WELCOME TO THAILAND… PART 2

Chiang Rai and Pai…. Part 1

Of all the places I have traveled to date in Thailand the small town of Pai is my favorite. It is located in a river valley high in the mountains of northwest Thailand.

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Mountain Top View of Pai Below…

Before I discuss Pai let’s talk about how to get there. I flew in from Bangkok, my jump off point that I talked about in a previous posting to Chiang Mai.

Many people love Chiang Mai which is a very large city in northwest Thailand and very easy to access. There is a very large expat community there as well. I really didn’t spend more than a couple days there arranging my travel needs and I also considered it a jump off point, this time to Pai.

I stayed at a wonderful place call the 3 Seasons Boutique Hotel for $31US per night. It is a small hotel with beautiful rooms, a small kitchen area and a great staff. It is very close to the airport and to the immigration offices as I had to extend my visa.

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3 Season Boutique Hotel – photo credit 3 Seasons

I went to a couple of the night markets and the bus terminal to catch my van to Pai, all not far from the hotel. I enjoyed staying at the 3 Seasons so much I booked them again for my return trip from Pai.

There are a few restaurants within walking distance of the hotel however I would suggest going to the Chiang Mai Night Market for something to eat and a bit of shopping. It is not as good as the Pai Walking Street, a bit touristy and expensive by comparison but worth experiencing. There are a couple different sections and the one I found I liked the food, prices were not too bad, and I was able to barter and got a great buy on a jacket.

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Chiang Mai Night Market – Food Court
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Chiang Mai Night Market – Food Court
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Chiang Mai Night Market – Food Court

In order to reach Pai the you have three alternatives, rent a scooter and drive 4 hours through the mountains or either catch the bus or a private van. I opted for the private van. In some blogs you are discouraged from taking the vans. They say they are driven by madmen and you are taking your life in your hands. I found the exact opposite.

I used the private company Prepracha Transport and could not have been happier. The trick is not to book online, which you certainly can do but you are not able to choose your exact seat until close to the date you are leaving so it is a gamble on where you will sit.

I was in Chiang Mai a couple days ahead of time I took a “Grab Taxl” which is my favorite way to get around the cities in Thailand, to the bus station and booked there. That way I was able to secure the front passenger seat and had plenty of room verses sit three across in the back rows. All seats were the same price of 150 bhat or $4.70US. When leaving Pai I went to the bus station there a few days ahead of time and again secured the front seat.

Pai was once known as the “hippie” community of Thailand. Even though it has become more of a tourist destination as of late and there is still a noticeable “hippie vibe” in Pai. There are numerous places to get a massage, to do yoga and schools and lessons available for both throughout the village.

I use the term “hippie” with some reservation, not that it is a bad thing I grew up in the 60’s. I’d been to the Panhandle and Haight Ashbury of San Francisco. I grew up in Laguna Beach during the days of The Brotherhood and Mystic Arts. I went The Happening all three days and nights with 25,000 other hippies that the Los Angeles Times called the “Woodstock of Laguna”. Years later I hung out with The Mamas and The Papas and Stephen Stills so I know what hippies are, I was a hippie. Okay so that is my rant on hippies, back to Pai.

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Pai also has a very robust restaurant scene for all you “foodies”. You can find everything from simple local dishes at a very reasonable prices to restaurants that would be considered more for the tourist crowd and where westerners would be more comfortable eating.

I myself from time to time I might indulge at one of the more upscale restaurants but for the most part I eat where the locals eat. I have done this all over the world from Baja, Mexico to Istanbul to Vietnam and now Thailand where I live when not working on a cruise ship. I love eating at food carts and food stands and I think most westerners are afraid to do so in fear of becoming a victim of Montezuma’s Revenge.

The trick is to eat where the locals eat. If you see a certain food cart or small mom and pop restaurant filled with locals, it’s safe to eat there. The lesson to be learned is avoid places that have nobody or only a person or two and head for the crowd.

To that end Pai also has the best and most diverse street food scene that I have been to in Thailand. Yes, Khao San Road in Bangkok and the night markets in Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai are good they do not compare to Pai in my opinion.

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Pai Walking Street at sunset getting ready for the nightly crowds

Every night the Pai Walking Street is lined with numerous food carts. You will find everything from sushi to pad thai, fresh mangos with sticky rice to fresh strawberries, chicken wraps and tacos to barbequed meat on a stick. It is all tastes great and very, very inexpensive. There are also a number of great little stores and stalls to shop in as well.

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Shop and the artist that hand painted a t-shirt that I bought for my brother… they are hanging overhead

My favorite place to eat was the Pai River Corner Resort and Restaurant which was surprisingly affordable. It is what I would consider upscale and sits right on the river. I ate there several times or just came to have a cocktail and enjoy the view. It is where I spent New Year’s Eve watching the tourist’s light fireworks and let go of flame lanterns as they floated off into the nights sky.

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Blue Lemonade Cocktail at the Pai River Corner Resort and Restaurant

Other favorites are the Duang Restaurant, Dang Thai Café, Krazy Kitchen Restaurant, Sugarcane Restaurant and the Earth Tones Café.

There is a  myriad of places in every budget range to stay in Pai. I usually like to stay away from the crowds and being in Pai for 10 days I stayed at two different locations.

The first was 10 kilometers out of town on a rice paddy near the river called the Kalm Pai Resort. There entire property has a wonderful view and a very relaxed atmosphere. The young couple that managed the resort were always very helpful. There was also a nice breakfast buffet that was included in the price which was $23US per night.

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Kalm Pai Resort about 100 yards from the river at sunset …
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Sunset over the rice paddies from my deck at the Kalm Pai Resort

I decided to a change of pace and stayed three nights at the Bueng Pai Farm about 5 kilometers out of town. It was twice as much at $42US per night but it was also well worth the price.

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Lake Front Cabins at the Bueng Pai Farm

My wood cabin sat literally right on a lake filled with fish, if you stepped off my deck as they say you were “swimming with the fishes”. You could also rent a rod and reel and try your luck, which I choose not to do. I did see my neighbor catch several very large fish. All of the cabins there were on the lake and had a wonderful view. The Bueng Pai Farm was very peaceful and you will not be disappointed.

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Sunset from my deck at the Bueng Pai Resort

Okay so now you now a little about Chiang Rai and how to get to Pai. You know where to stay and places to eat. In my next post Pai… Part 2 I will talk about where to go, what to see and where to photograph.

Enjoy… larry

WELCOME TO THAILAND… PART 1

Bangkok… My Jump Off Point…

I am going to briefly touch on Bangkok that I consider “Jump Off Point”…

First let’s talk about getting around and transportation, do NOT use “Flat Rate” Taxi. You will end up paying much more than you would by using a “Metered” Taxi and they are everywhere. This is especially true at the airports, of which there are two in Bangkok.

If you are flying internationally you will probably be using Suvarnabhumiknown as BKK. If flying domestically it will be Don Mueang known as DMK.

Another option that I use all the time in Bangkok is “Grab” Taxi. They equivalent to Uber, which is no longer in Thailand. Download the app and you are ready to go.

They are usually nicer because they are personal vehicles, the driver usually speaks English better as many are students and it is usually less expensive, so it is a win… win… win.

Both airports are far from most areas of the city. You can expect an hour to where ever you are headed. However, you can tell the driver that you want to use the highway. This will save you time and it is well worth the extra $2 – $3 dollars for the tolls. With tolls I averaged $12 from the airport to Khao San Road and it is about the same form either airport.

I would like to say that many people love the city of Bangkok a great deal and enjoy spending time there. But for me the keyword is “city”. I consider them “jump off points” and usually flying out to somewhere more remote.

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One of the many Buddhist Shrines throughout Bangkok

Everyone that knows me personally knows I hate cities, any city whether it is in a place I am traveling in the world or if it is in my country the United States, I hate cities.

For the vast majority of my life I have lived in small communities such as Avalon on Catalina Island, in Yosemite National Park, in the Wood River Valley in the Rocky Mountains of Idaho to mention a few.

As for Bangkok I wanted to see a few of the places it is known for like Khao San Road. I spent a couple days there experiencing what it had to offer and to start the cool down period of recuperating from jet lag after a 21 hour flight from Los Angeles.

I decided to stay at the “Derm in the Park” Hotel. I have no idea why they call it that as it is not in a park, it is right on Khao San Road. It was very nice and around $40 per night.

During the day Khao San is relatively quiet, though busy but nothing like you will experience at night. Around 4-5pm the carts and booth vendors start to show up and the road is closed to vehicles for the most part. As the evening progresses It gets nothing but busier and crazier.

There are many food stalls lining the road selling everything from Pad Thai at about 40-50 baht, less than $2 to alligator $10 slowing being roasted on a skewer to snake, scorpions and spiders. Many restaurants also line the road, but they are usually double if not triple the price of the carts.

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My favorite street vendor for BBQ…”meat on a stick”

I personally loved eating at carts and street food and do so in many of the places I have traveled throughout the world. On Khao San I found a couple favorites.

I had a favorite place for Pad Thai 40 baht, one for grilled meat on a stick pork 15 baht, chicken 20 baht and beef 30 baht. And still another for chicken kebab that was roasted chicken breast slow cooked rotating on a skewer, shaved off and placed in a large wrap with lettuce, tomatoes and your choice of sauce for 60 baht. Just so  you know 30 baht is roughly $1US

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My favorite cart for Chicken Kebab

Beer was also very inexpensive and around 30-40 baht which I’m sure contributed to the rowdiness and party atmosphere  of the area. By 8pm the place is wall to wall people to the point you can hardly move as you inch your way along the road. It makes Disneyland look like a ghost town. With all that said Khao San is a fun place to visit and recover for a few days.

I have also been to Bangkok on my ship and did go and see a couple to the temples etc. You can certainly do this while staying in Bangkok as well. There are many attractions, temples and if shopping is your thing there are a handful of very modern malls that you can visit.

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Monks of Wat Biwonniwetwiharn Ratchaworawiharn

If you have never been to Bangkok I would suggest staying there from anywhere to just a couple days if you want to experience Khao San Road to a week if you want to explore more of the city.

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“Let Sleeping Monks Lie”… Wat Chana Songkhram Rachawora Mahawiharn
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Temple Shrine Restoration
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Temple Shrine

 

 

WELCOME TO CAMBODIA… Part 5

OTHER TEMPLES in the ANGKOR WAT AREA… Part 2

GOODBYE CAMBODIA…

Okay let’s finish up Cambodia/Angkor Wat area and continue take in the beauty of more temples that surround Angkor Wat.

There are many sources from the Internet to books giving great detail on the temples of Angkor Wat. I have decided to touch on the very briefly.

ANGKOR THOM

Built in late 12th century during the reign of King Jayavarman II and remained the capitol until approximately the 17th century. It was one of the largest Khmer cities ever built covering 9 square kilometers.

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Approaching Angkor Thom

BAYON

The Bayon was built in late 12th through the late 13th century during the reigns of King Jayavarman II through King Jayavarman III. This was the state temple and the symbolic center of the empire and of the universe.

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Lion guards new the entrance to Bayon
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Inner gallery of Bayon
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Stone face towers of the upper terrace
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Buddha statue near the north entrance of Bayon

BAPHUON

Baphuon was erected in the 11th century under the reign of Udayadityavarman II. The three tiered state temple of Yasodharapura is located within the capital city of Angkor Thom. The temple was converted to a Buddhist temple in the 15th century.

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The pavilion at the east entrance of Baphuon
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Northeast library within Baphuon
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Three tiered temple mountain of Baphuon

THE ELEPHANT TERRACE

The Elephant Terrace was created in the late 12th century during  the reign of King Jayavarman II. Additions were made in the late 13th century by reign of King Jayavarman III. It looks over the Royal Square and served as the foundation for royal receptions. It’s modern name, Elephant Terrace comes for the many elephant statues and reliefs along the wall.

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Elephant statues of the Elephant Terrace
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Elephant Terrace reliefs
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Guardian of the Elephant Terrace

THE LEPER KING TERRACE

Built in the 13th century during  the reign of King Jayavarman II. Additions were made in the late 13th century by reign of King Jayavarman III. Its name is derived from the 15th century sculpture that was discovered on top of the structure.

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Reliefs of the Leper King Terrace

I hope you have enjoyed the information and photographs of Siem Reap, Angkor Wat and  many of the surrounding temples in the area.

Any and all feedback and questions are welcome… thank you Larry

Next stop is Thailand.

WELCOME TO CAMBODIA… PART 4

OTHER TEMPLES in the ANGKOR WAT AREA… Part 1

Okay that was a lot of reading so let’s just rest our minds and let our eyes take in the beauty of some of the other temples that surround Angkor Wat.

There are many sources from the Internet to books giving great detail on the temples of Angkor Wat. I have decided to touch on the very briefly.

PRE RUP

Pre Rup origins date to 967 in the 10thcentury under the reign of King Rajendravarman II. Its design follows some of the other temples in the area and considered one of the “mountain temples” which I am sure is due the many towers on its site.

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The Central Tower flanked by two other towers and the cistern in the foreground.

BANTEAY SREI

Banteay Srei origins date to 961 in the 10thcentury and the only temple that was not built by a monarch. The temple was dedicated to the Hindu God Siva. Its name, Banteay Srei means Citadel of Women or Citadel of Beauty. Its designed and built of red sandstone which is easily carved forming many of the temple’s beautiful reliefs.

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View of the Central Shrine and the Mandapa
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Another View of the Central Shrine and the Mandapa

EAST MEBON

East Mebon was also built under the reign of King Rajendravarman II in the 10thcentury. And dedicated in 953. The temple was also dedicated to the Hindu God Siva. It is built in the style of Pre Rup housing towers and in addition has several elephant statues acting as the temple’s guards.

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Stairway to the Central Tower
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One of the elephant temple guards throughout the site

TA SOM

Ta Som is a smaller temple then most and was also built under the reign of King Jayavarman VII at the end of the 12thcentury. It was dedicated to his father Dharanindravarman II who was King of the Khmer Empire from 1150 to 1160.

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Strangler Fig at the East Gopura (entrance)
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Interior of Ta Som
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Interior of Ta Som exhibiting intricate Apsara Reliefs

NEAK PEAN

Neak Pean is a small monument that sits on a small island in the middle of a small pond. It was also built under the reign of King Jayavarman VIIat the end of the 12thcentury. The temple or monument itself is not very impressive. If it were not for the lake that you cross on the way in my opinion it is not worth seeing. The lake is absolutely beautiful and believed to possess miraculous healing powers and the source of four great rivers.

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Lake at Neak Pean
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Lake at Neak Pean
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Lake at Neak Pean

PREAH KAHN

Preah Kahn was also built in 1191 by King Jayavarman VIIto honor his father Dharanindravarman II.   It was his largest project having a flat design in the style of bayon.  It is believed to be a Buddhist university with over 1,000 teachers.

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An entrance to Preah Kahn
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Interior of Preah Kahn and intricate reliefs
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Interior of Preah Kahn and intricate reliefs

MY WORKFLOW PROCESS…

My Workflow Process…

I have had a number of friends ask what my process is of taking and editing photographs. I like many could write a book on the subject but  instead I will try and be brief. And there are much better and more educated photographers then myself, but this is my take.

When I grab my camera like many I shot a large number of photographs of a given subject. My goal from any one shot is to get just one or two photographs that I think I could either publish or sell regardless of the number of images I take. It is a lot harder than you think.

When I get back from the shoot I always upload them to the computer and do a quick edit. If I have time I do a “hard” edit. I am looking for detail, focus, exposure, depth of field, shadows and which angle I like of the subject. When photographing wildlife or sports you are always hoping that everything is in focus because you are not photographing a static subject.

I use Lightroom and when doing my initial edit. If I think the photograph has merit I will give it one star and eliminate the others from my hard drive. During a second edit I review all that I kept and compare any that are similar, decide which I want and toss the others.

Next I take it into the darkroom and see if I can obtain what I was seeing in my mind when I took the shot. If I can I continue to develop the photograph and if not, I toss it.

Then I make a decision which is always hard for me. If I think I can sell the photograph, print the photograph or publish the image I keep it and give it four starts, if not I toss it. And if the image is one of my very favorites I will give it five stars. If it sells I will add the color blue to it.

I can’t remember if it was Scott Kelby, Anthony Morganti or another’s opinion that I had read but if you are not going to do any of the above why keep it and take up room on your hard drive.

Now with that said I do have a small number of photos that I consider “snaps”. These are the “been there done that photos”, pictures of family and friends etc. and I do keep those for memories.

In closing I like many of you I am sure have thrown thousands of photographs away. Every now and then I do a very hard edit to get rid of things that I thought I would print, publish or sell but on review they do not reach the bar.

Recently I decided to give my choices another look. I had close to 13,000 images that I thought met the bar I had set. Then I decided I was going to do an EXTREME EDIT. I went through  every single photograph and if it was not in absolute focus whether I like the shot or not I tossed it. I went hardcore and if I was ever going to publish, sell or print the image, I tossed it. You can see where I am going with this. In the end I tossed another 6,000 photographs. This process literally took me 2 months working on it almost every day. Now I believe that every photograph I have kept has potential.

To hopefully alleviate having to do this again I have now promised myself that I will do the extreme edit right away. Usually I do the edit within the day or two of the shot. Then once I think I have it a day or two later I go through it again and go “extreme”.

I find this works for me. So far on this latest adventure in Cambodia and Thailand I have done an extreme edit on everything and I have kept 370 images. I have also thrown away at least triple that if not more.

I hope this has helped you make a decision on what to keep and what to toss. The key is DO NOT behind as it takes forever to get caught up. I have gone through multiple very hard edits over the years and have still found images to toss. I have literally thrown away 40-50,000 photos in the last 10 years.

WELCOME TO CAMBODIA… Part 3

Angkor Wat Sunrise…

Just a quick thought on going to Angkor Wat to watch the sunrise. This was my Bucket List item when I decided to go to Angkor Wat. I wanted to do my best to photograph the sunrise and hopefully get a couple good shots.

What time to you get there is important. My tuk tuk driver wanted to leave at 4:30am which would have gotten me to the site at 5am. The grounds open at 5am so that would seem logically. However, everyone knows that so there is a line.

I insisted on leaving at 4:15am and that 15 minutes made all the difference. I was the first to get there on both days that I went. The reason this is important is there are not many places to get the exact view I wanted.

Before I get too far ahead of myself let me backtrack a bit. Do not go to Angkor Wat to see the sunrise on your first visit, unless off course you only have on day. The reason for this is you want to be able to envision your image and where you want to “stake your claim”.

On my first day to Angkor Wat I walked around trying to decide what view I wanted to capture. You can also use this time to photograph the structure during midday or if you go a bit later like I did take advantage of the sunset.

Most people are aware there is a reflection of Angkor Wat and the sun rises behind the structure. What they do not realize unless you notice this beforehand you have two choices of where to set up and both have advantages and disadvantages.

There are two small ponds in front of the main building of Angkor Wat that everyone is familiar. The pond on the left, which most people ran to has the advantage of the sun rising more behind the structure so you get more even lighting. The disadvantage is twofold, at least when I was there.

First the pond does not have as much “clean” water for the reflection as it has more lily pads and weeds. Secondly and more important to me was when I was there they were doing  construction and renovations on the building. That is not what I want to appear in my image.

I opted for the pond on the right. The pond has plenty of “clean” water with some but not many lily pads. I also noted on the day I decided to explore that if you positioned yourself just right you had a clear view of all the towers bordered by palm trees.

This gets me back to my initial point. On the pond on the right if you are not in position at least one of the towers will be blocked. And there is only about a three, maybe four foot area to set your tripod to get the exact image between the palm trees.

A disadvantage would be that the sun does not rise exactly behind the building, it rises to the right. Still I chose this location. You may opt for the other and hopefully there will be no construction. Or it may not matter to you.

Another problem there are very few hardcore photographers compared to the number of those that were there to view or to photograph but not there with the thought of selling or publishing.

This caused a small problem and I’m sure made me look like an ass at times… “light pollution”. Once I very nicely explained the situation most understood. The problem is people are walking up with flashlights. I understand they need to see but they will be waving their lights around illuminating trees, the pond, the building etc.

I would remain calm and would say “please keep your lights on the ground”. Every now and then someone would say “sunrise isn’t for another hour”. I would have to tell them that I am taking photographs now and the light ruins the image, most understood. It’s not that you are being mean or deliberately trying to ruin the image, they just don’t know, they are not photographers.

If you are going to Angkor wat to photograph the sunrise I hope this helps. Here are my favorite sunrise shots.

 

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The First Morning for the Sunrise at 5:30am with a 44 sec. exposure, f/4, ISO 1600
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Second Sunrise Morning at 5:30am with a 69 sec. exposure, f/8, ISO 400
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Second Sunrise Morning at 6:38am with a 1/125 sec. exposure, f/8, ISO 64

WELCOME TO CAMBODIA… Part 2

Angkor Wat and Ta Prohm Temples… Day 1

First one thing I neglected to state on my last post is that everything is done in US Dollars and they can easily be obtained at any ATM.

There are many places and cities to see in Cambodia. The reason I traveled to Cambodia and specifically Siem Reap was to visit and photograph Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples.

I had always heard of the Angkor Wat Temple and it had always been a “Bucket List” item for me to visit to photograph. Learning there were actually numerous temples was just a bonus.

The Angkor Wat Temples are located in Cambodia. They are one of Southeast Asia’s most important archaeological sites and protected by the UNESCO World Heritage Center.

There are numerous books and websites explaining in detail the history of Angkor Wat. I am only going to touch on its beginning briefly.

The Angkor Wat complex is the largest religious monument in the world. It was designed and constructed in the first half to the 12th century and dedicated to the Hindu God Vishnu. In the late 12thcentury Angkor Wat transformed from a Hindu cultural center to one of Buddhism and it remains so to the present day.

Visiting Angkor Wat depends on where you are staying in Siem Reap. From most hotels it is a 30 minute ride by tuk tuk maybe more. From Theray’s it was 30 minutes and $10 round trip.

There are several itineraries ranging from approximately $20 for the “Small Circuit” to close to $30 for the “Large Circuit”. I believe the prices to be fair and depending on which you take it will either be a half day to full day.

Your first day you will need to decide how many times you want to visit the temples. The first stop along the way is the government Angkor Wat ticket office. For one day the cost is $37, 3 days is $62 which must be done in a one week period. Being in Seam Reap for 10 days I opted for the 7 day pass which was $72 and could be used over a one month period.

Day One I wanted to see and photograph the sunset at Angkor Wat. Leaving my hotel around 11am gave me plenty of time to explore not only the Angkor Wat temple but Ta Prohm.

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Angkor Wat front view in the afternoon

The first stop was the Angkor Wat Temple. To reach the temple you cross a pontoon footbridge that crosses a moat. I spent the majority of time walking around the outside of the temple. I found this to have best photographic opportunities.

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Angkor Wat early morning north side
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Angkor Wat early morning south side

One warning do not leave your purse, backpacks or food on the ground. They will immediately become the property of one of the numerous monkeys.

Do not leave them on the temple either as I saw monkeys climb the walls, grab the booty and scale the wall back to the ground. You will never get your items back so consider yourself forewarned.

I did enter the inner temple but personally was not as impressed. Others may have a different opinion, I can only offer mine.

After visiting Angkor Wat, I ate lunch at one of the many small restaurants that are adjacent to the temple located near the parking lot. I found the food to be very good and reasonably priced.

I then took a 20 minute walk, you may take a tuk tuk to a Hot Air Balloon Ride. The balloon is tethered and rises for 400-600 feet above the ground depending on weather conditions. I found it to be well worth the $15 to see the temple and surrounding area from this vantage point.

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Angkor Wat from the balloon

After the balloon I took a $5 tuk tuk ride to the Ta Prohm Temple. It is best known as the temple where Laura Croft Tomb Raider was filmed.

One of my favorite photographs is of a large tree in the middle of temple surrounded by the ruins.

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Large tree in the middle of the Ta Prohm Temple

Occasionally you may be joined by a Buddhist Monk that is also enjoying the temple. You should always ask a Monk permission to take his photograph first and never touch a Monk unless they take your hand and bless you. This has happened to me a couple of times. After this photograph the Monk asked me to email the photograph to him which I was more then happy to do.

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Monk in the Ta Prohm Temple

It was an amazing temple and the grounds are quite large with many passage ways, engraved rock walls and ruins to explore.

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Interior of the Ta Prohm Temple
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Interior of the Ta Prohm Temple
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Interior of the Ta Prohm Temple

It may take you less time however I spent about two hours exploring the temple and taking photographs.

By the time I finished exploring Ta Prohm it was getting close to sunset. I headed back to the Angkor Wat Temple for my final photographs of the day.

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Angkor Wat front view at sunset
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Angkor Wat sunset south side
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Angkor Wat sunset southwest corner

On the way back to the hotel I had my tuk tuk driver take me to Pub Street for dinner. By doing so I saved the additional time and money as it was on the way back.