Beautiful Cambodia

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Latimer: This post has been such a long time coming. For various reasons I never got round to finishing off my South East Asian adventure posts! 

Yummy Fish Amok, a Cambodian dish

Yummy Fish Amok, a Cambodian dish, it’s inside a coconut!

Well, last time I left off, I was leaving Vietnam for Cambodia. I was really looking forward to this. One of the main reasons I’d gone on this trip was to make it to Cambodia. I’d heard such good things about it from my brother, who is still as taken with it now as it was when he’d first been there. It grabbed hold of him somehow. And, now I know why.

For those of you that don’t know, Cambodia was once the jewel of South East Asian; prosperous and full of very well educated people. It was once the ancient empire of Kampuchea; it ruled South East Asia.

That glorious past was blotted out in the 1970’s when Pol Pot’s terrifying Khmer Rogue communist organisation came to power. I wouldn’t get into the horrific details; these people, if you can call them that, declared that the country had entered Year Zero, and that meant going back to the Stone Ages in some respects. The educated people were viewed as traitors (the  were sent off to the countryside to work as labourers on the farm, the country entered a famine; neighbours were encouraged to ‘spy’ on each other and inform on each other (even though no one did anything, it was all about fear and mistrust).

Pol Pot’s regime committed genocide; they tortured thousands of people, wiped out whole families (men, women and children), sending them off to the Killing Fields.

People leave bracelets at burial markers in the Killing Fields

People leave bracelets at burial markers in the Killing Fields

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When we visited one of the most horrific and infamous prisons, Tuol Sleng (S-21), our guide told us that in Pol Pot’s reign of terror (which he lived through), there were only two words; Friend, or Enemy… Friend meant ‘life’, Enemy meant ‘death’. The Khmer Rouge preached that they had the ‘eyes of a pineapple and ears everywhere’ – they preached that everyone should spy on each other (or face death), and so no one was safe.

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Tuol Sleng prison

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Our guide, his father (a Professor) had been taken by the Khmer Rouge during the regime. They never found out what happened to him.

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This is the dark side of Cambodia. To this day the Cambodian courts are trying the last living high ranking members of the Khmer Rouge (Pol Pot died in the early 1990’s having never acknowledged how he’d tried to destroy his people and his country).

It’s very, very sad, but the Cambodian people are truly incredible. They are strong; stronger than I think I could ever be. I was very touched by what had happened to them, but I think they should be beyond proud of their resilience. 

It was a hard day when we went to Tuol Sleng and then the infamous Killing Field, Choeung Ek. A very hard day. But Cambodia is more than that, so when we went to the amazing Angkor, we got a glimpse back in time at the ancient Kampuchea Empire.

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Walking towards something wonderful

Angkor Wat is the most famous temple in the Angkor complex; it’s a Hindu temple originally. And it was interesting to learn that the languages and scripts of Khmer, Laotian and Thai derive from Hindu and India, not China as I always expected. Many of the temples in Angkor are Hindu; or at least originally, they later became Buddhist.

We got to Angkor Wat for the sunrise – which as it turns out it very popular – haha, of course it is. Anyway, it was packed full of people and I didn’t get a very good picture… but I was there and it was amazing. This is me trying to remember it’s not about the picture but the experience.

Angkor Wat sunrise

Angkor Wat sunrise

Angkor Wat sunrise

Angkor Wat sunrise

This is the sort of photo people try to get, where the temple is reflected on the lake in front... yeah we all tried!

This is the sort of photo people try to get, where the temple is reflected on the lake in front… yeah we all tried!

Inside Angkor Wat

Inside Angkor Wat

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A guy getting a Hindu bracelet in Angkor Wat temple… I still have mine!

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Blessing bracelets inside Angkor Wat

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After Angkor Wat, we went to Angkor Thom, the ‘great city’. This was an emperors capital city during the Kampuchea empire. There is a temple inside that has his face built into the walls.

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My travelling buddha makes it to Angkor Thom – onward Buddha, onward…

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We then went to the ‘Tomb Raider’ temple, where the first movie was shot. The temple is actually called Ta Prohm. It’s spectacular. You might know it as the temple with all the roots on it.

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Cambodia really is an amazing country.

We had the opportunity to visit some schools, built and run by international donations and the people of the New Hope Cambodia organisation (which is fantastic). We had dinner at the school, cooked by local teenagers being trained to enter the hospitality industry, giving them a trade. We also sat in on an English class (the kids were amazing) – there’s one classroom called the Irish Classroom (I wasn’t in it) – it’s because there’s an Irish woman that donated a lot of money to the school. That’s great.

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The thing to remember is after Pol Pot’s regime the country lost it’s teachers and educated people. The schools in Cambodia are far behind the rest of the world and lots of children don’t even go to school. So it was great to see that there are grassroots initiatives for Cambodians to help get their country back on track. 

It goes to show you that you can’t keep good people down; people are more resilient that you’d think.

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After a few days in Cambodia I was back in the hustle and bustle of Bangkok, where I’d started my amazing journey. I had some time to collect myself before flying back home.

As always, I’m thinking of the next adventure to come! 

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Legend Unleashed, Keeping Secrets 1, Chapter 11

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Ah! Another Wednesday release! Hope you are all still following along!

To celebrate the release of Unbroken Ties, Keeping Secrets, 2 – check out all the details here – we’re continuing our Legend Unleashed, Keeping Secrets, 1, Wednesday chapter release!

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Check back next Wednesday for the next chapter release (10th September)!!

Synopsis:

“Temperance is satisfied with her ordinary life. Dealing with her eccentric, childlike parents is all the excitement she needs. That changes when Alastair Byron returns home.
After a failed matchmaking attempt by her father, sparks fly between her and Alastair-just not the good kind.
They are forced together though, when they are implicated in a grisly murder. Their search for the truth leads them to a secret world beneath Carwick, filled with werewolves, wizards and other magical faey.
However, uncovering the truth is far more dangerous than they’d ever imagined.
There are secrets within secrets.
Even Alastair may be more than he seems…”

Catch up from the beginning here:

Legend Unleashed Prologue to Chapter 4,

Legend Unleashed Chapter 5,

Legend Unleashed Chapter 6 

Legend Unleashed Chapter 7

Legend Unleashed, Chapter 8 

Legend Unleashed Chapter 9 

Legend Unleashed, Chapter 10

The newest chapter is: Legend Unleashed, Chapter 11

Please share if you can!

Legend Unleashed, Keeping Secrets 1, Chapter 9

LU_NEW_deviant

Ah! Another Wednesday release! Hope you are all still following along!

Again, in anticipation of the release of Unbroken Ties (Keeping Secrets, 2) (at the end of August), we’re releasing some new chapters of Legend Unleashed (Keeping Secrets, 1) every Wednesday (next release 27th Aug!)!!

Synopsis:

“Temperance is satisfied with her ordinary life. Dealing with her eccentric, childlike parents is all the excitement she needs. That changes when Alastair Byron returns home.
After a failed matchmaking attempt by her father, sparks fly between her and Alastair-just not the good kind.
They are forced together though, when they are implicated in a grisly murder. Their search for the truth leads them to a secret world beneath Carwick, filled with werewolves, wizards and other magical faey.
However, uncovering the truth is far more dangerous than they’d ever imagined.
There are secrets within secrets.
Even Alastair may be more than he seems…”

Catch up from the beginning here: Legend Unleashed Prologue to Chapter 4, Legend Unleashed Chapter 5, Legend Unleashed Chapter 6 and Legend Unleashed Chapter 7 and Legend Unleashed, Chapter 8

With the newest chapter here: Legend Unleashed Chapter 9

Please share if you can!

And look forward to the end of August 2014 release of Unbroken Ties!

Unbroken_Ties_DEVIANTART

Good Morning Vietnam

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Latimer: What else could I call a blog post about Vietnam? It’s a phrase I overused so very much while in Vietnam. I said it basically every morning, and if I forgot, I’d say it mid-way through the day.

This post is a continuation of my trip around South East Asia, as it’s getting to the end of summer now; I find myself reminiscing more and more about my adventures in the past. They were so good; they make me consider what the next adventure will be!

But well, back to my South East Asian adventures! I had made it through Thailand and Laos, with lots of fond memories and exciting adventures, onward to Vietnam, a place that I was expecting to love, though I wasn’t quite sure what I was expecting to love about it…

I was right about the loving part; it’s a gorgeous, bustling fun place, full of amazing places to see and history to learn about, all inter-spaced with yummy food, cool art and random livestock on bikes (the motorbike is everything in Vietnam!)

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Beer corner, Hanoi where local people sell beer and we all watch the crazy traffic go by, as we sit on the street and drink. Yup. I randomly met up with some of my China-travel buddies here too, so the world is a very small place guys!

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Bun Cha, Vietnamese delicacy, Hanoi

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Crash site of Senator John McCain’s plane, shot down by the Viet Con during the Vietnam war (it is still there in Hanoi where it fell)

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They are super happy about having shot down this plane, so it’s very well sign posted – I think it’s because Senator John McCain is a Senator now

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This is the Hilton Prison, Hanoi. Hilton was a nickname placed on the prison, by the prisoners, who were American POWs

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Motorbikes on the streets of Hanoi

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More yummy Vietnamese food!

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Uncle Ho (Ho Chi Minh) propaganda artwork for sale in Hanoi

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Artwork, Hanoi

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Chinese monument in Hanoi – there is a heavy Chinese influence in Vietnam, as the country was part of/occupied by the Chinese during it’s history (Vietnam feels like it has more Chinese influence than, Laos, Thailand or Cambodia)

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Halong Bay

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Sunset, kite-flying off the back of our boat in Halong Bay

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Yes, that is a cow on the back of a motorbike… yeah

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Food wraps and kawaii fingers, Hue

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Vietnamese dragon and my Chinese Travelling Buddha, in the Vietnamese ‘forbidden city’, Hue

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Just on the road in Vietnam, amazing

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Blurry Buddha and me in an old American war bunker, on the road

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The Mighty Mekong Delta, Ho Chi Minh City (kinda)

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Fresh coconuts on the Mekong Delta

Travelling Buddha gets around, here he's at the Chu-Chi Tunnels

Travelling Buddha gets around, here he’s at the Cu-Chi Tunnels

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Tofu, noodles and veggies, yum!

I saw a lot of amazing places, but my favourite had to be the laid-back beautiful Hoi An, I could have spent a long time there, it was a small, but very lovely town?

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Beautiful wedding couple. As in Chinese tradition, red is the colour for the bride in Vietnam, not white

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Laid back streets of Hoi An

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Hoi An streets

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A bridge across the river, Hoi An

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Lanterns, beautiful Vietnamese lanterns

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Sunsets on its way over Hoi An!

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A cool eatery Hoi Ah, though it looks very Spanish or something!

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Super fresh noodles and yummy avocado smoothie (delicious!), Hoi An

Lanterns and more lovely Lanterns, Hoi An

Lanterns and more lovely Lanterns, Hoi An

Hoi An has a lovely river running through it. I went on a boat ride during the sunset and cast some lanterns out on the water, sending my wishes with it!

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It’s where people get clothes made lots of the time, but it has some cool art shops also, and also, the best tea shop I have ever been in in my whole life. It’s called Reaching Out Teahouse and it’s run by deaf and mute staff, so everything is done by indicating via the menu and also these little notes where you can ask for a re-fill of water etc. It is a Fairtrade shop and it works with people with disabilities in the community to find employment and live an independent life, so it’s well worth supporting. They also sell these amazing crafts in the shop – and all the tea cups and cutlery (metal and ceramic) are made by the Reaching Out artisans.

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Used to communicate with staff

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Iced coffee, with coffee ice… haha

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Crafts from the shop

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Traditional seating

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The tea tasting menu (3 types) – soooo good, plus you get three interesting treats with it! Like, eg., a sweet potato swirl, or green tea biscuit

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A platter of very interesting treats!

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The famous Vietnamese coffee (iced) – three type tasting menu here! It was so good!

It was really serene and it was nice to sit in this traditional style teahouse and look out of the open shutters at the front at the people passing by in the street. Some Chinese tourists randomly stopped in front of the windows and took photos with us Westerns in the background, which was… well, hilarious and random, but I had noticed this happened a lot in China also, so I was kind of used to it, in a very weird way!

Vietnam was a brilliant place, I would definitely go back. Maybe one day I will, but from there it was onward to the place I had wanted to visit the most, Cambodia (and the stunning Angkor Wat… what)!

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Laotian Living

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Latimer: Ridley and I are working hard to get the second book of our Keeping Secrets series read for publication! But, in the meantime, we are daydreaming about the exotic and the far-away, reliving some holidays and thinking about some new ones.

Last I left off on my trip down the South-East Asian holiday memory-lane, I was in Laos, heading towards Vang Vieng and the capital city of Laos Vientiane!

In Vang Vieng, we were lucky enough to stay with a local family in a small village (just a few minutes from Vang Vieng central). It was a real eye-opener because we just don’t live like this anymore in Ireland. Everyone was really nice and the homemade food was yummy.

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Village living

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Little piggys!

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While in Vang Vieng, I checked out the beauty of the Blue Lagoon; petted a butterfly – no really, it felt like I was Snow White or something, it was crazy, I was surrounded for the briefest moment by a flock (?) of colourful butterflies! I trekked up a mountain and had a poke around an amazing cave, which really inspired me for writing! And then, I had some fresh coconut juice. I also had a bit of relaxation getting a brilliant Laotian massage – I definitely recommend them!

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Blue lagoon… beautiful!!

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Stunning butterfly

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My Disney/Snow White moment!!

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We had a few relaxing days in Vang Vieng, ending the trip there with a beautiful sunset and some nice juices…

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Then it was off to Vientiane, the most laid-back capital city in the world. It’s really small, but has this relaxing feel to the place, that just doesn’t exist in… well, basically any capital city I’ve ever been in. It’s such a cool, fun place. We managed to get lost walking around the whole city, but all roads lead to where you want to go eventually in Vientiane! On the detour we managed to check out some nice temples.

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We didn’t have long in Vientiane before we were saying goodbye to Laos and GOOD MORNING to VIETNAM 🙂

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For other posts about South-East Asia check out: Lovely Laos and Trekking through Thailand

Lovely Laos

20140502_091324Latimer: I continued my adventure through South East Asia by crossing from Thailand into Laos. I have to say it’s one of the loveliest, most laid back countries I’ve ever visited. I’ll put my hand up and say I really didn’t know anything about Laos before I went there. So, here’s a quick list of facts/interesting info, about Laos!

  • Laos is actually called; Lao People’s Democratic Republic
  • Hello is pronounced – SAA-BAI-DEE
  • Thank you is pronounced – KUP-JAI; Thank you very much – KUP JAI LAI LAI
  • Currency is called ‘kip’
  • Biggest export is coffee
  • New Year occurs in Mid-April
  • It’s the most bombed country; due to its proximity to Vietnam and Cambodia
  • 75% people are farmers
  • 67% Buddhist; 32% Phii (a jungle religion); 1% Christian

First stop on the journey through Laos was a trip down the might Mekong River. Which gave me some time to catch up on my note-taking from my trip, eat some traditional Laotian food and have my first taste of lychee! 20140502_092012 20140502_102145 20140502_112257 20140502_161101 20140502_17410520140502_103556 20140503_115759

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Thai Buddha art catch up on the Mekong River!

We then went to the lovely town of Luang Prabang. Where I found myself up at 5AM to go and offer alms to the Buddhist monks, along with a lot of other visitors. This was a pretty special moment. My offering was some sticky rice; but… it’s very sticky (go figure!) and it was really hard to dish the stuff out without being overwhelmed by the sea of orange clad monks descending upon the streets of Luang Prabang! In Luang Prabang, I met some elephants and had a misadventure kyakking in a boat that had a hole in it and ended up capsizing, with me onboard, in a river full of elephants and their poo… yeah. That’s happened. The elephants were pretty cool about it though, looking on nonchalant as I resurfaced full of rage.

5AM in Luang Prabang

5AM in Luang Prabang

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Monks collecting alms

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Poor children from the mountains come into town and the monks toss some of their food into the children’s baskets. The children then take these baskets home to their families.

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Sticky rice offering

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Elephant rider

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Beautiful elephants having a snack

The RIVER... yesh.... hmmm, I have mixed feeling about you river...

The RIVER… yesh…. hmmm, I have mixed feeling about you river…

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Views of Luang Prabang

No trip of mine would be complete without me waxing lyrical on the food! I had some good food in Laos… We managed to stop off at a local families house in Luang Prabang for some traditional food, that was so good. We were also given a Buddhist blessing by the family for luck on our travels. Then it was on to the next stop on our journey! Vang Vieng and the capital of Laos; Vientiane! But that’s another blog post!

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Food, home cooked foooooood

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Yummy fresh mango and….. a traditional dessert, kind of tasted like coconut…. sorta!

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Blessings and welcomes; I would loose these along with my Buddhist blessing from Thailand when I fell in the river… damnable RIVER!!

For other posts about South-East Asia check out: Laotian Living and Trekking through Thailand

Trekking around Thailand

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Latimer: Lately I’ve been doing some globetrotting. Every time I hitch up my trusty wheelie bag and head off into the far blue yonder, I come back with lots of stories and lots of ideas. I think the most recent trip to South East Asia has me all inspired for writing!

Ridley and I are really excited to be working our way through our Keeping Secrets series, plotting and outlining all the books to come. We are back firmly on track now – and we’ll be releasing Book 2 by the end of August! So stay with us for updates!

In my recent travels I visited Thailand. It was a quick run through the north of the country from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, to a fly-by visit at Chiang Rai and then Chiang Khong (to cross into Laos). I didn’t see that much of Thailand really, but what I saw was stunning, beautiful, strange, inspiring and… stranger still!

Bangkok is a pretty cool place. There are lots of things to see there – when I was there I took a trip around the canals in the city and went to Wat Pho to see the huge golden reclining Buddha, which was amazing. Buddhism (and monks) feature strongly in my Asian travels; I sometimes think I’m starting to understand it, then I always get stuck and realise actually I don’t know much about Buddhism, but it’s really interesting.

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Bangkok canal views

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Reclining Buddha… massive!!

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He looks like he’s pretty comfortable here!

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Wat Pho outside views

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More of the Pho

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Yet more Pho!

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Another Buddha inside another temple in Wat Pho – I ear-wigged as this guy was explaining Buddhism to these people!

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Lot’s of monks – notice how young some of them are! All men in Thailand must serve a year (at least) as a monk before they get married, to be considered ‘a good man’ for marriage

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Thai green Curry… because… it’s Thailand!

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From the back of a tuc-tuc… the only way to travel in Thailand… I love tuc-tucs!

From Bangkok, I got an overnight train to Chiang Mai. Lots of people on the tour were worried about the overnight train, but having experienced the Chinese ones, I was no longer afraid. The ones in Thailand are actually brilliant; and compared to the Chinese ones, they are very spacious and comfortable – this coming from someone with extreme ‘creature comfort’ problems!

Chiang Mai was a fun place; we had a walk around in the blistering heat, went to see beautiful Wat Phra That Doi Suthep temple ate some lovely Thai food and went for a cool bike-ride around the city. While on our bike ride we stopped at an orphanage for Hill tribe children, for dinner. I bought some lovely artwork by the children – it was Naruto inspired 🙂

During my time in Chiang Mai, I was coming to terms with the heat, I won’t say I ever ‘got used to it’, just learned to accept I would always be dripping sweat and needing to drink water and isotonic drinks.

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Train station catching my ride to Chiang Mai

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These trains are fantastic! So clean and comfortable. There’s a bunk that comes down from over these seats and the seats themselves are transformed into another bed – big and very comfy.

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I had the top bunk, which was fine… but not as big. I had some pocky for the trip!

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Some cool outside dining in Chiang Mai

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Artwork on the streets

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Beautiful, random temple

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More temple action

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Buddha outside the temple

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A very cool dragon vomiting snakes… well, maybe not but that’s what it looks like!! Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

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Walking up to the temple, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

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Wat Phra That Doi Suthep bells

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Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

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Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

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Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

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Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

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Getting my fortune at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

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Monks visting Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

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I got this white blessing bracelet from a monk in Wat Phra That Doi Suthep; he said a prayer over it, for luck and safety in travel.

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A delicious vegetable spicy soup…. it was feckin hot though!

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Buddha overlooking the river on my bike ride around Chiang Mai

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Handle bar views in Chiang Mai

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Buddhas in Chiang Mai

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More views from my bike in Chiang Mai

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Chiang Mai temple

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Chiang Mai temple

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Chiang Mai temple

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Cool artwork done by the Hill tribe orphans

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More temples from my bike ride Chiang Mai

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Buddha and candle wax – from bike ride Chiang Mai

From Chiang Mai, we stopped off briefly in Chiang Rai to see the White Temple, which is a bit like Sangrada Familia in Barcelona, in that it’s unfinished at the moment and being built by the artist that designed it. It’s full of demons and cultural references – though I never got to go inside, as we were late getting there and it was closed! It’s supposed to have like cartoony stuff inside and be really strange and interesting. This temple was badly damaged after we had seen in, in the earthquake that hit Thailand – so I feel lucky to have seen it before that happened!

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Batman and Pinhead… heads.. .weird!!

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Freddie, Pinhead and Hellboy… retro weirdness!

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Yummy food in Chiang Khong

Yummy food in Chiang Khong

Then from Thailand, I took a bus into Laos! But that’s a post for another day!

For other posts about South-East Asia check out: Lovely Laos and Laotian Living

Holiday Photos

Stop taking photos and enjoy!

Stop taking photos and enjoy!

Latimer: I love taking photos. And ever since I got a smart phone, I take photos almost all the time. But I’m honestly trying to put the phone down and just enjoy the experience when out and about. ‘Just be’ – something like that!

I hope I put that into practice, on my trip, as it comes to an end now 😦

And, as I’m looking forward (from the past), at the travelling I’m going to do – the places I’ll ‘see’ – I’m thinking that the world’s a big place and there are so many amazing places that I’ve yet to see… This video has added more to a never-ending list!

Holiday Eats and Paddy’s Day

Latimer eating

Food, glorious FOOD!

Latimer: Where am I now? I’m not too sure really, but I bet I am eating my own weight in noodles, at least I hope so or I will be so very disappointed in myself! (Don’t disappoint me future self!)

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It’s also Paddy’s Day today (Lá Fhéile Pádraig) – the first one that I’ll be spending off of the auld sod! It’ll make me smile if I see some shamrocks and a bit of green in China today!

Hope you all have a good day 🙂

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A Kick Out of Neopets**

tumblr_l2b6yffbZU1qzhmovo1_400Ridley: The other day, my brother wandered into the kitchen and found me staring into space and sighing. After he’d made a sandwich for himself and had half eaten it, he asked me what was wrong. I told him about the email I’d gotten from the neopets people (see ** below for neopet explanation), saying because my account had been inactive for over 10 years…38771484

I’d forgotten my password, a long time ago, and every few years I tried to remember it, and because when I signed up, we were much younger and the internet was still ‘new’ (yes, I am of the generation where I remember there was once no internet) my mother was beyond paranoid and insisted that we didn’t give out our ‘real’ information, so I gave a fake date of birth. And to retrieve your forgotten password, what do you think they asked for? And do you think I could remember the date I’d given?

My three little animals, I was locked out from them. (I had wolf type creatures (of course I did), called lupe.) 

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My poor pets, they’ve been digitally put down. I bet they never gave up on me though, they were probably scratching at their non-existent door and whining to be fed. Mammy’s sorry!!

I even had a shop, you know, where I sold things, lots of things. One thing in particular was a fairy in a jar (worth so so many neopoints).

earthfaerie

It’s probably long dead by now, it went insane first I’d say, as I had ‘Take on Me’ by A1 paying on continuous loop in the shop.

I can just imagine the poor trapped magical creature beating against the glass, probably thinking I was torturing it in a cruel and unusual way.

And then there were the expensive spell books I’d managed to save up and buy just before I got locked out. I just can’t help imagining how much they’d have appreciated and what they’d be worth now if I could just get back on. Never mind the other rare items I had for sale (and the food).guide1_1

Or how much interest I’d have made on my neopoints. I’d have also been some sort of platinum, ice gold membership or something.

So all I want to say, though I have absolutely nothing to show for it now, I was there at the beginning!!

 

**(For those of you who don’t know anything about neopets, it is a site where you can own virtual pets (a bit like an online tamagotchi) where you can play, pet, and feed your animals. You earned neopoints, which was their currency and you could use them when you went shopping.Neopian_Bazaar_1st

I used to love exploring the little village (I just popped on their site, they’ve expanded, it’s now a world, a whole earth-like world called The World of Neopia, in my day it was just a few little mushroom like shops). You could also take part in games and interact with other users and their pets.)

P.S. I did a quick search on google, and found this (this sooo could have been me! How I laughed, and look at the name of the membership!! Haha.)

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