Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Wednesday Weirdness: Scooting Around Thailand

The picture of manhood is a dude in a pink helmet on a Hello Kitty scooter.
Yeah, baby.
On the one hand, maybe the rental agency was having us on. On the other hand, maybe this kind of thing just doesn't seem strange in these parts.

Luckily, having lived for two years in Japan, I'm used to both emasculation and driving on the left. (Though I'm still getting the hang of sitting on the right side of the car when I drive . . .)

On the whole, that little scooter was one of the best deals I've ever landed. It cost about $8.50 per day to rent it, plus another $6 or so to keep it filled up for the week. For each day, that works out to about 2-3 mid-range "taxi" rides.
In Chiang Mai, taxis (and sometimes police cars) look like this.
Add in the freedom of going wherever the heck we wanted at the drop of a hat, and you have a bargain at twice the price. Though I must say Thai traffic patterns leave something to be desired: it definitely got a little hairy from time to time, especially when there were a lot of people on the road. And I don't imagine it was good for me to be sucking down all those exhaust fumes for the better part of a week.

But despite all these drawbacks, by the end of the trip we'd become quite attached to our little bike. I've always threatened to buy a motorbike here in Japan . . .

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Angkor Day 3: Ta Nei, Ta Keo, and Chau Say Tevoda

This is part of a series of posts on our March 2012 trip to Cambodia. You can see some previous posts hereherehere, and here.

Our third day at Angkor was also our most ambitious: after visiting three temples in the morning, we hit another three temples in the afternoon. As with each of our Angkor excursions, our agenda was determined by geography rather than chronology, so the day included examples from a variety of time periods in a variety of architectural styles.

Ta Nei

Ta Nei is a 12th-century temple built during the reign of Jayavarman VII. Ta Nei is among the least-visited sites in the Angkor complex: a small ruin tucked away deep in the forest, tricky to get to and extremely difficult to find. These are, of course, the temple's main attractions.

Yet another enormous termite mound blocking a gallery. Our guide compared termites to ancient Angkor: whenever  the king dies, they pick up and build a whole new city somewhere else nearby. Hence the profusion of termite mounds, old temples, and termite mounds within old temples.

In case you couldn't tell, I can't get enough of these ruined towers!

Action sequence in 3 . . . 2 . . . 1 . . .

. . . go!

This lintel used to depict Buddha and his devotees. (Remember, Jayavarman VII was the Buddhist king who built the Bayon, with all the Brahma-Buddha-Jayavarman faces.) But Buddha's head was chopped off sometime after Jayavarman's death, when there was a big Hindu backlash against Buddhist imagery.

Aside from the many faces of Brahma-Buddha-Jayavarman VII, this is one of the only remaining Buddha carvings at Angkor. That's probably because it's so unusual: a somewhat non-canonical depiction of Buddha's escape from his controlling father's palace, during which Buddha steals silently away by galloping on the upraised hands of angels.

Ta Keo

Despite the similarity in their names, Ta Keo is pretty much the opposite of Ta Nei: much older, much larger, much more open, and in much better shape. Probably built sometime around 1000 AD, Ta Keo is a classic temple mountain - likely the first, in fact, to be built mostly of sandstone.
 Ta Keo also has some of the steepest steps.

Overall, the charms of Ta Keo are more about architecture than interior decoration. In other words, the view is stunning from both the bottom and the top, but a lot of the carvings are in pretty poor shape.

Forest, as far as the eye can see.

Chau Say Tevoda

Chau Say Tevoda was built in the mid-12th century, during the reign of Suryavarman II, the guy who built Angkor Wat itself. Like Angkor Wat, it exhibits a kind of classical simplicity, especially when compared to the more chaotic temples of Jayavarman VII.

Chau Say Tevoda only reopened to the public in 2009, after a lengthy restoration project led by the Chinese. This is awesome for two reasons: it still hasn't made it back into the rotation for most of the big tour groups, and the restored carvings are in fantastic shape.

All together now: Vishnu on Garuda.
Stay tuned for a final installment of temple touring, including the grandaddy of them all - the sprawling temple of Angkor Wat.

Monday, May 7, 2012

A Note to Our Readers

A few readers have voiced some confusion about our recent posts. Here are a couple quick clarifications for anyone wondering what's up.

1) If you receive updates by e-mail, you probably missed a few posts. E-mail wasn't working for a while, but it's working again now.

2) Also, if you receive updates by e-mail, you need to click through to the blog to view videos. We try to include links or reminders, but sometimes we forget!

3) Yes, we went to Thailand last week . . . but we're still catching up on posts from Cambodia!

4) Yes, we did spent most of our time in Cambodia schlepping through temples in the 100-degree heat. We never said we were wise.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Back from Thailand

Flew in from Bangkok thus morning, and boy are my arms Thaired.

In other news: Philosophers and sages can only begin to fathom the depth of Nana's relief at the indefinite suspension of all puns on the word "Thai."