the forests were devoid of large animals because the locals ate them all! However we did see some great birdlife there. The region is also home to one of the largest concentrations of caves on the planet and we did our fare share of exploring caves. We”ll be going to Laos in a few days. We have to catch a bus. We will try to post more pics later.
Accomodations at the farm. We had to rough it a bit with dirty thin mattresses on the floor, but we had clean sheets.
We spent the last 4 days on the highest mountain in Thailand, Doi Inthanon. While enjoying 50ish degree temperatures, we walked amongst tangled moss festooned groves of Rhododendron and enjoyed spectacular waterfalls spewing off the mountaIn, while studying fascinating Himalayan birdlife. We camped in a small village of Hmong people (immigrants from China who live on mountains and live off of small farms).
This Thanksgiving we are staying on a Farm in a remote town (this is probably the only computer for 50 miles and the connection is very slow). So, while you all are relishing a delicious Fall harvest, we are giving our labors to an ill farmer, planting wheat and eating homemade tortillas. We will post pictures soon.
Today was spent touring the city of Chaing Mai. We visited a couple of wats (temples) and took a stroll down the famous Saturday walking market. There were several vendors selling their handicrafts such as silk scarfs, jewelry, and wood furnishings. I think we did enough shopping to satisfy my urge for a long, long time! I just wish I had more room in my backpack.
We just returned from another camping adventure at Nam Nao National Park. We had a wonderful time there amongst the majestic open grown pines and oaks and bamboo filled broadleaf evergreen forest. Highlights included; ancient coniferous plants called Cycads, numerous birds including; Red-billed blue Magpies, Greater Flamebacks, Silver Pheasants and much more, 3 species of snake and the giant Tokay Gecko! We love staying at the National Parks here. You can camp for about a dollar per night, there are lots of great hiking trails and there are typically Thai restaurants there with cheap, delicious rice dishes. We have seen very few tourists at the two parks that we visited. We are in northern Thailand (tourist infested Chaing Mai) now and we will be going to another national Park (Doi Inthanon), where we will camp for a while and visit the highest peak in Thailand, while exploring a southern spur of the Himalayan Mountains.