Ta Prohm, Cambodia – The Tomb Raider Temple

Ta Prohm, Cambodia – The Tomb Raider Temple

“Indiana, we are simply passing through history. This… this is history.” Raiders of the Lost Ark

I know – wrong movie but it was such a good quote for this. Yes, Ta Prohm is the temple where Angelina Jolie played Lara Croft in Tomb Raider. Disturbingly many more Americans probably know where Angelina Jolie is right now and do not know where Cambodia is. Some may know the Tomb Raider temple is in Cambodia. (The Tomb Raider tree)

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Ta Promh has been left the way it was originally found.

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The jungle had completely engulfed the entire complex when it was discovered in the last century.

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It was amazing to see how the massive trees have grown around and atop the structures, their roots seemingly strangling and holding up the temple’s towers and other buildings.

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At Ta Prohm you can start to appreciate what the first explorers saw when they re-discovered these temples.

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It is easy to relive the emotions of the French naturalist Henri Mouhot when he came across it hidden in the jungle in 1860.

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Ta Prohm was dedicated to the family of Jayavarman VII as shown by the inscriptions on the stele ( stone monument) The inscription lists many of Jayavarman’s ancestors, as well as giving details of the construction. Perhaps most compelling though is the information the stele gives about the people whose lives revolved around this site. Nearly 80,000 people were involved in serving the temple, coming from over 3,000 surrounding villages. The stele also mentions that there were 102 functioning hospitals in the Kingdom. Numbers like this give a fantastic insight into the sheer scale of the Khmer empire at that time.

The structure measures 145 by 125 meters and has a maze of courtyards and galleries, many impassable because of the dense overgrowth of creepers and roots.

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I had to put this photo in of a Cambodian butterfly at Ta Prohm Temple. Thanks for taking this Kim. I needed to use at least one of your “National Geographic photos”. Most of the photos atTa Prohm were taken by Wong Kimsian.

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The “jungle temple” is best visited early in the morning when everybody else is at Angkor Wat to get your best photographs of the ongoing battle between nature and architecture.

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Fly Safe,

JAZ

Hoi An, Viet Nam

Hoi An, Viet Nam

“My favorite thing is to go where I’ve never been” – Diane Arbus

Hoi An is one of the most charming cities in Viet Nam.

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It was a commercial district for Japanese and Chinese traders in the sixteenth century and is listed as a Unesco World Heritage site.

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Hoi An’s Old Quarter is lined with two-story old Chinese buildings that now house shops with elaborately carved wooden facades and moss-covered tile roofs.

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Colorful guildhalls, founded by ethnic Chinese from Guangdong and Fujian provinces, stand quietly as a testament to the town’s trading roots.

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The Japanese Bridge was originally constructed to connect the Japanese community with the Chinese quarter – separated by a small stream of water – as a symbolic gesture of peace.

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The food market reminds visitors of another era when it was filled with goods from all over the Asia. (mangos, rambuchan, snake wine)

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Hoi An is a place where you can get clothes and shoes made at a reasonable price as long as you have a picture.

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There is a plethora of tailors and cobblers to choose from.

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It is also one of the best eating cities in Viet Nam and known for cooking classes and especially delicious food. (Mango Rooms – yes everything has mango, White Rose dumplings at Cafe De Lys – only one Hoi An family has the recipe, and thus a monopoly on their production– rose-shaped shrimp dumplings topped with fried garlic and onions.)

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Away from the hustle and bustle of the busy streets of Hoi An, the Nam Hai all-villa resort, sprawls on quiet Hoi An Beach. The contemporary architecture is welcoming and eye-catching as feng shui mingles with strong modern lines.

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The Spa at the Nam Hai is truly something wonderful. Composed of 8 villas, floating around a lotus pond, it is the ideal location for a relaxing massage, steam shower and herbal tea! The people who work there are most helpful and always want to practice their English.

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Hoi An has a lantern festival every full moon.

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All the lights are extinguished and the town is lit with lanterns.

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You can buy water candles from children on the river and make a wish and set them afloat. Incense is burned everywhere for the dead ancestors.

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Hoi An is a photographer’s city.

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You respond to a face of an old woman under her triangle hat walking to sell her fruit or the way the light hits the old Chinese buildings or the lanterns lighting up the city at night.

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You move on to your next destination and your photographs become a testimony that you were there.

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I have to truly thank Ms. Anh Mai (Jina) from Trails of Indochina for helping me plan this trip. You have no idea how many emails I have sent her.  I do a lot of pre research about what cities i want to visit and made many changes  (including countries) till we got it right. Many people take cruises through Viet Nam but after going I would recommend doing it on land because you miss a lot. Jina never made me feel like I was a bother and always answered my questions politely and offered her own suggestions. Once in Viet Nam and Cambodia everything was taken care of beautifully. It is my first time traveling with this company and I was very impressed. I will definitely use them again and highly recommend JIna and Trails of Indochina for Southeast Asia. anh.m@trailsofindochinagroup.com

Fly safe,
JAZ

There Are A Hundred Ways To Catch A Fish In The River In Hoi An, Viet Nam

There Are A Hundred Ways To Catch A Fish In The River In Hoi An, Viet Nam

“Having ideas is like getting fishing net; you must cast it. The broader you cast it, the greater your likelihood of achieving more!” Israelmore Ayivor

For the fishermen in Viet Nam, fishing has been a way of life for generations.

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Now they send their children to school in the hopes that they will have a better life. Fishing is not an easy life. Fishermen set their nets at night and return home to sell their fish to wholesalers at the market in the morning.

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They don’t worry about illness, or government fishing regulations.They worry about catching enough fish to feed their families all year round.

All fishermen are very superstitious and in Viet Nam it is the same. The boats have eyes in front of them – to see for their safety and to scare away the evil spirits. There are different eyes in different parts of the country. In the South the eyes are rounder than in the North.(boat in the Mekong Delta)

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The boats in the dock with eyes watch for the safety of the smaller fishing boats.

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The fishermen go to fortune tellers to find out what days are good for them to go out and catch many fish. Lucky numbers are 1, 5, 7 and 9. You can spend a lot of money to have the number nine painted on your boat.

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The fishermen use all kinds of tools to catch fish. Fishing nets, fishing camps (traps) and instruments made from bamboo to raise and lower large nets are some of the ways to catch fish.  I tried a few of the different methods.

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They are hard work. It is probably even harder when you’ve lost your foot on a landmine as a child.

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We sailed to a bamboo construction that was operated with your  arms and legs like gym equipment.

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It raises a very large fishing net that had been set during the night. it was heavy.  I needed help but the fishermen do it alone. (that was so cool to make  that come up)

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Then you go out to the net and retrieve the fish.

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The hat is not decorative. It is so the fish don’t fall on your head.

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The round bamboo basket boats with tar or varnish to waterproof them will catch your eye as soon as you reach the Viet Nam coast. It is truly a remarkable boat -cheap and resistant to various water hazards.

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We took it to go through the underwater palm forest filled with water coconuts that boats can’t go through. It’s a good area to find crabs.

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The Viet Cong hid here during the war. Hoi An is in central Viet Nam between the North and the South.

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The river is life to a fishermen – always there, always changing. As the rivers become more polluted, there are less fish and their income is always unstable.

Spending the morning with the fishermen in Hoi An for me was a very special thing to do. Being on the river is incredibly beautiful and it made me appreciate how much the fishermen of the world do for us – especially when I was eating the fresh catch of the day. (squid and prawns)

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Thanks to the fishermen and everyone from Hoi An Agritravel for a very interesting and delicious morning. Special thanks to Mr Nguyen Phuc Tan for his wonderful stories and expertise in teaching me about the Vietnamese fishermen.

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Di du lịch một cách an toàn,

JAZ

Driving From Hue to Hoi An, Viet Nam

Driving From Hue To Hoi An, Viet Nam

“Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me as is ever so on the road.”Jack Kerouac

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American bunker with bullet holes near Da Nang

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China Beach, Da Nang

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American hangars in Da Nang

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Vietnamese coffee

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Di du lịch một cách an toàn,

JAZ

 

The Mekong Delta, Viet Nam

The Mekong Delta, Viet Nam

“Now without the bombs and gun shots, people can have a better sleep.“ from someone in the Mekong Delta.

The Mekong River has its origins in the mountains of Tibet, and it traverses six countries and 4500 km before spilling out into the Mekong Delta region of Viet Nam.

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After the rainy season, the water is brown from the silt that has been washed into it upstream.

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During the dry season the river becomes blue-green in color. There are many boats of different sizes and shapes traveling in all directions, including cargo boats, fishing boats, ferries, tourist boats and house boats.

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Everything happens on the river including the floating market of Cai Bei.

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All along the river, small huts are perched precariously on stilts so that the water at high tide does no more than wet the floor.

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Some are in good shape, but most are ramshackle, and one wonders how they manage to survive.

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During the Viet Nam War there was there was fighting there between the Viet Cong and the US Navy boats. After the war the Khmer Rouge attacked Viet Nam to reclaim the Delta area. This campaign precipitated the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia and later downfall of the Khmer Rouge.

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The Mekong Delta is called the Rice Bowl of Viet Nam because most of the countries rice production comes from the Delta. They also have most of the country’s fisheries.

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The towns along the river are fun to explore by foot or bicycle.

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You will find French colonial architecture and delicious fruits and vegetables.

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The Mekong Lodge is an interesting place to stay on the Delta.

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It is reachable by boat and a good location for exploring the nearby villages and floating market. They are socially and environmentally responsible using eco-friendly materials for the bungalows, solar energy, rainwater, local ingredients and local employees. There is not a lot of English but it adds to the charm. Hand motions are the universal language and I am fluent in them.

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I had a great foot massage in a bamboo chair outside of my room overlooking beautiful gardens and fruit orchards of longan, rambutan, mango, durian trees and flowers. http://mekonglodge.com

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Another option are local guesthouses where you can stay with a lovely family on the Mekong.

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I spent some time at Muoi Huong Tourist Garden (070 3859992) with their lovely family and highly recommend it for a wonderful local experience. (Binh Hoa Phuoc Island, Long Ho District, Vinh Long, Viet Nam).

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I had a chance to talk to people in the Mekong Delta. What I noticed throughout Vietnam was some of the nicest friendliest people I met came from the Mekong Delta.

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There is an interconnectedness that all Vietnamese have with past generations that we do not have. Every home has an altar to their ancestors with photos and their favorite things on it. The smell of incense used for prayer permeates the country (not so good for me because I am allergic to it). But I love the idea of it – how the smoke rises up to connect them with their ancestors.

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They worship at communal houses.

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They work hard. They are underpaid and they do not complain.

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They have been helped by the efforts, work and suffering of previous generations and ancestors.

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Now they are part of the present, with each other, working toward a future when others will pray and thank them.

Special thanks to my tour guide in Saigon and the Mekong Delta Mr. Nguyen Dinh Thanh. Thanh is smart, funny, intuitive, helpful and very knowledgeable about everything related to Viet Nam. I had the best time exploring the Delta with him and highly recommend him as a tour guide.

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Di du lịch một cách an toàn,

JAZ

Art In Hanoi – Thanh Chuong Viet Palace, Viet Nam

Art In Hanoi – Thanh Chuong Viet Palace, Viet Nam

“Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child — our own two eyes. All is a miracle.”

 Thich Nhat Hahn

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There is no right way to experience an art museum or gallery .

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As a traveler who knows a little something about art, I always have a list of art work that I have to see in a country which I can check off in my brain.

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But at the Thanh Chuong Viet Palace in Hanoi, I did not know the artist or his collection.

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I did not know which was considered a masterpiece and which was not so I slowed down and looked at what I liked – what interested me and what touched me.

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It is easier to make a connection with the art that way – when you don’t know what it is that you are “supposed to see.

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It is a different experience when you choose what resonates with you instead of what is famous.

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The palace houses Vietnamese artist Thanh Chuong’s vast collections of Vietnamese spiritual and folk art along with his modern paintings. (artist)

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It is located forty kilometers from the center of Hanoi and covers over 10,000 square meters. There are thousands of cultural and historical artifacts from different Vietnamese dynasties which the artist spent his life collecting and storing.

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It includes all kinds of architectural elements, different houses antique and replicated, furniture from all periods, statues, a theatre for water puppetry and a beautiful restaurant.

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Thanh Chuong comes from a talented and literary family. There is an altar to his father the writer Kim Lan and a room displaying his work.

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The palace is not without its critics. The “House of Auspicious Clouds’ has been called an artistic theme park, and “an ostentatious display of wealth and social status.

It attracts local and foreign visitors who are interested in understanding Vietnam’s artistic and spiritual culture.

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I loved walking around in this beautiful and very feng shui environment and finding all the old and new pieces together.

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The lotus ponds, bamboo beds, mud cottages made you think of Viet Nam’s history. I liked his modern paintings, sculptures  and the creative way he juxtaposed the old and the new.

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When you spend time looking at something, you actually begin to see it.

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A very special thank you to my guide in Hanoi Mr. Do Sy Quy. He was my first guide on this trip and set the tone for an amazing experience. “Buffalo Joe” is kind, friendly, funny, intuitive and very knowledgeable about Hanoi and Viet Nam history. I connected with him immediately and feel like I have a friend in Hanoi.

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Di du lịch một cách an toàn,

JAZ

Bayon, Angor Thom, Cambodia

Bayon, Angor Thom, Cambodia

“Bayon can be said to be the most imaginative and singular in the world, because more unearthly in its conception, a temple from a city in some distant planet…imbued with the same elusive beauty that often lives between the lines of a great poem.”  Bruno Dagens

Bayon and Angkor Wat evoke similar aesthetic responses yet are different in purpose, design, architecture and decoration. Bayon was built in late 12th century to early 13th century, by  King Jayavarman VII. The dense jungle surrounding the temple camouflaged its place in relation to other structures at Angkor so it was not known for some time that the Bayon stands in the exact centre of the city of Angkor Thom.

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To get to the temple you cross a bridge lined with amazing statues.

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You continue on to my favorite place – the terrace of the elephants.

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On approaching from a distance, it resembles a rather formless initially disappointing jumble of stone.

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Inside you discover a maze of galleries, towers and passageways on three different levels.

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The structure is rich in decoration, detailing scenes from battles, religious rituals, and everyday life.

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The most famous thing about the Bayon Temple are the over 200 faces carved into the stone temple towers – some indistinct and crumbling and others perfectly preserved.

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It is generally accepted that four faces on the towers are images of the bodhisattva (fully enlightened beings) who delays entry into Nirvana to aid the spiritual development of others.

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The characteristics of the faces – a broad forehead, downcast eyes, wild nostrils, thick lips that curl upwards slightly at the ends-combine to reflect the famous ‘Smile of Angkor’.

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The feeling at Bayon Temple for me was very different from Angor Wat. It is smaller, greyer and in the jungle.

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There are slabs of stone and crumbling ruins all around.

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You can see how they brought the stone from quarries thirty miles away and lifted it up.

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My guide in Cambodia was Mr. Wong Kimsien. Kim was very knowledgeable and fun.  He had a good sense of humor and was able to go with the flow  and switched gears whenever necessary. He also took most of these photos and the ones at Ta Prohm as well.  He is a very good photographer.  Thank you Kim for being such a good tour guide and all your kindness.

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Bayon is less crowded than Angor Wat so you can even find a quiet space for a blessing  under the sightless gaze of the ever-present faces.

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Fly safe,

JAZ