Sunday, February 28, 2010

Amazing Angkor

I'm sitting at my desk watching the pedestrians outside scurry home through a rare Qufu downpour.  What better time than now to reminisce about exploring the Angkor temples under the hot Cambodian sun?  See below for pictures, or hop on a plane to Cambodia to experience the real thing.

Angkor Wat at dawn:

Bayon faces at Angkor Thom:


Another minor ruin at Angkor Thom:

The encroaching jungle at Ta Phrom:


Friday, February 26, 2010

I'm on a Boat

What's your favorite way to travel?  One of the benefits of being gone for 6 weeks was that I got to experience lots of different transportation.  In mainland China and Hong Kong, we often took the subway.  In Malaysia we had the benefit of a friend to drive us around in a car -- such freedom!  In Thailand, we got around Chiang Mai in the back of red trucks, which serve as the cabs of the city.  Our main city-to-city transportation in Cambodia was by bus, with mixed results (but the price was right -- never more than $10 for a six hour ride).  We also experienced...

Near Plover Cove in Hong Kong's New Territories

In Penang, Malaysia

Also in Penang.  Thanks, friend!

In Hoi An, Vietnam.  Only $1 to rent one for a day -- so fun.

Going to the Shanghai airport at 431 km/hr

And taxi:
A long-distance cab to Battambang, Cambodia, equipped with karaoke.  See it on the dash?

No doubt you have been breathlessly awaiting my picks for the top five modes of transportation, so here they are:

5) Budget airlines.  No pictures here, but nothing beats a $50 ticket on AirAsia or JetStar.  We never could have seen so many places without low-cost carriers like these.

4) Bamboo train.  In Battambang, Cambodia, the locals figured out a way to make good use of the railroad tracks.  They take a flat bamboo platform, cut a hole for a motor, and set the whole thing on wheels.  When you meet another platform coming the other way, you just get up and take yours off the track to let the other guys through.  It's become a bit touristy, but it was still awesome to speed through open country with the wind whipping our faces.

3) Tuk tuk.  We used these a lot in Cambodia.  It was a nice, open-air change from the more crowded cities of Vietnam.  A huge bonus was hiring a tuk tuk driver for a day and a half in Siem Reap.  He was fast (passing cars, even), helped us with all our questions, taught us a local card game, and hung out with us at our hostel (where he also worked).  It was great to have someone we trusted and had fun with to take us anywhere we needed to go.

Chin and his tuk tuk

Cows and countryside

2)  Overnight train.  You really can't do Asia right without taking at least a few long train rides.  The very first leg of my trip was on a sleeper train to Shanghai with my friend Sara.  We got to meet lots of different people and practice our Chinese.  But the train ride that skyrocketed "overnight train" to the number two spot was our sleeper train from Hanoi to Danang, Vietnam.  I slept like a rock, we watched The Office on a laptop in our cabin, and we played cards with the neighbors.  Above all, the scenery was stunning, and I could hardly peel myself away from standing at the window and watching green mountains and sandy beaches speed by.

Views of Vietnam from an overnight train

1) Boat.  Whether it was a 45-minute river cruise through historic Malacca, Malaysia:

...a couple hours touring the floating villages on Cambodia's Tonle Sap lake:

...or spending a night on a junk in Halong Bay, Vietnam: were the best! 

*Photo credit for the last two photos goes to Gloria, who also gets mad props for sleeping under the stars with me on the Dang Tam deck.*

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Eat, drink, and you will be merry

One of my friends said that a person's satisfaction with the place they are living is directly related to how much they like the food of that place.  Do you agree?  I do.  Eating delicious Chinese food significantly contributes to my quality of life in China.

Heh heh.  (But I really do like Chinese food.)  Eating delicious food also contributed to my enjoyment of Southeast Asia.  Here are my food rankings:

Malaysia: Winner for best multicultural food.  With its fusion of Malay, Chinese, and Indian culture, Malaysia offers a big variety of food and drinks.  You should seriously consider visiting Malaysia just for the food.
  • Best dishes: Chicken tandoori, naan, and satay (Malaysian meat on a stick)
  • Best beverage:  Teh.  Hands down, my favorite drink of the trip.  It's a strong, black tea mixed with sweetened condensed milk.  I wish we were all drinking iced teh on the beach right now.
  • Best dining moment:  My friend Samson, a meat-on-a-stick connoisseur, ordering thirty (thirty!) sticks of satay to go along with his lunch.
  • Worst thing I put in my mouth:  ABC Special.  This cold dessert featured shaved ice topped with green and pink syrup, sweetened condensed milk, creamed corn, and peanuts.  Please tell me this was a joke they played on the tourist and not a real dish that people eat on purpose.

A meal with friends in Penang.  Satay on the bottom left.

Chicken tandoori and naan -- awesome Indian food in Malaysia

Bags of teh and lemonade

ABC Special: not so special.

Thailand:  Winner for best overall cuisine.  Mmmmmmmmmmmm.
  • Best dishes:  Pad thai, a chicken curry soup whose name I forgot, banana rotee, mango sticky rice
  • Best beverage: strawberry smoothies at that one place by our hostel
  • Best dining moment: Walking through our neighborhood on our first day in Thailand and finding our favorite tiny little restaurant.

Gloria and I at our restaurant.  I have the curry soup and she has pad thai.

In Thailand, we ate a lot of meals at our conference hotel.
 Vietnam: Winner for most coffee shops.  (Vietnam may not have the MOST coffee shops, but we frequented them most in Vietnam)
  • Best dishes:  Pho (a noodle soup dish), fresh spring rolls, fried prawns with butter and garlic
  • Best beverage:  This may not be truly Vietnamese, but I had a delicious iced caramel latte.
  • Best dining moment:  Downing a collective 96 scoops of ice cream at Fanny's ice cream buffet in Hanoi.  That was seriously a happy night.

 Pho and Fanta

What was this stuff called?  It was good.

Tickets to the ice cream buffet!

Enough said.

The Samson Tang Method for eating mangoes

Cambodia: Winner for best fruit shakes and smoothies. 
  • Best dishesLoc loc (a stir-fried meat dish), most of the desserts I ate at the Khmer buffet in Siem Reap
  • Best beverage: Mango smoothie
  • Best dining moment Watching traditional apsara dancing while feasting at the Khmer buffet

Coconut shakes in Phnom Penh on the eve of the lunar new year

 Apsara dancing at the buffet

Food is a huge part of traveling and experiencing a new culture, which is my excuse for devoting so many words and pictures to this topic.  Hungry? :)