Beijing, China

Our Great Wall trip also included a few days in Beijing, the capital of China. With a population of 21.5 million people, Beijing is the nation's second-largest city after Shanghai.

It is a modern city known for the ancient temples, the Forbidden City, Olympic stadiums and terrible pollution.  It also has some of the most expensive real estate in the world. 

 

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As pretty as the modern part of the city is, we preferred the hutongs (residential neighborhoods which form the heart of Old Beijing). 

 

 

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He's a big boy.

 

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Doesn't this meal look good?  Having translation problems with a menu that was in Chinese characters, we ordered this dish by pointing at a photo.  When it arrived at the table D took a bite and assessed it to be kidneys.  We then googled "kidney" in Chinese and showed it to our waiter.  He nodded yes and I ate rice. 

 

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The next three photos are my favorite of the trip.  Peanuts anyone?

 

 

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Obviously someone likes peanuts.  Look closely at his mouth.

 

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So did he fall asleep with the peanuts in his mouth or did someone place them there?  So funny!

 

 

Me

 

 

It is always interesting to see the different modes of transportation in various countries.

 

 

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This one is so cute!

 

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Most everywhere we travel in Asia a post-lunch nap is essential for shopkeepers.  And they really do not care if customers come in to shop.  Yes, the sleeping lady on the cot is the owner.  I decided not to buy so I did not need to wake her up!

 

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 The summer Palace

The Summer Palace was built in 1750 and was destroyed in the war of 1860.  It was restored on its original foundations in 1886 and is a masterpiece of Chinese landscape garden design.  It was used for the Imperial family to get away from the heat of the forbidden city.  Today it is only used for tourism.

 

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The Forbidden City

Also known as the Palace Museum, it lies at the city center of Beijing, and once served as the imperial palace for 24 emperors during the Ming and Qing Dynasties (1368 - 1911).

 

 

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The Forbidden City was declared by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1987.  It holds the title of the world's largest preservation of wooden structures from ancient world.

 

 

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Around one million artifacts are housed within the Palace Museum and they are considered Chinese National Heritage items and under the protection of the Chinese government.

 

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I can't end this blog without a little clip of my shopping! 

First, here is D at the market... patiently waiting for me.  What a great hubby!

 

 

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It was a large indoor market with many treasures.

 

 

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Look at all the chops (stamps)!!  Did you know that in many Asian countries they still use chops in lieu of signatures for personal documents, office paperwork, contracts, art, or any item requiring acknowledgement or authorship?

 

 

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Me, happy with my purchases!  The vendor was very excited that I was so interested in the chops.

 

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This vendor was very popular.  He was selling seed pods from a Banyon tree.  They are really fun as you have no idea what it will look like until he polishes it.  People analyzed the pods forever until they picked one.  I guess they knew what they were looking for.  We bought a few. 

 

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I was exhausted after my shopping and made D get me a Tuk Tuk back to the hotel.  As always... safety first!

 

Me 2

 

Me 1

 

With all of our travel in Asian, we had never seen this.  It was in the closet of our hotel.  To be used in case of a nuclear attack... we are glad we did not have to use it. 

 

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This was a quick trip but we really enjoyed seeing the city of Beijing!


One from the bucket list - the Great Wall of China

 

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This one was on the bucket list for me. How could we live in Asia for four years and not see the Great Wall of China? The timing was not the greatest as D had knee surgery ten days prior.  He had to climb with a brace, but he was a real trooper! 

  

 

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Walking on the Great Wall was amazing and certainly worth the journey.  To see the wall zigzag through the mountains is a special sight.  Like many places we visit, photos don't do it justice.  You really need to see it in person to feel the enormity and the history. 

 

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The Great Wall is more than 2,300 years old and the official length is 5500 miles (8851.8 kilometers). 

  

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It is considered the world's longest wall and the longest man-made structure in the world.  Reconstruction and protection of the Great Wall began with Badaling in 1957.  In 1987 it was placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. 

 

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After a lot of research, we opted to visit the section at Mutianyu and spend one night at a nearby hotel. There are other parts of the wall you can visit that are closer to Beijing, but Mutianyu is the best-preserved section and less crowded. 

 

 

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The Great Wall at Mutianyu was built in the early Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644).  Glutinous rice flour was used in making the binding material to bind the bricks.  

 

 

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Sadly, nearly 1/3 of the Great Wall has disappeared due to humans and natural erosion.  During the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), many bricks of the Great Wall were taken away to use in building homes, farms, and reservoirs. 

 

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The watchtowers on the great wall are mainly 2 stories tall. The first floor was used for soldiers or to store food and weapons. The second floor served as a lookout.  There are only 23 watchtowers left. 

 

 

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The Great Wall of China has been called the longest cemetery on Earth. Over a million people died building the wall and archaeologists have found human remains buried under parts of the wall.  There is an old legend about a woman called Meng Jiangnv, whose husband died building the Wall. They say her weeping was so bitter and loud that a section of the Wall collapsed, revealing her husband's bones so she could bury them.

 

 

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There is a marathon held each year in May.  It attracts   over 2500 runners from all over the world.  There are many different levels including a full marathon (26 miles), half marathon (13 miles), 10k, and 5k distances.

 

 

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We were very lucky with the weather as we only had an afternoon and a morning tour the wall.  We went to see it as soon as we arrived.  It was a good thing as the next morning we woke up to heavy rain.

 

 

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Contrary to common belief, the Great Wall of China cannot be seen from space with the naked eye.  

 

 

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At the Mutianyu location you have the choice of taking a cable car both ways, or to get down from the wall via toboggan or slide rail.  Because of D's knee, we took the cable car both ways.

Notice we are in the same cable car that Bill Clinton rode in.

 

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A few tips to visit the Great Wall of China:

They say that the best time to visit the Great Wall is spring (April - May) and autumn (September - November). Summer is the peak season with exhausting heat and popular sections get very crowded, and in winter it’s very cold with almost no crowds.  We were there the first week of June and the temperature was very pleasant and the crowds were minimal.  But I can only image how stunning it would be in the snow!

How do you get from Beijing to Mutianyu?  We hired a private car through our hotel.  Non - English speaker, but there really is nothing to see on the route so no talking is required.  It is a one and a half hour drive.

There is a lot of walking and climbing steps but you can take your time and really enjoy the amazing views.

 

 

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Where have we been?

We are living in Virginia and still traveling!

It is hard to believe but my last post on our travel blog was in May of 2016 and it was a trip we took in May of 2105!  I am not sure why I stopped blogging.... but I miss it.

In August of 2015 we relocated back to the United States and it was a much more difficult transition then I could ever imagine.  We were frantically traveling before heading home, along with the giant task of packing up our entire home to move to the other side of the world.  There was no time to blog and once you get out of the habit it is hard to keep it going. 

But I AM READY to get back into the groove of blogging!  I have so many exciting trips to share.

We continue to travel.... D quite a bit!  In fact, we will head off to Greece in a few weeks and on the way home he will hit his million miles on United!  Technically, he hit it a long time ago if you count ALL of our travels, but while we lived in Brussels and Singapore we rarely flew on United so our miles are spread across many airlines.  I probably have one million under my belt as well!

So check back soon - I will be posting trips from Beijing and the Great Wall, Sri Lanka, Japan, Vietnam, Bangkok, Bali, California, Paris, Brussels, three fabulous weeks in Italy, and Singapore (I have been back twice since we left, D has been back five times!)  I asked him if we really should still be living there  :  )

 


Snapshots from Korea

 

Seoul, Korea

May 2015

 

 

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Seoul

 

 

 

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Cone
 

 

 

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Jeju Island, Korea

 

 

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Jeju 13

 

 

 

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Seoul 15

 

 

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Cupcake men

 

 

 

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We really enjoyed Seoul and wished we had more time to explore the city. 

We ended up having less than two days there due to the conference D had to attend on Jeju Island. 

A fun fact about the route from Seoul to Jeju Island, it is the WORLD"S busiest passenger air route.






Ninh Bình, Vietnam - the missing post

 

Ninh Bình, Vietnam

"The missing post"

November 2013

 

 

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This was a really good trip and I am not sure why it fell through the cracks in getting posted.  Ninh Bình is a city in the Red River Delta of northern Vietnam and has some amazing scenery.  It is about a two-hour drive from Hanoi.  D had a business trip to Hanoi and while we were there we took the weekend to explore Ninh Bình.  We were not expecting the area to be so picturesque.

 

 

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Ninh Binh is much less touristy than its nearby "big brother" Hạ Long Bay.  We found it to be as beautiful with equally impressive views of the Karst Mountain formations.  But to really see the Karst Mountains properly at Ha Long Bay, you have to take a two-to-four day cruise.  Ninh Binh can be done via a car or motorbike with a few short trips in a small boat. 

 

 

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In fact, Ninh Binh has been referred to as “Ha Long Bay on Land.”   And along with the Karst Mountain views, you experience winding rivers, rice paddies, ancient settlements, and everyday life in the countryside.  

 

 

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We visited in November, which is the tail end of their cold & rainy season.  And yes, it was rainy and cold.  But this did not stop us.  We had planned a two-day motorcycle ride, but it was too rainy the first day so we had our driver bring a car.  The next day, even though it was very cold, we bundled up and rode on the bikes!

 

 

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In all of our travels we have never seen a raincoat for a calf.  Adorable!

 

 

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Our guide needed to stop by the father's house of his best friend, and he asked us if we wanted to go along.  The older gentleman's wife had passed a few months earlier and our guide had not been able to visit to give his condolences.  What a unique opportunity.  Other than our guide, no English was spoken.

 

 

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Moments like these make me realize why I love traveling.  They were as interested in us as we were in them. 

 

 

Bedroom&bath (1)

 

They offered us tea.  I always do my "pretend tea drinking" when we are offered tea in an area that I feel the water might be questionable.  It would be rude to say no, but I also can't risk getting sick.  So I just put the cup up to my mouth and act like I am taking a sip.  

 

 

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 It is always fascinating to me to see how hospitable they are to complete strangers.

 

 

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The inside of the house was very simple.  It was one large room with fabric hung to separate the rooms.  It's hard to tell from this picture, but the wall directly behind us is the family shrine.  Every Vietnamese house has a prominent family shrine with photos of all their relatives.  The owner was very proud to tell us stories about notable people in his family. 

 

 

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Next, a boat ride at Tam Coc to see the Karst Mountains...

I have to say that I think Karst topography is one of the most beautiful natural landscapes in the world.  We have seen them in Vietnam and China, but there are many countries around the world where you can experience them.  The mountains are formed from soluble rocks such as limestone, dolomite and gypsum.  They have unique underground drainage systems with sinkholes and caves.

 

 

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D steering our boat.

 

 

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... an interesting hay stack.

 

 

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In this area they have a very unique way of rowing... look closely at how the locals use their feet on the oars to row.   Interestingly, most are older women rowing, especially on the tourist boats.

 

 

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As I mentioned, it was very cold, so I had on two pairs of pants and four layers of tops.  

 

 

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A great Pho stand near our hotel.  We ate here a few times as there were very few restaurants.

 

 

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 And we had to sample local Banh Mi.

 

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With the local salted lemon mineral water.

 

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The next day...

The rain stopped so we decided to hop on the motorcycles with our fabulous guide Toan.  It was still very cold, especially riding bikes!  D wore three pairs of pants (really) and five layers of shirts/sweaters. He basically had on his entire wardrobe at once. 

We stayed at the charming Vancouver Hotel in Ninh Binh.  Many guides will tell you to stay in Tam Coc, but since this is not a touristy area good hotels are scarce.  We highly recommend this hotel but book early, because David (the owner) only has two rooms.  He was hoping to expand and may have done so since we stayed.

 

 

Me moto

 

 

I have shared with our readers that I am not a fan of motorcycles, but I do love riding them in Vietnam!  Okay, technically these were only motorbikes.

 

 

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I was enamored the poinsettia trees (Trang Nguyen flowers) that grew wild in this area.  All in full bloom.

 

 

Flower

 

 

As of 2014, Tràng An, a scenic area known for it's boat cave tours near Ninh Bình, was included in UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites.  

 

 

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This time we were in a boat steered by a shoe-less woman.  It was a bit cold so she had socks on.

 

 

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Get ready - we are going in.... there are about ten different caves on this two-hour boat ride.

 

 

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 It was an amazing view when you exited the cave.

 

 

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Below - a packed boat of friendly visitors.  We were very lucky because this time of year is a low travel period so there were very few boats on the water.  At peak season the waters are full of boats with locals trying to sell you soda and souvenirs.   We did not experience any of this so it was a very pleasant experience for us and we highly recommend it.

 

 

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Back to our bikes for more rice fields and local characters...

 

 

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Always a favorite of ours, visiting the local market. 

 

 

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 And a few photos of the local people.

This might be my favorite photo - notice how the girls are all bundled up with coats, leggings, and hats but still have on their flip flops!

 

 

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I thought this was a parade but our guide told me it was a funeral.  But he said it was a time to be happy and to celebrate the life of the deceased.

 

 

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The local barber...

 

Barber

 

 

Ear cleaning is an art in Vietnam.  I think I would be afraid to let someone dig in my ear like that!

 

 

Ear cleaning

 

We went to a very old amusement park.  It was closed for the winter; at least we think it was just for the winter.

 

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Can you image and old rusty ride like this in the US?

 

 

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Bái Dính Temple and Cultural Complex is a series of Buddhist temples on Bái Dính Mountain.

 

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The compound consists of the original old temple and a new larger temple. It is considered the largest complex of Buddhist temples in Vietnam and has become a popular site for Buddhist pilgrimages.

 

 

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We really enjoyed our three days in Ninh Binh - we would love to go back when the rice fields are green.

 

 


Siem Reap, Cambodia - the girls trip

 

 

Cambodia girls trip 1
 

 

Siem Reap/Angkor Wat, Cambodia

 February, 2015

 

Exactly one year ago today, Cousin Maria, Jane, Sue, and I took a "girls" trip to visit Siem Reap for Jane's 50th birthday.  It was also part of Sue and Maria's big Asian Adventure.  Although it was only three days, we packed in a lot and had a fabulous time.  It was my second visit to Siem Reap, but I was still in awe at how amazing and beautiful this area is.

 

 

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 Getting up at 4 am to see the sunrise at the stunning Angkor Wat temple was worth it.  The great temples of Angkor Wat are situated in the province of Siem Reap Cambodia. These ancient temple ruins are considered the largest religious complex in the world.  Interestingly, this area was abandoned for nearly 1000 years, hidden by the jungle.  In 1890, a French explorer rediscovered the "lost city."

 

 

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Angkor Wat was dedicated to Vishnu, a Hindu deity.  This was unusual for this time as most were dedicated to the reigning king.  In the late 13th century the temple transferred from Hindu to Buddhist use and is still used by Buddhists today.  Angkor Wat has also become a symbol of Cambodia, appearing on its national flag. 

 

 

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There were many tourists at the temple, but it did not distract from the experience.  I actually favor this photo of all the tourists, each doing their own thing, while they anxiously await the sunrise. 

 

 

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We were so lucky as the weather could not have been more perfect for the sunrise! 

 

 

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As I mentioned in our other girls trip, the Maldives, it is fun traveling with girlfriends as we all LOVE posing for group shots!

 

Poses

When Angkor Wat was named a World Heritage site in 1992 it was also added to the List of World Heritage sites that were in danger.  People were pillaging and stealing the ancient artifacts.  In 1993, UNESCO launched a campaign along with the Cambodian authorities to restore and safeguard Angkor. 

 

 

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UNESCO continues to be a part of Angkor’s future to ensure that tourism and development do not compromise this cultural treasure.  However, the structures are in jeopardy from the sheer amount of visitors who walk on the ruins each day.  There are rumors that authorities may shut down parts of the monument.  This would be so unfortunate for future visitors but I can understand why they would make this decision.

 

 

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 Cambodia - cathy996

 

 

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That evening Jane managed to surprise us all for her birthday.... she had made a donation to buy a water pump for a needy village in all of our names.  We were able to go and visit the village, meet some of the children and people who live there, and see the water pump.  What an amazing gift for us... but can you image what this clean water will do for this poor community? Only 30% of rural people have access to safe drinking water, 19% to adequate sanitation and 50% to health services. About 4 million people, or almost 40% of the population, live below the poverty threshold.  Jane is a very thoughtful and a very giving person.

 

  Water pump

 

 

Elephants!

Of course riding an elephant was high on Maria and Sue's list of things to do in Asia.  It certainly made for a unique photograph with the temples in the background!  

 

 

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  Elephant ride

Many people do not realize the vast amount of temples in the Angkor Wat complex.  In three days, you can only visit a small handful of them. 

 

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 Ta pram

One temple not to be missed is Ta pram or the jungle temple made famous by Angelina Jolie and the Tomb Raider movie.  Construction on Ta Prohm began in 1186.  Unlike most of the temples of Angkor, it has been largely left to nature, hence the fantastic overgrown roots.  Ta Prohm is often described as the most magical place in all of Angkor.  

 

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You feel like an explorer as you wander the temple grounds.  Not to mention, it is a playground for photography.

 

 

 Tree

 

 

 

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 Bayon Wat

Know as the temple of faces, Bayon Wat is one of my favorites.  From a distance, it looks like a pile of blurry stones.  But as you get closer, the magic appears...

 

 

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Built by Jayavarman VII the temple has 54 towers and 216 faces.  No one knows exactly whom the faces represent. 

 

 

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Each tower has four huge carved faces on each side.  The faces are 13 feet high (4 meters) and oriented toward the four points of the compass.  They all have closed eyes, which gives a very peaceful Zen feel.  It is another site that is fantastic for photographs.

 

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Cambodia

 

 

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Statues

 

 

 Banteay Srei

Banteay Srei is a 10th-century Cambodian temple dedicated to the Hindu God Shiva. The modern name of the temple means “Citadel of the Women.” 

 

 

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Because it is 20 miles from the main group of temples, it is not as crowded.  It is also very different from the others as it is built with rose-pink sandstone.  The temple is elaborately decorated with floral motifs, female deities, and monkey guardians.

 

 

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group temple

 

So many picturesque Doorways...

 

 

Doorways

 

 

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Back at our hotel

 

We enjoyed a cooking class where we learned how to make traditional Cambodian dishes. 

 

 

Cooking class

 

Cooking

photo by sue

 

Our last afternoon we relaxed at our hotel pool.

 

Pool

 

 

The local village

 

Flash back to April 2011, the first time D and I visited Cambodia.  We stayed at the same hotel and visited the village next door.  Below is a photo of D sharing photos with the children in his viewfinder. 

 

 

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It was a very special experience for us. We even bought a water filtration system for one family in this village.  D had a great idea and printed out photos that we took on that trip, so that I could give them out when I visited with the girls.  Many of the staff at the hotel are from the village so all we had to do was show the photos to them and they were able to tell us whom the parents are. 

 

 

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This was a grandmother of the little girl in the photo.

 

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I was very excited, as were they.  One of those priceless moments!  Thanks Sue for taking these photos of my reunion!

 

 

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When I walked away, I looked back and they were still laughing and enjoying the photos.  I just wish D were there to enjoy it.

 

 

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We continued on to visit more of the peaceful little village.  The hotel is outside of the city so not only do you get to feel what the local life is like; there are hardly any tourists.

 

 

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Below is a typical house in the village - no electricity, no running water, basically a palm leaf hut.

 

 

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Cambodia has a population of 15 million people.  Cambodia is slightly larger than state of Missouri and lies between Thailand and Vietnam in mainland Southeast Asia, with the northern border adjoining Laos.  Decades of war and internal conflict have left it one of the world's poorest countries.

 

 

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Most likely her blackened teeth are from chewing betel.  Betel chew is made up of several ingredients - betel leaf, slivers of areca palm nut, and lime paste.  It releases a mild stimulant. There is also a tradition to lacquered teeth, but I think this is from betel because it is on her lips. 

 

 

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{above photo by sue - fantastic!}

 

 

A Buddhist cemetery

 

 

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The predominant religion in Cambodia is Theravada Buddhism where death marks the transition from this life to the next.  The belief is that all life/being evolves in a successive cycle of birth, sickness, old age, death and rebirth/reincarnation.

 

 

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In Theravada Buddhism it is traditional to cremate.  Cremation is usually carried out in the temple and the ashes placed in an urn, which is then placed in a stupa (also called a chedi).  Only one person is laid in each stupa.  The size of the stupa reflects the status of the deceased.

 

 

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Prayer flags at the temple grounds.

 

 

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Bringing the cows home at the end of the day...

 

 

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I pulled the photo on the left from mine and D's visit in 2011 - it is the same man in the photo on the right I took on this trip.  Sporting that same dapper look with his hat and scarf.

 

 

Cambodia
 

 

A note about Cambodia's history: 

The Khmer Rouge is a very important part of its history.  There is so much to be told it would take me an entire blog…..what I will tell you is when the Khmer Rouge ruled between 1975 to 1979, it is estimated that 1.4 to 2.2 million Cambodians were killed.   Half of those deaths were from executions, and the rest were from starvation and disease.  Most of the people killed were the wealthy and educated.  This horrible part of history devastated Cambodia and they are still trying to recover and it is still one of the poorest countries in the world.

 

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Always my favorite, the beautiful children...

 

 

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I'll end this post with a handful of random photos that really captured the essence and the fun we had on this trip!!

 

 

Cambodia just for fun 1

 

It's all about the photos!

 

 

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{above photo by sue}

 

 

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Temple posing


 

 

Bond girls

 

 

Happy 50th birthday Jane!!!  Thank you for sharing your special day with us!!

 

 

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Cousins!

 

  temple

 

 

Maria and Sue - catching the spirit of the temple.

 

 

Cambodia just for fun 5

 

Maria - supporting the local economy by purchasing handmade bracelets from a young girl.

 

 

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{above photo by sue}

 

 

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  GIRLS

 

 

And if anyone can guess what Jane is doing... you win a prize!

 

 

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Good Night Cambodia!

 

I love the colors in this photo... taken at the "golden hour (the golden hour also called the magic hour is just before sunset - or after sunrise when the sun's light is redder and softer than when the sun is higher in the sky).  I have taken only a handful of photos caught at this exact moment.  But when you are able to catch it, the light makes for a very special image.

 

 

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It was a perfect sunset TO END A PERFECT TRIP.

 

 

 

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