Posts Tagged With: massage

June 6th – Day 18 – Temples, Facials and Flames

After yesterdays amazing temple experience at Angkor Wat and Bayon, we had another early start (this time at a leisurely 7am!) to go explore the famous Ta Prohm temple – made famous in the recent Tomb Raider movies.

The 7am start actually meant we could get breakfast in the hotel before the adventure – which was great because we headed out for almost 4 hours of temple exploring!  More temple photos follow:

Once we reached the end of the temple adventure, we all agreed we were ‘templed out’ and headed back to the hotel.  I needed to grab a little more cash to get through the last few bits and pieces, so I walked down the street to the ATM – around a 5 minute walk – but in 35c heat that was far enough! We’d been so lucky with the weather during the whole trip – it hardly rained at all, despite the ominous forecasts before we departed.  But the trade off for this was the humidity – the pre-rainy season is particularly humid and we regularly had 90-100% humidity and 35c temperatures on this trip – and believe me, 1000 year old temples aren’t air conditioned!

I decided to make use of the complimentary massage voucher we were given when we checked into the hotel and upgraded it to a package deal including a facial and oil massage, as an end of holiday treat.  I’ve never had a facial before, but hey – i’ll try anything once! It was actually quite a weird experience – particularly being left alone in the room with tomato slices on my face, and tomato juice dripping down into my eye.  Not sure that’s part of the usual experience, but it was interesting for sure!

Our next planned activity was at 5pm, so there was a bit of remaining time after the massage – I grabbed a small snack and beer by the swimming pool, then headed to my room to pack.  The trip is coming to an end, so I can be brutal with my packing – not sure I really needed 3 rain jackets, or 3 packs of suncream! I’m a chronic overpacker, so i’m quite impressed to have stayed under 14kg the whole trip.

At 5 we met as a group for one last organised activity, and headed into the Siem Reap town centre for a sort of farewell dinner.  Dek had arranged a private transfer for us with the hotels transport, but they got kind of lost and he ended up having to get out and get directions to get us to the place we’d booked.

Dinner was at Genevieve’s – a small locally run restaurant which is owned and run by an ex-pat Australian called Phil who welcomed us and was working the room talking to all the tables throughout dinner.  On the back of the menu is the story of Genevieve’s, and it was really interesting to read how it came to be.  The place is the second best reviewed restaurant in Siem Reap, and rightly so – the food was amazing! I ordered a Khmer curry (and spring rolls – because I hadn’t had enough on this trip !!) – which was wonderful, but did remind me very much of the Yellow curry I had cooked way back in Chiang Mai, which felt like a lifetime ago.

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Khmer Curry

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Angkor beer – one last time

Once dinner was done with, we jumped in tuktuks to head to our final G-adventures activity – a performance by the brilliant Cambodian Circus company, Phare.  The Cambodian Circus company runs an education program for underprivileged children in Cambodia and have well over 1200 students, training them in conventional education subjects as well as Circus skills – and over 150 of their students have subsequently progressed to become professional circus performers.

We made our way through the small Phare Boutique – where they had local handicrafts at fairly high prices.  Initially I dismissed this, but I spotted a Bayon head made of recycled paper which I really really liked, and ended up going back and paying way above the odds for it – but since the money goes towards the education program, I don’t feel bad about that!  There are definitely worse things I could have spent my money on (like facials with sliced tomato!)

The show itself was mesmerising – really high standard circus in an intimate venue.  The show only lasted an hour, but everyone in the audience seemed to thoroughly enjoy it and at the end, the cast came on stage for photo opportunities and donations.

And so ended our tour – we made our way back to the hotel, and arranged to meet as a group one final time at 8am before my tuktuk to the airport (my flight is first to depart).  It’s flown by, but also, it’s been way too short – there’s so much more to see in these amazing countries!

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My bag still closes!

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3rd June – Day 15 – My Darkest Day

As mentioned yesterday, the hotel room in Phnom Penh was really pretty basic – and the air conditioning decided to suddenly work over efficiently at 2am, leading to me waking up freezing cold in the middle of the night! Still, I slept… On and off… During the night and we met at 7:30 for breakfast in the hotel.

Breakfast here is served in a seating area outside of the Fire Protection shop which oddly is located deep in the hotels courtyard. I guess it works for them, and hey – at least we know there’s plenty of fire extinguishers available if we need them!

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Scrambled egg and fatty bacon

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Fire extinguisher selection

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Our breakfast table

For breakfast here, there’s very little self service – one of the hotel staff brought a small piece of laminated paper with 5 options on it, and then disappeared to bring you whatever you ordered. Today I didn’t feel like negotiating so I ordered the Scrambled Eggs and Bacon and just left the bacon, which was really fatty anyway!

At 8 we met our tour guide for Phnom Penh – an expert local guide who knew all about the local events. Our time in Phnom Penh is centred around the Pol Pot massacres. The first stop was the Killing Fields at Choeung Ek – now advertised as a Genocidal Center.

If you’re not familiar with the Pol Pot stories – in the space of 4 years he came to power and almost 2 million Cambodian citizens were killed – either through killing fields or by starvation, sickness or torture and murder in prison. The whole story is pretty horrifying and feels incredible recent and relevant. The exact details of all of the history are still fairly unknown since much of the worst atrocities were carried out in remote locations, blindfolded and those committing the atrocities were also finally killed before the Vietnamese invaded and brought down the Pol Pot regime.

At the site that we visited, over 12,000 people were murdered – most of them without the use of guns since bullets were expensive. Our guide talked us through some of the methods of murder, the tortures imposed upon some of the women and children and the mass graves where people would see their final breath. I found this such a terrible and upsetting place to be, but was keen to understand all of the events and what had gone on.

I’ve put all the photos at the bottom of this article – some of them are quite upsetting. Please feel free to stop reading after the text, if you don’t want to see them.

Feeling subdued after the visit to the killing fields, our next stop was the prison known as S21 – originally called a ‘Re-education centre” – the official name now is Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. This building started life as a high-school, before being repurposed by the Pol Pot regime into a prison. During the time of the regime there was little use for a school, since all children (well, all citizens) were expected to work in the land and educated people were eradicated. It was estimated that after the fall of the regime, only 15% of the people in Cambodia had received any sort of education – all those who had previously been educated were the targets of the regime and were eliminated.

Inside the museum, we walked between the four buildings where prisoners were kept. Conditions decreased as we progressed, from the building A known as the ‘VIP’ building (each prisoner had their own fairly sizeable room), through to cells of less than a meter in the later buildings. The stories of the conditions in the prison come primarily from the accounts of 5 survivors who were found alive hiding in a kitchen after the fall of the regime. Their tales are far too graphic to write here, but can easily be found with a Google search if you’re interested.

None of us made it all the way around the museum, with most of us ducking out before the third building. It was simply too much to hear and see the awful events that had gone on just a few years ago in this place.

After the museum, we all agreed that we needed a change in pace and Dek suggested a ‘blind massage’ – a local organisation runs massages staffed by blind people, called Seeing Hands. Most of the group made our way by a $2 tuktuk to the massage place, and booked ourselves in for a $7 massage. The massage was quite an experience – we were given cotton pyjamas to change into and then lay on a table in a room with around 6 other people, and our masseur came and joined us. There was no talking, just a really deep massage which was actually really good but lying in a dark room did have me thinking a lot more about the sites of the morning – perhaps reflection time wasn’t what was needed.

On the way back from the massage, our tuktuk driver insisted he knew where our hotel was and then proceeded to drive us the wrong way up our street. We spotted some house numbers which looked wrong, and turned him around, which led to more confusion as on the way back, the numbers seemed to be going in the wrong direction still… After 2 or 3 tries, we figured out where we are, but reading online afterwards it appears that in Phnom Penh, the street numbers are often not sequential and in fact there can easily be two or more places with the exact same number on the same street. People navigate there with cross-street numbers, so if you’re travelling there – try to learn the cross street of your hotel, not just the number!

Once we got back to the hotel, I treated myself to a western style Pizza for a late lunch before relaxing in the hotel. My laundry arrived back fully washed and folded, and I happily gave the hotel staff $4 for the laundry. It was a disappointment to find that the laundry place had written with pen on all of the labels of my clothes to identify my room number – not a nice discovery! Still, it’s done now and for $4 I didn’t expect a great service!

This evening I booked myself a separate activity to the rest of the group. Dek had arranged for everyone to go to a restaurant where they could try local creepy crawlies for dinner – which didn’t sound like my kind of thing. So instead, I booked Dine in the Dark.

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Dine in the Dark

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Dine in the Dark

If you’ve never heard of Dine in the Dark before – it’s a restaurant experience where you learn to experience life as a blind person would. It was a short walk from my hotel, so I headed there and ordered the vegetarian menu – there’s no choice about what you get, and half of the fun is discovering the food you’re presented with. It’s not a cheap option in Cambodia – $18 for the meal plus drinks – but you’re paying for the experience and supporting local blind people, so I was happy to pay it.

After ordering, I was asked to submit anything I had on my person which had a light – camera, phone and watch went into a locked box and I was given the key for the box. After this I was introduced to my waiter for the evening, Fredro. He introduced himself and asked me to place my hand on his shoulder and follow him.

He guided me to a staircase and upstairs, where the light level quickly fell off before we turned through a black velvet curtain into darkness, then through 2 more curtains before reaching complete black.

It was really surreal having absolutely no idea what was surrounding me. Fredro announced that we had reached my table, and I felt around to find my chair and establish how much space was there between the chair and the table – enough to sit without having to pull it out. I sat and Fredro then introduced me to the items on the table – including a napkin, knife, fork, spoon and water glass. I had to feel around to find each of these items but obviously finding them is important to eating dinner.

Shortly after sitting down, Fredro brought me a beer which I had ordered and we chatted a little bit – and then the food started to arrive. I won’t spoil the surprise by describing what I ate, but it was an amazing experience having to feel to find my plate, figure out what was on there and then how to eat it without knowing everything’s location. It was such a thought provoking experience, being unable to identify things by look meant everything was about touch.

After my 3 courses were finished, I realised one of the really big problems when it comes to blindness. I wanted to get the attention of a waiter, to let them know that I’d finished but it’s impossible to make eye contact in a blind world, and the waiters were talking amongst themselves which meant that speaking out would interrupt their conversation – something as a Brit I’m always loathed to do. In the end, that was my only option – and I let Fredro know that I was ready to leave, but not before I sat agonising for 15 minutes to try and communicate in a world of darkness.

After the meal, the staff presented a photograph of all the food which I’d eaten and it was really interesting to see the presentation of the dishes, which was completely irrelevant in my vision-less world. They also gave an opportunity to take a photo with my waiter, which you can see below.

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Me and my waiter, Fredro

I left the restaurant with my head thinking a lot about the events of the day – and the experiences I’d already had on the trip overall. Tonight I packed for the final move of the tour – tomorrow we travel to Siem Reap where we’ll end the tour. Can’t believe how quickly it’s gone!

The pictures from todays visits are on the next page, click Read More if you want to see them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Categories: South East Asia, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

May 23rd – Day 4 – Durian, Cooking and Chanting Monks

The day started with an early and light breakfast, since the first activity of the day was starting at 9am. I ate with Fred & Carol, then popped up to my room to grab my bag before heading out to meet everyone for our pick-up.  We were collected by our guide from Thai Orchid Cookery School, who later introduced himself as Kong (as in King Kong).

Breakfast, buffet style as always

Thai Orchid Cookery School

Kong took us to the local market, about a 10 minute drive from the hotel, and we had a chance to see all sorts of local speciality fruits and delicacies, including the infamous ‘1000 year egg’ – an egg which has been buried under ground for 100 days and is completely black in colour inside.  The yoke has a sort of jelly texture to it.  Steve from the group was brave enough to try it, but his reaction told us that the rest of us didn’t need to try it!

In Thailand, eggs are coloured to identify their type – brown is chickens egg, white is duck egg and pink is flamingo egg (only kidding, its 1000 year egg)

1000 year egg

We saw a lot of local fruits including dragon fruit, mangostines and the durian fruit.  Durian fruits are banned from all hotels, due to their strong smell and flavour. They smell something like cheese or rotten eggs, and the smell can linger for days or weeks if they are opened indoors, but Thais love the flavour of them – and Kong bought a pack of already cut Durian (a few days old) for us to try – by then the smell has become manageable and actually the taste was pretty good!

Durian fruit, and the cut durian in the bottom right in cling film

Also on sale at the market were spices, curry pastes and lots of different type of rice for different purposes.  Thai people eat rice 3 times a day, so I guess you have to change it up from time to time!

I bought a small pack of pre-cut green mango, which was provided with a sachet of sugar, salt and chilli mixed together to be dipped.  The green mango is quite firm and bitter on it’s own, but with this little pack of zing, it was a really nice experience to eat it!

Green Mango with Sugar, Salt and Chilli – 10 baht (20p!)

After a few minutes of free time whilst Kong gathered some last minute ingredients, we headed back to the van and drove to the cookery school – which turned out to be Kongs house. He runs the cook school as his business and it was really professionally laid out, with a giant angled mirror above a demonstration station in one room, and a bunch of gas stoves in the back garden (with a covered roof) for us to cook on.  We each got our own station, so the pressure is on to really cook!

Our cooking areas, all prepped and ready to go

The Demonstration Station

A chef in the making

The first dish Kong showed us how to prepare was Vegetable Spring Rolls, which were surprisingly easy.  It was great to see all the different ingredients and learn about things like the rough and smooth side of the spring roll paper, the way Thai people make a glue up from tapioca flour to stick the edges together, and to make up our own sauces with traditional Thai ingredients. Kong made it look really easy, and then it was our turn – first collecting the ingredients for our sauce and then chopping the vegetables, stir frying and then wrapping them before frying off the finished spring rolls.  Kong gave us each a dish of home made Sweet Chilli Sauce and we sat down to eat our first home made concoction!

Kong shows us Vermicelli (glass noodles)

Stir frying for the filling of the spring rolls

My turn!

My first spring roll

And then there were two

They survived the fryer

Starter is served!

Got to admit, I am pretty proud of my first Spring rolls – they tasted good and they were super crispy. The second one kind of exploded on me as I was eating it, but at least it tasted good. There was a sign up in the dining room saying that they had beer and soft drinks for sale for 40baht so we agreed we’d all like to order a beer – which resulted in Kong jumping in his car and driving to the shops! Not quite what we had expected, but a few minutes later we had cans of beer in our hands.

We took our beer through and watched our next demonstrations – for Banana Steam Cake, then Yellow Chicken Curry and finally Chicken and Cashew Nuts.  All of the recipes were easy to follow and surprisingly uncomplicated – lots of measures of ingredients – but the end results spoke for themselves.  It was a great lesson in Thai cookery and showed just how simple their dishes are. As long as you have a handy cup of coconut cream around, you can make most of their things with a very simple powder or paste.

Below are a few snaps of the finished articles, and I can assure you that they tasted amazing!

Kong demonstrates Banana Steam Cake

My banana steam cake

Carol smashing it with her Banana Steam Cake

My yellow curry with chicken and potatoes

Fred cooking Chicken Cashew Nut

My chicken cashew nut

Lunch is served

My Banana Steam Cake

Our free cook book

Thai Orchid Cookery School

At the end of the cookery lesson, Kong gave us all a free cookbook with more simple Thai recipes and drove us back to the hotel for a brief rest to allow our stomachs to settle after so much food!

Around 4pm we set off for the next bit of our adventure – a trip to Doi Suthep, the second most sacred sight in Thailand. Doi Suthep was a 45 minute bus ride up a VERY windy road up hill to reach the temple. The road was pretty scary at places and we were amazed to see people cycling up the hill.

At the top of the hill, the minibus stopped and we were told that there were two options to reach the temple – we could either take a tram, or we could walk 309 stairs. Of course I chose the stairs!

Dek gives us the options for the journey up the hill

Dek gives us the options for the journey up the hill

And I chose the hard option, of course!

And I chose the hard option, of course!

In honesty the 309 steps weren’t that hard, and it was a lovely ornate staircase.  There were even some fallen fresh flowers on the steps, which made it pretty to walk up.

Once we regrouped at the top, we headed to a really fantastic viewpoint over Chiang Mai, where you could see the whole city.  Dek explained to us that the temple was built in this location because many years ago an elephant carrying the remains of Buddha indicated that this should be the site, by turning in a circle 3 times and trumpeting.  Somme stories say that the elephant died, others just that it trumpeted. Either way, they decided to build a temple here.

Dek also explained some details about the life of a Buddhist monk, how they follow 227 rules and dedicate their life to the Buddhist principles.  What was interesting that I had no idea about is that you can also get female monks, and they have more than 300 rules to follow because, as Dek said, women are more emotional so they have to have stricter rules.

The temple contains the remains of the Buddha which were carried by the elephant, which is what makes it such a sacred site.  The remains are buried under the temple, and people make trips from all over the Buddhist world to visit and pay their respects.

Whilst we were getting all this information, Dek also explained to us the story of the first Buddha – how he was the son of a King, and lived his life in the palace, never seeing the outside world. Eventually he left the palace and was shocked by the suffering he saw, the sick and dying people. This is what caused him to start the life of a monk, suffering like those people, and since he was making such a sacrifice, people respected him and started to follow his principles. That was the birth of Buddhism.

After all this information about the Buddhist faith, we were given times to wonder around the temple before sunset when the monks who live there come out to pray and chant.  This was what we were aiming for, and we waited around to watch the start of their chants. This was an incredible spiritual experience, seeing these men and a few women who have dedicated everything to their beliefs.

Here are a few snapshots from the temple:

Doi Sutep

Doi Sutep

Doi Sutep again

Doi Sutep again

Somme of the smaller Buddha statues surroundings the main temple

Somme of the smaller Buddha statues surroundings the main temple

Young (novice) monks praying and chanting

Young (novice) monks praying and chanting

Chanting to the Buddha in the temple

Chanting to the Buddha in the temple

People bring bells with their name on and leave it with a wish. Most were in Thai, but I found one from Kati and Fredi.

People bring bells with their name on and leave it with a wish. Most were in Thai, but I found one from Kati and Fredi.

After that amazing experience, we were free to wonder down the hill at our leisure. I grabbed a couple of shots to show the ambience of the area and the steepness of the hill:

The stairs were easier going down, for sure

The stairs were easier going down, for sure

Another Buddha, at the bottom of the hill

Another Buddha, at the bottom of the hill

The flags at the bottom of the stairs

The flags at the bottom of the stairs

Once everyone regrouped, we jumped into the minibus and headed back into Chiang Mai. We stopped at a viewpoint over the city to see some of the lights switching on, then headed all the way down the windy road again.

Once back in Chiang Mai, we were dropped off at another Night Market near our hotel. We had a bit of a look through the stalls, but most of the people in the group wanted to try a ‘Fish Massage’ – something I ruled out straight away! With my ticklish feet, there is no chance I would enjoy that.

Dek took us to a stall which was really good value for money – the fish massage was 100 baht for 20 minutes, and they offered Thai massage for 100 baht (£2) for 30 minutes. I opted for a neck and back massage, whilst the others tried the Fish Massage!

Steve didn't last long!

Steve didn’t last long!

Feeling accomplished from our mixed day of cooking, temples and massages, we grabbed a light dinner in a bar at the market and I treated myself to a hand made ice cream as well.  Afterwards, we took a Tuk-Tuk back to the hotel and had a fairly early night – preparing for my Ziplining adventure tomorrow which Dek has booked for me! Got to be ready to leave at 8am, so it’s an early start.

Brownie and M&Ms get cream poured over them and smashed together

Brownie and M&Ms get cream poured over them and smashed together

Then the mixture is spread out on a cold plate to freeze, and rolls of it are created using the spatula once it's frozen

Then the mixture is spread out on a cold plate to freeze, and rolls of it are created using the spatula once it’s frozen

Then whipped cream is added and more M&Ms and brownies... Voila, calories in a bowl! But I'm on holiday!

Then whipped cream is added and more M&Ms and brownies… Voila, calories in a bowl! But I’m on holiday!

Night all!

Categories: Food, South East Asia, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Quest of the Gods – Day 10, Cusco hangover

I’d love to say that I woke up at 7am feeling perfect after my night out, but that would be a total lie.  I woke up at 9:45, definitely still drunk.  After a shower and generally wobbling around my room for a while, I decided to find “the ultimate breakfast cafe” Harold had recommended – Jack’s Cafe.

Harold had left annotated maps for each of us along with our room keys, so finding my way should in theory have been easy. I’m sure it was easy, but I remember really struggling to relate my current position to the piece of paper in my hand.  I was in a bad way, and desperately needed hangover food!

On the way, I tried and failed to withdraw cash, which left me panicking hoping I had enough cash to last the rest of the trip.

Jack's cafe

Jack’s cafe

Once I found Jacks Cafe I ordered their Veggie breakfast, which was amazing.. Drunk food at it’s best!

Veggie breakfast and a flat white

Veggie breakfast and a flat white

It definitely helped and I began to feel a lot better after walking around for a while.  After brunch I did a bit of shopping for some small souvenirs, and I booked a massage (also on harolds map).  Resna and Mark who we had met in the jungle had insisted that a massage was a very worthwhile thing after the Inca trail, so it seemed like a good excuse!

Massage booked, I headed back to the hotel to see everyone and say goodbye to Al & Asfia who were heading to Miami to continue their honeymoon in more luxurious, less strenuous circumstances.  I was glad to see that both Steffi and Harold were equally worse for wear!

The massage was really nice and relaxing, and after that I realised I still had 4 hours until the time we had agreed to meet for dinner – since the last day had been so long I decided to reward myself with a nap.  Okay, honestly, I felt like death and the nap was the only thing I could manage.

I realised I might have a cash problem however, since I had an older looking $100 bill.  A lot of the shops in Peru are really wary about older money, and nobody was willing to change it, which meant I was short on my funds I though t I had.  Not a huge panic, I still had S400 left, but unless I persuaded some machines to work, I would have to watch out what souvenirs I buy in the coming days.

Whilst relaxing in the hotel I finished my first book of the trip – “The ocean at the end of the lane” by Neil Gaiman which is a brilliant fantasy telling of a childs view on the world.  At the end of the book Neil Gaiman talks about his influences of his childhood and it’s clear he’s put a lot of his heart and soul into telling the story.  It feels like a privilege to read those sort of childhood thoughts from someone since those thoughts are generally so personal.

After finishing the book, I started my next book – “The book thief” by Markus Zusak – which I immediately got into and couldn’t put down!

At 6:30 we met to pay our laundry bills and had a short briefing about tomorrow (the dreaded 7 hour bus ride!).  Once the briefing was over we headed to a fancy restaurant for our dinner.  I ordered a Peruvian stuffed potato dish which was really amazing!

Ruth and her passion fruit "drink"

Ruth and her passion fruit “drink”

Peruvian stuffed potato

Peruvian stuffed potato

After last nights persist, Steffi was feeling pretty rubbish today so my rehydration tablets got another user – their 4th user since we arrived!  Consider we have a nurse and a doctor on our group, I was surprised to be the one dishing our remedies!

After dinner we opened a bottle of wine in the hotel and taught Mike and Kirsten to play Shithead – a nice bonding experience and a great way to end a relaxing day.

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