Matt Burke Travel Blog: “I spent the last few days in Siem Reap, the home base for exploring the temples of Angkor Wat.”

Posted by Tara Altman on June 28, 2012 – 4:03 pm

“The first thing that I noticed about Cambodia is the smell. And I don’t mean that in a bad way. There is something always burning here (for cooking and who knows what else) so the air has a pleasant smoky smell to it. It reminds me of people burning leaves in a New England fall. Probably the second thing is how nice the people are here. Everyone was much more friendly and helpful than the start of my trip.

“I spent the last few days in Siem Reap, the home base for exploring the temples of Angkor Wat.  I won’t do justice to what I have seen here, it’s hard to capture in words. The only thing I have come across in my travels that is comparable to the scale and grandeur of it is Machu Picchu in Peru. The massive ruins of temples built 1,000 years ago with intricate stone carvings are something to be witnessed. People will sometimes spend weeks here exploring all the sites. I effectively had only 2 full days, so I had to really work it.

“The first day I hired a remork driver and a guide to hit the main circuit. These include Angkor Thom, highlighted by the central temple called Bayon, which has over 200 giant stone heads carved into its walls and towers. Next up is Ta Prohm, ruins that have been overrun by the jungle, with massive tree roots engulfing some of the buildings. It is referred to as the Tomb Raider temple since some of the movie was filmed there. Finally, you end up at Angkor Wat the name sake of the entire area. It is long and expansive and has five towers stretching into the sky as its trademark. I spent a full day there (about 9-5) in some fairly oppressive heat but it was well worth it.

“The next day I awoke at 4 a.m. to get up and see the legendary sunrise over Angkor Wat. Since it is the start of the rainy season and fairly cloudy in the morning the sunrises have been hit or miss. I was lucky enough to get a decent day, not some of the spectacular reds and pinks and oranges they get sometimes, but a still impressive way to start the day. From there I took a remork again out to some temples about 40 kilometers away. Banteay Srei was a small temple but known for its finely detailed carvings, and also the fact that it was made with pink sandstone giving it a striking color.

“I followed that up with a trip to the River of 1,000 Lingas. After about a mile hike up into the mountains you come to a river and waterfall. The actual stone in the river bed is carved with fascinating designs of Hindu gods and symbolism. They believed the water washed over them and was blessed. I was fortunate that I got such an early start in that I was literally the only person up there except for the park ranger who walked me around and showed me some of the hidden carvings and took some pictures for me. I enjoyed the hiking and being out alone in nature for a bit.

“Again a few paragraphs is not the proper due for this experience. If I can get some of my pictures loaded hopefully that can help! Once again met some great fellow travelers to share some downtime with. I just embarked on a seven-hour bus ride down to Phnom Penh so not feeling great about that!”

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Matt Burke Travel Blog: A lot to catch up on

Posted by Tara Altman on June 25, 2012 – 11:49 am

“A lot to catch up on…

“So, I spent the last few days in the city of Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand. I really enjoyed my time there. It was a lot less hectic than Bangkok was. It is the jumping off point for a lot of adventure-based activities, so there is a lot to do.

“Did a fairly typical trek for that region on Friday. After about an hour drive up into the mountains you go to an elephant camp where you can ride one for about an hour. Then you hike further into the mountains/jungle (about an hour hike) until you get to a waterfall, where you can refresh underneath it, totally necessary since it was about 90 degrees and humid. You hike part of the way back and then raft the rest of the way, half as a whitewater excursion and then the last part as a slow-float on a traditional bamboo raft.  It is definitely a full day. I was really looking forward to the elephant ride but was slightly disappointed in it — it was a little rushed and commercialized. But the rest of the day was great, just spending it in the jungles and mountains and on the river. We almost lost a British girl out of the boat into the rapids but other than that it was a relaxing day.

“The next day, the hostel I was staying at arranged a “driver” for the day for me.  I questioned my decision when he showed up in what looked like about a 1983 Datsun hatchback that had seen better days. Sometimes you just gotta go with it, so I jumped in.  Driving here is crazy — lanes are just a suggestion apparently and there are motorbikes and tuk-tuks coming at you from all directions. He turned out to be a great guy and we had a good time together. He first took me to Doi-Suthep, which is a temple on top of the highest peak that overlooks the city. There are over 300 steps you have to climb to reach it. It again was pretty impressive and with some great views.

“I also somehow wandered into a room where I ended up getting blessed with some holy water by a Buddhist Monk. I am not sure if I was supposed to be there or not but the monk didn’t seem put off by it. The only English he spoke to me was “ok, good luck” so hopefully that comes true.

“Next I was off out of town a ways to a park where they raise tigers and you can go into the cage with them. Definitely a great trip. I had heard mixed reviews based mostly on rumors that they drug and/or beat the animals to keep them docile enough for humans to interact with them, but I didn’t see anything to suggest that. It was certainly one of the highlights of my trip so far. You can choose which size you want to be with so I decided on the “big cats.”  Just a day full of good decisions. Being in an enclosure with 4 tigers all around 2 years old is definitely nerve-inducing!  Won’t forget that for a while.

“That’s it for now. I am currently en route to Cambodia, so I will check in more from there.

“It would take me too long to document all the fantastic people I have met and spent time with here. Probably one of my favorite things about being out in the world is meeting other travellers and swapping stories or sharing adventures. I did want to pass along a couple of random meetings. The first American I really met here was staying in my hostel in Chiang Mai travelling with her two friends from Toronto and low and behold she is from Bloomfield Township. Then I am sitting in a mostly empty airport waiting to leave Chiang Mai and the only other person within a mile of me is this girl who went to Dartmouth College (my alma mater). She was great company — we ended up sitting together and then killing time in the airport before we both went our separate ways. Never ceases to amaze me when I have connections with people I meet half way around the world.  “

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Matt Burke Travel Blog: Last day in Bangkok, then headed for adventures up North

Posted by Tara Altman on June 20, 2012 – 4:05 pm

“Today was my last full day in Bangkok and it gave me a couple cool stories. Did some more sight seeing (temples) in the morning and then was directed to this street called Soi Ban Bat, which basically translated means: Monk’s Bowl street or village. It is the last place that these artisans make the bowls that monks here use to beg for alms. They take you though this amazing process of melding the steel with copper and then hammering it out by hand and finishing it with lacquer. It was a cool off-the-path kind of adventure. I got to meet a few of the men that make these bowls and see the process (it takes five days to make one bowl).

“Then at night, reason 1000 why I love traveling. I randomly bumped into this family from Holland in my travels around the city. A father and his two college age kids, a son and daughter. After some chatting they invited me to dinner with them and we spent the rest of the night sharing food and drink and stories. Just a great way to experience the world and new people and cultures. We laughed together through the whole meal. I am finally getting settled into the city but am about to leave tomorrow for adventures up north.

“Wanted to make a correction – I actually travelled to Ireland with my friend Tim Barry (aka Sprinkles) first and then took trips with my friend Ken (as was stated in the story). Which goes to show you even travelling halfway around the world doesn’t mean you can escape the wrath of your friends who feel slighted. They will track you down!”

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Matt Burke Travel Blog: Fist stop, Bangkok

Posted by Tara Altman on June 19, 2012 – 11:35 am

“I am currently in Bangkok right now. It took me forever to get here — I left at 3:30 on Sunday afternoon and didn’t get to my hotel until after 1:30 am on Tuesday morning! But I am settling in.

“Spent the day touring some of the main sights here — Wat Pho with its giant reclining Buddha Statue and The Grand Palace. The massiveness and grandeur of the temples is so impressive. It’s hard to put into words and I don’t think pictures will do it justice either.

“It is HOT and HUMID, which takes some getting used to. That and riding the tuk-tuks in crazy traffic. I have another couple days here. I’ll try to send a pic when I can.”

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