Wat Arun: The Temple of the Rising Sun

Hiking Up Wat Arun

Wat Arun was one of those temples I saw in the guide book and I knew that I had to visit.  I was intrigued by the look of the temple, which I now know is done in the Khmer style (a la Angkor Wat), and I wanted to climb to the top to see the incredible views of Bangkok from the top.  Imposing Wat Arun

I honestly was not impressed with Bangkok the first day we were there.  The traffic was overwhelming, the city was huge and modern, and while the Grand Palace was gold and opulent it just was not what I was expecting.  After a day though I was able to come to grips with the city more and was up for more exploring.  Wat Arun was on the top of my list and it was the first thing we saw our third day in Bangkok after a dish of Pad Thai across the river.  The view of the temple was imposing as we stepped onto the rickety dock which led us to the temple. Alex and BuddhaDetails of Wat ArunThe Easy Part of the Hike Up Wat Arun

The first set of steps up Wat Arun are deceptively easy but as you look up you can see the increasing steepness of the steps to climb to the top of the temple of the rising sun.  Wat Arun is named after the Hindu god Aruna who is represented as the rays of the rising sun.  Offerings to BuddhaI like that Buddha was just serenely watching on as we sweated and hauled our asses up the temple.  The temple was so high that Christopher, my best friend and terrified of heights, did not accompany Alex and I.

The Steps of Wat Arun Just Keep Getting SteeperView of Bangkok from Wat ArunThe view from the top of Wat Arun was worth the hike up.  Bangkok goes on forever!Goofing off at the top of Wat Arun

Ashley at the top of Wat ArunStairway to the very top of Wat ArunOnce you reach the top of Wat Arun, the central prang, you can see the ladders that reach to the very top of the temple which symbolizes Mount Meru, the center of all physical, metaphysical and spiritual universes.  We clearly were not on the right path to be able to reach the center of all universes.

Guardians of the TempleAshley Climbing down Wat ArunUnfortunately once you go up you have to go back down and my skirt did not want to cooperate with allowing me to head back down easily.  So beware if there is even a bit of a breeze and you are wearing a skirt it will not be easy to climb back down these insanely steep steps.

Alex Clinging on to the Rope Bannister at Wat ArunWat Arun is a temple that was definitely worth the entrance fee and I am glad that we paid it.  It helped change my view (literally) of the city and I learned a very important lesson, do not wear a loose wavy skirt when you decide to climb a very steep temple even if it does cover your knees.

Details of Wat Arun

Ahh the things you learn in Asia…..  Have you been to Bangkok?  What are your thoughts on the city and Wat Arun?

Wat Arun

 

 

 

 

Angkor Wat in Black & White

ANGKOR WATAngkor Wat is something I dreamed about seeing ever since I was young.  I should have known I was going to major in archaeology since the top places I have always wanted to visit are the Pantheon, the Parthenon, the Pyramids, Machu Picchu, the Hagia Sophia and of course Angkor Wat.   Angkot Wat was always so far away though.  I never really considered actually visiting Cambodia.  I figured one day I would get there but it was never a first choice.  But then my best friend, Christopher, decided to teach english in Malaysia and bam! I had an opportunity like no other to visit.  I knew immediately that we would have to visit Angkor Wat.

 

Angkor Wat was everything I dreamed of and more.  It was HUGE and imposing, crumbling and in ruins and yet standing majestically and proud.  The complex was almost overwhelming and I wish we had had more time to explore.  We were able to hit several different temples throughout the day especially with the 4am wake up call.  Here is just a little glimpse of the temples we explored while I pretended I was Indiana Jones 🙂

The Moat before Angkor Wat
The moat that surrounds and guards Angkor Wat
The famous main temple of Angkor Wat.  We got here before sunrise to catch the mythical sunrise but of course it was so overcast we couldn't see anything.  The best thing about coming early was we were there before all the tour buses
The famous main temple of Angkor Wat. We got here before sunrise to catch the mythical sunrise but of course it was so overcast we couldn’t see anything. The best thing about coming early was we were there before all the tour buses

Angkor Wat Temple Details

Baskei Chamkrong is a small temple we discovered when we decided to walk to Banyon Temple.  Walking was one of the best things we could have done because it allowed us to explore lesser known temples.  We were able to climb to the top of this temple and view the Sanskrit writing on the temple doors.  The temple lists all the Khmer kings even before Angkorian times.
Baskei Chamkrong is a small temple we discovered when we decided to walk to Banyon Temple. Walking was one of the best things we could have done because it allowed us to explore lesser known temples. We were able to climb to the top of this temple and view the Sanskrit writing on the temple doors. The temple lists all the Khmer kings even before Angkorian times.

Bridge to Banyon

The many faces of Banyon Temple
The many faces of Banyon Temple

Banyon TempleClose Up of the Banyon Faces

Monkey at Angkor Wat

Ta Phrom was what I had always envisioned the ruins to be; run down, crumbling, perhaps the home of the lost idol :)
Ta Prohm was what I had always envisioned the ruins to be; run down, crumbling, perhaps the home of the lost idol 🙂 Or plenty of tourists

Details at Ta Prohm

Crumbling Ruins of Ta Prohm
While the archaeologist in me was sadden to see how the ruins have been abandoned and not taken care of, it was absolutely fascinating to see how the jungle is taking over these ruins. It was a surreal place to see nature overtake the ruins of a civilization.

Sculptural Details at Ta Prohm

Endless Arches at Ta Prohm

Sculptural Reliefs at Angkor Wat

The entrance to Ta Prohm and the last site we saw of the spectacular ruins of Angkor Wat
The entrance to Ta Prohm and the last sight we saw of the spectacular ruins of Angkor Wat

 

Have you ever been to Angkor Wat?  What was your favorite spot?

 

 

 

 

A Tuk Tuk Ride Through Phnom Penh

The humidity slapped us in the face as soon as we stepped off the plane in Cambodia.  It had been hot in Thailand but after the plane ride and air conditioned customs the humidity was a wake up call.  We were in Cambodia! Cambodia, a place I had dreamed about going for as long as I could remember.  The country that held the mystical Angkor Wat, ruins that the archaeologist in me had been racing towards this entire trip.  But first we had to make it to our hostel in Phnom Penh.

Serene Cambodia

As soon as we recovered from that first wave of humidity the onslaught of tuk tuk drivers began calling our name.  As we negotiated through the throng with our bags we finally found one who would take us to the Mad Monkey Hostel at a reasonable rate.  Now we had been in a tuk tuk in Bangkok but that did not prepare us for the next twenty minutes of weaving in and out of traffic, vying with bicycles and scooters where school girls rode side saddle without a care in the world.  We had been in Asia for 2 weeks and for the first time I felt that we had truly arrived in the Far East.  The traffic, the chaos, the noise and even the pollution was invigorating.

Rural Cambodia

The ride into the city was timed with school being let out and the streets were chaos.  There were street vendors crossing at any opportunity with their carts full of steaming exotic food which filled the air, swirling with the smell of diesel.  The students, on bikes, scooters and on foot, weaved their way through the traffic in their blue and white uniforms pausing as they passed us to give us huge smiles, looking at the three tall, white and gangly Americans crammed into a tiny tuk tuk with our luggage.

Tuk Tuk in Cambodia
The buildings that lined the street into the city were in various states of disrepair, some crumbling while others showed signs of reconstruction.  As we neared the city center the building began to reflect a more modern city with cell phone stores a plenty and mini marts.  Then we reached the Independence Monument and the grand boulevard of Preah Sihanouk Blvd and we were treated to stunning architecture surrounded by a lush lawn.

The grand architecture of the palace in Phnom Penh
The grand architecture of the palace in Phnom Penh

As soon as the tuk tuk passed round the roundabout we were back into the maze of streets.  As we were nearing our hostel we suddenly came to a halt.  The streets were jammed packed and we could barely see the intersection that was causing all the chaos.  The chaos was caused because everyone simply decided to ignore the light that was working.  Our tuk tuk driver came to the rescue just as I was feeling car sick (between the lurching of the tuk tuk and the diesel fumes and the vodka we drank back in Bangkok, who wouldn’t?) and instead of crossing through the intersection we just went over the curbs instead.  The man was my hero as our hostel was just on the other side of the intersection.  We had finally arrived at the Mad Monkey and I was so excited to explore….right after a beer and a nap 🙂

A Glimpse of Puerto Vallarta

Hello All!

You may have noticed we have been a bit quiet this week and it is because we are working on a big announcement!  We are so excited to share it with you but things are not quite ready yet.  So instead we thought we would share some photos of our most recent trip to Puerto Vallarta.

 

We did not think we were resort people at all but we absolutely loved relaxing by the pool all day and drinking sugary fruity drinks!  We also did explore a little of downtown Puerto Vallarta as well.  The Malecon Boardwalk is a lovely stroll down the center of Puerto Vallarta with the ocean on one side and a slew of restaurants and bars on the other.  These restaurants and bars are touristy for sure but you cannot beat the view.  We would love to go back one day and explore the Mexican coast more as it is absolutely lush and gorgeous.

We had an absolutely stunning view of Puerto Vallarta from our hotel room.  Or rather our second hotel room as we had a bit of an issue with the first one (for which I entirely blame Expedia) and ending up switching to the Westin Marina Vallarta. I am so happy with where we ended up staying!  How could I not with this view?
We had an absolutely stunning view of Puerto Vallarta from our hotel room. Or rather our second hotel room as we had a bit of an issue with the first one (for which I entirely blame Expedia) and ending up switching to the Westin Marina Vallarta. I am so happy with where we ended up staying! How could I not with this view?
The water was so warm in Puerto Vallarta; it was almost like bath water.  When it rained it was so lovely to be in the ocean until the thunderstorms that is :)
The water was so warm in Puerto Vallarta; it was almost like bath water. When it rained it was so lovely to be in the ocean until the thunderstorms that is 🙂
It is worth taking a stroll down the Malecon just to see all the interesting bronze statues that line it.  I loved that everyone was taking pictures and taking time to look and enjoy the art
It is worth taking a stroll down the Malecon just to see all the interesting bronze statues that line it. I loved that everyone was taking pictures and taking time to look and enjoy the art
This statue is one of my favorites, possibly because I have fond memories of climbing the ladder when I first went to PV with friends my sophomore year of college.  I also love the way the little guy is beholding the ladder.
This statue is one of my favorites, possibly because I have fond memories of climbing the ladder when I first went to PV with friends my sophomore year of college. I also love the way the little guy is beholding the ladder.
The Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe is the main church in downtown Puerto Vallarta and is most famous for its crown that adorns the top of it.
The Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe is the main church in downtown Puerto Vallarta and is most famous for its crown that adorns the top of it.

 

So there you have just a little sneak peak into our trip to Puerto Vallarta.  The only other things we did were to lay by the pool, eat obscene amounts of fish tacos, and drink margaritas (and daquiris and mai tais and more…. Have you seen our instagram?)

 

Hope your Saturday is just as margarita filled as our trip to Mexico!  And keep an eye out for our next post which will be all about our exciting news!!

A Journey into the Young and Old Dubai(s)

*We asked our friend Chelsea the other day if she would be interested in writing a guest post for us.  She is an amazing photographer and we are so happy that she chose to share her experiences and photos of her recent trip to Dubai.  Head on over to Chelsea’s blog after this to read on about her life as an expat in Rome*

 

I’m not sure how to gauge distance from the air, but I feel certain I first saw Dubai from some several hundred miles away. The hosts had begun circulating, waking me up from my comfy slumber stretched out across an entire row of seats. While they ensured that seat backs and folding trays were in their full upright position, I fastened my seatbelt and pressed my drowsy face against the window. An asymmetrical string of lights seemed suspended above the city. I tilted my head back and forth, wondering if it was a trick of the light.

 

I’d first heard of Dubai when I was still living in the US. People would whisper about the construction of the Burj Khalifa as if it were the end of the world. “Is this the start of a new cold war?!” “Didn’t someone once compare it to the Tower of Babel?” Something in the American consciousness fears the day in which we can no longer lay claim to the biggest and best.

Suz and I being awkwardly adorable at the Museum of Dubai.
Suz and I being awkwardly adorable at the Museum of Dubai.

 

I landed in Dubai with all the joy that comes from an airport embrace with a good friend you haven’t seen in a long time. In this case, my friend Suz, who I met working in our university‘s media lab, a fellow photographer and spectacular video-maker. Though seeing her was the highlight of my trip, she’d also promised me the best kind of fun you can only have with someone else who appreciates the glory of a good shot – she’d already been planning locations that she knew I’d like to photograph.

 

Downtown Dubai

Downtown Dubai looks like a mirage, mirrored teal buildings grasping at the sky. There were moments that I felt I’d stumbled across the world’s first settlement on Mars, a utopian vision still under construction. In Dubai there are none of the signs of decay, discontent, that mar the visage of older cities, no homelessness, graffiti, or even garbage – nothing to smudge the city’s shiny image.

 

Downtown Dubai as seen by my phone from a moving car on the highway.
Downtown Dubai as seen by my phone from a moving car on the highway.

 

In almost every building, the air conditioning hits you like a wall when you enter. It felt like the walk-in freezer where we kept towers of burger patties at the McDonalds where I worked at age 16. Inside the shopping malls, Suz and I floated over lethargic sharks in a glass-bottomed boat at the Dubai Aquarium, and peeked into the mind-blowing weird that is Ski Dubai. Even though I knew it was over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (and sandy) outside, it still felt like I was inside a ski lodge peering out at a winter wonderland. We also explored the area surrounding the towering Burj Khalifa beside the world’s largest choreographed fountains.

 

The tallest building in the world as seen from the Souk al Bahar.
The tallest building in the world as seen from the Souk al Bahar.

 

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

We arrived at the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi as the last rays of sunshine bathed its 80 enormous domes, which squat in the sky like symmetrical clouds. The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is large enough to hold 40,000 people for worship, has four minarets, and a 180,000 square foot courtyard. The structure takes inspiration from the wide range of Islamic art and architecture worldwide. As we wandered, we were sweating excessively in the thick polyester abayas loaned us by the mosque. The sound of birds fillED the air, though there wasn’t a single feathered creature to be seen. Flowers seemed to creep everywhere inside, etched onto the surface with carvings and paintings.

 

_photo-4_mosque

 

Old Dubai

In search of the lesser-known Dubai, what Suz termed “old stuff”, the taxi dropped us off in front of a row of rickety-looking boats on the edge of the river. While Suz negotiated with the boatmen I wiped steam off of my sunglasses. After deciding that the costly and precarious boat trip wasn’t for us, we explored the old covered Souq, where man after man tried to entice us with placations that their identical camel statues, sheikh bobble-heads, and woman-wearing-abaya lighters were somehow better than those in other shops. Suz led in the negotiations, demanding “cheap stuff” from the men, one of whom misunderstood her demand to be “chips” and arranged for us to be brought french fries from some unknown nearby shop.

 

_photo-5_souk-souq-dubai

 

After the Souq was the Dubai Museum, located in the Al Fahidi Fort, the oldest building in Dubai, built in 1787. The small museum provides a glimpse into life when Dubai was a village, before the discovery of oil in the sixties, when most money came from the difficult and dangerous work of pearl diving. In the museum you can see pearling boats, traditional homes (complete with a sort of early A/C – a tower made with burlap sacks to funnel wind inside), musical instruments and weaponry. The highlight, though, was the video which showed the evolution (and scale of construction) of Dubai up until the modern day.

 

Jazirat al-Hamra Ghost Town

We spent my last day in Dubai exploring the Jazirat al-Hamra Ghost Town near Ras al-Khamah, once a bustling epicenter of seaside trade. Under the blazing heat of the sun, we scrambled over collapsed adobe walls filled with coral and seashells. The white rock crumbled on our black clothes, leaving white streaks.

 

_photo-6_ghost-town1

 

All abandoned places seem to have two stories – one, the believable, practical, and two, the far more interesting. Some say the locals left in search of better economic opportunities, others after a disagreement with the rulers in Ras al-Khaimah. However, the more interesting claim is that the city is haunted by Jinni. The “genies” of the western world originate from stories of these supernatural creatures in Islamic mythology, though they don’t have much in common. Though Jazirat al-Hamra is best known as a ghost town, it’s also one of the best examples of an untouched, un-reconstructed traditional city in the area, its squat brown walls a far cry from Downtown Dubai’s azure skyscrapers and the snow white domes of the Grand Mosque.

 

The old and the new

Dubai is a fascinating city, a blend of young and old cultures. Emiratis wearing traditional clothing wander western-style shopping malls, where women wearing abayas carry the hot pink bags of Victoria’s Secret. The city’s many inhabitants, coming from cities across the world, speak mainly English in shops and out with friends. One of my favorite parts of my trip was the Punch Poetry Night at Book Munch, where people delivered poems about their love lives and wars ravaging their home countries.

 

_photo-7_burj-al-arab1

 

Like any, this city has its dark side. Restrictions on free press and speech, and the human rights violations of immigrant workers are well documented.  Dubai has a tendency towards building shiny new buildings, or covering up cracks with restoration, which gives it an air of the artificial, the “inauthentic”. But Dubai is not only the blend of old and young cultures, a mixture of history and modernity, it’s the start of something new. What that will be remains to be seen in the years to come.

 

Biography

Chelsea Graham works in communications and advocacy by day, and runs her blog, the Unofficial Guide to Rome by night. She has a degree in sociology from the London School of Economics and likes metal music, lifting heavy weights, cult TV, and photography.

A Few Hours with Gadhafi

Fiddling with my cigarette box I waited in the airport; my current location was  pre-revolution Tripoli, Libya. I was staring at the two military guards who stood with a dictatorship swagger as they held their automatic weapons with a nonchalance, yet also with a terrifying sense of authority.  Behind them was  a poster of a large portrait of Gadhafi staring down upon all of us. Wherever I went in the airport I felt as if I was being watched. Intimidation surrounded me and all I wanted was a gin and tonic as I’m not the most calm person in an airport in the first place. I don’t like flying and the added pressure of big brother did very little to help my stress level. Unfortunately gin and tonics are a rare sight in Libya.

I spotted a smoking area across the room.  I opened my box of camels and counted how many cigarettes I had left.  The room had no door separating the smoking from the non smoking area; it was packed and a steady stream of smoke was flowing out of the area where a door should be.  As I walked in all the men in the room stared up at me. Not in a judgmental way, just in a slight curiosity of why a 19 year old kid was in Tripoli.  One man scooted over and waved me over to sit. I squeezed into the space pulled out a cigarette and lit it up. The room was hot and smelled of body odor and sweet tobacco. I rubbed my eyes and looked over at my Italian compatriots taking photos with the soldiers. I thought they were crazy, posing and mimicking the Gadhafi poster with their aviators.   I just wanted to be in Ghana; I did not want to be in this airport.  I just wanted to be enjoying a star beer on the beach. I came out of my daydream and noticed a man staring at me from across the room. I pulled out another cigarette and lit it up trying not to make eye contact with the man.

I’ll be honest, I knew very little of Libya at the time. Being in this airport was nerve racking and not welcoming, I felt as if Gadhafi was one step behind me at all time. Nothing but suspicion and fear and there was nothing I could do but sit quietly and smoke my cigarette. I will never forget the feeling I had in that airport, it was not of security but a sense of hush intimidation. Libya is a country that I will visit one of these days. I will pass through those airport doors and explore the culture of the country. That experience put fear into me but with that fear came a flame of excitement and maybe next time I won’t have to destroy my lungs just to stay calm.

A Glimpse of Villa d’Este

A little while back we wrote an article about Hadrian’s Villa in the town of Tivoli.  It is an absolutely amazing site for people to visit especially if you love ruins and architecture but did you know Hadrian’s Villa inspired a Renaissance villa called Villa d’Este?

 

Villa d’Este is perhaps most known for its amazing fountains and when Alex and I visited Hadrian’s Villa we also decided to spend the other half of the afternoon exploring the gardens.  You can explore the villa itself but it is really known for its grounds and the fact that it has sweeping views of the Roman countryside.

This is the view you are greeted with as you enter the gardens at Villa d'Este.  This alone should convince you to visit
This is the view you are greeted with as you enter the gardens at Villa d’Este. This alone should convince you to visit
The Roman countryside is really beautiful.  I always suggest to people to spend some time outside the city when they come to visit.  Country life in Italy is really something special.
The Roman countryside is really beautiful. I always suggest to people to spend some time outside the city when they come to visit. Country life in Italy is really something special.
We occasionally take pictures together.  They all look like this and the backgrounds just change.  In this case one of the awesome fountains we found while wandering the gardens.
We occasionally take pictures together. They all look like this and the backgrounds just change. In this case one of the awesome fountains we found while wandering the gardens.

Fountain!

The main terrace of the Villa d'Este has these gorgeous reflecting pools and is a great spot to relax and take it all in.
The main terrace of the Villa d’Este has these gorgeous reflecting pools and is a great spot to relax and take it all in.

Fountain and Reflecting Pools at Vlilla d'Este

The Villa d'Este is a very romantic spot, a perfect place to steal a quick kiss
The Villa d’Este is a very romantic spot, a perfect place to steal a quick kiss

Reflecting Pools

Side Fountains at Villa d'Este

Cardinal Ippolitio II d'Este, who built the Villa, also constructed a miniature version of Rome as a fountain
Cardinal Ippolitio II d’Este, who built the Villa, also constructed a miniature version of Rome as a fountain

Row of 100 Fountains

Tivoli is easily reached from Rome by train and is definitely worth the trek out there, even to just spend the afternoon exploring the grounds of the villa and perhaps having a glass of wine on the terrace. 🙂

 

Have you ever visited Tivoli?  What did you think of the gardens at the Villa d’Este?

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