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Cambodia - Part 2 - A village on stilts and one on the water

 

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In Kompong Khleang, we visited a stilted village and a floating village on the Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia.  It was one of the most fascinating experiences of our lives. 

 

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With all the traveling we have done, we have experienced many cultures and have seen so many different ways people live - from the very wealthy to the very poor.  But this community struck us as the most unique and different way of living we have ever seen.  It was as if we dropped into the middle of a National Geographic Magazine.


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We hired a driver as this village was a two-hour drive from Siem Reap.  Because it was the dry season, we were able to drive thorough the local village before getting to where the boats dock.  The village was an amazing sight in itself, with the stilted houses sitting so high up in the air - up to 15 feet! 


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During the rainy season (November - May) the road will be completely flooded and the water level will go up the bottom of the houses. 


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Like Sojourn village, the people were exceptionally friendly and were NOT begging for money....the children were just busy waving and and calling out "goodbye, goodbye".  Sweet.


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Fishing is the main income for the entire community.  As we drove through the village, we saw trays of fish lying out in the hot sun to dry. 

 


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The people of Kampong Khleang, make Cambodia's famous fermented fish paste, Prahoc.  This paste is unique to Cambodian cuisine and is made by fermenting whole fish, or shrimp, with ground rice and salt.  


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The smell was extremely pungent.  This is where we wish we had scratch and sniff capabilities on our blog   :  ). After the fish are dried, they are seasoned and packaged for sale.   Thinking you would never eat this?  Chances are…..if you have eaten Cambodia food you probably have, as it is used in almost every  savory dish.


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We rented a private boat and our driver came with us - he had also been our driver the day before and we really liked him.  He was able to give us information about the people and their life on the water.  Our "captains" were two fairly young boys where the younger of the two had the job of emptying the water that was seeping into our boat.  No safety requirements here!  But if you look at the top left of the photo - there were safety vests.


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There were so many great photographic opportunities along the river, but keep in mind we were in a boat…..moving most of the time, so the photos are not as sharp as I would have liked.

 

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We were awe-struck as we started our journey down the river.  The height of the houses teetering up on the stilts (look at the brown house in the backgound below) were a sight to be seen.  By the end of June, the lake will be come within a foot of the house below. 


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We also found it amazing to see that the men spend most of their life IN the water.  Not "near" the water or "on" the water, but in the water... usually up their necks all day long.


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Tonle Sap is one of South East Asia’s largest fresh water lakes.  It is connected to the Mekong River.  There are over 200 species of fish on the lake.    The fishing industry in Cambodia is so important that even the currency, the riel, is named after a small fish used in the fish paste.

 

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Kompong Khleang is the largest permanent settlement on the lake. with over 20,000 people living there.


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Some houses were built right on the water's edge. They are temporary thatched huts which are dismantled during the rainy season and moved along the causeways on trucks.

 


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The community undergoes dramatic and continual changes due to the seasonal flood levels caused by the reverse flow of the Tonle Sap river.  On the water's edge or on the lake, they are all used to moving their entire houses around.  Below, a house is being pulled by a boat to a new location.


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Every moment of this journey was a surprise.  We saw children playing in the water - 


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women washing their clothes -


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Women cleaning fish to be dried-


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A family doing daily chores - maybe getting ready for a meal? Grandma must be in good shape having to go over the side of the boat all day long.


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Lots of men fishing with nets -


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And families traveling across the river.  Looks like they are as curious about us as we were about them.  This was definately NOT a tourist site.  In fact, we only saw one other group of tourists, a couple, the entire time we were there.


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How sweet - she is blowing us a kiss!


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The houses along the riverbank became sparse as we traveled about 20 minutes into the heart of the river where we began to see the floating village in the horizon. 


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The floating village has about 100 families and is completely separate from the stilted village; both in location and ethnicity.  The floating village sits in the middle of the lake and is populated by Vietnamese.  The stilted village is Cambodian and is connected to the shoreline.


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How about this little guy hanging on the end of the boat with no supervision….and we sometimes worry if the kids are in the next room by themselves!


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I imagine him to be thinking - gee - can't a guy get any privacy around here?


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This really took my breath away - to see this small child hanging off the side of the boat like this.  I have to share just one more photo.....humm guess no diapers are needed for him!

 

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Here is another one, a little girl not much older.  Looks like she is washing dishes. And again, no adults in sight.


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How about these four little boys?  Think of how much mischief four boys would get in to on dry land...can't even image in a boat on the water!


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What an incredible way to live – to do everything by boat…..pull up to the local restaurant:


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Shop for clothes:


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Seventy percent of the villagers make their living as fishermen and the remaining 30 percent have mainly fishing-related occupations, such as boat building, making nets and processing the catch.  The houses looked nicer than I had expected.  Some were by themselves


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Others were in clusters -


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There were big ones painted bright colors.


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They even had two schools.  This one is called the "Love Your Neighbor School".

 

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We were guessing this to be the school for the older children as it has a playgound off the back.  As you can see, the schools are beautiful new boats.

 

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Look how they keep the wood up high so it does not get wet.  This is the dry season so no big storms will be coming through and raining on the wood.


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There is a concern as to how much longer the villagers will be able to live this way.  The fish are decreasing each year and illegal fishing for commercial use are huge problems.  When they come in and farm for profit, it does not leave enough fish for the villagers to live.


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As we were sitting out there on this boat – surrounded by a floating village…..it was one of those moments were I thought - WOW – not in a million years would I ever have imagined I would have such an opportunity to see such a fascinating, remarkable, wondrous sight. 

 


Cambodia - Part 1 - Sojourn Village

 

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Our recent trip to Cambodia was one of the most memorable trips we have taken.  We both fell in love with the country, especially the people.  I have a hard time putting it into words - Cambodia had a heart.


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A little history on Cambodia:

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No one knows for certain how long people have lived in what is now Cambodia.  Studies suggest that people using stone tools lived in caves in the area as early as 4000 BC. 


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Cambodia has a population of 14.8 million people.  Around 96% of the population is Buddhist.  Cambodia is slightly larger than state of Missouri and lies between Thailand and Vietnam in mainland Southeast Asia, with a smaller stretch of the northern border adjoining Laos.  


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For most of its history, agriculture has been the most important sector to the Cambodian economy, with rice being the principal crop.  Rice has been grown on Cambodian soil since well before the 1st century AD.

{A women washing her lettuce in the water collected from the rain}

 

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With only 4 days, we selected Siem Reap as our main destination.  It is where all of the beautiful temples are located.  I cover the temples in a separate post.  In researching hotels, I stumbled upon a little hotel/bed and breakfast, Sojourn Villas, which was outside of the touristy part of Siem Reap.  It had only 10 rooms, 6 of which are individual huts. 


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Our entire stay with them was fabulous; the room, the staff, the food, the tours, but most of all we loved the exposure we had to the three little villages next to the hotel they help to support.

 

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Fifty percent of the staff working at the hotel come from the three little villages, giving them opportunities and an income they would have never imaged.  The hotel also created the  Treak Village Enrichment Program, which helps to improve the lives of the people living around Sojourn.  This program focuses on four key areas - supplying water filters and the repair of water wells, trash collection, and planting trees. 


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Early evening we took a stroll through the village.  We were a little intimidated at first as this was definitely NOT a tourist attraction.  But this quickly went away as soon as the kids came out to say hello!


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They were so precious and did not beg for money.  They just wanted to meet us and have their picture taken. 


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Their favorite thing, which evoked many squeals was to see their own image on the camera.


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As we continued our walk,  every group of children we saw were delightful.  They could not speak other than to say hello and goodbye.  When they saw us they stopped what they were doing and came running for a picture.


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They all chimed hello...hello... hello...

 

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The next day we took a paid tour by one of the young staff members at the hotel.  Fifty percent of the tour cost went directly to the village.


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We had a million questions to ask and we thought this would be a good way to learn about the village. 


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Look at these wee ones chasing the ducks.

 

 

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Below is a typical house in the village; no electricity, no running water, basically a palm leaf hut.


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All of the houses are built on stilts for many reasons - because of floods, to keep out wild animals, and it provides shade during the hot day.  With no walls, the air can flow freely.  We even saw a few put the cows and oxen under there for shade.

 


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The hotel is trying to help them clean up their community and each month an award is given to the family who has the cleanest property. Last month's winner can be seen below.  The award?  A 100-pound bag of rice, which can feed the family for a month.


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And to help keep the common areas clean, the hotel hired this woman who picks up trash and sweeps the common areas, all of which are dirt.


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Notice the chicken inside of the house.


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Fortunately we had our guide with us the day we saw this man carving a head of the king out of wood so we were able to ask him about it.  His wife and baby are in the photo above.  

 

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We bought one of his carvings.  D was a little iffy on it as it is not our style - but I am so happy I did.  It is a beautiful piece of art.  He was not finished so our guide went back the next day and picked it up for us.  The king's head is supposed to bring good luck.

 

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This is the local store.  It is under one of the houses.


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D decides he wants to buy something to help support the economy so he purchases a bag of chips and a homemade...did you get that HOMEMADE rice cake thing - it looked liked the marshmallow rice-crispy cakes we ate as children.  I told him not to eat it... so did the guide!  But you know D...

 

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D handed the storeowner a dollar and said to keep the change, but the guide made D take back the change.  I think it cost him 20 cents.


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We kept seeing these odd little stands with lots of bottles filled with liquid.  Our guide told us it was gasoline for the motorcycles and mopeds.  Gas is very expensive and they buy it off the black market.


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We walked to the local school where he told us that only the older children attend.  It was time for the morning session to end so we got to interact with the older kids.  They were learning English in school so they asked us very simple questions - what is your name? how old are you? and they giggled a lot  :  )


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The guide was a bit embarrassed that they asked our age and he explained this was what they were learning - we told him we did not mind at all!


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Such a cutie and quite the character ......hanging with all the girls!


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D took a close up of each one  - you can see them in the slide show at the end.


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This is a very common scene - a family of three on a motorcycle.


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How about a family of four?  And notice only the man has on a helmet.

 


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We were amused at how much they carry on motorcycles.

 

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When this truck came around the corner it reminded me of something from an action movie.


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Just across the street from out hotel was a temple where many of the young monks live.


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Our guide was so sweet and we learned so much from him.  The hotel has provided two deep-water wells and they supply water filters to each family. Access to safe drinking water is one of the most urgent needs across Cambodia, where one in seven children die before their 5th birthday, mostly due to water related diseases. 

 

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Our last night we made sure we got back to the hotel before sunset so we could visit the village one last time.  It was around dinnertime so the families were very active.  Look how each of these little girls have pretty necklaces on.


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Many of the little children ran around without pants on.  Some were completely naked others had on tops.  The boys would start to wear pants around the age of five, the girls a little younger.

 

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Every time I saw them I laughed - it was so cute.  And trust me, we saw a lot of little naked ones!  The photo below is my favorite.  Working away with her little broom but stopped to wave.

 

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Just like the previous days, they all came running when we came.  We never saw any other tourist the entire four days we were there.  It was quite a distance form the main part of Siem Reap so I think most people would not visit unless they were staying at the hotel.


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This group was really wound up! D was trying to photograph the little girl and the boys were jumping all over him.  And the parents were around...busy with their tasks.  They did not seem to mind us photographing the children.


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These guys were drinking a special concoction....they could speak a little English and invited D to have a glass.  His mean wife told him no - I was less worried about what it was than was there water in it??  Remember this entire village does not have running water!


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With the sun just beginning to set, it cast a beautiful light on this family working out in the field.  It looks like a painting.  The image on the far right is a scarecrow.


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Everyone was bringing in his or her animals for the night.  This kid was pulling his oxen with his bike. 


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And this woman was walking her water buffalo home on a leash.


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D walked over to say hello!


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 And for the last photo from this special village, our tuk tuk driver from the day before.  He drove us all day to see temples and then to our restaurant in the evening.


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When he saw us walking around he went and got his young daughter to show us.  Isn't she beautiful?


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As you can see, life in this village is fairly simple.  It made us look at life with different eyes.  D made copies of all the photos and we mailed them to the hotel and asked them to please pass them out to the people we met in the village.  We doubt they have photos of themselves.

We took over 4000 photos in Cambodia.  I broke it into 3 different posts and albums.   We hope you enjoy all of them!  Click on the arrow below for more photos of the village.


  


A note about Cambodia's history: 

The Khmer Rouge is a very important part of it's history.  There is so much to be told it would take me an entire blog…..what I will tell you is when the Khmer Rouge ruled between 1975 to 1979, it is estimated that 1.4 to 2.2 million Cambodians were killed.   Half of those deaths were from executions, and the rest were from starvation and disease.  Most of the people killed were the wealthy and educated.  This horrible part of history devastated Cambodia and they are still trying to recover and it is still one of the poorest countries in the world.


Thailand and Cambodia - Part 1 - Bangkok

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Donald was invited to be a keynote speaker in Phuket, Thailand.  How can we make the most of this 13-hour flight?  Visit Bangkok, Cambodia, and Phuket!


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In order to get a good price on our flight we took the train to Paris, then took a flight to Singapore, and then a 2-hour flight to Bangkok.  The extra bonus of flying out of Paris was we got to fly on the new A380 Airbus - the largest plane in the world.  It can seat up to 550 people! 


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Bangkok, home to 9 million people, became the capital of Thailand in 1782.  Thais refer to Bangkok as Krung Thep, the City of Angels.


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We arrived in Bangkok mid-afternoon.  After a little nap, we explored our neighborhood located in the heart of the city.  We were baffled by the number of street vendors selling food - who really are "in the streets".


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Most of the carts were pushed by hand and they moved along with the flow of traffic.  Talk about a crazy commute!


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A popular and cheap mode of transportation is the tuk tuks.  They are open-air three-wheeled vehicles. Basically a motorized rickshaw.  Look how many people are in this one.


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They are also used for deliveries.


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Are they safe?  Probably not!  But of course we rode in several of them anyway.

 

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Mopeds are also very popular, especially among the young women.  I had read that these are very dangerous so I refused to take any of them.  Check out those GREAT shoes!


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Because it is so warm all year long, many businesses were set up outside, like sewing shops.


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The Thai women are petite and very beautiful.  D obviously agrees!


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The other thing that struck us was the number of shrines in the city; pretty much one on every corner.


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Most Thais are Buddhists but there are also many Hindu shrines.  While worshippers go to the shrines with different objectives in mind, most have a protective function.  It is way too complicated to go into more detail - I would have to do a post on this alone.


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When Thai visit the temples they will normally make an offering such as flowers, incense, food and or drink. 


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I was particularly intrigued with the offerings left.


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What's up with this?  The Barbie doll shrine?

 

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The Erawan Shrine is one of the most popular ones where visitors wish for dreams to come true, good luck, or love.  Built in 1956, is in the middle of a very busy intersection.  It is a shrine that houses a statue of the Hindu God Brahma.  As you walk up, the incense hits you full force.

 

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I purchased the traditional flowers, incense, and gold leafing and followed the instructions to make an offering to the Gods. 

 In a clockwise direction starting at the entrance:

1) Light the incense and or candles and place them on the alter.

 

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2) Make an offering of flowers by hanging them on the gate.

 

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3) Placing the small square of gold leafing on the Buddha,

 

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or in this case part of the gate for good luck.

 

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You could also make a donation and have the ladies do a special dance for you. 


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Every day has a corresponding color in Thailand.  We saw a lot of yellow flowers at the shrines, which shows respect for the king who is celebrating his 80th birthday this year and was born on a yellow-themed Monday.


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People love the king of Thailand and portraits of him are hung in most shops, businesses and in their homes.


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Another interesting thing we have not seen in any other county is the traditional greeting done by pressing your hands together and bowing.   This act is known as the Wai and a way to say hello, thank you, and goodbye.  In all the stores, our hotel, the markets, every time we gave a tip – pretty much every time we interacted with Thais, they used this gesture.

 

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Our first full day, Saturday, was the big day for the Jatujak Market. 


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This is known as one of THE BEST outdoor markets in the world covering 1,600 square meters and made up of 27 sections and only open on the weekend.


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It has 10,000 shops and 300 vendors.  It is packed with colors, sights and sounds!  They have a wide variety of “stuff” including Thai products, wholesale items, handmade crafts, beads, jewelry and lots of food vendors. 

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But D and I committed to NOT eat any street foods in Bangkok as we had read/heard so many stories of people getting really ill from the street food in Bangkok.  This was going to be especially hard for D as we all know how he LOVES his street food.


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We were there approximately 20 minutes when D decided to try the street food...."but we promised", I said.  He said this pork was fried so much that no germs could grow on it.  Look how happy he is!


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We continue with our shopping and we turn the corner.  What's that?  Homemade coconut ice cream.  Humm, can I pass this up?  It's ice cream!  But what about getting sick? 


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Okay - this promise lasted long.....look how happy I am!


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Look at those yummy coffee drinks.  Let's have one.  


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Wait - it is made with ice.  We really are NOT supposed to drink the water.....


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Even though this qualified as shopping, D enjoyed the colorful, busy atmosphere of the market.  I bought lots of stuff; jewelry for me and presents for everyone.  D even bought a pair of flip-flops.


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We were feeling fine (i.e. no tummy problems) after our market food so we ventured into our first street vendor for dinner.  You have to check out this kitchen....


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and the street seating....


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and the beautiful delicious food!  Let's throw in a running egg to really test us!


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Grand total for the entire meal including two bottles of water? $3.00 (USD).

 

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We had so much fun at the Jatujak Market we went back again on Sunday.  We started the day off with ice coffee from the same shop and sugar toast, a local breakfast item.


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We ate lunch at a little restaurant in the market, check out this outdoor kitchen:


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 We sat at communal tables.

 

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Food was very local and very fresh.  Total for the entire bill with drinks - $4.00 (USD). 


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They even had D's favorite - chicken wings!


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That afternoon was our couple's massage.  No photos here, but quite an interesting story.  First, let me say that massages are very popular in Thailand and very cheap.  We had ours at the hotel, which was a very nice hotel and the total for the two of us for 90 minutes was $70 (USD).


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Being massage amateurs, we both left our underwear on, but I took off my bra (this will be important to know in a few minutes).  Part way in, D's lady says - you need to take off your underwear.  So poor D stands up and drops his drawers in front of two little Thai women, me peaking out from the cloth over my face and there he is stark naked in the room.


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The massage is going well and all the sudden my girl gets up to my breasts.   Wait a minute, I have had several massages in the US and they have never massaged "the girls".  Yep!  Full breast massage!  You ask.....What was I thinking??  My first thought was, wow I can't wait to tell this story in my blog, and my second thought was - is D seeing this?  My third thought, this feel like a gynecological exam  :  )  I'll pass on this part during my next Thai massage!


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That evening we ate at a somewhat street vendor who only sold seafood.  Here is one of the omelets we had.  Total cost for two large fresh seafood (shrimp, clams, mussels, etc...) omelets with drinks - $4 (USD).


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For dessert we walked to another street vendor for the famous Thai Mango with sticky rice - WOW was this GREAT.  And we were in the peak of mango season.


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When we tell people that we visited Bangkok, their first response it - did you visit the Patong district.  YES we did visit the area and NO we did not go into the sex shows.  We did sit on the main street, had a drink and watched people. 


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This was a show in itself.  This area, known for very raunchy sex shows is also very famous for the ladyboys or kathoeys - which are young Thai men, transvestites, who are dressed like women.  It is an accepted way of life here almost like a third gender. Oh yeah - there is a really good night market on this street - the main reason we went. 


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On Monday we took the riverboat to the Grand Palace, which was established in 1782, the year Bangkok was founded.  It consists of the royal residence, the throne halls, and a number of offices. 


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When we got off the boat we were in a sea of street vendors.  D purchased grilled mystery meat on a stick and gobbled it up.  We walked the wrong way so we had to pass back by the street vendor and D was so excited as he wanted more street meat.  Where was the little lady he bought it from?  Where were all the street vendors?  It had only been 5 minutes since we passed by.  They were all gone, stands and all....but the police were there!  It was a raid.  Humm, wonder what that meat really was he ate?  He did not care - said it was excellent!

 

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The Grand Palace has been the official residence of the Kings of Thailand from the 18th Century until now.

 

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However, the present King of Thailand, Rama IX, lives elsewhere allowing the Grand Palace to be opened for tourists.  Yak - the mythological giant, which guards the complex from intruders.


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Next we visited Wat Po (the official name is Wat Phra Chettuphon Wimon Mangkhalaram Ratchaworamahawihan) is the oldest and the largest of the temples in Bangkok; it also houses the famous reclining Buddha.

 

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The temple was established in the 16th century but was not made public until the 1800's.


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The Reclining Buddha, one of the largest images of the Buddha anywhere measures in at 150 feet long and 50 feet high. The statue is gilded from head to toe.   This temple is famous for the invention and teaching of traditional Thai massages.


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There are over one thousand Buddhas housed here.
 

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We took the local boat back to the hotel via the Chao Phraya River - this was a CRAZY experience!  Talk about dangerous. 


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Locals primarily use it.  When the boat pulls up to your stop you have to jump onto the side...it never really stops. 


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It holds about 60 people with seats that are just wood planks, similar to a rowboat's seats. The people who collect the money hang on to the outside as they reach in to get your money.  


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The boats are long tail skiffs, and fit about 60 people.  You only have one or two minutes to get aboard the boat. The boat driver will start moving the boat quickly, and the deck hand will pull a rope to raise a tarp on both sides. This will protect you from the spray of water, as these boats go very fast.


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That evening we went back to the outdoor stand where we had the mango sticky rice and had dinner AND sticky rice again. 


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For dinner we ate two duck plates and drinks for $3 (USD).  The sticky mango rice was actually quite expensive compared to all the meals we were eating.  For two plates it was $4 (USD) and we enjoyed it so much we bought two plates to go for breakfast! 


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Our last day we explored the streets and ventured into a fascinating area, Pak Klong Talat, the flower market which is open 24 hours a day, everyday.  It is mainly wholesale, but any one can purchase flowers here.


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Thousands of flowers everywhere!


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Most of them were made into little bouquets to sell at the shrines for devotion.


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Two women just outside of the main market making flower bouquets to sell.  


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This area is also a very busy area for fresh veggies and fruits. 


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The tuk tuks pack as many sacs in as they can for delivery.


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But the big event of the day was eating at the local "restaurant"  inside the clothing market.  I am not sure how D got me to actually eat there.  We could not have gotten further on the scale from day one where we promised that we were not going to eat any street food to THIS!


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Okay so the food does look really nice and they were so excited that we were eating there.  I am pretty certain few tourists eat there.


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The food was good, and very local and cost us $3.00 (USD) for two dishes each and tea.  I did not drink the tea.  I was convinced this food would  do me in.  NOPE!  Neither of us got sick.


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We took a video to help you experience this with us!


  

This photo is a little blurry, but it captures so much of the experience we had eating there.


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Just a quick note about shopping and shopping malls in Bangkok - OH MY GOSH!  More than you could ever imagine and so large...a shopper's paradise.  I found it to be overwhelming and expensive.  The markets were where the bargains could be found.

D had a hard time passing up any of the street vendors without buying meat on a stick!


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This photo truly captures Bangkok - modern day (Louis Vuitton and young kids) juxtaposed with the woman balancing baskets on her shoulder to sell her goods on the streets.

 

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WE LOVED BANGKOK! 

As always, I have a few more photos!  It takes just a minute for it to start once you click on the triangle.


 

Next stop.......Cambodia - one of our most favorite countries!  Keep an eye out for this post in the next two-week.  We took 4000 photos there!  I promise not to post all of them.

 


Rochefort, Orval, and the Belgian countryside

 


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There are only seven Trappist breweries in the world; six in Belgium - Westmalle, Westvleteren, Chimay, Rochefort, Orval and Achel and one in the Netherlands, De Koningshoeven.


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A Trappist brewery is one where the beer is brewed by the Monks.   No other Belgian breweries are entitled by law to apply that name to their product.
  One of the things D wanted to do while we are in Belgium was to visit all six in Belgium.  We had two left, Orval and Rochefort.  On Saturday we headed out for a two-hour drive south to visit both, as they are only a few miles apart.  Photo below is at Rochefort.


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 Rochefort is located inside the Abbey of Notre-Dame de Saint-Remy, near the town of Rochefort.  The monks are very secretive about the brewing process and the brewery is not open to the public so we had to peak through the gates.

 

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It was amazing to see that modern brewing equipment through the windows.

 

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It was founded in 1230, and the monks began to brew beer sometime around 1595.   There are approximately 15 monks resident at the monastery.  We were allowed to walk around the church and the grounds.

 

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They make three beers:  Rochefort 6 (7.5% alcohol).  It is only brewed once per year, representing approximately 1% of total beer production.  The other two are Rochefort 8 (9.2% alcohol) and Rochefort 10 (11.3% alcohol).  The water for the beers is drawn from a well located inside the monastery walls.  The Rochefort 10 is D's favorite of the three... and his 2nd-favorite beer of all beers he's tried.   Rocherfort 10 is excellent when fresh, but also can age for 10 - 15 years.

 

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As with all other Trappist breweries, the beer is only sold in order to financially support the monastery and some other charitable causes.  The monks will not increase production based on demand or profit motives, but only enough to support themselves, resulting in a fairly limited supply of beer.  D has never had any problems buying any of these beers.


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For lunch, we stopped at the town of Bouillon, in the province of Luxembourg (not to be confused with the country of Luxembourg).  


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It is a very pretty little town close to the French boarder and it has  a large castle built around 1050. 


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The castle is in excellent shape.  We did not tour the castle , as that will be for our next visit.  We did check out the crazy medieval fair that was taking place.


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We grabbed a quick homemade ice cream cone for the road and headed out to Orval.


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Like all the other trappist abbeys, Orval's brewery is closed to the public. 


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But what made Orval more special than the others was its stunning ruins that were open to the public.  


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First the beer info:  Orval is the oldest of the brewing monasteries, founded in the 11th century by Benedictine monks.  There really is only one beer sold for commercial consumption called Orval and has a 6.2 % alcohol content.  They do make a second beer call Petite Orval, but this is only for the monks.  Orval is best when aged between 2 and 5 years before drinking.


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Now the ruins -


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There is evidence that there was a chapel here in the 10th century. In 1070, a church and monastery was started, but not finished until 1124.  In 1793, during the French Revolution, the abbey was completely burnt down by French forces and these are the ruins that exist today.


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Between 1926 and 1948, under the direction of the Trappist monks, the new monastery was constructed and in 1935 Orval regained the rank of Abbey.


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There is a legend of the abbey, which explains the Orval logo.  Countess Mathilda of Tuscany was visiting the site, when she lost her wedding ring in a spring. 

 

 

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Distraught by her loss, she asked if God would return her prized possession.  If he would, she would declare the land sacred and donate the money to build the abbey. At that moment a tiny trout appeared at the water's surface with her ring in its mouth. The label of Orval beer displays the trout and ring.


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In 1926, the newer monastery was started and completed in 1948.  The new monastery is built on the foundations of the 18th century monastery, reproducing the original plan.  


 

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They have a very nice gift shop at the abbey where you can purchase beer, cheese made at the abbey, beer glasses, post cards, books, bottle openers, and a variety of other stuff.  We bought beer and cheese.


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As you can see from the photos - we had beautiful weather.  We really had a fun day and can now say we have been to all six Trappist breweries!